A Guide to Years Ending in 4

War, famine, pestilence and death — the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — have been well represented in years ending in “4,” but probably not disproportionately so. A look at memorable moments in the last seven of these just might lead to optimism for the one that’s upon us. Or not.

1944 Those of us who don’t remember this year are lucky; a soldier cited in Rick Atkinson’s brilliantly horrifying saga of the last two years of the war in Europe, “The Guns at Last Light,” quotes King Lear: “The worst is not, So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’ ” The end of the war was in sight; getting there was the trick, and millions were killed in the interval. Things have not been this bad since.

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Pressure Cooking with Lorna Sass

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Not long ago, I found a piece of what I assumed was beef in the freezer. My choices were to cook it or throw it out, and because time was short — defrosting was not an option — the pressure cooker seemed the right option.

Thus began another pressure-cooker experiment. I threw the meat in, and added onion, carrots, garlic, water, cinnamon, star anise, a chile, Sichuan peppercorns, soy sauce, honey — things I knew would yield a dark, spicy sauce.

I brought the pressure up and cooked it for 40 minutes. Upon opening the pot, I saw that I’d made short ribs — how nice! I boiled off a bit of the extra liquid, and in less than an hour had produced something that normally would have taken four hours, not to mention defrosting time.

The next obvious step was to call the cookbook author Lorna Sass, a pressure-cooker maven who has always been a step or two ahead of her time. (Her “Recipes From an Ecological Kitchen,” published 20-plus years ago, was among the first mainstream vegan cookbooks, and it has not been bettered. Sadly, it’s out of print.) I needed a lesson.

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The F.D.A.’s New Policy Falls Way Short

That “good” news you may have read last week about the Food and Drug Administration’s curbing antibiotics in animal feed may not be so good after all. In fact, it appears that the F.D.A. has once again refused to do all it could to protect public health.

For those who missed it, the agency requested (and “requested” is the right word) that the pharmaceutical industry make a labeling change that, the F.D.A. says, will reduce the routine use of antibiotics in animal production. I’d happily be proven wrong, but I don’t think it will. Rather, I think we’re looking at an industry-friendly response to the public health emergency of diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resistance that is bred in industrially raised animals.

You may know that around 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given (fed, mostly) to animals. Why? Because the terrible conditions in which most of our animals are grown foster illness; give them antibiotics and illness is less likely. There is also a belief that “subtherapeutic” doses of antibiotics help animals grow faster. So most “farmers” who raise animals by the tens or hundreds of thousands find it easier to feed them antibiotics than to raise them in ways that allow antibiotics to be reserved for actual illness. (And yes, there are alternatives, even in industrial settings. Denmark raises as many hogs as Iowa and does it with far fewer antibiotics.)

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Dietary Advice for the Gluttony Season

Now that the gluttony season is upon us, you may be re-re-re-evaluating your diet; or perhaps you’ll be stewing on it four weeks from today, making commitments to do better before summer.

We are confused. Many people have the gnawing feeling that “nothing” is fit, safe, wise or ethical to eat, and the$61 billion diet industry encourages us to dwell on this uncertainty. We buy too much of the wrong stuff because it is affordable, satisfying, plentiful and aggressively marketed. Then we seek the cure for what that toxic regimen causes. It’s a dizzying merry-go-round.

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Thanksgiving Pastrami From Danny Bowien

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year, so Danny Bowien proposed doing a Thanksgiving Pastrami. He demonstrates the simple meat dish for me.

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Remembering Marcella

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Marcella Hazan, who died Sept. 29 at the age of 89, never intended to bring real Italian cooking to America. But no matter how accidental her impact, it can hardly be overstated. What Alice Waters did for restaurants, Hazan did for home cooks, demonstrating that the simple treatment of decent ingredients leads to wonderful dishes.

In a way, Hazan was the anti-Julia Child, and Child had a sense of that. In a conversation shortly before her own death, Child said to me: “I don’t get the whole thing with Italian cooking. They put some herbs on things, they put them in the oven and they take them out again.” Exactly.

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What We’re Reading Now

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Nicholas Kristof brings some promising news from the developing world: Illiteracy and AIDS are receding, ancient diseases such as Guinea worm and polio are on the way out, and child mortality is dropping.

Less encouraging: One of the many troubling consequences of the federal government shutdown is the suspension of the F.D.A.’s food safety inspection program. Speaking of food safety: The Chilean farmed salmon industry uses more than 300 million grams of antibiotics a year. And this salmon gets infected with parasitic sea lice, which (as demonstrated by this photo) you don’t want in your salmon.

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Why Won’t McDonald’s Really Lead?

Every McDonald’s executive I’ve met who happens to be a parent says something like this: “I don’t let my kids eat at McDonald’s all the time. It’s a treat; we know that.” Yet these same executives, in literature and in public, say that they’re “championing children’s well-being.”

Big Mac is confused. It remains among the world’s most envied brands, yet its unique position means it must — or at least should — lead within the industry. But despite the company’s claims, its tardiness in marketing real, healthful food solidifies Big Mac’s public image as a pusher and profiteer of junk food, incapable of doing (or unwilling to do) the right thing. Envied by the competition, beloved by at least some customers, McDonald’s is reviled by those who see it as setting undesirable eating patterns in children, patterns that remain for life.

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Is Natural Gas ‘Clean’?

The question is whether the natural gas “revolution,” which is a real thing — production is up about a third since 2005 — is also a good thing.

One reason natural gas is called “clean” is because it emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal when you burn it. Thus it’s seen by some as a “bridge” fuel until zero-carbon-producing renewables can take over. But natural gas isn’t clean in the way that solar is clean. It’s clean-er than coal. It’s better than the worst; that’s all.

And the situation is actually too dire for a bridge fuel: experts say we must stop adding carbon into the air within the next 30 years [1] or face a climate “feedback loop” in which global warming continues regardless of subsequent activities, a point at which we would be able to make things worse but not better. If switching to natural gas long delays the dominance of renewables, it’s not doing us much good.That’s why action now is important.

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Late-Summer Links

A struggle that all of us should get behind: Fast food workers around the country are organizing (including with widespread strikes) to protest untenably low wages. (McDonald’s, more than any other restaurant operator, has worked to suppress pay rates, enforce harsh work procedures and prevent unionization.)

Speaking of  critical work in food and labor, Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, a longtime leader in the national farmworker movement, has died at 93. She was one of the first woman members and organizers of the United Farmworkers of America in Fresno, Calif.

The editors of Scientific American think mandatory G.M.O. labeling is a bad idea. Rather than providing consumers with useful information, they suggest, labels would only heighten the misconceptions that genetically modified foods endanger our health. The same would be true for anything else questionable, I suppose; sounds like a dumb position for a sometimes-smart magazine.

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