What’s more depressing, gutting progressive moves in school nutrition or gutting progressive moves in restaurant meal labeling?
Neither. What’s truly depressing is the “cromnibus,” the continuing resolution just passed to fund the government — which contains a wide variety of sometimes obscure and often corrupt riders, and signals the start of plundering just about every good piece of legislation you can think of, including school nutrition.
The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.
You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.
This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.
The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.
Here’s something I’ve never quite understood. Places that serve fried food — French fries, fried chicken, tempura, you name it — either serve it straight from the fryer, at its peak, or they find some way, often a heat lamp, to keep it as crisp as possible. So why don’t doughnuts get the same love? Most are so far removed from that bubbling bath of oil by the time you eat them that they’ve almost entirely lost their fresh-fried luster.
That’s why, I’m sorry to say, if you want a truly great, hot, crisp doughnut, chances are you’re going to have to make it yourself. Like anything involving deep-frying, D.I.Y. doughnuts are a bit of a project, but they’re less work than you might think. And once you’ve mastered the basic recipe — this one is for fluffy yeasted doughnuts, as opposed to the denser cake variety — you can geek out to your heart’s content on the glazes, toppings and fillings.
I don’t know how Chris Christie plans to become president, but then again no one could have predicted George W. Bush, or for that matter Barack Obama, so we know that stranger things have happened. In any case, I’d love to see the guy’s political prospects fall apart over pork, and not the kind you’re thinking of. Rather, I’m hoping he’ll become a primary example of how reactionary food policy will no longer play.
Last week, Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of gestation crates in New Jersey. Gestation crates, as you might know, are essentially solitary confinement jail cells for pregnant pigs. The mothers spend time during their “productive” years in these, unable to turn around and barely able to move back and forth. I would call that torture, and it would seem that forbidding that practice in your state would be the right thing to do.
Or more accurately, the story of an apple pie: One of my colleagues has a niece, Kylie Jo Cagle, who baked her first pie to bring to her boyfriend’s family’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Gorgeous, no? Apparently it was also the first dessert to be devoured. So here’s to Kylie and her newfound knack for baking. (Pizza is next on her agenda.)
I love hearing when people get turned on to cooking. And I’m glad How to Cook Everything: The Basics can help make that happen. Thank you all for your readership. Hope everyone enjoyed a lovely weekend of good food and good cheer as we kick off the holiday eating season.
There are four basic ways to change the food system. I talk about three of them a lot: The first is to eat differently, focusing on good food and especially plants; the second is to bring change to your work, whether that means becoming a farmer or helping other people eat better through your role as a teacher, doctor, artist, techie, lawyer or journalist. The third is to work locally to effect change in, for example, school systems or municipal politics.
The fourth is the toughest: Change the system that governs everything, including food. This means changing dominant economic theories and practices, and indeed the nature of capitalism itself. That isn’t happening anytime soon.
But incremental changes are possible within that system. Some believe that food is a bipartisan issue, since it’s in everyone’s interests to eat better and to protect the environment from the ravages of industrial agriculture. But it’s also true that public health, income inequality, mitigating climate change and fighting racism (just a few examples) are bipartisan issues as well, and we know how slowly change comes with those, even though change is in the interest of all but a few defenders of the status quo.
It’s hard to imagine maintaining the current food system without Iowa. Yet that state — symbolic of both the unparalleled richness of our continent’s agricultural potential and the mess we’ve made of it — has undergone a transformation almost as profound as the land on which cities have been built. A state that was once 85 percent prairie is now 85 percent cultivated, most of that in row crops of corn and soybeans. And that isn’t sustainable, no matter how you define that divisive word.
It’s easy enough to argue that one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world could be better used than to cover it with just two crops — the two crops that contribute most to the sad state of our dietary affairs, and that are used primarily for animal food, junk food and thermodynamically questionable biofuels. Anything that further entrenches that system — propped up by generous public support — should be questioned. On the other hand, if there are ways to make that core of industrial agriculture less destructive of land and water, that is at least moving in the right direction.
At dinner with a friend the other night, I mentioned that I was giving a talk this week debunking the idea that we need to grow more food on a large scale so we can “feed the nine billion” — the anticipated global population by 2050.
She looked at me, horrified, and said, “But how are you going to produce enough food to feed the hungry?”
I suggested she try this exercise: “Put yourself in the poorest place you can think of. Imagine yourself in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Now. Are you hungry? Are you going to go hungry? Are you going to have a problem finding food?”
The answer, obviously, is “no.” Because she — and almost all of you reading this — would be standing in that country with some $20 bills and a wallet filled with credit cards. And you would go buy yourself something to eat.
When a family member was undergoing chemotherapy for her cancer, her oncologist happened to mention in passing that a spoonful of vinegar might improve her appetite. As you know, a naked spoonful of vinegar of the kind found in most households is not particularly appealing. At the time she told me about her conversation, it occurred to me that vinegars could be more palatably “administered” in the form of pickles — my recipe follows below.
I remember when pickles were either something that you bought from a barrel on the street or — if you were crafty — canned in your kitchen. But somehow they’ve become the emblem of all things hipster-artisanal-twee, as much a joke (we can pickle that!) as they are a food.
The reason so many of us have outsourced our pickle making to the waxed-mustache set is that canning is sufficiently daunting; the thought of boiling jars, with its mysterious science and prospect of imminent disaster, is enough to send most home cooks running to the store. Fortunately, canning is not a prerequisite for pickling. In fact, as long as you can commit to eating them within a week or two, there are countless pickles that you can make quickly and store in your fridge.
Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here. Photo by Sam Kaplan.