Welfare for the Wealthy

The critically important Farm Bill [1] is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Food Politics

The VB6 BBQ

Nutty Falafel

Summer is an interesting season if you’re trying to be VB6. While the bounty of fresh summer produce can all-but make you forget about meat, the smell of backyard grilling makes you crave it. Striking a balance is the key. With that in mind, here are my favorite summery recipes from VB6, some with meat, most without, all delicious.

Baked Falafel with Tahini Sauce

Makes: 8 servings

Time: 45 minutes, plus up to 24 hours to soak chickpeas

Falafel is easy: just soak raw chickpeas until they’re soft enough to grind in the food processor, combine with some spices, shape, and bake. The baking makes lighter falafel, but they’re just as crunchy as deep-fried. This makes a big batch, which is fine, since you can refrigerate the leftovers for several days, or freeze them for a couple of months. To reheat, wrap them in foil and bake at 350°F until they’re hot throughout, 15 to 30 minutes depending on whether they were frozen. Here are some serving suggestions: Make a sandwich with half a whole wheat pita, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other raw vegetables, then drizzle with sauce. Or add lemon juice to the sauce and eat on top of a green salad, using the tahini for dressing.

1¾ cups dried chickpeas
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, quartered
1 tablespoon cumin
Scant teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
1½ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup tahini

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Posted in Mark Bittman Books, Recipes, Uncategorized

Make Peace With Meat

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.01.16 AM                   I probably eat a third as much meat as I used to and, on the not-rare (three times a week?) occasions that I do indulge, I eat less of it.

I’m reminded of a really good plate of slow-roasted lamb shoulder I had in Seattle two weeks ago; there were about six ounces on the plate, and I ate half. It was delicious, and it was enough. This is no longer a conscious thing but a new habit.

The new habits, I suppose, come from new attitudes. The vast majority of Americans still eat meat at least some of the time. Statistically, most of us eat it in unwise, unsustainable and unhealthful quantities.

I’m betting that you eat meat more consciously (and less of it) than you once did. The health, environmental and ethical concerns affect the attitudes of almost everyone I encounter, and although our priorities differ, few people I know indiscriminately fill their supermarket carts with shrink-wrapped meat and leave. Not long ago, almost all of us did that.

Read the rest of this article, here.

Posted in Food Politics, Recipes

Can You Eat Too Little Salt?

TRAPANI PROVINCE, Sicily — Here on Sicily’s west coast, there are two main crops: olives for oil and grapes for wine. There was once a third: salt.

Most high school students learn that salt was one of the motivating factors for the growth of the Roman empire, and that words for “salary” and “salad” come from the word for salt. Salt was a fundamental element of trade, because sodium and chlorine are both essential to life and the combination is among the best preservatives and flavoring agents there is. And until relatively recently, it wasn’t easy to produce and ship, so overconsumption wasn’t an issue.

Conditions for extracting salt from seawater are near-ideal here. There is unflooded flatland next to the sea, land that isn’t great for farming; a long season that’s both warm and dry; and lots of wind for both evaporation and power.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Weeknight Vegetarian: Going vegan, for the day, with Mark Bittman

By Joe Yonan for The Washington Post

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 3.43.15 PMIt’s the first day of the season at the 14th and U Farmers Market in the District, and I’m looking at asparagus, turnips, herbs, kale, arugula, strawberries and more with Mark Bittman. We’re doing what so many shoppers do at markets like this one across the country, week in and week out: comparing one farmer’s produce with another’s, and trying to decide what would make a good lunch and maybe an even better dinner.When I tell Bittman I have carrots and kale at home, he proposes a stir-fry. “Is your kale nicer than this guy’s kale, or not as nice, or about as nice?” he asks. I try to envision the crisper drawer of my refrigerator back in my apartment, where we’re headed next, and feel comfortable in choosing Option 3. Even though it’s several days old, it’s just about as nice, I figure.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)He asks because he knows that for any cooking, but especially the kind of off-the-cuff dishes that helped make him famous, the key is to start with excellent ingredients — a strategy that bears repeating for those of us who take it for granted. And for the kind of lunch we’re going to make, one without any animal products, the tactic might be even more important. The stir-fry won’t have, say, the smoky fat of bacon to hide any blandness in those vegetables. If the turnips he wants to mash don’t have enough flavor, cream and butter won’t be able to rescue them.

Read the rest of this article, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

What Can’t You Make With Chickpeas?

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.06.13 AMI’m partial to chickpeas — or garbanzo beans, if you prefer — and not because they were among the first legumes I ever ate. (My mother would open a can and put them out at parties, with salt and pepper; you can do better than that. Sorry, Mom.) They have what to me is an irresistibly robust and nutty flavor, and a texture that can run from crunchy to tender.

In addition to canned, you may see fresh chickpeas; peel them and cook them quickly, as if they were favas or peas. Increasingly you can find chickpea flour, also called besan or gram flour, in Indian markets, where it’s most common, though it’s also becoming more popular as a flour substitute for the gluten-intolerant.

But dried is the most common form. Dried chickpeas take longer to cook than other beans (two hours is a likely cooking time); use enough water, and the process is stress-free. One major benefit to cooking chickpeas yourself — aside from the superior flavor and texture — is that the water you cook them in becomes particularly rich and flavorful by the time they’re done. Save it for soups like the cold one here, which is a refreshing riff on hummus.

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Posted in Recipes, Vegan

Why I’m Not a Vegan

On my recent book tour, I spoke with a number of people about my take on a positive direction for the American diet. I’ve been semi-vegan for six years and in the book (called “VB6,” for Vegan Before 6 p.m.[1] ), I argue that this strategy, or one like it, can move us toward better health.

In the last 30 years, researchers have graduated from the notion that Americans should “eat less fat, especially saturated fat” — the catchphrase of ’80s nutritionists[2] — to widespread agreement that we eat too few unprocessed plants and too much hyperprocessed food, especially food containing sugar and those carbohydrates that our bodies convert rapidly to sugar. There is also compelling evidence that we eat too many animal products (something like 600 pounds per person per year) and too much salt.

None of this is simple. For one thing, we still have much to learn about the composition of plants and the aspects of them that are good for us[3] , although it’s becoming clear that they’re beneficial not so much as a combination of nutrients but as the right package of nourishment, which we might as well call real food. In other words,you’re better off eating a carrot than the beta-carotene that was once thought to be its most beneficial “ingredient.”[4]

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Come and Get ‘em: Recipes from VB6!

Photo Credit: Daniel Meyer

Eggplant Un-Parmesan

Makes: 4 Servings

Time: about 1 hour

This take on eggplant Parmesan proves that (a) you don’t need a lot of oil to cook eggplant, and (b) you don’t need gobs of cheese to make it delicious. Try using zucchini or portobello mushrooms as variations, or serve the vegetables and tomato sauce over polenta or a more sub-stantial meal. If you can’t fnd whole wheat breadcrumbs (panko-style are best), make your own by pulsing lightly toasted whole-grain bread in the food processor or blender.

2½ pounds eggplant

5 tablespoons olive oil

1¼ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

Black pepper to taste

1 onion, chopped

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, with their juice

1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs, preferably coarse-ground

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Posted in Recipes

The Nomad’s Kitchen

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.07.23 AMWhen “The Hakka Cookbook” appeared last year, I immediately set up a cooking date with its author, Linda Lau Anusasananan, who lives in the exotic and far-flung city of San Mateo, south of San Francisco.

The book’s subtitle is “Chinese Soul Food From Around the World,” which could mean almost anything. The Hakkas are sometimes thought of as the Jews of China, because they’re dispersed all over the place. But the Hakka people cannot even point to an original homeland (sources say “north-central China,” but that’s a big place), and the word Hakka roughly translates as “guest families.” These are itinerants, and you can find Hakkas everywhere. “Some people call us dandelions, because we thrive in poor soil,” says Anusasananan, who was born in California. She has also traveled widely to learn new recipes for the book.

Read the rest of this article, here

Posted in Chinese

Bad Enough

Things are bad enough in the food world that we don’t need to resort to hyperbole to be worried or even alarmed.

It’s one thing to decry the lack of fairness and consumer protection when businesses and the government decide what gets produced, marketed, labeled, regulated and sold[1] , and how. It also makes sense to be outraged by the health, environmental and economic damage caused by our food “system”[2] and the diet it encourages.

But it’s another to call those things evil. Evidence, for instance, that an excess of something like sugar may well be bad for your health does not mean that the substance itself is “bad.” (In fact, we need sugar to function.)

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized