That Flawed Stanford Study

I tried to ignore the month-old “Stanford study.” I really did. It made so little sense that I thought it would have little impact.

That was dumb of me, and I’m sorry.

The study, which suggested — incredibly — that there is no “strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” caused as great an uproar as anything that has happened, food-wise, this year. (By comparison, the Alzheimer’s/diabetes link I wrote about last week was ignored.)

That’s because headlines (and, of course, tweets) matter. The Stanford study was not only an exercise in misdirection, it was a headline generator. By providing “useful” and “counterintuitive” information about organic food, it played right into the hands of the news hungry while conveniently obscuring important features of organic agriculture.

If I may play with metaphor for a moment, the study was like declaring guns no more dangerous than baseball bats when it comes to blunt-object head injuries. It was the equivalent of comparing milk and Elmer’s glue on the basis of whiteness. It did, in short, miss the point. Even Crystal Smith-Spangler, a Stanford co-author, perfectly captured the narrowness of the study when she said: “some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.” That’s because they didn’t look — or even worse, they ignored.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Snacks Worth Their Salt

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NOT long ago, edamame — the young, green, mostly still-in-the-pod soybeans — were exotic: new, fresh and unusual. A little treat to begin a meal at a Japanese restaurant; the equivalent of olives, or even bread and olive oil.

Incredibly, for almost everyone I know, that is the way they remain. Yet tucked in the freezer case of most supermarkets, at least here in the Northeast, edamame is as common as peas and carrots, sold in 12-ounce or 1-pound plastic bags and sold cheap.

So cheap that for four or five bucks you can buy a pound of organic edamame, and for considerably less than that, a pound of nonorganic. Since I figure you’re getting a quarter-pound or less when you order them at a restaurant, and paying (no doubt) up to seven bucks per serving, this alone should be an incentive to buy a bag.

Read the rest of this column and see the video here.

Posted in Produce

Guns, Butter, and Then Some

Back in the administration of W., we looked for the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the wrong place; they’re here at home. Normally the W.M.D. I write about is the Standard American Diet (yes: SAD); occasionally I talk about food safety, or climate change, or related topics. But no matter what you look at, the basic problem remains so-called leadership that cannot stand up to big ag, big food, big energy, Wall Street …or the N.R.A.

Since 9/11, 33 Americans have been killed by “terrorists”; roughly 150,000 Americans have been killed by non-terrorists: that is, your run-of-the-mill murderers. Murder, like the leading cause of death — heart disease — is often preventable, through regulations, education and medical intervention.

We don’t know why Jared Loughner — had you, too, forgotten his name before he reappeared in the news on Tuesday? — shot Gabby Giffords, but we do know that he told his shrink that he wished he’d taken the antidepressants he’d been prescribed before the shooting. We don’t know why James Holmes allegedly shot up the Batman crowd, but we do know he was acting in a weird manner, and though his analyst told the police he was troubled, there was no one to help him. We gather that the suicidal Wade M. Page was a racist so ignorant he didn’t know a Sikh from a Muslim.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Unanswered Questions for the U.S.D.A.

My column this week is about a “lovers’ quarrel” between the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (N.C.B.A.) and the Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Following the withdrawal of an article in an internal U.S.D.A. newsletter supportive of Meatless Mondays – an occurrence that appears to have been directly triggered by an angry rant by the N.C.B.A.’s president – I asked both organizations for interviews; both declined. Here are the questions I had for the U.S.D.A.:

Read the rest of this post here.

Posted in Food Politics

No Meatless Mondays at the U.S.D.A.

A trade organization exists to promote the interest of its members; at least some of its work involves lobbying the government for preferential treatment, though most trade organizations would label this “fair.” It’s a clear mission and an unconflicted one; whether the interests of the trade organization coincide with those of the public at large is a matter of chance and not a governing concern. Thus in the course of the events of last week — events that will go down as an amusing footnote in the annals of food progress, and further evidence of government cowardice — the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association acted appropriately: it defended the interests of its members without worrying about the interests of the rest of us.

The Department of Agriculture, however, has multiple missions. One is “to keep America’s farmers and ranchers in business.” Sadly, although the statement doesn’t say which farmers and ranchers, in practice this has meant those who produce commodity crops: wheat, rice, cotton, corn and soybeans, and the animals and junk food whose production relies on the last two. The second is “to end hunger and improve health in the United States.” Last week, the U.S.D.A. betrayed its mission to improve health, acting in a cowardly fashion. For that it should be taken to task.

The events, which unfolded last Wednesday afternoon, could be seen as funny.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

More on Milk

Not surprisingly, experiences like mine with dairy, outlined in my column of two weeks ago, are more common than unusual, at least according to the roughly 1,300 comments and e-mails we received since then. In them, people outlined their experiences with dairy and health problems as varied as heartburn, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, eczema, acne, hives, asthma (“When I gave up dairy, my asthma went away completely”), gall bladder issues, body aches, ear infections, colic, “seasonal allergies,” rhinitis, chronic sinus infections and more. (One writer mentioned an absence of canker sores after cutting dairy; I realized I hadn’t had a canker sore — which I’ve gotten an average of once a month my whole life — in four months. Something else to think about.)

Although lactose intolerance and its generalized digestive tract problems are well documented, and milk allergies are thought to affect perhaps 1 percent of the American population, the links between milk (or dairy) and such a broad range of ailments has not been well studied, at least by the medical establishment.  

Yet if you speak with people who’ve had these kinds of reactive problems, it would appear that the medical establishment is among the last places you’d want to turn for advice. Nearly everyone who complained of heartburn, for example, later resolved by eliminating dairy, had a story of a doctor (usually a gastroenterologist) prescribing a proton pump inhibitor, or P.P.I., a drug (among the most prescribed in the United States) that blocks the production of acid in the stomach.

 

Read the rest of this column here.
Posted in Vegan

The Endless Summer

Here’s what American exceptionalism means now: on a per-capita basis, we either lead or come close to leading the world in consumption of resources, production of pollutants and a profound unwillingness to do anything about it. We may look back upon this year as the one in which climate change began to wreak serious havoc, yet we hear almost no conversation about changing policy or behavior. President Obama has done nicely in raising fuel averages for automobiles, but he came into office promising much more, and Mitt Romney promises even less. (There was a time he supported cap and trade.)

It has been well over 100 years since the phenomenon called the greenhouse effect was identified, 24 years since the steamy summer of ’88, when many of us first took notice, and, incredibly, 15 years since the Kyoto Protocol. That agreement stipulated that signatories would annually reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases and was ratified (and even acted upon) by almost every country in the world, including every industrialized nation but one. That would be the United States. Now that’s exceptionalism. (Bill Clinton signed Kyoto; George W. Bush, despite an election pledge, repudiated it.)

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Bell Peppers, 16 Ways

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The sweetness of bell peppers — they’re never hot, unlike nearly all of their relatives — is especially pronounced in summer, which is also when you’re most likely to wind up with one that was grown domestically. Even a green pepper — which is unripe — is sweeter when the weather is hot.

A good red pepper is the sweetest and most flavorful of the lot — yellow and orange are simply other varieties — but there’s no denying that a multicolored tangle of peppers is a beautiful thing, and that even the relative bitterness of green peppers adds complexity to the mix. In any case, you can use any color pepper you like in any of these recipes.

Unless noted, use a pound of peppers in all of them. That’s roughly equivalent to two whole large peppers, three cups sliced or 2 1/2 cups chopped. Core and seed everything. My favorite method is just to cut around the core, standing the pepper up and slicing it like an apple from the outside.

One of the most basic and wonderful preparations for bell peppers is roasting; a roasted red pepper with olive oil, capers or anchovies (or all three) remains one of the great, simple joys of this territory. Put whole peppers on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast in a 450-degree oven, or broil, turning the peppers as each side browns, until they have darkened, even blackened, and collapsed. (A hot grill is even better.) Gather the corners of the foil and wrap up the peppers; cool until you can handle them, about 15 minutes, then remove the blackened skin and seeds. (Do this under running water to make it easier; you probably won’t get all the skin off, and that’s O.K.)

The recipes are thorough, but far from exhaustive. Peppers combine beautifully with eggs, with vinegar and with eggplant and probably a dozen other ingredients I didn’t have the space to get to.

 

Posted in Produce, Recipes

Got Heartburn?

In the wake of my column about dairy last weekend, a half-dozen or so of my friends and relatives have gone off dairy to try to conquer chronic heartburn; the success rate seems to be around one-third, which is pretty impressive. But I’m wondering how many of you have experience with dairy and heartburn or other chronic conditions, and whether you’re willing to share your stories. If so, please email me at dairy.nyt@gmail.com. I’m going to follow up with a column next week. (I won’t use anything beyond the most general information without clearing with you first, but please make sure to email me from a valid email account.)

Posted in Vegan

Got Milk? You Don’t Need It?

Drinking milk is as American as Mom and apple pie. Until not long ago, Americans were encouraged not only by the lobbying group called the American Dairy Association but by parents, doctors and teachers to drink four 8-ounce glasses of milk, “nature’s perfect food,” every day. That’s two pounds! We don’t consume two pounds a day of anything else; even our per capita soda consumption is “only” a pound a day.

Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews. The myplate.gov site helpfully suggests that those people drink lactose-free beverages. (To its credit, it now counts soy milk as “dairy.”)

There’s no mention of water, which is truly nature’s perfect beverage; the site simply encourages us to switch to low-fat milk. But, says Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Sugar — in the form of lactose — contributes about 55 percent of skim milk’s calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda.”

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Vegan