Everyone Eats There

California’s Central Valley is our greatest food resource. Why are we treating it so badly? 

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I left Los Angeles at 4 in the morning, long before first light, and made it to Bakersfield — the land of oil derricks, lowriders and truck stops with Punjabi food — by 6. Ten minutes later, I was in the land of carrots. 

 You know that huge pile of cello-wrapped carrots in your supermarket? Now imagine that the pile filled the entire supermarket. That’s how many carrots I saw upon my arrival at Bolthouse Farms. Something like 50 industrial trucks were filled to the top with carrots, all ready for processing. Bolthouse, along with another large producer, supplies an estimated 85 percent of the carrots eaten by Americans. There are many ways to put this in perspective, and they’re all pretty mind-blowing: Bolthouse processes six million pounds of carrots a day. If you took its yield from one week and stacked each carrot from end to end, you could circle the earth. If you took all the carrots the company grows in a year, they would double the weight of the Empire State Building. 

At Bolthouse’s complex, carrots whirl around on conveyor belts at up to 50 miles an hour en route to their future as juliennes, coins and stubs, or baby carrots, which the company popularized and which aren’t babies. Other carrots become freezer fare, concentrate, salad dressings and beverages. Fiber is separated for tomato sauce and hot dogs. Whatever’s left becomes cattle feed. For the entire article click here.

Posted in Farming, Travel

The Domino Theory, Redux

Imagine you had a multibillion-dollar industry that was (a) enormously profitable and (b) under frequent attack from public health researchers because (c) it’s demonstrably bad for the health of your customers.

This was, of course, the story of the tobacco industry, and it is – right now – the story of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry.[1] Like the cigarette makers, the peddlers of soda cannot do much about any of this: they owe it to their shareholders to maintain those profits, and the products they sell evidently cannot, no matter how hard they try, be tinkered with to change factors (b) and (c). [2]

Even if the beverage industry were composed of the nicest people in the world, it will not stop marketing to children unless it’s made to; indeed, these marketing efforts are within the rules of the game, however deadly they may be. The outcome of those rules and the marketing they allow is pandemic obesity and all the costs associated with it, which have been detailed enough elsewhere to pass over here.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Fruit Crisp

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                                                                                                                                                  Photograph by Kristin Gladney

By Meghan Gourley

Anyone who has opted to make crisp instead of pie is aware of its virtues: no mixing and perfecting dough, latticing strips of it, or fumbling around with pie weights. Instead, a loose mixture of butter, brown sugar, oats and flour—clumps of it—becomes the stuff that turns ordinary apples into autumn on a plate. Any and all types of apples will do; I used Cortland and McIntosh picked in upstate New York. (Is there a better way to get rid of a mound of apples?)

For added texture, leave the skin on about half the apples and cut them into same-size slices to avoid uneven cooking and burning. If using a tart variety (like McIntosh or Granny Smith) add an extra spoonful or two of brown sugar. Dust real vanilla beans or a pinch of cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg over the apples before adding the topping for rich flavor. The crumble is done when it begins to brown on top—and when the sweet smell becomes too much to resist. If you like, add a dollop of whipped cream or a splash of real cream. Watch it disappear.

Apple (or Other Fruit) Crisp

Time: About 1 hour

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

5 tablespoons cold butter, plus more for greasing the pan

6 cups pitted, sliced apples (2 to 3 pounds)

Juice of ½ lemon

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

½ cup rolled oats (not instant oats)

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup chopped nuts, optional

1 cup vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400 dgF. Cut the 5 tablespoons butter into ¼-inch bits and put in the fridge or freezer. Lightly butter a square baking pan. Toss the peaches with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a large bowl, and spread them out in the prepared pan.

2. Combine the chilled pieces of butter with the remaining brown sugar, the oats, the flour, the salt and the nuts if you’re using them in a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few seconds more, until everything is combined but not too finely ground. (To mix this by hand, mas the mixture together between your fingers.)

3. Crumble the topping over the peaches and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the peaches are tender and bubbling. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with ice cream if you like.

Posted in American, Baking

Pears: The Other White Fruit

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Pears, for some reason, are always second to apples. Nobody ever goes pear picking. Yet there’s nothing you can do with an apple that you can’t do with a pear. In fact pears are more versatile, because they’re not only good when they’re underripe and crisp; they’re also fantastic when they’re perfectly ripe and creamy. I know that with endless varieties of both apples and pears piled high at the market, you’re most likely going to buy more apples. That’s just the way it is. But I’m here to persuade you to reconsider the pear.

To make my case, I offer you 10 saladsthat can be used with any variety of pear. You’ll most commonly find green (and, increasingly, red) Anjou, yellowy green Bartlett and brownish Boscs; of the common ones, these last are best. But all are sweet and will soften with time, and without special treatment. Just be patient. When the “shoulders” soften, they’re ripe. Read the rest of this article here.

 

Posted in Produce

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