The Food Industry’s Solution to Obesity

You can buy food from farmers — directly, through markets, any way you can find — and I hope you do. But unless you’re radically different from most of us, much of what you eat comes from corporations that process, market, deliver and sell “food,” a majority of which is processed beyond recognition.

The problem is that real food isn’t real profitable. “It’s hard to market fruit and vegetables without adding value,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “If you turn a potato into a potato chip you not only make more money — you create a product with a long shelf life.” Potatoes into chips and frozen fries; wheat into soft, “enriched” bread; soybeans into oil and meat; corn into meat and a staggering variety of junk.

How do we break this cycle? You can’t blame corporations for trying to profit by any means necessary, even immoral ones: It’s their nature.

Read the rest of this column here.

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Add Whole Grains

Mark Bittman has always been a whole grains guy, but he really began to embrace them about 10 years ago while working on his cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. “I had no intention of becoming a vegetarian,” he recalls, “but I embraced the concept and started playing around with whole grains more. I became more intentional about eating them.” Nowadays, Bittman has no problem getting in his three-per-day minimum, and he thinks he may know why others aren’t as successful at reaching this goal. “The misconception that whole grains are hard to cook or that they take a long time probably keeps a lot of people from trying them.” Here, he debunks these myths and offers a few suggestions for making grains easy to add to your daily menu.

MARK’S TOP 5 TIPS

Learn how to cook one grain, and you know how to cook them all. “One thing that makes whole grains really easy is that they pretty much all cook the same way. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, they all get boiled until they’re tender. If you boil them in too much water and they get tender, you drain the water off; if you boil them in too little water and they’re not tender, add a little more water. There’s nothing easier.”

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What Causes Weight Gain

If I ask you what constitutes “bad” eating, the kind that leads to obesity and a variety of connected diseases, you’re likely to answer, “Salt, fat and sugar.” This trilogy of evil has been drilled into us for decades, yet that’s not an adequate answer.

We don’t know everything about the dietary links to chronic disease, but the best-qualified people argue that real food is more likely to promote health and less likely to cause disease than hyperprocessed food. And we can further refine that message: Minimally processed plants should dominate our diets. (This isn’t just me saying this; the Institute of Medicine and the Department of Agriculture agree.)

And yet we’re in the middle of a public health emergency that isn’t being taken seriously enough. We should make it a national priority to create two new programs, a research program to determine precisely what causes diet-related chronic illnesses (on top of the list is “Just how bad is sugar?”), and a program that will get this single, simple message across: Eat Real Food.

Read the rest of this column here.

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The Big Dig: 12 Clam Recipes

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Clams are summer food, not because you can’t dig them in the winter — people do — but because you don’t want to; working in damp, exposed mud flats during a windy low tide is no one’s idea of fun. But whether you dig your own or not, thoughts of fried-clam shacks and steamers and clambakes make it feel like clam season. And there are many options for cooks.

There are also many kinds of clams, but we can make two categories: soft-shell clams, which have thin, brittle shells and are typically called “steamers” (razor clams fall in this group); and hard-shelled clams, which are called by a thousand different names, including littlenecks, cherrystones, Manilas, cockles and quahogs (and which, of course, can be steamed, though are never called steamers). Soft-shells are almost always sandy and take more care, so these recipes are generally best with hard-shells, which require almost no work to get ready: Rinse or scrub off exterior sand, discard any that can be pulled apart easily with your fingers (or those with smashed shells), then wash in several changes of cold water — as you would salad greens — until all traces of sand are gone.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here

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These Chiles? Nothing to Fear

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AKUMAL, Mexico — There is no one American cuisine, and I suppose you can say there is no one Bittman cuisine either. The nation developed without respect for what was here before the Europeans flooded in, and what might have been was supplanted by anything goes. This culinary manifest destiny can be fascinating, of course; my block has Turkish, Southwestern, Tex-Mex and Italian, all within 100 feet of one another. (That’s before you cross the avenue.) None are very good, but you can’t complain about variety.

My own story is one of rejecting, or at least subsuming, a limited culinary heritage that I saw, and continue to see, as inferior to those of much of the rest of the world. Oh well, it’s not inconceivable that in the course of their threatening, perhaps horrible, early years and subsequent difficult journey across the Atlantic, my grandmothers lost many of the better elements of the cooking of their mothers and grandmothers. I’ll never know.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here

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Food’s Big-Picture Guy

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I wish Olivier de Schutter had the power to match the acuity of his analysis, but it’s great that we’ve had an advocate whose vision is as broad as that of the corporations who have for the last 50 years determined global food policy. Since 2008, the human rights lawyer has had the title of United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food. (His second three-year term ends this week.) This is obviously not a genius marketing title and, even worse, the position carries no real power.

Still, the notion of an impartial observer who can see trends as corporations do — across political borders, and agnostic to them — is a valuable one. It’s easy enough for individual Americans to see how our problems may resemble Canada’s; it’s much more difficult to imagine ourselves struggling the way Indonesians do. That’s what De Schutter has done: shown us that the issues with the food system are as global as trade.

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Ribs, 3 Ways

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You cannot argue that ribs are seasonal. If you’re a fan, you want them as badly in January as you do right now. In fact, regardless of when “now” is, it’s as good a time to be cooking ribs as any, because ribs are equally good when prepared using almost any method of cooking. If there is a revelation to be found here, it is in the lightest and probably easiest recipe: ribs braised with anchovies and white wine — a dish in which the ribs can be eaten neatly, with knife and fork (and the sauce used to dress pasta or rice, or as a bread-soaker).

But there is a range of options. The standard, most straightforward method is two-step grilling with little more than salt and pepper — I offer more elaborate, though hardly difficult, variations. The most complicated recipe, which uses two cooking methods, is also by far the most time-consuming, but could be the most rewarding, at least for classicists. You smoke the ribs over indirect heat with sage and ginger (or other spices; see the variations). This can be done in advance, and it can be done simultaneously with direct-grilling something else, or even as the heat is dying down from a big fire.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here

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Save our Children!

1. Lunch

Allow me this generalization: Healthy food initiatives threaten profits and are therefore fought or deflected or co-opted at all costs by the producers of hyperprocessed food. This is true even when those costs include producing an increasingly sick population — and a disproportionate number of defenseless children — and an ever-growing portion of our budget spent on paying for diet-related illness. Big Food will continue to pursue profit at the expense of health as long as we let them.

And the relatively honest members of the political right will say that it’s not enough to prevent new legislation; their goal is to roll back or damage existing laws or programs that benefit people.

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Food News from Around the World and Beyond

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I suppose we count this as progress: A Florida elementary school has agreed to stop its longstanding policy of giving kids Mountain Dew as brain fuel before the state’s most important standardized test.

Taco Bell is launching U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, which will feature a menu of 10 “premium” tacos.

Your web browser is on its way to becoming a Walmart.

A new study suggests that climate change is to blame for the polar vortex, which gave us an extremely dry, warm winter on the West Coast. The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet is likely unstoppable. The Obama administration released a study demonstrating that the effects of human-induced climate changeare already being felt in every corner of the United States, which was preceded by a boast the day before about record levels of carbon-fuel production. Huh?

Get the rest of the news here

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An Inconvenient Truth About our Food

“Fed Up” is probably the most important movie to be made since “An Inconvenient Truth,” to which it’s related in a couple of ways.

One of its producers is Laurie David, who also produced “An Inconvenient Truth.” Climate change, diet and agriculture are inexorably intertwined; we can’t tackle climate change without changing industrial agriculture, and we can’t change industrial agriculture without tackling diet.

Like “An Inconvenient Truth,” too, “Fed Up” can be seen as propaganda. (As can “Farmland,” the beautifully shot movie that looks and feels like a Chevy commercial and seems to take as its underlying premise that most Americans mistrust, even hate, farmers. It’s more than a little defensive.)

“Fed Up” says: “Here is a problem, a problem that vested interests have no interest in solving, and a problem that must be dealt with if we’re interested in our survival. It’s something worth fighting about.”

Read the rest of this column here

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