The F.D.A.’s New Policy Falls Way Short

That “good” news you may have read last week about the Food and Drug Administration’s curbing antibiotics in animal feed may not be so good after all. In fact, it appears that the F.D.A. has once again refused to do all it could to protect public health.

For those who missed it, the agency requested (and “requested” is the right word) that the pharmaceutical industry make a labeling change that, the F.D.A. says, will reduce the routine use of antibiotics in animal production. I’d happily be proven wrong, but I don’t think it will. Rather, I think we’re looking at an industry-friendly response to the public health emergency of diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resistance that is bred in industrially raised animals.

You may know that around 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given (fed, mostly) to animals. Why? Because the terrible conditions in which most of our animals are grown foster illness; give them antibiotics and illness is less likely. There is also a belief that “subtherapeutic” doses of antibiotics help animals grow faster. So most “farmers” who raise animals by the tens or hundreds of thousands find it easier to feed them antibiotics than to raise them in ways that allow antibiotics to be reserved for actual illness. (And yes, there are alternatives, even in industrial settings. Denmark raises as many hogs as Iowa and does it with far fewer antibiotics.)

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Posted in Uncategorized

What I’m Reading

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One-day labor walkouts were staged at fast-food restaurants in 100 cities Thursday, with workers demanding a living wage of $15 an hour. But it’s not just McDonald’s and Burger King employees who are underpaid: Higher-tier fast-food places also stiff their workers. Maxwell Strachan at the Huffington Post thinks we should be tipping them.

Melinda Moulton, the C.E.O. of a redevelopment company, was one of 200 people to take part in the 3Squares Challenge, during which she lived for a week on just $36 worth of food, or around $1.71 a meal. “I don’t know how people do it,” she said. “I am hungry a lot.” (One can do this, you know, but it takes cooking skills and time.) Meanwhile, a Guardian editorial suggests that instead of sussing out food-stamp fraud, which is minimal, Congress should focus on where the real abuse happens—Wall Street. Love that.

First Al Gore announced he is going vegan—now Jay-Z and Beyoncé are giving it a go for 22 days. (See my column last week.) But if you ask me, say what you mean and mean what you say, Beyoncé, and stop shilling for Pepsi. And also? If you are going to go vegan, maybe stop wearing fox fur.

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Posted in Food Politics

Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.41.09 AMIt started simply enough: Some months ago, I needed to make myself something to eat, and I had a few ounces of leftover scallops from dinner the night before. I remembered something I learned in Madrid called a tortillita, which inspired me to produce a kind of eggy pancake — or, if you like, a floury omelet — laced with shrimp, parsley and onion. I beat together an egg and a little flour until smooth, wanting to thicken the mixture just enough so that it wouldn’t run in the pan. I chopped the scallops and added them to the batter, along with a bit of onion, some parsley, salt and chopped fresh chile, shallow-frying all this by the spoonful in abundant oil. Predictably, the little guys — eight in total — took a couple of minutes per side to become gorgeously golden. I sprinkled them with salt, squeezed a few drops of lemon over each and ate the entire batch by myself, in about the same amount of time they took to cook.

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Posted in Recipes

Dietary Advice for the Gluttony Season

Now that the gluttony season is upon us, you may be re-re-re-evaluating your diet; or perhaps you’ll be stewing on it four weeks from today, making commitments to do better before summer.

We are confused. Many people have the gnawing feeling that “nothing” is fit, safe, wise or ethical to eat, and the$61 billion diet industry encourages us to dwell on this uncertainty. We buy too much of the wrong stuff because it is affordable, satisfying, plentiful and aggressively marketed. Then we seek the cure for what that toxic regimen causes. It’s a dizzying merry-go-round.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Better Than a Meat Lollipop

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.49.03 PMNot long ago, in certain circles, serving anything other than the most tender and expensive rib or loin chops — in the form of a “rack” or a “meat lollipop” — to respectable company was considered déclassé. Leg and shank eventually got their dues — and now the shoulder has finally arrived.

It’s about time, because all things considered, it’s the best major cut of lamb. (The best minor cut might be the neck, or even the kidney or tongue, but we’re not addressing “specialty meats” here.)

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Posted in Recipes

¡Viva México!

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.47.01 PMThanksgiving once marked the beginning of a season of belt-tightening, as fresh food became scarce. Now it launches a fury of gluttony — and it’s not as if we’re restrained at other times. Yet with obesity-associated Type 2 diabetes at record levels, it’s widely agreed that we have to moderate this diet. Which means that, despite corporate intransigence, we have to slow the marketing of profitable, toxic and addictive products masquerading as food.

It’s logical to start with soda and other beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which account for 7 percent of calories in the American diet, and many public health specialists have recommended a steep tax to reduce consumption. Ironically, France, which has a relatively low obesity rate, was the first to initiate a significant soda tax, and it seems to be reducing consumption — but its soda drinking was relatively low to begin with. Now, however, it appears we’re going to be able to judge such a tax, as well as the impact of a tax on junk foods, in a country known for obesity. This new tax is scheduled to be imposed in the new year, not in the supposedly progressive public health bastions of New York or San Francisco (though that city looks set to vote again on a soda tax in 2014), but in a country many Americans view as backward: Mexico.

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Posted in Food Politics

Past Perfect: Memories of Home, and a Huge Thanksgiving Latke

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 12.54.36 PMAfter living in what must have seemed like every neighborhood in three boroughs — Coney Island, the South Bronx, East Flatbush, Spanish Harlem (as it was then called), the Lower East Side — my mother’s parents, in their oldish age, settled in Astoria, which is where I spent almost all the Thanksgivings of my childhood.

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Posted in Recipes

Thanksgiving Pastrami From Danny Bowien

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving fall on the same day this year, so Danny Bowien proposed doing a Thanksgiving Pastrami. He demonstrates the simple meat dish for me.

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See more, here.

Posted in Recipes, Uncategorized

Chinatown Surprise

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 4.05.19 PMOn the advice of two friends, I wandered one day into Spicy Village, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a restaurant that politeness prevents me from describing as anything other than “modest.” I stopped by a couple of years ago to have the not-at-all-bad $2 pork sandwich, a pile of sloppy-Joe-ish pork served on light, crisp bread baked by the proprietors — Wendy Lian and her husband, Ren Fu Li — but I rarely thought of it again.

This time, however, I ordered, as I’d been instructed by my friends, the No. 7, the Spicy Big Tray Chicken. It arrived on an aluminum tray (you eat it on a foam plate with a plastic fork or chopsticks), a mound of chicken nearly afloat in a bath of dark, spicy sauce that contained star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, chile, garlic, cilantro, a few mystery ingredients and . . . potatoes. This was like no other “Chinese” dish I’d had before.

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Posted in Chinese

On Becoming China’s Farm Team

Look at the $4.7 billion purchase in September of the pork producer Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. — the Chinese firm that counts Goldman Sachs among its backers — from the standpoint of the Chinese. As this century’s economic titan, they had to “take a position” in United States pork. China’s population of nearly 1.4 billion is not only growing rapidly but growing wealthier rapidly, and flattering us by emulating our consumption patterns (for better or worse) while having trouble replicating some our production systems.

China has notorious problems with food safety; urban Chinese consumers distrust the quality and safety of their own food system, and express clear preference for imported food when it is available. What to do when you are the largest pork supplier in China, you have production and quality problems, must meet the ravenous demand for more meat from hundreds of millions of paying consumers, and the international supply is abundant? You buy the world’s largest pork producer and processor, together with that firm’s vaunted supply chain, quality controls, brand value and consumer appeal.

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Posted in Food Politics