What We’re Reading Now

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Nicholas Kristof brings some promising news from the developing world: Illiteracy and AIDS are receding, ancient diseases such as Guinea worm and polio are on the way out, and child mortality is dropping.

Less encouraging: One of the many troubling consequences of the federal government shutdown is the suspension of the F.D.A.’s food safety inspection program. Speaking of food safety: The Chilean farmed salmon industry uses more than 300 million grams of antibiotics a year. And this salmon gets infected with parasitic sea lice, which (as demonstrated by this photo) you don’t want in your salmon.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Stuff Yourself

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Dolmades or dolmas — better known as stuffed grape leaves — have long been a fixture of Mediterranean-style appetizer spreads. They’re one of those foods that just seem to materialize magically from supermarket cans or specialty-store containers; we eat them happily, but most of us have never endeavored to make them ourselves. Truth be told, sometimes we don’t even know what’s inside them.

Until recently, I tackled dolmas exactly once: in a forlorn upstate New York town that had some vineyards. But since then, I’ve made the project routine, because D.I.Y. dolmas are not only doable but come with a significant advantage: choice. Whether they are from regular grocery stores (not great) or Mediterranean markets (much better), dolmas are typically the same: grape leaves stuffed with soft rice, sometimes lentils or meat and whopped with lemon. Making them yourself means you cannot only play around with the flavors of the fillings, but you can also use other grains and leaves as well.

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Posted in Recipes

Why Won’t McDonald’s Really Lead?

Every McDonald’s executive I’ve met who happens to be a parent says something like this: “I don’t let my kids eat at McDonald’s all the time. It’s a treat; we know that.” Yet these same executives, in literature and in public, say that they’re “championing children’s well-being.”

Big Mac is confused. It remains among the world’s most envied brands, yet its unique position means it must — or at least should — lead within the industry. But despite the company’s claims, its tardiness in marketing real, healthful food solidifies Big Mac’s public image as a pusher and profiteer of junk food, incapable of doing (or unwilling to do) the right thing. Envied by the competition, beloved by at least some customers, McDonald’s is reviled by those who see it as setting undesirable eating patterns in children, patterns that remain for life.

Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Shrimp Is Having Its 15 Minutes

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 4.34.02 PMShrimp is now the most popular seafood in America, and there is no wrong way to eat it. Wild shrimp from the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico is a treat if you can find it. Fresh local shrimp from Maine or the Carolinas is an even rarer gem. (These are all preferable from a sustainability perspective.) A vast majority, of course, is farmed and frozen, but you might as well buy it frozen and thaw it yourself to get the freshest shrimp possible. If you buy it ‘‘individually quick frozen’’ in resealable bags, you can take out only as many as you want and thaw them by leaving the shrimp in the fridge for 24 hours or running them under cool water for an hour or less.

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Posted in Seafood

Is Natural Gas ‘Clean’?

The question is whether the natural gas “revolution,” which is a real thing — production is up about a third since 2005 — is also a good thing.

One reason natural gas is called “clean” is because it emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal when you burn it. Thus it’s seen by some as a “bridge” fuel until zero-carbon-producing renewables can take over. But natural gas isn’t clean in the way that solar is clean. It’s clean-er than coal. It’s better than the worst; that’s all.

And the situation is actually too dire for a bridge fuel: experts say we must stop adding carbon into the air within the next 30 years [1] or face a climate “feedback loop” in which global warming continues regardless of subsequent activities, a point at which we would be able to make things worse but not better. If switching to natural gas long delays the dominance of renewables, it’s not doing us much good.That’s why action now is important.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Going Vegan, if Only for a Day

Screen Shot 2013-09-18 at 9.32.18 AMIt’s not worth trying to persuade anyone to become vegan, for a couple of very good reasons: one, it’s a losing battle, and two, it’s far from certain that a diet with no animal products is best for everyone. It’s increasingly evident, however, that a part-time vegan diet — one that emphasizes minimally processed plant food at the expense of everything else — is the direction that will do the most to benefit human health, increase animal welfare and reduce environmental impact. The remaining challenge, an undeniably big one, is to figure out how to make such a diet, which you might also call “flexitarian,” the standard.

My own diet, which I call Vegan Before 6 (and wrote a book about), is one way of tackling part-time veganism, but it isn’t the only way. An intelligent adaptation of the Mediterranean diet, one of the popular “fast today, feast tomorrow” diets or even a so-called paleo diet — one that stresses vegetables rather than animal products (our great ancestors, after all, were gatherer-hunters who saw meat not as routine but as an occasion to feast) — can put you on the right track.

Read the rest of this article, here.

Posted in Vegan

Rescuing Tartare From the Stuffy, Old Power-Lunchers

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 10.04.11 AMIn the go-go ’80s, “tartare” pretty much meant a pile of raw, well-seasoned chopped beef topped with a raw egg yolk. It was seen as food for the carnivorous power-lunch crowd — tartare even had a cameo as a status symbol in “Wall Street”— and for old-fashioned people who ate at old-fashioned restaurants.

I’m not sure what the first nonbeef tartare was, but I do remember getting a chuckle when my friend and co-author Jean-Georges Vongerichten introduced me to beet tartare sometime around 1990. In any case, tuna tartare has far surpassed beef in popularity, lamb tartare is fashionable and carrot tartare is expensive. In short, the field is wide open, and it’s time for home cooks to forge ahead.

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Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Late-Summer Links

A struggle that all of us should get behind: Fast food workers around the country are organizing (including with widespread strikes) to protest untenably low wages. (McDonald’s, more than any other restaurant operator, has worked to suppress pay rates, enforce harsh work procedures and prevent unionization.)

Speaking of  critical work in food and labor, Jessie Lopez De La Cruz, a longtime leader in the national farmworker movement, has died at 93. She was one of the first woman members and organizers of the United Farmworkers of America in Fresno, Calif.

The editors of Scientific American think mandatory G.M.O. labeling is a bad idea. Rather than providing consumers with useful information, they suggest, labels would only heighten the misconceptions that genetically modified foods endanger our health. The same would be true for anything else questionable, I suppose; sounds like a dumb position for a sometimes-smart magazine.

 Read the rest of this column, here.

Posted in Uncategorized

Zuke Alors!

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 1.27.08 PMNobody complains about too many cucumbers, tomatoes or eggplants. But zucchini, summer’s most underloved vegetable (technically, yes, it’s a fruit), comes in for a lot of grief. It’s so prolific! It’s so cheap! What are we going to do with all of it?

I suppose it’s not just zucchini’s omnipresence but its mild flavor — and indeed, the difficulty of bringing out some of its character — that makes us feel challenged.

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A Practical Farmer Who Showed the Way

Dick Thompson was a farmer near Boone, Iowa, whom I kept meaning to visit but did not. That was a mistake; he died on Aug. 17 at 81.

He will be missed, in no small part because he embodied the clear, pragmatic kind of thinking for which Midwestern farmers were once known, before so many became beholden to Big Ag.

Thompson began farming in the 1950s and was anything but beholden. He challenged every assumption and, especially as he matured, never accepted the reigning “wisdom.”

But when he first started working his 300 acres, he was a farmer’s son with degrees from Iowa State University and an enthusiastic member of that first generation of farmers to embrace industrial techniques. He set about modernizing his parents’ farm with a vengeance: “We purchased everything the salesman had to sell,” he said, meaning every line about intensive farming and every chemical it took to support it.

Read the rest of this column, here.

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