January 28, 2010

In Case You're Not a Big Oprah Fan

Michael Pollan was on yesterday. I have it on my DVR. But for those who aren't on Twitter and didn't get the 30 or so "tweets" about the show, here it is (or at least part of it).

January 22, 2010

Feeding the World

You here it over and over and over again. Here, for example:

From [Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant's] point of view, the company is working on the side of angels, helping to create commodity crops to feed today’s population and the 2 billion more people who might occupy the planet by 2030.

This argument, simply put, is crap. Because here -- via Josh Viertel, who heads up Slow Food USA, quoting Eric Holt Gimenez of Food First -- is the reality.

"In 2008 more food was grown than ever before in history. In 2008 more people were obese than ever before in history. In 2008 more profit was made by food companies than ever before in history. And in 2008 more people went hungry than ever before in history."

Then Viertel piles on, so to speak:

Hunger is not a global production problem. It is a global justice problem. We need to increase global equity, not global yields. There may be profit to be made in exporting our high-tech, input-reliant, greenhouse-gas-emitting agricultural systems to the developing world. But let us not pretend it will solve global hunger or address climate change. After all, high-tech, input-reliant, commodity agricultural is a major cause of global hunger and climate change.

In the U.S. alone we throw out more food each year than some third-world countries consume. Helping those countries develop sustainable agriculture systems will go much further toward feeding the world than planting more genetically modified crops in every nook of the planet.

Just ask all of those dead farmers in India.

January 20, 2010

Leeks & Carrots Make Great Soup

I love soup. You can have it with a sandwich, a salad, some good bread. And usually you can make a delicious soup without too much effort. At least that's the case with this soup. It's from one of our workhorse cookbooks, Soup: A Way of Life, by Barbara Kafka.

For those with a busy schedule, this soup can easily be made the night before you're planning on eating it, even while you do other things, or you can at least do what little prep is needed the night before -- basically cleaning and cutting up some carrots and leeks -- and do the active cooking in about 30 minutes the next day.

The recipe calls for a little heavy cream, but you can easily leave it out or substitute half-n-half and still get the creaminess, just with less calories.

Carrot and Leek Soup

  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom (careful with this, too much can really overpower the whole thing)
  • 3 medium leeks, cleaned well (duh!) and sliced cross-wise (half-inch slices seem to work well)
  • 5 good-sized carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock (if hoping to get 2 meals out of it, go with 4 cups and one more carrot)
  • Cream or half-n-half (or nothing)
  • Salt and pepper

In a fairly large saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the cardamom and cook for a minute or so. Stir in the leeks and cover for 5 minutes (stir once in a while). When the leeks are tender, add the carrots and stock, bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. You want the carrots to be pretty tender.

In batches in a blender, puree the carrot/leek mixture until it's smooth. Return to the pan, taste and add salt or pepper as you see fit. One quick pour of cream around, stir well, and serve.

January 19, 2010

The BEST Diet Trend of 2010

It's a clear choice. It's like a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Peewee Herman. It has to be the Taco Bell "Drive-Thru Diet."

So Christine Daugherty replaced her "usual fast food" with some of the choices from the Bell's drive-thru diet, which is 7 items under 9 grams of fat, and between 150-340 calories, according to the screen shot at around 30 seconds in.

The marketing around diet and weight loss in this country has truly reached beyond anything I could have imagined. Preposterous really doesn't even begin to describe it.

'Nother Day, 'Nother 850,000 lb beef recall

Lovely. Really it is.

Huntington Meat Packing Inc., a Montebello, Calif. establishment, is recalling approximately 864,000 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The recall includes some beef produced just in the last few weeks, and from a two-month period in 2008. Seriously. Lovely.

January 15, 2010

Diet, Obesity, Cancer

I try to keep my professional life separate from my (poorly read) blogging activities. But I recently wrote something as part of my work that was really really interesting, to me at least, and has to do with food... well, at least potentially it does.

For some background, obesity has now been pretty strongly linked to cancer, with the upper estimate put at 100,000 cases of cancer annually linked to a significant excess of body weight. So, remembering that...

What I wrote about was a study in which researchers, using both cancer cells in a dish and mouse "models" of cancer, showed that cancer cells could use this lone enzyme to make themselves more aggressive. That is, makes them more likely to keep growing and potentially spread to other parts of the body.

The enzyme, when it's present in high levels in cancer cells, appears to help produce lots of specific kinds of fatty acids, little bits that make up fat molecules, and these fatty acids, in turn, jump start communications within the cells that allow them to engage in a hallmark of cancer, uncontrolled cell growth and proliferation. That in and of itself is pretty interesting.

But, what was even more intriguing -- and here is where the food comes in -- was this: they took mice with these specific aggressive cancers and they reduced the levels of that naughty enzyme that's causing all of the problems, and that slowed down tumor growth. They then fed some of the mice a high-fat diet and others a normal diet. And don't you know that tumor growth in the mice given the high-fat diet just took off.

As the researchers wrote, the findings may have

"provocative implications for the crosstalk between obesity and tumorigenesis.”

These are only cells in a dish and mice that did not develop cancer naturally. But at the very least, it's enough to really make you think about the connection between what we eat and cancer risk.

January 13, 2010

The Rats Have Their Say... and It's Not Good

Something to consider from the International Journal of Biological Sciences, from a study in which rats were regularly fed 3 different kinds of genetically modified corn products:

Our analysis clearly reveals for the 3 GMOs new side effects linked with GM maize consumption, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly associated with the kidney and liver, the dietary detoxifying organs, although different between the 3 GMOs. Other effects were also noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and haematopoietic system. We conclude that these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.

So the authors hang the toxic side effects seen in these rats on the pesticides used on the corn, not the foreign gene that's been inserted into it. And a comment that followed an article on this study sums it all up quite nicely.

It may not be the corn, but for all purposes, it is the corn. Even if it's just the pesticide on the corn, it's the corn.

Logically, this corn has only 1 gene difference from other corn, and that gene is a resistance to pesticides. That means the corn itself is probably no better or worse than other corn for us. To repeat, this GM food has no benefit over and above what regular corn has, and probably no detriment. The only benefit it has is that you can saturate it in poison and the corn won't die (and won't be eaten by pests)

Lets just think about it this way: We are taking good food, dipping it in a bucket of toxicity so that NO pests can eat it without getting sick and dying, and then expecting that this toxic corn is suitable for us to consume.

Sure, maybe it's not the genes of the corn that's making the mammals sick. It's not the DNA of the corn or any of the proteins that it creates. But it's the shit tons of pesticides that are on top of it. And the corn wouldn't have shit tons of pesticides unless we were pouring tons onto it... and we wouldn't be pouring that much pesticides onto it if they weren't resistant to it.

Creating food that can be saturated in more and more poison so that we can later eat it just doesn't seem very smart to me. In fact it seems straight up dumb.

January 12, 2010

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Vegetarian Style

Well, kinda "vegetarian," in that I'm slowly reading a much-hyped book that makes the case for vegetarianism at the moment, but more on that soon.

First, some local restaurant news, both from the fine pages of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

To begin with, I'm a little late on this, but the Penn Brewery's sneak peek was apparently a rousing success. From a third-party, I understand that there was a line out the door at times. And from the PG, we learn that a new brew, Allegheny Pale Ale, was on offer! Also we learn that the contract brewing days at Lion Brewery in Wilkes Barre are over and that the restaurant will open some time in the next few months.

Another new opening, the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute downtown has opened a lunch-only, "white cloth" restaurant on the 18th floor of the Clark Building. It's called Azure 18. Three-course lunch menu for $12. Sounds like a 12-buck investment worth making, at least once, eh?

Speaking of the 'Burgh and chefs, the PG's China Millman recently tweeted about a blog from a local chef, originally from Spain, Daniel Aguera. He apparently makes empanadas at Asylum Coffee Bar downtown. Yet another to add to my "To Eat" list.

And as was
recently suggested by a rare commenter on this blog, I have to make it back to Legume very soon. These folks really are committed to doing it right. According to the most recent monthly newsletter, the restaurant will no longer use any factory farmed meat, and they are really committed to getting as much meat locally as possible.

To the title of this post, I'm currently reading Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. The author is a vegetarian (not a vegan, at least I don't think), and, thus far, using examples of the atrocities committed on and by factory farms and in the oceans, all in the name of eating animals, he is making the case for vegetarianism. At least he appears to be in the first third of the book that I have completed.

For me, the book started off on the wrong foot, asking why people in the U.S., at least, don't eat dogs. He delves into the cognitive dissonance about how we treat dogs vs. the animals that end up in our burritos or between our poppy seed buns. This is, to my mind at least, an old and tired argument. Call it cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy or what have you, it's not limited to vegetarianism vs. omnivorism. It's called being human. How many vegetarians, for example, own and wear shoes/clothing made from animal products?

From there he gets into the familiar territory of the horrors of factory farming, and I'll admit that I am learning new things. And, yes, those things are telling me I need to do a better job of sourcing meat (and fish, and eggs) from truly sustainable sources.

Some of his arguments intended to make farmed animals seem more worthy of not being butchered for meat can sometimes be weak and poorly sourced in terms of supporting evidence. He also has twice directly taken on Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. Given its popularity and that Pollan has become perhaps the singular voice on the national front for more responsible eating (and all that entails), perhaps that' s a necessary thing. We'll see how well he succeeds.

I guess, then, this considered the first part in multi-part review of Eating Animals. Which would be LBoN's first book review.

On the subject of animals and mystery meat, my Fast-Food Abomination of the Week award goes to... Subway, for its new angus beef sandwich. I've seen the commercials, but it is not yet listed on the Subway Web site. I don't blame them. It does not resemble meat. It looks like an overly long, burnt hash brown. Maybe that's because it's more like the pink slime?

January 6, 2010

For Local Hoops Fans

Send it in, Gilbert!!

Need to get me a #5 jersey!!

January 2, 2010

Potatoes, Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche

Needed an appetizer for my brother-in-law's house on NYE. Wanted something new. Saw this recipe for potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon and a creme fraiche sauce on the front page of the Food & Wine Web site.

I skipped the caviar. Perhaps caviar makes the dish something else entirely. I didn't miss it. At all. It was quite good, even with making the pancakes a bit ahead of time and reheating them in the oven before serving. Loss the crispiness it would have had from serving it within a few minutes of coming out of the pan. But sometimes sacrifices have to be made. There was general agreement that it was excellent.

Only thing I did differently was add about a teaspoon of honey to the creme fraiche concoction and a bit more lemon juice than it called for.