I wasn't going to post at all today as I'm working on a dual post for tomorrow (this will make sense in the morning), but I just heard a fascinating report on Marketplace and thought I'd share the link with you. Here's a teaser from the transcript, available here from American Public Media:
Shia Levitt: At the Florida Power and
Light company cafeteria, signs list the nutritional sins and virtues of
every menu item. The idea is to help employees make healthy choices.
But if calorie and fat counts aren't enough to steer diners away from
cheeseburgers and fries, there are some other numbers that might.
Andy Scibelli: If you want a healthy entree and two sides, it's $3.99 and if you want a regular entree and two sides, [it's] $5.35...
I wonder how you'd feel if this were your workplace.
Take a listen from the 24 minute mark; it's only 3 minutes long.
Sometimes what seems like a no-brainer is actually a brainer.
Last night my colleague Clare Leschin-Hoar emailed to ask how I felt about California's Proposition 2, which is on the statewide ballot for the November election. I was impressed by her knowledge of my state's politics, especially as she lives on the east coast. I was also embarrassed that I hadn't yet read up on all the propositions.
Well, I've read up now.
Prop 2 deals with animal welfare. It reads, in toto:
Standards for Confining Farm Animals. Initiative Statute.
Requires that certain farm animals be allowed, for the majority of every day, to fully extend their limbs or wings, lie down, stand up and turn around. Limited exceptions apply. Fiscal impact: Potential unknown decrease in state and local tax revenues from farm businesses, possibly in the range of several million dollars annually. Potential minor local and state enforcement and prosecution costs, partly offset by increased fine revenue.
That's it. Pretty succinct.
Now, I like to extend my own limbs when I feel like it, and if I had wings I'd probably like to extend those occasionally too. Standing up is nice, especially when I want to go somewhere or experience some blood flow to my extremities. And turning around without crashing into another live being or being smashed against the side of a cage would be good.
So I vote yes. No-brainer, right?
Well, it's complicated. Many farmers who currently run industrial-sized egg, poultry, and even pig farms are staunchly against this proposition, which should come as no surprise. It will cost them money to re-design their operations, and they'll likely have to thin out their livestock in order to provide the legally required space for their animals to roam and stretch. The result, they claim, is that some farmers will go out of business. There will then be less tax revenue for the state.
There will also be less food. Plus the cost of the new system will be passed onto the consumer. In other words, we'll see a spike in our egg prices if a farmer can only keep 1,000 chickens instead of 6,000. Ultimately, the price spike will encourage cheap imports of, say, eggs from other countries, namely Mexico and China. So those who can only afford to pay $2/dozen will find their only option is to purchase from farther away. Hardly the "buy-local" utopia everyone is now espousing.
This leads to a widening socio-economic divide: The wealthy will be able to afford the humanely-raised, free-range eggs, many from local farmers, while those who struggle to make ends meet will be forced to buy the cheaper imports from hens kept in crowded, less sanitary and less humane conditions abroad.
So what is a concerned voter to do?
First of all, I thank Oprah for educating me on this issue. That may sound ludicrous, but I learned from Clare that O devoted Tuesday's show to the topic. (I missed it, but her website had a lot of useful information, much of which I've summarized above.)
I'll vote yes, though I won't do so lightly since I do see legitimacy in the other side.
It seems to me that we have to sacrifice our love of and access to cheap food in order to do what's right ethically. If the prop passes, by the time 2015 rolls around (which is when it would take legal effect), one hopes these farmers will have figured out how to both treat their livestock humanely and still turn a profit without pricing struggling families completely out of the market. It's like anything else -- smoking, transfats, and the like. Jump on me if you must, but if it takes legislation or a voter-approved proposition for a chicken to be able to turn around and spread its wings, then so be it.
Today I'd like to turn our attention back to food, but to keep politics at the forefront. Not party-line politics, not convention politics, but the politics of how we feed our children.
I had the opportunity to attend a session called "Edible Education" at last weekend's Slow Food Nation conference in San Francisco, and a panel of experts discussed how to improve the nation's school lunch system. [As an aside, I recently wrote an article on school food in Restaurants & Institutions magazine. It highlights some best practices and the progress some districts have made toward improving nutritional quality despite rising food costs.]
This is obviously not a complete transcript of the session, but each of these statements below is worth reflecting upon:
"Do we need to start by educating the educators, the grown-ups, first?"
"We're going to teach the children and hope it filters back into the community. We can start with the under-12 crowd."
"It's a lot easier when you work with little kids. You can make a whole curriculum that's connected to food and tie it all together. So a child who begins very little can work in the garden as part of math class. They can count beans instead of buttons."
"We have to bring children into a relationship to food through pleasure."
"Low income children consume the majority of their calories every day in school."
"We have to enable school districts to talk to local farmers."
"In [some districts], children come into the cafeterias wearing their backpacks. They're not allowed to take off their backpacks while they eat. They watch kids on stage who win student of the month get rewarded with fast food. Kids learn to become perfect citizens of the fast food nation."
"I see kids who are eating Twix-flavored yogurt. Frozen burritos. Or they get a cold, mealy apple that's been gassed and stored for 6 months. We're teaching our kids not to love fruit."
"We need to feed every child at school breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. Our criteria should be getting good, clean food. We need a dispensation at the top. We need the president of the United States to teach our children about food. Kennedy was responsible for putting P.E. on the curriculum. We have to go in with a curriculum [ourselves]. There's no other way."
"Food for children is the ultimate bi-partisan, non-partisan issue. But it's incredibly difficult."
"What would be great would be if the school systems could be the buyers for all this sustainable food. So instead of investing in agriculture, we'd invest in the schools. We have to re-invest in public education in America or we'll never have the money to buy the food."
"How can we help the people who are most hurt by our current food system?"
"Food is a universal right. This is a right, not a privilege."
"We should get all the important people together and feed them a standard school lunch. Every day. Until they do something about it."
Oh my God, it's true. Packages are getting smaller, and many of us aren't even noticing.
This article in the New York Times explains what's going on. Remember those half-gallons of ice cream that so seductively perched in your grocer's freezer? A relic, apparently. Many top brands are now offering a quart and a half or a quart and three quarters rather than the standard 64 ounce (half gallon) size. And you'd better believe there's no blaring seal affixed to the container screaming, "Now! With less ice cream!"
When I read the article, I only half believed it. But walking through my local supermarket yesterday brought the reality home. We're either paying more for the same quantity of food, or we're paying less for, well, less. Which is better?
I'm a stickler for transparency. The more knowledge, the better. Not that I can fault Breyer's ($4.99/1.75 quarts) or Dreyer's ($4.99/1.5 quarts) for coming up with a clever solution to make the out-of-pocket price look more reasonable. Like us, manufacturers are up a creek without a paddle, and it's our responsibility as consumers to look closely at the per unit price. But I'd rather feel the sting of the sticker shock up front and deal with it rather than scratch my head, wondering if my ice cream is really more expensive or if I'm simply getting fewer scoops per carton.
I've become that crazy lady in the market, emitting ever-more-audible "oh my gods" as I push my cart through the aisles. At Trader Joe's, which doesn't seem to be playing this game (to my knowledge), 12 ounces of Organic Grade B maple syrup has been increasing steadily in price. It's now $7.99/bottle. But the bottle still holds 12 ounces, which I appreciate. I've started buying less syrup, and will continue to do so until the price comes down.
I suppose people who only have, say, $50 to spend on groceries per week may feel like they're benefiting, in a roundabout way, from the smaller-packaging system. They can still spend their $50 and continue to get the same variety of products as they did before, albeit fewer ounces' worth.
Is a brouhaha really necessary when an organization elects not to serve fried food? Apparently it is, if you happen to be hosting this summer's Democratic National Convention. According to ABCNews.com, the Convention's Denver Host Committee released a document for local caterers in May requesting that no fried food be served at the August convention. Furthermore, vendors were advised to comply with the host committee's "Lean and Green Criteria" emphasizing fruits and vegetables, local foods (from Colorado), and foods with at least three colors.
At least one Denver Councilman cried foul, referring to the committee as "food control zealots." In addition to fears of added expense, he's apparently worried that omitting fried chicken from the menu might alienate Southern delegates.
Really? Do we have FryGate on our hands already? Don't we Americans have other things to fret about than trying to undermine efforts to make a massive political gathering more environmentally-friendly and less artery-clogging?
For those of us forced to eat foods of questionable nutritional value at large conferences and conventions for years, I applaud Denver's efforts to turn this trend around. And I have full faith that our southern brethren will support their party, and their candidate of choice, even if they find roasted carrots instead of fried okra on their donkey-covered plates.
I had no plans to be alarmist when I woke up this morning. Particularly after yesterday's fish discussion. But there's quite a lot of banana appreciation going on in my house lately, much due to a birthday banana pudding for one aforementioned, pluot-shmooshing 9-year-old. I'd never made banana pudding before. Rice pudding, chocolate pudding, butterscotch pudding, pot de creme -- yes, yes, yes, and resoundingly yes, but banana pudding, until recently, was an unknown beast. No longer. In one fell swoop it has zoomed to the top of the heap.
Anyway, turns out we need to praise these yellow beauties a little more, rather than take them for granted as mere corn flake toppers. According to this recent op-ed by Dan Koeppel in the New York Times, banana importers sell only one type of banana variety worldwide. Yup, one. A thousand varieties grow in Africa and Asia, but only one is sold for import: the Cavendish from Latin America.
Here's the problem: because it's not a diversified crop (like pears, say, with your d'Anjou, Bosc, Bartlett, Taylor Gold, etc.), it's more susceptible to diseases, and a virulent strain of one fungus called Panama disease has begun to spread worldwide. It may reach Latin America within 20 years. If the crop isn't diversified before then, apparently, it could be wiped out. Bye, bye bananas.
So as much as I write about pluots and white raspberries and baby artichokes and other exotica, it's time to give bananas some love. Here's the pudding recipe I made. My only change was to crush a package of ladyfingers in the food processor and use the crumbs in place of the vanilla wafers. Oh, and I omitted the nuts and the mint. (Mint & bananas?) Good choices on my part.
The yield is listed as 6 to 8 servings, but that's a laughable understatement as there was enough for the whole neighborhood, plus all the neighbors' cousins. Make it for a good cause. In fact, do it for the bananas.
I don't often write about alcohol for one simple reason: I'm not an aficionado, and the language of drink doesn't flow through me quite as fluidly as the language of food. You'll still find me sipping an occasional glass of wine or nursing a weekly beer, but there are other blogs devoted to the finer points of alcohol discernment (try Everyday Wine). Mine isn't one of them.
That said, when I was in Canada recently, I did polish off a few bottles of Sleeman, the brew pictured at left. Slightly sweet, it went down smooth and easy, with less apparent carbonation (if that's the right word) than its American counterparts. If Sleeman were available here in California, I'd definitely seek it out.
I've got beer on the mind today after reading this article on caffeinated brews in today's New York Times. Yes, caffeinated. Who even knew such a thing existed?
Turns out Anheuser-Busch just agreed to stop selling Tilt, a raspberry-flavored (!) malt beverage containing caffeine and guarana (a natural stimulant). The company had been accused of marketing the beverage, and another called Spykes (with fruit and chocolate flavors) to minors. A-B denied the charges.
According to the article, Anheuser-Busch isn't the only maker of caffeine-laced beer. Sparks, made by the Miller Brewing Company, is another flavored malt beverage (I love the phrase "malt beverage") with caffeine, guarana, and ginseng. This class of products has acquired the name "alcoholic energy drinks."
If you came across an energy drink/beer combo, would it hold any appeal? Do you think such products should be taken off the market, or simply advertised in ways that encourage their consumption by those well above the legal drinking age?
Whenever I see a full page ad in a major newspaper, I'm immediately suspect. I haven't a clue how much these ads cost, but I know they're not cheap. An organization, corporation, or religiously or politically-minded group willing to fork over that much cash simply must be on the defensive.
Don't you think?
Page A5 of today's New York Times features a huge ear of corn emblazoned with the words, "And now, a little food for thought."
Here's the accompanying text:
A little sweetness in life is good. And what sweetens lots of our favorite foods and beverages are sugars made from corn, such as high fructose corn syrup. It has the same natural sweeteners as table sugar and honey. And the same number of calories. But like most foods, sweeteners should be enjoyed in moderation. Please visit our website and learn the facts. We welcome a healthy discussion.
Of course, the ad was sponsored by the Corn Refiner's Assocation in response to the still-raging debate over the nutritive value, or lack thereof, of high fructose corn syrup. I should have some clarity on this issue, but I don't. I simply avoid HFCS because I avoid nearly all processed food and that's generally where HFCS is found. (Please don't mention the occasional camping-trip Pringles.)
I've read for years that HFCS promotes obesity, is sweeter than sugar, is more concentrated, symbolizes big, evil agribusiness, and so on and so on and so on. But not all of these things are true. At least, they may not all be true. The noise on both sides makes the facts extremely difficult to parse.
But is a giant ad the answer, or will it simply create even more confusion? The ad leads the readers to a website, where the CRA presents its "facts" through the lens of blatant self-interest. That's going to do more harm than good, at least for me.
Respected author Michael Ruhlman recently offered these thoughts in the comments section of his own blog:
I haven't studied the situation carefully, but my understanding is ... [that] there's nothing inherently evil about HFCS, it's
the fact that it's allowed agribusiness to create really unhealthy food
very cheaply. the crappy food, sweetened by this cheap sugar, is the
real danger. same as saying salt is bad for you. in fact you will die
without salt. salt in the cheetos and ketchup and campbells chicken
noodle soup is what's bad for you.
And I think I agree. It's not the HFCS per se. It's what the syrup is in. And what the syrup is in, I'm afraid to say, is usually gross.
Which is reason enough to avoid it.
Maybe I should take out a big ad in tomorrow's paper.
I'm a proud former resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So although I no longer call the Bay State home, I do have politically-connected sources who keep me up-to-date on food-related legislation. Bear with me while I digress from my usual Cal-centric posts.
On Wednesday, it seems, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted 114-34 to approve a bill banning artificial trans fats from restaurants throughout the state. This has already happened in NYC, Philadelphia, and a handful of cities and counties nationwide, including some parts of Massachusetts itself (notably Brookline and Boston).
Unsurprisingly, there's drama afoot. Critics charge that with this particular bill, the government is overstepping its bounds. The slur "nanny state" has been leveled, too.
There are three indisputable facts about the hazardous
effects of trans fat: It increases "bad" cholesterol while reducing
"good" cholesterol; it has no nutritional value; and it is directly
linked to an increased risk of heart disease. ...[A]rtificial trans fat causes roughly 50,000
fatal heart attacks per year.
According to Rep. Koutoujian's testimony before the House, many Massachusetts-based restaurants and chains have already gone trans fat free, including big guns like Legal Seafood, Dunkin' Donuts, Au Bon Pain, and Kelly's Roast Beef. Massachusetts, in fact, is one of 15 states currently considering a statewide trans fat restaurant ban.
So what's the counterargument? How can anyone WANT to keep trans fats?
1. Cost. Opponents claim it will be expensive for restaurants to switch over to healthier oil.
(Chains that have made the switch claim it has been cost-neutral.)
2. Scope. Opponents claim it's silly to go after restaurants rather than, say, every food producer or grocery store in the state.
(You've got to start somewhere.)
3. The role of government. This is the big issue. Rep. Jeffrey Perry (R-Mass.) argued that we can't logically ban trans fats since we don't, say, ban everything that's bad for us: cigarettes, sodium, alcohol. He argued that this bill is simply outside the scope of what government can and should be doing for the people.
(I do see a logical conundrum, but I still think this is what government is for.)
Welcome to my blog. My name is Cheryl Sternman Rule. I’m a Silicon Valley food writer with a lot to say and a keen desire to share it with a broad audience. I write cookbooks and freelance for numerous national publications. To read my full bio and see samples of my print work, visit my portfolio website at cherylsternmanrule.com.
To contact me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.