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Linky Roundup

Linky Roundup

I’m in a deadline zone, but here are some interesting links from around the intertubes that I thought you all might like:

Weeds, being what they are, have developed their own Roundup-Ready varietals. Guess that whole GMO thing was so well-thought-out, eh? I have to confess, I used to resort to a little casual Roundup use around the LivingSmall ranchero, but between the frogs, and the cancer cluster in which I grew up, and my amazing Bernzomatic Outdoor Torch, I now just burn weeds up instead of spraying them with the dreaded Atrazine.

Fellow Ethicurean, Steph Larsen, has incurred my ever-lasting jealousy by buying a 12-acre farm in Nebraska where she intends to grow fruits and vegetables and chickens.

The LA Weekly has a roundup of the weekly food sections from around the country.

Columbia Journalism Review has a terrific interview with Tom Philphott of Grist about class, local food, and the economics of revamping our food system.

If you haven’t been following ShutUpFoodies, you must go there right now and check it out. Both hilarious and prescient.

My dreams are coming true with the establishment of the FoodCorps, a volunteer organization along the lines of AmeriCorps who are working to improve the quality of America’s school food.

And last, but definitely not least, FiredogLake has had by far the best coverage I’ve seen of the Gulf Oil Disaster including the link to Halliburton, and the ways by which the Bush administration’s identification with and deregulation of the oil business contributed to this calamity.

The Snack Issue …

The Snack Issue …

So I was browsing around this morning and came across A Year of Inconvenience, a blog written by a woman who manages a food co-op and yet, who after watching Julie & Julia, and reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, decided to see if she could spend a year avoiding the central aisles of her own store, the place where the “convenience” foods reside.

Like a lot of these “project blogs” I would probably quibble with some of her definitions of “convenience foods.” As far as I’m concerned, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pasta, and reasonably plain crackers (I’m a big fan of the Stoned Wheat Thin) are staples. And I’m not really her target audience — I rarely shop the middle aisles, and when I do I’m in there for staples like flour or rice or pasta or beans, or Asian condiments. I don’t buy mixes, or “simmer sauces” — I don’t even like spaghetti sauce in a jar because it tastes too gloppy to me. I just don’t think about cooking that way, in part because I like my own food better than most prepared stuff, and I’m cheap — the pre-packaged stuff seems so expensive most of the time for what you get. But this is all ground we’ve been over time and time again.

What struck me reading A Year of Inconvenience is how ubiquitous “snacks” have become in our society. One of her concerns is replacing the snack foods — and to her credit, she goes ahead and makes hard pretzels!

I was raised by parents who were deeply opposed to snacks. We got three squares a day, and in Junior High and High School a very modest after-school nosh, but the concept of something like a “snack drawer” or “snack closet” in our house was unthinkable. Even after-school snacks were something like a toasted bagel with cheese, or homemade cookies (an ongoing source of war between Patrick and the not-yet-beloved Stepmother in junior high — she believed in rationing, he’d sneak them from the bottom of the tin). We never had chips, or store cookies, or packages of stuff in the house, just as we weren’t allowed to drink pop as kids. My parents were so pro-milk/anti-pop that even at the horse shows my mother ran when we were little, the catering guy, the legendary Mr. Pasquesi, kept those little cartons of milk in his ice chest for my brother and I, and wouldn’t sell us pop.

So the explosion of snack foods is something I’ve never really paid any attention to, and since I don’t have kids, I’ve been spared the tyranny of snack duty for school teams and activities. I still don’t fundamentally understand snacking. We eat dinner really late around here, so sometimes I’ll have some olives, or cheese and crackers around five (it’s a long time until our 9pm-ish dinner time), but the appeal/lure/siren song of snack products is something that’s thankfully lost on me.

The struggle with weight is one I’m not unfamiliar with, but it seems that this idea that we need to have food at our fingertips at every moment of the day (like the idea, pushed by the bottled water people that if we’re not clutching a beverage at all times, we’ll perish of thirst), is one of the reasons our population is growing larger and larger and larger. And perhaps, as we start weaning ourselves from packaged food in general — the frozen dinners, the “mixes” the sauces in jars, the horrible pre-cooked meals in the meat case (really? you want a pot roast cooked in a factory somewhere?), the snack issue will begin to recede as well. Once you start seeing food in boxes and bags as odd, and full of weird ingredients and too much salt, then “snacks” start to look weird too. I don’t know, if you need a “snack” make some popcorn — on the stove, in a pan, with a little oil. It’s really good.

More School Lunch News

More School Lunch News

More news about school lunches:
High School kids in Chicago protest the junkiness of their school lunches to the school board.

When school officials defend serving a daily menu of nachos, pizza, burgers and fries, they often say they’re just giving students what they want.

But you wouldn’t know it by listening to an angry coalition of high school students who plan to speak out on Chicago Public Schools meals Wednesday at the monthly Chicago Board of Education meeting.

One of those students is Teresa Onstott, a sophomore at Social Justice High School who last week practiced a speech that details the “sickening pizza, chicken sandwiches and nachos” the district serves each day and urges the board not to renew the contract for the company providing the food.

Kids who bring a sack lunch, are less likely to be obese:

Compared with kids who brought lunch from home, those who ate school lunches:

  • Were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.2% vs. 24.7%)
  • Were more likely to eat two or more servings of fatty meats like fried chicken or hot dogs daily (6.2% vs. 1.6%)
  • Were more likely to have two or more sugary drinks a day (19% vs. 6.8%)
  • Were less likely to eat at least two servings of fruits a day (32.6% vs. 49.4%)
  • Were less likely to eat at least two servings of vegetables a day (39.9% vs. 50.3%)
  • Had higher levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol
  • The good news: The Senate Agriculture Committee voted yesterday to increase the 17 billion dollar budget of the school food program by 4.5 billion dollars over the next decade

    The measure, which now must go to a full Senate vote, would overhaul the $17 billion school lunch program. It would call for the USDA to set new nutrition standards for food served in the cafeteria and vending machines, improve training for cafeteria workers and accelerate recalls of contaminated foods. Some 23,000 children ate food at school that made them sick from 1998 to 2007, according to USA Today. The bill also aims to increase the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

    The bad news:They’re planning to pay for it by cutting farm conservation programs while leaving big commodity crop subsidies in place:

    “Pitting kids against clean water instead of looking for savings in the much, much larger crop insurance and farm subsidy accounts is just wrong,” said Craig Cox, an official with Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. “It’s more than wrong, because it also reduces the increase in child nutrition funding that could otherwise be achieved.”

    Tester Takes on E.Coli Problem

    Tester Takes on E.Coli Problem

    This morning’s Billings Gazette had a story about Senator Tester, with the help of a local slaughterhouse owner, taking on the lack of accountability in the nation’s meat testing protocols. Montana’s one of the few states where small slaughterhouses still exist, which is a good thing if you want to buy local meat. I have a friend in Colorado, for example, who has a ranch, but doesn’t raise cattle for her family in large part because they’d have to be sent to a big feedlot operation to be processed. What’s the point in that? How would you even know if you got your own meat back?

    From the article:

    “If nothing changes, we are virtually guaranteed there will be ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls as a consequence of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s unwillingness to trace contamination back to the source,” said John Munsell, a former Miles City butcher and advocate for reforming food safety laws.
    Eight years ago, a USDA inspector found E. coli in beef at Munsell’s family meat processing plant, Montana Quality Foods. Munsell told the USDA the contaminated beef came from the slaughterer ConAgra Beef Co., but under existing food safety laws, the government’s investigation stopped at Munsell’s plant. Federal regulators said they couldn’t positively trace the bacteria back to ConAgra despite records offered by Munsell.
    Munsell recalled 270 pounds of hamburger. Months later, ConAgra Beef was caught in an 18 million pound meat recall, one of the nation’s largest.
    Munsell has been lobbying for regulatory changes since 2002. He helped write the bill Tester is introducing. Currently, inspectors are not allowed to document the source of the meat they sample on the same day they collect material to test, Munsell said. Once the test results come back, enough time has lapsed that inspectors can’t say for sure where the meat originated.
    “Why have they always required policies that intentionally delayed evidence gathering? Who are they trying to protect?” Munsell said. “In five days, the trail of evidence grows cold.”

    Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

    Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

    I caught the first episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution last night (full episodes available online here). I like Jamie Oliver — I realize he grates on some folks, but he’s got great energy, and unlike a lot of “foodies” he seems genuinely concerned for the well being of people who don’t eat in fancy restaurants, for kids, and for lost adolescents. His enthusiasm, and his perennial conviction that cooking “from scratch” is a skill that anyone can learn, and that by learning and practicing it we can improve the quality not only of our meals, but our health and well-being, is something I’ve always appreciated. (And I have some serious envy for his outdoor oven he featured in his show, Jamie at Home.)

    At any rate, I thought there were a couple of things worth mentioning. First of all, the school he invaded has a whole crew of lunch ladies, who actually know how to cook, and who have real kitchen equipment: ovens, and stovetops in particular. As many of us who are interested in school lunches are learning, this has become increasingly rare in American schools, most of which don’t have full staffs of people who actually have cooking skills, and even more of which only have microwaves and steam tables. So he’s got one leg up on that front — that he’s dealing with some truculence is less surprising. It’s standard “reality show” fare — set up a “villan” at the beginning, who must be vanquished by the end. That part I found really tedious. Seems to me that with a pep talk at the beginning, pointing out how far ahead of most other schools they already are, and some genuine work to bring them aboard, a lot more could have been accomplished. If he’d woo’ed the lunch ladies the way he woo’ed that nice overweight mom and her kids, the whole project might have been off to a different start.

    I also felt like the chicken-vs.-pizza cookoff at the beginning was unnecessary. Oliver did this experiment already in England. He knows going in that the kids will almost always prefer the food they know, processed, salty, sweet pizza or chicken nuggets to the unfamiliar tastes and textures of real food. So why not build on what he did in England, instead of doing it all over again — perhaps the assumption was that referencing the English version of the show would alienate American audiences. Seems sort of odd to me, but then again, I don’t create reality shows.

    The other avoidable mishap was not taking a little more care with people’s feelings. Surely it can’t be any big secret that Appalachia has a proud history of repelling invaders? That they’re used to being the butt of the joke, and that repeating over and over again that they’re the “unhealthiest” (code for fattest) people in America might not be the most useful way to get through to them. I don’t know, the confrontational aspects of the show just felt off to me. Oliver has always struck me as sort of a sweetheart, one who is passionate about is cause, but who knows better than to rub people’s faces in their shortcomings. So why start the whole project off on such a confrontational note?

    Or did they? It might just be the editing. At any rate, it’s a great opportunity to bring the dismal state of most school food to the attention of more people, and I’m sure by the end of the six-episode series, we’ll have scenes of people happily eating and cooking real food. Who knows? Jamie might even bring the lunch ladies around.

    Politics, Food and Otherwise

    Politics, Food and Otherwise

    A few items from around the intertubes:

    While I appreciate that Iowan’s are using the stupendous agricultural natural resources with which they are blessed to move away from agribusiness models, I do grow tired of the eternal surprise of journalists when they discover, yet again, that the midwest is full of interesting people. Here’s a French journalist who took a tour of some of the state’s more interesting agricultural entrepreneurs.

    Civil Eats has a terrific interview with Mollie Katzen, author of The New Moosewood Cookbook. She’s written a book called Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen and has put a series of videos on YouTube. She describes her goal for Get Cooking here:

    The very basic act of cooking is becoming a radical necessity. That’s why I wrote Get Cooking, because people asked me to lay out the simple basics of how to cook. I wanted to give people the tools they need to make easy recipes, four to five things you can cook well. It sounds simple, but that’s the key to people digging their way out of bad food. They need to know how to shop and how to make food in their busy day and in a small kitchen. I wish cooking was required in school, but until then, we’ve got to teach simple lessons.

    Daily Kos has a roundup of the latest on the mythology that is the “jobless recovery.” There is no recovery without jobs. Again for those who aren’t listening: without jobs, people will have no money. Without money, people can’t buy food, cars, washing machines, or pay their mortgages. Without jobs, and without money, the “economy” cannot recover. We need to stop bailing out banks and brokerage houses and hedge funds. We need to stop giving tax breaks to corporations that move manufacturing jobs overseas. We need to start making things again in the United States, which means we need to start hiring people to make things. People with jobs can “recover” from this economic disaster. People who do not have jobs cannot “recover.” It’s time to get over the cult of Uncle Milty and the ridiculous idea that the “free market” is going to solve everyone’s ills. We need a real jobs bill. One that puts people back to work.

    Left in the West has the actual numbers on what passage of the health care bill will mean for Montanans:

  • Improve coverage for 564,000 residents with health insurance.
  • Give tax credits and other assistance to up to 261,000 families and 34,900 small businesses to help them afford coverage.
  • Improve Medicare for 162,000 beneficiaries, including closing the donut hole.
  • Extend coverage to 117,000 uninsured residents.
  • Guarantee that 22,000 residents with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage.
  • Protect 900 families from bankruptcy due to unaffordable health care costs.
  • Allow 76,000 young adults to obtain coverage on their parents’ insurance plans.
  • Provide millions of dollars in new funding for 84 community health centers.
  • Reduce the cost of uncompensated care for hospitals and other health care providers by $54 million annually.
  • Clean food, locally produced, by farmers who can make a living growing and selling food, and who might have access to affordable health care: Now that’s change I can get behind. Here’s hoping.

    Michael Ruhlman: Why Cook?

    Michael Ruhlman: Why Cook?


    Michael Ruhlman started a meme a couple of weeks ago where he asked people to blog about why they cook. Above is his TEDxCLE talk about why cooking is essential to making us human, to making us families, and to making us reasonably healthy human beings. It’s well worth the fifteen minutes (and he’s sort of adorably nervous, as one would be).

    He says in the video, and on the follow up post on his blog, that we need to make cooking an imperative. With which I agree. But I guess one of the things I’ve been trying to figure out by writing about it (the only way I ever figure anything out) is why we need to make cooking anything. How did we get to this place where cooking, and I’m not talking elaborate, or slow food, or gourmet, or any of those things, I’m just talking about the simple act of cooking our meals on a regular basis has become so strange? Where cooking for yourself and your family has become the exception, not the rule?

    I cook because it would be weird not to. I cook because it’s cheaper to cook for myself than to eat out. I cook because I like food I can’t get here in Montana (the nori roll I ate for lunch, Thai curry, good pizza). I cook because my parents cooked (although my grandmother hated cooking, and we lived on Hostess cakes at her house — they came sanitarily wrapped, an important thing in her kitchen). I cook because I believe that sharing a meal with the person I love is one of the ways we build a life together. I cook because I like to, and because it’s fun, and because I find it creative and a good way to wind down of an evening. But mostly, I cook because it would be just downright weird not to cook. Not cooking would be like letting someone else breathe for me.

    So readers, why do you cook — or for those of you who don’t, why don’t you?

    Eat Real Food

    Eat Real Food

    I’ve read several articles in the last few days that have me all het up about the food thing. There seems to be a new and annoying meme out there, that eating real food will make one a “slave” to one’s kitchen. That somehow, “cooking from scratch” is so difficult and so time-consuming that no one can really do it. It’s just too hard.

    Well maybe it’s too hard if you’re being an obsessive yuppie about it. People, grow some common sense. Exhibit A is this article in the Sacramento News Review, “Fast vs. Food: How the sustainable-food movement drove one busy family to the brink and back again.” Like a number of articles on this topic I’ve seen lately, the author seems to take an all-or-nothing approach. Either they’re making all their own bread, pizza dough, eating only from CSA boxes and going to the Farmers Market or they’re eating microwave meals from Trader Joes. Or then there was this one, featured on, “An Inconvenient Challenge, Eat ‘Real Food’ For a Month” in which Jennifer McGruther, food blogger at The Nourished Kitchen is so restrictive about her definition of “real food” that she has people throwing out everything in their pantries, including dried pasta, and flour — she’s telling people to grind their own flour for goodness sake.

    People, this is not helping.

    While I realize that part of the appeal for the media is that there’s a meme to be driven — “eating real food is just too hard!” it’s also being driven by the sort of obsessive, perfectionistic, “lifestyle-driven” behavior that gives the whole food movement a bad name. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be whatever you can do. I was so aggravated that I emailed my friend Nina, who has five kids, and who cooks them dinner every night because well, we’re midwesterners, we cook dinner. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been at Nina’s any number of times when we’ve ordered pizza (although her kids don’t like the local pizza, which is sort of amusing). Nina’s response was:

    I’m just sick of a certain sector of privileged Americans over-thinking and over-classifying everything. Just cook for your kids and cook with your kids whenever possible. Go to the farmer’s market and buy organic when you can. Do what you can because you want to not because you are nailing yourself to the Cross of “slow, organic, homemade, gourmet” or whatever kind of food. My kids usually get organic but I buy bagged stuffing sometimes, instead of pulling my own bread. I make gravy but then serve frozen green beans. Who cares!!!!

    Here’s the deal folks. It’s not that complicated. As Michael Pollan keeps repeating ad nauseum “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Go to the grocery store and buy real food. You know, vegetables, pasta, meat, milk, whatever … Avoid things in shiny packages. Buy organic if you can. Buy good meat if you can – -meat that hasn’t been in a feedlot or an industrial packing plant. Why would you buy a frozen pasta meal when it takes just as long to cook some noodles and saute some veggies with chicken or fish or a little meat? I don’t get it. Our parents cooked us dinner every night, and did dishes, and it wasn’t some dreaded life sentence. It’s just dinner. Cook with your kids. Have them help with the dishes — remember chores? Chores aren’t a bad thing.

    And sure, if you want to pull some stunt, go ahead. But don’t confuse stunt cooking with ordinary, everyday, cooking cooking. It’s just cooking people, it’s not rocket science.

    Local Hospital, Local Food

    Local Hospital, Local Food

    photo by Casey Riffe

    There was a good article in the Billings Gazette this week about our local Livingston Hospital. They’ve been making the change to local product and cooking “from scratch” (as long-time readers know, this phrase is one of my pet peeves). It’s been a big success, with 3000 more meals served this year than last, and folks who aren’t sick, or visiting someone, actually going to the hospital cafeteria for lunch. We have such great product around here, and it sounds like Jesse Williams is doing a lot of the same things that Rick Bayless does in his restaurants, thinking ahead, putting up food during times of abundance, building relationships with vendors. In the midst of all these stories about the abysmal state of school lunches, and the way we’re treating our kids like human garbage disposals for processed food, this one gave me real hope.
    Here’s the quote:

    “When we stopped just reheating prepared food and started cooking again in the kitchen, they (staff) pulled out the stops,” said Jessie Williams, the hospital’s food and nutrition services manager.
    Not only has the hospital shifted its focus to whole foods, but it’s buying a large share of those foods from Montana producers. Few would doubt the health benefits, but Williams says the switch is also healthy for her budget.
    “This is not that hard,” she said. “It can be done. You just start with one thing, even if it’s just onions. I’ll tell you, it will snowball from there.”

    Reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act

    Reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act

    Here’s a link to the USDA News Release about the Child Nutrition Act and what’s been added to it. The list looks promising. It includes:

  • Improve nutrition standards. Establishing improved nutrition standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and taking additional steps to ensure compliance with these standards;
  • Increase access to meal programs. Providing tools to increase participation in the school nutrition programs, streamline applications, and eliminate gap periods;
  • Increase education about healthy eating. Providing parents and students better information about school nutrition and meal quality;
  • Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools. Creating national baseline standards for all foods sold in elementary, middle, and high schools to ensure they contribute effectively to a healthy diet;
  • Serve more healthy food. Promoting increased consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low- and fat-free dairy products and providing additional financial support in the form of reimbursement rate increases for schools that enhance nutrition and quality;
  • Increase physical activity. Strengthening school wellness policy implementation and promoting physical activity in schools;
  • Train people who prepare school meals. Ensuring that child nutrition professionals have the skills to serve top-quality meals that are both healthful and appealing to their student customers;
  • Provide schools with better equipment. Helping schools with financial assistance to purchase equipment needed to produce healthy, attractive meals.
  • Enhance food safety. Expanding the current requirements of the food safety program to all facilities where food is stored, prepared and served.