Cookbooks for the Hard-to-Shop-For

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photo courtesy of The Three Stooges Cookbook


You’re down to the last few on the holiday shopping list, and this is when it gets tough.
It’s the eccentric family member, the fussy friend, the complicated relationship. Fortunately, there’s a cookbook out there for everyone.

for that special (or not so special) someone
There’s the intimate Eating in Bed Cookbook and the series Cooking in the Nude, although the volume titled Cooking in the Nude: For Barbecue Buffs seems particularly ill-advised. Looking for less romance and more action? Try the unabashedly pragmatic Cook to Bang, subtitled The Lay Cook’s Guide to Getting Laid.

for the quirkily focused
If it’s edible, no doubt there’s a cookbook singularly devoted to it. There’s the Eat-a-bug Cookbook (33 ways to cook grasshoppers, ants, water bugs, spiders, and centipedes) and a few volumes for hardcore fans of Twinkies. The Testicle Cookbook is the English language translation of a Serbian best-seller focused on the beloved, local delicacy. The Natural Harvest cookbook is even harder to swallow. The back-of-the-jacket blurb says it all: Once you overcome any initial hesitation, you will be surprised to learn how wonderful semen is in the kitchen. Semen is an exciting ingredient that can give every dish you make an interesting twist. If you are a passionate cook and are not afraid to experiment with new ingredients – you will love this cook book!

for the celebrity watcher
There’s no dancing but they can cook with stars like Coolio, Regis Philbin, Gwyneth Paltrow, and two of the Real Housewives from the Bravo TV franchise have cookbooks. Notably, both of those have ‘skinny’ in the book title.

for the political junkie (or your strange bedfellows)
Policy wonks can choose to Dine Liberally with the Democrats, Eat Like a Republican, or go bipartisan with Politics and Pot Roast.

for those you want off of next year’s list
Try a copy of Cooking to Kill: The Poison Cook-book, or Dorothea Puente’s Cooking With a Serial KillerCharged with killing nine of her elderly boarding house residents and facing a life sentence, Puente’s recipe collection was published as proof of her innocence. Her defense attorney claimed that Puente would never have fed her boarders so lavishly if she was only going to kill them.

for everyone else
There’s a one-size-fits-all cookbook for the Christmas season billed as ‘The Ultimate Program For Eating Well, Feeling Great, And Living Longer': What Would Jesus Eat?  

 

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Read It and You’ll Never Buy a Mexican Tomato Again

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This weekend the Los Angles Times wrapped up an explosive 4-part investigative series exposing the horrific conditions at Mexican farm labor camps. Product of Mexico pulls no punches as it takes readers into the worker camps attached to industrial mega-farms that send millions of pounds of tomatoes into the United States.

The workers are recruited from Mexico’s poorest and most discriminated populations of indigenous ethnic groups living in remote regions. They’re trucked to distant farms with the promise of decent housing and a weekly salary of $48 for the duration of a 90-day contract. In fact they are housed in squalid shacks, often with no mattresses, working toilets, or running water. Some are held against their will behind barbed wire fences, and some are trapped by employers who withhold wages for the duration of the 90 days. Others are trapped by debt—to the recruiters who charge them a job placement fee, or to the on-site company store where the captive workers overpay for basics like soap and food.

Fully half of all the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. are the product of these farm camps. But don’t worry; the produce itself is coddled. Immaculate greenhouses and packing facilities adhere to the food safety standards demanded by American customers. There might not be sinks and showers at the camps, but food handlers are treated to nail trimmers and hand sanitizers so that the tomatoes will pass through unblemished.

The list of U.S. customers includes nearly every major produce distributor and restaurant chain. Retailers carrying the tomatoes run the gamut from Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, so no matter what kind of shopper you are, you’re likely eating the tomatoes. And until American consumers are willing to use their voices and purchasing power to speak out against the abuses and exploitation, you’ll continue to do so.

Here are some steps you can take on the road to systemic reform:

Visit Fair Trade USA for a list of fair trade certified products and local retailers that carry them. The Fair Trade produce label ensures that farms will meet certain requirements for the treatment of workers, and they are subject to regular inspections and audits to maintain their standing. 
Join your local Fair Trade Campaign that works with schools, hospitals, and other local institutions to broaden the availability of fairly-traded products in your community.
Read the Product of Mexico series. You’ll never buy another Mexican tomato.

 

 

 

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Holiday Weight Gain: The Unwanted, Un-returnable Gift of the Season

image via Shelton Crossfit

image via Shelton Crossfit

 

The holidays are fattening. That’s true.
We pack on the pounds. That’s a myth.

The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper shares his 7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain with the cast of the Today Show. WebMD gives us 10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain. Greatist ratchets it up with 32 Science-Backed Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.
With a steady stream of media stories like these, it should come as no surprise that we vastly overestimate how fattening the holidays are.

Tales of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated.
A classic study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that we expect to gain at least five pounds. The reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds. That’s an average gain of around one pound for the season.

Just one little holiday pound—that doesn’t sound so bad after six weeks of free-flowing eggnog.
It’s only one pound, but most people hang on to it. Weight is on an upward creep throughout most of our lives, from early adulthood to the peak of middle-age spread. We tend to accumulate about two pounds during each of those years, and half of that can be traced to holiday indulgence.

More bad news—you won’t be losing the weight at the gym.
Every January millions of Americans pat their soft little holiday bellies and vow to get fit in the new year. It’s one of the most common resolutions, and health club rosters overflow with well-intentioned new members. Gym owners are all too happy to offer January deals and promotions because they know that the overflowing yoga classes and treadmill lines will be gone before the end of the month. A full 60% of annual gym memberships go unused after the first six weeks of every new year. Our collective failure to keep our fitness resolutions is the easiest money those gym owners see all year.

We don’t fare any better with a January menu of cottage cheese and green tea. 
40% of all New Year’s resolutions relate to diet and weight loss, but women typically revert to old eating habits by January 6th, with men holding out for another week. Men are more weak-willed about cutting out alcohol, usually making it only as far as the first weekend of the new year, while women abstain for two weeks.

With a single new holiday pound every year, the needle on the scale creeps up very slowly. But once it’s there it’s not budging.

 

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Top Food Inventions of 2014

It wasn’t just cronut-inspired pastry hybrids.
2014 brought the doughssant, the doughscuit, and the crookie. You could even call the Taco Bell waffle taco a direct descendent of the trendy pastry mashups. But it’s good to know that the year’s food innovations didn’t stop there. Many addressed the pressing problems of climate change, world hunger, public health, and animal welfare.

Whether you’re a Luddite, a technophile, or something in between, here are some of the  year’s coolest, useful, and tastiest developments that came out of the overlapping spheres of food and technology.

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A banana that prevents blindness
Young children in Sub-Saharan Africa eat a lot of bananas. They also go blind at a frightening rate—30% of kids under age 5 are at risk—due to the lack of vitamin A in their diets. Scientists have engineered a souped-up banana, enriched with alpha and beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A. It could prevent 1 million cases of blindness a year.

 

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Electronic tongue
Researchers have developed a device that can scan food for additives, impurities, and even taste. It works like a human tongue with sensors that detect substances and send signals to a computer for analysis, much like the way taste buds transmit flavor messages to the brain. Ultimately it will be used to detect toxins and bacterial contamination at food inspection and processing sites. It’s already in use in Thailand where restaurants earn a Thai Delicious designation when the e-tongue verifies the tastiness of their ingredients.

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Levitating cocktails
A British inventor has come up with a levitron that lets you sip a Bloody Mary out of thin air. Soundwaves lift cocktail droplets out of a glass and suspend them in space. He’s hoping to have a floating rainbow of jelly beans by Easter.

 

 la-dd-eco-friendly-froyo-edible-packaging-20140312Edible wrappers
WikiFood (the company), is making WikiPearls (the product), out of WikiCells (the material). These are all-natural, water-tight, edible shells made from things like dried fruit, coconut, and seaweed. WikiFood casings reduce packaging waste; they provide a protect barrier against contaminants and temperature swings; and they can be enhanced for improved nutrition. They’re a natural for humanitarian food aid, but you can also buy them at Whole Foods filled with Stonyfield yogurt.

 

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The futuristic fantasy became a reality in 2014. The Foodini is a home printer that produces pasta and burgers to cook at home, and The ChefJet prints desserts in sugar and chocolate. 3DPrintingIndustry explores the outer limits of printed edibles, like foods that can double as biomedical sensors or electrify your insides with conductive jello. Recipes and other matters of modern gastronomy are discussed at 3Digital Cooks.

The innovations will keep coming.
Food startups are attracting significant venture capital as we look for solutions to society’s ills and explore viable, sustainable alternatives to our current model of industrialized food production. Insect-based foods, customized nutrition, laboratory-grown meat analogs—these are some of the developments we’ll be seeing in 2015 and beyond.

Posted in appliances + gadgets, food trends, Science/Technology | Leave a comment

Nothing Says Merry Christmas Like Custom, Edible, and Anatomically Correct

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Your name on a Christmas stocking is so old school.
Custom gifts that use digital imaging and 3D printing will put a contemporary spin on personalized holiday gift-giving. 

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Choc-Edge will render your face (or Santa’s) in dark, milk, or white chocolate. Just send in a photo; custom molds start at $80.

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Parker’s Crazy Cookies turns your likeness into a caricature of fresh-baked goodness. The design process costs $25 for an initial proof and three revisions, and then you can order all the cookies you need for your holiday cookie swap.

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A 3D scanner maps you from head to toe to create a detailed silicone candy mold that renders you as a gummy mini-me .


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Fondant doppelgänger cake toppers aren’t just for June weddings. Like Butter creates plenty of custom, edible sculptures (starting at $60) in the days leading up to December 25th.

 

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Send in a photo and Chocolate Dreams will re-create it in chocolate. They’ve made a subspecialty of so-called exotic designs that they claim are ‘not for the fainthearted.’

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There Really is an ISIS Jihadi Cookbook- because even a Mujahideen marches on its stomach

image via Blazing Cat Fur

image via Blazing Cat Fur

 

ISIS is actively recruiting women to help with the domestic side of holy war. 
The jihadists are on social media outlets scouting for western women willing to travel to Syria to cook and clean for “Allah’s soldiers.” And not just any western women; they seek women who are “interested in explosive belt and suicide bombing more than a white dress or a castle or clothing or furniture.”

The self-proclaimed Islamic State established the Al Zawra women’s auxiliary group and tasked it with bringing new recruits up to speed.
It’s a jihadi-style finishing school for the women of ISIS, offering tips on snagging a warrior husband (sample tweet: “Marriage in the land of jihad: till martyrdom do us part,”), and instruction in such diverse subjects as sewing, Sharia law, weaponry, and battlefield first aid. The group has a worldwide following through its YouTube channel, Twitter feed, and Facebook account, and dozens of personal member blogs and Facebook pages spew English language propaganda (not all are reachable from U.S. computers).  

Special attention is given to cooking, with recipes for a “hungry mujahideen” released online as part of the Al Zawra Media “jihadi cookbook.”
Animated clipart cooking videos and elaborately detailed step-by-step photography accompany the recipes. Most dishes are simple foods that hit the spot during a break in the daily rampaging.

Date mush snack balls are described as “a quick recipe for a mild appetite to be eaten with coffee or with water and eaten at any time, especially during the intermission in battles. They contain significant calories, and will extend the power and strength of the Mujahedeen, God willing.” A more extended lull in the war against the infidels means it’s time for pancakes. It’s a western-style recipe (1 egg, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 1 Tbsp oil, 4 tsp sugar, salt) served with honey. According to Al Zawra, pancakes fit for a terrorist should be cooked in a non-stick pan.

It’s the ordinariness that makes it surreal. 
The girls and young women of ISIS have Tumblrs and Instagram accounts like teenagers everywhere, but they gossip about husbands attaining martyrdom and share unrecognizable niqab-clad selfies. Their internet memes are less cats more suicide vests, and cooking lessons come from horrifically brutal terrorists. 
Al Zawra truly represents the banality of evil.

 

 

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The Holiday Diet Detox

image via Ayay.uk

image via Ayay.uk

 

The typical Thanksgiving meal is a whopping 4,500 calories.
That’s two days’ worth of food for most of us. It’s the caloric equivalent of downing nine large orders of McDonald’s fries in a single sitting.

It’s time to think about a post-Thanksgiving detox.
Approaches vary from juice fasts to activated charcoal capsules to colon cleansing regimens, but all the Thanksgiving detoxes are aimed at flushing the November alcohol, sugar, and toxins out of your body. Do it now and you can boost your immune system and improve metabolic function just in time for the next round of holiday parties.

You name it and The Detoxinista can tell you how to excrete, secrete, or otherwise expel it from your body. She covers all the usual troublemakers like alcohol, meat, gluten, grains, nuts, and eggs, and even gives us a few new substances to worry about (nightshade, predatory fish, the auto-immune protocol).

Detox the World adds bacteria, yeast, and fungus to the list.

There are apps to guide you through a sugar detoxa raw foods regimen, or go the paleo way with a morning glass of spinach-limeade.

You can be gender-specific: the Man-Up Detox promises to boost testosterone while it cleanses; Body Detox 4 Women advises bubble baths and dark chocolate.

The Official Online Holiday Detox Kit dispenses absolution along with advice: ‘to overdo it is human. to overdo it over the holidays is almost mandatory. we’re here to help.’  You pick your poison (choose from food, family, or frolic), enter your specific overindulgence, and the online tool suggests the appropriate cure. Too much pumpkin pie—balance your diet with an artichoke; overbearing in-laws—watch the ‘Wha Happened?’ clip from A Mighty Wind; a bit too much of the holiday nog—try bed rest, a cold pack, and the Stevie Wonder station on Pandora.

With a little post-Thanksgiving cleansing and purging, you’ll be ready for the holiday excess still to come.

 

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Give Just 18 Minutes to Our Most Critical Food Issues

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It’s nearly Thanksgiving; the whole country already has food on the brain.
Why not take 18 minutes out of the long holiday weekend and watch a food-focussed TED Talk?

For the uninitiated, TED Talks fall under the heading of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading.’
That’s the slogan of the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conferences that spawned the speaker series. Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and U2’s Bono were among the earliest presenters, and as the talks spread into topics of food policy, food politics, hunger, and nutrition, food-minded individuals like scientists, policymakers, chefs, and activists joined the list.

TED Talks are required to clock in at under 18 minutes.
These are big thinkers presenting big and often complex ideas. The time constraint challenges them to consider form and format, resulting in narrative arcs that engage and enlighten while remaining concise. TED Talks are often snappy, savvy, and powerful, and presenters often point to theirs as the best speech of a lifetime. 
Many are so compelling that even in a post-turkey tryptophan-induced stupor you should make it to the end.

A cheat sheet to some of the best of the food-focussed TED Talks:

Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell follows the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce to make a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.

See why 11-year old Birke Beahr says, ‘Now a while back, I wanted to be an NFL football player. I decided that I’d rather be an organic farmer instead.’

New Urbanist/Architect Carolyn Steel looks at the ways in which food has historically shaped our cities, and why our current relationship with food is severing that connection.

Chef Dan Barber begins by fretting about the fish choices on his menu and ends falling in love with a fish.

Michael Pollan speaks from the plant perspective in a TED Talk that leaves us questioning Darwinism and human consciousness.

 

TED Talks are always free and can be accessed through a multitude of apps and media outlets including YouTube, iTunes, Netflix, and the TED website.
Visit TED for links to all the different ways you can watch.

 

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And You Thought Tofurkey was as Weird as Thanksgiving Could Get

Just when we’re recovering from the fall onslaught of pumpkin spice flavored everything, here come the Thanksgiving flavors.

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Have the saddest Thanksgiving ever with the poultry version of everyone’s favorite block of porky luncheon meat.

 

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You won’t end up with a sink full of dirty dishes when you serve Thanksgiving dinner in a cone. Seasonal flavors from Portland, Oregon’s Salt & Straw ice cream shop include sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, hazelnut rosemary stuffing, and goat cheese pumpkin pie. The entrée scoop features fried turkey skin brittle in a base of turkey fat caramel.

medium_image-54662ffb4170701480030400-coalescedYou can replicate the entire feast in potato chips. Boulder Canyon Foods has a lineup that includes cranberry, stuffing, turkey and gravy, and pumpkin pie, all in chip form.

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New York’s Zucker Bakery doesn’t stop at a little pumpkin glaze for their Thanksgiving donuts. Try sweet potato with marshmallow or spiced pumpkin filled with gravy.

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Pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts make their annual appearance. Pumpkin appears too, if only as a trace (<2%) ingredient.

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Thanksgiving beverage pairing hasn’t been the same since the Jones Soda Company discontinued its legendary holiday pack. The assortment varied from year-to-war, but think green bean casserole, buttered mashed potato, and Turkey & Gravy, all rendered in sugary carbonation. There are readily available alternatives like Pinnacle‘s pumpkin pie vodka and the sweet potato lager from Fullsteam BreweryOr you can always order up another round of pumpkin spice lattés.

 

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Are You a Music-Nerd-Slash-Foodie?

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If you’re a music-nerd/foodie, it’s your golden age.
Restaurants are adding music directors who create musical pairings for the night’s list of menu specials, and British Airways now partners inflight meals with its Sound Bites music matching menu. There are pop ups like Covers, a kind of tribute band for the restaurant world, serving the signature dishes of well-known chefs, each paired with a cover version of a well known song. The bands and food booths are both headliners at festivals like San Francisco’s Outside Lands, Charleston’s Southern Ground, South Africa’s Delicious, and Maryland’s Sweet Life.

Sonic seasoning
We all know that a good meal is about more than just the plate of food in front of you. It’s also about the pleasure you take in the people you’re with, the buzz in the room, the atmosphere, and the ambiance. Music adds another sensory component, and the right music will complement the meal and elevate the whole dining experience.

Create your own soundtracks with these resources:

Supper is like a cookbook with mood music.
It’s a website and a Spotify app that combines recipes with enough harmonious tracks to carry you from cooking through dining. Well-known chefs, restaurateurs, and musicians collaborate on the selections like shrimp with tomato fricasee paired with Massive Attack and John Coltrane, and black rice-stuffed baby squash accompanied by Solange, Leonard Cohen, and Scissor Sisters. Are playlists becoming the new wine list?

The Recipe Project sings for its supper. 
It’s a book, a CD, an app, and a video, with contributions from top chefs, food writers, and musicians. It’s smart, with interviews and essays exploring the relationship between food and music. And it’s silly, with sing-along recipes set word-for-word to music. There’s a heavy metal octopus salad with black-eyed peas from Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino’s Beastie Boys-esque offal and eggs, and the classic rock of Tom Colicchio’s creamless creamed corn. Bonus tracks: David Chang shares a playlist he calls ‘Songs to Lose Customers by’.

Turntable Kitchen calls their service ‘a curated food and music discovery experience.’
A subscription to their Pairings Boxes brings monthly shipments, each with recipes, spices and other ingredients used in the recipes, a digital mixtape of new music, and a limited-edition vinyl album pressed by their own record label.

Mood magazine is a food and music quarterly organized around the notion that ‘not many things can beat a good record and a delicious meal.’
A recent relocation from Brussels to New York has served to beef up the US-focussed content, while still gathering stories from around the globe. The latest issue looks at Brooklyn’s fried chicken scene, visits a South African café owned by a local indie rock star, and travels to food and music festivals in Norway and Illinois.

The creator behind Musical Pairing has devised a mathematical system that’s supposed to identify the perfect song for every dish.
The system assigns a numerical value to a meal based on ingredients, flavor profile, and cooking method. It also looks at music, assigning a value based on instrumentation, tempo, beat, and genre. The supposition is that when the Food Pairing Number (FPN) is equal to the Musical Pairing Number (MPN), you’ve got your match.

 

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Detroit, Michigan: The New Back Forty

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There aren’t enough jobs, enough people, or enough tax revenue, but one thing Detroit has plenty of is vacant land.
The city is barely standing after decades of a free-falling economy, fruitless renewal efforts, and a local government that was feckless at best and more often corrupt. Two-thirds of Detroit’s residents streamed toward the exits, leaving 40 square miles of abandoned buildings and empty lots—a space equal to the entire city of Boston—that arson, bulldozers, and nature are transforming into a massive urban prairie.

Most people look to Detroit and see a ruined space prowled by looters and packs of wild dogs; some see a field of dreams.
Visionary citizens and a progressive administration are rehabbing and reshaping the city. To them it’s not blight but unplanned green space, and a prime test case for large-scale urban farming. Detroit has become the nation’s hub for advocates of urban agriculture and the shrinking cities movement that reimagines distressed, post-industrial cities as smaller metro cores surrounded by green belts of food production.

In April 2013, Detroit passed a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance that changed the way the city is zoned.
Urban zones traditionally fall into one of five major categories: residential, mixed residential-commercial, commercial, industrial, and special zones (school, hospital, airport, etc.). Zoning establishes dedicated land uses; the local government can regulate the activity but it also offers legal protections. Detroit’s ordinance established agriculture as an urban planning priority. It gave formal legal status to an array of land uses including community gardens, rainwater catches, and aquaculture, and permits even small, backyard gardeners to sell homegrown produce from their own farm stands.

The ordinance has been embraced by a public and private cross-section of the city.
Citizen groups like Be Black and Green and My Jewish Detroit have helped to establish the nearly 2,000 gardens flourishing in the city’s ethnic enclaves. More than 1,000 citizens volunteered at a spring planting day launching Hantz Farm, the world’s largest urban farm. The school district has converted one of the city’s many abandoned public schools into 27 acres of gardens to provide produce to its school cafeterias. Even the automakers have joined in with projects like the Cadillac Urban Gardens which has recycled and repurposed hundreds of steel shipping crates into raised-bed planters.

Detroit’s food activists are aiming for a food sovereign city.
That’s a lofty goal of 51% or more of the fresh foods consumed in Detroit to be grown by Detroiters within the city limits. It’s especially gutsy when you consider that just a few years ago Detroit was the poster child for urban food deserts, with fully half of its residents living without reasonable access to fresh groceries. Empty lot by empty lot, the city is transitioning there.

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A Device that Distills Coca-Cola into Clean Drinking Water

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The Real Thing is a Dutch art installation that challenges us to think about priorities within our consumerist culture.
The multidisciplinary artist Helmut Smits sought to make a statement about “a world in which drinking water can be harder to come by than Coca-Cola.” With input from the Synthetic Organic Chemistry group of the University of Amsterdam, he created a reverse osmosis filtration system that turns a bottle of Coke into a purified bottle of clean water.

Coca-Cola is everywhere.
The company likes to brag that it operates in more countries than the United Nations (200 to the UN’s 192). Coca-Cola’s network of bottlers is the world’s largest and most widespread production and distribution system. It’s estimated that 95% of the world’s population can identify an unlabeled Coke bottle just by its iconic (and patented) contoured shape.

Coca-Cola’s reach extends to even the dustiest little towns in the most remote regions of every continent. The residents might not have access to potable water, but they have Coke. They have Coke in drought-stricken regions of India, even though the production of a liter bottle of Coca-Cola can use up to nine liters of clean drinking water. They have Coke in impoverished regions of Africa, where Coca-Cola is the beverage of choice because it’s priced below the cost of clean water.

Coca-Cola has been trying to spruce up its image, championing various sustainability and community-building initiatives.
Critics see the effort as window dressing; a fleeting social commitment of convenience while billions continue to flow to advertising in developing countries.
The Real Thing installation reminds us that residents of the world’s poorest nations need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.

 

 

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Made With Conviction

image via The Justice Institutes

image via The Justice Institute

 

Forget about license plates.
Prison labor has been used to make everything from IKEA furniture to Victoria’s Secret lingerie. And of course there’s the inmate agricultural worker. We have an image of chain gangs working the fields under the watchful eye of guards on horseback—stereotypical but also historical truth. Mechanization put an end to most large-scale prison farms, but draconian immigration laws have created a new labor market for prisoners in the civilian agriculture and food-processing sectors, and prison-made foods are now a supermarket staple.

There’s a prison connection to much of what you eat.
Convicts have baked Sara Lee cakes and packed bags of Starbucks coffee beans. They make Louisiana hot sauce, lunchbox apple juice packs, and produce mozzarella for the world’s largest pizza supplier. Prisoners have even gone artisanal: they grow chardonnay and cabernet franc grapes for award-winning wine bottlers, produce raw milk goat cheeses for high-end cheese shops, and raise the tilapia sold at Whole Foods Markets.

The National Correctional Industries Association, which oversees partnerships between prisons and private companies, praises the prison-to-table movement for enabling inmates “to acquire marketable skills to increase their potential for successful rehabilitation and meaningful employment upon release.” Critics call it a thinly veiled return to slavery that displaces civilian workers while it exploits the poor and people of color who are disproportionately represented in prison populations.

Correctional institutions and their corporate partners are well-compensated through these arrangements.
The businesses are often paying pennies on the dollar of prevailing wages. They’re not paying benefits and aren’t held to the standards of civilian employers. Up to 80% of the wages can then be kept by the prison to cover the costs of incarceration. A full day’s labor might put a few dollars into a prisoner’s account, but the state can withhold those amounts for fines, court costs, and victim restitution.

What’s wrong with this picture?
Corporate responsibility, racism, social justice, corruption, immigration reform- take your pick.
But what do we make of cage-free egg producers who use prison labor?

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Fast Food in the Age of Transparency

 

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It’s not as nasty as you think. That’s the message of McDonald’s latest ad campaign.

McDonald’s knows it has a serious image problem. Obesity, pink slime, Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me—the decades of exposés, headlines, and scandals have taken their toll. Since they can’t advertise their food as fresh, or healthy, or natural, or environmentally friendly, the company decided to go with It’s really not that bad.

McDonald’s has gone on a transparency drive called Our Food. Your Questions. They’ve produced video vignettes and infographics that explain the production process behind some of their most mystifying menu items like McRibs and McNuggets to show how something not found in nature can end up on your lunch tray. They’ve hired a host from TV’s Mythbusters to debunk some of the more persistent rumors, like the viral video of an ancient burger, so packed with preservatives that it refused to rot.

At the heart of the campaign is the online forum where customers can get real-time answers to their questions.
It’s where you’ll learn that their beef contains growth hormones but no worms, and that NOT ALL of McDonald’s salads are more fattening than their burgers. Special attention is given to questions about the notorious ‘yoga mat’ chemical. Yes, the rubbery additive is baked into most of their buns and rolls, but the spokesperson gives us a new way to think about the link to yoga mats: it’s like sprinkling ice on sidewalks in the winter; you don’t go around saying that you season your food with a de-icer, now do you?

Our perceptions may be malleable, but McDonald’s is McDonald’s is McDonald’s.
The problem with McDonald’s form of transparency is its toothlessness. The food remains fundamentally unhealthy, employees aren’t paid a living wage, and suppliers practice inhumane and unsustainable forms of agriculture. The hamburger meat continues to be pumped full of antibiotics to combat the filth of the crowded factory farming feedlots, and the eggs come from chickens that lived out their lives in locked battery cages.

This new openness might make McDonald’s appear less sinister, but consumer confidence and trust won’t be rebuilt until the company commits to taking a stand for healthy, sustainable foods. Companies like Starbucks, Panera, and Chipotle are winning the fast food wars not because they’re more transparent, but because they’ve taken a hard look at the quality and origins of the ingredients they use and have forged genuine change. As the nation’s biggest fast food chain and one of the world’s largest purveyors of raw materials, McDonald’s is in a position to make a real difference in how food is grown and the way the world eats.

Posted in fast food, food business, food safety | 2 Comments

You probably encountered a dozen pig by-products before you even left your house this morning

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

 

Your world is awash in pig parts.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig by-products make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin derived from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt, garlic salt and spice blends. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig by-products. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

We have a right to know.
Do you keep kosher or follow the rules of halal? Are you vegan or vegetarian? Or are you just, like any sane person, interested in knowing the substances and ingredients that you consume and are exposed to in daily living?

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 19,000 entries.

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Why Feminists have Demonized Michael Pollan

 

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

image via Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburgers

 

Food is, without a doubt, a feminist issue.
Of course it’s inherently a human issue, but women have uniquely complicated—too often tortured, even—relationships with food. And now the DIY ethos is adding a new wrinkle to the gendered dynamics of mealtime.

Women, especially young women in their 20’s and 30’s, are embracing a new kind of domesticity. The 21st century preoccupations of backyard chicken-keeping, artisan food businesses, and grassroots food activism are dominated by female practitioners. While men still rule in professional kitchens making up 93% of executive chefs, women spend three times as many hours in home kitchens as the men in their lives, making 93% of food purchases and cooking 78% of dinners.

Feminists versus Femivores
This new breed of crack homemakers is disparagingly labeled as femivores. They’re seen as opting out of feminist causes to focus on canning local peaches and raising gluten-free children. These are the passionate, educated, progressive-minded women who, in an earlier era, would have been marching on Washington and pushing against the glass ceiling at work. Instead, they’re organizing cookie swaps and campaigning to legalize raw milk.

Michael Pollan is the feminists’ whipping boy.
The publication of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma is considered a turning point for feminism. A manifesto for the new age of homesteading, it’s the touchstone for new domestics, giving social legitimacy to tomato-canning, bread-baking, and stay-at-home motherhood. Since the burden of homemaking has, for time immemorial, fallen to women, feminists charge Pollan with giving rise to a new form of enforced domesticity that’s as insidious and as detrimental to the economic lives of women as the social constructs of the 1950’s.

Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pigas a Salon headline asked, or is it the more nuanced Femivore’s Dilemma, put forth by The New York Times? The debate rages on in the femisphere. 
Here are some of the best blogs that explore food politics through a feminist lens: 
The Feminist Kitchen
The F Words (food & feminism)
Sistah Vegan
New Domesticity

 

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Just in Time for Halloween: More Good News About Chocolate

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Forget the fruit rollups and goldfish crackers. Chocolate is the healthy Halloween treat.
The list of health benefits from chocolate keeps getting longer.

Ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa contain more antioxidants than such good-for-you foods as green tea and blueberries. Antioxidants work by neutralizing unstable molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. Antioxidants in chocolate can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. They can decrease complications in pregnant women, reduce the risk of stroke, cancer, and heart disease, and mitigate the brain’s response to pain.

The good news just keeps getting better.
Food scientists have recently developed a cocoa-processing method that retains more flavenols. Flavenols are a class of antioxidant that increases blood flow to the brain. The improved flow seems to have the most impact on the mathematical parts of the brain: drinking two cups of cocoa a day has been found to significantly improve fluency with basic computational problems as well as complex math problems, and test subjects report less mental exhaustion. Flavenols also slow the decline of memory and protect the brain from other age-related deteriorations.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat chocolate.
Just because it’s a wonder food, you don’t want to indulge indiscriminately.

The darker the chocolate, the better
Dark chocolate is much richer in antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa (most quality chocolates are labeled with this information) the greater the health benefits.

Avoid the high calorie extras
Caramel, marshmallow, nonpareils— not a lot of antioxidants; stick with plain, dark chocolate, or maybe chocolate with fruit or nuts.

Skip the milk
Milk consumed with chocolate interferes with the antioxidants. It’s a shame. They do taste good together.

Eat moderately
Always sound advice. Especially with a high-calorie food like chocolate where health benefits can be quickly outweighed by over-indulgence.

 

Posted in candy, chocolate, Halloween, Health | Leave a comment

A City Guide to Affordable Gastronomy

The Wallet Hub Map of Food Affordability in 150 Metro Markets 

 

A roof over your head and food on your plate.
Those are the big ones in everyone’s budget. Housing and food add up to nearly half of most Americans’ annual spending.

Housing values are closely scrutinized; food values not so much.
There are endless real estate rankings and ratings—we know about New York condo prices and San Francisco rent; we know which cities are affordable for retirees and where to move to after college. Even though food is often the next largest chunk of the budget, there’s been scant research into where to go for the good food values.

The sweet spot for a food scene is where quality meets affordability.
Wallet Hub
, a social platform for financial decision making, evaluated the 150 most populous U.S. cities to find the most and least economical food scenes in the country. Data was culled from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and analyzed using 18 weighted metrics indicating diversity, accessibility, quality, and affordability of food in each city. They counted grocers, butchers, cheese shops, and coffee roasters and compared prices across regions. Well-ranked cities have farmers markets, CSAs, food trucks, and maybe a food festival or two. They also have plenty of healthy options, a range of ethnic cuisines, food delivery, and a decent ratio of full-service to fast food restaurants.

Some of the rankings are what you’d expect. For all its bounty, high prices sink New York City to #143 (where it’s sandwiched between Port St. Lucie, Florida and Anchorage, Alaska), and places like Omaha, Nebraska and Fort Wayne, Indiana don’t have too much going on food-wise, but man are they cheap. Coffee, craft beer, and inexpensive ethnic restaurants spring up wherever you find large student populations, giving a ratings boost to big college towns like Madison, Wisconsin (#3) and Austin, Texas (#8). San Francisco is tops for restaurants and diversity but gets dinged for some of the highest prices in the country, knocking it down to #15.

There are also plenty of surprises.
Tourist meccas like Honolulu, Hawaii and Orlando, Florida are inexplicably dense with specialty grocers. Portland, Oregon is perched within the winery and brewery belt of the Pacific Northwest, yet it has some of the highest beer and wine prices in the country. Detroit is in dire need of ice cream parlor. Salt Lake City, even with its caffeine-free Mormon population, has more coffee shops per capita than Jacksonville, Florida and El Paso, Texas. And can someone please tell me why Fayetteville, North Carolina and Henderson, Nevada are two of the nation’s most expensive food towns?

Visit WalletHub’s 2014’s Best and Worst Foodie Cities for your Wallet to get a full picture of the eating landscape, and to learn why we should all pack it in and move to Grand Rapids.

 

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Ebola: Can You Get it from Food?

 

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Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

Facts about Ebola in the U.S. via Centers for Disease Control

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The internet is churning with misinformation and fear-mongering about the Ebola virus.
One theory making the rounds is that the food supply could be an entry point for the spread of the virus in this country. Newsweek bolstered the speculation with an inflammatory cover story: A Back Door For Ebola. Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic. 

The World Health Organization classifies Ebola as a foodborne disease.
The official U.S. position, voiced by both the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is that you can’t get it from food. The truth comes down to your diet.

Researchers haven’t absolutely pinned it down but there’s general agreement that the virus probably originated with African bats.
Bats are notoriously adept at hosting parasites and pathogens and spreading diseases to other animals. The really nasty viruses like SARS, Ebola, and Marburg all happen to be of the zoonotic variety, meaning they can be passed between animals and humans.

Bats and their animal neighbors in the wild are a common food source in the Ebola zone.
Hunting, butchering, cooking, and eating infected animals creates contact with blood, organs, and bodily fluids—the known paths of transmission. But no African meat, raw or processed, bush or otherwise, is allowed to enter the U.S. The FDA bans it from every country on the African continent, and the CDC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have policing authority, with each violation carrying a $250,000 fine. That’s not to say that it’s not here; illegal, smuggled bushmeat has always found its way into immigrant communities whose residents hunger for a taste of home.

From the global perspective of the World Health Organization, Ebola is indeed a foodborne disease. But the Surgeon General and the CDC are also correct—it’s not a foodborne disease in this country because bushmeat isn’t a part of our food supply. With all due respect to the culture and traditions of our nation’s African immigrants, it’s unimaginable that members of their communities are continuing the risky practice in the midst of this ongoing health crisis. But to many West Africans, bushmeat is more than just a tradition; it’s an essential form of sustenance in regions where other sources of animal protein are scarce or prohibitively expensive. And that’s a situation that just continues to worsen as the Ebola epidemic sickens farmers, and quarantines disrupt food trade.

 

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Wake Up and Smell the Rat Meat: Stop Buying Chinese Food Imports!

 

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It wasn’t easy choosing a headline. 
I could have gone with the noodles infested with maggots or the baby food with more lead than a gallon of old gasoline. Then there’s the used cooking oil reclaimed from sewers and the shrimp that are raised on a diet of pig feces. I wanted a headline that will make you ask why we still import food from China.
I’m thinking that rat meat sold as lamb could do the trick.

China hit a new record this year: in the first three quarters of 2014 more of its food production was deemed unfit for human consumption than fit.
In recent months we’ve seen 11,000 cases of norovirus among schoolchildren served smoothies and fruit salad made with diseased frozen strawberries, and American restaurants frying with Chinese-made ‘vegetable’ oil that was actually extracted from the fat of animals like cats and foxes. McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Burger King were all ensnared in a massive tainted meat scam that involved expired meats that were ‘freshened’ with bleach and relabeled for shipping.

If you think that you’re not eating Chinese food imports because you don’t frequent fast food outlets, think again. They make up 80% of America’s tilapia, 51% of cod, 49% of apple juice, 34% of processed mushrooms, 27% of garlic, and 16% of frozen spinach. Reading labels is not enough: American food companies are generally required to label only where their products are packaged or processed, not where the ingredients come from. A Swanson frozen dinner or a can of Campbell’s soup can contain 20 different ingredients from 20 different countries with no mention of this on the label. When you open a can of Bumble Bee tuna or Dole fruit, or pour your child a glass of Mott’s apple juice, you’re likely eating foods from China. All-American brands like Kraft, Lay’s, Pepsi, and General Mills all buy from Chinese growers and producers that harvest and process with lower labor costs than almost anywhere else.

Many more food violations see the light of day because of Wu Heng, the Upton Sinclair of China. 
Gelatin made from leather scraps, melamine in milk, pork that’s chemically transformed into beef—these are some of the scandals that first came to our attention through Wu Heng’s muckraking website Zhi Chu Chuang Wai. The name translates to Throw it Out the Window, a reference to an incident in which then-president Theodore Roosevelt tossed a sausage out of a White House window after reading Sinclair’s The Jungle, chronicling the horrors of the U.S. meatpacking industry. Wu and his staff of volunteers have identified and documented nearly 4,000 separate incidents of substandard, unsanitary, and unsafe food production, mostly deliberate, and most fueled by greed, ignorance, and corruption.

It’s gotten so bad that wealthier and savvier Chinese citizens are shunning their own local foods. 
They’ve sent food imports from the U.S. soaring to new heights by shopping at large grocery stores, like Walmart or the French chain Carrefour that offer foreign brands and a greater guarantee of quality control over domestic products. 

Can somebody tell me why the U.S. still imports food from China?

Posted in food business, food knowledge, food safety | Leave a comment
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