Year-end trends

The good and the bad for food in 2011

December 30, 2011

Plus a checklist for 2012. »

Animals and home cooking

New takes on farm to fork

December 29, 2011

Three perspectives. »

Eco-labels on fish

Sustainable farming is tricky

December 28, 2011

The labels don’t help much. »

Michael Pollan, professor

Watch his class online

December 27, 2011

Michael Pollan has taught journalism at the University of California at Berkeley for several years. Now you, too, can sit in on a popular Pollan class, thanks to the Atlantic’s roundup of video lectures on Berkeley’s YouTube channel. (Why watch on the Atlantic’s health blog? Because Cal makes it tricky to find the videos directly.) The class on view — “Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement” — is actually a roundup itself:

Though [Pollan] appears frequently as introducer, moderator, and panelist, the classes are focused on an all-star cast of guest lecturers. Taken together, these food A-listers and innovators provide a compelling, comprehensive portrait of 21st-century eating. . . . If you’re already asking questions about your food, it’s likely your favorite author-activist appears. For people learning about food systems for the first time, this class may be the very best place to start.

Better with butter

Unless you’re out, of course

December 23, 2011

Sunday’s edition of the New York Times magazine included a tiny, amusing graphic comparing holiday cookbooks by sticks of butter required. Diane Morgan’s The Christmas Table fell right in the middle, in between a butter-free book (on gluten-free and vegan holidays, duh) and the butterfest that is The Gourmet Cookie Book. As the LA Weekly noted, it just ain’t holiday time without butter:

We’re guessing that part of the point of Hanel’s graphic is to reveal the extent to which holiday cookbooks lean on butter for flavor. When cookies are a major food group, large birds need moist flesh and crisp skin, and various bland mashes and purées require seasoning beyond salt and pepper, butter steps in — much as it does at Thanksgiving, then joined not infrequently by its assertive, chain-smoking cousin bacon fat.

But what do you do if butter simply isn’t available? That’s the sticky situation right now in Norway, where a virtual butter monopoly combined with protective tariffs have meant very little butter during the butteriest season of the year. As National Public Radio noted, even “The Colbert Report” got in on the buttery action. Alas, all those traditional rounds of krumkake may have to wait till next year.

Banning the bag

Seattle joins other cities in saying no to plastic

December 22, 2011

As the Associated Press reported recently, Seattle has become the latest city to ban plastic bags. Other U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Portland, San Jose, and Aspen, have already joined the no-plastic parade.

As with most of the municipal bans, the new no-bag rule applies only to carryout shopping bags, not the plastic used to bag bulk foods, produce, meat, and the like. Still, with no more plastic at the checkout stand, and paper bags starting to ring up per-bag charges, maybe more and more folks will start toting their own carryalls. Just remember to wash them regularly to get rid of icky bacteria, mold, and the like.

The politics of real food

Can it be cheap? Should it?

December 21, 2011

A Slow Food fracas. »

Getting the word out

Supporting food-politics journalism

December 20, 2011

The folks behind the food-politics blog Civil Eats recently launched another food-news venture: the Food & Environment Reporting Network. The nonprofit’s goal is to support investigative journalism on food, agriculture, and environmental health, and to get that journalism published in a variety of news outlets. First up: a report on water pollution and the dairy industry in New Mexico. Stay tuned for future reports.

Farm politics

Energy, activism, and the Farm Bill

December 19, 2011

The Farm Bill and the Occupy Wall Street movement have come along at the same time, which has meant increased awareness of the economics behind farming in America.

A recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun called for any new Farm Bill to include provisions for encouraging farmers to produce energy (not just crops) via methane and other biofuels. In early December, a Maine farmer flew to New York to speak at the Farmers' March on Wall Street, saying that big business was driving American farmers out of farming. And the activist website TakePart posted a list of websites focused on Farm Bill activism, including slideshows, guides, and petitions.

Check out, too, the Farm Bill Hackathon, a competition designed to “develop tools and visualizations to help convey to the public the complexities and relevance of the farm bill and America’s food system.”

Monsanto’s GM corn

It’s no longer resistant to insects

December 16, 2011

Bt corn follows in the path of Roundup Ready. »

A history of food processing

And why it may be the next big nutritional concern

December 15, 2011

Will the food-reform movement focus on processing next? »

Sugar in your cereal

Commercial cereals, ranked from best to worst

December 14, 2011

Plus tips for what to look for on labels. »

Shopping lists galore

Collecting holiday-book roundups

December 13, 2011

The best cookbooks of 2011. »

Fair-trade restaurants

A guide to joints that treat their employees decently

December 12, 2011

Let’s include restaurant staff in our awareness of domestic fair trade. »

Common foods to avoid

The not-so-magnificent seven

December 9, 2011

A recent roundup, from Prevention magazine, of seven foods that experts won't eat has gone viral lately, with numerous repostings around the Web. The list, picked by such food pros as activist farmer Joel Salatin and Cornucopia Institute co-founder Mark Kastel, includes canned tomatoes, corn-fed beef, microwave popcorn, non-organic potatoes, farmed salmon, milk produced with artificial hormones, and conventionally produced apples. What’s wrong with all these common foodstuffs? Chemicals, mostly, but also animal welfare, farmworker health, and genetic diversity.

Farm improvements

School lunch, urban farmers, and going organic

December 8, 2011

Farm-to-school programs, urban farming in Africa, and why organic really can save the world. »

No more secrets

What’s next for the Farm Bill?

December 7, 2011

It ain’t easy passing a Farm Bill. »

The school-lunch system

A nice loop of profit and junk

December 6, 2011

Paying to turn real edibles into fake food. »

Poisoned apples

Is there arsenic in your fruit juice?

December 5, 2011

The latest food-scare report from Consumer Reports has linked arsenic with fruit juice, specifically apple and grape juice:

Consumer Reports also found mounting scientific evidence suggesting that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead even at levels below federal standards for water can result in serious health problems, especially for those who are exposed in the womb or during early childhood. . . . While federal limits exist for arsenic and lead levels in bottled and drinking water, no limits are defined for fruit juices, which a recent Consumer Reports poll of parents confirms are a mainstay of many children’s diets.

The blog Fooducate noted that arsenic, a known carcinogen, often gets into our food via pesticides — and went on to point out that apple juice, essentially just a sugary liquid, should be shunned in favor of actual apples.

Food-safety scares

Eggs, cans, and history

December 2, 2011

We’re scared, but are we paying attention? »

Gluten-free goes mainstream

At least in the packaged-food world

December 1, 2011

Last Sunday’s New York Times included a feature about the rise of the gluten-free-food industry. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness applauded gluten-free diets getting such attention, but noted that the story’s title — “Should We All Go Gluten-Free?” — is misleading.

After all, the article focuses not the potential health benefits of going gluten-free, but on the food industry’s attempts to capitalize on a trend: our increasing national awareness of gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

“A niche market is going mainstream,” concludes author (and celiac sufferer) Keith O’Brien. But his closing quote, from a food-industry spokesman, is telling: “It’s millions of people with nowhere to turn, but us.” Well, actually, it’s perfectly possible — and preferable — to cook your own gluten-free meals, without having to rely on processed products. No diet has to come out of a box.

Sift archive — December 2011

Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice