In all the recent wars over whether high-fructose corn syrup is the devil in candy coating, nobody ever seriously claimed that the sweet stuff was inherently worse for you than regular table sugar. Now, however, scientists at Princeton are claiming exactly that, saying that HFCS is indeed more unhealthy than its fellow sugary travelers:
Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.
The New York Times recently ran an article about Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a suddenly trendy purveyor of premium beef. Most interesting, though, is the accompanying slideshow showing the slaughtering-and-butchering routine in a slaughterhouse designed by Temple Grandin. It’s both abstract and brutal.
Valerie Easton, a regular gardening contributor to the Seattle Times, has been singing the praises in recent months of turning your garden into an edible landscape and then reaping the rewards. Top tip for aspiring veggie lovers? “Make the most of your garden space by growing crops you can keep picking over a long time, like pole beans, kale, and chard.”
Bad guys and good guys. »
From the March/April issue of Eating Well magazine comes a quick rundown of why burgers aren't truly cheap. The math comes from Raj Patel’s new book, The Value of Nothing, which compares the $3.50 cost of a Big Mac to the billions of dollars involved in cleaning up the greenhouse gases emitted by beef cattle, paying agricultural subsidies for the corn fed to those cows, and funding public-health programs for citizens sickened by working for, living near, or eating the products of fast-food companies.
“I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,” he said, fondly remembering a recent meal he’d prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. “I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it’s great that you can get anything.”
Freeman thought the article was snarky, but that the sentiments expressed by the so-called hipsters — why can’t we eat real food on government assistance? — are bona fide. As letter-writer Gerry Mak pointed out,
I don’t insist on craft or expensive goods, I try merely to buy healthy food. I’m on food stamps because I need them. I’ve been basically unemployed or underemployed for over a year, though I have been looking for any sort of work that is available. I have pared down all of my expenses and I’ve moved to a cheaper city. I cook for myself because it’s cheap and I can choose what ingredients go into my food. I also happen to love cooking. I don’t want to be diabetic or sick because I don’t have health care.
For more about the recent expansion of food-stamp benefits and usage, check out the New York Times’ article on the subject.
In case you missed it last week, the March 22 issue of Newsweek featured Michelle Obama on its cover, stumping for Let’s Move, her new obesity-fighting program, along with two other articles (by Claudia Kalb and Claire McCarthy) outlining just how, um, big the problem really is — and how to tackle it. As Kalb wrote,
It took decades after the surgeon general’s 1964 report on the hazards of tobacco for anti-smoking laws to go into effect. And there is, of course, one major and critical difference between tobacco and food: you can live without smoking, but you will die without eating. Which makes tackling childhood obesity such a complicated challenge.
The magazine Fast Company recently published its picks for the 10 most inspiring people in sustainable food. On the list were names both highly visible (chefs Jamie Oliver and Dan Barber, journalist Michael Pollan) and underreported but fascinating (FarmsReach founder Melanie Cheng, Kitchen Gardeners International founder Roger Doiron). Our local fave? Portland’s own Deborah Kane, of Ecotrust and Edible Portland.
The British chef brings his anti-obesity program to the United States. »
The latest industrial food to harbor salmonella? Peppercorns from Asia, which have sickened several dozen people along the West Coast. The source? White pepper, mostly, imported by California’s Union International Food Co. and distributed mostly through Asian restaurants. Check your pepper supplies just in case, though.
OK, so today’s the day when many Americans down green beer, green milkshakes, green cupcakes, and the like, all in honor of the odd idea that, for today at least, we’re all Irish. If you’re not down with the green food coloring, however, try your hand at a Gaelic-inspired dish that’s truly sustaining, such as Irish Stew or the involved-but-satisfying Multigrain Struan. Elise Bauer, on Simply Recipes, has a version of the classic Irish soda bread, while plenty of other websites offer a medley of Irish recipes. Bonus points if you actually know what boxty, champ, and barmbrack are.
Honey bee hives are banned in New York City, but that hasn’t stopped urban beekeepers from setting up hives around town. Now the health department is taking another look at the citywide ban on keeping honey bees in NYC:
Health department officials said the change was being considered after research showed that the reports of bee stings in the city were minimal and that honeybees did not pose a public health threat.
Plus, they make tasty honey, too.
The blog The Consumerist recently posted a graphic comparing federal nutrition recommendations to federal agriculture subsidies. Titled “Why A Salad Costs More Than A Big Mac,” the graphic shows two pyramids: one with the relatively balanced nutritional guidelines, and one with nearly 75 percent of the pyramid eaten up by federal subsidies for meat and dairy. Even if you have quibbles with the nutritional pyramid, the ag pyramid is astonishing.
On his blog, Michael Ruhlman ruminated recently on the pros and cons of cooking. Pro? Making his family happy and healthy, among others. Con? Exhaustion and lack of time, among others. Check out the comments, too, in which readers offer their reasons for choosing to cook.
The nonprofit Change.org ushered in 2010 with a contest titled "Ideas for Change." You can vote on which of the ideas — submitted by the public in categories such as education, environment, and civic engagement — you like the best. In the category titled Food and Agriculture, for example, the three ideas deemed the best so far support school gardens, more CSAs, and saving America's farmland. Vote for your faves — you get 10 votes to distribute among the categories, and the top 10 ideas will be submitted to the Obama Administration. But do it now, since the contest ends on March 12.
A year and a half ago, we noted the USDA’s efforts to close a loophole in its pasture regulations for certified-organic animals. In February, the USDA finally released its new, stricter guidelines for pasture access. As Robert Sietsema noted on Slashfood:
Previously, these animals only had to have “access to pasturage” — a regulation so loose as to be virtually meaningless. Now, that ambiguous phrase has been strictly defined: Animals must be permitted to graze at least four months out of the year, and receive 30 percent of their sustenance from that source during those periods.
Sietsema adds that the real question, of course, is how (and whether) genuine access to pasture will be enforced. Read more in the Washington Post’s report on the new standards.
There’ll always be an England. »
Once upon a time, there was the flash mob, an urban stunt in which groups of people assembled together to collectively perform something goofy, such as breaking into spontaneous applause. Now there’s the crop mob, in which groups of volunteer ag types show up on a farm to help out for a few hours. As the New York Times described it:
The Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together, volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses, and pulling rocks out of fields.
The legal cost of questionable labeling. »
Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa seed has been banned since 2007. But the USDA is scheduled to approve its use this spring. Care to weigh in on the federal agency’s actions? You’ve got through tomorrow, March 3, to get your voice heard.
Last week, the New York Times reported on a classic case of industrial corruption featuring bribery and tainted goods. The industry? Canned tomatoes. The full scandal has touched some 55 companies and created a whole new layer of meaning for the phrase “food safety.” The chief culprit is SK Foods, one of the nation’s largest tomato processors:
Prosecutors say that for years, SK Foods shipped its customers millions of pounds of bulk tomato paste and purée that fell short of basic quality standards — with falsified documentation to mask the problems. Often that meant mold counts so high the sale should have been prohibited under federal law; at other times it involved breaching specifications in the sales contracts, such as acidity levels or the age of the product.
A brief Wall Street Journal article last week noted that food manufacturers are struggling to pass production costs on to consumers. For years, the WSJ reported, “retail food prices climbed between 2 percent and 3 percent annually, big enough to allow [food manufacturers] to pass along rising labor, packaging, and commodity costs.”
But in 2009, grocery-store prices rose just half of a percent, due largely to recession-strapped consumers buying the cheapest food available. (Remember 2008? That, said the WSJ, was when food-commodity prices shot up 6.4 percent, the fastest rate since 1990. ) As a result, the paper noted, “the cost of groceries is outpacing the cost of eating out.” Sorry, chef worshippers; restaurants aren’t suddenly cheaper than supermarkets. It just means that stores are raising their prices faster than eateries are.
Flatbreads from around the continent
Beyond a supporting role
The great Sicilian-Neapolitan kitchen rivalry