Memorial Day means the start of a lot of sunshiny things: donning white shoes and pale linen, dusting off the barbecue, and celebrating a season of outdoor federal holidays. In other words, it’s the unofficial start of summer. So — even if the weather outside doesn’t seem like grilling weather yet — here are some seasonal barbecuing tips from Culinate.
The travel feature in the June issue of Bon Appétit magazine focuses on glamorous restaurant cooking in Copenhagen, Denmark. What’s compelling, though, are the locavore trends underlying what the magazine calls "New Nordic" cooking: eating locally grown, harvested, and foraged foods not just in downtown destinations but in homes, schools, and hospitals. Sure, you can eat lamb sweetbreads made with yellow yarrow foraged from the castle parking lot at Dragsholm Slot, but you can also get involved with the OPUS research project, a sort of Let's Move program for Denmark. In other words, good eats for all.
A recent New York Times roundup of online menu planners noted several — Menus4Moms, DinnerPlanner.com, The Six O'Clock Scramble, and Dine Without Whine — before pointing out the twist of the newest, E-Mealz: menus created each week to match local supermarket sales. Subscribers can save big bucks, but the menus might not please everyone:
“They’re not ultra-organic, straight-up health menus,” she said. “If they were, you’d be spending more than that. We know that if you can just get Americans to eat at home, period, they’re going to eat healthier, period, even if it’s not the most healthy recipe on earth.” (In spite of that statement, E-Mealz does offer low-carb, vegetarian, and Weight Watchers points-based plans, too.)
The Atlantic’s food channel recently published two articles debating the merits of grass-fed livestock. The first article, by the controversial food activist James McWilliams, asked whether free-range meat was making us ill. The second article, by ranchers Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman, served as a rebuttal to the McWilliams piece, arguing that grass-fed meat is healthier for humans to consume than conventionally raised meat:
Regrettably for McWilliams, but fortunately for farm animals, farmers, and consumers, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence confirms what common sense already tells us: animals are happier and healthier when raised with sunshine, fresh air, and grass, and given the opportunity to exercise. Not surprisingly, animals raised on pasture also produce healthier and safer (not to mention tastier) food.
On his eponymous blog, David Lebovitz recently posted a lengthy rumination on kitchen knives: which ones to buy and why, as well as how to care for and sharpen them. Most useful tip out of many? His ban on dishwashers:
Never, ever run knives through the dishwasher. Not only can they bang together, which damages the blade, but the heat of the machine causes the metal to expand and contract, which affects the blade as well.
It might not feel like spring yet if you live in snowy Montana — or, heck, here in cold and rainy Portland, Oregon — but the green stuff is coming up pretty much everywhere else. And gardeners are going with it, even when green spaces are hard to come by.
The Brooklyn Grange group is planting an enormous edible garden atop a rooftop in Queens, New York. Salon posted a slide show of 11 pioneers in urban farming, including Los Angeles Guerrilla Gardening and Minneapolis’ Backyard Harvest. Cathy Erway compiled her own roundup of urban-farming activists on her blog, Not Eating Out in NY. And the New York Times reported on the latest in space-saving urban farming — the growing-vegetables-upside-down trend — and paid tribute to one of the original urban-farming activists, John Ameroso.
As Salon noted, “Whether they’re training entrepreneurs, teaching kids to grow organic kale, or producing food from plots no bigger than your living room, the urban approach to farming is about feeding, not being fed.”
In a recent assessment of eco-plastic, Time magazine noted that the promise of the product — a plastic that biodegrades — can only be fulfilled under certain conditions. Toss an empty bioplastic bag of chips into your petroleum-plastic-lined garbage can, in other words, and the biodegradable bag never gets the chance to do just that. And under other conditions, the supposedly planet-friendly plastic can give off methane, a greenhouse gas. But the product — current bioplastics are made from corn, with versions using switchgrass, potatoes, and algae in the works — requires less energy to make and, in theory, is a laudable idea. Pass the chips, please.
The Onion, that perpetually irreverent humor publication, recently ran an ersatz profile of famed intellectual Noam Chomsky. Titled “Exhausted Noam Chomsky Just Going To Try And Enjoy The Day For Once,” the romp serves as a primer to Chomsky’s criticism, while purporting to show the academic just trying to take it easy:
After stopping at a roadside McDonald’s, Chomsky was unable to enjoy the Big Mac he purchased, due to the popular restaurant chain’s participation in selling “a bill of goods” to the American people, who consume the unhealthy fast food and thereby bolster the capitalist system rather than buying from local farmers in order to equalize the distribution of wealth and eat more nutritiously.
Chomsky also found the burger to be too salty.
Take that with a grain (or three) of salt.
Consider yourself an advocates of all things Japanese, odd, or truly, truly local? Then the rice-growing bra is for you. OK, so it’s a gimmick. But the brassiere — one of a line of other goofy items of lingerie, including a sushi bra and a solar-panel-equipped model — comes complete with its own watering system. As Reuters noted, “Growing concerns over food safety and the environment, and the ideal of a laid-back rural lifestyle, are attracting more urbanites to agriculture, once the mainstay of Japan’s economy.”
And can you grow your own fish tacos? »
It sounds like a candidate for the Ig Nobels, but apparently a scientific study comparing people to sandwiches is bona-fide. As the new group blog the Kitchen Daily reports, the kind of sandwich you like shows what kind of person you are. Club sandwich (the most popular)? You’re “agreeable and unselfish.” Ham and cheese? “Curious and intuitively oriented.” Turkey lovers are free thinkers, while tuna aficionados are Type As. Egg-salad folks are romantic, and chicken-salad peeps are easygoing. But what about good ol’ PB&J? The kids’ classic was deemed too darn popular to even make the list of choices.
So we’ve covered the how-tos of stocking your pantry before, but we liked this post on the same subject, from the blog Simple Bites. Sure, there’s a list of basics and a checklist for personalizing your pantry, but we dug this list of reminders as to why you should stock your pantry — besides the obvious reason of needing to eat, that is:
Stocking your pantry helps you steer clear of prepackaged and processed foods, makes it easy to come up with last-minute meals, saves you money by allowing you to stock when food items are on sale, keeps food on hand in case of an emergency (remember all those snow days last winter?), and helps maintain a healthy diet full of real foods.
“Imagine AmeriCorps service members building and tending school gardens and developing Farm to School programs for public schools around the country,” reads the opening line on the homepage of FoodCorps, a new startup under the AmeriCorps umbrella. Once underway in 2011, the program will “recruit young adults for a yearlong term of public service in school food systems.” They’ll grow veggies, encourage local farmers, and maybe stave off some of the problems of our current “obesity generation.” At least, that’s the hope.
Food, of course, provides fuel for animals, including humans. But turning food, such as corn, into fuel for cars has proved controversial. Which is why scientists are trying to turn other forms of biomass and waste product into biofuels. There’s algae, for one, and lignin, for another. Methane-generated electricity from cow manure is already here, and biofuels from chicken feathers might be next. Will any of these technologies replace fossil fuels? Stay tuned.
News website The Faster Times recently launched its first “reader investigation” on the topic of generic and private-label food.
Why should you, the consumer, care? Because the secrecy surrounding who makes house brands (and how they make them) has been linked to such lapses as the Aurora Dairy organic-milk scandal and the salmonella-in-peanuts outbreak.
The Faster Times is asking readers to help them assemble a database of information about generic-food production. As the site notes, “We’re hoping that if some of you can join us in tracking down more information about these goods, perhaps we can influence the retail food industry to be a bit more forthcoming.”
A couple of notable food websites, one new, one redone. »
Sure, plenty of local companies and grocery stores offer, via the Internet, that old-fashioned convenience known as grocery delivery. But how about the local library?
The Virtual Supermarket Project is part of a city push to make healthy food more accessible in communities where major supermarkets are scarce.
No computer or grocery store nearby? Try the library instead.
No evolutionary surprise here: the tougher the herbicide, the tougher the weeds that eventually evolve to survive it. But the waning power of chemical herbicides like Roundup means not just superweeds that are harder to eradicate, but a collapsing market for crops engineered to resist the herbicide. In other words, if Roundup (sold generically as glyphosate) no longer works, then why bother buying Roundup Ready crop seed? And, as the recent New York Times report on the topic noted, the swift rise and fall of Roundup has other effects:
By combining Roundup and Roundup Ready crops, farmers did not have to plow under the weeds to control them. That reduced erosion, the runoff of chemicals into waterways, and the use of fuel for tractors.
Check out the paper’s Room for Debate discussion of the matter, too, led by Michael Pollan.
Mario Batali lends his star power to the eat-less-meat movement. Are more chefs thinking about vegetables? »
A few weeks ago, scientists announced that fat might not only be tasty, but addictive. The study, conducted on rats, concluded that “overconsumption of palatable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuits and drives the development of compulsive eating.” Oddly, though, the scientist spokesperson for the study, Gene-Jack Wang, indicted not bacon double cheeseburgers but refined carbs:
“We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”
You’ve gotta have salt to survive, and it sure makes food tastier. But most processed food has way too much salt, and a recent report called for the FDA to set limits on how much Americans should consume. As the New York Times noted,
Federal dietary guidelines say people should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, which is equivalent to about a teaspoon of salt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that people at risk of high blood pressure consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily. But the Institute of Medicine report said Americans on average take in about 3,400 milligrams of sodium.
Meanwhile, Marion Nestle reports on her blog that 16 companies — from Starbucks to Subway to Boar’s Head — are voluntarily cutting the salt in their products.
In its Room for Debate blog department, the New York Times recently ran a group op-ed on the subject of the slaughterhouse shortage. What shortage, you may ask? The one that’s been making it hard for local ranchers to get their locally raised meats to market. Check out the opinions, culled from local farmers, writers, activists, and scientists, including Grist’s Tom Philpott, Food & Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter, and the $64-tomato man himself, William Alexander.
As the recent (and ongoing) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reaches land, news stories have begun to focus on the consequences not just for the environment but for eaters. Damaged waters and wetlands, after all, affect not just wildlife but fisheries and farms. The Southern Foodways Alliance, for one, has documented how the spill will affect fisherfolk on its blog. And the blog Gulf Coast Local Food has a list of associations and contacts for volunteers looking to help save the Gulf.
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