Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Upton Sinclair, Eco-Terrorist

I'll never forget the putrid filth portrayed in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." Even 30-plus years after reading the book, I recall the description of a digit (or was it a limb?) going into the meat grinder and coming out as sausage.

Thank God this is all in the past, I thought when I read the book in high school in the 1970s.

Or not. The Jungle is making a comeback. Eggs that make you sick, hamburger made of pink slime, chicken unfit for human consumption, we read about it every day. If some state legislators have their way, we won't read about it any more. And anyone who exposes those conditions will be arrested and branded a criminal.

The New York Times today reports in an editorial that lawmakers in several agricultural states want to outlaw undercover video of abusive and unsanitary farm practices. Some have even gone so far as to call those who make such videos "eco-terrorists."

So if we know the truth about factory farming, the terrorists win.

I mean really. Is this what we've come to? Do we want to eviscerate the First Amendment to protect agribusinesses' right to poison us? As the editorial rightly points out, the only purpose of these bills is hide production of putrid and unwholesome food.

I guess Upton Sinclair had it all wrong. He was really just an eco-terrorist. Creation of FDA, laws prohibiting adulterated food, government inspections of meat packing plants, all bad ideas.

I'm not sure what to say. Is this really what where we want to go? Make ourselves sick to enrich a tiny group of agribusiness executives?

Sometimes I think we've gone insane.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wealthy Memories

My parents came for dinner last weekend, and the discussion turned to Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I have blogged about this hugely important book before. I find the book especially interesting because my mother is from the part of Iowa Pollan profiles in the first section. She grew up during the 1930s and 1940s on a small, mostly subsistence farm (My grandfather was plumber who owned about 5 acres and periodically farmed another 80 or so he rented).

Pollan contrasted today's monoculture of corn and soybeans with the diversity of my mother's era when Iowa farms grew all sorts of fruits and vegetables and kept a menagerie of farm animals. After describing Pollan's book, I quizzed my mother on what the fruit our family grew when she was a child.

Four varieties of apples, she said. The only type she could remember were Wealthy, which she called a good eating apple. The Internet tells me that Wealthy apples were bred in the 19th century by the famous apple breeder Peter Gideon to survive Minnesota's harsh climate. I'm very curious if they still widely available in Iowa and Minnesota, but came up empty which leads me to suspect they rare today.

Then there were strawberries, huckleberries and currants. My mother didn't much care for the huckleberries, which I have never eaten. All this on five acres where they also grew corn, beans and had a cow, geese, chickens and pigs.

Today, it's all gone. Iowa farms are industrial operations that grow corn, soybeans and hogs for agribusiness. In the space of my mother's lifetime, our agricultural system has been transformed beyond recognition.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Champagne Puttanesca

I was making a puttanesca sauce last week when I suddenly realized I had no white wine, a key ingredient. The wine adds tang, balancing out the bite and saltiness of anchovies.

Crisis. What can I replace it with? I looked at my various vinegars (we're adding "acid" as they love to say on Food Network), but they were all too powerful.

I opened the fridge and perused. My eyes fell on a bottle of cheap Champagne that had been in there since God knows when. If it's not too sweet, it'll work, I thought. I took out the bottle, opened it and tasted: nice and dry.

I dumped it into the cooked-down onions, anchovies and garlic, brought to a boil and added the hand-crushed tomatoes. It worked brilliantly, even adding an extra tang to the sauce.

Not something I'd recommend doing with Moet, but it worked.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Salty Tale

"Lightly Salted" said the package of Roll Gold pretzels. Great. Always a good idea to cut down on salt, even though it's not a problem for me. So I tried them, and they did indeed taste less salty.

A few weeks later, the store was out of those pretzels. I began reading labels to find a replacement and discovered that Synder's Old Tyme had almost half the salt per serving as the "Lightly Salted" Roll Golds, 5 versus 9 percent of the daily recommendation.

What's up with that?

A few weeks later, the "Lightly Salted" Roll Golds were back in the store so I compared labels. The Roll Gold "Lightly Salted" have 9 percent of the daily recommended salt intake per 28 grams and the Synder's Old Tyme 5 percent per 30 grams. So the "regular" Old Tyme pretzels have about half the sodium per serving as the "lightly salted" Roll Gold.

Once again, your federal government working hand in glove with Big Food to fool you.

From now on, I'll be reading food labels with more than a grain of salt.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

23 Percent

That's how much the average American's calorie intake has increased since 1970, according to this fascinating graphic. No wonder we're blowing up like zeppelins. Let's hope we don't all end up like the Graf Zeppelin and blow up over New Jersey.

You can play with a moving bar on the graphic showing what parts of the American diet have increased and decreased over time. The biggest increases: sugar and fat. No surprise there.

I saw a photo not along ago from the early 1950s of a housewife surrounded by the groceries she purchased in a year. What a contrast if we did that today. Instead of eggs, flour, sugar, vegies and meat, she would be encased in fast food, pizzas, frozen dinners, and all manner of processed snacks, desserts, you name it.

A revolution brought to you by Big Food.