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P.S. New food

Totally unrelated note: I’m a person that enjoys routine and consistency. However, sometimes I get in moods where I really want to try new things and go new places and experience new things. I’ve been on one of those kicks lately. But it occurred to me. Whenever I go anywhere new, I always seek out the exact same things: good bread, good meat, and good desserts. Through this class I have discovered that there are so many other kinds of foods that are right in front of me that I just don’t indulge in. So, today, I ate…wait for it…wait for it…lettuce. (Granted, it was caf lettuce and it’s the middle of winter, so it probably wasn’t the best quality lettuce. But for what it was, it wasn’t that bad! I also tried cauliflower, which wasn’t good, but I still tried it.) Don’t get any crazy ideas. I’m not going to start eating a salad every day or anything, but I think I am going to try to start eating more vegetables. Also, I’ve started getting green beans and peas every time they’re offered. They’re my favorite green things though, so I’m not sure if that counts as changing my diet. But at least I’m aware of it now!

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Food, Class, and Cosmo

For the past few classes, we have been talking about the connection between tastes and power. I’ve been thinking about this on my own too. How do our understandings of food allow us to distinguish ourselves in terms of class or power?

One of the ways this has stuck out to me is in reading fashion magazines. True confessions: I’m not doing homework 100% of the time (sorry, Mom). And one of my suitemates had a whole stack of Glamour and Cosmo magazines that she was getting rid of. So before she let them go, I gave them a final look through. The last few pages of Cosmo always have food tips and they are always about how to lose weight while still eating a lot of food, how to impress guests with your cooking skills, and how to put ingredients together to make something new and exciting. There are a few ways this made me think about how food leads to class distinction:

1-      I think in America, we place a lot of value on two opposing, but equally significant ideas: indulgence and self-control. The more you indulge, the more you can afford to invest in a certain quantity/quality of product (in this example, food). And the more self-control you display, the more you demonstrate your worth as a hard worker and overall reliable person. These Cosmo food tips illustrate both of those without blatantly doing so. The first message the magazine sends is “eat lots of delicious food” and “eat as much as you want.” The second is “get skinny” and “maintain a certain ‘look.’”

2-      The second part of these opposing messages is that they are pretty much associated with a certain class. The poorest people aren’t concerned with “good” food, whether “good” refers to aesthetic appeal, ingredient quality or health value. What matters most for them is that they can get the most food for the cheapest price. However, upper and middle class people can afford healthier ingredients and probably have the luxury of free time in which they can prepare food in the healthiest ways.

3-      Finally, with higher class comes the expectation that you will understand more about nutrition and culture in the context of food. I think there is an expectation that when a person has money, they will pay attention to the food they eat. They will watch cooking shows, travel to experience authentic “ethnic” foods, experiment with new ingredients, etc. This signals to other people that they have culture and class and good taste, which is clearly highly valued in our society.

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Again?

When will we ever learn? It’s kind of ridiculous at this point. Why don’t politicians understand that food regulation is good and necessary? Apparently, there is a program that is currently part of the USDA called the Microbiological Data Program (MDP), which is designed to test “fruits and vegetables for deadly bugs like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.” Obama is proposing to cut the funding for this program (which, by the way, is the only one of its kind and is completely necessary for the health and safety of anyone who eats fruits and vegetables.) Instead of making the government responsible for this kind of food testing, the Obama administration is proposing more private, third party testers. I guess this whole third party thing hasn’t really worked out in the past, for example, when a third party testing company didn’t detect the listeria in cantaloupe that killed 34 people last year.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Why does the government keep trying to put the responsibility of ensuring public welfare on other businesses or organizations? I feel like I keep saying the same thing over and over in my blog entries, but it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that we all have what we need…34 people killed from a preventable pathogen? That doesn’t seem to be very effective to me. The government keeps passing on responsibility—in environmental protection, in food safety, in labeling policies—to third parties and its only hurting people. Really, what is it going to take to make the government recognize the importance of food regulation?

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Fantasy: Organic farming is all hippies and peace signs and happy rainbows.

Reality: Everybody just wants to make a buck.

In her book, Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, Julie Guthman shares the history and trends that have led to what organic farming means today. Although some farmers and families really do endorse and believe in the moral values of organic farming, she sheds light on the fact that “virtually all farms are organized as capitalist enterprises.” This means that even the farmers that care about environmental, health, and animal-friendliness are probably equally concerned about the money they save by being organic.

Although the book is kind of a downer in that respect, it does provide a lot of information about the organic movement as a whole (which I found to be really interesting). For instance, the organic food movement has its foundations in Southern California. This is because starting in the 1870s, sick people went there because it was so sunny and nice and they could be healthier in Southern California. These “health seekers” brought the need for the niche market of health food stores! Huh…who knew?!

Other events throughout history have created surges in demand for healthy organic food. During the 1980s, yuppies (young urban professionals) brought a demand for organic food at high-end restaurants. Baby Boomers were having children of their own and paid particular attention to health studies that were becoming more common at the time. And in general, consumers wanted to have a more intimate interaction with their food and the growers of it. Logically, organic produce was the answer to all of these concerns.

At its core, organic farming is an industry that is particularly responsive to market demand. Food consumption is riddled with symbolic meaning. Therefore, industries that participate in it at all are shaped by the cultural values about food and also help to influence them.

(Side note that relates to my opening point: Because food consumption is so symbolic, I think it is particularly interesting that the economic value is really at the heart of the organic food industry. Yes, there might be ethically beneficial  outcomes, but the industry itself is fueled by capitalist gain. Isn’t this quite reflective of our culture? Everything has a price. Even the “purely” ethical stuff.)

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The Miracle Autotroph

We’ve all heard the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Now, there are two types of people that are going to have two very different responses to this statement. Type 1: They don’t like change and when they find something that works, they stick with it until it doesn’t—and sometimes they stick with it even after its broken. Type 2: They look for new solutions to old problems. And then they anticipate problems and find solutions for them. The second types forge ahead with new innovations and are the movers and shakers of this world.

Unfortunately, the folks with the money *cough, cough, politicians, cough, cough* are like the first type.

So where am I going with this? I’ll tell you: Algae.

It turns out that while these Type 1 people have been creating policies and entire industries that pour billions of dollars into a soon-to-be-extinct oil industry, there is a miracle organism just waiting to be utilized! Ok, so developing algae was a pet project for a little while as an alternative energy source and fizzled out. BUT researchers have found another way to utilize this miracle autotroph: FOOD!

Apparently, algae contains omega-3 fatty acids and is an immense source of protein, both of which are essential for human survival. With today’s growing trends of vegetarian and vegan eating, algae could supply the demand for environmentally friendly [and animal friendly] protein. Right now, soy is a popular vegetarian alternative, but algae is actually 70% higher in protein content. It also doesn’t require nearly as many resources. In fact, algae is “about 30 times more productive than soy (and 50 times more productive than corn), but requires only 1 percent as much fresh water.” If we’re worried about the production impact that this new energy could have, it really seems like it would be essentially carbon-neutral to produce, since algae feeds on carbon. So this algae business actually seems pretty legit!

Here’s the kicker: as with any new innovation, it’s going to take millions of dollars [THAT IS CURRENTLY BEING PUMPED INTO THE OIL INDUSTRY] to get the public on board and get production up to a level that it can actually become a viable alternative.

But as far as I’m concerned, this whole algae thing is worth a shot!

 

 

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Back to the Start by Chipotle

Look what I came across. Good message…

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Chemical Invasion

Bacon: An essential, delicious food group. Italian bacon, Canadian bacon, Bacon Bits. Smoked bacon, broiled bacon, dried bacon.

Milkshake: Another essential food group. The ideal milkshake creates the perfect balance of milk and ice cream. For added deliciousness, mix in candies or smushed up cookies.

Warning: Although these are both delicious on their own, be advised. DO NOT MIX THEM! Apparently no one told the Jack in the Box fast food chain. They have created a bacon flavored milk shake [um…gag?]

But WAIT! Never fear! This milkshake isn’t actually a milk shake! It’s mostly science! The Jack in the Box website will tell you that the milkshake is “made with real vanilla ice cream, bacon flavored syrup, whipped topping and a maraschino cherry.” However, what it doesn’t tell you is that it also contains “ sucrose, corn syrup, sodium caseinate, cellulose gum, mono-and di-glycerides, disodium phosphate, carrageenan, guar gum, sodium citrate, polysorbate 65, and dextrose, and the whipped topping is largely composed of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil.” And all that just accounts for the milkshake part. The Bacon Syrup part has “Pure Cane Sugar, Water, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Salt, Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate.”

Yummy? Or…

I can’t pronounce most of that, let alone know what each of them do. The scary thing is that so many of our foods contain scientifically engineered foods. Besides the fact that many fresh foods come from GMO seeds (which by definition are modified by science), many processed foods have perfumes and fragrances added to them in order to achieve customer desired aroma and taste. Get this: sometimes flavors are added into food in order to disguise healthiness. For instance, if something is cooked in healthy oils, flavors can be added to it to make it taste like the less-healthy version. So getting back to the bacon milkshake. Although this is quite possibly the most disgusting fast food concoction, Jack in the Box is not the only chain to modify foods with a ridiculous amount of chemicals. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King also serve burgers and shakes that are less natural than we’d all like to think. Then again, I guess they’re just giving the people what they want: delicious tasting and smelling food.

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You Can’t Eat Anything…Even If It Looks Clean.

Nothing is safe! Not even condiments! This is what I have learned in my food class. Beef is NOT necessarily beef. And if it is beef, it might have cow poo , resulting in E. coli on it from when it was being skinned. Lettuce has animal feces on it (not that it is particularly tragic for me, since I don’t actually like lettuce). But still, for those of the population who eat spinach, lettuce, and tomatoes, I’m sorry to say that steering clear of meat doesn’t make you exempt from foodborne illnesses. Even if you only eat condiments like vinegar for the rest of your life, you may not be safe from falling ill because of a mistake made by someone else [unless you don’t refrigerate your Mayo. Then that’s your fault.]

But seriously, last year in China, 11 people died because of “vinegar that was stored in barrels that previously contained antifreeze.” Was this a result of a laziness? Or from a lack of proper enforcement of laws?

This notion of proper law enforcement of food safety is a very real concern in the U.S. today. In the U.S. the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) is responsible for 80% of the food that we eat. However, they have significantly less funding than the USDA, another government agency, which is responsible for only 20% of our food regulation. Within the whole of the government, the balance of work is completely disproportionate to the amount of funding and labor needed to get the jobs done. For example, there was a law passed in 1906 that said that there needed to be one inspector per slaughterhouse per day in order to make sure the meat was properly cleaned and prepared, etc. HOWEVER, there were only 163 slaughterhouses in 1906, so that law was completely do-able. Now there are literally thousands of slaughterhouses nation-wide. Not only that, but the food industry has grown so much that the government is basically letting the industries themselves figure out the best measures for food safety. Really? From 1982 to 2002 there were 350 outbreaks of E. coli, which infected thousands of people. E. coli is not just a virus. It could just give you simple flu like symptoms; it also has killing potential. I’m not saying that lackadaisical enforcement of laws was the sole contributor to the number of outbreaks. But from what I understand, the government should be doing more to regulate and enforce proper handling of our food. I don’t know exactly how this should be done, but maybe updating laws from 1906 would be a good starting place.

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Shouldn’t slavery be over by now?

Although there is a collective assumption that our country has overcome slavery, there is a current, very real slave population that somehow slips under the radar. This is a food blog, so what am I doing writing about slavery? I’m writing about the people who produce, process, farm, and/or harvest our food.

Who are they? Why are they enslaved? Who is enslaving them? What are we doing about it?

For the most part, they are undocumented workers who come here in search for a better life. They are chasing the “American Dream,” just like everyone else. However for them, the pursuit of a dream ends up being more of a nightmare. Every year, thousands of immigrants leave their homes and come to America only to be beaten, locked up, and exploited. Although immigrants are not the only ones who hold these farm jobs, they make up an overwhelming part of the farm worker population. What’s more, many of them are undocumented, so the fear of deportation is enough to keep them quiet.

In this land of opportunity, we have so many policies and laws that are supposed to protect us from being taken advantage of. However, these workers do not. For example, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), farmworkers are not entitled to breaks for rest or meals, which are mandated under that law. In Florida, workers pick baskets of tomatoes, one basket weighing 32 pounds. 32 Pounds?! With no breaks?! The payment they receive is 45 cents. 45 CENTS! That is roughly the same amount that farmers would have gotten 30 years ago. The cost of living has increased significantly since then. Yet the farmers’ wages have not.

In my opinion, this is a problem. I realize there is a movement to get the immigrants out of this country and send them back home. But without them, we wouldn’t eat. The funny thing with crops is, when they’re ready to be picked, they’re ready to be picked. If someone doesn’t take them off the vine when they’re ready, we lose them and we don’t get them back. Typically, Americans aren’t willing to do this type of back breaking labor, but they are. We like food. We need food. AND WE NEED THEM! So why don’t we take care of our migrant farmworkers, despite the fact that they aren’t citizens. They’re still people, and they’re just trying to make it. Just like you and me. Just like your great-great-grandfather did when he came to America generations ago. We have the laws already written, so why do we exclude certain groups from them, like immigrant farmers? Clearly, something needs to change. And soon.

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Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia

I am a proud member of Generation Y, growing up in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. But I rarely think about what that means for my consumerist habits. This article caught my attention because it talked about what the Twinkie represented for the Baby Boomer generation. According to this post, Twinkies started to be made because some of the machines at the factory were only being used to make strawberry filling while the strawberries were in season. During the off-season, the machines were used to make the filling and cake part of the Twinkie.

This is mind blowing to me for two reasons:

1-      There is no such thing as “out of season” anymore.

2-      When they were first developed, they were one of a kind. This is SO not the case nowadays.

Recently I have begun to realize just how small our world really is. There is no such thing as “out of season” because somebody, somewhere is demanding and willing to pay for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables even when nature prevents it. The scientific and technological advances we have made allow us to grow food in our own towns during times of year that those foods can’t grow outside naturally. Generally, we manipulate the natural growing process through GMOs (genetically modified seeds, which might protect the food from the elements) and alternative ways of rearing plants (ie: Greenhouses). Whatever we can’t grow, we simply buy from half way around the world and have it shipped to us from another place. I went to the grocery store the other day and looked at the strawberries. It’s freezing outside. Literally. The ground is frozen. There is no possible way to grow strawberries outside right now. Nevertheless, there are strawberries on the shelves! The prices are higher than they are in the summer, and they aren’t as big or as red, but they’re still strawberries! This technology wasn’t available in the 1950s when Twinkies first came on the market. Twinkies served as a symbol of innovation because we were able to have delicious desserts despite the setback of seasonal growing.

Additionally, because of all of these technologies and an increased consumer demand for quantity, quality and variety, Twinkies are no longer the favorite sweet treat. We have so many options, it’s unreal. You could have Twinkies. Or you could have one of hundreds of other similar products. Not hungry for a pastry? There are also probably a hundred varieties of chips or snacking foods. Or a hundred kinds of cereal. Or ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet. I won’t continue (partly because there are too many to list and partly because it’s almost dinner time and continuing will just make me want to eat junk food) but seriously, we have SO many options! And frankly, there are a lot of lower calorie, better tasting snacks and desserts out there than the Twinkie. The result: food culture just isn’t what it used to be.

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