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Vent Sesh, Deen vs. Bourdain

I like food. Ok, so I love food. But sometimes I get tired of talking about food and hearing about food and hearing about other people complain about food and food people. We’ve been talking about the battle between Anthony Bourdain (aka The Culinary Elitist Snob) and Paula Deen (aka The Queen of Down Home Southern Cookin’). Yes, I realize that famous chefs/ cooks like that influence our scripts for what we consider to be acceptable food, but really, how much influence do they actually have? Just because I watch Paula Deen’s show doesn’t mean that I’m going to sit there with a stick of butter and eat it like a lollipop. And just because I watch an episode of Bourdain’s show doesn’t mean I’m going to completely cut out every type of unhealthy food from my diet. I think it’s kind of crazy how upset people are getting about both of them. I understand that Paula Deen has developed diabetes (mostly, presumably because of her ultra-fatty diet). But really? Leave the woman alone. She’s the one that has to live with it. It’s not like she gave it to you. And so what if Anthony Bourdain won’t let his kids eat crazy amounts of sugary junk food? So what if he makes his kids eat their vegetables? It’s called responsible parenting. And chances are (unless Anthony Bourdain’s children are reading this) that he’s not your parent, so quit complaining about it and go eat your candy bar. I just think it’s ridiculous that there are groups of people that are actually upset about either of these television personalities. Because that’s what they are…TV personalities. I don’t think we should put any more weight on how they sell their show than we do on any other actor. They’re selling a product and a life style, just like everyone else on TV. Just because they’re selling doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

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Mmmm….the color of Red

This kind of natural is a little too close to nature, in my opinion. It has been discovered recently that the coolest hipster-crunchy-vegan hangout in America (aka Starbucks) puts beetle guts in their Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino. Well, I guess it’s not technically beetle guts. It’s actually cochineal, which is really the whole beetle. (Mmm…delicious!) Cochineal beetles (scientific name, Dactylopius coccus) were used by the Aztecs and Mexican Indians to make beautiful red dyes. They put the beetles in hot water to kill them and dissolve the waxy coding found on the females and then dried them in the sun. When the bugs were finished drying, they would grind the carcasses into a powder, which would then be made into the red dye.

Obviously, we still use cochineal for dye. But we don’t only put it in food. We also use them for everything from shampoo, cosmetics, and clothing. And to be fair, Starbucks is not the only monster food company to use it either. Cochineal is also found in the one and only Strawberry Pop Tart.

You ask: Isn’t there any other way for my food to get the same delicious flavor of red without making beetles a part of my diet?! Why, yes! You’re in luck! Instead of putting cochineal into their products, some companies opt for the ever-so-yummy Red #40. This has no bugs in it whatsoever. That’s right! No bugs! Here’s the kicker though. Red #40 is made from coal.

So if you’re looking for saving the planet by discontinuing coal use or you’re looking to be vegetarian or vegan and not eat insects, maybe you should steer clear from red completely. Maybe you should pick a new favorite food color. Or maybe go natural for real and eat a red apple or a red radish. Starbucks might not be straightforward with their ingredients list, but it doesn’t get any more real than with foods from Mother Nature’s garden.

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More Than Just Fat and Skinny

This past week we’ve been talking about the “food revolution” in the United States. It’s sweeping the nation everywhere we look. The aspect that I have found particularly interesting is the investment we have made in teaching young people about nutrition. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it her project to improve the health of children by teaching them to eat healthier and exercise. I think this is a really good cause and I support this idea fully. What I’m not sure about though, is the food revolution’s practicality in general.

Obviously, there is an obesity epidemic happening right now. The U.S. is the fattest country in the world. The rest of the world sees us (and criticizes us) for the fact that we have people who are as wide as they are tall. Jamie Oliver, a British chef, has furthered the revolution buzz with his series Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. On the show, Jamie comes to America schools to tell them all of the horrible things they are doing to their children by feeding them unhealthy food. Although there is a response—mostly defensive and angry people who want him to leave them alone—I don’t think it’s the response he’s looking for.

But I’m not really sure his way of doing school lunch would accomplish all that much. I know for me at least, I want the ability to choose a piece of fruit and/or a bag of chips. But you know what? Sometimes I just want the chips. I should be able to do that without having the school tell me I can’t. Yes, we need better options in the schools, but honestly, I think our food from elementary all the way through high school was really good. I don’t really remember middle school food, but in high school we had a soup and salad option, two hot meal options, and a cold sandwich option. Pizza, soft pretzels, ice cream, chips, and a ton of drink options were also available. Yes, I know people who ate pizza and ice cream literally every single day. But I think that by the time you’re in high school, you should be able to pick what kind of food you’re going to eat. I realize that institutionalized school lunches might not be the healthiest food but if it fills me up and lets me continue on for the rest of my day, I’m ok with it. I realize that my socio-economic position has an impact on my opinion, because I know I can just go home and have as many fruits and veggies as I want or I can pack healthy foods for lunch every day. But I still think schools need to just offer regular foods that they know kids will eat.

If schools want to incorporate a healthier or organic meal option, I really like the idea of having a garden on campus that the kids help grow. The only issue with that is we don’t live in California. We live in Pennsylvania. It gets cold in October. What happens to the home grown food when its winter? There are some logistic issues in that plan, but I think it could get done. I’m just not sure anyone would put 10 years of effort into changing the system like they did in Berkeley. And I’m pretty sure the administration wouldn’t be all that supportive. Ah, and there’s the problem…

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Fabulous Food Carts

I’ve always been kinda freaked out by the idea of street food (and the street food itself). But this article makes me think that street food could actually be really good. Done right, it could be a viable source of sustainability for a city. The article claims that having street vendors “improves neighborhood walkability, provides affordable dining options, and opens doors for diverse entrepreneurs (many of whom also see sustainably produced ingredients as key).”

The article highlights 3 cities on the west coast, with Portland being the most progressive. It currently has about 700 cart vendors! All of the cities mentioned in the article (Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle) have had varying degrees of success proportional to the restriction placed on the vendors. What is particularly interesting is the fact that the more laissez-faire a city’s laws are regarding street vending, the greater success the vendors will have. The food carts are positioned on private property,  so as not to interfere with the city’s policies. But other than that, Portland doesn’t place any strong restrictions on the vendors or patrons (which I think is pretty generous…and I don’t think that would happen on the east coast.)

I’ve never heard of this extent of street vending before, so I did some digging. It turns out that there is a whole industry surrounding cart food. Its more than just a hot dog on a stick! (Which might not be news to you, but it is to me.) Street food comes from mobile units with kitchens inside. I suppose that’s just assumed. But what I didn’t realize was how gourmet and diverse this food can be. U.S. News named Portland the #1 city for street food in the world!

It makes me really want to jump on a plane and taste some west coast cart creations. These are some particularly delicious looking vendors:

1. Potato Champion!

2. Perierra Crêperie

3. Bloop

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Agressive Food

Has anyone ever yelled at you while they were eating a cupcake? Or maybe you have a group project and freaked out at a slacker group member after you had to eat a quick dinner of Ramen and fries. The slacker group member probably had it coming. But YOU might have been a bit more aggressive than normal because of your food choice.

I found a blog post which talks about a new study that links aggressive behavior to the consumption of trans fatty acids. I didn’t know what trans fatty acids are, so I looked it up. There are 3 types of fatty acids: saturated, unsaturated and trans. Saturated fatty acids are known to increase cholesterol and lead to a whole slew of health problems. They are found in meat and dairy products. Unsaturated fatty acids are found in olive and vegetable oils and aren’t linked with any major health issues. However, trans fats are. It turns out that even though trans fats have been manufactured from unsaturated acids, they have even more harmful effects than saturated fats. Because the brain is made of mostly fat, the fats that we consume are paramount to our health.

This study by the University of California, San Diego has looked at the effects trans fatty acids have on our brain, and in turn behavior. It turns out that there is actually a strong correlation between trans fats and aggression. Who knew? Actually, “New York City banned trans fatty acids from all restaurants in 2006” in attempts to make the population healthier. I guess it was just a pleasant coincidence that the ban helped to lower aggression at the same time.

Just FYI- here is a list of the Top 10 foods with Trans Fatty Acids:

  1. Spreads (like margarine)
  2. Packaged food (like cake mix and bisquick)
  3. Soup (like Ramen)
  4. Fast food
  5. Frozen food (like frozen pies)
  6. Baked goods (like donuts)
  7. Chips and crackers
  8. Breakfast bars
  9. Cookies and Candy
  10. Toppings and dips
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Food Desert inside a Food Paradise

This week has made me think a lot about how the food availability in my area affects my health. I’ve actually never really connected the two before. It definitely makes sense though. And I think I feel the effects of the grocery gap more when I’m at school (which totally should not be the case). I’m so fortunate to live in an area (at home) where I have access to fresh food. I have a grocery store within walking distance and another within five minutes of driving. So this week has made me realize how lucky I am.

And I know that our university is by no means located in a “food desert.” In fact we have 1 grocery store within walking distance and 2 within driving distance. But in actuality, it’s really bad how restrictive our food options are here. This might be slightly dramatic, but hear me out. Students pay $44,000 a year in tuition. We spend about $2500 on a mandatory food plan per semester (so that’s $5000 on food per year). We don’t have an option! That’s the part that gets me the most I think. We have to pay for the meal plan if you live on campus (with the exception of apartments on Liberty Alley and the apartment complex that the school just bought). I would SO much rather go to Weis or Giant and cook my own meals than eat caf food for every meal. It’s not healthy. Now, I know I’m not exactly the poster child of good health. But I do like a lot of different kinds of fruit and certain veggies. For example, I could eat peas or green beans with every meal. But the caf doesn’t serve them at every meal, so most of the time I don’t eat a vegetable at all. I would much rather spend my (aka my parent’s) $5000 on healthy food that I actually want. I don’t have tons of extra money lying around to spend on more food, so for the most part I eat what is provided in front of me.

This should change.

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