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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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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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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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