Friday, July 11, 2008

Priced out

Reading the letters on an article at Salon about pork, I came across this:

It's easy to talk about "meat should cost more money", when you are like Rebecca Traister and you can afford to live in an airy apartment in an elite neighborhood and order boutique meats to share with your chef boyfriend. It's easy when you are a singleton or a DINK, and you have six figure incomes and trust funds, and you eat at 4-star restaurants, and put tiny portions of expensive foods in your Sub-Zero refrigerator.

It's not so easy when you are a single mom with three kids, or elderly and living on a fixed income. When you have to feed four or five hungry people, and the "precious pork bellies" from Niman Ranch costs $12.99 a pound, and basically it comes down to this: you can't afford meat at all. And look around people (especially if you live near a Whole Foods): it's not just chi-chi meat....once you get started on that, then it's precious heirloom vegetables and precious artisan cheese from heirloom goats and precious stoneground heirloom wheat bread baked in a special heirloom hearth oven...

Pretty soon, there is nothing out there that is less than $22 a pound, and there is almost nothing that a family could cook and cheap inexpensively. Oh right -- except for lentils. As we all know, the poor should be eating lentil soup, every single solitary day of the week. It's so nourishing and cheap, and why, isn't that what the poor people ate in Dickensian England? Who wouldn't want to return to that scenario?


The anti-"elitist" sentiment like the letter above and the vegans were all abuzz. This time I found myself siding with the vegans. The idea that not eating meat means eating crappy lentil soup is ridiculous.

The truth is that recently I've been priced out of meat. I'm between jobs and I figure that if I can't afford good meat, I'm not going to buy it at all.

And guess what? I haven't died of malnutrition, nor have I gained any weight. My food expenses have been halved even though I'm still buying at the farmer's market.

Really though, my diet is far from Dickensian. Vegetarian fare has come a long way in the past decade, so instead of eating bland stew, you can eat a savory dal or spicy curry.

Here is a better letter:

Maybe the key to enjoying humane pork is to cut back on how often you eat it so you can afford to buy it. Like a treat rather than a staple. You don't have to eat meat for every meal or heck, every day, or heck every other day.

I was a vegetarian for years, and even though I eat meat now and have no quibble with those who abstain or who gorge on it, I can't help but think that though human beings were made to eat meat, we weren't made to eat so much of it. (Of course, there are exceptions based on geography, so I'll say Americans weren't made to eat meat every day.)

When my mom was growing up in the South, they used smoked hamhocks, bacon, fatback, etc. to season all of their greens, turnips, etc. They'd cook some cornbread and that was all they had for dinner; no seperate steak or pork chop. For lunch it was biscuits and drippings (don't ask.) And those hearty breakfasts you hear so much about? Well, they certainly didn't have bacon, eggs, sausauge, biscuits, gravy, grits, etc., every day of the week.

And they weren't weak or protein starved, even though they didn't get to actually eat a pork chop or rack of ribs or a steak every day. They ate, if lucky, one serving of meat a day, more like flavoring, and they were thankful for it because if they didn't slaughter the animal outright, they had to butcher and clean it. Ham and pork belly and pigs feet were treats, not daily staples. (mmm, pigs feet. I don't know why I love them so much, but I do.)

Unfortunately, nowadays, factory farming has made meat so cheap you can afford to eat those huge down home Southern meals everyday. And its killing us. There's this great Boondocks episode about this.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Get Toasted

Chef Eric Ripert's blog Avec Eric has fantastic recipes for the much neglected toaster oven. These days I'm loving toaster ovens because who wants to fire up a giant regular oven and heat up your home to make a panini or something simple? A toaster oven is energy efficient and simple to use!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Re-Indigenizing Our Diets II

Part II

Knowing all of this, I started to become convinced that agriculture really was the worst mistake in human history. Our genes have changed very little since Paleolithic times, obviously the agricultural diet was pure poison to the human as a species.

But that’s why my story has to once again veer back to a focus on Native Americans, who present a two-fold paradox, highlighted in Gary Nabhan’s book Why Some Like it Hot. First, for Native Americans, many modern foods are not just unhealthy like they are for Europeans, they are downright toxic. This highlights the fact that the “very little” gene change still matters. Second, most Native Americans had already adopted agriculture before contact with Europeans, yet few of these agricultural civilizations were teeming with the misery blamed on agriculture.

In fact, comparisons of Native Americans agriculturalist with their hunter-gatherer counterparts show that their indicators of health, from obesity levels to cardiovascular health, are remarkably similar. Overall, Native American agricultural diets deviate very little from the nutritional precepts of the Paleolithic diet. Growing crops for thousands of years allowed them to adjust the diet to be more nutritionally fulfilling, such as treating corn with lime to release B vitamins and pairing it with beans to provide complete amino acids.

Another striking point is that the pictures of healthy teeth in Weston Price’s study included Peruvian potato farmers and milk-drinking Masai. Neither do farmers have a monopoly on bad teeth: cavaties show up in Sonoran desert foragers with a taste for sweet cactus fruit and Papua New Guinans who live among plentiful beehives. Native peoples aren’t being poisoned by agriculture, they are being poisoned by our agriculture, specifically, modern industrialized agriculture.

In the Americas, several powerful agricultural civilizations rose to power and then abruptly died out. In Jared Diamond’s Collapse, he profiles the Maya of Central America and the Anasazi of Southwestern North America. In both cases, Diamond says the collapse was caused growing populations that had to rely on more and more intense agriculture, similar to modern intensive agriculture, which eventually led to the dooming resource degradation. Looking at the impressive ruins that these peoples left in their wake, we may be tempted to call them “great civilizations.” Perhaps they were great in some ways, but ultimately this greatness was short-lived. Contrast them with smaller agricultural societies that survived until colonization, and in some cases, still survive, and the failings of these “great civilizations” become apparent.


These successful agricultural civilizations were successful because while they embraced technology, they did not forget the land, with both its wealth and its limitations. Many of them continued to rely on wild foods, such as the Pima, who gleaned 60% of their food from agriculture in wet years, but only 20% in dry years. Others used a hybrid system, applying cultivation techniques to wild plants, such as the Karuk in California who used controlled burns to increase acorn yields and the Ojibwe in Minnesota who practiced intentional resowing of wild rice . Even cultivated fields were not divorced from the wild. In Mexican Tepehuan fields, Teosinte, wild corn, was welcomed because it often bred with cultivated varieties, producing offspring with “hybrid vigor.” Pima used wild peppers in a similar way and used other wild plants to shade their crops from the hot desert sun.

Indigenous agriculture also relied on more varieties that modern industrial agriculture does. Much of our modern diet relies on only a few different crops like corn and wheat. Within these crops, we commercially cultivate only a few out of the thousands of varieties that exist. Different varieties, despite being the same species, not only taste different, but often provide a different mixture of nutrients and secondary chemicals, mirroring the diversity of plants relied on in Paleolithic diets.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Food for thought

I think obesity is a problem, but I think Japan's practice of policing it is frightening. It's something to think about when considering government and health care. It might give the government a rationale to further tweak our bodies for better or worse. Considering the close ties between the food industry and government and the laughable piece of clip art that passes for a food pyramid...I think it's a reason to worry.

Friday, June 6, 2008

New Pornographers + Slow Food

@ Slow Food Nation. Too bad I'm out of the country by then, but hopefully it there will be other Slow Food Nation celebrations in the future.