Food Inc. Potluck

This past Thursday, we had our potluck viewing of Food Inc., a part of PBS’ national broadcast premiere of the film on POV. Sort of by accident we ended up trying to work with a Mexican theme, which had the advantage of allowing a lot of delicious recipes that involved lots of fresh, simple ingredients. However, we soon realized that it would somewhat ironically mean that we would be eating an awful lot of corn. For those who have not yet seen the film (because they are waiting for next Wednesday, of course), the is a significant focus on the role that massive numbers of corn- and soy-derived products contribute to the industrial food system. Of course, we were eating corn meal and actual, straight-up corn on the cob, not HFCS and maltodexrin, but anyway.

Tina and I pressed out a big batch of fresh tortillas (with a bag of masa harina we found on sale at the local supermarket) and oven roasted corn on the cob to serve with lime, shredded cheese, a little sour cream, and cayenne. Our corn offerings were supplemented with a thick and rich black bean soup; an avocado, apple, and citrus salad with cilantro; brown rice; homemade guacamole and homemade salsa fresca.

I wish I could claim I did a good job of documenting the meal with photos, but I guess we were pretty much focused on the food and company.

For dessert, we were treated to tres leches cupcakes with freshly whipped cream.

Having wisely followed POV’s advice to eat before we watched the movie and not during, we settled in to an hour and a half of shocking, and often grizzly reminders of the myriad ways in which our current industrial food system is undermining our health (in terms of nutrition and obesity, as well as food-borne illness), the viability of the global food supply, and the economics of traditional farming, all while hiding behind a veneer of slick marketing designed to produce visions of health and abundance.

For those of you who have already read Pollan and Schlosser and Bittman, and who already spend a lot of time thinking about the politics of food, Food Inc. is going to serve more as a call for vigilance rather than providing you with a lot of information you don’t know. But for our readers who have just started to edge away from prepared and processed foods, whether for health or financial reasons, or just for the love of cooking, I think that Food Inc. will provide a really engaging and powerful primer on the very real and dire consequences of the global food system in which the vast majority of us participate.

Regardless of which of these categories you fall into, this is a great excuse (as if you need one) to invite your friends and family over to share some great food. As of this writing, you’ve still got four days left to plan your potluck – plenty of time.

Food Inc. POV Potluck

We’re very excited that POV, PBS’ documentary series, has asked us to participate in the national broadcast premiere of the documentary Food Inc. We’ve provided them with a bunch of recipes to feature on their website as part of their campaign to get viewers to throw potluck viewing parties when the film airs on April 21st.

We’re going to be throwing a potluck of our own, so check back here for what will certainly be an extensive series of posts on the food we all make.

Of course it goes without saying that we encourage all of you to throw your own potluck viewing parties as well. And for those of you with your own blogs, drop us an e-mail to let us know if you post about it – we’ll put up a list of links to all of our readers’ potluck posts so that everybody can benefit from eachother’s recipes.

Jamie Oliver on TED

You may have heard that TV chef Jamie Oliver has been, for some time, on a campaign against obesity; an effort he very much ties to food knowledge, food economies, corporate and government systems.

Having recently one a TED Prize, he gave a talk at TED 10, which you can watch online:

To be totally honest, some of the tone of this presentation gets a bit too reality television for my taste (especially in the video clips). Nevertheless, it think it’s important that this sort of message gets presented to large audiences in an accessible way, and if there’s a venue for that on network television, that’s probably a good thing.

p.s. If you aren’t already in the habit of watching TED Talks online, I highly recommend them. Here are two of my favorites:

John Hodgman: A Brief Digression on Matters of Lost Time (now mysteriously retitled)
Jill Bolte Taylor: Stroke of Insight

A Plug

If you happen to have checked out our about page, you might have noticed that I write (or rather, co-write) another blog – Enclosure of the Commons, which deals with resource privatization – everything from copyright issues to water rights (a better topic summary can be found here).

In general, the material here hasn’t overlapped too much with the material over there, so I haven’t posted anything about the other blog. In the past week, however, we’ve put up a couple posts having to do with food. One was about the issue of genetically modified crops and the other was about indigenous Peruvians’ claims on the potato.

In both these posts, our focus is on issues of private ownership and public access to resources, but since at least some portion of our readership seems to be interested in the politics/ethics of food production, I thought it might be of interest. Also, we don’t claim any particular expertise on many of the topics we want to cover (this is, after all, the internet), so we are very much open to comments and questions and constructive argument.

If this sounds (vaguely) intriguing, pop on over.

Faux Pho Consciousness

We haven’t posted any of these “food for thought” pieces in a while, but I read an article today that inspired me to write a little thought piece on food politics. I’ll say up front, however, that this post is going to include some potentially inflamatory opinions about vegetarianism, so if you’re just here for the recipes and would rather not get into all that, feel free to skip this post. On the other hand, respectful disagreement is, as always, completely welcome.

At Open Salon, food writer Jodi Kasten has written a post that caught my eye. In it, she responds to the following quip that she found in Food & Wine magazine:

Naomi Pomeroy, chef, Beast restaurant in Portland, Oregon says,
“Favorite Cheap Eat:
Portland’s Pho Oregon. ‘I eat pho [Vietnamese soup] twice a week. I don’t eat the meat in it. I need to know the meat I eat is sustainably raised, and at $5 a bowl, I doubt it.'”

The thurst of Kasten’s response is as follows:

Let me tell you what’s unsustainable, Chef Pomeroy – Pampered yuppie fools who have the poor judgment to not only cheapen the life of the animal that gave its life to float in your bowl of Vietnamese soup but then sanctimoniously brag about it while being honored as an innovative chef!

I found this critique really interesting in that it brings to light the fact that food politics is a really complicated and multi-layered issue. Kasten is essentially saying the Pomeroy has allowed herself to slip into a false consciousness regarding her support of sustainable agriculture. First of all, she (Pomeroy) is most certainly still ingesting this questionable Pho meat in broth form even if she picks out the solid bits. More to the point, however, the money that she pays for the Pho supports the unsustainable agricultural practices whether she eats the meat or not. This is where Kasten’s point really cuts to the bone: Pomeroy’s concern for sustainability does not extend beyond her own skin. She prevents this potentially unhealthful produce from touching her directly (or so she thinks), but simultaneously encourages the continued production of this product, and in turn continued environmental degradation, etc.

As Kasten points out, it is perhaps the height of absurdity to purchase and then throw out meat for the purpose of “sustainability.” But through these ideas of waste and sustainability, she begins to weave in her own set of somewhat wobbly assumptions about food ethics. In the quote above, she argues that throwing out the meat “cheapen[s] the life of the animal that gave its life [to be in your soup].” Later, she berates Pomeroy, saying, “If you’re going to kill an animal, at least have the good sense to honor it by appreciating the sacrifice it made.”

Here, Kasten romanticizes her own gastronomic practice by imagining that the dead animal had some sort of agency in determining its own fate. The cow whose flesh ended up in Pomeroy’s soup made no willing sacrifice – it was herded down a corridor and slaughtered. The act of throwing out the meat, while certainly wasteful in the context of human hunger and sustainable agriculture, cannot possibly “cheapen the life” of an animal whose entire feedlot existence was directed toward the purpose of this slaughter – the economic systems behind this entire mode of production already ensured at every turn that its life was as cheap as possible. I’ll admit that it’s at least feasible that the life of “free range” farm animals is more pleasant, and this may affect the ethics of consuming meat, but the underlying fact of the animal’s life and death being managed for the purpose of consumption remains unchanged. This right to manage the life and death of animals toward our own ends (in the presence of numerous alternative sources of nutrition) is Kasten’s the underlying assumption.

Regardless of whether one believes that people have such a right, arguing that the act of consuming an animal whose life was governed in this way “honors” the animal (which Kasten erroneously represents as having willingly sacrificed its life) necessitates a narcissism rivaling Pomeroy’s. Kasten constructs the act of killing an animal to consume its flesh as sacred and then declares that Pomeroy has profaned the act by committing “a crime against food.” It is thus Pomeroy’s violation of this ritual that becomes the ultimate focus of Kasten’s critique; not to the economic or environmental impacts of agribusiness or the needs of hungry people around the world.

In fact, while Kasten berates Pomeroy for the narrow way she implements her beliefs about sustainability, she goes on to shut down a commenter who (hyperbolically) pushes a vegetarian/vegan critique on her claim that the act of eating and appreciating meat can somehow “honor” the dead animal. Certainly it is Kasten’s blog and she has the right to shape the discourse as she sees fit. However, she betrays the narrowness of her own outlook when she establishes those boundaries.

P.S. As I was writing this post, I happened to run across this random old blog post that seems apropos and in turn reminded me to visit an old favorite blog, Suicide Food.

Cooking done well is as great a pleasure as painting a picture…

Check out this letter to the NYT’s circa early 1900’s (thanks Slashfood).

I can’t paint, but I do agree that cooking done well is a great pleasure. However, I don’t agree with the sentiment that “as long as the race exists, men will have to eat, and someone will have to do the cooking.” I’m glad I live in a household where the fellow can cook (and do the dishes and clean).  Are household responsibilities split evenly for most folks?

Welcome, GRS Readers

Just want to acknowledge the throngs of readers who have arrived here today via Get Rich Slowly. Welcome!

For those who got here from other directions, have a look at that site as well – it’s focused on personal financial health via savings, debt avoidance, and some general frugality. These themes obviously fit well with our attitude here at 30/week, and just might be the antidote to the frenzy of consumerism and the money-for-nothing financial industry that sunk us (i.e., the world) into the economic hellscape we find ourselves in today.

As it happens, my professional life has a lot to do with the same topics (though I deal with the financial health of nonprofit organizations, rather than individuals), so I find this stuff particularly interesting. But even if you’re numbers-phobic, this is really important stuff to know for the sake of being able to put healthy nutritious food on your table in the coming years (plus, clothing, shelter, all that extra stuff).

And in case you didn’t know, we’re apparently in the midst of Financial Literacy Month.

Dirt Candy

Last night, Phil took me to Dirt Candy for my birthday and it is my new favorite restaurant.  I wish I had the little camera with me because the food was gorgeously presented.  I know this blog is about our frugality, but if you want to treat yourself to some amazing and inventive vegetarian food and live in NY, make a reservation!  You really have to make a reservation, the space is tiny and walk-ins were turned away.  We had jalapeno hush puppies to start with some sweet whipped butter and then split a green salad with grapefruit pops, which were a revelation.  Imagine a huge segment of juicy grapefruit encased in a hard sugar shell.   There is a picture of it here, but it really doesn’t portray the beauty of the pop.  I am seriously wondering how I can recreate this in my kitchen.  My entree was amazing – stone ground grits with pickled shitakes, bits of corn watercress and a tempura poached egg and bits of liquid huitlacoche. How did they do this egg? It was poached perfectly, dipped in tempura batter and fried?! Amazing! Phil had crispy tofu with green ragout – comprised of some lovely spring vegetables. We were too full for dessert, but will head back! Maybe with a camera next time.

New Plans

I’ve got a whole bunch of new recipes that I want to christen our new kitchen with:

NYT’s Maida Heatter’s Popovers and Lebowitz’s Sugared Puffs

Worcestershire Sauce (vegetarian) in order to top Welsh Rarebit

Alton Brown’s Pickled Okra

I think that the cookbooks are going to be more accessible in this apartment as well and I will be trying my best to bring some great new recipes to the site (as soon as we get settled).

Timelines and Waistlines

In an otherwise sort of frivilous NY Times article about the reality show The Biggest Loser, there was this interesting tidbit about rising obesity rates:

“Almost any kind of cooking you can produce in a kitchen is healthier than fast food.” The decline of home cooking worldwide, he said, is an underlying cause of obesity.

People are eating more, and more often,” Dr. Popkin said. “And the foods that they are consuming almost always replace meals cooked in a kitchen and eaten at a table.” It is difficult to quantify a decline in cooking skills, but many studies show that time in the kitchen has declined steeply since 1965, when American women spent a weekly average of 13 hours cooking. Last month the government of Britain, where obesity is spreading rapidly, passed a law requiring all secondary-school students to attend cooking classes.

Today, women in the United States report spending an average of 30 minutes a day preparing meals. The percentage of women who are overweight has risen to about 65 percent from about 30 percent in the 1960s.

While noting from the outset that it would be better to have a more gender-equitable and historically-contextualized research model to work with, it’s interesting to see some statistical research that suggests more time in the kitchen is assocated with a healthier diet. There are probably a lot of things you could take from this: that you’re less likely to eat an entire stick of butter when cooking at home than you are eating in a restaurant, that a more equitable division of domestic labor makes it easier to maintain healthy eating habits, that processed and packaged food saves you time but costs you in other ways, or (if you read the whole article) that good old fashioned healthy cooking can produce more long-lasting health effects than dramatic weight loss regimens.

Anyway, [/half-assed analysis].