Tag Archives: food

The Biggest Concerns About GMO Food Aren’t Really About GMOs

Everyone from Chipotle to the Food Babe rails against genetically modified ingredients, and laws to label GMO foods are making progress in some states. But the laser focus on GMOs is misguided, because most of the concerns people raise about them aren’t really about GMOs.

“GMO” is the buzzword for genetically modified crops where the plant’s DNA has been changed in the lab, typically by inserting a gene from another species. Technically there are other types of genetically modified organisms (living things), but no GMO animals are used in our food, and GMO bacteria are widespread but not controversial.

Source: The Biggest Concerns About GMO Food Aren’t Really About GMOs

This whole article is a must read for anyone interested in the current state of how the modern food system works. It’s pretty incredible in actually looking in depth at a slew of mechanisms used to hybridize our food, and which the GMO label actually only applies to a very narrow slice of some of the most well controlled using bacterial gene transfer. A mechanism that was recently discovered to have happened naturally, thousands of years ago, with the Sweet Potato.

Also, incredibly, the comments on that article are incredibly thoughtful and nuanced. It’s one of the few internet conversations that I’ve seen recently where people were legitimately curious and thought provoking.


Why is it pepper anyway?

Given that trickiness, I’ve started to wonder why pepper gets such Cadillac placement on the American table, sitting beside the salt shaker at every coffee shop and kitchen counter in the country. Why, too, do so many recipes invite us to season “with salt and freshly ground black pepper” upon completion? Why isn’t it salt and cumin, or salt and coriander, with every dish in the Western canon? What’s so special about pepper anyway? Perhaps it’s time to rethink the spice.

A fun article over on Slate about Pepper, why it’s in it’s role, and whether another spice might be able to replace it on our dinner table.

Blueberry Daiquiris

I’m always looking for good simple drinks that involve lots of real fruit and basic liquor that you’ve already got in your liquor cabinet.  After coming home from picking 6lbs of blueberries, I eventually found a recipe for blueberry daiquiris that fit the bill.


  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup light rum
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar


In a blender, combine all ingredients and process for about 30 seconds. Pour into a chilled glass.

Yields 1 drink

Realize it’s a big and strong drink.  It is slightly more than 1 of our margarita glasses holds, and it’s nearly 3 shots of rum per “drink”.  You could probably get away with about 2/3 as much rum (probably cut back the sugar if you did) for something less high octane.

Damn though, it’s seriously tasty.  This alone might be reason enough to best our season record of 21lbs of picked blueberries.


Susan and I were out black raspberry berry picking this weekend when we can across a type of berry neither of us could readily identify.  A camera phone picture, and some internet searching later and we figured out what it was.

Wineberries are an asian berry species that were brought here to cultivate with raspberries as they have hardier stock.  They since went invasive.  All the reading says they are edible, though you mostly want to strain out the seeds because they are quite hard.  These are different than Thimbleberries (which I used to call Roseberries as a kid) mostly in their leaves looking more like raspberries and the berries are in this prickly sheath before maturing.

It looks like they are about 2 weeks away from being ripe, if my berry sense is any good.  I wonder if they’d make for good ice cream…

Baking Power vs. Baking Soda

Baking powder and baking soda. Both of them are used so frequently in quick baking projects that unless you are a recipe developer, rarely do you consider what each of them actually does for your finished product. How come my scones call for baking powder, but my buttermilk biscuits call for a mixture of powder and soda? Is there an easy way to substitute one for the other if I don’t have both on hand? And why do I have to bake my muffins right after mixing the batter?

This edition of the Food Lab is a quick and dirty guide to how they work, and how they affect the outcome of your recipe. For those of you who want an even quicker and dirtier guide, jump straight to the summary at the bottom of the page.

Great article, that includes a decent amount of science on how breads work.

Fast food statistical lies

Rafe over at rc3.org provides a very important bit of fact checking to the fast food infographic that is circulating.  I thought 3800 seemed really high, but I didn’t bother with digging deeper.  He did.  I’m coopting his post in it’s entirety (it’s short) for those who aren’t reading his blog.

I’ve seen a number of links to the Everything You Need to Know About Fast Food infographic, which is chock full of interesting statistics, not all of which I’m entirely sure are accurate. It lists the average caloric intake for Americans as 3,760 calories, but I am pretty sure that is impossible.

This statistic comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, but unfortunately the link is dead. Other sources report that the average caloric consumption for men in the US is around 2,618 calories for men and 1,877 calories for women — significantly less. A little back of the envelope math shows that the number cited in the infographic is impossible. The average height of men in the US is 5′ 9.5″ and the average weight is 191 pounds. The resting metabolic rate for 25 year old men of average height and weight is about 1900 calories. If you eat only 100 more calories a day than you expend, you’ll gain 10 pounds per year.

I’ve seen this number being repeated a lot, and I wanted to point out that there’s absolutely no way it’s correct. I haven’t seen the original source data, so maybe it’s a valid statistic that’s being misused, but in the context people are using it, it’s wrong.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I just finished listening to the audio book of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was great, but I’ll get to that after a brief digression. 

I’ve been listening to a decent number of audio books over the past few years, but until now I’d never heard the same reader in 2 books of different genres.  In addition to being an excellent reader for this book, Scott Brick also read the most recent Dune books.  So I was mildly distracted through the first couple of discs waiting for the words “kwisatch haderack” to come out of his mouth.  I guess given the epic nature of this book, it was appropriate, but a little jarring at first. 🙂

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is Michael Pollan’s big food treatise, which starts with a simple premise: trace the path of 4 meals produced in different ways from grown raw ingredients to the final meal to be eaten.  As he states in the intro, it was originally going to be 3 meals: industrial, organic, and self supplied (for lack of a better term), but as he started investigating the organic industry, he realized there were really 2 camps there, the industrial organic and local organic.  While the local food movement was still young in 2002, it was there, and presumably his book helped further it dramatically over the years.

There is so much in this book that is fascinating.  The entire first section of the book, the industrial meal, dives into the absolute reliance of our modern food supply on cheap corn.    How we got to having all this cheap corn, and the effect it has on the rest of the food chain is pretty amazing.  The average american gets > 50% of his/her callories from corn.  Either directly processed, or through meet that was fed cheap corn.  Because industrial grown corn requires artificial fertilizer (which is petroleum based) you can calculate the gallons of oil required for a pound of corn, and even a pound of beef.

The industrial organic and local organic sections show a rich history of where the organic movement started, and where it’s ended up after scaling up to global levels.  The juxtiposition of the two is amazing, and the exploration of ways to produce meat outside of the industrial system is quite compelling.  You’ll learn more about the biology of many farm animals and grasses than you ever thought you would, and will be better for it.

Lastly Pollan addresses his final meal, where he is determined to grow, hunt, or gather every element of it.  He makes an incredibly elaborate meal, including bread with air captured yeast, so he’s really pushing the limits as to what you can do in full hunter gatherer mode, and the results are impressive.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone.  The writing style is great, and what you’ll learn along the way is invaluable to understanding many things.  Why high fructose corn syrup is in everything?  Why America is continuously going through food fads while the rest of the world is not?  And why we spend so much of our energy on figuring out what to eat?  Which is, of course, the Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Want some tasty E. Coli with that Ground Beef?

The NY Times has a pretty incredible article on why E-Coli keeps showing up in ground beef.  The whole article is worth reading, but this bit gives you the flavor of it.

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

Using a combination of sources — a practice followed by most large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger — allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.

Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on it suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together. The United States department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.

Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.

While none of this surprises me, since I’ve been listening to the Omnivore’s Dilemma recent, it definitely adds weight to getting your meat local, fed by what the animal evolved to eat, from farmers you trust.  It costs a bit more, but then again I tend to like my meat as free of feces as possible.

A generation makes such a difference

The last bit of media that was playing as we came in for approach to JFK from Berlin was an episode of Mad Men.  This was an original configuration 767, so there was just the big central screens in coach, and everyone was watching the same thing.  Neither Susan nor I we watching with head phones, but from time to time we’d see the pictures going by.  At some point the family was out for a picnic, and they “cleaned up” by throwing their beer can into the woods, and just flipping everything off their blanket and onto the ground.

I turned to Susan and said “ah, the 50s, how amusing you were”.  Her response was “…or horrifying”.  50 years ago communing with nature meant throwing you trash on the ground.  It took a generation to realize that trash isn’t taken away by magical fairies.  It just remains, and leaches into the ground water, and causes all manner of problems for generations down the road.  It makes for a good TV moment because the entire audience understands how egregious the act was.  2 generations will do that.  When you are in the middle of a change, it’s a lot harder to see that perspective.

They didn’t even have cucumbers

Our trip to Europe was primarily for Clemens wedding, in Berlin.  (We got there via Switzerland, but that’s a different story).  The wedding was small (by US standards), with about 50-60 people there, but the mix was amazing.  Americans, Germans, and Turks, all with quite interesting backgrounds, and all great people.  It was my first time to Berlin, and I realized how lacking my history was, so crammed a bit out of the guide book and asked some questions of the folks there.  For Clemens, who grew up in the city, I got some great responses at times that showed how matter of fact the second big moment in history for me was (the first being the challenger explosion).  “What’s up with that tower.”  “So there was this wall around the city…”

On the last night of the trip we went out to dinner with a student from Susan’s MFA program who is a German native, and living in Berlin now.  At some point the whole unification question came up and she started retelling her remembrances from childhood.  The one thing she remembered most was how the news kept saying “They didn’t even have cucumbers” of the East Germans, when trying to show how bad off they were.  This wasn’t actually true, in East Germany they had food when it was in season.  So no tomatoes or cucumbers in January, when they are shipped in from Argentina, picked green, and taste like styrofoam.  But this was the height of the 80s.  Western civilization’s peak got symbolized with any thing, any time you want it.  Much like the beer can in the woods, it doesn’t matter the impact, or the quality.  So when unification happened, one of the much lauded benefits was this any time culture.

We’re hopefully starting to leave that wastefulness behind.  In another generation I think we’ll see tomatoes in January no less quaint than throwing our garbage out the car window.  Food miles do matter, both for flavor and for impact to the world around us.  Once we got home we had friends over and had some fresh farm tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar.  Amazing flavor.  Yes, we don’t do this in January, but once you’ve tasted what a tomato is actually supposed to taste like, you wouldn’t want to either.