Abominable giant salmon coming soon to a fast food restaurant near you!


Did you hear the news this week? The FDA is close to approving genetically modified salmon. When I read about this for the first time earlier this week, I got a little knot in my stomach. I’ve always been opposed to GM foods but somehow, it felt a little easier to me to accept that man is messing with nature on a plant level. Once we begin to play god with higher order creatures…who knows what mayhem will ensue?

You see nature has a way of doing it’s own thing. Did you see Jurassic Park? The park owner hired geneticists who assured him that the cloned dinosaurs could not breed since they were sterile females. They ended up breeding anyway. I know what you are thinking: that was a fictional story. According to the article on GM salmon, the GM fish will be sterile females. The geneticists are doing this on purpose so that the salmon won’t be able to breed. If they get out, wild salmon stocks will be safe from contamination from these GM abominations. But, fish are strange creatures. They can change their sex from female to male if there are not enough males for breeding in a given population. It has also been documented that a shark held in captivity had a virgin birth. Hopefully fish cannot reverse sterilization.

As I was doing research for this post, I came across another scary article. According to this article, Russian scientists carried out an experiment where they fed GM foods to hamsters. The GM food was fed to each succeeding generation of hamster. Eventually, the fourth generation fed exclusively on a GM diet became sterile. Genetically modified foods are included in something like 75% of our processed foods now. This has been happening since the 1990’s. We should be on our second generation and going on our third generation of people who have been eating GM foods. This could get interesting pretty fast.

Now, I understand the urgency to get a salmon to market that will beef up to marketable size in fewer weeks than a conventional salmon would. Could you imagine how much money a McSalmon sandwich would make for McDonald’s? It would be huge for them! When beef cows and chickens were hybridized to grow to market size quickly, it revolutionized fast food. It made it possible to provide those billions of Big Macs and chicken McNuggets that are served every day. I just wish that corporate profits weren’t tied into the possibility that our health could be compromised in ways we never knew existed.

I am one angry little consumer and I am doing what I can. I try to vote with my dollars and I go to the FDA site to voice my disgust when they open things up to discussion. If I have no real say on the outcome of the decisions that the FDA makes on our behalf, then all I can wish for or hope for is that the FDA will finally help protect our interests just a bit and call for labeling of GM products. I just want to continue to at least think that I have a choice in regards to what I eat. Unless I am given the luxury of knowing what is in my food, I guess I will just remain afraid. Very afraid.

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I hate Frankenfoods. They get stuck in my teeth.

India rejected the nation’s first genetically modified food after their farmers protested. Good for them! Genetically modified food has not been tested on humans. Well…unless… you count the fact that in the U.S., we’ve been tested on for years without our knowledge. “Huh?” you say? According to this Wikipedia article, GM foods have been available to the processed food industry since the 1990s and 75% of all processed food contains at least one GM ingredient. Yep. I never signed on to be a lab rat and neither did you, but sometimes our rights as citizens are benignly neglected for a few dollars in the right pockets.

Now, let’s ignore the fact that we are lab rats for a minute and think about the other implications of genetic engineering. Companies are allowed to patent their GM seeds. Already, there are legal battles going on between corporations and farmers over the simple act of saving seeds for the next years crops. Farmers don’t own the patented seeds, Corporations do. Farmers are required to buy the seeds each time they want to grow a crop, they cannot save seed for this purpose as Farmers have for millennia. If Farmer’s can’t save patented seed, neither can we. Our basic right as humans to feed ourselves in a self-sufficient manner is being removed.

A friend of mine let me know about this documentary on Hulu.com (Thanks R.!). It is called The Future of Food and it runs about an hour and a half with short commercial breaks. If you have time, I encourage you to watch it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Hulu – The Future Of Food – Watch the…“, posted with vodpod

 

I have been following this issue for years. For me, I try to avoid most processed foods unless they are made of mostly organic ingredients. I eat organics as much as I can and buy locally from farmers who use organic or sustainable practices and grow heirloom varieties of food. I have even gone so far as to seek out organic canola oil that has been tested for GMOs since canola has had problems with contamination in the past. It’s difficult and I don’t do a great job (I have a bit of a restaurant addiction) but I think it’s important to limit my exposure to GMOs as much as I can.

I have seen a glimpse of the future and it is not pretty

So much for the wonders of stem cell research. On the fringes of a science that promises us the cure for disease comes the secondary promise of true mystery meat. Yes, it’s true, we can look no further than the lab for the next pull on our wallets. Researchers see a world in which Soylent green is not people, it is pork with the texture of scallops grown in petri dishes and sold for pennies on the dollar.

We live in an interesting time. At the same instant that some people are yearning for real meat grown the old fashioned way on grass, seafood that is harvested from the wild and vegetables that are grown on small farms with no chemicals, we have cowboys running around leading the charge towards a world of purely processed manmade food. It seems to me that once you can grow meat from cells, there is no end to how it can be manipulated for taste, texture and scent.

This quote amazed me: “Fish stem cells could be used to produce healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which could be mixed with the lab-produced pork instead of the usual artery-clogging fats found in livestock meat.” Fish get their omega 3 fatty acids not from being fish, but from eating a diet based on plant matter (or in the case of carnivorous fish, eating other fish that dine on plant matter). Pasture raised terrestrial animals contain omega 3 fatty acids from eating grasses and plants. The whole reason that people eating a western diet are deficient in essential fatty acids such as omega 3s is because we don’t eat a diet based on leaves. We eat too many processed foods based on seeds and too much protein fatted up on seeds.

When lab produced meat becomes available, my only hope is that labeling laws become much better. At this point consumers are left on their own to figure out what is in their food, from genetically modified organisms to trans fatty acids. Hopefully, we will get the chance to choose between natural and unnatural “meat”.

The demise of an icon

Gourmet2

I’ve stayed silent for weeks on this subject but writing about what makes you really sad is a good way to work through your emotions. Seven decades was not enough. This publication, so dear to me, was a chameleon, changing with the eras it spanned but always remaining relevant. It could have gone on indefinitely. Gourmet, I will miss you so much!

I began subscribing to Gourmet in the early 1990’s. The magazine was so vibrant. Unlike anything I had ever seen. So beautiful and it opened up worlds to me that I never knew existed. I knew how to cook, but the caliber of the recipes taught me how to cook well. The pictures were ethereal and unworldly. The articles traveled to faraway places I could only dream of seeing. The voices of writers like Laurie Colwin, Gerald Asher and Fred Ferretti were so real it was like having friends tell you stories about their adventures. Through them, I would eventually find my own voice too.

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I do have to admit to falling briefly out of love with the publication when Ruth Reichl took over the helm as editor. Gone were my favorite writers in favor of essays by strangers. She extricated the lush travel articles heavy on ethnic food recipes in favor of writing that was more introverted and experiential about food itself. She started adding more and more writing and less and less recipes even taking away a well loved feature called the last word (which caused such an uproar that she had to add it back). There were growing pains during this time. Who doesn’t resist change and we readers were used to what we knew. However, as we put our trust in Ms. Reichl, the magazine changed and became stronger. Which is why the decision Condé Nast made so suddenly last month to abruptly halt publication on the magazine was such a shock.

Gourmet will be gone after the November issue and we could have a consolation prize in it’s stead. Subscribers were offered Bon Appétit.  Bon Appétit:  a magazine I cancelled for $1 an issue, a magazine I cancelled after receiving it free for a year. I apologize in advance for saying rotten things about a magazine that is probably someone’s favorite magazine, but whereas Gourmet had pictures of food that made you hungry, Bon Appétit has pictures of overcooked food that looks like someone dropped the casserole dish before it was photographed. Very hipster. To me, the writing isn’t much better. The recipes? Fat and sugar do not always create a recipe with depth of character. I prefer much more subtle flavors. I declined taking this magazine as a substitution. It could hardly replace a publication I couldn’t wait to read cover to cover each month.

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Why did I wait so long to vent my frustration in a public forum? Being a romantic, I thought there would be an uproar. I really did. I thought that legions of Gourmet subscribers would rise up in anger and save the magazine from extinction. As I peruse the odes to Gourmet on other blogs, I detect an apathy instead. Some people hate to see it go, some people don’t really care. Some people thought the magazine was a dinosaur, espousing a lifestyle too rich for the normal person to live and recipes too complicated to cook at home. But in argument: That was the point! We could travel without leaving the house. We could eat like kings without dropping a paycheck at a restaurant! But there you have it. Nobody is going to rise up and revolt. Nobody is angry. Nobody is sad. We have too many other problems in the world. Things are so generally bad that caring about the end of something iconic is trivial.

In my own revolutionary little way, I told the girl on the phone at Gourmet how much I loved the magazine and informed her that if it had survived I would have subscribed for life. I would have kept sending a gift subscription to my best friend for life.  I was so fervent with my words that the girl on the phone thought I was a nutcase and politely said she duly noted my comment. That was how I championed my favorite magazine as it faded away.

Gourmet

 

Health alert: the dangers of excess sugar

Brown sugar

I’ve wanted to talk about this for some time. Please bear with me as I may seem a little hypocritical when you consider the percentage of recipes on this blog that are sweet. What I want to make you aware of is the fact that excessive amounts of sugar are bad for you. You may already know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t really care. Maybe you should care. It is really important for your well being.

Tonight, the American Heart Association came out with a warning that we need to cut the amount of sugar in our diets. They say the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The average American teenager consumes 34 teaspoons of added sugar a day. When they say “added” they mean on top of the natural sugar we are eating from fruits and other carbohydrates. What does 22 teaspoons of sugar look like? I couldn’t resist finding out. See the picture above. That is an eight inch diameter plate. The pile was about 2 inches high! To put things in perspective, the AHA recommendation is that women should eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day and men should eat no more than 9 teaspoons per day.

Where is all of this sugar coming from? It could be coming from soft drinks and sweets but it is likely coming from processed foods. In my opinion, I eat a healthy diet, but there are a few processed foods in my home for convenience. I get these products from health food stores and stores like Trader Joes that don’t use a lot of processed ingredients. Here is what a quick perusal of my pantry turned up:

Trader Joes brand spaghetti sauce: evaporated cane juice.

Pitted kalamata olives packed in extra virgin olive oil imported from Greece: glucose.

S & W organic tomato sauce: organic sugar.

Hain all natural Canola mayonnaise: dehydrated cane juice and honey.

Milton’s multi grain baked snack crackers: sugar and invert cane juice.

Doctor Kracker organic artisan baked spelt crackers: agave syrup, molasses, and barley malt syrup.

Kashi go lean hot cereal: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey.

The AHA is concerned for us because the extra sugar likely means we are unconsciously consuming extra calories. A lot of us have inactive lifestyles and if we do not get extra exercise to burn off the extra calories, we gain weight and risk heart disease and diabetes. These concerns while valid don’t tell the entire story. Sugar also prematurely ages us. An article in Prevention magazine talks about the damage sugar does to the proteins in our skin. If this is happening to our skin, the biggest organ in our bodies, I wonder what it may be doing to our other organs!

What can we do to protect ourselves? First off, read labels and be aware of what you are buying. Second, cook as much of your own food as you can. It is the only way to really know what is on your plate. As the cook, you can reduce the amount of sugar in your food by adjusting it downward as low as you can tolerate it and as low as a recipe can stand without ruinous results. Know your sugars. While all sugar is bad in excess, some sugar such as honey or molasses have trace nutrients and while they are not exactly health food, you will get a little more added nutrition than if you used processed granulated sugar.

Please let me know your thoughts on this matter. Have you been aware of this issue already? What do you do to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet? Do we as bloggers have a responsibility to show our readers a healthy diet or are we just a tourist stop on the internet foodie trail?

Choice

Pineapple

On an ugly fire scented day with ash raining from the sky, I went to Trader Joes in search of pizza ingredients. Not wanting to be outside for long while the fifth fire in three years rages north of us in wine country I hurriedly sought out the items on my list. I thought it would be nice to make a Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza as well as the usual veggie pizza we have grown to love.

Trader Joes used to sell canned pineapple. It was really good. Open the can and there were large pristine chunks of pineapple that looked fresh enough to have just been cut from a ripe fruit, floating in natural pineapple juice which was a delight to strain from the fruit and drink on its own as a treat. I went to the canned fruit section to find out it is no longer available. Oh no! Trader Joes is one of those companies that makes deals for the best price and products tend to come and go. My favorite pineapple is a go. It’s happened before and it has come back, but right now, it’s a goner.

I remembered seeing pineapple elsewhere in the store. I went searching and came across three different kinds: A fresh whole pineapple, fresh slices in the cold case and frozen chunks. I have to admit, faced with the lack of what I expected and so many choices I was frozen with indecision. The whole pineapple was from Mexico. Not a long shipping distance. It was the most expensive choice at $3.99 and would likely cause huge amounts of leftovers that I may forget to eat. It would be the most labor intensive choice adding extra work to an already complicated cooking chore. The slices were from the Philippines. They were the next expensive choice at $3.29. Unfortunately, they looked as if they had been delivered on a slow boat from the Philippines. They were browned and soggy looking. The frozen chunks of mystery origin were cheap at $1.59. They looked good and I could use what I need and keep the rest frozen. My main worry was that frozen fruit would weep too much liquid and end up making my pizza soggy. I stood still frozen in indecision. What was wrong with me?

In the book Affluenza, I learned that the typical grocery store now contains over 30,000 items. The book quoted psychologist Barry Schwartz who in his book Paradox of Choice says that having so many choices causes us stress and unhappiness. Having so many choices can leave us feeling that we have made the wrong choice. Was that what was happening to me? Was I being overwhelmed by too many options? Was I worried that having to use a different product than what I expected to use would cause problems?

When I stopped to think about it, all three choices were just pineapple. The only thing distinguishing them were convenience, freshness and place of origin. It was a choice. A simple choice, right? I bought the whole pineapple. It was beautiful to look at. I know it will be fresh and handled in a clean environment. I will be able to cut the fruit to order for pizza and other uses. In the long run, the fresh fruit gave me more choices, but they are my choices, which makes me happy.

 

 

Juicy, delicious, mouth-watering steak

http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)
 
You are what you eat eats – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.
 
I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t often luxuriate in a rare, juicy piece of beef. If I am going to eat something that was alive and kicking at one point, my preference usually leans toward something avian or piscine. Occasionally something porcine will grace my plate but that is the extent of the red meaty goodness I’ll usually eat. Why? I was ruined early on when I read Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappe’. I was quite the little environmentalist and when I discovered the environmental destruction tied to cattle, I stopped centering my diet around beef. Back in those old days, beef was blamed for many health scares due to the saturated fat content it contains. Many people I know cut down on their consumption of beef and I did too.
 
If you do your homework, you find out that a lot of the bad rap that beef gets is due to how it is raised for market.  Cows evolved a double stomach in order to turn the luscious green grass that we can’t digest into wholesome available nutrients. Cows properly raised on pasture are usually not too destructive to the environment. Meat and dairy from those same cows is loaded with omega three fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids (which are good for preventing cancer). You see, the problem is that conventionally raised cows, stuck in a feedlot, are fed corn and sometimes other things. Since their double stomach is made for processing grass, grains make them ill. We have to load them with medications to make them well. The feedlots also contribute to environmental and health issues as well. The rise in the number of toxic E-coli cases we are experiencing lately are a result of our animal husbandry practices.
 
From a health and an environmental standpoint the meat, eggs and dairy of pastured animals are far better than their conventionally grown counterparts. “But pasture raised animal products are so pricey!” you say. Well, we should all be eating lower on the food chain for our health and our planet, but… that’s another rant for another day.
Steak
 
So… if you are still with me on this, and after looking at my links you still wanna have some beef: you must be thinking, “but Mimi. Grass fed beef has so much less fat, it can’t be tasty at all”. As you have gathered, I am not a steak expert, but I know that I love the intense meaty flavor of grass fed beef. Slate magazine did a taste test and here is how grass fed beef fared. For me, I have always loved how any beef tastes with this wonderful chili rub I discovered over a decade ago in Gourmet magazine. The rub both tenderizes and flavors the meat. Bon Appetit!
 
 Rub1
 
 Garlic and chili rub for barbequed beef

Adapted from Gourmet, August 1995

2 – 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
 
1 tsp kosher salt
 
2 tbsp chili powder
 
1 tsp cumin
 
½ tsp evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
 
3 ½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce
 
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Add chopped garlic and salt to a mortar and use a pestle to grind the garlic and salt into a paste. Don’t worry if there are still some garlic chunks but you want it ground enough to make a wet paste. If your mortar is large enough, add chili powder, cumin, sugar and Worcestershire sauce, if not transfer garlic to a bowl and mix in the preceding ingredients.

This recipe makes enough rub for two to three pounds of steak or a roast such as tri tip. Cover the meat in the rub and allow it to marinate for at least 4 hours and up to two days. Cook the meat on a barbeque to the desired doneness.

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The new social mood

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You really don’t want to know my opinion about who is to blame for the ongoing recession we are in.  All I know is that I saw it all coming.  I saved diligently when the American savings rate was plummeting to zero.  I didn’t buy an overpriced house in the most ridiculously overpriced market in the country.  I didn’t buy things that I didn’t need.  I drove my old car for seventeen years and when it could no longer pass a smog check; I dove into my savings to fund the purchase of a new car to keep myself debt free.  I feel like I was one of the good guys – a cheap bastard who did not take advantage of the greed and stupidity that was running rampant for nearly two decades.  So you would think I’d be bitter and angry to be a victim of the economy, laid off from a work place that I called home for seventeen years.  I saw it all coming.  It was no surprise to me.  I am thankful that my foresight caused a nest egg.  I am thankful that my hard work and years of service gave me the gift of severance pay.  I am thankful that I already have good habits.

During the past few months there has been a noticeable shift in social mood.  Whereas people used to make a point of boasting about the house they bought, the clothes they bought, the trips they were taking, the new car they were shopping for, etc, etc, now it is alright to talk about paying off your bills, putting off purchases, saving money and getting bargains.  It is so okay that advertisements are beginning to acknowledge this new austerity. 

To go along with this change, I noticed a shift in the articles in the food and lifestyle magazines I read.  Food articles changed from telling us how to make the most lavish meals for our next extravagant party with our enormous social circle to showing us how little a meal costs to make for our family.  Yes, even Bon Appétit magazine is putting a frugal price tag on the food they want us to cook. 

I don’t really think it is only about a dollar amount.  Here are some truths about food:

  1.  Restaurants are a treat not your personal chef
  2. Food cooked from scratch is cheaper and healthier than processed or premade food from a grocery store.
  3. You are responsible for what goes into your body:  put your life into someone else’s hands or do your own cooking and know what your food is all about.
  4. Money saved by eating at home can be used wisely to make better quality food at home.

That being said, use your splurges at a restaurant as your muse for eating quality food at home.  If there is something you love, learn how to cook it.  If there is something easy that you lazily go out to have, there has got to be a better and less expensive way to make it at home.  Here is a ridiculous example:  A favorite German style restaurant of mine in town has a wonderful chef who makes the most amazing food at dinner time.  His lunch menu is a bit lazy.  Sandwiches, served a la carte for a pretty good profit.  People go there for the atmosphere.  What is the biggest waste of your money on his menu for lunch?  Smoked salmon on D’Angelo bakery pumpernickel rye bread with onions and capers with a pickle on the side.  $11.95.  You can order a side of German Potato salad for $4.95.  Today, I did myself a favor.  I bought  wild caught king salmon for $13.95 for 12 oz.  This much salmon will make this sandwich at least six times over, maybe more.  (Instead of sandwiches, the leftover salmon will likely make many more meals of eggs or pasta).  D’Angelo bread is about $6 a loaf at the local foodie store but I made another round of sour corn rye for pennies.  I topped the sandwiches with a few cents worth of slivered red onion and capers.  Mark Bittman’s How to cook anything contains a recipe for mustard potato salad that is to die for.  I made this salad in 15 minutes.  It was fabulous.  What? You still have a job you say?  How can you eat like this when you are so tired and busy?  This kind of food packs well and comes together in minutes, make it tonight and pack it to work tomorrow.  You will eat better than if you went out for fast food.

So what did I really want to say after this long convoluted rant and rave?  Just this:  Eat like a king, clean up like a maid.

The end.

 Lunch