Monday, February 27, 2006

Alice Waters' Vision of Food and Agriculture

In my opinion, Alice Waters is the most eloquent and visionary voice in America for the kinds of changes we need to make to how we produce, procure and consume food.

Below is a statement published in the current issue of Fast Company magazine that says it all much better than I ever could!

"We have to teach eco-gastronomy: a hands-on understanding of where our food comes from, how it's produced, and the traditions and rituals of eating it. When people know what the chickens are being fed, all of a sudden the chickens taste better. Food doesn't have to be fancy - we're talking about a bowl of soup. It's where you get all those ingredients for that soup and how it's made that's important. Once kids are educated, they eat in different ways. They think about farming as an important occupation. They make choices about food based on biodiversity. They become more sophisticated tasters. I think we can have a generation of kids that grow up with a different set of values.

We're all hungry for this kind of experience - I don't mean just physically hungry but psychologically hungry for it. We need to feel as though we are a part of the natural world again, and this is a beautiful, delicious way of doing it.

There are businesses that can spring from this idea, but not big businesses. Plenty of things in this world can be scaled up, but food isn't one of them. We need to buy food that was grown or raised close by rather than support national or global conglomerates. To do so, we need to build local communities of farmers. If we can make the right choices about food, we can change the world."

Monday, February 13, 2006

America's Food Fad Seesaw

Did you notice the firestorm that blew across the U.S. last week? Well, actually it wasn't a real firestorm but a metaphorical one.

The results of a 10-year, $415 millon study of women between the age of 50-70 years old was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The popular interpretation of the findings was this - eating a low fat diet had no statisically measurable deterrent effect on a woman's chance of getting heart disease or colon cancer.

Since its release last Tuesday there have been a spate of reports in the news media speculating on the implications of this study. Some health and nutritional professionals criticized the study's design, pointing out that it didn't distinguish between good and bad fats and that this older population of women needed more than 8 years of study to show the effects of changed diet on their health. Many also warned that people might jump to the wrong conclusion - i.e that you don't have to worry anymore about loading up on Big Mac's and doughnuts because this study showed it won't make any difference to whether or not you develop heart disease or cancer.

Some segments of the food industry, especially fast food joints, are probably ecstatic about these findings. But others, particularly packaged foods companies like Kraft etc. are concerned because they will now have to rethink their decade long campaign to market low-fat products as healthy. The weight-control industry finds itself in a similar dilemma because most diets are built around the principle of consuming low-fat foods.

An article in Today's Boston Globe offers the sound perspectives of professional nutritionists on this hullaballou - pointing out the limitations and flaws of this study and why it is downright dangerous to draw any general conclusions about the health effects of diet from it. There are also several sage nuggets of advice about eating offered by the nutritionists. Here are the best ones:

"Eating well never has been, is not, and never will be about deciding which of only three nutrient classes to abandon," says Katz. ''Rather . . . it always will be about making good choices within all three." He emphasizes plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy oils from nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados, plus a ''modest" amount of wine and dark chocolate."

"You have to find the balance," says Brennan of the Mass. General clinic, where clients have been referred by physicians for weight loss. Diet alone doesn't determine success, she says, but ''how much you're eating." All the attention in the last decade on low-fat vs. low-carb tended to obscure one important element of weight loss, she says. Calories in, calories out is still the key."

"So for a while dieters concentrated on low fat or fat substitutes but ate just as many calories in sugar and other carbohydrates. Then they turned to high-fat, low-carb programs, which are difficult to sustain and not recommended for heart health. Now the worry is trans fats. But, Brennan cautions, just because a product has no trans fats does not make it calorie-free. She gives the example of a trans-fat-free muffin that instead has saturated fats and plenty of calories."

"Judy Phillips, senior nutritionist at the South End Community Health Center's Weight Initiative Now program, agrees that moderate changes have more long-lasting effect. But despite the constant barrage of information about various diets, the general public has a huge knowledge gap. ''People know they shouldn't be giving kids Cokes, but they don't know about calories in juice."

"Katz wonders if many people seize on the apparent confusion about diets to give them license to eat the way they want. If the experts can't seem to make up their minds, he says, the public view is sometimes, 'I'll be in Burger King when you guys sort it out.'

''I think science and anthropology converge on a dietary pattern of roughly 55 percent of calories from almost exclusively complex carbohydrates," foods that include fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Protein (20 percent) and fat (25 percent) make up the rest."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Carlisle School Association Auction Dinner

Shown below is the menu of a dinner I prepared last year for a group of ten people who submitted the winning bid (a very generous one I might add) at the Carlisle School Association Fund-Raising Auction.

A similar dinner plus wine tasting will again be featured on this year's CSA auction docket. The auction itself will be held on Friday, March 24 at the Hyatt Regency Westford.

Gastronomic Tour of Italy

September 24, 2005

Panini – Veneto

Panini with Assorted Toppings of Basil Pesto and Dried Tomato, Chickpea and Sage Puree, and Red Pepper and Clam

Proscecco Brut, Desiderio, Jeio Bisol

Antipasti – Emilia Romagna

Antipasti Plate of Cantaloupe, Honey Dew and Casaba Melons wrapped with Prosciutto, Soppressata and Capicola

Lambrusco Grasparossa, di Castelvetro, Tanuta Pederzana

Piatti di Pasta - Sicilia

Rigatoni with Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Sauce

Nero D’Avola, Sedara, Donna Fugata, Sicilia 2oo3

Piatti di Pesce - Campagnia

Grilled Swordfish with Tomato, Lemon and Caper Salsa

Casta d’ Amalfi, Ravello Bianco, Furore, 2003

Piatti di Carne - Tuscana

Grilled Rib Eye Steak with Carmelized Onions
Fava Bean Puree
Sauteed Rapini and Broccoli

Brunello di Montalcino, Ciacci Piccolomini, D’Aragona, 1999

Insalata - Liguria

Organic butter lettuce, radicchio and endive with fig and olive tapenade and fig vinaigrette

Golfodel Tigullio Cilegiolo, Bisson, 2004

Formaggio - Piedmonte

Selected Piedmontese Cheeses – Raschera, Toma, Robiola Castagna Cora, Vera Pagliettini Luigi Giuffanti

San Fereolo, Langhe Bianco, 2oo3
del Barbaresco, Vignetti in Pora, 1996

Dolce - Friuli

Zambaglione with White Peaches

Moscato D’Asti, Elio Perrone, 2004

Monday, February 06, 2006

"Good Lord, What Are You Trying to Do Here?"

This is what nurse and diabetes educator Stephanie Rose is quoted to have said when she learned of her alma mater Idaho Falls High School's latest cafeteria promotion - two corn dogs for a dollar.

Many would probably dismiss Rose as some snooty food Nazi. I salute her as a courageous David flinging stones at the Goliathian commercial and cultural forces that have pushed America to the brink of an obesity-driven health catastrophe.

The so-called "Battle over Junk Food" is apparently heating up throughout America (or at least in Idaho, the supplier of the key ingredient of just about everyone's favorite junk food - French fries).

Rose and her fellow school Wellness Committee member Tracie Miller are campaigning to rid Idaho Falls High of junk food and in the process restore sanity to a small part of a country that is otherwise rife with food dysfunctionality.

There are some gems in this article that shed light on our misplaced priorities. In one instance, the principal of the school, Randy Hurley, says he wants students to eat well but his main concern is to keep the school clean. "If we become more restrictive here, within a half block the kids can go purchase what they're interested in....One of our greatest concerns is they'll bring in big beverage cups. You spill a 44-ounce drink, and you have a half-gallon of liquid to clean up."

Where did they get this character - from the custodial ranks?

Another part of the article points out that the school as well as the Parent Teacher Organization and other school groups depend on sales of junk food such as cookie dough, candy and cheesecakes to raise money. Tracie Miller questions the premise of school snack sales, noting that companies providing the products make a profit. She suggests that asking people to give money directly to the school makes more sense than selling a tub of cookie dough for $12 and splitting the profit with the vendor.

Right on!! I couldn't agree more. I have long been perplexed at what has become a booming industry in America - companies that provide B-grade food products and other junk to schools for fund raising. This seems like a racket to me - just a way for companies to wrap their crappy products in the cloak of some worthy cause. In my town for example, the school band raises money for its annual trip by selling citrus. The first year we moved into town, I gladly bought a case when approached by one of the band members. When it arrived I was astounded to discover 12 scawny oranges not much bigger than walnuts and a dozen undernourished grapefruits barely the size of lacrosse balls. They tasted even worse than they looked. The cost - $24!! This is about two-and-a-half times what you would pay for an equal quantity of top quality citrus in any supermarket.

The cynical side of me suspects this sort of thing is a scam cooked up by some sleazy produce distributor to get rid of fruit he could not otherwise sell. A even more egregious example is - okay dare I have the courage to say it - Girl Scout cookies!! Look I don't have anything against Girl Scouts or cookies, but have you ever looked at the ingredients listed on a typical box of Girl Scout cookies?! They are filled with the cheapest and most unhealthy ingredients imaginable. I'm sorry but I don't see the logic of teaching young girls to sell products that poison people's health in order to raise money. Why can't they sell something made with real wholesome ingredients instead of the rank effluent of America's Agri-Industrial complex?

Props to Stephanie Rose and Tracie Miller!!!!! May there be more people like them willing to stand up and ask the question of schools, governments and corporations, "Good Lord, what are you trying to do here".

Thursday, February 02, 2006

My Worst Nightmare

In an very entertaining article- "Land of the McFree" by a British journalist about McDonald's and his visit to Hamburger University, the author concludes with this absolutely warped and scary fusion of McDonald's ingredients and a gourmet menu:

"As if to prove the point, we round off the day with perhaps the weirdest meal I've ever eaten - and I've eaten live eel, mind you. It's dubbed McGourmet and it's a 10-course banquet of dishes all prepared using ingredients found in a standard McDonald's. It includes such delicacies as a Big Tasty Meatloaf with cream cheese sauce and a Coca-Cola reduction and a McCrispy Chicken confitted in citrus sauce. It's strangely convincing and yet very, very, odd. A bit like the folk at Oak Brook, Illinois."