Showing posts with label food issues. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food issues. Show all posts


making the move from plastic to glass food storage

I bought these! I love them!

For the longest time, I've had a very large collection of plastic food storage containers. Allan and I have always brought most of our meals to work -- for healthy eating, for convenience (I'd rather not spend any part of my meal break foraging), and to economize. I also tend to cook in batches, plus of course there are always leftovers.

Eons ago, when I bought all the plastic, I didn't know it was unhealthy -- that the polymers break down and enter your food. I knew plastics were bad for the environment, but I thought if I kept the same ones for a long time, it was not as disposable. Plus I commuted by subway to my day-job, with a lot of walking on both ends. Even if I had known that glass food storage existed (which I didn't), it would have been too heavy to carry.

More recently I learned that all this lovely plastic has been leaching into our food for all these years. Yuck. Plus the containers have gotten old and ugly. I was torn between the desire to switch to glass food storage and my attempt to not replace things that are still useable. So I held off for several more years.

Now, in our new small-town lifestyle, we are cooking more, so I'm using a lot of plastic containers, and they are squicking me out. I gave myself permission to replace them. After all, I bought them more than 15 years ago! And I'm not even throwing them away: they will have a new life storing supplies for library craft programs. (I am single-handedly de-cluttering and organizing the Port Hardy Library!)

The next question was: Rubbermaid or Pyrex? Both are known for good quality. Both are safe for dishwasher, microwave, and oven (although not in rapid succession). Both have lots of nice sizes and options. Reading reviews online, it seemed somewhat of a toss-up. This wrap-up at Wirecutter finally tipped the scale to Pyrex.

I bought two of the set pictured above -- one 7-cup, two 4-cups, two 2-cups, and 2 one-cups (times two). Each size has a different colour lid, which is good for organization. I purchased them from, my current go-to for online housewares.

I can't do anything about all the carcinogens we've already ingested, but at least we can slow down the overall load. Plus I'm an organization freak: I love containers! I've just received two big boxes of shiny new toys! I find that having nice kitchen tools makes cooking more enjoyable.


what i'm reading: hunger by roxane gay

During the Ontario provincial election, after a hack from the Toronto Sun drew attention to an unpopular view that I had expressed some years earlier, I was the object of right-wing attacks by email and on social media.

Many of these wingnuts referenced my weight in various disgusting ways. This shocked me because, although I am overweight, I'm not unusually heavy, not large enough to be remarkable. No matter. Total strangers mocked me for being overweight, using a whole slew of pejoratives and curse-words. I had never experienced that before.

I confess that even though I couldn't possibly care less what trolls think of me, each time this happened, I felt a brief pang of humiliation and embarrassment. I've always been impervious to right-wing bullying; if anything, I wear it with pride. But these taunts hurt, if only for a split-second. I wish this weren't true. I'm embarrassed to admit it.

I thought of this experience as I read Roxane Gay's powerful book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I imagined what it might be like to feel that humiliation and embarrassment all the time, multiplied a thousandfold, day in and day out, year after year. To experience this so often and so typically that you come to expect it and imagine it, even when it might not be happening. I tried to imagine the psychic cost.

Gay makes it easy to imagine and to empathize, as she lays bare her thoughts and emotions in a way few memoirists dare. She lays open her heart to the reader. Even more than that. She opens a vein. Few writers allow themselves to be so vulnerable, so emotionally naked. It's impressive, and sometimes painful to read. I felt that Gay is asking us to bear witness. That's not comfortable or easy to do; it's not supposed to be.

Hunger and Gay's unsettling candor is not just about her weight. It's about why she first began to overeat, to build an armor between her and the world. When she was 12 years old, Gay survived an extremely brutal rape -- a gang rape, in fact, organized by someone she loved and trusted. The circumstances surrounding the assault -- who the perpetrator was, and Gay's relationship to him both before and after the attack -- add even more layers of horror.

Overwhelmed by shame and self-blame, Gay never told her parents. For a long time, she never told anyone. Her isolation amplified her feelings of worthlessness, and set her on the path of an extreme eating disorder.

Gay is a committed and informed feminist. Yet she carries an overwhelming hatred of her body, and an almost elemental self-blame and self-hate.
It would be easy to pretend I am just fine with my body as it is. I wish I did not see my body as something for which I should apologize or provide explanation. I'm a feminist and I believe in doing away with the rigid beauty standards that force women to conform to unrealistic ideals. I believe we should have broader definitions of beauty that include diverse body types. I believe it is so important for women to feel comfortable in their bodies, without wanting to change every single thing about their bodies to find that comfort. I (want to) believe my worth as a human being does not reside in my size or appearance. I know, having grown up in a culture that is generally toxic to women and constantly trying to discipline women's bodies, that is important to resist unreasonable standards for how my body or any body should look.

What I know and what I feel are two very different things.
I think most of us can relate to a gap between what we know and what we feel. Much of Hunger resides in that gap.

Gay writes about how her size and her self-loathing impact everything in her life -- travel, dining in restaurants, shopping, public speaking, exercise. And of course, her relationships. In short, she writes about what it's like to be very fat in a fat-phobic world -- and by extension, what it's like to be a woman in a world where the female appearance is relentlessly policed and judged.

Some of the best pieces in Hunger focus on reality television, the weight-loss industry, and the culture of celebrity fat-shaming. I'm no stranger to this material, but Gay's analysis is trenchant and bracing.

Her writing is spare, and it is blunt. Where it shines the brightest -- and paradoxically, where it's most difficult to read -- is her analysis of the aftermath and enduring effects of the rape. Throughout, she connects her private struggles to the larger public sphere.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is an important book, both deeply personal and staunchly political.

If you're interested but don't think you'll read it, here are two very good reviews: The New Yorker and The Guardian.


in which i discover jordan's cereal and need to tell everyone about it

We used to eat President's Choice Blue Menu granola. The vanilla-almond flavour was crunchy, delicious, and reasonably healthy. My favourite way to eat it was with plain Greek yogurt and fruit, but it was very good with milk or rice milk as well. Then... it changed. It was no longer crunchy. It was no longer tasty. With a little liquid added, it tasted like soggy cardboard, or what I imagine soggy cardboard would taste like if it were a breakfast cereal. Thanks a lot, Loblaws.

Allan, who does our food shopping, went on the hunt for a cereal that would satisfy all the requirements: whole grain, crunchy, tasty, not overly sweet, and reasonably healthy. Plus I prefer clusters to flakes. It would also be good if the cereal didn't cost $10.00 a box.

This is how I discovered Jordan's Morning Crisp granola, and it has made me very happy.

Morning Crisp is crunchy.

Morning Crisp is delicious.

Morning Crisp comes in a variety of yummy flavours: Wild About Berries, Simply Strawberry, Maple Pecan, Bursting with Nuts, Dark Chocolate (!), and Honey Nut.

Morning Crisp is made from all natural ingredients, with no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives, and it contains lots of whole grains. Look:

The only thing not great is palm oil. But look at this.

President's Choice Blue Menu
"Protein" Whole Grain Cereal, 58 grams
Jordan's Morning Crisp Granola
55 grams

For those of us who regulate our sodium intake, this is amazing. Jordan's contains more sugars, but my overall sugar consumption in a day is very low. Sodium is a greater concern for me -- and it's a massive difference.

Jordan's is a British company. The Jordan's Canada website is not functioning, but their Facebook page is here, and you can follow them on Twitter. I will tweet them this post.


the great whole foods experiment of 2017

In our home, shopping at Whole Foods was once reserved for special dinners or used a stop-gap during an extremely busy week. Then slowly, over time, it became habit -- and a big one. For a long time now, we've had two regular shopping days each week, one at Loblaws and one at Whole Foods. Sometimes we end up at Whole Foods multiple times in one week.

This has been expensive, of course, but I felt it was worth spending more for better quality, and even more so for convenience. Because of Whole Foods' prepared food, we've been able to spend less time on food preparation, but still eat healthfully. Where prepared food in most supermarkets consists of rotisserie chicken and mayonnaisey pasta salads, Whole Foods carries an array of fresh, healthy, delicious -- expensive -- choices. Over time we relied on this more... and more.

I did determine that some prepared food was actually no more expensive than if I had made it myself: see my post about Roman tuna salad. Now I suspect that tuna salad is either a loss leader, or an outlier.

Several months ago, Whole Foods' prices shot up. A bag of groceries that once cost $65 now runs $95 or as much as $120. I rationalized it for a while, but even I, the Queen of Rationalization, can no longer ignore the obvious. But what do we do instead? What did we do before Whole Foods came to Mississauga...? The answer is: lots of different things that all involve more effort and less variety.

Hence the experiment. We won't shop at Whole Foods for one month, then we can decide if the money we don't spend is worth the effort we do spend. This also has an added benefit: the owner of Whole Foods is notoriously anti-union, so this is an opportunity to align my spending with my principles a bit more.


memories of bacon

Do you watch Aziz Ansari's show "Master of None"? I like it. It's not zany or wacky; it doesn't try so hard to be funny, which I find annoying in so many TV comedies. Parts of the show are funny, but parts are earnest, and interesting. It's not sappy, but it's not afraid to be a bit serious.

In the episode we just watched, we see Dev, the main character played by Ansari, as a child, encountering bacon for the first time. He's at the home of a friend, and when his mom calls, he innocently tells her that he's eating bacon. Mom reminds the young Dev that Muslims don't eat pork -- and informs him that bacon is pork.

Young Dev looks at the bacon, confused and a bit perturbed, deciding what to do. Then he opens wide and takes another bite. Back in the present, the episode involves Dev and his friend Navid eating pork and drinking alcohol -- but leading their parents to believe they are devout.

* * * *

If you grew up in Canada or the US, and you're not Jewish or Muslim or raised as a vegetarian, you have probably eaten bacon your whole life. But I can actually remember the first time I ever tasted the awesomeness that is bacon.

I was raised in the Reform Jewish tradition, and we didn't "keep kosher" (as it is called). But my parents grew up in kosher homes, and a bit of that cultural memory clung to our family. It is not unusual for Jewish people who are not kosher to not eat pork, and if they do, to not eat it in their own home. Even among the nonreligious and the most assimilated Jews, pork is often the last piece of Jewish culture to go. Pork is a bridge too far.

I was maybe 11 years old, in Miami, Florida with my father, for a union convention. This was a special treat, three days in a hotel with lots of excitement and confetti, and still young enough to want to spend time with my father. On one day, my father had some convention-related thing to do, and some of his union people took me for the day, or possibly just for the afternoon. I remember being confused because there were two people named Marion, and one was a man. (What's up with that?)

The bunch of adults took me out to lunch, and someone suggested a BLT. I didn't even know what that was! I wish I knew the name of the restaurant, because one of the adults said, "You've never had [name of restaurant]'s BLT? You haven't lived!" I wasn't sure if I was allowed to eat a BLT, but my curiosity and desire to try it outweighed any fear I may have had about being a bad Jew.

There should have been sound effects, a choir breaking out in song, when I bit into it. It was incredible. I'm guessing this was a really good sandwich, but also a product of its era -- a mound of iceberg lettuce, and probably white or rye toast. But oh. my. god. Bacon!

I did tell my parents that I tried this exotic food, and what the people said about not having lived. I thought they were being serious, which my parents found amusing. I did not get in trouble and did not feel guilty.

Only a few years later, as a teenager, BLTs would become a mainstay, as would cheeseburgers (also not kosher, as it mixes milk and meat). I quickly lost any compunction about eating pork -- sausage, bacon, and especially ribs. But this memory of bacon... it is peerless.


arun gupta's perfect takedown of food-as-cultural-appropriation

I read this on Facebook and absolutely love it. The author, Arun Gupta, understands and acknowledges cultural appropriation as a fact and a legitimate concern (as do I). But he also believes the "reactionary left" spreading lists of ethnic restaurants run by white people
...essentializes the notion of culture as rooted in the very soil of a place and not something that can travel or transcend boundaries. This hints at fascistic notions of blood and soil as what constitutes the nation.

It is reactionary because the creators of this are implying there are timeless practices, rooted in a people, land and culture, that constitute only appropriate form of food. They want to fix all cultures as fossils in a museum, not allowing for adaptation, changing tastes, social roles, or fashion. It reminds me of how the National Front fetishizes a notion of the pure French nation.
He's unpacked the food-as-cultural-appropriation concept perfectly. Please go read the whole post.

I would be interested to know what wmtc readers who vehemently disagreed with my earlier posts think of Gupta's ideas.


accusations of cultural appropriation are a form of bullying -- and don't reduce racism

I'm increasingly dismayed by accusations of cultural appropriation that are used as weapons, rather than as a tool for raising awareness and educating. Accusations of appropriation have become a form of bullying, a weapon wielded to police and enforce a superficial obeisance to a behavioural code -- while doing nothing to address the underlying issues.

Cultural appropriation is real. It's a valid issue.

I'm not saying that cultural appropriation is not real. It is. I'm not saying claims of appropriation don't have merit. They do.

When I was a child in the 1960s, parents might dress their children as "Indians" for Halloween, without a second thought. Kids played "Cowboys and Indians," dressing up in hats or feathers, with toy guns or tomahawks. Can you imagine if someone had played "Nazis and Jews"? It's completely inappropriate to turn a history of genocide and oppression into costumes and games. That in the 21st century, people are still doing this... it's mind-boggling.

Racist names and logos of sports teams, the Disney version of stories like Pocahontas -- these images are demeaning, degrading, trivializing, and undeniably racist. They should never stand unchallenged. (When it comes to sports teams, names and images should be changed

It’s disturbing to see sacred images commodified and commercialized, reduced to merchandise, devoid of meaning. That's what our consumer society does -- to everything. Religious holidays become secular shopping marathons. Spiritual symbols are sold on infomercials. Leaders of movements who fought for radical change are re-packaged as icons with feel-good slogans.

Using objects of cultural significance in trivial (and usually commercial) ways is a hallmark of consumer culture. Everything is gobbled up by the giant maw of consumerism, then diluted and spit back, stripped of all meaning, in some mass-marketable form.

It can be depressing, and it can be enraging. But shaming people for their ignorance will not stop this dynamic. The proliferation of racialized language, the enforcement of racialized divisions, the policing of thought and expression -- all hallmarks of appropriation shaming -- do not increase understanding. They preclude it. The current opposition to cultural appropriation sounds a lot like calls for segregation.

The hyperbole is out of control. There is no doubt that dressing children in "Indian" costumes is racist. But it is not -- as I have seen it called -- genocidal. When everything is genocide, then nothing is genocide; the word ceases to have meaning. Perhaps this analogy works: racist costumes are to genocide as street harassment is to rape. They are related. They can be placed on the same continuum. But they are not the same thing.

The current climate of accusation is misguided and harmful. Some thoughts.

-- Who owns culture? Expression is not owned. Culture is not owned. It's not owned by Disney, and it's not owned by the Ojibway. The Ojibway people have a much greater claim to their own culture than Disney, but neither can restrict anyone else's use. No one owns cultural influences, and no one can stop anyone else from being influenced.

-- Who appoints the expression police? Freedom of expression is a human right. When that expression is harmful or offensive, then others must exercise their own freedom of expression in opposing it. But bullying people into silence is never OK. What's more, it doesn't even work! You might get the person to stop the behaviour, but is that the only goal? Submission and silence do not equal understanding.

-- The rhetoric has grown increasingly authoritarian. That alone should make it suspect. The accusations emphasize divisions. They create division.

-- Accusations of cultural appropriation trivialize racism. Calling a hairstyle, or food, or a dance "genocidal" is an insult to every culture that has experienced genocide.

-- Some accusers will say that using another culture's symbols is acceptable if one has engaged meaningfully with that culture. So who makes the call? How does the "appropriator" communicate their engagement, and to what tribunal do they submit their evidence?

-- Who decides? Do the self-appointed guardians of culture have the widespread support of the community they claim to represent?

-- The current rhetoric does nothing to bridge divides and promote understanding. Instead, it accuses, shames, and basks in self-righteousness.

-- The accusation of cultural appropriation is often based on assumptions. Are you sure the person you’re accusing has no “right” to wear her hair that way or to wear a First Nations insignia, or are you assuming based on physical appearance?

I recently learned that a co-worker of mine is First Nations. Had she not told me, I never would have known. Can she wear signifiers from her heritage culture without exposing herself to accusations and attacks? Why should she have to explain or justify her choices? And, it follows, why should anyone?

White women wearing African-derived hairstyles are a common source of outcry. What if we learn that the apparently white woman is actually a light-skinned African American? Is it then ok? Pretty soon we're back to the "one drop of blood" rule. We're DNA testing women to see if they were biologically female at birth. We're asking people to identify their heritage in order to be granted access to a culture. Why do we think this is OK?

The world is a heap of broken images

We live in a multicultural, mongrel world where cultures are constantly blending and shifting and taking on new forms. Almost everything in our common culture originated from some other culture, often from cultures that were once despised and marginalized.

Credit is important. Engagement is important. But even without it, no one has the right to police anyone else's culture.

We often hear that art is "stolen" from its sources. It's not that simple.

Artist Damien Hirst recently was accused of appropriating Nigerian art. Hirst admit the influence and credited it -- but apparently didn't say it loudly or often enough. I'm not a Hirst fan by any means, but here an artist is acknowledging an influence, and it's still not enough.

We can see the influence of African masks in Picasso's paintings, but Picasso did not steal the mask images. It is often said that Elvis Presley "stole" African American music and dance.* In fact, Presley was influenced as much by the music of his African American neighbours as the "hillbilly" music of his white neighbours (who were also poor, marginalized people). Those two influences came crashing together in the form of one (part-Native American) Elvis.

That’s often how art happens -- cultures clash, then give birth to something new. That may happen with or without exploitation -- but it can’t not happen. It will never stop happening, nor should we want it to.

Miley Cyrus was apparently lambasted for twerking onstage, a white woman performing a “black dance”. (I learned of this when researching this post. This "news" would not have been on my radar!) So some people are policing who does what dances, apparently ignorant of the way dance styles proliferate. First it's a strange, exotic movement used by an in-crowd, then it is seized on by the mainstream, at which point the in-crowd moves on to the next new thing. Surely we are not saying that some dance moves can only be made by people with dark skin? And if we are -- why is this OK??

Some responses to what's out there

Researching this post, I’ve read many thoughtful articles purporting to explain cultural appropriation, but I disagree with much of what I read.

In How to Explain Cultural Appropriation to Anyone Who Just Doesn’t Get It, I read --
for the first time -- about the supposed cultural appropriation of food. Nigerian jollof rice and Vietnamese pho have been given a supposedly hip twist by some famous chefs.

I don’t doubt that to some Nigerians (like the author) and to some Vietnamese people, this is offensive. To others, I’m willing to bet, it’s amusing. And still to others, it may be flattery. That is almost always the case. Does the writer speak for all Nigerians? Surely not. He speaks for himself and no doubt some Nigerians agree with him.

Jamie Oliver isn't hiding the fact that the dish is Nigerian in origin. He isn't trivializing Nigerian culture. He isn't using sacred symbols in a debased way. He has created some Nigerian food with his own twist.

Just about the last place we should look for cultural appropriation is the dinner table. Almost everything we first-worlders eat originated from some culture somewhere. Last week, I ate hummus, pizza, and sushi. Somehow I doubt the restaurant owners felt I was engaging in cultural appropriation. Can only Polish people eat pierogis? Should we demand that non-Polish people understand the historical struggles of the Polish people before eating kielbasa? Let's not even get into corn -- invented by the aboriginal people of what is now the Americas.

As ridiculous as it may seem to some to turn a simple dish like jollof rice or pho into upscale food, that is a part of our multicultural world that many people celebrate. It's not appropriation.

In this article in Jezebel, the writer wonders if it's all right for her to hang a dreamcatcher in her window. You do not need someone else's permission to decorate your home, nor should you be concerned that the art you love is originally from another culture. Find me some art that’s not.

This article from an aboriginal blog encourages us to learn about the cultures we borrow from, and asks us to stay away from images that are sacred and meaningful in their original culture. For me it was a welcome, compassionate voice in a sea of snark.

Many people are sharing this post from Everyday Feminism: What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm. I agree with a few of the writer’s points, but I find others very problematic. I'd like to respond to a few points in particular.

It Trivializes Violent Historical Oppression

Sometimes it does. And anything that does that is wrong. The racist team logos and nicknames do. The skirt depicting slave ships do. Decorating your room with a dreamcatcher or eating Jamie Oliver’s jollof does not.

It Lets People Show Love for the Culture, But Remain Prejudiced Against Its People

The writer uses the example of white people wanting to eat authentic Mexican food but not wanting to venture into "sketchy neighbourhoods" to get it. I get this. It can be maddening to run into that kind of classism and racism.

In our multicultural society, we can take what we like and avoid the rest. I think it's something we all do to an extent, including the people who complain about it. However, it is not appropriation. See above: the "yelpers" eating Mexican food are not using sacred symbols in a distorting or demeaning way.

The writer says:
So is every non-Mexican who enjoys a good burrito guilty of cultural appropriation? Say it ain’t so! That would include me and nearly everyone I know.

But now that you know that popularizing “ethnic” food can be one way to harm a group of people while taking from their traditions, you can think about ways to satisfy your international food cravings without participating in that harm.
I find this an enormous leap and assumption. I don't "know" this, I only know this writer thinks so. But more importantly, how can we tell if a burrito-phile is participating in harm or not? We can't. So let's not assume and render judgment.

It Lets Privileged People Profit from Oppressed People’s Labor

Show me one first-world person who is not doing this, every single day, no matter what their background. Is any first-worlder so naive or narcissistic or self-absorbed to think they're not doing this? Where does this woman shop, where does she buy her food? It's not only the privileged that engage in this. In our economy of precarious work, very few people can afford not to profit from the labour of oppressed people.

This is something all first-world activists and revolutionaries should own. We profit from the labour of oppressed people, every time we buy clothes and much of the time we buy food. Believing that this is something other people do -- that appropriators do -- is hypocritical. It's delusional.

It Perpetuates Racist Stereotypes

I am concerned with this. Challenging racist stereotypes is part of my life. It should be part of our daily work for justice. But this --
As Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations puts it, “You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.”
-- made my flesh crawl. Pretending to be a race you are not? First, do the appropriators actually pretend to be something they are not? Is Miley Cyrus pretending to African American? And more importantly, I find the language here – race, instead of culture or background or ethnicity – creepily regressive.

White People Can Freely Do What People of Color Were Actively Punished for Doing

Here the writer reveals a fascinating bit of hidden history.
Did you know yoga was once banned in India as part of the “racist and orientalist narratives” that characterized Indian people as perverse heathens who had to conform to Western ways? The bands of yogis who resisted the ban rose up to challenge the oppressive British rule.

These days, it seems like yoga’s everywhere, and practitioners don’t have to challenge the rules of the government to reach it. It can bring up some sensitive feelings to say that non-South Asian people who do yoga are appropriating culture, because the practice benefits many people throughout the US.

But you know who’s not benefiting from the commercialization of yoga like middle class white women are? The South Asian people for whom yoga has a deep cultural and religious significance.
I ask: Do South Asian people oppose the popularization of yoga? There is evidence from one person. This may be the dominant thought in her culture, or it may not. I've heard my South Asian co-workers mention yoga with pride -- a positive piece of our common culture that originated from their original culture. This may or may not be the dominant thought of South Asian people. I wouldn’t presume to know. Neither should this writer or anyone else.

It Prioritizes the Feelings of Privileged People Over Justice for Marginalized People

Freedom of expression is not a feeling, it isn't trivial, and it doesn't only affect privileged people. Just the opposite. Marginalized people are always more affected by laws and customs that curtail freedom of expression. Freedom of expression cannot apply only to certain people and not others. Because again, who decides?

I understand the arguments about power imbalance. But when you police culture, you are appropriating power. What gives you the right?

Let's be honest: many of the accusers, many people happily calling out others on charges of appropriation, are not themselves members of marginalized cultures. Many members of the culture police I see on Facebook and Twitter are North American white folks.

So what do we do?

Almost everyone in our world has a background of mixed origins and cultures. Are we only allowed to use expressions from our original culture? Who decides when an attribute from another culture is now part of the mainstream? Three or four generations after my great-grandparents emigrated from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the US, am I only allowed to use cultural references they would have recognized? We recognize that question as absurd. But we're willing to say that this white performer shouldn't dance a black-identified dance, and this artist shouldn't use African influences.

Researching for this post, I did find an article expressing the same ideas as I do here: The Dos and Don'ts of Cultural Appropriation, in The Atlantic. After describing how "getting dressed is a daily act of cultural appropriation," using and wearing items gleaned all over the world, Jenni Avins writes:
As I dress in the morning, I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship and design behind these items, as well as the adventures and people they recall. And while I hope I don’t offend anyone, I find the alternative — the idea that I ought to stay in the cultural lane I was born into — outrageous. No matter how much I love cable-knit sweaters and Gruyere cheese, I don’t want to live in a world where the only cultural inspiration I’m entitled to comes from my roots in Ireland, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe.

There are legitimate reasons to step carefully when dressing ourselves with the clothing, arts, artifacts, or ideas of other cultures. But please, let’s banish the idea that appropriating elements from one another’s cultures is in itself problematic.

Such borrowing is how we got treasures such as New York pizza and Japanese denim — not to mention how the West got democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar. Yet as wave upon wave of shrill accusations of cultural appropriation make their way through the Internet outrage cycle, the rhetoric ranges from earnest indignation to patronizing disrespect.

And as we watch artists and celebrities being pilloried and called racist, it’s hard not to fear the reach of the cultural-appropriation police, who jealously track who “owns” what and instantly jump on transgressors.

In the 21st century, cultural appropriation — like globalization — isn’t just inevitable; it’s potentially positive. We have to stop guarding cultures and subcultures in efforts to preserve them. It’s na?ve, paternalistic, and counterproductive. Plus, it’s just not how culture or creativity work. The exchange of ideas, styles, and traditions is one of the tenets and joys of a modern, multicultural society.

So how do we move past the finger pointing, and co-exist in a way that’s both creatively open and culturally sensitive? In a word, carefully.
Avins then lists her own take on the how to show this care, such as "Don’t Adopt Sacred Artifacts as Accessories," "Appropriation is not a substitute for diversity", "Engage With Other Cultures on More Than an Aesthetic Level," and "Treat a Cultural Exchange Like Any Other Creative Collaboration — Give Credit, and Consider Royalties".

This strikes me as sensitive, compassionate, and mindful of the rights of all parties involved. We have no way of knowing if the appropriator has sufficiently met this criteria or not. So let's not judge them.

* I am aware of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I know quite a bit about blues music and early rock-and-roll. They are not the same thing.


in which i test a bit of conventional wisdom and find out it is false: the mystery of roman tuna salad

I've noticed that ideas that I used to blog about, I am now posting on Facebook instead -- a combination of laziness and time pressure. I'm going to try to get the ideas here, first.

Conventional wisdom has it that preparing food at home is less expensive than buying prepared food. I'm not talking about frozen or processed food, but freshly prepared food from a store like Whole Foods, or increasingly, regular supermarkets trying to compete with specialty stores.

Allan and I buy quite a bit of prepared food. With limited time and energy, it's often the tool we reach for to keep healthy eating on track. It's less expensive than eating in a restaurant, and it's more convenient if you're tired and want to stay at home.

I always think we spend far too much on prepared food, especially something I could make myself -- and once did, in the dark ages before Whole Foods came to Mississauga. Of course, you're not comparing the price of prepared food to not eating. You're comparing how much it would cost to make an acceptable substitute yourself versus buying the food already prepared.

So this week I conducted a little experiment. One of the foods I always feel I should be making myself is tuna salad. I buy something Whole Foods calls Roman tuna salad, which is tuna with a lot of different chopped vegetables mixed in -- olives, bell peppers, celery, red onion, parsley, artichokes. (I know about the issues with tuna, the fish. I have not been able to stop eating it.)

I bought Roman tuna salad and noted the price, then added to Allan's grocery shopping list the ingredients I needed for a scaled-down version of this.

I was amazed to discover that the prepared tuna salad from Whole Foods was only slightly more than the cost of the canned tuna alone, with no other ingredients, and no time and effort factored in -- and that was because we happen to stumble on canned tuna "on special". Normally priced, the canned tuna alone would be more expensive than Whole Foods' product!

320 grams of Whole Foods Roman tuna salad = $9.79

360 grams (3 cans) of white tuna packed in water, drained = $8.97, on special
360 grams of the same tuna, normally priced = $12.56

Whole Foods Roman tuna salad:
Buy, eat, enjoy.

My tuna salad:
Open cans of tuna, drain well. Put tuna in mixing bowl, use fork to break into bits.
Wash and dice two ribs of celery
Wash and dice one bell pepper.
Put all ingredients in food processor with blender blade.
Add reduced-fat mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, pepper, and dill.
Blend thoroughly. Transfer to containers.
Wash food processor parts, cutting board, knife, mixing bowl.

Yes, we could buy less expensive tuna. But this is the tuna I eat. The point of this exercise wasn't to see how cheaply one could make tuna salad, but rather to compare the prices as I would experience them.

And yes, I don't have to use a food processor, and I don't have to chop up vegetables, both of which require time and effort. But again, this is the tuna salad I want to eat. Preparing food that I don't enjoy doesn't make much sense.

Way back when, Impudent Strumpet showed that bringing one's lunch from home to work isn't actually less expensive than going out to lunch. In my case (as I say in a comment on that thread), my lunch out always costs at least $10, sometimes more. I know I can bring a less expensive, healthier lunch -- and I like having my lunch with me, not having to spend part of my lunch hour looking for food, waiting in line, and so forth. My meal at work is often dinner, so trying to find inexpensive food is even more challenging.

But this experiment in home-made versus prepared food has been very enlightening. We're going to put a bunch of other prepared food to the test.


what i'm reading: salt sugar fat by michael moss

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss is an excellent addition to a bookshelf that includes works by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marian Nestle and others who write about the health of our food and the un-health of the industrial food system. Moss lifts the curtain on the giant corporations that engineer and market convenience foods and processed foods. What he reveals is largely invisible to us on a daily basis, yet affects our society significantly - and catastrophically.

Moss is a seasoned investigative reporter - he was the first to expose trans fats, and more recently "pink slime" - and this book is a tour de force of research. Moss takes you to the laboratory and the board room, where chemical engineers and marketing executives contrive to get North Americans eating more and more of everything unhealthy. (The book is written in a US context, but it is equally relevant to Canada.)

Salt Sugar Fat is full of wonderful mini-histories of corporations like Kellogg's and Kraft, and eye-popping demographic data about what North Americans eat. You'll learn how our food has become increasingly sweeter, increasing both our tolerance and desire for ever-sweeter food. How we eat three times as much cheese as we did 40 years ago, now that cheese - or more accurately, a processed substance distantly related to real cheese - is used as an additive in countless foods. And especially, the myriad ways that the holy trinity of salt-sugar-fat is used by food engineers to encourage overconsumption.

Here's an example of a little gem I gleaned from this book. I've always scoffed at fruit drinks that are cynically marketed as containing "10% real juice," meaning, of course, that they are 90% water and sugar. For people accustomed to drinking soda (pop), 10% real juice may seem like a healthy improvement. But Moss describes the how the "juice" in those drinks is created.
At is extreme, the process results in what is known within the industry as "stripped juice," which is basically pure sugar, almost entirely devoid of the fiber, flavors, aromas, and any of the other attributes we associate with real fruit. In other words, the concentrate is reduced to just another form of sugar, with no nutritional benefit over table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Rather, its value lies in the healthy image of the fruit that it retains. ... A company like General Foods can use this stuff and still put the comforting words contains real fruit on the box.
Much of Salt Sugar Fat is about economics. Moss quotes a parade of food executives - whistleblowers and industry faithfuls alike - who are all caught in the same trap: reduce the amount of salt, sugar, or fat, and the product's taste will suffer drastically. Therefore consumers will buy less. Therefore consumers will buy the competitor product without the reduced additives. And therefore the company cannot reduce the additives.

When reductions are possible, they are immediately offset. It is a principle of the processed food industry - the first commandment, the sacrosanct law - that a reduction in one of the trinity must be countered with an increase in another. Is the product lower fat? Then it is higher in salt. Is it slightly lower in salt? Then it is higher in sugar. Without copious amounts of these three ingredients in various engineered forms, processed food would be completely inedible.

One such tale from within Kraft Foods said it all. A group of high-level insiders was very concerned about the health implications of the company's products. There was no getting around it anymore: these processed foods are contributing to skyrocketing rates of hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. (Moss refers to this as "the obesity epidemic," but it is actually about health, not weight.) These Kraft insiders fought against a deeply entrenched corporate culture, risking their livelihoods, to force their colleagues to face these facts. They worked very hard, and succeeded in reducing some of the salt-sugar-fat in the company's products by a tiny bit. Only a tiny bit, one might say, but a start.

Then the sales figures came in. These concerned insiders were immediately slapped down by the board of directors, speaking for the shareholders. Wall Street reminded the company that they are not in the business of caring about what consumers eat. They are in the business of making money. The executive behind the internal movement was demoted, her career significantly curtailed.

Are companies trying to do better? Moss crunches the numbers.
"In Capri Sun alone we took out 120 billion calories," [Kraft executive] Firestone said. ... "We've looked at the amount of sodium we've taken out. Last year was six million pounds, and we're going to add nine billion servings of whole grain between now and 2013..."

If those numbers sound impressive consider what Michelle Obama manged to wrestle out of the entire processed food industry in 2010, after asking for their help in fighting obesity. "I am thrilled to say that they have pledged to cut a total of one trillion calories from the food they sell annually by the year year 2012, and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015," she announced. ...

The math on all this, however, is less compelling. If everyone in America consumed the standard 2,000 calories a day, or 730,000 a year, the 1.5 trillion in saved calories would reduce our collective eating by not quite 1 percent. It's actually bleaker than that, according to some health policy experts. In reality, many of us consume far more than 2,000 calories, and processed foods make up a large part, but not all, or our diets. So the real drop in consumption from those 1.5 trillion calories is likely much less than that 1 percent. Still, it's a start.
Is it? Salt Sugar Fat leads one to question a system that would rely on these industries to safeguard consumer health. And what about the government agencies tasked with keeping the industries in check? They are a significant part of the problem.
With the American people facing an epidemic of obesity and hardened arteries, the "People's Department" doesn't regulate fat as much as it grants the industry's every wish. Indeed, when it comes to the greatest sources of fat - meat and cheese - the Department of Agriculture has joined industry as a full partner in the most urgent mission of all: cajoling the people to eat more.
Moss frequently notes the connections between the processed food industry and the tobacco industry. Kraft and General Foods - the two mega-giants of processed food - were for a long time owned by the Philip Morris corporation. Kraft and General Foods, now one company, are no longer owned by Big Tobacco, but the marketing and engineering principles of that industry informed the companies' cultures and decision-making. The language of addiction and the view of salt-sugar-fat as narcotics run through this book.

When reading Salt Sugar Fat, it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that this is, at bottom, an economic problem. Moss touches on these issues; for example, he mentions more than once the class divide between the food industry executives, who never eat their own products, and their customers. But I wish he went further. For example, Moss writes about the convenience stores overloaded with processed foods, selling no fresh foods at all, and the insidious (and invisible) industry practices that cause this. But he mentions only once, in passing, that these same neighbourhoods are usually food deserts, making processed food laden with salt-sugar-fat the only option for many low-income families.

Another economic factor Moss alludes to, but doesn't examine, is something we hear about all the time in a non-economic context: families are so busy now, both parents work (usually portrayed as "more women are in the workforce"), families don't have time to cook proper meals. That's worth examining, too. Why are families so much busier now, why do both parents work? One principal reason: for most people, it's impossible to raise a family on one income, because the cost of living, especially housing costs, has far outstripped wages.

For anyone writing about the food industry and overconsumption, economic factors are an intrinsic part of the picture. Moss understands that. I just wish he went further.

It's not only an economic issue, of course. It's also an education issue. In my workplace yesterday, a colleague left some "healthy" cereal out to share. Its packaging was full of claims like "no preservatives" and "all natural". Everything about it, down to the colours and fonts used on the packaging said "healthy" and "alternative". The first four ingredients, in order, were: sugar, wheat, corn syrup, and honey. That is, three of the four top ingredients are sugar. And the wheat is not even whole grain, so the human body processes it largely as sugar.

In the end, Moss concludes that we have a choice. We control what we buy. We control what we eat. We can choose to not eat processed food and convenience food.

That is technically true. But it is also incomplete, reductionist, and disingenuous, as Moss himself has shown in more than 400 pages of excellent writing and impeccable research. The individual consumer must be extremely motivated, and blessed with a mighty will, to withstand the economic, social, cultural, and biological forces stacked up against her. The stuff is engineered to make us over-consume, our bodies are biologically programmed to like the stuff and want more of it, and many of us cannot afford to do otherwise.

Despite these critiques, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us is page-turning, eye-opening, thought-provoking book that I highly recommend.



Revolutionary thought of the day:
Hunger isn't about the amount of food around. It's about being able to afford and control that food. After all, the U.S. has more food than it knows what to do with, and still 50 million people are food insecure.

Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing, quoted by Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything


mini-garden update: the eggplant arrives

I grew this! It's eight inches long, and three more are on the way.

What's ordinary to you veteran gardeners is still miraculous to me. Gardening on a small scale is easy, fun, and very rewarding.

Next stop, eggplant recipes.


zucchini abundance recipe of the day: zucchini-corn-tomato bake

I found a bunch of recipes similar to this, and adapted them to my tastes. This one is easy (especially if you use a food processor to shred the zucchini and cheese), healthy, and tasty.

I feel like the ability to tweak and change recipes marks a turning point in my cooking evolution, in both confidence and knowledge. I like it!

Also, I don't have measurements for this one. It's down to what proportions you like and what ingredients you have on hand.

Zucchini-Corn-Tomato Bake

1 medium-to-large zucchini, grated or shredded
2 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely cubed
Kernels of corn, either fresh (one cob) or frozen (one box or half of one bag)
Fresh basil, shredded
Seasoned bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese, shredded (omit this for a dairy-free dish)
S&P to taste

In a baking dish, combine zucchini, tomatoes, corn kernels, basil, salt, and pepper. Stir until all are thoroughly mixed. Mix Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, then sprinkle the mixture on top.

Bake in 400F/200C oven for 45 minutes.

That is all.


zucchini abundance recipe of the day: penne with zucchini and fresh herbs

This is probably the easiest way to use zucchini from your garden, and if you're growing herbs, it's an excuse to use those, too. It's also one of those dishes that takes just about anything you like in pasta. I'm keeping it very simple, so as not to drown out the zucchini.

I use brown rice pasta. I originally tried it when we thought one of us was celiac, then it became habit. It's delicious and very healthy, but it does need the extra step of rinsing the cooked pasta. If you don't do that, the pasta will all stick together in a one big gluey mess... something I discovered painfully on my own. 

Also, if you use brown rice pasta, it's easier to use a "cut" pasta, like penne, rotini, or ditalini. Long pasta like spaghetti or linguini is more difficult to rinse properly. 

Pasta with Zucchini and Fresh Herbs

1/2 package of penne pasta 
1 large zucchini
a variety of fresh herbs, washed and shredded (I used basil, thyme, and cilantro)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated or shaved (Use good cheese! It makes a difference.)
salt & fresh black pepper to taste
olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta to just under desired doneness. When it's still a bit harder than you want it, remove the pasta from the heat and pour into colander. If you're using rice pasta, rinse it well with cold water, stirring the pasta with a wooden spoon as you rinse. Drain well.

While the water is heating and the pasta is cooking, slice the zucchini lengthwise, then slice each half lengthwise again, so you have four spears. Then slice each spear, so you have triangles. 

Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Add garlic and let it cook a bit. Add zucchini and herbs. Cook for a minute or two.

Add pasta to skillet, add salt and pepper as desired, and continue cooking until the pasta and zucchini are both at desired doneness, tender but not mushy.

Spoon into pasta bowls and top with grated cheese.

One large zucchini nicely covered half a bag of pasta, for dinner for two people.


zucchini abundance recipe of the day: zucchini fritters

Apparently if you grow zucchini, you have too much of it.

Being new gardeners, we didn't know how prolific our one zucchini plant would be, or the insane quantities - and size! - of the vegetables it would produce. And those leaves! They're gigantic and there's so many of them! It's been a source of wonder and amusement.

We've cut back the leaves several times, as they're crowding out the herbs and the eggplant. And of course cutting back just makes the plant produce even more. I remember that much from my indoor planting days.

There's no shortage of recipes online offering ideas and advice on how to use your surplus zucchini, including several suggestions of leaving some on a neighbour's porch. So although there's no need, I'm going to add mine to the pile. My recipes are all adapted from what I've found online, usually a combination of ideas I find in two or three places, tweaked to our own tastes and cooking style.

Zucchini Fritters

1 huge zucchini, grated or shredded in food processor
Some salt 
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 or more cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg, beaten
A little ground black pepper (if you've used seasoned bread crumbs, try not adding more salt)
Olive oil

Place shredded zucchini in a colander in the sink and salt lightly. Zucchini has a lot of moisture and this helps get some of it out. (Some people leave salted zucchini for hours or even overnight to leech out the moisture. So far I've found this is both unnecessary and too salty.)

While the zucchini is sitting with the salt, combine all other ingredients except olive oil in a large bowl.

Rince the zucchini, drain it well, and pat it dry with a cheesecloth or paper towels. Add the zucchini to the bowl with the other ingredients and combine well.

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick skillet on a medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, scoop spoonfuls of the mixture into the skillet. Flatten each scoop with a spatula.

Cook 2-3 minutes until the underside looks golden brown, then flip them over and cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. We like these kinds of things very well done, so I continued cooking them until they had a crisp brown exterior.

Serve and eat them right away, while they're sizzling hot. Most people probably would serve these with sour cream or yogurt. I prefer mine with no sauce or condiments, as I do most food. Super yummy. 

One huge zucchini yielded about 15 small fritters.


for those who believe meat-eating can be ethical: in praise of beretta farms

I've mentioned Beretta Farms in many different posts over the years, but I've never specifically blogged about them. With grilling season underway, it's time to give Beretta a shout-out.

When I learned about the horrors of factory farming, first from reading Michael Pollan, and later through other sources, I knew I needed to change my eating habits. I needed to translate my knowledge into action, but I was at a loss for what to do.

In the 1990s, I had eaten a vegetarian (almost vegan) diet for more than two years, but it didn't work for me, and I gave it up. I certainly don't eat meat with every meal, but I learned that I do need animal protein for optimal function. But once the curtain had been lifted on the horrors of factory farming, I could no longer stand the thought of contributing to the industrial food chain, especially as it relates to animal abuse.

The first step was releasing myself from all-or-nothing thinking about food. We're not going to buy only ethically-raised meat or chicken. We can't afford it, and when we go out to eat, we (usually) can't choose the origin of our food. Despite this, we decided that we would try to replace conventional meat with ethically-raised meat to the extent possible.

Researching online, I found Beretta Farms. Beretta Farms is a real farms, run by the Beretta Family, who raise animals by traditional methods and sell meat locally, on a small scale. But Beretta Farms is also a network. For many family-owned, non-industrial farms, the greatest challenge to reaching consumers is distribution. By definition, non-factory farms cannot produce food in sufficient quantities to get their products stocked in major supermarket chains. And in most of North America, if your product does not appear in a chain supermarket, it's very difficult to scratch out a living. From a consumer point of view, you barely exist.

To resolve this issue, a "middle man" (is there no gender-neutral substitute for that word?) is needed, but that link must have equally high standards. For many small farms in this part of Southern Ontario, Beretta Farms is that middle man. [Update from comments: go-between or intermediary might do the job.]

Meat purchased from Beretta comes from animals who live like animals - cows that eat grass, on open pastures, chickens that walk around pecking the ground, pigs whose tails and teeth were not docked (a hideous practice), who were allowed to root around in the earth, and who lived decent pig lives. (We don't eat a lot of pork, by ohmygod you should taste Beretta's sausages!)

Some of the meat is certified organic, but even without the certification (which is out of reach of many small operations), the animals are raised by traditional methods. No feedlots, no antibiotics, no hormones. No cages, no inhumane crowding, no forcing bovines to eat corn. If these issues are not familiar to you, spend some time with Google. Information about Beretta's animal practices is here.

When we first found Beretta in 2008, buying their products was a bit of a production. They were only sold in two or three small stores in our area. The selection was minimal and sometimes, even though the meat was frozen, it was old. We used their delivery service, but the minimum order was very high, the prices were higher, and the delivery was a bit unreliable. On the other hand, their customer service was superb, and the meat was so good. And guilt-free.

Now, only a few years later, we see a wide range of Beretta products at our Whole Foods and a small selection at Loblaws. The prices have come down considerably; the meat is still more expensive than crappy industrial meat, but the price difference is less. And Beretta has a new, user-friendly website which makes ordering a snap. We like to place an order online then pick it up from their butcher shop in Etobicoke (near the airport).

By buying and enjoying Beretta Farm products we support small-scale, local agriculture, we eat healthier, more flavourful food, we contribute less to animal suffering, and we contribute less to environmental destruction.

I once overheard someone say she would only buy her meat from Highland Farms, a local food chain that boasts a huge meat case and butchers who will cut and trim meat to order. She said, "I have to know where my meat comes from!" I thought, how sad, and I wondered how many other consumers are fooled this way. Meat doesn't come from a supermarket. Just because meat is displayed without plastic wrap in the store, doesn't mean it is any safer than meat a rival chain displays in plastic. "100% Canadian" doesn't mean it doesn't come from a factory farm. And "corn fed" or "vegetarian fed" is deceptive advertising. When you see "corn fed," think feed lot.

To find the equivalent of Beretta Farms where you live, try the Eat Wild website, an excellent resource for anyone trying to reduce the level of industrial food in their lives.


this year's garden and diego's new favourite food

Three years ago, we planted our first-ever garden, really a tiny garden-ette, growing two tomato plants and some daisies. (I had forgotten about the flowers til I saw that older post.)

I really enjoyed growing the vegetables, and was surprised and pleased to learn that it wasn't very time-consuming, at least not on this level. The following year we again planted tomatoes, but substituted herbs for the flowers. Much more fun! I was so taken with snipping fresh herbs from my garden that I cooked more often.

Last year's garden was a bust, thanks to the flood and our subsequent move.

This year, in our new place, we cleared a little patch and took a baby-step forward: four tomato plants, one eggplant plant (your highness, your highness), one zucchini plant, basil, and thyme. I'm hoping for grilled veggies this summer.

The very helpful person at Sheridan Nurseries recommended a natural plant-food made from chicken manure. Apparently chicken poo is rich is calcium and fruit-bearing plants love it. And guess what? So do dogs! Diego says, "Chicken manure?! Yum! More, please!"

Vegetable gardening is good for your health, good for your wallet, and good for the planet. For me, it's also a healthy psychological challenge, a step away from one of my most pernicious traps: all-or-nothing thinking. Doing something different, just a little bit, without judgment, without obsession, without perfectionism. Not "do your best," just do.

Photos and updates to follow!


the gluten-free hoax: nutritionism run amok

Today I saw a bag of high-end cheese puffs, made with organic corn and real cheese. WHEAT FREE and GLUTEN FREE, the package boasted, which made me chuckle. Yup, just like all cheese puffs for all time. Like most snack food, cheese puffs are made of corn, and corn does not contain gluten.

Marketing old products with a new twist to take advantage of a nutrition craze is nothing new, of course. I remember when fat-free and low-fat labels were slapped on everything. (This craze happened to coincide with some of my worst dieting addiction.) In those days, supermarket shelves were laden with fat-free cookies and other snack food, all of which were loaded with white sugar and other empty calories. Candy that is little more than sugar cubes with artificial colouring and flavouring would be advertised as fat-free. About a decade later, globules of saturated fat, salt, and nitrates were hawked as zero grams of carbs per serving.

I've wondered what the next craze of nutritionism would be. Now that carbohydrates are no longer the work of the devil, what would we all rush to eliminate from our diets?

I've been gluten-free

A long time ago, a doctor thought some issues of Allan's were caused by celiac disease or at least a gluten sensitivity. So I can honestly say, I was gluten-free before gluten-free was cool! We learned all about what a diet containing gluten can do to a gluten-sensitive person. It isn't pretty.

We purged our home and most of our restaurant eating of gluten. When we didn't see the expected results, we read it could take a long time to repair past damage, or we must have slipped up, or... maybe come back for more tests.

Over the years, as will happen, we became less disciplined about eating gluten. Recently our doctor confirmed that Allan is not celiac, and likely never was. So I've been everywhere on the spectrum from completely gluten free to not caring about it at all. I do know some people who have celiac disease, but I never imagined that eliminating gluten from ordinary diets would become some kind of moral imperative.

If it sounds too good to be true...

These days we are urged to believe that everything from cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer's is caused by gluten. And that should be a clue to what's really going on. When normal foods that humans have eaten for millennia are suddenly called poison, your hoax alert should be lighting up. (Similarly, when a food or a diet or a nutrient is said to cure a wide range of disease, be highly skeptical.)

Turns out there's not much science behind any of the claims for eliminating gluten. What science exists is all "...a correlation was found," and "a possible association may exist," and based on one or two studies with insignificant sample sizes. Conclusions are leapt to, wild extrapolations announced as fact, with a healthy dose of fear-mongering thrown in. After all, don't you want to prevent dementia?

Here's another trope that should set your bullshit-detector blaring: diet claims that evoke the lives of early humans. This is familiar ground in the diet industry, so adept at exploiting the disconnection and alienation of consumer culture and the vertiginous rate of change, along with the media-fostered sense that we are all so unhealthy (despite all evidence - life expectancy up, infant morality down - to the contrary). Where once we wished to "get back to the land," now we imagine we can get back to the cave.

Several very popular gluten-free diet seeks to "realign" our eating with that of our hunter-gatherer (and gluten-free!) ancestors, who supposedly never suffered from dementia. But as James Hamblin points out in "This Is Your Brain on Gluten":
คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019In the Paleolithic Era, human life expectancy was around 30 years. Even accounting for childhood deaths and tramplings by wooly mammoths or wooly rhinoceri, humans did not live past their 50s. I wonder often why these are the times we cite as a standard of health. The paucity of old age should in itself explain why Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease were basically nonexistent, shouldn’t it?
Truth is, the authors of these diets know very little about what early humans ate, how their brains differed from ours, or even whether or not they were healthy. They certainly don't know if early humans had dementia.

I have no wish to deny anyone's personal experience. People with a gluten sensitivity absolutely feel better when they eat gluten-free. And many people without gluten sensitivity find their lives enhanced by reducing the gluten in their diets. A gluten-reduced diet is usually lower in processed foods and higher in fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains. That is, a healthier diet. So of course they feel better.

But if being gluten-free means a diet full of commercially processed foods labelled "gluten-free," the general rule applies: garbage in, garbage out.

This is your brain on advertising

To me the gluten-free fad is a prime example of what Michael Pollan calls "nutritionism," the ideology that reduces eating to the intake of specific nutrients, such as antioxidants, omega 3, cholesterol... or gluten. In some of Pollan's tweets to "glutenphobes," he has pointed out this Scientific American article about how unhealthy a gluten-free diet can be (not unlike the fat-free diet of the 1980s) and these two from The Atlantic: A Gluten-Free Diet Reality Check and This Is Your Brain on Gluten, the latter a thorough debunking. I didn't want to recreate their arguments here, but if you're skeptical about my skepticism, please do click.

I think what bothers me most about these nutritionism trends isn't the junk science or the fictions about our hunter-gatherer ancestors but the amnesia that enables their success. First we try to eliminate all the fat from our diet, and end up fatter and unhealthier. Then we try the same thing with carbohydrates, until it's obvious that, too, is unsustainable and doesn't work. But now we run off to eliminate another ordinary, (to most people) harmless, naturally occurring substance, as if we haven't heard it all before.

If you're eating gluten-free, I hope it's working out for you. It is definitely working out for marketers, advertisers, diet-book authors, and commercial producers of crappy, unhealthy, gluten-free food.


is the food movement elitist? michael pollan connects the dots between labour and our tables

In an excellent interview in Truthout, Michael Pollan responds to critics who accuse the food movement of being elitist. He very rightly credits Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation with explicitly drawing the connection between labour issues, animal issues, and our own food issues. And Pollan calls out the industrialized food industry that has been able to artificially depress food prices by paying workers sub-living wages.
When you buy cheap food, the real costs have been externalized. Those externalized costs have always included labor. It is only the decline over time of the minimum wage in real dollars that's made the fast food industry possible, along with feedlot agriculture, pharmaceuticals on the farm, pesticides and regulatory forbearance. All these things are part of the answer to the question: Why is that crap so cheap? Our food is dishonestly priced. One of the ways in which it's dishonestly priced is the fact that people are not paid a living wage to process it, to serve it, to grow it, to slaughter it. . . .

...We need to pay people a living wage so they can afford to pay the real cost of food. Cheap food is really an addiction for an economy and for a society. Cheap food is one of the pillars on which our economy is based. It is what has allowed wages to fall over the last 30 or 40 years, the fact that food was getting cheaper the whole time. In a sense, cheap food has subsidized the collapse in wages that we've seen. Part of repairing the whole system will involve paying people more and internalizing the real cost of producing this food.
It's an excellent story that I highly recommend: read it here.


healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: i finally make delicious lentil soup, thanks to you

Last summer, I asked for help in turning my drab lentil soup into something more yummy and enticing. Thanks to wmtc readers, I've done it. Yesterday for the first time, I made lentil soup that I will actually look forward to eating (as opposed to tolerating because I made it and don't want to throw it out).

Here's what I did.

I switched from chicken stock to beef stock.

I took out the celery and added mushrooms.

I added something acidic, in the form of the tiniest drop of Tabasco sauce. This made an appreciable difference, and now I understand why soup recipes often call for a splash of vinegar or the juice of a lemon. When readers suggested Tabasco, I was skeptical, because I don't want the soup to be spicy, but you were right: a tiny bit added flavour without heat.

I also balanced out the other seasonings, which I had overloaded in an unsuccessful attempt to give the soup more flavour.

At this point the soup was much improved, much tastier. If I wanted to keep the soup very low fat, I could have stopped there and it would have been all right.

But my friend and cooking guru M@ gave me several beef bones and smoked ham hocks. I threw a ham hock in the slow cooker and the effect was just about miraculous. I realize now that the bones impart more than flavour; the added fat gives the soup a wonderful texture and thickness.

There's not much extra fat, either. After the soup is refrigerated overnight, excess fat would have risen to the top for easy skimming and removal. This morning, there was no visible layer of fat on the soup.

I now understand why, when I tried to make my mother's mushroom and barley soup without marrow bones, the soup was thin and boring. When I made the same simple recipe with bones, it was the thick, rich, flavourful soup I remembered from my childhood.

This has been a fun learning experience for me. Thanks, everyone! And here's my non-vegetarian lentil soup.

1 litre low-sodium beef broth
1 cup lentils
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, cubed
8-10 cremini mushrooms, quartered
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 bay leaves
thyme, allspice, salt, and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
1 pork or beef bone

Throw everything in the slow-cooker for 8 hours on low. Remove bay leaves, bones, and any gelatinous pork skin. Enjoy!


a small green victory: more plastics now recyclable in peel

Yes! A few years back, I blogged about discovering that many of the plastics I had been putting in my recycling bin were not, in fact, recyclable. A few months after that, I unpacked a typical environmental dilemma: organic lettuce.

Organic lettuce is the perfect example of a green paradox. It's unquestionably better for the local water supply, and for the health of the people who pick it and who eat it. On the other hand, it requires a huge amount of energy to stay fresh, and is often packed in non-recyclable plastic. We can ask, "Which is better?" but the answer is another question: "Better for what?"

Now, after considerable consumer pressure, Peel Region will accept clear plastics for recycling. Of course, it's always better to avoid buying produce that is packed in plastic, but if you shop at a supermarket, that is difficult or impossible to do. I hope this change marks the beginning of more recycling province-wide and nationally.