Soup Season

It’s cold!

Time for soup.

This is one of my favorite soups, not least because it’s one that my children are sure to eat. Plus, it is creamy and cheesy and full of wonderful vegetables. I was twelve or so the first time I had it, and it was served to me in beautiful pumpernickel bread bowls. I’ve never made bread bowls, but croûtes are just as good, if not better.(Simply slice a baguette on the diagonal, brush with olive oil, and put under the broiler for a few minutes on each side. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

~adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook~

Place the following in a pot and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes:

2 cups potato chunks

2 cups cauliflower, chopped

1 cup chopped carrot

3 cloves garlic

1 large yellow onion, chopped,

1.5 tsp. salt

4 cups water

Allow to cool, then blend in a blender (or with an immersion blender if you are lucky enough to own one) and return to pot.

Meanwhile, steam 1.5 more cups cauliflowerets. Drain and reserve.

Whisk in over low heat:

1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese

3/4 cup milk

1/4 tsp. dill weed

1/4 tsp. ground caraway seed

black pepper to taste

reserved cauliflowerets

You can thin it with a bit more milk if it’s too thick. You can also use leftover mashed potatoes in place of the potatoes–just whisk them in with the second group of ingredients.Delicious!

When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.


That’s rule #24 in Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, now out in a whimsically illustrated edition. As Laura Klein of OrganicAuthority.com points out in a recent post on the HuffPo food blog, if you follow this rule: “eat real food,” you don’t need other rules.

I love this one. Of course, it’s not really a stand-alone rule–it assumes you know what’s meant by “real food” and it assumes a food culture that supports the eating of said real food.

One example of the way our family follows this “rule” is with respect to bread. I feel that a good, fresh baguette (the kind that’s good only on the day it’s baked) is better than the kind of bread whose oxylated/ethylated-whatevers keeps it fresh for weeks–even if that kind is brown and  screams “Whole Grain!!!” while the baguette sits in its serene whiteness. The baguette is more ‘real’–no unpronounceable chemical ingredients, stales and rots quickly, and has a long tradition.

(Besides, we ate baguettes every day in France with Nora. How could the memory of that alone not imbue them with special healthfulness?)

 

 

The Food Companies Own You

Did you hear a bit of buzz about potatoes being banned from school lunches and tomato paste on pizza counting as a vegetable?

That was part of Congress’ push-back against new regulations proposed by the Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch Program.

Instead, Congress wrote a spending bill that has done the following:

~refuses to allow the USDA guidelines to limit starchy vegetables–including corn, potatoes, and peas–to two servings per week. (The goal here was to cut down on french fries, which many schools serve daily.)

~allows the USDA to continue to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The USDA wanted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable–but that’s much more than goes on pizza.

~requires “further study” on USDA sodium-reduction requirements. (seriously.)

OK. So why would Congress block measures to make school lunches healthier?

Quite simply, because Big Food Companies make big money from processing food. As Lucy Komisar wrote in the New York Times this weekend:

“Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.”

So let’s say a district gets a box of chicken worth $10 for free as part of the USDA commodities program, and it’s up to them to prepare the stuff. Or they can contract with Sodexho, or Aramark, or some other multinational, who gets the free box of chicken and turns it into a box of chicken nuggets that costs over $30. There are big profits to be made in processing.

I think Jamie Oliver said it most clearly on Jimmy Kimmel:

the food companies of America own you…these moron frozen food companies — pizza industry, french-fry industry — have basically bought, bribed, bullied Congress, who have completely let everyone down, into basically making it okay to feed [students] french fries every day.”

Any wonder childhood obesity continues to rise?

And let’s not forget: it’s the poorest kids who most depend on school food for their nutrition.

Our kids deserve better than this.

 

 

Is it a Sin to Eat Meat?

I have a piece up this week at RELEVANT magazine–a review of What is the Mission of the Church?–and couldn’t help but notice this article, “How Faith Connects to Food,” with the tagline: “is it a sin to eat meat?”The author, Jennifer Dykes Henson, doesn’t come out and say that eating meat’s a sin, but she does say that Jesus, if he were walking the earth today, wouldn’t eat meat. Her arguments for vegetarianism–animal cruelty, environmental sustainability, and world hunger, are pretty simplistic, even though there are elements of truth in each argument. To tell the truth, the article reads very much like something I might have written 5 or 6 years ago, when I was first becoming aware of the various ethical issues surrounding food. At that time, to eat or not eat meat seemed like the biggest question–and almost the only question–to ask with respect to the ethics of eating. For periods of time since, I and my family have eaten much as vegetarians do. But we still do eat some meat. (I wrote about why–and how–here.) One reason we do is that we’d rather spend some money toward supporting meat that’s raised responsibly and ‘vote’ for that kind of meat, so to speak. What’s often left out of pro-vegetarian arguments is that conscientious carnivory–choosing meat that has been raised on pasture and humanely–escapes many of the problems cited as reasons to eschew meat. For example:

1. Pastured meat makes use of land that is unsuited for crop-planting and turns it into usable food. This point is especially important when one considers the needs of people living where the land is largely non-arable–

2. At the same time that cattle, goats, and other ruminants convert grass and weeds to meat, they enrich the ground. They are good for the environment.(Read Heifer International’s answer to vegetarian/vegan concerns with respect to people in the developing world.) Henson’s declaration that we ought to simply feed the grain destined for animal feed to starving people really, really misses the mark.

3. Meat raised on pasture is good for you. Not only is it less likely to contain antibiotics and hormones, it’s also got high levels of those important Omega-3s, B-12, and the kind of fat that’s actually good for you. Henson’s right that overeating meat–especially factory farmed meat–isn’t so great. But moderate meat consumption is not unhealthy. (Nina Planck–herself a former vegan–did much to convince me on this point in her book Real Food.)But I think the part that annoyed me most about Henson’s article (like the last food article on RELEVANT that annoyed me) is the sanctimonious, ascetic, and guilt-based tone that reads like “Eat for health ‘because your body is a temple’ “; avoid meat so as to not “live to please your stomach” but instead, to care for “starving children and tortured animals.”

Gee–who wants to contribute to children starving and animals being tortured? No one! But I just can’t see how this kind of guilt trip will motivate anyone to eat with joy–and I think that’s really important. There is no perfection in any kind of diet–and no matter who you are and what kind of choices you make, you–like me–are living from mystery. The food we eat–even when it’s less than ideal–is a gift of God for which we can give thanks.

Should we choose food that’s raised and prepared in ways that speak clearly of God’s goodness and kindness and love for Creation? Absolutely! But we have a better chance of doing that when we’re motivated from a place of gratitude–not guilt.

{You might also like to read Grace and A Steak Dinner or The Last Last Meal}

Why ‘Childhood Obesity’ Isn’t the Real Problem

Are you ready? I’m going to get critical of Republicans.

And Democrats.

Because while everyone loves a partisan controversy, on this issue, folks on both sides of the aisle are cowed before food industry drones who have shareholder interests–not public interest–in mind.

if I squint, the red person and ball looks like a diver that has been decapitated.

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign (which, if anecdotal evidence is telling, is doing more to provoke anxiety in healthy-weight kids than to help kids who are actually at risk for diet-related disease) wrings hands about “the epidemic of childhood obesity” and wonders how we got here:

Thirty years ago, kids ate just one snack a day, whereas now they are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200 calories a day.

Portion sizes have also exploded – they are now two to five times bigger than they were in years past. {…} in the mid-1970s, the average sugar-sweetened beverage was 13.6 ounces compared to today, kids think nothing of drinking 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages at a time.

The average American now eats fifteen more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.

I need to point out a few things about the above excerpt from the Let’s Move! website:

1. It points out that consumers eat and drink more (including more sugar): consumers are the agents.

2. It mentions “sugar-sweetened beverages”–but not soda by name–that’s not an accident: the soda lobby would never allow that! And how would kids be getting those sugar-sweetened beverages? Couldn’t be because there’s SODA at SCHOOL, could it?

3. It says “portion sizes have exploded” as if they did it all on their own!

4. It notes that kids are “trending” toward 3 daily snacks but fails to point out WHY that is–namely, the fact that cheap, unhealthy snacks are EVERYwhere–like in school vending machines.

5. It talks about Americans eating “pounds” of sugar as if we’re sitting there eating out of a bag of granulated sugar–it doesn’t point out that there’s sugar (or, more accurately, high fructose corn syrup) in spaghetti sauce, hamburger buns, ketchup, and pickles, not to mention all the more obvious places.

These may sound like the observations of a curmudgeonly former English teacher (which they are, because I am.) But in fact, these omissions and ‘weasel’ words are very telling. Purposeful vagueness all over the Let’s Move language. Why?

Because the food industry won’t let anyone in or near government point out what’s really going on.

More fundamental than these vaguely weasel-y communications is the whole framing of the discussion in terms of OBESITY as the problem.

As Michele Simon points out in her book Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines our Health and How to Fight Back:

“If you think about it, obesity is only one symptom of a much larger, underlying problem: a profit-driven, corporate-controlled food supply. We should devote our energies to fixing the root problem (the food system) rather than squander our precious resources on symptoms like obesity.”

(Plus, as Simon points out, people can have diet-related diseases like hypertension and diabetes WITHOUT being obese, and NO ONE is helped by reinforcing the stereotypes and biases that go along with calling people “obese.”)

One of the things that could be done is to persuade food companies NOT to advertise unhealthy foods to kids.

Children have a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy. Children are naturally drawn to sweets and salty snacks, especially if cool characters are on the packages or promoting them on TV. As parents, all our “eat your veggies!” messages can get drowned out by the sheer attractiveness of junk.

Which is why I’m pretty annoyed at the GOP for blocking proposed guidelines that would’ve boiled down to this:

“By the year 2016, all food products most heavily marketed directly to children and adolescents ages 2-17 should meet two basic nutrition principles — they should contain foods that make a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet” (such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, eggs, nuts and seeds, or beans) and they should limit nutrients with a negative impact on health or weight (saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium.” (source)

Doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask, does it?

Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) seems to have been especially outspoken at the hearing, saying that these guidelines amounted to “government” supplanting the role of parents in monitoring children’s eating. The Congresswoman got lyrical, remembering her mother forcing her to eat liver once a week because it was good for her. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) “helpfully” noted: “the problem is in our world today, we just don’t take the time to do what we need to do.”

Or maybe the “problem” is that Rep. Mack gets much of her campaign finance from the TV industry as well as a good bit from farm/food processors. (Rep. Barton gets plenty from TV as well as the health industry.)

Not advertising junk food to kids is one small thing, but it could go a long way. And taking a stand shows respect for children–and their parents–who could do with a few less confusing advertisements in their lives.

[Processed food (and that’s almost everything that you didn’t cook yourself from scratch these days) has been as powerfully implicated as a destroyer of health as have cigarettes. The tobacco lobby worked just as hard to keep government from pointing the finger toward the real culprit there, too.]

one of the few kid-ads I can cheer on!

Don’t hold your breath waiting for someone in (or near) government to say something pointed, like “don’t eat stuff that comes ready to eat in a package” or “drink soda once a week at most” or “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Better yet, let’s not listen to anything those folks have to say about food. They’re not really working for us, after all.

(And–did you know?–advertising AT ALL to children under 12 is illegal in most of Europe.)