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Tag: "food"

The Breakfast-Industrial Complex

[ 190 ] May 25, 2016 |


While I enjoy most standard breakfast foods to various degrees, the American fetish for breakfast is completely out of control. This is especially true for bacon, a vastly overrated meat. But really, the fetish is for the whole experience. There are multiple parts to it. One of course is the bacon thing. The second is idea of eating a big ol’greasy meal that supposedly provides us with joy. The third, and really the most ridiculous, is that not eating breakfast is somehow unhealthy and therefore those of us who don’t eat breakfast are hurting ourselves and should be lectured about it. Personally, I find eating a large meal in the hours after waking up repulsive. Perhaps a yogurt or an egg, maybe a bagel if I am feeling indulgent, but that’s it until at least noon if not 2. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m doing it right. It just means that I’ve figured out the combination of how much I can eat to maintain my weight and enjoying own aesthetic preferences. There are however days, when I’ve had a large meal for dinner, that I don’t take in a single calorie until 4 or so. The point is that you have to read your own body and act accordingly. At least now those of us who eschew breakfast have some hard evidence that the breakfast-industrial complex is behind our demonization.

It does not take much of an effort to find research that shows an association between skipping breakfast and poor health. A 2013 study published in the journal Circulation found that men who skipped breakfast had a significantly higher risk of coronary heart disease than men who ate breakfast. But, like almost all studies of breakfast, this is an association, not causation.

More than most other domains, this topic is one that suffers from publication bias. In a paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013, researchers reviewed the literature on the effect of breakfast on obesity to look specifically at this issue. They first noted that nutrition researchers love to publish results showing a correlation between skipping breakfast and obesity. They love to do so again and again. At some point, there’s no reason to keep publishing on this.

However, they also found major flaws in the reporting of findings. People were consistently biased in interpreting their results in favor of a relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity. They improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others’ results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others’ results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad.

Good reviews of all the observational research note the methodological flaws in this domain, as well as the problems of combining the results of publication-bias-influenced studies into a meta-analysis. The associations should be viewed with skepticism and confirmed with prospective trials.

Few randomized controlled trials exist. Those that do, although methodologically weak like most nutrition studies, don’t support the necessity of breakfast.

And who is behind this?

Many of the studies are funded by the food industry, which has a clear bias. Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial that showed that eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks).

Fight the Man. And Tony the Tiger! Don’t give in to Big Breakfast!


Food History Reading List

[ 26 ] April 28, 2016 |


Backlist has published an excellent food history reading list for those of you interested in those sorts of things. I did a labor history reading list for them a few months ago. These are good lists and excellent primers for smart readers like you who want to read more history and support the efforts of poor historians through your generous readership.


[ 92 ] April 9, 2016 |


Delicious and interesting!

Life isn’t easy for a tiny baby oyster.

Because they are so small and defenseless without a fully formed shell, oyster babies are often gobbled up by other marine life.

To ensure the survival of their species, oysters respond to this threat by ejaculating ungodly numbers of sperm and eggs into the water (where the gametes mix and form oyster embryos).

Every season, an adult female oyster can produce 50 to 100 million eggs. Males produce so much sperm that it’s basically uncountable. “Sperm counts … certainly range into the tens of billions,” Allen says. “They are maybe the most fecund of species on the planet.”

Now consider this: An oyster reef can house around 100 to 500 oysters per 10 square feet. An acre of a healthy oyster reef can house 600,000 of them, and some oyster reefs can stretch hundreds of acres. Let’s just say there aren’t enough digits on a standard calculator to determine how much oyster sperm that is.

3) Oysters can change gender multiple times throughout their lives

Almost all oysters start out their lives as male, but as they grow larger, many of them will switch genders. (Because there’s so much more sperm than eggs, this helps ensure a growing oyster population.)

And occasionally they can have both sex organs at the same time. Allen says how this happens isn’t well-understood, but they seem to change genders based on environmental factors. It’s possible that the gender determination is influenced by water temperature and by the relative health of the oyster reef (more productive reefs favor females). But “nobody really knows what the mechanism is,” Allen says.

Also, never ever ever ever put freaking cocktail sauce on your oysters. A squeeze of lemon is all the need. Or some other vinegary substance if you are getting fancy. But you might as well dip them in straight ketchup if you are using cocktail sauce.

On Peeps

[ 109 ] March 25, 2016 |


It’s always good to have a union-based holiday. So here’s a list of union-made candy, usefully provided by UFCW.

However, I want to be clear on something. Don’t blame unions for Peeps. Peeps are candy bought by parents who don’t love their children, but feel social pressure to buy candy for them anyway. People often blame unions for the terrible U.S. cars of the 1970s and 1980s. This is ridiculous. It’s not like the UAW was involved in the design process. Similarly, it’s not like UFCW is involved in the decision to continue to make the worst candy in known human history. They are just making sure said terrible candy supports a middle-class household.

What’s For Dessert?

[ 118 ] March 21, 2016 |

Forget about what’s for dinner. What’s for dessert?

The major advantage of this recipe is upsetting ProgressiveLiberal. Otherwise, it’s all down side. Also, I guess I know why Montana is not a culinary center.

African Influences

[ 63 ] February 18, 2016 |


This very interesting profile of the culinary scholar Michael Twitty reinforces one key point for any reader–that African influences on the United States are basically still ignored. African-American influences on white culture aren’t per se, but specifically African influences on American society as a whole really do not get discussed in meaningful ways.

So how did this self-trained historical cook and unaffiliated scholar — a man who majored in Afro-American studies and anthropology at Howard University but did not have the money to complete the coursework for his degree; who describes himself as outside the mainstream and “four time blessed” (“large of body, gay, African American and Jewish”); who for years supported himself (meagerly) as a Hebrew teacher; who underwrites the cost of his professional travel by crowdsourcing — come to be recognized as an important figure in the world of culinary scholarship?

The easy answer is Paula Deen.

In June 2013, shortly after disclosure of Deen’s past use of the n-word made her the culinary world’s reigning persona non grata, Twitty posted an open letter to her on in which he addressed Deen as a fellow Southerner, “a cousin if you will and not a combatant.” Twitty told Deen that far more repugnant to him than her use of the n-word was “the near universal erasure of the black presence from American culinary memory.” He described that phenomenon as a form of “culinary injustice that robbed blacks of a vital form of their history and identity.”

“Your barbecue,” he wrote, “is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black-eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat — have inextricable ties . . . to West and Central Africa.”

Learning about the derivation of plant varieties through generations of crossbreeding accentuated his longstanding fascination with his own genetic origins. He had a sense that if he overlapped a map showing where Afrocentric Southern foodstuffs and famous Southern recipes first appeared with a map showing where his slave ancestors had landed — where they and their offspring met, married and procreated and where his white ancestors forcibly mingled with his black ones — the two maps would overlap, together telling the story of the African American culinary diaspora.

The erasure of African culture from what it means to be an American–in a way that Irish or Italian or English culture is very much not erased–is part and parcel of the structural racism that flows throughout our society, affecting everything we do. Food culture and the stories we tell about food is just one example of this.

Know Your Enemy

[ 191 ] February 17, 2016 |

Courtesy of Greg Borenstein, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

It’s always nice when your enemies lay out the terms of engagement so starkly. I am naturally enough talking about defenders of ketchup.

I will cling to my gigantic Heinz ketchup until the end. I will fight like Davy Crockett at the Alamo to keep it. For God’s sake, it’s ketchup.

Let’s listen for a moment to the foodie killjoys at I hate them.

“If you use commercially prepared ketchup on your food, you might as well be starting an IV of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), because that’s primarily what glugs out of the bottle. Most bottled ketchups consist basically of overcooked tomatoes, water, and a large (dose) of sugar, usually as some form of genetically engineered corn syrup. Many brands also add ‘natural flavorings,’ which are really flavor-boosting chemicals, one being MSG,” the killjoys reported.

Ketchup? What could me more innocuous? Marriner’s home fries without ketchup?

We have been informed that just one tablespoon of commercially prepared ketchup typically contains four grams of sugar. And many people consume much more than one tablespoon at a time, which quickly builds up your daily sugar load. Who uses one tablespoon? I use as much as the plate will hold.

It would indeed be a shame for diehard defenders of ketchup to go down like at the Alamo. I mean, if you want to use that metaphor, let’s go all the way! And what could be innocuous than ketchup? I don’t know, syphilis? Ted Cruz? A Yankees World Series title? All of these horrors are less disturbing than a whole plate of ketchup. This guy tries to obscure his agenda by then defending mayo but it’s a juke to distract our attention from his perfidious goal of forcing ketchup down our throats. It’s either them or us. Which side are you on?

Speaking of our enemies, you may remember that there is a nation north of us with the temerity to resist our invasion in 1813. It has since constantly assaulted our values by spelling labor “labour” and the like. These people are called Canadians. Here is an image of Canadians below:


These monstrous northerners have opened up a new front on us God-fearing ketchup-hating Americans:

Forget candy and flowers. Canadian Doritos fans have a much quirkier way to show their love—with a bouquet of ketchup-flavored Doritos roses.

The bouquets, the brainchild of BBDO Toronto, are geared toward women as a Valentine’s Day gift for men. Delivery was available in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but customers outside the delivery zone can visit and “get crafty for love” by following instructions to make their own non-edible versions of the bouquet. (Ketchup Doritos are not available stateside, so U.S.-based Doritos lovers will have to make do with more banal nacho cheese, cool ranch or spicy sweet chili varieties.)

Is it true that under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Doritos will be able to sue the U.S. government for banning such concoctions as ketchup-flavored Doritos from our shores? I mean, what good is an American government if we can’t protect ourselves from this? Not to mention we have fifth columnists through this nation like the guy at the first link probably willing to destroy our national values through buying this food. Some of these fifth columnists are even commenters are this blog. Will you stand up and destroy them before they destroy you? Now is the time my friends. Now is the time.

The Pull of Pollo

[ 7 ] February 8, 2016 |


I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but one that I do like is Gravy, the podcast of the Southern Foodways Alliance. This podcast on how the chicken industry has utterly transformed Springdale, Arkansas, turning it from one of the state’s whitest towns into the state’s most diverse town. This is because the poultry industry is worked almost entirely by Latino immigrants, as well as some people from the Marshall Islands and south and southeast Asia. Lots of emphasis on the terrible working conditions in the plants, how this is a permanent transition since many of the immigrants really love northwest Arkansas and won’t leave, and the racism that pervades the community.

Well worth your time.

And if you like that, here’s one telling the story of Shirley Sherrod, who must be the most famous midlevel appointment in the Department of Agriculture in U.S. history, thanks of course to Republican mendacity and racism.

What is Cultural Appropriation?

[ 330 ] January 27, 2016 |


I found the comments to yesterday’s post on cultural appropriation bizarre. That’s because many commenters do not seem to have a functional definition of cultural appropriation. There were multiple versions of comments like, “I eat Mexican food so are you accusing me of culturally appropriating Mexican food?” Um, no.

This all reminded of the housing and schooling posts where I state that moving to the suburbs for the schools is a racist act in that people took this as a direct attack upon their own privilege. With the housing posts, that is an intentional provocation on my part. This sort of thing was by no means intended in yesterday’s post. But white liberals can be very, very defensive about their own privilege because they see themselves as trying to do the right thing.

So what actually is cultural appropriation, at least when it comes to food. Thanks to UncleEbenzeer for tracking this down and placing it in the thread.

Only a dominant culture can “appropriate” another culture, and only a systematically oppressed culture can “be appropriated.” Because what’s bad about it only stems from that specific power relationship. You can’t understand cultural appropriation without understanding the role that power dynamic plays in producing the effects that people are finding problematic. You also, of course, can’t understand cultural appropriation if you don’t actually listen to what people are saying is problematic about it.

Kuo linked to an authority at Hipster Appropriations on the cultural appropriation of foods, which I can tell Coyne did not read (white man can’t be bothered, his ignorant rage too important for research). Yet it lays it all out very clearly:

So let’s begin with what I don’t think constitutes cultural appropriation of food, to get some of the angsty stuff out of the way. I don’t believe it is cultural appropriation to:

eat food from another culture
to learn how to cook food from another culture
to modify recipes from another culture for your own enjoyment
to eat at restaurants, authentic or otherwise, that serve food from another culture
to enjoy learning about another culture thru the traditional and/or modern foods of that culture

Instead, cultural appropriation does any or all of these things (at a minimum):

Despoliation (intentional or not)
Fetishization (stereotyping, othering, etc.)
Theft (claiming a thing as your own, erasing the inventors)

Despoliation can be direct, as in actually entering a country and walking off with its statues and historical heritage. Or it can be indirect. For example, due to the enormous wealth differential created by the power imbalance between a dominant and a dominated culture, a component of a culture can start to become inaccessible even to its originators. As the Hipster Appropriations article says, cultural appropriation includes “making it difficult for those of the culture from which it stems to gain access to” a part of their own culture. Quinoa, for example. Which I already dealt with above. But they illustrate what this would be like by reversing the POV and having the same thing happen to apples in America. Incidentally, reversing POV like that (what I have called “forced perspective” reasoning) is a crucial skill for critical thinking, essential to understanding all discourse about social justice whatever (I discussed this before in the context of feminism). Coyne, Dawkins, Boghossian: They really need to learn this skill. Badly. (Although I think Boghossian might be a lost cause.)

Fetishization can manifest in all manner of unempathetic or historically ignorant insensitivity. Kuo’s points provide many examples. In recent news is the practice of white folk dressing up like Native Americans or wearing blackface, both of which are extremely insensitive, displaying an ignorance of the horrific history these practices mock, an ignorance that is itself a manifestation of white privilege: Native Americans and African Americans don’t have the privilege of forgetting the genocidal brutalization we subjected their ancestors to, and the long history of racism embodied in such mimicry of what “they” “look” like. This does not mean we can’t ever dress as historical persons in those groups. It simply must be done sensitively and seriously, and not ignorantly or frivolously. To understand the distinctions and why it matters, see my comment analyzing the difference between appropriating a culture, and honoring a culture by representing one of its heroes to the public.

Theft means in the intellectual property sense, not in the physical object sense. Cultural appropriation as stealing means borrowing some idea from an oppressed culture, and then pretending or thinking the dominant culture created it, or simply erasing the role of the originators. In other words, not giving credit where credit is due. Stealing the credit. Or simply eliminating the credit. The history of Rock & Roll, for example, famously exhibits components of this. I’m sorry white people, but Elvis was not really the King. Racism resulted in white people being credited with inventing everything, and the black artists who actually did, gradually came to be sidelined and eventually forgotten. That’s sad. And we should not be proud of it. Nor should we want to repeat the behavior.

This does not mean all accusations of cultural appropriation are equal, or even correct. Some I’m sure are silly or frivolous or even indefensible. But there being stupid claims of a thing does not mean there are not sound claims of that thing. As I’m constantly pointing out in my study of the historicity of Jesus: that all kinds of stupid, unsourced nonsense gets said about Mithras and Horus, does not mean there aren’t genuine predecessors of the dying-and-rising savior god mytheme that Jesus was modeled on (such as Osiris, Zalmoxis, Romulus, and Inanna). Learn how to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. But doing that requires understanding what we are talking about and why it is a problem.

Now, one can argue whether or not Whole Foods engages in cultural appropriation or not. I would argue that it frequently does and by “introducing” collard greens to its wealthy white clientele without some discussion of their history and place within American culture that it was doing so here, albeit it in a minor and relatively innocuous way. Others may disagree. But let’s at least come to this argument with a functional definition of cultural appropriation. The definition above suffices quite well.

And no, just because you are white and like Thai food does not mean you are appropriating culture.

Food, Authenticity, Cultural Appropriation

[ 308 ] January 26, 2016 |


I know we need another discussion of the relationship between food and authenticity like we need another post about Hillary or Bernie, Which One Will Save America and Which One is Horrible? But I could not help being typically annoyed by Conor Friedersdorf’s post on collard greens and Twitter. Basically, Whole Foods tweeted out a recipe on collard greens that included cooking them in peanuts. A number of African-Americans called Whole Foods out on this, saying that the grocery store was cooking collards in an inauthnetic manner and was engaging in cultural appropriation. Friedersdorf found it necessary to devote an entire column to defending the corporation and tsk-tsking reporters for not doing research on this very important matter.

Pretty dumb all around. Yet perhaps worth a bit of commentary.

First, given that Whole Foods barely serves people of color at all and certainly avoids poor communities like the plague, the company deserves to take some shots. Usually, the only non-white people in Whole Foods is those happy looking Salvadoran coffee farmers in pictures hanging from the ceiling. This is a corporation dedicating to providing good food to rich people who can actually afford it, all while making sure employees don’t have a union. Whole Foods is happy to package traditional foods to white people (and often ripping them off for that food) without even mentioning where these food traditions come from. That is indeed cultural appropriation and given that whites have been appropriating black culture since slavery without giving credit, it’s hardly outrageous that some African-Americans would lob this accusation. It’s justified. If Whole Foods actually cared about serving communities of color, maybe it would have a defense. As is, the company sees the traditions of communities of color around the world as little more than a place to generate ideas that can be sold to rich whites.

That said, people can cook collard greens any dang way they want. While a well-brewed pot of collard greens is pretty fantastic (and allow to highly recommend the collards at Gladys Kitchen in Americus, Georgia, as well as the amazing fried chicken and desserts, where I ate last week), let’s face it, greens boiled to nothing is not usually the greatest way to prepare them. If they are good with peanuts, even if black people don’t eat them that way, I guess that’s OK.

As for shaming journalists and their research, I’d probably be more sympathetic to this if it wasn’t coming from someone with an ego the size of Friedersdorf. That a white male libertarian finds it necessary to defend a corporation hardly impressed me either. But really, a journalist who pretty much made his name on the internet complaining about internet journalism is eye-rolling.

In any case, traditional foods can always be changed and improved upon. There’s not a single “authentic” way to cook anything. There are better and worse ways to cook them. There are traditional ways that are not per se good or bad. This doesn’t mean we can’t reject and mock bad ideas, say, tomato ketchup or, god forbid, the tacos I saw but very much did not eat in a western Pennsylvania bar last week that consisted of ground beef, sauerkraut, and 1000 Island dressing. But obviously there’s nothing wrong with figuring out what would be really awesome in tacos that one would never see in Mexico (Korean tacos!). Or figuring out what would taste way better than canned mushrooms and canned olives on pizza.* It’s the same with cooking greens. However, it would also be nice if Whole Foods didn’t act like this beneficent wonderful corporation providing the secret to good food for people when African-Americans (and some whites of course!) in fact have known about these greens for hundreds of years. There’s plenty of reason for grousing all around. Probably not enough for an Atlantic column though. For a LGM post, well, it’s not like we have standards.

*I confess to deviating from the official LGM line that pineapple is a bad pizza topping. I like it.


[ 20 ] January 20, 2016 |


One of the most pernicious right-wing goals, and I know the competition for this title is really stiff, are the so-called ag-gag bills agribusiness are pushing in the states. These bills would make it illegal to record evidence of what happens inside food factories, such as slaughterhouses. Those filming or recording audio or having this material and not turning it over to the police could be punished with fines or even prison time.

I can’t say how pernicious this is. It is a response to animal rights activists getting jobs in slaughterhouses and then secretly recording what is going on in order to publicize how horrible the animals are treated. They have recorded animals being beaten, sexually abused, thrown around, and otherwise tortured. Slaughterhouses and factory farms also treat workers poorly. They are underpaid, understaffed, and overworked. It’s hardly surprising then that they would take this out on the poor animals. If these bills become law, what is the rationale then for being allowed to record any conditions going on inside of any factory. In other words, this is central to my thesis in Out of Sight. If companies can keep all knowledge of working conditions out of the public’s eye by making such knowledge a crime, they can oppress workers all the more. That is their open goal. There’s no good reason for these laws to stay just within agribusiness. It’s quite scary.

Mostly, these laws have been defeated. But not everywhere and the fight continues. One of these laws passed in Idaho. But a federal judge struck it down last year. Now activists are hoping to build on this decision to go after a similar law passed in what has recently become the sewer of American politics, North Carolina:

There’s been a particularly strong amount of venom for the North Carolina law, which required an override of a gubernatorial veto to get on the books. The fears come from the law’s breadth. It outlaws any employee from recording in a “non-public” area of any workplace, not just a farm. If the employee disseminates any collected footage, that’d be considered a violation of loyalty, and the employee could be sued for civil damages.

Many animal rights activists seek employment at the farms and ranches they investigate to gain access.

North Carolina’s law went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, and the coalition didn’t wait long to challenge it. Humane Society of the U.S. lobbyist Matthew Dominguez predicted the move.

Defeating this is a very, very important issue. The courts so far have been favorable. Were this to make it to the Supreme Court, given the current makeup, I don’t really feel all that confident in the result.

Speaking of Out of Sight, remember that Shakezula is moderating a discussion of the first two chapters of the book with me on January 26 at 2 p.m. Read the book and ask me some questions!!!

Tacos and the Meaningless of “Authenticity”

[ 137 ] January 17, 2016 |


Authenticity is basically a meaningless concept that says everything about the desires of the user and nothing about the history or meanings of an actual thing which the term is used to describe. Nowhere is this more true than in discussing food. One of the arenas where this term gets most bandied around is with Mexican food. But there are many problems with this. Primarily, the biggest issue is that those who are searching for “authenticity” are ignoring both the food ways of northern Mexico and the interaction between Americans and Mexicans and Germans along the U.S.-Mexico frontier through the 19th and early 20th centuries that helped create what we now consider Americanized Mexican food. Looking at the hard shell taco, this piece notes that the ground beef used in what we might call Taco Bell-style tacos is common throughout northern Mexico and that there’s a long tradition of various forms of fried tortillas.

The story of most American adaptation of new dishes in the 19th and 20th centuries relies on two processes: preservation and mass production.

In the late 19th century, the Mexican-influenced dish of choice in the U.S. was chili con carne, not the taco. In Mexico, dried chile peppers are and have always been a major part of the cuisine, but are sold whole, to be toasted and rehydrated or otherwise prepared as the cook desires. The chief innovation that made the American taco possible was chili powder, a store-bought item not found in Mexico.

Chili powder was first sold in 1894 by its inventor, Texan-by-way-of-Germany Willie Gebhardt, for use in chili. “What people don’t seem to appreciate is that getting ingredients back then was not as easy as it is today,” says Arellano. “Today you go to your local Latino supermarket and you can get whatever. Back then, you had to improvise.” Gebhardt was unable to find the chile peppers he wanted year-round, and so bought a huge stockpile of the peppers, which were probably ancho, and ran them through a meat grinder a few times to pulverize them. He later began selling the powder already made—a huge convenience for anyone wanting to make the then-trendy chili. (German immigrants in Texas also tended to wrap their own sausages in tortillas, an early Mexican fusion cuisine, as Arellano told SF Weekly.)

The other ingredients—cumin powder, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, ground beef—have connections to parts of northern Mexico, but to suss them out would be to ignore the real reason they were used: that’s what was readily available in America at the time. Cheddar cheese is hardly ever found in Mexico, but in the U.S., it’s the second-most-popular variety, after mozzarella. And it was already being used often in Texas, especially in concert with ground beef, in the hamburger. So, sure, cheddar cheese. That’s what’s here, why not?

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to think hard shell tacos with ground beef and cheddar cheese are actually good. I would say they are not particularly good, at least compared with basically every other form of Mexican food. But are they real food? Sure. Are they Mexican? Sort of. Are they American? Definitely. Are they “authentic?” Who cares, even if you can define the meaning. If you use chile powder in your Mexican food you cook at home, do you think you aren’t being authentic? And if so, why?

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