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Tag: "food"

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[ 72 ] March 18, 2013 |

Today in lunatic food faddism: Why eat at all? Just subscribe to my tasteless liquid diet and all your nightmares of tasting food will come to an end.

Via Russell Saunders and h/t to Lindsay Beyerstein for bringing this to my attention.

Food Faddism

[ 259 ] March 12, 2013 |

If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s food faddism. The history of full of weirdness, from John Harvey Kellogg’s yogurt enemas that placed yogurt cultures in our mouths and rectums at the exact same time to Sylvester Graham’s graham crackers, created so we wouldn’t eat meat and milk and get all hot and bothered and start masturbating.

We (or at least my students) laugh at all this. But are we any different today with our nutty diets? Not really.

Luckily, there are at least some people pushing back against this. Here’s a discussion of the new Marlene Zuk book exposing the absurdity of the paleo diet. The paleo diet falls under the overarching theme of recent American dieting, which can be summarized as “I want to eat as much meat as possible and will look for any justification to do so.” And do whatever you want, but it’d be nice to avoid the absurd discussions about what our distant ancestors did or did not eat.

Zuk detects an unspoken, barely formed assumption that humanity essentially stopped evolving in the Stone Age and that our bodies are “stuck” in a state that was perfectly adapted to survive in the paleolithic environment. Sometimes you hear that the intervention of “culture” has halted the process of natural selection. This, “Paleofantasy” points out, flies in the face of facts. Living things are always and continuously in the process of adapting to the changing conditions of their environment, and the emergence of lactase persistence indicates that culture (in this case, the practice of keeping livestock for meat and hides) simply becomes another one of those conditions.

For this reason, generalizations about the typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle are spurious; it doesn’t exist. With respect to what people ate (especially how much meat), the only safe assumption was “whatever they could get,” something that to this day varies greatly depending on where they live. Recently, researchers discovered evidence that people in Europe were grinding and cooking grain (a paleo-diet bugaboo) as far back as 30,000 years ago, even if they weren’t actually cultivating it. “A strong body of evidence,” Zuk writes, “points to many changes in our genome since humans spread across the planet and developed agriculture, making it difficult at best to point to a single way of eating to which we were, and remain, best suited.”

But what is evidence in the face of food faddism?

And of course there’s the gluten-free insanity. While celiac disease is a real thing that affects about 1% of the population, the fact that 1/3 of the American public is trying to shun gluten is insane. There is zero evidence that most of these people need to do this. Anecdotally, it definitely feels that a good number of people I have met who are avoiding gluten are, how shall we say, lifestyle experimenters more broadly. More broadly, I think this relates to the paleo diet in the context of how dieting has gone over the past 15 years–again, avoiding grains and eating meat. What makes gluten-free different is the theoretical health benefits as opposed to the I want to eat a steak every night blunt honesty of the paleo dieters.

Obviously, the answer to proper eating is to be healthy and exercise. One can choose whether or not to eat meat for any number of reasons. I was a vegetarian for about 10 years but couldn’t call myself that now, although I have never cooked meat and don’t really plan to. We can have that debate. But it’s remarkable how resilient magic diets are for Americans (and possibly those of other countries, but I can’t much speak to that). They all pretty much defy common sense.

All I can do is eat more wheat and drink more beer. Both of which I intend to do.

PC: I recommend Barry Glassner’s The Gospel of Food on this topic.

[SL]: Related: “I personally feel that it’s unlikely that the richest 1% of humans on earth all suddenly and simultaneously developed allergies to every single common food…”

Cornucopia of Asian Food Links

[ 87 ] February 25, 2013 |

A few interesting pieces on Asian food and history.

1. This is an interesting discussion of the origins of pad thai, a dish that is fairly minor within Thai cooking but is the singular dish of Thai food overseas. It’s connections are closely related to a nationalistic, modernizing project developed by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram in the mid-20th century:

In between surviving multiple point-blank-range assassination attempts and a failed kidnapping in which he emerged alive from the burning wreckage of a battleship his own air force had just bombed, Pibulsongkram decided that Thailand needed noodles that would advance the country’s industry and economy. After all, he had already changed the name of country from Siam to Thailand as part of a series of mandates meant to shroud its people under a modernized Thai identity. Forks and spoons would be used instead of hands. More European-style clothing must be worn. Thai products should be preferred above all others. Pibulsongkram wanted to create a new Thai diet while making more rice products available for export. According to his son’s suppositions in the 2009 Gastronomica article “Finding Pad Thai,” the codified modern variant of Pad Thai may have originated in Pibulsongkram’s household, perhaps the devising of the family’s cook. Its recipe was disseminated throughout the country, and push carts were sent into the streets to make this newfangled on-the-go meal available to the masses. To eat Pad Thai would be a patriotic act. Thus was born the Volksnoodle for an emerging Thai nation-state.

The name Pad Thai, however, negates the considerable non-Thainess of the dish. Noodles were the domain of Chinese immigrants in Thailand, and pan-fried rice noodles like Pad Thai likely arrived with them hundreds of years ago when Ayutthaya had been the kingdom’s capital. The thin rice noodles used in making Pad Thai is also similar to Vietnamese noodles, like the ones used in making pho. It’s no coincidence that the Saen Chan noodle used in many Pad Thai recipes took its name from Chanthaburi, an eastern province close to Vietnam and Cambodia. Had Pibulsongkram been more purist about his nation-unifying dish, Pad Thai should have been a clump of rice smothered and fried with fiery Nam Prik chile paste, arguably the most Thai of all Thai food. His nationalist ideals of Thailand weren’t deeply rooted in reverence for the past; they were synthesized new from whatever was most expedient.

His choice of a noodle dish is all the more curious in light of his policies against the Chinese ethnic population—immigration quotas, bans on Chinese associations, and the seizing of Chinese businesses. Pibulsongkram had not only decided to curtail the growing Chinese influence in Thailand (China, at the time, sheltered his political rival) but also to subsume its culture under the Thai umbrella. He would later choose to ally with the U.S. in its nascent war against communism, and just a few decades later, GIs on R&R leave would be part of the first wave of Americans to taste Pad Thai.

I’m not an expert on southeast Asian history, but I do have some knowledge and this passes the smell test. It’s really almost a prefect 20th century nationalist project, combining stealing ideas from minority populations while demonizing those very people.

Also, as the article states, most of the pad thai served in the United States is an abomination.

2. Who was General Tso? Zuo Zongtang. And at least according to this article he was the Chinese version of William Tecumseh Sherman, although I have no idea what that means. He also seems to have loved pork, though the dish named for him is a chicken dish. Also, Henry Kissinger shows up in this article.

3. Korean death soup. I lived in Korea for a year. The idea of a place serving a soup so spicy that it causes most customers to vomit, yet is extremely popular, makes a whole lot of sense to my experiences.

Horse for All!!

[ 58 ] February 25, 2013 |

As a historian of the Gilded Age, the sequester is very exciting to me. With each passing day, a big leap back to the halcyon days of the 1890s seems more likely. Here’s an old rundown I did at Alternet. Doesn’t it sound great?

And maybe we can just lay off all of our meat inspectors. Then we can all eat horse or whatever other product ends up in our meat!!!!

The Understandable Desperation of Cod Fishers

[ 24 ] February 15, 2013 |

To build upon my piece on cod (was going to write “cod piece” but was like, wait that’s something else) from last week, see this letter to the editor of the Providence Journal from a fisherman/PhD student which I think really gets at the desperation those employed for generations as cod fishers feel.

Admittedly, the writing of the op-ed is not all that clear, but what he seems to be saying is that scientific models say one thing but personal observation of the fish stocks say another and that people should therefore be allowed to fish. The problem with this is that a) the models are almost certainly correct and b) there aren’t enough fish to sustain this lifestyle, not to mention the species. He blames industry too:

Perhaps we should all take a minute to think next time that we eat out and have a choice between “sustainable” factory trawled fish or “unsustainable” hand-caught Gulf of Maine cod. Is domination by 200-foot factory trawlers owned by million-dollar businesses how we want the fishing industry to end up? Is an industry of a few large boats truly more sustainable than a few small ones? Or does it simply come down to the reliability of science and management ? In any event, the New England groundfish industry will soon be consolidated into the hands of a few factory trawlers employing tenant-fishermen.

There is a good point here–the industrialization of fishing has been a massive disaster except for a few capitalists. It’s not as if we really needed a huge explosion in fishing in the 1960s and 1970s that started the process toward this crisis. Fishing became a product like plastic–what new things can we figure out what to do with this stuff. That included pet food, fertilizers, the creation of aquaculture operations, glues, etc. On the other hand, science and management does have to rule the day here I think–although like forestry management, it might be quite correct to say that fisheries management basically favors monopoly over small producers. I need to examine this in more detail.

Factory fishing simply is not sustainable for communities or for fish stocks. It drives independent fishers out of work and destroys fishing cultures. And unlike, say, corn–where for all its problems at least you can make an argument that factory farming has the potential to feed the world, factory fishing is the modern day equivalent of factory bison hunting.

Official LGM Valentine’s Day Dinner*

[ 55 ] February 12, 2013 |

When I was looking for the recipe for last night’s delightful meal recommendation, I ran across this classic seafood mousse dish that I thought would just be wonderful for all of you who are cooking a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner for your special someone.

Let me know if this helps make your day extra special.

* Not actually officially sanctioned by LGM. Or really, anyone.

Late Night Snacking

[ 75 ] February 11, 2013 |

To busy to blog much right now, but I am pretty hungry so I figured some late night snacking is in order.

Bon appetite, 70s style!

…By request, the recipe itself:

6 medium bananas
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 thin slices boiled ham (about 1/2 lb)
3 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 envelopes (1 1/4-oz size) hollandaise sauce mix
1/4 cup light cream

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly butter 2-quart, shallow baking dish.

2. Peel bananas; sprinkle each with 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, to prevent darkening.

3. Spread ham slices with mustard. Wrap each banana in slice of ham. Arrange in single layer in casserole. Bake 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make sauce: In small saucepan, combine sauce mix with 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and cream. Heat, stirring, to boiling; pour over bananas. Bake 5 minutes longer, or until slightly golden. Nice with a green salad for brunch or lunch. Makes 6 servings.

The History of Pasta

[ 9 ] February 10, 2013 |

This is a really fascinating history of pasta, going way back to at least the 10th century Middle East. Long, but a really good read. Time for dinner as well.


[ 94 ] January 28, 2013 |

While I guess I’m glad that McDonald’s is using a certified fish that is theoretically sustainable (although I doubt it really), I don’t know what karma the entire noble species that is pollock had in the past to deserve being harvested for such a loathsome product as the Filet-o-Fish.

Also, y’all should know what an Alaskan pollock actually looks like. Turns it is not actually a breaded, tasteless fish that swims between two awful slices of bread and a dollop of tartar sauce.


[ 38 ] January 21, 2013 |

Miss Idaho Potato, 1935.

Everyone needs some weirdness in the evening.

When Labor Becomes Justified in Hating Environmentalists

[ 167 ] January 13, 2013 |

As someone dedicated to building bridges between the labor and environmental movements, this post from Good promoting the idea of online grocery stores makes me want to hold my head in my hands. The post never says a word about labor or workers. What it does say is this:

1. People like food variety
2. That variety leads to waste
3. Let’s use technology to just eliminate grocery stores and get groceries to consumers without the middle man!

For we technological festishist Americans, this probably sounds good. I don’t want to go to the store and I want what I want when I want it!! Problems solved and we can feel good about our impact on the planet since that food won’t be wasted.

The issue of food waste is way more complex than this and Voila! technological innovations are no solution. Something like 50% of food waste happens in the home. But I’ll leave that alone for now. Quick question though–what happens to grocery store workers? A lot of those are union jobs too. What happens to those people? Do they even deserve consideration? In our rush to replace all work with robots and technological efficiencies, what do ideas like this mean for long-term economic and community sustainability? These questions are not only unanswered (and no doubt unconsidered) in the Good article, but in our society generally. We talk about unemployment and underemployment but are extremely reticent to consider that our unstated goal that eliminating work in the name of efficiency is a positive good is a big part of the problem.

It’s at times like this that I am at a loss to defend environmentalism to organized labor.

…..I am reminded of Good Magazine’s own atrocious labor practices. Easy to believe they’d publish something like this.

The White Race Cannot Survive Without Dairy Products

[ 66 ] December 27, 2012 |

I occasionally get the question of what the above phrase means. It was my tagline when I wrote at my own blog and it is on the rotating lines at the top of this blog. It is a quote from Herbert Hoover, a strong believer in eugenics along with everything else. The full quote is as follows:

“In its broad aspects, the proper feeding of children revolves around a public recognition of the interdependence of the human animal upon his cattle. The white race cannot survive without dairy products.”

In a sense, what Hoover is doing here is combining his very real concern for nutrition and food distribution with his racial sensibilities. The intertwining of racial ideology and social reform was all too common in the early 20th century and engaged in by figures ranging from Theodore Roosevelt to Margaret Sanger.

You can see this quote on Google Books in the very exciting journal The Dairy World (and what a wide world it is), 1922, Volume 1, p.18. Also, the equally thrilling publication The Milk Dealer, Volume 11, 1921, p. 86

…..Yglesias makes the connection between Hoover’s remarks and the soon skyrocketing milk prices (due to the Truman-era poison pill on milk without a farm bill). Obama’s plot to destroy white people is now clear for all to see!!!!!

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