Listening to Michael Pollan

Definitely off target – to paraphrase Michael Pollan, don’t buy food where you shop for anything else: check out Cornucopia Institute’s post on the Target organic food troubles.

And paraphrasing Pollan again – don’t buy food that makes health claims. Apparently, working with the FDA after receiving a slap on the wrist from it, the Smart Choices program has been postponed. I for one am happy to see “Smart Choices” postponed, since its intent is not to improve the consumer’s health and education about healthful foods, but to maintain the big food companies’ bottom line in the face of growing concern about their products.

In “Smart grocery shopping,” Jennifer LaRue Huget points out that maybe the desire to get a checkmark is not a bad thing if the processors are forced to make their products healthier, but she is quick to note

…there’s another matter that makes me think Smart Choices wasn’t so smart. For all its carefully calibrated calculations, the program wasn’t designed to help me find the most healthful foods in the supermarket. Only companies that paid to join the program, including Kraft Foods and Kellogg, got the big checkmarks. So while whole-grain, low-sugar, nutrient-packed Post Grape-Nuts may be among the most healthful breakfast cereals, it has no checkmark because Post isn’t part of the system.

In an NPR story about Michelle Obama’s ongoing crusade to improve the health of our young people, Jocelyn Frye, director of policy and projects for the First Lady, has also thrown down the gauntlet, saying, “I think there are certainly companies that are exploring all sorts of ways to make foods healthier and to address these concerns about healthy eating and still be profitable in what they do. And we’re relying on them to do it.”

It will be interesting to see how this pans out; in the meantime, I’m not holding my breath – I’m going to keep listening to Michael Pollan’s advice and trying to buy whole, close to the source ingredients for my cooking.

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Glazed Roasted Carrots

Another not officially Chinese recipe, but a fun Asian tweak on glazed carrots, a common side dish this time of year. The idea comes from the September 2009 issue of Food & Wine, but I’ve changed the ingredients and cooking method a bit. A great side dish for an east-west fusion dinner.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and roll-cut
  • 1 T unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, minced (or cut into matchsticks if you prefer a “bigger” ginger kick)
  • 1 T honey
  • salt, to taste

method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Preheat a sheet pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the carrots with the butter, soy sauce, and ginger.
  3. Put the carrots on the hot sheet pan, and roast until almost tender.
  4. Remove the carrots, toss with the honey, and return to the oven until tender.
  5. Remove the carrots to a serving bowl, adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary, and serve.

Is there a trend here?

Like many parents, I’m sure, we took our kids to see WALL-E last year, and frankly we were a bit disappointed. Not in the movie itself, but in the way it was marketed as a funny kids’ flick. It was way over their heads (they were 5 & 9), and they didn’t enjoy it much – in fact, our 5-year-old found it horribly sad and cried a lot.

Yesterday, I took them (now 6 & 10) to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. And I had the same reaction. I liked the movie’s sense of humor, there were some great jokes for adults, and the film really does raise a lot of food system and envrironmental issues: GMOs, portion sizes, food as entertainment, obesity, environmental impact of food and food waste, etc. But once again, it was mostly over the kids’ heads, and mine are pretty aware of food issues because we talk about them a lot. My biggest disappointment was that again it had been marketed as a kids’ movie AND it is purportedly based (verrrrrrry marginally) on one of our favorite children’s books. There were only a few moments when the kids laughed out loud, and the plot was unrecognizable as being related to the book.

I am not against educating children about important contemporary issues through humor, but somehow I haven’t seen children’s filmmakers strike the right notes yet. They’ve learned a lot more by watching “adult” documentaries, such as Our Daily Bread and A Passion for Sustainability.

I’m hoping that Where the Wild Things Are turns out to be 1) closer to the book and 2) a fun kids’ movie! And in the meantime, I’ll keep looking for films that entertain AND educate kids on important issues – any suggestions out there?

Busy news week….

First, just for fun, “Cakes Gone Wrong,” which has a fun link to CakeWrecks.

Now on to the more serious links.

Let’s take a close look at the new “Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.” The objective:

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) is a unique partnership between retailers, non-profit organizations, food and beverage manufacturers and trade associations aimed at helping to reduce obesity. The HWCF will promote ways to help people achieve a healthy weight through energy balance – balancing calories consumed as part of a healthy diet with calories expended by physical activity – in the places where they spend much of their time: in the marketplace, in the workplace and in schools.

Sounds like a great plan, in theory. Here is what participating companies have agreed to do:

Participating companies are committing to build on existing efforts and will be making changes to their products, packaging and labeling to make it easier for consumers to manage their calorie intake while preserving or enhancing overall nutrition quality. Specific options companies may undertake include product reformulation and innovation; providing smaller portions; redesigning packaging and labeling; placing calorie information on the front of products; providing consumers with information and educational materials; and in-store promotion of the initiative.

However, if you look at the members’ list, it is composed mainly of huge agribusiness-type producers of processed foods. I will be watching closely to see how many of them actually “reformulate” their food products into real food rather than simply taking the easier route and repackaging, relabeling, reportioning. One of the first examples is Coca-Cola planning to put their calorie count on the front of the bottle. Hm. I don’t know a single Coke drinker that will be deterred by this. It makes me wonder how the calories in Coke can be counted as “calories consumed as part of a healthy diet.”

It will be interesting to track, but I fear that this foundation is mostly about fooling the public into believing that these companies care about their health while still convincing them that they need these food products – it is, after all, all about these companies losing money if people realize that their products are NOT part of a healthy diet, right?

Want a surer source of the basics of a healthful diet? Try the USDAs Farmers’ Market Search or go to LocalHarvest.

Some interesting and disturbing stats at the CDC’s Fruits & Veggies Matter site.

And finally, a controversial study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health mentioned in several places in the UK: “Are working mums’ children fatter?” both at NHS and NetDoctor. I’m not sure the study really reached any conclusions, and I’d have to say that working mothers have enough trouble without being blamed for their children’s obesity problems…. Or maybe I’m just sensitive, being on the verge of returning to PT work myself?

Beancurd with Mushrooms

As the weather gets colder, we’re turning away from our old standby, Chilled Beancurd with Soy Sauce, and thinking of warmer dishes. This is a quick tofu dish that exactly suits that purpose and can easily be made vegan. If fresh mushrooms are not available, you can use 6-8 dried shiitakes, rehydrated in hot water for 30 m – the soaking water can be substituted for the broth or water.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg extra-firm silken tofu (we like Mori-nu brand)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems reserved for making broth or stock
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 c homemade chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 T chicken or vegetable broth or water
  • 1 T cooking oil
  • 2 scallions, roll cut into 1/2″ sections
  • 1 T fresh ginger root, cut into matchsticks
  • sea salt to taste

method:

  1. Cut the beancurd into 3/4″ cubes, then soak in a bowl of cold water mixed with the 1/2 tsp sea salt.
  2. Cut the mushroom caps into 1/2″ strips or into quarters
  3. Combine the soy sauce, sugar, cooking wine, and 1/2 c broth and set aside.
  4. Combine the cornstarch with the 1 T of broth and set aside.
  5. Heat the wok over medium high heat, then add the oil just until it shimmers.
  6. Explode the scallion and ginger just until fragrant, then add the mushrooms, stirfrying until just tender.
  7. Add the soy sauce mixture, and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the beancurd and return to a simmer, just until heated through.
  9. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring gently 1-2 m or until the starchy taste is cooked out.
  10. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Friday List of Links

KPBS in San Diego ran a story about Slow Food – a nice, simple summary of the movement’s growth and principles.

Some thoughts on switching to sustainably produced palm oil are found at Seventh Generation’s Inspired Protagonist.

And finally, reader’s food rules – Michael Pollan’s top 20 choices. I was not surprised to see that many of the top submissions come from people who were raised in households where a non-American food system ruled, which goes along with Pollan’s own advice to eat like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Greeks. Or…

Quick Soupy Noodles – move over ramen!

We’re deep into the school and after-school schedule now, which means trying to get dinner on the table before swim class or Tae Kwon Do or…. This is a super quick twist on the Pan Asian Noodle Soup recipe posted a long time ago. For noodles, I like to use yaki-soba, but you can use any sort of instant noodles, fresh or dried. Try to buy the least processed noodles you can find and throw the seasoning packet directly into the trash! If you have time to make chicken broth and/or stew a chicken on the weekend, you’ll have homemade broth and cooked chicken meat on hand; if not, use organic free-range low sodium (phew!) chicken broth and cubed tofu in place of the chicken – storebought cooked chicken is usually not sustainably raised and is frequently full of chemical fillers and preservatives.

ingredients:

  • enough noodles for 4 portions
  • 8 oz cooked chicken, cut into 1/4″ slices across the grain
  • 2 heads baby bok choy

broth:

  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1.5 qt water, stock, or broth
  • 3 T Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam, available in Asian markets or in Asian section of conventional stores
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1&1/2 tsp brown or raw cane sugar
  • 3/4 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt (you may want to start without the salt and add to taste – the need for it varies based on your choice of liquid)
  • 1/8 tsp dried pepper flakes (optional, or you can serve chopped salted chilies, sriracha, hot oil, etc. to taste at the table)

method:

  1. Soak the bok choy in several changes of cool water until no more grit remains. Cut the leaves into 1/2″ ribbons and the stems crosswise into 1/2″ slices.
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil until it shimmers, turn heat down to medium, then explode the ginger and garlic just until fragrant – do not allow the garlic to brown.
  3. Add the curry powder, and again cook just until it is fragrant.
  4. Add the water/broth/stock, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, salt, and pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer for 5 m.
  5. Add the noodles, chicken, and bok choy to the broth, turn the heat back up, and return to a boil, by which time the soup is ready to serve.