Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Grace and Justice

I've been noticing lately that when people say grace before a meal they often mention the hands that prepared it, but leave out the complex justice issues of the food system - like the workers that were exploited to get that food to your table. After talking a lot with Neil James, food scientist from Florida A & M, at our Committee on Science, Technology and Faith, I am more attuned than ever to the plight of the poor, and how the injustices in our food system contribute to it. Reading Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved on the flight home only reinforced this. And besides, I felt guilty that I did not mark Cesar Chavez Day here in blogland a month ago.

What I am dwelling on right now is this insight from Patel - that we don't need cheaper food. Our government's desire to have cheaper food for the poor, together with vertically integrated agri-chemical companies, are the reason we are in this mess. We need to have a living wage for everyone, so all can afford healthful, local, fresh food.

One of the things that Neil brought to my attention was the issue of Kosher meat. Can it be Kosher if workers are exploited in its processing? What a classic prophetic case - ritual butchering means nothing if those who sell the beef are grinding down the poor. Seems like this issue was hot in the press last summer and I missed it.

Don't Blame Bacon

even though you know I would love to...

You cannot catch swine flu from eating America's favorite salt-fat supplier.

I'm sure everybody knows that, but somehow I had to say it.

What is puzzling me is that I read on the last spam blast from the Organic Consumers Association that the use of antibiotics in CAFOs contributes to the development of new viruses, and to their resistance to drugs.

Well, flu is caused by a virus, and antibiotics deal with bacteria. I would understand how mutant, resistant bacterial strains might develop in CAFOs. But viruses? On the other hand, CAFOs - with the crowding and generally unhealthful living conditions for the critters - would, it seems to me, be breeding grounds for many things.

But would those conditions necessarily select for viruses that jump species?

Oh well - probably we all can agree that neither CAFOs nor influenza are nice, but a causal link, if one exists, is more complex that any email newsletter can describe.

Monday, April 20, 2009

food security, global stability ... this just in from Cison di Valmarino

Financial Times ( Monday April 20 2009

US urges food output boost to avert unrest

By Javier Blas in Cison di Valmarino, Italy

The US agriculture secretary has warned that unless countries take immediate steps to sharply boost agricultural productivity and food output and reduce hunger, the world risks fresh social instability. ...

"This is not just about food security, this is about national security, it is about environmental security," he said on the sidelines of the first meeting of the Group of Eight ministers of agriculture. ...

Last year's spike in food prices caused riots in about 30 countries, from Haiti to Bangladesh. Leading agricultural commodity exporters, including India and Argentina, imposed bans on overseas sales of food products. "I can figure out there are only three things that could happen if people do not have food: people could riot, that they have done; people migrate to places where there is food, which creates additional challenges; or people die," said Mr Vilsack.

This article can be found at:,_i_email=y.html

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lent and the anti-Lent

Usually I don't talk about my lenten disciplines, but since this one was related to food, I thought I might say a word about it. If you hate self-indulgent blogs, skip this post.

Basically, I tried to get back to better eating habits, primarily by renouncing gluttony. Not to lose weight, although that wouldn't hurt, but because I recognize that gluttony really is a moral issue, and, indeed, a justice issue. I wanted to test the proposition that one can eat well and enjoyably without eating more than one's share. It's about time, you will say.

So I returned to watching my portions and logging my food using the food pyramid. This tool, pooh-poohed by some, I really do find helpful in eating an adequate, balanced, but not ascetic diet.

I realized of course that I'd been eating way too much in the grain category - just because they are whole doesn't mean you can go whole hog - and the cheese category, too, and the butter - but often not enough fruit. I tend to do pretty well with vegetables just naturally.

And I did do well throughout Lent. I had my annual blood work during this time, and all the numbers that doctors fuss about were much better. Plus food got cheaper - because I wasn't eating to excess and buying lots of extras - just almost daily dark chocolate and a weekly small ice cream.

But then I went on a little baking binge for Easter - cookies plus the bread below. And it's baseball season, too.

Fortunately, ball park food does not much appeal to me. I have a theory that most ball parks have one good thing I might want to eat, and there's the challenge of finding it. I would never be tempted by the all you can eat seats at the Coliseum - for which we can be thankful.

So I was more than a little grossed out when I heard about the Fifth Third Burger, at the minor league park in Grand Rapids, the Tigers' A team.

It's five one-third pound burger patties (Fifth Third is the bank which sponsor's the park, I think) on a one pound bun, with chili, processed cheese, salsa, lettuce, styrofoam tomatoes, sour cream and chips and nacho cheese sauce. Bring on the statins and lactaid. It costs $20 and pushes 5000 calories and 10,000 milligrams of sodium. Prizes are given for anyone who finishes one, though it's recommended for a family of four - who will each have exceeded their RDA for sodium by the time they finish it. I'd love it if someone did a "carbon footprint" for this anti-lent pro-gluttony baby.

But at least this is imaginable. I am still trying to figure out what a previous promotion at Fifth Third Park - deep fried Pepsi - is.

Anyway, the Easter treats are gone. I'm still singing Alleluias, but back to eating just enough good food.

Monday, April 13, 2009

a tale of two loaves

Happy Easter!

But what happened to Lent?

It seems like only a few weeks ago that we were celebrating Dimanche Gras with a Kings Cake, the picture of which I never got around to publishing.
Basically these two things are the same. But the Kings Cake has a hidden object - coin, nut or plastic baby - and unpleasant purple, green and gold frosting - the carnival colors of New Orleans, while the Greek Easter Bread has red eggs embedded - red for the blood of Christ and eggs for new life (though not much new life once they are hard boiled!). The sesame seeds on the Easter version are a straightforward fertility symbol, I think.
But there's something basic about celebrating holidays - any holiday - with a festive sweetened bread. I'm sure that in between Mardi Gras and Easter the Sicilians have a similar recipe for St. Joseph's Day (my name day, March 19) and the English have buns that are hot and cross for Good Friday. (Irish soda bread on St. Patrick's Day - no yeast, no eggs, little fat - doesn't cut it - sorry!)
And who can forget panetone and stollen.
Portuguese sweet bread is a similar dough, too - but I'm not aware that it's associated with any particular holiday. Perhaps the Portuguese are more ad lib with their celebrations?
And of course the French brioche - not sweet, but richer - those French!
A serious account of What I Did for Lent This Year plus some updates on food issue reading will follow this post soon.