A med & grad student who used to work the line in LA, NYC, SF and Napa talking about the science of cooking and cooking with science. Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen never satisfied my kitchen curiosity and more than one Chef grew exasperated with my asking "Why?" I'll try to stay on topic, but you may see a kvetch or two about the school & hospital.
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Mark Bittman at the NY Times has a great opinion piece up on the current food system in the United States. I read this thanks to the ever wonderful Maryn McKenna, who tweeted about Mark's piece. Now food legislation in the United States is tricky. On the one hand, there are the people who support better food as a means to better health. On the other hand, there are those, like Anthony Bourdain, who feel that our priority should be cheaper food for the poor. Sustainable agriculture works, but it is incredibly expensive, and out of reach for those hovering around the poverty level.
Bittman's idea is to tackle the argument at both ends. First by eliminating or severly reducing the subsidies to corn and soy. Corn and soy are two wonderful ingredients, but they're no longer used the way we think they are used. Both are turned into a raw material for processing into feed or plastics or fuel. Very little of the corn grown is the sweet corn we eat. Slightly more soy is turned into something edible for human consumption. And much of the corn grown is used for livestock feed. Stuff that livestock wouldn't normally eat. In fact, eating corn is considered a major contributor to the spread of pathogenic e.coli in livestock.
And by moving that money over to what Bittman calls "actual food," the cost of more expensive produce can come down significantly. I get it. The local, sustainable movement that I find myself a part of is not cheap or accessible. It's expensive. It's incredibly difficult to feed a family of four on. But, part of the cost of local is the cost of farm subsidies. The guys at Frog Hollow Farms or Eatwell Farm don't get much of the annual government farm subsidy. Most of the farm subsidy money in California goes to cotton and rice. Not the strawberries or peaches in the summer. Not the brussel sprouts or citrus in the winter. Cotton and rice. And most of the "farms" growing these cash crops aren't small farmers. They aren't Farmer Bill and his wife Mary working the fields with their small extended family of kids, siblings and long time field hands. They're corporate farms that have either leveraged some poor bastard into an untenable position or the farm is run by a "family." Usually a group of poor itinerant field workers where the supervisor gets the farm house.
And that's really the cost of food. Sure, those skinless, boneless (and tasteless) chicken breasts in the supermarket are a steal at $1.49/lb, but when the true cost of that chicken includes what you pay in taxes to farm subsidies, the leveraging of family and small farms by megacorporations and a world where a candy bar makes a cheaper snack than some fruit, shouldn't we all be getting mad about this? I know I have been quite angry for a very long time about this. And there's definitely more that could be added. Addressing how we eat would be another subject to look at. Why most people eat only skeletal meats? Why so much of animals are thrown away? Why have we forgotten traditional dishes that a hundred years ago would have been common place? Maybe in abandoning an industrial food supply we'll abandon the sterile view of where our food comes from and will make us really think about having that second steak or a double pattied burger? Maybe we'll really think about how much we fish or farm or slaughter and whether we couldn't cut back? But, until we take a first step in doing something about food, these will remain maybes. But, maybe we will take one of the steps Bittman suggests?
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I watched a documentary recently based on Fast Food Nation, I think it was called Food Inc. or something like that and they had bascially the same conclusion. Get rid of the subsidies corn and soy and invest that money in more sustainable agriculture.
This is a lot to think about.
I am definitely for feeding the poor and less waste and lower prices. I think the whole problem with the anti-GMO movement is that many of the activists don't get that many of efforts to modify vegetables and fruits are to make them grow in conditions that normally would not support their growth so that countries with less fertile soils can grow food.
I don't like fact that the most fattening and lowest quality foods are more affordable than fruits and vegetables. Something needs to change.
@Brian : One of the problems with getting rid of corn subsidies is how powerful the National Corn Growers Association is as a lobby. They've convinced small farmers that are in debt to ADM or Monsanto or DuPont (through Pioneer) that if they don't fight to keep subsidies they'll go out of business. Which is true, in a sense. One of the weirder rules for farm subsidies is that you're penalized if you grow more than one type of crop or raise one type of livestock for commercial sale on your property. So unless you're growing all corn or raising only cattle, you may not qualify for a farm subsidy. Which through another twist can be taken by one of those companies you owe a lot of money to, if it will ease the burden of your debt that you owe them.
@Jade : I've learned to pick my fights as far as GMO goes. In instances of hybridizing crops to get them to grow in less fertile soil, I've always been all for that. I'm slightly more concerned when seed companies make their plants sterile so that growers have to buy the seed again the next planting year. And I'm truly alarmed when cross-pollination leads to Monsanto or ADM legal representatives knocking on a farmer's door ordering them to pay up or cease growing their crop, because the "conventional" crops they've grown now have Monsanto/ADM genes.
Yes, I hear what you're saying. When I hear people complain about GMO (in the public domain), it is always irrational fears about what the foreign DNA will do to the human body.
No one ever worried about that eating fruit and vegetable DNA before. Or rare steak or sushi.
But yeah- the other issue of cross contamination is serious and I hope that our government supports the farmers. I do know quite a few Monsanto scientists and they are really great people. The company policy may be a mess but the scientists are regular people, kind, midwest folks.
We really live in a messed up country/world where "real" food is hard to come by. Constantly looking for cheap and healthy ways to eat and it takes work. I am pro GMO but not pro keeping the seeds sterile, I agree 100% that they should sell it and leave it there. Though I have to say I got a kick out of a company in China that made square watermelon for easier shipping but people were too skeptical and it didn't sell. Good post!