Monday, December 31, 2007

Adios, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Weekend Update

Michael Pollan's seminal book on the U.S. food chain is called The Omnivore's Dilemma. I think it would more properly be called "The Food Paradox," wherein the corporatization of what we eat--arising from the capitalist maxim that greed is good--has brought us to a place where the most abundant and least expensive food makes us fat and sick, while healthy foods increasingly become unobtainable to the average citizen.

Adam Smith declared that profits for the individual would create riches for the many. And as far as our consumer wants are concerned, Smith has been proved abundantly correct (so long as supplies last, of course). But what Smith failed to foresee were the unintended consequences--the societal costs--of glorifying the profit motive. Disease, pollution, global warming, ecosystem destruction--none of these were on Smith's radar screen, yet they emerge with increasing clarity as the central motif in our national food debate.

Something is amiss when government works hand-in-and with profit-oriented corporations to produce foods that make the citizenry dull and sick, that pollute water and air, that ravage the soil and wildlife, that devour finite resources and violate international trade agreements.

Here is the latest: the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay farmers to plant genetically engineered seed produced by Monsanto. Apparently, these Franken-crops lower the risk on federal crop insurance policies. Who benefits from such arrangements? Or is there some long-term consequence that might affect us all?

Michael Pollan has a much better grip on these issues than I do and now he has a new book--In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Kat, over on the Eating Liberally blog, obtained a review copy and lays out the main points under the headline, "Pollan Declares War on Western Diet." It's worth a read.


How hard will the peddlers of bottled water fight to keep their business? An alliance of bottlers and retailers say they will file suit against the city of Chicago when a 5-cent tax on bottled water--the first of its kind in the nation--goes into effect in 2008.

Localities have come to hate the bottled water craze. Why? Well, because of the 85 million empty plastic bottles produced daily in this country, all requiring some sort of disposal. In most places, plain old ordinary tap water is just as good if not better than the bottled variety. But of course billions of dollars in sales are at stake.

Retailers have trotted out the usual arguments: Consumers will flee Chicago if they are forced to pay a tax on their water bottles. The tax would threaten jobs, wages!



Perhaps less amusing is how corporate and government interests align against the health of the nation's children. Recently we reported on "food deserts," or areas where healthy foods are not available because of the absence of full-service groceries. Most often it's the urban poor who find themselves in food deserts.

But a new study shows that there's no such thing as a fast-food desert where school children are concerned. One-third of the nation's middle and high schools are located within a half-mile of a fast-food outlet or convenience store. And in the 20 largest U.S. cities, two-thirds of urban secondary schools had at least one fast-food restaurant within walking distance, and more than half had a convenience store within a half-mile.

Bon appetit...

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Spinach and mushroom lasagna.

Preparation time: 3 minutes

Shopping: none

Months ago we made a pan of lasagna to take to client dinners just in case someone requested a vegetarian entree. I cut the lasagna into large slices and stashed them in the freezer. Up they popped during my recent freezer clean-out. I figured they were too old to pass as client food anymore.

I moved them to the fridge to defrost. Now they serve admirably as a quick breakfast after a couple of minutes in the microwave. It was a very simple lasagna with no particular recipe: sauteed mushrooms, frozen spinach, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, a bechamel sauce and nutmeg.

Quite delicious, even months later.

Winter Compost?

As promised, I spent some time chopping an entire case of celery I found on the sidewalk recently and turned it into my compost pile. In fact, this seemed like a good time to turn the whole pile, shoveling it from one bin into a neighboring bin, tossing in the celery as I went along.

Composting is a slow, meditative act and good for the soul. It is perhaps the closest thing I have to a religion. It affirms my faith in the natural process when otherwise there is so little to celebrate about man's role in the order of things. Humans are a destructive force on the planet. Composting is a daily act of creation.

The compost pile I started last month was running hot (more than 110 degrees) for a couple of weeks, then it went cold. That means the bacteria that heat the pile have less to feed on, or they need more oxygen. Turning the pile supplies oxygen. Celery gives them more to feed on. Ideally, I would toss is a bag of grass clippings to speed things along. Unfortunately, my lawn mower is broken.

Composting in winter is a struggle. Life slows in the cold. Some micro-organisms survive at temperatures near freezing. But the process mostly grinds to a crawl. If it gets cold enough, the pile will actually freeze. Last year I broke the handle on my forked spade trying to bury kitchen scraps in the compost pile. (They just don't make spades like they used to.)

In that case, the kitchen scraps will stay well preserved until the sun climbs back in the sky and things warm up again. I'm guessing I will have some excellent compost to spread on the garden beds when it comes time to plant seeds in the spring.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Feds to Chesapeake: Drop Dead!

Only recently the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's annual report showed the health of the bay getting worse, not better.

Water quality is down, crabs are down, oysters are almost gone. It has been all but acknowledged that local states will fail to reach their goal of cleaning up the Cheseapake by 2010.

But the federal government will certainly be spending more to help the bay along, right?

Think again. The federal budget president George Bush signed into law this week includes cuts in critical programs aimed at reducing the flow of sewage into the bay. Specifically, a federal program that provides loans to local communities to upgrade their sewage treatment plants took a $395 million hit, $44 million of that from states in the Chesapeake watershed.

A program aimed at curbing farm runoff into the bay was cut $1.7 million, and research and restoration programs operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were reduced by $3.8 million.

Meanwhile, the money is still flowing to crop subsidies and ethanol, guaranteeing worse times ahead for the Chesapeake.