Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend Update

I may be the last person on earth to see this photo essay from Time magazine comparing what different families around the world spent on food in one week.

The range in costs is astounding, from $500 for a family in Germany to $1.23 for this family in a refugee camp in Chad.

Personally, I am more interested in the food being eaten by the families in less developed countries--lots of healthy vegetables and whole grains, it looks like. Very depressing is the amount of soda and junk food and processed goods being consumed all over the world. Note the family from North Carolina with the takeout pizza a tablefood of packaged food that makes them look like an ad for the processed food association. Makes you wanna cry....

Thanks to Lavinia for sending this along in an e-mail. You can view the photo essay in its entirety at the Green Taxie blog.


If you are prepared to be disgusted by some of the things we Americans eat and actually pay for, check out this list of the 20 Worst Foods in America put out by Mens Health magazine.

Topping the list is a "starter" served at Outback Steakhouse called "Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing." It weighs in with an astounding 2,900 calories, 182 grams of fat and 240 grams of carbohydrates. This dish could very well be shared with two or three of your friends. Still, follow it with a steak and all the trimmings, a couple of beers, and you've probably exceeded your nutritional needs for the entire day.

Also on the magazine's list of the 20 worst are the "Stacked Nachos" at On the Border, with 2,740 calories, 166 grams of fat, 191 grams of carbohydrates and a death-defying 5,280 milligrams of sodium (can that actually be true?). Or try the "Spaghetti with Meatballs and Meat Sauce" at Macaroni Grill: 2,430 calories, 128 grams of fat, 207 grams of carbohydrates and 5,290 milligrams of sodium.

My favorite, the breakfast at Bob Evans: "Caramel Banana Pecan Cream Stacked and Stuffed Hotcakes." Check the 1,540 calories, 77 grams of fat (9 g trans fat) and 198 grams of carbohydrates (109 g sugar).

Kinda makes you want to run out and dive into a pool of creme brulee.


Meanwhile, Democarts, having gained control of Congress, are trying to make a "Green Capitol," including local and more healthful foods in the mess hall. They are running into just a little resistance from lobbyists for the industrial food merchants, who don't like it when someone points out how bad their products are for us.

Restaurant Associates, the catering conglomerate that sources food for the House of Represenatives, ran afoul (so to speak) of the industrial chicken lobby when it boasted on its web site that it was feeding congressmen eggs from humanely-raised, cage-free chickens, sparing the birds the horrors of battery cages. The caterer softened its tone after Big Ag let its objections be known.

Then the dairy industry called in to complain about Restaurant Associates' boast that it was not using milk produced with bovine growth hormone on grounds the hormone had not been adequately tested. Again, the caterer back-pedaled.

The industry rag Feedstuffs editorialized that Resaurant Associates and its parent company, Compass Group, are “hooked by propaganda of animal rights groups...”

You can read more about it in Marion Burrous' report in the New York Times.


We here at The Slow Cook news desk never cease to be amused by the f'ederal government's ability to spend billions of tax dollars subsidizing the production of foods that make Americans fat and sick, then turn right around and make pronouncements on things like food pyramids and what we citizens need to do to stay healthy.

The latest funny bone tickler is this scheme by the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to tell New Yorkers that they are too fat. What the HHS did was team up with the Ad Council to place tiny little tee-shirts in the washing machines at Manhattan laundromats saying, "Shrink a Few Sizes." A message on the shirts directs people to the HHS "Small Steps" site, which exorts visitors to “shed those holiday pounds, reduce their risk for obesity and lead a healthy lifestyle.”

Or, start reading up on the farm bill....


There is a temptation to believe those sophisticated Europeans are more noble of purpose, purer of heart, just because they're, well, European. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it come to Europeans' rapacious attitude toward draining the oceans of fish.

Having devasted the hunting grounds in their own waters, Europeans now are paying off the governments of Third World contries so that Euro fishing fleets can park their vessels offshore and rake in the local bounty. The end results could be easily foreseen: At some point, there will be no more fish for the locals to catch.

That is precisely the case in areas of West Africa where the Atlantic has been so thoroughly fished out that the local seafood industry is in a state of collapse. What follows is a surge of refugees, as people with no source of food or employment take to boats and try to immigrate to Europe illegally through the Canary Islands.

“As Europe has sought to manage its fisheries and to limit its fishing, what we’ve done is to export the overfishing problem elsewhere, particularly to Africa,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, a London-based research group.

Last year roughly 31,000 Africans tried to reach the Canary Islands, a prime transit point to Europe, in more than 900 boats. About 6,000 died or disappeared, according to one estimate cited by the United Nations.

Said one Senegalese fisherman who has tried and failed to make the journey to the Canary Islands: “I could be a fisherman there,” he said. “Life is better there. There are no fish in the sea here anymore.”


In case you were tempted by the previous item to run out and buy some fish for dinner, a recent study of swordfish purchased in California and Florida grocery stores found that 80 percent contained mercury levels above the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "action" threshold.

Yes, you read correctly: eight fish out of 10 above the limit for mercury. But if you are expecting the FDA to leap into action, don't hold your breath. Although the agency has the authority to take legal action to remove offending food items from store shelves, recent internal audits show the FDA--and especially its enforcement arm--to be in a shambles.

Mercury is especially harmful to children and pregnant women. The supermarket sampling was conducted by Micro Analytic Systems Inc. using what the company purports to be "the world’s first rapid, large-scale mercury-testing process for seafood." The FDA's own data shows about half of all swordfish exceding the "action" level for mercury.

Either way, the lesson for swordfish would seem to be, Eat at your own risk.

Bon appetit....


Jasmine said...

No9 take out pizza in Mexico -- that is the US family in North Carolina. The headings for the pictures are above them not under them (something I figured out when I thought the Germans had no beer in there weekly purchase strangley enough the Italians have no wine-- I wonder if they make their own and that isn't included)

maggie said...

Scary to see the amount of take out food on the American menu.
It's also interesting to see the amount of soft drinks in several photos.

I read that Men's Health article and shuddered. It's a good thing we tend to avoid those places on principle.

Ed Bruske said...

Right you are, Jasmine. I had the German family right, but somehow got the Mexican family and the family from North Carolina switched around. I made the correction.

Maggie, I also was struck by the soft drinks--not just in the U.S., but everywhere. It really is frightening when you consider how much sugar is in those things. Bad, bad, bad. The junk food in restaurants just goes to show you'll never go broke selling potatoes and cheese. It was the same in the catering business. If you wanted the food to taste better, you just added butter.

Ali said...

Thanks for this post, the weekly food budget link was fascinating. I love your point about the smiles, it is true. My family went smelt fishing today, so an adventure awaits for me when I get home tonight. I'll try and remember to smile....

sister in law #4 said...

What do you think the calorie count on the Bob's Big Boy Breakfast Bar is?

Ed Bruske said...

The original breakfast bar at Bob's, with all it's glorious and almost endless variety, would come under the heading "20 Best Foods" in America, making the calorie count irrelevant. Sadly, Bob is a mere shadow of his former self. The breakfast bar is a memory. We have not been in ages.

Ed Bruske said...
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Walter Jeffries said...

After seeing the Time article online our family did our own version of Food For A Week as a homeschooling project. It was a lot of fun and very educational. There's a photo of our family with our week of food at the above link along with an actual list of the items and amounts.

Prior to that I had done a Kitchenwares For A Week post along the same lines which was rather interesting. My motivation is our building and moving into our tiny cottage which is just 252 sq-ft of space.


in Vermont

Ed Bruske said...

Walter, that photo of you and your family with a week's worth of groceries is seared into my brain. A heroic blog post, that one. I had not seen the one about the kitchen appliances. I was just thinking tonight how I might possibly get by in life with my set of spring-loaded tongs and a Le Creuset Dutch oven. And maybe my cast-iron skillet.

I've been admiring your work from afar. The cottage is the coolest thing. Do you accept visitors, if we are ever in that neck of the woods?

Walter Jeffries said...

Sometimes. The trick is you have to get past the mud, snow or ice depending on the season. :) Do email ahead. I wouldn't want to be out on the road making deliveries and miss you have you have braved the mountain. :)