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MAHER & MOORE CHEW (OUT) THE FAT


Finally, fruits and vegetables have a heavyweight in their corner! OK, so it’s Michael Moore, the famously unfit filmmaker from Flint. And why not? Who better to go to bat for carrot sticks and veggie dips than a working class hero who’s had a few too many heroes himself?

Our revered and reviled roly-poly rabble rouser revealed his new appreciation for produce--the least loved link in our meat-centric food chain—in his first interview in two and a half years on last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Moore told Maher how the process of filming “Sicko,” his latest Woe-is-Us opus, compelled him to reassess his own lousy habits. After all, what could be more galvanizing (and galling) than finding you’re too flabby to even gaze at your own navel? Let’s face it, getting exercised about unjust wars and uncaring corporations doesn’t raise your heart rate enough to qualify as aerobic. And then there are those powdered sugar pushers on the film production’s payroll whose sole job is to dole out donuts all day.

So Moore’s on a mission to put the “Active” back in activist, and he’s asking Americans to bypass those high fructose, transfatty highways that lead to a bypass. Bill Maher, eternally disgusted with Yoo-hoo-drinking yahoos and coddled kids who can’t eat a piece of fruit unless it’s been pre-sliced and packaged like a potato chip, was only too happy to pile on about the crap we pile on our plates:

MAHER: …The human body is pretty amazing; it doesn’t get sick, usually, for no reason. I mean, there’s some genetic stuff that can get to you, but, basically, people are sick in this country because they’re poisoned.

The environment is a poisoning factor, but also, we gotta say, they poison themselves. They eat shit. People eat shit, and that’s, to my way of thinking, about 90% of why people are sick, is because they eat shit. Would you agree?

MOORE: Well, that’s right…not 90%, but I would say that people, who are certainly young, or young adults, or even middle-aged people, if they took better care of themselves…I mean, you’re looking at somebody right now that, while I was making this film, actually, I said to myself, you know, this is kinda hypocritical. You’re making a movie about health care, and you’re not even taking care of your own health…

MAHER: You look a lot thinner! I thought that was Ben Affleck…

MOORE: (laughing) Ah, man, poor Ben…no, but what I did, was, I said, you know, I’m gonna participate. This isn’t in the movie, but I guess you see it in the movie, because I’m a little different because I decided one way to beat the system is, take care of yourself, and I found that just by going for a walk thirty minutes a day, and I discovered these things called fruits and vegetables, which are amazing. But you don’t have to do a lot, and I would say, to guys like me from the Midwest, you know, we’re never gonna go on a diet, or join an aerobics class, or whatever. But if you just moved around a little bit, turned the tv off, ate a few things differently, you would avoid the nightmare that awaits so many people who enter the healthcare system in this country. As you pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we’re behind Costa Rica in health care, we’re just ahead of Slovenia, and that should be an embarrassment to most Americans.

Actually, it should be an embarrassment to all Americans, but maybe Moore was making an exception for the vultures who feather their nests by telling us chickens to pluck off--the Big Pharma Frankensteins and their health insurance industry Igors. Oh, and don’t forget Big Food, whose bottom line can only grow by growing our bottoms bigger. As NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle notes in What to Eat:

The deep dark secret of American agriculture (revealed only by agricultural economists behind closed doors) is that there is far too much food available—3,900 calories per day for every man, woman, and child in the country, whereas the average adult needs only a bit more than half that amount, and children much less.

So Big Food plies us with Paul Bunyan-sized portions of poisonous processed foods while Big Pharma stands by, silent and salivating, waiting for our cholesterol to go through the roof so it can rush to the rescue and lower it with Lipitor, the biggest selling drug ever.

NPR’s Morning Edition reported last week that diet and exercise can be just as effective as drugs—or, in some cases, even more so--for people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. But you won’t see any multi-million dollar ad campaigns advertising this fact. As I pointed out a few months back, “if Americans actually stopped overeating and started working out it would be a disaster for Big Food and Big Pharma.”

Of course, such a shift might save ourselves, and the planet, but corporate profits would plummet. The very notion of a fit nation must give the corporations conniption fits.

I know some people quibble about Michael Moore’s methodology, and there will always be wingnuts who call him an America-hater for having the audacity to suggest that We the People have the right to reject the fossil-fueled, faith-based, Fuhrer Knows Best kind of government the Decider’s decreed that we need.

Moore takes on the tough topics every time, and gets grief from both sides for it. With “Sicko,” though, he’s turned his lens on a problem so pervasive that it touches the lives of most Americans and transcends partisan rancor. Fox news reportedly called it “brilliant” and “uplifting,” and Moore told Maher about attending a screening at which some teary-eyed Republicans actually thanked him for making this film. And you thought compassionate conservatism was just some hokey, jokey Rovian trope!

As Moore noted at the top of the interview, “Illness and sickness doesn’t know any kind of political stripe, this affects Democrats and Republicans, and we’ve got a huge, greedy industry in this country, and there should be no room for greed when we’re talking about people’s health, and that has to be removed, we’ve got to get rid of these profits…”

Tell that to Wall Street, whose message to Main Street is “drop dead.” But not till you’ve spent your life savings paying for health insurance coverage that picks your pocket but won’t pick up the tab for the procedures and prescriptions that could save your life.

GONE FISHIN’? NOT EXACTLY…

Farmer Kitty and the rest of us at Eating Liberally have been so busy planting our vegetables and immersing ourselves in the minutiae of the Farm bill that blogging has taken a backseat lately. Please bear with us while we get our greens in the ground, we’ll have plenty more posts--and maybe even a podcast or two--after this weekend. We thank you for your patience!

JUST LIKE HONEY

Thanks to the Union Square Greenmarket being only a hop, skip and a jump away, Kanga’s discovered a variety of Japanese turnip named Hakurei that’s so sweet and tasty that it’s got Roo--and even Pooh--rooting for a root vegetable.

Kanga, motherly marsupial that she is, has been bugging Pooh to shape up and set a better example for Roo for, like, a century, now, to no avail.

The eternally tubby teddy with the honey habit made his debut in 1924 in an A. A. Milne poem titled, simply, “Teddy Bear.” The last stanza sums up the unapologetically pudgy plush icon’s bad attitude about his bad habits:

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our teddy bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about–
He’s proud of being short and stout.

But now that manufacturers have been obliged to supersize child safety seats to accommodate our ever tubbier toddlers, Kanga worries that Roo might go from stuffed to overstuffed and burst both their seams.

So she’s on a mission to change the way Pooh and Roo eat, and her latest ploy relies on finding the freshest, sweetest-tasting vegetables and telling Pooh, “Try them, they taste just like candy!” She’s also discovered that Pooh will happily consume Del Cabo’s honey bunch grape tomatoes by the handful because, being the Bear of Little Brain that he is, he thinks they actually contain honey.

OK, so Del Cabo, the organic Mexican farming cooperative, is admittedly not local, but before you report Kanga to the food mile cops, I would like to note, in her defense, that, as Peter Singer and Jim Mason note in The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, “The Del Cabo cooperative stands as an ethical alternative to the idea that we should only buy locally produced food.”

According to Singer and Mason, “Today Del Cabo cooperative has about 300 small farms and earns $7 millon dollars a year from sales of organic vegetables. The farmers can send their children to school and feed their families more adequately than they could before.”

Plus, the cherry tomatoes currently at the Greenmarket have been grown in fossil fuel-heated greenhouses, which is a perfect example of why it’s too simplistic to say that local is always low-impact.

But Pooh and Roo really don’t give a toss about all that. They just want to stuff themselves with sweet grape tomatoes and tasty turnips. Mission accomplished!

LET THEM EAT COWPIES

E. coli sticks to spinach leaves the way our Commander in Chief clings to his cadre of corrupt and incompetent cronies. You can wash them till the cows come home but they’re still gonna be tainted.

Everyone’s leery of leafy greens these days, particularly those plucked from central California’s fecund but fatally fecal farmlands. Thanks to repeated E. coli outbreaks, the Region-Formerly-Known-as-the-Nation’s-Salad-Bowl has been rebranded America’s Petri dish.

And that’s bad for business. Because a product that has the potential to give you bloody diarrhea or even kill you has--let’s be honest--a somewhat limited shelf appeal.

Which is why it was so wonderful to see Paul Krugman taint the anti-regulatory right with that same bacteria-laden brush in his New York Times op-ed column yesterday, calling them “E. coli Conservatives.”

Credit for this Rove-worthy, Luntzlike bit of re-branding goes to historian Rick Perlstein, who’s been flogging the FDA's follies on his blog, Campaign for America’s Future.

We liberals are perpetually puzzled by the way that conservatives assess every threat to our health and safety and the future of our planet through corporate-colored glasses. After all, as Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (and pal to Bonny Prince Charles, who’s a royal eco-geek,) noted in another fine New York Times op ed, “Has Politics Contaminated the Food Supply?”:

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you still have to eat.

To which I would only add, crunchy granola greenmarket goers may consume more spinach per capita than chickenwing-chomping wingnuts, but E. coli is a non partisan poison. Consider the case of 83-year-old Betty Howard of Richland, Wash., who succumbed to E. coli-induced heart failure this February after battling the deadly bacteria in a rehab facility for five months.

Howard’s grieving family sent a letter to State Senator Dean Flores, the Central California Democrat who’s introduced legislation to toughen standards for his state’s greens growers, which read (somewhat ungrammatically) in part:

Betty Howard and most of the Howard family are Republican's. She would have, and we do also, wholeheartedly support your efforts here today. Because if my mother were here today she would tell you this is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It a not a government verses grower issue. The issue is very simple: It is in the best interest of the 300 million Americans and making the nation's food supply safer.

It would also be in our best interests for the MSM to stop their pseudo-sleuthing in the Salinas spinach fields and set foot in the feedlots--the actual source of this especially virulent strain of E. coli. Guess they just don’t want to step in it.

But as Michael Pollan, Nina Planck, Marion Nestle, and all us grass-fed grassroots activists are telling anyone who’ll listen, E. coli 0157:H7 is an unintended by-product of industrial agriculture’s dubious practice of feeding cows grain instead of grass. As Nestle told WYNC’s Brian Lehrer:

“E. coli is a normal inhabitant of every animal’s digestive tract, including ours, but this is a special form of E. coli that picked up a toxin from a different form of bacteria called shigella, and it’s a normal inhabitant of the animal intestinal tract if, and only if, animals are fed corn rather than grass, which changes the acidity of their digestive tracts…

…it may have been around forever, but it only started causing problems in the early 1980’s when we started having these big confinement animal facilities…it’s one of these newly emergent pathogenic bacterial species that we have to worry about and in this case it’s a result of the kind of farming practices that we do…”

The USDA does recognize the hazard that E. coli-contaminated CAFO manure lagoons pose to our food chain, and that’s why they—i.e., we the people—pay 75% of the costs feedlot farmers incur in order to make their manure lagoons watertight.

Meanwhile, Kansas State University researchers are testing a vaccine that could reduce the presence of E. coli O157 in feedlot cattle, according to Agriculture Online.

But the solution to this manmade problem lies not in lining the feedlot lagoons with concrete, or creating new vaccines, according to Planck:

“There remains only one long-term remedy, and it’s still the simplest one: stop feeding grain to cattle.”

Maybe if more Americans understood that the feedlots are breeding grounds for deadly disease, they’d be willing to cut back on the burgers and—for those who can afford it, not to mention find it--even pay a premium for pasture-raised meats, whose availability is growing as more and more folks realize that grass-fed’s the way to go.

But it’s hard to get the word out when the media beyond the blogosphere is doing such a lousy job of covering this story. How many people know, for instance, that Central California farmers irrigate their fields with treated sewage effluent? Frank Pecarich, a retired USDA soil scientist who writes for California Progress Report has been trying to spread the word about sewage-sprayed-spinach for months. Pecarich cites the testimony provided at last week’s FDA hearing in Oakland by Dr. Michael Lynch, a doctor for the Foodborne and Diarrheal Disease Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

There is a definite time correlation between the initiation of Monterey County’s use of treated sewage water as an irrigation source and the huge increase in pathogen outbreaks with Salinas Valley vegetables. About 384 outbreaks linked to produce occurred in the six years between 1998 and 2004, which is about twice the 190 that happened in the 24 years from 1973 to 1997.

So, as Pecarich points out, the number of pathogen outbreaks jumped 200% over the previous 24 years when Monterey County launched its sewage treated water irrigation program on 12,000 acres of vegetables.

Another outbreak is all but inevitable, according to experts. What a great way to organically grow the anti-agribiz grassroots! So, thanks, all you E. coli Conservatives. You’ve dug yourselves into a hole on this one, and it looks like you’re determined to keep digging all the way to China.

ACTION ALERT: DON’T LET CONSERVATION BUY THE FARM

I have a not-very-taxing question for all you tax payers out there:

Would you like to see your hard-earned dollars used to conserve precious wetlands and vital habitats, or would you prefer to see that money used to build football field-sized pools of pigshit generated by industrial pork producers?

The "manure lagoons" that surround Smithfield slaughterhouses like methane-filled moats emit a deadly and brain-damaging gas called hydrogen sulfide, so for the people who live downwind from them the question is, presumably, a no-brainer.

But what about the 90% of Americans who don't live on or near a farm? Would we rather see our agricultural policies promote conservation, or help fund factory farm cesspools that spew lethal levels of contaminants into air, soil and water with that legendary agribiz efficiency?

Congressman Collin Peterson, Democrat from Minnesota and Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee, thinks we'd rather put our money into pollution than preservation.

So he's submitted a 2007 Farm Bill Proposal that would take funds away from the conservation programs that provide, among other things, aid to sustainable and organic farms, and use it instead to help corporate owned CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) offset the cost of creating more manure lagoons.

I know, I know, you're thinking, sheesh, like Smithfield needs a handout?

But, actually, it turns out that they do, because, as Jeff Teitz noted in a scathing expose for Rolling Stone about Smithfield's execrable handling of its excrement, "There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company."

And that's the largest, most profitable pork producer in the world we're talking about. You would think they could afford to deal responsibly with the vast pits of toxic waste that are a by-product of industrial pork production methods. But you'd be wrong, according to Tietz:

Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came marginally close to that standard -- it would lose money.

So obviously Smithfield needs a hand from Uncle Sam.

But what about all those forward-thinking farmers looking to be better stewards of the land? Don't they need assistance, too?

"In 2004, three out of every four farmers and ranchers applying to participate in Farm Bill conservation programs were rejected due to lack of funds," as Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told Dan Imhoff, author of Food Fight, the delightfully digestible, if disturbing, guide to the Farm Bill that's chock full of shocking charts and statistics. Read it or you'll get no dessert. Or should I say, if you don't read it, and don't lobby your legislators to better this bill, you'll get your just desserts.

Notes Imhoff, "In dollar terms, eight and a half out of every ten dollars requested were denied due to the funding shortfall. In fact, the 2004 backlog for conservation dollars exceeds the total funding available in 2005 by a three-to-one margin."

Despite being chronically underfunded, the Farm Bill's conservation programs have managed to restore nearly two million acres of wetlands and reverse the decline of waterfowl whose habitat gets destroyed when farmers drain wetlands to plant commodity crops.

More farmers clamor every year to board the sustainability bandwagon, but Congressman Peterson's decided we can't give them a lift. His proposal guts the Conservation Security Program and shifts those funds to the already amply funded Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which goes in part to help defray the costs incurred by CAFOs.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee's set to vote on Congressman Peterson's proposal tomorrow, Tuesday, May 22nd.

So if you'd like to see your tax dollars help underwrite the costs of more disease and death caused by CAFO-contaminated waterways, air, and soil; antibiotics rendered less effective in people by their overuse in chronically sick livestock made ill by horrendous living conditions; the millions of fish killed every time the manure lagoons burst and spill tons of toxic manure into our rivers (which they do regularly, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council); and millions more fish who die because of oxygen-gobbling "dead zones" that spread algae blooms thousands of miles along our coasts, fed by nutrients in animal waste, well, then, just sit back and let congress take its course.

If, like me, you think it makes more sense to encourage sustainable farming and conservation instead of funding more factory farms, you have only one day--today, May 21st--to ask your representative to, you know, represent you.

WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

Gnome Chompsky’s sick of standing around waiting for us to plant all those seeds we ordered from Fedco. So he went off to the Greenmarket and bought a whole bunch of seedlings from his favorite farmer, Trina Pilonero from Silver Heights Farm.

Silver Heights is dedicated to the preservation of heirloom plants, so Trina sells an amazing array of rare and exotic vegetable varieties, all certified organic and open pollinated. Trina sold us some incredible squash seedlings last year, including the swanlike Trombocini and the gorgeous Australian Queensland Blue, which yielded a 12 pound beauty we displayed like proud parents all winter before we finally started to eat it, and eat it, and eat it.

We had the pleasure of hearing Barbara Kingsolver read from her year-of-eating-locally memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a couple of weeks ago, and when she took questions from the audience, a woman asked “How can city dwellers living in tiny apartments eat local in the winter when we haven’t got the space to stockpile root vegetables the way you do?”

I desperately wanted to jump up and say “buy a Queensland Blue squash!” because, aside from being beautiful and tasty, it keeps in an overheated city apartment for months on end and then provides enough squash for a dozen dishes.

But, of course, I didn’t, because (a) that would have seemed really weird, and (b) where can you buy a Queensland Blue, anyway, even if you knew to ask for it?

But the real question is, why don’t more farmers grow such a fantastic variety of winter squash? Is it because the average Queensland Blue vine yields a grand total of two squash?

Productivity is the priority for commercial growers, not how well a vegetable keeps or how good it tastes. But this focus on production keeps most Americans from ever discovering a keeper like Queensland Blue. Mention the word “biodiversity,” and you’ll get blank stares, or maybe a diatribe about how affirmative action robs white people of the jobs or the college degrees that are their birthright.

Thanks to Trina, though, we are among the lucky few who ever get to eat a Queensland Blue. You’ll have better luck finding the tasty and tender Trombocini, a favorite of our local farmers because, zucchini that it is, it flowers so prolifically that by the end of last summer our yard was covered in swan-shaped squashes that grew to baseball bat-size because we couldn’t pick them fast enough.

This year, courtesy of Gnome Chompsky, we’re growing Purple Peacock Broccoli, a cross between broccoli and kale that reportedly produces prodigious side shoots as well as sweet, tasty leaves you can steam or eat in a salad. Gnome also brought home a flat of wacky, Dr. Suess-like Romanesco, a weird, whorly chartreuse crucifer that’s either a kind of broccoli or a cauliflower, depending on whom you ask.

Whatever you call it, Romanesco is a space hog, requiring a minimum of 9 square feet per plant. We don’t begin to have that kind of space in our garden, but that’s Gnome Chompsky for you—short of stature, long on ambition. That’s the price you pay for abdicating your seedling selection to a metal-headed dwarf.

COOK AWHILE IN MY SHOES: FLIRTING WITH FOOD STAMPS

Hunger activists challenged New Yorkers yesterday to try spending only $3.50 on food, just for one day, to get a taste of what life is like for folks who actually have to rely on food stamps.

It’s the latest installment of Let’s Make a Meal, the “paltry pantry” game that started last month when the governors of Oregon and Utah took a “food stamp challenge” and tried to eat on a meager $3 a day, which the average food stamp recipient does by necessity, as opposed to novelty.

The concept caught on with other public servants, who took the challenge and found it hard to eat healthy on a dollar-a-meal diet. Or even eat at all; Eric Gioia, a New York City councilman, ran out of money before the week was up and had to turn to a food pantry. As he told NY1 news, “This is why by the third and fourth weeks of the month the soup kitchens and food pantries are literally bursting at the seams.”

The number of American households experiencing hunger—or, as the USDA’s rebranded it, “food insecurity”—has been climbing steadily each year while wages erode, health care costs explode, and more people fall into the poverty pit. For these unfortunate folks, food stamps could be a lifeline, but of the 40 million or so Americans eligible for food stamps, only 60 to 70% apply. A bitter blend of bureaucracy, stigma and ignorance keeps others from availing themselves of this modest aid.

Not that $3 a day goes very far, anyway; you’ve got to get the maximum calories for the minimum price, which means filling up on cheap fats and carbs like peanut butter and ramen noodles. Fresh fruits and vegetables? Might as well be caviar. We subsidize commodity crops like corn and soybeans, keeping the price of nutritionally bankrupt processed foods artificially low, while doing nothing for the “specialty crops,” which is what the USDA calls the fruits and vegetables it tells us we’re supposed to eat five to nine servings of each day. Isn’t that special?

For most of us non-rural types, the words “Farm Bill” go in one ear and out the other, leaving sepia snapshots of wizened guys in overalls in our heads. But food activists are trying to sweep those bits of straw from our brains and train us to think of this massive and momentous piece of legislation as the Food and Farm Bill, because more than half the nearly 90 billion dollars allocated every year for the Farm Bill pays for things like school lunches, food stamps, and WIC, the nutrition program for women, infants and children.

The value of the food stamp program erodes each year because it’s not indexed to inflation. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has introduced an alternative to the Farm Bill that would peg the food stamp allocations to inflation, but it won’t compensate for the declines of the past decade. And the Bush administration is looking to reduce the number of Americans who qualify for food stamps at a time when more people than ever are suffering from “very low food security.”

Could I live on peanut butter and ramen noodles? Mmm, that reminds me of a great recipe for sesame-peanut noodles in The Food You Want to Eat, the cookbook from Queer Eye’s culinary guy, Ted Allen.

You just need a quarter cup of peanut butter and a pound of ramen noodles. Oh, and some sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, peanuts, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, mirin or sherry, a few cloves of garlic, red pepper flakes, an English cucumber, fresh cilantro, and scallions.

Yum! I can do this $3 a day thing! I’ll just have to skip the seasonings, the seeds, the nuts, the cucumber, the scallions and the cilantro, not to mention the mirin or sherry. Hhmmm. Might be too minimal even for Mark Bittman.

I’m glad politicians are volunteering to venture beyond the Land of Milk and Honey to get a firsthand look at the food deserts so many Americans never see, even if it’s only for a day or a week. Our awful agricultural policies have created a food chain that makes it possible, for the first time in history, for poor people to be both malnourished and obese. That’s quite an achievement, and one for which we’re all poorer, if you don’t count companies like Cargill and ADM.

Well, at least Agribiz plows some of its profits into PBS and NPR. That’s about the only by-product of industrial agriculture that contains any redeeming nutritional value.

THE REAL QUEEN OF QUICK

Eat your heart out, Rachel Ray; your 30 Minute Meals can’t hold a candle to Lorna Sass’s Two-Hour Taste in Ten Minutes. Sass, the pressure cooker expert and “grain goddess,” just won a prestigious James Beard Foundation award in the “healthy focus” category for her latest cookbook, Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, and deservedly so. It’s the perfect primer for anyone who wants to make easy, tasty meals with the whole grains we know we’re supposed to be eating, as well as the grains most Americans have never even met, from amaranth to teff.

“It is hard to escape the message that whole grains are good for you,” Eric Nagourney noted in Tuesday’s NY Times. “But few Americans put it into practice.”

Well, sure, who’s got time to cook up a batch of barley or buckwheat when we’re so on-the-go that we’re too busy to even sit down and eat a bowl of cereal? We need a breakfast food that we can clutch in one hand while the other grasps the steering wheel, or the briefcase. Something like, say, Jimmy Dean’s Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick, with Chocolate Chips, so ingenuous it won a place in Jon Stewart’s “Pantry of Fame:”

“The Jimmy Dean Pancakes & Sausage on a stick! On a stick! Finally, the classic taste of chocolate chip pancake-wrapped sausage with the convenience of a stick…

…America, continuing to push the envelope of what can technically be defined as food. Are you listening, Al Qaeda? You can’t take us down as fast as these will!“

Stewart is so right: who needs suicide bombers when we’re perfectly capable of blowing ourselves up with cholesterol-coated crap-on-a-stick?

Ironically, it’s the fear of blowing ourselves up that makes most Americans regard pressure cookers as some kind of culinary IED, liable to explode without warning. We’ve all heard the horror stories of grandma’s pressure cooker blowing its top unprovoked, spattering Ralph Steadmanesque flecks of food from floor to ceiling.

But today’s pressure cooker is not only perfectly safe to use, it’s the one appliance that literally has the potential to change, and even save, lives. It gives you a quick, easy way to make all those heart-healthy grains and beans, and you can make an astonishing variety of soups and stews in a matter of minutes.

As yesterday’s NY Times article on grains points out, “a better diet can lead directly to better health…researchers say they have confirmed a clear connection between whole-grain intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease."

And there’s also a clear connection, now, between climate change and all our meat-centric meals. Pressure cookers not only help you curb your carbon footprint by making it easy to switch to that plant-based Diet For a Not-Big-Enough-For-Everyone- To-Eat-So-Much-Meat Planet, they’re also ultra energy efficient.

So I say, a pressure cooker in every pot, and Sass’s cookbooks on every shelf. If people only understood how quickly, and easily, you can make marvelous home-cooked meals, every time-crunched fast food addict could take a time out from take-out to cook from scratch, without missing a beat. And Sass is a model of moderation; though her cookbooks are predominantly vegetarian, the grains book has some dishes for the conscientious carnivores out there, too.

Now that I’ve conquered my own fear of this miraculous but mysterious appliance, I use my pressure cooker so often it never gets put away; sometimes I even use it several times a day. My bible is Sass’s Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure. Its subtitle, “two-hour taste in ten minutes,” sounds too good to be true, but it’s for real.

To give you an idea, I toiled in my garden till dusk yesterday pulling weeds and planting seeds, and then came inside filthy, exhausted, and starving. And no, I didn’t feel like cooking. But with no leftovers in the fridge and no Matt to make mac’n’cheese (he had to go back to the city while I stayed on to do some digging), I looked to Lorna, as I often do.

And sure enough, on page 207 of Great Vegetarian Cooking, I found a recipe I had all the ingredients for: Lentil Stew With Spicy Greens. Cooking time? 9 minutes. OK, so it took another 5 minutes or so to dice the carrots and onions, and chop the kale, which has been hanging around our garden since last fall and threatening to bolt (i.e., go to seed and get bitter) if we didn’t eat it.

But that’s still only 14 minutes. Less than half the time it takes to make those Rachel Ray recipes. So, by my calculations, Lorna should be twice as popular.

DON’T BUY INTO DON’T BUY GAS DAY

Today, May 15th, is “Don’t Buy Gas Day,” and as empty, feel-good gestures go, it ranks right up there with the ubiquitous “support our troops” stickers that are apparently standard issue for all gas guzzlers.

This bogus boycott was sparked by a chain of e-mails claiming that we can stick it to Big Oil by going on a one-day fossil fuel fast. How pathetic, and how American. Is there any other nation so convinced that the solutions to all our problems can be solved by shopping—or not shopping?

Of course, the choices we make as consumers do, in fact, make a difference. I’ll be the first to shout “Amen!” to the Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping. Reverend Billy’s a fake preacher, but he advocates making real changes. His message may be swaddled in satire, but he makes a sincere case for living a more spiritual—and sustainable—way of life.

Don’t Buy Gas Day, on the other hand, is a perfect example of what my friend Elizabeth Royte, a “no impact” pioneer, would call a “sustainability stunt.” It may make a good sound bite, but it’s totally toothless.

The premise of Don’t Buy Gas Day is that you can make Exxon Mobil and Chevron bleed for your gas-gouged pain by waiting till Wednesday to fill your tank. Supposedly, postponing your petro-fix by one day will deprive the oil companies of nearly $3 billion in revenues, and cause a 30 cent per gallon drop in gas prices overnight.

But as Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a national consumer advocacy organization, told CNN, "A one-day boycott makes no sense whatsoever. You're not reducing consumption, you're just buying on a different day."

It’s a tragic misconception that cars equal freedom. In reality, constructing our communities around automobiles deprives us of autonomy, steals hours from our lives with long commutes, alienates us from our neighbors, tethers us to a finite source of fuel we deem worth dying for, and which, ironically, is killing our ecosystem.

That’s why, in our household, every day is Don’t Buy Gas Day. Matt doesn’t even know how to drive, and I barely do. Never owned a car. We rely on New York City’s excellent mass transit, and commute to our humble Hudson Valley hovel on the weekends via Amtrak.

Our lovely little hamlet has no shops, no mail delivery, and no municipal garbage pick-up. The nearest grocery store is several miles away, and the town dump’s even further.

Does it sound inconceivably inconvenient? It’s not, because our town is rich in the ultimate renewable source of energy—people. Our friends and neighbors gladly give us a lift to the market, or take our garbage to the dump. It’s an old-fashioned sort of community, the kind you can't find once you’ve exiled yourself to the exurbs.

So give the gas pumps a pass for today if it makes you feel good, but take a moment to think about tomorrow, and the next day. Because even as the cost of gas goes ever higher, Americans are driving more than ever. Maybe it’s time to pull over and take a closer look at the road map.

FRESNO FOG CASTS A CLOUD OVER CONVENTIONAL FARMERS

Lock your doors. Bolt your windows. There's something in THE FOG!

That’s a line from John Carpenter’s classic 1980 horror film, but it's also the basis of a lawsuit on the coast of Central California, where the fog stands accused of lifting legally applied pesticides from conventional farms and depositing them on organically grown herbs on a nearby farm, ruining $500,000 worth of dill.

Can organic and conventional farms butt borders without butting heads? A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge has issued an injunction against Western Farm Services, a Fresno company that provides and applies pesticides to conventional farms, to stop spraying pesticides while it ponders the case of Jacobs Farms v. Western Farm Services.

Fog, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, has the power to “turn pesticides into liquid and carry them off days after they were sprayed.” Call it “nurture” versus nature, a collision between manmade methods of trying to tweak our ecosystem and, well, the proverbial forces of nature.

How can you hold the law of unintended consequences accountable for breaking the law? Western Farm Services didn’t commit any crimes. According to the Sentinel, which reported this story last week, “under state code, a pesticide sprayer's responsibility to stop chemicals from drifting into other fields ends after the pesticide is applied.”

But the fog apparently carried the pesticides from fields of conventionally grown Brussels sprouts to the 120 acres of Wilder Ranch State Park that Larry Jacobs rents to grow organic herbs.

The chemicals in question are used to control cabbage moths, but their residues are not permitted on any kinds of herbs, conventional or organic. When Larry Jacobs' dill crop tested positive for the pesticide residue in December, his $500,000 crop was a total loss.

Now, the same thing has happened with his spring crop. They’re still tallying the numbers, but it surely adds up to another big loss for Jacobs.

Santa Cruz attorney Austin Comstock, who’s representing Jacobs, told the Sentinel "There's a traditional concept in Anglo-Saxon law that you use your property in a way not to damage mine. If you damage mine there's some redress there."

Sounds reasonable. But we live in an era where Monsanto can plant genetically modified crops and then, when their patented seeds are carried by the bees or the breeze to nearby organic farms, take the hapless farmer to court for stealing their product—and win. By that logic, I could sue my next door neighbor for damages because my bamboo invaded her yard (which, of course, it did--talk about broken borders, oy.)

The livelihood of both organic and conventional farmers is at stake here. Pesticides and GMOs routinely show up like uninvited Agribiz ambassadors crashing the organic garden gate, but a ban means putting the interests of organic farmers ahead of conventional crop growers.

Unlikely, yes, but there’s a hopeful precedent for Jacobs Farms in a case where herbicides that were properly applied migrated to nearby orchards and killed the trees. The orchard growers sued, and the standards were tightened.

But it makes you wonder. Can something that causes that much harm be safe to use in the first place? And if the pesticide residues from the stuff they’re using to protect Brussels sprouts from cabbage moths aren’t considered safe enough for conventional herbs, why are they OK on Brussels sprouts?

Of course, in the end, it's really a case of the People v. the Pests. But some might argue that we are the pests.

If Jacobs Farms v. Western Farm Services were a Capra film, I'd bet on Jacobs Farms. How did The Fog end, anyway? My recollection is hazy. Was it a happy ending?

Hat tip to Cookie Jill.

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