Eating Liberally Blog

Eating Liberally Blog

WHAT’S AT FAULT FOR ALL THE FAT: FOOD STAMPS, OR FARM SUBSIDIES?

“The obesity crisis could be the fault of liberal government,” Rush Limbaugh declared the other day, referring to the study that showed the states with the highest poverty rates also had the highest levels of obesity.

Food stamps, he says, are “killing the poor with too much food.” Not-so-subtle subtext: Please Don’t Feed the Animals.

It’s easy to dismiss Limbaugh as an Oxycontin-addled, bovine blowhard, but I’d rather not stoop to name-calling, and besides, it’s an insult to cows.

I guess it’s true that if you took food stamps away from the poor people who rely on them, they would lose weight by virtue of going hungry. But don’t you wonder how it’s possible for the poorest among us to become so obese in the first place?

The culprit is farm subsidies, not food stamps. As Michael Pollan observed in the Nation recently:

…crop subsidies (which are designed to encourage overproduction rather than to help farmers by supporting prices) are the reason that the cheapest calories in an American supermarket are precisely the unhealthiest. An American shopping for food on a budget soon discovers that a dollar buys hundreds more calories in the snack food or soda aisle than it does in the produce section. Why? Because the farm bill supports the growing of corn but not the growing of fresh carrots. In the midst of a national epidemic of diabetes and obesity our government is, in effect, subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup.

In New York City, we’ve got progressive politicians like City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez trying to address the problem; Quinn recently launched a program to make it easier for people to use their food stamps at farmers’ markets. “We’re working to make sure that all New Yorkers have access to fresh, nutritious foods,” she told the NY Times while touring a downtown Brooklyn Greenmarket.

And Velazquez, who represents parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Lower East Side, recently introduced the Bodegas as Catalysts for Healthy Living Act, which, if enacted, “would mark the first federal effort to target the issue of food quality and availability in the nation’s low-income communities,” according to City Limits Weekly.

As for Rush Limbaugh’s wingnutty allegation that the obesity epidemic is a liberally manufactured crisis, you might as well argue that it’s a right-wing plot to kill the poor by drowning them in partially-hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup. It’s not, is it?

WEDNESDAY GREENMARKET BLOGGING

Here’s today’s bounty from the Union Square Greenmarket: romaine lettuce, bell peppers, cucumbers, and a couple of novelties: a handful of black heirloom soybeans, and a Kiwano horned melon.

You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that romaine lettuce is one of the ten most nutritious vegetables. A chart accompanying a recent Wall Street Journal article, “More Reasons to Eat Your Veggies,” claims that a two-cup serving of romaine lettuce provides 60% of the RDA of vitamin A. If that doesn’t melt the market for iceberg lettuce, I don’t know what will.

Bell peppers also made the list; they contain lots of vitamins A & C, B6, folic acid, and lycopene. But bell peppers are on another list, too; the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” the twelve fruits and vegetables you should try to buy organic if you can, because they’re the most likely to be contaminated by pesticides.

EWG’s website offers a handy wallet-sized “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” that you can print out, which also lists the twelve least contaminated fruits and veggies, including avocados, bananas, and mangoes.

I’d never seen fresh black soybeans at the farmers’ market before, but I do know that dried black soybeans are far superior to yellow ones. According to Lorna Sass, author of The New Soy Cookbook, “…black soybeans (are) in a class of their own. At their best, these elegant ebony beans have a taste reminiscent of chestnuts and a texture so creamy…”

And as Peter Berley writes in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, “Black soybeans are one of my favorite beans. They have a nutty sweetness unlike any other bean…”

Once you’ve tasted them, you’ll never buy their bland, pale cousins again. And anytime a recipe calls for regular ol’ black beans, you can use black soybeans instead.

As for the Mikano horned melon, it’s not a melon at all, but rather a member of the cucumber family. You could really hurt someone if you hurled one of these things at high velocity.

Apparently it’s a gelatinous gooey mess inside, full of edible seeds and tasting like a cross between cucumber, lemon, lime, and banana. I put it in my fruit bowl so I could admire it, but then I remembered that spikey things are bad feng shui. Guess we’d better eat it sooner rather than later.

NEXT TUESDAY: A PRIMARY TIME TO CHOW DOWN & RISE UP!

Eating Liberally’s NY chapter invites you to join us once again for good grub and great gab with your netroots neighbors next Tuesday, September 12th, from 6:30 to 8:30 in the backyard at Rudy’s, 627 9th Avenue (bet. 44th st. & 45th st.)

Tuesday is, of course, Primary Day here in New York, so don’t forget to swing by your polling place and cast your vote before you drop in to Rudy’s. Otherwise, you’ll get no dessert.

MORE FELONS THAN FARMERS

Plenty of Americans are picking up hoes and putting them to work, but, alas, not the horticultural kind.

“It’s a little known fact that there are now more people incarcerated in the United States than there are full-time farmers,” Brian Halweil told NPR’s Ira Flatow recently . Halweil is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute and author of Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket.

According to Halweil, the number of farms in the U.S. has plummeted over the last century from about 10 million to under two million.

Meanwhile, all those seeds of social inequality we’ve sown over the years have yielded a bumper crop of criminals. When it comes to manufacturing miscreants, we’re number one, with the highest incarceration rates in the world.

So why not convert the cons to Farmer Johns? There are prison garden projects springing up all over the country that aim to do just that.

James Jiler, founder of the Greenhouse Project, a horticultural job-training program for male and female inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island, has a book coming out in October entitled Doing Time in the Garden: Life Lessons through Prison Horticulture. According to the publisher, New Village Press:

This is the first comprehensive guide to creating in-prison and post-release horticultural training programs. Author James Jiler combines an engaging personal account of running a highly successful horticultural vocation program at the largest jail complex in the United States, with a practical guide to starting and managing prison and re-entry gardening programs.

I hope all those prisons being built all over the country allocate some acreage to the kind of projects Jiler proposes; it sounds like a first-rate way to give the underclass a second chance.

HOLY OLBERMANN!

Lo and behold, it was as if Edward R. Murrow had risen from the dead. Olbermann’s righteous fury at Donald “Just Enough Troops to Lose” Rumsfeld’s attack on those who dare question our military misadventure in Iraq was nothing short of miraculous in this era of jaded journalism. As the Guardian noted:

What feels remarkable about this is not that most Americans would agree with Olbermann's take on the Bush administration, but because just a couple of years ago this kind of talk would have been considered not just unpatriotic but heretical. People have been saying these things for quite some time, but rarely have such views received airtime in anything approaching the mainstream media.

Olbermann's ratings are low but growing rapidly (by more than 30% among the 25-54 age group in the last quarter). For with polls showing a solid and significant majority in favour of either immediate withdrawal or a timetable for it, the mainstream of the American public has been waiting a long time for the media to catch up. Finally that time seems to be arriving.

Let the wingnuts call him a “nutroots messiah.” I say the man’s a saint. But then, I worship Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

WILL CALIFORNIA CLEAN UP WITH CLEAN TECH?

Arnold Schwarzeneggar showed he knows which way the wind’s blowing when he announced this week that he would sign a bill sponsored by Democrats that would catapult California to the front of the climate change class.

“California is positioning itself to become the hub of a new clean energy economy based on solar energy, ethanol and other renewable fuels," Bernadette del Chiaro of Environment California, a Sacramento-based group, told Time magazine. "These will be the next Silicon Valley industries for California to export to the rest of the world."

Venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs are betting that “clean tech” solutions to the global warming crisis will prove golden for the Golden State. And they’re not the only ones forecasting a biofuel bonanza:

A recent study by economists at the University of California, Berkeley projects that the law, by spurring more efficient industrial machinery, energy saving appliances and renewable energy sources, could boost the state's economy by more than $60 billion, creating as many as 89,000 jobs, by 2020. Even the electricity industry, one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, is not entirely against the law; the state's largest investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric declared that it "strikes the right balance between improving the environment and protecting the economy."

Of course, the usual fossilized fossil fuel interests are vehemently opposed to the measure, warning of catastrophic consequences to California’s economy and citizens. I would have thought the drastic drought devastating the state’s farmers was already pretty catastrophic, not to mention the Enron-enhanced electricity crisis of 2000 & 2001, but hey, what could undermine California’s future more than asking corporations to tackle a problem proactively?

Apparently, it’s more productive to spend millions launching legal battles to fight this kind of reckless, forward-thinking legislation. The state is already being sued by the auto industry over its landmark 2002 legislation requiring carmakers to reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gas and cut CO2 emissions for new vehicles by about 30 percent.

Only one Republican, Shirley Horton of San Diego, voted for the bill. Her colleagues apparently missed the memo that came in the form of the hottest year on record, hot enough to convince even crackpot Pat Robertson that global warming is real.

"It would do nothing to address the intended goal of global warming," said Assemblywoman Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel. "It would require California businesses (to) cut back on production at a time California is growing."
Republicans arguing against the bill Thursday said an emissions cap imposed only in California would do little to curb global emissions if companies relocated their plants to other states or countries.
Some Republicans also disputed the science behind global warming, saying disagreement persists over whether human activity is contributing to what could be a natural cycle in climate change.
"There's a substantial amount of evidence (that) any warming occurring now is a natural occurrence," said Assembly Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta.

Haynes must be a Michael Crichton fan. Crichton’s novel State of Fear, “dismisses global warming as a largely imaginary threat embraced by malignant scientists for their own ends,” according to the NY Times. The book is ''demonstrably garbage,'' Stephen H. Schneider, a Stanford climatologist, told the Times. But The American Association of Petroleum Geologists gave Crichton its annual journalism award for State of Fear this year because “it has the absolute ring of truth.'' Ah, truthiness, the right wing’s antidote to facts and their well-known liberal bias.

You’ve got to give Arnold credit for not sharing the brain-dead mindset of so many of his fellow Republicans on this issue. Schwarzenegger’s predicting that California could be “a world leader in the effort to reduce carbon emissions.”

So while our nation’s non-action hero, The Decider, flies from fundraiser to photo-op posing as a man of action, The Governator is giving a convincing portrayal of how a real leader deals with a crisis.

Now that W’s wrapped up his summer reading—wow, a Camus and three whole Shakespeares!—he could borrow a page from Arnold’s script, and read An Inconvenient Truth. At the very least, you’d think he’d be curious about the conversion of methane to biofuel, since he’s reportedly so fascinated by flatulence. Boy, I’d sure hate to be in his bubble.

MCDONALD’S GIVES HEDGEHOGS A BREAK TODAY

Hedgehogs in Britain have a habit, it seems, of sticking their sugar-craving little heads into discarded McFlurry containers to lick any leftover ice cream. Sadly, once they get their heads into the containers, they apparently can’t get them out, causing “untold numbers” of hedgehogs to die of starvation.

As of September 1st, though, McDonald’s is adopting a new McFlurry container with a smaller aperture, too small for a hedgehog’s head to get stuck in.

"This is excellent, it is long overdue news," said Fay Vass, chief executive of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. "We have been in touch with McDonald's about this problem for over five years and are delighted that they have at last solved the problem."

McDonald's said in a statement the design change had resulted from pressure from the society, which prompted "significant research and design testing" to develop new packaging.


Nice to see the Golden Arches following the Golden Rules. I love ice cream as much as the hedgehogs evidently do, but I wouldn’t want to die for it.

GRASS-FED BEEF: GETTING BIGGER & BETTER

“There is one very simple thing that everyone can do to fix the food system. Don't buy factory-farm products.” So says Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University and co-author of the book The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.

Singer, named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2005 by Time magazine, has been documenting the atrocious conditions on factory farms for more than two decades. In the current issue of the Nation, he writes:

Factory farming is not sustainable. It is also the biggest system of cruelty to animals ever devised…

…This is not an ethically defensible system of food production. But in the United States--unlike in Europe--the political process seems powerless to constrain it. The best way to fight back is to stop buying its products. Going vegetarian is a good option, and going vegan, better still. But if you continue to eat animal products, at least boycott factory farms.

So if you want to be a “conscientious carnivore,” that leaves only one choice: grass-fed meats and poultry. The reason is simple: pasture-raised meat production, which allows cows, pigs and chickens to graze outdoors, is an inherently small-scale form of farming. It’s the very antithesis of factory feedlots, the CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Grass-fed meat products are generally lower in fat and higher in omega-3’s in addition to being more humanely raised, and that’s also driving the demand for more pasture-raised products. As NY Times food writer Marion Burros reported yesterday:

...the industry has taken giant steps. When I wrote about grass-fed beef in 2002 there were about 50 producers, and most of what they raised was not very good. Now there are about 1,000 of them, and after I grilled rib-eyes from 15 producers for friends, it was clear that more of them are learning to get it right.

Cows take a lot longer to fatten up on grass than on grain—three years, in fact. But a lot of farmers can’t afford to invest that much time in their livestock, and so send their cows to slaughter before they’re fully fattened. That’s how grass-fed beef got a reputation for being tough and tasteless.

But the rising demand is making it easier for farmers to bring better pasture-raised meats to more consumers. And farmers who sell grass-fed products can get top dollar. So they’ve been lobbying the USDA to develop a certification standard to distinguish grass-fed animals from conventionally raised livestock, much like the USDA’s “organic” labels that let food producers charge a premium for their products.

The USDA, ever beholden to agribusiness, is busy formulating a definition for “grass-fed” that, as Burros reported last month, would allow “animals to be labeled grass-fed even if they never saw a pasture and were fed antibiotics and hormones.”

Of course, this is a total perversion of the whole point of labeling products grass-fed. As Dale Lasater, one of the largest grass-fed producers in the country, told Burros, it might be better to forget about government certification:

Maybe we shouldn't be fooling around with this rule…It isn't a law for us; it's for big companies. Maybe we should get our own logo that would mean what we think grass-fed means.

In this Orwellian era of “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests,” alas, it would be asking too much, apparently, for “grass-fed” to simply mean “grass-fed.”

If the USDA gets away with this, the best way to beat the cheats is, of course, to buy local. Get your pasture-raised products from the farmer who’s actually raised them. If you can’t find local grass-fed purveyors, you can find sources online at such sites as eatwild.com and eatwellguide.org, if you don’t mind wading into the murky waters of ethical eating dilemmas: you’ll be voting with your food dollars for a healthier, more humanely raised product, but how much fossil fuel does it take to get it to your plate?

Sometimes it seems like becoming a vegetarian would be the easy way out.

IT’S OFFICIAL: LIBERALS ARE LEANER

I’m no expert in the fine art of framing, but this AP story about regional obesity rates in the U.S. suggests that voting Democratic may, in fact, be an effective weight loss strategy.

Consider this--the five fattest states are decidedly red: Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky. Four of the thinnest are true blue: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont. The fifth, Colorado, is pretty much purple. The more obese states also have a far higher poverty rate than the national norm.

The numbers suggest that you’re more likely to be lean if you lean liberal. Eat your artery-clogged heart out, Karl Rove; this could be a bonanza for progressives at the polls.

I mean, people are so desperate to lose weight, they’ll try anything. Remember Olestra, the artificial fat substitute from Proctor and Gamble? Frito-Lay sold $400 million worth of potato chips containing the fake fat in 1998. Unfortunately, once word seeped out about Olestra’s propensity for causing abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and, most famously, “anal leakage,” sales went right into the toilet.

Is there a corollary here, between red state/blue state and good fat/bad fat? Being fat used to be a sign of affluence. Now it’s an indicator of poverty. Poor people pack on the pounds eating cheap fatty foods and empty carbs, but a deep fried diet doesn’t just make you fat. It’s bad for your brain, too.

Why? Because when you eat nothing but junk food, you deprive your body—and your brain--of all the nutrients, antioxidants, and other good stuff you get when you eat more wholesome, unprocessed foods. Ever wondered what’s so essential about essential fatty acids, like the omega 3’s you’ll find in salmon? Our brains need them in order to function properly. No, it’s not an old fishwives’ tale; fish really is brain food.

Wingnuts love to mock us as “sushi-loving liberals.” They’d never dream of paying extra for omega 3-enhanced eggs. And grass-fed meats? Just more propaganda from PETA.

OK, that’s fine by me. Let the red staters keep consuming their trans fat-fried taters till the corn-fed cows come home. After all, as NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof observed:

..."trans fats" are the worst kind of fat, killing far more Americans than Al Qaeda manages to…Trans fats, those nasty partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, clog up your arteries, raising bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol. They are estimated to kill 30,000 Americans annually and maybe more.

One recent study linked trans fats to diabetes and other ailments and suggested that they might cause up to 228,000 heart attacks (including nonfatal ones) each year.


But while Americans are way more likely to die from a heart attack than a terrorist attack, we’re too busy waging the war on terror to battle the bad fats.

To be fair, both parties have their share of pudgy politicos. They’ve got Dennis Hastert; we’ve got Jerry Nadler. And then there’s Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the Republican who’s half the man he was and twice the threat if he pursues his presidential ambitions with the same discipline he brought to his weight loss regimen after his doctor diagnosed him with diabetes and gave him 10 years to live.

It’s no wonder “fat cat liberal blogger” Markos told Tim Russert that Huckabee’s the candidate he’d fear the most. Scrawny vegetarian Markos is a “fat cat,” according to the RNC, because he makes an “excellent living” from his “hate-filled” blogging. Do you need any further proof that brain food’s in short supply on the right?

 

NATION TELLS NATION: WAKE UP!

Most Americans don’t even realize there’s a connection between food and politics. It gets kinda lonely up here on my virtual soapbox. So I was pretty excited to read the Nation’s food issue, in which such heavyweights as Alice Waters, Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, Peter Singer, and others weigh in on our dysfunctional food chain.

From Alice Waters:

By now it is generally conceded that the food we eat could actually be making us sick, but we still haven't acknowledged the full consequences--environmental, political, cultural, social and ethical--of our national diet.

These consequences include soil depletion, water and air pollution, the loss of family farms and rural communities, and even global warming…

…The reason that eating well in this country costs more than eating poorly is that we have a set of agricultural policies that subsidize fast food and make fresh, wholesome foods, which receive no government support, seem expensive. Organic foods seem elitist only because industrial food is artificially cheap, with its real costs being charged to the public purse, the public health and the environment.


From Jim Hightower:

In the very short span of about fifty years, we've allowed our politicians to do something remarkably stupid: turn America's food-policy decisions over to corporate lobbyists, lawyers and economists…

… these short-cut con artists have perverted the very concept of food. Rather than being both a process and product that nurtures us (in body and spirit) and nurtures our communities, food is approached by agribusiness as just another commodity that has no higher purpose than to fatten corporate profits.


From Wendell Berry:

…Most of our people, who have become notorious for the bulk of their food consumption, in fact know little about food and nothing about agriculture. Despite this ignorance, in which our politicians and intellectuals participate fully, some urban consumers are venturing into an authentic knowledge of food and food production, and they are demanding better food and, necessarily, better farming. When this demand grows large enough, our use of agricultural lands will change for the better. Under the best conditions, our land and farm population being so depleted, this change cannot come quickly. Whether or not it can come soon enough to avert hunger proportionate to our present ignorance, I do not know.

Here’s hoping we’ll see a sea change across those amber waves of grain, before they’re all contaminated by GMOs.