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almonds-face-packsIt’s been a while, I know. My monkey mind gets interested in other things — like making pictures from other pictures, playing with my adorable little dog, and ghost writing for famous dessert mavens —  and my own food writing dries up like parts of California. Meanwhile, I worry about almonds, and apparently I’m not the only one. All I can say is, and not for the first time, is thank God for Mark Bittman. His post in today’s New York Times follows, but first, a recipe for ABC Butter, which is about fifty times better than almond butter.

ABC Butter — Equal parts raw almonds, raw cashews, and raw Brazil nuts. You probably want to start with one cup each, to avoid overtaxing your food processor. Throw all the nuts in the hopper, cover your ears, and process until the clatter dies down and the nuts turn into a grainy paste. This will take several minutes and will test your faith in me and in your food processor, but trust me: it will all come together. I like to drizzle in a tablespoon or so of almond oil, to make it a little creamier. Decant into jars and have at it.

 

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Fear of Almonds

Mark Bittman, New York Times Contributing Op-Ed Writer

June 3, 2015

I can’t tell you how many times in the last month someone has come up to me and said something like, “Do you think I should stop eating almonds?” or “I really miss almond butter, but I just can’t bring myself to buy it anymore.”

It’s typical: We focus on a minuscule part (almonds) of a huge problem (water use in California) and see it as the key to fixing everything: If only we stopped eating almonds, the drought would end! (If only we stopped eating “carbs,” we wouldn’t be overweight.) But there are parts of the state where growing almonds makes sense. Using dry farming techniques that take advantage of residual moisture in the soil and rainfall, there is some ideal almond country in California.

Almonds are not the enemy, and the water-use problem is not going to be fixed by Americans cutting back on them. [italics mine] Or, for that matter, on the other fruits and vegetables (“Oh my God, do you know how much water it takes to grow an avocado?”) of which we don’t eat enough. It’s going to be fixed by more rational policies; by figuring out what makes sense to produce in California and what doesn’t; by at least a partial return to regional agriculture; and — get ready for this — by more expensive food.

Nor is this elitist: More expensive food is more rationally priced food in a world where we stop cheating on environmental and labor costs. Spending under 10 percent of our income on food makes no sense, and yet that’s average for people in this country.bittman-circular-thumbLarge-v4

We can afford to pay the actual price of our food, a noticeable but slight difference for most of us. And if you worry about the effect of fairly priced food on those Americans who experience food insecurity, then join me in working to raise their wages, or in fighting for better subsidies for real food.

Whether driven by market forces or government regulation or — as is virtually guaranteed — by a combination of the two, water prices are going to go up. This is especially true in California, where some water is free or nearly so, and therefore is predictably going scarce. A more accurate term than “drought” might be “a shortage of water caused by misuse.”

Since agriculture uses something like 80 percent of the water in the state, as water becomes scarcer — and as we acknowledge that, and behave as if it’s scarcer — it’s going to become more expensive. And because such a significant fraction of our food is produced in California, problems for California agriculture are problems for all of us.

You can’t grow food without water, so planting crops that can thrive with less means that production of food that needs lots will shift to places with a more bountiful supply. We may import some foods to try to make up the difference, but it’s likely that the prices of those foods will rise also.

Just as using less water for food (“more crop per drop”) is imperative — as many prevailing irrigation techniques waste water — using less California land for agriculture is an option. Further, using the remaining viable agricultural land for foods that we should be eating more of makes perfect sense. How do we get to that place?

What would benefit the general population in the short term? Certainly not an avoidance of almonds, which are about as healthy and “natural” a food as most of us eat. What would rational water use look like? Or, more to the point, what might happen in California, and what might its impact be elsewhere?

Next up is more expensive water, and in many cases a marked increase in the price of foods that use the most: Meat and dairy, by far the thirstiest agricultural products because they’re so high up on the food chain. (Plants such as spinach and almonds “eat” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, minerals from soil, and water; livestock drink water directly, but also eat grains, oilseeds and forage that require lots of water to grow.)

factory_farmFor a variety of reasons, beef prices have steadily increased in recent years, and consumption has steadily dropped. Dairy is a bit more complicated, but Americans continue to drink less milk. Neither of these products is intrinsically “bad,” although production techniques involving animal concentration camps and industrial processing make them less desirable. The point is that as water prices increase, the prices of these products are also likely to rise. Given that California currently produces about a fifth of the country’s milk supply, and a great deal of beef, that’s going to have a profound impact.

There may be a blessing in disguise here, though to see it we have to put affordability aside for a moment. As the price of industrially produced dairy and beef goes up, foods produced more traditionally and in regions where water is not so scarce will become relatively less expensive.

In short, the playing field will level out for more sustainable production methods. If we can make dairy production more profitable in the Northeast and see more grass-fed beef ranging throughout the rest of the country, we’ll have a higher-quality product and we’ll undoubtedly eat less of it.

That will relieve some of the pressure on California water, and allow the state to do what it does best: Raise fruits and vegetables, of which we should be eating more. Yes, including almonds.

abc

I thought I invented ABC Butter, but no. I’m not sure The Jolly Beetroot did either, but she has a lovely blog and I hope she doesn’t mind my reusing her photo. Perhaps my fondness has Australian roots.

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Tonight, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address. The wise and compassionate Mark Bittman, of the New York Times, has some suggestions for him in today’s piece, Let’s Address the State of Food.bittman-circular-thumbLarge-v4

  • Call for a minimum wage of $15.00, because “there are no hungry people with money.”
  • Establish a national food policy, because “the issues that confront most Americans directly are income, food (thereby, agriculture), health and climate change.”

 

These are all related: You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture, you can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything. (It’s one of the keys to war, too, because large-scale agriculture is dependent on control of global land, oil, minerals and water.)

  • Defend SNAP, “because as usual the program is under siege — despite the fact that the number of people eligible for food stamps has not declined during the so-called economic recovery, which has been largely meaningless for the vast majority of Americans.
  • Defend the Child Nutrition Act, “because by positively influencing eating patterns in young people you positively influence them for life.”

 

Bittman quotes Michael Pollan on what he’d like to hear from President Obama tonight. All he has to do is recite this paragraph…

I am expanding the portfolio of my new senior policy adviser for nutrition policy, Deb Eschmeyer, to encompass all the policy areas that food touches: agriculture, nutritional health and environmental health. She will be charged with harmonizing our policies across these three areas, so that, for example, our agricultural policies contribute not just to the prosperity of American farmers but to the health of our people and the land.”

A person can dream. When awake, click on this interactive “map the meal” map created by Feeding America to see what hunger looks like in your community. In 2012, almost 2 million Pennsylvanians were food insecure, 49 million in the nation.Check out this interactive "map the meal" map created by Feeding America. In 2012, almost 2 million Pennsylvanians were food insecure.

 

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My heart took a dive recently when I was asked to speak on the subject of humility, because humility, at least how I understood it as of a few weeks ago, was just about dead last on my list of favorite things. It was altogether too closely associated with bowing and scraping and making oneself pitiful. With not taking credit where credit is due, like women of my generation who were taught to say “oh gosh, it was nothing” of a towering achievement that might have been months or years in the making. And with unattainable role models like Gandhi, with his skinny little butt wrapped in diaper.

Humility is confusing. Definitions are often contradictory and there are a lot of associations floating around about it, a lot of feelings. And to complicate matters further, there’s a sense that we’re supposed to have a measure of it, but not too much. Like pride, and vitamin D. (Pride is confusing too, but on the whole it tends to be celebrated in our culture. It’s The Few, the Proud, not the Few, the Humble.)

imgres-2I looked first to metaphor and came up with Humble Pie. It seemed like a pleasant coincidence that this central image revolved around one of my truly favorite things, food.

Humble Pie, according to Miriam Webster, is “a figurative serving of humiliation usually in the form of a forced submission, apology, or retraction.” We eat humble pie. Etymologically speaking this is a bit off, for the term probably derives from umble pie, made from deer organs, and though that would not be my cup of tea, umble pie doesn’t necessarily connote forced submission.

But notice how potent are the food metaphors around humility, the images mirroring how being proven wrong is hard to swallow. “Eating humble pie” is the least of it. A stronger version is “eat crow,” like the carrion bird. There’s “eat dirt,” “eat your hat,” and of course the still stronger version, eat you-know-what. All of these refer to something awful we do to ourselves to demonstrate just how wrong we really are.

imagesWe could go further here and note the sexual analog – go you-know-what – but what I’d like to point out is how seamlessly we’ve slipped from humility to humiliation. We routinely conflate the two in our culture. They’re just four letters apart and share a certain bowed-head visual. A certain feeling of “less than” or “lower than.” The Oxford Dictionary concurs by defining humility as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance,” and offering meekness, diffidence, and unassertiveness as synonyms.

So let’s tease them apart, shall we – humility and humiliation – and maybe come up with an understanding of what humility really is, and how to live a life of humility that doesn’t have us facedown on the pavement.

Humiliation is a violation of one’s humanity that all too often involves nasty transgressions to the body – whether self-inflicted, as in eating humble pie or swearing allegiance to a god not your own on pain of death – or inflicted upon someone less powerful than the person doing the inflicting. Let me just remind us what we did to prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Humility on the other hand – whatever it is – is somehow a genuine virtue, and indeed one of the top seven – chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility – that stand in opposition to the seven deadly sins. “True humility,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I guess. But what the heck does it mean, and is it even relevant in the 21st century?

Usage peaked in 1830, declining since then to a mere trickle. These days, humility is mostly the province of religious and ethical circles, where it refers to one’s relationship to God, God’s purpose, and God’s power to fix what’s broken. In Catholic theology, humility is considered the foundation of the spiritual life because it subjects reason and will to God. Indeed, virtually every religion in the world counsels humility before a vastly greater power. So does the Alcoholics Anonymous program that has saved the lives of some of my best friends. The twelve steps begin —

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Aheirloomsnd so on. This is powerful stuff, but aside from religious and spiritual practices, the secular world does little more than give lip service to humility. It’s quaint – a musty antique wrapped in a dishcloth and smelling faintly of white pepper. It’s supposed to be valuable, like Aunt Marion’s china, but we have no clue what it is or what it’s worth.

To the contrary, we value bold individualism, aggression and achievement. We Built That, right? The Few, the Proud. The Greatest Nation on Earth. Where fortune favors the strong, humility is seen as weak, even pathetic.

But humility isn’t pathetic and it isn’t weak. In the work I’ve done recently to understand it, I’ve come to appreciate humility as a fine thing, subtle, necessary, and a great relief. Let me propose a paradigm shift in the way we understand humility. Not as a hierarchical, two-dimensional relationship, with one party down and the other up, but spherical, as it were – where we stand in relation to all that is.

Look at that [pale blue] dot,” writes Carl Sagan. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

palebluedotHarsh, yes, but oddly comforting in that it gives us no choice but to admit we are very, very small and not terribly important. Sagan is not all that different from my husband, who, when I asked him how he understood humility, lifted his cocktail glass and said, “Knowing that we are but a pimple on the ass of time.”

Then I asked my 25-year-old son, Sam, who is given to occasional bouts of colossal arrogance, but is also a student of philosophy who reads Plato in Greek and poses questions at the dinner table along the lines of “What is friendship?” That stuff can send you down the rabbit hole faster than you can say Alice in Wonderland, but I asked nonetheless.

Sam said that humility was knowing one’s worth – not conceited or arrogant, and likewise not too self-deprecating, but just right, like little bear’s porridge. Harder than it sounds, to be sure – and it does beg the question of how worth is determined – but I like how it evokes the sense of knowing one’s place, not in humiliation, like a slave, but balanced in the big, round scheme of things.

I consulted at last the font of wisdom, and so help me it all clicked into place. “Humility,” says Wikipedia, “is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others – or conversely, having a clear perspective and respect for one’s place in context.” And here all this time I’d been thinking of it only in the former sense, of lowering oneself in relation to others – and that, either to do it myself or see it done, I could not abide.

But once I made the shift – from humility as “less than” to humility as “in place” – then things started clicking. I began to notice all the ways it showed up.

ferguson-protestsLike many, I felt angry and bewildered by the lack of accountability for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but as I saw the thousands of people streaming into the streets in communities throughout the country, and staying there for days on end, I had to recognize that though I might be sympathetic, and I have a pretty decent imagination, I also have what is often referred to as “white privilege” – the license, the freedoms, the opportunities I take for granted as a Caucasian. I am humbled by the courage I see in those communities and by the fact that I cannot not truly know what it’s like to be a young black man in 21st century America.

I’m also humbled by the recognition that I do not understand what motivates people to go shoot up the offices of a French satirical magazine, or kidnap Nigerian schoolgirls, or blow up an abortion clinic. Trust me, I feel perfectly at liberty to hate them and what they do – the failure of my imagination does not preclude taking a position – but I am not so puffed up that I can’t see that something motivates these folks, even though I don’t understand what it is.

As a matter of fact, there’s a lot I don’t understand – like financial derivatives, or string theory, or how to knit – and I’m OK with that.

I am humbled by yoga, and not just in the classes where everyone else is 40 years younger than I am. I like to think of myself as strong, so I have walked into many a class thinking “I can do this, I can prop myself up on an elbow with one leg wrapped around my tricep and the other leg pointed at the ceiling” … and walked out with my back pinched and my shoulders in agony. Needless to say, this is no way to practice yoga. “Remember again,” says my teacher, and so every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday I go back to square one.

I am humbled by history – by those who suffered so I could vote, by those who took terrible risks so I could be free from disease, by everyone who had and still has the courage to bring forth another child into this terrifying world.

I am humbled by birth and by death, by seeing myself getting older and my kids grow up and away, and knowing that sooner or later, I will turn into compost and live only in the memory of a few people who themselves will eventually be forgotten.

Maybe it’s a choice. Maybe it’s a fragment of wisdom I’ve come to later in life. But I find all this comforting. “There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart,” wrote Saint Augustine, and so help me, I think he was right. It’s such a relief not to be in charge of everything! All that striving to be important and relevant and sure of one’s opinions, all that pretending you’re doing it all yourself, without help – that’s exhausting. I’m not one who believes that God has a plan for me, but I’m relieved nevertheless to sink into my comfy little nook in the universal web of all existence.

We’re really dealing with two questions here. The first is what humility is, and the second, and to me more compelling question is how to practice it, day after day. How are we to understand our own self worth and our place in context, and understanding all that, how are we supposed to put one foot in front of the other?

Carl Sagan answers the question in terms of the pale blue dot. “To me, [the distant image of our tiny world] underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

imgres-4To me, the deeper answer is gratitude, the handmaiden of humility. Let’s circle back to food. It’s always my touchstone. I was given a little book for Christmas called How to Eat, by Thich Nhat Hanh, the wonderful Buddhist spiritual leader.

In some traditions, monastics want to take their minds off food and focus on the virtues of a spiritual life. In my tradition, we do the opposite. We just focus on the food. We see the food as the cosmos. In the Catholic tradition, in the Eucharist, you see the piece of bread as the body of Jesus. In the Buddhist tradition, we see the piece of bread as the body of the cosmos. Everything is there. When you chew it mindfully, without thinking, you can see very well all that the piece of bread contains. That is why, when you take a bite of the bread and chew it mindfully, you are truly in communion with all of life.

Itadakimasu, yo. That’s the name of this blog and the special prayer Japanese people say before each meal, a blessing not only of the food but an expression of thanks to the sun, the rain and the fertile earth, to the farmers, the plants and the animals, to the truckers who drive our food to market, the shopkeepers, the cooks, and those who do the dishes. It is humility and gratitude all wrapped into one little tongue twister.images-1

Say it out loud: EE-TA-DA-KEE-MA-su. Say it loud and clear, with equal emphasis on each syllable until that last little su, which slip in like the shadow of an S. When you say it, imagine yourself as if from a far-away cosmic camera, sitting wherever you are, peering into your screen, maybe about to go have a snack. Imagine yourself as the precious little pixels you are, your tiny body poised to take in cookies, say, made from Nebraskan wheat, the carbon dioxide you exhale wafting out to the ozone hole, beyond which you can see beautiful ringed Saturn and the edges of the Milky Way. And beyond that, maybe 100 billion galaxies, where stars vastly bigger than our sun are being born right this minute. And beyond that – well, just the last decade, astrophysicists have figured out that all planetary and star stuff, all that so-called normal matter, is less than five percent of the universe, the rest being composed of dark matter and dark energy, about which we know almost nothing.

May you be humbled and grateful for your place in the universe and at table. It’s just right.IMG_1590

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Yep, this is something different. I’ve been thinking about how to step up the frequency of my posts and my interactions with you, dear reader, perhaps by folding in news and/or commentary that interests me. This post, printed verbatim from The Atlantic, is such an experiment.

3d_hc_savethedate_mergedI have known and admired Jen Doll for many years, starting back in the aughts when we were members of writing group known as the Jane Street Workshop, led by the phenomenal Alexandra Shelley. (Among our illustrious alumni is Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, and I can attest that both she and Jen are as smart and kind and important as you would imagine.) imagesJen writes for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, and other with-in pubs, and in May 2014, published her first book, the hilarious and moving, Save The Date, The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest.

The following piece caught my eye in a recent issue of The Atlantic, which of course I now read cover to cover. Because my daughter. It reminded me of the fatigue that overcomes me in a pretentious restaurant or grocery store like, say, Whole Foods — and of the glorious meals my husband and I ate at a teeny tiny restaurant called Fuji, on a narrow back street in East Osaka, Japan, where  all it took to get the seven-course meal of the day (for approximately $4.50) was to nod with the politeness of a foreigner with limited language skills, hold up two fingers, and say, “futatsu kudasai,” which means, “two, please.” Thank you, Jen!

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In 1919 the Hotel Pennsylvania, in New York, opened its first restaurant, with offerings notable for their descriptive simplicity: “lamb,” “potatoes: boiled,” and so on. Nearly 100 years later, the Statler Grill, one of the hotel’s current restaurants, offers updated takes, from a “lollipop Colorado lamb chop” to “buttered mashed potatoes (Idaho potatoes with butter & a touch of cream, whipped to perfection).”

You needn’t be a linguist to note changes in the language of menus, but Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky has written a book doing just that. In The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, Jurafsky describes how he and some colleagues analyzed a database of 6,500 restaurant menus describing 650,000 dishes from across the U.S. Among their findings: fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf). Jurafsky writes that “every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents in the price of that dish.” Compared with inexpensive restaurants, the expensive ones are “three times less likely to talk about the diner’s choice” (your way, etc.) and “seven times more likely to talk about the chef’s choice.”

Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like delicious,  flaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words. Thomas Keller’s Per Se, after all, would never use fresh—that much is taken for granted—but Subway would. Per Se does, however, engage in the trendy habit of adding provenance to descriptions of ingredients (Island Creek oysters, Frog Hollow’s peaches). According to Jurafsky, very expensive restaurants “mention the origins of the food more than 15 times as often as inexpensive restaurants.

Not that the signature elements of a fancy menu are likely to stay exclusive. Food terms—like food trends—have a way of traveling full circle, from rarefied to mainstream to passé and back again. Take the word macaroni, which rich Americans originally borrowed from Italy. In 1900, Jurafsky explains, it was found mainly on high-end menus but “slowly became more and more common,” ending up the purview of all-night diners. Until, that is, top chefs began reclaiming mac and cheese, mixing in delicacies like truffles, or, in the case of Keller’s deconstructed version, lobster.

Already, provenance-oriented menu language is spreading outward from the finer restaurants to the Subways and Applebee’s of the world. The first franchise to take provenance seriously was Chipotle, says the food developer Barb Stuckey. (“They’ve always menued Niman Ranch pork.”) Now some McDonald’s burgers are served not on “buns” but on “artisan rolls,” and TGI Fridays boasts of “vine-ripened tomatoes.”

In turn, high-end food purveyors may head in a different direction. “As this stuff trickles down, the rich need a way to be different again,” says Jurafsky, who notes the burgeoning menu trend of extreme minimalism, seen at the Michelin-starred San Francisco spot Saison, where the set price starts at $248 and the menu comes after the meal, as a souvenir. In some ways, this is “a return to 200 years ago, when you’d say, ‘Give me dinner,’ and they’d just give you what they’d cooked,” Jurafsky says.

Imagine what this could do for the speed of the drive-through lane.

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I am depressed about Soylent. Maybe it’s the future, in which case I’d like to check out right now. I know it’s not a joke because the New Yorker just gave it 6,000 words, about ten times more than the average parody, and because to my kids, with their ears ever tuned to the media, it’s old news. It is old news, another meal-in-a-bottle, another miracle powder offering a shortcut to longevity, but this time with traction.

In case you haven’t heard, Soylent is a powdered blend purported to contain all the nutrients needed to sustain human life, and it tastes, when mixed with water, like a cross between Cream of Wheat and Metamucil. To quote the website Soylent.me (“Free Your Body”):140512_r25001_p233

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.

People are buying and drinking the stuff as we speak. The New Yorker calls it The End of Food, and that’s what really has me in a tailspin. In the beginning, writes Lizzie Widdicombe, three young men were living in a small San Francisco apartment, working on a technology startup that wasn’t going well.

They had been living mostly on ramen, corn dogs, and Costco frozen quesadillas — supplemented by Vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy — but the grocery bills were still adding up. Rob Rhinehart, one of the entrepreneurs, began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all. “Food was such a large burden.” 

imgresRight off the bat, I’m deep in cognitive dissonance. I understand anxiety about the cost of food, and the tiredness at the end of the day that leaves no room for meal prep. Not everyone enjoys tearing cilantro leaves off the stem one at a time, but resentment that one has to eat at all speaks of an alienation from all I hold sacred.

I also understand that feeding the world’s population is a whopping big problem we’re far from solving. One in six Americans are “food insecure” — millions of hard-working people, children and seniors who can’t always make ends meet and have to choose to go without food. According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, upwards of 850 million people worldwide are suffering from chronic hunger. But let’s face it — 850 million people are not going to pony up $70/month for 21 pouches of unpronounceable ingredients.

Meanwhile, the methods we use to produce food on a large scale are ruinous. We spray pesticides on our fruits and vegetables like there’s no tomorrow, and now, according to a new study published in the journal Nature, rising carbon dioxide emissions are making staple food crops less nutritious. As for meat, “the present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable,” understates Robert Martin, Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, “and presents an unprecedented level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise as food.”

Big, big problems, but Soylent?Soylent_green

The product is not, the company hastens to explain, ha ha, made of ground up humans as in the dystopian 1973 film. Scanning for additional word associations, I come up with soy, the tarnished workhorse of vegetable proteins, soil, about which enough said in an eating context, and lent — when Christians give things up. None of this is compelling.

Everybody suggested changing the name, Rhinehart told Widdicome. “Investors, media people, my mom.” But he liked the self-deprecating nature of the name, and the way it poked fun at foodie sensibilities:

“The general ethos of natural, fresh, organic, bright—this is the opposite.”

I’m not the only one in distress. Return of Kings blogger Pill Scout thinks that Rob Rhinehart is An Idiot — “a beta nerd and software developer with a clear bent for transhumanism and science fantasy. Nobody should be eating what he calls food.” Here, precisely, is what he calls food:

Complete-Soylent-Nutrition-Facts

 

 

Soylent, argues Rhinehart, is quick, cheap, nutritious, environmentally friendly (huh?) and “easier than food.” Because, as VICE blogger Monica Heisey explains,


0d778175af2eb31dadaff639b02cab84_vice_670You know what’s a complete waste of time, money, and effort? Eating. I mean, wouldn’t you rather just ingest a tasteless form of sustenance for the rest of your life and never have to go through that tedious rigmarole of opening and eating a premade sandwich or feasting on a pile of fried delicacies ever again?

 

Seriously. I mean, we could probably fit a couple of 27-inch iMacs in the space currently occupied by the dining room table, not to mention the kitchen. We could rent that sucker out. Sex is free, but, good grief, what a lot of time gets wasted getting down to business! Rhinehart tips his hand on that score.

Soylent is definitely a permanent part of my diet. Right now I only eat one or two conventional meals a week, but if I had any money or a girlfriend, I would probably eat out more often. 

In other words, if he had a life. Can you imagine Thanksgiving with no feast? Birthdays with no cake? Celebrations with no clinking of glasses filled with tasty spirits? What about give us this day our daily bread, even if it is gluten free? What about joy? Delight? Satisfaction?

No, I say. No to Soylent, yes to life.

We are most likely not, those of us within range of this post, suffering from chronic hunger. Due to the accident of our birth, we are among the luckiest people on the planet insofar as we have a roof over our head and enough to eat, so please — because we can — give us this day our crunchy toast, slathered with thick fig jam. Give us our basil, snipped from the potted plant on the windowsill, and the weird-ass durian we hacked open in the driveway for fear of the stench. Give us the harissa-spiced chickpeas with olives and raisins we prepared for the graduation party and the sweet, fresh pear whose juices still drip down our chin in a memory of childhood in Detroit.

Please? And thank you.IMG_5537

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My husband keeps a little notebook in the kitchen drawer in which he records the abundant malapropisms we hear in the course of our days. “It’s a mute point,” for example, “sleep depravity,” and “best to nip it in the butt,” which strikes me as the right thing to do with sleep depravity. My favorite — and the title of this long overdue post — comes from an engineer at Bill’s work who, startled by an unexpected suggestion, furrowed his young brow, clicked his automatic pencil a couple of times and said, “Hmm, that’s food to think about.”photo 3











I’ve been thinking about food more than usual for the past several months, thanks especially to my daughter Alexandra. She is my inspiration in the kitchen and on the interwebs, and will be yours too if you check out her stuff on Instagram and Tumblrphoto 4

For me, it started when Alexandra urged me to watch the documentary film, Forks Over Knives, which “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.” I never have eaten much processed food, but I do like my Loch Duart salmon and brown butter double chocolate chip cookies. I like going out to nice restaurants and over to friends’ houses for dinner, and Thanksgiving feasts with the extended family, and cupcake parties with the neighborhood girls. Also — having lived through (if not subscribed to) the macrobiotic 1960s, the Stillman 1970s, the Scarsdale 1980s, the Atkins 1990s, and the Rachel Rays, Cupcake Wars, Iron Chefs, Paleos, and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives of the oughts and beyond — I feel as if 1) I’ve seen it all, 2) most is nonsense, and 3) life is way to short to be doctrinaire.

 

photo 4That said, I’m a happy convert to a plant-based diet. It may be no more sound than the latest eyewear trend in hippest Brooklyn, but I don’t think so. There’s solid science behind it, including the massive China Study, plus Michael Pollan’s wise counsel to “eat [real] food, mostly plants, not too much.” I prefer the term “plant-based” to “vegan,” though it amounts to the same thing: fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, no meat or dairy. It spares me direct complicity in the horrors of concentrated animal feeding operations (aka CAFOs), helps me save on groceries, dramatically improves my digestion, and makes me feel good.

Here’s what breakfast looks like:

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Overnight oats with chocolate, chia and berries, fresh fruit and carrot juice

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Beet-banana smoothie with 4-5 frozen bananas, a good chunk of roasted beet, fresh ginger, blackstrap molasses and water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch:

Veggie sushi, veggie bowl

Spicy sweet potato soup with cashew cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner:

Tacos with black rice, white beans, salsa, purple cabbage and cilantro with caramelized plantains

 

Mushroom ragu over polenta

 

 

 

 

 

Now tell me that doesn’t look fabulous. There’s a lot more I want to share with you, but as you may have noticed I’ve had some trouble being reliable about blogging. That’s another new leaf to turn over, along with the kale: to write more often. Are you with me?

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Loose Ends

photoIt’s been a long time, I know. We haven’t spoken since Rob and Sharon got married, she with the diamonds on the soles of her shoes. Turns out my friend Karen is the “rich girl” in the song, but that’s another story. My phone is bulging with photos of food, and my mind keeps haphazard watch over an evolving list of topics — pork fennel dumplings in Toronto, our neighbor’s garden, Passover, fat flushing, sweet spinach pie, planning ahead, forks, Costco, etcetera, etcetera. People have asked, what’s with the blog? I’ll get to it, I say. I want to feel inspired. My son charitably describes me as “more of a writer than a blogger,” thus attempting to transpose my unreliability into something lofty. I’ll take it, but it’s bogus. Like eating too much being OK if you’re wearing elastic waist pants.

I hoped to burst back on the scene with a clever post — wise, witty and well documented. But I am at loose ends, so we’ll talk about that.

Being “at loose ends,” describes a vaguely unhappy sort of restlessness, an inability to dig in to things that need doing (paying bills, painting the bathroom trim) or even things that in another mood I would like to do (reading old New Yorkers, trying out a new recipe, blogging) threaded with guilt about not doing those things. Perhaps you know what I mean. It will pass, but there’s a stickiness here in the midst of it such that unpleasant sensations attach to each other like circus elephants holding trunk to tail in a long, disspiriting chain.images

People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

I am at loose ends for a slew of reasons, first world problems but still. As usual, it’s a combination of intimate disconnects — feeling cut off from the people and activities that sustain me — and impotent distress about things over which I have no control, such as the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent week of drama, the Senate’s inaction on background checks. Fill in the blanks.IMG_2899

Closer to home, my work is spotty, my freelance clients wrapping up projects or on hold or on vacation or on to another freelancer. My darling daughter (in the yellow dress) is in the throes of her last semester of college and so stressed that she had to say, “Mommy, I love your emails but will you hold them for a couple of weeks?” I send her goat cheese and gluten-free Larabars by express mail, but hold the messages. My son has decided to go to grad school in Austin, Texas, and while I’m fantastically proud and happy for him — and Bill reminds me that we’ve been working toward this since the moment he was born, gradually taking down the parental scaffolding — Austin feels like a very, very long way away.

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Waaa! Nobody needs me! 

Meanwhile, a girl has to eat.

Comfort food is called for, but real comfort food requires a degree of intentionality I don’t have when I’m at loose ends. Macaroni and cheese, for example. You need the mac and the cheese and the better part of an hour to do it justice, and there I days when I have none of those on hand, so I graze on almonds and chocolate chips.photo (2)

Wiser folk, like my sister-in-law Joan, make chicken soup. She brought some over the other day in a Greek yogurt container, wrapped like a Japanese present in a beautiful embroidered tea towel from Williams Sonoma. All I had to do was heat it up in a bowl. Warmth and the bowl are key.photo

I’m feeling better now, so undertaking to tea-smoke chicken in the grill. Here’s the smoke packet: with equal proportions Russian Caravan tea (smoky, like Lapsang Souchong), uncooked rice and brown sugar, plus star anise, five-spice powder, and orange zest. We shall see. I think I’ll serve it with black rice and coconut-sesame sauce, in a bowl.

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P.S. The smoking was a bit of a fail. The air smelled nice around the grill while I pulled weeds from the patio, and in the end the tea-and-spice packet was satisfyingly toasted, but the chicken, though juicy, didn’t have the slightest hint of smoke or orange or anise. So I juiced the orange into coconut milk with a splash of Siracha for a sauce and all was well. photo

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