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Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category

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.

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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 local newspaper won’t run the Archie comic strips that include Kevin Keller, a gay character who’s been hanging out in Riverdale with Veronica and Jughead since 2010. Since this same paper serves a community fully one-third obese and thus the 10th fattest metropolitan area in the nation, I was surprised to find the following Non Sequitur sequence in my daily Section D.

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Thanks, Wiley Miller!

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Thank goodness for Mark Bittman and his large media platform. He can reach multitudes with his sensible, Yes-You-Can messages about eating well in a crazy world. Bittman recently offered up a two-step guide embedded in an essay about food policy, reprinted in full below because it seems we can’t hear it often enough. Because people still get bent out of shape when they learn you follow a plant-based diet. Suddenly everyone is a nutritionist, qualified (and entitled) to scold you about not getting enough protein, calcium, calories, whatever. They get skittish about inviting you to dinner at their house, as if you were contagious or an alien much too difficult to please. Thus, I am grateful to those with the power to normalize — and make easily accessible — what seems to me a perfectly normal way to eat. Michael Pollan, of course, has honed it to koan-like elegance. Yes you can.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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contibutors-bittman-thumbLarge-v2SAN FRANCISCO — To a large extent, you can fix the food system in your world today. Three entities are involved in creating our food choices: business (everything from farmers to PepsiCo), government (elected and appointed officials and their respective organizations) and the one with the greatest leverage, the one that you control: you.

We shouldn’t discount small farms and businesses, nor should we ignore relatively minor officials like the mayor of El Monte, Calif., who tried (and failed) to establish a soda tax to benefit public health. We do not always know where real change will come from, and certainly smaller operations may be more innovative and show us the way.

But for the most part we know where real change doesn’t come from: Big Food, the corporations that supply most of the food and stuff masquerading as food that’s sold in supermarkets, as fast food and in casual dining chains; and government, especially the federal government, which is beholden to and entranced by big business. Nothing new here.

imgresThere often seem to be more happy exceptions in industry than in government. If you look at the relatively new companies that have blazed a path for the food industry, you see, among others, Whole Foods and Chipotle. One demonstrated that supermarkets could sell better ingredients; the other opened the door to non-junkie fast food.

Neither is above criticism, and it’s possible both will be surpassed within a few years by newcomers with fresher and better ways of doing things. Still, it’s comforting to know that at least somewhere in the corners of this food system, market competition is giving opportunities to clever and even well-intentioned people to figure out how to make real money by actually providing the public with better food.

imgres-1I’m especially impressed with the way Whole Foods is innovating in the arena of labeling, gradually extending its own internal labeling system from fish to meats and now to fruits and vegetables. (As I said, though, they’re hardly above criticism.) Marketing is of course part of it, but shoppers who want to talk back to the supply chain by knowing where their food comes from don’t otherwise have a way to do that. If Whole Foods gives them what they want, then despite the “Whole Paycheck” nickname (and there’s some evidence that Whole Foods is starting to compete on price as well), those who can get there and afford it will favor it. This is progress, doing well by doing at least some good, and that can’t be said about most corporations involved in food. See, for example, the too-little-too-late attempt at transparency by McDonald’s.

We can’t rely on even well-intentioned souls in industry, but given the ball-dropping entity that is supposed to be vigilant regarding our health and welfare — the federal government — we have little choice. The legislative branch isn’t worth discussing, and leadership from the executive branch has been disappointing. Two issues could have been improved definitively in the last six years — the marketing of junk to kids and the existence of antibiotics in our food supply — and President Obama has accomplished little in either case. However stymied he may have been, we are looking at a landscape that hasn’t changed much, the exception being the improved but still hotly contested school food programs supported by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.usda-organic-scary

Even worse are the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, the last of which refuses to ban the routine use of antibiotics in animal production despite knowing that a ban is possible and desirable. It’s also dawdling on mandating an improved nutrition label on packaged food, probably because of industry taking “interest.”

We shouldn’t need to rely on Whole Foods for good labeling. Yet every day I’m asked, “How do I know that what I’m buying is O.K.?” It seems the better educated and more concerned people are about this, the more confused they are. Drill deep enough and the list to worry about becomes overwhelming: organics, genetically modified organisms, carbon footprint, packaging, fair trade, waste, labor, animal welfare and for all I know the quality of the water that’s being used to wash your organic greens.

I get this. I’m a worrier, too, though I tend to expend my neurotic energy on different topics. The overall environment means that you’re pretty much on your own if you try to eat healthfully in spite of the system, and you must take up that battle through a dozen or more decisions each day. But there are two big decisions that can put you on the right path and help you largely steer clear of antibiotics, excess sugar, unwanted chemicals, animal cruelty, and more.

Here then, is your two-step guide for an unassailably powerful personal food policy.

1. Stop eating junk and hyperprocessed food. This eliminates probably 80 percent of the stuff that is being sold as “food.”

2. Eat more plants than you did yesterday, or last year.

If you add “Cook your own food” to this list, it’s even more powerful, but these two steps alone allow you to reduce the amount of antibiotics you’re consuming; pretty much eliminate GMOs from your diet, lighten your carbon footprint; reduce your chances of becoming ill as a result of your diet; save money; cut way back on sugar, other junk and unnecessary and potentially harmful nonfood additives; and so on.

All without relying on corporate benevolence or the government getting things right. The power lies with you.

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Can’t help myself. Michele channels Lil Jon while reminding us to eat our veggies and vote.

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