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In Defense of Kitchen Gadgets

In Defense of Kitchen Gadgets →

Megan McArdle writes a very nice defense of kitchen gadgets.

If you really think that laborious food prep is that elevating, you should go back to the methods of your grandmother. Buy whole nuts and crack them by hand, picking out the meats and hoping you don't accidentally get a bit of shell. Throw out the powdered gelatin and use calf's foot jelly. Make your own confectioner's sugar with a food grinder or a rolling pin. Pluck your own chickens. Render your own lard.

If you think that doing these things would be ridiculous--which it would--then why is it ridiculous to have a machine chop your onions or make your bechamel? There's no particular reason to assume that we have reached some sort of technological plateau where the things that we happen to do by hand right now represent the best possible methods for accomplishing those tasks.

In other words, the "one knife, one pan", "I don't need kitchen gadgets" snobs aren't a better, purer sort of cook; they're just ignoring most of the contents of their kitchen. How many of them cook over an open fire, rather than using one of those high-faluting fancy stoves with their automatic temperature regulation and their electric lights? Why are they storing all their food in a cold box rather than shopping for each day, the way people do in India? Who needs a special pot for coffee when your great grandparents just boiled it up in a saucepan and settled the grinds by dropping eggshells into the resulting brew? Why own a blender instead of putting the food through a grinder and then a chinois? Wouldn't the dishes get cleaner if you boiled up water and washed them by hand? And hey, what's that toaster doing there?

Can your genes help create ‘designer’ diets?

Can your genes help create ‘designer’ diets? →

Scientists at the University of Miami are doing an interesting research project. I've wonder about this a lot recently, as I monitor what I eat and how my weight changes (especially compared the reports of others).

“I believe if we look at people at the molecular level we can improve their health,” says Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the UM Medical School. The studies question long-held beliefs about food selection and weight loss. For example, could 1,000 calories of turkey cause more weight gain in some people than 1,000 calories of cashews? If so, could a person lose weight through food selection without cutting total calories?

And could a person’s genes pre-determine whether he or she will benefit from a particular type of exercise – or perhaps be at greater risk of injury from it?

UM researchers are looking into it. “We can’t say this is 100 percent correct,” Daunert says. “This is our hypothesis. This is brand-new science.”

This entry was tagged. Food Research

No "Fundamental Right" to Own a Cow, or Consume Its Milk

No "Fundamental Right" to Own a Cow, or Consume Its Milk →

Wisconsin Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, on your fundamental rights.

"This court is unwilling to declare that there is a fundamental right to consume the food of one's choice without first being presented with significantly more developed arguments on both sides of the issue."

"no, Plaintiffs to not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;"

"no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice..."

If Americans don't have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice, what rights do they have?

Milk Doesn't Make Coughing Worse

Milk Doesn't Make Coughing Worse →

This is good news because milk is my daughter's favorite drink even (especially?) when she's sick. We used to tell her that drinking milk would make her cough worse. Now, we won't have to.

“The question has been formally investigated in studies, which demonstrated no increase in mucus production,” Dr. Sulica said, “although subjects who believed in the phenomenon reported that they did feel more mucus” when they ate dairy products.

The corollary to this finding is that dairy products have no effect on cough, he said.

This entry was tagged. Food

A Food Bill Too Far

Last Tuesday, the Senate passed a food safety bill. The House is expected to pass it easily and the President plans to sign it.

They shouldn't. It's a bad bill.

One of the biggest problems with food safety is that different agencies are responsible for different parts of the food supply.

In the case of the Wright County Egg salmonella outbreak which resulted in the recall of half a billion eggs earlier this year, the USDA was aware of problems such as dirt and mold in the Iowa facility. But the USDA did not notify the FDA, which has overall authority.

Moreover, the regulatory responsibilities often overlap, leaving agencies unsure who is in charge of what. As an example, Coburn pointed to frozen pizza:

Do my colleagues realize right now when we buy a pizza at the grocery store, if you buy a cheese pizza it comes through the FDA, but if you buy a pepperoni pizza, it gets approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture? How many people in America think that makes sense?

This bill does nothing to change that. It should be rejected on that basis alone.

Second, food safety just isn't that big of a problem.

Indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control, no more than three-thousandths of one percent of food-borne illnesses are fatal in the United States.

Senator Tom Coburn remarked on that as well.

We could spend $100 billion additionally every year and not make food absolutely safe. There are diminishing returns to the dollars we spend. But if you look at what the case is: In 1996, for every 100,000 people in this country, we had 51.2 cases of food-borne illness -- the best in the world, by far. Nobody comes close to us in terms of the safety of our food . But, in 2009, we only had 34.8 cases -- three times better than anybody else in the world. So the question has to be asked: Why are we doing this now when, in fact, we are on a trendline to markedly decrease it?

Third, this bill will be expensive.

The legislation will cost $1.4 billion over 5 years. This cost does not include an additional $230 million in expenditures that are directly offset by fees collected for those activities (re-inspections, mandatory recalls, etc.). The total cost of the bill is over $1.6 billion over 5 years. Of these costs, $335 million are for non-FDA programs - the food allergy grant program, implementation grants to assist producers, assistance grants to states and Indian Tribes.

Fourth, this bill gives the FDA new powers that it doesn't need and that it will probably abuse.

Most worrisome is the fact the bill as it currently is written would give the FDA the authority to require mandatory recalls of tainted food.

At first blush this seems reasonable, but the current system of voluntary recalls already resulted in a $100 million loss to tomato growers in the U.S. when a salmonella outbreak caused the FDA to recommend a recall. It turned out the problem was not tomatoes but jalapeno peppers, but by the time the real culprit was discovered the damage was already done.

Hart points out that bureaucrats with the power to order recalls would be very likely to jump the gun and order a huge recall before all the facts are in. Worse, it would precipitate a fight between the industry and regulators, who currently have a fairly good working relationship.

Coburn noted in his address that inspectors do not need the authority to order recalls

Why don't they need that authority? Because if you have a problem with your product in the food system in this country, you are going to get sued. You are going to get fined if you do not recall that product.

"You're going to see (inspectors) pull the trigger prematurely," Hart said, noting bureaucrats tend to be more worried about doing what's safe in terms of their jobs rather than what's right.

This is a bad bill. Rather than modernizing the food safety responsibilities of the federal government, it leaves authority split between more than 30 different agencies. It directly raises costs to small farms and producers. It gives the FDA a large incentive to order damaging recalls with no incentive to protect farmers from hysteria. Finally, it just isn't needed. America's food supply is already the safest in the world. Spending more money won't create any noticeable increase in food safety, only an increase in the price of our food.

For the good of the nation, the House should reject this flawed bill and President Obama should refuse to sign it.

(Note: The House was originally expected to pass the bill easily but now may not be able to, as the bill infringes on the House's constitutional rights. The Constitution states that all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House. This bill raises revenue and originated in the Senate. Oops.)

Easy Indian Cooking

Here's your dinner post, just to get your mouth watering.

I'm really starting to enjoy Indian food but it usually looks like a lot of work to prepare it. I recently discovered The Indian Slow Cooker -- a collection of recipes, for making Indian food in a crock pot.

A Chicago TV station did a video segment on the book.

It looks really intriguing and I'm tempted to buy the book, just to try out a few of the recipes.

This entry was tagged. Food India

How to Do Real Social Justice and Feed Africa's Millions

For the last couple of years, I've been unhappy with the "short term missions" model that many churches use. It seems to involve a lot of good feelings about going somewhere else to experience "true poverty", working there for 1-3 weeks, coming home, showing lots of pictures of really poor people, and talking about the great need for Christian generosity. Now, I am a fairly generous individual. And I don't like seeing poor people suffer in poverty any more than you do. Despite the vast concern for social justice that's put into most trips, I don't think poverty will ever be reduced by them.

Poverty will be eliminated in the 3rd world the same way it was eliminated in the 1st world: growth. And that growth often involves taking the best scientific know-how we have, training people to understand how and why it works, and then letting them get on with the business of making themselves richer. (Growth often involves a strong rule of law and a government that doesn't steal from its own people, but I'll leave that topic for another post.)

I quoted from an article, just a few minutes ago, about the need for appreciating the "modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system" that we have her in America. But what about Africa? Will that really work over there?

Yes (from later in the same article).

Africa faces a food crisis, but it's not because the continent's population is growing faster than its potential to produce food, as vintage Malthusians such as environmental advocate Lester Brown and advocacy organizations such as Population Action International would have it. Food production in Africa is vastly less than the region's known potential, and that is why so many millions are going hungry there. African farmers still use almost no fertilizer; only 4 percent of cropland has been improved with irrigation; and most of the continent's cropped area is not planted with seeds improved through scientific plant breeding, so cereal yields are only a fraction of what they could be. Africa is failing to keep up with population growth not because it has exhausted its potential, but instead because too little has been invested in reaching that potential.

One reason for this failure has been sharply diminished assistance from international donors. When agricultural modernization went out of fashion among elites in the developed world beginning in the 1980s, development assistance to farming in poor countries collapsed. Per capita food production in Africa was declining during the 1980s and 1990s and the number of hungry people on the continent was doubling, but the U.S. response was to withdraw development assistance and simply ship more food aid to Africa. Food aid doesn't help farmers become more productive -- and it can create long-term dependency. But in recent years, the dollar value of U.S. food aid to Africa has reached 20 times the dollar value of agricultural development assistance.

The alternative is right in front of us. Foreign assistance to support agricultural improvements has a strong record of success, when undertaken with purpose. In the 1960s, international assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and donor governments led by the United States made Asia's original Green Revolution possible. U.S. assistance to India provided critical help in improving agricultural education, launching a successful agricultural extension service, and funding advanced degrees for Indian agricultural specialists at universities in the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development, with the World Bank, helped finance fertilizer plants and infrastructure projects, including rural roads and irrigation. India could not have done this on its own -- the country was on the brink of famine at the time and dangerously dependent on food aid. But instead of suffering a famine in 1975, as some naysayers had predicted, India that year celebrated a final and permanent end to its need for food aid.

What if the American church committed to getting over the West's passion for antiquated farming methods and decided instead to take up the mantle that the U.S. government dropped 35 years ago? We might find that we're far more likely to be of some use that way than we currently are. Instead of sending people over to marvel at poverty why don't we fund the same kinds of projects that enabled India to be self-sufficient?

Capitalism Will Feed the World's Poor

I talked earlier this week about capitalism and its blessings, in regard to cleanliness. Consider this, about the blessings of capitalism in regard to food.

What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.

In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.

If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.

(Hat tip to Wilson Mixon, at Division of Labour.)

Things that Might Interest Only Me

Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus - New York Times

In 1988, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, proclaimed ice cream to a be public-health menace right up there with cigarettes. Alluding to his office's famous 1964 report on the perils of smoking, Dr. Koop announced that the American diet was a problem of "comparable" magnitude, chiefly because of the high-fat foods that were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments.

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Knopf, 2007).

It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn't it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus. He, like the architects of the federal "food pyramid" telling Americans what to eat, went wrong by listening to everyone else. He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group's members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

In the Battle Against Cancer, Researchers Find Hope in a Toxic Wasteland - New York Times

Death sits on the east side of this city, a 40-billion-gallon pit filled with corrosive water the color of a scab. On the opposite side sits the small laboratory of Don and Andrea Stierle, whose stacks of plastic Petri dishes are smeared with organisms pulled from the pit. Early tests indicate that some of those organisms may help produce the next generation of cancer drugs.

For decades, scientists assumed that nothing could live in the Berkeley Pit, a hole 1,780 feet deep and a mile and a half wide that was one of the world's largest copper mines until 1982, when the Atlantic Richfield Company suspended work there. The pit filled with water that turned as acidic as vinegar, laced with high concentrations of arsenic, aluminum, cadmium and zinc.

Today it is one of the harshest environments in the country. When residents speak of the pit, they often recall the day in 1995 when hundreds of geese landed on the water and promptly died.

But the pit itself is far from dead. Over the last decade, Mr. Stierle said, the couple have found 142 organisms living in it and have "isolated 80 chemical compounds that exist nowhere else."

Panel Sees Problems in Ethanol Production - New York Times

Greater cultivation of crops to produce ethanol could harm water quality and leave some regions of the country with water shortages, a panel of experts is reporting. And corn, the most widely grown fuel crop in the United States, might cause more damage per unit of energy than other plants, especially switchgrass and native grasses, the panel said.

The report noted that additional use of fertilizers and pesticides could pollute water supplies and contribute to the overgrowth of aquatic plant life that produces "dead zones" like those in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

Book now for the flight to nowhere - Times Online

An Indian entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.

In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the "virtual journeys" of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.

"Some of my passengers have crossed the country to get on this plane," says Gupta, who charges about £2 each for passengers taking the "journey".

The Odyssey Years - New York Times

People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments -- moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

Overlawyered: Welcome to West Virginia: Joe Meadows v. Go-Mart

Joe Meadows was drunk. Very drunk. 0.296 percent blood-alcohol content drunk, 12 or 13 beers worth. Fortunately, he didn't drive in that state. Unfortunately, he chose to sleep it off by resting under a parked 18-wheel truck. More unfortunately, the driver, Doug Rader, who didn't check to see whether there might be drunks lying under his truck at 1:40 a.m., ran over Meadows. Rader had EMT training, and was able to save Meadows's life, but Meadows lost a leg, and sued both the truck company and the store that owned the parking lot. A Kanawha County jury decided that Meadows was only a third responsible for his injury, which means he "only" gets two thirds of the three million dollars they awarded.

What is Orthodoxy? (Part 1, Part 2)

What is the "orthodoxy" in our "humble orthodoxy" anyway? What do we mean when we say "orthodoxy?" "What must we agree upon? What are the basics, what are the essentials?"

Now this is a dangerous question. And we have to proceed very carefully here, because if you take this wrong, this question can sound a little like the teenager in the youth group asking, "How far can I go? What's the least I have to believe and still be considered a Christian? What can I get away with?" Friends, that is not the spirit in which I'm posing this question. You want to pursue truth in every single matter about which God has revealed Himself in His word. If He's gone to the trouble of revealing Himself, you should care as a Christian, you should want to understand it, so that you can know more about who this God is that you're worshiping.

Part of what we need for doctrinal discernment is to understand what must be agreed upon and how serious errors are. Because you know not all errors are created equal--they're not all the same. We need to understand the significance of the doctrine that is in question.

... So God, the Bible, the gospel.

Those are the things that we must agree upon to have meaningful cooperation as Christians. True Christian fellowship cannot be had with someone who disagrees with us on these matters. These are the essential of the essentials.

Finally, for Adam, Pastor John Piper's view of Ayn Rand's philosophy. Several years ago, after I read Adam's copy of Atlas Shrugged, I disagreed with her view of altruism. But I couldn't put my feelings into words. Now I find that John Piper has.

Atlas Shrugged Fifty Years Later :: Desiring God

My Ayn Rand craze was in the late seventies when I was a professor of Biblical Studies at Bethel College. I read most of what she wrote both fiction and non-fiction. I was attracted and repulsed. I admired and cried. I was blown away with powerful statements of what I believed, and angered that she shut herself up in what Jonathan Edwards called the infinite provincialism of atheism. Her brand of hedonism was so close to my Christian Hedonism and yet so far--like a satellite that comes close to the gravitational pull of truth and then flings off into the darkness of outer space.

Sentences like these made me want to scream. No. No. No. Altruism (treating someone better than he deserves) does not have to involve "betraying your values" or "sacrificing a greater value to a lesser one." In other words, I agreed with her that we should never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one. But I disagreed that mercy (returning good for evil) always involved doing that.

Living On the Excess

America is so rich that it's possible to make a living off of our trash. (You say wasteful, I say rich. It boils down to the same thing.) Madison's Capital Times published an article about the burgeoning art of dumpster diving.

So much is discarded, in fact, that it is possible to live almost entirely off of trash, or as New York dumpstering organizer and founding member of the Web site freegan.info Adam Weissman puts it, the excesses of capitalism. Weissman sustains himself almost exclusively by dumpstering, or as he refers to it, "urban foraging." Though he also trades items and gardens, the bulk of his sustenance is from garbage, he says in a phone interview.

He quotes Marx and talks about "opt[ing] out of the capitalist economic system." So, he's a bit of a nut. 'Cause, really, he'd be homeless and starving if it wasn't for the capitalist economic system that he' opting out of. Still, there is a lot of waste in a rich society. Some are using that waste to help others.

"The first time I saw it I was amazed and taken aback. There was more food than you've ever seen, just there. ... Sometimes it still hits you -- all this food is still good," says Spike Appel, frequent dumpster diver and chief organizer of the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, an "anarchist community project" that provides free vegetarian meals to the public.

Much of the food donated to Food Not Bombs is one step from the dumpster. This is not to say the produce, dips and baked goods are in any way spoiled. Ripe, organic produce is a hallmark of the meals provided by Food Not Bombs, as is the fact that they do not serve meat.

While the Food Not Bombs Web site advocates dumpstering as a way of obtaining food, the Madison chapter works with local businesses for donations. Food Not Bombs has an international following, and each chapter varies according to the resources in their community.

Interesting, no? Dumpstering is illegal. Many of the business that dump food, rather than donating it, do so out of fear of lawsuits and food safety regulations. The vast majority of that food is still perfectly safe. Why shouldn't we relax the regulations and remove the fear of lawsuits? Why not let that food be legally donated to the hungry rather than forcibly wasted?

Fried Chicken Pizza

Lately I've seen health food on the news more and more. It seems like every week another restaurant decides to drop trans fats from the menu. Mayor Bloomberg is forcing fast food joints in New York City to post nutritional information next to the menus. It's getting harder and harder to find food that can give your heart a run for it's life.

Fortunately, we're still allowed to cook dangerous food at home. Enjoy it while you can. To help you enjoy it, I bring you this recipe. Squirrel Squad Squeeks: Fried Chicken Pizza

Papa and I have pretty much decided that if it's not fried chicken pizza, then it ought to be. Of course, we also had to plan meals to feed the Squad this week, so we just had to develop the Official Squirrel Squad Fried Chicken Pizza. And here it is in all it's glory.

Sure to be a hit for any Friday night dinner. Gentleman -- start your fryers!

This entry was tagged. Food