with food, there’s always something new

Archive for February 2008

Your great-great-grandmother

Michael Pollan was a guest speaker on the Butler University campus Monday night.

Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals was a runaway hit. He struck a nerve with consumers nervous about the food supply.

Omnivore’s Dilema is a descriptive journal of four meals following the spectrum from an industrialized, processed, McDonald’s family outing devoured in a car, to a hunter/gatherers ritual tracking down a wild boar.

Now Pollan is on the lecture circuit to promote his new book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Based on the article UnHappy Meals, it provides a roadmap for correct eating.

Detailing modern science’s influence and domination of the food chain, Pollan like Gary Taubes, debunks the low-fat diet mantra.  He tells readers to quit worrying about carbs and cholesterol and pay attention to portions. He advises us to live like the French, eat like anybody but us. Shop at farmer’s markets. Buy local.

I believe in all those things. I’ve been practicing them for the past several years, lost weight, feel better and eat well.

Other things that Michael Pollan says and believes are really stupid.

Take his advice, “don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” By that he means, only eat food substances that were available pre-20th century. Avoid cereal bars and Go-Gurt.

If I ate what my ancestors ate, I’d never have French food, or Vietnamese, or Mexican or any of the cuisines I love. I’d eat no kalamata olives, feta cheese, pate, avocados, none of the foods that makes life meaningful.

I’d be stuck with noodles over mashed potatoes, cabbage and a lot of sweet pickles. And oatmeal.

My great-grandparents (great-great-grandparents to our family’s next generation) immigrated from Scotland to Saskatchewan to northern Indiana. They weren’t top of the heap rich, but they weren’t poor.

In a photo I have of them, you can tell they were happy, kind and fun loving. Although my great-grandmother’s head is tilted at an angle, her neck covered by a high, starched collar, you see a goiter.

A goiter caused by a lack of iodine. We’v’e eliminated them by putting iodine in salt. The science that Pollan derides could have helped my ancestor.

Pollan’s message is nutritionism is a dangerous ideology because

any qualitative distinctions between processed foods and whole foods disappear when your focus is on quantifying the nutrients they contain (or, more precisely, the known nutrients).

But what about Plumpy’nut?

Plumpy’nut is a processed, ready-to-eat food served in sterile foil packets. Developed by pediatric nutritionist, Andre Briend and manufactured by Nutriset, it’s made of peanuts, vegetable oil, powdered milk, powdered sugar, minerals and vitamins.

With a shelf life of two years, it’s not fresh, “real” food. According to Pollan, this is the food that’s the scourge of the modern world.

But Plumpy’nut is a  miracle food saving malnourished childrens’ lives.

Pollan tells us to spend more money on food. Cheap food is the culprit, it’s making us fat, giving us diabetes and heart disease. Pay more for better food, eat less of it and we’ll all feel better.

I agree with Pollan. I spend more on eggs, dairy products and meat.  I eat less meat, cook my own beans, bread and make sauces and vinaigrette. But I’m cooking for myself, know how to budget and shop, and how to cook.

What about a household of five, mom and dad, three children? Are they going to spend top dollar on milk when the kids are going through a gallon a day? What about the 16% of Marion County residents below the poverty line? Pay more doesn’t cut it for them.

Our abundant food supply produces waste, but it also feeds the hungry. Let’s say we live in Pollan’s perfect world where we’re eating the right amount, producing the right amount? What happens to the young, the sick, the old, the poor? What’s left to feed them?

Can we feed the world on local, sustainable food?

I asked local expert Greg Finch that question. Greg, former Indiana Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture and certified farm manager, now a management consultant and instructor at Indiana Weslayan, says “some cultures, you can do it. There are cultures practicing sustainable agriculture right now. Five billion consumers want and need industrialized agriculture, so probably not. It’s someplace in the middle.”

Pollan is a science writer. As Thomas Healy writes, ”

Part of Pollan’s appeal is his easy-to-digest writing style, which presents him as a hapless, well-intentioned, neighborly kind of guy rather than a strident, nagging, more-politically-correct-than-thou whiner. “I’m not an expert so I don’t preach or lecture”

Pollan takes the more detailed, thorough writings of Marian Nestle and Oprah-fies them. He doesn’t have Mark Bittman’s populist sensibility that translates the need for dietary changes into simple instructions.

Pollan is neither economist nor historian. As a person who’s never suffered want, he forgets John F. Kennedy’s words that “the war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.”

Wagging his finger at agricultural economists, he forgets that high prices lead to unstable prices. People who tell the unfed to “eat cake” lose their heads for such elitism.

[tags]Michael Pollan, sustainable[/tags]

Written by Susan Gillie

February 28, 2008 at 2:39 am

Posted in food as dogma

5-minute artisanal bread

Indy is bread wasteland.

All over the country people are making and selling great bread, but in Indianapolis it’s mediocre and pricey. I know, I know, somewhere in the 12th (or is it the 13th?) largest city someone’s making decent bread. There’s bound to be a baker, tucked away, making bread comparable to the finest in Chicago or New York. He or she is in Zionsville, or Danville, far off and inconvenient.

You can drive all around half the state in search of free-range chicken, but bread needs to be close at hand.

Listening to Splendid Table, I was intrigued by 5-minute artisanal bread. Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, devotees of the no-knead school of breadbaking, developed a recipe for artisanal bread that requires only four ingredients (yeast, salt, water and flour) takes no time and no kneading.

I’d meant to make Mark Bittman’s no-knead bread. Every food blogger in the universe made it and raved about it. This recipe seemed a better deal, bread on demand.

I mixed it, refrigerated it overnight, pulled it out the next morning and baked it. Hot, homey, boozy, yeasty, crunchy bread. Not artisanal bread, but bread nonetheless.  

The principle behind no-knead bread is wet dough. High water content lets you skip the kneading. It also makes messy, wet, gooey dough that’s hard to handle and shape.

The authors say it gets better with age, but my bread tasted the same. Even though my bread didn’t live up to the oohs, aahs and coos bestowed by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, I’ll make it again.

Children should make this recipe. They delight over rising dough. They relish messy textures. They can make loaves to their taste and size. They can decorate bread with seeds, nuts and dried fruits. They can make pizza.

Children who make this bread fall under the spell of real bread and learn there is more in life than microwaved Poptarts.

Recipe notes: The recipes says use a pizza peel, but you don’t need it. Place wax or parchment paper on a cutting board and use a spatula to move the bread onto the pizza stone. You can also substitute a cast-iron skillet for the broiler pan, much more convenient. You have to have the pizza stone, but you should own one anyway, they’re inexpensive ($10-$15) and you can find one anywhere.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 25, 2008 at 2:28 pm

Posted in the 2nd hunger

How I spent my vacation

It’s good to get away.

You see things you don’t normally see, you do things you don’t normally do.

I spent my weekend in Charlotte, NC, wearing pointy high heels and eating Slimfast Cake (okay, I also had sweet-potato creme brulee). I read the Charlotte Observer.

Indy is a teeming metropolis with a million stories, but we’re stuck with Gannett, the wussies of journalism.

Not so the Charlotte Observer. They’ve been working on an investigative piece that’s garnered national attention. The price of cheap meat is the health of poultry workers. Now, U.S. House and Senate hearings are scheduled to examine worker safety.

If only Nuvo, Indianapolis Monthly or IBJ woudl so the same for workers in Delphi.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 21, 2008 at 6:00 am

Posted in bloggage

Saturday, February 23rd

Mark your calendars for this Saturday.

It’s the 2008 Food, Farm and Energy Gathering, an all day series of lectures and seminars on local and sustainable agriculture.

This year’s conference is consumer-driven. Steve Bonney, president and founder of Sustainable Earth, says “we’ll always support the farmers, but consumers are the critical factor right now.”

Indiana has a rich tradition of independent, local, sustainable food products. Compared to Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, however, consumer interest in purchasing these products was weak.

Until now, that is. Saturday’s conference serves as the juggernaut for Natural Living Expo’s fall three-day showcase of natural, organic, local, sustainable products and services.

John Bartos, owner of Bartos catering, says he and Chef Chip Huckabee will use Saturday’s conference to source vendors for the fall expo.

Partnering with Natural Living Expo, Earth Charter Indiana,  Branches and Nuvo magazines, Indiana Sustainble Living Coaltion is bringing the conference to Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

Well-known Indiana food aficionados will share their expertise.

Chef Wendell Fowler will prepare local foods. Maria Smietana, columinst for Indiana Living Green will share her experience setting up a vegetable hoop house. Going Local‘s Victoria Wesseler, along with other panelists, will talk about sourcing and purchasing local foods.

Bartos Catering’s serving 360 Vodka, organic wines, teas, salads and sandwiches. Bartos is using products from Trader’s Point Creamery and their vendors, as well as Indiana pork and beef for sandwiches.

The conference costs $10 for individual, $25 for a family. It starts at 8am. You can register on-line or on Saturday.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 20, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Posted in food is health

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.


Michael Pollan, science writer, is coming to Indy. Author of Omnivore’s Dilemna and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he’s speaking Monday, February 25 on the Butler campus.

The J. James Woods lecture series addresses pressing science issues such as global warming, AIDS and poverty in Africa, science and religion.

Lectures are free and open to the public. It begins at 7:30 p.m. and takes place in the Atherton Union Reilly Room.

For more information, call (317) 940-9861.

Update: Thomas Healy, Nuvo, interviews Pollan.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 20, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Posted in food as power

Slimfast Cake


It’s February in Indiana. Chilly, icy weather, cloudy skies, dead, leafless trees. Time to head south to remember what warm weather is like.

I went to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend. Overflowing with transplants from the Northeast, West and MidWest, Charlotte is still southern, low-country. Home of Cheerwine, sweet potatoes and pulled pork.

Johnson and Wales culinary school in downtown Charlotte is thriving. With liquor laws loosening, and the banking industry manufacturing an abundance of discretionary income, chef-owned restaurants and microbrewery/bistros are popping up all over.

This weekend was stay-at-home food. Grilled beer-butt chicken, sweet potatoes with pineapple, mashed potatoes and gravy, collard greens. And Slimfast Cake.

What’s a southern belle to do, all those bright, perky clothes and pointy high heels? You have to look good, but you need desert.

Pick up Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devils Food cake mix at Food Lion, pop open a can of chocolate SlimFast, spray a cake pan with Baker’s Joy and put in the oven. If you want portion control, make cupcakes. If you’re serious about weight, buy Pillsbury Moisture Supreme Sugarless mix with Splenda.

This cake isn’t bad, if you top it with cream cheese or buttercream chocolate icing. Only a discerning cook knows it’s a box cake. It could pass.

A woman who makes Slimfast Cake prefers to spend her time at Birkdale Village shopping for shoes and jewelry than slaving away in the kitchen.

She tops the cake with canned icing.

Never one to give in to others’ opinions, she ignores the comments about Rachel Ray. She’s on to her next creation, Pillsbury Carrot Cake mix with vanilla Slimfast.

I hope someone talks her into making cream-cheese icing.

Slimfast Cake

  • 1 box of Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devils Food cake mix
  • 1 can of chocolate SlimFast
  • 1/2 cup of water

Prepare a 9 x 13″ cake pan by spraying it with Baker’s Joy. Put cake mix into a large mixing bowl and pour in Slimfast. Mix by hand. Add 1/2 cup of water to the Slimfast can, swirl and pour into cake mixture. Use a hand mixer to mix cake batter.

Pour into cake pan and bake according to box directions.

After cake is baked, remove from oven and let cool. Top with your favorite icing or whatever you bought at the store.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm

there’s something rotten in Bedford

“Olfactory witnesses” report stinky egg stench in limestone country.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized