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

Chocolate for Your Valentine


It’s Valentine’s Day and everyone’s running around buying pricey presents. What your sweety really wants is your time, attention and love.

Nothing is more chocolatey or lucious than Chocolate Chantilly. It’s simple and brilliant. Chop up 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melt and stir in water, whip to a frothy mousse, pour into a glass bowl and even the most inexperienced and hesitant cook can pull off a sophisticated chocolate surprise.

The recipe for Chocolate Chantilly is the debut for the Washington Post’s monthly column, The Gastromer. Written by Andreas Vilestad, a well-known food writer, The Gastromer explains scientific cooking to the everyday home cook. Replacing Robert Wolpe’s “Food 101” and competing against Harold McGee’s Curious Cook column for the New York Times, The Gastromer is off to a fine start.

Chocolate Chantilly has two ingredients, chocolate and water. Everyday household tools, saucepans, stainless steel bowl a wisk and ice cubes are all you need. There’s a sister recipe, Butter Chantilly, as well. Same principle, same process. Just use veal stock, wine and butter and you have a delightful sauce for meat, fish or poultry.


Written by Susan Gillie

February 14, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Posted in food as love

House Bill 1300-Why Care?


There’s a war going on in our country.

Not the Iraq War, the Milk War. State by state, guerilla warfare’s breaking out, consumer advocates and small dairy farmers in hand-to-hand combat with agribusiness and its government lackeys.

Indiana, as in the first civil war, is in the thick of battle.

Milk War started with states’ efforts to crack down on raw milk production. Indiana State Board of Health, worked out a peaceful arrangement with dairy farmers and consumers.

Now, muskets are loaded over rBGH. Recombinant bovine somatotropin, a synthetic hormone, is injected into cows to stmulate milk production. Approved by the FDA in 1993, and manufactured since 1994 by Monsanto under the name Posilac, it’s widely used in the American dairy industry. The European Union, initially approved the drug, but called for a moratorium. Canada declared it cruel to animals and banned it

Cows, though domesticated for eons, are problem players in the industrialized food chain. Robert E. Rich founder of Rich Products, manufacturer of non-dairy products, pronounced the cow, “this country’s most inefficient manufacturing plant.” Henry Ford, the original raw milk advocate, lost patience with the cow and experimented with soybean substitutes.

Bessie and the girls are cyclical. Hormones spike, milk flows. Hormones ebb, milk dries up. rBGH keeps the milk coming and profits soaring.

Consumer groups think the drug is unsafe. To animal rights advocates, it’s “rode hard and put away wet.” The average life of a traditional milking cow is 15 years; rBGH injected cows last 18 months, used and abused, injured and ill, they stagger off to burgerland.

Activists are winning the the war by winning the hearts and minds of consumers. They’ve persuaded Starbucks to quit using rBGH milk products. Ben & Jerry’s label their ice cream; soon Kroger’s private brand will use only non-rBGH milk.

Under FDA guidelines, labels are legal as long as they don’t make health claims. Newly created American Farmers for  the Advancement and Conservation of Technology (AFACT), and their corporate sponsor Monsanto, see it differently. They think labels are unfair, bad for America and bad for the bottom line. Emotions, not science, are influencing  consumer choices and they’re fighting back. Indiana Farm Bureau agrees with AFACT. They want to stamp out pesky consumers who think rBGH is creepy and don’t want it in their milk.

H.B. 1300 is a short, concise bill forbidding false advertising. Sponsored by Bill Friend (R-Macy) and three other legislators, at the urging of Indiana Farm Bureau, it passed the Indiana House of Representatives’ Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development 10-0. It was on its way to the House, then Senate.

Opponents caught wind of 1300. Anti-rBGH forces recently won a victory against the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. They turned west and found Monsanto and allies pleading pity to Ohio bureaucrats. And Indiana, INDIANA, wasn’t just going to make it a regulation, but a LAW. 

Everybody networked. Consumer and animal rights groups, small farmers practicing organic, sustainable or just old-fashioned farming, pulled out their mailing lists and got to work. They swamped lawmakers’ email accounts. The statehouse switchboard lit up, nobody could keep up with the phone calls.

Our lawmakers may be working hard to hoist themselves on their own petards when it comes to property taxes, but they got the message about milk.

House Bill 1300, never defeated, is holding in Ag Committee. It can and most likely will resurface, either at a more opportune time or when it’s tacked onto another bill.

Meanwhile, AFACT is busy trying to convince the Ohio Department of Agriculture to ban labels. Anti-rBGH forces are prepared to overturn any proposed regulations.

Then they’re headed for South Carolina.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 10, 2008 at 3:11 am

Posted in food as power

Earl Butz


Earl Butz died this weekend at the ripe old age of 98.

Outed over a dirty racist joke, he resigned his cabinet position in 1976. Disgraced Hoosiers, as we know with Randall Tobias and Bobby Knight, reviled by the larger world are loved in Indiana. The Sage of Purdue was welcomed with open arms, named dean emeritus of Purdue’s School of Agriculture. In 1981, convicted of tax fraud, fined, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Sprung from the pokie five days early for good behavior, he returned to Purdue where he was seen working in his office up until his mid-90’s.

Butz’s notoriety was his trashy mouth, but what made him the Ayn Rand of agriculture was his free-market policies. What you think of Butz depends on how you view farming, your party and philosophical leanings.

Agribusiness loves Butz. In yesterday’s Star:

“He was a tireless advocate for agriculture and his efforts helped bring Purdue Agriculture into international prominence,” said Randy Woodson, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue.

To the counterculture, he is the evil architect. Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation blames him for all things that led to fast food’s domination. Michael Pollan writes:

Butz revolutionized American agriculture, helping to shift food chain onto a foundation of cheap corn.

Butz served as Cabinet Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1971 to 1976. We forget the mood in the seventies. Discontent, everyday wear and tear of inflation, created an ill-tempered public. Coffee prices soared and sugar was scarce and expensive. Then beef prices shot up. Laurie Colwin quipped you had to take out a loan to buy a roast.

Nixon told Butz, fix the problem and Butz fixed it, for good, upping productivity, stabilizing prices, creating food wealth.

Butz’s legacy is still being played out in Indiana. The newly created Department of Agriculture is filled with Purdue grads who want to dominate the global food basket as replacement for auto industry jobs. The counterculture, concerned in the seventies with lettuce and agar in apples, moved into middle age, woke up and realized the real problem is what happened to meat, eggs and dairy products.

Will Butz’s vision or local and sustainable win out? It was this sharp-tongued man who quipped, “Before we go back to organic agriculture, somebody is going to have to decide what 50 million people we are going to let starve.”

Time will tell.

Written by Susan Gillie

February 4, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Posted in food as power