Survey of new food criticism

The Columbia Journalism review has an article about recent books that look at modern food production:

Organic food presently accounts for only 2.5 percent of all food sold in the United States–and that counts all the “industrial organic” food Pollan scorns. Are, then, these debates about the ethics and politics of food largely a pastime of a tiny elite–grist for editors’ dinner parties but of tiny relevance to most consumers, who rush to the nearest market and grab what they need?

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

Bill McKibben on food, independence, and oil

A great article at by Bill McKibben.

We’re used to independence as the prime virtue — so used to it that three quarters of American Christians believe the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible, instead of Ben Franklin. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is harder advice, but sweeter and more sage. We don’t need to live on communes (though more and more old people are finding themselves enrolling in “retirement communities” that are gray-haired, upscale versions). But we will, I think, need to figure out how to stop relying on both oil and ourselves, and instead learn the lesson that the other primates and the other human cultures never forgot: we’re built to rely on each other.

I was personally struck by some of his ideas. I do happen to know my neighbors, but only the ones who live in my building. I barely even say hello to other people I see as I walk down our little residential street. And when I go to the farmer’s market? No, I don’t talk to people. But the idea that I might (especially if I were going every week) is compelling. And come to think of it, there is one vendor at the City Hall farmer’s market that I’ve talked to — and at a supermarket or Harvest coop, I wouldn’t do even that.

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

Mars promotes homophobia

I won’t link to their website, because that’s actually good for them, but the Snickers website has 1) a homophobic ad they aired during the Super Bowl; 2) three more even worse ads that they’re inviting people to vote on for airing during the Daytona 500; and 3) bigoted reactions from pro football players.

So, no more: M&M’S, MARS, MILKY WAY, SNICKERS and TWIX; Skittles, Combos, Starburst, or Dove; Whiskas, Pedigree, or Sheba; Uncle Ben’s.

UPDATE: Andy Towle (Towleroad) reports that Mars has pulled the website, the ads, and the footballers’ reactions.

You are what you eat

I recently finished Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (which I’ve reviewed for UU World. Many of the concerns Pollan takes up regarding food production have also been addressed by the Guardian. Today, for instance there’s this article: Will the organic dream turn sour?

We now have millions of people buying organic in a committed way. But there’s a tightrope to be walked: we must promote organic farming, but not industrialised organic production.

I subscribe to a box delivery scheme (as the Brits would say) of organic fruits and vegetables. The quality is for the most part quite high, and there’s a nice variety, but much of the produce comes from a distance. During the summer I stopped the service because there are so many farmers markets available to me.

My friend Pam in Philadelphia has started a company to do home delivery of locally produced food (including meats). I don’t know if everything is organic, but I think it is. As both Pollan and the Guardian point out, the carbon load of organic products shipped from around the world may easily outweigh any environmental benefits of organic produce.

Eating with an eye toward ecological responsibility is filled with confusion and compromise. Here’s to the tightrope!

Sweet potato pancakes

Adapted from the basic pancake recipe in The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, page 32.

Dry ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour (I used 1c unbleached white, 1c whole wheat)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch ancho chile powder
  • cinnamon
  • allspice

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mashed sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 eggs

A little melted butter in the cast-iron skillet for the first batch, and that’s about it.

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

Julie Powell’s blog fame has been transmuted into a book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, and 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. It captures not only the joys and sorrows of cooking (and blogging) her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but also life as a secretary in New York on the cusp of 30. It’s very funny and very vulgar. It is not her blog, but grows out of the experience of blogging. If you read her blog, you’ll recognize chunks of the book.

Guestblogging on “Making a Seder”

I’m making a debut appearance as a guestblogger over on the wonderful Bakerina’s blog with this entry:

I’m not, nor have been, Jewish, but I find the Pesach holiday very meaningful. Pesach is the commemoration of the Exodus story and the creation of the Jewish people, but it can also be a universal story of enslavement and freedom. It has had particular resonance for me as a gay man.

For many years, when I was living in Philadelphia, I was privileged to be a part of the seders made by my friend Barbara and her housemates. After moving to Boston, I eventually decided I needed to create my own tradition if I was going to be able to depend upon having a seder. So last year I made a seder all on my own for the first time. This year I did it again, with a bit more aplomb.

Last night’s menu:

  • Seder standards included two kinds of haroset, one Ashkenazic, one Sephardic, and horseradish cream in addition to prepared horseradish.
  • Gefilte fish
  • Matzoh ball soup
  • Lamb, mushroom, and spinach mina
  • Vegetarian tzimmes
  • Broccoli
  • Macaroons, chocolate, and fruit slices

I don’t follow recipes so much as use them as guideposts. I also don’t measure much, so what follows is really just notes on food.


The Ashkenazic haroset is the familiar (to most Americans who are familiar with it at all) chopped apples, chopped walnuts, honey, cinnamon, and sweet red wine mixture.

The Sephardic haroset I made this year included almonds, dates, dried tart Montmorency cherries, dried apricots, candied ginger, cinnamon, and a dash of sweet red wine all put into the food processor and made into a paste. I served it rolled into little balls.

Gefilte Fish:

No, I didn’t have a carp swimming in my bathtub for a week. I didn’t even buy the standard jars of gefilte fish. I happened across a store that carried little gefilte fish appetizers: small balls about the size of an olive. Perfect for dilettantes!

(I suggest they’re best smothered in horseradish.)

Matzoh Balls:

I just use the Manischewitz mix, but I substitute schmaltz for the vegetable oil called for on the box. I love pulling skin and fat off the chicken pieces, putting them in a little skillet over medium heat, and then watching the savory, clear golden fluid collect. Yum!

I used packaged chicken stock for other preparation, but I wanted to make stock for the soup. Going to the nearest crunchy-granola kind of store, a Whole Oats, I decided it would be smarter to buy a whole fryer than to pick from the limited selection of parts. Not having the world’s sharpest knives, I asked the helpful guy behind the counter to cut it up. After he walked off I thought perhaps I should tell his associate to make sure he didn’t trim anything off and throw it away. When the guy came back he made a comment about having worked at Boston market.

When I got home his comment made more sense. Never was I so glad I was just putting it all into a stockpot! One of the wings was still attached to about a third of a breast; there were no real thigh pieces; there was one bit of boneless, skinless breast meat. Well, live and learn!


A mina is a Sephardic layered casserole made with matzoh for Passover. (Think of lasagne or spanakopita.)

I sauted an onion, a bunch of garlic, and some minced parsely in a dollop of olive oil, then added two pounds of ground lamb. When the lamb still had a few pink spots, I put it all in a big mixing bowl. Then I added a touch more olive oil to the frying pan and dumped in a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen “exotic mushroom mix.” I’d never seen this marvel before. They released a lot of liquid, but it eventually cooked off, leaving tender mushrooms and a bit of wonderful-looking gravy. This, too, went into the mixing bowl, with a bag of frozen spinach that had been thawed and squeezed vigorously. After the lamb/mushroom/spinach mixture had cooled, I mixed in five beaten eggs.

The matzoh gets soaked in chicken broth for a few minutes (I used packaged broth), then layered with the filling in a greased and oiled pan. I brushed olive oil onto the top layer of matzoh, and popped it into a 375 oven to heat through.


My tzimmes was a big sweet potato, a medium white yam, four large carrots, and a couple of handsful of dried apricots, cut into about 3/4 inch dice. Then I added some minced candied ginger, a dash or two of cinnamon, a bit of cayenne pepper, the juice of one orange, a bit of wine, and a bit of water, and into the 375 oven. (It actually went in before I started assembling the mina.)


The macaroons came from cans (coconut, almond, and “chocolate-flavored”) but were delicious; the chocolate was brought as a gift (similarly delicious but not as surprisingly); and the fruit slices weren’t actually fruit–they were those little jellied candies.

The Haggadah:

Not part of the menu, but the texts and instructions read before and after the meal. I adapted a version I found last week at the Velveteen Rabbi. It’s great, especially the Ballad of the Four Sons, sung to the tune of Clementine–perfect for a bunch of goyim.

How to Cook a Wolf

M.F.K. Fisher. What a wonderful, idiosyncratic writer! In one chapter she remembers making eggs in little ramekins while drinking champagne at three in the morning before going to bed; in another she suggests that one leave the grease from mixing up meatloaf on your hands for a while as a moisturizer. This in a book written during World War II about how to make do in privation.

Mary Frances grew up among Quakers in Whittier, California. Not a Quaker herself, she appears to have unpleasant memories of the Friends.