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“Food is an important part of a balanced diet”*…

In your quest to eat right, are you an a nutritionist or an essentialist?

Nutrition science began with the chemical description of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the 19th century. The field didn’t seem to hold much medical import; the research was mostly aimed at cheaply feeding poor and institutionalised people well enough to keep them from rioting. Germ theory, on the other hand, was new and revolutionary medical science, and microbiologists such as Louis Pasteur were demonstrating that one disease after another, from cholera to malaria to leprosy, was caused by microbes. But at the turn of the 20th century, nutrition science suddenly arrived as a major part of our understanding of human health…

In 1911, the Polish chemist Casimir Funk announced that he’d isolated the beriberi-preventing chemical, which he thought to be a molecule containing an amine group, and named it ‘vitamine’ – a vital amine. The next year, Funk published an ambitious paper and book arguing that not only beriberi but three other human diseases – scurvy, pellagra and rickets – were each caused by a lack of a particular vitamin. Within a few months, the English researcher Frederick Hopkins published the results of a series of experiments in which he fed animals diets based on pure proteins, carbohydrates and fats, after which they developed various ailments. He posited that the simplified diets lacked some ‘accessory food factors’ important for health. Those factors and many others were discovered over the next three decades, and researchers showed how these vitamins were critical to the function of practically every part of the body. Ten of those scientists, including Eijkman and Hopkins, won Nobel prizes. At the same time that physicists laid out the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics, describing fundamental laws that governed the Universe on its smallest and largest scales, chemists discovered the laws that seemed to govern the science of nutrition.

[… which, over the last 100 years, has exploded…]

[Gyorgy Scrinis, a professor of food politics and policy at the University of Melbourne] argues that the field of nutrition science is under the sway of an ideology he dubbed ‘nutritionism’, a mode of thinking about food that makes a number of erroneous assumptions: it reduces foods to quantified collections of nutrients, pulls foods out of the context of diets and lifestyles, presumes that biomarkers such as body-mass index are accurate indicators of health, overestimates scientists’ understanding of the relationship between nutrients and health, and falls for corporations’ claims that the nutrients they sprinkle into heavily processed junk foods make them healthful. These errors lead us toward food that is processed to optimise its palatability, convenience and nutrient profile, drawing us away from the whole foods that Scrinis says we should be eating. He says the history of margarine provides a tour of the perils of nutritionism: it was first adopted as a cheaper alternative to butter, then promoted as a health food when saturated fat became a nutritional bugbear, later castigated as a nutritional villain riddled with trans fats, and recently reformulated without trans fats, using new processes such as interesterification. That has succeeded in making margarine look better, according to nutritionism’s current trends, but is another kind of ultra-processing that’s likely to diminish the quality of food….

While Scrinis cites the growing body of scientific research implicating modern food processing, he also supports his critique of nutritionism with appeals to intuition. ‘This idea that ultra-processed foods are degraded – we’ve always known this,’ he says. ‘Our senses tell us whole foods are wholesome. People know this intuitively. The best foods in terms of cuisine are made from whole foods, not McDonald’s. It’s common sense.’

Even as nutritionism pushes us to believe that the latest nutrition research reveals something important about food, we also hold on to a conflicting concept: the idea that natural foods are better for us in ways that don’t always show up in scientific studies – that whole foods contain an inherent essence that is despoiled by our harsh modern processing techniques. ‘It’s a general attitude that you can break foods down that is the problem,’ says Scrinis. ‘It’s showing no respect for the food itself.’ This idea of respecting food reveals an underlying perspective that is essentialist, which, in philosophy, is the Platonic view that certain eternal and universal characteristics are essential to identity. Science is usually thought of as the antithesis of our atavistic intuitions, yet nutrition science has contained an essentialist view of nutrition for almost a century.

Most of us carry both ideologies, essentialism and nutritionism, in our minds, pulling us in different directions, complicating how we make decisions about what to eat. This tension is also visible in nutrition. Many government public health agencies give precise recommendations, based on a century of hard research, for the amounts of every nutrient we need to keep us healthy. They also insist that whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, are the best ways to get those nutrients. But if you accept the nutrient recommendations, why assume that whole foods are a better way of getting those nutrients than, say, a powdered mix that is objectively superior in terms of cost, convenience and greenhouse emissions? What’s more, powdered mixes make it far easier for people to know exactly what they’re eating, which addresses one problem that constantly vexes nutritionists.

This kind of reflexive preference for natural foods can sometimes blind us to the implications of science. Even as research piles up implicating, for instance, excessive sugar as a particular problem in modern diets, most nutrition authorities refuse to endorse artificial sweeteners as a way to decrease our sugar consumption. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time with artificial sweeteners, and I cannot find any solid evidence there’s anything wrong with including them in your diet,’ says Tamar Haspel, a Washington Post columnist who has been writing about nutrition for more than 20 years. She says there’s some evidence that low-calorie sweeteners help some people lose weight, but you won’t hear that from nutrition authorities, who consistently minimise the positives while focusing on potential downsides that have not been well-established by research, such as worries that they cause cancer or scramble the gut microbiome. Why the determined opposition? ‘Because artificial sweeteners check lots of the boxes of the things that wholesome eaters avoid. It’s a chemical that’s manufactured in a plant. It’s created by the big companies that are selling the rest of the food in our diet, a lot of which is junk.’ Haspel says that nutritionists’ attitude to low-calorie sweeteners is ‘puritanical, it’s holier-than-thou, and it’s breathtakingly condescending’. The puritanical response reflects the purity of essentialism: foods that are not ‘natural’ are not welcome in the diets of right-thinking, healthy-eating people…

Our arguments over food are so polarised because they are not only about evidence: they are about values. Our choice of what we put inside us physically represents what we want inside ourselves spiritually, and that varies so much from person to person. Hearn uses food, much of it from a blender, to hack his body and keep him well-fuelled between business meetings. Scrinis looks forward to spending time in his kitchen, tinkering with new varieties of sourdough packed with sprouted grains and seeds. Haspel lives in Cape Cod, where she grows oysters, raises chickens, and hunts deer for venison – and also drinks diet soda and uses sucralose in her smoothies and oatmeal, to help keep her weight down.

Nutritionism and essentialism provide comfortingly clear perspectives about what makes food healthful. But an open-minded look at the evidence suggests that many of the most hotly debated questions about nutrition are impossible to answer with the information we have, maybe with the information we will ever have in the foreseeable future. If we isolate nutrients and eat them in different forms than they naturally come in, how will they affect us? Can processed foods be made in ways to approach or even surpass the healthfulness of natural whole foods?…

Human bodies are so fascinating in part because they are so variable and malleable. Beyond some important universals, such as the vitamins discovered a century ago, different people’s bodies work differently, because of their genes, behaviours and environments. The food we eat today changes the way our bodies work tomorrow, making yesterday’s guidance out of date. There are too many variables and too few ways to control them…

Maybe the reason that diet is so difficult to optimise is that there is no optimal diet. We are enormously flexible omnivores who can live healthily on varied diets, like our hunter-gatherer ancestors or modern people filling shopping carts at globally sourced supermarkets, yet we can also live on specialised diets, like traditional Inuits who mostly ate a small range of Arctic animals or subsistence farmers who ate little besides a few grains they grew. Aaron Carroll, a physician in Indiana and a columnist at The New York Times, argues that people spend far too much time worrying about eating the wrong things. ‘The “dangers” from these things are so very small that, if they bring you enough happiness, that likely outweighs the downsides,’ he said in 2018. ‘So much of our food discussions are moralising and fear-inducing. Food isn’t poison, and this is pretty much the healthiest people have even been in the history of mankind. Food isn’t killing us.’

Food is a vehicle for ideologies such as nutritionism and essentialism, for deeply held desires such as connecting with nature and engineering a better future. We argue so passionately about food because we are not just looking for health – we’re looking for meaning. Maybe, if meals help provide a sense of meaning for your life, that is the healthiest thing you can hope for.

Vitamins or whole foods? high-fat or low-fat? sugar or sweetener?… Will we ever get a clear idea about what we should eat? “The Food Wars,” from Amos Zeeberg (@settostun)

[image above: source]

* Fran Lebowitz

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As we scale the food pyramid, we might send birthday greetings in oyster sauce to Joyce Chen; she was born on this date in 1917.  A chef, restauranteur, author, television personality, and entrepreneur, she parlayed a successful Cambridge, MA restaurant (where she’s credited with creating the “all you can eat Chinese buffet” to perk up slow Tuesdays and Wednesdays) into a collection of restaurants, a cooking school, a series of cookbooks, and a PBS series (shot on the same set as Julia Child’s show).  She is credited with popularizing northern-style Chinese cuisine in America.  Chen was honored in 2014 (along with Julia Child) as one of the five chefs featured on a series of U.S. postage stamps.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 14, 2021 at 1:00 am

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate”*…

Elizabeth David’s first cookbooks burst upon a Britain newly delivered from wartime rationing… By 1960, when French Provincial Cooking threw its mighty heft against the drab tyranny of “meat and two veg,” the author’s characteristic mix of tart practicality and deep erudition had already begun to work its changes on the English palate. In the late 1980s, David, by that time a living English institution, C.B.E., Chevalier du Mérite Agricole, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, embarked on a study that would leave behind the anecdotal world of recipes for a sustained historical study. Although she did not live to see its completion, her extensive drafts for the work have now been edited (by Jill Norman) and published under the title Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices

Harvest of the Cold Months began as an investigation (launched in the mid-1970s) of early European ice-cream recipes, but quickly expanded to a global scale, reflecting Mrs. David’s longtime interest in early travelers’ accounts. She then turned her endless curiosity to the mechanical means of producing cold, an art that first emerged in the seventeenth century, and finally to the impact of the Industrial Revolution on means for supplying the world’s ever-growing demand for ice.

Yet, ice cream aside, the subject of frozen water is strange food for thought. If fire is the Promethean gift that first made us civilized, ice is a bewildering opposite; it has been tamed only by civilizations so advanced into decadence that they can warp the seasons, demanding snow in their summer drinks or ephemeral sculptures of pooling ice at the centers of their dining tables. The primal, elementally human quality of the campfire or the hearth gives way to a shiver of perverse pleasure when it comes to the activity that our forebears called “drinking cool.” (What, indeed, could be more limitlessly suggestive than the proposition a friend received in Athens one summer day years ago: “How about a nice tall cool one?”)…

Unseasonable ice brings up the ambiguous specter of civilization at its most aggressive: overlords, empires, and the Industrial Revolution, which eventually replaced the worldwide shipping of natural ice with mechanical manufacture—not, paradoxically, by means of the manipulation of cold, but of heat.Iced food and drink have continued, all the while, to be associated with ill health, sin, and bad company, the sustenance of decadent colonials or devil-may-care gourmands. In 1624, Elizabeth David tells us, Francis Bacon declared that “the Producing of Cold is a thing very worthy of the Inquisition.” To this day, most Italians avoid iced drinks as harmful to stomach and liver; they drink their summer tea chilled, but mistrust it when poured over clinking cubes of frozen water. Ice-cream manufacturers, meanwhile, invite their customers to give way to sin and temptation…

Cool, cooler, cold- Ingrid Rowland on Elizabeth David’s Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices: “The Empress of Ice Cream.”

Related (i.e., also cool): “Pellet Ice Is The Good Ice.”

[image above: source]

* Thornton Wilder (whose advice Elizabeth David happily ignored)

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As we channel Márquez, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that Chapman J. Root opened the Root Glass Company in Terre Haute, Indiana; his specialty was the manufacture of glass bottles that would withstand high internal pressures. In 1915 the company entered, and in 1916 won the design competition for what would become the iconic 6.5 ounce Coca-Cola bottle.

The 1915/6 bottle

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 27, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself”*…

The fateful experiment happened in 1962. Sam Panopoulos, a restaurant owner, was not afraid of taking chances. He had left Greece at the age of 20 to start a new life in Canada and went on to run a successful restaurant in downtown Chatham, Ontario. He was also known for his mischievous sense of humour. His fateful culinary creation combined both elements of his personality. While he was making a pizza, he cracked open a can of sliced pineapple – and did the unthinkable.

Sixty years on, the Hawaiian pizza, a standard mozzarella-and-tomato base topped with pineapple and ham or bacon, has become a contender for the most controversial dish ever made. Unlike other joyfully divisive foods (Marmite, anyone?) it’s not enough simply to love or hate it. In an era defined by a propensity for polarisation, the debate over the merits (or failings) of pineapple on pizza has become a global pastime. Profiles on dating apps tease potential matches with the prospect of a food fight. “Do you like pineapple on pizza?” is simultaneously an icebreaker and a dealbreaker. Public figures have taken sides: Paris Hilton loves it; Gordon Ramsay is very angry about it.

The pineapple-pizza debate has become so pervasive that in 2019 the American government launched “The War on Pineapple”, a public-information campaign that illustrated how people can be manipulated through online posts about divisive issues [see here]. Why does the Hawaiian pizza provoke such strong opinions? Panopoulos added pineapple, he said, only “for the fun of it”. When the controversy over his creation went viral in 2017 he emerged from retirement to wring his hands. “What’s going on with everybody?” he asked…

A thorough examination of how pineapple broke the internet– Will Coldwell (@will_coldwell) explains why Hawaiian pizza is the polarizing issue of our times.

* Bill Murray

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As we keep it simple, we might recall that it was on the date in 1985 that the McDonald’s #1 Store Museum opened in Des Plaines, Illinois. A replica of the former McDonald’s restaurant there, opened by Ray Kroc in April 1955, the company usually refers to it as The Original McDonald’s, although it is not the first McDonald’s restaurant but the ninth: the first was opened by Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernardino, California in 1940, and the oldest McDonald’s still in operation is the third one built, in Downey, California, which opened in 1953.

Still, the Des Plaines restaurant marked the beginning of future CEO Kroc’s involvement with the firm. It was the first opened under the aegis of his franchising company McDonald’s Systems, Inc., which became McDonald’s Corporation after Kroc purchased the McDonald brothers’ stake in the firm.

But lest the corporation seem sentimental, the museum was completely demolished as of January 2019.  A new, modern McDonald’s was built across the street– at which there are a half-dozen glass-enclosed exhibits arrayed around the tables. These include red and white tiles from the original restaurant, and string ties worn by employees from the 1950s to the early 1970s.

The McDonald’s #1 Store Museum, while it stood

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 14, 2021 at 1:01 am

“A party without cake is really just a meeting”*…

The pandemic has been, for many, a time of home confinement. So, in search of both solace and diversion, lots of folks turned to baking… with mixed results…

27 more at “Failed Quarantine Baking Attempts.”

* Julia Child

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As we go back to the bakery, we might recall that today is National Empanada Day. The savory turnovers were born in Galicia, the northwest corner of Spain (and across the border in Portugal), where they were large baked “pies” served in slices; they made their way with Spanish settlers to Latin America, where they took their current form. They are typically baked, but sometimes fried (in which form, your correspondent can attest, they are at least as delicious as they are baked).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 8, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start”*…

As we noted in an earlier post, Robert C. Baker– “the George Washington Carver of chicken,” a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame– is best-remembered for his invention of the chicken nugget. But on his home turf, he’s remembered for something else entirely…

In 1950, Robert C. Baker, a professor at Cornell University, published Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 862, which changed summer in upstate New York forever. Entitled “Barbecued Chicken and Other Meats,” the bulletin describes a simple vinegar-based sauce that can be used to turn broilers—chickens raised for their meat rather than their eggs—into juicy, delicious barbecue heaven.

At the time, this was an innovation. When Americans ate meat, they preferred beef and pork, and the poultry industry was just beginning to increase production. As an agricultural extension specialist, part of Baker’s job was to convince Americans to eat chicken. Before he passed away in 2006, he invented chicken bologna, chicken hot dogs, chicken salami, and, most famously, a prototype chicken nugget.

Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce, though, was his first great triumph, and what he is best known for in upstate New York. All summer, every summer, Cornell Barbecue Chicken features at backyard parties and family get-togethers. Younger generations of Finger Lake residents don’t even recognize this as a regional specialty so much as the default way to cook chicken outdoors. “Every fund-raising event, every fire department cookout, every little league barbecue, must serve this recipe or nobody would come,” writes barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn

The way Baker told the story, he first came up with the idea of the chicken barbecue when he worked at Penn State and the governor came to visit. When he went to Cornell a short while later, he started putting on barbecues regularly, enlisting his family and the young men who worked with him at Cornell as basters and turners.

“My father was quite a promoter,” says Dale Baker, the eldest of Baker’s six children. “He would have me and others go out in high school and cook for groups.” Roy Curtiss, who worked with Baker as a Cornell undergraduate, remembers killing and butchering chickens in the basement of Rice Hall, on campus, freezing them, and using them all summer long to create barbecues for 50 to 100 people.

“We’d charge them a buck and half, for a roll, an ear of corn, and half a chicken,” Curtiss says. All summer, they set up for church groups and farm bureaus, toting collapsible grates in the back of a pickup truck, all around the Ithaca area. “It was very popular,” he says. “People would hear about this, and think it was a great alternative to hamburgers and hot dogs.”…

Perhaps the most ambitious use of the sauce, though, has been at Baker’s Chicken Coop, the barbecue stand Baker started in the 1950s at the New York State Fair. (His daughter still operates it today.) “We would cook, when I was younger, 22, 23,000 half-chickens in 10 or 11 days. It was a pretty big thing,” says Dale Baker. When he finished college, he and his dad estimated how many half-chickens they had cooked up until that point in time. It was more than a million…

The recipe (* today, many use less salt)

The true legacy of the Cornell professor who invented the chicken nugget: “Why All of Upstate New York Grew Up Eating the Same Barbecue Chicken.”

* Anthony Bourdain

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As we baste, we might recall that on this date in 1982 Saturday Night Live viewers decided the fate of Larry the Lobster. In an early example of interactive television, Eddie Murphy held Larry, a live lobster, aloft and declared that the show’s audience would determine whether he lived or died. He read two “900” phone numbers, one for those who wanted to spare Larry, and another for those who wanted to see him cooked. Calls cost $0.50 each.  (Murphy tended to read the number to save Larry very quickly, as opposed to his giving the number to cook Larry very slowly and clearly.)

Updates on the voting were given by other cast members over the course of the episode, and in the span of 30 minutes, viewers made nearly 500,000 calls, sending phone traffic soaring– indeed, the heavy phone use stood as a record or near-record for many years.

Larry was spared by about 12,000 votes; 239,096 callers voted to save him and 227,452 voted for him to be boiled. (Though on the following week’s show, a lobster– reputedly Larry– was eaten on-air.)

To this day the sketch is cited in discussions of classic comedy routines, cruelty to animals, and in rosters of famous animals.

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