Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Food Politics: Big Business Versus the Future

"Congressional reluctance to favor children's health above the rights of soft drink producers is a direct result of election laws that require legislators to obtain corporate funding for their campaigns. Like most corporations, soft drink companies donate funds to local and national candidates. More rational campaign financing laws might permit Congress to take positions based on public good rather than private greed." p. 217, Food Politics by Marion Nestle

This quote more than perhaps any other in this 400 page tome summarizes in a nutshell what the book Food Politics is all about. It analyzes every aspect of the food industry from its marketing practices to new product development to regulation of supplements. It is a brilliant, eye opening work, which despite the fact that it was published in 2003 is as relevent if not more so today when corporate donations are even more inextricably tied to the works of Congress and the election of candidates for office.

One of the central issues at hand in the politics of food is the conflict of interest between freedom and regulation. According to Nestle, what we perceive to be our freedom to choose what we put into our bodies is not actually a result of democracy but rather a product of brilliant marketing which subliminally if not blatantly drives our decisions about consumption. The primary target of this marketing tends to be the most economically deprived and even more heinously those who cannot make sound decisions for themselves, our children.

It's no secret that there is an obesity epidemic in this country. Statistics about current childhood obesity and estimates of the levels of obesity in the coming decades are on the news constantly. We are in a serious health crisis in this country that will not only affect our individual rights, but the economics of our future. Individuals who are dying of diseases directly attributable to diet are a burden on society and particularly in the younger set will create a serious gap in manpower in the not so distant future. For example, many of today's kids will not be able to pass a fitness test necessary to serve in our armed forces. If there was a need to build an army and nobody is fit enough to serve our national security is in serious trouble.

Today more than ever, we have a situation where we are concerned with economic growth. Let's face it, all businesses are alive to make a profit. That's what business is all about. But, at what point does responsibility to society as a whole come into the picture? I'm not talking about socialism, I'm talking about the perpetuation of society and the golden rule. Should businesses be allowed to profit on the backs of those who are becoming ill and dying from what they produce? At what point does life mean more than money? It's something we all have to ask ourselves when we step into the voting booth. Food corporations and agribusiness lobbyists are amongst the largest in the country and they are wooing candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Awareness of health and nutrition is out there and more and more people are subscribing to the tenets of farm to table and sustainability. But this represents a very small portion of our food system. While government makes it easier for corporations to produce frankenfoods with outrageous health proclamations by relaxing their regulations, it makes it increasingly difficult for small family farms to grow and sell real natural food to you and me. That's no mistake. That is by design.

So what can you or I do about it? Money talks. Where you choose to spend your dollar speaks volumes. Your purchasing habits may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but if everyone were to act with their dollars that would send a message to these corporations where it counts, in their pocketbooks. Ultimately we have to take back control of our lives by choosing wisely and voting wisely because what is happening is not ok. Become your own advocate. And next time you are in the grocery store and deciding upon the liter bottle of sweetened cola, pass it by and purchase some juicy naturally sweet fruit instead. Your body will thank you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


One of the things I find most exciting about being a chef is when I am inspired to create something out of the blue. Sometimes it is a random thought or something I read that sparks the inspiration, but often it is a result of a need to create something to accommodate a dietary restriction. Some people find this incredibly stressful. I find it a unique challenge and a distinct opportunity to express myself creatively while creating a special experience for someone that has been marginalized to some extent because of what they can and cannot eat. If I can give someone pleasure through food when they felt like that opportunity was no longer available to them, I have done something truly remarkable and something that I feel very proud of.

This week, despite the fact that I'm still in recovery mode after having had surgery just a couple of weeks ago, I was inspired by just such a challenge. I needed a dessert for someone who was lactose intolerant so my usual go to that I am quite well known for, creme brulees of various flavors, was out. Chocolate desserts are also out as most involve some kind of dairy. I was leaning toward sorbet but I didn't want to do someting average, namely a mainstream flavor. Then I thought, what if I was in Morocco. What flavors would I lean toward for a special sorbet?? Then I looked at what I had in the house and decided I'd try an orange sorbet.

While I don't have an exact recipe because I was just tossing and adding stuff until it tasted right, the basic recipe included 2 Cara Cara oranges, zest from those two oranges, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of honey, 2 tbl vanilla extract, 2 tbl orange blossom water, 2 tsps ground cinnamon, 2 tsps ground ginger, a huge pinch of saffron, roughly a cup or so, perhaps more, of Simply Orange juice and finally just a cup or so of plain soy milk (although I suspect almond or rice milk would work just as well). A final last minute addition was about 2 cups of toasted almond slivers that I folded after I had frozen the sorbet to about a soft serve with an ice cream machine. So I guess you'd call it a Moroccan Inspired Orange, Saffron and Almond Sorbet. It yielded about 12 or so large servings.

I heated the water and sugar in a microwave on high for 3 mins. Then stir to dissolve any remaining sugar. Then I heated an additional 3 minutes to create a simple syrup. This was then added to the 2 peeled oranges, the zest from those oranges, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla and the orange blossom water in a Vitamix or food processor and pureed until smooth. I then strained the mixture to get any bits of pith out of the mixture. To that I added the honey, orange juice and soy milk and whisked until well combined. This was frozen in a home model ice cream machine until soft serve, folded with the almonds and then I put it in the freezer overnight to finish freezing. And voila. Here is a photo: