Radio Programme: Food and “The World”

Starting today, PRI’s The World is looking at food production and consumption around the world. Those interested in finding sustainable solutions for food production as our global population soars, check out “What’s for Lunch?”. This news feature should run all summer, with different regions getting time in the spotlight.

The first episode looked at technology that will help Singapore break its dependence on Malaysia and other nations. They are working to produce more food locally, indoors, and on the vertical. According the report, these high-tech A-frame gardens are 10 times more productive and use fewer natural resources than regular farming. Next time I am in Singapore, I will try to get a closer look.

http://www.theworld.org/2013/06/to-increase-local-food-production-crowded-singapore-goes-vertical/

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The hassle of microwave popcorn?

Continental breakfast?

Americans are off microwave popcorn. At least that is the gist of a story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday that left me shaking my head. No, we are not embracing simpler, healthier  ways of popping corn. We are buying already popped and bagged corn. It seems microwaves, air poppers and stove top approaches to popping our kernels are fraught with risks.

The few comments on the story are insightful.

wdwpixie writes: “How about the fact that there’s been health issues associated with the microwave popcorn?  Every time I make a bag here at work I have to hear about it from a pharmacy associate….it’s not a lazy factor, it’s a possible health risk, plus the pre-popped can be put in a lunch bag or taken on the road as a snack.”

And, Xalm1983 says she’d “rather buy ready-made popcorn because it just tastes better and doesn’t stink up the apartment if burned.”

justdoit1 seems to prefer the limitless bounty of flavours that manufacturers add to pre-popped corn.  S/he argues that “The already made comes in various flavors, which is hard to do at home without opening up 10 different packages.  most (sic) people buy it because it’s cheaper in bulk than buying 10 different flavored popcorns.”

The thought that popping corn is easy and very inexpensive seems not too have occurred to these commenters. And I think I understand way. They’d rather pay for the convenience (and the waste that comes with it) than take that extra step in their own homes. I mean, is it really easier to buy pre-popped corn with additives to preserve freshness and flavour than air pop some kernels and top them with salt, olive oil and grated cheese?

We consume rather than create. And this focus on consumption that “saves us time” is helping us avoid the larger issues surrounding food waste, hunger, and obesity. And it couldn’t be more disappointing.

On 20 May, Jean-Francois and I “Got Wasted” with a remarkable group of people (both in the audience and on the Panel) and talked about the problem of food waste and hunger in Los Angeles. It was a motivating event that generated a lot of talk on Twitter. You can link to the audio recording of that discussion and Twitter feed below:

(BTW, we’ve moved, unpacked, found computers and plugs, and calmed our cats. And, I have finally found my rhythm in the new place…so I hope to post more regularly.)

It’s a joke, right?

Cover - Good Omens

Sometime around the time Jean-Francois and I started dating, he presented me with a few books to read. Some were his favourites (Kurt Vonnegut), two were books he picked because he wanted to show that he “got me”. One, Foucault’s Pendulum, was a literary historical suspense thriller by Umberto Eco. It had me researching references for weeks. The other was Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a comedy about the Second Coming that was also lush in layered interpretation, jokes, allusions and generally good fun.

There is one joke in Good Omens that is like a latent virus in my memory. It flares in response to certain events or topics centred on food and nutrition. It is a joke about one of the four riders of the Apocalypse: Famine. In this novel, Famine is a ruthless 1980’s business executive in the food industry. His latest two projects, Nouvelle Cuisine and Highly Processed Fast Food, both so beautifully meet his primary goal, that he cannot help being a bit smug. His goal, starving humans to death.
Why does Famine keep coming to mind? Because I think anyone who works in the industrialized food industry worships, intentionally or not, at his altar. My reading list this week supports this theory:
Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss, looks at the science behind make food we crave–even if it is bad for us. I am on the second chapter of this one, and really loving his investigated challenge to these moguls. It’s like he wants us to ask them all: How could you not know that you are helping to make us all sick?
Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner is more about how the demands of our lifestyles created a market for processed foods that now is making us fatter, slower, and sicker. Combined these two books look at the relationship between our desire for convenience to enjoy the good life and our desire to make enough money to have the good life.
And then there is Just Food by James E. McWilliams, published in 2009. This book looks at how those of us trying to make smarter, healthier, and more sustainable choices about what and how we eat, is creating deep anxiety in regular people. Basically we feel guilty all the time.
Each of these books is well-written and researched. But the subject matter makes me flip between the three. Why? Because each reminds me of Famine, and his cool, clean, metro sexual smugness. Pratchett and Gaiman were joking, trying to remind us that not all food is created equal. So, why are we still choosing to grow, make, market, and buy foods that hurt us and some many of our friends and family? Famine is winning despite the availability of nourishing food for many of us. (Don’t get me started thinking about all the food deserts created by executives who put cost benefits above humanity when deciding where grocery markets should be located.)
Yes, Jean-Francois always did understand how to set my mind on fire. He still does.