Category Archives: food fun

The Price of Fear

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An interesting piece on the price we pay for our fears, in The European Magazine. This question is central today in much of the issues being debated in the food world. There is distrust of biotechnology because there is no way to prove that they are “completely” safe. If its not food, then its public health which is vulnerable to fear and distrust.The irrational (and, as proven recently,) baseless fear of vaccination is being blamed for a measles epidemic in Wales and also a persistent Pertussis outbreak in the US. Why have we become so fearful?

If our ancestors had not been adventurous and ready to take a risk, we would be living in a very different world. One where we would never have been to the Moon because no one could show conclusively that it was safe to travel there or even tried a fruit like the rambutan which, looks somewhat scary but is actually delicious.

When new seeds and fertilizers were introduced to the Indian farmer in 1963, they too may have been fearful but they adopted this technology thereby bringing in the Green revolution that ultimately saved so many from hunger, malnutrition and untimely death. Instead of obsessing about what is on my plate and in my food, can we agree to try something that might provide solutions for those who have nothing on their plates? At this point in the discussion usually some one jumps up to say that production alone cannot solve the problems of the food system. I could not agree more but I would point out that by spending all our time and energy talking about GM food/organic cultivation/local or not, we have little left to spend on enormously important matters like consumption patterns, food waste, or malnutrition, among others. That is also part of the price we pay for being fearful , we are left with less than optimal solutions because we did not use our time and resources wisely.

And we can start with baby steps, perhaps move on produce item from the organic to regular column on our grocery list and try that or trace a news report to the actual study they are talking about and decide for oneself what to believe. And if you should choose conventional watermelon instead of organic this week,  you could  also try out this watermelon stroller, bringing you portable and chilled watermelons just in time for picnic season!

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Why Should We Cook?

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Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”  was one of the first non-policy books on food that I found totally absorbing. It showed me food in a totally new light, never again would I look at corn the same way! So I look forward to reading his new book “Cooked” which is  being released today. While the reviews at the New York Times,  Washington Post or on NPR are generally warm, I am curious about some of the points that came up. I am a strong advocate for cooking at home. It is the healthier and cheaper option. But Mr. Pollan’s belief that people don’t cook because they are doing other things like surfing the Internet or watching TV  is not a view I share. The pre-dinner hour is usually the craziest in a household with homework, piano lessons, soccer practice all converging and squeezing out cooking time.  It is rarely a time to watch TV or surf the web, there are other factors at work here: lack of time, knowledge of basic cooking skills come to mind.

More concerning for me was his nostalgic call for a return to the “communal fire”. He posted this quote on Twitter: “The microwave is as anti-social as the cook fire is communal.”  Food prepared  in the microwave qualifies as “food” solely on technical points, I agree, but the communal fire is not the answer. There are many places in the world where even today, food is cooked over fire ( a real fire not the stove top familiar to us). This requires the women and young girls to walk miles in search of firewood, carry it back on their heads and then labor over starting and maintaining the fire to cook on, all the while inhaling huge amounts of smoke that is toxic for them and , indeed, for the entire household. So, for these women, an option to that fire is very welcome.

Mr. Pollan also makes the point that women left the kitchen to participate in the outer world but did not success in bringing men into the kitchen, other than in the form of the men who head the processed food companies. Well, if there is a movement on the part of men to occupy the kitchen, it has not hit my part of the world yet. The grim reality of home cooking is that it takes a whole lot of time: time to clean and prepare fresh produce/meat for cooking, the actual cooking time and then cleaning up afterwords and it is going to take more than one person to do all this so it requires a time commitment from everybody. And while watching amazing dishes come together on TV is mesmerizing, packing lunches and making dinner everyday is , to be honest, fairly tedious.Once we acknowledge this and also the fact that however boring and time consuming it may be, cooking at home is essential for a healthy society and for building family bonds we will be closer to working out a life pattern that works for everyone and still lets us eat home cooked food.

Why Do We Watch Cooking Shows

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My idea of a perfect spring break would have been to laze around at home working my way down the pillar of books at my bedside and , for a change, watching my favorite cooking shows. (Instead, I found myself taking a road trip, indulging in awesome food, and spending way too much on souvenirs without which, kids seem to think , no trip is complete).

There are shows that bring out our inner competitor. We watch “Chopped” and think, ‘Oh, I could do better than that in 20 minutes”. Top Chef is a peek into a world that we never usually get to see and we marvel at the skills on display. Do we ever try to learn anything from these shows or try out these foods at home? Well, Rachel Ray is a practical guide for some, Ina Garten of “Barefoot Contessa” does explain things well and now that she has okayed frozen asparagus, I actually pay attention instead of merely fantasizing about having a kitchen and herb garden like hers. But , by and large, TV shows are entertainment for me. If I want to learn how to make sushi or samosas or want to know how to fillet a fish correctly, I depend on all those helpful people who have posted their videos on YouTube! This post came on as I was reading this lovely piece by Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker.

The Tastiest Cookie….

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…is one that has been dunked in coffee or tea! Famous British chef Heston Blumenthal set up an experiment to see whether cookies taste better after dipping in a beverage and the answer is yes they do! The science behind it is here.

What’s in a Potato?

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Have you ever asked yourself that question? We see different kinds of potatoes at the store or farmers’ markets: brown, red, gold, fingerlings, purple but that is just a surface difference, right? Actually there is much more to it than that and I learnt about it from this delightful post  at The Botanist in the Kitchen, on  making potato and leek soup. I loved the way an everyday ingredient was explained in a scientific way so that we see it with fresh eyes…and can also choose the right potato for soup next time!

Turkey Time!!

It’s that time of the year when thoughts turn to turkeys, cranberries and travel arrangements. While you prepare to enjoy a day of feasting and fun with the family , please remember to give thanks for the farmers and workers who make it possible to load up our tables with such an abundant meal. Also, a thought for how we grow our food, and a heartfelt wish for those who are still stranded and without power from Hurricane Sandy.

It’s not all about the food, though. There are other traditions, like the recounting of past turkey day disasters, the nosy relative wanting to know about relationship updates, or the walk after gorging on the meal. Whether your Thanksgiving is an intimate one or a fancy gathering at a hotel,  have a wonderful, fulfilling Thanksgiving!

And in case  you were wondering, this is why your turkey is cheaper at this time than the rest of the year!

Eating Smart

How did we humans get to be the ones to control the world? By being smarter than other species, yes, but how did we get smarter? The answer, according to a Brazilian study, is because we learned to cook our food. Food became easier to chew and digest and , in some cases, contributed more calories. So  ancient humans now needed to spend less time looking for food and could , instead, ponder other important questions like who made the universe, is the earth flat, could I work even less than now if  I conquered another country and made those people work for me etc.

Cooking our food instead of eating it raw brought a new ritual to human lives: the camaraderie in the kitchen of those who prepared the meal, the gathering around the table  to enjoy nourishment and appreciate the food and also those who prepared it were all special moments. Perhaps that is why sometimes our strongest memories relate to food: the smell of herbs fresh from the garden, the crunch of the apple just picked from the tree, the aroma of meals on festive days. The act of cooking gives a deeper meaning to what would otherwise be, merely, fuel.