Pollan on food?

No, not the faddie “must have” addition seen on some chef’s dishes (yeah, you know who you are *…) whilst, at the same time, being touted by moronic, money grabbing, scientifically illiterate, “celebrities” (is there a Venn diagram intersection here?) as the latest new ‘superfood‘. With bee populations crashing dangerously right across the entire globe, stealing their pollen is a hugely, hugely dumb thing to do. It’s hardly ‘sustainable’ and runs the very real risk that it’ll cause even more damage to the bees’ vital work in pollinating fully one third of this…

…the very foods we eat. * So fucking stop it. Stop it right now you fucking pretentious wankers.

OK, that said, this piece is based around work undertaken by THE Michael Pollan. As in the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast-Food World” which, along with Dan Barber’s “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food”, is pretty much the sine qua non, the first and last word on food sustainability and a place where superb ideas on good farming and good food intersect. Pollan wrote:

“a working definition of industrial food: Any food whose provenance is so complex or obscure that it requires expert help to ascertain.”

This is graphically highlighted in this image showing that whilst 70% of the world’s food is produced by small holders, fully 80% of the natural resources used are consumed by the industrial food producers. Even more horrifying, is the realisation that the stuff produced by the industrial, agro-chemical combines is actually crap in terms of “shareholder return” or “value chain enhancement” or whatever other bollocks they spout; the factories expend 1 calorie for every 1.5 calories produced. The small holders are TEN TIMES more efficient.

© Groundswell International https://www.groundswellinternational.org

And you know what? The vast bulk of the processed crap that these factory farms produce for sale through the giant supermarkets centres around corn. Corn! Here’s Pollan again:

Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes your steak.
Corn feeds the chicken and the pig.
Corn feeds the catfish raised in a fish farm.
Corn-fed chickens laid the eggs.
Corn feeds the dairy cows that produce the milk, cheese, and ice cream.

That we’re force-feeding our animals stuff that isn’t part of their (tens of thousands of years in the making) natural diet is just insane. It’s not better for them and it sure as shit ain’t better for us! “We are what we eat”. And on that basis, we’re all starting to turn yellow and sway in the wind. We are quite literally becoming creatures of the corn.

How many ingredients do you recognise (without resort to Google!) off that long list of additions you find on the back of processed food packets? Maltodextrin? Monosodium glutamate? Ascorbic acid? And what are they from? What about lecithin and mono-, di-, and tri-glycerides? All made from corn. That golden food colouring? Corn. Even the citric acid that keeps these Frankenstein foods “fresh” is made from corn.

This isn’t a healthy way to run our food production. Monocultures are never good. Sooner or later they all go to shit and disaster strikes. When did we get so dependent on this one crop? OK. It’s easy enough — albeit it’s totally justified — to criticise and rail against this state of affairs. The important question is “how do we fix things”?

That children, I’m afraid, is going to have to be the subject of another post. But you want to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, don’t you? Yes. Of course you do. So, watch this space.

And finally for today? Finally, how about a recipe for creamed corn, courtesy Sean Brock?  What? Corn? After all I’ve said above? Yeah, I know. But this is Good Stuff™.

Ingredients:

8 ears fresh husked corn
1 & 1⁄2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, sliced finely
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups heavy cream
3 thyme sprigs, tied together with kitchen string
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Preparation

Cut the kernels from the corn; set aside. Using a box grater, scrape the “milk” from the cobs into a wide bowl; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add half of the corn kernels, the shallots, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots and garlic have softened considerably, about 7 minutes. Add the cream, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the corn mixture to a blender and blend on high until completely smooth, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a saucepan.

Add the remaining corn kernels, the reserved “milk” from the cobs, the thyme, and butter to the pan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, and simmer until the creamed corn has thickened and the whole kernels are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the thyme, season with salt and white pepper, and serve.

Finest kind!

 

 

Eat well, save money, save the planet…

…is a helluva on point mission statement from @TooGoodToGo_UK . One I’m 100% behind.

Started in Denmark and since expanded to parts of England — pleased to see that they’re already close to us in Cambridge & Peterborough — they now have similar foundations in six different countries and in not much more than six months — through this food re-distribution scheme — they’ve helped prevent over 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide going up as greenhouse gas emissions as well as providing over 14 thousand meals, that would have otherwise been discarded, to those most in need.

Via their Too Good To Go app, you can order food that would otherwise be thrown out by local restaurants, bakeries and cafes, collect it up to an hour before closing time — from as little as £2 — to eat ‘on-the-go’, all neatly packaged up in an environmentally-friendly TGTG sugarcane box.

It’s another small part of the ongoing global set of efforts to find sustainable solutions to making the very most of what we’ve got, in order to prevent further damage to the only planet we have. In their case, the primary goal is obviously to raise awareness of & reduce food wastage, but also, in a similar manner to The Real Junk Food project I talked about in an earlier piece – to prove that much of what is binned is still completely safe to eat and that it’ll actually taste even better when it’s part of your own efforts to help protect the planet.

Dan Barber would be proud of ’em.

Some of the frankly horrendous statistics are shown above: currently, we waste almost 40% of all the food we produce worldwide. Some 28% of our planet’s agricultural land is used to produce food that doesn’t even make it as far as a plate; and even worse, when this rots  away in landfill it then releases damaging pollutants that can be up to 100 times more potent than CO2. Research indicates that 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gases are associated with food production, distribution and storage. Were we to eat all the edible food currently thrown away, we’d save CO2 emissions equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road, whilst it is estimated that wasted food from the USA, Europe and Asia could feed the world three times over.

So, what are you waiting for? Off you go and support this group as well!

And finally, whilst we’re at it, let’s not forget our very own home-grown Olio who I’ve written about before and who’ve been doing a similar thing with household spare food for close to two years now. Do you think the message is getting through to people now? I sure hope so…

Eating sustainably, ethically, responsibly, humanely…

The food system is broken. Food is not a commodity. Cheap shouldn’t be king – cheap has a price; for humans, animals & the environment. @martharoberts

I keep banging on this same drum, sounding out that how the food we eat and the choices we make about what types of food we choose to consume, affects both us and the environment we all have to live in. This is how factory farmed pigs are housed. This is the pig equivalent of Guantanamo.

The way they’re caged & their waste treated has a huge impact on the water table, polluting rivers & waterways, damaging soil & the ecosystem around and causing health problem for people unfortunate enough to be living close by. The stench is unreal. It has to be experienced (once!) to realise just quite how eye-wateringly, throat clenching, breathing impacting it is. And that is aside from the very real pain, suffering and mental anguish caused to the poor animals constrained in these multi-story prisons or death factories.

This clip below is taken from videos shot by activists…

…from one of those huge death camps run by the US Smithfield Food Corporation, the largest pork producer in the country, who’ve also been caught SPRAYING THIS FUCKING SHIT INTO THE AIR.

Then there’s the huge question of what species can safely & sustainably be eaten without causing a possibly disastrous drop in population numbers. I don’t necessarily think all the dodos killed were eaten by humans; but it took less than a century for all of them to disappear totally from the face of the planet. We’re even better at mass-destruction nowadays…

I’m going to be writing a whole lot more on eating sustainably, ethically, responsibly, humanely. And with minimal waste. As a start, at the foot of this post, I’ve listed the various fish species divided very easily into two sections; one labelled “Eat Me”, the one other labelled “Don’t be a selfish dickhead”.

There are a number of organisations already effectively working in this area. In this piece I want to highlight three that I’ve not previously mentioned before.

Firstly, there’s the Real Junk Food Project; they divert surplus edible food destined for waste and make it accessible for human consumption. They say

“We believe it is a human right to have access to food and the scale and senselessness of food waste has to stop, and it needs to happen in our lifetime, to ensure the next generation do not suffer from our ignorance.”

There’s a video of one of the team talking about how they want to feed the world and save waste that’s well worth watching

Secondly, there’s FareShare, who similarly collect food that would otherwise be dumped and, via a nationwide network of volunteers, deliver it to partner charities who then in turn distribute meals to those most in need

 

and then lastly there’s chef Massimo Bottura’ Refettorio Felix, in St Cuthbert’s, London that fights against food waste ‘in support of social inclusion and individual well-being’. It’s part of his Food For Soul project that he setup in Milan in 2015 with subsequent projects following in Brazil (Refettorio Gastromotiva) and then two more in Modena and Bologna. Each of these projects shares the common themes of using surplus food, working with local artists, to create engaging dining spaces and serving dishes to vulnerable local communities.

That we still need these initiatives in England, a country that claims to be the 5th richest in the world, in the year 2017, is, quite frankly an obscene, festering, national disgrace. That said, the amount of food wasted around the world is also a similar obscene disgrace, so, swallowing my bile and pure, simple, unalloyed hatred of the Tories and the neo-liberals and their “austerity” measures, I urge you all to support at least one of these.

And lastly? A reminder that WASTED! The Story of Food Waste, which stars Massimo alongside Mario Batali, Dan Barber and Danny Bowien — Anthony Bourdain is its executive producer — is an 85-minute film about the food waste crisis and those working to combat it, is showing in a special screening on 23rd June at the Curzon Chelsea in King’s Road. It’s followed by a panel including director Anna Chai, Justin Byam-Shaw, chairman of food waste project The Felix Project and food waste champion Patrick Drake.

Tickets for the screening cost £12 which includes a booking fee of £1. Profit from the ticket sales will be donated to The Felix Project. For information, go to londonfoodmonth.co.uk.  Go and see it!

And if you need anymore encouragement, here’s a final reminder from the resource efficiency group WRAP, of how much there’s still to do:

Figures from the United Nations indicate that 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption is wasted around the world every year. Ten million tonnes goes to waste in the UK alone.

And finally? Finally, here’s that list of fish I promised you earlier. These in the first group you can eat with a clear conscience:

  • King Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Pink Salmon
  • Chum Salmon
  • Wild Striped Bass
  • Soft Shell Crab
  • Pacific Rock Fish
  • Wild Yellowtail
  • Swordfish
  • Farm-Raised Abalone, Arctic Char & Barramundi
  • Catfish
  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Pacific Cod (Alaska only)
  • King Crab
  • Snow Crab
  • Tanner Crab
  • Dungeness Crab
  • Lionfish
  • Spiny Lobster (Mexico only)
  • Freshwater Prawns
  • Spotted Prawns
  • Rockfish
  • Sablefish/Black Cod
  • Sanddab
  • Farm-Raised Scallops (wild is an okay alternative)
  • Farm-Raised Shrimp (wild is an okay alternative)
  • Tilapia
  • Farm-Raised Rainbow Trout
  • Wild Albacore Tuna
  • Wild Skipjack Tuna
  • Wild Yellowfin Tuna
  • Branzino
  • Black & Red Grouper
  • Lobster
  • Monkfish
  • Octopus
  • Squid

But steer clear of these below. Change your buying habits, encourage your friends to do the same and, importantly, tell chefs & restaurants that you won’t eat fish from this group so won’t eat at their places until they’re on board with this idea and have stopped serving these species:

  • Bluefin Tuna
  • Farm-Raised Salmon (because it’s hugely polluting & screws up the other water inhabitants!)
  • Eel
  • Farm-Raised Yellowtail
  • Wild Abalone
  • Basa/Pangasius/Swai
  • Cod (Atlantic, Russia, Japan)
  • Crab (Asia and Russia)
  • Atlantic Halibut
  • Spiny Lobster (Belize, Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua)
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Orange Roughy
  • Pollock
  • Atlantic Sardines
  • Sharks
  • Imported Shrimp
  • Squid (China, India, and Thailand)

Let’s skillet kids

I recently bought another new skillet. This one is a 15″ monster to go alongside the smaller 10″ version I’d bought last year. There’s probably no kitchen utensil finer than this for searing and browning stuff  — unless you have a salamander like this below in your kitchen; most amateur cooks can’t spring for something that expensive and that big — and it’s even good for baking items in the oven; like corn-bread, the recipe at the foot of the page by Sean Brock being a fine example of that.

salamander

It arrived like the first one claiming (and very probably truthfully) to be pre-seasoned but, having already read widely and had the experience of the earlier one to fall back on, inc. this great piece entitled “The Truth About Cast Iron Pans: 7 Myths That Need To Go Away” by the very wonderful J. Kenji López-Alt of the Serious Eats website as well as the previously reviewed “The Food Lab“, I decided to start as I needed to go on.

2016-04-16 at 14.48

The process is simple — pre-heat an oven to as high as it’ll go (250ºC+, around 500ºF), rub a very fine film of vegetable or olive oil into the pan making sure it coats everywhere (use your hands!) inc. the handle and the base, taking care to remove all excess with a paper towel, place in the oven for around 60 minutes, then turn off the heat and wait for it to cool. It’ll take a long time to cool — up to 2 hours — so be patient. Cast iron is fantastic at retaining heat; that’s why it’s so good at what it does. The downside is that many a cook has unwittingly grabbed the handle too soon. Believe me, it hurts like a bastard. And the blisters take some time to heal. And you’ll feel like a dick.

Coating with oil. Then removing...

Coating with oil. Then removing…

“Rinse & repeat” as many times as you like until the pan shines. (NOTE: I don’t really mean rinse by the way. But then you knew that of course, didn’t you?)

The B&W photo below is taken after the first of 5 planned seasonings — a process that has to be repeated regularly every couple of months if the pan isn’t to degrade. But if you do as you’re told and stick to this discipline, then the pan will outlast you, it will outlast your children and it will probably outlast their children.

I think you’ll agree that it’s looking pretty bloody good already, the shine of the new coating starting to come up and at the same time, smoothing over the bumps that the modern manufacturing process leaves.

pan

Really old skillets are smooth already as part of the production involved casting it in sand-based moulds, then polishing the resulting pebbly surfaces until all the little hillocks had been removed. So vintage cast iron tends to have a satiny smooth finish. By the 1950s, as factory production scaled up and was streamlined, this final polishing step was dropped from the process. The result? Modern cast iron retains that bumpy, pebbly surface.

Well, it does, at least until all your hard work and time invested, starts laying down a thicker layer of polymerised oil; the result left when the oil you’ve carefully rubbed over the surface (and equally carefully rubbed off — it’s molecules we’re looking for) breaks down under the intense heat of the oven into a plastic-like substance that has bonded to the surface of the metal. And this non-permeable layer is what gives well-seasoned cast iron its non-stick properties as well as smoothing over the lumps.

There’s even talk that pure flaxseed oil — because it contains more free-radicals than the more usual oils deployed — works more effectively and more quickly. Me? I haven’t yet gone to those lengths (it requires 18 hours, 6 seasonings and I’ve not had the damn thing that long) but the science seems sound, which of course appeals to the inner geek in me and so I’d say, if you have an old skillet that needs some TLC or you just want to experiment, then this could well be the right time to look at Sheryl Canter’s approach. Go for it!

By the way, I find can’t actually get the 15″ one into the oven; it’s just too frickin’ big. We may have to move to allow me to buy a bigger oven so that I can properly season this one…

And finally? Finally, here’s the promised Sean Brock recipe courtesy Food Republic:

If you get it right, it’ll look like this:

© Photograph: Peter Frank Edwards via Serious Eats

Bacon gives me a lardon…

HT to @400degreesoven for this one. And stop that childish sniggering at the back please…