Meatonomics & Sometimes Vegan

When I was a freshman in high school, I read Fast Food Nation in English class and I didn’t eat a hamburger again for years. I went for hotdogs and chicken fingers instead, which aren’t exactly the greatest alternatives, but everything about a burger was wrong to me. I don’t even remember anymore what part of the beef story convinced me to quit burgers cold turkey (hah), but that book certainly did it. I still sort of feel weird when I eat one, even when I make it myself from grassfed beef.

I just finished reading another book that is going to change my diet a lot more than Fast Food Nation ever did, and it’s called Meatonomics. Written by lawyer David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics explores the “rigged economics” of the meat and dairy industries.  It hits hard in all the areas that get to me; sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and corporate control of consumption.

I really enjoyed reading Meatonomics because it is well researched and clearly written. Each chapter has a thesis sentence, subtitles on almost every page, and a bulleted summary of important points at the end. Everything is described in economic terms, which usually means unfathomably large sums of money, but the quantification is powerful. Simon also devotes a significant portion of the book to outlining solutions to the problems he describes, and they’re not absurd. And finally, of course, I learned a ton reading this book. I’m going to recommend it to my vegetarian economics-major sister, to my sometimes-vegan other sister, and to my parents: read it, because our family has fallen for a lot of the problems described in Meatonomics. Continue reading

Twelve Endocrine Disruptors to Avoid

Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a “dirty dozen” list of endocrine disruptors to avoid, similar to their dirty dozen list of produce to buy organic.

Endocrine disruptors, quite simply, are chemicals that interfere with hormones in the body. They’re particularly scary because very small amounts can have very big effects, particularly during development.  

You and I don’t have unlimited time to investigate every single ingredient in our shampoo, so it is great to have a list like this to know what to look for, just like we know to buy strawberries and apples organic but not worry too much about avocados.

Most of the endocrine disruptors on the list are names you will recognize, big baddies like lead and dioxin, but some you may not recognize by name.  The list describes in plain English what is so bad about these chemicals and gives suggestions for avoiding them; most enter our body either through food or water.  It’s definitely worth taking a look at. Continue reading

A Chemist’s Response to “How Junk Food Can End Obesity”

This post is for Steph, who wanted to know what I though about the Atlantic’s July/Aug cover article. 

Last March, my mother was oh so excited that McDonalds’ Shamrock Shakes were back, but I spoiled her fast food party plans with this info graphic on the ingredients in one of those processed premixed cup-full-of-chemicals.

Just look at this image, and you will never want one again, not because of the calories, carbs, fat, and sugar, but because of all that other crap in there too. I prefer my milkshakes made with good old ice cream and milk, hold the polysorbate 80 please.

As an environmental chemist and foodie, I have a lot to say about David H. Freedman’s Atlantic piece “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.”  His main argument is that we can solve the obesity crisis in America by putting pressure on the fast and processed food industry to be healthier, rather than shunning it altogether.  The nineteen page article also devotes a significant amount of space to disparaging the grassroots real food movement and getting the science of common food additives disturbingly wrong. Continue reading

Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Dear Interwebs,
I am sorry to have neglected you for almost all of July, but I have been very busy.  The month started out with a little vacation in Wisconsin, during which I read Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and liked it enough to want to tell you about.

Taylor and I have spent the rest of the month moving into a new apartment (together!), which has meant a lot of cleaning, organizing, furnishing, etc. I have a few new DIY project to write about!  Luckily T and I have fairly similar design aesthetics, but we are still in hypothetical furniture land, which has meant eating dinner on weird pieces of furniture and piling clothes on the floor.  I struggled with both of these issues until this week, obsessively trolling craigslist for a dining room table and dresser that I both like and can afford.  This is the main reason why I have been such a terrible blogger.  Craigslisting is difficult!

However, Taylor (via Henry David Thoreau) has cured me of my #firstworldproblems obsession with finding just the right table right now. Taylor has been reading Walden aloud to me while I sew, and I have realized that I am being silly.  A man who has more things does not necessarily have more.  I, like Thoreau, would rather patch my clothes (or wear jeans so loved they are full of holes) than buy new ones.  Simple living it is, and furniture will come later. Besides, we don’t want to clutter up our living room with stuff we don’t need.

But I digress. I want to tell you about Michael Pollan’s most recent book and why you should read it.   Continue reading

An Introduction to Slow/Real/Whole Food (for my little sister)

My little sister, who just completed her first year of college, was forwarded this buzzfeed page containing a list of 8 common ingredients in food that are banned in other places of the world.  She wanted to know if it was “legit”, and my answer was YES YES YES this is a big deal and if you don’t know all about this already you should!

Because most of the blogs I read are written by other like-mindedly green people, they (and subsequently I) tend to write about more nuanced aspects of green living, like for example my last post on how to minimize organic kitchen waste. This post is for those of you, like my sister, who not only don’t have a worm bucket, but don’t know how to navigate a grocery store without inadvertently buying carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Continue reading

Happy CSA Season!

Happy spring everybody! I have been a terrible blogger recently because I have had so much school work, but the semester is winding down and I am ready to get back to it.  There are so many things I want to write to you about!

First of all, in April we started getting weekly baskets of local food from our CSA! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), it is a way for people who love fresh local produce to buy directly from farmers.  It’s sort of an investment in a specific farm or group of farms, and you get a basket every week of what they might otherwise be selling at the farmer’s market.  It’s usually produce, but can also include dairy, eggs, meats, cheeses, grains, flowers, etc.  We’ve signed up for one of the biggest CSAs in the area, so we have gotten a whole variety of local food.  Our CSA suggests recipes for the food in each basket, which I have enjoyed as well.

polenta with mushrooms

One of my favorites so far was polenta made with organic corn meal topped with gruyere, chives, and crimini mushrooms sautéed in white wine, and broiled to melt the cheese.  Here is the recipe, directly from our CSA’s blog.

This week, my box included garlic ramps, a sort of wild leek.  I have never eaten or cooked with ramps before, and they seem to be a local spring delicacy around here, so I am excited to give it a try tonight.  I’m planning spaghetti pan-fried with ramps and basil, a variation on this recipe, served with broccoli.  Ramps also sound like they would be great with mushrooms and in risotto or quiche, so hopefully I will get more next week to experiment with!

To learn more about CSAs or find one near you, check out LocalHarvest.org