Think of your body as a machine and adapt your energy input to your energy output. This is basic science, verified over 100s of years. But the current funky diet “theory” isn’t even “theory” in the scientific sense – it’s a guess based on hopeful correlations, if that. Matching caloric input to output always works and it’s generally healthy if you’re careful to eat a balanced diet. But it requires discipline.Continue reading
Outside the Food-Shed
I’m a great fan and promoter of eating food produced locally: something called eating in the “food-shed.” A food-shed isn’t one of the wooden buildings that I helped my father build while growing up on a farm, it’s more akin to a watershed, which refers water flowing through a specific geographic area to on its way to the ocean. “Food-shed” is a bit more arbitrary in that it’s usually defined as a set of geographical coordinates (say, everything within a 100- or 200-mile radius of a given home) as opposed to a natural topographic feature.
The concept of a food-shed was created to promote the idea of eating locally, and as I said, I think this is a good idea. Local food is usually fresher and so it tastes better. Growers don’t have the incentive to pick under-ripe fruit or veggies to give them more leeway in shipping and so time-to-market is minimized. The ultimate in local eating at this time of year visiting a pick-your-own strawberry or asparagus farm, coming home, and eating the fruits (or stalks) of your harvest for supper that night. The difference in flavor between asparagus picked and cooked immediately and asparagus cooked a day later is an order of magnitude.
Then there’s the industrialization issue. Producing animals and vegetables on an industrial scale requires some use of petroleum-based herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Probably not to the degree Big-Ag uses them, but some. Small, local production requires much less external input because harvesting is hands-on – the farmer inspects each fruit or vegetable to at least some degree. It’s less demanding of soil nutrients because crop/animal rotation is feasible.
For lack of a better work, I really have a “belief” in the importance of agriculture as a personal instead of an industrial endeavor. I like the idea of rewarding people who’s names I know by buying from them and by telling them what I did with those Cherokee Purple tomatoes or that Maine Musk canteloupe. We both, buyer and seller, benefit from that genuinely personal exchange of value for value. Commerce can and often should involve far more than handing over greenbacks for green beans.
However, in planning my Easter dinner this year I called MarxFoods in New Jersey and asked them to send me an evaluation package of their Wild Produce Sampler that is harvested in the rain forests of Oregon and Washington. Not exactly local. But, I’ve had contacts with MarxFoods before and I think they are believers in offering something special to their customers – I went outside my food-shed to get something special. It’s not unlike me buying shrimp here in land-locked Knoxville.
Frankly, the idea occurred to me because I had a hankering for some fiddlehead ferns. I’ve had fiddleheads before when I lived near their native habitat and almost liked them, I wanted to try a new approach to flavoring them. The sampler includes stinging nettles and miner’s lettuce so it offered an opportunity to try some new things as well as revisiting an old one.
The wild veggies were shipped overnight and arrived absolutely fresh. The next day I fixed them as a feature of my Spring/Easter dinner. One of my guests had eaten fiddleheads and nettles before but the other four guests were eating something brand new. When I cleaned up on Monday morning there were a few leaves of miner’s lettuce on a couple of plates – a true complement. If the people you’re feeding say the food is good it’s one thing but when the plates look like they were licked clean, you know they meant it.
The Kenny Rogers song goes, “Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.” When it comes to cooking, know when to stay close to home, and when to step outside of your food shed and munch on the wild side.
The Myth of Sustainability
When foodies use the word “sustainable” they typically mean a system that doesn’t require outside inputs – no chemical fertilizer or herbicides, no purchased feed for livestock, and only water that falls from the sky or flows on the surface. In other words everything needed to produce vegetables, fruit, and meat over the long term is either already available (water, for instance) or can be produced (manure fertilizer) on location.
This a wonderfully pleasant, bucolic idea that takes many proponents back to a distant time when farming was less of a business and more of a way of life. But before you write it off as hopelessly romantic and idealistic you should know that a number of studies have found that such operations are capable of at least equaling the calories-per-acre production of state-of-the-art industrial farming operations. There are, however, a couple of caveats.
First, the successful farms are located in areas sporting both plenty of clean water and rich soil. Second, the farmers running these operations devote far more time and effort to their farms than the average mega- or even mid-size farmer does. It takes a lot of data collection, analysis, and planning to achieve such yields without external inputs. Add in the actual physical labor and farmers such as the Salatins, who Michael Pollan describes in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, work far harder than almost anyone else in our economy. Only someone who truly loves farming would invest the effort required.
The hard work quotient is just the first road block to nationwide sustainable agriculture – the utopia many foodies dream of when they think of the future of farming. There’s also the issue of arable land. Large swaths of this country, even those that provide much of our produce, are incapable of self-sufficient agriculture. A significant percentage of the fruits and vegetables in this country come from the Central Valley of California – an area that relies on water piped in from Northern California. Arizona and New Mexico are also major producers and their climate makes Southern California look like rain forest. With irrigation these areas produce almost enough vegetables to feed the nation – and the do so year round.
Obviously the western mountain chains (and large areas of the eastern mountains) are incapable of supporting more than subsistence farming. Additionally the vicinity of major metropolitan areas (think NYC, Chicago, Boston, and so on) means a lot of potential farmland is already in use and what land is available is too expensive for agricultural uses.
Government policies also impede sustainability by encouraging mono-cultural (one crop) agriculture via direct and indirect subsidies and by excluding farms from laws regulating air and water pollution. For instance, any sane policy would prohibit the manure lagoons produced by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) rather than giving them an exclusion from environmental laws.
Finally, it’s worth noting that with the exception of sunlight the Earth is a closed system – meaning we aren’t the only ones affected by our decisions and the decisions of others will inevitably affect us. In other words, although thinking about sustainability within the borders of the United States is a valid starting point, sustainability eventually must be considered globally. And, given that the Earth is a closed system, we must think about sustainability.
The initial practical answer probably isn’t the farm described in the first paragraph. Instead the answer is semi-sustainability; a reduced reliance on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and herbicides, a greater effort to prevent the loss of topsoil, the development of drought-resistant plants – perhaps even using genetic engineering. And it’s livestock breeding and ranching methods that don’t require antibiotics to prevent disease.
We need to keep in mind that, however appealing it may be, a system of agriculture that fed 77 million people in 1900 – the model that today’s sustainability proponents harken back to – won’t feed the 304 million people alive today. Furthermore, the current system can’t be scaled up to support even twice the current population.
That brings us to the biggest obstacle to sustainable agriculture – even a modified, more realistic, less pure agriculture – our eating habits. We need eat far less meat than we do now because our meat-eating habits simply aren’t sustainable. We need to quit throwing household organic waste into landfills and instead turn it into fertilizer (composting on a grand scale). And lastly, we need to care enough about the issues to express our opinion.
Sure, write your Congress-person. But if you educate yourself on the topics and just talk about it when the subject comes up you’ll have as much effect as writing a letter or planting a garden on the White House lawn. And eliminating meat one day a week will reduce your carbon footprint more than almost anything else you can do.
In fact, just giving a damn at all can make a difference eventually.
Seriously Good And Simple Food
I recently spent some time in the hospital. I’d forgotten just how bad food can be. Among other things I was served scrambled eggs with the texture of soggy cardboard and flavor of feathers, pork loin cooked until it was barely suitable for making shoes, and frozen vegetables seasoned only with water. I lost ten pounds and if I hadn’t persuaded a visitor to smuggle in some salt I would have lost even more.
When you’re passionate about some activity, it’s sometimes easy to focus so much on the “how” that you lose track of the original “why”. These days I choose what I cook to match the needs of catering clients or cooking classes. I also cook to develop article ideas and make decisions based on a dish’s photographic potential. And I eat with a critical tongue: Too much rosemary? Too little pepper? Need something to add brightness? Is the texture right? I get so caught up in the details and craft of cooking that I forget why I began cooking: To eat.
A casserole I made the other night is a good example of this. I needed a new recipe for a web site where I write. It needed to be an inexpensive dish, somewhat low-calorie, easy to make, using leftover meat. I spent around an hour planning the dish (including writing out a starting recipe) then another hour making it, adjusting seasonings, and making notes. While it was cooking I planned the photographs and then I plated it and shot it. Finally I sat down and ate it, again making notes. The casserole was good, which I duly noted.
Too often I eat as a critic. Judging the tastes and smells and textures against existing expectations, prejudices, and history. Too often, my efforts meet these criteria.
I say “too often” because even if a dish – or entire meal – is exceptional in some sort of absolute sense, it’s no better than I expected. Occasionally something does turn out better than expected and that’s both revelatory and great fun. Such events are one of the reasons I cook and judge my cooking (and other’s) so critically. But ironically, the better I get as a cook, the less often I’m pleasantly surprised and these days it often takes such surprises to get my complete attention.
The day after I got home from the hospital I was dying for a good meal. Something quick and simple because I was sore and standing for very long wasn’t in the cards. So I made a sandwich, specifically a panini using thin-sliced country ham, raclette cheese, and sourdough bread – all of which I had on hand. It was a meal with no other purpose than tasting good. And boy did it taste good.
But after a week off from the kitchen (a week notable for its lack of decent food) I was ready to eat purely for enjoyment’s sake. As I picked up my sandwich I noted the grill marks and delightful golden color of the rest of the bread. Biting into it had a satisfying crunch and there was a light note of carbon from the grill marks. The ham was sweet, salty, and almost meltingly tender while the cheese was pungent and unctious. I resisted my urge to wolf the sandwich down and made a point of enjoying each bite. A great meal needn’t be fancy, it only needs to be thoughtful in the choice of ingredients, the preparation, and the dining.
As much as I enjoy developing recipes, preparing them, photographing them, and writing about them, the reason for cooking so is ultimately to eat – and eat well. When I become too caught up in the minutiae, focus too much (and not “just enough”) on good technique or choosing the right olive oil, I lose track of why I set out to become a cook in the first place. It is my intellectual centers, not my pleasure centers, that are in charge of such meals. Fortunately, something usually comes along about then to remind me that the more genuine pleasure isn’t cooking but eating. Especially if, like my sandwich lunch, the food is seriously good.
Eating Dirt and Staying Healthy
Last summer I spent a week in the hospital after developing a severe staph infection on my lower belly. I drove myself to the emergency room one Sunday evening after having reached the conclusion there was something seriously wrong – this wasn’t just a heat rash. The doctor’s reaction on examining me was (“Holey Moley!!”).
Perhaps I have a sensitivity to staph. I’ve had three staph infections in my life (although this was by far the worse), but I don’t have much sensitivity to anything else infectious – or autoimmune either.
I had asthma as child but outgrew it. For about five years I had something cold-like every fall when the weather first turned cold – but that’s been over 20 years ago. I had the flu when I was 18 and a strep throat when I was 26. Aside from these events I don’t catch diseases. Oh, there have been days when I snuffled a bit or had an upset stomach and may have been fighting off an infection, but it was always gone in a day.
I’m not alone. My parents seldom get colds, don’t have allergies, and aside from the inevitable effects of aging are hale and hearty. Same with my siblings. Sure, you can argue good genes, but I’ve long had another theory about this, one I was reminded of by an article published by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times: “Babies Know: A Little Dirt is Good for You.”
My parents grew up in the 20s and 30s before our culture became terrified of germs while my siblings and I grew up on a farm eating food and drinking water that wasn’t perfectly clean. As children we were all exposed to a broad spectrum of bacteria at low levels and our bodies simply developed the ability to kill the unfriendly ones. Our immune systems were regularly exercised and, as a result, became strong and discriminating.
We’ve seen a huge increase in allergies here in the West and there’s evidence this may be a result of immune systems that “panic.” They have not learned to distinguish between organisms and chemicals that threaten the body and those that don’t. Consequently anytime these immune systems see something odd they attack – even if it’s you they’re attacking.
In another couple of examples, some current research points to potential links between celiac disease and lactose intolerance and the lack of microorganisms in the gut that can break down gluten and lactose. A decrease in breast-feeding may well contribute to this. The placenta isn’t a perfect filter, but it’s pretty good. So breast feeding not only passes on the mother’s existing antibodies to her children, but also passes on some useful bacteria. Ultra-sterilized infant formula doesn’t.
We have become a germophobic nation. The supermarket hands out wipes to disinfect buggies, we buy anti-bacterial soap for our kitchens and bathrooms, we expect our doctors to give us antibiotics whenever we get a runny nose or our child has an earache, we shoot our industrially raised cattle and chickens with drugs to prevent illness – not cure it.
This is silly. We live in – and surround – a sea of bacteria. In fact, aside from physically breaking down the food you eat by chewing and the application of some acids and enzymes, you do relatively little to digest your food. Instead a host of microorganisms living in your gut extract and then excrete the nutrients that keep you alive. If your intestine ruptures many of these bacteria can quickly kill you, but in their place they’re not only harmless but positively beneficial.
Besides, anti-bacterial soaps don’t work any better than ordinary soap, but they do enable bacteria to evolve their own immunity to the anti-bacterial agents. Our over-reliance on drugs whenever we don’t feel well combined with the additional drugs we get in every bite of chicken or drink of milk we eat is breeding a new group of super bugs – and making us less able to defend ourselves.
I don’t really advocate eating dirt, although eating a bit is unlikely to kill you. Washing your hands regularly – but not obsessively – is wise. And washing fruits and vegetables is a good idea, but the most effective way is to disinfect them is by briefly soaking in a vinegar solution. And the next time you feel bad, instead of going to the doctor, just take the day off and relax. Give your immune system a chance to do it’s job – and get a little exercise.
The Ethics of Eating Meat
This is the season for predicting trends for the coming year. Often when these predictions come to pass, they’re more fads than trends but there is one a growing school of thought that you may be vaguely aware of but which I think is at about the point the organic food trend was six years ago: humane meat production.
This trend toward humanely-raised meat tends to get tossed into the whole organic food thing and that’s certainly where its roots were, but I think the motivations for it have diverged and will continue to do so.
Most people choose to eat organically because they consider it a healthier alternative to produce doused with herbicides and grown in soil that’s adulterated with petroleum-based fertilizers. A few also like the fact that “organic” just seems better for the planet. And lot of folks started seeking out organic meat for the same reasons. But even vegetarians don’t form emotional bonds with their broccoli. Meat-eaters, on the other hand, can imagine a bond of some sort with a steer or even a pig. Remember the pot-bellied-pig-as-pet fad a few years back?
This identification with animals means that thoughtful meat-eaters must find a philosophical basis for their choice. In The River Cottage Meat Book, English chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall refers to the issue frequently in the book’s 500 pages. My friend, Chef Bob del Grosso (a professional charcutiere) addresses it often in his blog, A Hunger Artist. Our relationship to the meat we cook and eat is becoming more and more a subject of discussion among food professionals and foodies.
When I was growing up my mother would often invite her students from at the University of Tennessee out for a day of horseback riding and dinner. It never failed to freak the new ones out when we’d sit down to a plate of beef stew and compare how tough the meat from Brown Cow was compared to Mayberry. The concept of eating an animal with a name was hard to get past for many of our guests. And back then most of us were closer to our source of meat than most of are today. So how do you justify eating a steak that had a name, or even, as in the case of Mayberry, whose birth you’d been part of?
Some (the less-thoughtful, I would assert) believe we have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Even many non-religious folks embrace this fundamental right to do as they please with non-human species. To me, that’s a phenomenally arrogant attitude – an example of supreme hubris.
My take is that I too am animal, different in ability but not in kind, from cows, sheep, lions, dogs, chimpanzees, and pigs. Cows and sheep evolved to eat grass, lions and dogs to eat cows and sheep, and baboons and pigs to eat grass and cows. I’m no more obligated by any absolute moral stricture to avoid meat than a lion or pig.
But I have different abilities from my fellow animals and two of them appear to be a more general sense of empathy and the capability to apply that empathy to abstract concepts such as ethical behavior.
The cattle we raised and ate when I was growing up lived good lives. They had plenty to eat and plenty of choice (given the opportunity cows will eat spring twigs, sassafras bark, and other things one might not expect). When the time came to butcher an animal it was prodded gently (more or less, cows are big and stubborn) into a truck, hauled to the meat processor, painlessly killed, and converted to steaks, roasts, and hamburger.
Did the cow’s life end early? Compared to what? Animals in the wild constantly face predation and being eaten alive by a lion can’t be much fun. Parasitic disease is far more common among wild animals than domestic animals raised on pasture and winters are brutal. Even though our cattle spent the entire winter outside we never lost one due to weather because they were uniformly healthy and were fed hay all winter. They had a good life and no being knows when it will die.
The majority of animals destined for supermarkets aren’t so lucky. A side effect of breeding lean pigs is a linked gene that promotes aggression – so industrial pigs have their tails unceremoniously cut off as piglets. Industrial chickens have their beaks cut off. Both live on a wire mesh floor that allows their waste to drop through to a holding area – they may not be laying directly in their waste (as industrial cattle do) but they can’t escape it either. A few months ago, in “No Prevention, No Cure” I linked to a video showing sick cows being abused with fire-hoses and forklifts at a commercial processing plant. This is probably more common than many of us would like to think.
Pigs and chickens and cows aren’t human and anthropomorphizing them diminishes rather than enhances their dignity. But they are my fellows on this planet and as such are entitled to respect. And so as part of my New Year’s resolution, I make at 25-mile round trip to buy some meat and plan to continue doing. I’ve seen Tracy Monday’s farm and it reminds me of where I grew up. And if I were one of his cows, I’d be tempted to trade a short good life his farm a longer but miserable existence.
Milk: The Raw Deal
A few days ago I received an offer to purchase unpasteurized milk for my pets from a local organic farm. For $103 I’d receive a gallon of raw milk once a week for 12 weeks. I’ll save you the trouble of doing the math: that’s $8.58 a gallon. I’m really fond of my cat, but not $8.58-a-week fond. Which is why I’m pretty sure this offer is an end-run around Tennessee’s laws preventing the sale of raw milk for human consumption.
It’s still very much on the fringes, but there’s a growing movement in this country promoting the health benefits of raw milk. But a little history first.
When our country was largely rural, raw milk was a common beverage, often produced by your own cows, but sometimes purchased from a neighbor. There were no mortality and morbidity survey from public health departments or the Center for Disease Control to track illness from raw milk but it’s certain no one thought twice about drinking it. Both of my parents, who were born in 1920, regularly drank raw milk as children.
But as our society became more urban, providing truly fresh raw milk became more and more difficult. Transportation was slow and there was no effective refrigeration. Perhaps worse, because the milk producers weren’t the friends and neighbors of the people buying the milk they were less inclined to be scrupulous about the quality. And even for well-intentioned milk producers, the inability to easily test for contaminants like campylobactor, salmonella, and e-Coli meant problems could arise. And, given all these factors, they did.
Food poisoning from raw milk sky-rocketed in the first half of the 20th century. In 1938 25 percent of all cases of food poisoning were associated with dairy products. In 1924 the federal Public Health Service began mandating pasteurization for milk sold across state lines. With the passage of this ordinance (and subsequent legislation in most states) incidents of poisoning dropped dramatically (although they still haven’t disappeared, as we’ll see) and the program was deemed a complete success.
Jump ahead to today. Transportation is an order (or two) of magnitude faster and everything is refrigerated. Testing for bacterial contamination is easy, cheap, and highly effective. And these days, even living in a metropolis such as New York City, you can know and learn to trust a milk producer if you take the trouble to do so.
Still federal and state governments remain strongly antagonistic to raw milk sales (22 states absolutely prohibit it and where it’s permitted sales are discouraged in various ways) and they are quick to point fingers at raw milk as a source of food poisoning. In 2008 three cases of campylobacter poisoning were blamed on raw milk from Hendricks Farms near Franconia, Pa. A single sample of the milk did turn up the bacteria – at the purchaser’s home. Additionally, two of those sickened had just returned from travels abroad. No other samples tested positive and thorough testing at the dairy failed to find the bacteria. I happen to have a friend (a professional chef) who works at that dairy and he tells me the food processing areas are as clean or cleaner than any restaurant where he’s worked.
In 2004 FDA Consumer published an article warning against drinking raw milk. Ironically, that same year 38 cases of salmonella poisoning in several states were traced to pasteurized milk but FDA Consumer didn’t publish a subsequent article warning of the dangers of pasteurized milk.
Raw milk advocates argue that raw milk is healthier and tastes better than pasteurized milk because the pasteurization process kills helpful bacteria (probiotics) as well as harmful bacteria and that the process also destroys helpful enzymes. True or not, there are people who want to drink raw milk. Presumably they’re aware of the risks – it takes some research to even find a source. And clearly pasteurized milk presents a risk as well.
Raw milk does taste better, but not so much so that I’m willing to pay $8.58 a gallon for it. But it’s ridiculous that in order to sell raw milk here in Tennessee, the farm near me has to emphasize that it’s for pets, not humans. As I said, I’m fond of my cat, as most people are of their pets, and if I thought raw milk was unsafe for me I certainly wouldn’t feed it to my cat. But at that price neither of us are going to be drinking it.
Unlike most folks, I learned to grill meat over wood. I grew up on a small farm in Eastern Tennessee within sight of the Smoky Mountains. Only about half of the 40 acres we owned were cleared, the rest was forest. This meant we had a ready supply of wood for grilling — including that southern king-of-smoke, hickory.
Dad built the grill out of concrete block, which sounds ugly, but the block was “faced” for architectural use and looked more like hewn granite than concrete. The firebox was about 3 x 3 feet square and Dad had an iron grate made to fit that the actual cooking was done on. Even for a family of six, the pit was overkill, but at least once a summer my parents would have a big lawn party and invite 30 or so people, and that’s when the grill came into its own with three or four chickens and half a dozen sirloin steaks (from our own grass-fed cattle) going at once.
But party or family, the fires were built the same way, and one of us kids usually built them (under Dad’s supervision). We’d begin by collecting twigs ranging in size from something the size of a match to larger pieces 1/4 inch or more in diameter. Using these we’d build a teepee with the tiny stuff in the center and progressively larger pieces stacked on the outside. The initial result was a teepee about four inches in diameter and six inches tall.
This was fire-starting as art. The goal was to start the fire with a single kitchen match. If you failed to choose the smallest pieces correctly (if they were too green or moist from lying on the ground) you needed more matches or — sin of sins — newspaper. But one match or several, once the flames were going we’d add larger and larger pieces of wood. Timing and fine motor control became critical as you built the fire up; too much big wood too soon or carelessly added would crush the flaming teepee and you’d have to start over. But not enough wood added soon enough and the fire would burn out on its own before the larger wood ignited.
Within an hour and half, though, you’d have small logs burning away, a bed of coals perfect for grilling over, and a deeply satisfying sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the atavistic joy that comes to every boy’s heart when something is burning.
To go along with whatever was being grilled we’d often have potato salad, which I loved, or cole slaw, which I ate but never cared much for. As they became available we’d have homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers, corn on the cob, green beans, and okra. Homemade ice cream made in one of those old hand-cranked ice cream makers was a fixture, although sometimes Dad would fix his buttermilk/pineapple sherbet. The sherbet would be frozen rock-solid so you had to let it melt to eat it — which pretty much defeated the purpose.
These meals were a fixture of our summer weekends, eaten outside under the trees with two or three dogs keeping an attentive eye out for anything that fell to the ground.
As I grow older I become less inclined to cook fancy dishes composed of long lists of ingredients, difficult techniques, and subtle nuances. Instead, I turn more often than not to simple tastes laid against each other like kindling and fanned into bright crackling flavors.
You can leave comments, thoughts, and observations here.
Tools of the Trade
As a cooking instructor, the single most frequent question I’m asked is, “What kind of pans do you have?”
Americans are probably the most brand-conscious consumers in the world. They care about their brand of car, they wear labels on the outside of their clothes (Polo, for instance), they buy Tide detergent when the store brand comes from the same factory, and foodies look for status in the cookware they choose. This isn’t to say that the cookware you use can’t make a difference in your cooking, but it is to say the importance is over-rated –— and choosing a single brand is often a bad idea.
So my answer to the question is, it depends.
I think it’s worthwhile owning a set of cookware because it’s important to understand how your pots and pans behave. This “set” could be Mauviel copper at a list price of $1,400 for a seven-piece set or Revere at $75 for a seven-piece set. The point is that in a set all of the pots and pans will tend to have the same strengths and weaknesses and once you know those strengths and weaknesses you’ll use the cookware more effectively.
Cutting to the chase, my current set is Cuisinart MCP. I got a deal on a set several years ago. It’s probably the least popular of the name brands (All Clad, Calphalon, and Le Cruset) and it’s also the least expensive, even without a deal. But like All Clad it has an aluminum core that extends up the sides of the cookware (as opposed to a single aluminum disk on the bottom or pure aluminum). This design conducts more heat into the contents of the pan. Frankly, I consider that a minor issue, but my set has proven to be durable and has long, comfortable handles that stay cool.
Handles matter. Comfort in your hand is important, not getting hot is important, and being able to put any pot or pan in a hot oven without the handle melting is important. You also want riveted and not welded handles, even though cleaning around rivets is a hassle.
I also like stainless steel interiors and exteriors. Although stainless will stain, it resists staining and with a bit of care will continue to look pristine for years. It’s also largely non-reactive (a claim aluminum and copper can’t make) and so won’t impart off flavors to your food. However, stainless steel is a poor heat conductor, while aluminum and copper are great heat conductors. So if you pair aluminum with stainless steel, you’ve got an excellent pot. But not a perfect pot for every purpose.
Efficiencies of Scale
“Nationwide panic from a 50-acre field.”
This was a recent headline on a blog named The Ethicurean that I regularly read and, although hyperbolic (I’m not sure “panic,” is the most accurate term), the headline nevertheless makes its point. What isn’t hyperbole is that a single 50-acre field resulted in deaths and illnesses in 26 states.
Think about that for a moment while you look at this map of validated outbreaks of e-coli related illnesses spread by the spinach grown on the field in question.
Now imagine 50 acres — an area not quite a mile in circumference. An area most of us could walk all the way around in about an hour — I know that because I grew up on a 43-acre farm. It is a tiny piece of land (unless you’re digging post holes) and yet it affected people in over 50 percent of the American landscape. How does this happen?
I read the just-published, 50-page report produced by the California Food Emergency Response Team under the aegis of the California Department of Health Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Assuming the report is accurate, and I have no reason to think otherwise, it appears that the packer has good to excellent procedures in place for sanitation and for identifying and correcting most potential problems in the greens it processes.
Ah! Must be the grower’s fault.
Well, no. Cattle were fenced out, although wild animals (including pigs) had access, but this isn’t generally a problem. After all, most crops are exposed to wild animals unless they’re grown in a green house. And it turns out the cattle in the immediate area were actually feeding on pasture, not confined to the cesspools called feedlots (a problem I suspected was the root cause when I wrote The GAPs Gap). The grower was seeking “organic” certification and so chicken manure was used for fertilizer instead of petroleum-based products, but it was properly sterilized.
In short, everyone from the packager down through the grower, to the company producing the grower’s fertilizer, appears to have done as good a job as one could hope for when humans are involved. There are some elements that need to be addressed. For instance, the packager only samples for bacterial contamination once a month, and daily would have been better. But the reality is you can’t sample every leaf.