Cook Food

a manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating

September 6, 2009

Improvised breakfast scramble

This morning my friends Erin and Janet and I were at the farmers market, but ridiculously didn’t think to buy any ingredients to make into our morning meal. And by the time we got home we were rilly hungry. This is what I put together from things that were in the house. It was inspired by something that Janet always special orders at our favorite neighborhood brunch spot. That dish is a chard and asiago scramble, and she always gets it with beans instead of eggs. So I took that idea and ran with it.

All amounts are approximate, and you could use whatever vegetables you think would taste good. We had a sweet potato and also some bell pepper strips that were left over from something else. So that’s what we used.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Breakfast Scramble

Serves 4 if you have some toast and fruit; 2 if it’s the only thing you’re eating and you’re really hungry.

• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
• One small sweet potato, cut into small cubes (like 1/4 inch) so they cook fast
• Half a bell pepper, chopped
• One can of black beans, drained and rinsed
• Pepper to taste
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan or large skillet over medium heat; add the garlic and salt and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the cumin, coriander, oregano and cook for a few more minutes, stirring more often.
3. Add the sweet potato and a few tablespoons of water to keep it all from burning. Stir, cover, and reduce the heat if it seems like things might burn. Cook for about 5 minutes, adjusting heat and stirring as necessary.
4. Add the bell pepper and the beans. Add more water if things are too dry, and taste it to see if you need to add more salt. Stir and cover and cook until the beans are hot and the veggies are cooked (this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes if you cut the veggies small enough).
5. Grind some pepper over it if you want.
6. Eat and enjoy.
filed under: Recipes & Tips — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 11:13 pm

September 4, 2009

“Obesity,” health, and the pro-food movement

This is cross-posted from Feministe; it’s something I’ve been meaning to write for months, but it took the kick in the pants of a high-traffic site to get me to actually write it.

I want to talk about what’s coming to be called the pro-food movement, and one thing about it that has been driving me a little batshit crazy of late. (NB: I am not saying that the topic of this post this is the only flaw in the pro-food concept and prevalent analysis; it’s just the one this post is about.)

But before I do, a little background: pro-food is a term that blogger and sales and marketing guy Rob Smart coined during a Twitter chat in response to an accusation of being “anti-agriculture,” and it’s now starting to be used to loosely define people working toward sustainability in food production. I like the term (so simple! so clear!) and I think the concept is potentially very powerful. (Again, NB: I’m not saying I think it’s perfect. There is often a strong entrepreneurial angle, which means an embrace of capitalism rather than a critique, and when that angle dominates, it means that any talk of accessibility and affordability is just lip service.)

The problem I want to talk about in this post is the way pro-food folks talk about fat.

Big-time writers such as Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle have long been beating the drum against obesity, but there was a frenzy of such talk earlier this summer, when the Centers for Disease Control released a report putting the cost of “treating” “obesity” and “related” illness at $147 billion in 2008. (I’ll get to those scare quotes in a minute.) With the healthcare debate heating up and healthcare costs a national obsession (and rightly so), this report was just the spark needed to turn misinformation—otherwise known as conventional wisdom—about fat, food choices, and health into a full-blown fire, with pro-food folks fanning the flames.

The CDC report and articles about it were much blogged, and tweets such as “NPR on body mass index (BMI) credibility: ‘…it is mathematical snake oil’ http://bit.ly/W4ZNP –So, what do we use to est. obesity???” and “Now that 2/3rds of Americans are overweight, the lethal effects of fat are catching up to those of cigarette smoke”–http://bit.ly/ZIaO0” and “Obesity debate. Whom to blame? What to do? Atlantic. http://bit.ly/2NQXvN http://bit.ly/swkUL #profood” made the rounds.

None of the pro-food writers questioned the report or the widely accepted but never proven relationship between body size and health. (Oh, wait: one person did. Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore wrote, in the course of an otherwise mostly excellent post, “The problem is crappy lifestyles, largely crappy diets. You can be thin with a crappy diet, and you might be fat with a healthy diet. If nothing else, calling the problem ‘obesity’ is definitely ignoring all of the thin people who eat absolute garbage…. Skinny doesn’t equal healthy. That said, obesity is easy to measure, far easier to measure than quality of diet.” Does questioning, and then saying it’s too hard to question so I won’t bother, count as questioning?)

Ok, so about those scare quotes. First, obesity is defined by an arbitrary measure. It changes. One reason for obesity’s increase is those changes: sometime in 1998, almost 30 million U.S. residents went to sleep chubby and woke up obese. Second, obesity itself is considered a medical condition, so it’s no surprise that fat people, whose physical being is seen as cause for treatment, incur more medical costs. But that’s not a problem with weight so much as a problem with logic.

Third and most important: The link between fat and poor health is not nearly as straightforward or proven as most people think. Rates of heart disease have been falling as weights increase, so what does that say about the link between the two? Diabetes is correlated with fat, but the cause-and-effect relationship is unknown. Doctors will tell you that fat causes early death, but studies show that people defined as “overweight” live longer than those defined as “normal” weight. And that’s just a quick take. More information is available from the following sources: Linda Bacon, Health At Every Size; Paul Campos, The Diet Myth; Laura Fraser, Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry; Glenn Gaesser, Big Fat Lies; Michael Gard and Jan Wright, The Obesity Epidemic; Eric Oliver, Fat Politics.

There are several reasons why I care so much that the pro-food movement seems to be buying the mainstream line about fat. 1) I don’t think the anti-fat bias here is intentional; it seems just to be an oversight, a skipping of the necessary step of skepticism. Which shouldn’t be that hard: this is a skeptical bunch who jump to debunk, say, Big Ag’s claims that genetically modified foods are good for humanity and Big Food’s use of terms like “natural.” 2) So much of what’s being said in pro-food discussions is so very in line with my values, which makes it especially frustrating for me to see the discussions incorporate assumptions about fat that, basically, amount to low-level fat hatred and shaming. 3) The pro-food movement is moving closer and closer to major mainstream attention, and with attention comes influence. People who believe that fat is automatically unhealthy have enough influence already.

And one final point: I am not at all suggesting that diabetes and other illnesses caused by our low-quality industrial processed food supply are not a huge problem. Food and health are indeed completely related and access to fresh food is a ginormous public health issue.

Pro-food folks have an opportunity to agitate in the service of public health. But unless the focus is on actual diseases and not the bogeyman of obesity, the opportunity will be squandered and the damage done by our culture of fat hatred will be increased.

filed under: Recipes & Tips — Tags: , , — lisajervis @ 1:48 am

September 2, 2009

Come on over to Feministe this week…

‘Cause I’m guest blogging! And I just put up a new post. And you should come on over and join the discussion.

filed under: Recipes & Tips — lisajervis @ 12:07 am

August 28, 2009

I am in danger of becoming a broken record, but…

Dear Time Editor–

I commend you on Bryan Walsh’s thorough, thoughtful, important cover story on the consequences of our industrial food system. However, Walsh–along with almost everyone in the pro-food movement (as the folks working to change this system and produce food outside of it have been dubbed)–misses a crucial point in his comments about obesity. While processed industrial food does indeed have a huge negative impact on Americans’ health, obesity itself is not the problem. While the medical establishment insists that the cause-and-effect relationship between weight and heart disease and diabetes is linear and straightforward, a growing number of researchers and journalists (e.g., Linda Bacon, “Health At Every Size”; Paul Campos, “The Diet Myth”; Laura Fraser, “Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry”; Glenn Gaesser, “Big Fat Lies”; Michael Gard and Jan Wright, “The Obesity Epidemic”; Eric Oliver, “Fat Politics”) have shown that this conclusion is not supported by the evidence.

If we are to make real improvements in our health system, we must recognize that body size and health have very little to do with each other and treat people of all sized accordingly.

Lisa Jervis
author, Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Local, Healthy Eating
Oakland, CA

Seriously, this is a great piece, and it has the potential to move a lot of people. I think it’s a eatershed moment in the pro-food movement, because it’s shocking in the best possible way to see a mainstream magazine (and it doesn’t get more mainstream than Time) taking on a powerful industry without pulling any punches. I kept expecting Walsh to water things down or come out with an “on the other hand” series of points defending Monsanto, McDonald’s, and company. But he didn’t.

Except that he totally buys the medical industry line like everyone else.

More on this in that epically long post I am still working on (um, mostly still in my head at this point).

filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 3:59 pm

August 16, 2009

More infuriating press on obesity

I’m working on a longer post about the way fat and health are talked about in pro-food circles, but in the meantime, I just read something that really frosted my shorts. Since it’s incredibly unlikely that the New York Times Magazine will print my letter to the editor, I figured I would share it here.

Dear Editor:

David Leonhardt is right to identify cheap soda and expensive vegetables as a public health issue that interlocks with the current health care debate. And while I am relieved to see that he doesn’t, in the final analysis, endorse the idea of overcharging fat people for health insurance (something that should be universal in the first place), I was very disturbed by two elements of his recent article. First is the idea that people are in control of their weight. The truth is that diets don’t work: the multibillion-dollar diet industry and its medicalized support system has never produced a success rate higher than 5 percent. Second is Leonhardt’s unquestioning acceptance of the conventional wisdom that a high body mass index is automatically unhealthy. A growing number of researchers and journalists (e.g., Linda Bacon, Health At Every Size“; Paul Campos, The Diet Myth; Laura Fraser, Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry; Glenn Gaesser, Big Fat Lies; Michael Gard and Jan Wright, The Obesity Epidemic; Eric Oliver, Fat Politics) have shown that this conclusion is not supported by evidence.

Lisa Jervis
Oakland, California

I was trying to keep it under 150 words (basically the only chance of being published), but I also felt that it was important to include the citations. Because, let’s face it, whenever you question the fat=unhealthy equation, most people think you’re just making shit up. Seriously.

filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 4:34 am

July 25, 2009

The audacity of food

Just read this on a friend’s blog and was totally moved. She’s talking about her approach to eating and the lifelong project it has been:

The audacity of food, if you will. That there would be a future that included whole foods that are whole in every sense of the word, including sensory experience. Foods that possess a certain serenity. Food that comes with no ad campaigns, no pesticides, no factory farms, no intercontinental shipping, no substandard labor conditions. And also no asceticism.

filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 1:26 pm

Weird salad is good salad

Tonight I was reminded of the awesomeness of kitchen improvisation.

So I get to Green Arcade, all ready to read and cook, right? I’ve got my huge cucumber (pictured in previous post below), some regular-sized pickling cucumbers, some lemon cucumbers, some mint, some cherry tomatoes, some lemons, some olive oil, and some salt.

So I’m up there, right? In front of the audience and all, talking about this impending cucumber salad, right? And after discovering that the huge cucumber does not actually taste that good (the peel was pretty thick and waxy-tasting, and an audience member pronounced it “young,” i.e., unripe), I decide it doesn’t matter and I have plenty without it because of these beautiful lemon cucumbers. Right?

Well, no. As embarrassing as this is for a cookbook author to admit, what I thought were large lemon cucumbers were actually small melons. I realized this when I sliced them open and discovered beige seeds. Cucumbers have translucent or white seeds, and no way was this a cucumber. A little taste sealed it. I had a mild, only slightly sweet melon on my hands. Two, actually.

After a quick poll of the audience, we decided to proceed with the original plan, minus the garlic that was going to go into the dressing. I was skeptical about the tomatoes, but it turned out really well. Thanks, Green Arcade audience! And thanks, Patrick, Green Arcade proprietor, for the pepper mill!

Here’s the recipe:

• 2 small cucumbers (or 1 large), cut into small-bite-size pieces
• 2 small melons that look like large lemon cucumbers (or any kind of not-too-sweet melon in approximately the same quantity as the cucumbers), cut into small-bite-size pieces
• 2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, cut in half if they’re big and left whole if they’re small
• 1 small handful mint, finely chopped
• 1 lemon
• some olive oil (maybe 2 tablespoons?)
• some salt (a teaspoon?)
• freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the cucumbers, melon, tomatoes, and mint in a bowl. Zest the lemon into the bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice in there as well. Pour some olive oil on top, sprinkle on the salt, add pepper, and stir to combine. Eat.

Note: The rind on the melons I had was really thin, I didn’t even peel it. But if you have a thick or in any way unpleasant rind on your melon, you probably want to peel it.

filed under: Recipes & Tips — lisajervis @ 1:26 am

July 24, 2009

You have to see this cucumber!

I am not generally big on pictures of food, but I couldn’t resist sharing this beaut I got at the Old Oakland farmers market this afternoon. It’s going to be part of tonight’s reading/cooking demo (I’m planning a cucumber and tomato salad with lemon-mint dressing).

First I just took its picture:

cuke

Then I realized that you’d have no idea why I thought it was special from looking at that picture. So I took this one:

cuke with mug

Yes, that’s a full-size mug.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that huge cucumbers are often bitter and I should have gotten a smaller one. But here’s the thing: This is some different variety of cucumber that I have never even seen before. It was actually the smallest one of its kind that the farmer had.

True, I have no idea how it’s gonna taste. I’ll let you know later; it could be an unpleasant surprise. But that’s what improvisational cooking demos are all about, right?

filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 8:18 pm

July 4, 2009

Scrounged Germanic potato salad

When I was growing up, whenever my mom (who did all the cooking) couldn’t face the task of putting together a regular, organized, main-dish-plus-sides meal, we would do what we called “scrounging”: basically, pulling leftovers and other ready-to-eat items out of the fridge/pantry and assembling a meal. It was fun and meant that each person got to satisfy hir whims, to some extent.

I think the practice is part of what gave me the bug for improvisational, use-what-you’ve-got cooking—which I put to use today.

I’m due at a friend’s party in just a few hours, and due to a rough work schedule this week, I missed all my farmers market opportunities. I didn’t have a lot to work with for a decent pot luck contribution, and all the places to get good fresh ingredients are closed today.

As I pondered the problem and considered just bringing a bottle of wine that’s sitting in my frdge, I remembered: I have potatoes that I got at the market a few weeks ago. And I always have olive oil, and garlic. And surely I can find some appropriate mustard and vinegar in my cobbled-together kitchen (it’s a long story, but most of my stuff is in storage right now and I’m kinda squatting in a not-very-hospitable place). Then I remembered that I even have some parsley that, though it’s probably on its last legs, might have a few salvageable leaves left. Bingo: Germanic potato salad. (Why Germanic and not just German? Well, I make no claims to authenticity, and as a former copyeditor, I’ve gotta be precise. But I digress.)

Here’s what I had:

• About 2-1/2 pounds of small Yukon Gold potatoes (any variety on the waxy side would work well)
• One bunch old parsley (a small handful of the leaves were still good)
• Some spicy brown mustard (I also found Chinese horseradish mustard and some dijon; the latter would also have worked well, but I chose the brown)
• Some white wine vinegar
• Some olive oil
• One garlic clove
• Some salt

And here’s what I did:

• Boiled the potatoes (no peeling!) for about 20 minutes (until a knife slid easily through one of them)
• Minced the garlic and then mashed it into a paste, along with two pinches of salt, with the side of my knife
• Put the garlic in a small lidded jar with about a tablespoon of mustard, a tablespoon of vinegar, two tablespoons of olive oil, and a scant teaspoon of salt; shook it all up
• Minced the parsley
• Cut the potatoes into chunks when they were cool enough to handle; took a shower while I let them cool a little more but not too much (hot foods absorb dressing very well)
• Put the potato chunks in a bowl, poured the dressing over them, added the parsley, and stirred

In an ideal world, I probably would have used cider vinegar instead of white vinegar, and I would have loved to have added a scallion (if I’d had one, I would have sliced it into tiny rings and added it with the parsley, and I also probably would have skipped the garlic). But I made a lovely picnic dish to share without planning ahead and without having to go to a chain supermarket to buy anything processed or grown far away, so I’m damn satisfied.

filed under: Recipes & Tips — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 5:35 pm

Listen to me on KPFA!

Last week I was on the radio, talking to the fantabulous Aimee Allison about cooking, whole foods, and feminism. Listen to it here, an hour and 37 minutes in.

There are many things to <heart> about Aimee and her work, and here’s one of them.

filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — lisajervis @ 5:04 pm
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