Disgusting Excess

Here's the thing though, I don't know if these pictures of excess are actually disgusting or not. I mean, I kind of want these things. But I think I'd have better sense than to pay thousands of dollars for booze that you can buy for 10% of the cost.

Rich Kids of Instagram


I mean Patron Silver is only $50 in the grocery stores here. Unless I'm really missing something.

  

Mandarin Oranges

Ok, last one for the moment. I try to get my students little food items during finals. My intro students had their choice of little chocolates. I went a little bit healthier for my astrophysics final, mandarin oranges. (Well, candy canes too, but I won't subvert my arguement too much.)

I just had one, and frankly, it was a little sour. Ok, more than a little. I bring this up because Sarah doesn't like sour mandarins or clementines. If she'd had it she would have said, "Daddy, take this back to the store. It's sour. Buy sweet ones."

Apparently we're raising a little consumerist. If you buy something and you don't like it, you take it back to the store.

  

Whisky abuse

Photo credit to Baskerville, here we are provided with a graphic depiction of whisky abuse.

A uber-short whisky primer, i.e. a good excuse for poor grammar and bullet points:

  • Whisky is spelled "whisky" unless you only drink American spirits in which case it's "whiskey" or "bourbon".
  • To be called "bourbon" a spirit must be (a) made in the US (b) made from least 51% corn, and (c) aged in new barrels.
  • If you're going to put anything (soda/pop, juice, lemon/honey, etc) in a whisky, use a blended: a single malt would be a waste.
  • Not all blended whiskies are necessarily crap - good ones do exist, don't pretend that Famous Grouse or Jamison should be lumped together with Johnnie Walker red/black.
  • When a blended whisky has a statement of its age, in Scotland each component spirit in the mix must be AT LEAST as old as the listed age, but in the US that age only refers to the minimum age of the "straight" whisky used in the blend (which must be >20% of the total), with the rest of the "whiskey" being neutral spirit filler.
  • One major element of a whisky's flavor is the presence/absence of smoke & peat. These factors are introduced when the malt is dried under peat fires. Islay whiskies, from the Western part of Scotland, tend to be the peatiest, while Speyside whiskies are generally smoke-free.
  

In Defense of Food

We haven't had many book reviews on the blog recently, but I just finished re-reading Michael Pollan's 2008 NYT bestseller, and it's worth discussion, especially in light of a recent business trip to DC/Virginia.

Pollan condenses his entire answer to "what should we humans eat in order to be maximally healthy" as "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Each of those three sentences contains a wealth of meaning, and without running afoul of fair-use laws, or paraphrasing the whole book, I'll try to summarize the key elements, specifically with an eye towards "what should I eat" advice.

"Eat food" sounds obvious, but he spends a couple chapters pointing out that, thanks to the food industry and helped along by a few pivotal government policies, eating "food" is actually rather difficult these days, since most of what is available in supermarkets actually falls under the classification of "food-like substances". Much of the "Western Diet" has been turned away from whole foods and instead consists of products that have two primary components, a base or substrate, and nutrients added after the fact. This construct has the advantage of being cheaper for the food manufacturer* and cheaper for the vendor b/c of longer shelf lives, and the consumer has been hoodwinked by "nutritionism" into believing that this substitution has been in their best interests so there are no complaints from that corner.

The second sentence, "Not too much", is the most straightforward - we as a nation eat way too many calories, regardless of their source. Pollan mentions the (dubious) advice to limit our red meat and saturated fat intake, and notes that we have, to some degree, succeeded in decreasing the fraction of "bad" food in our diet. However, this isn't really a result of actually eating less of the "bad" foods but instead just consuming more total calories while holding our "bad food" intake roughly constant.

This leads into the third piece of advice, "mostly plants", which is where we as a culture so frequently fail. Eating is pretty much a zero-sum game, and so if we eat more industrial foods, we do so either at the expense of something else (or by increasing our total caloric intake which isn't great either)... and generally that sacrificed item are vegetables. But "mostly plants" means more than just trying to choke down xx servings of veggies per day; it means paying attention to what the meat that you consume itself consumed. It means eating more plants and fewer processed foods. It means eating grass-fed organic beef.

The sub-title of Pollan's book is "an eater's manifesto", having also mentioned the important distinction between "consuming calories" and "eating & enjoying food". In Defense of Food contains a very good chapter that includes his advice on how to eat well (you really should buy the book anyway), but here are a few nuggets.

  • Trans fats are REALLY, REALLY bad. Avoid them at all costs.
  • Saturated fats aren't necessarily bad, if they are a part of "food" and not "manufactured food-like stuff".
  • Don't automatically believe in nutritionism. This reductionist science claims that amazingly complex foods can be replaced with a substrate + 100% of USRDA of 40 or so vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat organic & from farmers' markets, whenever possible. Not just because the toxins in "conventionally grown" foods aren't good for you, but because veggies grown in healthy soils are twice (or more) as healthy as industrial veggies, and while "organic" doesn't guarantee healthy soils, it's often a good hint. Thus, local farmers market foods are probably better than supermarket organics, if you have the choice.
  • Diversify your portfolio. One of the problems with the 20th century industrialization of food was the extreme drop in the diversity of sources in what we eat. Today the per capita diet contains 554 calories from corn, 257 from soy, and 768 from wheat. Yikes. We evolved as omnivores, and it makes sense that it's a good idea to eat a variety of grains (not too much of each), a variety of meats (not too much, not corn-fed), and variety of vegetables (from healthy soils).

And here's where we touch on uncomfortable subjects - Pollan mentions that there is a trade-off in eating between quantity and quality, and that the American system has focussed on the former, at the cost of the latter. "Turning out vast quantities of so-so food sold in tremendous packages at a terrific price is what we do well." As such, eating in America has very significant socio-economic under-(over?)tones: one must make the choice between eating healthily and spending more $$, or saving money while giving inferior/unhealthy meals to your family. Those of us who are lucky enough to have the extra time and money to acquire good food can do so, depending on where we live, but a large portion of the country does not have that luxury. Certainly we can hope that the more of us that shop at farmers markets, join CSAs, and plant gardens, etc will slowly shift the nation's food culture in the right direction, but is that enough? Surely not, but if the effort to improve our personal diets seems daunting, overthrowing the industrial-food empire seems impossible.

* really, "food manufacturer" sums up a lot that is wrong with current society. Farmers no longer grow food, they grow plants that, through several mechanical and chemical processes, are turned into substances that end up on supermarket shelves. What are the top two crops in the midwest? Corn & Soybeans, neither of which can be eaten by humans straight off the plant. Why corn and soy? Because those two are "among nature's most efficient transformers of sunlight and chemical fertilizer into carbohydrate energy (corn) and fat and protein (soy)."[p117] Incidentally, I highly recommend the documentary "King Corn".

  

Labor for Grapes

The house I'm renting this semester has a bunch of grape vines that are currently tearing it apart. Grapes require really strong trellises and plastic gutters are no match.

Before we headed home last week, Kirsten cut down the grapes she could reach which amounted to three gallons of grapes (and about a third of the grapes on the plant). Today was the day to turn them into juice.

So far, I've used a potato masher and a ricer to try to separate the bits from the juice. I also did a bunch of squeezing with my hands, which is resulting in a odd prickly pain sensation everywhere the juice was touching me.

Anyway, the juice is pretty tasty. Very grapey. However, before I drink a lot I'm going to boil it to try and sanitize it a little.

Before I could do that, Kirsten and I had a little conversation.
Me: Almost done.
Kirsten: Lets taste it.
(grabs spoon)
K: Mmm, this is really good.
(more spoonfuls of juice)
K: You wouldn't even have to sweeten this
(more spoonfuls)
K: Why do you want to boil it?
(more spoonfuls)
Me: So we don't get dysentery.

I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. 🙂