A fast-food refresher

Last night, I went to hear Eric Schlosser speak at UT, regarding the effects of industrial agriculture and the fast food industry. In case you aren’t familiar with Schlosser, he is the author of Fast Food Nation. Hard to believe that book came out a decade ago! His investigative journalism really went behind the scenes, and explored a side of the industry that was (purposefully) kept hidden from the public.

Of course, the effects of the fast food nation are widespread. Their food hasn’t just affected our health and nutrition, but also the living conditions of their workers  the agricultural methods used in this country.

Although most of the facts were not new to me, it was a good “refresher course” to get me re-energized and remembering why we need to care about our food systems.

Some of Schlosser’s points that stood out to me:

  • Fast Food’s success is largely dependant on our ignorance of how they operate. The more we know about what goes on, the more we can do to choose something different. Knowledge is power.
  • Although Ray Kroc never had children, he mastered marketing to children
  • The goal of the fast food mentality and philosophy is for everything to be uniform and controlled. The slogan “one taste worldwide” sums it up. They have gone so far as to dominate and control nature – breeding plants that produce plants/animals that grow at the same rate, look the same, taste the same, etc.
  • In the days when there wasn’t a fast-food restaurant on every corner, working in a meatpacking plant used to be a well-respected and well-paid job, with waiting lists for future employees. Today, it is one of the lowest paid jobs with an incredibly high rate of injury and turnover.
  • As the largest employers of minimum wage workers, the fast food industry fought hard to keep the minimum wage from rising. During the 1970s-1990s (the period of fastest growth for McD), minimum wage actually decreased (adjusted for inflation). Works out pretty well for the fast food industry; you can pay your workers less, and keep them eating your food because they can’t afford anything better!

As a writer, Schlosser says that the aim of his work is to make you think about what you’re doing. He doesn’t travel and speak with the intent to convert everyone’s diet to organic, vegetarian cuisine, but rather to educate on our current food system. It was exciting for me to see a packed auditorium, and I wondered about the reaction of those who had never heard this story before. 

He also reminded us that nothing is inevitable, and that change is possible. The movements of local, organic and sustainable foods are growing at an encouragingly fast pace, especially on college campuses. Schlosser did point out that the sustainability movement will need to be based on social justice for it to succeed, that we need to be mindful of the farmers, workers, and the “human” aspect of our food. (He also wishes that PETA would be more concerned about the welfare of 2-legged animals, instead of our 4-legged friends only).

To end the night, Schlosser left us with a Buddhist quote “Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the point of seeing?”


Food for thought

Did you watch Oprah’s “vegan challenge” episode that aired this week? What did you think?

Her guests included the wonderful Michael Pollan, the plant manager of a Colorado Cargill slaughterhouse, and the big blonde author of “The Veganist”.

Oprah certainly learned her lesson after the infamous lawsuit when she declared she wouldn’t eat beef anymore due to the risk of contracting mad cow disease. I felt the show was fairly balanced, and Michael Pollan injected a lot of reality and moderation into the anti-animal-protein vibe. A few of my comments:

  • I was impressed by Cargill’s slaughterhouse, especially to learn that they were using Temple Grandin’s designs. (HBO’s film about Temple is now in my Netflix queue, btw)
  • I was not impressed by The Veganist’s guide to shopping vegan in a grocery store. Instead of steering the family towards beans, nuts, seeds, etc (= natural plant proteins), she took all their classic meat-based meals and explained that you can just switch out meat-alternatives and keep your traditional meals. Personally, I don’t like this approach. If you’re willing to try a radically different way of eating, you should be willing to try new recipes, instead of expecting to still have pizza and spaghetti bolognese with fake meat/dairy products. They won’t taste the same and you won’t be satisfied. Some of you may remember my encounter with Gimme Lean “ground meat-like” product. It was not good. Why not teach people about making a dish with lots of beans and new whole grains, exposing them to something new? Just a thought. Also… a vegan diet full of processed foods can still be very high in all the crap that you’re trying (or should be) to avoid, so I can’t say you’re much healthier.
  • Also… there is no term “vegan-ish” Oprah. You’re either vegan or you’re not. If you eat some meals with animal products and some without, you’re still a regular old omnivore. Don’t try to be fancy and elitist. (This also applies to a certain staff member at my workplace who is “vegan” but can eat alfredo sauce. mm hmm.)

As a vegetarian, I’m not anti-meat, nor do I think meat is evil. I love Michael Pollan’s recommendation that we all should at least be conscious of what we’re eating and where it’s coming from. He admits to eating meat several times a week, and enjoys it, but does not eat “industrial” or “feedlot” meat. Instead, he chooses to support small, local farms who may or may not produce organic products (sometimes that certification is more than they can afford), but are humanely raising their animals, and feeding them a natural diet.

**A note here – cows should not be eating a corn-based diet. This is not natural. It is a cheap food source (thanks to government subsidies) and fattens them up quickly, which are really the only 2 things that the industrial agriculture system cares about. However, take a step into the cow’s gut (if you are brave) and you’ll see that their innards were not created to handle a grain-based diet. Instead, it causes all kinds of illness and infection (e. coli, anyone?) so it’s a good thing they’re not living very long. Grass-fed beef comes from healthier cows, and is healthier for you, too (there are omega-3 fatty acids that we all love in the grass, but not in corn).

So… if I were to eat meat again, and I’m not saying that I will or won’t anytime soon, I would follow the philosophy of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (read this!) and support local family farms that I could trust. And I might just turn into the Portlandia characters that go as far as to ask the waitress about the name of the chicken on the menu and his personality :)

And while I’m still on my sustainable food soapbox, I highly encourage you all to read Mark Bittman’s column in the NYTimes opinion blog on his recommendations to change the US Food System. I would love to see any (and all!) of them come to fruition.

There. That’s a lot of writing for today. And I didn’t even mention that I got a new piece of vintage pyrex today, did I? :)



Quiche and Easy

Dinner tonight used up some vegetables hanging around – leeks (from our garden!), broccoli (grocery store) and corn (frozen) – as well as the last few eggs in the fridge, the rest of our cheddar block, and a frozen pie crust.

Enter.. Cooking Light’s Southwestern Broccoli Quiche


My recipe: (adapted from Cooking Light)

  1. Bake thawed pie crust at 400 degrees for 10 minutes
  2. Sautee in olive oil:
    1. 1/2 cup sliced leeks
    2. 2 garlic cloves, smashed/crushed/whatever
  3. Then add:
    1. 1 cup frozen corn
    2. 1-2 cups broccoli, lightly steamed
    3. 1/2 tsp each cumin and oregano (dried)
  4. Cool mixture.
  5. Spread 3/4 cup shredded cheddar on pie crust
  6. Add veggie mixture on top
  7. Mix 1 cup evaporated, fat-free milk and 2 eggs, salt/pepper in bowl. Pour on top of veggies
  8. Bake at 350 for ~45 minutes.
  9. Cool before cutting, and enjoy!

Salad and Peanut Butter

Greetings y’all,

I have to share a moment with you from one of today’s patients. Keep in mind, this is a 450pound young man, whom I think might be mentally challenged to some degree. He was super proud to tell me that he does indeed enjoy salad (along with little debbie cakes, bowls of ice cream every night, and mass quantities of ramen, canned ravioli, bacon, and other high-fat casseroles). When I asked about his use of salad dressing, he says he dips his salad ……. and I expected him to say “in dressing on the side”, but no…. he dips his salad in peanut butter!!!

I really try not to laugh when my patients say such things. But really…. haha.

Other news from today:

Check out this map from NY Times comparing rates of diabetes in every state. I guess it’s no huge surprise that the states in the southeast have much higher rates. But I always like to see things like that. Makes me want to go be an epidemiologist :)

Also, kudos to the Baltimore City Public School System for being the first in the country to implement Meatless Mondays for all 80,000 of its students. In addition to exposing all those children to vegetarian meals, they’ve also partnered with local farms for fresh produce, and created a 33 acre teaching farm, where students can learn hands-on where food comes from. Great job!!

And.. for those who enjoy or are baffled by the social phenomenom that is twitter, check this out! :)

Pumpkins and Prostitutes

As part of fun fall food, I have been trying out new pumpkin recipes. Last weekend, in Nashville, I treated myself to my first Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. A great drink, certainly, but something I probably wouldn’t order all the time. Today, I stumbled upon a recipe to make your own Pumpkin Spice Latte at home. A simple recipe, and definitely cheaper! If only I had saved a tablespoon of canned pumpkin from this afternoon’s baking adventure, I could be sipping away on one as we speak….

This afternoon’s baking adventure: I had a craving to bake something with pumpkin, so I did a quick tastespotting search to see what delicious recipes I could find. I landed on a delicious, low-calorie, fat-free recipe for Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin Tops. Oooh I know, you’re salivating already. Super simple recipe:

1 boxed cake mix (I used devil’s food, but spice cake would also be awesome paired with the pumpkin)

1 15oz can canned pumpkin

1/4 cup chocolate chips, roughly chopped

Mix all ingredients in large mixing bowl. Drop cookies by 2Tbsp onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes. Batch makes ~36 cookies, ~50 calories each!

In all my excitement, I forgot to take a picture, but trust me when I say they’re delicious, rich and chocolatey. :)

As for the other part of this post (for those of you who cannot figure out why I would call a post Pumpkins and Prostitutes):

I came across a new vegetarian restaurant in the Knoxville area, named “Veg-O-Rama” (creative name I know). Their menu is online, and after reading it I was left in hysterics. Many of their menu items claim to be ho-made”. Never seeing this version of what I presume is homemade, I was left wondering if their chef/cook is a prostitute. Haha, OK, it was funny at the time. Maybe you had to be there :)

Back to walking

Good morning all!

After returning from my trip, where way too much time was spent sitting in cars, and not eating regular meals, I knew it was time to jump back on the bandwagon  and get back into shape. So this morning my mom dropped Sheff and I off at the Maryville greenway for a nice 3 mile walk while she ran some errands. The greenway is a beautiful system, actually runs 9 miles connecting Alcoa and Maryville. I was a little overconfidant initially and thought we could do a nice 5 miles, but after about 3 we were pooped. Hot, sweaty, and ready for a break. I hate that I was done after only 3 miles, but I guess this is what happens when you take such a long break from any kind of programmed exercise (I know it must be close to a month now… aaah!).

Anyway, I’d love to be able to do the full 9 miles at some point before I leave the farm. Maybe I can work up to it. I don’t know if Sheff will be up for that distance, but I know a crazy young labrador that will be ;)

We had a delicious vegetarian dinner last night that my mom made – it was a mexican casserole made from brown rice, pinto beans, salsa, corn, sour cream, monterray jack cheese, all mixed up and baked until hot and delicious. I had that ingenious idea to serve it with my Scoops tortilla chips – perfect! I’ll post the recipe here if anyone is curious. It was great and I think will make a yummy lunch here soon :)

OK, better shower and eat some lunch. I have a full day today – calling the car dealer, comcast, scrapbooking, and finishing up my readings for my upcoming class on adult weight management. Bye!

Success with Black Bean Burgers!

Finally! I have conquered the art of black bean burgers. So long mushy, loose, ‘burgers’ that fall apart. Tonight I have mastered you.

stp82131Soooo good. Now of course, I referenced a few recipes, but in the end made it up, without measuring anything, so now I have no way to replicate this meal. Such a shame. But here’s my best guess as to what I did:

  1.  Sautee 1/4 cup diced onions with 1 minced garlic clove for 3-5 mins, then add a dash of cumin.
  2. Add 1 cup black beans (drained and rinsed from can).
  3. Transfer everything to food processor and pulse until combined
  4. Put this sticky mixture into a bowl and add 1/4 cup or so of breadcrumbs. Mix until it forms a nice ball and isn’t sticky.
  5. Divided into 2 burger patties
  6. Dredge each patty lightly in flour 
  7. Dip in egg wash
  8. Dredge in breadcrumbs
  9. Place in hot skillet with 1-2 tsp EVOO and cook 2-3 mins per side.
  10. Serve on bread with dijon mustard, lettuce and tomato. 
  11. Eat and enjoy!

They really were good! Of course, like most vegetarian burgers, still soft inside, but I think the flour/egg/breadcrumb crust really helped it all stay firm and unified. Nothing like a nice crusty black bean burger…. mmmmm.

I forgot that I had bought hamburger buns specifically for this meal… but when I realized that I would now be making 2 burgers, I decided to make it like an open-faced sandwich and save on the carbs. Plus… I may be eating cookie dough later tonight… so I’m saving a few calories for that little splurge…. if it even happens :)