Friday, May 29, 2009

PFK: KFC With an Accent

A funny (and true) story for a Friday:

I was in Quebec last weekend, and as is the case in most of the Western world, there are fast food restaurants seemingly everywhere.

Driving through the verdant countryside, I saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a k a KFC in the United States. Except the sign in the parking lot read “PFK.”


My immediate thought was that the Québécois got it right and had changed the name to “Poisonous Fucking Khicken.”


Thankfully, my wife—who grew up in Montreal and speaks French—again saved me from myself.


“No, you dumbass,” she said. “It’s in French: Poulet Frit Kentucky. And “chicken” starts with a “c” anyway.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Robert Choate: An Early Food Activist

On the heels of my four-part post that discussed the questionable nutritional claims found on Kellogg’s Tri-Fun Pack (Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Apple Jacks), I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to Robert Choate, an early food activist who died earlier this month.

Choate appeared before a Senate subcommittee in 1970 and testified that 40 of the 60 most popular breakfast cereals (including Sugar Smacks, which were soon renamed Honey Smacks) were nothing more than empty calories.

Not surprisingly, the big food companies responded in their usual jejune manner. According to Choate’s obituary that appeared in The New York Times:
"The cereal industry counterattacked, saying that Mr. Choate had failed to factor in the nutritional value of milk poured on the cereal. He promptly drafted a new chart, milk included. The companies contended that lots of sugar was needed to entice children to eat. Mr. Choate countered that a taste for sugar is acquired."
I have a feeling that Choate was a very busy man during the last four decades.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can Apple Jacks Really Be Considered Healthy?

(Fourth of four parts)

The discrepancy between the answers Kellogg’s provided prompted my third call of the day.

I asked the basic question again (
“How do these cereals qualify for the U.S.D.A. nutrition program, grain/bread component?”) and Janine answered similarly to Veronica. I offered my U.S.D.A.- F.D.A. disconnect theory, which caused Janine pause. She asked for my name and phone number, since she wanted an in-house nutrition specialist to phone me directly with the correct answer.

Rebecca’s call came two days later. A nurse who handles many nutritional questions posed by Kellogg’s customers, Rebecca assured me that Rick’s answer was correct. The increased grain levels were what made all three cereals eligible to be used in the U.S.D.A. Child Nutrition Program.

She apologized for the confusion and promised to have the correct answer added to the customer service representatives’ database.

(I’m kind of hoping that Veronica is banished to ice floe-watching duty in Siberia. Rick, on the other hand, was a nice guy.)

Now, some bigger questions:

Did the same guy who ordered the photo-op of Air Force One flying over the Statue of Liberty decide on the nutritional requirements for the Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program?

If you were from outer space, would you be able to tell which of the boxes pictured above contains product to clean clothes and which contains product to put in your body?

Aren’t we setting the bar a little low when the minimal grain content of Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Apple Jacks can be used as justification for their inclusion in government food programs? Shouldn’t there be a disqualifier for products that contain an exorbitant amount of sugar, partially hydrogenated oil and artificial colors?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kellogg's and Nutrition (Continued)

(Third of four parts)

After speaking with Rick, I noticed that Corn Pops contained only one type of grain—corn—which led to my second call, asking if all of the three cereals qualified for the Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program.

Veronica (yes, the same Veronica who fielded my call about Hot Fudge Sundae Pop-Tarts in January) assertively stated that the reason the three cereals qualified had nothing to do with increased grain levels, as Rick had confidently declared. Instead, the cereals qualified because their amounts of sugar, fat and calories fell below Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

According to Veronica, under a new F.D.A. policy instituted in June 2008, “foods had to have less than the threshold levels of sugar to be able to be advertised to kids.”

Kellogg’s, Veronica said, “reformulated their products to be able to advertise to kids.”

Despite my protestations about the incompatibility between her answer and Rick’s, Veronica was adamant about the veracity of her response.

About an hour later, as I was looking at my notes, I realized a major disconnect existed between my question to Veronica and her answer. I had asked about a U.S.D.A. program; Veronica’s answer revolved around the F.D.A. The U.S.D.A. and F.D.A. are separate governmental organizations with distinct infrastructures and responsibilities.

(Tomorrow: A third call and resolution)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day: The Delicious Truth Rests

Enjoy Memorial Day. Check back tomorrow for the third part of my adventures with Kellogg's.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Froot Loops, Corn Pops & Apple Jacks: Grain Central?

(Second of four parts)

The goal of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program—advertised on Kellogg’s Tri-Fun Pack of Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Apple Jacks—is to provide healthy meals and snacks to our children through such components as the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Milk Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program.

I called Kellogg’s and asked Rick how the cereals (all with sugar as the first or second ingredient) “qualified for the U.S.D.A. nutrition program, grain/bread component.”

“The grains meet the standards,” Rick said. “We’re trying to get the best ingredients into our products. We are using whole grains; not just in cereals but also in our cookies and crackers.

“We’re using more grains than just flour, like whole wheat flour and whole oat flour,” he continued. “These are more nutritious products. The reformulation started at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.”

Rick’s “more nutritious” statement could easily win the “That’s So Relative” contest.

Sure, the new Froot Loops and Apple Jacks containing corn, wheat and oat flour are a step up from their grain-deficient ancestors, but one must suspend reality to ever think that these products can be described as nutritious.

Where are the colorful labels proclaiming the high sugar content, the partially hydrogenated oil and petroleum-based artificial colors?

In theory, the Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program is great. In reality, the plan is lacking because of financial, political and administrative pressures.

(Tuesday: My second call to Kellogg's)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kellogg's Tri-Fun Pack & the U.S.D.A. Child Nutrition Program

(First of four parts)

As I discussed last Friday, the labeling on food packaging can be disingenuous, to say the least. One of the reasons why I phone the food companies’ toll-free numbers is to call them out on their bullshit. Usually the explanations offered by the customer service representatives are as circumspect as the nutritional claims I am inquiring about.


But is anyone overseeing quality control? Are the inmates running the asylum?


Last week I called Kellogg’s twice within five hours and received two different answers to the same question from Rick and Veronica. That same evening I called a third time and explained the situation to Janine, who was flummoxed by the inconsistency. She told me she would have a nutritional specialist get back to me with the correct information.


What, exactly, was so difficult?


At my local supermarket, I saw a colorful Kellogg’s “Tri-Fun Pack” of Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Apple Jacks adorned with a shield stating “CAN BE USED IN CHILD NUTRITION PROGRAMS” on the front of the box. The same logo can be found on the back of the box, with the additional claim that “This product qualifies for the USDA Child Nutrition Program. Grain/Bread component.”


Flabbergasted as to how Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Apple Jacks could possibly be used in any child nutrition program, I called Kellogg’s to ask how the three cereals qualified.


Sounds simple enough, no?


(Tomorrow: My first call to Kellogg's)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mid-May Garden Update

Despite the cold, rainy weather we had in the beginning of May, the vegetables I am growing are progressing nicely. This week’s sun will only help.

I just ate my first food from the garden. Granted, it was only one, small radish (which I pulled from the ground more for the photo op than for the eating experience), but it was delicious. In about a week, most of the radishes I planted in mid-April will be adult-sized.

I also ate some turnip, radish, mustard
green and broccoli rabe sprouts, by-products of the thinning process.

When I put seeds in the ground, I plant more than usually necessary, not knowing what percentage will turn into seedlings. If most of the seeds germinate, then I must thin out some seedlings to give the remaining ones room to grow. The pulled seedlings are edible sprouts, which taste like the vegetable they were supposed to become.


The garlic (photo, left) is growing well, and now stands between two and three feet. The peas, bok choy, purple kale, mesclun and spinach are also coming along nicely and should be ready to eat in about a month.

Seedlings (one to two inches)
have also appeared for the some of the vegetables (turnips, beets, carrots, scallions) that take longer to grow. If all goes well, they should reach maturity in six to eight weeks, depending on the vegetable.

I also just planted seed for lemon cucumbers and Asian long string beans, which like the warmer weather. I also seeded new batches of carrots, scallions, beets, mesclun and radishes, which will provide successive waves of food during the summer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Winner of The Delicious Truth Photo Contest

You know the battle against junk food is going mainstream when the tree service guy is also “Helping youth at risk & America understand their biochemistry.”

Call 203-981-3222 to learn why “To Your Kids, Junk Food & Sugar Are DRUGS!” and to find out about “TREE SERVICE clearing-removals-chipping-stumping.”


(Click on the photo to enlarge.)


The photo was recently e-mailed to me by a friend, who wrote:
“Was at a little town fair last weekend and saw a "health truck" (see attached picture) and thought of your blog. Mind you, this was taken in front of fairgrounds where the only food on offer was cotton candy, candied apples, caramel popcorn, hot dogs and cheese burgers . . .”

See something funny, informative or ridiculous? Take a photo and e-mail it to me at chefrob@cookwithclass.net. If I use your photo, you’ll receive a Delicious Truth t-shirt or a new car, depending on availability.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Michelle Obama's Organic Garden On "The Daily Show"

Click here to watch a funny bit on Michelle Obama's organic garden from last Thursday's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

I love the spraying at the end.


(By the way, am I allowed to post this?)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lay's and Local Potato Chips

As I’ve often mentioned, we should take marketing claims about food products with a grain (or truckload) of salt.

The other day I saw a “Tri-Fun Pack” of Kellogg's Froot Loops, Corn Pops and Apple Jacks festooned with a logo stating the product “can be used in child nutrition programs.” (I’ll write more about this next week.)


And earlier this week, the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange was rung by five potato farmers, part of a PepsiCo (symbol: PEP) strategy to brand Lay’s potato chips as local food.


When I think of local food, I think of food from a farmers market or a roadside farm stand, not a plastic bag of mass-produced, heavily-processed potato chips. However, Frito-Lay (a division of PepsiCo) and other big food companies are trying to cash in on the locavore movement.

An article in The New York Times this week discussed the issue. Jessica Prentice, the writer who coined the term “locavore,” had a great quote:

"The local foods movement is about an ethic of food that values reviving small scale, ecological, place-based, and relationship-based food systems. Large corporations peddling junk food are the exact opposite of what this is about."
If you have some time, skim through the readers’ comments. There are some quality points, including my favorite (I had no idea who Herbert Mancuse was):
"How serendipitous that I should be reading Herbert Marcuse this morning. The sign of a successful totalitarian system is when the corporations co-opt the language of dissent as a means to increase profit, then the mass media reports it, cleansed of the language's original intent. Thanks PepsiCo for assuming I'm entirely too stupid to know the difference. — Melissa, Denver"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The www.applejacks.com Boat Race

A sure sign that I have too much time on my hands:

video

Click here to play the Apple Jacks boat race.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marketing Food to Kids

(First of two parts)

The difference between real food and junk food extends to their respective websites.

The other day, I needed information on how almonds grow. I Googled “how do almonds grow” and was led to the Almond Board of
California’s Almonds Are In! web site. A click on the link The Lifecycle of Almonds led me to an informative slide show (above, right) that could be used as a research tool by any kid or adult.

The other end
of the spectrum? Sample the rock concert (lower your computer’s volume if you are at work) being staged at the Froot Loops Cereal Straws site, the Caribbean vacation (with five theme songs) available from Cap’n Crunch (left) and the games and videos (Pixar-like animation) offered by Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Spirals (below, right).

These web sites are another marketing tool used by the food c
ompanies to attract new customers (read: kids) to their products. Sites as interactive as these cost a lot of money to develop and not everyone can afford to make such a splash.

For example,
quinoa (one of the healthiest foods you can eat) is making a great comeback but has virtually no on-line presence. Unfortunately, Bolivia's National Association of Quinoa Producers has been a little slow in getting its site up and running.

(Tomorrow: My boat race on applejacks.com)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More About Yuno's Farm

UPDATE: Nevia No has left Yuno's Farm, which is now known as Lani's Farm. For information about Nevia No and her new farm, Bodhitree Farm, click here.

(Second of two parts)


Right now, my favorite vegetables offered by Yuno's Farm are the purple mustard greens I use for salads, the red chard I sauté and the radishes I eat raw, dipped in a little sea salt.

Nevia No, who runs the farm, grew some sweet broccoli rabe earlier this spring that was sensational, but, unfortunately, its season lasted all of three weeks.

Later this summer, as the weather warms, No will bring other vegetables to market. Some of my hard-to-find favorites are her watermelon radishes, shishito peppers, Japanese sweet potatoes and Asian long string beans. When I bring these to cooking lessons, people are usually intrigued and delighted by the crisp, delicious flavors. (I’ll post photos when these become available.)

In addition, No offers plenty of heirloom tomatoes, peppers, root vegetables and herbs. She also sells eggs, whose yolks are golden orange, not the pale yellow of conventional eggs.

Yuno’s Farm can be found at Union Square on Mondays and Fridays, at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (47th & 2nd) on Wednesdays and at Abingdon Square (West Village) on Saturdays.

Tell Nevia I sent you.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Yuno's Farm & Nevia No: Great Vegetables, Minimal Spraying

UPDATE: Nevia No has left Yuno's Farm, which is now known as Lani's Farm. For more information about Nevia No and her new farm, Bodhitree Farm, click here.

(First of two parts)


In my opinion, some of the best vegetables available in New York City’s farmers markets are grown by Nevia No, who runs Yuno’s Farm in Bordentown, N.J.

No farms 105 acres and grows dozens of vegetables, including many Asian varietals that no other farmer offers within the New York City market network.

I favor No’s vegetables for two reasons: their superb flavor and the limited spraying she employs on her crops.

“More and more,” No said, “we are moving away from spraying.”

No estimates that 90% of her vegetables are free of herbicides and insecticides, including all of the greens (salad greens and dark leafy greens) that are such a staple of her spring offerings.

Why such little spraying, when other farmers rely so heavily on various pesticides?

“We hand weed all of our fields,” No said. “We pick everything young, so they are less prone to disease.”

Trust me; this is not an easy task, even with No’s team of eight workers who tend the fields daily. I have two garden patches totaling 800 square feet and it takes me hours to properly weed them.

The exceptions to No’s no-spraying policy are heirloom tomatoes, pepper and eggplants, members of the nightshade family which are administered fungicide to keep them healthy.

“It would be a little difficult and not realistic to go completely no spraying,” No said, “especially with the nightshades.”

(Tomorrow: More about Yuno's Farm)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Smithfield Foods: Running Amok in Eastern Europe

You really didn’t think we were becoming a kinder, gentler nation and that corporate greed with blatant disregard for, well, everything was on its way out, did you?

The New York Times ran an article earlier this week detailing the global food giant Smithfield Foods’ foray into pig farming in Eastern Europe. Smithfield’s primary concern seems to be profit, with little concern as to how its operations influence the quality of food, people’s livelihood and the environment.

Why, whenever possible, do I buy meat directly from farmers whose names I know?
"Every stage of a hog’s life — from artificial insemination to breeding genetic characteristics — is controlled. A handful of employees tend thousands of hogs that spend their lives entirely indoors, under constant lighting, to spur growth. Sows churn out litters three or four times a year. Within 300 days, a pig weighing roughly 120 kilograms, or 270 pounds, is ready for slaughter."
Concerning the upended, traditional way of making a living:
"In Romania, the number of hog farmers has declined 90 percent — to 52,100 in 2007 from 477,030 in 2003 — according to European Union statistics, with ex-farmers, overwhelmed by Smithfield’s lower prices, often emigrating or shifting to construction. In their place, the company employs or contracts with about 900 people and buys grain from about 100 farmers."
And the environmental impact:
"With almost 40 farms in western Romania, Smithfield has built enormous metal manure containers to inject waste into the soil. “We go crazy with the daily smell,” said Aura Danielescu, the principal of a school in Masloc, who closes her windows tight."
Read the article.

Read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s posted comment about the article.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread: A Closer Look

(Second of two parts)

In my local supermarket, residing alongside the Smucker’s and Skippy peanut butters that I wrote about yesterday, is a new product—Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread.


The first thing that caught my eye was the word “natural.” More often than not, if a food item is labeled “natural,” there is som
ething goofy (not a technical term) going on. Sure enough, the ingredient list confirmed my suspicions: “Made from roasted peanuts, sugar, contains 2% or less of palm oil, salt, molasses.”

Yes, sugar, palm oil, salt and molasses are natural, and The J.M. Smucker Company (Jif’s corporate parent) is within its right to market th
is product as “natural.” But when did sugar, palm oil, salt and molasses become natural ingredients of peanut butter? I touched upon this last week; don’t give food items marked “natural” a free pass. Read the ingredient list and find out for yourself what the product contains.

A second issue that piqued my interest was the phrase “peanut butter spread.” I had never seen this term before and I was curious as to its meaning.


I called Jif
Consumer Relations (1-800-283-8915) to find out more. According to Jif, the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandates that a product must be 95% peanuts to be labeled peanut butter. Anything less and the item must be called peanut butter spread.

As its jar states, Jif Natural Cream Peanut Butter Spread contains 90% peanuts.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What's In Peanut Butter? Skippy vs. Smucker's

(First of two parts)

Peanut butter is a great snack for adults, plus a go-to food for parents feeding their kids. Unfortunately, many of the commercial peanut butters sold in stores contain—unnecessarily—more than just peanuts.

The ingredients in Skippy creamy peanut butter are roasted peanuts, sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed) and salt. The added sugar and salt are not good for our health and, just as important, work to corrupt our taste buds.

However, the far greater danger lies in the hydrogenated oils, which are chemically altered oils. Th
ese oils contain unsaturated fats that have had hydrogen atoms added to their structure, making them more solid and turning them into trans fats.

Why are these hydrogenated oils added to many packaged and processed snack foods, including cookies, cakes and crackers? The change in chemical composition allows the oils to be better used in baking and also helps prevent spoilage, thereby prolonging food items’ shelf life.

But trans fats pose severe health risks, with the most serious being a link to heart disease, stemming from trans fats’ negative effects on the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol in the body. Connections to obesity and diabetes also exist.

So, what to
look for when buying peanut butter? Peanuts. Nothing more, nothing less. Many supermarkets and progressive food stores grind their own peanut butter. Failing that, Smucker’s makes a creamy peanut butter that “contains 100% peanuts,” with “no added salt, sugar, stabilizers or preservatives.”

The cost?
At my local supermarket, a 12-ounce jar of the Smucker’s is $2.49, compared to $2.79 for a 12-ounce jar of Skippy. Go figure.

(Tomorrow: Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to Make Cold Pea Soup

Use frozen peas and cold water and you’ll have an instant cold pea soup.

video

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Sun Never Sets on the Oreo Empire (Or: The Different Varieties of Oreos Flooding the Market)

I went to the supermarket early this morning with the intention of gathering information for a blog on peanut butter. Instead, I was totally transfixed by the Oreo Empire. How did I completely miss the ruthless expansion of the Oreo product line?

Surprisingly, because of a sale, there were no r
egular, plain-vanilla (pun so intended) Oreos remaining. But the shelf space dedicated to other types of Oreos represented the Manifest Destiny of the cookie aisle.

The Strawberry Milkshake Creme Oreos caught my eye first. Pink filling? “Wow” was my only reaction.


Next, I saw the Golden Oreos (golden cookies instead of the traditional chocolate ones), with both white and chocolate filling. When did that happen?


Then the blitzkrieg really started. I felt like one of those cartoon characters (Scooby-Doo?) with the spinning head when all hell breaks lo
ose.

Mini Oreos (bite size!) . . . Mini Golden Oreos (bite size!) . . . Double Stuf Oreos Original . . . Double Stuf Oreos Chocolate Creme . . . Double Stuf Oreos Cool Mint Creme . . . Double Stuf Oreos Peanut Butter Creme . . . Reduced Fat Oreos . . . Fudge Covered Oreos.


And on a higher shelf, there were several ancillary products that seemed like a bit of a stretch: Oreo Fudge Rings, Oreo Fudgees and Oreo Fun Stix.


All empires (cookie included) eventually crumble; could this overreaching signal the beginning of the end for Oreo Nation?


As I turned to le
ave, I spotted a single box of another Oreo product sitting lonely on a bare shelf in a nearby aisle, like a distant island far from the motherland.

Will Oreo Cakesters
be the first to cry out for their independence?

Friday, May 1, 2009

What Does "All Natural" Really Mean?

We shouldn’t automatically assume that food labeled “all natural” is good for us.

The term can be thrown around without any oversight, as witnessed by the Chinatown mini cake cart (photo, right). Sure, the cakes are made from a batter of natural ingredients (flour, sugar, eggs), but what does that really mean in terms of our health?

The flour is probably bleached, which leaves it devoid of most of its nutrients. The sugar is probably refined, which is metabolized by our bodies differently than unrefined sweeteners. And the eggs are probably from an industrial egg factory. I’ll spare you the details on that one, but Google “industrial egg farming” if you are curious.

Another example that "all natural" is not synonymous with healthy? Many Snapple drinks, more commonplace than Chinatown mini cake carts, are labeled “all natural”—which they ostensibly are—despite their roughly 25 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving.