The Ramblings of Annie Abalam

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Weekly Food Log

Today, I watched two presentations.  One of them prompted my previous blog on portion control.

Portion control and portion distortion are things that I am always trying to figure out, mostly because I have an eating disorder, partially because I have been raised in America where portions are anything but normal.  I constantly find myself looking at the amount of food on my plate and thinking “Is this a normal amount? Is this too much?” I worry all the time that I am overfeeding myself, allowing myself to gain weight, get fat, hurt my body, and be rejected by society.  The truth is that I have absolutely no clue how much food I should be eating.  Sure, I see pictures on the Internet posted by government agencies, but I do not see a whole lot of people practicing what the government preaches.  Rather, I do not see the government forcing restaurant owners to practice what the government preaches.

With our country struggling with obesity, I find it hard to understand why restaurants are not being forced to change their menus.  I understand that restaurants make large amounts of money off of obese individuals.  Some (like the Heart Attack Grill) are open about it, which can be interpreted a number of ways.  Still, most establishments allow people to blindly consume unreal amounts of calories, fat, and cholesterol all in the name of profit.  How can the government allow this to persist?

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Apparently I am not the only one who struggles with portion control

I am an extremely loyal Food Politics reader.  This week, I read Nutritionist’s Notebook: Portion Control.  In this post, Marion Nestle answers the question “What is the importance of size in our portions? What is the best way to judge portions when going out to dinner?”

Her response to this question is fairly basic, but is definitely new information to many US citizens.  She says two things:

  1. Larger portions means higher caloric value.
  2. Restaurants give people larger portions, which people end up eating, subsequently.  People do not understand that eating this much is problematic because it has become the norm.  To combat this, order appetizers and not entrees when eating at restaurants.

People have grown accustomed to larger portions over the years, and I lump myself into that category. Chains like Applebees, Red Robin, and Chili’s all offer large portions.  The largest portions I have ever seen were at The Cheesecake Factory.  I have heard that entrees there can pack over 1000 calories.  Over the years, I have found that chains are the real culprit when it comes to portion issues.  The amount of food you receive at those places (especially if you order a dish with meat) is absurd.  Average sized people cannot finish what they are given, resulting in wasted food.

At my weird little hole-in-the-wall vegan restaurants, however, the portions are seldom large.  I always want more, and I would attribute that to two things:

  1. I am used to large portions from eating out when I was little.
  2. I do not get to eat tasty food frequently.

I am in complete agreement with Nestle on this issue (as I am with most; I’m a groupie).  The amount of food people are served at restaurants makes them believe these outrageous portions are acceptable, which they are not.

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The FDA is making moves and taking names… sort of.

Marion Nestle’s post “The FDA takes action on animal antibiotics, at long last” discusses the FDA’s recent attempts at minimizing uses of antibiotics in food producing animals.  According to Nestle, the FDA is “asking drug companies to voluntarily cut back on producing antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes and to require veterinary oversight of use of these drugs.” The FDA’s token phrase is “judicious use” in their press release.  By judicious use, the FDA means that drugs should only be used for medical purposes – meaning treatment of an ailment – and not just for the sake of increasing production.  The FDA has decided to take a stand on this issue because they realize that the use of antibiotics poses a threat to human health.  It has taken them an ungodly amount of time to even ask producers, but that is a different issue.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) responded with common industry arguments:

  1. Some farmers in rural areas do not have access to veterinarians.
  2. Although the FDA is currently merely suggesting that farmers cut back on antibiotic usage, it will be treated as law.
  3. NPPC believes that the research behind the proposition is “junk”.  In their opinion, the amount of health risks associated with consumption of antibiotics in meat is minimal.

I have a couple of responses to the NPPC’s “arguments”.

  1. If you do not have access to a veterinarian, you should not own a single animal.  For once, a government agency is doing something that will (albeit unintentionally) aid farm animal welfare.  There is no reason for an animal to not be able to see a vet.  Theoretically, this could lead to more profits for the farmers, but I will not go down that path.
  2. I am surprised that this is not being put into law, but I’m sure state capture has something to do with that.  Still, if that is not feasible for the time being, big deal.  Maybe the fact that farmers are being coerced (in a weird way) to not shove antibiotics down animals’ throats will lead to them finding better ways of raising them.  Maybe if you didn’t have them in painfully close quarters, breeding all kinds of disease and misery, they would not be so susceptible to illness.
  3. The NPPC is junk! Seriously though, if research has proven for years that antibiotics are bad for humans, wouldn’t you think there is some validity in it?

None of what I have said is rocket science or terribly insightful.  I know that.

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Weekly Food Log

Although this post is indeed late, I have some things to say about Starved For Science.  Paarlberg definitely has an agenda here, but I think I agree with him about biotechnology being kept out of Africa.  African leaders seeking to mimic Europe are against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because they think they are unhealthy – fine.  I think that African leaders, however, should step out of their royal homes and really get in touch with their starving people.  People are STARVING TO DEATH.  IT IS A VERY UNPLEASANT WAY TO DIE – I speak from experience! I cannot understand how African leaders can call themselves leaders looking out for their people’s best interests when they ignore one of the hugest issues facing their country.

Another idea that I would like to emphasize is that GMOs would most likely save the lives of thousands of Africans.  Monsanto is not ideal to work with, but if contracting with them meant avoiding starvation, I would dare to argue that it might be an option worth considering.  Americans eat GMOs left and right, and what do you see us doing? Getting fat.  As far as I know, GMOs are not directly linked to obesity, but I think obesity is better than starvation.  Africans could use a little meat on their bones.

In terms of how Starved For Science is making me think about food… Reading this book has made me rethink GMOs.  I am not particularly against them, but I do not appreciate how aggressive Monsanto is.  Paarlberg’s work has made me grateful for living in America.  We have our problems, but I am not starving.  I’m just upset that the animals that make people fat are treated poorly.  Everybody has their crosses to bear.

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Weekly Food Log

After reading that article about Mad Cow Disease, my hatred for the USDA doubled.  Rather than just seething, I chose to do something constructive with this information: share it with my lovely mother and conduct a very informal interview.  I wanted to see what she had to say about this debacle.  From what Marion Nestle’s blog post says, there has only been one case of a human suffering as a result of eating beef with Mad Cow Disease.  Eating the beef has not had any effect on people that I am aware of, so I was asking her how she felt about the government agency’s lack of interest in really attacking the issue.

She told me that the USDA made her anxious, but she was not about to get as up in arms as I am about it.  My mother watches the news every night, so I would feel confident saying that she is up to date on most issues.  I do not think most channels on TV would cover the USDA’s choice to condone Mad Cow Disease existing in the US, with the exception of maybe a 60 Minutes investigation, so she is not as in tune with what the USDA does (and does not).  She said to me “Well, Annie, people are not getting sick from it as far as I know, so I do not feel particularly guilty potentially bringing it into our home.  I do worry about Bozo and Violet though.  They say that dogs can react to Mad Cow Disease in their food.” My response was “Fine.  If you are worried about Bozo and Violet, will you continue to purchase dog food that has beef in it?” She said she would not, and would buy them food made with lamb.

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Mad Cow Disease

According to “What’s up with mad cow?” Mad Cow Disease is on the rise again.  Marion Nestle of Food Politics discusses the program implemented to keep track of Mad Cow cases on feedlots.  Only 40,000 cows of the 34 million slaughtered annually are tested for the Mad Cow Disease (bovine  spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)).  She defines BSE as “a fatal disease caused by abnormal proteins (prions) in the brain and nervous system.”

I will forever be the USDA’s greatest enemy.  The fact that they cannot be bothered to test more than .11% of the population says something in itself.  Nestle’s post states that there were 29 cases in 2011.  I would not hesitate argue that there were significantly more cases that were untested.  I simply cannot wrap my brain around the USDA’s logic when they only test such an incredibly small sample of the population.  The Wall Street Journal article Nestle referenced stated that by the time the carcass got to the animal rendering plant, there was no way of tracing the cow’s origins.  How is this possible? How can the USDA allow animals to leave CAFOs with no way of tracking where they came from? When E. coli O157:H7 is found at a processing plant, the plant is left with no way to determine what CAFO is supplying cows with this deadly disease.  It makes absolutely no sense.

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I love books about food

This week, I read At last, this site begins, from Food Politics (Marion Nestle and I share many of the same opinions, and I adore her writing style).  This post discusses the various books that have become canons in the field of food politics – Mastering the Art of French CookingSweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern Historyand Fast Food Nation.  She also talks about the books that made their way into food politics discourse.

I have not read any of the books that she mentions aside from Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Michael Pollan’s book completely revolutionized my feelings toward the industrial food system.  In fact, I think he changed a lot of people’s conceptions of where their food came from.  Travelling to factory farms and talking to owners about how they fed their cows and chickens is something I would never have the audacity to do, but would love to do at the same time.

Fast Food Nation was something I read in high school during my PETA monster phase.  It gave me more ammunition to condemn those who dared to consume meat and have anything positive to say about it.  Reading it gave me a basic understanding of many of the topics we have discussed in greater depth this semester.  Although it was a good read, I would say that I preferred Pollan’s approach to the modern food system.

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Weekly Food Log

Chef Epstein’s choice to bring delectable food to class today had much more of an effect on me than planned.  Initially, I planned on not eating any of it out of fear of having an anxiety attack in public, but I am certainly glad I got past that.

The end result of our class today was me thinking “I can eat delicious food in the comfort of Seibert, and nobody – including my budget – can stop me.” My favorite dish was the tofu with Thai peanut sauce, of course.  I live for peanut sauce.  What I didn’t know was that my kitchen-challenged self could make it.  So, yes, I intend on living on peanut sauce and tofu if it doesn’t lead to me getting onto one of those TLC shows for obese people.  Curried corn took second place.  Although she admitted that it was one of the more difficult dishes, I have enough drive to figure out how to make it and share it with my cat on a weekly basis.

I have every intention of going to the grocery store on Sunday and storing food in my fridge, my friend Mikey’s fridge, and Tony’s fridge with awesome food.  I can actually act like the wannabe health food addict I am (I say wannabe because I eat on campus and know that I am not treating my body well as a result)! Many, many thanks to Dr. Epstein for today’s delicious dishes.

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I Am Skeptical About the Chipotle Commercial

I read “The infamous Chipotle video: will it help get rid of gestation crates?” earlier this week.  I’m not sure when this video came out, but I swear I saw it before we came back for second semester.  The video is as heartwarming as can be, but as a daily Chipotle customer (when I’m at home – they know me by name and give me free burritos if I come more than once in a day, or if I look sad, or am wearing a provocative outfit) I am still unsure about how sincere Chipotle is.  In all of their franchises, they have the same ads up, stating that they get a vast majority of their meat from “happy” farms.  My standards for a “happy” farm are much higher than most, because I do not buy into the notion of “free range,” and most other labels.  As I have said many times before, I fear that Chipotle may be playing on these crafty, enticing labels.  Labels like those reduce – if not dismiss – customers’ guilt when they choose to plop a carcass onto their burrito.

As a large, successful company, I can only expect Chipotle to use advertising as a means of attracting customers.  I also believe that Chipotle might be setting what I would call a “faux example” for other companies to follow (I guess that would be mimetic isomorphism).  McDonald’s reacted very quickly once they saw the ad, and realized that they needed to hop on the Chipotle Wagon.  Naturally, this is too good to be true: McDonald’s did not put a date to when they would officially eliminate gestation crates.  Therefore, they could back out fairly easily.  Needless to say, I am not impressed with McDonald’s easy-way-out method of tricking customers into thinking that they will actually take interest in the welfare of the animals they demand to be slaughtered.  The real punchline for me is: McDonald’s used to have quite a bit of money in Chipotle, but pulled out in 2006.  McDonald’s move is like an older brother taking advice from his little brother.  Most older brothers do not stick with advice youngsters tell them.  I doubt McDonald’s will stick with Chipotle’s, and sometimes I wonder if Chipotle is even practicing what they preach.

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Weekly Food Log

The New York TImes articles we read on locavores really threw me for a loop.  Since the beginning of the semester, the answer to all problems concerning our food system was buying locally grown produce.  A transparent system through which we could be sure of the origins of our food appeared to be the solution to many issues.

However, after our discussion regarding the article “Math Lessons for Locavores,” I find myself completely lost.  I had plans to attend my local farmer’s market with my mom as soon as I reluctantly trudged back to Rye for spring break.  Now, however, I am questioning whether this is really a good idea.  I am so invested in knowing everything about my food that I can’t help but laugh at my current reality: I thought I was as informed as I could be, but after a discussion on the topic and a few articles, I think I might be the ignorant one, for once, which is really unnerving.  Locavores boast that by buying locally, they are helping the environment.  Tragically, the New York Times article articulates quite the opposite.  According to the article, transporting food hundreds of miles to grocery stores has minimal effect on the environment in the grand scheme of things.  The article also states that the worst offenders when it comes to the environment are humans with all of their appliances that guzzle energy to run, ie refrigerators.

All of my previous thoughts have been debunked.  I’m not certain if buying local is really the answer.  For the time being, however, I plan on at least supporting my local farmers and attempting to boycott industrial agriculture as much as humanly possible.

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