Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Food by Four

Food is a loaded subject for me. It's obvious to anyone who wanders by my blog any given week that I spend a lot of my life considering food. I participate on message boards about food, I read food- and recipe-related websites, cooking blogs, and traditional books and magazines. I considered more than once making the move to a career in food. I like to buy it, cook it, photograph it and eat it. Many of my fondest memories involve meals I've shared with friends and family.

One of my most humiliating experiences was the Christmas kids from my school arrived at our door with a care package of food. It was one of the first things I wrote about when I started my blog.

Last week, while I was in Las Vegas for the GAMA Trade show (spending an outrageous amount of money for even a simple cup of coffee and at least once a day enjoying a some pretty high-class fare) the governor of Oregon was observing Oregon Hunger Awareness Week. The governor issued a challenge: live off of the average food stamp budget of $21 per person per week. $21 dollars a week. $3 a DAY. I blew two DAYS budget on a single over-priced latte at a Bally's coffee stand!

Coincidentally, while I was in Las Vegas I was also about a month into a program of keeping track of what I eat, not just in a hedonistic orgy of enjoyment but with an eye toward nutrition and good health. Every day I've been trying to keep my calorie intake below 2000, to eat foods in a healthy ratio: 30-66 grams of fat, 150-275 grams of carbohydrates (with an emphasis on whole grains and complex carbs), 35-150 grams of protein, and 25-35 grams of fiber. After a month of trying to hit these goals, I've made my fiber goal exactly twice. It's not easy. This is not my typical relationship to food but I've been trying to treat food in a more responsible, more mature manner. Food and I have had a pretty passionate fling all these years and I'm feeling ready to settle down.

While I was jotting down the nutritional analysis of my $6 Las Vegas latte, the governor of Oregon was shopping for his week on a food stamp budget. The reaction to his effort was predictably mixed. Some people ridiculed him for his "publicity stunt" while others chided him for not making "more nutritious choices" for buying ramen instead of whole grains in bulk. I, when I returned home and read the stories, sat down and wrote him a heart-felt letter of thanks.

You see, for a short time in the early 80s, my family qualified for food stamps. I've eaten government cheese. I've stood before a wall of bread and had to count out how many slices of bread we needed to get through a week of sandwiches for the family, and had to eat the two for $.79 loaves of processed "enriched" bread because my family couldn't afford the $3.29 per loaf whole wheat stuff (even that being made with high-fructose corn syrup). Even when my mom worked her way to a better job and we became secure enough that we didn't need food stamps anymore, I still lived in a world where vegetables came from cans (so they wouldn't spoil between pay days), where milk was only for putting on vitamin-fortified cereal (so it would last), where juice came from concentrate and most of the time we just drank Kool-aid (made with 2/3 the recommended amount of sugar). Where a snack was margarine (packed with hydrogenated oil) on generic saltines or a piece of cinnamon toast. That's the kind of food you get when you have $3 a DAY (try that, Rachel Ray!).

My reading for the Las Vegas trip was Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking which focuses on all sorts of glorious "alternative" food options for people concerned with nutrition, sustainability, and eating locally, seasonally, and responsibly. (It's a gorgeous book and I can't wait to try the recipes!) Heidi writes passionately about choosing whole foods, about using uncommon ingredients like amaranth, teff, quinoa. She warns us to view some foods with suspicion. (Peanuts, for example, are apparently a common crop to rotate into cotton fields... since cotton is not a food, the land can be sprayed with different pesticides than would be acceptable for use on food when the cotton is growing there. Those chemicals most certainly don't just disappear from the soil when the peanut crops are rotated in, even if they're not sprayed directly during the peanut's growing cycle.) This reading, combined with my own personal food-awareness project and Oregon's Hunger Awareness week are all bubbling around in my brain at the moment.

All of these thoughts collided with the news that the Chinese have been routinely adding Melamine to pet food (suspected in dozens of pet recent pet deaths) and that it has likely made it into the human food chain as well. HorsesAss.org has a lengthy rant about that.

I have an incredibly complex relationship with food and it's not getting any easier.

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Anonymous Amy Jo Says:

Great post. Food is one of the most complicated, emotionally-charged, political, social, economic, environmental, things/issues/necessities everyone has to struggle with to some degree. One of my biggest social and environmental concerns is that eating well, both in terms of quality and quantity, is out of reach for many people and there are many who can afford it who are wasteful. If I think about it for too long I feel a bit sick to my stomach.

p.s. I recommend the barley risotto recipe in Heidi's new book. I made it for JD and he liked it (I think)!


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