Category Archives: Food Politics

Foodie Book Club: Four Fish

By Kay Steiger

Paul Greenberg's Four FishI read Four Fish by Paul Greenberg this summer, a book that Food & Think put on its summer reading list for foodies. The book is definitely worth reading, recounting the fascinating history of domesticating cod, tuna, salmon, and sea bass over the last few decades.

One interesting point that Greenberg brings up toward the end of the book, however, is about overall conservation of fish. He notes that those little cards distributed by environmental groups, like this one from the Environmental Defense Fund, are often sold as a “guide” to consuming fish that are good for the environment. But Greenberg argues that even though such guides may make people feel good about consuming eco-friendly fish, individual choices about fish consumption have virtually no impact on the overall survival of fish populations.

That part, he argues, is more in the court of countries’ regulations on fishing and the actions of commercial fishers. He argues that in order to preserve fish populations, it will take a concerted international cooperative effort to actually manage fish populations. What kind of fish we eat for dinner, he says, just won’t make that much of an impact. Besides, he says, those groups that put out the green, yellow, and red fish guides say the tools are really about awareness anyway.

This is an interesting — and frankly — controversial point. The same could perhaps be argued about factory farming practices or even vegetarianism, although fish is perhaps a unique case because of its inherently international nature. I’m interested to see what folks think about this. The pro is that you can help create demand for eco-friendly fish by having a widespread enough movement. The con is that it can create overwhelming feelings of guilt when you do consume fish on the “red” list.

My perspective has been that boosting awareness and encouraging folks to consume foods that are good for the environment is valuable in that it creates a sense of value about these issues and creates pressure for laws and regulations to accommodate that  perspective, but such behaviors are not really in and of themselves making an impactful difference.


Rich Kids Go to Cooking Camp

By Kay Steiger


Well, the rich sure are different. The Wall Street Journal recently profiled a few cooking camps for the 10-17 year old demographic. Tuition or fees for these camps and competitions range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars:  Dorette Snover takes a group of teenagers on a 12-day trip to Paris that runs $4,750 per child; the Baltimore-based camp called For the Love of Food charges $395 for tuition; and chef Kelly Dietrich charges $2,695 for a one-week course and $4,900 for a two-week session at the Kids Culinary Academy of Vermont.

But as amusing as the story about a small army of tiny gourmet chefs is, it’s hard for me to think about the children who aren’t so lucky. America has roughly 14.1 million children that still live in poverty and an estimated 6.5 million children who live in food deserts. Even if you don’t want to talk about the children growing up in poverty, not all parents have the time or inclination to cook and teach their children to cook.

My critique of this article isn’t meant to be an attack on the rich. The parents who can afford the $5,000 tuition should by all means buy a two-week course at the Kids Culinary Academy of Vermont. But as cooking gets more bourgeois, it’s easy to remember that there are lots of children who don’t even have access to regular and healthy meals. In that light, profiling these youthful gourmet chefs is just a startling reminder of how wide that gap really is.

al-Qaeda’s Diabolical Demi-glace of Doom

By Spencer Ackerman

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi pleaded guilty today to war crimes (specifically, conspiracy and material support to terrorism) at Guantanamo Bay, where he’s lived in detention for the past eight years. The charging documents do not specify al-Qosi ever fired a shot in anger. But for five years, he was Usama bin Laden’s personal chef. All of which makes me wonder if we didn’t just miss an opportunity to turn al-Qosi and then poison the leader of al-Qaeda.

The Human Face of School Lunch

by Ben Miller

School cafeteria lunches catch a lot of flak from policymakers and those interested in food policy. And rightfully so. Low per-meal subsidies and a lack of on-site kitchens means most schools are generally stuck serving lunches that consist of little more than reheated unhealthy entrees and side dishes that make food sold at hot dog stands look like gourmet cuisine.

Salisbury steak, bread, corn, milk, pineapple chunks

But criticizing these meals is one thing, eating them every day is an entirely different level of commitment. And that’s why I highly recommend checking out Fed Up: School Lunch Project, a blog written by an anonymous Illinois teacher known as Mrs. Q. Every school day Mrs. Q is going to eat the $3 lunch her school offers, posts pictures of the meal, and offer comments.

So far, the results aren’t pretty, as the picture to the left can attest. (For the record that is “Salisbury” steak, bread, corn, milk, and pineapple chunks.)

And the nutritional value of the offerings is not much better. So far Mrs. Q has eaten pizza twice, a hot dog, chicken patty, hamburger, and a bagel dog. Her favorite so far appears to be the “Tex-Mex” lunch, which consisted of “taco-style” meat over rice with beans.

Anyway, for anyone who is interested in seeing more about what students actually have to eat off that Styrofoam tray each day, I highly recommend checking out Fed Up:

[h/t: Liz at San Francisco, For the Win]

Crossposted at the Quick and the Ed

Monsanto Is Still Evil

By Spencer Ackerman

I have to say I get tired of arguments like this one from Nancy Scola at Tapped:

But were Monsanto to disappear, problems in the American agricultural system wouldn’t necessarily follow. The American agricultural landscape is only a distant cousin of what it was only a few decades ago. What we’re left gawking at now is a system where individual farmers and small suppliers either plug into a larger corporate ecosystem or are left to scratch out a living from the land alone — in a world where pretty much everything is institutionalized against them.

Yes, obviously, there are structural problems facing American agriculture that surpass Monsanto’s iniquity. For that matter, as long as the Supreme Court’s Chakrabarty decision stands, big agribusiness can patent life, which is the major tool Monsanto uses to perform its evil. Get rid of Monsanto while Chakrabarty remains in place and the next agribusiness villain just steps in.

But still. Monsanto is a despicable corporation, one that exploits the inability of farmers to prevent the wind from blowing seedlings onto their soil to steal their land. I am less concerned with GM food than I am with its inhuman business practices. Monsanto’s evil is both distinct and strong. If it’s in antitrust trouble, the right thing for people of decency to do is to cackle and then ask what we can do to help destroy it. I don’t want to get “beyond” Monsanto until its rapacious corporate greed is ended. Then we can get beyond it. Not before.

Food Politics: Foodies and Their Liberal Politics

By Kay Steiger

Hunch, a site that uses “collective knowledge” to answer questions, released a report on “food-related preferences” by those on either side of the political spectrum. It’s worth reading the whole thing because it’s hilariously apt: liberals prefer arugula and “bistro-style” fries to meat and deep-dish pizza; conservatives classify Velveeta as “cheese” and accept Iceberg lettuce as an adequate means of eating plants. The survey confirms a lot of stereotypes about what liberals and conservatives eat, though the report doesn’t seem scientific by any measure.


To me this survey might be more indicative of cultural differences in America. Since I hail from the rural part of Minnesota, much of the food in the left, or “conservative,” column matched my palate when I lived there. Once I moved to an urban area (and, incidentally, became more liberal on a lot of issues, including food policy), my palate changed. I ate food with more spices and made a point to consume more fresh fruit. Urban areas tend to be more liberal and they also tend to have a more diverse selection of food. It’s no accident that fresh fruit and arugula are more popular in “liberal,” i.e. urban, areas.

We can still find some common ground. Roughly the same amount of liberals and conservatives wouldn’t spent more than $100 on a bottle of wine and a solid majority of both groups found a bacon double cheeseburger delicious.

The White House Victory Garden

By Kay Steiger

Michelle Obama talks about the White House garden. It’s pretty adorable. She says, “If the president of the United States can find time to sit down with his family and have dinner, hopefully more families will find time to do the same thing.” Still, I noticed that the First Family is doing little of the gardening themselves. One thing that I think people often forget is that a full garden (growing a few herbs on a window doesn’t take much) can take some serious time. For many who enjoy it it’s not a problem to devote many hours to the garden, but for those that work double shifts or have a long commute, it can be a little more challenging.