Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Comments About Food

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Sustainability, Culture, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

--With food reformists, it's not always easy to separate prudence from puritanism. -- Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, July 31, 2023

Just how bad is processed food? is the subtitle of  a review by Adam Gopnk in the books section of the July 31, 2023 issue of The New Yorker.  The article title is Sickening and I found it stimulating different juices than food, the brain.

Here are a few points.

--Gopnik begins with a reference to a book by anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss  The Raw and the Cooked (Le Cru et le Cuit in the original French edition). It was a study by Levi-Strauss of 187 myths. The first reference in the Wiki entry on the French meaning of cuit, is one reason I recommend you read the Wiki entry. Levi-Strauss had developed a "culinary triangle," nature, culture and "the rotting." Spoilage.

--To delay food's inevitable end, spoilage, we cook, pickle, cure, smoke, ferment and dry. Gopnik notes that "nothing is more fashionable than sauerkraut," citing a famous Paris restaurant. NPR has a story on fermenting: cabbage into kimchi. Author Pien Huang writes "But why do some foods improve with age, while others spoil? I wanted to know how it happens." The recipe is "salt, time, microbes" and know-how. Huang's guide is Chef Patrice Cunningham.

--A new book "Ultra-Processed People" by Chris Tulleken explores "the ins and outs of ultra-processed food  (U.P.F.)--basically, food made up of substances that you would never find at home." Take a look at a list of ingredients of most foods on our shelves, Tulleken, in Gopnik's words, believes "we are being purposefully addicted...(altering) our children's brains...(enslaving) them to a global capitalist economy." Is the cultivated Honeycrisp apple developed at the University of Minnesota a sensory lie of another kind?"

--No discussion of food gets by without including some comments from Michael Pollan who once pointed out that "'Great Grandmother never cooked with guar gum lecithin..." leading Gopnik to wonder "why guar gum, extracted from  one seed, any moe artificial than cornstarch extracted from another...? And carrageenan ...has been used for centuries." And "Great-Grandmother certainly used the lecithin from egg yolks...'"  Chemical changes during fermentation leads to another of the products on Pollan's list. We are put off by lists of many of those ingredients but Gopnik includes one such 'concoction of chemicals...(that) are all natural components of your extra-virgin olive oil." You get the idea: the boundary between "traditional kitchen practices and the modern ones, that we are asked to condemn" cannot be drawn with a Sharpie.

--"Van Tulleken is preoccupied by the issue of ...ultra-processed food" in the retraining of our brains leading Gopnik to discuss addiction leading him to wonder how helpful it is to characterize our penchant for junk food as an addiction." Edicts about what we eat make (Gopnik) uneasy while noting he "wouldn't let a box of processed breakfast food into my house." There is a great discussion of ice cream, which in many cases "is not actually iced cream," i.e., it is a "bad artifice." And another on Heinz baked-beans. What do you think" U.D.P. or not?

--Not withstanding some of Van Tulleken's "contestable contentions, his basic counsel  seems plausible: avoid junk food when possible and be alert to the profit-seeking industries behind it. Common sense here seems more vital than a deep dive into nutrition...." 

--Gopnik observes how "easy (it is) to forget that the longest-standing food peril for most of the planet has been not too much of the bad kind but too little of any kind." Van Tulleken makes no reference to famine. Consider how much good food we throw away "half eaten or left over." Gopnik calls our attention to Irene Li's "Perfectly Good Food" in which she "makes a strong case for saving more" of it.

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