Subtitled “Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table”, McMillan’s book is very reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel aSubtitled “Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table”, McMillan’s book is very reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed as McMillan goes undercover to work among the working poor of the United States picking and sorting grapes, peaches, and garlic in California; selling baking products and produce at Walmart in Michigan; and working in the kitchen of America’s largest sit-down chain restaurant, Applebee’s, in New York City. The book looks at food not in the abstract as conventional versus organic but as a product of those who work hard to produce, sell, and cook the food we eat.
The goal of McMillian’s book is actually to discover why food costs the way it does and why so many people are consigned to eating processed food despite our abundance of produce and fresh foods. Instead, the book becomes rather muddled in it’s examination of the American food system. Workers — citizens and non-citizens alike — are cheated of wages or work for well-below minimum wage, which of course dictates the choices they have available to them for food. But McMillian rarely looks beyond this to examine the systemic reasons why processed foods are cheaper than produce. Nearly rotten produce can be sold for everyday low prices, but McMillian fails to take into account that centralized transport networks and a lack of local sourcing mean most food must travel
The facts and figures are all well and good, but distract from the personal narrative she is trying to provide. There are also several instances where I wanted to scream for her to check her privileged — her lamenting over how she cannot pay her rent because she went out for sushi with her sister or how she must accept charity from people with far less than her the two most glaring examples. And her complaints about how many of the farm workers live — dirty bathroom with no toilet paper, shacks built in the backyard — are written in such a way that I wondered if she wasn’t doing more to promote stigmatizing and stereotypes than break them down. I felt like Ehrenreich did a much better job explaining what it is like being a member of the working poor while admitting to her privileges.
I shouldn’t be too harsh because for all its problems, there were many interesting sections. I wanted her to go beyond cross-store comparisons because that’s something I did for my own thesis and I was hoping to get more out of her research, but I imagine someone without this background would find it rather fascinating. The age old question of why the food at Applebee’s is so bland was answered (hint: the microwave you have at home is just as effective). The sections about urban agriculture and food deserts in Detroit were particularly interesting and seemed to fit in best with the goal of her book. Overall, lots of facts, figures, and interesting antidotes but a little too broadly written to be a reference or earn on a spot on the keep forever shelf....more
I should preface this review by stating my bias against bananas. They taste rather like how I imagine cardboard would taste, and I can barely tolerateI should preface this review by stating my bias against bananas. They taste rather like how I imagine cardboard would taste, and I can barely tolerate them in smoothies let alone in baked goods. But bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the United States and this book, subtitled “How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World”, ended up on the list of books I wanted to read for the Honors Project. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time sourcing a copy of this book until now so I missed the opportunity to learn more about one of America’s favorite fruits.
Not that it would have helped in my thesis or helped further my understanding of this American industry that exists outside the geographic bounds of the United States. Chapman attempts to create intrigue about the banana by framing it in the context of the suicide of the United Fruit Company’s CEO in the 1970s. In fact, this is the precise event that got him interested in writing about bananas for his thesis. (The writing is pretty low for a thesis; more like the first draft of a paper.) The term ‘banana republics’ refers to a politically unstable country dependent upon the export of a single product such as Honduras and Guatemala, and Chapman’s book sets out to explain how these countries were largely manipulated and ruled by the United Fruit Company and response people like Fidel Castro had toward this company.
Except all this book manages to do is skim the surface of this topic; so poorly that I cannot even call it a primer on the issue. I finished the book and felt like I had gained nothing from the time I spent reading it. Rather than focus on the role the United Fruit Company really had on the countries it was operating in, Chapman wanted to explain how the company operated outside of the United States’ jurisdiction much to the country’s politicians chagrin, but it’s such a hard connection to make in such a brief little book. Conspiracy theories abound!...more
Subtitled “Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”, Teicholz’s book documents how the low fat diet became the national – and thanks to ASubtitled “Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”, Teicholz’s book documents how the low fat diet became the national – and thanks to America’s outsized influence on that global food system, international – nutrition diet nearly sixty years ago. With rates of heart disease skyrocketing, nutritionists and scientists assumed correction meant causation decreeing that fat, especially saturated fat, were to blame. Yet while rates of heart disease have declined over the past six decades, rates of obesity have increased tremendously and the general health of the American population has declined even as more and more Americans adhere to a low fat diet.
“A review in 2008 of all studies of the low-fat diet by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that there is ‘no probable or convincing evidence’ that a high level of fat in the diet causes heart disease or cancer. And in 2013 in Sweden, an expert health advisory group, after spending two years reviewing 16,000 studies, concluded that a diet low in fat was an ineffective strategy for tackling either obesity or diabetes.” (pg. 172)
The assumption of causation were based on epidemiological studies – that is, the study of people’s behaviors and eating habits – yet the major studies cited in support of the low fat diet would not pass a basic research methods course. Interviewees were studied during Lent when their eating habits would change based on religious edict; interviewees were overwhelming middle-age males. And the statistical significance of their conclusions were well within the acceptance rate – a 1.9 significance in a study that admitted to having a plus or minus 2 points variation.
The studies were also some of the first published in the United States giving the authors an inflated stature within the medical community such that their studies went unquestioned for decades. New studies or those that seemed to contradict the connection between a high fat diet and poor health were criticized in the opinion pages of journals of lower ranking and were largely ignored by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, which maintained close ties with the original research, Ancel Keys, who determined low fat diets reduced the instances of heart disease.
High fat diets have also been associated with a higher rate of breast cancer; a tenuous link largely disproven by Walter Willet’s 1987 Nurses’ Health Study, which found that the more fat (particularly saturated fat) the nurses ate, the less likely they were to develop breast cancer. Willet’s study was dismissed by the director of the National Cancer Institute in an opinion piece where he argued that data from rats proved a high fat diet induced mammary tumors. Yet the director failed to mention that the most effective fats for growing tumors were polyunsaturated – the same fats found in vegetable oils Americans were being encouraged to use instead of animal-based fats (pg. 167).
This is one of the few examples of a study in which women were studied because, as Teicholz explains, women were excluded from most clinical and epidemiological studies because the heart disease epidemic initially affected more men than women. Yet this exclusion has continued with women representing only 20 percent of participants in studies until 1990 and only 25 percent thereafter (pg. 159). Yet women are expected to follow advice based on studies involving rats or men. Children are also feed a low-fat diet; 88 percent of mothers in 1995 believed a low-fat diet was “important” or “very important” for their infants and 83 percent said they sometimes or always avoid giving fatty foods to their children (pg. 150). Yet there is no scientific evidence to back up the suggestion that children should avoid fats, particularly saturated fats.
Avoiding these fats means Americans have focused on utilizing vegetable oils and replaced the fats from meat, eggs, milk, and cheese in their diets with more carbohydrates, the bases of both the USDA’s food pyramid and the Mediterranean Diet. Carbohydrates wreak havoc on the body’s ability to process insulin, which then causes the body to store fat rather than burn it and leads to increased waist lines. The anti-carbohydrates diet was, of course, made famous by Robert C. Atkins , and Teicholz spends a chapter examining how the medical establishment responded to Atkins diet. She points out some of the flaws with the diet and the lack of studies to back up its assertions, but she seems to be largely in favor of the diet over the heavily championed Mediterranean Diet, which she also focuses on in its own chapter.
Obviously, I learned quite a bit from this book. It turned everything I have ever read on the topic of obesity and the American food system on its head, and I would heartily recommend it on that point alone. It is not always the easiest book to follow – a bit repetitive, a bit unclear – and there are some chapters that could have been trimmed or cut all together to made it a clearer read. Teicholz engages in some of the same manipulation of (bad) data to fit her argument, but those moments are rather obvious. And beyond the implications for personal and public health policy, I think the book would make an interesting addition to any college research methodology class because of the questions it raises about how science and statistics can be fallible and manipulated. ...more
I spent most of July trying the recipes from Just Married and Cooking by Brooke Parkhurst and Jamie Briscione, which I selected not because I just gotI spent most of July trying the recipes from Just Married and Cooking by Brooke Parkhurst and Jamie Briscione, which I selected not because I just got married but because I was on the hunt for the ever elusive cooking for one cookbook. I thought this would be a compromise since "just married" lends itself to the idea that the recipes would be for two people, but apparently I didn't read the subtitle close enough because the vast majority of the recipes are for eight people. Apparently, married couples are supposed to entertain. A lot.
But I have a freezer and the ability to do basic division so I went through the book and flagged the recipes that sounded most appetizing to me: Beefy Southwestern Chili, Chicken and Mushroom Burgers, Grilled Chicken Panzanella, and Popovers.
Beefy Southwestern Chili
The city I live in experience a bout of cooler days in mid-July, and I was craving some comfort food as I deal with a bout of homesickness. Although I managed to catch the detail about letting the black beans soak overnight, which wasn't actually listed a step in the recipe, it didn't click as I read the authors' introduction about how the key to good chili is making sure to season the beef at the beginning when it’s raw not after it has been simmering for an hour that I would actually end up having to cook the chili for an hour. I ate a bowl of ice cream while I waited and laughed about how I'm such a rookie chef, but the wait was well worth it. I loved this chili and was so glad I made enough to freeze for a few days.
I've actually never had chili with beans in it before since my mom won't eat beans, and I think they needed to soak much longer than Parkhurst and Briscione suggest. I dumped mine in a bowl with water during my lunch break the day before I made this recipe and they still came out kind of chewy rather than tender, but cooking time issues seem to be a common problem with this cookbook. I also thought it was odd that the authors put corn on the cob in their ingredients list when you were just going to cut it off the corn. I understand it would be fresher than frozen corn, but why put in all that effort?
Chicken and Mushroom Burgers
Personally, I prefer beef hamburgers over those made with ground chicken, but the idea of mixing mushrooms into the patty was too tempting to pass-up. It was surprisingly delicious; on par with anything I could buy at a local burger restaurant. Parkhurst and Briscione say you can use chicken stock or white wine when making this recipe. I used chicken stock since I had some leftover from making the chili (above), but I think white wine would make it more flavorful. Certainly the way I’d go when I make this recipe again.
The recipe also says those without a grill should bake them for about twelve minutes in a 425-degree oven. No dice. Underdone, I switched the oven from bake to high broil (my oven only has a low or high broil setting) and cooked the burgers for another fifteen minutes. Thankfully, the burgers weren’t too overcooked and dry this way. Yet another example of how questionable the cooking instructions are for this book.
I made the grilled chicken panzanella right before my book club meeting thinking it would be a nice summery salad and ended up showing up to the meeting smelling like semi-burnt chicken because the stove-top cooking instructions were not exactly accurate. The recipe also says that the onions should marinate in vinegar for at least fifteen minutes before mixing in the bread chunks and tomatoes. Admittedly, I was in a rush to get out the door, but everything was pretty bland when I sat down to eat dinner.
That said, I had enough for leftovers and after sitting in my fridge for a day or two, I could really taste the olive oil, garlic, and basil and the onions were very tender. If I was to make this again, I'd make it in the morning and then having for dinner that night in order to really get all the taste it is supposed to have.
I don't have a popover pan, probably because I haven't had a wedding registry, so I made mine in a muffin pan and they weren't very tall or impressive looking, which the book said would be the case. But they still tasted pretty good. I used a cup of Colby Jack cheese instead of Monterey Jack or Gruyére since I already had it on hand, and I think I needed to do a better job of mixing it into the batter. The popovers were cheesy on top but doughy on the bottom so it's a good thing I skipped adding the Parmesan cheese on top. This is the only recipe I tried where the baking time was exactly right.
Besides the issue with the cook times, the other odd thing about this cookbook is that it has no pictures other than an insert like you would find in biographies with colorful photographs of sixteen of their 200 recipes (none of which I made). This actually really bugged me at first because I wanted to know what I was making; food is more enticing when I see pictures of it. But as I went through the recipes and had a few mishaps here and there, I actually appreciated not knowing how my food should look. It was what it was and, most importantly, it was delicious....more
Can I say what a beautiful invention the slow cooker is? I’m so glad I followed my parents’ suggestion to buy one, and that the round-up of cookbook rCan I say what a beautiful invention the slow cooker is? I’m so glad I followed my parents’ suggestion to buy one, and that the round-up of cookbook reviews from last month convinced me to see what cookbooks particularly made for slow cookers my public library had available. I select Cheney’s cookbook because it included a recipe for Hungarian goulash, but I ended up flagging six recipes and making five during the month of August. (I am clearly over summer; the only recipes I made from Cheney’s cookbook were from the winter and fall sections.)
I should have thumbed through the cookbook a bit more in-depth before checking it out, however, because visions of tossing a few items into the slow cooker on the way out the door before work were quickly dashed. All of the recipes require at least 45 minutes of prep and many cook on low for four to six hours, and I ended up doing most of my cooking on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon because I couldn’t count on being able to duck out of work to turn off the slow cooker halfway through the day.
I started with her recipe for Hungarian beef goulash with yams and caramelized onions (pg. 160) as this was the recipe I was most excited to make. Unfortunately, Cheney’s version of Hungarian goulash is nothing like the dish I enjoyed during my trip to Hungary. The dish didn’t have that striking red color goulash in Hungary has, although that could be because I don’t have paprika sourced from Hungary.
Worse yet, its consistency is somewhere between a soup and a stew, and I ended up eating it like a dip with a side of crackers. It also did not hold up to freezing well and while I’ll always prioritize taste over appearance, this looked really unappetizing when I pulled it out of my bag during my lunch break. I was tempted on more than one occasion to toss it and head to the food court down the street. Quiet disappointing.
Chicken with white wine, wild mushrooms, and fresh herbs (pg. 68) ended up being one of the better recipes in this cookbook. The sweet flavor contrasted well with the blandness of the pasta or rice I served it over. It is also one of the few recipes that froze well — no watery yuckiness to drain off before reheating.
If I were to make it again, I would cut the chicken into smaller pieces. The recipe calls for thighs but I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in half. Doing so helps with portion control — half a chicken breast equals one serving — but I think it would have been easier to eat and reheat had it been cut into smaller portions. I’d also add in more vegetables besides the onions and mushrooms the recipe calls for. Peas or broccoli would be especially good with the sauce.
I’m not sure I messed up the recipe or if there was a flaw, but my curried chicken with ginger, mango, and lime (pg. 49) had unappetizing pasty texture to it that could not be masked by mixing in rice or pasta. I ended up picking out the chicken and tossing the sauce and the vegetables in the trash.
Although the ingredient list is different, the chicken with paprika, potatoes, and rosemary (pg. 176) tasted almost exactly the same as Hungarian goulash. With this recipe, I had to be careful to drain off any excess liquid before eating otherwise I’d have a layer of congealed fat to pick through. Once drained, the food tasted fine enough but this recipe is not a keeper. It was far too bland to make the forty-five minute prep time worthwhile.
I’ll admit that I seriously messed up the bolognese sauce with pancetta, porcini, and rosemary (pg. 187) as I did not add nearly enough tomatoes as the recipe called for. I had planned to use up the tomatoes I had leftover from making the goulash, but the tomatoes had spoiled and I did not feel like returning to the grocery store after I had just been there to buy other ingredients for this recipe. I also purchased a quarter of the pancetta called for the recipe because (a) I wasn’t sure I’d like it and (b) $3.99 for three ounces seems pretty steep to me.
But, hands down, this was my favorite recipe of the five I tried. I loved all the vegetables in the recipe — yes, Mom, even the cooked carrots! The recipe calls for skimming the fat off the top once it is done cooking for eight hours, which may be why I did not have the same issue I had with the goulash or the chicken with paprika. Because I screwed up the tomato content, I ended up not using the sauce as a sauce and instead ate it as a stew or with crackers. But I’m sure the right amount of tomatoes would make it a great pasta sauce, and I’d like to try it again as such.
Overall, most of the recipes I tried were not worth the prep time required of them and did not hold up well to freezing and reheating. Each recipe in Cheney’s book has a very long ingredient list to go with it, and I don’t keep most of the items — pancetta, mango, apricot nectar — on hand so this cookbook will be going back to the library just as soon as I finish copying th...more
Child’s memoir was placed on my mental to-read list after the release of the film “Julie and Julia” in 2009, but I was only recently reminded of thisChild’s memoir was placed on my mental to-read list after the release of the film “Julie and Julia” in 2009, but I was only recently reminded of this when I spied the audiobook read by Kimberly Farr on the shelf at the public library. In the book, Child explains how she fell in love with French food in the fall of 1948 during her very first meal in the country after her ship docked in Le Havre en route to Paris and how that love turned her into the most famous cook in America.
Although Child previously worked for the United States Information Agency (precursor to the CIA) in China, where she met her husband Paul during World War II, she moved to Paris without a job in the agency or an understanding of the French language and immediately became bored. Determined to become fluent in the language and utterly in love with the cuisine, Child enrolls in the Cordon Bleu and learns how to master the art of French cooking, which she eventually parlays into a renowned cookbook for American cooks and the very first cooking show on television.
Compiled from interviews between Child and Alex Prud’homme, her husband’s grandnephew, during the last eight months of her life, the book was completed and published by Prud’homme in 2006 following her death in August 2004. Yet the novel never loses Child’s voice — I felt as though as I was having a conversation with her — and her love of French cuisine and the French people is conveyed with gusto and infectious enthusiasm. Leaves me with the desire to run out, buy Child’s cookbook, and make beef bourguignon and French bread.
The memoir is told with impressive detail making Paris, Marseilles, and Provence of the 1940s and 1950s seem charming, quaint, and alive yet what struck me was how different her recollections of life in France are with my own. Paris in the twenty-first century is filled with chains — American and non-American, alike — and I never experienced the atmosphere surrounding food that she so fondly recollects, although I did try many of the dishes she praises in this text. A bit odd to experience nostalgia for a time over sixty years past, but I suppose it is testimony to the writing of Child and Prud’homme that they managed to make me feel this way....more
I am horribly addicted to Coca Cola. I can easily down six or seven cans (or, their equivalent at a restaurant) without batting an eye, which obviouslI am horribly addicted to Coca Cola. I can easily down six or seven cans (or, their equivalent at a restaurant) without batting an eye, which obviously places me in the “heavy user” category by The Coca Cola Company.
I have tried many times over the past six years to kick the habit going cold turkey for ten weeks or ten months until I convince myself that my birthday or graduation or general stress or the fact that I do not smoke or drink means I should be able to have a can of Coke. Of course, one leads to one a day and then one a day leads to a can of Coke with my morning snack, my lunch, my dinner, and before bed. (And then I wonder why I can’t fall asleep.)
I know Coca Cola is bad for me; I have read multiple books arguing against the product based solely on health. But I still struggle not to reach for the product at every turn, and I had hoped in picking up this book that Blanding would offer an argument to help compel me to pick the habit once and for all. Unfortunately, the book relies on a narrative constructed for the filmiest strings and failed to convince me that Coke is worse for anything but my own personal health.
Blanding’s argument takes a three prong approach: Coca-Cola’s use of advertising to promote its unhealthy product, the relationship with its bottlers and links to paramilitary groups in Colombia, and water in both the bottled form and the production of its flagship products. The first prong was the most interesting and the most convincing, although I was largely familiar with the history of Coca-Cola and its use of advertisement. Clearly, utilizing Santa and adorable polar bears are going to teach children that the product is good for them because the associate good with those images.
But my interest during this section was piqued as Blanding detailed the ironclad, exclusive contracts public schools districts signed with Coca Cola in the United States. We had vending machines for Coca Cola products in my public middle school and public high school with varying access rules (i.e. only on afterschool in middle school) and the argument was that selling these products help cash strapped schools finance their students education. However, Blanding cites multiple examples and combs through several contracts to show how untrue this claim is.
The last two prongs, especially the sections on the death of union leaders in South America, are where the argument begins to fall apart. Blanding attempts to draw a direct line where one does not exist, and I found it difficult to follow his logic as he argued that Coca Cola was responsible for a manager of its bottling plant (which is a separate entity from the flagship corporation) fighting against a union in such despicable ways. I mean, no company wants to encourage their workers to unionize but that does not mean they are circling internal memos instructing their managers to kill union organizers. Fire them, yes, but I doubt kill them. Blanding readily admits that his proof is weak, that other companies in Colombia engaged in far worse tactics.
Bottled water is a crock; the product is rarely cleaner than tap water and provides no added benefits. In fact, the plastic bottles contribute to the trashing of our environment and require massive amounts of energy inputs including oil to produce. However, I have read more convincing and detailed arguments against bottled water than the one presented in this book, which read like an addition to stretch out a tired argument. There was nothing new or groundbreaking within the text about this particular product of the Coca Cola Company or about the company in general.
I listened to the audiobook read by George K. Wilson, whose monotone voice failed to make the subject matter more interesting or engaging. Even the chapters on Colombia’s civil war and the violence there were read in the same tone as the legal examination of Coca Cola’s contracts with public schools....more