Thursday, April 5, 2012

Have you ever seen an ugly orca?

Andrew explains that nutrition does not exist.

When I shop at Costco I am treated to an endless parade of noodle-armed men and hefty women buying "Muscle Milk" protein powder, "Weight Watchers" shakes, and even now, seawood block snacks. I used to take protein powder, when I was a sucker, and a teenager. And I could see drinking a weight control shake, if it were not made entirely of corn products and had less than 1000 ingredients. Or if it worked, but you would think all these people would notice after a bit that their expensive products were not working. As for seaweed, I am quite willing to believe in its healthful properties- for porpoises. If you are a narwhal, then by all means, gobble up seaweed as fast as you can, or if you are Japanese and eating seaweed because your country lacks space for farmland and it is tradition, go nuts. But if you are a puny or a doughy American, then why not eat things you like instead?

Mostly, I have decided nutrition is silly. For one, what do we need all this nutrition for? Olympic athletes should watch every bite, but you can probably keep up with your nonsensical noise of instant unfiltered newsvertising, and your hectic schedule of driving anytime you need to travel more than 70 feet, with a less than optimum diet. The trouble with nutrition is its an industry (what isn't anymore). And you don't move products with proclamations like: "Vitamin C: still good for you. Stay the course!" So I end up with a roomate who has seaweed blocks he will never eat, edamame taking up half our freezer that he does not eat, and 72 large cans of coconut water, which Doctor Oz told him can maintain fluid balance and hydration. How one gets so dehydrated watching TV all day every day, I don't know. I had never even heard of such a thing as Coconut Water. It sounds like a waste product to me. As in, "hey the runoff from our coconut plantation was just re-classified as pollution, so we can't let it drain into the bay anymore without paying a fine- do you think we can sell it to fat Americans with eating disorders?" "Hmm, I don't know... Call the agent to Doctor Oz, and ask how much a 5 minute spot on his show runs for!"

Doctor Oz is hard to interpret. I mean this: Does coconut water show up in stores 1 week after Doctor Oz mentions it because fat women and my roomate have unhealthy crushes on him and would jump off a bridge if he said to without thinking? So stores instantly seek out suppliers to snare their share of the loot? Or does Doctor Oz mention coconut water because the industry paid him to as an in-show advertising spot, which is what savvy firms are doing now (I think) because people don't even notice ads anymore they are so prevalent (its like noticing a leaf in the forest as opposed to leaves)- BUT people still trust the content of shows. That is after all the traditional deal. The station offers you something you want which is (rarely) good, in exchange for making you watch things you don't want which are bad in small doses (ever larger). But there is nothing holy to that. So I don't trust these daytime shows. Any spot they do is probably paid for by the featured product/person. Its hidden advertisement, and the paid ones are still there so no one suspects a thing.  When Doctor Oz talks strawberries at the beginning of their "in" season, is this because his programmer planned out the year in a logical order, or because California phoned with their credit card number ready?

As for coconut water and seaweed- well its a wonder, they are so healthful- that the human species scraped along long enough without access to them on North America to invent and perfect intercontinental oceanic shipping that allows us to get our miracle tropical products. My roomie is also a big believer in coconut oil as a replacement for butter when frying foods. I finally put it together why my eggs periodically scorch instantly on bottom long before they are cooked- no I'm not an idiot, which had been my working hypothesis- his coconut oil residue does not come off with one washing, and is not intended, despite what the jar or Doctor Oz say, to be used to fry eggs with. So now I have to wash my pan before and after I cook with it, or I get black eggs. But at least my roomate is getting slightly more nutritious eggs than I am. Just imagine how many more miles I could hike with ease than him than I already can if I would just stop eating all the things he tells me are no good for me. And then I wouldn't get sick for 4 hours per year, as opposed to the 25 days he was sick in a row this winter. All that time we breathed the same air and he coughed and sniffled and moaned seeking sympathy (if you want someone to care you have a fever, get a girlfriend/boyfriend- not a roomate- that's my tip of the week), and not once did he stop looking at me like a fool for eating butter on my toast, or make the connection that he was the sick one and I never caught it. He's just waiting for me to drop dead someday mid-motion while spreading butter with the knife, and thinks I'm a real cow for weighing more than him. Then again, my girlfriend weighs more than him too. Muscle weighs more than fat, and a lot more than hot air, which is what people are mostly composed of.

Another adorable trait I love and discussed with Camila and my friend William jestingly years back is how if you put a proper noun before any food term, it will sell faster, and for twice as much. Madagascan Vanilla. Black Forest Ham. Greek Yogurt. Do you know what makes Greek yogurt Greek? Well in Greece, it is goat milk yogurt, not sweetened. That is about the only difference. In America, where Greek Yogurt, thanks to that demon saint Doctor Oz, is big business now, there is no difference. It is cow milk yogurt sweetened with fruit and sucrose. Yet people have to have it. After all, Doctor Oz says Greek yogurt is healthier (because it is not sweetened as artificially and has less sugar) so it must be.

Variety too is a fraud. I have slowly worked past this chimera, and it is the last one that held me. We are trained we must get different grains, vegetables, and so on. Well, do you know what the nutritional difference between barley and oats is? On a long enough time line, barley is slightly better for you. So over 40 years, say eaten 1 bowl per day, barleymeal would provide you with say an extra pound of muscle and 8 oz less bodyfat. But for that, you would have paid 4 times as much money per bowl. And day to day, there is no difference. None at all. Not one significant anyway. The Irish did quite well on potatoes and milk with ham once a year. The only flaw with their plan is they uniformly decided one sort of potato was best. The Scots did just fine on oats and milk. There were athletes into the 1940s who ate nothing but red meat and beer. My rule of thumb has become: eat 5 things daily. Preferably, foods. As in, not a tube of icing- that does not count on your 5. But spinach is 1, potato, 2, yogurt, 3, and so on. 5 per day is plenty of variety. Forget the 9 grain bread. Getting 2 grams each of 9 grains is not going to make a difference from 9 grams each of 2 grains. With fruits and vegetables, the story changes, and you may want to use more varieties, and variety. Try new colors of potatoes, mix in some radishes, buy an heirloom tomato rather than a Roma. But don't go crazy.

Of course you can't sell any of these ideas. Or you can, but only once. It never ceases to amaze and terrify me that people can actually exist on a level where they are influenced by advertisements and trends. They hear about coconut water, and take it for granted for some reason than a television entertainer is only on television out of the goodness of his heart for their benefit, because he seems so nice. It can't be his fat salary, and he would never say anything just to fill up a show or because he was paid to or the last poll showed he was a little too conventional. But I've never been able to sell anything to anyone about nutrition. All my friends have ever wanted is confirmation. They are nodding as they ask you, "I should do blank, right?" Nodding to let me know what the answer should be, so I don't embarress myself. Its like having a softball lobbed at you when you're a kid.

Here is another rule of thumb: your grandpa probably could have kicked your butt at the same age you are now, or at any age you will ever be- so if he never ate it, you don't need it. Maybe, you should try to be more like your ancestors who were tougher and fitter, and less like weenies who are doing everything right according to a textbook or a scientist, who is also a weenie. As reader Tom reminded me once, many cultures just eat what they feel like. For tradition, or pleasure, or any other reason, other than nutrition. And I think that pleasure can be nutritious. Maybe more than nutrients can. That is, you're probably better off eating lettuce and liking it, than spinach, because it has more Vitamin A, and hating it. You get a chemical response to food and that has to be accounted for in any accurate nutritional system. There remains a lot we cannot measure. Vegetables were dissed in the early 20th century as empty, because they had few calories. That was the rule for a lot of years. Baby formula was going to be better than mother's milk. What audacity it is to say really. I don't know how any person can be religious and think they can outdo "God"/"Nature"- same thing, just one has a face that is more easily marketable, or any woman can be religious and use baby formula under any terms...but that is an opinion. But the fact is, formula is not better. It never will be, I expect. In a microscope, and a bomb calorimeter, it tests and shows that it should be better. In a baby, it isn't. Seaweed might help whales look trim even when 50% of their body mass is blubber, but that doesn't make it better for you than a bag of peanuts if you like peanuts.

And now for a new subject: in my last post, where I suggested you all type the phone book, my friend Maried Marie who is quitting next week (probably) added that you will need to sit in the most uncomfortable chair you can find, and cover your keyboard with grime first, and preferably use one where at least one key sticks and is hard to press down, and also, have someone sneak up behind you and say things every few minutes to simulate all the announcements we get over an intercom, and have a partner screw with the thermostat to make it 80 degrees for 5 minutes and then to kick on the AC to simulate the strange fan system in our building. Then you'll have the idea.

The best story from the book "How Carrots Won the Trojan War" by Rebecca Rupp was one I came across today. A true delight. The tomato is a fruit, botanically, but so are most vegetables- as pointed out by the Supreme Court, when they ruled on the status of tomatoes (vegetables paid a tariff and fruits did not), in 1896. So they decided that vegetables were simply a vernacular term used by the people to signify garden produce eaten with the meal rather than after, as dessert, as fruit was eaten, at that time. The man who had refused to pay a tariff on his tomato shipment, owned up that this was quite well spoken and reasonable and paid. Of course, his other option was to go to jail, so perhaps he still disagreed. Anyway, the tomato is a legal vegetable, and always will be. Not explained is why the United States had a tariff only on vegetables. I would presume it was because some fruits which could not be grown in America were wanted, but that vegetables, which could and can be grown locally, should be. So tomatoes had a tariff on imports, because they grow just fine everywhere and why support Spain's farmers and not our own? And risk bringing bugs in and fungi? Smart people, our ancestors. And they didn't even have a reliable supply of coconut water.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Butternut Squashes and Books

Recipes from Butternut Squash Days.

On March 1 I realized I still had 4 farmer's market butternut squashes. How many did I buy in September you ask? Well, 4. Though I am rounding. I do not really like butternut squashes. But I know I should. And I have had some great soups in organic markets (also bell pepper bisque! Need to try making that soon, when Butternut Squash Days ends soon). So I vowed to learn this winter how to properly prepare these little fruits, and then put off doing it until I ate everything else and became afraid they were going bad.

So, I prepared a decent butternut squash soup and think I have identified my error in 3 straight winters: cloves. I do not like cloves, but they cost so much, I keep using them as a gourmet spice. I have now decided cloves are antagonists to butternut squashes. Next I tried a chili, fearing it even as it smelled delicious and even as I tasted it. And it was...delicious. Very pleased and am making it again this week with my last squash. Also, it may be the only chili I ever make again, and was very filling. Even meat obsessives I know agreed (the kind of people who apologize shamefully when they serve a meal without meat) Another good recipe is curried lentils and butternut squash chunks. Both recipes are included below:

Butternut Squash Chili

Peel your squash and then dice up into large 3/4 inch or so chunks. Boil with some Anasazi beans or any other dried beans you desire for 1 hour or so. Then add: 1 can diced tomatoes (or fresh if available), 1 can pinto beans, 1 can butter beans, 1 can black beans, 1 can kidney beans, 1/2 small can tomato paste, 1/3 bell pepper diced, 1/2 jalapeno diced, 1/2 anaheim pepper diced, ground white pepper, touch of black pepper, 1/8 cup or less brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, black olives, corn kernels (1/8 cup or so), olive oil, touch of red wine vinegar, 1 clove garlic minced, 1/4 cup dry quinoa. Simmer for 45 minutes to 1 more hour, until quinoa has burst open.

Curried Lentils And More

Wash and boil 2 cups lentils with 1 peeled and diced butternut squash about 45 minutes, then add 1 cup blackeyed peas (if frozen; if canned or precooked then add later so they do not dissolve into mash) and go another 45 minutes at a simmer. Add 1/2 cup kidney beans (from can; if using dried, then start with the lentils and squash), and mix in red curry paste to taste. 2 teaspoons may do it. I think I used 4 and it was pretty spicy. Top with cashews when serving. This last touch adds fat to the meal you will want to stay full and also really puts the flavor over the top. If you add while cooking they will get soggy.

As for books, well briefly as promised once in an old post, I will tell you of Samuel Pepys. He eats a lot, and his diary is interesting periodically. For instance where he whines for sympathy about his wrist so sore he can barely write. Why is it sore? Why from beating the chamberboy until the switch broke and his wrist near fell off of course. Not that it did the little hellian any good. Pepys is sure he practically enjoyed his hiding out of sheer malignancy. And also, he has a lot of affairs. And he sometimes needs consolation from friends for beating his wife so bad he fears her looks will suffer for it and other men will think less of him for having an ugly wife.

A better book is the Essays of Montaigne, often simply for their folklore. Girls who play hopscotch too aggressively are in danger of shaking loose their inner boy parts which will fall out of their mmhmmhummhuh, and then they will be boys. Its science. But he is a good man for his age, one of consideration, balance, merit, and intelligence. Always witty and entertaining, he is said to have invented the essay because he did not like any of the more stylized and formal rhetorical forms.

Better still is the exquisite, and adorable "How Carrots Won the Trojan War" a book I have been milking for fear of the day when I finish it, for now several months. The introduction is if not plagarism from Micheal Polin, than clearly influenced by him, but no matter. The meat of the book is fine stuff. While the title story is silly and pretty much just a sentence (and who would call a sentence a story: other than Hemingway's famous and incredible 6 word short story- look it up), but the book mixes science with anecdote, humor, history, and everything else. Learn how peas nearly swung world history in 1775, and how growers produce massive pumpkins, what vegetables Jefferson the president was taunted over by his neighbor, which vegetables were considered aphrodisiacs and fed to French kings by their mistresses (hint: remember that for a long time medicine trusted in similarity as remedy) and get this sort of satirical but also doting quotation: (on a cucumber brine) "According to the Athenians, consumption of it explained the Spartans' legendary bravery in battle; black broth was so awful anyone compelled to eat it was willing to die." and "Whatever one's personal opinion of the potato, almost everyone agreed that it was a good idea to feed them to somebody else." Highly recommended, and with cute illustrations.