The Food Report

Oregano, Grapefruit, Edible
Wrappers & the End of Pasta

One of civilization’s most precise markings is what we eat and what we don’t. We’re not about to summarize that here, though. But some curious food news did catch our fancy, despite the barrage of sensorial and taste stimuli with which we stuff ourselves as the year closes shop.
We’re intrigued, for instance, with what they’re doing with oregano. Or how grapefruit-haters may have a point, after all. Or that some burger-lovers may eat the wrappers too. Plus a few snacks sprinkled here and there. Oh, and then there’s that bit about pasta.
Even amid the unappetizing news about the world, circa 2012, which, let’s face it, makes us all nauseated, there are some tasty scraps about food to make us feel hungry for more. A little bit of ingenuity may take us a long way, and heaven knows we’ll need to be way more creative from this century onwards.
What, haven’t you heard? It may have taken the world 2.5 million years to reach the seven billion people walking around, but the next billion may happen within less than 20 meager years. We don’t want to sound alarmist, but if you needed a reason for it all to end last week, that wouldn’t be an unreasonable one.
We’re exaggerating but just a bit. Even if the most of the current mix of technology and food has been scarier than the prospect of hordes of the famished roaming the streets, both are already here. The fact is, while this planet has no expiration date, its natural resources can be depleted to extinction.
By the way, do you know the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? Although both are rich in potassium, magnesium and phosphorous, yams are rarely sold in the U.S., which means that  your grandma probably never knew that her most excellent recipe was made with potatoes. Which is fine, since yams happen to be toxic when eaten raw. Perhaps she knew it all along, and now, so do you.

Birds, even of the non-flight variety, are not known for eating oregano, or cinnamon for that matter. Then again, they didn’t eat hormones either until a few decades ago, and now those raised for human consumption are loaded with antibiotics. And, of course, the humans who consume them.
The search for hormone-free chickens, turkeys and pigs has led a still small percentage of farmers to search for alternatives. For some, it’s either that, or go bankrupt because of lower demand for their definitely inorganic birds, while the market for poultry and pork at large hasn’t really felt the effects of this consumer trait.
But even if it’s now an almost insignificant change in consumer demand, in the long run, no animal food production can be sustainable when the meat it produces has such a high percentage of antibiotics. The threat of superbugs resistant to medicines is simply too big at this point to be ignored.
Thus the experiment with oregano oil and a touch of cinnamon, mixed in the animals’ feed, that Scott Sechler has been conducting in the farm he owns in Pennsylvania. In the past three years, Bell & Evans products have been antibiotics free, ‘contributing to the company’s financial success,’ according to a Stephanie Storm story on the Times.
Many in the industry and outside it are skeptics about the relationship between the special oil and the fact that Sechler’s farm has been bacterial-diseases free since the experiment started. And the sample is statistically insignificant, as is the organic meat market in the U.S.
Data from the Organic Trade Association show that in 2011, while sales of antibiotic-free meat totaled $538 million, beef sales reached $79 billion. But as the European Union’s has passed strict legislation, in some cases banning the use of antibiotics, global demand for organic meat is bound to increase. And alternatives may be seen then under a different light.

For some reason, a lot of people reserve their most dyspeptic comments to grapefruit. There are those who simply can’t stand their supposedly, and fundamental, deception: they may look like oranges, they may be juicy as one’d expect from a citrus fruit, but their taste is unredeemable bitter. And they don’t forgive it for that.
Others, more magnanimous, just think that any fruit to which a special carving knife had to be invented in order to be conquered, is simply not worth its conquest. And they’ll tell you that much. And yet, such suddenly so problematic treat arouses passionate arguments on its defense too.
They’d better not be taking medications for high-blood pressure, cholesterol, new anticancer agents, some synthetic opiates and psychiatric drugs, certain immuno-suppressant and AIDS prescriptions, birth control pills and estrogen treatments, though. Interaction with grapefruit can be sometimes fatal.
Altogether, there’s a list of 85 different medicines. Aren’t you glad that, a long time ago, you’ve overcame your distaste for bitter fruits, so you could enjoy the succulence of a grapefruit? Well, you’d better reconsider all that now. Or join the vicious chorus of anti-grapefruit bloggers, who’d ‘rather make out’ with their own Moms than drinking its juice. Yeah, that vicious.
In other news, did you know that a Brazilian fast food chain sold burgers wrapped in edible paper? It was a great idea but, as promotional stunts often do, it lasted just one day. It has nothing to do with what was said above, but we thought it’d be a nice interlude for cleansing your mouth palate to what comes next. Hope you enjoyed it.

Most people would be really concerned about climate change if, instead of the dire diet of bad news they’ve been fed about the issue, they’d be served just a few examples, with direct impact on their meals, for example. It’s just our theory, but if we only lecture everyone about the impending doom, many will be put off and convince themselves there’s nothing to be done.
There’s much that can be done, to be sure, but if you live in a big city, chances are that, apart from the occasional freaky weather, or the inconveniently catastrophic hurricane, you don’t see much of the way things are already dramatically changing in most of the planet. By the way, have you noticed what just happened? We too, engaged in scare tactics to make a point.
Want to learn something really scary that may happen if the world’s climate keeps changing at such a rapid pace? soon enough, there won’t be any pasta left. In what may be compared to the game of six degrees of separation, just a few steps can lead to a devastating effect on the diet of billions of people worldwide.
It goes something like this: extreme weather causes rising temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns, and ever more severe droughts. Of the three grains most humans consume as food, wheat, corn, and rice, wheat, from which pasta is produced from its durum variety, is the most vulnerable to high temperatures. So no wheat, no pasta. No pasta, no… us?
Before we get to that, of course, a lot will have to happen, none of which is really good either. A recent Daily Beast story pointed to the now obvious: North Dakota, which produces the highest-quality durum in the world, has been severely affected by climate changes, hurting its crops which ideally require limited rainfall and cooler temperatures.
It’s been a gradual but inexorable change for the past three to four decades, as the weather becomes wetter in the U.S. north. That has shrank considerably the land used to grow wheat. Pasta, thus, a staple of western and Mediterranean cultures, and with globalization, of most of the world, may be heading the way many wish sodium in Ramen noodle soups would, but doesn’t: straight down.

3 thoughts on “The Food Report

  1. Lisa at fLVE says:

    I think you play scary sound track music in the background when you write this post. 🙂 Happy New Year. Hope when I come back, there’s still pasta around…


  2. I love your post. Finally a rehabitation of the humble but delicious grapefruit. As for all the caveats on good food, it may be useful to remember that what could kill you in 2000 is healthul food a decade later. Thank you for an excellent post. Micheline


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