As a budding food scientist who is also part tree hugger, I not only think about the ingredients and processes that went into making my food, but I also think about the environmental impact it had. After reading numerous articles and listening to professors lecture about how much energy and water goes into food production, I often worry about my carbon foot print and what I can do to minimize it.
People often ask me, "Why worry about it? None of us will even be alive to experience the consequences of global warming."But that's not true. Climate change is currently altering weather patterns resulting in crop shortages which raises the price of feed for livestock. Not a meat eater? Adverse weather is also impacting wine harvests. Even if you were a sober vegan, wouldn't you feel a bit guilty if your kids asked you why polar bears no longer existed?
While I know that there's nothing I can do to magically turn things around, it's the little things that count. Learning that the production of meat is responsible for one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gases has caused me to reduce my animal consumption and rely on tofu, nuts, milk, and yogurt as sources of protein. But why not just cut out animal products altogether? It's definitely possible with all of the meat and dairy alternatives on the store shelves today.
That's something I think about quite often whenever I'm at the grocery store or in a restaurant. If I reduce the demand, supply will go down. After some more thought, I whittled it down to three main reasons why I am not a strict vegetarian or vegan.
The first is a nutritional reason. Iron deficiency is one of the top nutritional deficiencies and while I could take a supplement or get my iron from plant sources, non-heme iron is just not the same as heme iron. The body absorbs heme iron (from meat, poultry, and fish) far better than non-heme iron. Also, beef, eggs, and milk are at the top of the PDCAAS list, making them the highest quality sources of protein (peanuts and legumes are below 0.8 on the scale). If I'm coming home after a sweaty workout, my body is going to want the highest quality protein it can digest.
Second, as a woman of science, I believe in evolution. Homo sapiens look like they do and have certain body parts for a reason and there must be some reason why I have these canines in my mouth. Most likely because our ancestors Homo erectus needed something sharp to tear and chew their dinner with. If it took hundreds of thousands of years for genus Homo to evolve canines for the benefit of their diet, why shouldn't I use them?
Lastly, a selfish reason. Sometimes... I just want a nice, juicy burger. Or a thick slice of rare prime rib. Or a sweet, smoky full rack of ribs. When my body wants it, my brain won't let me stop thinking about it until I get it. I guess you could tie that in with the practice of Intuitive Eating: when you crave something, it's because your body is telling you that it needs it because that something has a nutrient you're lacking. If I'm craving that burger or taco, my body must want animal protein.
I am aware of the arguments against each of my justifications, so I've come up with compromises
to apease both my inner hippie and primal omnivore. If given a choice, I'll go with the more sustainable option. But if there is no choice, such as a potluck or set menu, where the meat is already cooked and it won't make a difference whether I eat it or not, I won't feel as bad if have a serving. And if I'm craving that burger, you can bet it'll be the best burger I can get my hands on. None of that fast food stuff.
A surprising number of students studying food science here at Chapman University are actually vegetarian and vegan. I'm not quite sure of their reasons for that lifestyle, but I respect their choices and appreciate their part in reducing carbon emissions.
What I've found over the years is that a person's diet is actually a touchy subject, much like politics and religion. What you choose to consume or not consume says a lot about yourself and I've actually gotten into arguments with my parents over this subject. So what I want to know is, what are your thoughts on vegetarianism/veganism? How do you decide what to eat or not to eat? Do you follow any guidelines?
For some reason I always expect home to be different whenever I come back for vacation. Maybe my parents made a decision to purge the house of all my childhood belongings and clothes since I never use or need them anymore. Or perhaps they finally decided to fix all the leaky faucets and rusty sliding doors. But no, everything is pretty much the same each time I return. And as much as I'd like to help them clean out my closet and repair the damage we did as kids, a part of me is happy that everything is just how I left it. A constant reminder of what life was like before moving for college.
Even a glance at the pantry reminds me of the good old days. Ridiculous amounts of Spam ("Because they were on sale!" -Mom), boxes of S&B curry mix, jars of furikake seasoning, cans of vienna sausage, and packs of instant ramen. Life was not bad. But while those items will probably be in there until the end of time, I believe there are quite a few things missing...
Introduced by Betty Crocker in 1988, these were the ultimate recess time snack (aside from dry saimin). Each container had little graham crackers with icing on side side for dunking, but in reality, no one really cared for the cookies. They were simply there to shovel the icing (chocolate or vanilla with sprinkles) into our mouths because our fingers were dirty from playing so much four square.
Capri Sun may have been the standard lunch box beverage, but Squeezits were more my thing. Although each bottle had a not-so-appealing face molded into it (was an angry gremlin supposed to make me want to drink it?) I still loved twisting off the plastic nub at the top and downing that blue sugar water. At one point, they even made a black colored drink that was a "mystery flavor" and color pellets that you could add to your Squeezit to change its color. Ah, food science at its finest.
3. EZ Squirt Ketchup
This was one of Heinz' best and worst ideas. What kid doesn't like coloring and playing with their food? But then again...purple ketchup? I remember trying a bottle of the green ketchup once. It certainly tasted like the original red, but as a kid who wasn't too enthusiastic about eating her greens, this wasn't something I'd ask my mom to buy again and I'm sure she was happy about that too.
So what exactly turned a bright red product to the colors that run through Barney's veins? Why my dear, it's copious amounts of FD&C Blue #1 (brilliant blue) and Yellow #5 (tartrazine).
The equivalent of a savory Dunkaroos, Handi-Snacks were buttery, flaky, almost crumbly crackers that came packaged with a red piece of plastic for spreading the cheez. Now, I had a weird way of eating these. It's like a save-the-best-for-last approach. I would use the "spatula" and shave off the cheese spread very neatly from its cubic container, being sure to make parallel lines each time it ran through. But I would only use enough to thinly coat the cracker on the perforated side. Just so that the cheez got into the holes and the cracker had a hint of its flavor. After going through each of the crackers using this technique, I would then use the spatula to deliver the rest of the cheez into my mouth. Making parallel lines of equal depth, of course. And I would only eat this variety of Handi-Snacks because the other one, which had breadsticks instead of crackers, wouldn't allow me to neatly apply the cheez. I know I sound like a weirdo kid but I couldn't have been the only one who ate things a certain way, right?
5. Lunchables Pizza
Whoever at Kraft had the idea of selling kids cold, raw pizza that wasn't even put together was a genius. These guys were so popular in elementary school, that everyone had a different way of eating them. Some would pile as much as they could onto one pizza, some would make a pizza sandwich, and others would be make all 3 pizzas at once so that each of them got an equal amount of sauce cheese and pepperoni. Again, I was the weird kid and didn't do any of these. Using the save-the-best-for-last approach, I made and ate the pizzas one by one but only used enough sauce and cheese for them to be decently topped. However, each pizza only had one pepperoni, placed in the center, and I would eat around it until the last bite. With left over pepperoni, cheese, and sauce, I would prolonged my Lunchable experience by making mini pizzas using the pepperoni as the new crust. So maybe I wasn't weird. Just smart!
Oscar Meyer also has other Lunchable varieties like ham or turkey and cheese cracker stackers, deep dish pizza, and chicken dunks, all of which were popular in the cafeteria. Sadly, some really good ones , hot dogs, burgers, and tacos, were discontinued. But those that remain have gone on to become the ultimate lunch. They now include Capri Sun or Kool Aid and a piece of candy or pudding cup. Kids these days, so spoiled.
What kind of name is Chupa Chup anyway? According to Wikipedia, it stems from the Spanish verb chupar, to suck. Ok, now that Spanish class is over, let's talk about why these lollipops don't suck. Not only do they come in a bazillion flavors, including cola, banana, and strawberry yogurt, but some of them, like caramel vanilla, unwrap as separate flavors on the same stick. It's like getting an ice cream cone that can fit more than one scoop! They are also famous for their partnership with the Spice Girls. I used to buy one everyday at the convenience store in Chinatown just to get a Spice Girls lollipop and hope that the one I chose had a sticker that I didn't have yet. Not going to lie, I usually never bought the ones with Scary Spice on them...
7. Waffle Crisp
They sure as hell don't taste like waffles, but the fake maple syrup got us all hooked. Not only are they the perfect sugar bomb, but even after sitting in a bowl of milk, these little nuggets of heaven stay crisp and even have enough texture to scrape the roof of your mouth while you chew. A pleasure that's well worth the pain, in my opinion.
8. Shark bites
Whatever flavor those white sharks were, they were the best. Period.
9. Easy cheese
A better name could not have been chosen. The whipped cream-like packaging of this product made it way too easy to eat half the can in one sitting, even if it was a cheese product and not really cheese. The only problem I had with it was that it never really looked appetizing once it was squirted out. It looked like an ugly yellow squiggly worm sitting on top of your cracker. Or is that the point? Maybe it wasn't meant to be squirted onto a cracker, but straight into your mouth ('Merica!) Cheddar and sharp cheddar were my favorite and I always ate them with...
10. Chicken in a Biskit
How exactly does one get a chicken into a biscuit? You cook it, dehydrate it, and blend it with spices and flavor enhancers, that's how. The flavor powder that coated these crackers was pure salty MSG-y goodness that stuck to your fingers like cheese powder from Cheetos, but wouldn't stain your hands as much. You can always tell when someone has just eaten these crispy buttery crackers since that distinct chicken/onion smell takes more than one Altoid to get rid of.
What foods would you have on your list? Did you have a particular way of eating them?
I can clearly remember the days of my instant ramen eating. At my school during snack time or recess, you were everyone's best friend if you had a ziplock baggie of uncooked ramen, broken into chunks and sprinkled with the seasoning packet. Kids would abandon their game of four square to ask you for some "dry saimin," as we called it, and as your generosity increased, your supply of ramen decreased, and soon all you had left were some crumbs and an abundance of salt and MSG. Nothing substantial remaining for you to eat. But hey, at least you got to be the most popular kid for 10 minutes. The next day you would be smarter and shoot for 20 minutes by bringing two packages worth of ramen.
As I grew older and my tastes more unsatisfied with just the seasoning packet, I began to experiment with what I could do with this 19 cents worth of food. I started with adding an egg to the broth while the noodles were cooking, trying to see if I liked it better poached or scrambled in the hot liquid. Then I started to add in slices of spam and chopped green onion to vary the color of my finished bowl. At the peak of my ramen experimentation, I was able to make a giant bowl of fried noodles by combining the seasoning packet with sesame oil and soy sauce to pour over a hot wok full of cooked noodles and vegetables. Throw in some leftover meat, and it's easy to see why I was a chubby kid. Ah, the good old days.
One of my favorite authors on the blog Serious Eats, Kenji Lopez-Alt writes a column called The Food Lab where he "unravels the mysteries of home cooking through science." In the spirit of Thanksgiving, he recently wrote an article on the practice of brining turkey.
Many people brine their turkeys in a salt solution in order to keep moisture in and add flavor. The logic is that through osmosis, water will move from the solution into the turkey where there is a higher concentration of solutes in the cells. But if this theory were true, wouldn't it be more effective to soak the turkey in pure unsalted water? In a thorough yet entertaining article, Kenji conducted an experiment that studied the effects of brining in different solutions in order to find out if the practice really is a logical thing to do to your Thanksgiving turkey. This article, and his column, is always an interesting thing to read if you want to understand why certain things happen when we cook. Read the article here and decide for yourself if you still want to brine your turkey.
Thank you to everyone who came to our first Halloween party! Everyone looked awesome in their costumes and the food people brought was BEYOND DELICIOUS. We played games, won some surprisingly awesome toys, ate matzo brain soup, and even got to try Miracle Berry Fruit tablets!
Fresh guacamole, home brew, chocolate pumpkin muffins, banana cupcakes, Butterfinger bars, brownie dip, pumpkin popcorn and more! Hungry yet?
A big Thank You to everyone who helped organize this packed event! Things got off to a rocky start when one of the panelists arrived late due to airline trouble, but the audience's patience paid off as John Diaz, Dave Murphy, Brendan Huffman, and George Salmas provided their thought provoking arguments.
L to R: Diaz, Murphy, Huffman, Salmas
Wonderful job, Greg and Clarissa!
And an enormous thanks to Whole Foods who provided these goody bags for all of the attendees!