Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Care Packages

            The long days of studying, eating, sleeping, repeat. College gets to be a drag. All you can think about are your Mother’s cookies you lived off in the summer. The candy bars you just can’t find in Ann Arbor. And that toothbrush you left at home. Summer seems so long ago, even if it’s only been a month. All you need is something to break the monotony… wait…what’s that in my mailbox? A slip of paper? I have a package?! NICE!

What do I REALLY want to do with my life?

Ari Weinzweig is the most captivating speaker I have ever heard. It’s that simple. Never has a lecturer inspired, captivated and made me think like Ari. Ari is the founder and CEO of my favorite restaurant enterprise in the world; Zingermans. However his lecture satisfied much more than my craving for information about how Zingermans started and ultimately thrived, it literally changed my position on life.
When I found out the founder of Zingermans was going to present to us I expected a strong willed, adamant capitalist and of course a graduate of the business school. To my surprise Ari was strong willed but he was far from adamant capitalist and even farther from a business school graduate. Ari was a Russian history major focusing in Russian anarchism, an uncommon and fascinating discipline, which ultimately shaped the way he built his business and the nature of his relationships with his employees. Within the first five minutes of the presentation I realized Ari had achieved with his life exactly what I strive for. Ari created a business that became so successful because he made its success and growth his life. Not out of a driving desire to make a ton of money but rather because it represented the ideals he believes in and his passion for the food industry.
After class, on the walk back to my house, my friend and I spoke about how amazing the lecture was and how much we would love to do something similar to Zingermans. I loved the idea of living in Ann Arbor for the rest of my life and creating a business with a unique enough niche to be successful while also serving the needs of the community while simultaneously giving back to a town that has given me so much. I want to wake up in the morning and be excited to go to work rather than dwell on the busy day ahead and counting the days until the weekend. My friend and I began throwing around some ideas of various clothing stores or generic food restaurants we could potentially open with no real substantive conversation forming. After about 10 minutes of talking I asked my friend “what food do you love”. He responded with a simple one-word answer that fuelled our conversation for the next hour. The word was “breakfast”. We began talking about a breakfast cart right in front of the diag. Serving up made to order breakfast sandwiches ranging from the simple 2 eggs on a roll to a bacon egg and cheese with a small side of frosted flakes and milk. This half serious, half kidding conversation lead to my realization that whatever it is that I do with my life needs to be in line with my ideals, morals and above all must make me happy. I’m the type of person that cannot settle with sitting behind a desk working to make money when I know I could be out in the world creating something of my own or working in a field that truly satisfy’s me intellectually and creatively. Life is way too short to spend the majority of my adult life in a field or position that does not truly make me excited to get out of bed in the morning and continue the journey of my career. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"I'm Having An Old Friend For Dinner"

             Most people have read stories about an individual’s death-defying experience and the extreme lengths he or she went to in order to survive, whether it be drinking urine, eating bugs, or even dismembering a body part. Seldom do we hear of people eating other people in these types of situations… or perhaps we do not allow ourselves to believe it. People eating seems to be something more common in myth and literature than in real life. According to Peggy McCracken, in her lecture “Eating Others”, passengers who survived the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 wreckage in October 1972 fed off of the deceased passengers due to a dearth of food. Though considered both a sacrilegious and atrocious act, does eating other people become acceptable under such dire circumstances? Revisiting the lecture concerning the ethics of eating, do people have the right to eat others? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Food: Constructed by Culture

           Though food’s basic function is to fuel the human body with nutrients, its uses, forms, preparation, and prevalence varies from culture to culture. Fundamentally, people choose what they do or do not eat depending on cultural, religious, historic, economic factors, not just by flavors, textures, or the nutritional value. Consider how Hindus refuse to eat beef, some Jews follow a kosher diet, and only the most affluent people eat caviar. Moreover, food that appears “disgusting” or unusual to foreigners serves as a cultural marker, or an indication of who belongs to a specific culture and who does not.
Jason DeLeon’s lecture, which discussed the anthropological approaches to food and water, stressed that the foods we prefer, what they are paired with, and how we experience them are all influenced by our unique cultures.  His presentation reminded me of my travels to countries in Europe and Asia, and how I was exposed to novel and exotic foods as well as peculiar practices for eating that differs entirely from those in the United States. I learned that breakfast is not the most important meal of the day after my trip to Italy, for breakfast is generally a light meal consisting of coffee and bread and jam. Lunch, rather, is usually the largest meal and is served in a series of courses: first an antipasto, then a primo piatto, a secondo piatto, a contorno  (a side dish), and finally a dolce and café. The antipasto is a hot or cold appetizer served in small portions. What follows is a rice, pasta, or sometimes a soup dish. The secondo piatto, or entrée, is usually fish or meat-based, and is succeeded by a salad course.  Whereas Italians concern themselves with the order in which foods are eaten and separate their food groups into different stages and portion sizes, I’m familiar with piling an indefinite number of foods onto one plate. Further, daily meals tend to last a while, for they are seen as time to spend with families and friends. I consider myself lucky if my meal lasts more than 30 minutes. My excursion to Spain was not much different: around 2pm until 5pm, people spent two-to-three hours eating lunch and taking a siesta (a nap).  It was difficult adjusting to the late dinner times and the options provided for each meal of the day.  But these eating and cooking styles were nowhere close to as shocking as those I witnessed in China.

Donating to the Homeless

I never give change to the homeless. I think that most of the time, the homeless who are begging on the street corner will use the money for things other than food. Last year during Christmas my father gave a man $100.00. In my opinion, that is enough to eat and become presentable to apply for a job. I mean really, how hard is it to say, “Welcome to McDonalds! Can I take your order?” But that man still pollutes the streets of my hometown to this day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"I Don't Expect This To Do Anything"

Matthew Evans continuously repeated, “I don’t expect this to do anything” as he lectured about the moral dilemma of eating meat. Congratulations Professor Evans, you have a convert.  Well, a convert to a certain extent. I’ve decided to become a pescetarian, meaning I will continue to eat seafood but cut out everything else.

After reading the Basic Argument in James Rachel’s article, it is difficult to not agree that eating meat promotes abhorrent cruelties to animals. Rachel focused on cattle and hog farms. The part that hit me the hardest was his description of the pigpens that factory hogs live in. Unable to move, they end up chewing off the tail of the pig in front of them. Once this occurs, farmers chop off the remaining part of the tail without anesthesia. This is done to animals that have the social and mental abilities equivalent to those of a dog. Can you imagine chopping off Lassie’s tail?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Quality vs. Quantity

One of the first pieces of advice I received last year was: Go to Zingerman’s Deli. It wasn’t so much a suggestion as it was a resolute demand. As a naïve, disoriented freshman, I could not comprehend why anyone would want to wait on an endless line for what I assumed to be an overpriced, overrated sandwich. Needless to say, I was baffled when I visited Zingerman’s Deli for the first time: it was an unassuming, insipid building located on an obscure street outside of the University of Michigan campus. The inside, however, though congested with countless students and residents of Ann Arbor, was vibrant and welcoming. Aside from the remarkable quality of food and service at Zingerman’s, what made my experience that much better was that it made me feel like I was part of a community.
I used to deeply regret not applying to the Ross School of Business, for I thought a degree from Ross would provide me with an unlimited amount of opportunities for my future aspirations. Therefore, it was extremely comforting to hear that Ari Weinzweig, one of the founders of Zingerman’s Deli, majored in Russian History in college. What’s more, his love affair with food only began after a modest job waiting tables at a restaurant. These revelations startled me—how does one go from studying history to establishing a renowned gourmet deli? For someone who has no formal education in business, it still astounds me that Ari not only opened a successful and distinguished deli, but seven additional businesses as well.
A self-proclaimed anarchist, Ari differs entirely from the stereotypical businessman. He doesn’t preoccupy himself with sales or profit, but rather on building a respectful, creative workplace. In fact, of all twelve natural laws of business he lists, the majority focuses on creating an environment that employees would want to genuinely be a part of. Essentially, such laws indicate that the taste and quality of food alone is not enough to establish and sustain a successful, popular business. This is something that often goes overlooked in other businesses.  Considering Zingerman’s can cite Oprah Winfrey as a fan, it seems as if Ari and his business partners are doing something right.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

To eat or not to eat MEAT?

I love meat. Whether a nice hamburger, chicken breast, or even, dare I say it, a tender veal chop I cannot get enough delicious hot juicy meat in my diet. You can imagine my dismay when I found out that our guest lecturer, Professor Evans, was a vegan and would be explaining, through decently sound philosophical argument, why we perhaps should be vegetarians. According to professor Evan’s eating meat, eggs, or dairy is morally wrong because of the great amount of pain that factory farming causes to animals. I never thought that the simple task of consuming the burger I had for lunch or the chicken breast I ordered for dinner could be considered a morally incorrect action. This lecture forced me to look inside myself and ask, for the first time, if I honestly thought that continuing to eat meat on a regular basis constituted my direct “cruel” treatment of animals. I quickly decided that it was not. Whether this was a result of the realization that I simply could not live without meat or the result of rational sound moral reasoning I cannot honestly say.
Humans are the dominant species on the planet. We build roads in the middle of desserts and jungles, we throw bridges between land parted by water, and we kill animals, a class below us hierarchically, for their food. Humans have always utilized, or exploited depending on how you look at it, the resources of their land. We as a species are all about convenience, productivity, and satisfaction; three factors accounted for in the current factory farming system employed in the United States. Eating meat is the most efficient way for us to obtain our daily protein requirements. Without daily meat consumption it would be more difficult to consume the appropriate amount of daily protein and other nutrients. In terms of the argument against the cruel treatment of animals perhaps there needs to be reform in the system in which we raise our animals for food rather than a movement to stop eating a type of food which our ancestors have eaten for millions of years and many people continue to enjoy today. I’m not saying that I don’t understand the intentions of the animal rights activists but rather I am perplexed as to why they do not initiate movements for healthier and more humane raising practices. No one can ever make me feel guilty for eating an animal because we, humans, are above animals with the prerogative and free will to eat as we please and look out for our own best interests and the needs of our families. We are the superior species in all regards. We are the more intelligent and industrialized species and with global hunger running rampant and an economy in dismay we cannot give up eating meat because of the way in which that meat is treated before it even hits our local butcher shop. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eating with a Clear Conscience

Cruelty towards animals, whether in the form of neglect or with malicious intent, is considered contemptible and can result in jail time-- just ask Michael Vick. But whereas most are quick to condemn those who inflict pain and suffering onto innocent, defenseless animals, many also become indifferent towards the matter when it pertains to food and eating. Why is it that eating an animal or the product derived from it gets held to a different standard? In his lecture titled “The Ethics of Eating”, Matthew Evans, an adamant vegan and defender of animals’ rights, maintained that it is morally wrong to consume meat, dairy products, and any other organism that can experience pain in a way resembling ours. Because the idea of killing a living thing for human satisfaction seems both unwarranted and cruel to me, I wondered why I seldom feel remorse when these animals give up their lives to become my dinner... and if maybe I should.
 To be frank, nobody indulges in a quarter-pounder cheeseburger topped with crispy strips of bacon or a tender filet mignon because it's beneficial for your health.  While they do provide copious amounts of protein and vitamins, it’s the savory taste and texture of meat that accounts for the large number of carnivores. Sixteen billion animals each year in the United States, however, need to be sacrificed in order to cater to these meat-eating individuals (PETA). Acknowledging that these animals are killed in gruesome ways, without their “consent”, why would people continue to look to animals as a main source of food? 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Brain Food

                 Brains are expensive. They take 20% of the total energy our bodies use (Shulman et al.). This is a HUGE portion of our total food intake. Human energy use typically ranges from 70 kilocal/hr while sleeping, to 1400 kilocal/hr while sprinting (D. Morton). Think about it, 20% of this energy goes towards our brain’s functioning. To put this concept to actual numbers, an individual who does simple housekeeping for an hour uses 150 kilocalories. This means the brain alone is using 30 kilocalories (commonly referred to simply as calories) each hour. A chocolate chip cookie, a zucchini, three cucumbers, and 3/4ths a cup of popcorn are all examples of foods with around 30 calories (Healthy Bites Under 30 Calories). The thought that a brain can use up a whole zucchini in an hour of simple everyday work is ‘mind-boggling!’

Exploring the world of food stamps

In the United States over 45 million American citizens live off food stamps. That is a troubling idea to stomach. What’s even more difficult to wrestle with is that food stamps allow for only $4.30 per day/per person. How is it possible to live off of less money per day than the typical American spends on gasoline for their car per day? This is a difficult question and I decided to find out exactly how it would feel for two days by eating only $8.60 worth of food for two consecutive days. For the purpose of this project I decided to lock all of my money and cards away so I could truly emerge myself into the situation. You have to figure that a person living on food stamps does not have a lot of disposable income to spend on other luxuries. A little nervous at the prospect of starving to death, I put the $8.60 into my completely empty wallet and began my adventure into a task that, over the course of 2 seemingly endless days, would change my perspective on everything.
Tuesday morning I woke up excited and a little anxious at the prospect of eating on such a limited budget. After getting showered and dressed I walked to the modern language building for my Spanish class, walking through the Michigan league on the way and picking up a ninety cent chewy chocolate chip granola bar from “U-gos”, a small university run café. By the time I arrived at my classroom in the basement of the building I had already scarfed down my entire breakfast without consciously recognizing that this would be the first of my three small meals of the day. By halfway through the class I began to think ahead to lunch because I was not in any way fully satisfied with my 90-calorie breakfast. After Spanish class I rushed to my political science lecture and as I started to take notes my stomach let out an intrusive growl. I could barley focus on the lecture. After 20 minutes of class I stopped taking notes for the first time in the class all semester. I couldn’t focus on any aspect of my professor’s lecture of which I usually find captivating. This wasn’t good. It was time for lunch. With only $3.40 left to spend for lunch and dinner I needed to be creative. How could you go wrong with a nice hot easy mac lunch for only 1.70? I finished my Easy Mac lunch quickly and was surprisingly satisfied with my meal. After my last class of the day I went to the library for a few hours and within 45 minutes of working it was clear to me that I was increasingly unfocused and disinterested in my assignments, two words that rarely describe my relationship to my class obligations. Something was going on, I simply could not focus having only ingested 330 calories when my body requires over 2500 calories for the day to maintain my current body weight (Calorie Counter). Frustrated and surprised at my body’s clearly diminished performance and abilities I decided to treat myself to my final meal of the day. For $1.50 I purchased a bowl of cup-of noodles soup and sat in my room savoring my final meal and reflecting on my first day on food stamps. The day felt longer than any day at school had ever felt. Even though I had less class than I usually do on a given school day I spent virtually my entire day thinking about my stomach and what I could eat for my next meal that would offer me more satisfaction. This was absolutely no way to live. How could someone be expected to be successful in society and get back on their feet if their situation constantly forces them to think about how to satisfy their hunger for the remainder of the foreseeable future?
The next morning I woke up feeling sick which quelled my hunger a little bit so I decided to grab another ninety-cent granola bar from the league café. This time I decided to switch it up and got a peanut butter flavored bar. After eating my breakfast I felt a little better and was generally satisfied. During my 2-hour discussion I began to feel really hungry again and stopped focusing on the class as I contemplated what I could eat for lunch that would give me more satisfaction. I grabbed a $1.25 slice of pizza from Back Room Pizza, perhaps the best lunch deal in Ann Arbor. After lunch I went to the library to study for my Spanish exam that is rapidly approaching. Within an hour and a half of working, my focus was shot. I was starving for dinner and I needed something filling to keep me going at the library for the rest of the day. I ventured over to Wendy’s at the union for some cheap fast food. I never eat fast food but I knew I could get the most bang for my buck at Wendys. My dinner consisted of a cheeseburger deluxe and a value fries. Both items are on the dollar menu so my daily total spent was at $4.10, just $0.30 shy of my budget. Once I got back to the library I got right back into my studying and for another hour and a half I was satisfied.  My weak stomach quickly began to bother me from the fast food and the initial feeling of a full stomach began to ware off. By the time I finished working and returned home I could barley think. I was starving, my stomach was feeling weird, and I was out of money for the day. 
This assignment was one of the most challenging tasks I have ever accomplished. I cannot imagine having to rely on food stamps on a daily basis. Even though my experiment only lasted 2 days I have gained a stronger understanding of how terrible of a situation living on food stamps is. How can we as a society expect those relying on food stamps to pull themselves out of poverty when we don’t even allow them the adequate funds to meet basic nutritional needs? If I had to quantify my decrease in productivity over the last two days I would say I was at least 35 percent less productive. How can society allow impoverished children to break the poverty cycle if they cannot get requisite nutrition on a daily basis? According to a study conducted by the Washington State Board of Health, students from families with insufficient food had significantly lower arithmetic scores and were more likely to have repeated a grade. Ignoring this issue will not solve the problem but rather perpetuate the cyclical nature of poverty and malnutrition at the expense of innocent children. I never recognized the effect that diet has on daily focus and level of concentration. Eating on such a limited food budget impedes daily productivity because you become forced, to the point of obsession, to constantly think about your next meal and if it will quell your hunger. The food stamp system in the United States is a necessary system that, if given the resources and economic support, could be greatly enhanced. However, due to limited resources and tough economic times around the country it is virtually impossible that there will be an increase in the food stamp allotment. This was a sobering experience that forced me to recognize, through direct emergence, that it is extremely difficulty for those on food stamps to become economically self-sufficient when there diet does not physically allow them to achieve the appropriate nutrients to thrive as a human being and reach a productive level of concentration and focus.

"Calorie Calculator." Calorie Counter - Free Online Diet Journal. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <http://www.my-calorie-counter.com/calorie_calculator.asp>.

"Nutrition, Physical Activity and Achievement." Washington State Board of Health. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <http://www.sboh.wa.gov/>.

American Cupcake

America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people. -Gloria Steinem.
            Steinman’s analogical cupcake is not only unattainable for millions living outside of America but also for some of its own citizens. This is the case for many Americans living off of food stamps. The Food Assistance Program (FAP) is a government initiative for American citizens with low income or no income. The program gives food stamps equivalent to $4.30 per person for an entire day of meals (DHS, “FAP Overview”).  
As a middle class American, the only dilemma I have encountered concerning food is what to order. Always having access to the foods I preferred, I had not considered myself privileged until I attempted the food stamps diet. In accordance to the Americans living on a limited food budget, I lived off of $8.60 for a total of six meals over the course of two days. I kept a journal of everything I purchased as well as any physical or emotional changes I encountered.
During my experience on the food stamp diet, I realized that lack of nutrition and food availability is not only a consequence of the money allotted. The problem is that American’s have lost the ability to stretch the worth of a dollar. Society has become so accustomed to the instant gratification of fast food, that most people do not take the initiative or time to cook, find deals at grocery stores, or even research recipes. All of which are crucial for those suffering financially. Meal preparation should include more than a car ride or hitting the start button on a microwave. I discovered that American’s standards of the amount of money and labor a meal should involve is what needs reformation, not the FAP.
            According to the Food Assistance Program, an individual or family can receive food stamps after a government application process determines that the household has less than $2,000 in resources (DHS, “FAP Overview). Benefit amounts vary depending on income, medical disabilities, and the number of people in a household (DHS, “FAP Overview). I decided to do an online screening of what a person like me, a healthy 19 year-old woman, would receive with no financial assistance. The questions ranged from my pregnancy status to the amount of money in my checking account. According to the prescreening test, I would receive around $190-$200 a month or $6.30 a day (DHS, “FNS SNAP Program Eligibility Screening Tool”). However, the government money does come with restrictions. The FAP has a list of rules that all recipients must follow or else risk the loss of their benefits. One of these rules bans the use of food stamps for fast food establishments. That eliminated the use of my dollar menu strategy.
            My first day on the food stamp diet was the most difficult. When I woke up and walked into my sorority house’s dining room, I had to ignore the Captain Crunch, freshly brewed coffee, and the blend of strawberries, blueberries and bananas lying out for breakfast. The problem with living in a sorority is that food is everywhere. My “problem” left me grudgingly walking to class on an empty stomach. On my way I decided to stop at The Village Apothecary.
1 Nature Valley Oats and Honey Granola Bar = $0.95
             I walked passed Starbucks and Espresso Royale practically drooling for a latte. The average three lattes that I buy each day costs about three times my budget. By two o’clock my lack of caffeine had made me debilitated. Studying at the library was nearly impossible with a headache and lack of focus. All I could think about was food.
Apple from Bert’s Café = $1.00
By the end of the day, I could not exercise because of my lack of energy and went to bed around eleven o’clock, early for a college student. Between two o’clock and eleven I had eaten:
Chicken flavored Ramen Noodles = $0.99
Individual Cheerios Cereal Bowl: $1.10
            After spending $4.04 on food the first day and practically starving throughout its entirety, I decided to do some research. I read the New York Times article commenting on the food stamp diet. I amended the assignment to include three of my roommates and replicated living in a multi-person household. Together we had $17.40 and went to ALDI, a grocery store known for its generic brand products and inexpensive prices. Together we purchased:
1 Box of Millville Instant Oatmeal = $1.39
1 Jar of Reggano Pasta Sauce = $1.19
3 Boxes Cheese Club Mac&Cheese = $.39 each
6 Pack of Kiwis = $0.99
2 Boxes Fit&Active 51% Whole Grain Spaghetti = $0.99 each
4 Kirkwood Chicken Breasts = $6.39
1 Gallon Skim Milk = $1.29
Our cost at checkout was $15.84, including tax. Unfortunately, we didn’t do enough research and ended up having two meals of pasta. Thankfully everyone loves carbs! All four of us had three healthy sized meals within our budget.
            Americans have lost their talent for frugal food shopping. People do not look into finding the best price on food; they just accept the cost at the most convenient store. In my opinion, this allows producers and stores to increase their prices. The spread of laziness also contributes to the health crisis facing the country. It is considered easier and more convenient to drive to fast food restaurants after a long day rather than attempt grocery shopping and preparing a home cooked meal. As Mark Bittman stated in his article, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper, “the core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch”(Bittman, 2011).  Clipping coupons is another way to stretch $4.30. This once negatively judged practice has now become a recent phenomenon in America.
            The food stamp diet is a practical system that has the ability to create a healthy way of living. Even though the budget restricts where people can shop and the quality of the product they can purchase, my shopping experience at ALDI is an example of how there are possibilities within these limitations. The $4.30 will not buy caviar, but it is an extraordinary amount compared to the rapid starvation occurring in other parts of the world. Perhaps as soon as low income Americans change their attitudes towards meal preparation, everyone will get a bit of Gloria Stein’s cupcake. 

Bittman, Mark. "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?" New York Times. 24 Sept. 2011. Web. 2            Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-   junkfoodreallycheaper.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&sq=food            %20stamps&st=cse&scp=2>

"FNS SNAP Program Eligibility Screening Tool." Supplemental Nutrition Assistance          Program (SNAP) Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool. USDA. Web. 02 Oct. 2011.       <http://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns/>.

State of Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS). "DHS - Food Assistance           Program (FAP) Overview." SOM - State of Michigan. Web. 05 Oct. 2011.   <http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,4562,7-124-5453_5527-21832--,00.html>.

State of Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS).    Information Booklet. State of Michigan Department of Human Services. Print.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You Are What You Eat

             I’m used to cabinets crammed with a variety of snacks, refrigerators filled with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and my $4.50 venti skinny vanilla latte from Starbucks to begin my mornings. I consider my frequent trips to grocery stores and filling my cart to its brim more of an activity rather than a trip out of necessity. Moreover, I dine at certain restaurants not for their inexpensive prices, but for the quality of food they serve. Forty-five million other Americans, however, do not have the luxury of enjoying food the way I do (SNAP monthly data, 2011). Those who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for food aid and assistance equate food with survival and are grateful for what they’re able to obtain with such little money. After participating in the short-term Food Stamp Diet challenge, I realized that living on the edge of subsistence remarkably shapes the relationship and experience that one has with food.
             I’ve been told countless times that “you are what you eat”, meaning how you appear physically is a reflection of the type of diet you have. Acknowledging that leaner cuts of meat, fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, and lower calorie foods tend to be more expensive than their “generic” counterparts, I wondered if lifelong users of food stamps could avoid becoming overweight and unhealthy. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Why Do You Hate Chiquita?"

            “Why do you hate Chiquita Banana so much?” was the last question asked to John Vandermeer after his lecture. No, the answer was not because of Chiquita’s mascot or theme song, which I sang in my head after typing the brand name. Vandermeer’s disgust with the company comes from its history of mistreating workers, polluting the environment, and bribing government officials. These are only a few of the injustices that the company has committed. Unfortunately, Chiquita is not alone.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Kitchen as a Lab

             I fill a large, metal pot with a large volume of water, rest it upon the stove, and adjust the temperature to medium. After several minutes, the water begins to boil, and I proceed to dump the brittle, twisted spiral shaped noodles into the warm, bubbly bath. I then leave the noodles immersed in the hot water for a few minutes more until they swell in size and develop a softer texture.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Backcountry Banquets

            Last night I stood in Elbel field’s parking lot cooking my dinner over a tiny backpacking stove. Those that wandered by often took a double glace at the spectacle that was 15 people running about the tiny parking area with pots, pans, and fuel bottles. It was 8:30 at night and I hadn’t eaten since 1. I was hungry. Grab some cheese! Get some veggies! Is the crust ready yet?! Soon enough the pizza was done, the dishes were clean, and we all left with full bellies and the confidence of knowing we could feed ourselves adequately and safely while backpacking in the wild.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Can I Be Smart Without Getting Fat?

            I’m writing this post at 2:00 am with a bowl of cereal in my lap, coffee to my right, and a half-eaten quesadilla left over from tonight’s dinner to my left. Not to mention the array of coke zeros hiding behind my computer screen. I have decided sleep is for the weak and chosen to forgo this so-called necessity. I have an exam tomorrow morning, paper due Thursday, and calculus homework piling up. To say I’m stressed would be putting this situation lightly. I’m so far past my breaking point that slowly down would mean facing the realization of my workload. Without sleep, eating is the only thing that gives me comfort. As Professor Berridge mentioned in his lecture, stress causes overeating in about 30% of the population. To human’s brains, food becomes a mode of “self-medication”. It sounds better when I say I am self-medicating myself with frosted flakes, not stuffing my face. My stress has made me put on a few pounds this month with my workouts being replaced by history books. This correlation between the two made me wonder; can I not be smart without being fat?

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Spoonful of Monosodium Glutamate

Being a college student who is always on the run and looking for a quick and cheap meal, I always turn to the one and only Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup. College living is synonymous with ramyun, right? It’s quick, cheap and tastes delicious, what more could I ask for? All I have to do is boil some water, drop the noodles in and add the little packages of soup base and vegetable mix. Seven minutes later it’s all done and I’m gulping it down.  Although a lot of people tell me I shouldn't eat ramyun because of how bad it is for me, I always ignore them. I’m pretty sure there are way more things worst to eat. I’ve always wondered what exactly makes ramyun so bad, that’s why I decided to trace it all out and this is what I’ve found out.

The delicious Shin Ramyun that I can eat everyday is distributed by a company called NONG SHIM AMERICA, INC. located in Rancho Cucamonga, California (thumbs up for being made in the good old USA!). One of their 4.2-ounce packages contains enough product for two servings at about 240 calories per serving. I usually eat the whole thing by myself, so that means from one bowl I take in a whopping 480 calories. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m pretty sure that taking in nearly 500 calories from one meal is not a good thing. Taking a look at all the ingredients that make up Shin Ramyun, I found that many of them I never heard before nor could barely pronounce. Listed where ingredients such as maltodextrin, oleoresin capsicum, disodium inosinate, sodium metaphosphate, T-BHQ, tocopherol, and the list goes on and on.

High in carbohydrates and low in minerals and vitamins, ramyum has risen a lot of questions in the health realm. The instant noodle is deep fried allowing it to never go bad and the soup base contains high amounts of sodium as well as the much dreaded monosodium glutamate,better known as MSG. Many know it as the ingredient that gives Asian cuisine that extra kick of hot. In the last decade research has shown that the food additive is known to cause heartburn, nausea, an increase in heart beat, bronchospasm, drowsiness, and other sorts of side effects. According to the World Wide Health Center it has shown that MSG can be linked to a number of the neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and Huntington's disease.

Scary right?

Other ingredients such as palm oil have been associated with rainforest destruction, extinction of animals, and an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Although palm oil contains no trans fats, it does contain high levels of saturated fats, which increases your risks of developing cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer such as breast, ovarian, and prostate.

Taking all these factors into account, eating ramyun isn’t as cheap as I thought it was.  Moreover all the mystery ingredients also rattle my mind. I guess its time to cut back and look for other alternatives that are cheap and easy to make.

In the ramyun aisle. So much to choose from!



            I grew up in Holland, Michigan; blueberry farms could be found no further than a mile away no matter where you were in the city. I have driven through the fields on the way to school, wandered through the rows, and at the end of the summer, after all my patience throughout the year, reaped the reward of as many fat and juicy blueberries I could stomach.
What always amazes me is how the bushes transform from twigs in the ground during winter, to bountiful platters of fruit in the summer. When the tiny, expensive packages of blueberries show up in the grocery stores, I have to chuckle at how easy it is to be ignorant to our food production system. It’s a natural thing to take the food we see on the shelves for granted. Prices, brand, and marketing are really all we see. What we don’t see are the spring branches that have turned purple with blueberry juice, or the fog of pesticides in the morning, or even the owners, employers, and the conditions they work in.  There is a hidden world to blueberry production.

Catching Up With Ketchup

I’ve hit the “57” more times than I could count.  My palm’s literally ached as I awaited the thick red condiment to flow from the glass bottle. As the summer comes to a close, I say goodbye to the heat, the sun, and the freedom. I also say goodbye to the weekly barbeques I’ve come to enjoy with my family. Barbeques are an integral part of the American family, as is Heinz ketchup.
So now, let’s catch up with the famous condiment. While there are many brands of ketchup, Heinz outshines the rest. Each year, the “57” labeled empire sells 650 million bottles of ketchup (Heinz).  While this number may astound you, the history of the condiment is far more surprising.
Originally named ketsiap, or “fish juice,” ketchup began circulating in seventeenth century China. However, this ketchup wasn’t the tomato ketchup we’ve all come to enjoy slathered on our cheeseburgers or squirted on our French fries. No, this “ketsiap” was a pungent spicy, pickled fish sauce made of anchovies, walnuts, mushrooms and kidney beans. In fact, the Chinese version of ketchup was actually more equivalent to a soy or Worcestershire sauce... And I’m sure we’d all love flavors like those drizzled on top of our hot dogs, used to dip our chicken nuggets into.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peep Mania

           There is a thrill when a Peep explodes in the microwave that makes it impossible for a child to press the STOP button. Eyes bulging and goo spilling, that little duckling was doomed as soon as it was unwrapped.  Peep’s main ingredient, marshmallow, is what causes the duckling to expand with heat. The Just Born Candy Company produces over 4.2 million Peeps per day, with many of them meeting their demise via the microwave rather than the stomach (Peeves). The Just Born Candy Company was not the inventor of marshmallow chicks, but since the 1950s they have made them one of the most well known symbols of Easter; even while the purpose of Peeps has evolved from just filling children’s Easter baskets. The candy has been elevated to American cult status with Peeps becoming a medium for artwork and being used as a mad scientist’s experiment. All of Peeps functions have infected some Americans with Peep Mania. This Peep epidemic and its status as an American icon makes the Peeps’ history worth exploring.


As I take my first sip out of the black mug I’ve been clasping in my hands for the last five minutes I can’t help but raise my brow at the intriguingly pleasant sharpness, similar to a dry white wine, that begins buzzing my taste buds almost immediately. I began thinking, where could this intriguing coffee bean be from? This particular cup of coffee is different than any I have tasted before. After much inquisition and a trip to the manager’s office at the Caribou Coffee I was informed that the particular bean that had been tickling my taste buds for the last 12 minutes, as I scarfed down a chocolate croissant, was an Arabica bean indigenous to Minas Gerais, Brazil. You have probably enjoyed a cup of coffee from some of Minas Gerais finest coffee beans on numerous occasions being that it’s the largest growing state in Brazil accounting for about 50 percent of the entire Brazilian coffee production (Specialty Coffees of Brazil). What exactly does it mean to be a coffee bean from Brazil compared to, lets say, a bean from Columbia? What are the economic implications associated with this bean that has traveled over 4,000 miles from a small family owned coffee farm in Brazil to my black steamy mug at a local coffee house in Ann Arbor, Michigan?
Coffee has long been a staple in the Brazilian economy dating back to the mid 1800’s. By the time the coffee surge arrived, Brazil was already free from the harsh grip of colonialism, therefore enabling the start of the coffee production industry which would serve as a crucial component of the economy over the next few hundred years (Hamre). As Americans we often get caught up in our own economic complications ignoring the intriguing economic structures of less developed nations such as Brazil. These nations rely on Americans addiction to coffee for their economy to thrive.
 Brazil is not the only nation whose economy heavily relies on coffee. Columbia produces about 12 percent of the world’s coffee. (Hamre) For me, Columbia coffee is just as delicious as the Brazilian cup of Joe I enjoyed earlier just with slightly brighter acidity and a heavier body with an equally charming intense aromatic. Who would think that your daily two dollar hot wake-me-up treat, that you purchase without thinking where it came from or the impact it has on the lives of others, would be the second largest commodity traded in the world? Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer accounting for about one third of the global coffee production. It’s amazing that one country can account for such a large portion of any product consumed in the world. In Brazil there are over 5 million Brazilians employed in the harvesting of over 3 million coffee plants. (Specialty Coffees of Brazil). Wow, that’s as if every resident in the state of Colorado worked in the coffee production industry. It’s an unbelievable concept that a daily beverage can be the source of work and income for so many people across the world. Weather it be those working on the plantations, in the distribution channels, the coffee shop owners scattered across the globe, or even the commodities traders evaluating futures on wall street; the coffee industry provides so much more for millions of people than just a hot, bitter, addictive pick me up beverage.

“Producing Regions”. Specialty Coffees of Brazil. 18 September 2011
“Brazilian Coffee Beans”. CoffeeResearch.org. 18 September 2011

Hamre, Bonnie, “Coffee, Coffee, Coffee”. About.com. 18 September 2011