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”. 18 September 2011

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