Archive for the ‘muckraking’ Category

I don’t watch TV. Much. John leaves the soccer channel on from the minute he gets home until he goes to bed, but I generally ignore it. I never turn the TV on or change the channel myself. The only time I ever sit down with the intent of watching television, I’m at John’s parents’ house, watching the Food Network. They’re big time TV-watchers, and they seem to have decided that the Food Network is my Favorite Thing Ever. Not so, but I don’t mind sitting down to it on occasion, so I’m not about to tell them otherwise, lest John’s dad decide to spend all evening watching football with me insted.

Guest blogging at Ruhlman, Anthony Bourdain had more than a few words for certain celebuchefs on the Food Network. I can’t say I disagree with his assessment of them, and I was particularly interested in his spot-on take on the demonic Sandra Lee:

Pure evil. This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She Must Be Stopped. Her death-dealing can-opening ways will cut a swath of destruction through the world if not contained. I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard? None that I can see. This is simply irresponsible programming.

Those of you who aren’t as telelvision-phobic as I am have probably known about Sandra Lee for some time. I’ve only seen her show (“Semi-Homemade Cooking” or whatever the hell it’s called) a few times, but it’s absolutely my favorite thing ever. I don’t watch TV for entertainment like most people. I watch it to make fun of whoever’s on the air. And Sandra Lee is an impossibly easy target.

This weekend John and I watched about 5 minutes of Sandra’s monstrosity of a show: she was making something with white chocolate chips and cut fruit. John yelled at the TV “But she’s not even cooking! She’s cutting up garbage and heating it in a pan!” This is true, but that immediately made me think of my own reaction whenever he tells me that I’m a good cook: “Oh, I didn’t really cook anything – I just cut up some veggies and threw them together in a pan.”

IThis all bears some relation to Kate’s post over at Accidental Hedonist on what does or does not qualify as “real” baking. Kate’s post asked readers where the line is between real and sub-real cooking: essentially, whether “semi-homemade” is homemade enough to count. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first read it, but I’ve decided that the line can be drawn by the product of your efforts : do your taste buds, upon coming into contact with whatever-you’ve-pulled-from-the-oven, recognize food, or do they recognize re-heated artificial flavors and preservatives? I can taste (and see) a difference most of the time, and the average person who hasn’t been bombarded by chemicals three meals a day can do so as well. It’s “real” if you’re not trying to fool someone into thinking it is. I suppose that’s what’s so funny about Sandra Lee: she’s not trying to fool anyone! Or maybe she is, but she’ so shameless about it, taking the very aspects of food that I define as bad and fake, and creating an entire cooking show based around them.

All of this leads in another, more confusing direction: “real” foods striving to imitate “fake” ones. I’m talking, of course about vegan twinkies, fauxstess cupcakes, (both made by cooks whose ideals I respect and whose recipes and writing I truly enjoy) and other horrifying creations, food imitating food that imitates food. I know that Jennifer at Vegan Lunchbox has defended the twinkies and other fake-food creations by saying that her son just wants to eat regular kid food. I understand that, and being childless, I’m really in no position to critique that argument. But has cooking become as self-referential as the rest of our culture? It’s time for me to go sit in a corner (or kitchen) and cry.


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I was reading Michael Pollan’s article in the NYT Magazine today on “nutritionism,” the vaguely shady ideology that effectively medicalizes food, isolating individual nutrients from the food system and convincing people that these nutrients, not a complete diet, are the key to good health. This, as the article explain, is a clever way to tell people how to be healthy, without telling them to avoid certain foods (or food-flavored products, as the case may be).

I’m a pretty big Pollan fan, and reading his article made me remember some digging I’d been doing last week into the American Diabetes Association at work. For some rather lengthy and boring reasons, I was looking up information on their nutrition programs for my boss. You’d think those would be pretty abundant and easy to find. You’d also be wrong. Here’s their events and programs page. As you can see, there are about fifty gazillion fundraisers, some “awareness” campaigns, and some vauge programs for various ethnic groups. Where’s the nutrition? Better yet, where’s the prevention? It looks to me like the bulk of their money is going to “finding a cure.”

an aside: I did take a look at the American Diabetes Association’s 2005 Form 990 (pdf link, and boring to boot), which does include a much more detailed statement of programs, and there are a couple mentions of nutrition education. The fact remains that they’re not advertising any of this on their website. Also, they do admit to a link between nutrition and diabetes on their website. But no programs, no outreach, nothing is available online.

It’s dangerous to get me started on “finding a cure.” Generally I’m set going by the sight of pink teddy bears advertising that some mysterious percentage of their purchase price will somehow “find a cure” for breast cancer. More about that from someone more eloquent here. My problem with this, of course, is that no one seems concerned with the reasons breast cancer (and diabetes) have become such enormous problems in this particular part of the world. The reason behind this indifference to a cause and insistence on a cure seems to lie in the major funders of organizations like the Komen Foundation and the American Diabetes Association. I’ll let you dig up the dirt on Komen yourself, but trust me, it’s there.

Using my razor-sharp analytical skills, I took a quick guess at what I’d find on the American Diabetes Association list of corporate sponsors. And I was pretty much dead on. The list is topped by pharmaceutical giants (not surprising, but not particularly incriminating either), but right below them, we find Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages. And then Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., J.M. Smuckers Company, Unilever USA, Jones Soda Company, Nestlé USA, Inc., Pepsico-Quaker Oats Co… the list goes on.

Kind of funny that all these food companies who push unhealthy corn syrup-laden foods are giving money to the ADA. Even funnier that the ADA is turning a blind eye to the major culprit in the diabetes epidemic – the food industry. The hypocrisy of promoting a Walk for Diabetes sponsored by Equal and Diet Rite is staggering and makes me more than a little bit furious. America is so broken. Now go eat some veggies.

On a totally unrelated note, John, my friend Lauren and I are going in on a big order of Laptop Lunchboxes in the hopes that we will diversify our lunchtime menus and become the envy of all our coworkers. So exciting! Of course, we heard about them here, which means they have to be good.

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