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The unbearable newsiness of food scares

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2011 at 10:51 am

This just in: Cantaloupes grown by certain producers in Colorado were found to be contaminated with the bacteria listeria. So far, thirteen people have died and more than 70 have fallen sick.

The problem is, people see/hear/tap on a headline about a contaminated food and they tend to stop eating all of it, for a very long time. And the news media exacerbate the situation by covering the start of the scare, giving too few details about the source of the contamination, and then offering little to no coverage about its resolution – unless it’s sexy or bizarre-interesting like the finger-in-Wendy’s-chili hoax years ago.

People respond by losing their appetites long term for whatever was contaminated. And who can blame them, if the news media tell us when to stop eating something and don’t always tell us when it’s OK again?

Reality check: On average, about 1800 people die each year from food-borne pathogens. Compare this to about 1600 people who die of heart disease PER DAY. Top advice for avoiding heart disease? Eat more fruits and vegetables.

The bottom line is, dig deeper for information before you write off an otherwise healthy item like cantaloupe.


cookie dough and self-control

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2009 at 11:42 am

I just read this story about a seven-patty burger being offered in Japan as a merchandising tie-in for the release of Windows 7. Aside from the fact that connecting beef with operating systems is quite a stretch, this is irresponsible on Burger King’s part. I sincerely hope that no one actually orders one of these and tries it eat it solo. At 2,100 calories and who knows how much saturated fat, it packs into one meal (nay, one sandwich!) more than the average person should consume in a whole day.

I admit this is an extreme example to illustrate portion control. But it seems like all the big burger chains have introduced ginormous sandwiches over the last few years. In fact, the only one that seems reasonably sized is Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe, which is 300 calories according to calorieking.com.

Hamburgers are craveable, as are cookies. At least a hamburger has a set portion, and if you order – or cook – a reasonably sized one, you know how much you’ve eaten. Cookies that come in a package, on the other hand, are ideally suited for mindless eating and accidental calorie overload. We’ve all done this – watched television with an open package on the coffee table in front of us. Two hours go by, and a brand-new package of Chips Ahoy is now half-empty.

cookie-dough-with-scoopMaking your own cookies is a great way to control your portion sizes. In the restaurant, we baked cookies fresh to order, so we always had a tray of frozen cookie-sized dough balls at the ready. If you portion out the dough and freeze the cookie-balls in a plastic bag, it’s less tempting to eat the dough raw because a cookie-dough popsicle isn’t that appealing. I use a heavy duty ice cream scoop like this one to make dough balls. On nights that I crave cookies, I bake three for myself and that’s all I eat. Freshly baked homemade cookies are so warm, rich and tasty that they tend to be far more satisfying than a dry old Chips Ahoy, so three can feel like enough.

The recipe below is adapted from one that appeared in Bon App├ętit in 2006. It makes the most delicious, soft-textured cookies.

“Three is Enough” Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

6 tablespoons butter (3/4 stick), at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer for one minute. Add peanut butter and beat until smooth. Add vegetable oil, egg and vanilla, beating well after each addition. In a smaller bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and beat just until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

frozen-cookies-in-bagUsing a small ice-cream scoop, portion dough into balls and store in a sealed plastic bag in the freezer (chill dough at least 1 hour before baking, or freeze for up to two months). To bake, place dough balls 1 1/2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 12 – 15 minutes until they just start to brown at edges.

Tip: Preheating the oven isn’t necessary. You can place the cookies in a cold oven, turn it on, and then set the timer for 20 minutes. The slow rise in temperature helps the cookies flatten out as they bake.

Serve warm!

Soda taxes and skinnier wallets

In Make it instead on October 14, 2009 at 9:49 am

The news this morning is all about a proposed soda tax that would make sugary (or rather, syrupy) beverages like Coke and Pepsi more expensive. Public health advocates are comparing it to the tax on cigarettes, which has apparently encouraged more people to quit smoking. I think it’s a great idea, because people often change their habits when they have to pay more for something. Imagine if you went to your favorite lunch place, where a small soda has always cost $1.50. If it suddenly went up to $2.00, you might opt for water more frequently.

Of course, not everyone likes this idea. The soda manufacturers likely have cartoon-like steam blowing out their ears at the thought. One representative of the soda industry was quoted as saying he thinks people need to take more personal responsibility for their diets (the implied result is choosing to drink less soda). But then he said he opposes a soda tax because it would make sales go down for the businesses and their employees. So, he thinks people should drink less soda, but he doesn’t want a decrease in sales? Hmm. Clearly he wants us all to buy as much soda as we can fit in our shopping carts, and then pour it down the drain. It might damage your house’s pipes after a while, but it would be much healthier for you.

If you’re a regular soda drinker, think about how much you consume every day. Chances are, it makes up about 14 percent of your daily calorie intake (read about the study). Diet soda may seem like the answer, but research says it can make you crave sweet foods and make unhealthy food choices. Soda habits of any kind also hit your wallet. Let’s say you spend $2.50 on soda each day. Multiplied by 365 days, you’re spending more than $900 per year on soda.

Soda is addictive – it tastes good, it provides a needed jolt of energy, and it goes really well with burgers and fries. But if you’re drinking it instead of water, you’re headed down an unhealthy path. But maybe you don’t like the taste of water. Fair enough. Try flavored seltzer or club soda with lemon or lime in it. If you’re dying for a bit of sweetness, mix up some simple syrup and use that to sweeten your drink. Simple syrup works better than plain old sugar because it’s already dissolved so it mixes in easily. There will be no gray sugar sludge at the bottom of your ice tea. You can wean yourself off of sweet drinks easily using simple syrup – just add a little less every week, and soon you’ll be drinking unsweetened tea and water and actually enjoying them!

Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup white sugar

Mix water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat until boiling. Turn down heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Cool and pour into a glass jar. Refrigerated and covered, it’ll keep for up to a month.