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“Palm Beach sprawled opulent and plump between the sparkling sapphire of Lake Worth, flawed here and there by house-boats at anchor, and the great turquoise bar of the Atlantic Ocean.  The huge bulks of the Breakers and theRroyal Poinciana rose as twin paunches from the bright level of the sand, and around them clustered the Dancing Glade, Bradley’s House of Chance, and a dozen modistes and milliners with goods at triple prices from New York.  Upon the trellised veranda of the Breakers two hundred women stepped right, stepped left, wheeled, and slid in that then celebrated calisthenic known as the double shuffle, while in half-time to the music  two thousand bracelets clicked up and down on two hundred arms.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Rich Boy”

That guy could write like an angel.  … A bit of spring break followed by a cascade of work will have me off the blog for the next week. 

Must comment, though, on the flurry of food news reported in The NYTimes as fundamental issues about the source of our food, once the concern solely of the food elites, make their way mainstream, much of it apparently sparked by Michelle Obama’s decision to put a garden in the white house.  Three cheers to the First Lady who said one of the smartest and simplest statements: her focus is on the kids because it’s the kids who will teach their families and their families who will teach their communities. 

Also loved the Severson story on sugar becoming the latest “new and improved” ingredient, a selling point!  Further confirmation of how screwed up we are in terms of understanding how to feed ourselves.  The article reiterates what I and some commenters have noted on this blog, that there’s little if any evidence that high fructose corn syrup is any worse for you than sugar.  They're equally "bad."  But the food companies don’t care, they just want to sell you their goods, happily relying on Americans’ confusion and ignorance about how to do the most basic daily acts.

There was also this excellent editorial a few weeks back on salt in our diet, and efforts by the NYC health department to force food processors to reduce the amount of sodium their processed food.  The author, Michael Alderman, a professor of medicine, argues there is widely conflicting evidence suggesting that lowering our salt intake will improve our health.  In fact, some studies suggest it could be harmful.  Alderman notes other similar well-meaning but scientifically iffy proposals—such as how our insistence on eating low fat diets has had little effect on health and obesity in this country.  The author simply asks health officials to make decisions based on evidence rather than assumptions.

And for the rest of us who don't want to wait for the randomized clinical trials to begin?  Just don’t eat so much processed food!  Why is this so difficult to understand?  I know I’m preaching to the converted on this site, but why should it be page one news that the First Lady is planting a vegatable garden?  Why should concerns about where our food comes from and how we eat have suddenly become mainstream?!  Its crazy.  It’s enough to make me move to France or to Italy, where people don't wring their hands over the obvious, where they know how to enjoy themselves.  If I'm not back in a week, that's where you'll find me.

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41 Wonderful responses to “Blog Break: March 23 — March 29 (and a minor rant before I go)”

  • ashley

    do the box mixs work better than from scratch? what taste better?

  • Richard Ellers Warren, Ohio

    Reading J Crea interview in the PD this morning, with you about ratios, I compared your bread ratio: 20oz flour, 12 oz water and happily discovered that the basic mix I’ve been using for some years, 15 Of Flour to 9 oz water matches.
    Next batch, I will try 20oz flour.

  • Kate in the NW

    Everybody just remember there are a whole lotta people in this country with absolutely NO place to grow anything besides mildew. I do applaud the Obama garden, and hope the kids get in on the growing. Pulling weeds builds character.

    Enjoy your vacation, and thanks for timing it to coincide with mine. And I’m pretty sure I saw one of your friends leaving our hotel in SF a couple of days ago…unless it was another jolly gray giant. I didn’t want to do the obnoxious fangirl thing but was sorely tempted to follow just to get a good restaurant recommendation! It was funny ’cause fanboys have been stalking my (usually anonymous) DH at a conference all week but it’s not a foodie crowd and I think I was the only one who noticed him (rare, I’m sure…).

    Anyway – have fun and if you move to Europe just keep on blogging!

  • luis

    Tags, The irresponsible spending is not nothing A veggie garden can fix. This presidency will end badly and for the record Bush’s presidency was the worst ever.

  • liz yepsen

    My aversion to HFCS has little to do with its health benefits, proven or otherwise–its a question of sustainability. The incentives for large-scale food manufacturers in the US to use inputs propped up by corn subsidies are alarming, especially when considering the opportunity cost of growing, say, food, on that land. You know, the kind you don’t process using diesel.

    I’m a first time visitor to the site and can’t believe my luck at finally finding Fitzgerald paired with food blogs! Thanks!

  • Frances

    Interesting wiki comment in the Discussion section: “I used to work at a beverage factory, where we used HFCS, and I tasted it straight. Anyone who has ever tasted straight HFCS will definitely know that there are other things in it besides fructose and glucose, it has an odd, rather unpleasant flavor. I’m wondering if anyone knows of any information about what else is in it… ”

    The main reason to avoid HFCS is that it usually is found in heavily processed, cheap food, full of chemicals and of little nutritional value.

    A good rule of thumb is to drink water and make your own damn food.

  • Paul

    I think you miss the point, Michael. The value of these processed food laws (and likewise the value of news about White House gardens) has nothing to do with its effect on people like you and me.

    It’s about whole populations in this country, especially in the inner cities, who suffer from chronically poor education and lack of exposure to healthy foods. The studies cited in that editorial look at the average sodium intake for Americans; you can bet the average sodium intake for people in the inner city, in neighborhoods where McDonalds is the staff of life, is a whole lot higher.

    Yes, it would be a more perfect solution to get all these people eating as if their mom was Alice Waters, but that, I’m sure you’d agree, is not so easy. In the mean time, we can limit the salt in some of this food.

    If you’d step down from the gastronomic high horse long enough to taste whopper or some doritos, I think you’d agree that they’re f’ing salt bombs. I don’t think there’s any good justification (from the consumer’s perspective) for the current amounts of salt.

    You might choose to take a libertarian stance against the government meddling in this kind of thing, but that’s a different conversation altogether.

  • Tags

    -
    It’s been 8 years since Fast Food Nation came out.

    So, what is the result? Posturing and food industry front groups like

    Center for Consumer Freedom
    (the restaurant industry)
    http://www.consumerfreedom.com

    American Council on Fitness and Nutrition
    (backed by almost every major food corporation)
    http://www.acfn.org

    American Council on Science and Health
    (backed by an array of corporations to promote industry interests)
    http://www.acsh.org

    Council for Corporate and School Partnerships
    (founded by Coca Cola to further school soda contracts)
    http://www.corpschoolpartners.org

    International Food Information Council
    (runs kidnetic.com, among other corporate-friendly programs)
    http://www.ific.org

    Whole Grains Council
    (provides processed-food makers with a self-defined “stamp” of approval)
    http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org

    At least President Obama is hitting the ground running with the White House vegetable garden, even while steering the worst economy since the depression back on the right track.

  • luis

    Ann, you are super mom!. 3 jobs and time to cook at home!. oh pleeeeeeezeeeeeee!… you are killing me!. I feel so….never mind.
    I promise to complain less and cook more.
    I was looking up at the calories to be taken from food that has been preserved through dehydration.
    Funny thing an apple is about fifty calories and a cup of dehydrated apples… it takes four in my kitchen to make a cup is rated at.. you guessed it 200 calories.
    However that meager pak of dehydrated apples in your produce area…. is bundles more in calories and even has sugars etc… where true blue dehydrated food barely reads any sugar at all…
    I specifically read the label on the processed dehydrated apple chips bag.
    Hello, sugar….. no mention of it in the natural dehydrated 1000% pure apple chips.
    This is veddy veddy interesting…hmmmm I think you are right!.

  • brad barnett

    Ruhlman, I was at the Breakers last week and had a transcendent moment at the Seafood Bar.

    Gorgonzola Cheese Fries.

    I know. Low brow for such a posh place but you will be shocked…SHOCKED, at how good they are.

    Thank God for the smaller portions, I could eat Home Depot bucket loads all night long thus expanding my waist line to points unknown.

    Bonus, also great with many of your favorite beverages.

    Happy Vacation.

  • Chris L

    Michael, Hope you are enjoying the south Florida sun, and were able to hear the shuttle return this afternoon!

  • janelle

    DITTO. About sugar, salt, numb brains that feed open mouths and moving… to Italy.

    FYI heard this, another ‘duh’ moment: the higher price they charge for lite soy or low-salt soy? Regular soy diluted by 50% more water. In Demetri Martins words: think about it.

    Have a GREAT trip! And only suck off part of the salt of the edge or your margarita;)

  • CookingSchoolConfidential.com

    Salt good; salt bad. Sugar good; sugar bad. Or is it the other way around? Or both ways?

    So confusing.

    We talk about this stuff at school (I’m a culinary school student) and our chef instructors just sadly shake their heads.

    It’s a nutty world, isn’t it?

    Cheers!

  • ann

    Michael,
    OMG, I am so glad you commented on the “excellent editorial,” I totally agree, “eat less processed food!!!” This is hard for people to comprehend because of the manufacturers and the packaging and that it’s lite or organic. As the parent of a former overweight teenager, I know the dangers of processed food. I thought I was buying good food as a divorced single mom, working about 3 jobs at any one given time but all she did was gain weight and at 15 we knew she had a problem. She started WW and I knew that I would only use fresh ingredients and do all the cooking at home. It was amazing; she dropped 60lbs in 10 months and then 30 more over the course of another year. She’s now a junior in college (DC area) and uses her extra money to go to farmer’s markets, WF, and TJs. She and her roommates love to cook–I love this and whatever she spends on fresh ingredients is fine with me.
    Thanks for reading; just want to let you know how strongly I feel about processed food.

  • Michele Niesen

    See you there. Bon jour!
    I am deeply troubled at how people think it’s “cute” that I am growing things…after recently moving to the country from the city. Aww, you’re getting chickens? You have blueberries? Cool! Make me a pie!

    People, I don’t want to forecast doom here, but hello? Growing is the next thing to cooking your own food…if poison peanut butter isn’t enough of a red flag coupled with our countries hefty waist lines…and sky rocketing diabetes etc. WE AREN’T EATING THE RIGHT STUFF. I know plenty of “foodies” that don’t know jack about nutrition and the difference between eating expensively and eating well as a rule of life, not just “going out to dinner”… as a retired chef/owner I can say emphatically. Stop eating marketing people. And if the grocery chains and the Dept of Ag won’t get on board, grow your own! Cook your own! Patient, heal thyself. The call is coming from the inside…

  • Nancy

    Boy, I hear ya! Good old Julia was always telling us “Moderation in everything.” Why is this so difficult to understand? It makes me sick to see what people put in their grocery carts. I noticed 2 women in line the other day. One had healthy food & lots of it & the other had snacks & other crap. Guess which one was obese?!

  • S. Woody

    The problem with HFCS (as I see it) isn’t that it is a manufactured form of sugar, but that it is fuctose without the fruit. Normally, when we consume fructose, we are eating a fruit – the sugar is a part of the fruit, sure, but it isn’t the entire package. With HFCS, all we get is unrelenting sugar.

    Like Rulhman said, “Just don’t eat so much processed food!”

  • Ted

    The White House garden is a great idea. But from what I’ve seen for a diagram, it’s devoted to cool-weather crops which won’t take the DC summers with their heat & humidity.

  • chad

    This may be a good panel discussion topic for StarChefs ICC 2009 in NY. Not sure if you will be participating again, but the topic is “What is American Cuisine?” I know this has been beat down in the past from looking at the work of James Beard (congratulations) himself to assimilation of foreign cuisines here. I do feel that there is a yet to be understood underlying ‘instinct’ among many of us out there that will manifest itself more clearly in the not-so-far-off future… and that is giving definition to American cuisine without purposefully trying to define it. It’s looking within instead of around and about.

  • Keith

    the statement is that other sugars are just as bad.

    OK. I still disagree; the evidence says that HFCS is worse for your health.

  • Arundathi

    When I moved to India from the US, I complained non-stop that the fruits and veggies didn’t look “colorful and vibrant” and that we couldn’t get a lot of produce.

    And then I woke up (figuratively!!) and realized I’m eating fresh produce every day. There is no concept of processed food in India.

    So yeah, we never get blackberries, but we have locally grown mangoes and watermelon.

    And they even have soil because they’ve just been picked! They are as fresh as you can get! So, yes, I’ve stopped complaining.

  • luis

    Dude in my limited experience…. just go out to the farms at harvest time and collect the excellent fruit that fell off tha truck and was left on the vines etc….. Symbolism has its place and I don’t argue with it. But I have seen beautifull fruit left on the land after the harvest. TONS OF IT! DAMM IT!!!
    I have spent my day off studying about food preservation. So I am NOT kidding.
    There is something in what I am saying that has been missed by folks.
    Other than that I am which you boss… you are tha teacher.

  • matt wright

    Completely agree. Obama shouldn’t make the great news for doing this – heck, it should just be a matter of course for them.. But you know what, if it helps improve and change people’s view of food in this country, then I am all for it.

    Like it or not, America has a huge food problem (as you are the first to mention), and any kind of publicity, no matter how sensationalist, that can improve the situation is OK by me. Sure, people should know about what to eat, and this shouldn’t make headline news, but in a country where 1/3 people are obese, I am happy to see clean unprocessed food make news.

    Growing up in Europe, and moving to the US 6 years ago, yeah, I would like to move to France/Italy too. Good clean food as a way of life? sign me up.

  • stephanie

    100% agreed. Now, go relax!

    And when you get back, start a twitter feed, so you can rant on a regular basis :)

  • Ross

    Uh, guys? I suspect Mr. Ruhlman isn’t claiming HFCS is good; the statement is that other sugars are just as bad. It’s an excellent point, too; no matter how gourmet a sugar is, Americans in general eat too much of it.

    Thanks for a great post, sir. Enjoy your break!

  • Natalie Sztern

    stick me in Villefranche, Cote d’azur and put me on a chair one flight up the four stairs off the quai on any rue and forget about me forever….ok maybe a chaise longue..

  • Rhonda

    Before you go,

    Congratulations on the James Beard Award nomination!!!!

  • jai

    I absolutely agree that if the people could stop eating out of boxes and bags health would follow.

    And you are right, planting a garden should not be front page news, but at least there will be a (mostly salad) garden at the White House. Now, if they would just tear out ALL the grass and plant some serious food.

  • Vivian

    Great post! I am one of those rare people who have Celiac Disease and am also allergic to corn and all its by products as well. I have had to eliminate just about every processed food from my diet. It’s a good thing I love to cook but it also can make going out to eat a pretty tough thing. Having a kitchen garden has truly helped out alot as well as shopping as organically as possible.

  • Angry Brit

    I’m glad that Michelle Obama is planting a vegetable garden. Like you, I’m sad that it seemed to be such a newsworthy piece of info. I don’t have kids, but I would want to raise them to eat right. I try to limit the amount of processed food that I eat. I’m not always successful, but I try!

  • lux

    I hate HFCS becasue it does /not/ taste the same as sugar. One sip of a Coke made with sugar rather than HFCS (available outside the US and during Passover in some major US cities) and you’ll see what I mean.

    Have a great vacation Ruhlman!

  • rockandroller

    I can’t wait for passover coke! We always stock up.

    I agree it’s sad that it’s come to front page news that someone is planting a garden, but I am also VERY GLAD to see that it’s news, instead of showing Obama jogging to mcdonald’s or something.

  • Dan B.

    I just thought I would share:

    Our duck prosciutto got pulled out of our basement (just drafty enough to stay cold, and the dehumidifier keeps it keeps the moisture level stable). It tasted great. Of course, both the wife and I have colds so we can’t quite taste everything, but even then, WOW.

    Second – New Jersey is still sitting at a high risk of frost for a few more weeks, but I can’t WAIT until that’s done and over with so I can build another raised bed or two and start our planting for the season.

  • Tags

    -
    Don’t move to France until you read Adam Gopnik’s “Paris to the Moon,” even though your kids are older.

    Kudos to Michelle, leadership seems to run in the family.

    Try not to get too tense concentrating on relaxing.

  • Phil

    This becoming front page news, and moving mainstream exploits just how disconnected our country has been to fresh produce. I see this going mainstream as a positive thing, not negative. And if it’s a “fad” then so be it. Hopefully it will be one that’s here to stay. I know that once people get a taste of a fresh food lifestyle, they’ll turn their backs on the poisons of the “inside aisles.”

  • John Beaty

    Please, MIchael, move to Italy or France. Then you will begin to understand the meaning of the word, “obsessed” in relation to food.

    And we will love the writing that comes out of your discoveries.