Currently browsing posts about: Vegetables

Dec 22 2012

All you need is a rutabaga and a dream

I’m just back from attending the 15th annual International Rutabaga Curling Championship at the Farmers’ Market in  upstate Ithaca, New York.

This year’s championship event took place, as always, on the last day of the farmers’ market season.

Rutabagas, for the unitiated, are root vegetables of the Brassica family, most likely originating as a cross between a turnip and a cabbage.

Unlovely as they may be, rutabagas are just right for rolling down an icy lane (you can cook and eat them afterwards).

Before the festivities begin, the chorus does a quick rehearsal, this one filmed by a Japanese photographer for a reality show of unusual sporting events.  The program sent a crew to participate, making this a truly international event.

The event has its own original song, Joe Crookston’s The Rutabaga Curl.

But beyond the sport, the high point is always the sing-along rendition of the Rutabaga Chorus.   Its words are explained as the original lyrics for a tune later repurposed for Handel’s Messiah.

My favorite line: “Re-peat re-frain forever and eeeeever….”

Happy holidays!

Jun 15 2012

The food politics of…broccoli !

I have a soft spot in my nutritionist’s heart for broccoli. It’s a lovely vegetable when fresh and lightly cooked, and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and all those other good things that nutritionists like me encourage everyone to eat and enjoy.

I expressed some of this fondness for broccoli in a 1997 Commentary in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with this prescient title: “Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: Clinical, dietary, and policy implications.”

 

 

In it, I quoted President (#41) Bush’s now famous statement:

I do not like broccoli…And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!’

Even in the 1990s, broccoli had policy implications.

And now the New York Times has come up with a lengthy front-page investigative report on how broccoli came to be used by conservatives as a metaphor for the role of government in health care reform.

The story begins with a question asked by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  If the government can require people to buy health insurance, maybe it could force people to buy broccoli: “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later,” he said. “Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.”

It turns out that broccoli did not spring from the mind of Justice Scalia. The vegetable trail leads backward through conservative media and pundits. Before reaching the Supreme Court, vegetables were cited by a federal judge in Florida with a libertarian streak; in an Internet video financed by libertarian and ultraconservative backers; at a Congressional hearing by a Republican senator; and an op-ed column by David B. Rivkin Jr., a libertarian lawyer whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was 10.

The Times report is well worth reading, not least as a case study in how conservatives frame issues.  My favorite part is the sidebar on “the broccoli trail.”  Here’s the example from April 2012:

Rush Limbaugh, on his radio program:

“You’re telling me that you want the Supreme Court to decide that the government can tell you that you have to buy health insurance and broccoli?”

In late March, New York Times columnist (and Nobel-prize winning economist) Paul Krugman wrote of “Broccoli and Bad Faith.”

Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.

Maybe the best we can do with all this is to eat our broccoli and hope that it keeps us out of the health care system.

Aug 10 2011

Q and A: Hydroponics

Q.  I would love to hear what you think about hydroponic food. My instincts tell me that organic soil is full of life and traces of nutrients and elements we don’t fully understand and here we have another frankenfood that is scientifically derived.

A.  Frankenfood is too strong but I’m basically with you on this one.  I don’t get hydroponics.  Obviously scientists have figured out enough about plant nutrient requirements to keep them alive in water and nutrient broth but what’s the point?  Soil works really well and is bound to contain substances we don’t even know about.  These may even influence taste.

Chefs say even the best of hydroponic vegetables, according to a recent New York Times article, are not considered serious replacements for field-grown lettuces because they can’t reproduce the flavor.

My suspicion?  People who like hydroponics don’t like getting their hands dirty (but isn’t that half the fun?).

 

Jun 6 2008

Food safety: this time, tomatoes

So now tomatoes are contaminated with Salmonella, this time with the uncommon serotype, Saintpaul, and the FDA says not to eat tomatoes from a bunch of states in the Southwest.  But the New Mexico government says the contaminated tomatoes come from Mexico.  If this is correct, it’s globalization time again.  The FDA notes that tomatoes from everywhere are now coming into harvest. That is why, in 2007, the agency started a “tomato safety initiative” to get growers to take action to prevent Salmonella contamination. Initiatives are voluntary, here and in Mexico. Surely, it is time for mandatory? And mandatory import inspections?  Michael Doyle, a food safety expert based at the University of Georgia, says globalization raises food safety risks. This may seem evident, but I like his quote: “It is the industry that is responsible for producing safe foods. It is the government’s responsibility to verify that they are producing safe foods.”

As for the perspective of strong supporters of the produce industry, check out what the Perishable Pundit has to say about the way the FDA is handling this incident.   What he calls the “gracious” comments of California tomato growers are also worth a look.