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    Happy 2019! It's a new year--time for a restorative. Me? Bok choy broth with tofu for lunch. The purple tinge is not your hangover talking to you--I added purple and gold "black" carrots to the bowl and it got a little Rose Parade on me.

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    Copyright 2008-2019Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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    SlowFoodFast sometimes addresses general public health topics related to nutrition, heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Because this is a blog with a personal point of view, my health and food politics entries often include my opinions on the trends I see, and I try to be as blatant as possible about that. None of these articles should be construed as specific medical advice for an individual case. I do try to keep to findings from well-vetted research sources and large, well-controlled studies, and I try not to sensationalize the science (though if they actually come up with a real cure for Type I diabetes in the next couple of years, I'm gonna be dancing in the streets with a hat that would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Consider yourself warned).

Brand Me! Or, How to Commercialize Cabbage

Earlier this year I made a joke about the marketing campaign for fresh bulk vegetables, along the lines of “Red Cabbage. It’s What’s For Salad.” I was thinking how nice it would be if people could be motivated to buy ordinary fresh bulk vegetables–no brand names, no packages–every week as a matter of habit the way they did 30 years ago, instead of the way they now fill their carts with brightly colored boxes of processed stuff. I thought it would probably take a satirical approach like the Ad Council’s Got Milk? public service ad campaign.

Clearly I wasn’t thinking hard enough about the real issue driving the relentless replacement of food with boxes. As with the Internet, it’s branding. And not surprisingly, there’s an awful lot of spam out there (hints of The Viking Song in the background…and a word of caution: as with many Monty Python sketches, this one contains more than a few off-color lines and screeching in addition to the main ingredient.)

The packaged food industry is way ahead of me and has been for years. They’ve figured out how to put brand names on cabbage or broccoli or carrots so they can charge more for it–several times more per pound. And they’re doing enormously well with this ploy.

Ordinary shoppers — your neighbors, your co-workers, your mom, and you too, I bet— have in the past week or so bought a little packaged bag of pre-washed spinach, Euro Salad Mix, baby-cut carrots, or broccoli and cauliflower florets. To save time, you tell yourself. Because it’s more gourmet, perhaps. And you’re getting your vegetables in, you think. But it becomes a habit, and a needlessly expensive one.

This kind of thinking about vegetables is becoming dangerously ingrained among American shoppers. People think they’re eating healthy without the fuss, but then they complain how expensive vegetables are. And no wonder, if they shop like this.

Because the few vegetables you get in the precut packs in pristine plastic bags are less than a pound. 12 oz. is typical for broccoli and cauliflower florets, 5-6 oz. for pre-washed mixed lettuces. Prices are at least $2.00 per bag, and often on up to $3.50 or more. Yes, Virginia, that’s anything between $3 and $9/lb for the “convenience” of just opening a bag.

I bring this up here because packaged, pre-shredded cabbage, an 8-oz. bag no less, was listed, actually listed, as a key ingredient in a recent (and no I didn’t really mean to be picking on them again so soon) Bon Appetit feature recipe online. One for “Fishcakes and Coleslaw”. It was part of a slideshow series illustrating “gourmet cooking on a budget”, glossy photos with convincing price tags included–but this one recipe cost $14 for four servings!

Continue reading

How to Cook a Wolf, 21st Century Version

Two years ago, my husband and I took our young daughter to Paris during an engineering conference. It was our first time there, and in about five days, we spent the equivalent of 10 weeks’ grocery money on food. Just food. We couldn’t cook there, and even modest cafés charged such ridiculously high prices for mediocre food–$14 for a potato omelet or a tuna sandwich? $6 for lemonade or a bottle of water?!–that we had little money to spare for anything else. The next 10 weeks, I told our friends, we were going to be living on beans and rice. I was only joking a little.

Back in 1942, in How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher’s idea of how to cook cheap was to use one’s last few francs to make a pasty, flavorless mixture of ground beef and barley-the cheapest high-nutrient ingredients she could think of at the time-and eat it sparingly throughout the week. It was not her idea of how to eat when you had the choice of anything–anything–better, but it would serve when the wolf was well and truly at your door.

Today, gas prices are double what they were two years ago. The housing market is on the edge of collapse. As a result, the once-insulated and well-educated middle class is closer than ever to the edge of poverty but almost completely unschooled in how to cope. All you have to do is look at the average ratio of credit card debt to savings.

Hence a new trend in food activism-the Food Stamp Challenge. Heartening? Disturbing? You make the call. First taken by a panel of congressmen last spring to “research” the food stamp program monthly allowances for individuals and families, the Food Stamp Challenge tests your ability to stretch $514-the amount currently allotted by the ever-generous federal food aid program–to feed a family of four for a month.

The congressmen couldn’t do it at all. Continue reading

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