"Agricultural policy" does not have an exciting ring to it. Neither does "farm bill," which sounds doubly unappealing â politics and farming, two concepts many Americans find exceedingly boring.
Yet the 2007 farm bill, currently awaiting a vote in the House Agriculture Committee, decides what we grow, and through enormous subsidies, what will be cheaper â Coke or orange juice, potato chips or produce. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, writes about this and the other countless ways our country's food production is linked to things like obesity, global poverty, immigration, and the environment in his April 22 New York Times Magazine article "You Are What You Grow,"Â (subscription only). It's a bill important to all Americans, and thus to the global community, and one which is in dire need of a revolution.
As Americans, the way we eat continues to wreak havoc on our national health. The surgeon general's declaration of an obesity epidemic brought it swiftly to national attention that we have a rather hefty problem with food.
What isn't so highly publicized is that while publicly battling obesity, our country pours money into the production of things like high-fructose corn syrup through huge subsidies given to farmers of the mass-produced commodity crops corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton.
Thus, things are rigged so that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be fat, since rationally, to eat on a budget means to eat crap. Over the past few decades, as American bellies loom larger and larger, the farm bill, which gets debated every five years in Congress, has laid out a national agricultural policy in direct conflict with national public health goals. Subsidies to commodity crops based on the amount farmers can grow encourage overproduction, flooding our food system with the products of corn and soy â mainly added sugars and fats. Practically no support has been given to farmers growing fresh produce.
I've been visiting Cuban restaurants during the last week. La Fonda Latina (1639 McLendon Ave., 404-378-5200) actually features food from most of the Spanish-speaking nations, but its Cuban-style grilled chicken is one of the favorite dishes here. The menu also includes a variety of Cuban sandwiches.
It had been several years since I visited La Fonda â there are several others in the city â but I found it as much a tasty bargain as ever. I ordered my longtime favorite here, a quicky version of paella with yellow rice, chicken, sausage, squid and shrimp. Yes, I know it doesn't follow the strict rules of paella-making to mix meat and seafood, but you can order other versions here that don't mix it up.
Paella is native to Valencia, Spain. I once spent a winter week in a small mountain town in Spain where I ate the best paella I've ever tasted every evening. You had to order it a few hours ahead of arriving at the restaurant, which had blanket-covered tables that held warm coals to keep the diners warm. The paellas there alwaysincluded the socarrat, the bottom layer of crunchy rice typical of authentic paellas.
Despite the lack of the socarrat, La Fonda's quicky version is better than most local restaurants' attempt at an authentic version.
Besides reminiscing about Spain, I got further nostalgic at the restaurant because, like the Fellini's across the street, La Fonda was decorated and painted by the late artist Christine Sibley, my neighbor in Inman Park 15 years ago. A wacky woman with purple-dyed hair, she kept a goat and huge rabbits in her back yard. Several times she left the goat on my front porch, rang the doorbell and hid. Her house was painted, inside and out, like an enchanted witch's cabin.
Besides the paella and grilled chicken, we ordered a flan to share. I'm not sure why La Fonda doesn't remove the custard from the bowl in which it's made, but it is among the city's best, without a drop of air disturbing its texture.
"Thank y'all and please come again."
We're all used to hearing that at places like Mary Mac's, but not so much at big-ticket places. My friend Gregg reports that the day after a $600-plus meal for four at Kevin Rathbun Steak, he received a call from the restaurant thanking him for coming in.
I've never heard of such a policy and assumed it might have something to do with the amount of money he spent. But I ran into an acquaintance who works at the restaurant and he told me they do it with everyone. If this becomes a popular practice, it could get really annoying.
You never know where you're going to run into a good chef indulging bad taste. A few years ago, for example, I saw a well known Hispanic chef at the window of a Taco Bell. (Hey, I was just driving by!) I've seen another buying his restaurant's bread at Publix. I know a particularly brilliant chef who lived for years on Domino's pizza.
But, oh no, not this! I caught Richard Blais of Element ordering one of those blended coffee drinks at Starbucks last Sunday. Blais is our city's culinary alchemist, practitioner of so-called molecular gastronomy. As such, he changes the forms and textures of food, often intensely distilling flavors. Hmmm. Now that I think of it, those Starbucks drinks taste like cake thrown in a blender â a primitive kind of molecular gastronomy. Maybe Blais was just slumming or researching antique equipment.
If you haven't already, check out Food Editor Besha Rodell's review of Element here.
Robby Kukler of Fifth Group Restaurants wants "to bring back the communal spirit of Sunday supper." And if your memories of large family dinners favor fondness more than trauma, maybe you will, too.
At Ecco, the group's newest restaurant in Midtown serving Mediterranean-inspired food, the Sunday Share has started, a series of family-style meals with different themes each week.
Starting at 6:30 p.m every Sunday, a limited amount of guests can share a meal at a communal table for $25 per person. Themed menus highlight different regions of the world and unique dishes.
This coming Sunday, July 22, the theme is "France, Meet Morocco," a fusing of the two cuisines. The following Sunday, July 29, will be "Paella and Tapas: A Spanish Classic." Should be good food and good conversation. I mean, it's not like it's your real family.
Reservations are required for those who wish to join in; for your spot call 404-347-9555. Ecco is located at 40 Seventh St., at the corner of Cypress Street in Midtown. For more info visit www.fifthgroup.com.
WebMD has the scoop:
Government officials today issued this year's second product recall for Easy-Bake Ovens and warned adults to take the toy electric ovens away from kids.
The Easy-Bake Oven is a purple and pink plastic oven that resembles a kitchen range with four burners on top and a front-loading oven. âEasy-Bakeâ is printed on the front of the oven. Model number 65805 and âHasbroâ are stamped into the plastic on the back of the recalled ovens.
"Young children can insert their hands into the oven's front opening and get their hands or fingers caught, posing entrapment and burn risks," states the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Nearly a million Easy-Bake Ovens are involved in the recall. Those Easy-Bake ovens were sold nationwide starting in May 2006. Easy-Bake Ovens sold before May 2006 aren't included in the recall.
That's 1 million kids whose baking is going to be interrupted.
The recall has forced me to recall repressed culinary memories of my traumatic childhood. When I was a kid, my neighbor Wendy Woodcock -- yes, that was her real name -- had an Easy-Bake (or something similar). Wendy's parents were devout Catholics. At least I assume so, because my main memory of their home was the huge, garish crosses draped with dead Jesus that seemed to be everywhere. Wendy used to bake what she called "bread of his body" in her oven. We played "communion" with Kool-Aid. She also used to warm up the coconut macaroons I stole off the bakery truck that came through the neighborhood several times a week.
Just another memory typical of your average foodie.
Oh, here's some good news. Now you, too, can own an Applebee's:
GLENDALE, Calif. - IHOP Corp. said Monday that it has agreed to buy Applebee's International Inc. for $1.9 billion in cash, and plans to sell restaurants to franchisees to reduce costs and debt.
News of the agreement sent IHOP shares to their biggest gain in 21 months. IHOP stock increased $4.99, or 8.9 percent, to a record $61.24, on the New York Stock Exchange, its biggest jump since October 2005. Shares of Applebee's increased 53 cents, to $24.91, on the Nasdaq stock market.
For our upcoming annual Best of Atlanta issue, we have selected the return to Southern cooking as the most notable food trend of the last year. Former Atlantan Adam Roberts has a great interview in Salon with John T. Edge, who was just here to speak and sign copies of the updated version of his book, Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover's Companion to the South. (The Salon link requires a free site pass, granted for viewing a brief ad.)
Here's a sample:
Except for sex, eating is the most intimate activity we regularly engage in with others. The fight of the citizens of the South to exclude blacks from churches and schools -- well, the subtext of that was: "If we let you sit down next to us at the restaurant, the next thing we know you'll be diddling our wives." But there were multiple contradictions there too, not the least of which was that the food was oftentimes prepared by African-Americans. The tradition of Southern cooking, the greatness of Southern cookery, leverages for a large part the expertise and the knowledge of African-American cooks. We were very comfortable with blacks cooking our food, but if blacks went from the kitchen to the dining room that's where the problems began.
I know your kitchen cabinets are overflowing with hot dog chili sauce, so be advised: Three brands of the stuff have been recalled because of contamination with the bacterium that causes botulism. Four people have been hospitalized so far.
CNN and the Associated Press reports:
Federal health officials warned consumers Wednesday to throw away certain cans of hot dog chili sauce after the product was linked to botulism that has sent four people to the hospital.
The warning applies to 10-ounce cans of Castleberry's, Austex and Kroger brands of hot dog chili sauce with "best by" dates from April 30, 2009, through May 22, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration said. It wasn't immediately clear how widely the products were distributed.
A few other products have been added to the list of possibly contaminated products made at Castleberry's factory in Augusta, Ga. Here is the full list:
Products included in the recall include 10-ounce cans of Castleberry's Hot Dog Chili Sauce (UPC 3030000101), Austex Hot Dog Chili Sauce (UPC 3030099533), Kroger Hot Dog Chili Sauce (UPC 1111083942), Castleberry's Barbecue Pork (UPC 3030000402) and Bunker Hill Chili No Beans (UPC 7526604112).
Also being recalled are 15-ounce cans of Morton House Corned Beef Hash (UPC 7526665830), Cattle Drive Chili with Beans (UPC 3030001515), Southern Home Corned Beef Hash (UPC 0788015360), Meijer Corned Beef Hash (UPC 4125095229) and Castleberry's Chili with Beans (UPC 3030001015).
Foodie Face of the Week belongs to Troy Willis, a furniture broker, here exhibiting his finely tuned palate. Troy has been digging the fish and chips at P'Cheen lately. I asked him what he likes about it: "I ate at Captain D's a lot when I was a kid, so it makes me nostalgic, but it's a lot better, of course."
I sure hope so.
P'Cheen probably deserves classification as a gastro-pub since its menu is better than the average pub's, thanks to one of the owners, Alex Friedman, once being a chef at Anis. He and partner Keiran Neely have created an arty interior that features burnt-orange walls rather than the typical pub's dark woody look.
I haven't tried the beer-battered fish that Troy has been eating, but I have liked the burgers here, as well as the pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon and served with roasted cauliflower and risotto. Bar snacks, including coconut-curried mussels and a charcuterie plate, are also good.
After the dinner rush Thursday through Sunday, P'Cheen hosts some of the city's most popular DJs.
KILL IT!! Love you guys!
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