Archive for May, 2007

May 23, 2007

Around the Food and Energy World in 10 Days

This will be my last post until the beginning of June. I’m going on vacation with my parents to the Provence and will be 14 kilometers from the nearest town, and consequently nowhere near an internet source.

However, I will leave you with a bit of reading I’ve been doing lately around the web. They’re newspaper and magazine articles I’ve found that have opened my eyes to the fact that we have a very big, complex problem on our hands. I’ve given you links, and quoted some of the things I found most surprising.

The Fatness Formula

published in The Economist May 18, 2007. Accessed May 23, 2007

“The latest figures suggest that a third of American children are either overweight or at risk of becoming so. If the trend continues, today’s children will be the first generation of Americans to have a shorter lifespan (by two to five years) than their parents.

[…] While most people concerned about their weight fixate on fats and carbohydrates, nutritionists say the real problem is sugar. And not just any old sugar, but the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that has replaced cane and beet sugar in processed foods and soft drinks over the past 25 years. […] In 1982, when the American government slapped import quotas on foreign supplies of cane and beet sugar, the American food industry promptly switched to cheap HFCS derived from subsidised domestic corn.

[…] But ponder this. Misguided government policy caused the food industry to switch to high fructose corn syrup in the first place. Another misguided government policy—America’s plan to produce 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels annually, mostly in the form of bioethanol made from corn—could make the food industry switch back to healthier sugars just as fast.”

Fear of Frying: A History of Trans Fats
published in N+1
by David Schleifer
May 21, 2007. Accessed May 23, 2007

“[…] [KFC has] voluntarily eliminated trans fats, as [has] a very long list of other companies, from Applebee’s and Arby’s to Taco Bell, Starbucks, and the giant institutional food supplier Sodexho. […] From a business perspective, such moves seem counterintuitive. The FDA, after all, did not require any reduction in trans fat content, and a proposed footnote that would have warned consumers about health risks associated with trans fats was scrapped. […] So why would a food company advertise the fact that many of their products contain or used to contain a potentially dangerous ingredient? Why spend millions of dollars to reformulate products that people thought were just fine?

The answer, of course, is that “just fine” is never good enough. Rather than fighting regulation and obfuscating science, big food companies have been cultivating the fear of trans fats as a way to market new and improved trans-free products. Trans fats’ ongoing exit from the American food system is due less to the regulatory actions of any government […] than to an underlying tenet of the food industry: Fear sells.”

Corn for Cars: Will Biofuels Starve the Developing World?

published in Spiegel Online International by Lester Brown on April 27, 2007. Accessed May 23, 2007

“Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption this year. The US Department of Agriculture projects that world grain use will grow by 20 million tons in 2006. Of this, 14 million tons will be used to produce fuel for cars in the United States, leaving only 6 million tons to satisfy the world’s growing food needs. […] In the United States corn supplies sweetener for soft drinks and is used in breakfast cereals, but most corn is consumed indirectly. The milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, ham, ground beef, ice cream, and yogurt in the typical refrigerator are all produced with corn. In effect, the refrigerator is filled with corn — meaning the price of every item is affected by corn’s price. Since almost everything we eat can be converted into fuel for automobiles, including wheat, corn, rice, soybeans, and sugarcane, the line between the food and energy economies is disappearing.

[…] Given the insatiable appetite of cars for fuel, higher grain prices appear inevitable. Indeed, the prices of wheat and corn have recently hit historical highs; wheat prices at the end of 2006 were 20 percent above their levels at the end of 2005. For the 2 billion poorest people in the world, many of whom spend half or more of their income on food, these rising prices can quickly become life threatening. Food riots and political instability in lower-income countries that import grain, such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico, and scores of other countries, could disrupt global economic progress.”

LASTLY, but definitely not leastly, the article I originally wanted to post here is not only in German but no longer available for free. If you can get your hands on the Spiegel article “Not für die Welt,” published in the 19th issue of this year on May 7th, it is a must-read on agricultural subsidies of the North destroying farmers’ income in the South. This article paired with the above articles brings up the point, which Barbara Bormann hints at as well: let’s stop exporting to Africa and use our surplus corn to fuel our cars and not our unhealthy diets.

May 22, 2007

Salad Dressing and Olive Oil

I remember the story going something like this: One evening early in my parents’ relationship they were cooking dinner together. My mom said, “I’ll wash the salad if you make the dressing.” My dad looked at her, “Make?” He’d never thought of making dressing, and didn’t know where to begin.

My mother has a delicious vinaigrette recipe, which she promptly taught my dad, who has since then mastered it (though he and I disagree on the amount of herbs he uses). When my sister and I were little, there were always two groups in the kitchen: the prep and clean-up groups. My sister and I were support for our parents and I always preferred being the sous chef over the dishwasher – fancy that! Jobs would rotate and thus my sister and I also learned quickly how to make this dressing.

Vinaigrette is easily adapted – you just add things you like and experiment. If you’re anything like my family, you eat enough salad that it won’t take long for you to figure out your own tweak to the recipe. Sometimes I’ll add a shot of lemon juice or whipping cream, or I’ll leave out the garlic when I’m (gasp!) too lazy to peel it. Other times I’ll leave out the mustard, and I don’t even use dill because it’s not included in my spice rack – shame on me!

But enough of my culinary confessions. Let’s take a moment to talk about ingredients, and especially olive oil. There is a debate going on in the food world about quality ingredients. Now yes, fresh, organic, locally-grown ingredients are best. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here (unless you live in Italy, France, or California and can get local olive oil). Celebrity chefs, who tell you to use the best olive oil available, are making so much money these days with their specialty ingredients and utensils deemed to be of the highest quality. As Adam Roberts, the Amateur Gourmet, discovered in his home experiment, a blind test may surprise you and the cheapest is actually the tastiest. Another example is the discount grocery chain Aldi, whose olive oil is much better ever since Stiftung Wahrentest rated their olive oil so low that Aldi replaced its supplier with a different one and demanded a retest. I pay about four Euros at Lidl for my Bertolli olive oil and I’m happy with it. I know there’s better stuff out there, but this is just fine for me and my wallet.

In the end I figure that you have much more control over any homemade dressing you make and can design it to match your taste, even if you don’t use “top of the line” ingredients. That must be better than any expensive, celebrity-recommended store-bought dressing.

Margit’s Salad Dressing

5 Tbsp Olive Oil (my mother actually uses half sunflower and half olive oil)
1 ½ Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 clove Garlic

1 dash of Oregano (dried)
1 dash of Dill (dried)
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a canning jar with a screw-on lid measure in oil, vinegar, garlic, and herbs*. Start off with small amounts, because you can always add more. Add a knife-tip of mustard, or to taste, and shake the jar vigorously. Taste the dressing and adjust seasonings (usually this involves adding salt and/or vinegar). Store in refrigerator until ready to use. It will hold a couple days chilled, but it won’t last as long as your store-bought varieties.

*If you use fresh herbs, your dressing will thicken, and you will have to recalculate your liquids accordingly.

May 20, 2007


A while back I gave you all an introduction to Radeberger beer. I had been pretty supportive of it, and I remain so in general. I try my best to offer guests a taste of Radeberger when they come, and I have been on the brewery tour twice now. However, I understand that Radeberger is not the best-tasting beer around, and like I mentioned before I tend to only order it if it’s on tap. I guess I just have a certain affinity to Radeberger, mainly because I’ve lived here nine months now, that makes me physically cringe, when I read in the New York Times:

“But compared to Radeberger, the dishwater Pilsener from the region, both [beers] had character to spare.”

I know I’m not drinking dishwater, thank you very much! And besides, who would want to drink a beer with salty, sour, or even coriander flavors?

To read the whole article, which is in fact somewhat interesting despite being erroneous:

A German Beer: Searching for Local Brews

May 16, 2007

Grocery Store Advertising

Photo from: Tchibo

There are a few grocery stores in my town, but only two I go to regularly, Edeka and Lidl, each for its own reasons. In Germany grocery stores don’t have the all-in-one shopping arrangement available in the States. While an American “grocery store” will have a jewelers as well as a clothing section and a home improvement department, a German store is much smaller. This doesn’t mean, though, that they don’t offer the same things. They just don’t always have them in stock. Each week grocery stores will advertise “specials” where they sell everything from electronic keyboards and personal computers to grill sets and bathroom cupboards.

These specials are heavily advertised every week in local newspapers and in stores. For example, Edeka (partnering with Tchibo, one of Germany’s biggest coffee companies and also involved in these weekly “specials”) had a series on white and stainless steel kitchen supplies that they cunningly called “Miami Weiß,” (transl. white) pronounced just like “Miami Vice.”

Lidl, although they have home accessories and so on as well, also has a line of food specialties. Throughout the year I have stumbled upon “Mexican Week,” which I loved because I could indulge in cheap, if somewhat liberal, interpretations of salsa, tortillas, and corn chips. I was also excited when “Greek Week” arrived (no, they had no alcohol on sale) because I got to try out what I had to remind myself was not authentic Greek food.

I knew it was just a matter of time until there would be an “American Week.” And today I saw it advertised: in two weeks “America” will hit Lidl shelves. I will be able to buy such products as cranberry juice, peanut butter (crunchy and creamy versions!), maple syrup, microwave popcorn, Pringles, and salad dressing (including Blue Cheese, Ranch, and “Thousand Islands,” which does make more sense grammatically but don’t we call it “Thousand Island?”). Among the more questionably American foods on their list are hamburger sauce (what could that be?), hot dogs in a jar, and a ready-to-heat-up rib burger (can we say Gammelfleisch?). What I’m most eager to try is their “Cayun” marinade. That’s a mispronunciation and misspelling gone completely awry there.

Now, before people get upset that I’m looking down on Germany, let’s remember I’m simply finding this amusing. I also have to admit I am very grateful that “America” has come to Lidl if only so I can finally indulge in some crunchy peanut butter – and some Star-Spangled-Banner napkins to eat it with. No, seriously, I understand Americans have gotten a lot of things wrong along the way – General Zho’s Chicken or Taco Bell “Mexican” food just to name two examples. I guess we can be thankful that it creates some kind of awareness and appreciation for other cultures and foods. I only hope that no German is disappointed when they realize that most Americans wouldn’t even think of eating turkey curry pizza.

May 15, 2007

Schönes Wochenende!

There are some things that I come across in my time here that don’t have to do with food. What? You don’t believe me? Well, I know I am obsessed with food, but here’s proof that I do other things as well:

This weekend my friend Pat and I made a visit to Hamburg together. The occasion was to celebrate the birthdays of my friends Leigh and Julian, both of whom live in Hamburg. It was also to show Pat a bit around Hamburg. We had a great time – I’m so happy that Pat enjoyed meeting my friends, especially since we hung out with them more than we toured Hamburg!

For our return trip we decided to “indulge” ourselves in the wonders of the Schönes Wochenende (transl. Have a Nice Weekend) ticket. It’s a train ticket that allows up to five people to travel throughout Germany on regional trains on the weekend. A regular single ticket for the speedy ICE trains costs around 40 Euros from Hamburg to Dresden (and that’s for us special 50% off BahnCard holders).

When I was here in eighth grade, the Schönes Wochenende ticket cost 25 Deutsche Marks (about 13 Euros) and was good from early Saturday morning till late Sunday night. My family took this very frequently on trips to my grandparent’s and around Germany. The Schwäbisch in southwest Germany pride themselves on their thriftiness, so a Schönes Wochenende ticket was the perfect way to lure customers: very quickly people started priding themselves on making trips all over Germany for 5DM a person, cheaper than a lunch (and payable with only one small coin).

Nowadays, the Schönes Wochenende isn’t so schön anymore. The Deutsche Bahn service has worsened over the years. Along with the cuts in services, prices are also rising. This means that we now pay more for less options. Does that make any sense? Somehow, capitalism says it does. This weekend Pat and I split the 33 Euro ticket, good for only one day, back to Sachsen.

We left at 2pm and it took us four trains and seven and a half hours to get to Chemnitz, where Pat lives. It took me another two and a half hours and three trains to get to Radeberg. In total it took me 10 hours to get back home, when it would have otherwise only taken me about four and half. Now, most people would say that’s a waste of time. However, the Schönes Wochenende isn’t really about saving time – it’s about saving money. Moreover it’s about saving money and experiencing the German train system, and Germany, in a way you normally wouldn’t.

We certainly did that. Our first transfer was in a town called Uelzen, south of Hamburg. When we got off the train and were struggling into the station with our bags to look for a sign that would tell us what platform the next train would take off from, Pat mused, “This looks a little like Hundertwasser architecture, you know, the wavy brick floor?” I agreed, and as we walked into the station things began to be much more like the Hundertwasser architecture we saw in Vienna: uneven floors, colorful tiles, exposed brick trading off with plastered brick walls. Sure enough, a souvenir shop proved that we were standing inside a Hundertwasser bahnhof! We heard music coming from the other end of the station and as we walked down, we discovered a very American-looking art café, advertising four American folk artists. It was really neat music and a cool atmosphere – lots of people were there for the mother’s day concert. It was only too bad our stopover was so short!

Of course, not all of the train stations are that nice. Our next stop was in Magdeburg-Neustadt. This bahnhof was the exact opposite of the Uelzen station: it was abandoned. This was most disappointing, as we were both starving. Nevertheless, we discovered a Turkish kebab restaurant across the street and settled for really cheap pizzas and soda.

Another nice thing about the Schönes Wochenende is that you can take the time while you travel to read or relax. When traveling by car, especially here in Germany, it’s much more stressful – people not only drive well over 100mph, but there are inevitable traffic jams that also prevent you from getting to your destination in a timely manner. I spent most of my time on the trains reading Der Spiegel, a news magazine, and I read a fascinating, though distressing, article on agricultural subsidies and its destruction of African farmers’ lives. How often has that happened to me when I have been traveling by car?

En fin, I do have to say that the last leg(s) of the trip, from Chemnitz to Dresden, were very difficult. I was by myself, it was late at night, and all I wanted after eight hours of traveling was to be home, in bed, asleep. I guess that goes to show that the Schönes Wochenende really is am schönsten when traveling in company. Perhaps the Deutsche Bahn knew that when they made the ticket for five people? I can’t imagine buying their newest ticket option: the Schönes Wochenende Single ticket, still one and a half times as expensive as the original ticket from the nineties. I’ll stick to traveling by regional trains in company to have a nice weekend, thanks.