Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comfort Food


Recently, seeing an episode of the Japanese series Shinya Shokudo (Late Night Diner) brought back some wonderful memories for me. Having grown up in Japan, my comfort foods were never grilled cheese sandwiches and blue-box macn'cheese. They were the simple foods that my mother made for me, including somewhere deep in the memory, katsuobushi on rice. The movie characters call this nekomanma - cat food, although I don't recall ever having called it that.  I do remember that this was something my grandmother often prepared for me, perhaps more than my mom. That's why I have the immediate association with the old thatched roof house in Yokosuka, by the rice paddies.

Today, I buy the katsuobushi already shaved in large plastic bags. But I kept the old plane and box that is used to shave the dried hard whole bonito. I know that you can get the fish by mail order from specialty shops, but I've been too lazy. The high quality stuff in the bags works just fine for 99% of the foods I use it for. But for katsuobushi on hot rice with shoyu... well, I think I'm going to have to get the whole dried bonito!

Here's a link to the video segment from the series. Sorry, no dubs/subs, but that smile says it all:
http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v611/applehome/?action=view&current=katsuobushi.flv


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oh Ramen!

I wrote an article about Pastrami (below). It's time to do my other side some justice, (I'm half Jewish, half Japanese). Ramen is just one of those quintessentially Japanese dishes that represents so much about not only Japanese food, but its culture. Like so many foods that originated elsewhere, (Ramen was originally known as Shina Soba, or Chinese noodles), the Japanese have turned it into their own tradition, their own gestalt. If you're looking for information, the Wikipedia article is actually very good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramen, but for more details, watch Tampopo – a great movie with much to teach. But because there's so much already written and said about Ramen, my contribution is going to be limited in scope.

Great Ramen is eaten in Ramen shops, made by incredible experts. At home, there are always going to be limitations – even if all the ingredients are available, and one can make hand-pulled noodles and scratch broth from chicken and pork bones, there is the simple fact that one does not turn out bowl after bowl, day after day – that no one at home has the kind of “chops” one gets from day to day restaurant work. Nevertheless, what can one do at home to approximate the noodle shop Ramen? That's what I'm going to talk about here.

The most popular home Ramen is the fried/dried brick noodles and powder envelope that comes in a plastic wrapper. This includes Nissin, Maruchan – all the 25¢ (ok, more like 50¢, these days) packages that most of us have eaten at one time or another. Anyone that's had real Ramen in a noodle shop is immediately disappointed. Nevertheless, it's popularity speaks for itself – it is the prime food group of college kids, out of work actors and other folks that have to make the food dollar last. There are entire web sites devoted to improving that cheap meal – add a can of Campbell's cream of mushrooom, tuna, tomatoes, chocolate frosting... Ok., I just made that last one up. But this article isn't about that kind of “improvement”. It's about getting the final product to resemble, better, the stuff you get in the noodle shops.

How close you come to that noodle shop product is going to be a matter of using better ingredients. But the method of cooking turns out to be extremely important, and it can apply regardless of how basic your ingredients are – even the Nissin Ramen right out of the package, can be brought a lot closer with the addition of a few basic items, and cooking it properly – and guess what, the right way to cook it isn't what the directions tell you to do.

The Noodles

You can map the grade of ingredients pretty easily. Whether you can actually get the top of the line stuff or not, whether you always want to go through the effort to make every part from scratch – those decisions are up to you. But it's good to know what the differences are. The two main ingredients are obviously, the noodles and the soup. The noodles, in sequence of worst to best (arguably) are:

  • Deep-fried, dried chuka noodles (as found in the Nissin/Maruchan packages)
  • Not fried, but still dried brick chuka noodles (as found in many other brands of prepared Ramen products, or by themselves)
  • Dried, non-chuka style thin wheat noodles, no kansui, possibly with egg or shrimp flavor
  • Fresh, straight thin wheat noodles with or without kansui
  • Dried, soft, non-chuka style thin wheat noodles, no egg, with kansui
  • Fresh, packaged chuka noodles
  • Fresh, hand-pulled chuka noodles

(Note: chuka noodles, or the medium-thick, squiggly ones, are assumed to have kansui)

To some degree, this is about preference. Some folks are going to insist that they like the dried thin wheat noodles with shrimp flavor more than anything else. I'd say, fine, go with what you like – but I'd also say that you shouldn't make up your mind as to what's best until you have a chance to try them all, including the hand-pulled, which is the ultimate, the gold standard. The elasticity that develops from hand pulling creates a really superior bite – it's hard to get that in a straight, non-chuka style noodle. Nevertheless, to each their own.


Here is a picture of some popular choices. Starting from the upper left going clockwise, we have: the standard Maruchan brick package with fried noodles; a (very good) non-fried brick package with thin noodles; non-fried, dried noodles with no kansui; a refrigerated yaki-soba pack, with fresh kansui noodles which I use for ramen – just toss the flavor packs; and a fairly new shelf-stable product that has soft, semi-dried noodles with kansui – let's call this semi-fresh.

The Soup

The soup can be of almost unlimited varieties, but they simplify into three categories, from worst to best:

  • Flavor packs
  • Boullion or paste or store bought stock combinations
  • Scratch (from bones and meat)

I often make chicken stock by using a whole fowl (old hen) plus chicken feet – both available at my neighborhood SouthEast Asian grocery store. (I don't normally use cooked chicken for stock, as I prefer a light stock instead of a dark one, and one that has more of the actual chicken flavor without the flavors of roasting.)  I also make Dashi (Japanese fish stock) from a combination of Niboshi (small dried anchovy-like fish), Katsuobushi (shavings of dried bonita tuna), and some Kombu (kelp). When making Ramen soup from scratch, I will make sure I have a good supply of both, then make a pork stock from various pork bones I've kept in the freezer. I'll combine the three to make a tasty soup.  This is, by far, the best soup for my ramen.

But it's often the case that I don't have all these items readily available, and yet, I want ramen. I've found a combination of prepared soup bases that works well for me.


I use a mix of Minor's Chicken base, Better Than Boullion Clam base, and Hondashi instant dashi.

Of course, what you use is up to you. There has to be a fish element and a chicken element, The pork element is important too, but I've gotten used to not having it. BTB does make a pork base, but it isn't readily available everywhere. The addition of the clam base gives it enough of a kick on top of the chicken, that it suits my tastes quite well. The umami from the hondashi is a big contributor. My “instant” soup is not nearly as good as scratch – no doubt about it. I do think it's miles ahead of most of the instant powder packs, even those with the separate oil packs. But to each their own.

The Process

Truly, whatever your selection of noodles and soup, the process of putting it all together will make or break the final product, at least as far as trying to achieve the noodle shop experience. The important things are the ingredients, and the actual steps involved.

The ingredients can be varied. I like to include some shiitake mushrooms, some moyashi (bean sprouts), some kamaboko (fish cake) and some yakibuta (roast pork). I'll also use carrots and daikon to help sweeten the soup. Another important item is Menma (sweetened shoyu marinated bamboo slices) which is fairly easy to make at home.


This is my home made yakibuta, which I make in my smoker, and a store-bought kamaboko – ready to slice.



The process is simple, but it takes time and needs the right equipment and setup – mainly two pots. One pot is for the water to cook the noodles, and the other is for the soup., which is simmering throughout the process. The noodle water needs to be boiling hard when you are ready to put the noodles in – which will be towards the end of the process. As with pasta, the noodle water should be heavily salted.

I use dried shiitake because the liquid that comes out of rehydrating them can be used in the soup – but carefully – as it can be overwhelming. That's usually the first step – rehydrate the shiitake (takes 30-45 minutes). Then I'll de-stem them, cut them up (as necessary), and put them in the soup to cook for 3-5 minutes. I'll add some of the liquid at this time. I use the small basket to pull them out and drain them. They're put on the side until later.

Basically, I follow the same steps for julienned carrots and daikons, moyashi and scallions. For the scallions, I'll cut up the greens into 1 1/2” lengths and the whites into the thinnest possible slices. The slices will be added to the top of the ramen at the end. The lengths are slit on one side up to 1/4”. Boiled quickly, they are then dipped into an ice bath, where they will open up like a flower – nice visuals.

The kamaboko and yakibuta are placed in the simmering soup at the end and removed quickly.

Final assembly is quick. When the noodles are done, put a serving in each bowl. If you use the basket, you can make one serving at a time. With the fresh or semi-fresh noodles, the cooking is very quick – about 2-3 minutes per serving. The same is true of the fried chuka noodles. Otherwise, it can take longer. In any case, cooking beyond al dente will ruin the dish.

Then put the vegetables in their own groups on top of the noodles around the bowl. Finally, place a few slices of the kamaboko and the yakibuta on top.

Ladle the soup onto everything until it is just over the main vegetables and the pork slices are swimming in it. Top with some menma, the thin slices of the green onions, and a piece of yaki-nori, preferably the ajitsuke, or seasoned type.



I'll write another blog entry detailing the yakibuta process soon. The menma is pretty simple and straightforward, but I'll write that up as well. I wish I had a bigger bowl where I currently live!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tony Bourdain in Lowell

Tony Bourdain came to Lowell last Saturday (1/9/2010).  I'm flat broke and really couldn't afford to go, but somehow came up with the scratch to go sit in the nosebleed section.  I noted that the best seats were sold out, and at $70 a pop told myself that the audience was probably going to be rich, burb, ex-yuppies - the in-crowd that Bourdain so disdains and attracts.

But no!  By a show of hands, a great portion of those in front (as well as the rest of the audience) were cooks and people in the industry.  Tony made a joke - it was a bad night to be eating out in Lowell.  Indeed, the full $70 seats shows a real love and respect for this man - a connection, or a desire to be connected.  Even my paying for the cheap seat says that to some extent.

But after the first 15 minutes, I was ready to ask for my money back.  He repeated, virtually verbatim, entries from his blog - including the dreaded Sandra Lee meeting moment, and the Rachel Ray fruit basket story.  The audience loved it.  Either they weren't wacked-out blog bimbos. like me, or they just liked to hear him telling the stories.  As it turned out I wasn't at all dissapointed with the evening.  He got away from the blog stories pretty quickly and got to talking about the important stuff - other celebrity chefs, food (by golly), travel, and of course, himself.  Which is why we paid to see the guy.

Honestly - it's impressive to sit through any lengthy monologue and be thoroughly entertained.  Comedian, thespian - I don't care who.  Standing, alone, in front of an audience for well over an hour and keeping people happy, is hard to do.  He turned to q&a after a while, and this was some of the best stuff.  He fielded the, "What's Padma really like?", question nicely (answer: he wants to keep being a guest judge, and isn't she a lot better than Katie-Lee Joel was, and btw, Gail Simmons is the really hot one - and she really knows her stuff.  Wow... I have always thought this.)

As a chowhound, I loved the reponse to the question of how to get information about the best places to eat in a city or country you've never been to.  He said to simply look up restaurants in Google for that area, get a name and location, then to go to Chowhound or eGullet and post that you had a wonderful meal there.  You will immediately get back dozens of posts telling you that you shouldn't have gone there, but you should  have gone to this or that other place, as the food is much better.  This is so, so true.  Tony's an ex-chowhound and ex-eGullet poster.  His stuff on eGullet after the Lebanon shoot was heartfelt.  He knows that simply posting a request for recommendations gets met with lots of high-nosed commentary - "do a search, newbie".  But this approach would indeed yield mountains of great data with only a few insults as to your original choice.

Overall, it was a great night, soiled only by the fact that I couldn't find my dog-eared, paperback copy of KC to bring to get autographed - my son said go to the bookstore and buy another - but he just doesn't get it.  What am I, a rich, burb, ex-yuppie?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oh Pastrami, My Pastrami

Most folks hold up the pastrami at the great deli's as the gold standard - Katz's or 2nd Avenue if you're on the right coast, Langer's if you're on the left.  None of the commercial store-bought stuff comes close - Hebrew National, Boar's Head, etcetc... just tasteless, in comparison.  They're especially bad when made "wrong", as it often is here in Boston - sliced thin on the machine, then boiled en masse, drained insufficiently and plopped on a soft, white bread bun.  But even if you treat it right - buy the whole piece, steam or braise it, hand slice, serve on a decent rye bread (something else that doesn't exist in Boston, but let's not go there today) - even then, it just isn't very good.

There's a marketing distinction between the "standard" or Hungarian style, which is typically coated with paprika, and the Roumanian, which is coated more with black pepper.  In truth, the main dry rub element that makes pastrami what it is, is coriander.  The style differentials are infinite, and one set of spices doesn't make something better than another - although the marketing folks would like you to think so.  Lean is another topic - they often market the Roumanian style as "lean" pastrami - as if that were ever meant to exist in this universe.  Just about any meat can be made into any style.  If you start with a leaner cut, you'll get a leaner (and dry) pastrami, regardless of the spices.

The problem with the commercial stuff is a) the preparation, and b) the cut of meat.  Pastrami is done in three steps - corning (pickling, brining, whatever you want to call it), smoking, then steaming or braising.  After corning and smoking, it can be (and almost always is) packaged and can be kept in the fridge or even frozen for a long time, but the final steaming or braising must be done just prior to eating.  Boiling sliced meat is not an option - it is a shame.  Most American deli's don't keep the whole meat on steam and slice it as you order it.  The real problem with the vacuum sealed Hebrew National type of commercial pastrami is that they use the flat of the brisket.   It's the leanest part, which means that it's the least tasty and the most dry.  You don't have to eat all that attached fat to have a good pastrami sandwich, but you have to leave it on while cooking and trim it at the end.

You can corn just about any cut of any meat.  But for pastrami, it's said that the navel is best.  Some deli butchers insist that navel isn't brisket, they'll tell you it's "higher" than the brisket.  Others say it's lower - from the belly.  But what is it?  Higher than the brisket/forearm is chuck, as far as the USDA and meat cutters are concerned.  The belly area breaks down to skirts (inner and outer) and flank.  Navel is not discussed under any IMPS/NAMP definition.  I have found a web site that will send you a navel - but I still don't know what it is, and I can't find a local butcher to explain it to me.  I will try it one day when I have some money and time, but for now, I'm trying to find something more ubiquitous and readily purchasable.



Another term used a lot for pastrami is deckle - unlike navel, deckle is discussed in the USDA IMPS definitions, although it doesn't have a specific number defining a cut.  The deckle is the coarse fat and lean located between the ribs and the deep pectoral muscle, which is the entire brisket.  By IMPS definition, it is supposed to be trimmed off of boneless retail cuts of brisket (IMPS 120=whole brisket, 120A = flat, 120B=point, 120C=split brisket), but in reality, most retail point cuts include much of the deckle.

And that brings me to the conclusion that for the home Pastrami enthusiast, given the unavailability of the mysterious navel, buying the point cut Brisket is going to yield the best results.  The attached deckle includes a lot of fat, which keeps the meat moist and delicious through the cooking.  The fat can be trimmed away after the entire process is done, but not before.  There is a lot of loss - the fat accounts for a significant part, by weight, of what you buy.  But the final result is much better than using the flat, which can be dry.

You can buy a point cut brisket and corn it yourself.  Michael Ruhlman has a great recipe in his book, Charcuterie, written with Brian Polcyn.  If you do this, remember to buy some pink salt, sodium nitrite - and follow directions carefully.  Not that this stuff is particularly dangerous or difficult to work with, but a little goes a long way.  And don't even think of corning without it - i.e., salt and sugar and spices alone.  That can make a decent grey corned beef, but as a pastrami, it's horrible.  It takes anywhere from 5-8 days in brine to corn a piece properly.  Nitrite works much faster than nitrate, found in Potassium or Sodium Nitrate - Saltpeter, used since days of antiquity.  (Nitrate actually has to turn into nitrite first, so it takes even longer - up to a month.) But even with the sodium nitrite in pink salt, you're still corning from the outside-in, so you have to have some patience.  If you can find the room to keep it in the fridge, it will take longer, but be safer and insure a more even outcome.  Otherwise, keep it in a cool area, in a crock or plastic bin.

Now here's the shortcut.  Go buy a commercial point cut corned beef.  But, it isn't that easy, I'm afraid.  These things are so salty that if you make it into a pastrami straight from the store, it will be inedible.  So you need to soak it the same as if you were corning - but in this case, you're soaking it in water to remove the salt they put in.  I soak my commercial corned beef for 4 days in the fridge, changing water 3-4 times the first day, then at least twice a day.

Once you get the meat ready, whether corned from scratch or desalinized from store bought, let it dry on a rack, then dry rub.  The rub needs to include ground coriander and black and white pepper.  I use a spice mill to grind these plus some yellow and brown mustard seeds and a some cumin seeds, and then add granulated garlic and onion powder, paprika, and a touch of brown sugar, before thoroughly coating the meat and rubbing in with my hands.  I let this sit for several hours, even a day - something I do before any smoking.

I smoke it in my smoker for about 6 hours, getting the inside to 165F.  The smoker temp is kept at 225F.  I use Hickory and smoke almost the entire time - at least 5 hours.  In general, for low and slow cooking, I find that you need to get to about 180F for decent slicing and at least 195F for pulling.  But since the pastrami is going to get steamed before final slicing and eating, it works best at 165F coming out of the smoker.  After pulling from the smoker, I'll let it rest until cooled, then seal up with my Foodsaver.  It will go into the fridge or freezer depending on how far out I intend to eat it.  Typically, I'll make 2 at a time, eating one right away, and storing the other.

When ready to eat, I'll put it in a dutch oven and braise (water about 1/2 way up, low temp), or put it in a steamer basket (I use the pasta pot with strainer), also on a low simmer after initial boiling.  I'll do this for 2-3 hours, before taking out and serving.  The internal temp should be about 185F.

As good as Katz's?  Perhaps not, but better than any of the commercial stuff?  You bet.

Here's a couple of great reference sites for meat:
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3003281

http://bovine.unl.edu/bovine3D/eng/3did.html 

And don't forget the current bible of preserving meat in all its glorious form:
http://www.amazon.com/Charcuterie-Craft-Salting-Smoking-Curing/dp/0393058298/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1253294350&sr=8-2

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bob Baker's Cornell Chicken



http://www.roadsidefans.com/chicken.html

The original recipe is used as a basting sauce for 10 halves of chickens. I use pieces – I prefer breasts or thighs, I prefer with skin, but I’ve made it with skinned pieces, and they come out moist and tender, albeit with no crispy skin (what a shame). Instead of just basting while cooking, which is what the original recipe calls for, I marinate for about 30 minutes – not too long, as this is vinegary and salty. I place on the grill over low to medium heat and baste every time I turn (about 4 times over 15-20 minutes).

My version – a little bit pepperier than the original:

1/2 cup cooking oil
1 cup cider vinegar
1 TBS salt
2 Tsp poultry seasoning
½ Tsp black pepper
½ Tsp white pepper
½ egg (Crack an egg into a measuring cup or small bowl, beat, then pour out about half. Use the other half for the recipe.)

Add the oil to the beaten egg, and beat. Stir in other ingredients.


This ain’t no shit. (What’s the difference between a war story and a fairy tale? The fairy tale begins, “Once upon a time”. War stories begin, “This ain’t no shit.”) In the 1970’s, I was stationed in Germany atop a mountain in the Black Forest. The site was shared by three small contingents from the US, Germany, and France. Of course, international cooperation demanded that we have frequent parties – lots of great food, beer and wine. The US guys never spit a whole lamb like the French, and we weren’t issued wine by the case, as they were, nor did we receive beer as part of our rations, as did the Germans. But we did pretty good – trading our Class VI spoils for goods from their commissaries. In particular, a few well placed bottles of Jim Beam kept us in baguettes and quaffing the wonderful nectar of the local hofbrau, delivered bi-weekly, by government contract!

For one party we hosted, we bought several cases of frozen chicken pieces from our commissary. We decided to serve it in three ways – one was the traditional bottled tomato type of bbq sauce (Kraft, as I remember), another was my teriyaki marinated chicken (which I had previously made for ourselves and we all liked), and the final batch was a recipe we had just read about in the Stars and Stripes, about this award winning county fair chicken developed by a professor at Cornell.

The Cornell chicken ran out quickly. The teriyaki went next, and the standard bbq stuff had lots of leftovers. Everything was cooked right – nothing too dry or burnt. Everybody (all nationalities) just loved the Cornell chicken.

Since that time, I’ve alternated my grilled chicken between the Cornell and the teriyaki on a fairly regular basis. I should point out that the teriyaki is my Japanese mother’s recipe and is not at all sweet and gloppy like some Americans like their teriyaki. It is a marinade and not a syrupy baste. I use a “mother sauce”, which is basically shoyu, rice vinegar and mirin with a little sugar. And that is made into a large number of marinades and sauces by the addition of garlic, ginger, scallions, sesame oil, yuzu or lemon, etcetc. But while it seems that many people are familiar with teriyaki, few have heard of Cornell chicken.

I did once read a review of the Cornell recipe calling Professor Baker, the Colonel Sanders of barbecue chicken. I wonder, now that KFC is selling grilled chicken, if that still applies. I haven’t had the KFC grilled chicken yet – somehow, I’m not all that eager to try it out. Maybe it’s because I already have the best!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summertime Grilling: Gas or Charcoal?

This is a simple blog. The answer, is obviously, both.


There are so many unique advantages of both, that it's silly to restrict yourself from using one or the other. Charcoal, especially hardwood lump, can burn much hotter than briquettes or any home gas grill. It can impart flavor and smoke. Gas is convenient, but also offers a combination of radiant and convective heat that is perfect for longer-cooking items, like chicken pieces.



In these pictures, the ribs are being reheated for service. They were smoked in a smoker for 4-6 hours at 230F, using hickory chunks. I like to pull them a bit early so that I can reheat and finish on the charcoal grill, usually at a later time when I'm ready to serve.




Two favorite techniques that make grilling work better for me:
1) Use a chimney starter for your charcoal. After years of fooling with lighter fluids, electric starters, etcetc - I found that nothing is simpler or faster than a couple of crumpled up pieces of newspaper under the chimney full of charcoal.
2) I love the rotisserie attachment for my Weber 22" kettle. In conjunction with the intense heat from two piles (one on either side) of hardwood lump, I can get the crispiest, deepest maillard crust, without burning, and yet keep the middle rare, on leg of lambs, rib roasts (bone in or out), and pork loins.



And don't forget the vegetables!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Being Progressive

I am progressive. I call myself that, and believe it fully. I believe that it’s mankind’s destiny to move forward – to move to new ground, both physically and in all areas of knowledge. I am a technologist, and believe strongly that our tools combined with our knowledge will ultimately lead us to a better future. And yet, I also find myself often quoting, “Let us redefine progress to mean that just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing.” Now you know I’m progressive – I quote from Star Trek, the ultimate techie, optimist, utopian, intellectual (ok, pseudo-intellectual), vision and philosophy.

Michael Pollan and others have been making a significant and important point. We must listen and take heed if we want a better future. Today's factory food systems are destructive. The application of modern mass production technologies to food, with their high-productivity management techniques and profit-driven values, is destroying our world even as it presumably drives down prices and allows us to feed more for less. The use of petroleum based resources (as fertilizer and for transport) to enhance everything from grains to livestock makes little real economic sense, but is driven by the need for short term profits for corporations that are now an integrated part of our economic and political system, and thus, our food chain.

The forces that apply to this situation have little to do with a free market economy. Our economic system has been skewed so far from a true liberal market system that libertarians and economic conservatives can no longer argue that what we have today approaches anything like the traditional liberal marketplace that Adam Smith called for. The “invisible hand” of individual self-interest has long since been replaced - co-opted by the greed and avarice, the corruption and decadence of corporations and their inability to think beyond a 6 month window and their executives’ golden parachutes.

Clearly, the hidden public costs are not being paid by those that are making the profits – but if they were, if every piece of environmental damage caused by intensive pig farms or massive cattle ranching and slaughtering operations were actually accounted for and paid for (or better yet, corrected) by these corporations, would they still have more efficient systems than traditional farms? If every cubic centimeter of methane and carbon dioxide put into the air were accounted for, what would be the cost of the “cheap beef” we get today? USDA Prime corn-finished rib steak is flying off the shelf at $6.99/lb at some warehouse stores these days. Would the demand be as great at $12.99/lb? Would our economy survive if we ate less meat, if our grains were grown with the sun, and not products made from petroleum distillates?

The immediate alternative to our modern disaster seems to be to go back. We need to go back to traditional farms, where crops and livestock were kept in equilibrium and synergy with the earth - indeed optimized through years of understanding of what the land and the sun could produce – without the aid of petroleum. But my progressive bias tells me that this is not our way forward. We need to go back in terms of restoring balance – but not necessarily in terms of losing all the productivity gains we’ve made.

As Pollan says, the key point in understanding the issue comes when we look at the percentage of our cost of living allocated to food and to health (insurance, medical). As the modern food factory systems have grown, consumer food costs have gone down. But our health costs have risen at a much higher rate. There are many reasons for this, including our more sedentary lifestyles, our worsening diets based more and more on the factory produced foods that are cheaper, and the worsening environment, based significantly on the proliferation of food factory processes. The methane from the cows that produce our cheap beef is much worse, in terms of overall accumulation of greenhouse gasses, than all the emissions from our cars.

The solution is staring us in the face. We need to restore a balance to our food and health expenditures. We need to pay more for our food. We need to compensate for that by paying less for our health. Whether that’s because our health is better, or because we’ve managed to wrangle one part of our corporate greed structure down to a reasonable level, we need to do whatever works to control health costs. Initially, our health will not be better. But as more people get insurance and see providers quicker and more regularly, we can expect our health to get better and our costs to go down.  An important part of that will be the recognition that our diets drive the health costs, up or down, based on poor or better eating habits.

If we pay more for our food, we can expect that over time, systems and solutions will develop to move us in the right direction. In some cases, there will be a restoration of the traditional farm structure. As locavore situations that make sense (not all do) come about that restore balance to an eco-system, the higher prices will attract more growers and producers and allow for more local efforts. But even where the specialization of our factory farms continues because they are truly more efficient, there will be more incentive to account for the environmental issues and to produce better product.

For a time, a significant part of these higher costs will need to be government borne. The effect of rising food costs on programs such as Food Stamps, needs to be accounted for. The poor and dependent are already getting so little money that they must turn to the cheapest factory foods. They are a captive audience for the factory food producers. As alternatives grow, so must their ability to improve their diet and their health.

But much depends on our ability to create a free marketplace – one that operates without the corrupting influence of corporations on our government and directly on the people. Given real choices, people will understand the issues and be willing to pay more for a product that is more in line with their real self-interests. Living longer, healthier lives ought to be everybody's goal.  Deliciousness, is but a side effect - a bonus.  But as long as corporations can convince people to vote and to buy against their own true self-interests, a true free market will never come about.