Books, Documentaries, Reviews AND Interesting Information: No Time To Cook

Books, Documentaries, Reviews AND Interesting Information:  July 11, 2014

No Time To Cook


I’m so enjoying this summer.

In the mornings, I’m getting up early, feeding and releasing the chickens from their coop, feeding the dogs, making a big cup of tea, and sitting on my back deck with a book for at least an hour before really starting my day.

At night, before bed, I read fiction.  In these early morning hours, I am reading mostly nonfiction.  My current book is Michael Pollen’s Cooked, which I’m really enjoying in all kinds of ways.  I love the way Pollen THINKS about his subjects as it’s thinking that is informed by a lot of research of all kinds–to include spending time cooking.


I’ve waded through the “fire” section–which is all about roasting meat over coals and all the implications of this very male form of cooking.  Think pit barbecue.

I’ve almost finished “water”–which involves stewing, souping, braising–or cooking in a pot with aromatics and liquids.  This “water” section also takes on the fact that we say we have no TIME to cook any more.  If buying food saves us thirty minutes a day, what are we doing with that time?

But wait!  Does buying food really save us thirty minutes?  Does going to a restaurant?

Americans work longer than any other industrial nation, writes Pollen.  Since 1967, we’ve added 167 hours, or the equivalent of a month’s full-time labor, to our work year.  With two parents involved, the amount is more like 400 hours.  Why?

This probably owes to the fact that, historically, the priority of the American labor movement has been to fight for money, whereas the European labor movement has fought harder for time–a shorter workweek, longer vacations.  Not surprisingly, in those countries where people still take home cooking seriously, as they do in much of Europe, they also have more time to devote to it (183).

And these people who cook are thinner, Pollen points out in a number of places in the book:  “the more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate obesity” (191, 192).

So, we spend more time working.  We spend more time on the car.  We spend more time shopping.  We spend more time in front of screens (35 hours a week on average watching tv), surfing the Web (13 hours), and playing games on our smart phones.

Folks, WE HAVE TIME TO COOK good food.  It’s always already about the choices we are making, isn’t it?

We’re also doing a lot of what is called “secondary eating”–or eating while doing something else:  watching tv, driving, getting dressed, and so on.  We now spend 78 minutes a day in secondary eating and drinking (190).

Pollen and his family try an experiment:  Microwave Night.

He and his son go to the grocery store to pick out a dish for each person–three dishes (the third for his wife) and a dessert.  The total cost was $27.  (Pollen notes that he could have bought grass fed beef and veggies for a stew that would feed the family for two nights for the same amount of money.)  Their first obstacle is to buy food that has recognizable ingredients and isn’t full of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (soy).  Their second is realizing that some of their foods have packages that announce that they need to be cooked in the oven for best results and will take up to 45 minutes.

To make a longer story short, it takes an hour to microwave all the food–and at no time can they sit down together at the table as someone is always checking on the dishes in the microwave or their food isn’t ready yet, or is, but is getting cold.  Dinner time was a disaster in terms of family time.  The food also all tasted “remarkably similar”–no matter how exotically different–and much like what airline food used to taste like.

The next night, they ate a stew, visited over the table, and were relaxed and energized.  The stew had been in the refrigerator since Sunday–when it had been cooked for the week–a practice Pollen has worked into his schedule.

By the time the sweet smells of allspice, juniper, and clove began to fill the house, Isaac and Judith had gravitated to the kitchen; I never had to call them to dinner.  I brought the pot out to the table, and began serving everyone from it (200).

For the first time all day, it felt like we were all on the same page, and though it would be overstating things to credit that feeling entirely to the delicious braise, it would also be wrong to think that eating the same thing from the same pot, this weeknight communion of the casserole, had nothing to do with it, either (201)

So, I’m looking forward to the Air and Earth sections of Cooked.

And I remain certain that I will continue to “occupy my kitchen”–as I have all of my adult life.

Tipping Points 30: The Very Bad Breakfast

Mainely Tipping Points 30 



Cold cereal with milk and, maybe, some orange juice on the side–we think this breakfast is nourishing, right? 

Well, let’s take a look at the individual ingredients.  Sally Fallon Morell provides such analysis in “Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry,” recently updated and reprinted in Well Being Journal, March/April 2011, 11-19.  The original text, given in a speech, is at  Both texts cover much more than packaged cereal, milk, and orange juice.   

All ready-to-eat cereal grains are so highly processed that whatever good the whole grains once contained is killed.  Grains are made into a slurry, are put into a machine called an extruder, and are “forced out of a tiny hole at high temperature and pressure, which shapes then into little o’s and flakes, or shreds them or puffs them.”  The shapes are then sprayed with oil and sugar to seal the grains from “the ravages of milk” and to give them crunchiness.  This process destroys the fatty acids, the synthetic vitamins added at the end, and the “crucial nutrient” amino acid lysine. 

This extrusion process “turns the proteins in grains into neurotoxins.”  Biochemist Paul Stitt describes the now-famous, but still unpublished, 1942 rat study which fed four groups of rats differing diets.  The rats fed vitamins, water, and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks—even before the rats who received no food.  Rats fed plain whole wheat, water, and synthetic vitamins and minerals lived for one year.  Somehow, writes Morell, the extrusion process produces chemical changes in the grains that make them toxic.

In 1960, researchers at the University of Michigan divided rats into three groups.  One group received cornflakes and water, one the cardboard box the cornflakes came in and water, and the control group received rat chow and water.  The rats receiving the cornflakes died before the rats eating the cardboard boxes.  And, before dying, the rats eating cornflakes “developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions.  Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock.  This experiment, designed as a joke and still unpublished, undoubtedly shocked its designers. 

The extrusion process alters the structure of grain proteins, so cereals in health food stores made of whole grains rather than refined grains may be more dangerous because they have a higher protein content.  Once disrupted, it’s likely that these altered protein bodies “can interact with each other and other components of the system, forming new compounds that are completely foreign to the human body.”  As these proteins become toxic, they can “adversely affect the nervous system, as indicated by the cornflake experiment.”   

Additionally, Morell notes that many of these cereals are “at least 50 percent sugar.”  Given that grains are carbohydrates that break down into sugars in the body, there is a double sugar load involved when sweeteners are added.  Further, Lierre Keith, in THE VEGETARIAN MYTH, notes that grains contain powerful opioids that make them addictive for humans (33-34).  No wonder we like them so much!

I wrote three Tipping Points on commercial milk (6, 7, 8), so I apologize for repeating some of that information in order to do Morell’s article justice.  Morell notes that most industrial milk is highly processed and, in my terms, a fake food.  This milk comes largely from cows fed foods cows do not eat, to include waste products from other industries.  These cows produce “huge amounts of watery milk with only half the amount of fat” normal cows should produce.  Milk from all these cows is combined and shipped to factories where it is separated into “fat, protein and various other solids and liquids.”  The ingredients are then reconstituted according to “specific levels set for whole, low-fat and no-fat milks”—levels which allow fat to be skimmed off of even whole milk for other products, like butter, cheese, and ice cream.  Reduced fat milks are boosted with powdered milk concentrate to give them body. 

Powdered milk is made by forcing milk “through a tiny hole at high pressure” and then blowing the particles out into the air.  This process causes “a lot of nitrates to form” and, worse, it oxidizes the cholesterol in the milk.  Oxidized cholesterol is dangerous for humans.  It’s used “in animal research to cause atherosclerosis,” or heart disease.  (Cholesterol in your body is not the same thing as oxidized cholesterol.)

Once reconstituted and homogenized, milk is pasteurized, or, more likely today, ultrapasteurized, which cooks it until it is (supposedly) sterile.  It does not need refrigeration.  It will last for many weeks as it’s thoroughly dead. 

I have followed with much pleasure the progress of Maine’s own organic Moo Milk.  This milk comes from local family farms, is processed in Maine, and is not ultrapasteurized.  Moo Milk takes a healthy direction for both the farmers and for Maine consumers.  Hopefully, in time, Moo Milk will pasture Moo cows except in winter, will not homogenize milk, and will offer a line of raw milk for those who are committed to consuming whole foods.   

Morell shows that commercial orange juice is a toxic soup.  Conventional oranges are “sprayed heavily with pesticides called cholinesterase inhibitors [among which are organophosphates and carbamates], which are very toxic to the nervous system.”  Whole oranges are thrown into huge squeezing vats and enzymes and acids are added that help extract as much of the juice as is possible.  The dried orange peels, still loaded with organophosphates, are fed to cattle, which the work of Mark Purdey shows causes a “degeneration of the brain and nervous system in the cow.”  So, what’s it doing to you?

The juice is then pasteurized, but “researchers have found fungus that is resistant to pressure and heat in processed juices.”  And, they’ve found E. coli strains in the orange juice that was, obviously, “pressure resistant and had survived pasteurization.”  Further, like the extrusion of grains, “the heating process produced intermediate products which, under test conditions, gave rise to mutagenicity [changes genes] and cytotoxicity” [causes cancer]. 

In addition, eating cold cereal with low-fat milk and drinking a side of orange juice is eating exactly the kind of easily digestible sugar-rich carbohydrates that are being identified as causing obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.  And, there is very little fat.  Morell reminds us that the demonization of saturated fats and oils has no scientific basis and is “nothing but industry propaganda.”  With so much sugar and so little fat, one will be hungry shortly. 

If you want to eat a grain for breakfast, “soak grains overnight to get rid of the anti-nutrients that are normally neutralized in the sprouting process.  Soaking will neutralize the tannins, enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid and gently break down complex proteins.”  Soak grains in “warm water and one tablespoon of something acidic, like whey, yoghurt, lemon juice or vinegar.”  In the morning, your grains will cook in just a few minutes.  And, it’s best to eat them with “butter or cream, coconut and chopped nuts like our grandparents did.  The nutrients in the fats are needed in order for you to absorb the nutrients in the grains.  Without the fats—especially the animal fats, which are the only sources of true vitamin A complex and vitamin D3–you cannot absorb the minerals in your food.”

For me, grains and fruit are a rare and much appreciated treat.  For breakfast, I eat from the following:  eggs, often scrambled with leftover green vegetables and cheese; fermented meats like salami or prosciutto; bacon; cheeses; homemade yogurt with nuts, seeds, bits of fresh or dried fruit, and dried coconut; leftover soup; and tea with honey and whole heavy raw cream.  I do not get hungry again until about 2 p.m.

Mainely Tipping Points 27: Sprouting Awareness, Growing Change

Mainely Tipping Points 27


 Up on Howe Hill, the paths around our house are banked by shoulder high snow.  Nevertheless, spring is coming.  Daylight is growing longer day by day and will bring an end to the quiet stillness of winter.  Sprouts will soon appear and will grow into a new covering for the earth and into new food for us to eat.  Babies will be born who will replace their parents eventually.  These seasonal cycles nourish the earth and its creatures endlessly. 

Sometimes, ideas that organize society, or paradigms, recede, like green life in winter. Now, the unsustainable market economy paradigm is breaking apart even as its proponents try to intensify their grip on it.  This paradigm is extractive, and we are running out of what can be extracted.  There are limits to what the earth can provide, and we have reached them.  There are only so many mountaintops that can be removed and dumped into valleys, only so many nutrients in the soil to be used before nature-dictated replenishment must occur, only so much oil and water to be pumped.

This exploitive paradigm is harming the earth and its creatures.  For instance, Greenpeace is circulating a petition claiming that this year one American will die every minute from cancer created by the known toxic chemicals allowed in so many of the products and foods we use or eat every day  (  The President’s Cancer Panel released in April 2010 said 41 percent of people would be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, that children are especially at risk, and that our degraded environment is a key factor (  Wiki answers says 50 percent of us will get cancer in our lifetime (  And, Sandra Steingraber, in LIVING DOWNSTREAM, published in 1997, or 14 years ago, explained that the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991 and that cancer was the leading cause of death for Americans aged thirty-five to sixty-four (40).  Cancer striking between 40 and 50 percent of the population can only be called an epidemic. 

But, what new paradigm could emerge?  We could take part in the sprouting of something wonderfully sustainable, if we, first, sprout awareness of this moment, and, then, act positively out of that awareness.  We could, as a community, become part of growing an Associative Economy paradigm based on 21st Century agrarian values that build and sustain healthy land, healthy community, a healthy economy, and healthy people.  Cooperation, not competition, is a hallmark of this new paradigm. 

Steven McFadden’s THE CALL OF THE LAND:  An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century is a “sourcebook exploring positive pathways for food security, economic stability, environmental repair, and cultural renewal.”  McFadden lists and describes many of the individuals, organizations, and communities who are implementing models of how to live sustainably.  It’s comforting to realize that there are so many people “out there” who are working hard to make this new paradigm fully emerge.      

People are becoming Locavores, who buy food grown close to their homes; are turning their grass into vegetable gardens; are forming neighborhood cooperatives to share garden produce; are saving seeds; and are forming organizations to create change.  Communities across America are working to build regionally based, self-reliant food economies that include urban gardens, both public and private; Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs, including those which “share” products from multiple producers; food cooperatives, some of which are organized by farmers; school gardens and wholesome school lunch programs; land trusts that put willing young people on farms; and community commercial kitchens.  Counties across the country are creating self-reliant food systems within their borders; many of these are all organic.  In Maine, our regional coops and our small stores carrying local, often organic foods are, already, important hubs for this new paradigm as they are generating a local associative economy where farmers and consumers can meet daily on a common terrain.

McFadden, like Will Allen in THE WAR ON BUGS, addresses the justification myth created within the post World War II liaison of academia and agricultural and chemical corporations in order to foster industrial farming methods.  Termed the “green revolution,” this myth promised that it could feed the world and argued that small organic farms could not.  McFadden writes:  “But that argument has been proven wrong.  Nearly half the world’s food already comes from low-input farms of about one hectare (2.5 acres).  That scale can be worked efficiently and wisely, then progressively networked with modern technology.  Acre for acre, small, organic farms use less energy, create less pollution, offer more satisfying work, and produce more clean food from the land” (72).  McFadden notes that Iowa State University has established the nation’s first tenured organic agriculture faculty position and that some of the land grant schools are establishing sustainable agriculture programs (88).   

Paradigm change can begin with the choices we each make about what we eat.  Each choice we make is a vote.  We can vote for members of our own community, for access to clean food filled with nutrients, and for building community resilience that will support us in the, likely, difficult future we face.  Or, we can vote so that our dollars leave our community and enrich a few, already deep pockets.  We can vote for industrial food that is lacking nutrients, is grown with toxic chemicals, and that is tired and old from the polluting practice of being shipped across the country or across the world.  We are voting, then, for a splintered community where individuals have not built fully realized relationships with each other. 

Shannon Hayes, in RADICAL HOMEMAKERS, charts the historical progression that moved households from being centers of production standing alongside other such centers to being isolated units of consumption.  She discusses her family’s decision to not only question received cultural knowledge about how “to be” in the extractive economy, but to make changes that freed her family and gave it a more fully lived life—one with values strongly rooted in the health of the land.  She writes:  “What is our economy for?  Isn’t it supposed to serve everyone?  Are our families truly served by an economy where employees are overworked, where families do not have time to eat meals together, an economy that relentlessly gnaws at our dwindling ecological resources?  In David Korten’s words, a true, living economy `should be about making a living for everyone, rather than making a killing for a few lucky winners’“ (37).  (David Korten published AGENDA FOR A NEW ECONOMY in 2010 which is in my “to read” pile.) 

Shannon addresses the myth of local, organic food being unaffordable for any but the rich:  “…a farmers’ market meal made of roasted local pasture-raised chicken, baked potatoes and steamed broccoli cost less than four meals at Burger King, even when two of the meals came off the kiddie menu.  The Burger King meal had negligible nutritional value and was damaging to our health and planet.  The farmers’ market menu cost less, healed the earth, helped the local economy, was a source of bountiful nutrients for a family of four, and would leave ample leftovers for both a chicken salad and a rich chicken stock, which could then be the base for a wonderful soup.” (12).

McFadden, too, addresses this myth by quoting the legendary Vandana Shiva, physicist, environmental activist, and author:  “`The most important issue is to break the myth that safe, ecological, local, is a luxury only the rich can afford.  The planet cannot afford the additional burden of more carbon dioxide, more nitrogen oxide, more toxins in our food.  Our farmers cannot afford the economic burden of these useless toxic chemicals.  And our bodies cannot afford the bombardment of these chemicals anymore.’” (74)

Shannon makes a strong plea for restoring our lost democracy:  “When women and men choose to center their lives on their homes, creating strong family units and living in a way that honors our natural resources and local communities, they are doing more than dismantling the extractive economy and taking power away from the corporate plutocrats.  They are laying the foundation to re-democratize our society and heal our planet.  They are rebuilding the life-serving economy” (58). 

If you want to help build a sustainable, life-giving paradigm rooted in your local area, start with food.  First, insist on and buy local, organic food.  Consider joining a local CSA; shop at a local farmers’ market and at local stores carrying local food.  Second, begin asking for what you don’t find.  For me, it’s more local winter greens, please.  And, more winter farmers’ markets.  Third, buy foods in their seasons and learn to cook and to preserve some of them for the coming winter.  (Few things are as delicious in winter as tomato sauce spiked with garlic and basil, all taken from the garden on a hot August afternoon and cooked down in a bit of olive oil and frozen.)  Finally, every day, sit down and, together, eat the tasty, nourishing, clean food you have prepared.