Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Eat & Run

July 21, 2017

I thought this was an interesting article about how recipients of food stamps tend to run out of money for food within a week or two, meaning that for at least half the month, they don’t have any of these funds to purchase food with.  The article purports to explore how and why this is, and emphasizes that because funds are dispersed in a single installment, people have trouble budgeting properly and therefore spend too much immediately and run out of funds.

What it doesn’t explore is what people are buying with this assistance.

For three years, as part of a Christian communal living experiment, my family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis.  My observations are anecdotal rather than deliberate, but have stuck with me all the same.  What we saw the neighborhood children eating constantly was junk food.  Sodas, hot fries, Cheetos.  Constantly.  We never saw them with fresh fruit or vegetables or any other sort of food (unless we shared ours with them).  We know that these children lived in households that depended on food stamps – the vast majority of our neighborhood did.

Certainly the issue of telling people how to spend their assistance is a tricky one at best, but if the issue of running out of money is due not just to budgeting problems but also spending that assistance on low-nutrition snack food instead of food that can actually improve your health and last more than a few minutes, then doesn’t our government (who created and funds the food stamp program using taxpayer dollars) have a duty to at least help people know how to spend their assistance wisely?

When I looked into our state’s web site for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program I didn’t see any information about good ways to spend the assistance wisely.  Perhaps that information is provided in another format beyond the web site, but perhaps it’s not being provided at all.

I’m sure that there is money used to lobby against any type of restriction on how food assistance is spent (beyond current limitations on alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).  I’m sure that companies that manufacture potato chips and soda would take issue with having their products declared off-limits for food stamp monies.  But if the issue is actually how to help people and make sure they’re getting the food they need, does it make sense to ignore the issue completely?

No Microwave

July 15, 2016

We don’t own a microwave, so will somebody else please try this for me and let me know if it really works or not?  It sounds (and I assume smells) amazing!  I gotta believe this would help my dogs fetch better, though I doubt they’re going to return it to me.

Money Where Your Mouth Is

May 11, 2016

This is a fantastic article showcasing what is possible when people care enough to give of themselves to minimize food waste.   I often have people ask me why God would decide that so many people would be born into poverty and starvation.  This is exactly my response – it isn’t that God hasn’t provided more than enough food for everyone.  It’s that through active and passive sinfulness, we waste his bounty.  We take it for granted.  We use it as leverage for personal or communal gains.  We don’t have enough time to be bothered with the details.

I wonder if there isn’t grant money available to pay for some folks who would coordinate with local farmers and groceries to pick up food that would otherwise be destroyed, and convert it to meals ready to eat (not to be confused with the military MRE pouches!).  Lots of places focus on getting the raw materials of food to poor people (often-times heavily processed food rather than real fruits and vegetables).  What if a group of volunteers committed to the next logical step – making the meals?  I know places that do this on a small scale – but wouldn’t it be great to have outposts like that in every neighborhood?  So you could pick up a complete meal and bring it to your neighbor who is sick or homebound?  Literally, is there anyone who couldn’t benefit from a free (or low-priced) meal created from food that otherwise would be destroyed and wasted?  If nothing else it would cut down on people’s food budgets each month.

What an amazing God we have, who provides so abundantly.  Forgive us for being too blind to see all that You have provided!

 

Food Guilt

April 26, 2016

If you haven’t been made to feel guilty enough recently about all your shortcomings in open-mindedness and inclusivity, here’s yet another aspect of your life to repent of – your taste in foods.

According to this article, white Americans are basically racist when it comes to food.  We claim to like a broad variety of cuisines and tastes and influences, but we refuse to pay for them, relegating them to a substandard industry where they are forced to compromise to keep prices low while still making ends meet.  This results in non-authentic cuisine that is not reflective of the rich diversity of the cuisine in its native culture, which further reinforces our cultural stereotypes of the food.  A vicious cycle predicated upon our stupidity as consumers and our racist tendencies as human beings.

All of which is fascinating and, in various ways, I’m sure somewhat true.

However the article seems woefully one-sided in evaluating the nuances involved in this subject.  Primarily, it performs a basic form of racism itself, where it presumes that the guilt and decisions in this arena are completely in the realm of white Americans, and completely ignores the economics and priorities and choices of the people running ethnic restaurants.

The article makes no mention of how pricing of food in countries of origin affects the way restaurant owners price the food when they come to America.  If you come from a culture where the majority of people don’t pay for extremely expensive food, those assumptions about pricing will likely translate to your new culture – at least initially.

There is no mention about how a newly-arrived entrepreneur might need to price things more affordably because they can’t afford to fail.  Finding financial backing to launch a high-end, ritzy Chinese restaurant might be difficult for an emigree – in part because of stereotypes here in America, to be sure, but also perhaps due to a comparative scarcity of capital.  If your goal is to move to a new country and establish yourself with a reliable source of income, how risky do you want to be?  Do you set up shop quickly and sell food as cheaply as you can to build a large customer base?  Or do you hope that your understanding of your new culture is adequate enough to successfully launch a chic, boutique, upscale dining experience?

Who is the restaurant owner trying to cater to as well – Americans or a smaller ethnic population base within the larger culture?  Is the Chinese restaurant owner hoping to lure in other Chinese, or Americans?  How does this affect pricing, as discussed above, based on the pricing of food those other Chinese diners might expect from their own lives in China?

Basically the article ignores completely the role of the ethnic restaurant owner, and focuses solely on the white American consumers as the cause of problems and challenges.  Midway through the article the expert briefly admits that there is a natural, human tendency to like what we know, what is part of the dominant culture in which we are born and raised.  “It’s important to point out that this is all probably part of the natural ethnocentricity of a people.”  In which case, all cultures and all peoples are guilty of liking what they like because they were born and raised with it and because it is what they are most familiar with and because they are less familiar with other types of food and cooking.  And if this is the case, perhaps it isn’t something to feel guilty about, but rather to recognize as inevitable and probably at a base level, good.

The assumption that we all ought to be blank slates open to uniform and wide-ranging shaping and influencing is problematic on so many levels, yet forms the basis for most of our cultural self-critiques these days.  The upshot seems to be that we are bad people as white Americans, yet we are guilty of nothing more than the average Chinese or Indian or French person in this particular respect of food preference.  In this article the assumption is that we ought to be willing to pay more for ethnic food and we’re racist because we won’t.  Perhaps we ought to start questioning why we pay so much for certain kinds of food, and whether that’s really necessary or wise.

 

 

Halal

March 22, 2016

My folk sent me this article the other day and asked my thoughts on it.  I’m not familiar with the author outside of this article, but he seems to be a thoughtful, concerned Christian.

The article raises two major concerns in conjunction with halal food.  The first is that growing numbers of foodstuffs are labeled halal is a concern of continued Muslim influence even in countries where Muslims make up a tiny percentage of the overall population (1.5% of the Australian population, .9% of the US population based on 2010 Census data).  The second concern is whether or not Christians can eat halal foods without violating our faith in some respect.

Halal is a broad designation that spells out what is acceptable/permissible to Muslims.  While we typically think of it in terms of food and drink, in reality it covers most of daily life issues.  Muslims divide facets of life and behavior into five categories – compulsory, recommended, permitted, disliked/discouraged, and forbidden.  Most halal regulations regarding food have to deal with animal-related foods.  Halal rules dictate how the animal is to be killed.  However, Muslim law also states that if there are no halal food options available, Muslims are permitted to eat non-halal foods rather than starve to death.

Regarding the first concern, I don’t see much difference between halal and kosher.  Both are special designations indicating that the food should be acceptable to a particular group of people.  I don’t worry much about food being kosher or not.  I suspect that people worry about food being labeled as halal more because Islam is definitely a religion that actively seeks to expand.  Few people in the West feel threatened by Jews, and so don’t worry about kosher designations or not.  With the rising tide (or at least rising publicity) of Islam-related violence, halal takes on darker overtones for some people.

The second issue has to do with whether it is appropriate or permissible for a Christian to eat a food labeled as halal.  If it is meat in question, then the animal was executed facing Mecca while a prayer giving thanks to God was uttered by a Muslim.  The concern is whether this makes halal foods “foods sacrificed to an idol”, a topic which St. Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.

I see 1 Corinthians 8 primarily as dealing with the impact of eating pagan food on new Christians.  Someone coming from a pagan background who sees a ‘mature’ Christian eating the same food that the recent convert is used to eating might lead the young convert to presume that their newfound Christian faith really isn’t any different than their old beliefs.  The issue is whether eating pagan food harms the faith life of another Christian.  For Paul (and therefore for all Christians!), whenever that is the issue, then the solution is simple – don’t do whatever might harm the faith of the other person.  Regardless of whether what we are doing is wrong or not, we refrain from it if we think it might confuse and mislead another person of faith.

In 1 Corinthians 10 the issue is more addressing the food itself.  The chapter begins with an exhortation to living in a God-pleasing way, as opposed to thinking that you can live like everyone else (v.6).  Those who have come to Christ may have other practices, beliefs, and actions that they need to give up because they are not appropriate to a Christian.  To ignore this is dangerous.

Then, in vs.14ff, Paul focuses on the issue of idolatry.  If you worshiped idols before, you need to realize that this is not appropriate as a Christian.  Eating food that has been explicitly sacrificed to an idol is inappropriate for a Christian who participates in the feeding of Holy Communion.  In the ancient world, where you ate was a reflection of what you believed, who you are.  We have severed this connection in many ways, but Paul leads us to think that we maybe should think about it more than we typically do.

We think about it *not* because idols and false gods are anything real – they aren’t (vs. 19-20). But what we do and what we believe are linked, and we need to take that seriously because failure to do so can put us at risk (vs. 21-23).

The practical teaching comes in the next section.  We aren’t to worry about the source of the food we eat from a theological perspective.  Is the person selling meat at that particular delicatessen Jewish?  Or Muslim?  What we’re buying is meat, not theology, and we don’t need to worry excessively about this issue.  More to point, if a Muslim were to invite me to dinner, I wouldn’t worry about whether the food was halal or not.  I would assume that it probably is, but that needn’t keep me from accepting their hospitality.  However, if the host was to specifically make a point of saying that the chicken meat had been sacrificed in praise to Allah, now I need to consider taking a pass on the chicken and just having a salad.  Is it because eating the chicken would be bad for me, somehow, as a Christian?  Of course not!  Rather, I don’t want my host to mistakenly assume that I am joining them in worship of Allah specifically by eating the chicken.

Christians are not caused to be paranoid, nor are we caused to obsess about what is or is not permitted.  We live in grace and freedom in Christ, after all!  But what we do affects not just ourselves but others.  So we clearly want to abstain from things that are inappropriate for Christians (worshiping idols), and at the same time want to be conscious of how our words and actions might be interpreted by other people.  I might not think twice about eating a halal burger or chicken breast at home, but I don’t want to take a new Christian to the international market to specifically buy halal meat because they might misunderstand what I’m doing and why.  And I likewise don’t want to eat food that someone has specifically brought to my attention is sacrificed to a false god or an idol, because I don’t want them to think that I agree with/accept/worship their god or idol in some respect.

Freedom, but freedom with responsibility.  It’s not an easy line to walk, and for that reason a good thing to keep talking about and sorting through!

 

Trying the Good

March 7, 2016

It’s easy to get discouraged these days.  Is real change really possible?  Isn’t there enough red tape and zoning issues and ordinances large and small to prevent people from really making meaningful, positive change in their communities?  I suspect that one inevitable function of bureaucracy is to facilitate exactly that impression.  Legislating everything is tedious and time consuming, so the fewer people doing things, the less need for bureaucracy.  For the pessimist, there is always the possibility that the goal of bureaucracy is to completely remove self-initiative from the population, so that the bureaucracy itself is the source of all things.

But good things can happen, even in the midst of bureaucracy.  Articles like this are encouraging reminders that individuals can at least attempt to make positive changes.  Sometimes they succeed.

UnProcessed

December 15, 2015

I saw an advertisement today for the latest kitchen gadget.  You can go to the web site to read about it (and buy it if you’re so inclined!), but you already know the basic pitch – this device will allow you to cook great food without any work.  This pitch has been used successfully for the last century.  Maybe it has been used since Adam and Eve left the garden and first had to prepare their own food.  One of their offspring comes up with some handy gadget to make preparing dinner quicker and simpler.

I’m inherently dismissive of these sorts of things.  Don’t get me wrong – we have some of these sorts of gadgets in our home – crock pots, mixers, that sort of thing.  But I justify those as necessary, and other things that we don’t own as luxurious or spurious or even wrong.  So I actively resist the temptation to purchase more of them.

But I have to admit that my bias is driven at a certain level by circumstances.  Our kitchen space is somewhat limited, so we just don’t have room for a bunch of these things.  Certainly the convenience would be nice if we had more room (and disposable income!).  Other reasons for my way of looking at these sorts of conveniences are subjective.   My wife and I like to cook.   We enjoy the process.   Most of our children do as well.  We probably, as a family, spend as much time together in our small kitchen as we do in the rest of our home.  For us cooking isn’t just about the end result of food to eat, but also about the process.  Time together.  Laughter.  Learning.  Failing.  Succeeding.

All of this has a cost.  Convenience does, too ($399 if you preorder the gadget above!).  But the costs are different.  I have to invest my time in order to achieve a great result.  Great results aren’t guaranteed.  My oldest son is the Popcorn Master in our house.  This past Sunday he burnt his first batch of popcorn.  I mean really burnt it.  These things happen.  You clean up, air out, and move on.  You realize that getting the right result is as much art as science and wi-fi connectivity.  Grilling hamburgers last night I was surprised they turned out well-done instead of  medium-rare.  All of which forces me to be flexible.  Well-done hamburgers are good, too.  Especially if I get to spend time with my kids and wife as we make them.  I can reassure my son that the pan will scrub clean.  Eventually.  The smoke will eventually get aired out.  Life goes on.

But these are preferences.  They’re personal and they’re right for me and my family, but to impose a moral aspect on them – although tempting in terms of self-justification, is pretty dangerous and arbitrary.

It’s entirely possible that time-saving gadgets like the one above allow people to do these things as well.  Toss a bag of food in the water and then go have fun bowling or shopping or whatever else you’re planning on doing.  Not everybody likes to cook.  Not everybody is going to find preparing a meal an enjoyable way to spend 30-60 minutes every night.  The temptation is always to say that if someone else doesn’t do things the way I prefer to do them, they’re wrong.  But this isn’t necessarily the case.

I start out critical of a gadget that I see as a cheat, but with reflection I’m forced to recognize that this might be a great option for people with different interests, skills, and schedules than myself.     As Christians I wish that we were more prone to some reflection before we speak.  Before we call one another out for not doing things the way we do them, for espousing views on certain things that don’t line up with ours.  Instead of immediately assuming that the other person is lazy or stupid or any number of other derogatory things, sometimes we can realize with a few minutes of reflection that they are trying to achieve something similar to us, just by another route.

In my circles I know people who are passionately committed to certain ways of worshiping.  Because of their backgrounds and experiences, because of their preferences they see one way as not just preferable to another, but the right way versus the wrong way of doing things.  People who disagree or feel differently are in some way bad or wrong.  Anything can be twisted to be improper.  Sometimes moral implications are warranted and need to be carefully thought through.  Other times, we impose them improperly, and the net result is not helpful either to ourselves or those we think are wrong.

Learning to live together in the faith is difficult.  It causes us to constantly wonder whether what we are doing and saying and thinking is appropriate in light of how other people do or say or think.  The alternative is to justify my preferences morally, causing disruption 0f community.   A humbler response (a morally better response, therefore?  Hmmm…) would be to assume that I might be – and likely am – wrong.  That God will have some correcting to do with me.  Perhaps a lot of it, given the price He paid to save me in spite of my wonderful good intentions.  He might have more to correct in my theology and understanding and practice than those I am tempted to say are wrong.

Maybe there can be multiple ways of doing something like worship that are not mutually exclusive.  Maybe beginning with that hunch will allow for healing, for understanding.  Maybe a little reflection can be helpful before we begin calling other people names.  If it works with a sous vide machine, I ought to expect it might be really important in theology and worship.

Smut Is Good

September 14, 2015

Well, this kind of smut at least.  I’m taking their word for it because I’ve never tried it before and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s less than appealing at first blush.

Have any of you tried this?  Would you?

Dear General Electric

June 20, 2015

I am not a do-it-your-selfer.  The prospect of trying to fix things that I did not myself in some manner create is very intimidating.  I am ashamed to admit that if something quits working my first assumption is that it’s time to get a new one.  I am also not the kind of person that writes letters to manufacturers thanking them for their products.  I believe it is the manufacturer’s job to create a good, quality, long-lasting product.  For that they should be compensated fairly and expect to make a reasonable profit.  Everyone is happy.  Kudos are not in order in this arrangement.

However, there are exceptions to everything.

We were blessed to purchase our home and said home includes one of your 1959 wall-ovens.  We jokingly asked the man we bought the house from if the oven even worked.  He assured us that it not only worked, if anything it was a bit on the hot side.  His words proved true over the past two-and-a-half years of baking and general food creation.

However I was not surprised when a few weeks ago the oven quit heating properly.  It’s over 50 years old.  Of course it’s going to break!  And, typical to my nature, I presumed that we just had to buy a new oven.  Until I realized how expensive those puppies are now-a-days.  Which prompted me to do a bit more troubleshooting.  I discovered that the bottom element had corroded in one spot.  I then discovered that this is called the bake element (as opposed to the top element, which is the broil element and still worked fine).  Half-heartedly I Googled to see if you could get a replacement bake element for a 50+ year old GE oven.  The Home Depot carries one that looks like the old one, and has the same measurements.  I ordered it, still fairly convinced that I was wasting $37 because it wouldn’t work or be able to connect to this ancient oven.

I was wrong.

I installed it in about 5 minutes, flat.  The connectors are exactly the same as 50 years ago.  The plate that secures the element to the back of the stove was designed in such a way as to accommodate the original mounting screw locations.  I have rarely had any project go so smoothly and easily.  I am amazed and so very, very grateful.  Thank you for not gratuitously changing the type of elements and connectors and what-not in your ovens, or at least for continuing to provide elements that are compatible with your older models.  You made me feel like a genius in solving this problem, but the real genius is your engineers.  I hope you’re paying them their pensions as you promised them.  They’ve earned it.

P.S. – Your electrical schematics were exactly where you claimed they would be – hidden behind the control panel in a very, very brittle little envelope.  I have no idea what they mean, but I’m impressed that after 50+ years of baking, the schematics were intact and readable.  Impressive!

Foodservation – the New Cool

March 12, 2015

So the new cool is being efficient in the kitchen.  While I’m not particularly a fan of mandatory composting, the idea of being more wise with our food – before, during, and after eating – is overall a good thing.  Hopefully this is being passed on to kids, not just older folks!