Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Calorie Labeling and a Food Processor Meal: Gyros with fresh Pita and Hummus

I listen to NPR every day.  There are many programs that I love (Splended Table, Fresh Air) and many that  I can barely stand, and Marketplace falls into the latter camp for a variety of reasons, but I still tune in sometimes because their stories can be interesting.  In particular, it's useful to me to hear how the mainstream media covers food issues.
Today, Marketplace had a story about calorie labeling.  They had an interesting statistician on, whose work address whether or not calorie labeling in restaurants will affect public behavior.  They're talking about this because the Health Care Reform Act has a provision that requires calorie labeling.  From this article in the New England Journal of Medicine by the one and only Marion Nestle:

"Tucked away on page 455 of the 906-page health care reform act (Public Law 111-148) is a provision for listing calorie counts on the menu boards of chain restaurants or adjacent to each food offered in vending machines and in retail stores. Establishments with 20 or more locations nationwide must post calories “in a clear and conspicuous manner,” along with “a succinct statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake” — presumably the 2000-kcal-per-day standard that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses for the “Nutrition Facts” on packaged foods. When the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 went into effect in 1994, it required that nutrition labels be placed on food products but exempted restaurants. The new law removes that exemption."

The story from Marketplace, which you can read and listen to here, joins the chorus of mainstream media which has diminished the importance of this provision by framing its justification only in terms of how effective it is in immediately shaping the behavior of consumers.  The conclusion the story came to was that the effect calorie labeling had on customer's behavior in their experiment (at a Chinese restaurant) was "very, very close to zero." 

The point I want to make is this:  whether or not calorie labeling changes how people buy food right now, this provision is an important and significant one.  Americans should be proud that, in rare form, our government is forcing corporations to be forthright about what they're feeding us.  As you hopefully know by now, industrial food companies have consistently lied and deceived consumers about what is in their products, while the government simultaneously has enabled much of this behavior.  

Full disclosure about food is a fundamental right, one which we've been denied thoroughly in the past, and this provision brings us one step closer to an open system, where consumers can make informed choices and reward decent businesses with our dollars.  So, it doesn't so much matter if calorie labels will make people decide to order the salad instead of the burger.  It's a step in the right direction, and knowing is half the battle.  The next step is requiring full ingredients lists.  

If you want to know more about food policy, I highly recommend checking out Marion's blog, Food Politics.

I'd like to share with you the beautiful meal that we planned to celebrate our new food processor.  I've had it for a couple months now and can say that it was well worth the money.  This meal was a bit of work, but produced huge portions that made great leftovers.

The machine came with a dough blade, so I started by making this pita recipe, which I'm still not totally confident about.  The processor has a special function.  It is fantastic, especially for wet doughs, and has gotten a ton of use.  I felt pretty cool weighing my ingredients out on my scale and then processing them in this fabulous machine.

You just pulse the dry ingredients, slowly add your liquid, and BAM! dough!  It's amazing.

While I worked on the bread, I had some dried mango slices soaking in hot water.  I love dried mango and keep it on hand as a snack.  When we were making this meal, I remembered that our favorite falafel place has a mango curry sauce, so I tried to replicate it myself.

Next I used the machine to shred some cabbage.  This job isn't bad by hand, but it's WAY faster and more uniform when done by machine.

Then I worked on the hummus.  I use dried beans, but often forget to soak them.  If you do, you can still just boil away, but it'll take at least a couple hours.

Garlic in the machine, super fast and easy.  (You can also see the tiny spatula I bought recently.  I love this thing and use it a lot.  It's great for getting the last bit out of jars.)

All done up.

Along with some tzatziki.

That sauce, which was just the mangos in the processor with chilis, tomatillos, lime, olive oil, curry, and salt and pepper.  

That red cabbage sure looks pretty in a jadeite bowl.  It's just dressed with vinagar, mustard, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

We made Alton Brown's gyro recipe and it was honestly just ok, but all together it made an excellent meal and solidified the processor as a smart kitchen purchase.  This meal was a great blend of flavors and textures.


Healthy food is beautiful, no?

Until next time, read Marion's blog and enjoy spring!  Seed update to come very soon.

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