Thursday, November 19, 2009

Death By Popcorn

If you're like me, a big part of the fun of going to the movies is having a bucket of popcorn. I'm under no illusions that it's not the healthiest of treats, but I didn't realize just how bad it was till now.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, just released a review of movie theater treats showing that a medium popcorn and medium soft drink has 1,200 calories, 60 grams of saturated fat and 980 milligrams of sodium. That, says the Chicago Tribune, is the nutritional equivalent of three Quarter Pounder hamburgers topped with 12 pats of butter.

And yet, Americans consume 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually or 52 quarts per man, woman and child, according to the Popcorn Board, and 30 percent of that is eaten outside the home.

But it wasn't always the favored treat of moviegoers. A 1947 New York Times article asked "Is popcorn here to stay? That's the $64 question being bounced back and forth by the nation's motion picture operators at the moment."

Popcorn sales, the article reported, had reached astronomical proportions at the movies, with some theater owners reporting larger profits from popcorn sales than from movie tickets. But the treat was not without its opponents.
The popping of corn in theatres is a ticklish undertaking, since the poppers give off considerable odor and, of course, a lot of folks are sensitive to the smell of hot cottonseed oil.

Some theatre men hold popcorn will eventually drive more people out of movie houses than Hollywood's best pictures will be able to drag in. Already there are signs of revolt. Loew's houses in St. Louis have banned popcorn in recent weeks and in Kansas and Indianapolis some theatres have instituted checking services for patrons bringing packages of corn.

Monday, November 16, 2009

As World Leaders Tackle Hunger, What About Obesity?

As world leaders gather in Rome to discuss a new strategy to combat world hunger, a few news stories this morning highlighted the problems at the other end of the hunger spectrum: obesity and poor nutrition even in countries where food is plentiful.

America is already a world leader in obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and a story in The Times Online says that the country may be doomed to remain the leader, "as long as the process by which it elects its presidents starts in Iowa — a state known for its cornfields and corn subsidies."
With a minimum price of $1.90 per bushel of corn guaranteed by the 2007 Farm Bill, activists say that the crop is a guaranteed winner for the farmers of the Midwest — and one of the results is something called super-abundant high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Known to its detractors as “liquid Satan”, HFCS is the sweetener of choice in the vast bulk of fizzy drinks and packaged cakes and biscuits consumed in the US. Its producers have long enjoyed the solid support of the US Senate and most presidential candidates, who gravitate every four years to Iowa to pledge their allegiance to its voters. “Farm subsidies are a third rail of Iowa politics,” a former staffer on Senator John Edwards’s presidential campaign said yesterday. “You don’t touch them.”

The 2007 Farm Bill conferred more than $2 billion on Iowa in corn subsidies for 2007 to 2012 — nearly 80 per cent of the state’s subsidies for all crops for the period. Americans’ consumption of corn on the cob has not risen markedly as a result, but their intake of HFCS has been climbing for decades, from 0.6lb per person per year in 1970 to 73.5lb in 2007.
Americans are not alone in their weight gain, however. In Venezuela, the country's president, Hugo Chávez, "has sounded the alarm about his compatriots' expanding waistlines and called on them to wage battle against the bulge, saying the revolution needed them fit and strong," according to a story in the Guardian.
Chávez's intervention was prompted by a study which suggested that in the past two decades the average adult Venezuelan's "excess" weight had ballooned from 6.3kg (1 stone) to 14.5kg.

The same study said nutrition had improved, and the president said the revolution had ensured even the poor had three meals a day. "Now we are eating better but we need to be careful," he said. "Watch out for the fat people!"
Battling obesity, the story explains, may be a doomed fight in Venezuela, where people are "fanatical about fattening dishes such as chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and like to fill arepas, a type of corn patty, with roast pork, beef and blocks of cheese. Meals are not complete without fizzy drinks, beer or rum and Coke."

If you think these sound like fattening meals, another story in the U.K.'s Daily Express describes the most common meals eaten by British families. There are, apparently, nine main dishes that most Mums rely on, including: spaghetti bolognese, roast dinners, shepherd’s or cottage pie and another pasta dish.

Translation: pasta with meat, meat with potatoes on the side, meat with potatoes on top, and another kind of pasta.
The survey also found that cooking dinner takes the average mother 35 minutes from start to finish, and four in 10 play safe by choosing meals they know their family like.

Over a third don’t want to waste money cooking food the kids screw their noses up at, and 44 per cent don’t have the time to experiment anyway. However, two-thirds feel guilty that they don’t make the time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Easy Ways to Reduce Food Waste

"Willful waste makes woeful want," as the old saying goes. Use your resources wisely and you'll save yourself from wanting -- and needing -- more than you can provide.

A new report in Britain quantifies the amount of food and drink wasted by consumers in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that 8.3 million tons of food and drink waste is generated by British households every year -- much (approximately two-thirds) of it avoidable. Often, the study found, people either cooked, prepared and served too much or didn't use the food in time.

To put this waste in perspective, the report put monetary values on the wasted food:
"To purchase the avoidable fraction of the food and drink waste would cost people in the UK a total of £12 billion per year, an average of £480 per household per year."
This is roughly equivalent to every American household buying and then throwing away $800 worth of food every year.

Experts say there are a few simple rules to follow to help cut down on how much food we waste.
  • Plan your shopping carefully -- come up with meal plans and grocery lists and buy only what you know you will use.
  • Be aware of what's in your kitchen, refrigerator and pantry and use things up before their expiry dates.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set to the right temperature and seals properly and be mindful of what food can be frozen for use later.
  • Compost your organic waste, rather than sending it to the landfill.
Here are 10 more helpful tips from The Daily Green.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Remembering the true Thanksgiving

The New York Public Library has embraced social media, with a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and online galleries of their holdings. Now, to usher in Thanksgiving, they've posted a gallery of vintage Thanksgiving menus, holiday postcards and seasonal posters from their colorful visual collections.

The images are a quaint reminder of what the holiday once was -- the culmination of an "extremely auspicious season which the farmer has enjoyed in the planting, growing, and harvesting of the grain crop of the present year," as noted in The New York Times in 1851.

These days it seems we have nearly forgotten the origins of the holiday, lost as it is in a sea of football games, Macy's parades and free supermarket turkeys. For an interesting look at the origins of the observance, try this article, also from The New York Times.