By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: food

Why small cities may hold the key to the future

There’s nothing quite listening in on a smart conversation by two old friends. In this week’s Boston Phoenix, Catherine Tumber talks with Jon Garelick about her new book, “Small, Gritty and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World.”

Cathy’s big idea is that down-on-their-luck cities like Lowell and Springfield may be due for a revival as economic and environmental constraints make urban living more appealing. And unlike major metropolises such as New York or Los Angeles — or Boston, for that matter — small cities have the capacity to develop their own self-sufficient ecosystems, including locally grown food.

The book is based on an essay Tumber wrote for the Boston Review in 2009 titled “Small, Green and Good.”

I read “Small, Gritty and Green” in galleys last spring, and I recommend it highly. Cathy also has given me invaluable advice for my own book-in-progress on the New Haven Independent and other community news sites, tentatively titled “The Wired City.”

Extreme eating, at home and abroad


From "Extreme Pig Outs"

Last night I started clicking and arrived at “Extreme Pig Outs,” on the Travel Channel. The premise: “America’s the fattest country in the world! And we didn’t get that way from eating broccoli.”

I wasn’t exactly hooked, but it didn’t seem that there was anything else on. (I wish I’d caught up with Kevin earlier: he’d found a program on the History Channel about the Mayflower.)

Anyway, an hour of watching folks make themselves sick at demented eating contests carried us through to the news. But though the statement that we’re the fattest people in the world seems right, is it true?

Apparently not. According to GlobalPost, the United States is only the third-fattest, based on data compiled by the World Health Organization.

Coming in at number one, believe it or not, is American Samoa, which is not an independent country, but which is apparently sufficiently non-American to get us off the hook. Fully 99.3 percent have body-mass indexes of 30 or more.

Following American Samoa is the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, which I confess I’d never heard of. Then comes the United States, with 66.7 percent breaking the tragic 30 barrier.

Some of the countries on the list are surprising. Egypt? Bosnia? Israel? Who knew? But there are specific explanations for each.

For instance, the reporter, Laurie Cunningham, writes that well-educated Jewish women in Israel are among the thinnest in the world; the obesity problem exists mainly among poorly educated Arab women. That, of course, reflects weight disparities based on income and education in the U.S. as well.

We in Media Nation are trying to avoid becoming statistics, though it may be hard. After a Thanksgiving dinner with my 95-year-old uncle yesterday, we’re going to do it all over again today. Turkey coma awaits.

The so-called free market for food

Jeff Jacoby writes in today’s Boston Globe:

[N]ot even Ted Kennedy would have suggested that Washington nationalize US food production or overhaul the clothing industry. It is precisely because food and clothing are seen as commodities, because we do leave their availability to the market, that they can be had in such abundance and diversity.

From the New York Times, Nov. 9, 2005:

Even as the Bush administration tries to persuade member nations of the World Trade Organization that it is serious about trimming agricultural subsidies, federal spending on farm payments is closing in on the record of $22.9 billion set in 2000, when the Asian financial crisis caused American exports to fall and crop prices to sink, pushing the Midwest farm belt into recession.

If export sales stay weak, this year’s subsidies could hit a new record. Just last week the United States Agriculture Department raised its projection of payments to farmers by $1.3 billion, to $22.7 billion. In 2004, the subsidies were only $13.3 billion.

Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” writing in the Times on Sept. 9, 2009:

[F]ood system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

If Jacoby had wanted to argue against government health-care reform, he could have done it quite easily by using the food industry as his prime example. As Pollan and others have shown, we are awash in a sea of cheap, federally subsidized corn that has been transformed into oceans of sweet soda, unhealthy beef (corn is toxic to cattle) and a host of other dubious products that barely deserve to be called food.

Do we want the government to do to health care what it’s done to the food supply? It’s not an argument I would make. But Jacoby could have made it, and he’d have produced a much more valid column if he had.

Sustainability and the role of smaller cities

Friend of Media Nation Catherine Tumber, with whom I worked at the Boston Phoenix, recently published an important essay in the Boston Review on how revitalizing smaller cities — think New Bedford, Lowell, Lawrence, Holyoke — could help lead to a more sustainable future. She writes:

When it comes to the urban-rural divide, small-to-intermediate-size cities may offer the best of both worlds. For all the rural romanticism of the ’70s-era homesteading movement — or for that matter, the vaunted folksiness of “small-town values,” — urban life has its allure. Smaller cities are large enough to offer the diversity, anonymity, and vibrancy of urban culture, as well as levels of density that offer efficiencies of scale. They are also small enough to maintain proximity to sustainable food production and renewable energy resources.

Well worth reading in full.

The clam shacks of Cape Ann

The Clam Box or Woodman’s? To those of us who live on the North Shore, it is a theological question. The Clam Box, of Ipswich, slightly out of the way, with huge lines and the challenging logistics of finding a seat, is the hardcore choice. Woodman’s, of Essex, spacious and fast-moving, is easier. But is easier better?

Boston Globe food critic Devra First hits Route 133 today to come up with her take on Cape Ann clam shacks. In addition to the Clam Box and Woodman’s, she reviews Essex Seafood and J.T. Farnum’s, both of Essex, and neither of which I’ve visited. First, a Boston Phoenix colleague a few years ago, has written an enjoyable feature. But who’s the best?

First gives the nod to the Clam Box by a nose, and I agree — but not for the same reasons. I find the food at Woodman’s and the Clam Box to be close in quality except for the onion rings, which I think are better — flakier, less greasy — at the Clam Box. First prefers Woodman’s thick, heavily breaded rings. The default at Woodman’s is onion rings and french fries, but they’ll let you substitute their excellent cole slaw for the fries.

Despite my slight preference for the Clam Box, Woodman’s generally wins out during my two or three clam-shack forays each year because it’s just more convenient, especially now that they take plastic. And Woodman’s serves beer.

A confession: I’m a native New Englander, I love shellfish, but I don’t eat fried clams — I don’t like the gritty bellies. So I generally go for fried clam strips, shrimp or scallops, and maybe once a year (or once every other year) a steamed lobster.

Good thing I just ate, or this would be making me hungry.

Photo (cc) by Peter Dutton and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

A weird twist in the Whole Foods saga

As if Whole Foods’ proposed acquisition of Wild Oats weren’t already in enough trouble, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Whole Foods chief executive John Mackey pseudonymously posted messages on Yahoo discussion groups about the wonderfulness of Whole Foods, the lagging fortunes of Wild Oats and his own all-around genius.

Using the name “Rahodeb” (“Deborah,” his wife’s name, backwards jumbled up), Mackey apparently tried to drive down Wild Oats’ stock price in 2005 when it was $8 a share. Journal reporters David Kesmodel and John R. Wilke write:

“Would Whole Foods buy OATS?” Rahodeb asked, using Wild Oats’ stock symbol. “Almost surely not at current prices. What would they gain? OATS locations are too small.” Rahodeb speculated that Wild Oats eventually would be sold after sliding into bankruptcy or when its stock fell below $5. A month later, Rahodeb wrote that Wild Oats management “clearly doesn’t know what it is doing …. OATS has no value and no future.”

No wonder the Federal Trade Commission is all over this — there’s no way the agency could ignore such behavior. And Mackey’s contention that he was engaging in meaningless “macho posturing” is ridiculous.

Update: The New York Times account is worth a read, too.

Eat now, pay later

I don’t mean to steal a page out of Seth’s blog, but I have important news to report following a weekend visit to Woodman’s: (1) believe it or not, they’re now taking credit cards; and (2) when I ordered the fried jumbo shrimp plate, I was offered cocktail sauce instead of automatically being given tartar sauce. Not nearly enough horseradish in the cocktail sauce, but, still, it was a huge upgrade.

Photo (cc) by kariek. Some rights reserved.

Food fight

As a somewhat disgruntled customer of Wild Oats (my suggested motto: “You’d Better Want What We Have, Because We Don’t Have What You Want”), I’ve been looking forward to seeing my local outlet converted to a Whole Foods.

Now Daniel Gross of Slate tells us that the Bush administration has finally identified a proposed merger it doesn’t like. As Gross suggests, it sounds like revenge.

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