The Italian Market

When I am travelling abroad, one of my favorite stops is always the markets and food shopping districts of towns and districts. Everything about an area, its geography, its demographics, its climate, and its economic life is in context. Children run and play, or pull their favorite adult towards the treat spot, whether it is a cart, a kiosk, or a stall. Some sellers look stressed while others smile and nod. Some even invite in a stranger like me and show off their wares and their produce. These experiences give me great pause and cause for reflection.

…Then the opposite happened. I was standing with my wife at my favorite butcher’s counter in the Italian Market in the Bronx, when the tour bus came through. I do not get many opportunities to visit my butcher in any given month and when I do make the trip, I stock up. I had a stack of chickens, cuts of beef, and a lamb shoulder all being wrapped in brown butcher paper as we waited patiently on the other side of the shoulder-high refrigerated cases with a scale perched on top.

In this great hall, the deli had a long line and no empty seats. The bar, with its long tables, was packed. The vegetable vendor was grabbing bags to weigh with blinding speed and there was a line to buy the freshly hand-rolled cigars. The place was full of happy noise. In the midst of this bustling cacophony, a bus-full of tourists came bursting in to watch and to learn.

“Huh,” I said to my wife. “So, this is what it looks like when we travel.”

At first, I was envious. I wanted to be the traveler, the one experiencing a different culture and a different people. Their questing eyes and curious looks made me look at the counters and the tables with fresh eyes, and appreciate the layers of peoples, communities, and culture that were woven into the fabric of the stalls, their employees, and their wares. After all, this is not some chichi Food Hall in Manhattan, but a neighborhood shopping district in the north Bronx.

Their guide was impatient to begin his spiel. He was waving his arms, motioning his charges to gather around and listen. I paid my bill. Picking up my heavy bags, I smiled and nodded hello, and added an “excuse me” or two as I maneuvered around the gathering without whacking anyone with my bags.

We still needed a couple of bottles of wine and my wife and I had agreed to indulge in a couple pastries. Then there was the pizza pan on display in the window and a question of whether we should buy a new one now or replace it later. The sun was bright and people were sitting outside enjoying the afternoon.

The visitors got a taste of an old neighborhood shopping district in the Bronx, which I thought was an excellent excursion. Still, their trip was just a taste because the cheese monger is a tiny storefront and there are at least a half dozen pastry shops and bakeries within two blocks of each other – and pizza, and bareks, and oysters on the half shell and a couple of decent expresso joints, and, and.

I suppose my travels abroad have helped me to appreciate what I have near to home. Even more, I have learned that there are a lot of people across the globe like me, who want to step into the day-to-day lives and cultures of other countries and just breath in the smells and sample the tastes. I may be imagining or embellishing, but when I visit such touchstones, everything seems to be delicious and worth savoring.

It was a good day.

Meatloaf

The American meatloaf is the evolutionary result of the American industrialization of the slaughterhouse. Industrialization brought down the cost of meats and promoted the distribution of meat products across the nation. For decades, carcasses in whole, half or quarter cuts were shipped from central points to any city or butcher shop. Times change and the modern version of shipping meats is more specialized, with specific parts aggregated into one package and shipped in cardboard boxes. Only specialty butcher shops work with whole carcasses today. Within this business structure, meatloaf is one of the most economical meat dishes that can be assembled at home.

Meatloaf is part of a minced meat tradition that goes back at least two millennia. The Romans had a recipe. With the technology of a knife or a cleaver with a durable sharp edge, even the toughest and most undesirable meats could be reduced to good, tasty recipes. The most difficult cuts (ears, nose, and tails) were processed into sausages but the tough pieces of muscle could be made tender too by fine dicing. Minced meat recipes can be found in every culture but the variations of meatloaf, using the meats and ingredients at hand, are favored dishes in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Near East. In Lebanon, the dish will be minced lamb or lamb mixed with beef as kofte while in the Philippines, a dish called embotido and is made from ground pork stuffed with hardboiled eggs. The variations of minced meat recipes across the world depend on the availability of inexpensive ingredients in the local economy.

The American Meatloaf gained prominence in home kitchens during the Great Depression, after the 1928 Stock Market Crash. Rationing during WWII confirmed its status as a gut filling dish that could be served using many variations. The recipe of minced meat could be stretched with breadcrumbs of any bread, stale cereal, or crushed crackers. Saltines were popular. The dish could be enhanced with ketchup, jelly, barbeque sauce, mashed potatoes, and spices. Even more, immigrant traditions could add their own flair to the minced meat dish.

The United States is a melting pot and meatloaf is a unique example. The mid-twentieth century witnessed the rise of advice columnists, who began as a staple in immigrant newspapers on matters of assimilation and who evolved into a nationwide ethos of community and behavior. Ann Landers and Dear Abby, competing sisters, were some of the most trusted voices in American print during their tenures. Ann Landers printed her meatloaf recipe in her column and the dish became an enduring sensation. In the decades since, Ann Lander’s recipe (or some near variation) has become the American meatloaf:

Ingredients

2 pounds ground beef

1 egg

1 1/2 cup bread crumbs

3/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon Accent® seasoning mix

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry onion soup mix

2 slices bacon

1 can (8 ounce size) tomato sauce

 

Mix all the ingredients except for the bacon and the tomato sauce. Form a loaf and place in pan. Lay bacon on top and pour sauce over the loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

First, the recipe is not kosher or halal. Second, Accent and onion soup mixes are high quantity MSG products, which makes the dish particularly tasty, yet makes it untenable for those avoiding MSG. Most of the ingredients are bagged, boxed, or canned too. Only the egg and the beef need to be fresh, making this recipe clearly rooted in the supermarket cuisine of the mid to late twentieth century.

For a current recipe, the history of meatloaf points to a dish of minced meat and local ingredients; local, as in what is in your refrigerator. Instead of dry mixes, add the liquid from leftover soup or broth. Add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a raw egg. If you don’t have stale bread to turn into breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes work great with a little elbow grease. Any ground meat will do, from beef, pork, and lamb to turkey, chicken, wild game or fowl. Along with salt and pepper, any typical spice combination in the cabinet will work.

As a dish, meatloaf ingredients are flexible to your tastes and traditions. Jalapenos on top – why not? Some European recipes stuff the loaf with olives, East Europeans stuff with hardboiled eggs like the Filipinos do.

Use your hands to mix this recipe. If you want to cook the fat out by letting it pool in the pan, then use less breadcrumbs.

If you want to freeze the dish for later, only cook for ½ hour. Let cool and wrap in freezer paper. Use within six months. Defrost overnight in refrigerator and cook for ½ hour (@ 350) to serve.

 

Basic Meatloaf

2 lbs ground meats

1 egg

1 cup of broth

2 TBS grape must* (Italian Saba) and 2 TBS red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups breadcrumbs

1-2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp each: basil, thyme and celery seed

Tomato sauce or any gravy

 

Mix in one ingredient at a time (all spices together though), leaving tomato sauce aside. Form loaf and place in greased bread pan. Pour tomato sauce on top and cook 1 hour at 350 degrees. Recipe doubles easily.

*thickened grape juice

Nostalgia versus the Roasted Chicken

“O dear God, not chicken again!” was a common refrain  in my household and across many other houses as well. Chicken was tasteless, a poor excuse for a good meal because it was overcooked and dry. The skin was a spongy limp mouthful of yuck. Hiding it under tomato sauce or burying it in flavored rice did not dispel the fowl’s worst qualities.

(Fried chicken was apparently in a food class by itself and had little functional relationship to the roasted, broiled, baked, or boiled fowl of gastronomic dismay. My memory is a bit fuzzy but I am fairly certain that fried chicken was an entirely separate category in the food pyramid, right up there with candy, cookies, brownies and cakes, which is why my mother would not make it very often. Fried chicken is still the top American entry for the title “Food of the Gods” in my book.)

The domesticated chicken in the West emerged from India from a small red jungle fowl. A similar chicken emerged in the East, probably from Thailand. Cocks crowing are mentioned in the Bible but when the Bible discusses sacrificing birds and eating them, the text is referring to turtle doves. Ancient Greece mentions chickens by 600 BCE but again, as cocks crowing. They were considered exotic birds. Ancient Persia deified them and a pope elevated them. The earliest chicken recipes come from Rome, where the bird was preferred boiled and served with sauces made with the offal.

No fried chicken for the Romans.

According to the New York Times, roasted chicken is supposed to be a nostalgic comfort food that evokes the ancient ritual of families sitting around the table together to eat dinner. What I remember as nostalgia was picking up a white oven-bag of a whole roasted bird from the heated tray at the Winn Dixie after band practice and before homework. The birds in those bags were always available, no matter the day. Adding to the cozy warmth of store-cooked birds was the expectation of the leftovers of this salty, greasy mess turning into an unrecognizable science experiment by the next morning. Perhaps nostalgia for roasted chicken is a bit more fiction than food writers are willing to admit.

Returning to the dish: The holy grail of the roasted chicken dish is moist meat, crispy skin, and sweet juices collecting underneath for a simple gravy. I assume that a generation ago the educated cook could turn out a great dish with just a little bit of effort on the small, non-hybrid birds. Today’s version of oversized breasts and un-exercised muscles makes the cooking overly cumbersome and usually not worth the effort: the finished fowl today is typically not a religious epiphany.

However, even with the hurdles of the modern chicken farming (which is scary), a home kitchen can turn out a decent roasted chicken. The essential tool one needs for roasted chicken is a cast iron pan. Without cast iron, this simple recipe will not work.

1 whole chicken

Butter, oil or (best) chicken fat

Kosher salt and ground pepper

 

Preheat oven to 350o F

Wash the chicken. Pop out one thigh bone from the spine. Using a knife or chicken shears, cut the chicken in half up that side of the spine. Turn the chicken over and, using the palms of your hands, press down and break the breast bone, leaving the chicken flat.

Cover the bottom of the cast iron pan with kosher salt. Place chicken in the pan, folding the thighs so that the legs are facing in. Rub the chicken with the preferred fat. Season the skin with more kosher salt and pepper.

Shove the pan in the oven and roast for 90 minutes. Ten minutes before the end, check the skin. If the skin is not crisp, turn on the broiler to crisp the skin, being careful not to burn it.

Remove and plate the chicken if serving immediately. If not plating, let the bird rest on a chopping board, covered. The juices in the bottom are usually three or four tablespoons of fat and the rest is juice. You can use these juices either to make a gravy or to pour into a mason jar for another dish. I use the chilled fat from the mason jar to coat my roasted chicken the next week and the solidified juices for the gravy.

 

Pizza, no pretensions

Pizza, for all the fanfare and faddishness about it, is another example of a flatbread. Some historians and anthropologists conclude that flatbread was probably the first type of bread created and certainly, it origins predate written history. Relatively late historical entries in the record include Persian soldiers baking flatbread on their shields out on fields and Classical Greeks serving flatbreads painted with olive oil and topped with cheese.

While flatbread concoctions such as pizza magherita emerge from noble Italian houses, pizza was a poor family’s food. The dough was basic and cooked very quickly. In Southern Italy, the very poor could bring their own scraps of dough to the baker and cook a pizza in the baker’s oven at the end of the day for a coin or two. Anything could be thrown on top. Flatbread with toppings had been sold in takeaways and in outdoor stalls for centuries to the working classes.

Pizza dough today is enriched white flour and often cut with shortening for extra crisp, very difficult for those with food intolerances. Whole wheat pizza dough is often bitter and hard to crisp, even on a baking stone. However, there is a trick, a simple ingredient that suppresses the bitterness and promotes crispy, even as a leftover for breakfast the next morning: buttermilk.

NOTE: Most buttermilks have extra chemicals. The best buttermilk is only pasteurized milk and two bacterial cultures.

This the bread machine version: (in order of placement in loaf pan)

  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 1 Tbl bread machine yeast

 

  1. Set on quick dough setting (45 minutes).
  2. Remove and place dough in ceramic bowl and cover with plastic wrap, letting sit until dough rises (1/2 hour to ¾ hour)
  3. Make pizza, focaccia bread, or flat bread of choice.

Can be refrigerated in Ziploc for up to 24 hours.

The Pretensions and Potholes of “Pure Food”

There is nothing quite like pretentious people whose condescension and arrogance destroys a community’s good will for everyone else. They leave behind them a wake off-putting ill will and sour judgments for those who come after them, those who are not pretentious but have the same issue. Purity of food for purchase is a maddeningly complicated issue but it is doubly so for those with food intolerances. Their pursuit safe food to consume amid the complications of the industrial food complex is exacerbated by the elitist aspersions cast upon them as they search.

Typically, two sorts of people pursue a pure food diet: those who believe that a diet stripped of modern food chemistry processes will prolong and enhance their lives, and those who already have health issues, especially people with catchall vaguely understood syndromes such as Chronic Fatigue and Hashimoto’s. Controlling what one consumes is not typically curative but avoiding certain ingredients is a significant strategy for mitigating symptoms.

Pure food is a trial of patience. Trying to maintain such a strict regimen is expensive and takes significant hours for researching, shopping multiple sites both online and bricks-and-mortar, and then cooking. (Try finding a can of tomato sauce without citric acid in it.) As an exceptional and desired purchase, pure foods are often the most expensive in the store; they spoil faster.

Pure food is any ingredient that has not been genetically altered, fertilized with aluminum-based chemicals, and has not been adulterated with man-made chemicals before it reaches your kitchen. Pure foods do not really exist in the 21st century. Most of the common grains have been genetically altered the laboratory. The pursuit of high yield fields or insect-resistant stalks using modern laboratory techniques rapidly changed the genetics of wheat, corn, soy, and other grains. There is no way back either to earlier stocks. Economics play a role as well, emphasizing bigger harvest varieties, which are not as tasty or nutritious as progenitor varieties. Even more, processes used in the fields, such as killing the wheat with Roundup® two weeks before harvest to dry out the stalks for easy harvesting, are not the best for human health. From seed genetics, to field maintenance and onto harvesting, every step has the potential to corrupt the purity of the grain.

An enthusiast must seek out “heritage grains” or “heirloom vegetables and fruits” to find ingredients that our inherited guts have learned to digest easily from centuries past. However, if the farmer uses common fertilizer, which is an aluminum product, the plant is absorbing unwanted elements from the soil. Harvesting using the chemical-kill technique reduces the purity of the grains (by absorbing the killing agent) while the techniques of harvesting fruits and vegetables before they are ripe and zapping them with gas to ripen later along with FruitFresh® to give them flavor introduces all the chemicals a food purist is seeking to avoid. A shopper in a grocery store or a specialty shop cannot truly know what happened to that product, grain, vegetable, or fruit before it arrived for purchase.

Eggs are an issue. Besides the factory-style cruelty to animals, the eggs that chickens lay are the product of what the chickens eat. The same rules apply to all manner of meat. Feeding animals is expensive, yet there are inexpensive alternatives, all of which are neither healthy for the animals nor for the human consumers.

Milk? Do not purchase ultra-pasteurized, which is seared milk overlaid with chemicals to mask the burnt flavor.

The popular response to this search for purity is BUY ORGANIC. An entire shelf of books has been written on the falsehood of the term, organic. In brief, the USDA’s primary mission is to help American food companies sell their products. Their secondary, some claim tertiary, mission is food safety for the consumer. In this context, Organic is a poorly regulated term with a porous definition and many legal exceptions. Ultra-pasteurized cream can be/is still labeled organic.

Pure foods cost more but the price sticker is not proof of quality. For those with food intolerances, the only method is to experiment. If the ingredient makes you feel ill, which is typically headaches, nausea, cramping, slight temperature, inflammation, popped-out belly, or messy bowel movements, do not eat it again. (Sound like fun, let’s try it again!) This method is neither healthy or even easy to pursue – try counting the number of discreet ingredients a person eats in one day. Further, limited diets restrict a social life, going out for meals with friends or going to visit others in their homes becomes an always losing game of how long can I stay before I feel sick?

The pretentious person takes this pursuit of pure food as a moral crusade, opting to justify their food choices as a pursuit of ethical and moral principles that have been compromised by greed and power. They play a blame game and it is this blaming behavior that sets teeth on edge and causes eyes to roll. For those trying to mitigate symptoms of poorly understood, often disbelieved diagnoses, the issue is not moral even if the moral component exists. The issue is just being able to eat without getting sick.

Food purity is not Western diets versus the rest of the world. Where allowed, food flows from distant points all around the globe. Modern chemistry and food processing techniques make this world-wide distribution possible, making the variety of available foods at any time of year astounding. However, this global food market is not always necessarily good or healthy. Food intolerances are spreading and escalating. While others can debate that food purity is a moral and economic issue, food purity is a health issue for those most affected. The afflicted still hope for a magic list of foods they can consume without getting sick, and perhaps this is the core moral issue.

 

 

 

Dirty Rice; Dirty History

One of the weekly standby dishes easily found in Louisiana cooking is dirty rice. A boxed version of dirty rice located the grocery shelves offers a popular version of the dish, “just add ground meat” and you have a great family meal. There is nothing grand about the history of the dish though and today’s recipes for the dish are a far cry from its origins – thankfully.

 

Dirty Rice was a poor family’s cooking. While the slaughtered chicken went into the stew pot up in the plantation house, the slaves or the tenant farmers were left with the chicken guts, even the chicken feet. The Louisiana plantations planted rice in the bayou where it grew plentiful and cheap for the locals. The original dirty rice was cooked chicken guts, the gizzard, heart, and kidneys, cooked in a pan. Afterward the cooked organ meats were chopped fine while the rice cooked in added water in the same pan. The two ingredients were seasoned with salt and pepper before serving. Dirty rice tastes good but the appeal loses some of its luster when considering what was being served in the better houses.

 

For the poor of Louisiana, Black, White and Cajun, dirty rice was a filling staple dish. The dish required local ingredients only and provided stomach filling satisfaction. As a family gained more wherewithal, they kept dirty rice but added more ingredients. Andouille sausage was ground pig stomachs and spices, yet, cheaper than cuts of pork but more expensive than chicken guts. The sausage was added to the pot of rice. Vegetables came and went as they became available and then disappeared with the seasons.

 

Dirty Rice has not changed. Organ meats are still the least expensive items in the meat case. Ground beef and ground chicken are more expensive but adding more rice to the dish stretches out how many mouths one dish can feed, so penny-pinchers can still indulge. Of course, one can sauté vegetables and fold them in, or add hot sauce for an added flavor burst. The dish continues to be trash cooking at its finest, perfect for wilting greens and forgotten items in the back of the refrigerator that are still usable if cooked.

 

Just as an aside, after swapping out the organ meats for sausage, chicken meat and vegetables, the dish is called jambalaya. Add some chili powder for a kick if you want.

 

Dirty Rice is presented as “authentic Louisiana” cooking, a dish that every visitor to the state should seek out and savor. For tourist dollars, one can taste the echo of poverty. Everyone should and while sampling the food, a person should also appreciate the ingenuity and skills of these poor communities that turned the least desirable ingredients into a specialty.

 

Dirty Rice

1 lb.          ground meat (any kind will do)

3/4 cup   medium grain white rice

2 cups     water

Salt & pepper

 

Sauté the meat in a heavy pan (like cast iron) until browned. Remove and set aside, leaving the grease in the pan. Add rice and water, cooking 15 minutes or so until rice is soft. Return meat to pan. Season with salt and pepper to serve.

Lessons From Granola #5

RE: Honey It’s Not

In April of 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offered a draft copy of new regulations concerning the labeling of honey sold in the United States. This proposed regulation was a foot-dragging response to a petition filed in 2006 by the American Beekeeper Federation requesting the FDA to specify the definition of honey as being only the substance that comes from bees. After five years (2011) the FDA rejected the request with the reasoning that every reasonable person knows what honey is. Three years later in 2014, the FDA was forced by its weak justification to agree to regulate the labels on honey but only as a gesture of confidence for the consumer, not beekeepers. The regulation is still in draft form as of this writing.

Here are the numbers. In 2013 residents of the United States consumed 400 million pounds of honey. The beekeepers of the United States only produced 149 million pounds. We imported 251 million pounds of honey or at least a golden colored substance called honey. One batch that came through Mexico that year was so adulterated that Customs seized it. The American Beekeeper Federation wanted the definition in place to stop the importation of adulterated honey. Their argument was only if the honey was free of fillers and unadulterated with other non-bee substances should the product be called honey.

In 2013, American honey cost $2.12 a pound for producers. Importing from other countries was much cheaper, especially if the honey was bulked up with inexpensive filler. Imports from Brazil, Mexico and the Soviet Union were impounded by the FDA during the 1990’s but apparently little has been done to stop the flow of adulterated honey in the intervening years.

Honey imports are not inspected because “FDA laboratories do not have the instrumental capability to analyze honey according to the Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International, AOAC Official Method 991.41, which requires an isotope ration mass spectrometer.” (FDA Import Alert 36-01). This admission of the FDA that they do not own a spectrometer highlights that the honey you see on the shelf in the grocery store is honey-flavored corn syrup or more common, honey-flavored rice syrup. Rice syrup already has a color and consistency similar to honey.

The proposed labeling regulations will be meaningless. The FDA has no equipment to analyze honey and most honey is imported, where there is no monitoring of contents. A food corporation can plead ignorance and there is no follow-up regulation that an importing company must verify the purity of the honey at its source – a willful but legal ignorance.

Rice syrup is just as bad for the human body as corn syrup, which is already documented as harmful. The health benefits of honey, which has been used in wound care and medicine for millennia, are absent from the common products labeled “Honey” on the grocery shelves. Bacteria cannot live in honey. Thus coating an open wound in honey seals the injury from infection. The other words such as “pure”, “genuine”, “100 percent” are all empty, unregulated words by the FDA on honey labels.

Pure honey is expensive. However, purchasing the most expensive honey on the shelf is no guarantee of purity because there is no definition of honey and labeling is worthless. This is one product where the only guarantee is buying from the source, that is to say, direct from the beekeeper.

If this circumstance is not difficult enough, we are experiencing a die-off of European honeybees in the United States. The likely culprit is a pesticide manufactured by Bayer. “The deadly pesticide is one of a fairly new family known as the neonicotinoids—“neonics” for short—developed a decade or so ago to replace organophosphates and carbamates, which are also highly toxic but dissipate far more quickly.” (earthjustice.org) However, lobbyists for the company have convinced the Department of Agriculture not to pull the pesticide from the American market despite the European Union banning the pesticide in 2011. There is a distinct possibility that we will not taste pure honey for years to come in the United States.

My recipe began with a base recipe that called for ¾ cup of honey. Obviously the recipe was written for a more innocent time. By switching to molasses as the source of sweet and gooey, the honey was cut back to two tablespoons, although it could use more. Molasses has a harsher taste, wonderful in barbeque sauce to balance the bite of vinegar; however, using molasses forces the cook to rely on the maple syrup for a gentler, sweet taste. Due to the present lack of confidence in pureness of honey, this recipe must reach out for other sweet ingredients that must be combined to make up for the lack of honey. Tch.

Lessons From Granola #6: The Other Ingredients and Dollars

Lessons from Granola #3

Dietitians recommend oatmeal. Doctors recommend the gummy stuff too because it is good for your heart and an excellent source of nutrition. Oatmeal is one of the ancient recipes that reaches back into the Medieval Period if not earlier, making oatmeal one of those more primitive and therefore more unadulterated recipes that excites food purists. The ancient history is correct but the recent history is a bit more convoluted. I am not sure your ancestors four or five generations back would be pleased with our oats.

The ingredients listed on the round container of Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of Pepsico:

WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS, SUGAR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, CALCIUM CARBONATE, GUAR GUM, CARAMEL COLOR, NIACINAMIDE*, REDUCED IRON, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE*, RIBOFLAVIN*, THIAMIN MONONITRATE*, FOLIC ACID*.

Compare and contrast with a more expensive brand of rolled oats, Bob’s Red Mill:

WHOLE GRAIN OATS.

The irony of this comparison is that the more expensive brand has only one ingredient. There are fifteen ingredients in the cheaper brand and some of them are nearly unpronounceable unless you are a practicing chemist. Why fifteen ingredients?

Quaker Oats is a highly processed product. A byproduct of manipulating the oats in the production process is the loss of nutrients. The more processing, the more loss. The manufacturer adds synthetic nutrients back into the oats to compensate and can actually add more to boost the nutrition claims. There are no impartial definitive studies that prove that the human body ingests synthetic nutrients in any significant quantities although there are studies that we do not absorb all of the synthetic nutrients, purging them from our bodies in our urine. These additives serve another purpose than health though. Food manufacturers are often called out for manipulating the nutrition labels on the side the packaging, trying to fool the consumer into believing that the product is healthier than it actually is.

For consumers the idea of eating whole foods such as WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS is to eat minimally processed foods. A basic formulation of rolled oats is processed to a small degree – oats on the plant are not flat. Health conscious consumers want minimally processed foods. In contrast, a manufacturer wants to increase market share by having more consumers purchase their product and by having the dedicated customer buy more of the product. These two different agendas do not have to be in opposition but overarching greed is enough incentive for a manufacturer to take advantage of the relationship between producer and consumer.

The usual method for increasing sales is not price. Price is a one-shot proposal for coupon-cutting budgeteers. Increasing sales on a broader scale usually means adding salt, fat and sugar. Notice that sugar is second and salt is fourth on the Quaker Oats listing of ingredients. However, there is another powerful weapon for promoting appetite for a product: monosodium glutamate otherwise known as MSG. MSG is flavor and it is addictive. There are four ingredients on the label that definitely contain MSG and a fifth that probably does. The four definite items are natural flavor, artificial flavor, guar gum and caramel color. The probable fifth is salt. MSG is intimately connected to significant and sustained weight gain.

The first and largest ingredient in my granola is oats, and already the recipe is landmine for the unwary. By choosing the wrong manufacturer, you lose nutrition and you gain weight. A bag or a box of ROLLED OATS should be just one ingredient, rolled oats.

Next Episode: Salt Ain’t What It Used To Be