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Food

Diabetes in the New York Times

 

Before I received the diagnosis that I had Type 1 diabetes, I saw food as food, and ate it as such -- simply, casually, with no real thought attached.

The winter of my senior year of college, after a bad cold and a painful breakup, I began eating more -- not to cope, but to feel full. I was hungry, always hungry. Hungry and thirsty and tired, piling my tray in the dining hall with pasta, cheese, dessert, getting up in the middle of the night to slurp water from my dorm's bathroom faucet.

I gorged myself and yet my pants were looser, my arms thinner, my stomach flatter. One afternoon I threw it all up, convinced I had food poisoning. My stomach eventually settled but my mind did not. The world swirled. I couldn't stand without stumbling. On February 17th, 2001, I entered the hospital, and since that day, food has never been the same.

In 2009, Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times published an essay of mine in the Well blog called "Thinking About Diabetes With Every Bite." about my experience living with Type 1 diabetes. Not only was I thrilled to have such a personal piece placed in the Times, but I've been incredibly touched by the wonderful feedback I've gotten from other people with Type 1 (and Type 2). It's inspired me to keep writing about diabetes -- if you want to read more, check out my blog over at the diabetes website, A Sweet Life.

Road Kill: Is it Fair Game?

In a piece for Slate, I wrote about the time when my husband and I ate a rabbit we found in the middle of the road. I was not anticipating that they would illustrate it.

It really was a good-looking rabbit. Shiny coat, sleek body, glassy eyes—only its mangled back leg hinted at its violent cause of death. My husband Peter and I had come across this rabbit on a trip to a bird sanctuary in Gridley, Calif. It was lying in the middle of a narrow country road, stretched stiffly across the pavement; Peter swerved slightly to avoid its body.

"That was a pretty rabbit," he said, guiding the car back into the correct lane.

I agreed. We continued down the road in silence. Then, several hundred meters later, Peter spoke again.

"Should we go back and pick it up?"

He was suggesting that we take the rabbit home and eat it. Yes, I'm aware that this sounds crazy. And no, I'm not a back-to-the-land hippie: I grew up in Manhattan, where eating something off the street will likely result in an untimely death. But we were living in Oakland, Calif., dangerously close to Berkeley—the epicenter of the organic food movement, where the words local andsustainable are prized more than Michelin stars. This rabbit was wild, grass-fed, and presumably antibiotic- and artificial hormone-free. Except for the car that had hit it, no food miles had been accrued delivering it to us. So why not bring it home for dinner?

Can a Blender Change Your Life?

When you first buy a Vitamix 5200, the so-called Ferrari of blenders, two thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. The first is “Did I really just spend more than $400 on a blender?” And the second is “This machine is going to change my life.

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At least those are the thoughts I had after I bought my Vitamix at a nutrition-related conference several weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to make this purchase; I’d merely followed some colleagues to the Vitamix demonstration stand, where a fast-talking young man with a headset and an impressive dexterity with Dixie cups was offering samples to an enthusiastic crowd. I watched as he liquefied a pineapple. I witnessed him puree an entire clove of garlic, unpeeled. I tried a sample of a green smoothie, then a tortilla soup, then a blended cappuccino. Before I knew what had happened, I’d taken out my credit card. The damage? $429.89—and that was with a discount.

As I crossed the exhibition hall, the Vitamix’s enormous box knocking against my shins, I began to question what I’d just done.

That’s when I heard a voice call out to me.

“You won’t regret a penny!” the voice cried in a thick Jamaican accent. “You won’t regret one cent!

I turned to find an older woman waggling a finger at me, a huge smile on her face. This woman had no connection to the Vitamix booth; she just felt so passionately about her own machine that, upon viewing mine, she couldn’t help but shout.

“I love my Vit-a-mix,” she continued, enunciating each syllable, before launching into a highly complimentary review of the company’s return and repair policy. “I love it so much, I would recommend it to the dead!”

It was a strong, if odd, endorsement. And as I walked away, her words ringing in my ears, my anxiety over its price quickly morphed into something else: excitement.

For Slate, I write about the Vitamix 5200. Spoiler alert: it lives up to its hype.

Moonshine!

Standing in the middle of the room at the Sweetwater Distillery in Petaluma, Calif., Bill Owens held a feedbag full of stale donuts high in the air. With a crowd gathered around him, he dumped its contents -- chocolate glazed, jelly-filled, iced with sprinkles -- into a tank filled with hot water and plunged an industrial mixer into the liquid, splattering warm, sticky bits onto anyone who stood too close. A dog wandered up and began licking the floor.

As part of my research for this article about moonshine for  Salon, I got the chance to track down local distillers and sample their homemade spirits. (And no, drinking moonshine isn't actually against the law.) My advice? Beware the slivovitz.

(The piece also got picked up by the New York Times's Idea of the Day Blog.)

My Worms

They arrived early on a Tuesday morning in a cardboard box. “1000 Red Worms,” read the label in large letters printed beneath the USPS tracking number. Return address: Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. My mailman handed the package to me with no emotion, but I was excited. Inside were the catalysts for my latest experiment: vermicomposting. Or, to be less Latinate about it, composting with worms.

For Slate Magazine, I write about the 10,000 or so red wigglers currently residing in my kitchen.

Breast Friends

If you spend two weeks in close proximity to goat udders, it's inevitable that you'll think differently about your own breasts.

Or at least that's what happened to me. My husband and I had signed up to spend two weeks volunteering on a French farm where the farmer took one look at our soft hands and assigned us to what he considered his easiest job: milking the family's 27 dairy goats. And so once in the morning, once in the evening, Peter and I wheeled out the milking canisters and pumping gear (this was not a hand-extraction affair), lined up the goats at a feeding trough, and worked our way through the herd.

The monotony of the task was strangely satisfying, and I found myself looking forward to my time with the ladies, as I called them, skittish and ornery, with soft ears and narrow,Avatar-like pupils. Much like women's breasts, their udders came in all shapes and sizes. Some were huge and swollen, bumping into the goat's back knees as she waddled up to the milking station. Others would barely have qualified for a training bra. Some goats had lopsided udders, including one young animal whose left teat was so tiny that we didn't bother to milk it.

Usually, there's a clear distinction in my mind between the pasteurized, cereal-friendly stuff I buy in the grocery store and the baby-nourishing liquid that may one day emanate from my chest. But as I worked my way up and down the goats' ranks, massaging their udders to help the flow, the difference between the two became less obvious. I found myself suddenly very curious about milk.

For Slate, I write about Deborah Valenze's new book, Milk: A Global and Local History, and how it has forever changed my view of goats.

The Limits of Locavorism. Or, The Time I Ate Sheep Intestine.

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As I took a bite, the flavor that greeted me revealed another important distinction between American and Mongolian cuisine. In America, even a dish as straightforward-sounding as "Fat-Wrapped Liver Chunks" would probably include a few unnamed, yet complementary ingredients like onions, or salt. But in Mongolia, the title says it all. Like everything we ate that night, my first bite had not been salted. It contained no herbs or spice. It was exactly what I knew it was: the liver of the sheep I'd just watched die.

For Slate Magazine, I write about what it really means to attend a traditional Mongolian feast -- and why I'd prefer never to do so again.

Eating Tarantulas in Phnom Penh

When my husband Peter ordered the fried tarantulas at Romdeng, a restaurant in Phnom Penh that specializes in traditional Khmer food, he was hoping that he wouldn’t notice he was eating spider. I know that sounds delusional, but lots of fried foods bear little resemblance to their original ingredients. Think of popcorn shrimp. Or a corn dog. There was a chance that the spiders would arrive so coated in batter that their true arachnid nature would be camouflaged, nothing but a stomach-turning afterthought.

“I bet they’ll be dipped in tempura,” said Peter, as we waited for them to arrive.

“Like a zucchini fritter,” I said supportively.

But neither of us was convinced.

Peter and I had many adventures during our seven months on the road. One of them: eating deep fried tarantulas in Phnom Penh. I wrote about the experience for National Geographic's Intelligent Travel blog.

White Whiskey

I've got a small piece in Men's Journal about the resurgence of small batch distillation. It's called White Whiskey:

If the greater number and variety of local and regional spirits at your neighborhood liquor store have you tempted to call micro-distillation a cool new trend, you’d be half-right — it’s more of a comeback. Early Americans were masters at turning harvests into hard alcohol using corn, potatoes, grain, apples, grapes — almost anything they could get their hands on. Converting food to booze didn’t just preserve the value of perishable crops; it also created a rich repertoire of homemade liquors, from rye whiskey, vodka, and bourbon to applejack, peach brandy, and unaged fruit spirits known as eau-de-vie.

I also did a big package about the spine called "The Complete Guide To Your Back" -- also for Men's Journal -- but I can't find it online except for this mention. Suffice it to say that you usually don't need surgery, and that if you're really hurting, you can ease the pain by sampling some small batch spirits.

A Taste Of Chocolate At a Former Army Post

Last weekend I had the pleasure not just of attending a workshop about chocolate, but of writing about it for the New York Times.

Wearing a short-sleeve shirt embroidered with his name, Mr. Recchiuti, whose shop is in the Ferry Building Marketplace, looked more like a mechanic than a fine chocolatier — albeit one with cocoa powder on his hands instead of grease.

He greeted each of his 19 students with a spoonful of liquid chocolate and a white plate holding eight samples arranged like numbers on a clock, with a small bowl with two roasted cocoa beans and a pinch of chocolate-covered barley — a “taste project” — at the center. The students would taste single-origin varieties of chocolate from around the world, and watch Mr. Recchiuti transform chocolate into confections that presumably could be replicated at home.

The Locavore's Dilemma

Ordinarily, I would never eat turnips. I managed to go 30 years without buying one. But now every winter I'm faced with a two-month supply, not to mention the kale, collards, and flat-leaf Italian parsley that sit in my refrigerator, slowly wilting, filling me with guilt every time I reach past them for the milk. After three years of practice, I've figured out simple ways to deal with most of these problem vegetables: I braise the turnips in butter and white wine; I sauté the kale and collards with olive oil and sea salt; I wait until the parsley shrivels and then throw it out. The abundance of roughage is overwhelming.

I subscribe to a CSA —a program, short for "community supported agriculture," in which you pay in advance for a weekly box of fresh produce delivered from a local organic farm. For the most part, it's great -- until you reach your seventh straight week of radishes and start to lose the faith. I wrote for Slate about my attempts to get it back.

The Body Image Index

I've long thought that the body mass index, the oft-cited calculation of whether you're obese, is flawed -- after all, it doesn't take into account whether your extra weight comes from muscle or fat. As an (equally meaningless) alternative, I propose a different measurement, one that reflects how you actually feel. I call it the Body Image Index, and I wrote about it for O Magazine.

What do feelings have to do with numbers? Most women know that it is possible to immediately gain 15 pounds by eating one pint of Ben & Jerry's. And when it comes to your butt (which can enlarge six sizes in the wrong pair of jeans), the rules of physics no longer apply. 

We need a better way to quantify these fluctuations -- a formula that goes beyond your BMI and calculates the feel of overweight. So I propose the personal body image index (PBII).

The general idea is as follows:

• Start with your weight.  • Subtract seven pounds if you have just worked out.  • Add five if you've single-handedly finished a plate of guacamole and chips; four for macaroni and cheese; six for death-by-chocolate cake.  • Subtract 10 pounds if people nearby are fatter than you. • If you're wearing black pants, subtract two; if in a bathing suit, add eight.  • If you are more than seven years older than the group average or are surrounded by bikini-clad undergraduates with toned stomachs and cellulite-free thighs, add 20.

Omega-3 Phatty Acids

Oct. 17, 2006 | I can't say I've ever eaten yogurt fortified with microencapsulated fish fat before, but hell, there's a first time for everything. I'm in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Ian Lucas, executive vice president of global marketing at a marine research company called Ocean Nutrition, has just handed me a spoon. The yogurt sitting between us is flecked with peach, but it also contains a surprise: powdered oil from smushed anchovies, encapsulated in pork gelatin. You might say it's surf and turf in a cup. It's also just one of a slew of newly developed food products that have been fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. With the yogurt still in front of me, Lucas pours a large, cold glass of fish-oil fortified milk as I rip open a bag of omega-3 tortilla wraps -- all products that contain what's referred to in industry circles as designer lipids. Food technologists working the world over have been busy figuring out how to shrink fish oil capsules to microscopic size and bake them into bagels. Entire companies have devoted themselves to breeding algae laden with omega-3, which can be dried into flakes and used as animal feed, or sprayed as powder and used in food products. There are already omega-3-fortified eggs and infant formulas on the market (not to mention margarine, gummy candies, orange juice, fruit chews, nutrition bars, chocolate, bread, pizza crust and, yes, yogurt) -- and eventually there will be omega-3-fortified cake. There will be cookies. There will be omega-3 ice creams and cheeses. Research has even begun on omega-3 pâté.

I'll admit it: I went through a year of my life where I was obsessed with omega-3 fatty acids. Luckily for me, Salon shared the love.

A Chicken in Every Plot, a Coop in Every Backyard

Novella Carpenter remembers the day she killed her first chicken. It was a rooster named Twitchy who had been injured by an opossum that got into her backyard chicken flock. About to leave for vacation, Ms. Carpenter, 34, had no way of caring for the wounded Twitchy while she was away. So she took it to the back porch and chopped off its head.

Before I wrote this article for the dining section of the New York Times, I had no idea you could keep chickens in the city. Now I kind of want to get some.

At a Tomato Tasting, Notes of Pond and Paint

Ms. Noble, professor emerita at the University of California, Davis, said the rules were simple. Close your eyes. Don’t talk. Turn off the background music. Smell before you taste. Each tester was given a comment sheet that included suggestions from Ms. Noble for tasting notes, like melon, apple, cinnamon, coffee and pumpkin. “With the first one you’re likely to say, ‘Oh God, it smells like a tomato — how will I kill the next half hour?’ ” she said. “But that’s O.K. It takes time. And just think — you might come up with the perfect word no one has ever used to describe that note.”

With that, she set the tasters free.

During the summer, my diet primarily consists of fresh tomatoes and mozarella (and strawberries) -- so I was thrilled to get to attend a tomato tasting in Capay valley and report on it for The New York Times.

How Michael Pollan Ruined My Life

Halfway through the semester, I learned a new word: orthorexia. It means having an unhealthy obsession with eating healthily, an irony that was not lost on me as I stood in line at the Berkeley Bowl watching my groceries be rung up. Wild, line-caught salmon, pesticide-free strawberries -- by now, those were normal. But organic ice cream? Was I really now concerned about the origins of my junk food, worrying whether a mint-chocolate-chip-producing cow had access to pasture? I felt myself burning with self-righteous anger at having to be so self-righteous. I wanted to know the answer to one question: after wreaking so much havoc on my own life, what, exactly, did Pollan eat? So I did what any rational person would: I demanded to see the contents of his refrigerator.

Michael Pollan was one of my teachers at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and don't get me wrong -- he is smart, thoughtful, a fantastic teacher and an all-around great human being. But, as I pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle, he still ruined my life.

Cracking the egg code

It used to be, an egg was an egg. Now they can be cage free and free range, vegetarian and omega-3 fortified, organic, “certified humane” or “American humane certified.” The incredible, edible egg is becoming unintelligible.

For the New York Times dining section, I attempted to figure out how to interpret the labels on egg cartons. Unfortunately, researching this piece only made me more confused.