Once upon a time, Anjana and Drew…
made pink macarons with strawberry filling…
… and then A̶u̶d̶r̶e̶y̶ ̶H̶e̶p̶b̶u̶r̶n̶ Aunna showed up.
We even let her have a few of our purple macarons filled with chocolate ganache.
Then, Aunna and Drew were friends forever and ever.
(and with Anjana, too)
The End / La Fin
Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s chef d’oeuvre, is a truly eye-opening experience in many ways and has challenged conventions that I accept on a daily basis, never having thought to question them. Pollan pierces to the heart of our modern food system and, with journalistic excellence, asks us to reevaluate our role in the whole sordid process. How do I choose which foods go into the shopping cart or how to prepare and eat healthfully? What are the hidden costs of industrialized agriculture? How have we strayed so far from the undeniable logic of nature to adopt such a precarious, profit-driven system? The challenge is answering these questions and then transforming the responses into habits, lifestyles and even world views.
We all make choices and, to some extent, are all guilty of ignoring long-term consequences for instant gratification - which is exactly what the current system encourages. To make the smart choices, we need to reform the production, allocation, and distribute of food in a meaningful way that takes public health - not profits - as the paramount goal. It’s easy to lose sight of the real costs of such a system between pollution, health problems, oil consumption/dependence, animal welfare, and countless other negative externalities (or, in layman’s terms, spill-over effects). We simply don’t pay enough for food, as crazy as that sounds. Americans are obsessed with a race to the bottom, producing prodigious quantities of bare-minimum quality foods. During my time abroad, it seemed to me that Europeans have a race to the top, choosing to consume less but only of the very best quality available. Cultural institutions that govern the ways in which we interact with food are slow to change, both a blessing and a curse, depending on which side of the divide one happens to fall.
One issue is asymmetric information - corporations know how to hide the depravities of the food system and market products in an enticing way, with consumers further and farther from the production than ever before. We really don’t know what we eat anymore. Or, for that matter, what we should eat. I’ve read about half a dozen books, watched more than as many documentaries, and continue to seek out more information in my quest to inform myself. I’ve only just scratched the surface. Alternative, informed eating requires a commitment that many cannot make due to limited time, money, underdeveloped cooking skills or simply feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly endless stream of information one must analyze and catalogue.
As an economist, I strongly believe in the ability of economics to accurately describe the world, provide information, and respond to consumer demands. That being said, I’m also weary of unrestrained capitalism that leads to negative consequences for society while companies skim profits. The good news is that we have the tools from economics, psychology, and other fields of study to help correct some of these distortions. Nudge by Thaler & Sunstein offers some excellent (and shockingly simple) insights into how we might design systems that encourage people to make decisions with their own best interest in mind.
While we can make macroscopic changes, wholesale reform won’t take place anytime soon and we must use the power of aggregated individual demands to signal to supranational corporations and governments what type of food we really want to eat. Using our precious dollars to vote for high-quality, organic, local foods will eventually result in an increased supply and lower prices. It’s a matter of priorities and if we aren’t willing to be our own advocates, then we will forever be at the mercy of an unsustainable and wildly dangerous food system. I will leave you with a thought from Joel Salatin of Polyface (a featured farmer in Omnivore): “We don’t need a law against McDonald’s or a law against slaughterhouse abuse — we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.” How will you opt out?
My photography is at Poetic Justice Café from now until March’s Final Friday. Go check out this great little café and indulge yourself with a nutella crêpe or a fresh croissant!
300 S Greenwich, Wichita, KS
Perhaps you’ve already surmised from my Rubenesque silhouette that I have cultivated a great passion for food & its preparation. I would point to my semester in Berlin when, by the proverbial mother of invention, I first took a meaningful interest in food. Alright, I might have also spent countless hours drooling over Barefoot Contessa’s creations on Food Network. Sans microwave & with a tiny, tiny freezer, I started cooking from scratch almost daily. The challenge of creatively combining healthy ingredients without many kitchen gadgets was something I approached with relish (oh yes, pun intended). Over the course of the semester, I hosted many dinner parties & became comfortable winging it in the kitchen. However, I’ve more recently turned from food’s preparation to the agricultural systems that produce, distribute, & allocate it. Agronomics, previously an impossibly boring subject, now piques my interest - as an economist, an eater, & not least as a concerned world citizen.
My supply-side exploration began with Netflix documentaries about the travesties of industrial agriculture & our fundamentally flawed food system. Michael Pollan was frequently featured, always with a relevant & poignant comment. Eventually, I watched his documentary:The Botany of Desire. My dear friend Toby bought me the book for Christmas, which I read quickly before moving on to Food Rules, In Defense of Food, & currently The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Along with Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, these are all must-reads & have helped me make better decisions each time I open the fridge. Armed with these books, I’m on a mini-mission to understand & circumvent modern industrial agriculture.
It would be impossible to distill everything I’ve learned, but suffice it to say that I dream of the days when I can afford to eat nothing but locally-grown organic food & tend to my own compost pile. In the interim, I’m trying to convince my family to make healthier choices by cooking more so that these foods are easily accessible & ready-to-eat. Additionally, I’m incorporating more vegetables & eating more raw, whole foods, which will be a whole lot easier once the farmer’s market reopens. I’m a sucker for cheese, butter, milk, & ice cream, so when I heard about a farmer who sold raw milk products out of his own barn, I had to go for a visit.
The JaKo farm is located on a dirt road just outside of Yoder, Kansas - a short drive from Wichita. On my way there, I noticed sheep lounging about in a pasture (more rare these days than one might think) & dozens of strutting chickens with a handsome grass yard (another modern rarity). Inside the barn freezers & fridges store chicken, lamb, beef, cream, milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, raw honey & many, many other scrumptious goodies (apple butter!!!). I stocked up on basics & left my money, as instructed, in the bowl sitting on the table (yes, really). It’s indescribably refreshing to support a farmer who respects the animals & land upon which he makes a living. There’s certainly a price differential, but I’m more than willing to pay more for delicious, sustainable, local food. While I haven’t had the chance to sample everything, I am extremely impressed with the methods of production & quality, though I could do without the styrofoam meat packaging. I plan on attending a small farm tour in early March & would enjoy the opportunity to meet the hand that feeds me. For now, I’ll enjoy these great products & delve a little deeper into agronomics.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out the JaKo website.
It is now imperative to my existence that I own one of these.
For the longest time, I didn’t think I would like macarons because I’d tried their brash American cousin: macaroons. To me, they tasted too eggy and were dry, even powdery. Luckily, I tempted my luck about 5 months into my semester abroad last spring. Let’s just say, I made something of a three-point turn and a little seed has been growing in my brain ever since, especially once I found out how insanely difficult they are to make. I frequently distract myself from studying for exams by baking, so when finals rolled around, I started macaron preparations with my dear friend Anjana. I bought a kitchen scale, decorative sugar, etc. but couldn’t lay my hands on any almond meal, not that I thoroughly searched or had much time. Fast forward to this week.
Jérôme got me an adorable macaron recipe book for Christmas & I was bored out of my mind sitting in the apartment, afraid of the cold & clouds. Donna & I attempted to make Italian meringue macarons à vanille two days ago, but my infinite ignorance doomed us from the start. They were flat or without foot, undercooked, filled with a far too liquid jelly, and so forth. There wasn’t a mistake that I didn’t make. Most importantly, however, is that I learned a lot and spent several hours researching macarons, better equipping myself for Round Two. I wish my Papa Richard were still around to teach me how to use a piping bag. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to put it together & don’t even get me started on technique…
Yesterday I bought myself a lovely handheld mixer at Carrefour. With said luxury in hand, I made the French meringue macaron recipe provided by Mrs. Humble. It took several batches to find the sweet spot in what passes for an oven in this apartment. Given that it’s half the size of even the tiniest cookie sheet and we have but one casserole dish that actually fits inside, I was obliged to use it (upside-down, no less) and then cool with water between batches. Oh, yes, I am resourceful. I even managed to make a meringue in a glass salad bowl, since I obviously don’t have copper and lack even stainless steel.
Finally got the piping technique down. The goal is to make identical, quarter-sized dollops that spread out to make a roughly 3cm diameter cookie.
I thought maybe I could just place the parchment paper directly on the rack. HAHAHA.
The ceramic dish helped, but I still over-cooked them. The cracked top indicates the oven was too hot, if I understand correctly.
In the end, I made a second batch which came out very well. Even tried my hand at color for the first time but failed miserably, as I was shooting for pastel pink and got pale, dusty lilac. I cannot wait to get back to a properly equipped kitchen, reasonably priced ingredients (instead of depending on the corner shop for basics, since I don’t have a car here), and a huuuuuge oven.
Nearly perfect macarons, with feet:
I made a vanilla crème for the interior but the recipe must be botched because Donna & I couldn’t get it to work the first time & I didn’t have any better luck by myself. I’m going to make a chocolate ganache to fill them. We’re having a little dinner party Saturday, so these will make the perfect dessert! In fact, they are supposed to rest 48-72 hours in the fridge so the dry cookies can soak up some of the filling’s moisture. I hope our French guests will be mesmerized by this mac making merican. :)
First & Foremost: http://notsohumblepie.blogspot.com/
Youtube (duh): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bri6xnDBl9I along with several others… just search for macarons & watch away! Good stuff in French, as to be expected)
Macarons - José Maréchal, photos by Akiko Ida (in French)