Thursday, March 19, 2009

Monsanto for dessert

Yesterday I got my last copy of Saveur magazine. My financial situation is so grim that I have started getting rid of anything that isn't essential so all the magazine subscriptions have been 86'd (maybe I'll read them occasionally as a treat at an airport). Magazines are in general a huge waste of natural resources (old growth forests! who needs them?) that it made sense, to me, to just stop the madness.

So when I got my last copy, which had a big sign on it saying LAST COPY! I was sad and opened it up promptly to see what I was going to be missing henceforth. On the cover is a wonderful picture of a luscious chocolate caramel tart, chocolate crust with a gooey caramel filling topped with a layer of chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. I showed the picture to Neil, he looked at and said "we've had that!" Indeed we have, this recipe is from a restaurant I have written about many times, one that I respect greatly for their dedication to sustainable agriculture and local ingredients Marlowe & Sons.

By this point my heart is pounding and I'm all ready to get out my pen and write a grocery list and plan on making this piece of heaven immediately. There on page 102 is my soon to be, most favorite tart to make. Then I look at the ingredients. It starts off good with butter, flour, cocoa...then I see confectioners' sugar. Why don't they say organic or offer a substitution? Commercial confectioners' sugar is made with genetically modified corn starch, unless of course you specify organic or add a little asterisk to it and say at the bottom: "oh hey you might not want to help Monsanto ruin the planet by buying products that contain genetically modified organisms", but then I breath and think "it's just icing sugar, get over yourself."

[A side note on icing sugar is that instead of spending more money on another food "product" you can just put regular organic sugar into a food processor and whizz it about until it's ultra fine, a perfectly fine substitute or you can go out and by one of the many brands of organic confectioners' sugar. Or in the case of this pastry you could indeed just use sugar. The French have used it to great effect for a long time now. Although a very fine baker and friend of mine who owns a very successful business here in NYC, Maury Rubin, uses it in his pastry and he is French trained, but I also know he uses all organic ingredients at City Bakery. Who knows? I'm self taught, I never went to any fancy school to learn how to make fancy pies, maybe the French have discovered icing sugar as the new ne plus ultra of pate sucre.]

The next section "for the caramel": ...1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tbsp light corn syrup..." What?! Did I read that right? Saveur magazine writes a cover article on the RESTAURANTS THAT MATTER, including this beacon of local sustainability, and they publish a recipe with two ingredients brought to you by Monsanto? What is wrong with this picture? If it were in Quick n' Cheap Eats magazine and the recipe was by Paula Dean or Rachael Rae I'd not even mention it, but that's not where it's coming from. It's coming from my favorite food magazine and one of the restaurants I admire most in NYC.

Let me be perfectly clear. Under no circumstances do you ever need to use corn syrup.

In the chocolate pecan pie I make, I substitute dark grade B maple syrup instead of high fructose corn syrup. In this instance you could use any number of things. Off the top of my head, I'd say the fancy grade A light maple syrup or maybe agave syrup or maybe use brown sugar instead of white and just not add anything else? It's just 3 tablespoons. And please don't go on about how the viscosity and sweetness of corn syrup is so unique. Bullshit. It's so sweet because it was made in a fucking lab, OK? It was "developed" in a lab as a cheap substitute for sugar so big corporations like Coca Cola could make more profit. It is sweeter than sugar, it was engineered that way. It's the worst of science and the worst of "products" (I always put "products" in quotes because it is not food). Period, end of discussion. Those are the facts, so why do we ignore them?

The really insidious thing about this is when you buy high fructose corn syrup in a store, as I have had to do for food styling work, it says on the label in big letters "Corn Syrup", but when you look at the ingredients you see the truth: high fructose corn syrup. Of course big food corporations with the help of the previous republican government made it possible for you to not have to state if any of the contents are genetically modified. 65% of American food "products" contain genetically modified substances.

The farming of GM crops wreaks unfathomable havoc on our soil, ecosystems and health. I could list a page of links to medical, scientific, farming and health sites detailing long list of the hazards, both environmental and health, that this kind of agriculture engenders.

When are we going to wake up? What hope is there if smart, talented people cook and publish recipes calling for the use of ingredients that we know are destroying our planet and making us sick?

So tomorrow I am going to make this tart with real food and will report back.

Oh and in case anybody is still reading and wondering why exactly this makes me upset, recently Neil and I watched Werner Herzog's new documentary Encounters at the End of the World. A must see exploration of life in Antarctica. At one point more then half way through the film Herzog, who narrates, says quite casually that the scientific community seems to agree that there will be another massive extinction event like the one that killed the dinosaurs only next time the species that becomes extinct will be humans. Most agree it will happen sooner then we think.

Go ahead have extra GM high fructose corn syrup in your pie, while you can.

For more information check out:

or watch the video:

Neil sneaks in with a posting! Let's see how long Mark takes to notice I did this.
Its the citation for a research paper by a friend of mine, liver pathologist colleague Beth Brunt, and her collaborative team. It is a nice big, digestible bit of organic scientific research that backs up Mark's concerns about high fructose corn syrup in the diet, i.e. Why Americans (and Everyone Who Eats Like an American, Including Rats) are Fat and Diabetic... Severe Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Dosease with hepatic necroinflammatory changes in mice fed trans fats and a high-fructose corn syrup equivalent.Tetri LH, Basaranoglu M, Brunt EM, Yerian LM, Neuschwander-Tetri Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2008; 295: G987-95.
Abstract: "The aims of this study were to determine whether combining features of a western lifestyle in mice with trans fats in a high-fat diet, high-fructose corn syrup in the water, and interventions designed to promote sedentary behavior would cause the hepatic histopathological and metabolic abnormalities that characterize nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Male C57BL/6 mice fed ad libitum high-fat chow containing trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) and relevant amounts of a high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) equivalent for 1-16 wk were compared with mice fed standard chow or mice with trans fats or HFCS omitted. Cage racks were removed from western diet mice to promote sedentary behavior. By 16 wk, trans fat-fed mice became obese and developed severe hepatic steatosis with associated necroinflammatory changes. Plasma alanine aminotransferase levels increased, as did liver TNF-alpha and procollagen mRNA, indicating an inflammatory and profibrogenic response to injury. Glucose intolerance and impaired fasting glucose developed within 2 and 4 wk, respectively. Plasma insulin, resistin, and leptin levels increased in a profile similar to that seen in patients with NASH. The individual components of this diet contributed to the phenotype independently; isocaloric replacement of trans fats with lard established that trans fats played a major role in promoting hepatic steatosis and injury, whereas inclusion of HFCS promoted food consumption, obesity, and impaired insulin sensitivity. Combining risk factors for the metabolic syndrome by feeding mice trans fats and HFCS induced histological features of NASH in the context of a metabolic profile similar to patients with this disease.
Because dietary trans fats promoted liver steatosis and injury, their role in the epidemic of NASH needs further evaluation."

(This is Mark, the reason Neil talks so funny is because he's a doctor.)

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