Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thoughts on the NYTimes Turning Trash into Dinner

Image via NYTimes

The New York Times's latest feature on "stem-to-root" style eating was forwarded to me by several people last week and, indeed, it was right up my alley.  While I love that this topic is trendy enough to be given a lead in the Style section, it was odd and kind of off-putting that it was framed as such a novel concept (wait, what? you can eat the skins on potatoes?!).  But there were definitely both interesting and controversial ideas buried within the article, which I will now break down in the same manner as fellow intellectuals at The Frisky approach their in-depth analysis of The Bachelorette.

The Good
  • New ideas for preserves: asparagus end sweet relish, pickled nasturium leaves.  I might also be inspired to finally try pickled watermelon rind, since I've been put off by the labor intensiveness of it.
  • Broccoli stalk salad: outer peel removed, shaved raw with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lemon zest.  I tried this, it's actually really good and tastes very similar to this.

The Bad
  • The target audience for this article:  poor poor urbanites who, in a misguided attempt at frugality, are just overwhelmed by their CSA shares.  "The kind of home cooks who make the extra effort to go the farmers’ market and support local agriculture, but whose schedules and lack of skills cause them to feel stressed by a refrigerator full of raw ingredients."  Yes, having a refrigerator full of food is incredibly stressful. We should be so lucky!
  • General Greenmarket wankery. "You feel more invested in the carrots you buy from the farmer than the ones you buy at Key Food. You feel sentimental about them, you have more respect for them.” Completely counterintuitive. Shouldn't you go to more of an effort to not waste imported goods and food that's traveled a long distance since it was more taxing on the environment to begin with?

  • NYTimes wants to poison you, but not be sued. An entire paragraph is devoted to Andrea Reusing and her technique of infusing things with things such that new flavors are imparted.  Fine, but one of the subtle new flavors suggested is almond-scented cyanogen which apparently you can obtain by cracking open cherry pits. Cyanogen begets cyanide in the body, hence a second full paragraph follows up with a disclosure statement relinquishing the NYTimes from responsibility should you actually BE poisoned by Andrea Reusing's cream.  I mean, any part-time viewer of CSI/Matlock/Law and Order/Murder She Wrote knows that an almond scent on a dead body is indicative of cyanide poisoning (at least on tv, where everybody closely sniffs dead people)!
  • Or do they?  These contradictory paragraphs represent poor and unconvincing writing to be sure, but is there any legitimate value to the cautionary bottom-covering statement against cyanide in food?  The typical exposure scenario considered by toxicologists is the consumption of CN-high (1 mg/g) bitter cassava root in Africa which can cause neurological ataxia and goiters if improperly prepared.  Poisoning for real.  However!  Cyanide in the body is countered by amino acids and goiters are fixed with the ingestion of iodide (commonly found in table salt).  So though there aren't any articles detailing the specific concentration of hydrogen cyanide in cherry pit panna cotta, it is fairly safe to say that the American with a typical diet will be just fine here.

And as anecdotal evidence in this episode of you'll be fine if you eat that, I've eaten at least two apples a week (cores, seeds, and all), for the past several years.  I highly recommend this as a fiber source/peanut butter delivery system.

So I'll leave you with an experiment suggestion for you budding scientists: take hammer to cherry pits, warm with cream, strain and whip into something tasty.  Acidify, add coloring agent, perform simple colorimetric test.  Save the world, or laugh in NYTimes's face.  You can thank me with coauthorship.


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