Posts tagged meat

Hope You’re Thirsty!

Water, water everywhere! As you already know, water, the fresh, drinkable kind, is an increasingly scarce resource these days. Which is why you take short showers, water gardens at non-peak sun hours, and put off washing your car every week (at least it’s a great excuse!). But did you know that every 8 oz. cup of joe you slurp down in the morning uses 140 liters of water? Or that every cup of tea uses 35 liters? Better hope you’re thirsty!

Cuppa Joe

You see, the real water use of a product includes not only the eight ounces of H2O that you put into the coffee maker, but also the water used in the growth and processing of the plant that becomes your morning wake-up potion. Even if you make a habit of conserving water directly, your buying habits can make a HUGE difference in the amount of actual water your lifestyle consumes. To find out more about your REAL water consumption, visit www.waterfootprint.org and use their handy water calculator to determine whether that weekly BigMac is using more than it’s fair share of your budget (trust me, it is: 1 lb of beef requires a staggering 8,000 liters of water to produce!).

While you’re there, check out the data on the nations of the world and how they score on their water footprints. Compare the nations’ abilities to limit their consumption to domestic supplies. You’ll probably be surprised.

So next time you’re at the market, consider buying more foods that have a minimal water footprint, rather than water-heavy meats and processed foods. And if you need a jolt in the morning, try tea instead of coffee, or even better, an alternative combination like fresh fruit and a morning walk. After all, with so many of the world’s population literally running out of potable water to drink, it’s one of the most effective ways you can help to share the wealth.

As a parting shot, take a look at this booklet, produced by the World Wildlife Fund, concerning agriculture and the environmental devastation caused by “thirsty crops”.

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Forget the $10 Solar Cooker!

How about $3.50 instead? As often as I tweaked my previously profiled windshield solar cooker, there remained a real wind problem (as it was constantly falling over in the unpredictable gusts that are SoCal’s weather), and it never seemed to get QUITE hot enough for me to trust cooking something like meat or eggs within. So rather than tinker into oblivion, when I fortuitously found a nice sized box on the side of the road, I decided to make myself a little box cooker. After locating another box to house the inner cooker, and reading the many variations on recommended construction in a few books, I promptly threw out the plans and just went at it myself.

First up, finding tin foil. I had a roll at home, but it would have costs me $1 otherwise, so that’s the running total so far. I also had a few rolls of aluminum foil tape from when they had some at the 99 cents only store, of which I used one roll (10 yards) in construction, bringing the total to $2. The cement factory down the street threw out a buch of AirPaks (the plastic air filled bubbles you use as packing material for large items), which became the insulation for my oven. Price? A trip to their dumpster. Holding it all together was a roll of duct tape, also bought for a dollar, and a nice oven “window” made of cardboard and a Reynold’s Oven Bag ($0.50). Grand total – $3.50 and about an hour’s work. Not exactly a bank-breaker.

First, I lined the smaller box with foil on the inside, taping edges down with the aluminum foil tape. When I was happy with that, I closed up the other box completely with duct tape, making sure to cover ALL cracks well with the tape to minimize heat loss. I placed the smaller box on top of the large and traced around it to create a cut line for inserting the one box in the other. There were about 3 inches on each long end of the box around the smaller one and about an inch on the two shorter sides. So I dropped in two pieces of folded up cardboard on the bottom and secured them (to support the weight of the inner box and pots, etc), and then surrounded them with the AirPaks. After dropping the inner box down into the larger one, I secured the flaps to the large box with duct or aluminum tape, depending on where, and then stood back to see what I’d created.

Not bad. It looked relatively like the ones I’d seen in the books, even though I’d been reading warnings about how these cardboard versions would “never hold up like one of wood”, it looked pretty sturdy. Now on to the lid. Given that my top surface wasn’t exactly level the whole way across (it dipped in the corners where I taped things into place), I was wondering how to trap in the heat while still providing easy access. In a moment of inspiration (or was it desperation? I can’t remember now!) I thought to build a square frame of cardboard, and then place it inside a plastic oven bag, creating my own version of double glazing which was VERY easy to construct. Then I taped this down to the cooker along one edge and found two fist sized rocks to hold down the open corners, creating, with the excess plastic I’d left a little loose around the edges from the bag, a pretty decent seal.

Next up? You guessed it, time to test her out! I went to store and got some hot dogs. Now, I never liked hot dogs much even as a kid, but hey, this is an experiment, right? (and they’re already cooked, so I don’t have to worry much about food poisoning) So I cut four of them in half, and then added a few slits along the body of each so that I could tell if it actually cooked (did you ever make “hot dog men” in your microwave before? Same idea.) and placed them in the two back pans I’ve used previously. Put in the sun at about 2:30, the hot dogs were visibly cooked by 3:05 on a pretty hot sunny day. And the plate was HOT, requiring a leather work glove to remove from the oven, which was also quite warm (didn’t use a thermometer this time). They smelled great, sort of like a sweet sausage rather than your standard picnic fare, and there was a bunch of liquid in the bottom of the pan that had cooked out. As far as I could tell, it was mostly fat, but perhaps water as well.

In the name of science, I ate a bit, and found that the sweet smell translated to taste, making them pretty good. The biggest test was when I left the room a moment and came back to find my two best taste testers (my cats) happily smacking their lips around an almost empty plate. Two cats made it through three hot dogs in a minute? It must be good! Happy, I put the cooker away and called it a day.

Today, I pulled out the oven for another test. Having fulfilled my meat-eaters’ test, I returned to something I’d actually cook for myself. I bought two zucchini and cut them up in 1/4 rounds about 1/2 inch thick. It filled the bottom of the pan completely, about two layers deep. Next, I added about three tablespoons of cheddar cheese and roasted red pepper spreadable cheese and mixed well. On the top, I added a dash of “Chef’s Essence” spice, which seems to be a mix of garlic, salt and a little chili powder. The mix went out in the sun at 12:20 on another hot sunny day as I sat down to watch Fast Food Nation (see my previous post).

At first check, they were good, but still a little firm. So I gave the mixture another twenty minutes (40 total) and brought the oven inside. Again, the plate was too hot to handle (but the oven wasn’t, which I’d worried about). This little cooker doesn’t mess around! Properly gloved, I removed the meal and opened up the pot. Wow! Perfectly cooked to a nice steamed tender with the cheese melted into everything, giving it a little kick and a lot of creaminess. It was seriously good, and very filling. My hurried picture doesn’t do it much justice. RESULT? Total success. I like this cooker already, and though I won’t scrap the windshield shade cooker, I trust this one more with foods that require a hot temperature to cook through. They are about the same size, and as you’ve read, neither costs much to make. So, since the long days of summer are approaching, what are you waiting for? You can be a gourmet slow foods cook by tomorrow!

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fast Food Nation

If you’ve never read the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, get to the bookstore right now.  You’ll never feel the same about fast food again.  Or most other food, for that matter.  But I’m not here to review the book (which is wonderful), I’m here about the movie.  I was interested to see this film, because the book is written in an expose journalistic style, and the movie sells itself as a fictional account.  How do the two work together?

 Fast Food Nation

So, I put some food in my new solar cooker (more about this in my next post!) and settled in to watch.  While there are gruesome scenes that leave you depressed, the movie is not nearly so hard-hitting as the book.  It starts with a coyote leading several migrants over the border to seek a new life in America.  Predictably, one doesn’t make it (or so you assume… this is something you will have to do a lot in this film if you want any questions “answered” in your head), illustrating the risks that these hopeful workers face even before reaching their grueling factory life.  Across the country, a new VP of Marketing for the fictional Mickeys fast food chain gets an assignment to chase down rumors that there are high levels of eColi in the beef.  Basically, there’s shit in the meat, and management wants to know either why, or how that info got out there in the first place.  So he travels to small-town Cody to investigate, meeting Amber, a Mickey’s employee, when he gets into town.  She’s in high school at that coming-out-of-her-shell age, working lots of hours at the restaurant to help her mother make ends meet.  The rest of the story follows, at various points, Amber, the VP (Greg Kinnear, but I can’t remember his fictional name), and the migrant workers who are dropped off at the meat packing plant that supplies all the meat for Mickey’s burgers. 

While the information presented was factually interesting, and visually disturbing at times, I had trouble feeling like a coherent story emerged from the separate narratives.  The workers, portrayed primarily by Fez from the 70s show, his wife, and her sister, go to the factory, are disgusted by the job, but amazed by the pay, and each follow a separate path toward destruction.  The guy gets hurt and subsequently fired, the wife can’t take it and quits to go to a low-pay hotel maid job but eventually has to come back and beg for a job when her husband is fired, and the sister gets involved with the supervisor at the plant and gets hooked on speed.  All the while, Amber is learning about what it means to be a corporate cog, like her mother (Patricia Arquette) while her coworkers plan a robbery that never goes down, and her uncle (Ethan Hawke) tries valiantly to get her to follow her dreams.  She meets college students who are activists, and they plan a way to try and get back at the meat packing plants for their brutal practices.  Greg Kinnear, however, is also having an eye-opening week, talking with ranchers, factory workers, and Mickey’s employees about the rumored horrors at the plant.   Suddenly, his burgers aren’t tasting so sweet anymore.  In the end, we see a new crop of future workers making that dusty trek across the desert to replace the ones we’ve seen get used up by the system, completing the ugly circle.

It was enjoyable to watch (especially Amber’s performance), save the prolific amounts of raw meat and dead and dying animals.  Totally gross to see them get killed and chopped up, to see people mushing up pieces of bad meat to become your ground beef patties.  Like the worker’s wife, upon seeing the kill room, I cried a few tears.  And knowing that whatever was shown was likely sanitized a bit for the screen made it all the more uncomfortable.  But I never felt the same angry call to action that I felt upon reading the book.  I almost felt I’d rather have watched a documentary than a fictional account that tried to cover so much territory, albeit pretty well.  That being said, even my cooked zucchini lunch looked kind of unappetizing after all that carnage!

If you haven’t read the book, then this movie will be interesting to watch without preconceived ideas.  Watch it first, then head for the bookstore to back up the story with facts you can pull out at a cocktail party or activist meeting.  If you’ve read the book already… well, read it again!  =)  You can never know too much about the harm the fast food industry in particular but all franchise commerical low-wage industries in general do to our society

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