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SNAP or “Food Stamps” and Free Lunch

About 20 percent of US households are on “food stamps.” Conservatives look at that number and say, “Good grief! Twenty percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program logothe US is getting a free lunch, and the rest of us are paying for it!” Liberals, seeing the same number, say “Good grief! Twenty percent of the US lives in such poverty that they can’t afford to eat without government assistance!”

Some facts may provide a clearer picture of the “food-stamp program.”

First of all, it’s no longer stamps – it’s a card, an Electrical Benefits Transfer (EBT) Card. It used to be called the Food Stamp program, but now it’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It’s the government assistance program to help low-income households pay for food.

Last year, 2013,76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits go th these vulnerable household.

SNAP eligibility is limited to households with gross income of no more than 130% of the federal poverty guideline, but the majority of households have income well below the maximum: 83% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 100% of the poverty guideline ($19,530 for a family of 3 in 2013), and these households receive about 91% of all benefits. 61% of SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013).

The average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744; net monthly income of $338 after the standard deduction and, for certain households, deductions for child care, medical expenses, and shelter costs; and countable resources of $331, such as a bank account.

The statistics cited in this post come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. If you’d like more information on this subject, check out feedingamerica.org —  that’s what we did.

Lean, Finely Textured Beef, or Pink Slime

Ground beeIf you haven’t heard of pink slime, you’re fortunate. Pink slime is gross. The meat industry calls it “lean finely textured beef,” a wonderful phrase which shows that poets and rhetoricians have an important role to play in industrial America.

Pink slime, or lean finely textured beef, is a meat filler that is routinely added to hamburger. Think of it as hamburger helper that you didn’t know was there. Most of the time when you buy a slice of meat the label tells you what part you’re getting – chuck, sirloin, tenderloin, and the like – but when you buy hamburger the label often says simply ground beef. And if you take the leftover bits of those named cuts, plus muscle, connective tissue and blood which would ordinarily be dumped, and heat all this, spin it to remove the now liquid fat, and compress the remainder you get what a federal microbiologist called “pink slime.” The name stuck, because that’s what it looks like.

Getting rid of the fat in those throwaway leftovers means that you can add this stuff to fattier ground beef and thereby reduce the percentage of fat in the total. That way you can end up with hamburger that’s, say, 80 percent lean, just like the ground beef that’s made from a cut of meat that’s naturally 80 percent lean. And since pink slime is made from beef it’s not considered an additive so there’s no regulation compelling the meat industry to label the mixed ground beef as having this stuff in it. Oh, it’s true that these leftover bits are more likely to contain pathogens, so the meat is gassed with ammonium hydroxide to kill them, a treatment considered safe and approved by the FDA.

Well, enough of this juvenile grossness! It’s estimated that 70 percent of the ground beef for sale in your local grocery store has got pink slime in it. You’ve already eaten a barrel of the stuff and you’re OK. Stop whining. Or regurgitating. If you want more on this subject, there’s a balanced piece  that was on NPR a while ago. Bon appétite!


Pumpkin Pie is in Season

You can make pumpkin pie from that pumpkin you cleaned out and carved into a jack-o-lantern.Pumpkin_Pie slice Sure, we know that chefs recommend using what’s called a pie pumpkin or a sweet pumpkin, not the kind used for a jack-o-lantern. But, in fact, people have used the pulp, or meat, from inside a jack-o-lantern and they report it works fine.

Frankly, we haven’t tried it. But if you intrepid adventurers want to attempt it, the first thing to do is to cut off and throw away the parts burnt by the candle or covered with wax. Then put the whole jack-o-lantern (with the lid but minus the stem) on a baking sheet and let it bake at 300 degrees for an hour or more or until the pumpkin begins to collapse. Then let it cool down, scrape the pulp away from the skin and mash it up. Now put the mashed pumpkin pulp in a cheese cloth bag and twist it until you’ve squeezed the water out. Too much work? We agree. Buy a can of mashed up, cooked pumpkin. Ready?

Set your oven to 400 degrees.

1 1/2 cups of mashed cooked pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of sugar
1 or maybe 1 1/4 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 of ginger
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
You can double the amount of ginger and cloves, if you want.
3 slightly beaten eggs
1 1/4 cups of milk
1 6-ounce can of evaporated milk
and your 9-inch unbaked pastry shell.

Thoroughly mix the pumpkin, salt and sugar and those spices, then blend in the eggs and milk, including the evaporated milk. Now pour it all into the pastry shell and bake it at 400 degrees F for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the pie comes out clean.
The fancy carved pumpkin pictured above was made by Jack Amoroso, an artist living in Florida. The only tools he uses are a sharp knife and a vivid immagination.

Pasta and a Summer Tomato Sauce

A bowl of pasta and tomato sauce can be delicious, but in hot weather you may be reluctant to heat your kitchen with long-simmering sauce. So here’s a Roman summer-day recipe that combines pasta and tomatoes with minimal heat.

Blissfully ripe tomato eager to be picked

Blissfully Ripe Tomato

Gather four blissfully ripe tomatoes that have never seen the inside of a
refrigerator.  Find some cheese, such as fresh mozzarella, brie or gorgonzola, that you can cut into small pieces, plus a couple of cloves of garlic that you can dice or put through a press. Also a few garden-fresh basil leaves or, lacking basil, other fresh herbs. (If you grow tomatoes, we suggest you should grow basil, too.) And we assume you have olive oil, salt and pepper at hand.



Grow Your Own Basil

Cut the tomatoes in half and drain, then chop them a bit, and put them in a bowl and add about a quarter of a cup of olive oil. Next, mix in a half a cup of torn basil leaves (or those other fresh herbs), the diced garlic and sliced cheese. Now cover the bowl and let the flavors mingle for at least two hours at room temperature.


When you’re ready, cook up your pasta. We have in mind some of the shorter pastas – such as small shells or bow ties or spirals – rather than the longer spaghetti or fusilli. Mix the pasta with the room-temperature tomato sauce – just stir and toss, somewhat like a salad. Add some slices of cheese, if you want, such as Romano or Parmigiano. Enjoy the summer day.

This recipe comes from the painter Willie Marlowe.  We finicky critics have tasted it.  It’s excellent.

More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.