Friday, February 25, 2011

Cooking at Home: Apricot Glazed Brussels Sprouts

I think Brussels sprouts have a bad reputation in America. As a kid I never tasted a Brussels sprout, but I was convinced that those tiny green cabbages were disgusting and only fed to children as punishment for bad behavior. This carried on until my senior year of college when, in a daring dining moment, I ordered braised pork belly with Brussels sprouts. The pork belly was lovely, but the real revelation were the sprouts. Bright green, tender, lightly buttered, with a slightly nutty, earthy taste. It was nothing like the slimy, bitter, boiled cabbage flavor I had imagined for 20 years of my life, and I was in love.

Since then, I've roasted, boiled, broiled, casseroled, and sauteed these tiny green darlings in a number of ways, working from a basic recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That Julia Child knew a thing of two about a fool-proof recipe, and that stands to test in this case. Her basic recipe produces tender sprouts ready for eating with a little butter, or ready for dressing up in the oven or frying pan. Mastering provides quite a few delicious takes, but my take on this basic preparation is inviting to those with a distaste for sprouts, and delicious to those who already love them.

Apricot Glazed Brussels Sprouts

When shopping, look for bright green, tightly-bundled sprouts without brown spotting. I serve these alongside pork most often, but am also guilty of eating these all on their own for lunch. This recipe can be used for any amount of sprouts you like, but the recipe below is for 2 side-servings.

12-15 Brussels sprouts
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
(optional: toasted, chopped pecans)

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Once at a boil, add the Brussels Sprouts. Keep water at boil.
  3. Boil Brussels sprouts for 6-8 minutes. Precision is necessary, as over-boiled sprouts break down and develop an unpleasant taste. You can test the doneness of you sprout by removing one, and seeing if a fork goes through with only a slight amount of resistance. The middle should not have a "crisp" fork-feel.
  4. After 6-8 minutes, drain your sprouts, and run cold water over them to stunt their cooking. You can also shock the sprouts in an ice bath, although this is not necessary.
  5. Prepare a pan over medium heat to begin the glaze. For this amount, I suggest a medium-sized pan or skillet.
  6. Once your pan is heated, add butter and apricot preserves. This creates the sauce for the sprouts.
  7. Once the butter has melted and the preserves have liquefied, the glaze should bubble slowly. You should scrape the bottom of your pan to avoid scorching (as you would when making scrambled eggs). If your glaze bubbles quickly as if it is boiling, or appears to scorch, lower the heat.
  8. Add your sprouts to the pan and allow them to heat again, tossing or spooning the glaze over the sprouts. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. You may add chopped nuts, such as pecans, at this point if you wish.
  10. After allowing the Brussels sprouts to reheat and glaze for about 3-4 minutes, they are ready to serve.
If you have any comments or suggestions about this recipe, please let me know. I hope you'll adventure into the tasty world of Brussels Sprouts while they're still in season!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Critiquing the FAO's Definition of Food Security

This is a short writing sample used for one of my applications which is apropos to my previous post:

According to estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 925 million people suffered from chronic hunger in 2010. Instances of rising global prices on basic food commodities like rice imply that 2011 could bring a higher number of those suffering from chronic hunger and food insecurity. A myriad of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), governments, and individuals seek to decrease food insecurity, basing their goals on those set by international programs such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Given the relatively nascent concept of food security and the inherent collective action problems of organization at the international level, much disagreement exists about how best to address and eradicate global food insecurity.

An aspect of this is embodied by the on-going debate over the actual definition of food security and insecurity. Many scholars and development practitioners utilize the definition of food security from the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) which states that, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” This definition lays out a complex understanding of what constitutes food security, implying that physical access and economic ability to purchase food are only a basic part of ensuring food security. By this definition, populations with physical access and economic ability to purchase food would still experience food insecurity until consumers had access to many different choices of safe, nutritious food. Although this definition offers a solid basis for defining food security, its parameters may prove challenging in implementation of programs of action. A brief analysis of each parameter set forth in the 1996 WFS definition shows the potential for inconsistent or inappropriate prioritization of development goals.

In areas deemed food secure, the most basic assumption scholars and practitioners make is that adequate, stable access to food and capability to procure food exist. A lack of access or capability to sufficient food can occur in populations experiencing chronic food insecurity due to structural poverty, but also arises in situations of political or economic instability such as civil war or recession. The necessity for sufficient food is potentially the most achievable aspect of the 1996 WFS definition because it specifies no nutritional or cultural definition for the food supply. However, the expectation of access to a safe, diverse, and culturally appropriate food supply and the nutritional utilization of food add an additional layer of complication to the work of development practitioners.

This is not to say that food safety, nutrition, and a level of food abundance is not a desirable outcome for populations with food security concerns. One cannot observe a population reliant on grain alone and deem it a population with a secure food supply. In addition to sufficient access and capability to purchase food, it is logical to consider a population food insecure until the food supplied covers nutritional expectations. It is the assumption that a population is food insecure until the food supply is deemed safe and diverse enough to offer consumers choice through which to meet nutritional requirements. Through observing the repeated breakdown of the Doha Round trade talks in the World Trade Organization, it becomes apparent that international standards for food safety are not easily agreed upon. Food that comes in contact with a certain pesticide may be considered safe in one country, but not in another. Which standards satisfy the definition of safely produced food? Additionally, the implication that a population which is otherwise able to meet their nutritional daily values through a stable food supply suffers from food insecurity does a potential disservice to those facing structural or temporary issues of food security.

Perhaps the overarching problem with the 1996 WFS is not necessarily one of definition, but of measurement. While the WFS definition encompasses the multidimensional challenges of combatting food insecurity, its scope potentially convolutes the appropriate hierarchy of necessary action on the part of practitioners. In an ideal world, humankind would have physical and economic access to a sufficiently safe, nutritious, and diverse food supply. However, it seems inappropriate for development practitioners to focus scarce resources on areas in need of more culturally appropriate nutrition as opposed to focusing aid on populations suffering from structural inability to access nutritious food. With a measurement of the relative need resulting from each aspect of food security, perhaps development practitioners could more efficiently curb instances of food insecurity.

What Does "Food Security" Mean?

"So what do you want to do after college?" This sentence haunted me during my last semester of undergraduate study, but it wasn't because I had no answer. I knew that I wanted to work on issues pertaining to food security and development, and preferred to study cases in the African Sahel. However, most of those concepts are lost on, say, my grandmother who is a Realtor or my brother who is going pro in keg tapping. (Sorry Nana and Marshall!) I dreaded questions about my future because I am terrible at condensing my interests and ultimate career goals. Eventually, I got better at stating my point, concisely. "I want to study food security issues in developing African countries in graduate school, and hope to apply my expertise in a non-governmental body or with an agency like USAID." However, my friends and family still expressed confusion over what I meant by "food security."

Although many scholars still quibble over exact definitions of the terms "food security" or "food insecurity," many agree that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization provides a solid definition.

"Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Essentially, those working to curb instances of food insecurity focus on a myriad of issues ranging from the micro-level (issues like household nutrition, best practices for sustainable household farming) to macro-level issues (such as World Trade Organization tariff quotas on agricultural products). Food security is an on-going and complex issue tied in to economics, culture, national and international politics, geography- I could go on. Recently I've been interested in how one country's domestic agricultural policy affects agricultural output in another. (For instance, how does USDA subsidization of corn affect output or price of corn in Zimbabwe?) I'm also interested in the politics of famine (did you know that famine can happen when a surplus of food exists in a country?!) and the role of intergovernmental organizations in impacting global food policy.

Seems pretty dry, doesn't it? Oh well. Food has had such a profound impact in my life at a level much higher than simple nutritional subsistence. Food sustains us physically, of course, but food can be a spiritual thing. Food has the power to connect us to the earth, to our past, to the people in our lives, and to people we'll never know. I doubt I'll have the ability to instill this reverence about food in others, and that certainly isn't my goal. I simply hope to make some small positive effect on the life or lives of those who are hungry and unable to help themselves. We'll wait and see how that goes.

Checking In:

I've not posted in a while! Settling in to my job and continuing to work on graduate applications has distracted me. I've gotten one letter of rejection and am waiting to hear from 8 more schools.

Ideally I'd like to post here at least once per week, if not more, so start looking for more posts. On the horizon, look for posts on global food prices, a discussion of what food security means, and the recent USDA approval of GMO alfalfa.

In the meantime, eat well and be well!