Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Substitute Jicama Fries for Potato Fries

In The Third Plate: Field Notes on a New Cuisine, Dan Barber argues good food arises from good farming practices. A James Beard award-winning chef, Barber practices what he preaches by serving up delicious food at his restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The food at his restaurant is sourced from local farms in the Hudson Valley as well as his own farm, the Stone Barns Center. Moving beyond the farm to table movement, Barber promotes whole farm cooking, where cuisine is developed from what the landscape provides. For instance, he offers a seasonal dish called, "Rotation Risotto", which features whole grains, legumes, and a puree of brassicas instead of rice.

Barber laments the industrialization of our food, which converted the diverse land of the midwest into a grain producing machine. He notes that more than 80% of American farmland is in grain production—corn, wheat, and rice, mostly. In contrast, vegetables and fruits occupy just 8% of our farmland. Corn sweeteners and wheat are the primary sources of grain in the American diet, with the average American consuming 130 pounds of wheat per year.

Not only is the great majority of farmland in America devoted to just a few grain crops, the industrialization of our food has led to a homogenization of our food. Early domestication of wheat yielded diversity of flavor and species. Then, Norman Borlaug, a scientist working for DuPont, discovered that adding fertilizer to wheat production tripled growth. However, growth was too rapid and the variety of wheat he was cultivating rotted. Borlaug then used samples of a short-straw wheat from Japan and began growing new semidwarf crosses which grew rapidly and thrived. By 1963, ninety-five percent of the wheat grown in Mexico was of the semidwarf variety, which now dominates U.S. farmland as well. Not only did semidwarf wheat increase yields, but the harder wheat was also better suited for processing by steel roller mills, which enabled mass production of highly refined flour.

Wheat isn't the only example of monoculture in our food supply. Food industrialization also homogenized the potato industry. An article in The Modern Farmer notes, "In the early 1900s, the Russet Burbank was just one of thousands of different types of potatoes grown in the U.S. By the late 1980s this single variety made up the vast majority of U.S.-grown potatoes and is still the most familiar potato in the country today. Why? Well, it’s an all-purpose potato that holds up all right—though by no means ideally—whether baked, boiled, or mashed. But its most common and popular form is also the main reason for its rise to dominance: the McDonald’s French fry."

While some may argue industrialized food feeds the masses cheaply, it comes at a significant cost. Industrialized food lacks diversity. The loss of food diversity reduces flavor variety. Humans are designed to seek out a variety of foods and flavors.  From an evolutionary standpoint, eating a variety of different foods in the wild ensured all vitamins and minerals would be accounted for. By moving towards a food system that supports monocultures, we run the risk of developing micronutrient deficiencies.

One way you can combat food homogenization is to diversify.  Introduce a variety of colorful vegetables into your child's diet and constantly expose them to new types of foods.  For instance, instead of the same old french fry made from Russet potatoes, diversify with spicy spiralized shoe string jicama fries.  Jicama, also known as the Mexican turnip, is a tuberous root whose crispy white interior resembles that of a pear.  Unlike other root vegetables which are typically starchy, jiicama is low in carbohydrate density and glycemic index. Incidentally, I found these jicama fries to live up to their spicy name.  I recommend cutting the chili powder and cayenne pepper down to 1/4 teaspoon for the kids. These jicama fries are a great way to get away from the monotony of our industrialized food system, as I demonstrate in the following video:


Barber, D. (2014). The third plate: Field notes on a new cuisine.


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