Food: Burger King vs. factory farming; soft drinks make you fat; and a great recipe for pancakes
1. Burger King Shifts Policy on Animals
By ANDREW MARTIN/Ny Times
In what animal welfare advocates are describing as a “historic advance,” Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, said yesterday that it would begin buying eggs and pork from suppliers that did not confine their animals in cages and crates.
The company said that it would also favor suppliers of chickens that use gas, or “controlled-atmospheric stunning,” rather than electric shocks to knock birds unconscious before slaughter. It is considered a more humane method, though only a handful of slaughterhouses use it.
The goal for the next few months, Burger King said is for 2 percent of its eggs to be “cage free,” and for 10 percent of its pork to come from farms that allow sows to move around inside pens, rather than being confined to crates. The company said those percentages would rise as more farmers shift to these methods and more competitively priced supplies become available.
The cage-free eggs and crate-free pork will cost more, although it is not clear how much because Burger King is still negotiating prices, Steven Grover, vice president for food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance, said. Prices of food at the chain’s restaurants will not be increased as a result.
While Burger King’s initial goals may be modest, food marketing experts and animal welfare advocates said yesterday that the shift would put pressure on other restaurant and food companies to adopt similar practices.
“I think the whole area of social responsibility, social consciousness, is becoming much more important to the consumer,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. “I think that the industry is going to see that it’s an increasing imperative to get on that bandwagon.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States , said Burger King’s initiatives put it ahead of its competitors in terms of animal welfare.
“That’s an important trigger for reform throughout the entire industry,” Mr. Pacelle said.
Burger King’s announcement is the latest success for animal welfare advocates, who were once dismissed as fringe groups, but are increasingly gaining mainstream victories.
Last week, the celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck announced that the meat and eggs he used would come from animals raised under strict animal welfare codes.
And in January, the world’s largest pork processor, Smithfield Foods , said it would phase out confinement of pigs in metal crates over the next decade.
Some city and state governments have banned restaurants from serving foie gras and have prohibited farmers from confining veal calves and pigs in crates.
Temple Grandin, an animal science professor at Colorado State University , said Smithfield’s decision to abandon crates for pregnant sows had roiled the pork industry. That decision was brought about in part by questions from big customers like McDonald’s , the world’s largest hamburger chain, about its confinement practices.
“When the big boys move, it makes the entire industry move,” said Ms. Grandin, who serves on the animal welfare task forces for several food companies, including McDonald’s and Burger King.
Burger King’s decision is somewhat at odds with the rebellious, politically incorrect image it has cultivated in recent years.
Its commercials deride “chick food” and encourage a more-is-more approach to eating with its turbo-strength coffee, its enormous omelet sandwich, and a triple Whopper with cheese.
Burger King executives said the move was driven by their desire to stay ahead of consumer trends and to encourage farmers to move into more humane egg and meat production.
“We want to be doing things long before they become a concern for consumers,” Mr. Grover said. “Like a hockey player, we want to be there before the puck gets there.”
He said the company would not use the animal welfare initiatives in its marketing. “I don’t think it’s something that goes to our core business,” Mr. Grover said.
Beef cows were not included in the new animal welfare guidelines because, unlike most laying hens and pigs, they continue to be raised outdoors. Burger King already has animal welfare standards for cow slaughter, he said.
The changes were made after discussions with the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals , known as PETA.
PETA, in particular, has started a series of high-profile campaigns to pressure fast-food companies to change their animal welfare practices, including a “Murder King” campaign that ended in 2001 when Burger King agreed to improve its animal welfare standards to include, among other things, periodic animal welfare audits.
Since that time, PETA officials said they had met periodically with Burger King officials to encourage them to adopt tougher standards. About a year ago, the Humane Society began its own efforts to encourage Burger King to improve its farm animal standards.
Mr. Grover said his company listened to suggestions from both groups, but ultimately relied on the advice of its animal welfare advisory board, which was created about six years ago and includes academics, an animal welfare advocate, an executive of Tyson Foods and Burger King officials.
“Where we think we can support what our animal advisers think is right, we do it,” Mr. Grover said.
The changes apply to Burger King suppliers in North America and Canada, where the chain purchases more than 40 million pounds of eggs a year and 35 million pounds of pork, he said.
A reason that such a small percentage of purchases will meet the new guidelines is a lack of supply, Mr. Grover said.
Burger King plans to more than double its cage-free purchases by the end of this year, to 5 percent of the total, and will also double its purchases of pork from producers who do not use crates, to 20 percent.
Most laying hens in the United States are raised in “battery cages,” which are usually stacked on top of each other three to four cages high. Sows, during their pregnancies, are often kept in gestation crates, which are 24 inches across and 7 feet long.
Matt Prescott, PETA’s manager for factory farm campaigns, argued that both confinement systems were filthy and cruel because the animals could barely move and were prone to injury and psychological stress.
Under Burger King’s initiative, laying hens would be raised in buildings where they would be able to wander around. Similarly, sows would be raised indoors, most likely in pens where they would be able to move freely.
“This is not free range, but simply having some room to move around inside a controlled environment,” Mr. Grover said.
While converting barns for crate-free sows is relatively simple, Ms. Grandin said it was much more difficult and expensive to raise cage-free hens because not nearly as many birds fit in one building.
Burger King officials say they hope that by promoting controlled-atmosphere stunning, more slaughterhouses will adopt the technology. Currently, there are only a few in the United States using the technique, and most of them process turkeys.
2. You Are Also What You Drink
By JANE E. BRODY/NY Times
What worries you most? Decaying teeth, thinning bones, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, cancer, obesity? Whatever tops your list, you may be surprised to know that all of these health problems are linked to the beverages you drink — or don’t drink.
Last year, with the support of the Unilever Health Institute in the Netherlands (Unilever owns Lipton Tea), a panel of experts on nutrition and health published a “Beverage Guidance System” in hopes of getting people to stop drinking their calories when those calories contribute little or nothing to their health and may actually detract from it.
The panel, led by Barry M. Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina, was distressed by the burgeoning waistlines of Americans and the contribution that popular beverages make to weight problems. But the experts also reviewed 146 published reports to find the best evidence for the effects of various beverages on nearly all of the above health problems. I looked into a few others, and what follows is a summary of what we all found.
At the head of the list of preferred drinks is — you guessed it — water. No calories, no hazards, only benefits. But the panel expressed concern about bottled water fortified with nutrients, saying that consumers may think they don’t need to eat certain nutritious foods, which contain substances like fiber and phytochemicals lacking in these waters. (You can just imagine what the panel would have to say about vitamin-fortified sodas, which Coca-Cola and Pepsi plan to introduce in the coming months.)
Sweet Liquid Calories
About 21 percent of calories consumed by Americans over the age of 2 come from beverages, predominantly soft drinks and fruit drinks with added sugars, the panel said in its report. There has been a huge increase in sugar-sweetened drinks in recent decades, primarily at the expense of milk, which has clear nutritional benefits. The calories from these sugary drinks account for half the rise in caloric intake by Americans since the late 1970s.
Not only has the number of servings of these drinks risen, but serving size has ballooned, as well, with some retail outlets offering 32 ounces and free refills.
Add the current passion for smoothies and sweetened coffee drinks (there are 240 calories in a 16-ounce Starbucks Caffe Mocha without the whipped cream), and you can see why people are drinking themselves into XXXL sizes.
But calories from sweet drinks are not the only problem. The other matter cited by the panel, in its report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is that beverages have “weak satiety properties” — they do little or nothing to curb your appetite — and people do not compensate for the calories they drink by eating less.
Furthermore, some soft drinks contribute to other health problems. The American Academy of General Dentistry says that non-cola carbonated beverages and canned (sweetened) iced tea harm tooth enamel, especially when consumed apart from meals. And a study of 2,500 adults in Framingham, Mass., linked cola consumption (regular and diet) to the thinning of hip bones in women.
If you must drink something sweet, the panel suggested a no-calorie beverage like diet soda prepared with an approved sweetener, though the experts recognized a lack of long-term safety data and the possibility that these drinks “condition” people to prefer sweetness.
Fruit juices are also a sweet alternative, although not nearly as good as whole fruits, which are better at satisfying hunger.
Coffee, Tea and Caffeine
Here the news is better. Several good studies have linked regular coffee consumption to a reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and, in men and in women who have not taken postmenopausal hormones, Parkinson’s disease.
Most studies have not linked a high intake of either coffee or caffeine to heart disease, even though caffeinated coffee raises blood pressure somewhat and boiled unfiltered coffee (French-pressed and espresso) raises harmful LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Caffeine itself is not thought to be a problem for health or water balance in the body, up to 400 milligrams a day (the amount in about 30 ounces of brewed coffee). But pregnant women should limit their intake because more than 300 milligrams a day might increase the risk of miscarriage and low birth weight, the panel said.
Mice prone to an Alzheimer’s-like disease were protected by drinking water spiked with caffeine equivalent to what people get from five cups of coffee a day. And a study of more than 600 men suggested that drinking three cups of coffee a day protects against age-related memory and thinking deficits.
For tea, the evidence on health benefits is mixed and sometimes conflicting. Tea lowers cancer risk in experimental animals, but the effects in people are unknown. It may benefit bone density and help prevent kidney stones and tooth decay. And four or five cups of black tea daily helps arteries expand and thus may improve blood flow to the heart.
Alcohol is a classic case of “a little may be better than none but a lot is worse than a little.” Moderate consumption — one drink a day for women and two for men — has been linked in many large, long-term studies to lower mortality rates, especially from heart attacks and strokes, and may also lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes and gallstones. The panel found no convincing evidence that one form of alcohol, including red wine, was better than another.
But alcohol even at moderate intakes raises the risk of birth defects and breast cancer, possibly because it interferes with folate, an essential B vitamin. And heavy alcohol consumption is associated with several lethal cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, hemorrhagic stroke, hypertension, dementia and some forms of heart disease.
Dairy and Soy Drinks
Here my reading of the evidence differs slightly from that of the panel, which rated low-fat and skim milk third, below water and coffee and tea, as a preferred drink and said dairy drinks were not essential to a healthy diet. The panel acknowledged the benefits of milk for bone density, while noting that unless people continue to drink it, the benefit to bones of the calcium and vitamin D in milk is not maintained.
Other essential nutrients in milk include magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, vitamin A, riboflavin, folate and protein — about eight grams in an eight-ounce glass. A 10-year study of overweight individuals found that milk drinkers were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a constellation of coronary risk factors that includes hypertension and low levels of protective HDLs. To me, this says you may never outgrow your need for milk.
The panel emphasized the need for children and teenagers to drink more milk and fewer calorically sweetened beverages.
“Fortified soy milk is a good alternative for individuals who prefer not to consume cow milk,” the panel said, but cautioned that soy milk cannot be legally fortified with vitamin D and provides only 75 percent of the calcium the body obtains from cow’s milk.
3. 1966: David Eyre’s Pancake
By AMANDA HESSER /NY Times
Craig Claiborne described making the acquaintance of the oven-baked pancake as if he had met Grace Kelly: “It was discovered some weeks ago at an informal Sunday brunch in the handsome, Japanese-style home of the David Eyres in Honolulu. With Diamond Head in the distance, a brilliant, palm-ringed sea below and this delicately flavored pancake before us, we seemed to have achieved paradise.”
Life was good if you were a food writer in the 1960s. Even when you made mistakes (Claiborne doubled the butter in his recipe), paradise never dimmed. Bloggers did not burn him at the stake. He was not dragged in shame through the corrections column. A few weeks later, he simply mentioned airily, “The food editor was in such reverie on his return from Hawaii he did not notice the gremlins in his measuring spoons.”
Forty years later, readers are still making that pancake (with less butter but no less bliss). It appears on a dozen blogs, embellished with family stories and photos and new-and-improved versions of the recipe.
What keeps cooks faithful to one recipe is often some confluence of ease and surprise. David Eyre’s pancake possesses both. A batter of flour, milk, eggs and nutmeg is blended together, then poured into a hot skillet filled with butter and baked. Anyone confused? I didn’t think so.
The surprise comes, appropriately, at the end, when you open the oven door to find a poofy, toasted, utterly delectable-looking pancake. This soon collapses as you shower it with confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice, slice it up and devour it. It’s sweet and tart, not quite a pancake and not quite a crepe. But lovable all the same.
I sent the recipe to Ana Sortun, the chef at Oleana in Cambridge, Mass., who tried it out with her cooks. “We thought if we were serving it for dessert, it would be a no-brainer,” she said. “We’d just sprinkle it with orange-flower water.” One cook spread it with pear butter, another with rose-petal jam, both with enthusiastic response.
But when it came to tweaking it, Sortun headed in another direction. Smitten with the pancake’s crisp, puffy and eggy qualities, she decided to play around with the idea of crossing a popover (puffy, eggy) with the Moroccan squab pie bisteeya (crisp). She seasoned the batter with cinnamon and nutmeg, then assembled a filling of shredded chicken, almonds, harissa, saffron and lemon. Instead of a skillet, she baked the popovers — she calls them dumplings — in muffin tins, changing the shape entirely. Like the skillet for the pancake, the muffin tin was preheated so the popovers would cook quickly, searing on the edges.
The batter toasts and swells and envelops the filling, a trifecta riff on popovers, dumplings and bisteeya. They deflate like pricked balloons, so their journey from the oven to the table must be quick. Sprinkle them with lemon juice and cilantro as you go.
1966: David Eyre’s Pancake:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Juice of half a lemon
Fig or blackberry jam, pear butter or any kind of marmalade, for serving (optional).
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still slightly lumpy.
2. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat. When very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. Bake in the oven until the pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
3. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and, using a fine-meshed sieve, sprinkle with the sugar. Return to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes more. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve with jam, pear butter or marmalade. Serves 2 to 4.