Tag Archives: food

Fat Tuesday

What do you do when you can’t find Dutch oliebollen or Polish paczkis for Fat Tuesday? Eat some Voodoo Donuts. I’m going to embrace that irony.

This one’s called the slug, and it was delicious.

Mapping food deserts

Michigan Radio recently ran a story about a project from Michigan State University’s AgBio Research center that included mapping access to fresh food in Lansing, MI. The map from the project is above (click on the map for a larger image). It’s a beautifully designed map, but in terms of communication, I think this is one for Cartastrophe.

We used it in Intro GIS today as an example of the limitations of dot density mapping, in which dots represent a certain quantity of a phenomenon (in this case, 50 residents) but aren’t necessarily spatially correlated with the actual distribution of the phenomenon. For instance, note the dots representing residents that are placed in the middle of highways. That can be problematic, especially when you’re dealing with a relatively small area in which specific location is exactly what you’re trying to communicate.

Other problems with the MSU map are an unclear legend (what are the items it refers to?) and lack of explanatory text to answer that question and others. For example, why are the areas of accessibility so irregularly shaped? My guess is that they were made using raster analysis of the road network, but without the road network being visualized (and without labels on the roads that are shown), it’s just confusing. A bit of explanatory text would be very helpful.

Furthermore, since transportation is vital to access to food, a map that incorporates statistics on car ownership would be awesome. Witness this map from one of last semester’s Intro GIS students (sorry I can’t insert a picture because it’s a PDF). The design could be improved (this is from a sophomore intro student), but in my opinion this is a much more useful map. The interpolated surface is a much clearer way of communicating proximity to grocery stores, and the incorporation of car-ownership shows that the places where we most need grocery stores to be located are exactly the areas where food is least accessible.

Anyway, I’m very glad for the research going on at MSU, but that map could be greatly improved. I’m also glad that Calvin students are doing similar work at the undergraduate level, and the whole thing has given me an idea for a lab I’m going to try to create around food accessibility.

That hunk of butter is wearing a tiara

My stop in Minnesota was so delicious. My uncle and aunt brought me to the Minnesota State Fair, which I’m told wins distinction as America’s largest state fair, officially because of the number of attendees but probably due partly to the size of its food portions. Admittedly, I’d never been to such a large fair before, but I was completely naïve of the array of foods-on-a-stick available. We’ve graduated from corndogs and shish kabobs, folks. Ever had a hankering for cheesecake-on-a-stick? Hamburger-on-a-stick? Banana-split-on-a-stick? How about an uffda (as in the Norwegian expression of overwhelm) treat-on-a-stick? I tried only the pork-chop-on-a-stick, and it was lovely and delicious. And so little waste, too. Although not as little, I’m told, as the chocolate coated bacon, which is its own stick. I didn’t have the courage for that one, I’m afraid.

If food-on-a-stick isn’t your thing, then maybe deep fried goodness is more up your alley. The Spam tent was selling deep fried Spam curds, Twinkies (further) battered and fried were on sale, and the traditional deep fried breaded cheese curds got their own special in the weekend paper. It only takes 12 miles to walk off the calories of those bad boys. Ah sweet gluttony!

This was the second fair of the trip for me since my cousin Shannon and I also visited the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden. While the Washington fair was a clear celebration of the region’s agricultural heritage, Minnesota’s was more broadly statriotic. There was a building with education and government displays, a police dog demonstration to go along with the 4-H shows, and a tent dedicated to the Minnesota Twins (whom I have not yet forgiven for last season!). While the Lynden fair was “a recognition of our community’s values,” the attendees at the Minnesota State Fair just seemed to be looking for a good time.

Still, the agricultural origins of the fair were plenty apparent. For instance, in the dairy building, there were butter carvings of this year’s Dairy Princesses. Only two of the life-sized butter busts were completed yesterday, but there were 10 other blocks of creamy milk fat waiting to be brought to life, one for each day of the fair. It was exceptionally weird—and totally appropriate.

I’m still recovering from the gastronomic exercises I put my body through yesterday, but I don’t regret an ounce of it.

Foodies, read no further

It’s almost moving time, so just now, it’s eatin’ all the food in the house time. I have vowed only to go to the grocery store for milk for my coffee, and I’m in the process of reaching far back into the cupboards to find…advancedly sprouted spuds. I will boil them and adorn them with the last of my dairy products, much to the dismay, I’m sure, of my foodie friends.

Now is the time of year when yuppie farm patrons and New York Times columnists alike begin salivating at each other across the table (which is decorated, no doubt, with a vase of freshly cut narcissuses) at the thought of asparagus, scallions, and rhubarb, those first fruits of the new growing season. And what crop’s praises are sung mostly sweetly from their lips? None other than the novelly named new potato!

Well I apologize, but I’m still using up my old potatoes—very old potatoes, and they aren’t Purple Peruvian Fingerlings, either. They look something like this, except in the Russet variety:

Thank you, Wiki Commons.

I’ve done my time in the soil and I appreciate the superior flavor of freshly harvested and locally grown produce, but I also have to admire the lowly, starchy spud from last season that’s been patiently sitting in storage, ever so slowly turning starchier and softer as it breaks down its own nutrients in the name of self-preservation and the hope of reproduction, until some poor student like me pulls it out of the cupboard, untangles its spindly sprouts  and turns it into dinner.

It may be knobby and brown, it may grow underground in the dirt and muck, it may even be somewhat less than firm by the time I get around to eating it, but that old potato deserves some recognition. No asparagus spear could ever outlast it.