There’s no avoiding thinking about food — and food insecurity has been front and center during the pandemic, exposing how precarious American safety nets can be. The luckiest among us are juggling work and child care and just trying to get dinner on the table every night. We may have, ahem, bigger fish to fry at the moment, but the practical and political implications of food will remain a subject in 2021 and beyond, whether it’s as simple as what’s on the menu for lunch or as complex as which crops receive government subsidies. Let’s dig in.
Annie Siebert, OZY Contributor
better food, better world
1. Our Food, Our Values
There are countless political questions surrounding food: How will we feed people? How will we ensure that the meals kids get at school are nourishing — and something they’ll eat? Which crops should be supported by our tax dollars? (Hint: We should probably branch out from corn and soybeans to bean beans and a wide array of vegetables and fruits.) How can we ensure that all Americans have access to fresh, healthy food by eliminating not just food deserts but also food apartheid?
2. One Meal at a Time
Putting aside agricultural policy, many of us are just trying to make it through the next meal. I know I speak for many moms when I say I am burned out on cooking. And I love to cook! Of late, I’ve been rounding out easy entrées with substantive vegetable sides. Think pizza with a hearty salad of mixed greens, plump raisins, a nut or seed (sunflower seeds usually go over well in my house), a crumble of feta, and a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. Or a dressed-up boxed mac and cheese with Brussels sprouts tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 425 degrees until charred and crispy. (I can convince my 2-year-old to try almost any vegetable so long as I promise “crispy bits.”) Find more options for easy dinners from Annie’s at Walmart.com.
During the pandemic, “victory gardens” sprouted up across backyards and patios, on windowsills and fire escapes. Gardening has a measurable impact on mental health, and when we’ve all been cooped up in our homes for this long, it’s easy to understand the appeal of growing your own food. My husband is an avid amateur gardener, and I love stepping onto my porch to snag some fresh basil or pick strawberries with our toddler during the warm months. I use sliced fruit and cheese, and then to round out I use boxed crackers for yummy snacks. Daily trips to the garden to harvest what’s ripe are a favorite morning activity for both me and my son. Find more simple snacks from Annie’s at Walmart.com.
Kale is so last year. A new breed of action heroes has arrived to save your health, and they come in all shapes and sizes, from probiotic-packed pickles and sudachi, a limelike Japanese fruit, to nosh-worthy chickpea pasta. And that doesn’t even get into healthy delicacies like fiber-rich pumpkin seeds, immunity-boosting water kefir and the gluten-free Ethiopian favorite grain teff.
What if you want to eat like a hunter-gatherer but without the “hunter” part? Welcome to peganism, a mashup of paleo and vegan diets that’s taken flight among millennials. The term was coined by Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? Since its emergence, the term is now manifesting itself on social media, with pegan diets and pegan blender brownies all over Pinterest and Instagram.
3. Look to What We’ve Lost
From ancient grains (which are often suitable substitutes for people with gluten intolerances and celiac disease) to historic strains of corn, monoculture has eliminated much of the diversity in our food supply. Next time you’re at the grocery store or farmers market and spot an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable, snag it. It might be the difference between saving a crop and losing it to time.
Whether you’re stress-eating it with a spoon straight from the jar or just like to incorporate it into desserts, Nutella is a staple for bakers. But the increasing severity of storms in the region where most of the world’s hazelnuts are grown could empty shelves of the beloved chocolate-and-hazelnut spread, not to mention other hazelnut-centered treats. If just reading that gave you a desperate hankering for Nutella, I recommend whipping up this panna cotta.
I think I speak for most Americans when I say I cannot wait until it is safe to return to my favorite independently owned restaurant and have a bite at the bar. But will those restaurants still be there on the other side of the pandemic? As of early December, over 110,000 U.S. restaurants — or 17 percent of the country’s total — had shuttered for good, and those numbers only continue to mount. While additional pandemic relief from Washington is uncertain, the industry is hopeful that the new Congress will shake loose a targeted restaurant aid bill.
2. Apps That Bite
You already know to tip generously — think 20 percent or more — even if you’re just snagging takeout. But to truly help your local haunts, avoid third-party delivery apps. Why is it important to fetch your pad thai yourself? Because those apps charge exorbitant fees (as much as a 30 percent commission on your order), it often means the restaurant actually loses money on your transaction but feels it must stay on the apps for the added visibility. Former Bon Appétit social media director Rachel Karten suggests a more ethical option: ChowNow, which launched in New York City last month, charges restaurants a flat $119 per month and no commission fee.
3. Homegrown Apps
While some cities have passed ordinances capping delivery app fees at 15 percent, an increasing number of restaurants are taking matters into their own hands by launching mom-and-pop apps. Next time you’re ordering takeout with an app, check to see if the restaurant has its own — you’ll earn perks and help the business.
4. Subscribe to Your Fave Takeout
If you don’t hesitate to throw down $50 a year to support your favorite writer or maker on Substack or Patreon, why wouldn’t you do the same for your go-to taco place? Some restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are testing subscription models to keep their businesses alive amid the off-and-on limitations on indoor dining during the pandemic. It’s a worthy use of your dollars if you want to ensure your date-night spot is still there when it’s safe to eat out again.
future of food
1. Forgo Faux Meat
I know that Silicon Valley has big plans for plant-based burgers that bleed, but you’re better off … just eating beans. Mark Bittman, who knows a thing or two about food, notes that “making an Impossible Burger from scratch is akin to making a Cheeto.” Encouraging less meat consumption is an admirable goal, but if we really want to nourish our bodies, we’re better off limiting our intake of processed foods.
2. Alcohol-Free, but Still Spirited
Boozeless spirits tend to pop up in our feeds at the beginning of the year thanks to the popularity of Dry January, when many aim for a month of sobriety to detox from the holidays. But it stands to be a larger trend moving forward, with many people coming around to the health risks of alcohol consumption. From nonalcoholic IPAs to DIY dry cocktails, there’s a delicious (and healthier) option for everyone.
None of this is simple, and there are a lot of problems to solve, so go easy on yourself. However you choose to feed yourself (and your family) today is just fine. And may we all look forward to the day when we can focus on thriving, not just surviving.