Hay! Who knew… (And wheat and even French Fries)



Hay is Very Important. Who knew…

OK, right up front, this is a slightly silly posting about an odd thing I stumbled upon and a couple of others that have just been nagging me for a bit. Not a lot of emotional vigor here, nor much to challenge the intellect, OK?

So, on Bloomberg was a snippet that wheat prices ought to be rising due to “the weather in Russia”.

OK, I’d not heard anything about the weather in Russia, and it’s summer there. So what could it be?

Turns out they are having a shortage of rain. A drought. FWIW, my opinion is that it is neither the heat nor the cold that matters most, but where the water ends up that matters. During Ice Age Glaciations, it’s the shortage of rainfall that causes the shortage of plant growth locations, not the cold. Lots and lots of land remains available, but much more of it becomes desert. During interglacials, it’s nice that Canada and North Russia come out from under the ice, but it’s the consistent rains in the American Midwest that feed North America. (Along with lots of other places with rains).

The story on Russia is here:


But that’s not what caught my attention in the article.

There were two comments that caused me to have a “What?” moment.

First – Wheat

First, that Russia is a major wheat exporter. Under communism, it had been a major wheat importer. Clearly something has changed in the Russian agronomy systems.

Wheat rallied, erasing earlier losses, on speculation that dry weather in Russia, the world’s fourth-biggest exporter, will limit global supply.

I’ve typically left Russia off the list of food exporters. ( I know, wheat is not ‘net food’, but it’s a big part especially in non-Asian countries where rice does not dominate grains.) But here it is in the #4 slot. That means one of the traditional Big Five exporters has been left behind. (USA, Canada, Ukraine, Australia, Argentina) The USA is usually #1, http://www.blackseagrain.net/agonews/ukraine-worlds-third-largest-grain-exporter puts Ukraine in the #3 slot. But it also puts the “European Union” in the #2 slot. I’m unwilling to count the “EU” as a “country”, though.

This article: http://internationaltrade.suite101.com/article.cfm/top_ten_wheat_countries

Puts the rank in PRODUCTION as follows:

Top Ten Wheat Producers

Below are the leading wheat producers for the 2005-6 season. The top 10 producers accounted for over two-thirds of global wheat harvests.

   1. China … 96.2 million tonnes (15.4% of global wheat production)
   2. India … 72 million (11.5%)
   3. United States … 57.1 million (9.1%)
   4. Russia … 45.5 million (7.3%)
   5. France … 36.9 million (5.9%)
   6. Canada … 25.5 million (4.1%)
   7. Australia … 24.1 million (3.8%)
   8. Germany … 23.6 million (3.8%)
   9. Pakistan … 21.6 million (3.4%)
  10. Turkey … 21 million (3.4%)

Clearly China must eat most of what it produces. While it ought not to surprise me, it did, that China and India are the two top producers of wheat. So first off we have to realize that the major exporters are NOT the most important places to look at when pondering the impact of weather on world food supplies. (I’d been working on the implicit but wrong assumption that the major exporters would also be the major producers. With Australia at 3.8% and Canada at 4.1% they are just not that important to the question of a supply failure famine. Asian weather clearly is THE issue with the combined China, India, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey percentage at: 41% of global production.

If you would predict world food supplies and potential for famine (at least with wheat “let them eat cake” as a prior indicator) you must watch Asian rainfall. NOT Canada, USA, Australian nor even South American weather.

For exports, this site:


Has an interesting chart.

Wheat Exports by Region

Wheat Exports by Region

This groups exports by major regional area ( “EU” and FSU – Former Soviet Union for example). Of particular interest is just how volatile exports can be from any region from year to year. Right behind that is the rapid growth of FSU exports. Wheat exports, it seems, can change very rapidly. The FSU component also argues for increased productivity being available in some geographies.

Where it goes is more or less as expected. North Africa: the Muslim Arc of North Africa to the Middle East; and Asian population centers.

Wheat Importers by Region

Wheat Importers by Region

So again we have Asian weather as critical (as a Rice Failure in Asia would also impact those Asian population centers at the same time bad weather could be impacting wheat from Asia). Africa gets an ‘honorable mention”, but with such modest agriculture there anyway, it is not the major driver. It does open the potential for increased rains in North Africa as providing some relief if the climate zones shift slightly toward the equator.

Ok, so what was the other thing?

Second – Hey, it’s about HAY!

The article also had:

Wheat is the fourth-biggest U.S. crop, valued at $10.6 billion in 2009, behind corn, soybeans and hay, government data show.

Corn? Sure. Soybeans? Yeah, we all know that. But, but…. #3 is hay? Really?

Look, I knew we were a country of ‘hayseeds’ and I’ve walked in fields of alfalfa and oat hay and I’ve ‘bucked bails’ in two states (in a far ago time…) but HAY? Number THREE in production?

Man, that’s got to feed a heck of a lot of cows, sheep, horses, and goats.

So now I’m wondering if there are “hay futures” and “hay options” and a “hay derivatives market” and I just can’t keep from giggling… 8-)

Third – OK, On The “What?” Theme – BK French Fries

Since I’m doing this “Odd Bits” posting, here is a minor trivial point that’s nagged at me for a while, and I’ve never sent a letter to Burger King, so I’ll just put it here and ‘get it off my chest’.

About the late 1980’s to early 1990’s Burger King was winning the Burger Wars and displacing Macdonald’s Then they hit the rocks and fumbled. Nobody there has figured it out, and if anyone else has figured it out, they are not talking.

I can explain why.

At the time they had a great burger and darned good fries. Then someone decided to “improve the fries”. They had a big market survey, and lots of hoopla about it. Big add campaign for their new and improved fries. (I’m certain they had internal marketing surveys showing folks liked them more too – they passed out survey forms…)

For some folks, the added ‘crunch’ of the new fries was a feature. For some other folks (me among them) they have a slightly ‘soapy’ flavor / aftertaste. So my buddy and I, who typically had BK for lunch about 3 times a week, stopped. Multiply that by a few million folks, and the sudden halt of growth is clearly explained. It”s all about the crummy fries.

I’d also add it was about a broken way to survey the customer. Surveys are filled out by one SUBSET of the customer base. The guy eating there 3 times a week will not be filling out the form every day for 4 months. The 8 year old kid with “mom” will, especially when ‘mom’ hands him one to keep him busy each trip.

Further, folks will NEVER tell you they want “boring comfort food”. But they will regularly buy it. Again and again and again. If you serve ANYTHING novel, folks will vote for it (thus the “Garlic Mashed Potato” fad a few years back). But after the novelty wears off (and it will, fast…) they go back to the comfort food. Thus the persistence of plain old mashed potatoes over decades as a major seller.

Every so often I’ll try them again (it’s about once per 2 years at this point) and then move on.

OK, My Gift to Burger King:

If you would like to beat the pants of everyone else, go back to simple and direct ‘comfort food’ french fries. Simple sliced potatoes cooked in hot oil. Lightly dusted with salt when done. No more. No less. But be careful with the oil used, it drastically alters the perception of the fries. Macdonald’s changed to a new oil and their fries have been dull ever since. “In-‘N-Out Burgers” uses the simple potatoes in oil method and makes some very nice fries, but uses cottonseed oil and changes it very often (daily?). The result is a very clean tasting fry, but one lacking in depth and character. At home I use soybean or corn oil sometimes (OK for a ‘one off’ use but extended use oxidizes rapidly to ‘bad stuff’ so polyunsaturated oils ought not be used for extended frying), but the best fries have come from a mix of safflower (a mono-unsaturated oil that is more temperature stable than the soybean and corn polyunsaturates) with some Palm Oil added.

So there you have it, Burger King.

The keys to market dominance handed to you for free. It’s the French Fries.

Folks wishing to nag about the saturated fats in Palm Oil will run headlong into a rant about the special health benefits of a very short chain fatty acid and the broken studies that tied cholesterol levels to ‘saturated fats’ when they did not keep a clear line between ‘trans fats’ and saturated. They treated hydrogenated vegetable oils as ‘saturated’ when they were really ‘trans fat plus saturated’. A study with pure tri-stearate saturated fat found ZERO change of cholesterol while trans fat tests have shown horrid health impacts. The WORST thing you can do is substitute a 1/3 trans fat margarine for lard in pastry making, but that is what we in the USA did under nagging from the AMA and ads from the margarine makers. And that is why the French had no issues compared to the Americans despite their ‘bad’ diet. The French would rather die than use margarine instead of butter. So they have done neither and folks in the USA have done both.

OK, after a mere 2 decades I’ve finally gotten that off my chest…


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Economics - Trading - and Money, Human Interest and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Hay! Who knew… (And wheat and even French Fries)

  1. George M says:

    When Burger King changed their fries, they started giving me indigestion, so I switched to another burger chain. Yep, another unexpected side effect.

  2. crosspatch says:

    I completely agree with you on the french fries. There are actually two reasons I don’t go to Burger King anymore.

    1: The fries, as you mention.
    2: The soft drinks are too large.

    What Burger King sells as a “medium” is as large as what other places sell as a large. Nevermind that their “small” is what used to be a “large” when I was a kid, that is a different issue. But I can not get a medium drink into my cup holder. The thing is huge. I am accustomed to getting a medium drink with my sandwich, and I always forget that Burger King drinks don’t fit and every time I order I am stuck with this damned drink that I can’t fit anywhere.

    Also, I notice that the oil that both BK and McD use on their fries now has a “bitter” aftertaste to me. That seems to have started in, oh, the past year or so. It can be subtle and sometimes I notice it more often than other times but there is this slight bitter aftertaste that I attribute to a change in the oil they use.

    I also really love McDonald’s fries. I like BK sandwiches better, but I love the McDonald’s fries. BK, Jack in the box, In-n-out … suck.

    Oh, but if you like subs and live on the West Coast where are real “Italian sub” is impossible to find … when you get to Vegas you absolutely must try Capriotti’s. They are an East coast operation that has shops in Vegas. It is worth flying to Vegas just to get one.

  3. Soronel Haetir says:

    For me fast food fries became inedible after the companies caved to the vegetarians complaining about the meat extracts in the oil.

    Honestly, how many observant vegetarians can there be who are willing to eat a McDonald’s fry anyway, with or without animal products in the oil.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    There used to be a wonderful Jewish Deli in a shopping center near here with sandwiches to die for. Went there for years. Then they renovated the shopping center… Sigh.

    I’ll look for the sub-shop next time I’m in Vegas. Ought to be about 2 weeks if I’m lucky ;-)

    On McD’s: They USED to be great fries. Then some vegetarians got cranky as there was some animal fat in the oil and I think may have sued. OK, I have vegetarians in my family, so I understand… but ….

    A really GREAT french fry comes from vegetable oil with some animal fat in it (that’s why I add the Palm Oil, if fills that saturated fat role in a healthy and vegetarian way).

    In our old family restaurant, we would cook the fried chicken in the same fryer as everything else. The chicken fat flavors the oil in a wonderful way. Had folks come from miles around for our fries. Dad always made sure we had enough ‘carry over’ from one fry oil fill to the next to keep the flavor especially good.

    So if you can find a place with fired chicken and / or deep fried tacos on the menu and done in the same oil, it can be nice.

    At any rate, back at McD’s… So they dumped the ‘non-vegan’ oil, and then in California at least, had to get rid of any trans fat (that gives a particularly good mouth feel and flavor – as it kills you…) and have gone to a pretty crummy oil. The fries are still great potatoes, but the taste is kind of dead. They would be better off just using plain old cooking oil, IMHO.

    I sporadically make ‘home fries’ and can say with certainty that canola, soy, and corn oils make better fries. (The problem, though, is that a carcinogen forms and builds up rapidly in polyunsaturated oils, so one-off for dinner is fine but 30 hours in a restaurant is a big no-no…)

    If it didn’t cause the vegetarians to revolt, lard does a nice job too. (Lard is not evil as folks seem to think. Very high monounsaturated and polyunsaturated level for an animal fat. Better than some vegetable oils!) But to make a fine fry takes some saturated fat. (Which HAS been shown to be fine for your health. The tri-stearate test showed polyunsaturates lowered cholesterol, but tri-stearate did NOTHING, while trans-fats put you on the heart attack express… And I’d speculate that trans-fats plug up your fat metabolism and put you on the obesity express too…)

    FWIW, I used coconut oil once. Absolutely nummy fries… with 2 minor problems….

    They smell like coconuts (which is fine if you like that) and the bad bit: If foams up when cooking. So use a very deep pot with the oil no more than 1/3 up the side.

    Coconut has about a 9 carbon long average fatty acid length (things shorter than 12 are metabolized in the liver so do not get stored as body fat… you get lots of ‘instant energy’ but without the pudge. Cocoa butter is also short chain and is why a real chocolate bar with the cocoa butter in it ‘warms you up’ when camping in the cold…) Palm oil is up in the 11 to 12 range, so doesn’t foam but still has a lot of the benefits. I get it at Whole Foods. You can use it just like ‘shortening’ but without the icky health issues…

    It’s when you take the 22 or so long chains in things like soybean and hydrogenate them that you really plug up the works.

    At any rate, due to the Vegetarian Lawsuits and the many rule makings now being proposed to limit polyunsaturates in fry oil ( I think it makes acrylamide that is carcinogenic) and the removal of trans-fats and the general (mistaken) paranoia about ‘saturated fats’ we are now doomed to bad french fries lacking in flavor. We’re left with various ‘designer fats’ that have specific high temperature ‘performance’ while being plant based (and flavorless).

    I have here somewhere an “Amish Cookbook”. It reads like a Lard Lovers Bible. More lard per recipe than you will find anywhere else. (Amish raised pigs and rendered the fat.. so that’s what you used.) My Amish ancestors lived on the farm, ate pork, beef, eggs, and Lard by the pound(s) per meal. Had substantially no heart nor weight problems and lived long lives. (Granddad was 90 something at the end…)

    From “The Amish Cook” by Elizabeth Coblentz. Pg. 92

    Leftover potatoes can be made into delicious patties. Add 2 eggs to a cup of mashed potatoes and mix. Drop the mixture by tablespoonfuls onto a greased skillet. When brown on one side, turn over and let brown on the other side.

    And ‘greased’ means just that. At home we’d put a tablespoon or two of lard into the bottom of a 12 inch or so cast iron skillet.

    So if I didn’t think folks would lynch me for it, I’d have put up an “oil” formula that was mostly lard… try it some time. You can tell folks your getting in touch with the Amish religious minority…

    FWIW, I’m still looking for lard that is not ‘partially hydrogenated’. They do that to make it more ‘shelf stable’ (i.e. even the bacteria won’t eat it…) and make it a more solid shortening (i.e. not melting and leaking from the tub on a hot sunny ride home). You can easily render your own lard from some pork fat that is much better. Just slice it mildly thin and cook like for bacon (‘bacon grease’ is just smoke flavored lard… and makes very interesting fries…)

    As a kid we used to get the ‘cracklings’ to eat. Nummy.


    They filter it through a colander, I remember using a large perforated ladle to get the cracklin’s out then a regular ladle to fill jars. Less trouble than lifting a large pot…

    Isn’t it amazing what folks will go through to get the worlds best fries? …

  5. j ferguson says:

    Funny, E.M., I thought the loss of taste in french fries was from the dwindles. Good to know it wasn’t just me.

    We make a lot of popcorn on the boat. Cover the bottom of a 3 quart pot with canola oil and a couple of drops of water, then heat until the water quits crackling and add the popcorn.

    salt is mix of 20% Old Bay Seasoning in table salt.

    using more than the minimum amount of canola oil eliminates any need for butter.

  6. Dennis says:

    BK also tried competing with MickeyD on the breakfast menu by putting up an egg (and ham, I think it was) sandwich made out of a croissant, fer chrissake. A croissant! It was nasty. Good ‘ol MickeyD had an egg and Jimmy Dean sausage on an English muffin—–like God intended—and damned good coffee, too.

  7. Dennis Dunton says:

    “OK, after a mere 2 decades I’ve finally gotten that off my chest… ”

    And I, for one, am glad you did. I’d say more but you guys have made me hungry…….off to fry some bacon.

    PS…If it ain’t on a biscuit for breakfast….then it ain’t the way
    God intended. lol

  8. Verity Jones says:

    Nah, can’t say I’m an afficionado of fast food fries. We’re more a Fish’N Chips sort of family – as a treat a couple of times a month. So chunky fries, all melting in the middle but with that outer crunch.

    Locally owned places that live or die by their local reputation and following – secret recipes for batter and yes they look after their oil. Occasionally we have a good ‘find’ after a day at the beach.

    I am with you on the butter though :-)

    Coconut oil. Now that is interesting as I have a great Thai recipe for battered fish. Mmmm.

  9. Chuckles says:


    ‘ I think it makes acrylamide that is carcinogenic’

    I thought that in Californiyay!, by law and for convenience, EVERYTHING had been declared carcinogenic, so that you didn’t have to keep track any more?

    On a completely different tack, you mention your Amish forbears above, and in another thread you referred to school happenings in 1969. If I may ask, was that in Amish country or out west?

  10. Dave McK says:

    Nice, relaxing, apolitical – that was surprisingly welcome and refreshing.

    I received my indoctrination on ‘the perfect fry’ at a BK.
    A six inch fry held by one end must be rigid when held horizontal and must snap when you break it. The outside mus be crispy like a potato chip and the inside steamy like mashed potato.
    If it needs to see alice it ain’t a fry- it’s a flop.

    Lol- thanks for the opportunity to express deeply held sentiments on topics of consequence.

    The War On Climate – they should just decriminalize it and be done. Weather is a right. Don’t want it nationalized, rationed or taxed, thanks. And the sun is white, not yellow, for those folks still playing with their oosiks on the group W bench.

  11. Steve Fitzpatrick says:

    Coconut oil may be OK for frying if it is not degraded at all, but wow, once your stomach acid starts the hydrolysis process, a burp will bring some pretty strong smelling (C8, and C10) vapors! I could never tolerate the taste of processed dried coconut due to a strong aversion to these shorter fatty acids (which are always present in processed coconut), but I have always loved fresh coconuts…. no hydrolysis.

    We always fry with canola oil and toss the used oil after one use. Nice clean flavor and no carcinogens.

  12. KevC says:

    I’ve had an on-going argument about BK and McD fries for quite a while. I find they both give me heartburn, she who must be right says it’s the ketchup. I just knew it had to be the oil they’re fried in.
    BTW the best fries I ever had were served in a bar Germany – fried in oil but then finished by pan frying in butter! Happy memories of 25 years ago.
    As I’m sure you know Russian wheat exports was a major cash earner for Tsarist Russia – feeding large parts of Europe and the US. After the revolution the effects of a massively centralized government system ensured that a rapid corruption of output ensued.

  13. Pingback: TWAWKI » Global wheat supplies

  14. Mooloo says:

    The French are not skinnier than Americans due to the type of fat they eat. They are skinnier because they eat less.

    As a kid we used to get the ‘cracklings’ to eat. Nummy.

    Why “as a kid”? My wife and I eat pork and bacon crackling regularly. It’s delicious.

    Then again because I learnt to say “no” some time back, I can afford to say “yes” sometimes.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    @Chuckles: The Amish line was up to about 1930 or so. Dad had an Amish mom, but after the war was off being non-Amish… Per 1969: nothing to do with Amish anymore. It was in California for me (born here). While there is a small Amish community near my home town (about 30 miles away) I have no connection to them, nor they to just about anything else ;-)

    And I’m pretty sure every single store in Cali has a “Prop 65” sign declaring that they sell things that are carcinogenic… and given that CARB (Cal. Air Resources Board) has found carcinogens in the air, well, yes. Add in the widely distributed serpentine rocks putting asbestos fibers in the water and… I’d have to agree. California is 100% Carcinogenic. If the sun doesn’t give you skin cancer or the water asbestosis or the air lung cancer or the food …. then you just aren’t living! ;-)

    @Steve Fitzpatrick: Sounds like a personal problem to me ;-) Look, just wash the fries down with enough beer and you’ll never notice a thing…

    @KevC: Nope, didn’t know that. My economic awareness of Russia starts about 1930… Never had the time to look at pre-communist era. Sounds interesting, though.

    One of my favorite stories about central planning and socialism being inefficient involves Russia. They had a policy of subsidy of bread prices for the ‘masses’, but did not think folks needed pork so much, so no corn subsidy for pig feed. Some enterprising farmers figured out bread was cheaper than pig feed, so started buying it to feed to their pigs. Worked really well. For a while. When the apparatchiks found out, they were embarrassed and pissed; so the farmers were executed to set an example… Under socialism it’s a baaad idea to show initiative and optimize your inputs based on market forces; you are expected to make political choices instead.

    Easy test on the heartburn front: Fry some potatoes at home. Have one batch with a bit of salt only. Next day, have a batch with ketchup. Then do some BK or MacD…

    At Mooloo: “As a kid” because that was the last time we made our own lard. No agenda, just stopped doing it when I went away to college and never looked back. ( I was busy exploring sushi and…)

    On the “eat less” I must point out something. It may not be an ‘exclusive or’ between type of fat and quantity. When I eat even 1/2 gram of trans fat, I end up still feeling hungry and want to eat more, and more, and… But when I avoid all trans-fat, a small meal leaves me “full” for a long time. My interpretation of this is that trans-fat plugs up the fat metabolism enzymes. Thus the fat calories in the meal are not available as blood sugar and I continue to ‘feel hungry’. But when I eat bacon and eggs with toast and BUTTER (i.e. no trans-fat) I’m satiated quite quickly and stay that way for a long time.

    In support of this point: Recently California had a study show a roughly 25% reduction in heart attack rates since 2004 (I hope I’m getting this right from memory of a news story). The news talking points was that it must have been the political emphasis on healthy eating and exercise – clearly ‘social engineering’ leading to ‘better choices’. Having watched folks continuing to shovel down the Big Macs and Fries (we go to MacD every week for a ‘treat’ for Granny…) I don’t see any such sudden life style shift.

    But what we DO have is a mandate that trans-fats must go. They’ve been progressively removed from most foods (most recently extending to restaurants).

    So what I see is a straight correlation between the trans-fat ban and health.

    Further, just after the non-trans-fat mandate for restaurants, my consumption when down a lot at MacDs. I just didn’t care for the fries much AND a single burger left me feeling full and satisfied for several hours. So I’ve dropped the combo meal and just get the burger… and sometimes get a smaller burger.

    IFF my hypothesis is correct, then it is BOTH the trans-fat levels in the French vs USA diet AND the quantity, as the quantity desire is driven by the trans-fat level and it’s impact on metabolism.

    And having gone through a multi-course French dinner with copious wine and cheeses, I’m pretty sure it’s not a quantity thing when compared to a burger and fries…

    There are lots of folks in the USA who are darned near starving themselves and still gaining weight ( I’ve watched such folks eat. Small portions.) and there are also lots of folks who cram down the bacon and don’t gain. (I’ve known a fair number of them too). But most interesting to me, I’ve been somewhat on each side. I’ve been pudgy, and I’ve been thin. When eating no trans-fats and all the meat, potatoes, veggies, wine, bread, cheeses, butter, eggs etc. that I want, I do not gain weight. When eating trans-fats, I can stuff myself to the gills and still feel like I want more. Or I can ‘cut back’ and still not lose the pudge.

    The simple calorie count approach is broken. Very broken.

    One example. I joined a friend on a high protein low carbs diet. All the meat you can eat. I packed it away pretty darned heavy, including butter and vegetables. (I wasn’t interested in losing weight, I just was providing moral support) Lost weight. Counter example: Eating lower quantities of food with pastries made with hydrogenated shortening and fries in hydrogenated oil – put on weight despite being hungry a lot. Third data point: Eating pancakes and pastries made at home and home made fries along with all the meat and vegetables I want, but using butter and palm oil instead of hydrogenated oils: No weight gain. I feel full on less food and don’t get that ‘full but hungry’ feeling.

    So I’m pretty sure there is a strong trans-fat connection, and at best a weak gross calories connection, but the one influences the other.

    That whole “feel guilty because you lack the self control to not stuff your face” meme is a broken one. It’s not about self control, its about a metabolism that is trying desperately to get food for blood sugar production and getting plastic fats instead. That then get stored instead of burned. And that, I’d speculate, also plug up the enzymes that would break down the normal fats, which then also get stored.

    FWIW, I used to have “oily skin” during the trans-fat era. Now that trans-fats are banned, no oily skin. Even the forehead and nose. My interpretation of this is pretty direct, too. If you can’t burn it, the body tries to dump it via the sebaceous glands. Yeah, could be that at 40 something I finally finished puberty, but I don’t think so…

    One minor note:

    Now, when feeling hungry between meals, I’ll sometimes have a tablespoon of nut butter or a slice of bread with butter on it. I’ll then have no hunger for a couple of hours. During the trans-fat era, I’d have a half a meal worth of snacks and still be hungry. Eat a whole bag of chips, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some cheese sticks, … etc. Still feeling munchies. I frequently pondered why so many calories in gave so little blood sugar and hunger relief. The chips were cooked in shortening and the peanut butter made with hydrogenated oils…

    So I don’t see the assertion about Americans eating more than the French as wrong, I just see it as a result of the types of fats, not a lack of self control.

    It would be interesting to do feeding studies on animals and see if this theory could be proven, but I think California is doing it on a state population via the trans-fat ban. We’ll just need to watch for a load of self-congratulatory stories about how all the PSAs nagging us have finally gotten Californians to eat better ;-)

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    Strange where things lead… In starting a small google search on French vs US food consumption, I decided to look at wine. Why? Because I like looking at wine ;-) Especially from the lower edge of an uptipped glass…

    So I hit this link:

    Click to access PerCapitaWineConsumptionCountries.pdf

    That has the initially startling factoid that the Vatican City State has the highest at 66 2/3 liters / capita. One can only presume it’s all the sacramental wine going to tourists and not the consumption with dinner …

    Then we have France in third (after Norfolk Island – 57.4) at a mere 53.2 and waaaayyy down the list, the USA is at 9.6 on the second page.

    At about 800 Calories per L of wine, that’s gonna add up…

    From here:


    we get USA Cheese consumption per capita at 12 Kg while for France, it’s a whopping 22.6 kg.

    So the notion of the French as barely touching the calories is not off to a good start here.

    Fish and shellfish (aka cholesterol bombs) per capita?

    USA: 21.3
    France: 29.7


    Click to access 08_perita2004.pdf

    We do eat more meat, but not dramatically so:


    USA: 124.8
    France: 101.1

    Kg/ person. Almost enough to make up for the wine… but not quite….

    The Wiki:



    France ranks first in per capita butter consumption with 8 kg per capita per year

    Where in the USA it’s only about 4.8 lbs per year per capita… call it 2.4 kg. But we consume about 2 x that much margarine. So total we’re only dragging our feet by a little bit at 7.2 kg / capita (assuming no Frenchman would ever eat any margarine, and would certainly not admit to it.)

    So I’m having just a tiny bit of trouble buying into this notion that Americans are just packing away the fatty foods and the French are having celery sticks and crackers…

    Looks more like parity to me, but with France doing a lot more wine, cheese, butter, and shellfish while the USA has a bit more beef and a load of margarine….

    Which brings me back to why I put my money on the trans-fats in margarine as “the issue”. A survey of local margarine packages shows them to run about 1/3 trans-fats … given that 1/2 GRAM is the present limit per day and some folks assert any amount has an impact … that pound of margarine is looking like a pretty lousy choice to me.

    But I could be wrong. Perhaps cheese and wine offer some protective property, or shellfish has a missing nutrient… so just to be safe, I’m setting a personal goal of getting my wine and cheese levels up to French standards and putting more butter poached fillet of sole and crab with drawn butter / shrimp scampi down the old gullet. Clearly it’s the path to health and a slim figure…

    If it’s not the margarine, it has to be that…


    Here’s a link to a newspaper article about the California heart attack reductions:


    Of course, the Kaiser Doctor who is quoted attributes the reduction to ‘better health management’ by… doctors.

    Heart attacks and heart-related deaths in Northern California are declining, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    In a study of more than 46,000 heart patients enrolled in a Kaiser Permanente health plan, the number of heart attacks fell by 24 percent between 2000 and 2008. The results also showed a 62 percent reduction in the most severe cases of heart attacks among patients, including those from the San Jose area.

    Dr. Alan S. Go, the lead investigator of the study, attributes the positive results to proper health management.

    “We found during the same period of time that there was a significant improvement in the control of selected risk factors for heart disease, especially blood pressure levels and bad cholesterol levels. We also saw the rates of smoking went down as well,” Go said.

    Similar results were found in studies among insured heart patients. A recent study of Medicare beneficiaries showed a 23 percent decline in heart attack hospitalizations between 2002 and 2007.

    “Our results are most (pertinent) to people who have health insurance. “… Among the improved risk factors that we observed, the benefits seen here may not apply as well to those who don’t have access to care,” Go said.

    And, of course, if only the poor could get health care insurance it would work for them, too… (Maybe they just can’t afford to eat well and are stuck with hydrogenated shortening and margarine instead of butter and high quality cooking oils like olive oil? Nah… )

    I know, speculative. But if nobody does the study they will continue to attribute it to the constant nagging they were doing for the prior 30 years that had no impact, but suddenly, magically, worked…

  17. Chuckles says:

    @E.M., Thanks for the story, my interest was because I was an exchange student in Amish country – Allentown PA area in 1968…

    On the food front I’m a firm member of the ‘eat anything you like, but enjoy a mixed and varied diet’ school, It’s always stood me in good stead. On the diet side, I suspect that the advice to eat smaller amounts, more often, is good advice.

    I’ve seen people get good diet results forcing themselves to eat 5-6 meals a day. Not huge meals, but good varied food, interesting food, every 2-3 hours…

    And for the junk food types, not sure if I’ve posted the link before, but here are the thoughts of a prof of physiology on the subject –


  18. E.M.Smith says:

    BTW, I’ve added a bit to my prior comment (put a link to the Calif. heart attack story at the bottom).

    @Chuckles: Yup, my roots reach back to there (via Iowa, then on pack to Pennsylvania…) It’s strange, even 2 generations removed, some of the ‘roots’ still have impact. The values were still advocated by my Dad, and I’ve gotten a fair amount by osmosis. How to live minimally. Avoid dependence on technology. Be centered in your self and the world first, then look outward at the society “out there” and how it rushes back and forth without a rudder to guide it. Know how to raise and preserve your own food, how to dig a well, and how to care for animals. And know that shoveling manure is just as noble as being a priest as hard work is Gods work and leads to a full life. Sigh. Sometimes I want to run off to Pa. and ask if I can come home….

    Then I remember that from my Mother I inherited a tendency to allergies and that I puff up and wheeze when I buck hay bales… (her side of the family were sailors and “sumners to the crown”… not much hay there…) and that I’d die if I had to run an Amish farm with hay everywhere…

    Welcome to America… everyone has a unique, and often odd, mix…

    So I run a ‘mini-farm’ in the back yard, with substantially no grasses / hay, and pine for what can not be. FWIW, I’m preserving a “golden mangle beet”. The Mangle Beets were commonly used for cattle fodder as an alternative to hay. Large yields per acre and they store well. Cow’s just love ’em too! (AND beets make the milk and cheese better and more flavorful!) But fodder beets have fallen out of favor. Many varieties have gone extinct. Never mind that they are key to a non-grass cold weather tolerant agronomy system. Never mind the hundreds (thousands?) of years of careful development and selection by generations of northern farmers. Just let it all go down the toilet… Except for a few Amish (and at least one Amish Wannabe ;-) who are keeping some around…

    On my ‘someday’ list is to get seed for a non-GMO sugar beet too. Those are doomed commercially. They can get even bigger than the mangle beets. ( A 10 lb mangle beet is not that odd, but some sugar beets are even larger!) Both have a very mild flavor and the greens are similar to chard (a beet relative), but sugar beets are very sweet while mangle beets are kind of bland.

    So I’ve got my livestock (bunnies) and my fodder (mangle beets – bunnies really love the leaves ;-) and do the cycle all free of industrial inputs (modulo the occasional Miracle Grow for seeds started in compost in pots… Hey, I can be lazy some times too. And if you use yard soil you get all kinds of odd seeds sprouting in your starter pots…). All just to satisfy some unknown itch to do it the traditional way…

    Per junk food: Realize that the snack food industry was just all-over-it-in-love with partially hydrogenated oils as they are “shelf stable”. No bug nor bacteria would dare eat a twinky… They keep for eternity, unchanged.

    Needless to say, if bacteria can’t digest and metabolize it, I’m not willing to bet that I’m going to be that much better at metabolizing it.

    Love that link, BTW. I agree with it completely. I went through a similar process at one point. That’s part of how I ended up suspecting trans-fats. It was a: wait a minute – bread is “good” and “bread in plastic wrap” is not? The difference being a bit of sugar or frosting? That path lead to learning about the preference for hydrogenated oils in pre-packaged foods, and their indestructible character when approached by various metabolisms…

    Another one for me was the “potato chips are evil” but home fried potatoes are “good”? Potato, oil, salt in both cases. The only difference I could find was commercial fried potato chips were usually trans-fat laden via hydrogenated oils where home fried spuds were typically not. (Well, when I was a pudgy kid we used hydrogenated Crisco, when I swapped to non-hydrogenated the pudge left too. Today most folks fry in oils, not shortening, so I think it’s an OK generalization.)

    Now we have a ban on trans-fats in California so I’m having trouble finding any health difference between ‘junk’ commercial chips and home made ‘healthy’ chips (other than the vastly superior flavor of anything I make ;-)

  19. Dave McK says:

    Yes, the heart attack correlations are hardly conclusive.
    The first serious heart attack get attention and treatment and may get you a stent – after which, no more heart attacks.

    The demographic shifts with attrition.

    I remember having a laugh one winter in Minnesota when the highway patrol was announcing that a decrease in winter traffic deaths was undoubtedly due to superior enforcement.
    We were pretty sure it was a host of different reasons, none of which had a thing to do with those who claimed to be the cause of it.

    Steve Fitzpatrick –
    Thanks for the explanation of the coconut. I wondered why it affected me that way too. Even hair products with that scent make my palate wrinkle up. But whack a raw coconut in 2 with a machete and I’m happy to drink and eat the meat.

  20. Duncan says:

    100% correct, and another 100% correct on top of that!

    When my wife was pregnant and having cravings, she used to make me drive to burger king for burgers and then drive to McDonald’s for fries.

    McDonald’s fries aren’t uniformly all that good anymore either. I think many franchises – including the one by my office – have stopped using palm oil in favor of cheaper or less coronarily lethal oils. A pity, because the palm oil is what gave the restaurants that amazing aroma.

  21. George M says:

    It has been a few years (2005), but the fries at the McD’s in the Kansai airport beat anything in the US at the time. Or maybe it was two weeks of poor substitutes down country which set up a poor reference.

  22. Dave mcK says:

    3rd try- almost there!

    almost there

    score so far:
    1 2lb dumpling
    1 2lb brick
    1 loaf- like pepperidge farm white – good for soup but extrudes pbj.

    and this one – next time waaaaay more cinnamon and waaay more sugar!

  23. crosspatch says:

    Amish? Pennsylvania? Then you know scrapple. Mmmm. My grandfather made the best scrapple. No commercial variety even comes close except for Rappa in Delaware. You can get it mail order when they are making it :) Probably FedEx on dry ice or something.

    It is basically the scraps from butchering. Not “bad” meat, just the stuff you scrape off the bones or the trimmings you have cut when cutting other cuts of meat (my grandfather was a butcher). The scraps were kept in bins in one of the coolers until there was enough for a batch of scrapple. He put it all in a big vat and cooked it for a while. The lard rose to the top and was drawn off into what looked like metal 5 gal paint cans and put in the cooler. We got the cracklins :)

    Then you add corn meal and spices to the meat that was left in the vat and cook that for a bit and draw that off from the bottom spigot into what looked like bread pans. Those were put into the cooler where they “set” up after a bit and were cut into 1 lb blocks for sale.

    There were two ways to eat it back home … people either liked it with ketchup or maple syrup and the people who like it one way generally can’t stand it the other way. Same with those who like it sliced thick or thin. I like mine thin and crisp with ketchup. My dad liked his thick and soft in the middle with syrup.

    Good stuff. He made the best sausage and bacon too, until he got out of the smoking business.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    Scrapple … Now it’s been a while since I’ve heard that word… Dad was from Iowa so just about anything made with corn and hogs was on the table. (His mom was Amish and about one more generation back were in Pennsylvania and Virginia. The “Smith” comes form some guy in 1700’s Virginia who got off a boat and started working iron. That’s about all we know as the path stops there…)

    Similar divide on ‘pancake sandwiches’ too. Dad like the pancake / egg stack with maple syrup on it. Yup, runny eggs and maple syrup. Tried it once. Loved the flavor and cant bring myself to get past the idea… Other folks put tabasco and / or ketchup on it. (YUCK!) while I kind of liked it just buttered. (I could pretend it was like toast and eggs…)

    I remember my Dad making something he called ‘pan scrapple’ with bacon and corn mush. Looked kind of like bacon and fried mush to me… (“grits and jowles’ comes to mind too ;-) Then there was that time we had ‘scrambled brains and eggs’. Again, liked the flavor, had “issues” with making it… Ah, the things kids miss today ;-)

    The local butcher shop had neat stuff in it. Big old traditional wooden butcher block about 3 feet on a side… more kinds of knife than I’d ever seen, and a giant glass jar of pickled pigs feet… (And yes, I’ve eaten them… along with tripe and other odd bits… ‘steak and kidney pie’ is one of my favorites). I really miss the traditional butcher shops. We’d get a calf ready and he’d come out to the farm for the “preparation” then take the critter back to his shop and turn it into nice white packages that we’d freeze. You could have it aged to any degree you liked and cut into any parts you liked. Having ‘blood sausage’ made was optional… So much now just ends up ‘hamburger’… that doesn’t need to be.

    We’d get ‘special bacon’ too. Dad really liked it thick and meaty. Thought that thin fatty stuff in the stores was a bad joke. And hams… he knew hams. Never learned how to keep them all straight and haven’t had a really great one since high school… I think there was some special cure he would order. Ah well…

  25. crosspatch says:

    My favorite breakfast, one that my mother used to make for me on special occasions was spoon bread. It is sort of like a white corn meal souffle. Very creamy, not mealy like mush or grits, I loved it with butter and salt and pepper.

    There was a commercial mix that used to be available on store shelves, Washington brand, I believe. That brand is no longer available and I haven’t had any in years. Man, just thinking about it … that is one of my absolute comfort foods.

    Apparently Washington Mills has put their old spoon bread mix on their website but I didn’t locate it. I think I found a copy here:


    Mom used to make a big fuss about the spoon bread being in the oven and made us all get out of the house so it didn’t “fall” while it was cooking.

    To this day Mom says “I love you” when I come to visit with spoon bread on Sunday morning.

  26. crosspatch says:

    Meant to say, the last time I came to visit, I don’t want it to sound like I get the chance to eat that stuff very often. I guess it’s been five years since I last had breakfast with Mom. We live on opposite coasts these days.

    Mom lives in Delaware and I live in the SF Bay area and we have (or had) a very large Amish population “back home”. The local shopping center had hitching posts for their buggies.

    Many have moved on to Ohio, though, where apparently there is more land to spread out.

    Harness racing was a major sport in the area and the Amish tack shops always had the best harness. All of it was hand made. They were also good blacksmiths. I grew up in lower Delaware South of Dover. It was an odd culture there. I would go back if the winters weren’t so miserable.

  27. crosspatch says:

    Oh, and a word about hay if I might. My late wife was from Southwestern Utah in the desert roughly Northwest of St. George. When she was a child, the main crop in those parts was potatoes. You can still see what look like half buried quonset huts on may farms. Those are the old “spud cellars” it was explained to me. Nobody grows potatoes there anymore, it is all in hay. They mostly use pivot irrigation with a well in a center and an arm that makes a circle that makes those green circles you see from the air. When you see one of those circles, chances are pretty darned good that you aren’t looking at a row crop, you are looking at hay.

    You can lose a crop of hay back East if it doesn’t rain enough (irrigation isn’t used as much for hay in the East) of if there is too much. The Great Basin offers a fairly predictable precipitation pattern in summer. So the farmers either graze sheep or cattle directly on the irrigated circles or they cut it and sell it to others after being bailed or cubed. I would say that hay is the number one growing crop.

    In 2004 Iron County, Utah had about 36 percent of its land privately owned (Federal government owns 57% … mostly BLM). According to Utah State University:

    The county had 89,991 acres in cropland of which 63,197 were harvested and 68,705 were irrigated.

    The most prevalent crop rotation practice is to leave alfalfa in for seven years, plant oats for two years, then replant alfalfa. Producers typically get three to four cuttings of alfalfa each year.

    The number one crop was alfalfa hay with 54,000 acres harvested (not sure if this also counts acres grazed or not). The number two crop was “other” hay at 4,500 acres. Wheat was a distant third at only 1,200 acres. So about 92% of the land in agricultural production in Iron County, Utah was in hay.

    There are 22,000 head of cattle and 24,000 head of sheep in the county that need feed. But they apparently still do grow some potatoes as the country ranks second in the state in potato production.

    One thing, though, the Great Basin region undergoes significant climate shifts on a millennial scale. The last such major shift was somewhere around 1500 years ago when the area became pretty much like it is now. Prior to that it had significantly more moisture. As far as I know, no reason for these changes have been proposed, only researchers noting the changes from studies of sediments in dry lakes and washes. The last such article I read was about a year ago in Quaternary Research. For some reason storm tracks can take a significant change in direction and stay that way for centuries and then change again and it doesn’t appear that the change is gradual.


    Click to access Iron%20county%20profile.pdf

  28. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, my Amish line moved initially to Ohio, then over the border into Iowa where Grandma married Granddad – a non-Amish blacksmith (thus, my Dad…). Yes, the ‘move’ is to where a functional farm can be had at a workable price.

    I’m pretty sure part of the vetting of the non-Amish marriage was the quality of the blacksmith work done, that he owned a decent sized farm, and that things were done using the old ways… Basically, he was not Amish, but fit the pattern close enough ;-)

    On Utah: I’d guess that as we started being richer, beef was more profitable than spuds… Nice to know we could get more spuds if we needed ’em. I like spuds ;-)

    And yes, both weather AND climate have a chaotic nature to them. Part of what makes this whole AGW thesis broken at it’s core. We’re presuming a regular predictable function in a non-linear non-regular chaotic and potentially fractal process. Then surprised when we don’t find it…

    Been pondering that for an article, but it’s way complicated.

    Time Passes…. OK, got it done:


  29. Chuckles says:

    A column on our subject, good tasting food.
    For those in the USA, the Observer/Guardian is NOT what could be called a conservative leaning publication, so the outraged comments are amusing.


  30. Verity Jones says:

    @Chuckles. LOL on the more irate comments definately. One commenter linked to the Fast Show’s hilarious “Kukina Inglaterra” here on Youtube, which also reminded me of the language thread discussion here a few days ago.

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