Wednesday, May 19, 2010

People are starving in China...

When I was a kid, I remember my dad telling me to eat all of my dinner because people were starving in China and that comment was supposed to make me feel guilty about throwing something away that someone needed.  It worked on 50% of the time.  I remember my younger brother at some point saying that if my dad was caring about starving kids in China that he should send the uneaten Lima beans to China for them to eat.

As I got older, I worked at an all you can eat restaurant and it was there that I watched just how much food people throw away.  People stuff their cheeks until they resemble squirrels and then complain that they are full when it comes to anything healthy.  I remember a couple that were so large that they had to suck it in and squeeze and wiggle in order to fit into a booth, to eat their food.  I remember a person carry a plate of food in each hand and in the left hand it was stacked with fried chicken and in the other was a mound of fried clams. I would watch these people sometimes take up two chairs, each, as they filled their mouths with food.  While they didn't really waste food, like that, most of them would visit the salad bar and fill at least a few plates up with vegetables. I guess they felt that if they had some veggie plates and ate them that they would feel better about their diet or weight.  What was an issue though, is that they never ate the healthy stuff because they would always dive right into the bad stuff, like the fried foods.  Not to mention just the shear volume of food that is thrown away at restaurants in general.

I remember seeing on Dirty Jobs, that some restaurants are helping out by taking their leftovers, in the trash, and giving it to animal shelters and farms for food for the livestock.  People used to ask me, when I was managing, if we gave the leftover, cooked, but un-touched food, to shelters for people to eat.  We didn't and you know why?  Because the owners of the restaurant didn't want to risk the revealing of our secret recipes. 

This brings me into preserving.  What I do, is a bit of early molecular gastronomy, also known as canning.  You probably don't think of canning using any sort of science been when you think of how everything is done, you realize that while it may not use fancy chemicals, it uses all sorts of outside sources. 

For example: I have been working on jams and jellies for about a year now.  When you work on a fruit spread, you are mixing pulverized fruit with sugar and pectin, which is a natural fiber and thickening/gelling agent, in hopes that it matches the right consistency.  You toss in some lemon juice for a preservative and then you have fresh jam.  Now, while that was easy, now you have to can it and that means taking a freshly sterilized jar, filling it with enough jam that there is still some headway at the top of the jar, and then placing a lid and processing the jar.  When you process the jar, you place the jar of jam, in a pot of water and boil for 10 minutes.  You then take the jar out and let it sit.  What happens is that the insides get so hot they boil as well, sterilizing the food, and the inside of the jar a second time.  Then because the temperature of the inside of the jar is hotter than the temperature outside of the jar, in the air, it creates a vacuum and sucks in the lid, as it cools, sealing the jar.

Why is canning so difficult?  You have to make sure everything is sterilized or else a bacteria will grow, unhindered in a happy and perfect environment and can give botulism.  You also have to make sure that the item is the correct consistency as if it is too thick, it may not heat properly or even stay in the jar and squeeze out during the process. Not to mention that you are dealing with keeping a balance of fiber and pectin to make sure that the food is the right consistency. 

If any of you would like to start canning, buy this book: or ask me and I'll be happy to help, as it is an easy way to preserve and not waste food.

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