Food Inc. and our Meat System

In America, we are the proud kings of industrialized processes in all industries. We have achieved economies greater than any human beings who ever came before us. (“Economies” refers to economies of scale, by making production extremely cost-effective.) It is capitalism at its finest. We can also proudly say, “there is enough food to feed the world.”

But when we apply new science to food we start getting undesirable byproducts. “Food Inc.” is a 2008 documentary directed by Robert Kenner, which investigates the very unfortunate side-effects, including: E.coli growth in cows that are fed cheap corn rather than grass, the massive recalls of tainted meat which have led to avoidable deaths (often children), and poor treatment of workers (often illegal) in meat-packing facilities.

In order to live healthier lives there should be a push to consume “free range” animals, which are raised on the natural diets they’ve consumed for thousands of years. As shown in the investigative reporting, the highly mechanized way we raise animals has caused unnatural side-effects. We allow meat-packers to keep producing because our meat prices stay low. The USDA approves all the meat you see on the market shelves, but we still saw the largest meat recall in history on February 18, 2008, when a California meat company ordered the recall of over 143 million pounds of meat. 11 recalls were ordered in 2009, and we’ve already seen 100s of thousands of pounds recalled in 2010. We should all inform ourselves about where our food comes from, because the “greater good” in society is usually trumped by the greatest profits.

This report is important for all to see. Watch it here via Youku.

Great Food for $1

Cauliflower, Carrots, and Spicy Chicken
Cauliflower, Carrots, and Spicy Chicken

I would be lying if I said that eating well in China requires more than $3 or  $4 per day. In fact, the more processed the food, the more expensive it is here; which is completely opposite in my country (America). Also, to make my life easier, I choose the campus canteen options which usually vary between 8-12 options. The picture to the right is two options + rice for about $1. (The rice serving is only about 10 cents.)

Today, I ate cauliflower and carrots with thin sausage slices and spicy chicken chunks (辣子鸡 La zi Ji). La zi Ji is one of the most famous dishes from Si Chuan province. This meal was a little on the meaty side …. but,  I usually get a single meat and a single vege (or toufu) dish together with white rice. Other days it is fish and veges and toufu. Most days I’ll also order a soup which contains peanuts, kelp, eggs, and chicken bones.

My canteen meals are quite varied and I get inspiration for new recipes from there. Best of all, I can eat lots of great food for little money. Paying $1-2 for a bag of chips just doesn’t make sense anymore.

Pork Rib Chunks with Garlic & Black Bean Sauce

Garlic pork ribs
Ingredients for Garlic pork ribs

I’m finally letting this simple, but amazingly delicious recipe out of the bag! I would eat ribs everyday if I could because they are so freaking delicious. My favorite rib-dish is actually steamed and served more frequently at Zao Cha (早茶) or “morning tea,” which is most common in Southern China.  I have yet to find a more delicious way to cook pork ribs at home, but we will need to take a quick trip to the Asian Market first.

Start by preparing the following ingredients:
MEAT: Obviously, first comes the pork rib chunks. I buy them from a butcher’s market, which sells all cuts of meat in open air. The amount in the serving bowl to the right is about one full rib, which is about 8 inches long. You can get a 12 inch long rib chopped up for 2 people if this option is available. If you are not sure about portions, take a look at this article related to meat portion control.

Chilli powder, Corn starch, and Marinade
Chilli powder, Corn starch, and Marinade

SEASONINGS: We’ll simply take the chopped up pork ribs, rinse them through water, and do a simple 1 minute-marinade. I like 李锦记 (Lee Kum Kee) Brand’s prepared Black Bean and Garlic Sauce” marinade shown in the picture. (buy online) I also mix in some 玉米生粉 (Corn Starch), which is that bag with the ear of corn on it. Any corn starch will do. Notice that I don’t cake this onto the ribs; just put a shallow amount in your palm, with the marinade, and mix by hand a few minutes before cooking. I also put in Chilli powder according to taste. A spicy edge can enhance the flavor.

PLANTS: I’ve chosen to separate the shelved Seasonings from the fresh ones. As in the picture above, just cut a few slices of raw ginger, long segments of scallions, and loosely chopped up garlic. This should only take 1 minute.

1 ~ Warm up a frying pan/wok with corn oil (or whatever is available in the house). Throw in some of the garlic you chopped up with 1 or two slices of ginger. Shortly after you can throw in the scallions.

2 ~ Quickly throw in your marinaded pork ribs. Move them around in the pan to give them equal heat. If you find the frying pan is drying out, just add small amounts of water periodically. You’ll slowly develop a nice coating of sauce this way.

3 ~ Cover and let them cook for a few minutes, mixing them up with the sauce in the pan. Add water if needed. (The meat cooks rather quickly because it is not frozen and its rather thin on the bone. Cooking times may vary according to the thickness of your meat.)

4 ~ I usually pull them off after 4-5 minutes. If you want, choose a thick piece and pull it out. Slice it and check the middle.

Garlic Bean Pork Ribs
Garlic Bean Pork Ribs with Rice

I eat this dish with white rice, as you can see from the picture of the final product. Also, it goes well with stir-fried green beans.  Notice that the vegetables and the rice portions are about 50% of the meal. (Try your best to make a habit of this!)

Enjoy!

Full Meal with Green Beans
Full Meal with Green Beans

Meat as a Garnish

Meat as a garnish
Meat as a Garnish

The big question here is about portion control through cooking. You will allow you and your family to consume less meat, and enjoy food more!

From this day forward, you should start looking at meat the same you look at salt and pepper. They are seasonings, flavorings, or whatever you use to give food a bit of a kick. Trust me- you will still consume meat, but it won’t be 1/2 or 3/4 of your meal. (Exaggeration? Think about what you ate for dinner over the past 2 nights.)

Try this: ONLY eat meat when you have sliced it into bite-sized pieces and cooked it with a vegetable. Not only will you enjoy the meat with more bites, but you’ll enjoy eating vegetables! Try some of the meat/vege recipes on this blog, like Sausage and Green Beans. My meat-loving family consumed 1 sausage and loads of green beans this way, instead of serving each member of the family one full sausage link. Try it and let me know how it went!