Amazing New Google Books Ngram Search Tool - Foodie Index, Fast Food Index and More

The geniuses at Google have put together a search tool that allows you to search through a good portion of the books they've scanned into Google Books. Here is how it works:

The service draws on the absolutely massive Google Books corpus. Google estimates they've scanned and OCR'd more than 10 percent of all the books ever published, and they use about a third of the total books in the tool.

Language and book publishing trends are tricky things to nail down. For example, just because a word comes into more frequent use does not necessarily mean that the concrete realities we attach to those words in today's language have become more important or popular. But they do provide fascinating data points to consider when assessing cultural trends.

I did a few searches related to the content of this blog:

Below is the meat index comparing usage of the words chicken, beef, pork, and turkey (1900-2008):

Screen shot 2010-12-18 at 9.09.08 AM


Here's an "industrial agriculture" vs. "organic agriculture" throwdown (1940-2008):

Industrial ag vs organic ag


Below is the fast food index showing the rise of pizza, hamburger, and fast food (1940-2008):

Screen shot 2010-12-18 at 9.22.13 AM


Here's what I'll call the foodie index showing community garden, farmers market, and csa (1900-2008):

Screen shot 2010-12-18 at 9.56.33 AM

Below is the vintage food index showing use of victory garden, pickling, and canning (1900-2000):

Screen shot 2010-12-18 at 10.18.00 AM

 Finally the ag index showing frequency of farm, farmer, and agriculture (1900-2008):

Screen shot 2010-12-18 at 9.48.56 AM

World Comparison - Fresh vs. Processed Food Consumption

This is old news but I came across this handy chart put together over at the NY Times that illustrates the comparison of US food consumption vs. the rest of the world. Along with highlighting the US dominance in the processed foods arena, there are several other interesting points of comparison.

I was surprised to see how much bakery goods make up the diet of Mexicans, mostly because I've never been a big fan of Mexican baked goods.(Deleon Foods being the exception.) Japan and France are the winners in the sauces/dressings category. China eats more vegetables per capita than the US, Spain and France combined. The chart makes a note that rice sold loose and un-packaged is in the fresh foods category. Both Brazil and China beat out the US in consumption of meat and seafood. Considering the availability of inexpensive fresh fruit in the U.S. I can't figure out why our consumption would fall behind most of the world. Maybe southern climates have a leg up on us with year round tropical fruit.

Nytimesprocessed food chart
Click through to see a comparison of fresh and processed foods in pictures from the amazing book Hungry Planet. I usually use those pictures in my Powerpoint presentations when sharing about our experience of eating locally.

1. Germany – $500 a week for food

Germany - $500 a week for food

2. North Carolina, USA – $341.98 a week for food

North Carolina - $341.98 a week for food

3. Japan – $317.25 a week for food

Japan - $317.25 a week for food

4. Italy – $260 a week for food

Italy - $260 a week for food

5. Great Britain – $253 a week for food – I wonder if the dog on the table is part of the diet?!?

Great Britain - $253 a week for food

6. Kuwait – $221.45 a week for food

Kuwait - $221.45 a week for food

7. Mexico – $189.09 a week for food

Mexico - $189.09 a week for food

8. California, USA – $160 a week for food

California - $160 a week for food

9. Beijing, China – $155.06 a week for food

Beijing, China - $155.06 a week for food

10. Poland – $151 a week for food

Poland - $151 a week for food

11. Egypt – $68.53 a week for food

Egypt - $68.53 a week for food

12. Mongolia – $40 a week for food

Mongolia - $40 a week for food

13. Ecuador – $31.55 a week for food

Ecuador - $31.55 a week for food

14. Bhutan – $5 a week for food

Bhutan - $5 a week for food

15. Breidjing Camp – $1.23 a week for food!!! {Sudanese refugees in Chad}

Breidjing Camp - $1.23 a week for food

Latest from Michael Pollan - Food Movement Rising

Boletes Picture: Wild Bolete mushrooms gathered with some friends last summer
at Mt. Spokane. It's mushroom season again.

In case you missed it, Michael Pollan is out with his latest article at the NY Review of Books. The article is a good summary of where things are at right now with the food movement. The paragraph below has a personal resonance;

It would be a mistake to conclude that the food movement’s agenda can be reduced to a set of laws, policies, and regulations, important as these may be. What is attracting so many people to the movement today (and young people in particular) is a much less conventional kind of politics, one that is about something more than food. The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other. As the Diggers used to say during their San Francisco be-ins during the 1960s, food can serve as “an edible dynamic”—a means to a political end that is only nominally about food itself. (emphasis mine)

Erik Samuelson @pubpastor recently described me on Twitter as "Pastor and Foodie," but the truth is I'm kind of a Foodie flunky. My dirty little secret is that for someone who talks about food a lot, I don't cook much and while I like a good meal, I'm not much of a food connoisseur. I love growing all kinds of food and I love eating fresh seasonal foods but when it comes to the intricacies of fine dining I'm less interested. (Lovitt Restaurant being an exception)

When I think of Foodie I think of my friend Kevin Finch. As many of you know I'm not the only Presbyterian pastor in Spokane who is engaged with our region's food community. Kevin leads an organization called Big Table that helps care for workers in the food industry, he has been a restaurant critic for the Spokesman Review among others and has a really discerning palate. That's what I think of when I think of a Foodie. (check out Kevin's blog Traveling Feast)

I'm one of the folks that Pollan describes as being drawn into the food conversation by "more than food." I tend to approach it through the lenses of land, sustainability, community, faith and justice. I wouldn't say it's "only nominally about food" but for me it is about much more than that.

What drives your interest in the food movement?

City by City Infographic of Food & Drink Expenditures

This is a great infographic from the folks at bundle.

Infographic Food and Drink by City_hl_lg

...we examined major U.S. cities spending habits when it comes to groceries and restaurants. Of note:

• Austin, TX, residents spend almost twice ($6,301) the US annual average for dining out.
• In fact, five average Detroit households (the nation’s lowest spenders) can eat on one Austinite’s food budget.
• If Manhattan were its own city, it would be No. 1 for food spending ($13,079) and No. 1 for share of food budget spent on restaurants (59%).
• In Atlanta, dining out accounts for 57% percent of the city’s average total food and drink spending annually, the highest in the US and 28% higher than the US average.
• Denver residents allocate 22 percent of their daily spending to food, more than any other big city in the country.

Too bad Spokane didn't make the list as a "major U.S. city." I noticed Boise is on the list. For a breakdown of Spokane's spending go here.

Why Pay More for Good Local Food?

This is one of the questions we get a lot. People want to know if what we are doing is more expensive, as if the answer to that question might bring into question the whole operation. Here is how Barbara Kingsolver addresses this issue of food and cost in her book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle";

Grocery money is an odd sticking point for U.S. citizens, who on average spend a lower proportion of our income on food than people in any other country, or any heretofore in history. In our daily fare, even in school lunches, we broadly justify consumption of tallow-fried animal pulp on the grounds that it's cheaper than whole grains, fresh vegetables, hormone free dairy, and such...It's interesting that penny-pinching is an accepted defense for toxic food habits, when frugality so rarely rules other consumer domains. The majority of Americans buy bottled water, for example, even though water runs from the faucets at home for a fraction of the cost, and government quality standards are stricter for tap water than for bottled.

Kingsolver can be a little overbearing in her commentary, but I think she makes a good point. Eating less food and better quality, fresh food might be the most simple and powerful answer to our public health issues. It's been a good policy change for the Goodwin family public health initiative.

Salmonella Primer

BacteriaThe farmers and I were chatting at the Farmers' Market today about the outbreak of salmonella in our public supply of tomatoes. I've been learning about food borne illness as part of the Master Food Preserver class and thought it would be worth offering a little primer. This comes via the "You Can Prevent Food borne Illness" publication available through WSU extension.

Two similar groups of bacteria, Salmonella and Campylobacter, are normally found in warm blooded animals such as cattle, poultry,and pigs. These bacteria may be present in food products that come from these animals— such as raw meat, poultry, eggs, or unpasteurized dairy products. Salmonella also may be present on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Rinse all fresh fruits, including melons and vegetables, thoroughly under running water before preparing or eating them. It is true this will not remove all microorganisms, but it will reduce the number present. Pathogens have been isolated from a wide variety of fresh produce, and outbreaks of food borne illness have been associated with many types of produce—cantaloupes and tomatoes, for example. If the skin of the fruit or vegetable is contaminated, the pathogens move into the fruit when it is sliced. Removing the skin or rind reduces the risk.

Here's the more official run down.

Salmonellosis and Campylobacteriosis Bacteria: widespread in nature; live and grow in intestinal tracts of humans and animals.

Examples of foods involved: Raw or undercooked poultry, meat and eggs. Unpasteurized dairy products. Contaminated raw fruits and vegetables.

Transmission: Eating contaminated food, or contact with infected persons or carriers of the infection. Also transmitted by insects, rodents, farm animals, and pets.

Symptoms: Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting. Infants, elderly people, and immunocompromised persons are most susceptible. Severe infections cause high fever and may even cause death. In a small number of cases, can lead to arthritis and Gullian-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune disorder.

Onset: 1–5 days.
Duration: 2–7 days.
Prevention: Cook foods thoroughly. The bacteria are destroyed by heating the food to 140F for 10 minutes or to higher temperatures for less time— for instance, 160F for a few seconds. Chill foods rapidly in small quantities. Refrigerate at 40F. Wash hands, work surfaces and equipment after touching raw meat or poultry.

BusinessWeek On the Changing Food Marketplace

BusinessWeek is out with a lengthy article on how the food marketplace is changing because of consumer interest in local sources. Here's a choice quote:

It's a movement that is gradually reshaping the business of growing and supplying food to Americans. The local food movement has already accomplished something that almost no one would have thought possible a few years back: a revival of small farms. After declining for more than a century, the number of small farms has increased 20% in the past six years, to 1.2 million, according to the Agriculture Dept.

Say what you will about capitalism as an economic system, it knows how to listen to people's consumer choices. The article reminds me of the power and significance of these choices. One of the most powerfully political things we do is buy stuff and few things do more to shape our community than these decisions.

"Stop Eating Thoughtlessly"

Here's a video from about the decisions we make around food. Mark Bittman lays out a simple argument that we should eat half the meat we are currently consuming and more veggies. Toward the end he sums up his little lecture by saying we need to "stop eating thoughtlessly." At about 7:40 he comments on the "hip locavore" movement and goes on to tell the story of how we got into our current food dilemmas.

"Bottles" Specialty Beverage Store Opens Its Doors in Millwood

The same folks that brought Spokane the Rocket Bakery and the Rocket Market have just opened their doors to a new specialty beverage grocery store called Bottles. It's got a great selection of wines and beers, many of them from local sources. They've got a good selection of beer from the Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg that I'm looking forward to trying. The other local beers I've come across so far are Laughing Dog, available at Yokes, URM, & Bottles, and Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company, available at Costco. Northern Lights is also a local one I haven't tried yet.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Bottles is located right next to the original Rocket Bakery on Argonne Rd. in Millwood.

Spokane Seed and Other Inland Northwest Specialties

SpokaneseedSome people have asked if our region is a good one for eating locally. My response is to say, it depends on what you like to eat. But in general, the Inland Northwest is a place of food abundance. Eastern Washington produces the following percentages of our country's food items according to the 2007 USDA report; 77% of hops, 74% of spearmint oil, 42% of lentils, 22% of potatoes, 8% of wheat & barley, 60% of apples, 47% of concord grapes and 40% of niagara, 60% of sweet cherries, 43% of pears, 28% of prunes and plums, over 20% of our countries carrots, sweet corn, asparagus, green peas, onions.

When we eat a can of Campbel's split pea or lentil soup, the peas and lentils are likely from Spokane Seed in the Valley. When we down a can of Budweiser, we're likely partaking in Yakama hops. When we eat a granola bar with dried cherries, we're likely biting into a little bit of sunshine from the Wenatchee area. When we chew on Doubleday spearmint gum, we're likely freshening our breath via the fruitful soil of the Wapato area. When we make pancakes from a box of Krusteaz Pancake Mix, we're likely consuming wheat from our state's vast dry field farming resource.

The Inland Northwest is a place of plenty.

If you want to skip the can of Campbel's soup, you can go straight to the offices of Spokane Seed in the Valley and get some manageable and inexpensive bags of peas and lentils (pictured above). They have four or five varieties of lentils.   

Dandelions for Dinner, "They Kind of Make You Perky"

Salad_2On February 20th we reported on our first flats of veggies and greens going into the greenhouse. A more seasoned gardener would already be harvesting their first crop of lettuce but, for now, the little shivering plants are under plastic, cursing me for putting them out in the garden too early. Because of my deficiencies at growing these new varieties, I decided to turn to a source of fresh spring greens that I've proven I can produce year after year; dandelions. This crop is a good confidence builder for any gardener nursing his wounds from a fickle spring.

I wandered the yard and found a hidden bounty of the green serrated leaves. Dandelions are actually considered an herb in some quarters, with the roots having some medicinal value when dried and ground up. I was surprised to find that you can actually buy the seeds at online seed stores. Something to keep in mind should the need arise to exact revenge on your neighbor.

Saladthumb1I was on dinner duty tonight, so I took the greens and made a Spokavore Early Spring Salad with; mung beans from Moyie Springs, ID, matchstick carrots from John Duncan Produce in Greenacres, WA (available at Yokes) and dandelion leaves from cracks in the Goodwin's driveway. The true test was to see how the girls responded to having weeds on their plate. As the picture shows, it was thumbs up. Noel said, "It kind of has a zing to it." Lily commented, "It kind of makes you perky but its really good."

So there you have it. Put away the Round Up and get out the salad tongs.

What Local Food Looks Like Around the World

Hungry_planet_2I received an email awhile back with a bunch of pictures illustrating a weeks worth of food consumption from households around the world. I was going to post the pictures here but after a little snooping I found that the photos are copyrighted and are from the book, Hungry Planet, by Peter Menzel. They are fascinating and you can see them here. More photos are available on Menzel's web gallery here. Click on the food link.

Chicken Dignity

ChickenI've been in research mode with my farmer friends trying to learn about the differences between locally raised meat products, and those that are mass produced through big agribusiness. The basic premise of our experiment is human dignity, and the belief that it is important to know and care for the people involved in bringing our food and other products to market. But as I learn about the processes of bringing meat to market, I'm reminded that I need to add another dimension of dignity to our premise; chicken dignity.

Rich Mouw, one of my mentors, helped me understand this dignity when he described the comments of a man at a gathering of Mennonite and Dutch Reformed farmers;

Colonel Sanders wants us to think of chickens only in terms of dollars and cents," he announced. "They are nothing but little pieces of meat to be bought and sold for food. And so we're supposed to crowd them together in small spaces and get them fat enough to be killed."

"But that's wrong! The Bible says that God created every animal 'after its own kind.' Chickens aren't people, but neither are they nothing but hunks of meat. Chickens are chickens, and they deserve to be treated like chickens! This means that we have to give each chicken the space to strut its stuff in front of other chickens.

I like the idea of a "strut your stuff" test for human and chicken dignity. If a person doesn't have a chance to strut their human stuff in making, growing, and producing a product, then something is wrong. Of course chicken dignity is a different kind of dignity, but it deserves strutting nonetheless.

In my research I was talking to Dave Mcculough, from Susie David's Cattle. Dave has a herd of 16 grass fed cattle that he shepherds north of Spokane near Mt. St. Michael. He also has a big chicken coup with some hearty hens that provide us with eggs. In the midst of learning the ins and outs of the beef industry over the phone, he told me about the way his huge bull cow was playing with the calves out in the field yesterday. He praised the steer for being so gentle, and said the scene would have made a great picture; a big bull, getting worked over by a little calf, strutting his stuff, and everyone enjoying it, including Dave. There's a lot of dignity going on in that picture, both human and cow.

So stay tuned for more on the virtues of grass fed beef, but let it be known that the best part, as far as I'm concerned, is the strutting.

For more on chicken dignity go to the post on Happy Chickens.

Rinderroulade Reality Show


Saw this going around the blogs. It's a German site, They take processed foods and compare the actual food you eat with how the food is portrayed on the packaging. I don't know what Rinderroulade is, but it looks like the TV dinners I ate when I was growing up. I wonder how the items would sell if you were required to put a picture of the actual food on the packaging?

Dinner at De Leon Foods

De_leonWe met tonight with Ben, a photographer from the Inlander. They are doing a story on our little experiment in the Dining Guide and needed a picture. I guess it comes out on Wednesday. Nancy says she hopes we don't look weird. We'll see. It's hard to cover up the obvious.

Ben wanted to meet at a restaurant that fits with our plan and De Leon Foods was the first thing that came to mind. It is a local Mexican grocery, bakery, tortilla factory, and restaurant all in one. A bonus for us is that they get their flour for the tortillas from Shepherd's Grain, a co-op of Eastern Washington wheat farmers. It's hard to find Mexican food outside of the Azteca genre in Spokane so this place is a real treat.

We have been getting a steady supply of their tortillas and chips but hadn't had a chance sit down for a meal at their cafeteria style restaurant. Someone told me they were kind of expensive but we were able to feed the whole family four tacos, a burrito and enchilada for around $12. I highly recommend the tacos.

The surprise treat for the night was born out of a recurring dilemma. The kids wanted dessert and were hovering around the grocery store mini freezer filled with all kinds of non-local treats. These situations are real moments of truth for sticking to the plan. Nothing weakens my knees like the whiny defiant chorus of my daughters, saying "Pleeeeeeeaaaaase." Something deep inside my parental cortex yells, "Please make it go away. Give them whatever they want. Just make it stop."

Nancy explained that the ice cream treats weren't made locally and that we couldn't get them. As they headed my direction for an appeal to their mother's decision I thought of telling the photographer to get his camera ready for a real picture of locavore life. I can see the headlines; "Heartless Spokane Father Denies Children Ice Cream".

As is always the case in these moments, we went to work figuring out what we COULD eat. They didn't serve desserts at the restaurant but the clerk explained that they have a full bakery and everything is made on location. I've never been a fan of Mexican baked goods, but we discovered an awesome selection of colorful carb comfort food. Most of the items had a familiar look, but with a little Latin twist to each one. It took us a minute to figure out the routine. You grab a metal tray, stack your bounty with tongs and take it to the cash register where they load them into a cardboard box for you. The girls gobbled up their .50 cent treats and all was right with the universe.

One lesson learned is that there is a whole world of delights right under our noses, that will go unnoticed and unexperienced unless we occasionally say no to the normal pathways of consumption. What begins in us as grumpy resistance against change, quickly becomes the deep satisfaction of trying something new.

So here's a challenge. Take one well worn pathway of consumption, and for one week say no, and see how much fun it is to say yes to something different. 

Inland Northwest Cooking Oil - Apres Vin Grape Seed Oil

Apres_vinWe finally found some cooking oil from Eastern Washington. Apres Vin (french for "after the wine"), is a brand new business venture out of Prosser, Washington, taking the waste product from Washington wine making and producing varietal grape seed oils and flours.

Eric Leber and Lori Ramonas, co-founders and both with PH.D.s in chemistry, were in Spokane this week and I had a chance to connect with them. They described the amazing growth in the Washington wine grape industry and the subsequent growth in the waste product from the processing of those grapes. In the past, the wineries often had to pay to have it taken away. They take this and separate out the seeds, dry them, and press them to get a versatile oil with a 485 degree smoke point. But they aren't done with it yet. They then take the press cake and mill it to create nutrient rich and flavorful grape seed flour. Add a tablespoon or two per cup of dry ingredients when making bread and your loaf gets a 3,000 to 5,000 fold boost in anti-oxidants and some interesting flavors and colors.

One of the interesting things about Apres Vin, is that they are one of the only grape seed oil and flour producers in the world to produce oils and flours that are specific to the variety of grape seed. They explained that the white wine grape seeds, Chardonnay and Riesling, produce a more subtle and light oil, whereas the reds, like Cabernet and Merlot, have a richer more wine like flavor. Same goes for the flours. I get the feeling it's such a new concept that some local chefs need to do some experimenting to make the most of it.

As of right now you can get it at Lone Canary Winery and Cassano's. I hope other stores start to carry it soon. We've got our bottle of Roasted Garlic Chardonnay oil, which we are really going to enjoy, especially when our lettuce matures.

UPDATE: Here's the fact sheet on the oil. Download fact_sheet229.pdf

Adventures in Reading Food Labels

Label_comp_2I imagined many challenges during this year, but I never expected it to be so hard to figure out where stuff is from. We've been on a steep learning curve when it comes to sourcing local foods and deciphering labels.

We quickly found out that just because something like a Western Family product says that it is distributed out of Portland, OR, doesn't mean it's from Oregon. It should probably more accurately say "marketed" by a company whose headquarters is in Portland, OR.

Another thing that we noticed right away is that some products are very clear in their city of origin while others are downright elusive. I did a little reading on the subject and apparently there are new food labeling laws that require a product to identify it's country of origin. These laws have been voluntary since the 2002 Farm Bill was passed and will become binding in September of 2008. But this doesn't include ingredients mixed together in a product and it doesn't help us much in identifying the region or city of the US it originates from.

An example of how complicated this gets is Tree Top Apple Juice. Tree Top is based in Selah, WA and should be right in the wheelhouse of our local consumption plans. When you read the top of the can though, you see that it says, "Conc of US and CHI", which means that the juice is made from a concentrate that includes a little bit of China in every cup. I think this means the ascorbic acid, which is almost exclusively a product of China these days, is mixed in as a preservative with the concentrate made from Washington Apples.

If you read the "Bringing Down the Economy" comments you'll see that someone has an idea to create some kind of regional product certification label. As more and more people are interested in consuming locally, it is actually a great idea.

I am noticing a movement online to identify local producers. Here in the Inland Northwest there is the Local Choice Network (I think this is just getting started. Why don't you help them out and sign up to be a member). There is Local Harvest, a national resource, and Rural Roots, based out of Moscow, ID. This is great but very limited. Even with all these online resource, finding local foods is like a part time job. Even the managers of the stores often don't know where stuff is from. There has to be a way at the point of sale to help people identify products as local. To their credit, Yoke's grocery store tries harder than any of the major grocers. Who has some ideas about how this can be done? Is Shepherd's Grain a model? How about a special section in grocery stores? Farmers' Markets are the best way to source local food but we that doesn't help much right now. By the way, the Millwood Farmers' Market starts on May 21.

One approach people are taking is to create stores dedicated to local products. Fresh Abundance is a small grocery store on the south hill and a new location in the Valley, whose products are either local or organic. We get our phosphate free Biokleen laundry detergent from them. If you bring the empty container back in they will fill it up for you and save you some money. Biokleen is made in Vancouver, WA, so technically this is a little bit of a cheat. Sometimes you just have to say, "Close enough."

In my next post I'll talk about local CSA's or Community Supported Agriculture. This is a program where you sign up with a farmer to get a weekly box of in-season produce. No need to fret about labels with that. If you can't wait until the next post check out Ellithorp Farms new CSA. They have a limit of 50 full "shares" for the summer so don't miss out.