My job is to think about food, in this column and with another news organization up North. As a constant forager of news that relates to the food we eat and the myriad interconnected environmental, political, ethical and health issues in a constantly changing global economy, I have a lot of stuff swirling around in my head. For the most part, I am able to sort through the chatter and compartmentalize accordingly. Lately, though, all I can do is worry.
The trouble started when I got wind of "Shaq's Big Challenge," the ABC reality TV show starring basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, whose mission is to turn six Miami-area teens "from fat to fit."
I'm watching for a few minutes, and suddenly it dawns on me – fat kids are no longer the exception to the rule, with Fat Albert or Rerun from "What's Happening!!" as fatty novelties of the 1970s. We have become a nation of young fatties, and there's enough blubber to justify a reality show. Sheesh.
I turn my attention to headlines about the 2007 Farm Bill, an omnibus piece of legislation rewritten every five years that determines food policy for the next five. Now I really have a headache.
I learn that about 70 percent of farm subsidies appropriated by the 2002 bill went to commodity crops – cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat. The incentive for these farmers is to overproduce, which allows them to sell below the cost of production, which means it's a great deal for the junk-food industry to take corn and turn it into high-fructose corn syrup for sodas and Twinkielike school lunch snacks that are too darn cheap to resist for a young fatty on Shaq's show.
If one of those kids had a dollar to spend on dinner and the choices were a mini canister of Pringles or a zucchini, what do you think our nation's future generation would pick?
Speaking of zucchini, the green veg is having a prolific moment of its own right now. Once that vine gets started, it just keeps on giving. But during this television season, the notion of too many zucchini is somehow comforting.
I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Crab Crab Cakes
Adapted from John Shields, chef/owner, Gertrude's, Baltimore, Md., as part of Cooking Fresh from the Mid-Atlantic, edited by Fran McManus and Wendy Rickard
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise or plain yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Vegetable oil, for frying
Place grated zucchini in a colander; sprinkle lightly with salt. Let zucchini sit for about 30 minutes, allowing it to drain. Squeeze to remove additional liquid – zucchini should be fairly dry.
Place zucchini and bread crumbs in a large bowl and mix together.
In a smaller bowl, combine egg, Old Bay, Dijon, mayo, lemon juice and parsley, mixing well.
Pour egg mixture into zucchini-bread-crumb mixture, and mix gently yet thoroughly. Form into 8 patties and chill for about 15 minutes.
Heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan, and cook patties on both sides, browning well, about 5 minutes on each side.
Serve with tartar sauce, chopped capers, fresh basil, lemon wedges or halved sun gold tomatoes.