Tuesday, February 10, 2015

You can have my cheese powder when you pry it from my cold, dead, presumably-orange-tinted, fingers.

Mr F loves macaroni and cheese, and we make it for him about every single day, which makes me a bad parent in Michelle Obama's eyes, because I understand science and she doesn't.

This is the era of people deciding 'science' is whatever backs up their personal beliefs, I guess, as measles becomes an epidemic and parents describe their children as vaccinated "for the most part" and politicians deciding that the free market will take care of bacteria so there's no need to make food workers wash their hands anymore, as U.S. "Senator" Tom Tillis from North Carolina proposed recently, but I had hoped that perhaps the one lasting achievement of Obama's presidency might be that he and his family resolutely believe in real science.

*Sigh*.  Unfortunately for me, and science, and my ability to parent my kids, Michelle Obama decided that magazine covers and sound bites = science, and so she started a fight against boxed macaroni and cheese.

Michelle Obama, in the grand tradition of mothers who have tons and tons of paid servants to raise their kids and so forget how real parenting actually works (see also: Gwyneth Paltrow, Working Mother) recently relayed to "Cooking Light" magazine the revelation that she had, as a mom, and a person, and a personal mom who doesn't believe science anymore, about boxed macaroni and cheese:

my kids loved the macaroni and cheese in a box. And he said, if it’s not real food then we’re not going to do it. If we want macaroni and cheese, we’ll cook it with real milk and real cheese. He said, there’s nothing wrong with mac and cheese, but it’s got to be real food.

The "he" in that sentence is "Sam Kass," who helps run the "Let's Move" program started by Michelle Obama (Mom/Non-scientist/Cheese shamer) and who also is the WHITE HOUSE CHEF.

To demonstrate how much the White House Chef knows about science/real food/kids/parenting, Michelle Obama, Mom Extraordinaire (do you serve your kids only food prepared by a chef? You lout, you don't do you?) shared this anecdote:
So my oldest daughter [Malia], who was probably 8 at the time, he took a block of cheese and he said, if you can cut this cheese up into the powder that is the cheese of the boxed macaroni and cheese, then we’ll use it. She sat there for 30 minutes trying to pulverize a block of cheese into dust. I mean, she was really focused on it, and it just didn’t work, so she had to give up. And from then on, we stopped eating macaroni and cheese out of a box, because cheese dust is not food, as was the moral of that story.

THIRTY MINUTES? Michelle Obama, the NATION'S MOM, watched her kid trying to pulverize cheese for thirty minutes?

But the moral of that story, because all scientific experiments have morals, is that cheese dust is not food, because you can't make cheese dust in your kitchen, not even if you are [Malia] Obama, not even if you work on it for (seriously?) thirty minutes.

FOOD is STUFF YOU CAN MAKE IN YOUR KITCHEN IN THIRTY MINUTES, is the moral of that story.  Or is it? I'm confused with all these morals, Michelle Aesop.

Here are other things that I cannot powder in my kitchen: powdered milk.  Garlic powder.  Baking soda.  Meringue powder.

ALL BANISHED.  As is freeze dried food.  From here on out, to be a Michellian Eater, you must prepare all of your food from its most basic constituents.  If you want ground beef (can we eat ground beef), you must buy a side of beef wholesale and grind it yourself.

Ideally, you will grow the cow from scratch in your pasture.

I know, I know: people will say but that cheese powder stuff that really is chemicals, right? And they will back Michelle Obama, WonderMom, and her personal chef, who will personally grow the cheese on a shelf or whatever to make sure that [Malia] and [the other one] have nothing but 'real' food, 'real' food meaning 'food that is processed the way we like it, not the way you like it.'

Because cheese is processed, you know.  Cheese doesn't grow on rocks like manna from God.  You can make cheese at home, you know.  It can be done in 11 simple steps. But before we get to that, let me ask this: can I use canned parmesan cheese, Mrs. Obama? I don't know if you have had [Malia] try to pound parmesan to a pulp, but the stuff I get in the store comes powdered and I like to sprinkle it on top of my spaghetti and meatballs, which I make using spaghetti from a box and OH GOD I CAN'T MAKE MY NOODLES PERFECTLY STRAIGHT AND DRY IN MY OWN KITCHEN, NOT EVEN UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF A MASTER CHEF.

Well, no more spaghetti for US.  It's just "... and meatballs" for dinner now, using our homegrown cow.

Anyway: cheese.  You can make cheese at home using ingredients you probably have laying around, if one of the things you have laying around is a cheesecloth.  This website has the directions and I was looking at it and OH MY GOD HERE IS STEP SEVEN:

That looks a LOT like powdered cheese made at home.  Or an abomination unto God.  Whichever. Don't tell Michelle Obama, Cheese Crusader.

One thing people should understand is that pretty much every single thing you eat is the result of a chemical reaction.  Cakes are fluffy and delicious because of the chemical reactions between the ingredients.  (Ingredients which include iodized salt, salt to which has been added iodine, which is a chemical produced from the brine on oil fields and which is used as a disinfectant.  Iodine is forcibly added to your salt to prevent hypothyroidism.  Hypothyroidism can cause "extreme fatigue, goiter, mental slowing, depression, weight gain, and low basal body temperatures." A lack of iodine causes intellectual disability in babies.  So while AntiVaxxer Moms are getting their kids the measles, they are downing tablespoon after tablespoon of government-mandated oil brine disinfectant designed specifically to alter the genetic makeup of their babies' brains.)

To make cheese outside of your house, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (or "Big Milk"), you have to add bacteria (gasp!) and "rennet."  "Rennet" is "cow stomach juice." (Seriously.)  In the olden days, to get the rennet, or Paloecestors would use this process:

Dried and cleaned stomachs of young calves are sliced into small pieces and then put into saltwater or whey, together with some vinegar or wine to lower the pH of the solution. After some time (overnight or several days), the solution is filtered. 
I'm sure the dried and cleaned stomachs of those young calves were harvested humanely, animal rights activist!  (This, by the way, is why vegetarianism is not so clear as people would think it. The few vegetarians I know eat cheese.  Vegans don't, but vegetarians do, because apparently it's okay to eat food which requires the use of sliced-up cow stomachs to prepare, as long as you don't actually eat the cow stomach itself.)

(This, by the way, is also why I don't pay attention when I am eating a bologna sandwich and someone says Do you know how they make bologna? Because it's entirely possible that the lunchmeat is the least objectionable thing on that sandwich.)

We're not savages anymore, though, butchering baby cows to create mozzarella for our Prairie Pizzas (TM). Here's how we get our Cow Stomach Juice nowadays:

Deep-frozen stomachs [NOTE: YUMMERS!] are milled and put into an enzyme-extracting solution. The crude rennet extract is then activated by adding acid; the enzymes in the stomach are produced in an inactive form and are activated by the stomach acid. The acid is then neutralized and the rennet extract is filtered in several stages and concentrated until reaching a typical potency of about 1:15,000; meaning 1 gram of extract can coagulate 15 kg (15 litres) of milk. In 1 kg of rennet extract, there are about 0.7 grams of active enzymes – the rest is water and salt and sometimes sodium benzoate, E211, 0.5% - 1% for preservation. Typically, 1 kg of cheese contains about 0.0003 grams of rennet enzymes.

GREAT! Now I'm craving some sodium benzoate.

Is that natural enough for you?  I presume that Michella Obama, SCIENCE LADY, has her own method of deep-freezing the stomachs to produce her cheese.

"Cheese powder," the bane of Michelle Obama's existence, is created using industrial processes, of course.  The cheese is melted into a liquid; there are additives put into it, and then it is sprayed through a nozzle to make tiny, tiny droplets, which are blasted with hot air to dry them into the powder we know and love* (*not including Michelle Obama, Goddess Of Food).

The 'additives' include whey (a natural byproduct of cheesemaking), vegetable oil, and and sodium. (Sodium is an ingredient in salt.)

People have been powdering milk since Marco Polo visited China, where he saw them doing it, according to The New Yorker, which did an investigative piece on cheese powder, a piece Michelle Obama apparently did not have a White House Reader skim for her and highlight. The first cheese spray-drying patent was issued in 1872, so our forefathers were creating cheese powder 143 years ago.  It's artisanal!  That New Yorker article also notes that while as little as 29% of the cheese powder in Kraft macaroni and cheese might be "cheese," the cheese content in the cheese powder is surprisingly high.

As pointed out from the iodized salt mention, adding things to foods and processing them can be beneficial, too.  Processed cheese doesn't spoil as fast, so less food is wasted and people don't die.  Many foods, especially processed foods, have vitamins added to them (think breakfast cereal.) This helps people not die of scurvy in the winter.

And for me personally, a benefit of processed foods is that they always taste the same.  Mr F's autism makes it very difficult for him to process different textures and new experiences.  Much as I'd like to have the freedom to hire a personal chef to cook for me 'round the clock like Michelle Obama has, I can't do that, and even if we could, Mr F doesn't like change and would reject macaroni and cheese that differs from his previous mac'n'cheese, not because he's a jerk but because it might genuinely gross him out or make him freak out because he has to learn a new kind of food.  (One theory of autism that seems to fit particularly well is that autistic people have difficulty processing new experiences, which is why they like repetition so much.  If you or I eat a bowl of mac'n'cheese, and then have another one the next day that is slightly different, we'd shrug and say "Oh well." But for Mr F, it's an entirely new sensory experience that he has difficulty working through, and it might make him never eat macaroni and cheese again.)

So where do I end up? Far from being the bad parent I thought I was when I began this investigation, I can now conclude that Michelle Obama engages in the same kind of sloppy thinking that antivaxxers, Republicans in general, and most people who avoid gluten are guilty of.  "If you can't make it in the kitchen, don't eat it" is no different, in logic (or lack thereof) than "I want my body to have natural immunity", or any quote, ever, from Dr. Oz.

Michelle Obama may be well-intentioned, but her method of thinking is haphazard at best.  Don't follow advice from people incapable of thinking their way** out of a wet piece of cheese.

**should've said 'whey.' DANG IT.


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