Homestretch for the Holidays

December! It is very hard to believe we are already facing the end of another semester at Friedman. But the chilly air, harried faces, and crowded libraries are here to remind us that, yes, we’ve made it to finals season. Winter break is almost here!

This is the last issue of The Sprout for 2017, and as such, is a perfect time for reflection on all that has been accomplished over the past 12 months (we have decided to focus on the positive!). The Sprout published over 50 creative, forward-thinking articles whose content wouldn’t have been possible without the creative, forward-thinking students that make up the Friedman student body. As co-editors, we are proud and thankful for the writing that our student body shares with us every month.

This month, we want to highlight two timely pieces contributed by The Friedman Justice League and Julie Kurtz, in light of recent political controversy that hit close to home: one a statement of support of our colleagues at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and The Tufts Daily, and the other a personal reflection.

Next, Sam Jones reviews the summer Netflix hit Okja and tells us how the underlying messages in the dystopian film may reflect the state of our current food production system, or where we may be headed.

Megan Maisano feeds our inner foodie with a review of the hidden Italian gem, Carlo’s Cucina, in Allston, and Erin Child brings us on an amusing journey through the adventures of making both traditional and “health-ified” French fries.

November and December in America bring food traditions (and dietary restrictions) to light, as millions of households come together with friends and family to celebrate the holidays with shared meals of traditional (or not) dishes. Kathleen Nay tells us about her experience and provides some tips for catering to myriad dietary requirements during the holidays.

The prospect of single-payer healthcare becoming a reality is upon us in Massachusetts, but we are still unsure what role nutrition will play in its scope. Ayten Salahi and Hattie Brown, members of the new student organization, Friedman Food Policy Action Council, dig in to the details and recount their meeting with state senator Jamie Eldridge.

Finally, Hannah Meier highlights the work of an art campaign fighting against eating disorders and body dissatisfaction inspired by the words of playwright Eve Ensler. “Love Your Tree” is the wish, and art is the command for students in participating programs around the globe. Poster submission is open until December 15, so read on to learn how you can be involved.

Happy reading, and happy new year – see you in 2018!

Hannah Meier & Kathleen Nay

 

In this issue…

A Statement of Support to our Colleagues at the Fletcher School

by The Friedman Justice League

The Friedman Justice League responds to Anthony Scaramucci’s resignation from the Advisory Board at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy on November 28, 2017. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

 

Perspective for Finals Week

by Julie Kurtz

The events of Tuesday, November 28 that culminated in Anthony Scaramucci’s resignation from the Fletcher School’s Advisory Board prompted a letter of solidarity for Fletcher from the Friedman Justice League. It also left graduate students across Tufts University campuses feeling contemplative about the kind of impact and influence we have the power to wield—both as individuals and as representatives of this anchor institution where we’ve made our academic homes. AFE/MPH student Julie Kurtz sent the Friedman Sprout a short reflection in response to the actions of our friends at Fletcher. In it, she offers some perspective on why we’re here, what justice means, and how we can contribute to the world around us.

 

Screen capture from Okja official trailer, available on Netflix.

“Most Importantly: They Need to Taste F%#@ing Good”

by Sam Jones

Okja is a Netflix original film that was released in June 2017 and directed by Bon Joon Ho. While some may characterize it as a dystopian sci-fi film, others recognize it as a commentary on our modern industrial food complex. Warning: spoiler alert.

 

A Slice of Italy in Allston

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

by Megan Maisano

It’s the end of the semester. Motivation for cooking and weekly meal prep is low. Are you yearning for some Italian comfort fare, but don’t want to make the trek to North End? Fear not. This hidden gem will fill your heart and your belly.

 

 

For the Love of French Fries

by Erin Child

oven fries and french fries

 As a nutrition student, Erin’s unabashed love of French fries may seem out of place. But for her, they are just one delicious part of an otherwise decently balanced diet. They’re her go-to when out at a bar with friends, and her favorite accompaniment to a bowl of steamed mussels. So, she decided to finally try her hand at making some real deep-fried French fries. However, she can’t in good conscience let this story be all be about deep-fried food. And so, she also made a batch of oven fries to compare to the deep-fried originals. She recruited a couple Friedman friends to taste test, and they had a delicious Fry-day night.

 

 

Bringing Everyone to the Table: Accommodating Special Diets During the Holidays

I'm thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nayby Kathleen Nay

Thanksgiving is over and the leftovers are dwindling, but there is more holiday eating and meal prep on the horizon. As food and nutrition professionals, we understand that emotions can run high when it comes to sharing meals, traditions, and dietary restrictions with a crowd. So what can a holiday meal that balances a variety of special diets look like?

 

How Nutrition in MassCare May Put The ‘Health’ Back in ‘Universal Health Coverage’

by Ayten Salahi and Hattie Brown

Including local incentives for food equity and nutritional status may boost momentum and potential of the MA Right to Health movement. Members of budding student group – the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) – met with Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to discuss the need to include nutrition in a proposed cost analysis of a single payer health system (S.2202).

You’ve Got to Love Your Tree

by Hannah Meier

“Love Your Tree.” It’s a directive inspired by Eve Ensler, the writer and activist behind the one-woman play, The Good Body (you may also know her as the playwright for the wildly popular Vagina Monologues). “Love Your Tree” is also the foundation of a creative arts eating disorder prevention campaign that started at the Sheppard Pratt eating disorder treatment center in Maryland in 2006 and has since expanded nationally. Today, organizations across the country, including Massachusetts, are invited to participate in the 2018 campaign and submit artwork that illustrates body diversity, acceptance and positivity.

 

 

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A Statement of Support to our Colleagues at the Fletcher School

by The Friedman Justice League

The Friedman Justice League responds to Anthony Scaramucci’s resignation from the Advisory Board at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy on November 28, 2017. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

By Jdarsie11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jdarsie11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Friedman Justice League, with support from the Friedman Sprout, is writing to state its solidarity with the students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who bravely spoke out when they felt that a member of the Fletcher Advisory Board was not upholding the school’s core values. As a student organization, The Friedman Justice League is committed to finding ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs. We believe the actions taken by fellow students at the Fletcher school reflect this same mission, and for that we affirm our support.

On November 28, financier and former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci resigned from the Fletcher School’s Advisory Board after students and faculty rightly called attention to the discrepancy between his unethical behavior and the values befitting a Fletcher School board member. Earlier in November, Camilo Caballero, a graduate student at Fletcher, wrote an op-ed calling for Scaramucci’s removal from the board, following a petition by fellow student Carter Banker to remove Scaramucci from the board. In the op-ed, he described Scaramucci as an “irresponsible, inconsistent and unethical opportunist,” questioning his position on the Advisory board. They feared that the university was foregoing the long-term benefit of upholding its core values for the short-term benefit of monetary gain. Clearly, the actions Scaramucci took towards Caballero–to threaten a lawsuit because of our fellow student’s opinion–illustrate that his values may no longer align with those of the school, and thus he was no longer fit to continue serving on the board.

Our colleagues at the Fletcher school held themselves accountable for creating the change they wished to see within their institution. Rather than resigning themselves to defeat, they took action when they perceived an injustice. They took action when they perceived that “the power of money [was] taking precedent over the power of values.” We stand in solidarity with the brave steps taken by Camilo Caballero and Carter Banker.

We recognize that our Fletcher colleagues Caballero, Banker, and the editors and staff at The Tufts Daily published their articles at great personal risk to themselves, and we applaud them for doing so. In a statement on behalf of the Friedman Sprout, current co-editor Kathleen Nay says,Though we hope our writers would never feel intimidated or harassed into silence by outside forces, the Friedman Sprout upholds its commitment to empowering students’ voices, especially when challenging injustices in our school’s administration and in our food system more broadly.”

In keeping with the University’s vision “to be an innovative university of creative scholars…who have a profound impact on one another and the world,” we should be proud of our Fletcher colleagues for demonstrating the power of democratic free speech, civic engagement, and commitment to values over financial gain. We hope that should an occasion ever arise, the community at the Friedman School would respond with the same amount of conviction and integrity these students exemplified. The Friedman School prides itself in generating trusted science, educating future leaders, and creating a positive impact in the world of food and nutrition. We know that this is only truly possible if we have trusted experts and citizens at the helm guiding it in the right direction. Anything short of this would place the credibility of Friedman, and by extension the science and policy its research generates, at risk.

Moving forward, we also believe it is in the best interest of the university to develop a process for removing board members that are no longer fit to advise our school. Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins noted that there is no known precedent for removing an advisor from a board; they have only resigned when new positions create conflicts of interest. Although in this case Scaramucci resigned, we believe that no person should take being placed in such an honorable position for granted, and that as representatives of our institution they should be held to the highest standards of morality both within and outside of board meetings. We hope that the administration will take action to ensure that only those who continue to uphold the university’s values continue to have the privilege of a seat on the Board of Advisors.

With the brave voices of a few, our colleagues at the Fletcher school made national waves and created an impact that we believe makes Tufts University a more just and ethically consistent institution. We reaffirm our support of the actions of our fellow students. They inspire us at Friedman to remember to be vigilant, to speak up, and to never underestimate the power of your own voice.

In solidarity,

The Friedman Justice League
Alejandra Cabrera, NICBC 18
Tessa Salzman, AFE/UEP 18
Julie Kurtz, AFE/MPH 18
Casey Leger, NICBC 18
Yvonne Socolar, AFE 18
Kristin Sukys, AFE 18
John VanderHeide, AFE/UEP 18
Kirsten Archer, FPAN/MPH 17
Kathleen Nay, AFE/UEP 18
Eliza Hallett, NICBC 19
Alyssa Melendez, AFE 19
Hannah Meier, NutComm 18
Michelle Darian, NICBC/MPH 19
Megan Maisano, NICBC 18
Sara Scinto, NICBC 18
Jennifer Oslund, FPAN 19
Sabrina Kerin, AFE, 19
Jennifer Pustz, NICBC/MPH 19
Leah Powley, AFE 18
Michelle Rossi, NICBC/MPH 18
Hattie Brown, FPAN 19
Ryan Nebeker, AFE 19
Eliot Martin, FPAN 19
Maria Wrabel, FPAN, 18
Katherine Rancaño, NEPI 17/NICBC 20
Rachel Baer, NICBC 18
Madeline Bennett, FPAN 17
Alana Davidson, FPAN 19
Simon Ye, BMN 17/20
Jessica Manly, AFE 18
Caitlin Matthews, AFE/UEP 17
Amy Byrne, AFE/MPH 19
Ayten Salahi, FPAN/DPD 20
Theodore Fitopoulos, FPAN 18
Kimberly Lagasse, NICBC 18
Rachel Hoh, AFE/ UEP 19
Molly Knudsen, NICBC 19
Victoria Chase, AFE 18
Caitlin Bailey, NICBC 19
Sarah Chang, AFE/MPH 16
Suzanne Kline, FPAN 19
Carla Curle, AFE 16
Hannah Packman, AFE 16
Dianna Bartone, FPAN/MPH 17
Elisabeth Learned, NICBC 19
Bridget Gayer, FPAN/MPH 18
Abel Sandoval, NICBC 18
Rebecca Cohen, BMN 19
Nayla Bezares, AFE 19
Sabina C Robillard, FPAN 17
Laura Gallagher, AFE 19
Natalie Kaner, AFE 18
Lindsay Margolis, NICBC 17
Tori Wong, AFE 18
Megan Lehnerd, N14/PhD 18
Laura Walsh, NICBC 19
Alison Brown, FPAN 17
Marielle Hampton, AFE 19
Christine Sinclair, NICBC 19
Rebecca Boehm, AFE 12/17
Johanna Andrews Trevino, FPAN 18

“Most Importantly: They Need to Taste F%#@ing Good”

by Sam Jones

Okja is a Netflix original film that was released in June 2017 and directed by Bon Joon Ho. While some may characterize it as a dystopian sci-fi film, others recognize it as a commentary on our modern industrial food complex. Warning: spoiler alert.

Screen capture from Okja official trailer, available on Netflix.

Screen capture from Okja official trailer, available on Netflix.

The film begins in 2007 in New York City where Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has recently taken over her father’s controversial agro-chemical company and turned it into a multi-national corporation that produces “natural, eco-friendly, and non-GMO” pork. She begins by presenting a few basic statistics to investors and reporters: the world’s population will surpass 9 billion by 2050 yet there are still millions of people going hungry around the world today. Lucy Mirando’s solution to global hunger and the growing population is to produce more food in the form of “super-pigs.”

Okja is the star super-pig of this story, but she does not much resemble the pigs we are used to. She is abnormally gargantuan and something of a mix between a dog, an elephant, and a rabbit. Her odd appearance seems to instill the sense that there is something fundamentally unnatural about her, however cute she may be. Ten years after the film’s opening scene in New York, the film brings us to the mountains of South Korea. A girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) has been raising Okja for those ten years as more of a pet and a friend than as the property of an agro-chemical company. After a brief glimpse into the day-to-day adventures of Okja and Mija, the viewer is reminded that Okja’s fate will not be as rosy as her upbringing. The arrival of “the face of the Mirando Corporation,” Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal)—a wheezing, flamboyant, animal-loving, washed-up celebrity—signals the beginning of the end for Okja. She has been chosen by the Mirando Corporation as the Number One Super Pig (enormous, beautiful, and healthy) which means she must be transported back to New York City for the Super Pig Project’s inaugural celebration. The film now follows Mija, tricked into letting Johnny Wilcox take her beloved friend away, as she ventures to the United States to liberate Okja and bring her home.

While the Mirando Corporation claims that Okja and several other super-piglets were discovered on a farm in Chile, the truth is not so noble. In reality, Okja and other super-pigs like her are the result of genetic modification and breeding experiments conducted in a New Jersey lab. Sending the best-looking super-piglets to be raised by small farmers around the world turns out to be just a clever marketing scheme and cover-up. The Mirando Corporation knows that genetically modifying animals is dangerous and controversial, which is why they are being marketed as farm-raised, all-natural, GMO-free pigs.

While the film does not explicitly spell it out, it creates astoundingly familiar parallels to the reality of our current meat industry. Chickens, for example, have been bred to grow faster and larger than is biologically natural. Whereas a chicken being raised for meat forty years ago would be 4 pounds at 10 weeks old, today’s chickens reach a 5-pound market weight in half that time. It is an efficient and cost-effective method for bringing cheap, uniform food to consumers’ plates. It is arguably, however, unnatural, inhumane, and lacking in transparency.

Just as the super-pigs in Okja are genetically engineered to be abnormally large, so are today’s meat chickens (commonly called broilers). And just as the Mirando Corporation falsely markets its super-pigs as non-GMO, eco-friendly, and all-natural, the chicken industry now has labels for cage-free, free-range, antibiotic-free, and all-natural that rarely meet those standards as consumers expect. For example, cage-free hens are now able to spread their wings and move around, but studies have shown that they are not necessarily any healthier. Cage-free hens are more exposed to disease and higher ammonia levels and exhibit more aggressive behavior toward other hens. Such conditions are also more hazardous and arduous for workers who have shown greater incidence of respiratory problems. Free-range is also a misleading label. Chickens certified as free-range merely need access to the outdoors, the quality, time exposure, and size of which is not defined. A free-range chicken could therefore still spend its entire life in a warehouse, with perhaps the occasional chance to step outside onto a 10 by 10 slab of fenced-in concrete. In our current food industry, as in Okja, labels and marketing can be misleading and undermine consumer choice to the extent that what you think you are buying may be far from the truth, if not the inverse.

While Okja may seem like a strange sci-fi adventure movie, the underlying premise of animals bred for captivity, slaughter, and mass consumption is an emotional commentary on the food system we have created. But more than that, Okja is at its heart a film about humaneness. It finally asks us the impertinent questions that other films and books have until now failed to convincingly answer: Why are we treating animals this way? How have we become so blind to the irony of simultaneously loving and eating animals? Are we already living in a dystopian reality?

Nearing the film’s conclusion, one line stood out as the most disheartening of all. When the truth comes out about the Super Pig Project, and Lucy Mirando is exposed to the world, her advisors wonder whether customers will knowingly buy the meat their company has spent a decade producing. To quell all concerns, Lucy’s sister Nancy (also played by Tilda Swinton) responds: “If it’s cheap, they’ll eat it.”

And that is the saddest truth about the industrial food complex. If food is cheap, people will continue to eat it. And this pattern should not be viewed as a fault of the frugal consumer. Our system has been designed to provide the illusion of choice while in reality providing only one choice: the cheap choice. Any number of documentaries can be made or investigative books written on the inside truth of slaughterhouses and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). But the cost of producing that meat has yet to appear on the price tag of the finished product. And until it does—until the suffering, wastefulness, pollution, and myriad other negative externalities are included in the cost of buying it—people will continue eating it. That is what the super-pigs in Okja and the animals currently raised in CAFOs around the world amount to: a slab of meat in a plastic package for you and me to snack on, whether to satisfy a craving or distract us from boredom.

While producing super pigs to solve world hunger was the initial premise of the Mirando Corporation’s intention, it is not addressed at any other point in the film. In reality, meat is likely not feeding the hungriest people. If the goal of producing more, cheaper, faster-growing meat was to end world hunger, the model would fail even if the super pigs weren’t genetically modified, raised in confinement, and slaughtered on an assembly line. Meat is in truth a mere indulgence that is neither nutritionally necessary nor environmentally or economically sustainable. But it is cheap, so we will keep eating it despite these external costs. And the slaughter will continue because at the end of the day, as Nancy Mirando tells us in the film, meat is a commodity produced by an industry run by “hardworking business people who do deals. And these are the deals [they] do.”

Sam Jones is a first-year AFE student with an interest in sustainable agricultural development. She considers herself a “situational vegetarian” and claims to have a larger dessert stomach than the average human being. She is looking forward to knitting, reading, watching movies, baking, and snowshoeing over winter break.

A Slice of Italy in Allston

by Megan Maisano

It’s the end of the semester. Motivation for cooking and weekly meal prep is low. Are you yearning for some Italian comfort fare, but don’t want to make the trek to North End? Fear not. This hidden gem will fill your heart and your belly.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I felt at home and part of la famiglia. Packed in tightly among 12 tables were families and friends, hunched over their meals in conversation, accompanied by glasses of wine and fresh bruschetta. The small room was filled with stories, laughter, and the smell of warm tomato sauce. I turned to my husband, Andrew, and got a nod of approval. It was our first time at Carlo’s Cucina in Allston.

Snuggled between a Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant on Brighton Ave, Carlo’s Cucina (pronounced coo-CHEE-nah) was nearly full on a Tuesday night. We snagged a table next to the kitchen in the back, with optimal views of the place in action. Paintings of the Italian countryside covered the walls and wisps of white painted clouds dotted the blue ceiling. Servers scooted between tables, waiting their turn to walk through the narrow passes, cracking jokes in Italian with regulars along the way.

The restaurant itself offers a no-frills dining experience. The table is set with paper placemats and napkins, and not much space for elbow room. While the ambience at Carlo’s Cucina may not compare to the gusto of dining in Boston’s North End Italian restaurants, the food will keep us coming back.

As someone who married into an Italian family and once took a cooking class in Tuscany, I like to believe I have developed a taste for authentic Italian food. But just to be sure my taste was true, I invited Andrew along for a second opinion. And let me tell you, we experienced some anguish when deciding what to order – we wanted to try it all! In addition to the usual spread of antipasti (appetizers), primi (pasta dishes) and secondi piatti (protein dishes), there was also a Specialità della Casa section.

While we examined the menu, our server brought us complimentary toasted bread, pimento stuffed olives, and olive oil. We did our best not to overindulge before our meal, but it was hard to pass up the aroma of freshly baked bread and olive oil.

For our antipasti, we ordered the fried eggplant, Melanzane Ripiene ($10). Laid over a large plate was eight inches of crisp eggplant rolled up with ricotta that oozed out of its sides, and topped with marinara sauce and broiled mozzarella that stuck to our forks. It was heavenly. In a rare act of self-control, we asked for a box to save half of this God-sent dish for later.

We decided to skip the primi piatti: with their generous portion sizes, I can’t imagine ordering more than one course here again. For the secondi piatti, we ordered off the specialty menu. I chose the Pollo Gerardo ($20), a chicken Marsala dish with tomatoes, peppers, and olives. Andrew chose the Vitello Carlo ($23), a popular Yelp pick of veal stuffed with artichokes, prosciutto and Fontina cheese, and topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms and sautéed onions.

I’m a sucker for a good Marsala sauce, so the Pollo Gerardo hit the spot. The dish had an appropriately oversized piece of chicken, lightly battered and pounded thin. The Marsala sauce was reduced to a thick texture and while it tasted just fine with the toppings, I missed the earthy sautéed mushrooms that traditionally accompanied it. Perhaps next time I’ll stick with the traditional Pollo Marsala dish ($20). Andrew picked the Vitello Carlo because of his love for artichokes. This dish had a lot going on, in a good way. The combination of flavors from the tender veal, plum tomato sauce, artichokes, and creamy Fontina kept us picking at it long after we had our fill. And while we planned to get desert, our stomachs begged for mercy. Next time, Cannoli… Next time.

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

By the end of the night, we had sung happy birthday twice to strangers, clapped, and raised our glasses to their fortune. It felt like we were a part of a large family gathering, spread across tables in a dining room, enjoying home-style comfort foods from our very own kitchen.

If you’re looking for authentic Italian dishes without making the arduous trip to the North End, Carlo’s Cucina is your spot. Make reservations, come hungry, and leave a part of la famiglia.

Carlo’s Cucina Italiana
131 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617.254.9759, http://carloscucinaitaliana.com/

Megan Maisano is a second-year Nutrition Communications student, an RD-to-be, and is generally disappointed by small portion sizes. After traveling and eating her way through 24 countries, Italian cuisine remains her personal favorite.

For the Love of French Fries

by Erin Child

 As a nutrition student, my unabashed love of French fries may seem out of place. But for me, they are just one delicious part of an otherwise decently balanced diet. They’re my go-to when out at a bar with friends, and my favorite accompaniment to a bowl of steamed mussels. So, I decided to finally try my hand at making some real deep-fried French fries. However, I can’t in good conscience let this story be all be about deep-fried food. And so, I also made a batch of oven fries to compare to the deep-fried originals. I recruited a couple Friedman friends to taste test, and we had a delicious Fry-day night.

The first time I attempted deep frying I wound up with second-degree burns. My college roommate and I had decided to make fried chicken for our then-boyfriends in our closet-sized kitchen. The moment I bent down to check on the root vegetables roasting in the oven, my roommate chucked the last piece of chicken into the hot oil, splashing it all over the top of my head and hand. Boyfriends arrived an hour later to find me on the floor, forehead covered in aloe and my hand in a pot of cool water. Never again, I vowed, would I deep fry anything. Leave that to the professionals.

A decade later, I have mostly kept my promise. I can count on one hand the number of times I have fried something, and it has always been using a relatively safe, contained, counter-top fryer. I’ve made donuts, pakora (an Indian snack food), and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto®–crusted chicken. (You read that right.) But I still have never attempted one of my all-time favorite foods, French fries.

Before my deep-fried adventures began, I did some shopping. I ordered a thermometer and splatter screen from Amazon for $25.81 worth of safety precautions. I then did some research. I consulted Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and Serious Eats, and found that both recommend the double-fry method for crispy goodness. I had hoped to find a way to avoid deep-frying twice, but couldn’t find any source to persuade me that one fry was sufficient for the texture I desired. Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for single-fried fries, but I was not convinced; however, I did follow the recommendation of using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of regular Russets. They have similar starch content, and thus are both good for frying. And I liked the idea that because of their yellow color, Yukon Golds have more carotenoids, and thus were a smidge healthier. (But the potatoes were going to be fried, so who am I kidding.) For the oven fries I found a recipe on Eating Well that looked promising and instead used that as my reference for my “healthy” fries.

The day of my adventure, I purchased ten pounds (about five pounds too many) of Yukon Golds, as well as peanut oil and dried parsley—for a dash of green—at my local supermarket. The peanut oil was for frying, as everything I read kept pointing to peanut oil as the ideal oil due to its high smoke point. I already had salt, olive oil and ketchup at home. I was ready.

First, I rinsed and chopped five pounds of potatoes into relatively even batons. My knife skills are passable at best, so following the instructions found on Smitten Kitchen I was able to cut reasonably evenly sized fries. Recipes all recommended drying the potatoes first to ensure maximum contact with the oil—so I spread them out over paper towels. All told, almost an entire roll of paper towels was used in my frying adventure.

french fries evenly cut

My attempt at evenly cut fries (pretty good!) Photo: Erin Child

While the fries dried, I turned the oven on to 450˚F and then poured 4 1/3 cups of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot before turning the burner to medium-high. I placed the thermometer into the pot and watched as the temperature slowly climbed to 325˚F. While I waited, I made the oven fries.

I dressed two and a half pounds of the potato batons with four tablespoons of olive oil, a heaping half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of ground thyme, and enough parsley flakes to fleck them all with green. The potatoes went on an unlined baking sheet and into the 450˚F oven. Per the Eating Well instructions, the fries would need to be flipped after ten minutes. When I went to flip the fries, they all stuck to the pan. Panicked, I left them in for another five minutes. When I checked them again, the starches in the potatoes must have shifted, because the fries were golden-brown on the bottom and easy to flip. I left them in for another eight minutes. At this point, most of the fries had two golden-brown sides, so I pulled them from the oven. Once they were cooled enough, my friends and I dug in.

They required more salt than was in the recipe, and they were not crisp, but the flavor was good. As one friend put it, “they taste like a bite-sized baked potato.” Savory and satisfying, but not really a French fry. Next time I try oven fries (and there will be a next time) I may try hand-rotating them to get a better, crispier sear on each side and make them taste closer to the real (fried) thing.

At this point, my peanut oil was ready to go. The double-fry recommendations were to fry once at 325˚F for about 8-10 minutes, let the fries rest, and then fry again at 375˚F for 3-4 minutes. So, I put the full 2.5 pounds of potatoes in the oil. That was my first mistake. The pot was too small for all those potatoes, and the temperature dropped to below 200˚F. For the next ten minutes I essentially gave all the potatoes a warm oil bath. After nothing was noticeably frying, I took all the potatoes out and tried again. This time, I fried them in two batches at 325˚F for 10 minutes. Then increased the temperature of the oil to 375˚F. To my surprise, I did not need the splatter screen. At all. If I was mindful of my movements there was minimal splash back, and the hot oil did not splatter out of the pan during frying.

french fries frying

Warming up for the second attempt. Photo: Erin Child

The second fry at 375˚F also occurred in two batches, and was three minutes per batch. After removing them from the pot, I immediately tossed the fries in a liberal dash of salt. Crispy, golden, salty and warm—they were the clear winner of the evening. Not too shabby for my first batch of French fries.

oven fries and french fries

Oven fries (left) vs French fries (right). Photo: Erin Child

During clean up, I decided to remeasure the peanut oil, and found that I had four cups left. This mean than a third-cup went into the French fries. This is only about one more tablespoon of oil than I used for the oven fries, which was a smaller difference than I expected.

Overall, nothing quite beats the taste and texture of a fried French fry, but for my health and wallet (all that peanut oil was expensive!), I’ll keep homemade French fries to a very occasional treat.

Erin Child is a second year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. She is also the social media editor for the Sprout. At this point in the semester she is frequently procrasti-cooking and cleaning—her belly is full, her room is spotless, and she always has a paper to write.

Bringing Everyone to the Table: Accommodating Special Diets During the Holidays

by Kathleen Nay

Thanksgiving is over and the leftovers are dwindling, but there is more holiday eating and meal prep on the horizon. As food and nutrition professionals, we understand that emotions can run high when it comes to sharing meals, traditions, and dietary restrictions with a crowd. So what can a holiday meal that balances a variety of special diets look like?

In my family, every shared meal requires some logistical acrobatics. We have vegetarians, vegans, people with nut allergies, and people with Celiac disease. Some of the dietary restrictions are self-imposed—my husband and I choose not to consume meat, and he prefers to extend that choice to eliminating all animal products, including eggs and dairy. (Me? Well… I enjoy cheese and sour cream, and the occasional fried egg.) But the dietary restrictions of others in our family are not by choice. My brother has a severe tree nut allergy; my mother in law has Celiac disease and must be careful to avoid even a crumb of gluten. Most in our extended families also abstain from alcohol. Needless to say, communal meals can be a challenge.

This year our guests included some friends from undergrad, one friend's dad and cousin, and my husband's parents. We tried to make our meal both vegan-friendly and gluten-free where possible. Photo: Kathleen Nay

This year our guests included some friends from undergrad, one friend’s dad and cousin, and my husband’s parents. We tried to make our meal both vegan-friendly and gluten-free where possible. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Last November, the New York Times published an article about the ways in which special diets can heighten tensions at the holidays. The article focuses its attention on teenagers and children who use dietary restrictions to exert their budding independence. While I think it misses its mark in this regard—there are plenty of adults, young and old, who have legitimate reasons for their specific dietary needs—this doesn’t change the fact that tensions often run hot around holiday food traditions, regardless of the reasoning.

Though the article itself was published over a year ago, the comments section is still active—and telling. There is much hand-wringing, with recent comments ranging from, “Why make Grandma cry? Eat it and say thank you!” to “Welcoming people into your home involves actually being welcoming. When I invite people over I always ask about food restrictions…” to “Sounds awfully complicated to be required to chart everyone’s restrictions.”

So how do you plan a holiday meal that is inclusive of every eater’s needs? In our household, we’ve figured out a few strategies that work for us and our loved ones.

Be up front about your needs, and ask guests if they have special diets.
When sending out invitations for the holiday gatherings, we tell guests up front that we’re a vegan/vegetarian household. Giving people forewarning about the foods you personally cannot eat gives them a chance to plan accordingly, and saves you both from embarrassment at the dinner table. Likewise, as you plan your meal, ask your guests for advice about any foods they avoid and alternatives they prefer. This will give them some assurance that there will be something they can eat.

Barring any severe allergies, invite guests to bring what they like (even if you might not eat it yourself).
Although we’re vegetarian, turkey has been served at our table! A benefit of hosting potluck-style meals is that everyone gets to bring at least one dish they know they’ll be able to eat. When we’ve hosted holiday meals in the past, we usually make most of the dishes, but include a list of suggested sides that people might bring to complement the meal. At Thanksgivings past, I’ve always told guests that they should feel free to bring a turkey if they’d like to have it (because I know that most people are thinking, what’s Thanksgiving without turkey?) One year, a friend felt up to the challenge of roasting his own bird, so he brought it to share with our other omnivore guests. (Our cat was also very happy to have real meat scraps thrown her way.) Not only does this make guests feel more welcome in our home, it also gives people the space to cook what they’d like.

Emma wonders hopefully whether anyone brought turkey this year. Sadly, no one did. Photo: Anna van Ornam

Emma wonders hopefully whether anyone brought turkey this year. Sadly, no one did. Photo: Anna van Ornam

Make sure to include at least a few dishes that everyone can eat (and be clear about which dishes have hidden ingredients someone may wish to avoid).
Remember that not everyone will necessarily eat everything—and that’s okay. At our recent holiday gathering, everything was vegetarian, but not everything was vegan or gluten free. There were “meatballs” made from quinoa and black beans—gluten-free, but not vegan. However, we also had Portobello mushroom patties on our table—both vegan and gluten-free! If there are dishes that are not made from scratch, be sure to read labels for hidden ingredients.

A sampling of what was on our table this year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

A sampling of what was on our Thanksgiving table this year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

If you can use a substitute, do.
Not every recipe lends itself to being easily converted to a nut, gluten, or dairy-free dish. But try to make simple swaps. Toss veggies in olive oil instead of butter to go dairy-free. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock to make a dish vegetarian. Consider using a plant-based milk like nut, seed or soy instead of cow’s milk. Use gluten-free cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Try crushed ginger snaps to make a gluten-free crust for your pumpkin pie.

Leave the toppings on the side.
We have a recipe for lemon green beans that we absolutely love. The toasted pistachios sprinkled on top gives them just the right nutty flavor and crunch. But when my nut-allergic brother visits? Leaving the pistachios in a dish on the side is an easy fix.

Don’t question what is or isn’t on a guest or family member’s plate.
Whatever people chose to eat or not eat while at your house—just don’t worry about it, and don’t be offended! A friend of mine in recovery from anorexia recently reminded folks on her Facebook page to be sensitive to friends and family who suffer from eating disorders, which might not be outwardly obvious. She advised that comments about weight, talk about having to diet or exercise to work off your holiday meal(s), and general comments about not “needing” to have seconds or dessert can be triggering for folks with eating disorders. What a person decides to put on or leave off their plate is their choice. If a guest isn’t into a particular dish you’ve made, just remember that whatever their reason, it probably isn’t about you.

I'm thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nay

I’m thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nay

Finally, share your recipes!
We’ve hosted lots of friends and family at our place over the years. Most of our friends don’t typically eat strict vegan diets, but thankfully all of them have been willing to try our sometimes-weird recipes. (Not a holiday food, but jackfruit carnitas, anyone?) Sometimes they’ll even ask how we make a particular dish. I believe that good food is meant to be shared, and I’m always happy to do so if it means making future meals together a little more inclusive.

Kathleen Nay is a third-year AFE/UEP dual degree student who’s been vegetarian for nearly eight years (though she admits to the occasional sneaky turkey sandwich). Her cat Emma, seeing her humans eat only vegetables, thinks human food is utterly bland and will stick to her kibble, thank-you-very-much.