Commonsense eating: basics.

There were questions about nutrition after my posts on lard and schmaltz. So this is the first post in a series on Commonsense Eating.

I’m really rather conservative when it comes to food. Here are my basic principles:

Food is edible; industrial byproducts are not.

Remember how crisco was invented? That should have been a clue to the fact that it isn’t food.

Food comes from farms, not from factories.

So, it should be obvious, but Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are not farms. They are factories. The meat they produce may look like meat, but it’s not food. (Sneaky, I know.)

If your (or someone else’s) great-great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it probably isn’t.

This is a good way to avoid industrial “food.” (What would the grandmothers have thought of those all-vegetable “chicken nuggets”? Probably not much.)

Best to respect food traditions.

Humans are mammals, and we evolve with our food. We don’t develop food traditions in a vacuum. Remember the tragedy of pellagra? That happened because our ancestors depended on the native food (corn) without the native tradition (nixtamalization).


  1. Jan S. said,

    December 14, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

    On the subject of recipies using animals fats . . . . What is the one fat that has a worse reputation (these days) than lard? How about suet? the equivalent of lard but from beef. There is an old family receipe for a holiday dessert that no one I know really likes (except the immediate family I grew up in). It’s called “Suet Pudding”. It is a steamed pudding, using chopped up beef suet as the shortening. The chopped suet is mixed with a flour batter which includes, among other things, raisins, spices (not positive which). It is steamed in a mold and comes out as sort of a most, dense, cake consistency. Our families’ mode of serving included dousing it with rum, lighting and flaming it for a while and then serving with a hard sauce made up mostly of powdered sugar and butter- which melts nicely into the hot “pudding”. I suspect this recipe grew out of a tradition of not wasting anything – including suet. So . . . does this sound totally wierd or has anyone heard of something like this? How does suet stack up to lard nutritionally Rebecca? If anyone is interested I can get the recepie from my sister I think. Amazing how Crisco has been seen as so innocous for so long and suet and lard have been given a bad rap.

  2. Kevin said,

    December 15, 2007 @ 10:04 am

    I loved this post and I completely agree with you. It is truly amazing to me how willing folks are to put things in their bodies without knowing where they come from.

    That said, I am headed out to harvest some beets and make borsch with homemade chicken stock!

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    December 15, 2007 @ 11:42 am

    Thanks, Kevin! I love making borscht with homemade chicken broth.

    Jan — Your family’s recipe sounds like a really old, traditional recipe. I imagine if you look in almost any pre-industrial-food American cookbook, you’re likely to find a version of it.

    Here’s the fatty-acid breakdown for 1 tablespoon of beef tallow, according to the USDA. (Keep in mind that this is just what they measured. There’s been a lot of really interesting work on the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef fat.)

    Beef tallow: 0.5g polyunsaturated; 5.3g monounsaturated; 6.4g saturated.

    and for reference:

    Butter: 0.4g polyunsaturated; 3g monounsaturated; 7.3g saturated.

    Lard: 1.4g polyunsaturated; 5.8g monounsaturated; 5g saturated.

    So it’s relatively similar to lard on a macro level.

  4. Riana said,

    December 15, 2007 @ 3:39 pm

    I just read some scary stuff about crisco and margarine (marketing people) last night. Nasty stuff, wont touch it. Full of plastic if you ask me. I dont want to eat plastic. When i studied chemistry, my organic chem prof told us that coolwhip is just one carbon atom short of being plastic in its chemical structure.

    Now, I have been craving pozole, do you think I should make some more lye?

  5. Lisa said,

    December 15, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

    I love this post so much that I was inspired to find a source for leaf lard and was able to find a local one from heritage pork no less!

  6. Kevin said,

    December 16, 2007 @ 4:16 pm

    The beets ended up being pretty shot. We are starting to get some serious cold here. But, I was able to salvage the greens and made a wonderful risotto with beet greens.

  7. crabappleherbs said,

    December 17, 2007 @ 10:40 am

    Riana — Yes, margarine is a scary thing. Marketing food is also a scary thing. Marketing margarine is a super extra scary thing. As for posole, go for it! Post about it! I have some really lovely local open-pollinated corn, and I want to make posole, but I’ve never done it.

    Lisa — Thank you! I’m glad you found a source of local lard and pork. It’s interesting, I think the availability of good, local, pasture-raised meat in this country is a lot wider than people expect. You just have to do a bit of detective work to find it. Websites like are working on making it easier.

    Kevin — That’s too bad about the beets. Have you ever tried storing them buried in sand? That’s what we used to do with roots when I was a kid. You can also pile huge mounds of hay on top of them to insulate. But hey, beet greens are great. In fact, I have one huge beet that I don’t want to eat because it’s growing such great little greens, just sitting in my mudroom.

  8. Rachel said,

    December 18, 2007 @ 5:27 pm

    JAN: I can tell you that your pudding is very much like an English pudding called ‘spotted dick’ or without raisins, just ‘steamed pudding’. It is a few steps from being Christmas Pudding, but not far off of it 🙂

    Now as for me, trying to find suet is a pain… I have a Christmas Pudding recipe that uses Suet, and I can never find it in my local stores 🙁
    AND, when I went to get lard this week… they were SOLD OUT! This was a first… I figured the backlash against Crisco has begun 🙂

    And I wanted to add, I am a new reader to this blog… but was immediately hooked! Keep up the great work!

  9. crabappleherbs said,

    December 19, 2007 @ 9:47 am

    Thanks, Rachel!

    Have you tried looking on for farms near you that raise beef cattle? Your blogger profile says you’re in Virginia, so I’d say you’re likely to find several local farms. I’d just call them up and ask if they have any suet. (They might not list it specifically online, since there isn’t a lot of demand for it.) And if they don’t have any now, this is a time of year when many farmers are processing animals — they might be able to get some for you soon. (You also might ask around locally about beef farmers — not everyone is listed on localharvest yet.)

    (Of course, the same goes for hog farmers and lard. You do have to render it yourself, but it’s not so hard — I posted directions recently. It might even be a fun homeschool activity!)

  10. Riana said,

    December 20, 2007 @ 3:24 am

    you inspire me all the time! i am going to do it, i’ll let you know how it turns out. i just found the recipe in wild fermentation so it must be fate!


  11. crabappleherbs said,

    December 20, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

    Oh, how exciting! I’m looking forward to reading all about it. I forgot that Sandor’s book has directions in it… (And my goodness, the inspiration is mutual, Riana!)

  12. Jan S. said,

    December 21, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

    Rachel- Nice to hear that someone else has heard of this. I will get the recipe from my sister and post it if anyone is interested. Good luck in your suet search!

  13. Rachel R. said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 1:18 pm

    Yay again! Most of what “we” eat today does not qualify as “food.” I *love* this quote: Food is edible; industrial byproducts are not. 🙂

  14. crabappleherbs said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

    Thanks, Rachel!

  15. tammy said,

    February 2, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

    Hi! Thanks again for the great blog!

    It is interesting how in the past crisco was pushed as a health food and now it is basically common knowledge that it is not the best choice. This gets me thinking about “modern” health food wonders. What are we buying into today that we might not find so healthy tomorrow?

    I know this might be geeky for all the wrong reasons 🙂 … but… have you come across any studies about how the body processes whey protein isolate and whether this modern food is worth it? (I am really curious about what your opinion is on this one. Perhaps I should simplify things and refer to the above principles?) Anyways, I have “used” whey protein in the past to get a little more protein in my diet and usually by the end of the glass I am left wondering about this instant drink. I am told that whey is not only a shot of protein but it is beneficial to the immune system. Even so, I am sure my great grandmother would have Q’s about this one. Any thoughts?

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