Food Wars: Marion Nestle vs. Corporate Food | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 632
December 2, 2022

Food Wars: Marion Nestle vs. Corporate Food

Food Wars: Marion Nestle vs. Corporate Food

What could the future food system look like? Food and public health writer Marion Nestle shares her vision, along with stories from her life. We also get a lesson in how to truly taste water from water advocate, sommelier and TikTok creator Martin Riese; J. Kenji López-Alt shares his favorite way to use up leftovers; and we make the best Pad Thai at home.

Questions in this episode:

"I'm looking for a cookbook that would tell me what spice goes with which foods."

"What's the best way to revitalize the apple pie filling I have in my freezer?"

"I read that my bread flour might have cancer causing agents. Could you help advise me?"

"I have lots of dashi. What else can I do with it besides make soup?"

    Dr Marion Nestle 2015 credit BILL HAYES 1

    Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. What could the future food system look like? Today we hear from food and public health writer, Marion Nestle.

    Marion Nestle: We need to set up a food system that makes the healthy choice the easy choice. The least expensive choice, the most delicious choice.

    CK: First up today, it's my conversation with certified water sommelier, Martin Riese. Martin, welcome to Milk Street.

    Martin Riese: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here.

    CK: So okay, you're a water sommelier, you love to talk about water? Why should we be so focused on water as a distinctive beverage.

    MR: Think about it. Without water life would not exist. And I think there are many, many people who don't have access to clean safe drinking water here in the States. That happened for many years ago with Flint, Michigan, it happened in Mississippi that sadly, there is no more tap water available. So, I think we need to start to rethink our use of water pretty fast. And what I did when I realized that water had taste to me, I wanted to bring attention to water, that we all start to rethink our use of it. I want that we are all appreciating water a little bit more.

    CK: Okay. Well, that's, that's a very good answer. So, this is fascinating. You write about the label, right? You're going buy a bottle of water. What do you look for? A lot of these terms are tremendously misleading. (Oh, absolutely) So, let's go through the label. What is purify water mean.

    MR: Purified water it's nothing else than highly processed filtered tap water stored in a container. So, for me when you want to purify your water, please do so at home. But I'm paying for a gallon of water 0.15 cent here in Los Angeles currently. And when I'm buying a bottle of purified water, I can spend up to $3 for 750 milliliters. So, these companies making tons of money by selling your processed tap that’s just crazy.

    CK: So, what's mineral water? Is that just water with a dissolved percentage over certain amount or what, what is mineral water?

    MR: So yeah, in America a mineral water is considered a water what has to have a TDS of minimum 250

    CK: What is that 250 mean, 250 out of what?

    MR: 250 TDs total dissolved solids. So, its parts per million, actually, the minerals what you can see mostly Cosman magnesium, what was actually dissolved in your tap.

    CK: So I'm in a restaurant, I get a wine list. I get it, right I mean, wine and food go together. And you should pay that a lot of attention. But why should I think about different kinds of water? Do you really think that matching water to food is I think it's interesting, but do you think it's similar to matching wine with food for example?

    MR: I think so it is and for me it's always an add on option so I don't believe that everybody needs to be paying for water I actually strongly believe that water is a human right, and it should be accessible to everybody, especially in the restaurant business. So, you should have always a good filtration system in place. And you should offer water for free. But I can make your wine tastes better just based on the water I'm going to offer you I can make your cocktail better just on the water right next to it

    CK: So as a water small yay, you have a water book. You may have 10 or 20 choices. What is the range of prices of this? I mean, some people spending 10 or $20 for a bottle of water or they're all reasonably priced or what

    MR: It really depends what kind of restaurant and what kind of concept you have. I created water menus where all waters were between three and $5. I created water menus where the most expensive water was $150 for one bottle

    CK: Well, well well well well okay, so you got to explain this to me. How do you sell $150 bottle of water?

    MR: It's interesting it sells by themselves. I never proactively said to our guest you have to have that bottle because I don't believe I think that it’s a bad sommelier actually who will push the most expensive items on the menu. I hate this.

    CK: Okay, but you were in a very popular YouTube video talking about the world's most expensive bottle of water. Called the Beverly Hills 90H2), the Luxury Collection diamond edition bottle priced at $100,000 with 600 White Diamonds on the cap and 250 Black Diamonds. So, was this just like pure marketing?

    MR: Absolutely. Absolutely the same water you can buy for $1.50 that had 19 million views of our YouTube so that worked out perfectly because everybody is just now talking about 9H02O but it's actually a whole sequence when I'm tasting different waters, and we had so many people after the show, and I'm still getting people sending me sometimes an email, Oh, I saw this on YouTube that is so cool. I never thought water had taste. That was exactly what I wanted. I want to bring attention to something so outrageous, that people are actually starting to pay attention to something what they think there is no value whatsoever.

    CK: If I talk to a friend of mine who's a wine taster expert, and I asked him to talk about the different flavors of wine, which he could go on for hours. Sure) if I asked you give me half a dozen tasting notes. I mean, what is it you look for? What are the differences?

    MR: First of all, wine is obviously way more complex than water. That is clear because you have so many different grapes. But water all comes from the same source. It's rainwater. And now this rainwater starts to pass through the different stone layers. And it will take now this minerality with them and that is the frustrating part. So, water can be fruity, salty, metallic, bitter, very acidic. I had a water taste like rhubarb. I have no clue how that was possible.

    CK: So now we're going to get to a tasting of water. It's my first water tasting. So, let's get started. What do we do first?

    MR: So, let's do first is Kildevaeld from Denmark. Did you put it in your glass?

    CK: Yeah. And I tasted it. What I got out of this was it was a very neutral, very pure. It's almost like people think the best vodka has no flavor. It really didn't have a lot of taste to it. I thought it was just pure.

    MR: It has a very clean mouthfeel I think

    CK: It's very clean. Yeah,

    MR It feels like it's a good amount of minerality it engages very nicely with saliva, it doesn't have this weird aftertaste.

    CK: No, it's it's smooth. It's very smooth. It's

    MR: smooth. Oh, absolutely.

    CK: Okay, what's the next one?

    MR: So, it's Socosani. Socosani from Peru a TDS of 1390. So, we are adding now 1000 parts per million to the water in minerality from Mother Nature.

    CK: Well, this has definitely more mineral taste to it. It has an extra layer to it.

    MR: Slightly salting in the aftertaste.

    CK: Yeah it’s a slightly salty aftertaste. It's not as clean as the first one. It's absolutely not. Yeah, so what's so what's next Three Bays?

    MN: Yeah, let's do Three Bays. Three Bays. We're going back to distilled water is almost the same minerality than Socosani. It's a TDS of 1300 It will take like rainwater around 2000 years to pass through all the different stone layers to come up of an artisan spring in Australia.

    CK: This is weird. This is

    MN: I love your reaction.

    CK: This is milky. (Yes) Is it has almost like a little half and half on your tongue when you're done with


    MN: It’s so funny. That is for me like the oil of oil and water. Yeah. It has a different texture

    CK: It does. Yeah, that's quite different. Okay

    MN: It’s very unique. And then let's go Vichy Catalan from Barcelona a little bit northern of Barcelona actually a very classic old water. This is the number one consumed sparkling water in in the Catalonia area. So, when you go into Barcelona, you will see it literally everywhere.

    CK: Oh, come on no, this is like, this is like salt. It's like an Alka Seltzer. Yeah, this is I could not dry. I can't drink this. I mean, this is super fizzy, salty.

    MN: But now Chris, do me the favor. Have that water tonight. I don't know what you're cooking tonight. Get yourself a nice burger steak something where a lot of rich flavors are there. And then drink Vichy Catalan right next to it and you will be amazed how good suddenly this water will taste to you

    CK: Well, I’m going out for ramen. So, I'll bring you another restaurant.

    MN: Oh, that's going to be interesting.

    CK: I'll get a spicy one.

    MN Vichy Catalan is a great cure when you have a hangover. Because there are more electrolytes dissolved in that Vichy from nature, then pretty much any sports drink can ever give you. No calories, nothing at it. No chemical substance are in there. And that is why I love water so much because I'm so addicted to all the different flavors that Mother Nature can give me.

    CK: Well, I guess water is always in season. If you know what you're doing, Martin, thank you so much.

    MR: Thank you so much. Happy hydrate to everybody.

    CK: That was Martin Riese. He's a water advocate and sommelier. You can follow him on Tik Tok at Martin Riese Official. Now it's time to answer your cooking questions with my co-host Sara Moulton, Sarah's of course the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television, allso author of Home Cooking 101.

    Sara Moulton: Chris before we take a call, I need some advice. Holiday seasons coming up. And we always have a party to decorate the tree. My husband, finally after we'd been married for a couple years, let me have a tree. He's Jewish. But he'd say, okay, we can get a tree, but I am not decorating (or Hanukkah bush) No, no, he never did that. Oh, no, they didn't do that. So, I had to invite all my relatives or what relatives were in town, my brother and my cousin and her boyfriend to decorate the tree. And we've been doing it ever since. So, it's many, many years later. But it's really gotten to be a large crowd. So now it's 18 people. So, what would you recommend? What are some of your favorite cooking for a crowd recipes that you can make ahead of time and then just heat up or pop in the oven?

    CK: One of my favorites, there are two kinds of hummus, the one I had in Turkey which is lighter with more tahini, and they put a little chopped parsley and other things on top. And that's easy. And then then I make my own flatbreads, which you can do in about 20 minutes with baking powder instead of yeast. Or the other type is the one with the spice meat topping. That's that's also really good to make a big bowl of it. It's like lachmajou topping, you know, ground lamb or beef with spices and it's on the spicy side. And you just layer that on top of the warm houmous. So, I think either of those

    SM: You’re making me hungry, but I need an entree.

    CK: I thought this was like finger food.

    SM: No this is dinner for 18 people.

    CK: Well, I always just do a big stew of some kind. I mean, I would do I love the stews where you don't actually sauté the meat. So, I would use you can do a profile saw one was sort of orange and other spices. You could do harissa are one of those Moroccan beef stews with with chickpeas and tomatoes. Those are really delicious. You know, there's just a million of them, but that's what I would do. Probably yeah, yeah. Because you can make it the day before it's always better. You can skim off the fat in the refrigerator the next day, heat it up and it tastes better than the first day.

    SM: I mean, I might the hummus sounds great too, but

    CK: and you can do a vegetarian version of that without meat. (Right)

    SM: So okay, sounds like a plan. All right. Thank you. Yep.

    CK: Let's take a call. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: This is Kathy with from Los Angeles.

    CK: How are you?

    Caller: Good. How about you?

    CK: I'm pretty good. How can we help you?

    Caller: Well, I'm 72 years old and I just lost my husband recently. And I started trying to keep myself busy. I love to cook, and I wanted to explore use of more exotic spices, etc. But I was kind of looking for maybe a cookbook that would tell me what spice went with which foods the best you know, just a little help.

    CK: Sure. There's a friend of mine in New York Lior Lev Sercarz S-e-r-c-a-r-z . He owns La Boite in New York. I don't know.

    Caller: Yeah, I've been watching that

    CK: He's the guy. He wrote a book couple years ago, I guess called The Spice Companion, which I think is the most useful and readable and you know, consumer friendly book on the topic. So, the Spice Companion’s good. There's another one I just know of this book. I've never used to call The Science of Spice but I think that's a little more technical. I think The Spice Companion’s probably the one you're looking for and these unbelievably wonderful spices out there that none of us really know how to use well. So good for you.

    Caller: My husband was pretty non-explorative, so now so now that I'm cooking just for myself, I really would like to try other things, you know?

    CK: Well, there's a few I mean, Aleppo pepper also called Turkish

    Caller: Oh, I bought some of that.

    CK: It's very fruity. It's not that hot and I love it. Urfa pepper you Urfa is also

    Caller: I bought some of that too.

    CK: Yeah. Okay, well, you're way ahead of me. There you go. Those are two that are just like absolutely fabulous game changer spices. Sara, do you have some?

    SM: You have some I was going to actually throw out another The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It's alphabetical by item so you would see leeks and then they will talk about but it's not recipes. However, it's what would go nicely with it. And it's not just spices, it's other things as well, but I'm just going to throw into what Chris just said about Aleppo pepper and Urfa is also sumac. I really enjoy that. It's very lemony.

    Caller: Yeah, I've been thinking about that. I did get some za’atar

    CK: Yeah, I mean, za’atar can go on everything. Breakfast eggs, chicken, vegetables, I put it in salad dressings all the time. Just a little pinch. It's phenomenal. One last thing you know, you might do what they do in a lot of places like in the Middle East is every household has their own spice mix. So, once you get a little more comfortable, you put together half a dozen or more spices. Maybe you grind them yourself or you toast them first and then you keep them for a few weeks. And that's your house mix. And what they do is use it on almost everything right it's sort of their go to flavoring.

    Caller: Oh, that sounds great. Yeah, it's fun to try. But you just kind of look at this stuff after you buy it and you're like, what am I going to use it on you know? Yeah.

    CK: The way these people figured it out is they tasted it, they sniffed, you know, and they said, Okay, well, maybe so go with potatoes or whatever. There are no rules. I mean, you can just experiment.

    SM: Yes. And you should.

    Caller: Awesome.

    CK: Okay. Take care. And good luck. Yeah.

    SM: Bye. Bye.

    Caller: Thanks a lot.

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a culinary question or dilemma, give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street

    SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: Hi, this is Gina from Chicago.

    SM: Hi, Gina, how can we help you?

    Caller: I have a pie question. And I thought you would be the best people to go to. (Okay) so we went apple picking in the fall and picked way more than we could reasonably eat. So, after I shared with the neighbors and everything, I got it in my head to make pies filling like by batch and freeze it. So, we just had to make the crust when it was ready. So, I made one and it tasted good. And actually, the apple texture was good, but it was really wet. Like the bottom crust was wet when you sliced it and put on a plate like it just like ran out. And I wonder if I should have put like flour or cornstarch in it? Or how can I fix it because now I have like three more batches in the freezer.

    SM: Tell me how you made that apple pie filling. What did you do?

    Caller: Yeah, so I peel them slice them. And then I mixed them with the sugar and the cinnamon and everything

    SM: You didn't cook them at all. (No) to here's the problem. Anytime you freeze a raw fruit or vegetable, if it's not been cooked, it gives up far more liquid when it's defrosted. Next fall when you have a whole bunch of apples, slice them up and then cook them down. Essentially, what you do is you cook it down till the slices are sort of tender. Drain the apples, save the liquid, put the liquid back in the pan, reduce it down like crazy, until it's quite thick. Add the apples let it cool or not. But you don't want to cook the apples anymore, because you don't want them to be completely mushy. Add the apples back. That's your new pie filling. Now you can freeze it. And then when you go to use it, you can take the amount that you think would fit into the pie. And what's good about that is there won't be a gap between the apples and the crust because you've preshrunk the filling and it will be intensely more flavored because you will not have as much liquid in there. Yeah. So that's what I would do. Let's see what Chris has to say

    Caller: Perfect

    CK: A friend of mine, she does make pies, apple pies ahead of time, but she does the whole thing. She fills the pie. She puts the top crust on crimson she freezes the whole pie and takes that directly from the freezer to the oven. And that's going to be better because that defrosting stage is not kind to the fruit. I'm not a fan of precooking apple fillings and the reason is Sara's right it gets rid of the problem of the the canopy between the top crust and the filling. But I find it dulls the fresh flavor of the pie. When you precook the filling. You can get a nice flavor but it's not fresh. It's cooked. So

    Caller: Okay because I will say it did taste good. Yeah. Is there any way to save what I have now frozen already?

    CK: Take what you have cook it down. She's right drain off the liquid reduce the liquid put it back. That's going to give you a better result. Yeah.

    Caller: Okay.

    SM: The one thing you notice neither Chris nor I have mentioned though, is adding a thickener flour or cornstarch or anything. Yeah. And for me that dulls the flavor of the apples for sure.

    CK: You can put in for 6 -- 8 cups apples, I use two tablespoons of flour. You'll never notice it's there. And that's fine. But give that a shot. You know, make the whole pie freeze the whole pie throw in the oven frozen

    SM: or do my method.

    Caller: Well, I do have three bags now so I can do all three methods.

    SM: Oh, good. And then and then report back and let us know who won.

    Caller: Okay. I'm a little scared to do that, but I'll try.

    CK: Okay, Gina, thank you so much.

    SM: It’s all knowledge. Yes, thank you.

    Caller: Thank you both.

    SM: Okay. Bye.

    SM: Bye bye.

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio up next Marion Nestle's vision for the American food system. That's coming up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Marion Nestle professor of Nutrition Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. Also, author of several books about food politics, her new memoir is called Slow Cooked an Unexpected Life in Food Politics. Marian, welcome to Milk Street.

    MN: Oh, happy to be here.

    CK: It's been a been a while since I visited, you're down at NYU was like 10 years ago, and certainly as so we share something in common. My mother, at least family lore has it that she was a member of the Communist Party in the 30s. And so were your parents.

    MN: I think everybody who was an intellectual was a member of the party at the time.

    CK: So, you went to a Vermont summer camp called Higley Hill you write about this is for children of parents who were part of the Communist Party. So, tell me about Higley Hill.

    MN: Oh, I think it was a very important part of the childhood of children of members of the Communist Party. I went there, I was quite young, 8,10 and 12. And the other children who were there had parents who were much more active than my parents, and their parents were being persecuted. It was during the McCarthy era or before the McCarthy era. But around that, and it was very dangerous to be a member of the Communist Party, you were persecuted, you could lose your job. In one case, the Rosenberg’s were executed, it was terrifying forgives. And this was the one place where you could go and feel safe. And of course, this was the place that had the enormous vegetable garden. The woman who ran the camp was a fabulous cook. And if we were good, we could go out and pick the vegetables for dinner. And I think my lifetime association with the pleasures of food came absolutely from that garden.

    CK: So, you started out conventionally getting married in the 50s. You write I tried to enjoy being a housewife. But you felt trapped. And then when The Feminine Mystique came out, you obviously that changed your life? I think. So, what is it about sort of the classic 50s housewife role? Was there any anything about it you liked or was just the entire concept just totally antithetical to?

    MN: Well, I don't think I thought about it. I mean, I had children that I adored, but they required 24/7. And, you know, I mean, my son in particular was a perfectly happy child, as long as he had 100% of my interest, and attention. And that meant that there was no time for reading, there was no time for going for walks, there was no time for solitude, there was no time for introspection. I mean, there were women in the 1950s, who had careers they went to medical school, they went to law school, but I didn't know any. And I had no role models. I was first in my family to go to college. I was told that I shouldn't expect to do anything that was distinctive, and that I really ought to be trying as hard as I could to get married and have a family and do what women were supposed to do at the time. The problem was I wasn't very good at it.

    CK: That's a great line. So, in 1963, you enroll in a doctoral program for Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, you go on to teach nutrition at Brandeis and eventually at NYU, you write several books, including perhaps your most famous Food Politics in 2002. So now, let's get to the real topic at hand, which is public health. If Orwell imagined a future, that was from the top down, big brother, and if Huxley imagined sort of a ground up change, are you which one are you are you are you someone who says Orwellian, and the big corporations have changed how we eat and how much we eat? If it's a top-down problem, or are you Huxley saying, well, people's basic nature is what the problem is, and it's a ground up problem?

    MN: Well, I think both are involved. But the food industry is much more sensitive to how human nature works than most humans are. That's what they study, their job is to sell food products. I mean, the way I like to put it is that food companies are not social science agencies, you know, they're not social service agencies, there not public health agencies, their job is to maximize returns to stockholders, and to sell as much of the most profitable products as possible. And that's what they do. And they take advantage of human’s relationship with food, in order to make products that are delicious, tasty, you can't eat just one. And we now have enormous evidence that these kinds of food products, unicorn food products that bring in a billion dollars a year, encourage people to eat more calories without realizing it.

    CK: So, my question is, you know, like, now what, you have a quote, I really like, This taught me the beliefs was stronger influences on human behavior than scientific facts, a good lesson to learn. So, the big question is, does education and scientific facts, do they help resolve the problem?

    MN: Well, you're really still asking the same question about personal responsibility. If people were educated to know what it was, they were supposed to eat, they would make healthier choices. That would be fine if it worked. But it doesn't, it doesn't, then we know that it doesn't work. It's not enough. And part of the reason why it's not enough is that people are really confused about nutrition. But you know, what you want is you want to create a food environment that makes the healthy choice, the easy, affordable, and preferred choice, that would be ideal. So how do you go about doing that? Well, for one thing, you've got to fight the food industry, I think it's very hard for individuals to fight the food industry on their own. They need help. The food industry has a clearer focus. Its job is to sell food products.

    CK: Yeah, it's got billions of dollars in advertising

    MN: Billion dollars of advertising billions of dollars in lobbying and paying for research and doing all the other things that food companies do in order to keep people confused about whether products are healthy or not. And dietary advice, to my mind couldn't be simpler, so simple that the journalist Michael Pollan can do it in seven words, eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I would argue that's all there is to it.

    CK: Well, I think there's also a huge convenience factor, right? I mean, it's easier to heat up your frozen pizza than it is to make a big pot of Mexican beans. I mean, it's it's more work, really to do that.

    MN: It's it certainly is. And lots of people don't have time, they don't have money, they don't have equipment, and they don't have access to and they don't have access. So. So those are the kinds of things that you want to be able to address time money access. That's why I think that school food programs that teach kids how to garden and cook is so important. start them early.

    CK: Okay, now I appoint you food czar you have 10 years to get health and nutrition, going in the right direction in a big way. So, tell me the first three things you're going to do out of the gate?

    MN: Well, number one, universal school meals. That's an easy one. And it's a no brainer.

    CK Well, what is what does that mean?

    MN: Well, that means that you don't have this horrible system that the Department of Agriculture has of having parents come in and provide lots of documentation of how much money they make, and they're refused if they make a penny more so that all kids have school meals, and then you fund those school meals so that the funding is adequate. And they're able to do that. So that's the first thing

    CK: And did you have some sort of control nationally over what served at lunch?

    MN: You just gave me a position of czar of the food system. And the first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to adequately fund school meals, and I'm going to make sure that every school has a kitchen and a garden. Okay, so that's number one. That's a no brainer.

    CK: Most schools don't have kitchens now,

    MN: I just told you we're going to put kitchens in those schools.

    CK: Okay, I got it your czar.

    MN: I’m czar. Alright, so that's the first thing. The second thing is I want an agricultural system that promotes public health. So, I want a complete rethinking of our agricultural support system. So instead of growing feed for animals, and fuel for automobiles, we grow food for people. How's that for concept?

    CK: Well, you are a radical

    MN: Well, yes, I want real change. I want a food system that promotes human health that protects farmworkers, that is just and fair. And that prevents hunger, prevents chronic diseases due to eating the wrong kinds of foods, and protects us against climate change. Because I think that's what we really need.

    CK: So, what you're saying, in essence, is that you're changing the environment for people. So, the food they can get into school lunch, the food they find in their supermarket, government steps in and says, we need to make fundamental changes. And it's no longer a free-flowing capitalist system where companies can do anything they want.

    MN: Absolutely, yeah, I don't want food companies marketing junk foods to kids, I want a food system that does what I think food systems need to do, which is to make sure that everybody has enough to eat, and enough to eat of healthy foods that prevents climate change. And that prevents chronic disease. So, we don't have 74% of our adult population overweight and at risk of chronic diseases and these days of COVID-19 bad outcome.

    CK: In Finland, there was a city where they took a health and all policies approach. And so the schools, childcare providers, parents, urban planning, etc. Do you think that to get a handle on this, it's going to have to be multifaceted, that is all areas of your life someone's going to have to put all the pieces together? It can't just be talking about unhealthy eating

    MN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we're talking about unhealthy eating in a society in which our educational system is fragmented, and not very good for people who don't have very much money. We don't have a health care system. You know, sort of the basis of a civilized society is a health care system that works for everybody. We need to fix a lot of systems as well as the food system. The difficulty with our healthcare system is the same as the difficulty with the food system. It's a for profit system. What you want is health care that's not for profit, you want education, that's not for profit. You want values in society. I think people miss values terribly.

    CK: What if I'm going to be very dark? What if you take, you know, original sin as a concept, and that people really don't live lives based on their actual self-interest, and are very short sighted and left up to their own devices will constantly make bad choices? Is that your view of human nature or do you think that humans are always trying to do the right thing?

    MN: I think humans try to do the right thing. And the question is whether it's easy, hard, or impossible, to do the right thing. And we have set up a food system in which it's impossible for people to follow their values either because of cost, convenience, culture, whatever it is, we need to set up a food system that makes the healthy choice, the easy choice. The least expensive choice, the most delicious choice.

    CK: Well, that's a that's an excellent point.

    MN: And it doesn't feel so sacrificial.

    CK: I don't know how you get there. But I think that's actually makes a lot of sense. The easiest choice is the best choice.

    MN: Well, the healthy choice, the easy and preferred choice. That's what we're aiming for.

    CK: Marian, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure talking to you.

    MN: Thank you very much.

    CK: That was Marion Nestle, her memoir is called Slow Cooked, an Unexpected Life in Food and Politics. You're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe Pad Thai. JM, how are you?

    JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.

    CK: You know, you and I travel a fair amount. And especially when you come across a recipe that sort of the best-known recipe in a culture. It turns out that it's made completely differently in its own country than it is here, which is always shocking to me. You think by now. There'll be more proximity to the original but you were in Bangkok recently. Pad Thai the that's the one everyone knows. But it turned out to be quite different on all levels than what we expected. And also, you came back with some really interesting wok technique.

    JMH: Yeah, you know, it probably won't surprise you that Pad Thai in Thailand is remarkably better than what we Get here. And simpler, of course, and just so impressive the way it is constructed, you know, stir fried noodle dishes had been around for an awful long time. But Pad Thai actually didn't come into being until around the 1930s. And there was kind of a dual push here, you know, one Rice was in short supply. So, people were encouraged to eat rice and noodles. And at the same time, the President was encouraging the creation of kind of a national dish to promote Thai nationalism. And he wanted consumers to eat more Thai native ingredients rather than the more common Chinese influenced recipes. And so, Pad Thai was born. And you know, at its heart, it's simply a rice noodle dish that includes bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, crushed chilies, and some sort of protein, you know, usually chicken shrimp or tofu, and there's a sauce usually Tamarin based, it's got a little spice, a little bit of sweet and sour to it. And it is remarkably wonderful. And it's the dish that born in the 1930s took over the world of Thai restaurants. One of the things I learned is that great Pad Thai is built around a balance of four flavors sweet, usually provided by palm sugar, spicy, usually provided by chili flakes, sour provided by the tamarind and salty, usually provided by dried shrimp. And kind of nailing that balance of flavors is the mark of the perfect Pad Thai.

    CK: But there's a fifth flavor, which turned out to be the most interesting, I think, the most interesting part of this whole recipe.

    JMH: Yeah, and not only the most interesting, but the most elusive at least in our part of the world. Because wok hei also sometimes translated as Breath of the wok is kind of an ethereal smokiness that you get from the combination of oil in a wok with an extremely high heat under that wok. Now these burners go to like 150,000 to 200,000 BTUs. That's a far cry more than what we get on the home stoves here in the US. And that combination of heat and oil very quickly turns into smoke and that smoke flavors, the food that's cooked in it, and it is a very distinct, nuanced, but wonderful flavor that you get in high heat wok cooking. That's really, really hard to replicate at home.

    CK: I would have thought impossible. But there is a simple workaround, right?

    JMH: There is, you know, we asked everybody we worked with, you know, how do you do this at home because not surprisingly, just as in the US home cooks in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia don't have these monster burners. These are what you see in food stands and stalls and in restaurants. You don't get those at home. And that doesn't mean that home cooks don't want that same effect. So, we asked everybody you know, how do you do it? Because the challenge is that no matter how hot you get a wok on a home stove, once you add the food, the ingredients to it, it's going to cool it off, and it's never going to bounce back to the heat that you need to achieve wok hei. So, we worked with a lot of people and the solution we came up with was to take your sauce, in this case, a combination of fish sauce, tamarind, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and drizzle it down the edge of the pan. And when you do that, it reduces and hence concentrates its flavors, but it also caramelizes the sugars in that sauce now is caramelized sugar and reduced sauce wok hei, no, but all the cooks we talked to said that this is the closest you're going to get to it on home equipment. So, while you can't chase the smoke, you can't chase the wok hei, on home equipment, you can chase and achieve a deeper, more nuanced flavor. And that's exactly what they were doing with this technique of drizzling and carbonizing the sauce that flavors the Pad Thai

    CK: So deeper flavors, better textures, and much more authentic.

    JMH: Absolutely.

    CK: JM thank you. Revisiting Pad Thai. Nothing like what I've eaten here in Boston. Thank you so much.

    JMH: Thank you. You can find this recipe for Pad Thai at Milk Street

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up J Kenji Lopez Alt shares his favorite way to use up leftovers. That's after the break. I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, my co- host Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

    SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: Hi, my name is Diane, I'm from the southern Berkshires in Western MA.

    CK: I know that area very well. My mother lived not far from there for years,

    Caller: I thought you might. Well, my husband likes to bake bread, and he mills his own wheat berries to add to the flour and experiments with different grains and honey etc. So, since we live in this rural area, it's not easy to make a quick trip to the store to pick up all-purpose flour. And recently a grain store that sells bulk products opened up and it was selling 50-pound bags of oxidant flour. But upon reading, I found that there's a consonant gin in it called potassium bromide. And they said that when you cook at a high heat, it kills those cancer-causing agents. But we're a little bit concerned about it. And we were just wondering what your opinion was.

    CK: Well, I just interviewed someone about processed foods. And one of the topics was flour. And she said that as flour ages naturally, let's say over months, it turns whiter, which obviously people like but it also develops the gluten it becomes stronger, which is obviously great for making bread. So, the flour industry figured out they weren't going to let the flowers sit around for three months. So, they put bromides and other things in it to age the flour in two days. What the bromide does is it strengthens the gluten in the flour and also probably makes it whiter. I would probably stay away from it. (Okay) and buy flour without it. It may be something that has been classified as a, you know, a carcinogen. But I don't know what that means. I'm not a doctor, I'm not FDA. I don't know if it's really a problem or not when it's baked. But why use that flour when you can buy non-bromided flour there's so many local Mills now making great flour that that's another thing you can do.

    SM: I agree. When I used to work in restaurant kitchens, we had a phrase, when in doubt, throw it out. And if you have any doubt if it's been linked at all to carcinogens even if perhaps it's not a problem, you know, as they say, when you bake it, I would just stay away from it.

    CK: The rule is look on the back of the bag or the package and flour is something that should be made from wheat. It shouldn't have a long list of other ingredients in there. (That's right) I would just stay away from it.

    SM: Yeah, I agree.

    Caller: Okay, I guess we'll have to make the trip off the mountain go to a regular store.

    SM: Oh sorry, Diane.

    CK: I mean, you know, it's why not get the good stuff. Right, right.

    Caller: Yes. Well, we did read it. It was banned in California and many countries worldwide. So obviously, it's a problem

    SM: You can blame us when you tell your husband.

    Caller: Okay. Now he makes it from scratch to keep us healthy. So, we will make the switch.

    SM: All right.

    CK: Thanks for calling.

    Caller: You're welcome.

    SM: Bye bye.

    CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help in the kitchen, give us a call anytime our number 855-426-9843 That's 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

    Caller: This is Michelle.

    CK: How can we help you?

    Caller: Okay, I'm calling to ask about uses, for instant dashi. I've developed an addiction to it. And so, when I started with your recipes, they all had bonito flakes. So, I've ordered a bunch of different times. It comes in coin dashi powder, and it comes in tea bags. So, my favorite one right now is a Korean one that is really full of umami. It has anchovies, green onion, clams, kale radish, onions, ginger, garlic, and I've been having that every day and I decided to get creative. And so I took two thirds of a cup of pumpkin puree and I mix that with my instant Dashi and it was really delicious. So now I have hundreds of packets of instant Dashi and I wonder if you have any recommendations of any good dishes I can make with it?

    CK: Well, sure. I mean, first of all, you mentioned sea bags, which we've tried to and we really liked them. We didn't think they'd be very good, but they are so I totally believe instant Dashi as a concept because otherwise you need to get kombu and bonito flakes etc. I would think about it as a different form of chicken stock and use it the same way a basis for soups to glazing a pan, reducing it down to make a pan sauce. You know, you could probably even use it in a dressing I suppose. But essentially, it's like a miso soup. It's the basis for miso soup. I mean, I think it's almost the third stock chicken, beef and then Dashi

    SM: Well, it would be a replacement for fish really.

    CK: But you know, there are times when you would use it not with fish too

    SM: Oh, yeah,

    CK: It's a great flavor. And also, you know miso you can take a little tomato paste and sliced or grated garlic, sauté it for a few minutes. And then add water and miso, like half a cup of miso and maybe four cups of water. And you can whisk up a miso-based stock in five minutes. So, this is a similar concept, which is a flavored stock that's, as you said, a fabulous alternative to what we mostly use, which is chicken stock. Sara?

    SM: Right. Yeah, I think you could use it in risotto that would be yummy, bulk it up with adding some more, you know, shellfish if you wanted to. You could steam some clams in it, which would be absolutely yummy.

    Caller: That sounds great

    CK: That's a good idea.

    SM: Yeah, I just I agree with Chris 100%, which is so rare. I'd see it as like a robust fish stock. I'm not a fan of fish stock, but I would use this. Absolutely in all the places I would have used a fish stock. You can poach fish in it. You could poach chicken in it, that would be great. You could make a you know, sort of a chicken soup with shiitake mushrooms with it.

    CK: Or if you cook, you know, fillet center cut filet of salmon, for example, in a skillet. I cook them on a bit of sliced lemon, and like parsley stems, and put the dashi in the pan as the stimuli liquid. Yeah, that'd be great.

    SM: Yeah. So, I hope that was helpful.

    CK: We have complete silence now

    SM: really Michelle

    CK: Say something.

    Caller: I'm taking notes. That's great.

    CK: I just wanted to make sure

    Caller: There a lot of good ideas here.

    CK: Well, good. Good for you. I just have to give you a congratulations because you're doing really interesting stuff.

    SM: Right. Yeah

    CK: Good for you.

    Caller: Thank you.

    SM: All right. Well, take care. Michelle

    CK: Thanks for calling.

    Caller: Thank you.

    SM: Bye, bye

    CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Next up, we'll be chatting with J Kenji Lopez Alt. Kenji, what's going on?

    J Kenji Lopez Alt: I’ve got soup on the mind. My wife, as you know, is from Colombia. And there's this soup down there called Caldo de Costilla, ribs soup. So essentially, you take beef ribs, I use short ribs. You can also use oxtail, but you take beef ribs, there's no browning at all, you just put them into a pot, covered them with water, add a few sprigs of cilantro, chopped up onion, couple smashed garlic cloves, and a little bit of cumin. And then you just boil that, you know, simmer it until the short ribs are tender, you want them to be sort of fork tender, not completely falling apart shredded. So, it takes up maybe two hours, or about 30 minutes in the pressure cooker. And then you know, in traditionally in Colombia, the way you would serve it as you would then take the short ribs out strain out that broth, so it's completely clear. Pour back over the ribs and then simmer some slice potatoes in there. And this is used as a breakfast food, you would eat it with arepes with hot chocolate for breakfast. Or oftentimes if you go to like a party like a wedding or something, they'll bring the soup at around midnight, in order to sort of stave off a hangover and keep the party going. But it's really delicious as a breakfast food. But what I found actually is that it's a very, very simple broth that is extremely adaptable to other dishes. So so for instance, a couple of weeks ago, what I did was I took some leftovers of it, I put them back on the stovetop I threw a cinnamon stick in there. And a and a star anise, I brought it up to a simmer and then I seasoned it with fish sauce and lime juice and served it with pho noodles and it comes out tasting you know, not quite like a traditional pho. But a very good approximation that you can just do based on the simple stock. Then the other day actually last night for dinner, what we did was we took the exact same broth the same the same short ribs, I added a can of hominy to it, and some Mexican oregano and then served it with sliced, slice cabbage slice radishes, sliced avocados and essentially made like a pozole blanco. Today what I'm going to do actually is going to I'm going to simmer some barley in it and add some carrots and celery and onions and make it into a into a short rhythm barley soup. So, it's a soup base that I find to be extremely adaptable. It's super rich, you know, because you get all that connective tissue from the short rib. And so, it comes out as this really nice thick, rich broth. But it's a very neutral flavor. It's almost it's almost if you think about like at a you know, like a fancy restaurant you make like a white veal stock that then can be adapted into many other soups and sauces and stuff. It's sort of like thinking about it that way for your own kitchen where you can adapt it into any number of other recipes.

    CK: So, is this like a pound and a half of ribs for two quarts of water or something like that?

    JKA: Yeah, essentially. Yeah. Yeah. You don't even have to make it super concentrated because ribs are, you know, they have so much connective tissue that even if you had more water than you would to say a chicken broth. It's still going to come out with plenty of flavor and plenty of gelatine in there. So basically, I put ribs in a in a Dutch oven, or in a wok, and I covered them by a couple inches of cold water. But you know, it's one of those things you just kind of wing it and it comes out good. That's why I like it.

    CK: It's so interesting that we always think of stock is chicken stock. Yeah. We've never really talked about beef stock, like Austrian cooking. They do tafelspitz so they do boiled meat. And it makes a stock you take the meat out, and then you cook the vegetables.

    JKA: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, I think a lot of people at home they think about beef stocks, and they think about sort of more classic French cooking, you think alright, it's going to be a time investment because I'm going to have to roast my vegetables. I'm going to have to roast beef bones, I have to go find veal bones. But this is something you can buy short ribs virtually anywhere. And there's no need to roast them. You just You just simmer them, and they come out delicious.

    CK: You know, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was such an eye opener for so many of us in that now I look back at some of those recipes and go. No, it's like, I mean, they made a lot of sense to me in the 60s. (Yeah) And some of them still do. But you go like, okay, that was a particular type of cooking right for a particular place and a particular time. (Right, right, right) And, and now, you know, I throw some wings in a pressure cooker, short ribs and two quarts of water and we’re done right?

    JKA: Yeah, it turns out there are people who cook all around the world, not just in France.

    CK: Yeah, it's amazing. And some of them have really good ideas. (Yep) Kenji, thank you very much short ribs into stock. Use it. Three days, four days in a row. Thank you.

    JKA: All right.

    CK: That was J Kenji Lopez Alt he's the chief culinary consultant for Serious Eats, a food columnist for the New York Times. Also, author of Wok Recipes and Techniques. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. To explore milk straight and everything we have to offer, please go to 177 Milk There you can download our recipes, watch our television show, and learn about our latest cookbook: Cook What you Have Make a Meal Out of Almost Anything. You can also find us on Facebook and Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and cooking questions. And thanks as always for listening.

    Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH. Co-founder Melissa Baldino. Executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, senior editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis. With production help from Debby Paddock, additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. Theme music by Toubab Krewe additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX