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Friday mash-up: Prison food, better butter and whisks

Slate magazine visited a prison food convention where they sell corn dogs without sticks because prisoners are less concerned about trans-fats than they are about getting stabbed before dessert. Manufacturers use some of the same clever dieting tricks we do, like selling lightly breaded chicken thigh nuggets that take up a lot of space on a plate. Inmates think they’re getting a large portion, but they’re really only getting four ounces. Being in prison obviously must suck, but I’d never thought about how unpleasant it would be to eat cafeteria food and “textured vegetable proteins” for 20 to life. While I at first resented cooking, now I enjoy it because I get to chose what I eat every night. I’d hate for that choice to be taken away from me, especially for “grade B type product” where price is more important than quality. Sadly, a vendor says prisons’ nutritional food requirements are a lot higher than our school systems. Pack your lunches, kiddos!


Speaking of nutritional standards, after I wrote about the Indiana State fair banning trans-fats, I realized I didn’t know whether my margarine contained any or not. I usually just scan the yellow price stickers at Kroger and throw the cheapest box in my cart without checking. I pulled the shiny, gold cardboard package out from behind my 12-pack of sodas to scan the ingredients list and – horrors! – discovered the words “partially hydrogenated corn oil” near the top of the list. There were trans-fats in my refrigerator! Trans-fats next to my cottage cheese! How had I let this happen? Thankfully, I usually only use the margarine when I make whole-wheat bread every couple weeks, so the damages to my circulatory system are minimal.

When I went grocery shopping this weekend, I pushed my cart with the wobbly wheel in front of the butter section. I grabbed margarine and vegetable oil spreads and read the backs of their boxes like I was skimming book synopses at Barnes & Noble. It took me at least three minutes to find a product that did not have the words “partially hydrogenated” in the list of ingredients. I usually buy sticks of margarine, but none of the stick products met my criteria. I had to grab a tub of Promise spread, which was one of only two products I found that did not contain trans-fats. There were one or two other brands that claimed not to have trans-fats on the label, yet the ingredient list contained those dreaded words “partially hydrogenated” so I discarded them. Liars.

If I have to spend more time than a standard TV commercial break in the butter section searching for healthy food, no wonder Americans are getting so fat. A couple months ago I tried finding natural peanut butter that didn’t have sugar added to it and gave up after a minute because I couldn’t be bothered with a game of hide n’ seek at 9:00 in the morning.


Speaking of laziness, I’ve noticed that sometimes I eyeball the amount of olive oil to use in recipes when I’m sautéing meats and vegetables because I don’t want to wash oil off of my measuring spoon afterwards. Sometimes a recipe calls for a whisk and I’ll just use a spoon because I don’t want to be bothered with the difficulty of cleaning between the wires on my whisk afterwards. Which begs the question, why do I even have a whisk if I’m never going to use it?

The real answer to this problem might be to call maintenance and demand a dishwasher that actually cleans the dishes instead of coating them with soapy residue. However, that would require people to come into my apartment while I’m not there, which creeps me out, particularly after I noticed my air filter was recently changed and no one told me about it. Which means I should probably just get over it and demand the new dishwasher since maintenance people could be coming into my apartment everyday to have cocktail parties and I would never know about it.

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Glam • September 14, 2007 at 10:53 am

I also find that since adopting a healthier lifestyle, I spend more time reading food labels than I do books, and I work for a flippin’ library system!

Also, this may solve your whisk problems- http://www.fantes.com/images/2911whisks.jpg

Look a whole lot easier to clean!

PQ – Ooh, that does look cool! I’ve still got $5.33 on my Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card and a 20% coupon too. Maybe a shopping expedition is due in my future


spacedcowgirl • September 14, 2007 at 10:58 am

Ew! They should really let you know when they’re coming in. What if they let your cat out?


Minkychanz • September 14, 2007 at 11:02 am

Your maintenance people are like house elves from Harry Potter! :D! Sweet!


Têtue • September 14, 2007 at 11:03 am

That’s creepy. I hate it when people I don’t know are in my house… Whether I’m there or not!


Lauren • September 14, 2007 at 11:22 am

Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think trans fats only occur when it is PARTIALLY hydrogenated oil.


Allison • September 14, 2007 at 11:29 am

You’re right Lauren. When an oil is fully hydrogenated no trans-fat remains. :) (Also if a product contains partially hydrogenated oil, but less than .5 grams of trans-fat they can label the product “trans-fat free”.)

And teh easy way to get around sugar in natural peanut better? Make your own cashew butter! :D


Mmm…nummy. (Yes, the recipe calls for honey, but you could no doubt adjust that if you wished.)


PastaQueen • September 14, 2007 at 11:40 am

Lauren – Oops, you’re right. I fixed the entry to reflect that. I was just trying to be conservative with my words, but the products did contain the “partially hydrogenated” stuff.


Lauren • September 14, 2007 at 11:44 am

Apparently hydrogenating something makes it more stable, but partially hydrogenating it makes it less stable. Thanks, Wikipedia!

I saw that episode of Good Eats where he made the cashew butter – he said if you try it, you’ll never eat peanut butter again!


Mia • September 14, 2007 at 11:50 am

Excellent post! And great way to think about cooking–a way of preserving autonomy. I like Promise, too; but, I’m currently hooked on Soy Garden (100% Vegan). However, one of my friends recently told me that health critics are reconsidering how good soy is for you. She’s stopped drinking soy milk and eating soy products. I guess I’d better look into that!


Elizabeth • September 14, 2007 at 12:34 pm

I’ve got one word for you, my friend: Butter.

No trans fats there. Use sparingly and you’ll be fine.

PQ – Yeah, it’s that “use sparingly” part that I always have problems with :)


lisa the waitress • September 14, 2007 at 12:51 pm

Well, Elizabeth said it for me – the whole time I was reading your post I was thinking “why don’t you buy yourself some butter, PQ?” Although, butter does contain some naturally occurring transfats (which is why Starbucks can’t sell croissants anymore).

Or, perhaps you could start investigating good extra virgin olive oil. Trader Joe’s has two really good (reasonably priced) brands: an Australian one in a red bottle, and a California Estate Olive oil, in a dark, octagonal bottle.

Butter and olive oil are so much closer to nature than margarine! I predict in a few weeks you won’t even be able to stomach margarine.

PQ – I usually just use it in the bread recipe. Can I sub butter/margarine for olive oil and not end up with a a big flat brick? I might try it. It sure would make grocery shopping easier since I already buy EVOO.


KateG • September 14, 2007 at 1:01 pm

I actually re-introduced butter to my diet about 6 months ago and have not regained any of the weight. Of course I do use it sparingly. But I can definitely understand wanting a margarine for fewer calories and less fat overall. There are a lot of spreads out there that don’t have transfats including the very tasty (IMO) Brummel & Brown which is a yogurt spread and the Benecol/Take Control ones too.

And I totally agree about your apartment-entering annoyance. I get ticked if my apt gives only one day notice of an entry – but no notice at all is really wrong.

PQ – The apartment has been doing repairs because of upcoming building inspections and several weeks ago I got a notice saying they would enter to paint my water heater closet, which they never did. It’s possible they entered, didn’t paint and changed the filter at that time as part of an inspection.


Kerryanne • September 14, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Sugar in peanut butter makes me crazy! Who says everything has to taste sweet all the time??? I buy smuckers natural peanut butter for my kids, when I buy it at all. You have to mix it quite well though. The boys love to “help” cook though, so I frequently just buy a big tub of peanuts, toss it in the food processor, and let it go, while I empty the dishwasher, and they watch.

For the record, I side with the pro-butter contingent.


Marla • September 14, 2007 at 1:13 pm

Oh, everyone already said what I was going to say:

1. I use real butter, not margarine, but use it sparingly.

2. I use olive oil in most cases where I used to use butter (but I don’t bake much so it’s not an issue)

3. I’d forgotten that about apartments. How creepy!

4. “Other” nut butters: I think peanuts cost about 1 cent per ton, and cashews about a million dollars per pound, so that says everything about how likely I am to make my own nut butters! But, I am inspired: I can get walnuts pretty cheaply at Aldi, so I think I’ll give walnut butter a try. I did used to make my own peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts) but really it’s better for me to not have that stuff around at all, because I have a hard time eating it sparingly.


susan • September 14, 2007 at 1:47 pm

The best natural peanut butter in the world!



starbird • September 14, 2007 at 2:04 pm

Out here in Oregon, Adams 100% Natural Peanut Butter contains only peanuts and salt and comes in crunchy or smooth. And yes, as Kerryanne said, you do have to mix it before you can eat it. One shortcut: store the jar upside down for a few days to let the oil go to the bottom of the jar, which is now on top, before you open it.

Peanut butter without additives isn’t too bad for you. My favorite appetite killer sandwich is peanut butter and cheddar cheese on my own very thinly-sliced whole wheat bread. When my weight is where I want it to be, to make that sandwich fancier, I add some mayonnaise and lettuce, but then I’m an Atkins-kind of gal.

Agree with the butter-boosters! Here’s a tip: mix equal parts melted butter and regular olive oil. Use brush to put on toast or whatever. Yummy and healthy, keeps forever unrefrigerated.

I stopped using any shortening in my bread years ago, but I put olive oil in place of any other kind of fat when I do need some – in Italian or Jewish breads, for example. Works great.


deanna • September 14, 2007 at 2:09 pm

i just saw this article and thought of you -based upon your first paragraph in your blog… too funny!

check it out:



MB • September 14, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Susan is right about Teddy being the best natural peanut butter. The factory is within walking distance from my house and if the wind is blowing in the right direction I can smell it … yum. The only problem is you really have to stir it up because all the oil ends up on the top. They sell it in big buckets but you can find smaller containers in most supermarkets. If you can’t find it in your area I’d be happy to send you some so you can check it out.

Thanks for keeping me inspired . . . I look forward to each and every new post.


Jenny • September 14, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Maybe they are the ones that put the trans-fat in your frig?

OK, probably not.

Still it’s always nice to find someone else to blame.


Mindy • September 14, 2007 at 3:48 pm

I came home to my apartment once after the maintenance guys had been there to change an air filter and my toilet seat was up. Not only had they made themselves at home enough to relieve themselves they left the lousy seat up!


Amy • September 14, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Do we live in the same apartment complex? Haha.

I recently noticed that my air filter was changed without me being informed that it was time for a change or that anyone would be coming in to change it. The only sign I had were the dust bunnies all over my carpet that had once been on the ceiling where the air filter vent is. Maybe that is their calling card though. Hmm.


MaryK • September 14, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Thanks for another great entry!

On the subject of measuring spoons, you might want to consider getting another set or two. I have multiple sets of measuring spoons and measuring cups, and it makes cooking SO much easier and faster when I don’t have to stop and wash ’em between ingredients!


MaryK • September 14, 2007 at 4:29 pm

And another thing… I recently found out that Bed, Bath & Beyond accepts expired coupons!! Who knew?


Sandra • September 14, 2007 at 4:32 pm

I agree with the butter people. It may be higher in fat but definitely more natural and healthy…

Why did people decide to muck about with food anyway? I don’t understand why trans fats need to exist full stop.

Here in the UK the Food Standards Agency has just published a study confirming what most people know – artificial colours and preservatives can make children behave badly and hyperactive. When I have children they will be getting good wholesome ordinary food that you actually make yourself.


elissa • September 14, 2007 at 6:01 pm

I have a bunch of problems in my apartment, but I’m also afraid to call my landlord. He’s such a creep, and I can’t stand him coming in my apartment.

Which, when I think about it, means that I’d prefer my bathroom floor to give way, landing me in my neighbor’s apartment post-shower, before I’d let a creepy old man come in. I might want to rethink my priorities.

On that note … yes! Dishwasher! I want one too!


virg • September 14, 2007 at 6:32 pm

If you have a Whole Foods market near you, you can make your own peanut butter from the grinders right there in the store. and it’s not expensive either. it’s all peanuts so no added oil, salt or sugar. yum!


jae • September 14, 2007 at 6:42 pm

Starbird beat me to it: Adams natural peanut butter. But what a great idea to store it upside down! I will try it. Everytime I mix that stuff up I get a big splash of oil everywhere. ~j


Jennifer • September 14, 2007 at 6:53 pm

If you want a healthy food challenge, try finding bread without sugar. It is only used to speed up the rising process, so it is not really needed.


Patty • September 14, 2007 at 11:29 pm

We use the margarine spread, lt. Smart Balance that doesn’t have trans fat or promise too. We have the Adams natual peanut butter or use the natural ones from Trader Joe’s or Costco as they are trans fat free too.

I find that when I check a lot of labels I’m surprised that some things I think are healthy really are not and have the trans fat so they go back on the shelf usually. bummer, but at least the labels/ingredients are listed and we can make informed decisions now.


Zanitta • September 15, 2007 at 3:37 am

My mum has one of these whisks at home and they are awesome and easy to clean.


Zanitta • September 15, 2007 at 3:40 am

Just want to back up Glam on the whisk, my mum has one of those at home and they’re awesome and easy to clean.


Cindy • September 15, 2007 at 7:24 am

Hi PQ,

I want to side with the butter camp. I went off all oils except butter and olive oil and it has made a huge difference in how I feel and how foods taste. Anything they have to manufacture and adjust just can’t be considered real food… And if you want absolutely heavenly butter, try kerrygold, an imported irish butter. It can be a little pricey, but since I use it infrequently, it is okay. When I started this weight loss journey two years ago, I decided that if i was going to eat something, I was going to enjoy it. And if I am to stick with this business, i have to enjoy what I eat…so even though I eat far less food now, my grocery budget actually had to go UP! Fresh foods (mostly organic) cost a lot more, but the taste and quality difference is significant and worth it. If you decide to go the organic route, start with your dairy, eggs and meat…and go from there. Once you do, you’ll never turn back!

And as far as the whisk goes, I feel similarly about kitchen gadgets and cleaning them up…but i am making myself learn to like the ones that help, in the long run, because i do really prefer my own foods to anything else now—I just hate the tedious clean up when I’m done. I make my own soups for lunch each week (and even make my own stock from bones…), and i grew tomatoes this summer and i’ve been making my own sauces. I broke down and bought a food mill (another gadget to clean…) but I LOVE it! And the sauce is amazing—good-bye jar sauce! So this food journey just goes on and on… who knows what i’ll learn next (or what kind of gadget i’ll need to support it!).


chrissie • September 15, 2007 at 9:07 am

There’s nothing wrong with TVP thankyouverymuch.

PQ – I had to google TVP to figure out you meant “textured vegetable protein” because I had never heard of it before this video. I thought it was something special they made for prisons, like soylent green. I’ve never had it, so, hell, maybe it is good.


bets • September 15, 2007 at 9:22 am

Ooh: butter v. margarine. I’ve always sided with butter for some reason, but I felt my position was confirmed after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The author talks a lot about the processing of food and they way advertising now encourages people to look at food in a fractured way (you know, spirulina-enhanced, flax-soy-fiber crisps). They sell it by trying to get people to focus on the different components of the product, and not the fact that this food doesn’t exist anywhere in nature. One of the author’s main arguments is that we should eat food as close to its original state as possible, instead all mashed up in some unusual creation (such as the fictional product cited above). Which, I guess, is how I always felt about butter: just some cream, some salt, and a little churning — pretty natural.

That’s a long-winded way to voice my support of butter, but I also wanted to say that reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma was fascinating and eye-opening! I don’t recall if its been brought up on your site before, but I highly recommend it.


cathy • September 16, 2007 at 4:12 pm

you can also try Skippy natural peanut butter. it doesn’t have any trans-fat or hydrogenated oils, and uses all natural sugars (at least that’s what they claim). plus, you dont need to stir it like some other brands.


mollyjade • September 17, 2007 at 1:30 pm

PastaQueen, if you’ve eaten much canned or frozen food, you’ve had tvp. They sneak it in things like Chef Boyardee ravioli as a cheap way to stretch out the beef.


Jill • September 18, 2007 at 3:23 pm

PQ, I think you might like Smart Balance peanut butter. It’s just peanuts, flax and palm oil, salt and molasses. No stirring needed and it can be found in all the usual grocery stores. If you venture into health food stores, which I highly recommend, grinding your own is the way to go.

As far as the margarine vs. butter debate, I come down squarely on the margarine side when I want to slather my toast. Earth Balance is by far the best. It’s trans-fat free and tastes really good — much better than Promise, in my opinion. When baking I use butter. When cooking, it’s olive oil.

Happy healthy eating!


kathy • October 1, 2007 at 11:44 pm

I use EVOO in my whole wheat bread machine bread, pineapple upside-down cake, cookies, brownies, absolutely everthing. I really don’t taste a difference (but all our food is raw sugar, whole wheat, etc.) and people seem to like it (even people who don’t eat weird like us :)).


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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