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Best of the Web: Food Lists That Might Change Your Life

Whether you're a chef, a gardener or just a regular old eater, these informative and engaging pieces are worth the read.

Tell the truth.  How many times have you clicked on an article titled "Nature's 5 Miracle Foods" or "10 Worst Drive-Thru Choices" and been disappointed to read that, surprise, strawberries are good for you and milkshakes are not?  

If you're a well-read foodie like me, it's more than you care to admit.  So, just to even out the score, here are a few of my favorite food lists, all accompanied by well-written and researched text that will help you make more informed choices in the future, from apple trees to Apple gadgets.

Out and About

  • Seafood Watch: Produced annually by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, this pocket-sized guide tells you which seafood in your area is most and least sustainable.  I like it because it also gives me good questions to ask: is this salmon farmed, wild from the West Coast, or wild from Alaska (bad, okay and great, respectively)?  As committed as I am to supporting sustainable and responsible fishing, I probably wouldn't bring the sushi guide to a sushi bar (I'm not sure anything I like would be on the list!) but it's great to be able to make informed decisions at the grocery store, where they will often change their stock at customer request.
  • Dirty Dozen / Clean 15: The Environmental Working Group tested 53 types of domestic and imported produce for pesticide residue.  If you're going to spend money on organic foods, make sure it's apples, celery and strawberries, not onions, corn and pineapple.  Again, a good list to have in hand when shopping!
  • Best Food Apps: As a new iPad owner, I enjoyed reading about The Daily Meal's choices for most comprehensive and easy-to-use applications (most of which are also available for iPhone and in book / website form.)  Of course the Bittman apps make an appearance, as do UrbanSpoon (customer reviews of restaurants) and Gourmet and Food & Wine (magazines turned digital.)  My favorite was the Photo Cookbook, with beautiful and clear photos that could prevent a lot of unfortunate mistakes.

In Your Own Backyard

  • Garden Crops for Beginners: this list, from Mother Earth News, provides some options for the novice (or child) gardener who wants an easy and fun introduction to growing things.  Many can be planted with not much more than a packet of seeds and a patch of dirt (although would be a lot easier! I'm just saying.)
  • Saving Money through Gardening: Get Rich Slowly, an excellent source of financial advice, had an ongoing feature for several years about whether gardening actually saved money.  The answer: yes, if you're smart about what you plant and how you spend your time there.  J.D. and Kris saved hundreds of dollars each year, though I can't find a list of their most profitable crops.  For that I turned to the Cheap Vegetable Gardener, who did a cost analysis and found that herbs, leafy greens and vine vegetables (squash, tomatoes, etc.) saved the most money over store costs.
  • Low-Maintenance Gardening: Ever wondered whether there are food plants you don't have to tend in order to reap rewards?  The answer is, amazingly, yes, though they tend to be bushes and trees that are large enough not to compete with the weeds that will certainly surround them.  The Best Gardening recommends nut and fruit trees and berry bushes (which, incidentally, are also extremely profitable crops) in addition to big guns like asparagus and rhubarb that will grow huge and untended, in the wild.

Branching Out

  • The Beginner Chef: In a New York Times editorial, my hero explains how to start cooking for yourself if you've never done it before.  He lists three easy dishes (a chopped salad, a stir-fry and a rice / legume combination) along with equipment, pantry ingredients and simple recipes that can be infinitely tweaked. As the author points out, this is also the best way to start living a more healthy and sustainable life, allowing you to control what you eat and where it comes from.
  • The Omnivore's One Hundred: In case you haven't already checked it out, this list has been endlessly circulated and discussed among food bloggers and restauranteurs since its publication in 2008.  I've tried more than half the items, but there are a few I wouldn't put in my mouth unless tricked (organ meats are a particularly unattractive category to me.)  And I made one (bagna cauda) for an appetizer last night, to rave reviews by my family and friends.
  • 50 Baltimore Foods: To bring this global discussion back to Patchland, this interesting list (and poorly-designed web feature; there's no way to see it without clicking on all 50 slides) is comprised of locally-famous foods, from Rheb's buttercreams and Old Bay to smoked meats from Neopol and marshmallow snowballs. This list prompted me to try some new places, like Attman's and Woodberry Kitchen, both of which are superb must-try choices for anyone who lives here!
lorielevy April 10, 2012 at 11:21 AM
You can also look up your local grocery store or online website Printapons and find a list of the best deals, and the sites will match sale items with coupons.
Cal Oren April 23, 2012 at 12:34 PM
"...For that I turned to the Cheap Vegetable Gardener, who did a cost analysis and found that herbs, leafy greens and vine vegetables (squash, tomatoes, etc.) saved the most money over store costs..." No question about that. If you've ever purchased organic greens at the farmers' market, you've probably cringed at the price of a small bag. An added plus is that the greens seem to grow with a lot less sun than some other vegetables. We have lots of big Catonsville trees and the light is often filtered during the day, yet we've had a huge "mesculun mix" harvest each year that we've planted it in our raised bed garden.

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