This week I ran across a strangely fascinating bit of food news. It seems that a company based in Los Angeles has snagged a $20 million investment from a venture capital firm to expand the production of a product it calls Soylent. So what is Soylent (other than the food in an eponymously named 1973 campy science fiction film)? According to the company’s website, Soylent is a “new option for maintaining a balanced state of ideal nutrition, just like traditional food.” In other words, like its namesake, Soylent is designed to be a highly processed replacement for real food. (Unlike its namesake, it’s not people, or so they say.)
At this point, you may be thinking why would anyone want to replace food? Indeed, you may be wondering is it even possible to replace food?
Let’s start with the second question. Soylent appears to be an alphabet soup of synthetic vitamins and minerals delivered in a watery oat- and rice-based porridge with some canola and algae oils thrown in for good measure. (No, I promise I’m not making this up.) The company’s marketing materials claim that these are all the elements needed for a healthy diet, so when you drink Soylent, you don’t need to consume anything else.
Oh, but if it were only that simple. Yes, the human body does need a variety of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fat, and protein along with various vitamins and minerals, in order to function properly. And it’s probably also true that most or all of these things are in Soylent in some form or another.
What is also important to know, however, is that this single-minded focus on nutrients in isolation is missing the bigger picture. New research is suggesting that food synergy – the idea that nutrients work best when consumed as a natural component of food – may be more beneficial to health than nutrients consumed in the form of supplements or nutrition drinks or that have been added to foods during processing. In other words, it’s still the daily apple, and not a beige pancake batter that contains the various nutrients that make up the apple, that keeps the doctor away.
Food synergy is the concept underlying the view that certain cuisines – such as those of the Mediterranean and Japan – are better at promoting health than others. This has always made sense to me. I doubt that the typical Italian family worries about the type and quantity of nutrients that are in their dinner of pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans) or salad with tuna, vegetables, and olive oil. They’re just thinking of how pasta and beans are the perfect combination or how a fruity olive oil really complements the freshness of the vegetables. And yet the Italians have some of the lowest rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and live some of the longest lives in the world.
This leads back to the first question of why anyone would want to replace food. I think the biggest flaw in the concept of a product like Soylent is the belief that not only preparing food but also eating it is a waste of time. Soylent’s makers couldn’t be more wrong. Eating food isn’t just about sustenance. (I realize that for those facing food insecurity it may be, but that’s a different conversation.) Eating food is also about the pleasure derived from its colors, tastes, and textures as well as the traditions that surround it and the people with whom we share it. Family and friends gathered together for a weekly Sunday lunch or Shabbat dinner understand that. A child dunking her grilled cheese sandwich in a bowl of tomato soup understands that. A mother seeing the pleasure in her son’s eyes as he tastes ice cream for the first time understands that. I wonder why Soylent’s creators, whose concoction is intended to obliterate every opportunity for experiencing that pleasure, don’t?
Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post – the Super Bowl. (Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.) Watching the Super Bowl with family and friends is first and foremost a party. And what do you do at a party? Eat food! On this occasion, it may not be the healthiest of foods, but who cares? It’s the Super Bowl!
At my house, my younger daughter is the sole football fan, and the offer of a Super Bowl party this year was my way of reassuring her that her arrival in our family twelve years ago wasn’t the result of an errant stork that mixed up our address with the address of the football-loving family down the street. (Ok, ok. It’s also an excuse to hang out with family and friends.) She has requested a menu made up of typical Super Bowl fare, including pizza, various and sundry chips and dips, and a huge tray of her much loved Asian Honey Sesame chicken wings. The latter is the recipe I’m sharing with you today. It may not be the type of food that my family eats every day, but it is food that we make and enjoy from time to time, especially during parties and celebrations.
So, while you are enjoying the Super Bowl this year, take a little time to imagine what it would be like if your food choices were either beige pancake batter or real food that evokes memories of meaningful times with family and friends. I definitely know which choice I would make.
Asian Honey Sesame Wings
2 pounds of chicken wings (either whole or already separated)
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Zest and juice of one lemon
Glaze and Garnish Ingredients
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons of honey
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1-2 scallions, chopped
1. If the chicken wings are whole, you’ll need to separate them. For each wing, find the joint between the wing tip and the forearm and cut through it. (If you find that you hit bone instead of the softer cartilage, move the knife slightly and try again.) Next, find the joint between the forearm and the upper arm and cut through it. You’ll end up with three pieces, the wing (which can be saved for stock or otherwise discarded), a wingette (formerly the forearm), and a drumette (formerly the upper arm). You should have around 24 pieces. Place the wingettes and the drumettes in a large Ziploc freezer bag.
2. Prepare the marinade: In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, brown sugar, ground ginger, garlic powder, sesame oil, and lemon zest and juice. Pour the marinade into the same Ziploc freezer bag with the chicken. Seal and then turn the bag several times so that the marinade coats all surfaces of the chicken. Place the bag in a bowl (in case there are any leaks), and place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least an hour but ideally overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two large rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper or non-stock foil. Using tongs, remove the wings from the bag (leaving the marinade behind) and place half of them on one pan and half on the other pan. Make sure they are spaced evenly apart. Place the pans in the oven and bake for 50 minutes. Discard the marinade.
4. While the wings are baking, make the glaze: In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix the brown sugar, honey, and soy sauce. Cover with some plastic wrap with one or two holes punched in it, and then heat in the microwave for about 30 seconds. (This will help the brown sugar and honey dissolve in the soy sauce.) Stir the mixture again, and then set aside.
5. After the wings have baked for 50 minutes, remove them from the oven. Brush each wing with some glaze, and then return the pans to the oven for another 10 minutes.
6. After the glazed wings have finished baking, remove the pans from the oven. Immediately sprinkle the wings with the sesame seeds (so they’ll stick to the wings). Let cool slightly. Serve garnished with the scallions.
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