Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Moroccon spiced couscous with Puy Lentils

Food and Trade - Part II
Low prices, weak laws and cheap labor
While we flock to low priced stores to buy goods we never fail to complain in the same breath the effects of the loss of manufacturing jobs is having on the lives of people here. Its very surprising that we are not very aware of that connection.

We are OK with getting low prices as long as the slave labor happens thousands of miles away from where we cannot see them. We might not for a second tolerate the appalling conditions people slave in those factories and farms. Somebody pays the price somewhere.

I read in the paper a few days how Walmart was trying to hold Chinese companies to stricter environmental laws. Perhaps Walmart more than any company is the face of the low price mania and has taken advantage of lax Chinese environmental and labor laws. It is now pressuring its Chinese suppliers to abide by the environmental laws, flouting those very same laws when it was convenient and has made it tons of profit. As customers who are starting to pay attention to the business practices of companies they patronize it makes perfect business sense for Walmart to start amending its business practices.

Read the details New sheriff in China is named Walmart.

Walmart it seems is encouraging and providing monetary help for farmers setup green houses to grown oranges and nectarines in mid-winter. Is this a good thing? Maybe int the short term to provide jobs and means of income for struggling farmers but in the long run who knows.

Local farmers abandon crops that are best suited for their climatic and soil conditions and start growing crops that their multinational buyer demands. Walmart with its buying power truly can bully its suppliers to abide by the environmental laws which the government might fail however hard it tries. Even then I am unwilling to give Walmart a pass.

Head over to PJ's Ginger and Garlic for another take on Walmart's foray into organic produce.

2 articles in different publications (there might be more) talking about Walmart's organic practices in 2 different places sounds to me like a marketing campaign more than anything else. Just like when a movie or book is released the protagonists saturate the medium with participants. So forgive me here for my skepticism.

Subsidies and Agriculture
What is an agricultural subsidy?
Subsidy is money paid out by the government to farmers to supplement their income and provide price support for food commodities like wheat, corn, soybean, cottonseed, rice etc. The 2 most subsidized food crops in the US are corn and soybean.

If you are driving out in the country side and see acres and acres of farm land under corn cultivation, there lies the answer. In the face of it grudging farmers for the payments they receive for their hard work might be counterproductive especially considering we have been talking about how hard it is for farmers to make a living.

Subsidies are given for all the right reasons, to preserve local farmers, local farming techniques but they have the exact opposite effect. Taxpayer money is transfered to big landowners and companies that need them the least.Farm land is used for growing commodities that fit the government sanctioned list of commodities. Eighty percent of the subsidies directly benefit large business and it is a direct payment independent of profit or loss that was made for the year.

This agricultural subsidies given by rich countries keep commodity prices low in the world market directly hurting farmers in poor countries who are dependent on the prices of the commodities in the open market to make a living.

Agricultural subsidies transfer wealth to a small group of people who have powerful representation in the halls of power and it is a scared cow no farm state politician will touch, though it is an entitlement program few voters know or care about.

Rightly so the subsidies are a big barrier in trade negotiations with developing countries who are reluctant to open their doors to subsidized commodities from the rich countries entering their marketplace which will drive prices lower in their countries and hurt their farmers.

Who receives for subsidies?
Though intended for small farmers large farm holding companies are the ones who benefit by using the extra money from the federal government to drive out small farmers and buying up the land. Due to loopholes companies which have nothing to do with agriculture get these subsidies too. Click here to see the companies that get the most subsidies.

Wealthy individual with big estate homes on lands that used to be farms.

The farm payments are based on land calculations that were done in 1981. So owners collect subsidies even when they planted timber on the farm land as long as they do not develop it.

Farmers and landowners benefited from the 1996 law whether their land once grew wheat, corn, cotton or any of the other subsidized crops. But nowhere is the impact more evident than in the sunbaked Texas rice country that spreads southwest from Houston to the Colorado River and east to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1981, the Texas rice belt extended over about 600,000 acres. By last year, USDA records show, the amount of planted rice had shrunk to 202,000 acres, partly because landowners were able to get farm payments even if no rice was grown on their land.

In fact, so many landowners and farmers are collecting money on their former rice lands -- $37 million last year alone -- that the acres no longer used for rice outnumber the planted ones.

From the Washington Post - Bill Moyer expose on farm subsidies

As for the actual farmers who rent these these rice lands in Texas, the landowners still receive the subsidy payments. Some of these landowners canceled the lease to farmers who grow rice because money for just keeping the land paid them more. When the laws changed and the actual farmers got the payment the landowners simply raised the rent.

In 2004, the property was sold to Shin Shan Chu, an elderly investor who lives in Vancouver, Canada. Once a year, Bailey, who still grows rice on part of the 4,000 acres, cuts a $25,000 check and sends it to Chu, whom he has never met.

Reached by telephone, Chu said he hoped to eventually "develop some residential buildings there. It's very nice land, very flat, very close to the city."

Chu, who also owns and leases 17,000 acres of farmland in west Texas, grew up in mainland China and Taiwan, worked in electronics and moved to Vancouver 36 years ago. He described himself as nearly 80.

"It's just an investment," he said of his farm holdings. "I'm waiting for the money."

If you are interested in learning more I strongly encourage to spend some time and look over this website.

References:Agricultural Subsidy Programs - by David Sumner

About Current Farm Subsidies

The struggles and problems that farmers face even in the face of so much money being spent by the governments is truly incredible.

.The End.

Giving these Puy Lentils a try has been a long time project. Finally got some at an organic store, the speciality about this store is they sell organic products but the prices are in par with the regular stores. Decided to pair them with some whole wheat couscous. And these must be the prettiest lentils around.

Moroccon spiced couscous
1. 2 Cups Whole Wheat couscous
2. 2 Cups water
3. 1 tbsp Moroccon spice blend (any spice will work or leave it out)
4. 2 tbsp olive oil
5. 1 tsp salt.

1. In a sauce pan, mix in the oil,salt and spice blend and bring to a boil. Switch off the heat.
2. Pour in the couscous and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Puy Lentils with tomatoes
1. 1 Cup Puy Lentils
2. 1/2 cup sliced onions (I used yellow onions)
3. 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
4. 2 garlic crushed
5. 3 fresh Red/green chilies slit
6. 3 garlic cloves crushed and chopped
7. handful of coriander leaves (optional, did not add them)
8. 2 tsp red chili powder + 1 tsp cumin seeds
9. salt to taste

1. Cook the lentils to soft not mushy they should still hold their shape with plenty of water. (add as much water depending on how runny or thick you want it cooked)
2. In a pan heat oil, add the cumin seeds followed by the onions and garlic, saute till soft.
3. Add the slit chilies and saute for a minute more.
4. Add the tomatoes and let them cook till soft.
5. Add the cooked lentils along with the water and salt, let it boil for 5-6 minutes.

Serve over the couscous.


  1. Subsidizing has had its negative side-effects but I never knew the full extent of it until I read your post. It is difficult for a small farmer growing fruits and vegetables that everyone should consume get any help while a big farm putting out corn and soya fields gets all it wants. That much less of an incentive for another farmer to grow the veggies that people should be eating. I saw a documentary on PBS (Michael Pollan and Fast Food nation author's) where they showed a family of 4 who wants to change their ways of eating but for dinner the cost of fresh broccoli for 4 people way exceeds a full meal (including drinks and what nots) at McD. This is where I truly hope that one of the big giant grocer taking its case (albeit for their profits) might help..
    Couscous with puy lentils looks so yummy.. I have got to try these puy lentils soon.

  2. Puy lentils are new to me .. but I like this simple dish. :-)
    Do you think I can use the finer variety of broken wheat(dalia) in place of coucous and whole masoor dal(looks like that in the snap)? :-)

  3. Thanks for the eye-opener Indo! Hats off to all your efforts in ther research! The puy lntil is new to me and by looks they resemble kollu. How does thye taste ? This is a wholesome meal!

  4. I love moroccon dishes and this spice couscous with puy lentils looks delicious and healthy..

  5. I'm going to come back and read this once again to understand it better.
    Your dish looks very simple! I have a stash of couscous that I'm trying to make a dent in.

  6. Healthy meal Indo, I have heard of Puy beans, haven't seen it here.

    My "edit post" is gone, can't get into it at all since Monday, complained to them. Until blogger fixes it, I can't post anything!! Making me very frustrated.

  7. PJ, hope you are right. Most countries spend 70% of their income on food, it is only here in the US that spending anything over 10% is somehow considered too much. Yes I can understand the frustrations for the family, eating a stomach full of bad food or half stomach good food - tough call. Maybe Walmart will do everyone a world of good, let's see.

    Sharmila, the texture looks almost similar to broken wheat, I am not sure if it will cook this quickly. Give it a try. Yes Masoor is a very good substitute or even horse gram.

    Nirmala, the more I read about these things, the more depressing it gets though :( They taste very similar to kollu and can be easily substituted, that thought went through my mind too.

    Asha that is weird, wonder what changed the settings. Frustrating for sure.

  8. I think it is every where same,mostly the big shot who get all the money,
    I am surprised reading Pj's comment aobut the show, wow Mac is so cheaper there. Well not that we go there, we go once in a year i think. I have to say i can make a healthy meal for lesser price then the money we ggive in Macdonalds. I am certain if three if us go here to Mac we pay almost 18 € and with that money i can make a healthy and delicous meal at home. Maybe there these fast foods are cgeaper.
    I love couscous, my daughter like it but she calls them sand ;-)we she did that when she was little which she still continues calling;
    Bever made puy lentils, should try them.

  9. Hats off to you Indo for doing all the research for these eye opening posts

    Puy lentils are very new to me, I have not been very eager about coucous either, but the combo looks very good.

  10. U know ISG, since we are vegetarians I buy a lot of veggies/fruits in the winter(no garden) and only last week a checkout gal said, $1 burger will be cheaper than this and thats what I eat :(

    Not everyone can grow everything, may be all of us blogger should start shipping produces to friends!

    The lentils and coucous looks colorful n yummy.

  11. I am getting educated reading all your posts. It is sad that for the low price we pay somewhere else people are paying a heavier price. Great post and a beautiful recipe. I had couscous for the firt time only a few weeks back and liked it. Will have to try this killed combo of yours..:) Have a nice day!

  12. I have to come back again and read the whole thing Indhu.

    I have never cooked puy lentils. They look so similar to the whole masoor dal. I love the preparation, esp. with couscous.

  13. ISG, kudos to you for coming up with such thought provoking post. I read only the first paragrapgh of your post and had some thoughts of my own.
    True, low price here means loss of jobs to many people here. But what about the people with low income or on tight budget? How many can afford to go to Whole Food market and afford their exorbitant prices? Are they even in a state to consider the horrible work condition elsewhere/China?

    I see your point, but cannot wholehertedly agree that it is true. I still had many things to say, but it is best I stop.

    I still need to read the rest of your post.

  14. Sowjanya, can you believe that? The $1 burger will manifest itself in disease, obesity and several others.

    Nostalgia thank you. I am glad you are finding it useful.

    Sandeepa, give it a try, the whole wheat coucous I feel is better than the white one.

    Soma, very similar to masoor dal.

    RC, fair enough. There are no easy answers.
    But Walmart and Whole Foods are in the opposite ends of the spectrum. There are many variations in between including farmers's markets and low priced grocery stores. The higher price paid for better food pays off later. Low income obesity is a hard reality. But when you cannot afford today's food everything else is secondary.

    As far as low priced goods less said the better, most people things on credit even if they are low priced and we all know where that has lead us. Are low priced cheap goods a good thing?

  15. I read an article in readers digest abt subsidies given to farmers and how quite a bit of this money goes to wealthy pple who own estates and all for Not cultivating in that land! Ridiculous!

    I've always been intrigued by puy lentils after seeing them in cookbooks but haven't seen them in stores

  16. Just attended a course in Contract farming last month and we had heated discussions on corporate farming vs contract farming - where the former has nothing to do with the farmers at all. Conversely, Subsidies are becoming a bane in India - the farmers want even the labour costs to be subsidised now!!

    The puy lentils and couscous seem to be a good combination....wouldnt have thought of the two of them together!

  17. Couscous is so flavorful done the right way.I have never tried puy lentils..And have heard a lot abt Moroccon spice..should try it some day!

  18. Hi ISG..great research, kudos to you.I think I have used puy lentils in the past, just cant remember how I used it. Your post reminds me of broken wheat sitting in my pantry :(

  19. Indo,
    This is so thought provoking work here ...I am going to read it again for a better understanding ...
    this has happened in past also big sharks making money and small ones suffer...remember the infamous poppy seed plantation with farmers in pre-Independance era..If that applies here , Walmart is no exception I guess..
    and going to Mac here is expensive , I can echo happy's word here with that much I can whip up healthy meal at home easily.
    I can have that plate anytime , love cous-cous ..
    hugs and smiles

  20. Indo that is such a thoughtful post! I remember seeing an article about this matter, how subsidies are not having the intended effect and about corn and soy bean being the highest subsidized crops ! A shame really...

    Moroccan spiced couscous with puy lentils looks very inviting and yum!


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