Saturday, June 30, 2007

Perrier on Duck

A terrific and troubling interview with a truly great chef and Philadelphia restaurateur Georges Perrier who has been the frequent target of animal rights protesters who, want him to stop serving foie gra.

The following is excerpted from the interview wherein GP (Georges Perrier) asks TB (The Evening Bulletin) when will the hunger of the the animal rights protesters be sated.

GP: Here's the problem: Today it is foie gras, but tomorrow it can be something else.
TB: It opens the door to ban more things ... like Whole Foods banning lobsters and crabs because it's "inhumane" - whatever that means.
GP: Where does it end? Everything can be called "cruelty." Where does it end?

A Hunger Artist butts in: Chef, this is exactly the point. It will never end for the most active people in the campaign against the production of foie gras because their goal is the elimination of animal suffering by human activity. So this is going to be a long fight. Once they stop the production and sale of foie gras, they will target some other farmed animal product. Of course they will go after "factory farmed" products first. But soon they will target "cruelty free products" because many of them believe that no matter how well you treat an animal while you are raising it, the very act of killing is cruel and unnecessary, while others believe that all animals should be left to live their lives unimpeded by human interference.

Once all the farmed animal products are eliminated then they will go after wild animal products. By this point veganism will have become part of the primary cultural gestalt and so will be a driving force behind the inspiration and codification of all manner of legislation.

Hunting, fishing and animal farms will be illegal. Books and movies that glorify or romanticize hunting and animal farming will be the targets of boycotts, censorship and in extreme cases where animal suffering is truly horrendous -such Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea- banned outright.

Drug testing on animals who aren't sick? Fahgedaboutit.

Pet cats will be illegal because they maim and kill and anyone who owns one will be prosecuted for promoting unnecessary suffering of wild animals by proxy. Or at the very least, there will be a law that requires all house cats to be declawed and fed a cruelty free vegan diet or a diet supplemented by animal products derived from the corpses of animals that died from natural causes.

Pet dogs too will be doggone and the term dog bone will have a completely different meaning.

Uhm...what did I forget? Mandatory health insurance legislation for pets, fine and minimum sentencing guidelines for pet owners who neglect to take their pets for regular check ups? Human stool test kits for vigilant parents who want to screen their kids for illicit meat consumption?

In the end, it doesn't end chef. Not if you give free reign to your imagination and recognize that the animal rights folks who are giving you such a hard time about duck liver are really trying to reconfigure the food web to conform to they way they think it should be. It'll be interesting to see how it really shakes out.

The Evening Bulletin - No Sitting Duck

Friday, June 29, 2007

Québécois (e) Believe it's Not Butter

This is a couple of years old but until Natalie Sztern who is a regular commentator over at told me about it, I was as clueless as a monk in a brothel :)

Canada's two-margarine policy is just fine with the Supreme Court of Canada. On March 17, 2005, Canada's highest court ruled that Quebec regulations forcing margarine producers to make their margarine colourless [white] are reasonable.

Unless Quebec changes its rules in the future, the province will remain the only jurisdiction in North America to regulate the colour of margarine.

The intention of the law is, I am sure, to protect the butter industry. And frankly, I wish we had the same law here. But I do pity the poor folks from the provinces who travel to Quebec to find that if they want yellow they have to eat butter. What a let down that must be.

CBC News Indepth: Food

Drunken Prawns

So these two prawns are in a bar in Shanghai getting hammered. When one of they become hungry they asks the bartender if he's got anything to eat. "Yeah" says the bartender but I'm not getting it for you. We're self serve here."

"Self-serve?" one of the prawn says "WTF? we're paying customer, we're not serving ourselves."

"Not yet you won't" says the bartender "have another drink?"

Mad About Shanghai: Drunken Prawns Experience in Shanghai: ""

Hungry 4 Moral Constancy

It's a bit long but a compelling reminder of the relationship between physical and metaphysical hunger.

F.D.A. Curbs Sale of Five Seafoods Farmed in China - New York Times

If you let your palate guide your food purchasing behavior, live in a place where fresh fish is available, have the money to afford it or catch your own, you won't be inclined to buy cheap frozen imported seafood from anywhere. But if none of this applies to you and you "need" to eat fish this will surely tick you off.
F.D.A. Curbs Sale of Five Seafoods Farmed in China - New York Times

Can foie gras be produced ethically?

It is my opinion that this question is not going to be entirely settled until some alternative to making foie gras from animals is developed. However, more optimistic gastronomes might be interested in attending this symposium at Oxford University in September.

This post in Guardian Unlimited also raises questions about Kobe beef production (something I currently know next to nothing about)

How to kill a live lobster

I haven't prepared lobster since my last chef's job, primarily because I don't like eating it anymore. Like veal (and to a lesser degree lamb) I've lost my taste for it, and haven't eaten it in years.

But as soon as I was able to make decisions about how to cook things on the job on my own I always chose to kill lobsters by killing them with a knife before cooking them or dismembering and shelling them for raw meat preparations (e.g. ravioli or sausage). I never bought that line about how they don't feel pain and blah-blah-blah: maybe it is true, more likely it isn't. I reason that whenever one is unsure of how to kill something the best thing to do is to choose the method that is most likely to render the least pain: dropped live into a pot of boiling water or rendered insensate and dropped into a pot of boiling water?

The method of killing lobster depicted here is the method I used prior to shelling the lobster for raw meat preparations. For boiled lobster, I inserted a knife between the head and the thorax to minimize the loss of "flavor" to the cooking water.

How to kill a live lobster

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Keeping it Real: Mice Pops

Terry Patano who owns and operates Doma Coffee Roasting Company with his wife Rebecca, just sent me this photo of two boys selling mice by the roadside in Africa. It was given to him by a supplier who had just returned from buying trip in Malawi.

Fatuous Food Writing Award Entry #1 Rocco DiSpirito on Comfort Food

In this fine example of mind boggling hyperbole ridden drivel, Rocco DiSpirito seems bent on proving that the term "comfort food" is the cudgel of choice for braining a jello teddy bear. Here's a sample (click the link if you are having a bad day and want to make it worse)

On the happy days, we don't think about the foods that comfort us.
We need them less then, I suppose.
We all know how powerful food can be.
It entertains and absorbs us; it can even be transcendental and has the power to heal.
We all have memories of emotional boo-boos that were made better with a dish our moms made.
They're called comfort foods for a reason -- they soothe and reassure both palates and souls.

Kind of make you wanna drool, doesn't it?

Comfort Me With Food - Personal Finance - The Good Life - LCUT - WSM

Bizz-R-er and Bizz-R-er

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk writes Michael Moore to tell him that he's too fat, should stop eating meat and [I'll shamelessly infer from here on] append his new documentary Sicko to include a discussion of how meat eating is destroying everyone's health and how they can all be saved by vegetarianism.

Link to Letter from Newkirk to Moore

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheeburger Cheeburger

Every time we drive down Route 202 in Delaware with the kids in the car and pass this place my 13 year old says "Oh that looks like a really good restaurant" or something similar. Now this is a kid who convulses in disgust at any time we pass a Mac Donald's and who throws stuff at the TV when the Burger King dude appears on the screen. But such is the power of image and the fickle nature of children that my oldest had come to the conclusion that a fast food restaurant named after a line in a classic SNL skit was somehow better than another, when in reality they all uniformly banal at best.

Oh, one might use better meat than the other. Another might have better french fries or shakes, but none of the fast food restaurants that I have been in have ever brought me close to the level of of satisfaction I can achieve with a decent sandwich from a local deli.

Well, you know where this is going, don't you?

Sooooo...yesterday we were on 202 at about 1:30 PM, the kids were hungry, and I thought Oh what the hell; how bad could it be? My question was answered as soon as I walked in the door and saw the decor. The walls were covered with posters of Betty Boop , Coca Cola signs, pictures of pink Cadillacs and a big mess of crap and music that was supposed to give the place a '50's -early '60's vibe.

And yeah , the food was pretty boring -all Sysco type crap jiggered and tweaked to seem like something better than what it was: Crappy industrial strength cheese and chicken that tasted like it'd been stolen from a lab that was trying to develop chicken meat cloned from chicken lip cells; salad dressing made from corn syrup and generic soy sauce accented with little tan colored dots reputed to be sesame seeds. A highlight of the meal was the soda served in Ball-type canning jars. (Wha-hoo!)

Of course the kids loved it- which took a bit of the sting out of the con. And really after 50 years of living in this culture I wasn't all that disappointed myself. But the thing that got me, I mean really got me, had nothing to do with food or the service (the latter was terrific) and everything to do with the nature of the concept of the place.

I could not and cannot understand how any adult could accept the idea of a product that is adorned with 1950's and early 60's pop cult memorabilia and named after a line in skit in a TV show from the 1970's that was set in a contemporary Greek diner. I mean, WTF? I can see how kids might be bamboozled into thinking Funny name, old posters, burgers, shakes, Daddy born in '50's this is cute and authentic. But I wonder if an adult would be taken in.

I suppose that if someone had lived through the '50's and '60's and had emerged into middle age as an idiot, he might forgive himself for believing that the audio and visual ambiance of Cheeburger Cheeburger was anything other than an historically illiterate designer's attempt to recreate a something that never existed.

Yet I suppose it is possible that an adult without major neurological damage might find a place like this evocative of the lost soda shops and diners of his halcyon days. After all, we do live in a culture where many reputedly sapient beings think that the United States declared War on Nazi Germany (it was the other way around) and that angels follow us around like shadows.

Cheeburger Cheeburger Restaurants

Chef Sues Over Intellectual Property (the Menu) - New York Times

This is a really interesting development.  Rebecca Charles of Pearl Oyster Bar in  New York is suing another restaurateur who she claims has appropriated her concept and recipes. This is, of course, something that has been going on forever, and even extends to the cookbook publishing industry where for generations thousands of  recipes are printed that are lifted from other books without permission or attribution. 

I'm not going to take a firm position on this yet. But I suppose that if she can prove that she developed the recipes from scratch and they are entirely unique (like the process of making edible paper developed by Homaro Cantu that is mentioned in the article and for which he has applied for a patent) she might have a case. But we are talking about lobster rolls and Caesar salad here. Idiosyncratic as these recipes might be it's going to be very difficult for her to make the case that she has any claim to their invention. I'll bet the case gets thrown out of court.

Chef Sues Over Intellectual Property (the Menu) - New York Times

Carrie Underwood and Kevin Eubanks Voted World's Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrities

Ethics aside America, it's also about ahem, celebrity.

(But you knew that.) // Carrie Underwood and Kevin Eubanks Voted World's Sexiest Vegetarian Celebrities

Fixing China's Food Safety Issues Will Require a $100 Billion Investment, According to New A.T. Kearney Research

10 superscript 12 dollars to make sure your doggy's tail maintains it's kinetic potential and your catfish McNuggets don't deal you a dose of dioxin? Seems like a deal to me.

Fixing China's Food Safety Issues Will Require a $100 Billion Investment, According to New A.T. Kearney Research

MenuPages Blog :: Boston: An Evaluation Of Female Chefs: Now With 90% Less Sexism!

I wish I could blog like this. It's a neat little zinger of a piece that postulates the existence of two chef archetypes: "comfort" and "awe," dismisses a division along gender lines, and proposes an alternative causal agent (s) -all in the space of a heartbeat.

Now that's blogging!

MenuPages Blog :: Boston: An Evaluation Of Female Chefs: Now With 90% Less Sexism!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Seeing Red: Eating Locally and Debunking the Red-Blue Divide

Barbara Kingsolver, who recently published a book about her attempt to live on nothing but locally produced food (and reaps a sheaf on my admiration for her and her family's effort) writes a snapshot of her experience in Mother Jones.

I'm particularly intrigues by the discussion of how local farmers have benefited from the produce branding phenomenon -something I find generally obnoxious and disorienting because the labels distract me into thinking about the brand and not the produce itself. Then there are those stupid little labels that always seem tear the skin when you try to remove them and stick in the sink and ever-where.

Seeing Red: Eating Locally and Debunking the Red-Blue Divide

Have it My Way B#@ch

Just when you thought it was safe to start eating mass produced junk food prepared by disenfranchised angry workers again, a story like this comes along and rocks your world. Granted, the alleged perpetrators were targeting police officers, but doesn't this want to make you want to take charged of preparing your own food? Just a little bit?

"A family has sued the franchisee of a KFC/Taco Bell unit for allegedly allowing an employee to urinate and spit in their food two years ago.

The suit, filed against Mid Plains Food and Lodging in North Platte, Neb., alleges that Sidney, Neb., police officer Keith Andrew and his wife and two sons became “violently ill” after eating the meal on Oct. 28, 2005. The Mid Plains employee, Casey Diedrich, pleaded guilty in March to a similar incident, which was part of a scheme directed against police officers, the Associated Press reported."

Nations Restaurant News - Breaking News

Oyster Bar No. 1 as terminal businesses make 160M

If you have ever eaten at the Grand Central Oyster Bar and made the mistake of eating anything other than raw oysters or clams you will understand my incredulity when you read that the place took in over 14 million dollars last year. Sure, a lot of those sales were in shellfish and beverage sales but they also had to include some of the most banal food I've had the displeasure to have eaten. Should I be surprised that a tourist trap serves overcooked fish with dead looking mass-market vegetables pulled from a dumpster at Hunt's Point or that the cooks construct plates that look like they've been torn out of food service industry magazine that'd been discarded in a steam room?
Dunno, could be that my expectations are too high. Sure is a great looking place though!

Oyster Bar No. 1 as terminal businesses make 160M

Dutch Foie Gras

You are going to love this video of a Dutch journalist being force fed. I'm not sure what I'm going to do for the rest of the day after having watched this. I suppose I'll just stare out the window and wonder what it all means.

US and China in Cold (Food) War

China rejects two US food products containing excessive bacteria, chemicals - International Herald Tribune

Monday, June 25, 2007

PETA is busy this summer

Thanks to The Foodist for this video clip of a news broadcast discussing an anti-foie gras action in Texas. Warning: contains footage of gavage.

It's Good To Be The Man (An exercise in self delusion)

Since I posted my eloquent rant against the over-consumption of bottled water, influential folks in at least two major cities have taken notice and have begun to move against an industry that sells something that almost nobody needs and produces more waste than a dog with with unlimited access to a meat locker. (Trust me, it's even worse than that.)

Last week the city of San Francisco banned the free distribution of bottled water to city employees. And now New York City is trying to discourage city dwellers from buying the stuff by promoting the consumption of tap water.

My goodness, it is great to be a blogger with the power to affect the lives of millions - if only, alas, in my dreams.

700G water-ad push

Seed Savers Exchange Rules!

This is the hands-down best place I know to buy heirloom seeds. I buy almost all of my seed stock from these folks and never fail to be dazzled by the quality and variety of seeds in their coffers. Once you get used to buying and growing plant's whose genealogy can be traced back to a person or family or culture that developed them, you will not be able to look at a rack of Burpee seeds again with a straight face.

Seed Savers Exchange


The Food Processing Industry Is Developing Rapidly in China

Well this is exciting news for harried Chinese families. Currently only 1/4 of china's food production is devoted to processed foods. But according to this report, the food processing industry in China is growing at double digit rates (I assume this does not mean rates such as .00, .01%). Kind of makes me wonder how long it'll before the Food Network moves into the Chinese media market to begin the noble process of teaching people how to watch other people cook and eat while their viewers sip distractedly on celebrity chef branded birds nest soup - to the mute disapproval of their celebrity chef branded woks puzzling endlessly over their raison d' etre.

The Food Processing Industry Is Developing Rapidly in China

Friday, June 22, 2007

DOMA COFFEE breaks the Bean's Spell

Up until the moment that I received a box of freshly roasted coffee beans from Terry and Rebecca Patano of Doma Coffee Roasting Company in Coeur d'Alene Idaho, I thought that the best thing about blogging was reading and mulling over the comments made by my readers. But now I'm not so sure. I'm joshing, of course, but I'm not sure I've ever had any coffee that was any better than this.

Terry sent me four types to try, Guatemala Trapichtos, Papua New Guinea Organic, El Salavador Altimira and Carmela's Espresso and with the exception of the espresso they are all, alas, gone. As a matter of fact these coffees were so good that my wife and I used them up while letting a previously opened bag of another brand of bean go stale.

I am what might be called an avocational coffee drinker, and do not have a nuanced vocabulary up to the task of describing the various veins of aromatic information that differentiate these coffees from each other. But it is pretty obvious to me that the Patano's have a serious talent for choosing and blending beans. And Terry, DOMA's rotisseur, really knows how to coax those beans to reveal their essential nature.

Guys like Terry and their work always remind me of a sonnet by Michelangelo Buonarotti (yes The Michelangelo) wherein he describes how art comes to be. Big M wrote (in Italian, he did not know english)

The artist hath no thought to show what the stone in it's superfluous shell doth not include; to break the marble spell is all the hand that serves the brain can do

Now I'm not trying to stir up the pot or embarrass Terry by calling coffee-roasting art. (Not today anyway.) But it seems to me that people like Terry do something very similar to what a sculptor does when he chooses a section of outcrop, quarries out the stone then cuts it to become what he thinks it should be.

I'm still not sure why the Patanos sent this coffee to me. They did not ask me to write about it, did not ask for feedback or any business contact information. They didn't ask for anything really, so I'm humbled by this gift and the opportunity it gave me to experience the work of a fine craftsman. Gotta love it!

Another Bar of "Swan Song for Duck Liver" please

An interesting peek into how animal rights activists successfully prevented an overturn of Chicago's ban on the sale of foie gras. Hit it Mr. Piano Man!
By Mick Dumke in the Chicago Reader

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Khaleej Times Online - Deadly bird flu strain confirmed at Czech poultry farm

Nothing funny about this.
Khaleej Times Online - Deadly bird flu strain confirmed at Czech poultry farm

Eat Mo Fish Boyz

The Next time someone calls you Mackeral (as in maquereau which is also french slang for pimp) thank them. It may mean you're doing something right. Turns out that mackerel and other oily fish contain long chain Omega-3 fatty acids that may short circuit cancer cells that refuse to die by other means.

My suggestion is to soak some mackeral in a reduced and cooled marinade of red wine, black peppercorns and shallots. Then lay on a bit of olive oil and salt. Slap those babies on the grill and don't worry about nothing. Know what I'm sayin? (Do I know what I'm saying?)

Fish Oil Might Slow Prostate Cancer -

High Oil Prices Threatens Tequilla Industry

In response to rising demand for corn based ethanol, Mexican farmers are supplanting the agave catcus which is used to make tequila mash, with corn. But don't worry, you can always put a worm in a bottle of ethanol, fire up a joint and be bad on that.
Mexican farmers replace tequila plant with corn |

4 Cannibal Wanabee Sex Maniacs (and chefs too)

If you believe that a silicone facsimile of the decapitated and dismembered torso of a human female surrounded by erect phalli, disembodied hearts and eggs being fertilized by strange-looking dark spermatozoa is "just the thing" you need to bring a touch of panache to your next banquet. And you don't know where to get food-grade silicone modeling supplies, check out!

This fascinating webshop has a lot of esoteric professional cooking equipment and supplies. I've never ordered anything from them, so I am not able to endorse their business practices, but they are certainly worth checking out- if only for your casual edification.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Skimpy U.S. Inspection Resources Are Raising Concerns

I'm thinking about turning my site into a Drudge Report for foodies. Not really. But I will continue to pass news along without comment from time to time.
Watching for Iffy Imports -

Goat killed at eatery tied to E. coli

Well if this don't beat sh-t in a coffee can I don't know from what. A former employee of Captain's Galley Seafood Restaurant in China Grove, SC slaughtered a goat in the kitchen. This may or may not have contaminated the place with E. coli O157-H7 (the most dangerous form of the bug) and sent 13 people to the hospital but Good Lord, what was this guy thinking?

Charlotte Observer | 06/19/2007 | Goat was killed at eatery tied to E. coli

Former Beard Foundation President Dies

Be careful how you live if you don't want your death to sound like this.

Leonard Pickell Jr.; took funds while heading James Beard Foundation - Los Angeles Times

China may change its stripes on tiger trade ban - World -

Oh great. While we spend countless hours and words worrying about how chickens are raised and whether or not it's okay to eat meat. Some people are polishing their chop-sticks in anticipation of being able to eat an animal that's in danger of becoming extinct. Where's PETA, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter on this, I wonder? Why aren't the vegans out demonstrating in front of Kosher and Halal restaurants? Is it because animals that have their throats cut without having first been rendered insensate by a bold gun or electric shock suffer less than force fed ducks?
Please accept my apologies for this disjointed mini-rant. I'm not up to speed today.

China may change its stripes on tiger trade ban - World -

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Horse Crisperer: horse fat french fries

If you like horses like most people like horses then don't read this excellent piece on french fries. On the other hand if you really like French fries and and don't get queasy over the thought of using horses for food then by all means read on. Rob Misfud nails the process of making french fries and guess what? It isn't easy with or without horse fat.
There is one bit of good news for friends of horses and vegans: you don't need horse fat to make great fries.

Hungry In Hogtown: The Horse Crisperer: horse fat french fries

Mario Batali Does or Doesnt Really Hate Food Bloggers

Rob Misfud at Hungry in Hogtown tipped me off to this mildly fascinating post by Mario Batali at
Apparently some blogger at Eater posted a line of misinformation that he had lifted from a gossip column on the NY Post about a dispute he was having with the landlord of Del Posto and it got back to him. I'm not going to repeat the misinformation because it really was a lie. For reasons that are not at all clear to me, someone with authority at he Post does not like Mario or his business partners and uses the paper to take pots shots at them whenever it suits them. (I believe that one of the functions of a gossip column is to provide a format for "friends of the paper" to promote themsleves and business interests without having to be identified as the source of the info.)
But I wonder over the wisdom of writing something so inflammatory. Mario's got a lot of friends in the blogging community and some of them are not going to be happy to be browbeaten. But he's right though, many bloggers are little more than gossip columnists out to make a name for themselves by throwing as much mud as they can their shovels in while praying for a mention in The NY Times or a talking spot on Fox.

Eater: Why I Hate Food Bloggers By Mario Batali #01

To Serve Man

Allison Owings has a great piece in the NY Times that is superficially about her reaction to the movie "Waitresss" (it seems she thinks it sucks). Ownings who wrote a book "Hey, Waitress! The USA From the Other Side of the Tray" has a lot to say about the job of waitressing and it's pleasures and indignities.

I can't speak to her observation that women servers have it tougher than men except to say that I'm sure it's true. But having been a waiter myself I could not agree more with the complaint by some of the women she interviewed that many customers behave as if they are "to the manor born" as soon as they find themselves in the presence of a server. And I've observed obnoxious condescending toward wait staff behavior from the back of the house too.

I used to be chef de cuisine at a restaurant that had three waiters who were cooling their heels in the US after having fled Poland following a crackdown on members of Solidarity (Solidarnosc). One was a medical doctor, another was a lawyer and the third was a cinematographer whose father had been a high ranking member of the the communist party and the director of the company that made Krakus Polish Ham -of all things. They were all exceptionally polite, articulate and professional guys but when Martha Stewart would come in (she was a frequent customer) they'd all come back into the kitchen in a panic because they could not bear her finger snapping and dismissive attitude. Even the manager hated to see her walk through the door.
Of course she's just one famous example of someone who treats waiters like chattel (And in all fairness she was always nice to me.) there were many other anonymous nobodies who were just as rude.

Here to Take Your Order (and Biting Their Tongues) - New York Times

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Endeavor

I've decided that it's only a matter of time until the tiny American foie gras industry is wiped off the map. To mark it's passing I've made a map that to track news about protests, legislation and special actions by animal rights commandos against restaurants and farmers. Really the only type of news that I don't want to put on the map is what someone who likes foie gras and collateral products like confit, magret, rendered duck fat etc would consider good news.

I've got a few google alerts on the subject out collecting information on a daily basis and will add stuff to the map in the sidebar from time to time. And I invite anyone who reads this blog to send me any bit of news they find is suitable. And if I can figure out how to set the map up so that you can add things directly, I will.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Reality does Bite

I don't necessarily agree with all of the choices of target in this amusing expression of ennui and derision . But I am completely down with its choice of FN stars most of the other pop-cult objects that appear in this slide show by RealityBites which I f ound via a comment at Ruhlman's blog.

Top Vancouver restaurateur drops foie gras from the menu

I have to admire the honesty of Vancouver, BC chef Pino Posteraro who rather than running a line of BS about dropping foie gras from his menu because he wanted to make a statement about how inhumanely the ducks were treated, just comes out and says he's caving in to pressure from animal rights advocates.

I make phenomenal foie gras but I took it off [the menu]. It's a business decision because people are protesting, in a shy way, about the way it is made," says Pino Posteraro, chef and owner of Cioppino's.

"But by all means I love it -- it has something to do with hundreds of years of tradition. But when it becomes a liability instead of an asset . . . ," says Posteraro, his voice trailing off.

Top Vancouver restaurateur drops foie gras from the menu

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Real Problem With GE Food...

is the behavior of some of the f**king companies who make it. Many thanks to FaustianBargain for this example of the downside of another Faustian bargain.

Failures of Greenpeace International

Greenpeace, an organization I generally respect and have contributed money to, really has it's head up it's ass on the subject of genetically engineered food. At least that how it sounds on the subject of a GE form of rice that has been modified to produce an important precursor to vitamin A (beta carotene) which is critical to the development of eyesight in humans.

Golden rice was developed by Peter Beyer and Ingo Portrykus and seed would be distributed for free to farmers (earning less than $10K per year) in countries where vitamin A deficient diets are responsible for at least 500K cases of childhood blindness each year. But because of opposition by Greenpeace and other knee-jerk anti GMO types, it's been a hard sell. I suppose I might be less troubled by their opposition if it was based on sound reasoning but this hardly seems to be the case. Consider this explanation for opposing the distribution of Golden Rice taken from Greenpeace's web site

The human food safety of GE rice is unknown. However, the environmental risk of GE rice is clear. Golden Rice could breed with wild and weedy relatives to contaminate wild rice forever. If there were any problems the clock could not be turned back.

When the risk is high, the potential consequences devastating, and the benefits unclear, precaution is called for.

Human food safety? This is idiotic and a non-issue. Beta carotene is found in thousands of plants many of which have been consumed by humans for tens of thousands of years. Carrots are loaded with beta carotene; should we suppress the cultivation of carrots?

And how is the potential escape of a gene for beta-carotene into stocks of wild rice a risk? Even if you take the position that the genome of a wild plant should not be allowed to become "infected" with genes from an agricultural type (an absurd position anyway since genes from even widely unrelated organisms are moving between one form and another via transfer by viruses) you'd be hard pressed to prove that the presence of beta carotene poses any kind of risk.

Even the phrase "to contaminate wild rice forever" is little more than ridiculous hyperbole. If wild rice did pick up the gene for beta carotene and it was deemed necessary to bring the wild rice genome back to it's original state, well then, since the identity of the gene is known it could simply be taken out. In other words, the clock could turned back.

I cannot see Greenpeace's opposition to Golden Rice as anything other than a dogmatic reaction by an organization that seems to believe that genetic engineering is fundamentally wrong. Otherwise why would they oppose this? To be sure there are GM products that pose a clear and present danger and should be pulled off the market yesterday. Crops that have been modified to resist herbicides like Roundup are bad news because they encourage the over-application of chemicals that cause collateral damage to other organisms like amphibians and reptiles et al. Moreover, many of the business practices of companies that produce GMO crops -such as refusing to allow farmers to save seed stock- are reprehensible. But there is nothing fundamentally wrong with altering the genome of a plant or an animal (or a human for that matter).

Greenpeace needs to back off on this one and concentrate on fighting the good fight elsewhere.

Failures of Golden Rice | Greenpeace International

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On The Arrogance of Veganism

The title of this post is taken from a short piece that written by Michael Ruhlman at his blog back in May. In that post, Ruhlman tried to make the point that vegan arrogance was rooted in an act of denial relating to a fundamental aspect of human biology. He implied that because humans are fundamentally omnivorous, choosing not to eat animal products is tantamount to refusing to acknowledge who we really are and therefore guilty of a "colossal arrogance." When I first read that piece and the collateral comments from his readers I thought the thesis was pretty shaky. And I still do -with qualification, of course.

I don't see anything particularly arrogant about an individual who chooses to not eat meat or use products derived from animals despite the fact that he can eat almost anything. After all the fact that I'm able to eat and digest most forms of life allows me to eat people, but no one would accuse me of arrogance for refusing to eat Ruhlman. Right?

I'm not even sure it is arrogant for an individual to refuse meat knowing that there are billions of people who don't have that choice. Neither do I believe that vegans as a whole are any more arrogant than any other religious group. But, and this really should be a BIG BUT with really loud sound effects. There is a very vocal subset of people in the religion of veganism who like many "my way or the highway" movements could benefit from a good dose of self-doubt.

Let me attempt to identify the sub-type of vegan so that I don't end up offending everyone who refuses to consume products derived from animals.

The vegans who I believe are colossally arrogant are not simply content to refuse to consume animal products. There is no arrogance in quietly going about the business of eating vegetables and wearing cotton instead of leather. The arrogant vegans are the ones who think they have the right to stop other people from consuming animal products too. Moreover, they act on their beliefs; they take it to the street.

I'm not sure I'd judge them the same way if I was sure that they were correct. (Maybe I would) But since so many of the basic assumptions of veganisim are based on untestable assertions, their attempts to dictate what we can eat strikes me as extremely arrogant.

One of the assumptions of veganism is that animals suffer when they are killed so therefore they should not be killed. Well, lets assume that it's true that animals suffer when they are killed (it's likely that most do) is this a reason not to kill them?

I really don't know. I don't have any information that would help me answer that question.

If I were a Buddhist I suppose I could answer this. A Buddhist might say that because The Buddha taught that enlightenment (extinction of the self) can only be achieved through the elimination of suffering (of self and others) and that suffering can only be vanquished through inaction. So because killing is an action it's not smart to do because it diverts you from the path towards enlightenment. But I'm not a Buddhist.

Another assumption of veganism is that animals are unique and distinct from other forms of life. They assume that only complex, multicellular organisms with nervous systems should not be consumed. But it's okay to consume plants, bacteria and in sum: anything outside of the Kingdom Animalia. Well, while it is highly unlikely that something like a yeast cell experiences pain when it is killed, how can anyone be sure that it doesn't suffer? I realize this sounds absurd but what I'm really trying to get at here is the notion that any belief that is not based on demonstrable fact needs to be seasoned with doubt. And since most beliefs about what things other than the self experience must always be based on assumptions, doubt should attend everything we think or say about anyone or anything other than ourselves.

I don't see much doubt apparent in the behavior of radical vegans who picket restaurants that serve foie gras or destroy mink farms. My sense of many of them is that they have been brainwashed by years of watching talking ducks and dogs on television and have developed an extremely anthropomorphic view of animal life. They are so sure that animals are people that they want to give them the same rights as we give to ourselves.

And I bet they win.

I have absolutely no faith that a significant voting majority of Americans in the regions where vegan activists are the most active have what it takes to fight these people back into private lives of self-reflection. Foie gras is already slated to be banned in one of the two states where it is produced (Ca) by 2012 and I predict that the second state (NY) bans it within the next 10 years. (It looks like Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Farms has already given up.) Once the foie gras industry is out of the way the next traget might be the fledging caviar industry. Luxury products always make good targets for radical vegans because a) it's easy for them to get worked up about because many of them are 20 somethings pissed off because they associated the consumption of luxury goods with status they have not or cannot achieve b) most people don't eat the stuff and find it distasteful and often resent the people who do eat it as snobs.

Now getting back to the question of arrogance. I wonder how a vegan who attempts to promote the elimination of animal products from the human sector of the food web looks to someone in Haiti existing on 500 calories a day. Or what about a kid in Nepal who loses his father while he was out hunting a goat for meat. Just a tad bit arrogant perhaps?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Is NASCAR Racing Art?

Of all of the things that are considered art no one would include NASCAR into that sacred pantheon of aesthetic pursuit. I certainly never have. But maybe everyone is wrong.

I don't know, maybe I've just gone bug-eyed nuts, but I'm not sure I see the difference between watching a battalion of race cars roar across the starting line, watching Tom Keller cook, sitting at the opera or watching, as I have, Mikhail Baryshnikov scampering around on a scaffold in the role of Gregor Samsa in Kafka's The Metamorphosis.

As I mentioned in my last post I went to the Pocono 500 this weekend. It was the first "stock car" race I'd been to since the late 1960's and damn, was it ever amazing. When it was happening I thought that maybe I was getting so worked up from all the noise and all the display of raw power. More than once while I was sitting there I thought that what I was going through was like what happened to me when I saw The Who perform at The Fillmore East when I was 13. During that performance I was flipping out because I felt like I was being slapped in the head by the loud sound and the spectacle of watching Keith Moon splintering his drumsticks and Pete Townsend whirling his picking arm around like a propeller. (You know the drill). It was only much later that I realized that something about what they were saying and the way they were saying it was uhm... more than the sum of the motions and words they performed.

So maybe that race I saw is going to mean something other than what I felt when it was going on. And hell, if Sun Tzu can see the art in war, why can't we see it in a well run race -or a tightly executed meal for that matter?

Speaking of meals; don't go to a NASCAR race expecting to eat anything other than what SYSCO wants you to eat. I certainly wasn't and I was not disappointed. And whoeee, are you going to pay for it. A bottle of water costs 3.50; french fries 4 bucks. Beer was 6 dollars, but based on my observation of how many people were drinking it I'd have thought that they were giving it away if i didn't know any better. The only upside to the food scene there is that the track allows you to bring in your own stuff -beer too. I don't know why they do this given the security concerns. Maybe they figure that no terrorist is going to be dumb enough to try to screw with a crowd of 150, 000 people -about half of whom are drunk, weigh over 250 lbs and look like they have teeth that can bend a Snap-On torque wrench.

God-damn this is a great country.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hitting the Road

If you have noticed that I haven't been blogging much this past week or so, you'd be right. I've been up to my gills in another writing project, and, since I am at base a monomaniac, I'm lucky if I can do one piece and still put dinner on the table. And it doesn't help at all that I write very, very, slowly. So I've been neglecting this thing, and I am sorry for that.

The good news is that I'm heading out tomorrow with my son and couple of to play motorhead at NASCARRRRRRRRRRRRRRR for the weekend. We goin' be camping and eating garbage (I'm not too happy about that, but WTF.) and doing our best to keep the kids from having to look at those women who I hear seem obsessed with offering their services as wet-nurses. But apart from that, I'm looking forward to it :-)

I haven't been to any kind of race since 1974 when I spent the day with my high school buddy, Big Steve at a motorcross race in West Virginia. And I haven't been to a NASCAR race since before they were calling it NASCAR in the late '60s

Maybe they were calling it that, but how would I know? It was after all the 60's. Come to think of it maybe it wasn't even a car race...

See you next week ( fate willing) probably deafer, dumber but hopefully a bit wiser.

Bob dG

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

E. Coli Warning for my friends in Arizona

I get alerted to this kind of stuff via email by ProMed-mail out of Harvard and will pass it on to my readers from time to time.
According to ProMed-mail this is an out break of the worst form of E.coli, the O157: H7 variant. Why the article from The Arizona Republic below does not mention this is anyone's guess.

Check your hamburger: 4 people in Arizona sickened by E. coli

Monday, June 4, 2007

another attempt to define the undefinable

Probably no one is ever going convince me that food cannot be art, certainly not Guardian Unlimited blogger Jonathan Jones in a short (May 17) post titled Food Can Be Artistic, but it can never be art. It seems that Adria has been invited to participate in the Documenta art show in Kassel, Germany and Jones agrees with the some in the Spanish art establishment who are pissed off that he was asked to show on 15 June. Jones agrees that Adria should not have been invited because he is not an artist and his work is not art. He believes that for someone to be considered an artist he must not be afraid to disgust his patrons.

So in Jones' calculus Damien Hirst , who made the sawn cow in formaldehyde depicted above, is a real artist because his art can be disgusting, but someone like Adria cannot be an artist because if he did make something disgusting he'd go out of business.

I'm not buying it. Not everyone who sees Hirst's cow is disgusted (I'm certainly not) and I'm willing to bet that some people heave when they see Adria's spaghetti extruded from an aerosol can.

And WTF? Even if Jones' understanding of art is based on post-modern notions of what art is supposed to be, are we to believe that Roy Lichtenstein is not artist because none of his work evokes disgust, but Andres Serrano is a true artist because he wasn't afraid to snap a picture of Christ in a bucket of piss?

Another popular criticism of chefs who have been called artists, is that what they do can never be considered art because what they make is created primarily for financial gain and not for aesthetic reasons. They are artisans, this line of reasoning concludes, and not to be held in the same esteem as creators of true art. This argument parallels a similar argument made against classifying graphic designers, illustrators and typographers as artists and has about as much credibility, which is to say, very little.

How anyone could look at a typeface like Helvetica, and not be amazed by how the characters define the space they occupy and not think of that as art is beyond my comprehension. Norman Rockwell was dismissed by the fine art world for years because his work was done mostly for covers of the Saturday Evening Post and so could not be art but rather "illustration." Now he is revered as a master and his works sells for millions.

Perhaps the best objection to food as art is that even though it can provoke an aesthetic sometimes life changing experience, because it is a temporary creation and not designed to endure, it should not be included in the pantheon along with statues and paintings and other more tangible works. In other words shouldn't real art stick around for a while so that more than handful of people can experience it?

The trouble with this argument it that it would seem to exclude music, dance and all of the performance arts from the pantheon too.

Perhaps it just might be that real reason so many people object to the idea of food as art and chefs as artists is that even today-even after Piss Christ- our basis for determining what art is, is based on classical, Greco-Roman conceits. And since there is no muse for cooking, chefs must be getting their ideas from somewhere other than the sources of what our ancient cultural ancestors considered to be the wellspring of all artistic inspiration.

Or maybe the ancients just never identified the muse for cooking and she's out there waiting to be heard? Hmm... Maybe I should try an old Homeric trick and try to get her to get her to help me out. And maybe I'll get invited to Documenta. Okay here goes

Sing Muse, sing of the man who wields the knife and tends the grill
Sing in me, and tell of what he made for dinner

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog - art: Food can be artistic - but it can never be art

Friday, June 1, 2007

Time to Stop Sucking

So what happens when smart people devote their lives to cooking, serving and thinking about food? They sometimes come up with great ideas that threaten to transform the way we cook, eat and, in the present instance, drink.

According to this recent article in the NY Times in 2002 a restaurant in San Francisco opened with a menu that did not have any bottled water. Instead Incanto offered filtered tap water. Four years later, Alice Waters picked up on the idea and dropped bottled water from the menu at Chez Panisse and spiffied up the no bottled water concept a bit by offering intra-tap carbonated water. Then the press picked up on it and now the Batali-Bastianichs are doing it and sheesh, for all I know Wolfgang Puck is doing it too. (But I bet if he is he won't be able to resist bottling it and hawking it on the HSN) Watch out for Wolf-Wasser!)

Personally, I'm okay with the practice of selling bottled sparkling water in restaurants, if it is fairly priced and that is what people want to drink. But bottled still water? You must be kidding.

I don't care if your bottled still water is made from asteroid ice, I'm not buying it. Give me tap water or another bottle of wine. But despite the fact that I like to order the sparkling stuff, I think it is a terrific idea for high profile restaurateurs to make a show of eschewing all bottled water and replacing it with filtered tap, carbonated on site or straight-up aqua pura.

Here's why,

Americans drink too got-damn much bottled water.
Right now we are consuming the contents of about 70 million water bottles a day. That's 70 million mostly plastic bottles, 86 % of which end up in landfills. I'm not even going to get into the energy costs and other environmental issues associated with this because they are easy enough to imagine. But come on, 70 million bottles of something that could have been gotten for almost nothing from a tap? This is just stupid. By setting an example by not selling water in bottles, Chefs like Alice Waters will discourage some people from thinking that it is fashionable or gastronomically necessary to have it on the table and hopefully drive consumption down a well.

And anyway,

bottled water is often indistinguishable from tap water. I'll give you two bottles of water both marked "Poland Springs." One will be filled with water from a well in Poland Springs Maine, and the other will be from the well in my front yard. I will ask you to taste them and answer the following question "Which water reminds you of what it means to be from Maine?" You will be dumbfounded, perhaps you will say "both?" Or 'what does it mean to be from Maine, anyway? (I've never been able to answer this question myself. The best answer I've come up with has been "To be from Maine is to be from blueberries, trees and LL Bean.")

Then there is the problem that,

bottled water is infantilizing.- Show me an adult who toddles around a shopping mall or perambulates through the park sucking on a bottle of water and I'll ask you to squint. Then I'll say , "Ya think he's wearing diapers?"

It's not an accident that so many water bottles come with nipples. The nipple might have been put on by manufacturers as a device to allow you to drink the water without having to fumble with a screw cap, and that may be why most people decide to buy it that way. But nothing that anyone does is only done for one reason. And I don't think I'm straining credulity at all by suggesting that another reason why those nipples are there, is that sucking on them is soothing in the same way and for the same reasons that sucking on a bottle is soothing to a baby.

I could go on at great length about how nuts it is that we consume so much bottled water when there's so much good tap water around to be had for next to nothing. But I don't want to get too far away from my central point, which is to say that I think it's wonderful that high profile chefs and restaurateurs like Alice Waters (Hey, no irony in that last name, huh?) and Molto Mario are demonstrating a pathway out of the looming translucent forest of plastic bottles that has been foisted upon us by the nattering nabobs of consumerism and our own innate need to suck.

Now where'd I put my canteen? :-)