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Tag: "food"

One Big Win in 2013

[ 13 ] December 27, 2013 |

The defeat of the ag-gag bills in every state where agribusiness had them introduced was a major victory in 2013. Even if you don’t care about animal rights, where animals are abused, usually so are workers. Many of these big agribusiness operations have long sought out the most exploitable labor, even using undocumented workers and then reporting themselves for immigration violations to avoid unionization. There’s little no doubt that agribusiness and their state legislature lackeys will continue to try and make knowledge about what happens in their factories illegal, but in a world where the Koch Brothers and ALEC dominate state legislatures and horrible laws have passed across the nation, it’s good to give a shout-out to one of the few places where they’ve been turned back.

Rare Good News for New England Fisheries

[ 19 ] December 2, 2013 |

This is a nice change from the usual news of doom for New England fisheries, with scallop production based out of New Bedford exploding and what sounds like very responsible government regulation of the scallop beds that will keep the production going. Note: you usually know the government is doing a good job if the fishers are complaining about too much regulation.

Now, New Bedford has its issues with poverty. But between a still functioning scallop industry and something of a tourist industry, it is in a whole lot better shape than, say, Fall River or Worcester or Pawtucket.

A Union Thanksgiving

[ 81 ] November 25, 2013 |

A useful list of food products for your Thanksgiving made in union shops. If you have a choice, choose union-produced food.

Blood Avocados

[ 23 ] November 25, 2013 |

I know we frequently talk about a benefit of marijuana legalization undermining the cartel violence in Mexico. But at this point, the cat is out of the bag on that. The cartels have plenty of ways to make money. Such as taking over the entire avocado industry by violence. Scary stuff.

Kitchen Labor

[ 103 ] November 13, 2013 |

Arun Gupta’s memorial of the recently deceased Chicago chef Charlie Trotter gets at some key issues about restaurant labor and worker abuse in kitchens, especially at the higher end.

But rather than pore over flaws that paled next to Trotter’s virtuosity, it’s time to admit that the real culprit is a restaurant culture that dishes out abuse. Michelin-starred chefs are often known for their prowess in screaming as much as for their cuisine. Few underlings will openly admit it, lest crossing a celebrity chef consign them to also-ran kitchens, but get a few seasoned cooks together and they’ll swap accounts of star chefs who hurl insults, torment weaklings, throw pots, or perhaps even a punch. As Donald Trump is to real estate, Gordon Ramsay is to the kitchen, building his public persona on being a flaming asshole.

During my brief forays into professional kitchens, I was challenged to a fistfight, worked with a line cook who broke someone’s jaw, and was told about a famed chef who would throw spice into the eyes of hung-over waiters during brunch service. While the stories are entertaining, they also suggest that many chefs believe that high pressure and hard work excuse bad behavior.

Charlie Trotter’s tragedy is that his life was both a testament to and indictment of the restaurant industry. He has an outsized legacy in the chefs he mentored, the Chicago dining scene that he made world-class, and the cuisine he crafted, which defied convention while delighting the senses. But tributes to his work would be elevated by acknowledging that great food shouldn’t be accompanied by abusive working conditions.

Last summer, I saw Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert do a sort of performance/conversation in Providence. Overall, it was exactly what you’d expect and so was entertaining if not particularly challenging. But one highlight was Ripert and Bourdain talking about how utterly awful Gordon Ramsay is and how behavior like his is terrible for the entire food industry since it makes working in a kitchen seem like the worst job in the world. Ripert admitted that he used to be like Ramsay. He had grown up in the French kitchens run by a tyrannical chef and brought that to America. Then he realized he was a loathsome human being who everyone hated. So he reformed his behavior and became one of the most successful French chefs in the United States.

Tolerating and laughing about bad kitchen behavior is no different than tolerating and laughing about the boys’ club in NFL locker rooms that leads to Richie Incognito bullying Jonathan Martin to the point of mental illness. It’s about creating cultures of work where people have rights to basic decency. That’s far too rare in the restaurant industry, as it is in the NFL.

They Eat Lard

[ 107 ] November 1, 2013 |

British lard advertisement, 1957

Just because. Are they also drinking a lard-based cocktail?

….Jewish Steel in comments suggests this could be a parody. Sad if true. Good parody though.

Sriracha Emissions

[ 155 ] October 29, 2013 |

Among the many products we probably don’t actively think of as having a major pollution impact in Sriracha.

But in Irwindale, where the hot sauce’s production facilities are, residents are complaining of burning eyes, irritated throats and headaches caused by a powerful, painful odor that the city says appears to be emanating from the factory during production. The smell is so aggressive that one family was forced to move a birthday party indoors after the spicy odor descended on the festivities, said Irwindale City Atty. Fred Galante.

The city of Irwindale filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday, claiming that the odor was a public nuisance and asking a judge to stop production until the smell can be reduced.

“Given how long it’s going on, we had no choice but to institute this action,” Galante said.

Irwindale officals repeatedly met with representatives from Huy Fong Foods to discuss methods of reducing the odors, according to the suit. Huy Fong representatives cooperated at first but later denied there was an odor problem, saying their employees worked in similar olfactory settings without complaint, Galante said.

There’s obviously pretty serious emissions violations going on here. For that matter, the smell of fresh bread wafting outside of an industrial bakery also largely consists of emissions violations, but when it is chiles and fish sauce and such, that’s not good. This is why we need a vigorous regulation and inspection program. Sriracha is tasty, but we also need to make sure the people of Irwindale are protected from its byproducts.

The Poisoned Candy Scare

[ 111 ] October 22, 2013 |

Another Hail Satan Day Halloween is nearly upon us and Dan Lewis reminds us that the famed Halloween poisoned candy scare is a total media mythology.

What about poison, which, being invisible and generally hard to detect, is the more nefarious way to taint candy? You have little reason to be concerned there either. Landers stated, “many reports” of such terrible acts have occurred, however, they are almost entirely the stuff of myth.

Almost entirely.

For nearly 30 years, University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best has been investigating allegations of strangers poisoning kids’ Halloween candy. As of this writing, he hasn’t identified a single confirmed example of a stranger murdering a child in this fashion.

He found other examples of people accidentally passing out tainted candy or, in one case, passing out ant poison as a gag gift to teenagers (no one was hurt), but the bogeyman of terrible people making trick-or-treating unsafe is a canard. One example of a person trying, explicitly, to poison children via Halloween candy was confirmed. However, the child who died wasn’t a stranger—it was the man’s son.

On Halloween, 1974, an 8-year-old boy named Timothy O’Bryan died. His candy had, indeed, been poisoned. A few days prior, his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, took out a $40,000 life insurance policy on Timothy and Timothy’s sister, Elizabeth (then age 5), as an unimaginable way to get out of debt. The only way to collect required that at least one of his children die, so the elder O’Bryan laced some Pixy Stix with cyanide and cajoled his son into eating one before bed.

Pretty nice father there. In any case, while the overall point is fair enough, I do have to push back against the framing of Lewis’ article. He blames the scare on “the media.” But I’m not sure that citing Dear Abby and Ann Landers (Hell, that could just be some old family scare there) exactly equates “the media” here. Now I do remember lots of stories growing up about fears of this and local news reports on where to take your candy to get it scanned (my parents never bothered. And really, if I were their son, I probably wouldn’t have either). So the media scare did exist.

But the 1970s and 1980s were full of this kind of paranoia about the cities, bad people, kidnappings, and other horrible things. Don’t talk to strangers. Some of this is still with us, but in fact it is far safer for children today than 30 years ago. From bicycle helmets to Amber Alerts, we took our mostly misplaced paranoia and created a structure of real safety for our children.* But let’s also be clear, this was misplaced paranoia. When I was a kid, there was a famous case of a mother killing her children in my hometown. She blamed it on a shaggy haired stranger flagging her down and massacring her children (and shooting her in the arm). The police were inundated with calls from citizens saying they saw the same person trying to do the same thing to him. Of course he didn’t exist. The woman killed her kids and shot herself in the arm as an excuse.

What was with these fears? I figure it was probably a combination of backlash to civil rights and urban riots, the Manson murders and counterculture more broadly, the economic instability of the time leading to cultural fears, and other broader sociocultural factors that would lead parents to fear irrationally that their neighbors wanted to poison their children through Halloween candy. But while the media certainly fed these fears, it didn’t create them out of whole cloth. People aren’t passive receivers of narratives.

* Not that bicycle helmets aren’t a good thing

Ketchup and Culture Wars

[ 209 ] October 19, 2013 |

It’s pretty typical that Drudge would invoke the fear of salsa overtaking ketchup as America’s favorite condiment in his culture wars. Personally, I say Viva Reconquista. If ketchup is the condiment of the Tea Party, it just confirms everything I already think about it. So all you haters out there can go back to dumping Drudge Sauce on your eggs and fries, comfortable in the fact that you are supporting Real America through your condiment choices.

America’s Worst Food

[ 384 ] October 18, 2013 |

Anyone is going to quibble with a list ranking state signature foods. And I have my quibbles too. First, lobster rolls are awesome. What a lobster roll means is that New England has such good seafood that it’s no big deal to eat lobster, so we are going to put it on a split roll with some lettuce and mayo and crappy fries on the side and the rest of you wish you could do that too. Also, what’s with ragging on Texas BBQ. Fail. On the other hand, New York pizza is the most overrated food in the country.

But we can all agree on the nation’s worst food:

For the mercifully unacquainted, “Cincinnati chili,” the worst regional foodstuff in America or anywhere else, is a horrifying diarrhea sludge (most commonly encountered in the guise of the “Skyline” brand) that Ohioans slop across plain spaghetti noodles and hot dogs as a way to make the rest of us feel grateful that our own shit-eating is (mostly) figurative. The only thing “chili” about it is the shiver that goes down your spine when you watch Ohio sports fans shoveling it into their maws on television and are forced to reckon with the cold reality that, for as desperately as you might cling to faltering notions of community and universality, ultimately your fellow human beings are as foreign and unknowable to you as the surface of Pluto, and you are alone and always have been and will die alone, a world unto yourself unmarked and unmapped and totally, hopelessly isolated.

But wait! This abominable garbage-gravy isn’t just sensorily and spiritually disgusting—it’s culturally grotesque, too! What began as an ethnic curio born of immigrant make-do—a Greek-owned chili parlor that took its “Skyline” name from its view of the city of Cincinnati—is now a hulking private-equity-owned corporate monolith that gins up interest in its unmistakably abhorrent product by engineering phony groups of “chili fanatics” to camp out in advance of the opening of new chains, in locations whose residents would otherwise see this shit-broth for what it is and take up torches and truncheons to drive it back into the wilderness.

Whatever virtue this bad-tasting Z-grade atrocity once contained derived from its exemplification of a set of certain cherished American fables—immigrant ingenuity, the cultural melting pot, old things combining into new things—and has now been totally swamped and consumed by different and infinitely uglier American realities: the commodification of culture; the transmutation of authentic artifacts of human life into hollow corporate brand divisions; the willingness of Americans to slop any horrible goddamn thing into their fucking mouths if it claims to contain some byproduct of a cow and comes buried beneath a pyramid of shredded, waxy, safety-cone-orange “cheese.”

Cincinnati chili is the worst, saddest, most depressing goddamn thing in the world. If it came out of the end of your digestive system, you would turn the color of chalk and call an ambulance, but at least it’d make some sense. The people of Ohio see nothing wrong with inserting it into their mouths, which perhaps tells you everything you need to know about the Buckeye State. Don’t eat it. Don’t let your loved ones eat it. Turn away from the darkness, and toward the deep-dish pizza.

Not sure what one can add to that. Also not sure how one could disagree.

Ketchup Revisited

[ 240 ] September 17, 2013 |

Building on this, here is some information on ketchup. Glad to see I’m not the only one exploring this key question to 21st century life:

Surely the big question is: when did it get here? To which the big answer is: some time in the early 1700s. It first shows up in an English cookbook in 1727, in Elizabeth Smith’s The Compleat Housewife. One of her recipes calls for “a little ketchup, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, the brains a little boiled and chopped, with half a spoonful of flour”.

Brains? In 1727 it was normal to eat brains.

Ah. I see. But not tomatoes? Not in ketchup, no, because it wasn’t originally made with tomatoes. Back in 1876, when Henry Heinz first marketed his now ubiquitous creation, “tomato ketchup” was just one of many ketchups on the market.

So what’s ketchup doing now? Feeling the squeeze. Sales of Heinz tomato ketchup have fallen 7% over the past year.

Why? Possibly because, after 137 years, we’re getting bored of it. According to the Grocer, the fall in ketchup sales was accompanied by a rise in sales of chilli sauce, mayonnaise, dressings and “other ethnic sauces”.

I’ll say this for our ancestors: their version of ketchup made with brains was no doubt a superior condiment than the sugary-sweet ketchup that pollutes food today.

But you do have to give credit to Americans for increasingly rejecting ketchup in favor of salsa, hot sauce, and other condiments. If we are lucky, you will all continue to shun your neighbors who use ketchup, convince them of their poor taste, and reform them into people who use tasty condiments. We will know we have advanced as a nation when we follow the example of our Belgian comrades and prefer mayo on our fries.

1876 is also not only the year with an election that led to the end of Reconstruction. It’s also the year modern ketchup came on the market. Now that’s a bad year.

…..Also, here’s an interesting history of ketchup, including its non-tomato varieties. Pretty much like most popular histories it talks of Heinz as the one good employer who treated his workers fairly, blah, blah. I don’t know anything about the details of Heinz labor relations, but I do know that if every public historical discussion of how the rich treated their employees were true, we’d never need a union in this country.

Ketchup

[ 530 ] September 14, 2013 |

Here’s the thing about ketchup. It’s disgusting and those who love it should reexamine their priorities and the meaning of their lives. So I am righteously outraged that the Detroit Tigers fired this hot dog vendor who expressed his disdain to fans who wanted ketchup on their dogs, proving to the world that they did not deserve the suffrage.

And I’m not saying the mustard is the only acceptable condiment on a hot dog. At the ballpark maybe, but in real life, obviously sauerkraut is also a superior condiment. And in Mexico you can get all kinds of crazy awesome stuff on hot dogs. But ketchup, I mean really, doesn’t its existence make one question Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Note–I am talking about mass produced tomato ketchup here. Ketchup produced with other fruits or homemade stuff that is actually good, that’s different.

One also must wonder about the crossover between people who put ketchup on hot dogs and those who call vodka cocktails “martinis.”

UPDATE: Am I the only one who thinks kimchi on hot dogs could be really good?

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