Category Archives: Food

LINK: A Restaurant in New Orleans.

Tunde Wey

A lunch counter, actually. It’s called Saartje, named after the given name of a South African woman who became better known as the Hottentot Venus, and it serves Nigerian fare, dishes like Woloff rice and fried plantains. But the chef, Tunde Wey, has bigger things in mind than just food.

The linked story, in the Washington Post, explains why Wey charges people of color $12 for lunch (and they can choose to take a percentage of the stand’s profits when the project is over, or not), and gives white people the option of paying $12 or $30, the larger figure representing the local income disparity between the races.

Wey is taking no profits from the stand, and has a Tulane student conducting post-lunch interviews, collecting data about why diners chose the option they did. He’s a cook, but this is also a sociological experiment.

Putting a face on the ways racial inequality persists seems pretty important, especially in a way that touches people emotionally. The story does a good job of amplifying those feelings, and where they come from.

IN THE NEWS: Red Hook’s Maraschino Cherry Factory

redhook-cherries-doorAt some point, years ago, we learned that the largest maraschino cherry factory in the US was located in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Always interested in factory tours and local food (this last said with a grin), and often in the neighborhood for bike rides and social events, we searched out the place, hoping to get a look at all the bright red cherries.

But a phone, Google Maps and a search turned up nothing but a plain brick building without identifying markings. We talked about knocking and seeing if we could get an informal tour, Red Hook seems friendly that way, but didn’t. The factory just didn’t feel open in that way.

red-honey-from-beesSome time later, apparently 2010, Dell’s Maraschino Cherry factory was again in the news. Beekeepers in Red Hook found that their bees were making a red concoction rather than their natural honey. The source of the red? The dyed corn syrup in which the cherries are marinated as part of their processing.

Unsurprisingly, bees like sweets! Arthur Mondella, who owned Dell’s (and whose family started the company in the 20s), agreed to take measures to contain his sweet detritus and prevent the bees from getting to it.

A funny story, it seemed, with a happy resolution, until earlier this week, nearly five years later, investigators from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, showed up at the Dell’s factory with a search warrant for documents relating to charges that the company was dumping in the local waters.

Some dicey constructions, the smell of marijuana, and another search warrant led to a surprising discovery and a cascading tragedy you can read about here.

LINK: The Bears Are Hungry

Screenshot 2015-01-29 09.14.32It is important when out in the woods to keep bears from eating your food, both because you want to eat your food, and because the more bears associate food with humans the more dangerous they become to people.

This excellent survey of the current state of keeping bears from eating your food is a must read if you hike and camp, or if you are interested in the ability of bears to solve problems. That’s just about everyone, right?

LINK: Should We Eat Octopus?

Silvia Killingsworth, who is the managing editor of the New Yorker, does a great job describing the problem. Octopuses have some kind of intelligence, they decorate their lairs for instance and make octopus gardens, as Ringo pointed out.

Should that disqualify them from being eaten by humans? It is, as she probes and tells, a typically more difficult problem to solve than saying yes or no, but I’m struck by some obvious points she makes, and some she doesn’t.

The octopuses we eat in New York are not local. They are caught elsewhere and frozen. If we value the reduction of food miles, we shouldn’t be eating octopus in New York City, usually.

The intelligence of the animal probably doesn’t matter that much. Pigs may be smarter than octopuses, or are at least close (though their housekeeping talents are definitely less rigorous), and we eat them. A lot of them. Though maybe that’s because they’re farmed, and we let them lie in mud and shit (enjoying life) for their entire lives, just like they like it.

Octopus isn’t kosher either.

She also does a nice job of describing the horrors and contradictions of the live octopus eating scene in the deliriously magnificent Korean film, Old Boy. But she merely says that the Buddhist actor, Choi Min-sik, said that he said a prayer for each of the animals before biting their heads off. She doesn’t describe how much excitement came with his transgression, but this clip does:

I don’t eat much meat anymore, and I struggle with the why. In part it is practical. My daughter doesn’t eat meat, she identifies with the animals, and I eat dinner with her. She doesn’t object directly if meat is a dish, but preparing two different dinners is extra work. Not eating meat isn’t a problem at home.

But going out and not eating meat is to miss the art of many chef’s work. I once went vegetarian at Union Square Cafe and was blown away by how good it was, but I also sorely missed that piece of barely-cooked tuna they served that is one of the great dishes I’ve ever eaten. Brilliant vegetables I can and do make at home. Well prepared flesh is a treat.

But I’m thinking harder about these special occasions. We source locally, we pay a lot, we serve small portions, but in the end are we better off? I feel like I’m still making value decisions about the eatability of different forms of flesh (lamb versus octopus? shrimp versus cow?) and I’m very unsure that that is the right tack.

The reason I decided to write about this NYer piece was because I see in it an echo of ethics and morality ringing through history. There is a straight (and long) line from slave holding to deciding not to eat octopus. The trick is to track that line into the future. Which behaviors of ours are actually natural and which are rationalized abominations? The sands shift with our history, but doesn’t our understanding that fact compel us to look closely and not accept today’s easiest answers?

thumb_octopus-grilledEthics, of course, are a luxury afforded when we can afford civilization. But that’s good enough for me. When the grid goes down and we start running out of food, the situation will be different, and will offer different answers. Today I think it’s better to eat way less animal flesh. Better for our health, better for the planet, and maybe better for the animals. But if I should land in a real Greek restaurant with a real wood grill, the earthy burn curling through the air like a temptress, will I resist the tenderly and lengthily massaged and prepared grilled octopus?

Even in New York it would be hard to say no.

Will It Waffle?

Screenshot 2014-09-08 21.55.23This picture is a detail from the picture that ran with the original story I read about making waffles of everything. But the waffles I made looked just like this.

A guy named Daniel Shumski wrote a book called, brilliantly, Will It Waffle?

I read about the book in Slate.

I also made the zucchini parmesan waffles tonight, based on the recipe at Food52.

I’m looking forward to making spaghetti and meatballs in the waffle iron.

Arthur T. Makes a Deal With Arthur S.

I wrote about the warring DeMoula cousins a couple of weeks ago. They’ve come to a settlement, finally, after two months of worker actions that essentially destroyed the Market Basket supermarkets’ business.

Arthur S., the worker hating bond salesman who wanted to suck every last penny from the company, will be paid a lot of money to give control to Arthur T., the progressive grocery man who thinks a good business values its employees and contributes to the quality of the communities in which it does business.

He’s taking on a lot of debt, but if the energy of those workers and the supervisors who supported them during the recent job actions can be applied to rebuilding stores with fantastic shopping experiences, anything is possible.

Market Basket Fantastic.

I was near Boston yesterday, in the western suburbs, and everyone (I talked to, at least) is talking about the family feud that has disrupted business for DeMoula’s Market Basket supermarkets.

This is a family feud, but it also turns out to be a textbook illustration of the perversity of inadequately progressive tax rates and the rapacious nature of those who don’t work who own rights to the returns from those who do.

I’ve shopped in the original Westford Market Basket many times, and as someone who likes food was mostly impressed by lack of the foodie stuff in the store. But what regular shoppers tell me is that the store was customer friendly. Not only did they have lower prices than all the other groceries, but they also rebated four percent of what you bought. And they stocked local produce (that actually was a reason I shopped there sometimes).

On top of this, it turns out, they also had a generous profit sharing program, excellent wages, a program for paying for college tuition and a pension program it was easy to join and easy to collect on.

Not only did the company produce value for its workers, but it also threw off a ton of money for its shareholders.

I didn’t know about the good benefits or the happy workers, until recently, and often shopped at Hannefords and Stop and Shop when I was visiting the inlaws, because those stores had cooler food (more organic, though not more local). But things have changed.

After years of feuding, the DeMoula cousin who is a financial operative has taken control of the company from the cousin who has been a successful retailer. And business has ground to a halt. This fine story from Slate has more details, but doesn’t really hint at the main issue here.

DeMoula’s family business, started in the shadow of the War to End All Wars (the centenary of which we’re now recognizing), has grown into a business worth more than $3 Billion dollars. Some significant part of that expansion was due to the nice cousin’s investment in worker and customer satisfaction.

These investments cut into the bottom line and shareholder reaping in the short term, and the current dispute seems to stem from the dissatisfaction of those who own shares but do no work and who hate seeing money paid to people who actually labor.

The people I spoke with in the Boston area (including some self-described conservatives) seemed to understand that this was a feud between a grocer who recognized the value (and profitablity) of good wages and reinvestment, and a guy schooled in investment who was looking to squeeze as much cash out of cow as quickly as he could. Ouch!

Obviously there is a value to people investing in the products of other people’s labors, but too often this ends up with rich people using money to extract more money from those who actually make the value. Which not only hurts workers, but also strips away the dynamics of our society. We need workers who buy to expand.

The rapacious policies of Artie S. have radicalized, though I’m not sure they would call it this, a broad swath of suburban Boston. But the bottom line belongs to Artie T. It’s better business in the long term to have a well paid workforce than to force them into penury for immediate riches that are there to be gained.

As a society, unfortunately, we’ve allowed the plutocrats (a minute minority) to define the discussion, rather than look out for our own (and, curiously, society’s) interests.

That’s where we can make change.

Lemons for Limes

A number of times in the course of our years living together my wife has been making something that called for a lime or limes and discovered we didn’t have them in the house. The same has happened to me a number of times over the many years, and my reaction is to use a lemon instead, if we have that. Since most of the time the thing I’m making also includes gin and tonic, with the citrus floating in the glass with a lot of ice, I do not get away with this. She says that lemons and limes are very different, and you can’t substitute one for the other.

The news this week of a huge lime shortage inspired the good folks at Slate to run a blind taste test in their office. They lined up workers three at a time, blindfolded them and then gave them two bits of fruit. The video is very cleverly done, features a cover version of Harry Nilsson’s Lime In The Coconut, and a not too significant sample size.

Food Maps From Around the World

jobamaPictures made from food or packaging are a favorite of mine, resonant not only with the subject but also the medium. And I really like maps. Doesn’t everyone?

A food stylist, Caitlin Levin, a photographer, Henry Hargreaves, and a typographer, Sarit Melmed, have collaborated on a series of maps of the world, each made with local foods.

Unlike this packaging portrait of President Obama, the results are quite attractive, even if the point is somewhat obscure. Surely there is more to say about Africa than plantains. More to say about the US than corn. More to say about the UK than biscuits.

So ignore the rationale. The pictures are nice and good fun. Kristin Hohenadel wrote about these, with lots of examples, at Slate.

The artists explain themselves and show their method in a video.