Language learning is like eating: take slow, steady bites & don’t binge (…or purge)

Recently, TechCrunch published data crunch of findings from language learners using the popular DuoLingo software.

We analyzed data from millions of Duolingo users and, in the process, discovered what it really takes to grasp a foreign tongue.

Their 3 thematic takeaways can be found here.

In food parlance, however, this might be old news. I was struck by how these data-driven conclusions paralleled three long-touted universal principles espoused by cooks, eaters, nutritionists and philosophers alike. They are, in essence, the principles of “good,” “healthy,” “slow” or “sustainable” eating.

Herein my translation of language learning rules into food parlance:

  1. Take slow, steady bites.
  2. Reduce binging, and hence purging.
  3. Continue perfecting your favourite recipes (until you die).

For reference, here are the three language learning principles, with importnt quotes included herein the 7

“Weekends & 9-5 don’t cut it…”

Figure 1 shows that most people who stick with language learning in the long run make sure to spend a few minutes practicing every day or two. On the other hand, people who slip to every 5 or 6 days are much more likely to give up altogether.

“Don’t binge study…”

Figure 4 shows the variation (relative standard deviation) in the number of daily sessions. For successful learners, this variation is lower, which means they do a more consistent number of lessons and practice sessions every day. Higher variation, on the other hand, means users pop in every now and then for a marathon to play catch-up. These binge studiers are more likely to give up.

“Review, review, review…”

More than a century of psychology research on the so-called spacing effect and lag effect tells us that you are more likely to remember ideas and concepts if you regularly review old material.


See the full piece
 by .

Food policy roundup 2017: utopia or imminent foodpocalypse

There’s been a dizzying array of apocalyptic policy news in the past month. Lodged somewhere in between the madness is a host of gargantuan food policy potentialities–including dangers & openings, missives & declarations–that might impact our food system for generations to come.

A (late to the party)* sampler plate:

* My fault, been swamped with life lately!

1. From Politico this week on US corn, Mexico & looming market wars with South America.

U.S. corn, beware: Mexico launching trade trip to South America

Read article


2
. One of many roundups on food policy under the new US White House, discussing some other implications.

Food Policy in the Balance

“Experts and advocates look into a ‘foggy crystal ball’ to uncertain times ahead.”

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Read article


3.
Important developments reported from NYU on technology & startups, when it comes to health & food insecurity, not reported on often enough in this instable world:

Health Tech and Food Insecurity – New Report

Read article


4.
Former FDA authority gives rundown, important to read, on food policy work done, synthesis of lots of information, political future, from US perspective in The Hill. We should come back to this & assess in 3 months, then 3 years, etc.:

Innovation in the consumer’s interest: The path forward on food policy” : Read article

 

5. Startup founder of snack food co. gets into FDA-accountability whilst generating splashy PR; brilliant? Many possible repercussions in the latter sphere, perhaps in that of food regs, too. Fuzzy on how it will operate & what the makeup will be (people, functions, modes). Though what we do know: it has generated lots of press & good uptake of dialogue on certain dormant issues (& likely will precipitate other such projects). To keep an eye on. This roundup from The Daily Meal, as others did a terrible job of reporting on it competently.

KIND Founder and CEO Spends $25 Million on ‘Feed the Truth’ Public Health Organization

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Read article


6.
10 years too late, though not never, so we should rejoice. Canada is discussing labelling. The US has finally revamped its ‘expiration’ policies on labels, after realizing they are meaningless & costly, misleading, completely connected to food insecurity

Use by? Sell by? New food labels aim to make it easier to know

Read article


7.
EU food is rocked too, hardly avoidable with countries heading out fast & furious, torn trade deals & new bilateral negociations on all fronts looming (+ new Canadian deal w EU ratified, in odd timing):

Read: Urgent need for fundamental reform of EU food and farming policy
8. Somewhat partisan though very well articulated thoughts from the folk at Civil Eats on Trump & food – of course these are huge questions & no answers are imminent. We should beware of quick fix-alls & celebrity input:

What’s at Stake for Ag Policy under Trump’s USDA Pick: Food policy experts around the country weigh in, with hope and deep concerns

 

 

Favourite meals of the presidential candidates

This piece first published on Forget the Box. PS check out our podcast this week!

What do the 2016 Presidential candidates eat? What do their gastronomic ways say about their presidential personality?

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Food identities both true & imagined

Up in Northern spots our elections only last five months. Yet our own election gave us enough time to find out what out candidates ate, and what it said (or didn’t say) about their leadership style. So let us dig into the US prez diners.


Bernie Sanders

Sanders is the Tom Mulcair of candidates south of the border. Just not in the way you might think.

Each has pulled his party in the polar opposite direction.

Yet they share a gruff gastronomic asceticism on the campaign trail. If you recall, Forget the Box was the first outlet to uncover the bombshell news: Mulcair’s organs are made of bricks & wool. Our investigative report disclosed that this Prime Minister hopeful had never been seen partaking in food, even when hiking on Mont-Royal, stumping in small towns, or Schwartz-ing with jovial peers.

  

Now Sanders food choices remain equally opaque, leaving us up here to surmise that he survives on his healthy diet of finger wagging.

Even the hearty US press corps, with its fifteen months of research, has come up mostly empty trying to paint the “lifestyle” profile of loveable Uncle Bern. In candidate surveys, the best they could come up with was “scrambled eggs for breakfast.” This sounds like it was filled in by some campaign intern. Though it’s not really an answer, we’ll assume they’re unsalted, devoid of condiments.

To be fair, Sanders has this slight edge over Mulcair. The latter was never even seen sipping coffee, whether in meetins or at pictoresque rural working class diners. Sanders, on the other hand was definitively ID-ed sipping Vermont craft beer. It seems suspicious, sort of a photo-op setup.

Yet I believe it. He is drinking the hoppiest beer in a state known for very hoppy delights, which seems to fit with his enjoyably bitter personal brand.

Cruz

You might recall the eponymous #GuacGate, spurred by the NYT’s suggestion of peas in traditional Mexican-American versions of guac.

We saw then that guacamole was a deeply divisive political issue, and this was before the immigration debate gathered full steam. Yet it also united party leaders in unexpected ways, such as Jeb and Obama’s ardent disavowel of this French intrusion into an already-perfect dish.

Fittingly, one of the only dissenters, even in a moment of bipartisan fun, was divisive Senator Ted Cruz. The Texas senator came up on the wrong side as his colleagues as usual, claiming his distaste not only for guacamole, yet for avocadoes full stop.

Fitting convieniently with the Texas image, Cruz picks enchiladas (the legal kind) over any other dish.

Donald Trump

Now to the frontrunners. We’ll save Clinton to the end, because her food preferences, like Harper’s in my original article, somehow leave me most unsettled.

This is a surprise in itself, because in this unprecedented US primary spectacle, you’d think Trump would reign supreme generating gastronomic headlines. Yet despite him criticizing Kasich for his hearty four-course Italian meal at a New York market food stand, he’s been criticized for eating pizza with forks & generally unhealthy food preferences. This might be exciting for another candidate, though for Trump’s grand style, his diet lands up surprisingly boring, even unworthy of mention.

He claims he eats light & healthy on the trail, sans alcohol. He does, of course, mention that he indulges in his favourite dish once in awhile: US steak. This is helpful, given the cartons of unsold Trump Steaks likely sitting unsold in some warehouse.

Hillary Clinton

Remember Obama’s epic stops at Ray’s & In n Out burger, photos of juicy burgers joyously shared with Senator Joe? They swarmed over social media, part of his fresh new image that helped launch him to the win.

Source: WaPo

Clinton, on the other hand, is ever the milquetoast frontrunner. In ways eerily similar to Harper who, lest we forget, was once touted to regain his majority reign, she avoids unplanned ops or stops or any real insight into her soul. So the first similarity is their over-advised inhuman personas: it’s hard to discern if they have any real passions or preferences at all.

Yet the second is spicy. We revealed Harper’s “secret obsession” with deathly strong hot-sauce (he supposedly kept a special pantry of it at Sussex Drive, if you recall). Clinton, too, has been said to carry hardcore hot sauce in her purse, a “confession” corroborated by aides. Now, some criticized this as blatant pandering, since this detail unsurprisingly slipped out during one of her Southern campaign stops. It’s possible that Clinton’s hot sauce obsession is as manufactured as her Southern accent.

Like her true views on society, policy and values, one thing’s safe to say: we’ll never know the truth.

—–

What dirt have you uncovered on the Presidential candidates eating habits?

UPDATE: Press time: Carly Fiorina just announced her VP run with Cruz. We’re curious if the Cruz team vetted her dietary preferences before the presser.

‘I always used to eat Milk-Bones as a kid’: Carly Fiorina snacks on dog treats and tells puppies to vote Republican because ‘Obama ate your cousin’ in bizarre video – Daily Mail, 15 Dec. 2015

Souce: Daily Mail

Saving Cali: How Jerry Brown ‘quietly pulled’ the state ‘back from the brink’

Lovely, thoughtful & colourful piece in Newsweek this week on Jerry Brown. It’s called:

Saving Cali: How Jerry Brown quietly pulled California back from the brink

Brown, elected Governor of California in 2011 is well positioned to discuss primaries.

Not only has he governed (1975-83), lost, rewon (2011) the US’ most populous state (twice the population of my native land). He served as its Attorney General, the mayor of massive Oakland and campaigned thrice for the presidential nomination, persisting in Democratic primaries in 1976, 1980 & 1992.

He also was a Jesuit, whose “cloistered days are long gone,” yet he spent time foraying into Buddhism & Mother Theresa’s India, more.

He comes across as measured, honest, experienced and ambitious… and marked to some extent by age (who isn’t?).

He doesn’t mix words.

“Beyond the ursine sentry,” writes Nazaryan, “is a waiting room, where an appropriately sunny aide invites me inside to meet the man many thought would have been the perfect Democratic presidential candidate for 2016: California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., or, in keeping with the Golden State’s famous informality, Jerry.”

With loving precision, Nazaryan describes his looks:

Jerry Brown is the kind of 78-year-old you fear might run the mile faster than you do. Not that he has escaped time’s relentless steamrolling any more than the rest of us: He is bald now, the ebony mane he sported on the cover of Newsweek in 1979 (with then-girlfriend Linda Ronstadt at his side) reduced to a low gray crescent. A hillock of smooth skin on his nose is evidence of plastic surgery that followed the removal of a cancerous growth. There was another such growth on his ear,

In perhaps the most billowing endorsment (& frankly, where I learned something I didn’t know from where I live):

“Brown’s intellectual affinity for austerity has helped him pull the state out of a fiscal canyon about $27 billion deep.”

So why didn’t he run? Ironically (given the median age of Clinton & Sanders), one:

“If Jerry were even 10 years younger, he would’ve been on everybody’s list.”

To whit on Sanders vs Brown, Nazaryan writes: “While the unkempt socialist has the grumpy demeanor of a South Florida retiree wondering who forgot to flush the poolside bathroom, Brown is both physically fit and mentally astute, fighting off senescence with regular trips to the gym.”

Brown on Trump:

“pretty wild…”

Brown on Clinton:

“a very powerful force” who “fills up a lot of the room for the Democratic primary.”

Which Nazaryan sharply turns: “That sounds less like an endorsement than a concession.”

There are reasons, of course, reasons which run deep. Yet it’s not often we se reason mixed with colour in political writing.

Read the full piece, Saving Cali: How Jerry Brown quietly pulled California back from the brink.

Comments? Let me know. Or tweet @JoshDavidson.

On myth & movement(s)

For Roland Barthes, semiology is not only a science of signs, but also a preoccupation with meanings in transition.

From a communication point of view, the allure of Saussure’s linguistic semiology and Peirce’s formal semiotics can certainly be tied to a reaction against mechanistic models of communication—comprised of discrete parts and messages already replete with meaning.

In serving to reinforce the substantiality of messages, this segmentation of motion into discrete parts simultaneously negated the role of links or articulations themselves. In contrast, semiology, by way of linguistics, allows various scholars to attend to the relational ‘dynamics’ themselves.

It is just such a richly fluid ideal (in time: a movement; in space: a link) that Roland Barthes exposes in his brief depiction of basic semiological chains, and later mourns in his playful critique of the second-order chain traced by mythology.

He does this throughout his work, though primarily in the project called Mythologies.

“What we grasp,” he says early on in relation to Saussurian semiology, “is not at all one term after another, but the correlation which unites them,”[i] while with respect to Sartrean criticism, “the relation between crisis (signifier) and discourse (signified) defines the work.”,[ii] both of which leads to his early assertion that semiology is, above all, an active and fleeting pursuit, one that occurs at the intersection of “reading, or deciphering.”[iii]

This terminology of movement and joining whether in relation to the science of semiology or its manifestations in social life, sets up a much larger critique of forms of dominance achieved through the arresting, or bracketing, effect of bourgeois mythology.

For Barthes in “Myth Today”, meaning-as-movement can be traced to what he describes as contingency. ‘Meaning,’ for Barthes, is used to specifically describe the sign, or last term of a first-order semiological chain. Structurally, this Barthesian ‘meaning’ lies in the relationship of contingency between signifier, signified, and sign. Thus, when he later claims that it is ‘meaning’ that is evaporated and repurposed by myth, he is referring not just to any meaning, but ‘meaning’ as something contingent, and thus, to some extent, in motion: the ‘meaningful’ component of a first-order semiological chain.

He does not in ‘Myth Today’ devote ample space to this particular ‘first-order’ semiological relationship. However, it is still worth noting that the ‘meaning’ he depicts (after Saussure) is not one, nor two, nor even three things, fundamentally. As meaning is contingent on all three, then meaning-production might be conceived – at least temporally – as the movement between them; spatially, as the invisible thread which might momentarily join them. Barthes, however, merely illustrates this first chain in order to set up his larger analysis of how myth, as a second order, preys upon it so effectively.

He details how as a second-order semiological system, myth builds its signification (the ‘second- order sign’ or metasign)[iv] by pointing a first-order sign, or contingent-meaning, to a new signified, a new concept.

These exploited signs are effective as signifier-vessels for myth precisely in that they are already “credible wholes…have at their disposal a sufficient rationality.”[v] However, as mythical signifiers, says Barthes, these previous signs are only thin and vacant versions of their previous selves: they are now “impoverished”, “evaporated”… in short, “they have left their contingency behind”[vi] and therefore the sign that was once a meaning – in all its richness, fullness, complexity and dynamism – becomes a mere form, with all the latter’s implications of immobility and in-significance.

Thus, myth’s “point of departure is constituted by the arrival of a meaning.”[vii] Herein lies the crux of Barthes’ critique, what might be called the deformation of linguistic meaning.[viii] Most chilling for Barthes, and most prescient also to the subsequent work of scholars like Hall (1980) and Slack (1996), is that this appropriated meaning, this “constant game of hide-and-seek between the meaning and the form”[ix] serves to both surreptitiously convey and reinforce dominant (bourgeois) ideology.

It is this very ideology that Barthes deems dangerous not only in its historically-limited (thus unnatural) intentions, but also in its invisibility in both function and name. Furthermore, it is this transparency that characterizes myth: its continuous presence as meta-narrative and capacity to appropriate and distort previous meanings.’

Because bourgeois ideology, through myth, robs language and “impoverishes” consciousness[x], Barthes draws the image of the ‘arrest’[xi] the invisible process of freezing, ‘thickening,’ or naturalizing the ‘reasons’ for every day affairs and thus defining the parameters of the social sphere.

It is not because myth is trying to hide that we become subjugated by it, asserts Barthes, but because of our very habituation to its ubiquity, coupled with its general ideological nebulousness. It is thus that bourgeois ideology, through myth, perpetuates a generally secure climate for itself of ‘depoliticized speech’.[xii] Paradoxically, however, it is in the very ‘opening’ of signified possibilities for the second-level signifier that allows it to be appropriated for the quantitatively-poor ‘conservative’ aims of bourgeois myth.

Not only is it opened up to new signification qualitatively, but it also offers – as a newly-inhabitable vessel for a narrow set of ideological values – a vast and apparently ‘diverse’ quantity of new forms for its very disseminationn

Notes:

[i] Barthes, Roland (1972:1957) “Myth Today,” In Mythologies, New York: Hill and Wang, 113

[ii] ibid., 114

[iii] ibid., 114.

[iv] Ibid., 117.

[v] Ibid., 117.

[vi] Ibid., 117.

[vii] Ibid., 123.

[viii] Ibid., 122

[ix] Ibid., 118

[x] Ibid., 141

[xi] Ibid., 125

[xii] Ibid., 142.

Sergakis opens bar in NDG, fights ensue

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Here’s a short segment I produced for the Forget the Box podcast, making light of the fight over Sergakis’ new bar opening in Montréal’s NDG neighbourhood. The bar is Coyote Ugly themed, called Jersey Saloon. The news frenzy is hilariously pointless & only matched by Sergakis’ explanation for the bar’s concept: “saloon style west meets bar good food…you’re invited to our opening party!

Catch the full discussion where we joke on the topic & others on the Forget the Box podcast.

See past editions of the podcast on iTunes or read some more food issue related pieces on Forget the Box.

Note on Michael Pollan vegan

Have been reading, helping clean up & update some Wikipedia entries on food issues. Learning lots. Most super great. One discovery that sort of solidified some of the issues I’ve had with Michael Pollan over the years. I have certainly not read every piece he’s ever written, nor one or two of his books. I certainly respect his prolific output, storytelling ability , journalistic determination. Etc.

In the lengthy Wikipedia entry on Michael Pollan, I stumbled on this quote. I’d never seen it.

Michael Pollan on veganism:

“Pollan calls veganism a ‘dystopia’, arguing that it would lead to a shortage of fertilizers and an increase in the need for “fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers since food would need to travel even farther and fertility – in the form of manures – would be in short supply”.[1] ”

There is an irony here which touches at the crux of why I get rubbed the wrong way sometimes by Pollan. I’ve never known why. For example, the logic of this position is clear, and the metaphor colourful, both such even out of context.

Yet the fluorish masks, to name just one, odd glaring inconsistencies (which, of course we each carry, we each have food issues, even those of us who purport to study them).

These precise criticisms stand poorly examined, (to my eye) diminished, even dismissed out of hand in his record on biotech, genetic engineering, etc.

This blemishes on his usually very sane record. It seems & feels unbalanced, which is just honest & human, hardly can I throw stones. However, it’s the sort of diminishment under the veil of objectivity, the non-position which is hiding a position (we all have them) which makes this wonderfully clear quote on veganism so starkly contrasted to his writing on biotech, etc.

Honesty, his own POV standing inside & navigating science ‘for us,’ etc. is a strong point yet seems to be conspicuously veiled on the latter topics. This manifests, to my eye, not only in the subjective declarations, stylistic colour, etc, yet in the poor or oddly selective sources,

It’s not that we can claim objectivity – certainly not me – as a writer. It’s not that either particular stance is ‘right.’ It’s the utter inconsistency that irks

Most urban farms not profitable, says new study

Some harder numbers seem to finally be surfacing on the scalability of urban farming.

The lore of the urban farmer has held wider sway than reliable facts & figures (really, of whatever scope) until now. Its newness, though, is finally giving way to the inevitable lag of economic research that might point to wider outcomes. When we conceive of urban farming, it’s been largely rhetorical, socially-minded, even visceral. I like others have wonderful personal experiences where I’ve seen the value locally.

The social value of the phenomenon is not really in question, nor its potential to supplement household pantries within very specific parameters. Yet great one-off household, or even neighbourhood experiences, no matter how material, do not make economic cases.

What’s more, the term ‘urban farming’ has come to its limit. It encompasses several practices, from warehouse farming, to rooftop container farming to vertical farms fueled by aquaponic systems, etc

Yet finally, we have some hard numbers to look at from the economic point of view. The latter is no small feature of the practice, given that urban farming has been touted to go large ways in the wider plan to feed 9 billion excessively urban dwelling folk by 2050.

One study does not define the topic, so let’s hope this is the first of many to come.

Though it was published in British Food Journal, the new study was the product of NYU lead researcher Carolyn Dimitri, who polled US urban farms from coast to coast.

The study size was 370 urban farmers, defined by their farm output “in or around US cities.”

Food policy issues & the GOP, Democrats & presidential election

Last week, we summarized the morsels of food policy publicly stated in the candidate platforms.

We included reviews of the platforms of GOP Republication front-runners, then the Democratic primary platforms. In case you missed them, check ’em out:

 – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

– Donald J. Trump

– Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

– Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

– Sec. Hillary Clinton

It’s still very hard to tell where these GOP presidential candidates stand on food issues. What do the presidential candidates really want to do with food policy?

This week, we’d note that there remain gaps throughout these policies, or lack thereof. We’re listing resources that frame the most important questions from both sides of the political persuasion.

More than most other issues, food remains foundational to the wider issues in the GOP & Democratic 2016 primary & eventually, presidential elections. These include economic, environmental, labour & foreign policy questions.


Food tank

10 Food Policy Questions We Want Answered From the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Huffington Post

Where the 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on Food Policy

The Odyssey

Food and Politics in the Presidential Election


Wild Food News

WHERE DO THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES STAND ON FOOD POLICIES?


Resources from candidate policy platforms (external links)

I. Ted Cruz  on small businesses or stable dollar.

II. Marco Rubio on farm policy or his tax plan or energy plan

III. Donald J. Trump on trade proposal

IV. Bernie Sanders on rural economy

V. Hillary Clinton on minimum wage or rural policy

 

Food issues & food policy have wide implications  & far reach in the upcoming 2016 US presidential election.

Let us know if you find more to include here from public policy platforms: @JoshDavidson

Food policy of the 2016 US Presidential candidates

Note: This post was reprised & updated on the culture blog Forget the box

More than other questions, food issues remain foundational to the wider platforms of the GOP & Democratic 2016 primary candidates on economic, environmental, foreign, health and labour policy.

Where do the GOP-Republican presidential candidates stand on food policy? What do the Democratic presidential candidates say on food issues?

Here’s what the front-running GOP candidates say on food policy. Or skip to our summary of what the Democratic 2016 candidates say directly in their policy platforms.

GOP primary presidential candidates’ on food policy

Ted Cruz 2016

For Cruz, policy platforms on food fall under his reforms to small businesses & the stable dollar.

For small businesses, when it comes to food, Senator Ted Cruz promises to:

  • end EPA regulations like the Waters of the U.S. rule and the Clean Power Plan that “burden small businesses and farmers.”
  • pass the REINS Act, “holding Congress accountable to vote on any major cost-inducing regulation.”

His platform promises to rein in the Fed, which he promises will help farmers & ranchers:

  • “When the dollar is high as it is today,” says Cruz, “prices tend to fall, which is good for consumers, but farmers, ranchers, and the energy industry get hurt, as do American exporters.  America needs a more stable dollar.”

For income of farmers & food workers, Cruz’ flat tax policy would promise to free up income etc getting the economy flowing etc etc

 

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See Ted Cruz’s policy platforms

 

Marco Rubio 2016

Rubio dedicates one entire policy platform to farms. His main premise is to “get government out of the way of farmers” via curbing overregulation, cutting taxes & opening up new markets.

This includes platform to:

  • Repeal regulations on farmers & ranchers. This includes undoing the EPA ‘Waters of the U.S. Rule’ which Senator Rubio pledges will “dramatically expand federal control over ponds, ditches and streams.” Other regulatory repealing includes cutting carbon mandates, to open up what he calls “swathes of productive land off-limits for agriculture or other beneficial development.”
  • Cut the punitive “death tax” on farmers. This is part of his larger tax plan. This will free up cashflow for farmers and ranchers, e.g. “to immediately write off the cost of new machinery and equipment.”
  • Oppose new taxes on energy. Senator Rubio promises to fight cap-and-trade in order to decrease costs for farmers. This falls under his wider energy plan.
  • Open new markets for farmers & ranchers. This would be supporting pushing for “timely completion of trade agreements to boost exports for US farmers & ranchers”

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See Marco Rubio’s policy platforms

 

Donald J. Trump 2016

Donald J. Trump does not explicitly state food policy platforms, though vague connections might be found in his trade proposals.

 

 

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See Donald Trump’s policy platforms

 

Democratic primary presidential candidates’ on food policy

Bernie Sanders 2016

Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), outlines food issues & food policy in one platform he calls “fighting for the rural economy.”

Broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders supports:

  • farm policies that foster the new generations of owner-operators.
  • upholding land stewardship standards that include the commonwealth of clean water for all.

 

Sanders promises the following outcomes from the platform of his farming & food policies:

Make sure that family farmers and rural economies thrive; 2. Expand support for young and beginning farmers; 3. Produce an abundant and nutritious food supply; 4. Establish an on-going regeneration of our soils; and 5. Enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship to keep our air and water clean and to combat climate change.

 

Specific food issues & food policy fit into Senator Bernie Sanders’ rural communities, farm agriculture, & renewable energy platforms. Here’s the top lines:

 

Supports to agriculture

Senator Bernie Sanders promises to “fight for America’s small and mid-sized farms.” In particular, he pledges platform policy to:

 

  • Expand services of the D for new and underserved farmers. Says Sanders, this department should “live up to the name” it was given by Lincoln, who called it the “People’s Department”
  • Encourage growth of regional food systems. Senator Sanders pledges to invest into local farmers who sell “directly to local consumers, institutions, and restaurants.”
  • Reverse trade policies, e.g. NAFTA that he says “have flooded the American market with agricultural goods produced in countries with less stringent environmental, labor, and safety regulations.”
  • Enforce US antitrust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations. Senator Sanders pledges to “stand up to corporations” to make the prices that farmers receive more fair. He wants to prevent “few large companies” that  “dominate many agricultural industries, allowing them to force unfair prices on farmers.”

 

Renewable energy investment

 

Several energy policies impact farmers, ranchers & small food businesses, not to mention food to plate distribution. Senator Sanders is particularly firm on this matter. His platform says it will:

 

  • Increase investments in wind energy to “substantial” degree
  • Make the Wind Production Tax Credit permanent.
  • Invest into biofuels, e.g. ethanol. Sanders calls these ” economic lifeline to rural and farm communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, supporting over 850,000 workers, all while keeping our energy dollars here at home instead of going into the pockets of oil barons.”
  • Support the Renewable Fuels Standard

 

Rural US

Though not directly related, Sanders speaks fully on rural US improvements, which has huge impact on farmers, ranchers & the future of food quality & distribution. Senator Sanders pledges to:

 

  • Improve the electric grid. “We desperately need to improve our aging rural electrical grid, which consists of a patchwork system of interconnected power generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, some of which date back to the early 1900s,” says Bernie Sanders.
  • Invest in high-speed Internet services for rural folk to improve infrastructure, e.g. for farmers.
  • Improve dams, most of which facilities exist in rural areas. His Rebuild America Act will invest $12 billion per year to repair “high-hazard dams that provide flood control, drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation across rural America; and the flood levees that protect our farms and our towns and cities.”

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 1.05.45 AM

 

See Bernie Sanders’ policy platform

Hillary Clinton 2016

 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her US presidential candidacy for the Democratic party, does not specifically contain food policy improvements. Certain issues for food production, distribution, farmers & ranchers crop up in her other platforms.

Renewable energy

 

She does platform on renewable energies, some of which touches directly farmers & food production. Secretary Clinton promises to:

 

  • Reform leasing on public lands. This includes to “reform fossil fuel leasing and significantly expand clean energy production on public lands, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
  • Promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship.
  • Fully funded program to provide help to “producers who conserve & improve natural resources on their farms, strengthens the Renewable Fuel Standard, and doubles loan guarantees that support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth.”

 

Minimum wage

 

Labour & minimum wage touches food workers, in particular. These fast food workers started the minimum wage campaigns which Secretary Clinton pushes:

 

  • Raise the minimum wage & strengthen overtime rules.
  • Support raising the federal minimum wage to $12
  • Support to raise further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts
  • Support workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, “such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.”
  • Support the Obama expansion of “overtime rules “to millions more workers.”

 

Rural communities

 

Clinton promises broadly in her rural policy to raise agricultural “production and profitability for family farms.” Vaguely, she mentions their import,

 

Farmers and ranchers supply food for America’s dinner tables, invest in farm machinery and supplies, and provide domestic energy resources that fuel small businesses. The agriculture economy also drives America’s larger economic success—accounting for about $800 billion in economic activity each year.

 

Yet her policies do not go into specifics, except to:

 

  • Increase funding to support farm succession. This support would supposedly include “the next generation of farmers and ranchers, invest in expanding local food markets and regional food systems, and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that truly need support during challenging times.”

 

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See Hillary Clinton’s policy platforms

Food issues & food policy have wide implications  & far reach in the upcoming 2016 US presidential election.

Let us know if you find more to include here from public policy platforms: @JoshDavidson

Five famous recipes with only 3 ingredients

Time is of the essence. Taste, too. In the era of overcomplicated restaurant dishes and 100 ingredient processed foods, it’s worth keeping both time and taste in value when using recipes.

We sifted through thousands of recipe with few ingredients—some from prominent chefs, others from home cooks—to create this simple list of recipes using 3 ingredients that anyone can make

 

1. The famous three ingredient Japanese cheescake

This recipe was hyped beyond belief & it’s worth it. The famous Ochikeron three ingedient Japanese cheesecake is “one part souffle, one part custard, resulting in a lightly sweet and airy cake that is super simple to make,” in the nice words of Epicurious.

Ingredients:

  • Eggs
  • Cream cheese
  • White chocolate

See the full recipe at Epicurious.

 

2. The famous three-ingredient egg breakfast

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David Chang said this was one of his faves, and having tried them, I can say David Patterson’s recipe is divine, no matter your lack of ingredients. It’s all about the technique, yo. Check out the recipe on Mind of a Chef to learn how to make these poached breakfast scrambled eggs.

Ingredients:

  • Eggs
  • Salt
  • Pepper

See the full recipe

 

3. The famous three ingredient cocktail

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Ingredients are not just for meals. They’re for cocktails, too, which can often be too complicated. Try making this Americano which is amazing & impressive. This sun-soaked Italian traditional cocktail is just perfect.

Ingredients:

  • Campari
  • Dry vermouth
  • Soda

See the full recipe or while you’re at it, browse Saveur‘s great gallery of 3-ingredient cocktails.

 

4. The famous three ingredient sandwich

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Tomato avocado, that is.

Nuff said. Possibly the best sandwich for a summer day.

Ingredients:

  • Bread
  • Tomato
  • Avocado

 

5. The famous Pommes soufflés à la Jacques Pépin & Julia Child

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Pommes soufflés are the epitome of simple side. Done right, they can, truthfully, become so good they overshadow the main. So who better to trust than Jacques Pépin & Julia Child to make ’em right.

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes (baking potatoes, please)
  • Oil
  • Water

See recipe

 

Whole Foods gets freakier

In Costoesque fashion, Whole Foods aggressively pursues exclusivity & volume, obscuring not only the existence of Big Organic, yet Big “Naturals” in pursuit of market dominance. I like to say that one of the hidden fallacies of Whole Foods is that they in fact both drive & obscure New Monoculture.

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Worse, perhaps, or in my opinion, they do this under the guise of some destructive version of the term ethics. They ruthlessly cling to “organic” beyond reason for pure branding. The means have long outpaced the meaning, much less the method, not only with obscurantist Big Organics driven by WF. Organic is, vapid & foundational to WF, like the token inclusion of the Big Mac no matter the revamp of the menu over with McDo.

They blind consumers to this silly & indeed ultimately harmful word game.

They (willingly) blind otherwise smart people (with money) to real food, to food issues.

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In the same way, they subsume other fashionable word games (local, ethical, GMO-free, etc.) driving their true purveyors (smaller producers) to death, dressing everything up in kindergarden colour codes, bathed in pre-determined profit margins.

They may offer tattoos

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There is no other poignant reminder of how the concepts of “edgy” or “responsible” are utterly dead than in the colour-coded ethical labelling and in-house tattooing tactics of Whole Foods.

If the latter are already doomed concepts, the market tactics of the corporations that subsume them make their death all the more gruesome. Neither markets nor tactics, however, can be usefully blamed…the one is a set of functions, the other a way to operate within those.

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Feel good companies are the worst kind of predators, investing more into obscuring their market & worse, when successful doing so, chomping up the last shreds of meaning for fellow humans.

 

No tip restaurants have proved successful: will Danny Meyer’s endorsement work

A tipping point for restaurant labour? Perhaps.

This post of mine first appeared on BuzzFeed. It is herein brined & reposted.


 

The slow, circuitous ritual of restaurant labour progress.

The rituals of the restaurant realm make for slow, circuitous routes to labour progress. Yet out of 700,000 restaurants, the thirteen of USHG wield potent, disproportionate influence. The power is due not to their size, rather Danny Meyer’s long-heralded savvy & knack for leveraging myths to effect sustainable progress.


 

Danny Meyer’s endorsement is, for the restaurant labour lobby, like the New Hampshire primary vote .

Perhaps it’s my allergy to political pundits, perhaps my Canadian faux-naïveté. Yet after decades of patient descriptions from American friends, I still fail to understand the esoteric underpinnings of the Electoral College system. To this day, I shake my Canadian head with wonder at how, in a 52-state nation of 350 million, everyone could possibly be so damn obsessed with New Hampshire.

Until this month.

Because, you see, to foodie minds such as mine, the penny can drop in equally esoteric ways.

When resto legend Danny Meyer ended tipping at his thirteen Union Square Hospitality outlets, and news & hyperbole rippled quickly outward to mainstreamonlookers & pundits alike, I realized that reform in the North American restaurant industry is something like the College: neither linear nor logical; not quite representative, and infinitely bound up in myth and ritual.

For casual diners or onlookers, the frenzy over these thirteen restaurants — among an estimated 700,00 — would seem equally out of whack. Like a Canadian gazing with wonder at an Iowa primary from North of the border, the action is disproportionate to the effect.

Survey says: …. no-tip restaurants nothing new

Furthermore, empirical evidence has long shown that tipped employees are twice as likely to live in poverty. No-tip, stable wages have long had professional approval, as evidenced by years of debate. And countless other no-tip restos have tested — and proven — the long-term benefits of the model. So why did it take one lone wolf to, truly, tip the scales for the industry at large & the mainstream media buzz alike?

After all, thirteen restaurants are hardly a drop in the bucket, despite their level of critical acclaim. What’s more, as reported in Civil Eats, ThinkProgress & HuffPo, several equally high-profile establishments have already hopped onto the no-tip wave as far back as 2011.

Restaurant “progress” not linear, it’s ritualistic

A_group_of_diners_give_their_order_to_the_waiter_at_a_restaurant_in_the_West_End_of_London,_spring_1941._D2957

Disproportion is indemic to the restaurant industry, built on (often unnamed) traditions, and like the Electoral College system, “wins” and “progress” are circuitous, bound in ritual, never linear.

As an industry, the restaurant realm is near-unparalleled in its ability to cling not only to arcane practices, yet also defunct labour practices. Key issues of sustainable labour, such as stable wage, harassment-free work zones & unionization show that the resto realm lags least a decade compared with cognate sectors (service, hospitality, entertainment).

In the slow-as-molasses resto realm, it’s only in the past few years, sparked by social media uproar and weighty figures such as NYT food critic Pete Wells, that they’re being seriously broached.

This obstinance to accept policy considered, rather empirically, robust, useful & progressive elsewhere is complicated by the rapid rise of so-called “foodie” culture, an sort of armchair adventure narrative built upon the rise of food media, and its ensuing fetishization of restaurant kitchen culture.

Tradition & trend: when it comes to resto solvency, unparalleled blend

The weight of someone like Meyers, though opaque, cannot be understated. In his case, it’s not about the number (thirteen) or the cities (NYC), or even his lynx-like Food Network judging appearances. It’s about his long-exalted knack—chefs and restauranteurs deem it miraculous—between food culture, culinary artistry and sheercorporate savvy. Many chefs and restauranteurs have the first two — and of these, most are far better known. Yet few have all three-— much less for several decades.

Meyers wields a Koch-style influence over restaurant trends — he has only has to glance in one direction and days later, industry feet are making a beeline.

It’s not that he began the no-tip debate, or even represents its majority stakeholders. To be sure, buzz was starting to swell, yet contained mostly to industry sites or foodie beats at, say Eater or Food Republic.

The Primary is just the First (step)

Just like in politics, however, winning the most prime time debate or the most populous states do not guarantee a win. They’re part of the slow wave which, once exponential like the tide, need only a single heavyweight (often only superficially known in the public eye) to tip things over at a moment’s notice.

Make no mistake: tipping won’t disappear overnight. Yet it’s no longer a shadow issue. It’s on the table for good, with the proper amount of weight on its side.

It remains to be seen if other resto labour issues—long-shrouded by the industry’s mythical hold on the public—will meet the same fate.

Fault Lines in Food Writing

Last month, Harper’s commissioned something unusual.

Unusual in the context of our tight-pursed digital world. Less unusual, perhaps, in the heady (nearly bygone?) literary indulgence from which the magazine sprung.

Harper’s, based in New York City, flew a British writer across the Atlantic and, once in The Big Apple, covered her sprawling tab at New York’s most elite restaurants. Then they cut her a cheque—and seeming carte blanche—to fill up their pages with any ensuing adventures.

The piece seemed preordained by the magazine’s weighty masthead to be free-flowing and diaristic, spared the publication’s usual tight oversight.

New York food writers and bloggers generally hated it.

https://twitter.com/ChefHermes/status/633574197969727488

Now true, the whole endeavour was slightly un-Harper’s like. But the diaristic style wasn’t an error or oversight. Nor was the writing bad. It was good. At times, fabulous. So what’s the problem, you ask? Well this very fault line, more and more, is where the gap between between food culture, food writing and the reader is being drawn.

It would be hard to pick four more towering foodie temples to visit: Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Chef’s Table and Masa. It should be noted that Harper’s is neither food publication or news magazine. It doesn’t cover a regular “beat”, much less have a restaurant review section.

Who knows its mandate in 2015? Though broadly-speaking, Harper’s is still about excess: liberal reflection, the pleasure of the text.

…[Per Se] is not a restaurant, although it looks like one. It may even think it is one. It is a cult. It was created in 2004 by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, in Yountville, California. He is always called Chef Keller, and for some reason when I think of him I imagine him traveling the world and meeting international tennis players. But I do not need to meet him; I am eating inside his head.

Now I’m a long-time follower of people like Keller, a junkie of chef culture and resto innovation through and through. I’m the kind of guy who would waste hard-earned money on these nutty places.

Animal Farm may be a metaphor for the anxieties of those who dine at Through Itself: they are hungry, but only for status; loveless, for what love could there be when a waiter must stand with his feet exactly six inches apart … Through Itself is such a preposterous restaurant, I wonder if a whole civilization has gone mad and it has been sent as an omen to tell us of the end of the world — not in word, as is usual, but in salad.

What’s more, smug, foreign food critics are nothing new to this scene.

Nor am I sure that the human body is meant to digest, at one sitting, many kinds of over-laundered fish and meat…

Yet at every turn of phrase like this from Gold, I only dove in further. The thing is, it didn’t matter what my food sensibilities told me: this was crisp, fantastical, entertaining, and ultimately — like all good satire —based on more than a small grain of truth.

If knee-jerk reactions are to be expected from locals and overwrought foodies, they are worrisome when they come from food writers. Why? Because the stark opposite emerged from another specific group: a global collection of folk that may or may not have cared about famous chefs, or even heard of these places.

I can only unify this mass as readers — the targets, after all, of a magazine article. It would seem that readers’  conception of Gold’s essay was different. They perceived it as writing.

https://twitter.com/mehreenkasana/status/634944994608939008

And they’d be justified. Let’s leave aside the premise itself: that the magazine doesn’t even do reviews, that the writer was flown in to a city brimming with food critics for an expository feature.

Readers got it, knew that they — along with 99.9% of the world — knew they’d likely never set foot in these uber-elite places, or even necessarily have the desire to. — and that was the whole point all along.

Readers did not require “disclaimers” of satire or elitism.

Yet things continued to split apart. Both sides soon christened Gold’s piece as “an evisceration.”

Fair enough. Yet thanks to the highly-evolved logic of Twitter, the label just wasn’t reductionist enough. Sure enough, as the narrative changed, Gold’s piece became something slightly more vulgarized: a “takedown.”

The thing with “takedowns,” it seems, is once defined, they require “takedowns of takedowns,” each step further distancing readers from any literary agency of their own.

Only one more reductive t word could possibly be invoked, could possibly paint a starker picture of what’s been going on for years now, a sheer widening gap between “food writing” and essay. It happened:

Now food is no exception. These things happen all the time. Social media dumbs things down, to no one’s surprise, I know…

Yet to me, this particular saga is exemplary for three reasons: the sheer spectacle of it all, the big players of food criticism involved, and the fact that it highlights the tense space opening up between foodies, writers and food writers.

The trend seems to be that dry, cutting, whimsical, food writing should never even edge on brutal or fabulous — it must never go too far off the edge.

It’s ironic that food writing started from the edges, with fantastical, metaphorical essays that touched upon food coming from somewhere else.

One level head reigned. Pete Wells, New York Times critic  himself—tasked with hallmark reviews of these joints over the years—might have captured it best: between diaristic and satirical, Gold was for him not just any writer, she was the foreigner turning heads by flirting at the precipice of food criticism.

All this to say that I learned three things:

  1. We’re drawn to New York misadventures just as we’re drawn to the ire of Parisians: their hunger to take down their own is outweighed only by their ferocity at defending outsiders from doing the same.
  2. Harper’s still exists. I should probably check it out more often.
  3. “Food writers” gotta chill.

Back when I first started raising this drama, someone pointed me an old Harper’s essay. Turns out, in 1996, they paid Neil Foster Wallace to write about the cruise industry.

I read it.

Suffice it to say that if such a thing came out today, cruise line bloggers (if they exist) would dissect it with glee. Industry experts and travel writers would doubtless be next at the gate.

For in the piece, NFW is out of his element — uncomfortably so — and one teeters with him as he lurches along in search of his point. It’s as if his grip on the topic might disintegrate at any moment.

Here’s the thing: it is a glorious and riveting essay.

So if there’s a lesson for us food writers, bloggers and commentators, maybe it’s simply to take a deep breath. If those of us who care most about the topic keep strangling it, food’s life within language won’t fully thrive.

#GuacGate: My cold take, now grown colder

Very cold. Like refrigerated hummous.

This post first appeared on Forgetthebox.net. It is herein brined & reposted.

 

Have “foodies” lost the plot? It would seem at face value the answer is yes.

That is, if we judge based on public response to an innocuous New York Times guacamole recipe posted earlier this week.

This reposted recipe (it was posted on the site in 2013), was not only utterly unshocking, it was merely one of over 17,000 such NYT recipes innocently living in their Cooking section.

Yet here’s what happened.

https://twitter.com/Lahlahlindsey/status/616304174574211072

And this.

And, hilariously (personal favourite) this.

And frighteningly, even crap like this:

And then this.

Good lord, even this.

I’d stand to wager that there are probably more guacamole recipe variations than almost anything other on the Internet. No, I didn’t bother to check that claim, because, frankly, those would be precious moments of my life lost. And that’s kind of the point: the vicious backlash and endless media attention means that someone has clearly lost the plot.

Who?

You have to wonder first, why, with access to the finest food writers in the country (the world?), the NYT would bother to (re)-promote such a page. If hummous is the go-to lazy person potluck snack, guacamole is the second: an over-fusioned and generally, over-dinner-partied dish in the US & Canada.

Now, perhaps that‘s a statement about foodies (whatever those might be).

Though to me, the real fallout of #GuacGate is threefold. Each point is depressing enough to make me want to drown my sorrows in a gallon of habanero-laced peadip.

Cold take 1: Social media is a scourge upon humanity. “Foodies” never meant anything anyway.

While most news articles seemed to label this a “foodie” fight, closer analysis reveals that most commentators are the type who comment on everything. Quickly. Without looking. On Twitter.

Even closer analysis reveals that most who lept into the (nonexistant) fracas felt compelled to call themselves “foodies” in their Twitter bios. Yet closer closer analysis reveals that, wait, 99.9 % of people on Twitter are “foodies'” according to their Twitter bios. Odd exceptions include the bios of those who, you know, actually cook, serve, grow, or research food for a living.

So if social media has made us immune to the impact of profanity, foodie is officially the new f-word.

Cold take 2: #GuacamoleGate is snapshot of our modern “news” landscape.

A quick perusal of the #GG headlines shows: a) it was a slow news day, b) lots of pun-obsessed editors still have (ostensibly) paying jobs, c) news outlets have become a caricature of ideologies. Witness:

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Cold take 3: Two decades of creative brilliance gain less imprints than minor repost

It’s struck me that the one person least discussed in all of this #GG madness is its very auteur, the one and only Jean-Georges Vongerichten. If and when he’s mentioned, it’s in the last graph of these stories, though often not at all. Tweets? Forget it! Which, you know, wouldn’t be a big deal if he wasn’t the single most significant, if not revolutionary, chef in the world’s restaurant capital for nearly two decades.

So, I suppose, we love to scream at each other more than even look at recipe, much less try it, much less learn about its very source. Via a quick media monitoring search, I discovered that two days of guacamole shattered decades worth of Vongerichten media mentions.

Personally, I’m happy for him: he’s long escaped overseas, where it must be said, most Twitterers and newspapers seemed to resist the hashtag allure of GuacGate. I’m just sad for the generation who will now forever grow up knowing this legendary human as Guy Who Tried To Make Pea Guacomole And Failed.

—-

At this point, I’m tempted to go revert back to my turn of the century ways, and an old proclivity to over-make an equally great party dip, then new to Westerners: hummous. Unlike guac, it’s always been open to change.

9 inspiring aquaponics systems to inspire your setup

Stunning & smart examples to inspire your aquaponics system setup

Aquaponics systems have come a long way. When we posted a series of articles, photosets and stories about them just a few short years ago, they were still the stuff of pipe dreams for many–especially the mainstream home & lifestyle press.

Now, it seems we hear about aquaponics daily: the feature of countless startups, office buildings, communities, blogs, and headline news.

Still, it always helps to have a bit of inspiration if you’re just getting into the aquaponics game. From brilliantly simple home setups to elegant institutional applications, these 9 aquaponics systems are sure to spark your interest to begin harvesting fish and growing food without soil.

1. PVC pipe setup

This simple DIY setup, one of countless PVC pipe aquaponic system, makes efficient use of backyard space with cheap material and adds a fun aesthetic to the yard.

PVC aquaponic pipe system
PVC aquaponic pipe system

2. Aquaponics to feed prisoners

An inspiring movement is underway in Colorado, where aquaponics are fuelling a portion of the prison food system. As the Denver Post reports, prison inmates are also set to help maintain the process:

Colorado Aquaponics installed a $4,000 aquaponics system in the Palmer Building with the intent of training officers to maintain the system and, eventually, training inmates to do the same.

Read the whole article in the Denver Post



3. Cheapest aquaponic setup that fits in your bedroom

Is this the cheapest and easiest setup ever invented for aquaponics and hydroponics?

This simple, inspiring installation–so handy you can put it in your bedroom–might just be the most affordable aquaponics setup at $35: If this works, this installation could just be the cheapest aquaponics setup you can find.

Learn more about it here.


4. Elegant, crowd-funded aquaponics design

Possibly the most sexy and urban of the aquaponics setups: EcoQube is billed as a “desktop ecosystem” and has already raised $286,000 on Kickstarter.

If you’re tentative or looking for hassle-free, it could be a fun way to start. If nothing else, it’ll open up conversation with your houseguests, and maybe sway some minds to the benefits.


5. Farm lobsters to fuel your aquaponics system

This one we just couldn’t resist. Who needs to overpay for frozen imported lobster, when you can farm lobsters at home all while growing aquaponically!


6.  Stunning tower-top aquaponic designs

On the corporate front, these rooftop aquaponics setups for towers are decent yield and stunning to look at. Check out Verti Frames for more of their work or to get some of for your own office tower.

via www.growvertifarms.com

Their work is also featured in schools, hotels, condos, synagogue, and more!

Learn more on this blog or this one.


7. Backyard elegance with wood, stone…and aquaponics!

Merging beautiful wood and stonework on a deck with aquaponics is something you rarely see. Over at, Milkwood we see just how much the two styles can compliment each other.

Image via http://www.milkwood.net/

8. Make a lemon tree with fish

Do you know the sheer diversity of edible life you can grow using simple aquaponics? For example…  a lemon tree!



9. Exotic fish aquaponics system

Okay, so it’s not the highest-yielding aquaponics installation out there, though, come on, the size & exotic fish just make it so shareable. Again, why not try something elegant and home-friendly like this just to get your head in the game?

Exotic fish aquaponics system
Exotic fish aquaponics system via Aquqponichowto

You never know what your next setup might yield…



Looking for more inspiration for your aquaponics system setup, or just stare at a few lovely designs?

Try these:

Aquaponics on campus: a university dining hall with a 250-gallon tank to grow veggies, herbs

Last time I posted on aquaponics, people asked me if it was some newfangled way to grow drugs.

That was less than three years ago. It’s both startling and heartening to see how quickly aquaponics have entered the mainstream, now widespread and even a regular feature on mainstream news.

The soilless, city-friendly and ultra energy-efficient vegetable growing method has been slower to find adoption in mainstream physical settings, however.

The 250-gallon tank will be unveiled in Wagoner Dining Hall at UNCW. (Source: UNCW) via WECT

 

Which is why I was inspired, and fascinated, to see an announcement from the University of North Carolina Wilmington last week and figured it deserved a shout-out.

decent-sized aquaponics setup will be placed in the campus dining hall, co-maintained by the very students who eat there. These same eaters will, of course, benefit from its veggies, herbs and (possibly?) fish.

According to UNCW, the public aquaponics system is a:

joint project between UNCW’s departments of sociology and criminology, marine biology and biology, and environmental studies, the tank combines aquaculture and hydroponic technology, allowing plants and fish to coexist. Campus dining will utilize the vegetables and herbs grown, furthering the availability of sustainable foods on campus.

Another report on the UNCW system can be read on WECT news.

Congrats to UNCW for this great step in a progressive direction, bringing aquaponics further out of basements and backyards and into “normal” everyday settings, allowing students and members of the public to get to know what it can do for their own food sovereignty.

Our affair with supermarkets

Can it endure? Can it end?

Dear supermarkets,

It seems we just can’t take our eyes off of you.

Here in Canada, for example, you recently roused our spirits by bringing ugly fruit to your shelves, all while appropriating it as a new, cost-saving “brand” promising to quell food waste.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, you waded into the edible insect trade, only to pull them from the shelves two days later without telling us why.

In Alberta, you convinced the Blood Tribe of your merits, who hope to leverage your model on their land.

Yet this nagging question remains: do you really help us gain access to food? Or do you just stand in the way—-you big, boxy bully?

Over in the Bronx, a recent high-profile study seems to suggest the latter.

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The NYU report investigated the effects of a 17 000 square foot Associated Foods supermarket in a known food desert, Morrisania, a neighbourhood with high rates of: “heart disease, obesity, diabetes…depression, infant mortality, mental illness and HIV…”

Its $1.1M 2010 opening costs were incentivized to the tune of $449 000 (about 40%).

However, the team reported no “significant changes in household food availability” to neighbourhood children, with an equal dearth of improved “dietary intake.” Don’t dismiss this as a one-off, supermarkets: the study’s vast sample size (about 2000 children) and lengthy duration (before, during and after the opening) suggest that even your government-fuelled spinoffs might fail to offer tangible benefit to those most in need.

Another recent article goes even further, claiming that you might be causing some of these problems to begin with.

In “Supermarkets are the problem,” Deborah A. Cohen at Slow Food USA surveys research on impulse purchases at the cash register alongside nefarious-sounding “slotting contracts” in your end-of-aisle displays. In a decisive verdict, she holds you structurally accountable for obesity and chronic disease.

Now listen up, supermarkets, because what I’m going to say might surprise you. I think we should cut you some slack.

First, determinist conclusions like the latter should be taken with a grain of your finest No Name salt.

It’s not only deceptive to pluck out and blame you from within a living, breathing, increasingly-complex wider food picture, it’s dangerous. By over-emphasizing government regulation as an ultimate cure, it effectively disempowers us everyday eaters of the education, choice, and agency we already possess—the type of things we really should be encouraged to strengthen.

If for no other reason than you’re not going anywhere soon, we’ve no doubt got a lot to negotiate.

Practically speaking, we all find ourselves in your aisles from time to time. Sometimes we’ve driven a long distance to greet you. Other times, we’ve just met you halfway.

Other times, for many of use, we just get squeezed for options and feel almost forced to wander your aisles. Yet rather than praying to be saved or averting our gaze, it would be better to simply open our eyes.

Site showing restaurant openings & closings in Montréal

Hi everyone, here is a site we made showing a list of Montréal new restaurants in 2015, including closings. It’s the only place we think you can find this in one place – a simple list which links to the stories and wider info on the new restaurants in Montréal.

This is the link for the Montréal restaurant watch new restaurant list: http://restowatchmtl.wordpress.com/

Are supermarkets slowly coming back down to earth?

Back in January, I speculated Canada’s world-leading habit of food waste might soon become too embarrassing to ignore. Following the experts, I fingered supermarket waste reform in particular as a key to stemming this horrid tide.

It seems that this week, one food giant kinda stepped up to the plate. Kinda.

Though it didn’t touch on the waste problem directly, Loblaw did make an announcement this week that it will be rolling out the sale of blemished produce.

So, in what is perhaps a Canadian corporate first, a supermarket giant has acknowledged that un-cosmetic produce is actually fit for human consumption.

Sure, it’s seems like a small victory. A damn small victory. One could point out, for example, that despite the welcome news, Canada is a relative latecomer to the ugly fruit game, even as far as supermarkets go. UK chains began the practice in 2012, while France’s Intermarché giant scored a hit with their Inglorious vegetables campaign last year.

What’s more, if you’re reading Forget the Box, you probably get your fruit from farmer’s markets, “Good Food” boxes, overpriced épiceries, dépanneurs, or hell, any other store than a supermarket. So you’ll probably be quick to chastise Loblaws that this particular brand of “responsibility” is about ten years too late.

Still…could it help stem food waste, in some tiny way?

Let’s look at what we do know.

The Loblaw produce will come packaged under the label “Naturally Imperfect,” and will stand alongside its picture-perfect cousins, boasting near-equivalent taste (imagine!). The brand will at first apply only to apples and potatoes, however others are said to be on the way.

Those deeply-discounted apples in the saran wrap (think pink 50% off sticker), will not be affected due to this change.

Rather, couched in packaging that hearkens back to their popular, 90s-era “Green” and “No Name” brands, the cut-rate, yellow-bagged produce will stand as its own brand, buffered by similar rhetoric that brought the latter to fame.

Quoted in the Financial Post, Loblaw senior Director Dan Branson said, “If you were to grow produce in your backyard, there’s a lot that would grow that wouldn’t look as pretty as what you would see in a grocery store.” (imagine!)

Wait! He goes on, reminding us that even “Mother Nature doesn’t grow everything perfectly.”

You can almost feel the spirit of Arlene Zimmerman rising from this golden marketing-speak.

I imagine her leaping from her Dragon’s Den armchair, blemished McIntosh in hand, telling a would-be entrepeneur, “I’m in. Knotted, ugly vegetables are 100% on-trend.”

So while “Naturally Imperfect” promise a return to the mass market for tonnes of neglected apples and potatoes, it is also a new product in its own right.

The homely castaways seem expertly engineered to cash in on a portion of the market that—for some insane reason—other chains have been afraid to tap.

It seems the product is already selling PR-wise. Loblaws’ official announcement this week was a runaway media success, with nearly every single mainstream news organizations picking up the press release—most funnelling it through largely untouched. Even hip restos got behind the announcement, sharing it in droves.

You have to wonder why an influential brand like Loblaw waited so long to cash in.

All hype aside, I truly do hope this will have some meaning.

Perhaps previously-tossed fruit and veg will find a new nutritive home.

Perhaps the trend will ripple through other chains.

Perhaps—at the very least—some sheltered Canadian children will get to see what normal vegetables look like for the first time in their lives.

10 unusual ways to cook with rum

Honour the rum runners!

When someone says “rum recipe,” we tend to think cocktails. Or worse: rum recipe evokes the horrific drowning of this precious nectar in over-sweet cola.

Cooking with rum is highly underrated. I’m here to tell you: stop shooting straight … past a glorious realm of rum recipes. Rum is a great and useful culinary tool and its imprint is vast. Contrary to popular belief, the sugarcane-derived beverage is a valuable contributor to both sweet and savoury dishes.

From the exotic vindaloo-inspired pork indad to rum-infused Cuban chicken to sweet rum butter or pastries with rum-soaked raisins, behold the glory of the versatility of rum in cooking.

As summer wanes here in the US and Canada, make the most of the full potential of the rum recipe.

1.
Rum, Habanero and Molasses Pulled Pork Sandwiches

 

The sweet richness of rum, amplified by a touch of molasses, marries excellently with the heat of habanero, the whole absorbed perfectly by the slower-cooked pork. See the recipe on SpicieFoodie

 

 

2.
Squash Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

 

Uber-rich and yet spicy, rum, butter, Grand Marnier and squash cubes make this bread pudding wholly distinct from any traditional types you’ve tried before.  See the recipe on Saveur

ron flora de cana

3.
Baked Cuban Chicken & Rice

 

Add some Cuban rum to your chicken stock and the results might shock you! A hearty stock and just the right spices make this take on Cuban chicken perfect for a summer night. See the recipe on BBC.

 

4.
Rum Butter

 

Rum-infused butter is a rich, punchy, incredibly versatile element to add to your favourite dessert. What’s more, it’s dead easy to make. See the basic recipe, Cumberland (UK Lake District) style, and check out some user-generated ideas of sweets it can sit atop.

Rum butter via Flickr
Rum butter (via Flickr)

5.
Fruit Crepes with Vanilla Bean & Rum Butter Sauce

 

If you prefer, just hit your guests with this insanely-decadent recipe using rum butter. All you need to do is ladle out some crepes onto the griddle and grab some seasonal fruit! Bon Appétit never disappoints. See the recipe on Bon Appétit.

 

6.
Divine BBQ Rum Ribs

 

Due to its origins in sugarcane, amber Rum caramelizes like no one’s business. This means it can be an secret BBQ weapon. As always, we can rely on Jamie Oliver for some outrageously tasty fare in this department. See the recipe for BBQ rum ribs on Jamie Oliver’s site.

(via Flickr)

7.
Rum Zabaione

 

Zabaione (or “sabayon”) is one of the most classic, essential Italian desserts. It’s basically a custard, but is traditionally meant to be spiked with some alcohol. Rum’s natural sweetness lends itself to the dish. See a recipe for rum zabaione on Epicurious.

 

8.
Rum-Soaked Raisins

 

You can stud almost any dessert with these potent little rum-bombs, whose sweetness, once again. As a bonus, you can preserve raisons (or presumably, berries) almost indefinitely in rum, the rumminess only invading the fruit more and more as time unfolds. As this recipe shows, bourbon works equally well (we’ll save bourbon for another post!): See the recipe for rum-soaked raisins on Food.com

 

9.
Chile Peppers Suffed With Grains & (Rum) Raisins

 

I saw a similar dish once at a resto, and though I couldn’t track down a recipe, I found that Rum Diary Bar in Australia had something called “long green peppers stuffed with quinoa and rum-soaked raisins.” Damn that sounds good. Here’s a great recipe for stuffed poblamo peppers. My feeling is that those same rum-soaked raisins would go swimmingly in these particular poblanos! See the recipe for stuffed poblanos on Salty Sweet Life

Be original and save cash on Haagen-Dazs. Make your own damn rum raisins! It only takes a minute.
Be original and save cash on Haagen-Dazs. Make your own damn rum raisins! (via Flickr)

10.
Pork Indad

 

Last but certainly not least, I must share with you this incredible find! I had no idea rum could be fused with Indian flavours (every day I’m humbled by how little I know of the world’s food history!), but pork indad,  not too far off from those addictive bright vindaloos, was, according to Michelle Peters-Jones, “originally derived from the vindalho…made by the Mangalorean Catholic community. ” The salted meat and alcohol combine to make  “a traveller’s dish,” which in her words:

These, technically, are some unusual flavours for South India, mint, for example, and rum. This is the influence of the Portuguese community, and results in a dish that takes in Portuguese ingredients and marries them to Indian spices.

Intrigued? I sure am, and can’t wait to try it. See the recipe for pork indad on Michelle Peters-Jones’ site The Tiffin Box.

 

Well folks, that wraps up our humble little list of rum recipes. I tried to scour trustworthy sources and include a range of styles, uses and dish-types. It’s all in the name of re-instating the humble rum to its rightful place in our palates…and making summer last a little bit longer.

If you have any other unusual rum recipes, let me know on Twitter!

Restaurant Day Montréal – August 2014

Some great moments already at RD mtl 2014, including the incredible tacos of Tacos Mamacitas and other treats, Veggie New Orleans, Icelandic hot dogs and more. From abandoned gas lots to the park under the highway, Restaurant Day Montréal is something that’s here to stay. A huge increase of venues from last year to this year as well. Stay tuned for regular updates from the pop-up magic here in Montréal.

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Séralini’s hotly-debated GMO study published again amidst yet more skepticism

There has been intense debate about the Séralini affair since day one. If you haven’t seen the documentary (or read all the pundits), the Wikipedia entry is a basic starting point.

To me, though, the most valuable part about Séralini is how he got us talking, thinking and strategizing about what our relationship to genetic modification really is. In our midst. In our lives. In our environment and our bodies.

GMO maize test
GMO maize test, Bourgouin-Jallieu, Isère, France. Souce: Wikipedia.

I’m not one to judge whether it was dodgy science or not, but it’s impossible to refute that the study has had a greater impact on popular consciousness (and even legislation) than most.

For this alone I’m grateful, and I hope we continue to take the topic seriously. Indeed, any future GMO studies will be even more rigorous, and thus revealing because of him and his team.

Retracted GMO Study Republished via The Scientist.

 

Dim Sum symbolizes election-fuelled language anxieties

If you’re interested in dim sum and live in Montréal, you appreciate the legend of Kam Fung. Maybe you’ve eaten in the cavernous St-Urbain dining room (or its Brossard counterpart). Maybe you’ve just stood in line and longed for a table.

Either experience is sufficient to grasp just how absurd—and yet fitting—it is, that now dim sum has been dragged into 2014 Québec election politics. Yes, those doughy pillows of shrimp, eel, mushroom, beef, pork (or mostly anything else that grows, swims or walks…) are the latest casualty to the province’s rapidly-degenerating discourse on language and identity.

Thankfully, it’s all been dressed with a healthy does of ethnic-food sarcasm.

It all started yesterday when outspoken Journal de Montréal columnist Sophie Durocher took to Twitter to vent about her dim sum.

The initial response seemed unsurprising, coming from one of Durocher’s followers…

But Montréal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman’s appraisal was a bit more scathing.


Chesterman’s tweets, it would appear, triggered a string of jabs at Durocher and, at times, the Parti québecois itself.



Then, the whole thing started to sound like a party debate:


Just like a Rad-Can debate, there was mild mudslinging:



And even humour:


It seems that Charte-fuelled tensions of language and identity are truly peaking. Whether it’s Couillard or Marois who ends up at the helm, we can only hope for strong leadership. But in reality, politicians are only exacerbating the issues.

I agree with @ReemsMTL that the way out of this heady impasse is really quite simple:

Shaming no-shows: are archaic laws really to blame for the costs they incur?

In case you missed it, there was a lot of chatter about restaurant no-shows this week.

Last year I championed a great Gazette article—the first to spark serious awareness of the issue. It featured plenty of restauranteurs who were all-too-familiar with no-show diners.

But a veritable firestorm kicked off this week with the birth of Twitter account @NoShowsMontreal. Its purpose? To name and shame no shows.

The account came online only days after Villeray’s Tapeo saw 28 patrons skip out on their reservations in one single night.

@NoShowsMontreal launched with gusto, telling restos to: “…send us in a (direct message) the name and complete phone number of your no-shows, we’ll post them here.”

Then it seemed to disappear—casting doubt on the seriousness of its authors, or visions of a complaint and Twitter Terms of Service violation.

But—much to the joy of hungry journalists—it turns out the glitch was temporary. The account was back up as of Wednesday afternoon, garnering more than its fair share of media attention.

In the interim, it seems a few lawyers were consulted. The authors’ modified request was that perpetrators’ numbers be shared with partial anonymity, “e.g. (514) *23-*567”, all while noting it remained “entirely legal to publish the full name of ‘no-shows’, very useful for all restauranteurs.”

Obviously not everyone agreed with the aggressive tactics, prompting various different responses.

Meanwhile, many restos lauded the effort, while others remained ambivalent. And as for the man whose story seemed to kick off all the attention? Tapeo’s Victor Alfonso tweeted appreciately about all the awareness, yet stopped short of endorsing the tactic.

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Whatever your views on naming and shaming no-shows , the discussion has brought out several important points, not the least of which are Québec’s archaic laws when it comes to a resto rights. An establishment, for example, cannot legally charge a no-show credit card, nor can they accept prepaid sums for meals as collateral.

When you think about it, this is totally wacky—a holdover of rituals and traditions around public dining that really have no relation to modern business practices.

Booking tickets for concerts, galleries or other outings are par for the course—usually online with a credit card. Ditto for hotels, which always have clear terms as to when and how one might cancel a reservation (and the ensuing penalties).

Why, in an era of on-demand entertainment and ubiquitous online ordering, should restaurants be shackled by such bygone legislation?

As of now, @NoShowsMontreal has generated a lot of buzz but has only actually posted the names of six pesky patrons.

But they’ve been very successful at highlighting the faulty logic in our business laws, which are mostly hurting small establishments. It’s sad, because these scaled-down, agile kitchens are exactly the types of places we need to keep culinary innovation alive.

Dish of the day: grouper tempura, banana guacamole

Grouper is one of those incredibly versatile fish tarnished with a certain historical bias. It was a poor-man’s fish in many parts of the world, and though it no longer carries that stigma single-handedly, it remains severely underrated!

This dish, from the fantastic blog Ideas in food, handles grouper in such a natural way that – like all good dishes – it makes you ask, Why isn’t this done all the time? Well, now you can do it too: bread the grouper with your favourite tempura batter (or even just egg & panko), and fry it swiftly to make a thick, moist tempura treat.

The pairing of smoked paprika, cocoa (or versions thereof) before battering are – in my opinion – brilliant, and as for the banana guacamole…well, I didn’t try that, but I hope you will – and let me know how it turns out.

Full recipe: http://blog.ideasinfood.com/ideas_in_food/2006/01/fried_fish.html

À table signing off for another night!

Grouper tempura (paprika, cocoa), banana guacamole. Image source: Ideas in Food (https://mealscape.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/0160d-groupertempuraspicedcocoabananaguacamole.jpg)
Grouper tempura (paprika, cocoa), banana guacamole. Image source: Ideas in Food (https://mealscape.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/0160d-groupertempuraspicedcocoabananaguacamole.jpg)

Dish of the day: Baked Spanish sardines & eggs

We should eat more sardines because they are so healthy, affordable, and relatively sustainable.

We should also eat more baked egg dishes–and the Spanish are good at them. So try this: Baked Spanish Sardines & Eggs, courtesy of Yummy.ph.

 

A great, warm, protein-filled dish of the day!

Image source: Yummy.ph. (http://www.yummy.ph/images/06-2013_recipes/06-2013_yummy-ph_recipe_image_baked-spanish-sardines-and-eggs_fboxnew.jpg)
Image source: Yummy.ph. (http://www.yummy.ph/images/06-2013_recipes/06-2013_yummy-ph_recipe_image_baked-spanish-sardines-and-eggs_fboxnew.jpg)

Dish of the day: poached egg taco with tomato & chili oil

Ah, the joys of nothing left inthe fridge and -22 degree Celcius weather. Necessity is the mother of…poached egg tacos.

A warmed corn tortilla topped with some homemade tomato purée, chili oil, poached egg, a clove of roasted garlic and some shaved parmesan & ground black pepper.

Simple, warming and satisfying! You can make 2 and call it a meal. Add a bit of green to contrast the heaviness (some chopped lettuce, cilantro or parsley on top or a small salad as a side).

Poached egg parmesan tomato taco
Poached egg parmesan tomato taco – see on Instagram

8 baking practices we should bring back

1. The communal oven

communal oven

One of the greatest costs of industrialization was the death of baking practices that both built and sustained communities. You didn’t need to live in a small town in the Middle Ages to reap the benefits of the communal oven. Many Parisian neighbourhoods also featured communal ovens around which its residents talked, learned and evolved.  So do some small towns up until not that long ago. Besides the ample social benefits, which Pierre Delacretaz has done a beautiful job of documenting in his book, Les Vieux Fours a Pain (Old Bread Ovens), many parts of the world still make use of communal ovens for both practical and cultural reasons. Imagine dropping off your dough in the morning to pick up an amazing loaf on your way home from work, or a ceramic pot in which your dinner would get slow cooked all day (à la Tangiers), or a whole stack of cinammon buns made from your own backyard teff.

2. These things

(credit: Taste & Tell blog)

3. Itinerant bakers

What’s this, you ask? It’s a professional baker with a heart of gold, equipped with a bike and a whole satchel of passion for bringing baking into people’s homes. Aka, “boulanger itinérant” or baker on the go”. S(h)e’ll come to your house and bake with you and your friends, teaching your simple ways to do it on your own down the line. When you’re done, you’ll have a whole bunch of pro loaves, buns, and other goodies to share around. The best part is the baking expertise that no one can take away from you. Here’s one in Montréal that is worth calling up. If you’re still not convinced, I wrote more about him here.

4. Home bread mills

Imagine being able to bake from anything, any starting point whatsoever. Kernels of corn, millet or rye. Why not mill at home? Mills cost a lot less than you think. What’s more: you,re not even limited to grains. When I was in living in France in the early 2000s, I worked in a chestnut orchard. We milled the dried chestnuts and made a delicious, nutritious chestnut flour. It combined beautifully with baking flours or other alternative flours (for the gluten intolerent) to create breads, scones and pastries of all types. Milling at home is not as hard as you think. Mother Earth has a great rundown of how to begin your home bread mill search.

5. This ancient mesopotamian bread

Ancient mesotopamian

(There’s even a recipe that has survived 5200 years)

6. Making pie crust with finger tips

A shortcrust, once a staple of many Anglo-Saxon savoury & sweet dishes, has long gone the way of grandma’s cookbook. The thing is, it’s so ridiculously easy and superiour to store-bought crust that its absence in our daily life boggles my mind. Here’s a quick, tried and tested technique (apologies, but Mr. Jamie Oliver does it best).

7. Date squares.

They’re just not made often enough.

Date squares

8. Baking in sand, embers or stones

Baking flat breads inside a solid heat source, as it were, is a famously Berber technique (think lots of sand dunes and not a lot of electricity), but it’s indeed been the go-to baking method in most corners of the world. In North America, however, we’ve long grown distant from our indigenous roots, and most of us would never consider it a way to get that yeast rising, or golden crust forming.  But it is something to bring back. Still not convinced? Just watch this:

Berber oven

Need more unprofessional food thoughts? Twitter me

A glance at the scientific history of the saying “you are what you eat” via Steven Shapin

I attended a full-house talk last night by Harvard historian Steven Shapin. Shapin is one of the world’s most highly-regarded historians of science, and his talk focused on the old adage “you are what you eat.”

He began by noting that the saying is often limited to a cultural inference, via Brillat-Savarin, but that Feuerbach’s similar Der Mensch ist, was er ißt might be thought a materialist counterbalance. Shapin thus set out to consider how the “ethos” of this saying did not begin with Brillat-Savarin, but has indeed been central to humans’ relationship to food since at least the Roman era if not before.

Shapin stepped quickly backward from Feuerbach to the Romans, taking us through a survey of Galen’s extensive medical (and philosophical) notes on the topic. The Romans’ analogous depiction of food and human (hot pepper, hot temper et.) was explored historically, with hints at the discursive: how identity is constructed through labels (the Buddhists would say “mere name”). In the case of Galen, it was fascinating to see how the words used to “construct” food were inseparable from the words used to “construct” a person’s physical & emotional identity. Personally, I found this discursive element worth pursuing in depth, but we all attend these talks with disciplinary biases and Shapin is a historian, after all. Shapin surveyed how food and human have not only been “depicted” together, but quite possibly “constituted” together, as part of one overarching scientific/belief system or world fabric. For the Romans, to think of them separately would have seemed ludicrous. Of course, other civilizations had already developed what–today–could be described as strikingly resonant philosophies of medicine, nutrition and wellbeing (think Chinese, Ayurvedic, etc.), but Shapin stuck mostly to Western history.

Shapin also, I suppose, introduced Galen of Pergamon to Galen Weston, highlighting (to my ear, at least) a certain ontological affinity between the ancient and modern–tying the Romans’ analogous relationship of food/body to modern calorimetry (what in practice, for most of us, I would call “label-gazing”). How? Why? Well food for us today may indeed have many angles, but the ground of its “being” as it were, has been (at least for the past fifty years) widely accepted as a set of chemicals & chemical reactions. This is the set default for food “being” and “behaving.” Therefore, because food is for us today the product of a scientific vernacular, so are our bodies and dispositions. Apparently.

Yet in his situated science terms, Shapin was never as reductive as I am being, and amusingly & often gracefully drifted away from these terms in emphasizing that food (like a body) also has a social/cultural composition.

That said, when Shapin’s talk strayed into the realm of the cultural, one got the sense that he was a bit of a newcomer to food studies and happy to take relative stabs in the dark, which might have annoyed others more closely involved with food topics. For example, that the Atkins’ diet took hold because it was about losing mass while eating meat, yet meat equates to luxury, and this in general typifies the 90s and at the same time can explain its success. There is nothing wrong with stuff like that–and I quite enjoyed the dialogue–but what I craved were a few more pauses, then a return to a more detailed historical/scientific analysis of just one or two more aspects of the periods he suveyed .

In the end, Shapin finished by noting that with the exponential globalization of countless local understandings of food (both on the nutritive and cultural planes) , we in fact are moving out of the certain era of calorimetry into something quite uncertain, a breaking period of difficult & tasty contradictions following one of rigorous diagnosis. I won’t get into the interplay between local and global, to which I thought he was not quite precise enough, and I do not fully agree. Shapin is awesome, though, and was riveting to watch in fielding a diverse and unfiltered set of questions. He once even joked “when I don’t feel comfortable answering a question, I usually say it is a dialectic”. So okay, dialectics a-given, are we entering another gastronomical Middle Ages? I sure as hell hope not. But as a transitional period, it is much like that early-19th century époque of Brillat-Savarin & Feuerbach themselves, a most provocative time to utter to your neighbour,Dis moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai qui tu es.

Serving / leftovers

Keeping-moving

Serving is troubling. The act can be differentiated from “giving” and “taking” in that it somehow borrows from both in one smooth moment of possibility. It is important to recall that it is not the same as “giving.” The most significant point of differentiation is that “giving” entails a clear separation–a separation of self from object (shirt off back), of self from other (left him my heart), and of other from object (got a new toy). Unlike giving and taking, which are necessarily abstractions (two poles of a continuum), serving must be thought and done at the same time. It is there to resist definition.

Serving is tense. It eludes fixed positions, being captured. Giving is characterized, inventorized, and illustrated in vivid colour in moral fables, sacred texts and mythology. The moving target of serving is handed via analogy at best, and for the most part has resisted theorization.

Serving can only be a practice–a set of actions considered. It must be considered AND performed at once. Or else, it is not serving. It is something else.

Serving & food

Serving helps us get out of thinking of food mechanistically. That old anatomical drawing of the digestive tract, foisted upon us in elementary school, is only the starting point of this pervasive (Western) worldview. Think. The harvest is glorified. The harvest is seen as a “collection.” Other organisms are “products.” Farmers and cooks are “manufacturers,” and we, the human being, are “consumers.”

That quaint notion we’re taught, something called the food cycle, is really a conveyor-belt of inputs and outputs, attack & surrender, a forward-marching siege of give-and-take whose conclusion is stencilled into the diagram before we can even begin to wonder at its real workings. To survive, we must “take” vegetables from the earth and “put” them in our body. We can “give” them to our children (ostensibly to sustain their life). Yet ultimately, in this conception (the only most of us know) we and we alone propel activity. We are the actor, while the food (or person being served) are already erased. They might resist with roots, or a waived fork, but within this conceptual arrangement, they can be little else than an object which receives our advance.

servingwhateverthatmeans

Serving, as a critical concept, complicates the certaintly of the productive line. Serving is the interruption, the place where we touch & are touched. Do you “interact” with a cool damp carrot plucked from the earth? If so, is the interaction the stuff of old-fashioned whimsy, an “alchemical” change of state and slight dismemberment? (peeled & boiled orange stuff on a plate?) Is the interaction the scrumptious dish you display to your guest, prompting them to intake, intake, intake with a waggle of your sharp (potentially deadly) fork? The vegetable itself has helped dictate the tools, gestures and dimensions of the dish, the actions your partook, and the words you spoke (and fork-pokes you took) at your guest.

You’re eating at a restaurant. You’re slaughtering a sheep. You’re laying down a spread for your hungry teenaged son. Who controls service: the server, the served, or the matter being served ?

From funnelling seeds into the earth to layering alasagna

Food practices are not simply narratives of “taking” and “giving.” Food practices are strewn together by acts of serving. The point here is that we don’t “give” food to someone any more than we “take” it from the earth.

If I’m a host, we say that I serve my guests. Yet I am not giving them anything. No more than a monkey is “taking taste and nutrition” out of the banana as it strikes the roof of her mouth.

Because serving resists abstraction, it is ambiguous. As always, ambiguity can only be an opening. No more no less.

Take out the serving, take out the opening. And without it, the study of  food–like the study of humans–is just too neat and clean to be trusted.

Celebrity, morality and butter: Paula Deen affair points to something beyond the average tasty scandal

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On June 19th, the unholy views of Paula Deen made a quick splash onto the mediascape. This despite the fact that the lawsuit against her had been filed last year and her deposition issued a month before.

By the 20th, #PaulaDeen was an official twitterized scandal. Soon after, it exploded to epic proportions.

Earlier Deen scandals, though surely mediatized, didn’t make enduring headlines or deep media imprints–soon half-forgotten by all but her ardent fans and that significant subset of North American society–the Food Network junky.

Despite the profound moral and physiological damage certain well-respected pundits saddled her with, Deen was hardly a household name (nor trending Twitter tag) after her cynical diabetes debacle: a simultaneous announcement of her Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis (years after she found out herself) and big pill endorsement. She was duly chastised, and all was mostly forgotten a few months later. If anything, her shows, kitchenware and endorsement deals only seemed to spike.

This time round, her name has been impossible to miss–and I’ve hardly met a single North American who doesn’t have gut-wrenching polemic to expel from their system when her name is mentioned. The cook, unaided by baffling testimony and disastrous subsequent public relations strategy, did not only “make” the front page, but found some prime real estate there–competing with Ed Snowden for top slot in the Google news ticker.

As a seasoned veteran of that long-time Food-Network-mainlining subsection of humanity, I’m left asking why?

We’ve heard a few reasons again and again. They can basically be summarized as: 1) Deen carries big media reach, 2) Deen has an influential brand, 3) Deen is a face to simmering societal tensions in the South. To be honest, “it was a slow news week,” is a more plausible rationale to me. Sure, those 3 factors helped make her remarks into a story, but not such a blockbuster one, not one that struck at the gut of the average Jill.

Money and influence may well be the traditional yardsticks of public responsibility. But put in context with countless other corporate, celebrity or political scandals, Deen’s footprint just does not hold up.

Compare Deen to global companies and public figures. Her brand might be relatively sizeable in the food world, but it’s hardly a drop in the greater media/consumer-scape. Nor is her selling power, business savvy, political influence, or earnings. Looking for moral disappointments in the latter areas? Check this list, or this one or this one.

Furthermore, to extol her comments as singularly representing racial tension is to minimize the countless acts of racial violence perpetrated daily in North America

So it brings up that same question: why did her comments cause such a stir? I’m not asking you why we care about the content of her beliefs. The lashing she’s received has been, to my understanding, 100% justified–and should continue as long as her beliefs go unexamined. But that horse has been beaten continually in media reports of her affair. I could post yet another critique, but I could never articulate it as eloquently as, for example, this open letter by Michael W. Twitty.

What I’m curious about is why a celebrity cook carries so much social weight?

To me, the scandal does much to reveal what we construct, and what we seek to extract from, celebrity cooks today? Time has shown us that for bankers, movie stars and tech gurus, a brief public shaming and temporary boycott (soon forgotten), puts many scandals to a quick bedtime. But with Deen, the level of personal insult is palpable. It never ends. The more she weeps, the more the public (and I stress, not only food fans but a much wider segment) lashes out in pain, hurt and anger.

There is something about the tangible, material and nutritive force of a cook, a home-cook at that, wherein the moral transgression appears to be amplified. It shows us two things. First, just how powerful the media image can be: has Deen ever really been a homey mama or just suave magnate? We never cared to ask. Second, it points to the idea that those who teach us to cook–and eat–by guiding us into the very intimate act of nutrition, of incorporation (literally building our bodies and fortifying our mental state) become de facto guides on derivative matters such as morality, the sanctity of life and social equality.

In other words, we subconsciously look to them to learn how to incorporate the world itself.

I maintain that the Paula Deen affair has reached this crux not merely because of one woman’s penchant for pre-Abolition America, nor her brother’s off-colour jokes. It’s partly because she has been successful at constructing we want out of the TV personality: that friend to fill the void, or better yet, to nurture us.

But most importantly–and the daily surge of headlines testifies to this–it’s because she’s a cook.

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8 awesome shots of Milwaukee urban agriculture & food growth projects galore

For no apparent reason other than, I’ve never been to Milwaukee and I love what is happening in the city food-wise.

Cheesy? I thought so. It’s Milwaukee, after all. Dairy Capital. So I AM excused!

 

Find out more here:

Milwaukee Renaissance

Victory Gardens

Resilient Milwaukee

Growing Power

Vertical farms

$5 million investment

Tasting shrimp 6 ways

…rainbows of shining fish on ice, the mounds of shrimp still wriggling their
antennae, painted carts of lemons, jewel-colored candied fruit

– quoted in Duruz (2004), “Adventuring & belonging: An appetite for markets,” Space & Culture 7(4)

Shrimp are crevettes, which are prawn, or กุ้ง.Their wriggling nature, propensity toward full-body incorporation, and diversity of shape and size make them a polarizing little beast…or prize.

Herein find five diverse and, admittedy, rather random ways that shrimp are “tasted” (in the Bourdieuian sense) (yes, Bourdieuian is a word. I learned it today.).

I. Taste 1: Raw shrimp are poison

Shrimp and ramps
Shrimp and ramps

In the West, food regulating bodies have long penetrated the population with a resounding message: Raw Shrimp Are Deadly. Only recently, thanks to the West’s insatiable appetite for sushi, have dissenting voices found some serious traction. Bodies such as the USDA have proclaimed the dangers of raw seafood almost since their inception. To be sure, there is near-irrefutable evidence (and sadly, human experience) to corroborate the dictum that eating raw shrimp heightens one’s risk for poisoning. Beyond the allergen factor, it has been shown beyond a reasonable doubt that improperly-prepared, past-prime, or excessive intake of raw shrimp can sharply increases the likelihood that you will puke, convulse, and even die. Most of us, however, assume that raw shrimp is limited to good shrimp sashimi, accent on the innovative and exotic. We would be mistaken, however, if we thought that eating raw shrimp was a modern Western indulgence. In fact, the common Western notion that shrimp be eaten only cooked is itself the modern rhetorical turn. Before 1950, owing to a lack of widely affordable refrigeration, shrimp consumption was largely limited to immediate regional zones–in other words, chomping down on a shrimp  near to the place and time of its harvest. Eating shrimp raw was not unheard of (in other words, North and South Americans ate their share of good local shrimp sashimi long before they knew the word).

northern-20987_640
A “Northern cleaner shrimp” looking both Northern and clean. (Source: public domain)

Raw shrimp as a public health danger was only popularized upon vast amounts of shrimp being shipped frozen across the continent, ever since which, for most of us, “frozen and dethawed” shrimp has become synonymous with “fresh.” Bacterial danger zones spike quickly when food is in a state of dethawing (no, running it under hot water does NOT minimize the danger), so that its “safe period” for consumption becomes minimized. The safest bet for non-shrimping communities has become to cook it till it’s no longer raw. Another choice is to buy the precooked stuff…like that luxurious frigid “shrimp ring”–another faux “raw” experience enabled by post-1950s foodways. Fun!

II. Taste 2: Shrimp are an abomination

We all know that Jews & Muslims agree on more things than they disagree on. Growing up in an unkosher half-Jewish home, I was half-aware that shrimp, alongside most shellfish, were seen as “dirty” by the clergy of both faiths. I had assumed until recently that (poor little crusty seadwellers as they are) shrimp didn’t make the Halal cut either. Which is why I was equally fascinated to learn that shrimps are not just dirty, but in fact “an abomination” according to the most common interpretation of Kashrut law, and that in fact only Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims forbid its consumption.

III. Taste 3: Shrimp are not pink or finger-sized. They are small and brown

In England, “shrimp” are only the small brown crustaceans, and are used to make only a handful of regional (and largely obscure) dishes, one of which is Lancastrian potted shrimp. The rest of those coily crustaceans that we haphazardly call shrimp (including the big Jumbo ones that Paul Hogan loves to toss on the grill), don’t you know, are prawns.

IV. Taste 4: Shrimp hold magical powers

Potted shrimp, usually preserved with butter, and served on toast, served here with pickled cucumber.
Potted shrimp, usually preserved with butter, and served on toast, served here with pickled cucumber.

According to CreaturesWiki, a highly fantastical (and hence enjoyable) source of magical virtuosity, shrimp are “small crustaceans that seem to survive on… nothing. It is rumoured these critters hold mysterious powers, and the fact that they don’t have to eat to survive supports this.” Interested to know more?

  • The Shrimp are found in the Aquatilis Caverna metaroom. There are many more than one variety of shrimp. They include the:
    • Shrimp
      • Which is described as:
        • …gorgeous (and precocious) little creatures that infest Aquatilis Caverna… They certainly bright up Aquatilis Caverna, and are one of my favorite creatures! -From the diaries of Terasumaren.

V. Taste 5: Shrimp are your mothers.

Though the Dhammapada technically does not have any line matching the above, I speak with certainty in informing you that any Buddhist worth their salt(water creature knowledge) believes that the shrimp you are about to eat is, or at least was, at some point, your kind mother. You see, the Buddha taught that our past lives are endless and therefore every living being has been the mother of  another living being at some point. Was your mind just blown? Appreciating that shrimp on your plate in a whole new way? Well, don’t take it from me, go blow your mind a bit more.

VI. Taste 6: True hospitality to tourists/guests is demonstrated by throwing a cricket-glove-sized shrimp onto a blazing hot grid of iron fueled by a tank of propane

You know you want to. You know you want to. You know you want to. CLICK ME

VII. BONUS: Taste 7: Your words!

So finally what is your taste of shrimp? Let me know here or in the comments below!

Tables & ‘hoods

What a lovely little roundup by M-C Lortie of La Presse, on the evolution – and meaning – of the “neighbourhood table” in Montréal. You won’t find a listing of restaurants here, but you will find a nice narrative!

Thanks to M-C Lortie – whose travellings and rumblings I always love to read!

tables of neighbourhoods
Tables, quartiers, montréal, fun

Ramen as it should be

Today my friend and I visited Misoya, an amazing, caring local spot. The stairs are cracked and broken on the way in, and the sign still said “Fermé”. But I’m glad we persisted. This is the best ramen I’ve had to date. Some people called it a “chain,” but it’s really just a lil’ NYC sensation that took off and opened up in Tokyo and SF as well. Happy they chose Quartier Concordia to open up – as I’ll be going often. Care and attention to every detail. Broth was lovely – salty in an intense, deep, miso way…as it should be. Pork was tender and felt like I was uncoiling the neck meat of a turkey–yet tasted way better. Noodles were just dense and eggy enough without being an over-burden to the stomach. Generous, melty scallions. And extra spice if one so desired. By the way, the daikon salad starter (included in the 9,95 $ lunch special) was also something I’d make in a dream: simple flakes of the crisp white radish, doused with just-enough sesame miso purée. Lovely. Dainty and fulfilling all at once. Here’s my photo:

Ramen at Misoya, on Bishop. Awesome and love-filled. Those are potatoes!
Ramen at Misoya, on Bishop. Awesome and love-filled. Those are potatoes!

 

Serving (2)

A_group_of_diners_give_their_order_to_the_waiter_at_a_restaurant_in_the_West_End_of_London,_spring_1941._D2957

As I sat down to write this post, it began to dawn upon me how odd the past decade of my life has been work-wise. Somehow I’ve strung together a model for the non-career–a path studded with the most inconsistent array of tasks imaginable: web designer, line cook, teacher, waiter, religious organizer.

One thing emerged from this list. There is one thing in common–and though I’m skeptical of destiny and hardline versions of karma–I do see how the scattered stones of this path has led me to what I call “mealscape” today. In each of these jobs, it would seem, I am somehow being appointed to serve. To serve someone with something, or something with someone.

Serving food to a plate, serving a plate to a customer, serving HTML to the web, serving questions to the student, serving spirituality to the heathens*. (*NOTE: yes, this is how religious groups think).

I no longer know if I agree with–or want to repeat–any of these roles in exclusivity. But as a whole, they give me pause for thought. What do we mean when we talk about serving, anyhow?

What is actually going on? Is serving as simple as giving, or being taken from? If so, of what use is this particular verb at all? Is serving a person the same as serving an object or an ideal? And how is that a host serving a dish simultaneously connotes appropriation (the transformation and “plating” of one vibrant thing) and being appropriated (the devotion of one’s energies to the benefit of another vibrant thing–such as another human)? In other words, how do we navigate the tension between serving and Serving? Are serving up and serving out really worthwhile distinctions?

There are more than a few of us who seem to have pursued food as an inroad to some kind of emancipation (physical, social or political). I for one have spent much time grappling with the ways in which food exists as culture, and culture exists as food. But more often than not this obsession has come at the detriment of the gestures that stand in between.

Food bloggers, food critics and food scholars … we’ve all been neglecting to tip the waiter. We’ve become fixated on the messages of nutrients, ethics and taste. In doing so, it seems we’ve often bypassed their very “medium: serving.

The ambiguity of serving is that which allows its inscription – simultaneously – upon various positions in the food cycle.

We know that production, preparation, procurement, consumption and disposal – in short, food acts – are bound up in a moral, sensory and social fabric.

Food studies folk – especially the social scientists – are fond of bickering as to whether the pancake you ate for breakfast was a product of the inorganic worms that shit the wheat’s soil, the (un)ethical labour of the millworkers who ground it into flour, or the oil compound of the spatula that flipped it .

Meanwhile, they tacitly omit the performative.

But of course we all do it, and we do it not so much tacitly as tactfully (I don’t mean to pick on social scientists).

After all, doing service is hard–and I’m not just talking about the hotel & restaurant business.

Have you ever cooked in an open kitchen? Of course you have. (Think of your apartment, your job at McDonalds, or that time you operated the food truck).

Okay, forget open kitchens. Have you ever cooked?

Did you purchase a seabass at the market? Who served it to you? The fisherman, delivery driver or fishmonger? I once cooked for religious retreats. Us cooks were religious too–and we had to get food out on time. In practice then, each chop of the onion, or tilt of the frying pan, was spiritual service as well. When you cook at a restaurant, you serve to the plate. Does the waiter/food runner serve the customer, or is it you, the cook, or is it more practically the dish or the fork?

“Service” is not an industry, a position, or a duty. It it has been frozen and captured by the systems in need of each of the latter. Regimes, whether capitalist, totalitarian or religious, cannot help but steal the glorious ambiguity of life away from a word.

The problem is not that we enter the service industry hoping to do good, or even to make money. The problem is not that cooks work in service (sorry) of any of the latter. Rather it is that we feel that simply because we are in the industry, that we are serving, that we understand what serving is.

Like the edible matter imagined by Jane Bennett, “to serve” is to enter into a space of vibrancy. Yet vibrant here does not equate to eye-popping, exciting or colourful. It applies to gesture and motion, in the sense that the vibrant is the interplay of performing and being performed. In other words, if vibrancy here holds some affinity with the “lifelike,” it is less in the biological sense, and more the quantum one.

Serving food, serving HTML, serving the Divine…the question the verb poses seems to lack boundaries or definition. And yet it is no less real in its functioning. Whether we care about politics, food, or social justice, it is inscribed upon much of our adult lives. I have no pretensions. I am not unique. The older I get, the more I become convinced that all humans (especially those with financial commitments) eventually eventually ask: what master am I “serving”? This is a cognate question to Old Faithful: What Purpose Does My Life Serve?

Surely a post like this cannot properly ignore that last famous question. But what has not already been said about it? It’s not only that, as a Question, it’s lost its punch. It’s that the verb itself seems much more meaningful at this juncture in time.

To serve any of the entities above is to enter into some kind of engagement. The mechanical (and most exploited) view of this engagement is the reduction of serving to “serving to.” Yet “serving to” co-opts and appropriates reduction to self and Other. “There can be no server without a person being served,” “The master and slave are mutually dependent,” etc. We all know what follows from this rhetoric, and its storied (ab)use when plucked from embodied experience.

In serving, reciprocity can always be found *somewhere*. There is no serving without agreement–of some kind, on some level. And it is precisely *because* of this agreement that we should never equate it with “giving” nor with “being taken from.” It stands somewhere in between, or rather, in avoidance of these two theoretical impossibities.

Serving necessarily opens up a world. And in doing so, I think, it most seductively transcends the mechanics of mere “transaction”.

At that, my friends, I shall depart. I have a dinner to go make…and eat !

… stay tuned for part three! Your comments welcome below.

Row, row, row, row / Now, now, now, now

My deepest gratitude, thanks and joy to this lovely lady, my dear friend Heather Finlayson.

This post exists merely to point you to her wise digital hut. Each moment we stand, sit, cook or eat (in other words, in-habit the mealscape) we should try to stay awake.

If you would like to know what it means to “row” gently through your life, awake to its pleasures and setbacks, let us replay her words, taken from her blog post: “Gently down the stream.”

When you stop discriminating good and bad (equanimity), and cultivate love and compassion, the mind is said to be naturally joyful. I think of it as a child-like grace. A small child has not yet made the myriad decisions, the thoughts that pile up and then calcify into a painful judgmental worldview. Be like that child, now, now, now, now.

Serving (1)

There’s a lot of talk in the service industry about standards. These standards, and the implicit assumptions they impose upon “serving” have long sedimented into something hard and jagged: a diamond (or four). We are not meant to mess with “service.” There is a right and a wrong, and the sharp edge that separates them can be deadly, both reputationally and economically.

I have worked in the service world in varying capacities. I’m not convinced that–if we care about the meal–this convnetional stranglehold on the term is healthy.

In reality, serving is unsettling. As a concept, it is troubling, seductive.

How do we begin to talk about how serving is embedded in our reciprocal relationship to food and each other?

“To serve,” according to OED:

– perform duties or services
– present to someone
– deliver in a formal manner to the person to whom it is addressed
– be of use in achieving or satisfying
– hit the ball or shuttlecock to begin play for each point of a game
– bind with thin cord to protect or strengthen it
– operate a gun

This is another instance wherein a dictionary actually obscures a concept.

Serving is just that: a bit of a hidden object. It is an opening and point of danger. I have spent some years now in an in an awkward dance; most roles have involved being appointed to cook, talk, teach, or display HTML. The notion of serving is embedded in all of these activities.

What do we mean when we talk about serving?

The verb has, of course, a slew of connotations, from the vocational to the lofty to the downright geeky. But many of these (especially the lofty) have been choked in peels of empty rhetoric for so long that it’s almost impossible to find a useful concept therein. I’m going to persist here. Follow along, and feel free to fight back at whim.

How do concepts enter our worldview? How does food get to our plate? How does the data we navigate get carved into something perceptible, relatable, or usable?

In other words: of what use is serving as a critical concept?

– In my next post, I will explore some of these questions by way of the concept of “open kitchen.”

Your comments are welcome!

Got to go…Stay tuned for more…

The meal as radical gesture of hospitality

In a fantastic and underrated dialogue with Anne Dufourmantelle, Jacques Derrida muses on the shared root of the words “hostility” and “hospitality.” In reviewing the dialogue, one scholar notes that it is really about  “making [one]’s very limits [one]’s openings.”

When I read this, it dawned upon me that right here was a fabulous way to open up new discussion on the mealscape—a way that might tease out some more fibres of its social/material interplay.

bread wait eat

With his “Step of hospitality / No hospitality,” Derrida brusquely and characteristically displaces us from our habitual discursive stance.

It made me think of how passively we brush up against notions of “hospitality” in daily life. There is, for instance, Hospitality in the Capital sense:

  • the college program (Minor in Hospitality)
  • the hotel ad (“Hospitality is Our Middle Name!”)
  • the middle management position (Food & Hospitality Manager)

What is there to pull from these mythologized Hospitalities (which are also facets of the mealscape)? And even if there were something to say, what is there to say that has not already been said?

Doro watt and bulgar and injeraThis version of Hospitality need not be criticized or extolled for, in the end, it is already canonized, frozen and anointed. It is literally un-remarkable–we’ve long uncovered that anything and everything can become capitalized. In other words, capitalism spares nothing and no one: even the Devoutly Hospitable. Of  the latter, we know that hospitality can also mean something like “good grace.” Aligned in this instance to a certain moral compass, hospitality is fueled as much by the Saving of oneself as it is about providing for another. Devout hospitality, I would go so far as to argue, might even be about saving face in light of this Other.

But there is something more to Derrida’s etymological curiosity here. Meals might help us get there.

Let me share an anecdote from earlier tonight.

At around 8 pm, I stopped by to fix a bug on a client’s website. Before I could complete the simple task, the manager was asking what I did and did not like to eat. I stumbled over my words, attempting to avoid any expectation that I should be fed. It was, after all, a bustling Ethiopian restaurant—and there were plenty of mouths to feed. But half an hour later, I was ushered to the back of the restaurant, where a platter of injera the size of a bicycle wheel was placed on a table with eight vibrant mounds of goodness lavished on top. I was surprised to see my accompanying friend, who had disappeared into the basement upon our arrival, already seated in front of the platter with a mango-grenadine cocktail. Moments later, the owner arrived from a workout, flanked by an acquaintance who he’d picked up on the street. We blinked at each other, giggling at how we’d come to be seated face-to-face on this particular unexpected Thursday night. All I’d come to do was fix some code.

But here I was with an Ethiopian restauranteur planning his next trip home, a high school English teacher fresh off a long day of rote, and a law graduate turned professional impersonater just returned from a rowdy show to Russian diplomats.

We dug in with open (or rather, curved) hands. As we scooped up bites of expertly-spiced watt and kitfo, languages and topics flowed across the food: dialects of Italy and Montréal-Nord, uncanny impersonations of Chrétien & Obama, and a mandatory dose of local political speculation. I like to think that—like the spontaneous configuration of the gathered eaters—the products of this meal could not ever have been planned. Nor repeated. I also like to think of them as pleasant digestive enzymes.

In my day job as well as my past gigs, I have dealt with various clients, and been submerged in half a million meetings. Ideas are always being shared, and tasks are always being attacked. But the living matter of food, placed squarely between the players, can whisk these encounters into something quite profound. It is as if the living matter, so simply offered to keep us alert on the job, slowly reminds us of our own living matter—our hands, our skin, our glands—and with it, our basic want: happiness.

We know that meals—despite the quaint notion of feeding someone—can of course function in just the opposite way as I have described.  I am wary in being overzealous here. There is, to be sure, a razor thin edge between hospitality and hostility. In light of this, I also don’t want to misrepresent a) Derrida, b) my hosts or c) the meal, as some kind of handy binary, as have done so many historians and rom-com scenarists. In these mythologized accounts, the meal is reduced to Ecstatic or Sinister.

But when certain configurations alight, the social, sensory, intimate, (in)corporeal gestures of the meal might be the perfect medium for making one’s very limits one’s openings. For hospitality in the rich, curious, Derridean sense.

Meals in this light are more than the “messages” or end parts (the stuff of much restaurant criticism, drama or cynical “foodie” accounts). Meals in this light are more than simply nutrition, politesse, or gluttony.

Meals in this light are radical—in that they do much to reveal the root of the word hospitality itself.

So take heed: we now have evidence! The best meal is nothing short of a radical gesture of hospitality.

Meal blog vs. food blog. Do names matter?

A bit of history, and a confession. History: I started this blog in 2010. Confession: I started it out of spite for food blogs. I hated them. There were too many of them. Most people who wrote them seemed careless about food itself–bent on earning free drinks or Foursquare badges. What’s more, I was certain that the primary function of food blogs was to objectify–reducing vibrant matter to snap judgments and poorly shot iPhone photos. I disliked both the detachment of foodstuffs from the socio-sensory experience of the meal and the idea that the web should be clogged up with more and more data just because it was possible. Armed with a healthy dose of snobbery, I created a handy binary between the “sacred”, living space of the meal and the vacuous, “appropriative” space of the Internet.

But as the years went by, two things happened.

One, I relaxed. Call it one tablespoon of humility, and one cup of selling out. I ended up with a good camera. I started documenting my own gastro-money-dropping. As if anyone cared.

Two, I realized there were a lot of really good food blogs. And a lot of really good discussion going on across the Twitterverse, etc. So I jumped in, and I have to say I haven’t regretted it (and that I was a bit of a snob before).

That said, I’ve realized it’s time to get back to the roots. I always intended this to be a meal blog, not a food blog, and it’s time to honour that. It’s like calling yourself a media critic and spending most of your time writing about what you watched on TV last night. There’s a lot more going on outside the sexy stainless steel surface of my frying pan (though DAMN is it photogenic), or the new dumpling place I happened to walk by and try out.

Despite what I’ve said, I don’t blame myself for losing sight of the object. The meal – like serving – is a messy endeavour. It’s messy across ideologies, morals and disciplines. It does not have the same photogenic boundaries as my frying pan. (I’d love to say “it’s more alive” than food, but on biological terms, that’s impossible). What’s more, the food cycle suggests that food is performed by us and food performs us. Whether food is a piece of the meal or the meal a piece of is up for argument.

Food and the meal are both difficult to translate into words–it’s true. I have thought about this for some time now. I think–bear with me–that the difference lies somewhere in food’s potential for immediate emphatic experience. On the one hand this seems an arbitrary difference–or an unremarkable one. In general, yes. But it becomes substantial in light of our “media lives,” once a fun theory, now an irrefutable facet of the quotidient. We all agree to certain exchanges. One is some notion that food can be held captive–if even for a moment.

We don’t believe that a photo of a carrot is a carrot, but we do agree that it is a relatively accurate trace. Food can have a trace: we agree. We actually agree to the extent that we have codified their forms. Can a meal…really? Or rather, have we decided to agree upon the forms of its bounty or capture? Have you ever seen a good meal recipe? (Templates for performance art installations not included… ie it’s cheating to cite Judy Chicago, the Futurists, etc) But seriously, if you know of good meal recipes…let me know. My point is, we don’t even really try to make a meal into a discrete thing (here I go again: but have you ever actually seen a good photo of a meal you experienced?) and that’s why I called this blog the Mealscape–because meals are spaces–spaces of exchange.

It’s time for me to remember that. So thanks for being patient.

And I hope you’ll stick around to talk about the mealscape.

How could we not have fun? The meal is hazy, slippery, ephemeral, different, orgiastic (hence difficult), and above all–I have noticed after many years of trying–it seems to resists theorizing.

On that last note, stay tuned for my next post, about the notion of serving: its potential and its danger.

In the meantime, go cook your mom something nice. submit to reddit

This bagel place was the last bastion of life (and anything market-related) in the once-grand Faubourg! My boy Fabrizio Stendardo went to speak to the retiring bagel pros of Place Bagel du Faubourg. Don’t miss this harrowing tale!

iameducate

P1030261Around lunch time on Friday, loyal customers lined up to say their teary-eyed goodbyes and farewells. After 27 years, Place Bagel du Faubourg, located at 1616 St. Catherine Street West, will open its doors one last time tomorrow before ceasing to exist altogether.

Immigrants from São Miguel, the largest island in the Portuguese Azores, Joao and Maria Pires have decided the time is right to close the place down and finally retire.

The couple, who opened Faubourg Bagel Place in 1986, along with another partner Isaac Schneider, want to spend their time doing other things instead of work. “Sunday, I don’t know, we are going to relax the whole day” says Maria, who also intends on devoting more time to her three grandchildren.

Annie Pare, whose family has been frequenting Faubourg Bagel Place for about 25 years, says she is really sad to see this place go. “When you live…

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13 Short Non-Films About A Small Frying Pan

One frying pan, years of weirdness. Students in culinary college, shield your eyes! These are not habits to be learned. A frying pan and13 flashes (*no flash, just flashy Instagram)

13 views of a frying pan from bird’s eye featuring sauces, vegetables, and fish

5 ways to produce free food for yourself without having a garden

In the blogging spirit of lists of five, or ten, or seven random things that make you go, “ah, cool, maybe I could do that,” I thought I’d share a few of my favourite recent how-tos for urbanites, suburbanites or rural agricultural neophytes (yes, they exist, I used to be one).

The general take-home message here is that you don’t need a garden to make free food for yourself – just the water you’re paying your taxes for and light that naturally surrounds you. Oh, and a tad of patience.

1) Free scallions for life*

scallion roots how to
Don’t throw away your scallion roots!

*assuming you have a lot of window space or don’t eat that many scallions

Just hang on to those oft-discarded roots and store them by the window. Don’t forget to change the water. This how-to is about as clear as the water in the growing glass. Read.

2) Sourdough starter

Opening up the sourdough starter
Opening up the sourdough starter

As expectant father Josh in Top Chef said last week, “A sourdough starter can live on to be, you know, a hundred years or longer. You just have to take care of it, like a child.” It’s like the stinky wish-fulfilling jewel of the bacteria realm.

Kitchen Project gives you the basic formula, along with a bunch of tips and a history to boot! Read.

3) Garlic greens

Lighter and less breath-destroying than the root, garlic greens have long been used in ways similar to our traditional western “chives,” not to mention in much more creative ways as well. Breaking the trend of scallion wastage in your life? This a natural next step. Read.

4) Make fish babies


It’s pretty odd – if not downright disturbing – to label it that way. But you can take the water and light idea to the fullest extent by filling a tank with mating ectothermic beings and creating future fish: the tank’s the limit. (NOTE: The above video is useless and won’t help you at all, but it uses a great collection of weird fonts).

Anything can be sprouted (except plastic)
Anything can be sprouted (except plastic)

5) Sprout, sprout, sprout, sprout, sprout, sprout

Last but not least – and truthfully, not that dissimilar – from the first three items on this list: give new life (and matter) to your beans, pulses or grains: let them SPROUT. Technically, sprouted things equate to substantially more edible matter than their shrivelly cooked version, but the added bonus is that the nutrient burst (and absorption) is leagues beyond. It’s really not that hard, either: Read the City Farmer bible on the matter