Tag Archives: Vegetarian

Guilty (?) Pleasures

Ways to take the fun out of brunch:

What are your guilty pleasures? I bet you can conjure up half a dozen or so in a few seconds – corn chips, Ding Dongs, PBJ’s on Wonder Bread, root beer floats? You betcha. There’s hardly a chef or a starlet, who couldn’t list a culinary foible or two one would not wish to own to in public.

Why on earth, though, do we think of them as guilty? When did eating become a moral challenge?

What part of America’s puritan heritage grabbed our sense of food and fun by the short hairs, turning lunch into an ethics exercise and a battle of social one-upmanship?

Obviously, part of this is stuffiness – we are too cool for pop corn,  and tuna melts are not sophisticated. Botarga on points is so much more hip, but the uncoolness of classic American snacking is only half of the matter.

Guilty pleasures have been assigned increasingly profound ethical contexts in the past couple of decades. A fast growing population of purist food advocates and a meme sensitive eating public has sharpened our awareness of the impact of every nosh on everything. Servers – people we pay to bring food – have become sustainability lecturers. Learning that our steaks walked grassy knolls on a  small farm has become part of the dining ceremony. We choose our wine for its local and organic labeling rather than because it takes you to a higher plane and recalls that summer in Burgundy with the beautiful French boy/girl. We’ve been brainwashed.

Moral food ideologues have slipped  into our heads and convinced  us that our simple pleasures are in fact sinful and destructive burdens on society and the planet. KInd of like highly moral pod people. How did we let them do that?

So you’re a highly engaged foodie, right? You have two walls of cookbooks and can quote Craig Claiborne, MFK Fisher and Julia Child, have touched the robe of Rene Redzepi and kissed Alice’s ring, and stuff like pig skins is too schlocky  for you, too unhealthy, too industrial for your liberal gustatory sentiments? Hide the fig newtons when the doorbell rings? Wouldn’t be seen dead with a Coca Cola on a 110  degree day? Oh, piffle. We need to get over ourselves.

Not even The Church (you choose which one) considers food a transgression. It is after all, the one carnal pleasure you would never consider confessing, because it’s not a sin. If you insist on being spiritual about food, then consider the blessed  joy of MFK Fisher, Claiborne, Beard and Julia
Child, all of whom licked their fingers and ate whatever pleased them without shame or apology, generally accompanied with several martinis. Tony Bourdain got it right, when he said, your body is not a temple, but an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

“Guilty Pleasures” are only one aspect of the American nutrition/guilt complex.  There is a vast network of concerned citizens, public advocates and experts afoot whose self appointed goal is to make sure that you understand the ethics,  morals and politics of food,  follow the principles of healthy eating and feel bad if you do not.

The culinary busybodies and public advocates of our days have developed a litany of rules and admonitions to assure that we  do not spoil the planet, degrade the sacredness of  our bodies,  or have fun with our food.

They are doing good work in their own minds and the minds of their purist circles, godbless’em. Unfortunately they are a batch of priggish  gustatory busy bodies, who in an earlier epoch would have probably got their kicks by dunking witches to save their souls or looking for communists in the local book clubs.

Their dialectic successfully redirects your objections that what you eat is your own damned business to a question of social and community responsibility – your soda consumption burdens the national health budget, your meat consumption the planet. The public advocates, non human animal advocates, health advocates, eco advocates, slowness advocates have a long list of fiats and verbots.

What you are supposed to feel bad about:

Water Footprint. The water footprint fanatics claim that two pounds of steak is 15,000 liters  (400 gallons) and suggest that your profligate use of H2O deprives Sudanese babies. The idea seems to be that the water stays inside the cow. It doesn’t.

Carbon footprint:  Carbon is an element. It is part of fossil fuel.  which contributes to greenhouse gases, bad air days and the ozone hole.  Carbon footprint adherents maintain that anything you eat stresses the environment. They maintain websites that calculate just how much carbon was used in producing, harvesting, processing and transporting your burger or Twinkie, so that even if you give in,  you will know that you were responsible for destroying the planet. (You can assuage your conscience by giving them money to offset your footprint – kind of like the Catholic Church in the 15th century, Guilt begets Geld.) If masochism is your pleasure, this is the sweet spot. It is the basis of Locovorism (no bananas for you) and  attacks on bottled water.  There’s a lot wrong with this approach to food (as opposed to jumbo jets, coal plants and hummers) but it provides the worriers with constructive anxiety.

Non human animal treatment and murder of non human animals.  Surely a valid concern, Nobody wants bunnies or furry things to suffer. Some people don’t want us to eat meat at all. The animal rights discussion of what you should feel bad about occasionally slips its moorings.  France has recently accused some farmers mistreating pigs by withholding toys from them. KFC has just announced their policy to stun chickens in hyperbaric chambers . It’s odd that we treat our poultry better than we treat our prisoners.

“Food Justice” issues – a newer term to cover everything from low wages paid to servers,  Walmart shelf stockers and farm workers. The concept of green staffing means that everyone should be earning a “living wage”, which means a comfortable wage. This is just a catalogue of things you can feel guilty about, so we won’t go into the economics of food work, except to suggest that one take with a grain of salt anything written about it with passion. (all passion should be taken with a grain of salt..it is the opposite of rational thinking.) A new restaurant app permits you to eat only at restaurants who treat their employees well. (Dollars to Donuts there is a Union connection here.)
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Fair Trade: Assumes that all Third World  producers are exploiting their suppliers, who are exploiting their laborers, unless their products are certified “Fair Trade”, making distant politics and trade issues the responsibility of the diner. Smart companies like Starbucks, Pete’s and numerous chocolate producers have been able to monetize this concept extremely well.

The environment, pollution, global warming:.  Nutritional environmentalists point out that not eating mindfully will destroy the planet. That’s doubtful, and the impact of what you may think is virtuous can cause collateral damage – the rush to soy has prompted Chinese and American producers to  clear vast stretches of third world forests and indigenous crops for monoculture, for instance. Since there is really no way to assess accurately the impact of your burger, you might just as well give up trying and feel awful about it.

Monocultures, loss of diversity, depletion of species.  You may not yet feel guilty about this one, but it’s an easy target for self flagellation. GM practices, genetic patents, maritime depletion, seed company monopolies and many other factors are endangering the vast diversity of produce in the world. The single commercially raised species of banana is threatened by a slowly spreading endemic which is projected to wipe it out in a few decades. Mindful eating would thus dictate rejection of granny smith apples and Chiquita bananas. God bless seed banks.

World Hunger:  How do you reconcile your fabulous $250 dinner at Coi (and it is fabulous) with pictures of pinch cheeked babies in the Sudan? Is this your responsibility?  Most of us manage to keep our own pleasure and our awareness of others’ needs neatly separated, but it’s still something you can feel bad about.

World obesity: What do you mean it’s not your responsibility? Of course it it. If you drink Coca Cola,  you support the mega national corporation that is causing type 2 diabetes  in ten  year-olds.  You should be ashamed.

Your own body: There’s the temple thing again. It’s a sin to debase what you were given. Salt, trans fats, HFC.. the stuff that makes food taste good will kill you. (so will living longer, but that’s not the issue here.)  You owe it to the world to keep away from sugar and eat your spinach, have five healthy meals of fruits and vegetables a day, avoid junk food, no matter how much you want a Snicker’s bar.  Non whole grain pleasures are guilty. Shame again.

Other people’s bodies: Michael Bloomberg is so concerned with the effects of salt on health that he has forbidden certain donations to food banks, disallowed large sodas for sale and waged a campaign on salt and trans fats. Center for Science in the Public Interest and other public advocacy groups would have the government tax or forbid “unhealthy” food. Nutritional meddling has become an international sport, affording all who participate great rewards in the form of self satisfaction.London is cracking down on medium burgers. The justification for this is that if you get sick it will cost us all money, so since you are so inconsiderate that you don’t take care of yourself, the rest of us will make sure you do. Have I already mentioned saving witches’ souls?

Waste: The newest scream in the field of virtuous food concerns is the accusation that we Americans throw away up to/over 50% of our  food. The math on this is unclear to me, as is the argument that our waste takes food from the mouths of the third world. I didn’t buy it when my  mother told me that Children in China wanted my spinach, either. Mario Batali has made a great show of his dedication to restaurant waste control on NPR.

Loss of small industry. Was your food grown by a subsistence farmer, or by big AG. Big Ag is another guilting point.  This is easy enough to fix, and I have friends who do by eating only in and buying only from independent owned businesses. The trade off, of course, is price and sometimes quality.

Beef is bad: Mark Bittman’s recent Tedd commentary dealt with the meat issue much more cogently than I can. The Readers’ Digest version is that we eat too much of it, and it messes up the environment and plays  havoc with International economies. Since I personally don’t eat a lot of it, this is a comfortable philosophy. Should you feel bad about the next burger? Your call.

That’s not all of the baggage you can schlepp to the dinner table, but it will do for our purposes. The problem is that some of these issues are real, so how do you keep your moral compass while not profaning the communion of dinner?

I wish I knew. For my part  I seem to be able to block out the noise when it comes to eating and really nearly never feel abashed about what I like. My own policies are neither to tell others what to eat or to let them tell me, or even approach something like a sermon. My dining friends, many of the best met during a stint as a Slow Food leader, are gracious and non judgemental – a surprising blessing, considering the fact that Slow Food not only has a mission but a manifesto.

Perhaps, too, what we unfortunately term “guilty pleasure” is, in fact, visceral pleasure. Something more rooted in our genes or our childhoods, as disassociated from our intellectual processes as breathing or sleep. We in America have always had a troubled relationship with our bodies and our urges.  Pity really. If Fig Newtons transport you to the thrill of your 2nd grade lunchbox, or you just love to sit eating only the green M&M’s, that’s just ducky. Nobody else’s hang-ups should spoil the tiny bits of hedonism that brighten our lives.

My own schlocky pleasures are guiltless (your’s should be too): They may be junk food, but they’re  my junk food.

 

High end Cheese Doodles: Microwave a little piles  of  really good hard cheese on a Silpat for about thirty minutes. They are great.

Toast:  I like mine white with good texture, Keep your benighted sprouts. Possibly potato bread. Spread with salted butter and jam or honey.  Eat with hot chocolate. Forget dinner.

Orange Julius: Throw about a cup of orange juice, a couple of ice cubes, a little sugar or sweetener and vanilla into a blender, give it a whirl and voila, close enough.

Honey (Jam/Nutella) Spoon. Basta.

Candied Orange and lemon peel. Put in heavy simple syrup and simmer until soft. Drain. Use syrup in tea. Eat peel. Easy. Good. Melt some chocolate and pour over peel. Break off pieces and eat whenever.

Emmentaler crackers: Put Emmentaler on crackers and microwave. Or Gruyere. Or Manchego. Those oblong crackers with sesame seeds on top from Trader Joe’s are especially suited. Eat.

Bacon: Crisp. BLT if you must justify your food with a vegetable.

Chinese Lemon Chicken:  The irresistible combination of fat and sweet and meat and salt, plus the tang of vinegar and garlic shows that white trash food has crossed all ethnic demarcations. I have no idea  how to cook it. You find it at really cheap Chinese restaurants. It wants steamed rice, not fried. Requires chopsticks. Forks won’t work.

Gas burner s’mores. The chocolate must be Hershey’s. At least I assume that’s real chocolate. It’s like Wonder Bread for Bar B Que and Jiffy peanut butter for PBJ’s.

Microwave quesadillas: Chese zapped in a cheap taco.

Hot Dogs  Not the gourmet links. Ballpark kinds in sweat, soft industrial bun  with lots and lots of ketchup and Heinz relish.(Don’t zap the hotdog Put it in cold water and bring to simmering.. )

Taco Chips.  Give me a bag, put me in a corner, and if I stroke out, bury me with some.

PBJ’s.

Gelato. Any kind except pistachio.

Cinnamon Toast. The ultimate cure for the duldrums. Possibly with tea with a few mardarin orange peels thrown in. (Toast, butter, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I guarantee it works.)

Pate on anything. Ditto smoked salmon. Lacking anything, use a fork. Or the tip of a knife.

A roll of salami, a knife, bread and cornichons.

Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce made from the huge bar of Trader Joe’s cooking chocolate, milk and sugar on the stove top. Licking the bowl.

Tortillas heated in a pan or microwave or steamed then rolled up and dripping with salted butter.

Toaster oven raclette with baby potatoes.Or Triskets.

The occasional Oreo. Don’t we all?

French Toast in an ocean of real maple syrup. 

Tiny egg/flour/milk pancakes with lemon juice and sugar.

Figs and Gorgonzola.

Cheerios for dinner

There are, really , no rules.

If you are still burdened with the weight of an unsustainable world, just forget the ethical conundrums and ideologues  and channel the greats for the length of a snack or a meal or a vacation and bask in the benediction of your food, simple or fancy. What would Julia say?

If you read this, please feel free to add your own visceral addiction..I have a chef friend who would kill for Nutter Butter. I haven’t got a clue what it is, but it’s on my list of things to try.

 

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Tarians and Vores

What kind of Tarian are you?

When I was a kid everyone ate about everything unless you happened to have the misfortune of being Catholic with Lent or Vatican imposed meatless Fridays, Seventh Day  Adventist or Orthodox Jewish and had to adhere to theologically imposed dietary restrictions. Or poor, of course, which came with its own set of limitations.

As Episcopalians we were theologically/nutritionally unencumbered. My mother, who railed at people who came to dinner then disclosed their dietary restrictions (there were fewer back then), never invited the one Seventh Day Adventist she knew and invited our Catholic friends on Saturdays rather than Fridays unless she happened to expect bluefish or crab off my uncle’s boat on a Friday.

A Friday dinner invitation from Catholic neighbors was cause for some nose wrinkling, but then most of the Catholics we knew back then were Irish, who, apologies to the sons and daughters of the Green Isle, are far from the best ambassadors for Catholic cuisine. Had we known Josephine Gasparro, things surely would have been different. Josephine cooked a mean salmon.  Kosher was never an issue..the only Jews we hung out with were reformed and were lavish eaters and phenomenal cooks.

Times have changed.

The Vatican lifted it’s fiat on meat, thus removing its negative image of an imposed food and possibly contributing to the endangerment of hundreds of species, as seafood became not only interesting but hotly desired for any night you wanted to have it. The Adventists may still be meatless, although the two I know eat non garden burgers with gusto. My Jewish friends now are staunch proponents of all things porcine. Religion no longer rules the plate. Instead we have made our self imposed food limitations to our religions.

Vegetarianism has gone secular-mainstream and highly vocal and spawned a score of variations, some extreme, some simple variations, and we have named them all.

The equal and opposite reaction to the steady surge in demanding vegetarian diners sprung up in the form of testosterone laden carnivore movement under the name of the Whole Beast Movement or Snout to Ass, initially carried by chefs like Chris Cosentino, then picked up by butchery event planners like Big John Fink,  who creates butchering shows followed by orgies involving large pigs on spits.

There are nutritional crusades and tirades on both sides. Animal rights activists have effected bans of foie gras and shark fins in California and attempted to pass laws requiring that restaurants observe “Meatless Mondays”.  At a North Beach Pizzeria a young Swiss guest responded to the gorgeous Italian server’s suggestion of a porchetta spiked pie with, “I don’t eat meat,” spoken with the vehemence of a Jonathan Edwards holding out a cross and snarling, “Get the behind me, dead animal.”   Professed carnivores also have their obnoxiously vocal moments.

Most of us omnivores in the middle eat just about anything anyone sets down  in front of us, or at least it around our plates or feed it to the dog, so people think you liked it.

That was the Readers’ Digest version – our personal nutritional sects are considerably more complex.

The Administrative Director of the Culinary Institute of America told me years ago that the Institute had done a survey of eating habits. Among those who stated their diet as vegetarian a large number – I believe over half – also stated that they ate seafood and/or poultry frequently, and a smaller number occasionally meat. I eat vegetables, ergo I am vegetarian.

There is now a term for that:

Vegetarians remain vegetarians, at least in theory people who don’t eat meat, poultry or seafood.

Seafood eaters but not meat eaters, on the other hand, are either Pisquitarians or pescatarians, the word being so new that nobody has settled on a proper spelling.

Vegetarians who avoid eggs, honey and milk are vegans. Vegans believe in making life more challenging by foreswearing eggs, honey and cheese, which supposedly exploit chickens, bees and cows.

There’s more.

Vegans who don’t cook their food are Raw Foodists.

Vedic Vegans reduce their options by the entire nightshade family, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes.

The most radical vegans are the fruitarians, who eat no live fruit – that is, eat nothing that is  picked from the tree on the theory that picking it would be killing a living thing.  In other words, they live from vegan road kill. One suspects that the pharmaceutical company is not producing sufficiently effective meds, but perhaps the fruitarians reject them because their production exploits some bacilli or fungi.

Omnivores don’t get away with a simple label, either.

Those of us who eat meat but not huge steaks have recently been dubbed “flexitarians”, which apparently means that we are not huge meat eaters. That would be in less pretentious food speak “omnivores”, or perhaps nothing, since we are still the people who generally eat what is put in front of us (or push it around the plate.)  Most of us still consider ourselves, probably irrationally, the default.

My son’s best friend’s mother is a socially conscious vegetarian with an irresistible taste for salami, which makes her a salmitarian (or salumitarian, if you include things like coppa and sopressata, which she probably does. )

My father’s second wife who actually ate mostly Cheetos and taco chips unless they went out  was a poultry eater and pronounced herself an “avitarian”. Actually she also ate some seafood, preferably fried, which would probably make her a pisqueavitarian.

And then there are the locovores, who, donning one of the rougher nutritional hair shirts of our times, swear never to eat anything grown more than a hundred miles from their homes. There aren’t many locovores in Minneapolis, and God bless the others. More bananas and Prosecco for the rest of us.

Fortunately the dining community, omnivore, flexitarian vegan et al, have not yet come to the point where we define ourselves by what we don’t eat – I am an antiglutenitariian or a non-lactositarian, but for an identity starved society who craves labels, it’s probably not far off.

The poor are still around, but they would probably just as soon renounce their dietary restrictions.

As for me, you can ask me to dinner any time. I’ll eat it if you’re a good cook. Unless it’s steamed spinach, in which case it will be neatly distributed around the plate.

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Food and Foie Gras and Freedom – Democracy fails again

Years after much of the foie gras brouhaha has subsided, California’s foie gras ban signed into law by Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept 29, 2004, is about to go into effect, and California’s chefs are pissed. You should be, too.

The question of animal rights and vegetarian or omnivore is less of an issue in this law than its implications for the integrity of our law makers and the protection of personal rights in a society which increasingly values the voice of the most vocal minority activists over empirical science and the greater interest of the public.

Why? I like ducks. What’s wrong with protecting them?

Lots, even neglecting the fact that avian experts at the University of California at Davis clearly determined that Gavage, the process by which the geese are fattened, neither damages nor distresses them – although legislation based on bad science and misrepresentation serves no one.

So what’s wrong with the bill, even if no birds are harmed by gavage? It’s just an elitist dish served by snooty chefs, right?

Again, lots of things.

,For one , the kickoff to the bill was nothing less than an act of vandalism or terrorism if you believe the FBI.  An animal rights group, which never had the courage to put its name to the act,vandalized a new Sonoma restaurant project and the owner’s van and threatened the chef/owner and his family by sending pictures showing his child  inside the home: “We know where to find you.” The chef owner was forced to sent his wife and child back to Europe for their protection and took the loss of the project, not wanting to see the violence escalate.

Not only the restaurateur was threatened, but owners of other small businesses were threatened and harassed. Having expressed my opinion on the subject, I  received numerous “we know where to find you” with veiled threats on my answering machine, as did chefs around the country.  The California Senate validated these criminal actions by ceding to the activists’ demands.

You don’t reward that kind of behavior.  It encourages imitation. Yet John Burton and the California Senate did just that.

It is a bill without a reason – a solution to a problem which does not exist.   It neither improves the ducks quality of live nor protects anyone nor anything from danger or abuse beyond excepting slaughter. If this bill is valid, than any bill banning meat and poultry production, sales and consumption is equally valid. It is the kind of empty and baseless pandering, crowd pleasing legislation which has contributed to California’s current legislative and fiscal dilemmas.

Counting on the reaction with enough media, the activists did not cease their activity but stepped it up  with an aggressive public relations campaign which eventually landed on the desk of outgoing California State Assemblyman John Burton. Burton, pandering to the calls for drastic action,  chose to sponsor the ban as his legacy. The passing vote was a parting gift by his colleagues.

Think of it this way: Instead of giving Burton a gold watch, they gifted  him a restriction of your right to choose what you eat and legitimate businesses’ right to provide services.

But there was overwhelming opinion against foie gras, correct?  Not exactly. There was loud opinion and prestigious opinion.  Informed opinion was missing in action.  Since most Californians had hardly ever heard of foie, they didn’t think much one way or the other. The voices were those of PETA and Pease’s followers,  who took dogma for fact. The law if based on faux science and untruths.

The charge against the small business producing the product in California was vocally supported by Governor Schwarzenegger’s tearful friends and colleagues of the glitterati, among them Paul McCartney, Chrissie Hynde, Kim Basinger, Martin Sheen and Pamela Anderson.

But what’s the harm? Foie gras is an unnecessary luxury, after all. The harm is enormous, considering the legal intrusion into the choices of businesses and consumers practicing ethical policies. It is neither the government’s job nor its right to ban things to which a minority objects based on their general popularity. We don’t need chocolate, Coca Cola, leather belts, the color puce or hip hop, which may offend some people. Their gratuitous nature does not give the government the right to forbid them.

This ban was supported by people I admire including Paul McCarthy and Martin Sheen.

These people are great actors and contribute much to our lives. It’s hard not to love Sheen in the West Wing, but  we did not elect them to office, and I personally resent Bea Arthur’s making law, as she succeeded in doing here. They are not experts in the field of avian science or animal husbandry and apart from their strong feelings have little to say about our governmental processes. California had two actors in the Governor’s Mansion, and each time was a disaster.

Why would you trust actors and show people to sway the course of your state legislation? You wouldn’t let these people tell you  how to drive or what clothes to buy. Why would you let them how to run your state? Or would you — in which case, this piece is way above your pay scale, and you should return to TMZ.

I said forget about the law not being based on facts. Let’s not.  Remember “W” rejecting the “fact based community”?  Think of all the money and lives this country would have saved if he and his had given an ear to reality. The die hard adherents to the foie law also reject facts.

Legislation should be based on facts. The foie ban was based instead on emotion. Despite ample expert evidence presented by veterinarians, avian scientists and the University of California Berkeley contradicting the statements made by animal activists that foie production abuses animals, the Senate passed a bill for appearances, fanned by uninformed sensationalism.  Laws based on emotion and diatribe are poor choices.

The activists ignore or brush off all empirical evidence regarding the process, and the legislature ignores it. The activists are not stupid – they know and they don’t care, but distortion of the truth and misinformation fits their agenda better. Their motivation is based on identity and power issues and demagoguery (I was a minor demagogue once for a short time, and it’s really kind of fun),  rather than a logical concern for rights, reality and truth.

As a matter of fact, the lead figure in the foie battle shows a blatant disregard for “right” and rightness. Bryan Pease who has a history of what he would call Civil disobedience and the rest of us might be more inclined to consider thuggery,  was offered a deal by one of the restaurants being threatened before the passage of the bill. The restaurateur would place a 90 day moratorium on foie gras sales and investigate Pease’s claims, but in return Pease would spend some time working in a soup kitchen to experience something like the real restaurant world and take the trouble to inform himself with the help of the restaurateur regarding the actual facts of the process.

His refusal was not surprising, as Mr Pease certainly has been informed of and apparently doesn’t give a duck’s butt about the facts of the issue. His  campaign would appear to be less about the actual welfare of the birds than than visibility of his cause and the connections and power which inevitably come from this kind of lobbying and outrageous activity.

You should be concerned about this bill, furthermore, because it was passed quickly in an atmosphere of sensationalism and threats, it is a piece of political expediency by politicians who in pursuit of their own pandering engendered personal advantage and short term favor played away your rights?

“RIGHTS?”  You ask.  Why do I need the right to eat foie gras? That’s for rich people, and I am not sleeping in a tent in front of City Hall or Wall Street to support that lot of sodding thieves?

Umhh…well, yes you are, because what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (sorry).  Discriminating against people you don’t like or care about can easily lead to discrimination against people you do, including yourself.  Vocal and unprincipled activists supported by throngs of the well-meaning followers with limited critical thinking abilities can get a lot of things banned. This kind of legislation was once called blue laws, and they may still exist in some places less evolved than the great State of California. No drinking on Sunday and the like.  False morality posing as factual concern inevitably results in repression of somebody.

There are a lot of people these days who take offense at cars. With the same tactics they could force you to use your lousy public transportation system.  Ideologues in China made everyone wear the same dreary Mao suits (not mention imprisoning and killing quite a few).  You and I do not want the most vocal groups to tyrannize us and to limit our options.  It doesn’t matter if they are members of the Christian Right effectively making homosexuality illegal through their emotionally contagious aversion to sodomy, Environmentalists striving to ban cars in cities or food groups forbidding the sale of corn syrup (which despite the fact that it sounds like a good idea is not). In our system we don’t want the mob with the biggest stones pushing the rest of us around, and that’s what happened here.

In short, what has happened to California is mob rule. Small, loud mob. Big stones. It’s bad policy.

Chicago went through a similar process and eventually passed a ban on fatty goose liver with just about the same  machinations, plus one vegan alderman seeking reelection. Fortunately Mayor Chris Daly was not particularly moved and eventually convinced the more level headed of his political colleagues to reverse the decision, calling it Hogwash.

Finally, the entire process was cowardly in that it targeted not those who one could logically accuse of mistreating their animals, but one small business without the money to fight back, but which feeling they were right,  went into debt trying. Had there been any integrity whatsoever in Pease’s avowed desire to better the lot of animals, Tyson chicken rather than an immigrant duck farmer who cared about his livestock would have been in the process and won.  The animal activists are bullies. I don’t know about you, but I hate being bullied.

So what do you do if you think this is a bad idea?

For one thing,  do your civic duty and bang on your Congressman’s door. Sweet talk your Senator or Representative. “You Sir/Madam,  I know, weren’t part of this stupidity, and I am sure you have the intelligence to reverse it, bless your heart.”

For another,  inform yourself. Learn the facts.

The Artisan Farmers’ website provides ample, highly credible information on the process, including an informative video by Anthony Bordaine statements by veterinarians and testimonies to the California State Senate rejecting claims that foie production harms fowl.

Sign the Artisan Farmers’ Alliance petition to reverse the law.

So, what if you are still not comfortable eating foie gras? Don’t. It is not going to become a fast food item any time soon. It’s production requires great care of the animals and costs accordingly. Like so many cholesterol laden innards, it’s hardly health food. Choose the heirloom tomato salad instead, knowing that I and those who share my opinion of your right to determine what goes on your own plate will not sit beside you and preach that you should not be eating tomatoes because tomato pickers are exposed to pesticides.  Keep those standards you feel necessary for your own integrity and let others keep theirs.

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Fire vs Raw

Culinary Hysteria: Anatomy of a food fad

The inspiration for Culinary Promiscuity came through a book tour presentation by  Richard Wrangham,  primatologist and author of “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human“.  Wrangham theorizes that fire was the pivotal event for human evolution, catapulting our  species from tree dwelling, leaf chewing primates to doctors, lawyers and casino magnates.

With more calories available through cooking, says Wrangham, our treed ancestors no longer needed to spend the entire day chewing to fuel their oversized bellies, could climb down from their branches, develop a brain in place of their enormous chewing apparatus, walk upright and begin hunter gathering. All that in turn permitted the development of a voice box followed language, society, tools, the wheel, the written word, the printing press, hors d’oeuvres and eventually Julia Child and Jacques Pepin teaching us how to make puff pastry and employ a Cuisinart the right way. Cooking made us human.

Once published Wrangham’s initially contested theory gained instant popularity among the food crowd. Endorsed by sustainable food guru Michael Pollan, the idea took hold in at least some of the food fixated community.  Others, however, didn’t get the memo.

During Wrangham’s book tour presentation a member of the audience mentioned the burgeoning Raw movement, whose adherents eat nothing cooked, maintaining that food in its “natural state”, i.e. raw, was healthier to the point of possessing nearly magical powers. Wrangham gave it short shrift, stating that he had “heard of them” and that they were “always very thin, and very hungry,”  suggesting the question : If you’ve come a long way baby, why ever would you want to go back?

The raw food movement, with little regard for Wrangham’s insights or for that matter, any empirical scientific data  was gaining momentum and soon topped the foodie topic chart, it’s disciples eschewing their Wolf ranges and promoting the value of all things not only raw but vegan with a truly missionary ignorance.

The first time I heard about the Raw Movement was perhaps ten years earlier, when a restaurant asked me to find him a “special chef. As it happened,  Nick Petti , a pretty special guy, dropped by that afternoon. “Have I got a job for you,”   I probably said to Nick who undoubtedly raised one eyebrow under his signature jester cap, mumbled the likes of “We’ll see about that,”  and took off to have a look. In a couple of hours he was back. I’m pretty sure he slammed his fist on my desk. “Don’t you ever…” he sputtered, then gave me a review of his interview. “He puts pizzas out to dry on the roof in the sun. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? There are flies!”

I backed off the deal and dismissed the idea as one more visionary loony’s fantasy,  but the idea was out of the barn and about to explode. It’s odd how easy it is for outrageous ideas to find followers. Sometime later the raw restaurateur’s  book appeared, spawning an initial rush of highly vocal disciples, then suddenly “raw food” was the trend, gathering foodies as it rolled on like a cartoon snowball.  Charlie Trotter adopted the philosophy, offering all raw prix fixe menues at this Chicago restaurant, and published a blockbuster book with beautiful pictures in collaboration with  Roxanne Klein, who opened a raw cuisine, or “living food” as she put it, restaurant in Marin, claiming credentials from Stars, Square One and Chez Panisse – enough heavy ammunition to awaken the herding instincts of  the food mad restaurant followers of the Bay Area. She apparently actually did work at Chez Panisse.

Chefs, on the other hand, scoffed: “The whole thing about being a chef, said one,”  is cooking. “That’s what I have been working to learn for ten years, that’s what I went to culinary school for. You gotta  have fire.”  Wrangham’s point, entirely. The cooking community concurred: the reason you cook things was that a) it made food safer and b) food tastes better. Klein had asked me to find a “chef” for the restaurant, although she, herself, was generally accredited with the food. My searches led nowhere. “You don’t need a chef. That’s a pantry cook,”  said potential candidate.  The others noted things like, “Hey, man. I gotta do meat.”

The trio of arguments against raw food  –  safety, flavor and nutritional value – are convincing. The whole raw food philosophy rejects temperatures above 118F, keeping the procuts in the sweet spot for microbe growth for extended periods of time. (The Microbial danger zone is between 40F and 140F).  The PH of the vegetable proteins used, for instance to make “dough” of sprouts, is perfect for dangerous critters.  As for flavor, the combination of vegan dictates rejecting eggs, milk products and honey plus the processing limitations exclude hot baked biscuits. Eggs Benedict, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, oven baked asparagus, chevre and Waygu sliders. Why would otherwise seemingly intelligent people turn their back on Toast in favor of a Neolithic diet of nuts, soy and berries, skillfully combined in an expensive, high visibility restaurant? Why the lemming rush to the past?

Titillation certainly counts for some of the fad’s and the restaurant’s popularity. The food was reportedly tasty.  The usual promotional tricks surely worked;  Roxanne’s claimed connections to prestigious kitchens in  her press releases, and that kind of provenance – fact based or not – brings in the public.   The Klein’s social connections – they included some of the most glamorous figures in San Francisco and Marin, surely did no damage to the project.

One restaurant, however, does not a movement make, and a movement raw became. The press went wild. The SF Chronicle Food section all but pronounced Roxanne’s the second coming and writers around the  country followed suit in the usual food press elephant walk, passing the  new and outrageously edgy story about in the usual self-fulfilling  prophecy mode. Other restaurants, gurus and books were created. Bloggers went bloggy. Raw web sites and “living food” communities were established.

The language was an extra plus. For the same reason “prunes” were re names “dried plums”, using the term “living food” suggests mythical powers, at least if your food is vegan. It would not work as well for omnivorous menus.

Once the herd was in motion, logic was doomed.  At the height of the “living food” revolution,  any protest against it became advertisement for it. In the food world, printers ink and pixels turn isolated incidents into widespread phenomena. Wealthy women began looking for private chefs who could juice.

Some of us scratched our heads.

The raw public’s unquestioning acceptance of the trend  is further  puzzling in light of the amount of raw food from orange juice and salad to sushi and carpaccio we were already consuming in our more or less balanced conventional diets.  Nobody, at least in California, was deprived of raw food. Reason (and science) would suggest that they were getting enough fiber or vitamins already, but the diehard believers rejected all cooked foods. Why?

Like other food fads,  the raw philosophy promotes the “natural” character of the foods, uncompromised by fire. We were intended, they reason, to eat raw and did so exclusively until about 10,000 years ago. (they’re off by only a little more than three million, but precision was never a prerequisite of nutritional fashion.) Raw Foods, proclaim the advocates, are healthy, insinuating that cooked foods are not. It addressed our obsession with unadulterated and real foods as opposed to the poisons we somehow feel we are subjected to. By some twist of logic, “raw” came to equal “pure”, while cooked foods took on the suggestion of toxicity.  We Americans are all fools for healthy; our health grounded gullibility enjoys a fine history in this country beginning with travelling snake oil salesmen. It’s good for what ails ya’.

A claim was that cooked foods fostered  allergies and food sensitivities, which various raw advocates stated were due to the destruction of natural elements in food. One chef I asked recently noted he had heard that eating foods raw kept the enzymes intact. It’s quite surprising, in fact, how many food professionals don’t discount the vital enzyme theory and it’s dual fallacy: they are not human enzymes but effective for chlorophyll producing organisms – not us – and second your own digestive enzymes destroy them.

As for the fuzzy concept that raw food is more nutritional, Wrangham and a number of nutritional scientists in the fact based side of the debate avow that cooking foods actually makes many vitamins and enzymes available.

The trend has settled as the foodists rush on to the next thing, be it cupcakes or food trucks. There are plenty to choose from.  As trends will, raw food occasionally still stubbornly bubbles up in some food section article now and then, but they are fortunately no longer ubiquitous.  It turned out that at least in San Francisco and Marin there were not enough raw devotees to support a large, expensive “live food” raw and vegan restaurant. Their money ran out.  The principal investor, Michael Klein, withdrew his support. Perhaps those who tried the regime were disappointed when the wellness they expected from natural and uncompromised product did not materialize. My guess is that, as Wrangham said, they all just got “really, really hungry”, chucked it all in and went out for a pork chop with mashed potatoes.

The Kleins divorced it was rumored that Michael Klein was planning to invest in an Argentine steakhouse with George Morrone. For every action……..

So, how did something as silly as “live food” get so much press and how does misinformation linger on so long? A professor of mine once said that “People attach great importance to what ever comes into and exits their body.” He didn’t add that reason did not apply. When it comes to nutrition, health and food, we are frequently irrational. Give us enough semi scientific evidence and tell us that something is natural and healthy and not contaminated, regardless of the facts, and we’ll all our logical garments and follow the nearest buck naked emperor down any road he decides to lead us.

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