Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Eating Lions

The following is an e-mail exchange between myself and my good friend Andrew Slack of the HP Alliance. The subject is eating lions.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: eating lions is wrong:

Soooo f*cking horrible.


If you're not opposed to eating animals in general, why is this so bad? If they're raised (and presumably slaughtered) humanely and are bred in captivity and not removed from the ecosystem that depends on them, why is eating a lion worse than eating a cow? Is it a matter of intelligence of the animal? If so, it may be that pigs are smarter than lions, but it doesn't make news when we eat them.


Look man, you can come at me with all of your "intellect" and burst my self-righteous bubble with "facts" and even expose my childlike hypocrisy and simplistic sense of reasoning with your "brain power" but if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: "I'm totally right in my opinions even if they sound irrational - even if I don't know what I'm saying - I know what I'm saying."

So yeah - I'm definitely overreacting to this story and I'm sure if you say so, pigs are smarter than lions. So let's then just say that when it comes to eating meat, I'm sort of a simple minded rank-in-file American. And now let's take a step back and look at me as a specimen to better understand what the issue driving the "average American meat eater" (me in this case) is with eating lions. And perhaps something valuable about either the human psyche's past, present, or future can be gained by looking at my habits and knee jerk, frozen-in-childhood reaction:

I was raised with the idea of the pastoral farm. With "Charlotte's Web" and illustrated books with happy pigs and cows and chickens. In my formative education, I don't think of cows, chickens, and pigs as being tortured and injected with hormones. I think of them as happy animals with smiley faces walking amongst happy but very serious farmers whose daughters have hearts of gold as their dogs and cats run around the barn and the corn field. Then at some point, I eat all of these animals.

But lions, tigers, and bears are another kind of creature. A creature that is to be feared and revered for their majesty and their predatory nature. As a child, I feared that these animals would come and find me and eat me. I also grew up learning that the human race drew these animals (mostly lions) on caves. (this may not be true: but this is what's in my brain). I have an unconscious understanding that there is and always has been a deep and abiding respect that humans like myself have for wild animals with the lion being the king. The lion being the king of the jungle.

The fact that a lion could tear me to shreds in a fight - it not only instills me with a sense of fear but a sense of deep respect. The idea of raising these beautiful and mysterious creatures to kill and eat in a commonplace burger feels on a visceral level like cheating. It's cheating nature. It's cheating life. It's ruining the mystery. It's using our advanced tools and weapons as people to separate ourselves from "the fact" that humans run the happy pastoral farms and those creatures are happy under our command, but we are the foreigners, we are the strangers, we are the hunted, in the dark and mysterious worlds of the jungle and the arid endless world of the desert.

Pigs may be smarter than lions but they were never cast as the king of wildlife - royalty amongst all of nature, even higher than people. In order to feel at home in the universe, I want to respect nature's chain of command and not f*ck with the king. You saw what happened in the Scottish play! Look, there really is something to that. Once you cast something as the monarch - the hunter above all others - the idea of raising it like a "commonplace" farm animal for slaughter not only feels perverse but like all of nature and all of my loved ones will come under threat. The sky will bleed red and the wind will carry locusts. Or whatever it says in Revelations.

Signed, your friend who is a terrible simple minded meat eating American consumer with an oddly introspective nature.


Can I post that on Tea and Food?



Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Coolest Breakfast

When it's already too hot in the morning, the rest of the day stretches before you like a vast, uncrossable desert. Somehow I know I'll make it to the point when I can lie in bed naked with a fan pointed at me, but I just don't know how I'm going to get from here to there.

Once I have that realization, I can't bring myself to do any activity that would result in even the slightest increase in temperature. Turning on a burner to boil water for tea or oats is out. I'd just as soon turn on the toaster as stick my head in a vat of molten glass Even the warmth generated by the underside of laptop seems too much.

In such weather I often go rabbit. I eat raw fruit and vegetables, often unadorned. (And for some reason I find myself dodging the shadows of hawks). Meat loses much of its appeal.

Additionally, I seek out those foods that promise some cooling effect, by which I mean foods that have an uplifting flavor, such as a lemon, a cold temperature, such as anything out of the refrigerator, or foods whose essences are considered cooling in nature in traditions such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. Like corn silk tea.

And this morning, I think I created the ultimate cool food: yogurt, melon, and mint.

Though I don't usually eat dairy, I do make an exception for yogurt during the summer. Why? Because at some point I convinced myself that it was a good idea. The yogurt I used today is, I think, the most flavorful plain yogurt I've ever had: Sidehill Farm, a raw milk yogurt that seems to be a local favorite around my summer residence in the Northampton area (by which I mean I'm living close to Northampton but somewhere cheaper). The melon was a Santa Claus melon. The mint was, I think, spearmint, from the garden.

After a few bites (slurps?) it suddenly felt ten degrees colder. The stuff is as cooling as toothpaste, and just as minty-fresh. It gave me the courage to face the warmth of the laptop.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, June 18, 2010


See here for food historian Rachel Laudan's post on French laws regarding foie gras.

The laws protect f.g. as part of the "gastronomical heritage of France," yet the way the stuff is created (and where it is consumed, which is to say here in the U.S. and everywhere else people have more money than they know what to do with) bears little semblance to "heritage."

Unless of course French farmers of antiquity had machines that could force feed a duck (not a goose) in a matter of seconds?

I know Americans are quick to forget our food history in the face of propaganda from the industry and government and often a combination of the two, but France? Isn't this the country where a mustachioed sheep farmer drove a tractor into a McDonalds while smoking a pipe?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food Writers Who Like Food

The other night I was invited for dinner at my good friend Sophie's apartment. And a funny thing happened that relates to my career as a freelance writer focusing on food journalism. Because I write about food, Sophie was concerned that I wouldn't like the food.

When people find out that I'm a food writer, they often become self conscious about what they serve me or even what they eat in my presence. I understand the connection, but I'd like to make something clear: food writers like food. In fact, they like food more than normal people.

Unless you're inviting a restaurant critic to have dinner in your restaurant and the also critic happens to have an assignment to review your restaurant, you really have nothing to worry about. Think of a food writer as a baleen whale and food as plankton. We swim around with mouths agape, taking in as much sustenance as possible. To make the comparison even more apt, it occurs to me that I'd happily eat a plate of plankton, which is what we might soon be reduced to anyway.

Sophie and Kailie, another friend also in attendance, made an asparagus, mushroom, goat cheese frittata, which they served with a salad made with greens from Sophie's lush, adjacent urban garden. For dessert, there was a fruit crisp with rhubarb, apples (or were they pears?) and berries. Wine flowed.

Of all people, S. and K. would be the last I'd expect to hesitate when breaking bread with me. The three of us used to work together teaching Shakespeare at a camp in Vermont (the two of them still do) with a bare bones budget, and for lunch we'd frequently find ourselves squatting in a field, eating tuna out of the can and dipping carrots in whatever edible paste-like substances we could find.

That said, they were right to be concerned. The frittata had a little too much goat cheese.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

From this article in the NYT:

"Most of the cavemen at Mr. Durant’s gatherings are lean and well-muscled, and have glowing skin. A few wear trim beards. Some claim that they no longer get sick. Several identify themselves as libertarians."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, June 14, 2010

Those Tongue Gorditas

These are the aforementioned tongue gorditas I ate while moving. They were so good that they themselves were quite moving.

This meal typifies the hodge-podge style of cuisine that defines eating and moving. Dishes are made entirely from ingredients that need to be used up, whether from the garden, the freezer or from lord only knows.

The gorditas were made with masa harina that had been in the fridge for a dubious period of time and were inspired by my article on Chole Adams in up Craftsbury, VT. The tongue had been in the freezer for much longer than a dubious period of time and had come from a friend with a meat CSA that had a sort of spare parts cooler where everything was a dollar. Same place I got that lamb heart. The fixin's, including guacamole and cilantro, were salvaged from the leftovers of a catering gig I did the day before.

But it was the months-old, defrosted tongue that was the star of the show. I put it in a crock pot with a dried chile, cumin seed, a dash of salt, about a cup of water and a healthy splash of cider vinegar. I let it cook for, oh, ever. It must have been at least seven hours.

Eventually I nudged it with a chopstick to check the texture, and the chopstick pushed clear to the other side like a plane going through a cloud. Apparently resistance was futile.

The texture was somewhere between barbecued brisket and pâté. The crunch of the gordita was a perfect contrast, the repurposed toppings a welcome dose of (day old) freshness. The only thing I didn't like about the meal was the yellow exposure in the photo, which was because all of our lamps were packed away.

I don't know why it took moving to make me put it all together.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Oil Spill and Gulf Coast Food Security

Perhaps my all around favorite person in the world of food is author, activist and conservationist Gary Paul Nabhan, founder of the project known as RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions). See here for his piece in yesterday's Grist about how the BP spill is affecting precious food sources along the Gulf Coast (and the rest of us who love them).

The gist of it is that now more than ever we need to support those fishermen (and gator hunters) in jeopardy. There's also this to consider:

"Unfortunately, this crisis is not just an environmental one, but a food justice one. The spill is economically devastating to some of the most marginalized ethnic communities in the United States, including Cajun, Houma Indian, "Creole" Black, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Latino communities in and near the Mississippi delta. And while most U.S. agencies and media have sidestepped this issue, Cuban and Mexican fishermen are just likely as Gulf Coast residents to be have their livelihoods disrupted by the oil spill."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stone Soup Dinner, Part 1

This year I'm on the planning committee for the Stone Soup Dinner, an event that showcases the agriculture bounty of Concord, MA. We kicked off the planning sessions with what else but a pig roast.

I'd had pig roasted in a Caja China (now with bottle opener!) once before, and it was terrible. Not tender, it was kind of like chewing bubble gum that tasted like pork. Which isn't something I'd be adverse too, but eventually I do like to swallow my food. This pig, however, was divine, with tender flesh and super-crackly skin.

As good as the pig roast was, the full scale dinner promises to be even better. If you live in Boston or anywhere else in the Metro-West area, clear your calendar for September 26th. See here for a list of Concord businesses at which you can purchase tickets.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

From this Mother Nature Network article:

"Kangaroo is a red meat very similar in appearance to tenderloin that might come from ox."

Oh, ox tenderloin? Yes, I'm sure we're all well acquainted with it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Perhaps the Most Interesting Ingredient on Earth

From the New York Times food section:

"But as miraculous as its biblical apparition may seem, manna is real and some chefs have been cooking with it."

See the full article here.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fiddleheads and Tortellini, Together At Last

This dish was born from the happy marriage of long-frozen tortellini and pretty far-gone fiddleheads from the discount rack at my local chain grocery store. Though both had been cast out from society and nearly left for dead, these two orphans found that they were made for each other. And then I ate them.

Since I think of fiddleheads as a wild crop (anyone know if they can be cultivated?), I was deeply saddened to see them imprisoned in plastic wrap and being sold for a dollar a package in that sad clearance section in the produce section. Sharing space with bruised and mealy red "delicious" apples from Argentina were these iconic New England heralds of spring. I knew it was my job to rescue them.

They took a little more debearding then usual, but once sorted cleaned, blanched, and shocked, they looked as good as new. The tortellini was a little gummy from its lengthy cryogenic sleep, but being from the excellent pasta makers at Capone, I couldn't bear to let it go.

I tossed the al dente tortellini with the blanched 'heads in olive oil and a little more balsamic vinegar than you'd think, cracked in plenty of pepper and dusted it with parmesan. It was good. The fresh, crispy, gooey fern sprouts paired well with the firm, chewy, salty pasta. I'm surprised I haven't seen the combo before.

What I liked even more than the excellent flavor was the way the fiddleheads wrapped their tentacles around the pasta, as if to say "we're going down together." It was like eating Romeo and Juliet, which is appropriate since tortellini are said to have been inspired by the belly button of an Italian woman.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Eating and Moving

When moving, my thoughts usually turn to the thrilling prospect of exploring a new foodshed. But on my most recent move a few days ago, I found myself instead paying more attention to how my food life changed during the move itself.

Let's just say I ate a lot of things I hadn't been willing to eat up until it was time to decide between the compost bin, the garbage, and me.

Like turning one only after you've lived for an entire year, moving can't happen until after you've packed, cleaned, donated, drunk a six pack, and so forth. Since you can't snap your fingers and apparate into your new dwelling, you must experience the awkward phase of living amongst boxes and deciding up until the last moment what items are so crucial as to deserve to stay out. And your desire to get packing over with usually outweighs your desire to have access to a cutting board.

With half of your possessions in boxes and the other half at Goodwill, preparing even a simple snack becomes daunting. We did a lot of cutting directly on the top of a wooden hutch, and several meals were cooked in a single non-stick skillet with a silicon tipped rubber spatula as the only tool. For a few days we shared one plate and reused one cloth napkin.

We drank out of peanut butter jars, and then left them in the recycling bin before driving away. We ate simple meals like noodles and eggs (at top), and extravagant meals made from freezer items that simply had to go.

Since the refrigerator must be left empty, you are forced to take a good hard look at your food supply. Suddenly your Softasilk flour and vodka so cheap as to only be drinkable in jello shot form have nowhere to hide, and like children left on your doorstep, must now be dealt with.

You must throw away the jar of pitted sour cherries in brandy that you bought your girlfriend, now your wife, at the Smokehouse Deli in Cleveland back when you were a touring sketch comedian. As a general rule, if you have food left over from an entirely different career, it's time to let go.

We said goodbye to frozen pieces of our wedding cake, unmarked jars of homemade jam, and corn husks too brittle for making tamales.

On the plus side, I found myself revisiting old friends I'd nearly forgotten. Though we bid farewell to the cake, we defrosted and devoured a container of the sweet potato-peanut-pimenton soup that Amanda made for our wedding, which remains one of the best soups I've ever slurped, even after a half year in the freezer. The taste brought me back; I didn't realize that freezers were also time machines.

Perhaps the best rediscovered food was a frozen cow tongue that we cooked in the Crockpot and then ate in gorditas so good they deserve their own post. (Stay tuned.)

There were also forgotten foods that were precious enough to merit space in the U-Haul. These included jars of dehydrated chicken of the woods, local dried beans, bricks of baking chocolate and the remaining half bottle of Aquavit that Seth and Maggie brought me from somewhere in Scandinavia.

Moving also threw a wrench into gardening, which we basically can't do this season because we'll be moving again in September. But luckily, one strawberry ripened before we left.

The others will have to be a gift to our neighbors or, more likely, birds and squirrels.

Stumble Upon Toolbar