Megnut

Archive for May 2006

News about the new beyond greenmarkets set to open in Manhattan. While I'm all for more markets, I'm not sure I'm interested in buying "guacamole made from Costco avocados." Guess we'll have to wait and see how it turns out.

A Q&A with Nina Planck, the woman behind the new beyond greenmarkets from New York. Apparently they'll be called Real Food Markets and will open June 17th. They will feature food from co-ops and will be "lengthening the food chain a tiny bit."

For a current account of war food, check out Operation Kabob, AKA: Food on Deployment in Iraq. I didn't realize they had Burger Kings and Subways (and Pizza Huts) at the Forward Operating Bases. I don't know why that seems crazy to me but it does.

Looking for a bad-ass gift for a chef in training? Ask.Metafilter has ideas for you. My suggestion was a gift certificate for an amazing restaurant. Sure, a good knife is useful, but a meal at a great restaurant can blow your mind.

These recipes for garlic scapes sound interesting, though I'm not sure they necessarily highlight the scape. The scape "is the sprout of the garlic plant, a thin, green stalk that curls above the ground and is more tender and sweeter than the cloves that lie below."

According to the Porkchop Express, May is National Hamburger Month! PE visited DB Bistro Moderne and writes about the meal and the history of the burger. Who knew it was National Hamburger Month? And now it's the final day, so it will be hard for me to cram in all the necessary celebrations. But I will try.

The Omnivore's Dilemma : A Natural History of Four MealsIf you are not currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan: stop everything immediately and get yourself a copy. It's that good, and that important.

I've been reading it for a week now, and had expected to write a review when I'd finished but it's taken me longer than I anticipated to get through it. There's so much to chew on I find I just stop reading mid-paragraph to think about everything he's saying. And really, it's so eye-opening that it's foolish for me to wait until I'm done to tell you: if you care about food, read this book.

Here's a small sampling from some of the pages I've dog-eared:

Very simply, we subsidize high-fructose corn syrup in this country, but not carrots. While the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest. (p 108)

"The organic label is a marketing tool," Secretary [of Agriculture] Glickman said. "It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is 'organic' a value judgment about nutrition or quality."...Some intriguing recent research suggests otherwise. (p 179)

Today it takes between seven and ten calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate....Yet growing the food is the least of it: only a fifth of the total energy used to feed us is consumed on the farm; the rest is spent processing the food and moving it around. (p 183)

[T]here are no pigtails in industrial hog production. Farmers "dock," or snip off, the tails at birth, a practice that makes a certain twisted sense if you follow the logic of industrial efficiency on a hog farm. Piglets...are weaned from their mothers ten days after birth (compared with thirteen weeks in nature)...[b]ut this premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a need they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. (p 218)

Our food system depends on consumers' not knowing much about it beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner. Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it's a short way from not knowing who's at the other end of your food chain to not caring...[o]f course, the global economy couldn't very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. (p 245)

So fight the indifference, and fight the ignorance. Go read The Omnivore's Dilemma. No book has changed the way I think about food and food production more than this.

A listing of good domestic rosé wines from the San Francisco Chronicle, in case my recent posts about rosés have piqued your interest.

Wondering how come it's so expensive to go organic? Grist Magazine tells you why, but they can't resist slipping in some advice at the end with, "You know, going veggie is a very useful, highly effective environmental step. And it can be cheaper than going organic." I didn't like that.

The great cilantro coriander debate

Last night I was watching a bit of Emeril Live on the Food Network. Half-listening to the episode about grilling, I suddenly tuned in when I heard Emeril say, "When it's young it's called cilantro, and when it's old it's called coriander." That surprised me, as I always thought it was simply a localization issue: cilantro in North America and coriander everywhere else. Clearly it was time to do some research.

First stop, my trusty Larousse Gastronomique whose entry sits under the heading CORIANDER (CILANTRO). It says it's "[a]n aromatic umbeliferoius plant used both for its dried seeds, either whole or ground and its leaves." Further on it notes "[c]oriander leaves, sometimes know as Arab parsely or Chinese parsley in France and as cilantro in the United States..." There is no mention of age. I check Wikipedia's entry on coriander and it says a lot about the history of the plant, its various uses and parts, and nothing about any difference in name as it relates to the age of the plant.

Verdict? Emeril is wrong! Or rather, being a bit misleading. Both articles note the seeds are commonly called "coriander" (rather than "coriander seeds") and the leaves are referred to as "coriander leaves." Since the seeds are dried before they are used, it is a fact that they are older than the fresh green "coriander leaves" or cilantro one finds in salsa. So technically Emeril is correct. But is that really what he meant?

He would have done better to say something along the lines of: "Cilantro and coriander are the same plant, but in the US we use the term cilantro when referring to the fresh leaves, and coriander usually refers to the dried seeds of the plant." Maybe that's too much to say on TV, or maybe his audience doesn't care that much. Maybe I care too much. But it seems to me that if you're going to educate people about food, you should try to be as accurate as possible.

Sam from Becks & Posh writes to say:

Coriander - means the leaves and Coriander seeds means the seeds. I never once heard it the other way around.

Since Sam's from a country that actually uses the term coriander, I think this provides more evidence that Emeril's wrong. Of course now Sam says cilantro like the rest of us...

How did I miss this Ed Levine post on fried clams? He lists some good spots close to home here in NYC and also CT, MA, and ME. I love fried clams, though not as much as fried scallops (which are one of my favorite foods to eat in the whole wide world). I've been thinking lately about clams and wishing there were good spots here in the city. I'll have to try Ed's suggestions. And I have a suggestion of my own: Danny Meyer, why don't you open a Clam Shack along the water some place? [via Eater]

Today's New York Times looks at soldiers' food care packages in Iraq. Reminds me of the story my grandmother tells of mailing my grandfather his favorite molasses cookies during World War II. Unfortunately by the time they arrived on his ship in the South Pacific, they were moldy and inedible.

Introducing the new megnut.com

You may have noticed that for some time now, this site has been more and more focused on food. Following my heart has led me to kitchen work (From geek to chef) and then back to more technology (Returning to tech? Sort of...) and now to a technology food combination. Today I'm happy to announce that megnut.com is going 100% food and that I'll be devoting myself to it full-time.

I'll be updating (week) daily not only with links but also more original content. You can see the new feature section in the upper right hand corner of the home page. I'm going to try to do regular features on a variety of topics. And I'll pursue whatever else interests me in the world of food -- reviews of meals perhaps, recipes, book reports. Mostly it's just going to be an experiment, an outlet for me to follow my food passions wherever they take me.

It will probably take a couple days to work out the kinks with the new design, so if you have any problems feel free to email or comment and I'll try to get everything fixed up right away. The non food-related content has moved to http://meg.hourihan.com and old links should redirect to the new site. I can't promise a lot of updates on the personal blog, but I'm sure there will be some as the non-food urges strike.

Since 1999 this site has been a wonderful outlet for me. It's provided a way for me to learn more about myself, and a means for me to meet and connect with other people. I'm excited for that to continue as I explore the world of food, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with you. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the new megnut.com.

PS If you're reading this post in a news reader, you should really come on over to megnut.com and check out the new design!

PPS Thanks to Jason for the nice design!

Welcome whoever wants non-food

Welcome to the new old megnut.com, now located at meg.hourihan.com. Some day I'll update the design so it looks like the new site that it is. For now I've just lopped the "nut" off the banner and started to remove the cooking posts. More to come eventually.

For those that want it, the feed for this is http://meg.hourihan.com/index.xml

My first feature, Comparing Frozen Fish to Fresh, is online and ready for your reading. "My mother swears by frozen fish. I was unconvinced, and decided to put her statements to the test: could flash-frozen fish taste as good as fresh local fish from the Greenmarket or even fresh fish from a local supermarket?"

NPR's Melissa Block talks with Mark Bittman about the differences between fresh and frozen fish. How timely is that? Just days after I posted my article on the very topic.

Update: I'm an idiot and cannot read or maybe I don't know what year it is. This was posted in 2004. Now it is 2006.

My mother stands by her frozen fish recommendation and enjoys Trader Joe's Tilapia. What she made sounds delicious, but I'm not so sure that eating farm-raised fish is, "green alternative to over-fished wild species." From what I've heard recently, fish farms can be big polluters. I'll have to do some more research on that to confirm.

Chicago chef Homaro Cantu cooks with a Class IV laser and does other zany things at his restaurant Moto.

Notes from Michael Pollan's 92nd St Y talk

Last Monday I went to a lecture at the 92nd St Y, Michael Pollan with Ruth Reichl: The Omnivore's Dilemma. It was an interesting discussion though as someone who's already familiar with a lot of the issues around various farming methods (and someone's who's currently reading Pollan's new book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals) I didn't learn a tremendous amount. Still it was enjoyable, and somewhat depessing, to hear them talk about topics so close to my heart.

Here's a rough replay of the talk, reconstructed from my poor notes, which seem to totally lack the questions Reichl asked Pollan to get him to talk about all this great stuff:

Reichl and Pollan began by discussing how basically in the course of ten years organic has gone from something that was seen as a bad message to share with the consumer to something that's very popular. Pollan mentioned companies in the early nineties that grew organic and chose not to reveal this fact on their labels. Apparently a lot of wine is grown organic but not labeled as such. The rise in the popularity of organic food is being driven by a sense that the current conventional system of farming is unsustainable.

Pollan said, "We have these teachable moments, you could call them panic..." when people have realized some of the things that are wrong with the current food system, such as the mad cow disease scare. He spoke for a bit about mad cow in more detail, discussing how the current system the government uses to test for mad cow is actually designed not to find mad cow because it depends on cow owners reporting sick cows to the government. Of course, owners have no incentive to make any such report because they risk losing their entire herd. Makes it hard to find the mad cow. He said he is certain there's mad cow in the US and that we will have outbreaks here. Only after that happens will there be a change in the system. He pointed out how Britain transformed their meat industry after the mad cow outbreaks there a few years ago.

The discussion moved to ignorance and Pollan stated that the current f ood production system in the United States depends on ignorance. If people actual saw how their food was produced, there would be an outcry. Stores like Whole Foods (and the organic movement in general) use stories to combat ignorance and educate people on where the food comes from and how it's produced. (My thought: it's a great way to make you feel better paying all that extra money too..) He called Whole Foods "a great literary experience."

With regards to the news that Wal-Mart will begin to sell organic food, he says this will make it impossible for organic food to be considered elitist, which is good. But they also say they will charge only 10% more for organic food. How will it be possible to charge 10% more than prices that are artificially low and irresponsible? First of all, they'll use only big organic farmers. Then they'll squeeze them on price once they've become dependent upon Wal-Mart's business. And Wal-Mart will also go over seas, we'll see a globalization of organic farming, with products coming from countries with cheap labor and less regulation.

He pointed out that organic is simply a government standard, a word whose definition is at the mercy of Washington, and the standards it represents can be changed. He said people already lobby Washington and that attempts have been made to reduce the efficacy of the organic label. An example he gave: A provision was put into a bill a few years ago that would allow organic chicken farmers to give their birds conventional feed when the price of organic feed rose above a certain level. An outcry from producers got it repealed.

As more organic food comes from abroad, less food will be produced here at home. What's wrong with that? It's uncomfortable for a country not to produce its own food. Also we risk losing what many people like: an agricultural landscape. He said that by the end of the century, California's Central Valley will no longer produce food. We will import its former products from abroad and the Valley will fill with housing. Once that happens, that land cannot be returned to food production without tearing down homes, something that will never happen.

He said our food system depends on cheap energy. When there's government pressure to clean up factory farms, they'll move overseas to a place where there's no pressure and there will be no change. He also pointed out that organic farming is nearly as productive as conventional farming now, especially in drought years. He talked about how the US supply of cheap corn is flooding the corn markets of the world -- 1.5 million Mexican farmers have gone out of business since NAFTA because of it.

The discussion turned to small producers and he talked about the slaughterhouse chokepoint. For small producers there's nowhere to get their meat processed. Often they have to go very far to do so, and that adds $1/lb to the cost of meat. He talked about a man who tried to build his own slaughterhouse and went out of business doing so because of the difficulties with the FDA inspectors.

He called New York City's Union Square the center of the food movement saying, "the choice we face is crystallized in Union Square, which side of the street will you shop on?" (This is in reference to Whole Foods being across the street from the famous farmer's market.) He says local is more important than organic, and that you should ask producers if they use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. He talked about how Whole Foods sells some unsustainable products, like farmed Atlantic Salmon, and how salmon are being re-engineered to eat corn. (Aside: What the fuck?! Are we crazy? What are we doing to our food, and why is it being driven by the insane over-production of corn?)

Best line: he told a story about talking to a meat producer on the phone and his hopes of getting some "review steaks." I'd like to get some review steaks! He said we need to rediscover the art of the kitchen, of preserving. We're complicit in the system and we need to reinvent ourselves as eaters. We need to get more local. We need to cook more. People do have time to cook, it doesn't take three hours to put a meal on the table.

He wrapped up by saying blue states need to pay attention to the Farm Bill (reauthorized every five years in the US, new one coming up in 2007) because it dictates public health and land use. We need to work towards food sovereignty for regions and nations, and we should not sell food below the cost of production. He suggests we follow a more European model by paying farmers to maintain land and to be sustainable (rather than grow monocrops and saturate the land with chemicals), and to grow food we want to eat.

Older Entries