In New York Local: Eating…

In New York Local: Eating the fruits of the five boroughs, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik goes hyperlocal and lives to tell us about it:

You go local in Berkeley, you’re gonna eat. I had been curious to see what might happen if you tried to squeeze food out of what looked mostly like bricks and steel girders and shoes in trees. I wanted to do it partly to see if it could be done (as an episode of what would be called on ESPN “X-treme Localism”), partly as a way of exploring the economics and aesthetics of localism more generally, and partly to see if perhaps the implicit anti-urban prejudices lurking in the localist movement could be leached away by some city-bred purposefulness. If you could eat that way here, you could do it anywhere.

Each day I get less and less interested in localism, perhaps in direct correlation to its rise in popularity and its growing army of fanatics.

Chain consistency at the local Starbucks

StarbucksThere is only one Starbucks that I visit with any frequency, and it's one near my old apartment and around the corner from my gym. Over the years, I've thought about why I don't mind this Starbucks and I chalked it up to a familiarity with the staff. Last week I stopped in after my first visit to the gym in two months (yay!) to discover that it had been closed for a remodeling. And what I found was a completely changed store. Apparently the renovations entailed an update to the latest Starbucks concept in interior design.

As I stood there in line, taking in the rug, gold gilt mirror, and plush armchairs in one corner, and the mid-range restaurant upholstered booth in the other, I realized what had made this Starbucks different: It had developed the worn familiarity of a local coffeehouse. The few armchairs were shabby, the tables were always haphazardly arranged. The counter was banged up and the doors were chipped wood in need of attention. It was great.

But now it's got that circular Starbucks lighted sign in its window. They've redone the whole counter, changed where you pick up your drink, and installed a microwave so they can sell those wretched breakfast sandwiches. It's now just another Manhattan Starbucks. Everything that gave it its own identity and authenticity is now gone, and I haven't been back.

Ever since I've been thinking about if it's even possible to have an authentic experience at a chain. In order for the chain to succeed, it needs consistency both in product and in branding. This one, until recently, offered the consistent chain product. But the branding, at least in terms of store interior, was missing. Now that it's been restored, the spirit of the place is gone. I know consistency trumps authenticity when it comes to chains. It was foolish of me to develop feelings for that Starbucks because it seemed different than the others. Different can't survive when global sameness is the goal.

The March of Dimes…is making…

The March of Dimes…is making a new push to dispel (pregnancy-related) nutritional misinformation and replace it with advice based on solid scientific evidence. Jane Brody reports for the New York Times that "some of the advice may come as a distressing surprise to women, who may be fond of foods or drinks that could endanger their pregnancy." A lot of what she says in the article makes sense, but some of the prohibitions are ones I've never encountered, and the reasoning behind many seems to be missing. Guess this is a timely subject these days.

Catch up

What's Your Food Personality: Picky or Adventurous? is the Food & Wine article I was a part of, that I mentioned a couple weeks ago.

Several folks (thanks folks!) sent along that missing link to the Confit Byaldi recipe that Remy makes for Ego in the climax of Ratatouille.

And for those interested in things of the baby nature, Ollie is three weeks old today. Amazing, I can't believe it. He seems to be a blend of his parents so far, and takes after me in the gesticulation department. He always seems to be kicking his legs and flailing his arms about. He is also a tremendous eater, something I hope continues when we transition to solid food. He is a joy to behold.

How I ate while pregnant

Rational analysis doesn’t hold sway with the pregnancy police, says Steven Shaw in a great Op-Ed in the New York Times about sushi consumption and pregnancy. His point? The prohibition against raw fish during pregnancy is unnecessary. I ate sushi while I was pregnant, and lots of other things I wasn't supposed to eat, and I'm happy to see someone ask some reasonable questions about what women consume while pregnant since the current thinking seems excessive to me. Shaw writes:

"Why take any risk?" they ask. The medical establishment and the culture at large have twisted logic around to the point where any risk, no matter how infinitesimal, is too much. So powerful is this Puritanical impulse that, once a health objection is raised, however irrational the recommended behavior, it’s considered irresponsible to behave any other way.

And let me tell you, the guilt that seeps in from the "Puritanical impulse" is powerful. Then there's the "It's only nine months" argument, like it's not that long to sacrifice. Actually, it's like nine and a half, (or nearly ten if your baby is late like mine!) and that's a very long time to be in a worked-up state about what you can and cannot ingest. Believe me when I tell you the pressure to ensure everything you eat isn't going to kill or permanently damage your unborn child is intense. I quietly struggled with that as I wrote about things for this site, especially when I wrote about changing recommendations for fish consumption (tuna good, tuna bad, tuna OK) and chemicals in food and salmonella in lettuce and peanut butter.

After a couple months, I came up with an approach that worked really well for me for the duration of my pregnancy. (Usual disclaimer applies: I am not a doctor, and if you're pregnant you should speak with yours before following any of my advice, etc.) First, I did a lot of research about every prohibition. What was the reason for it? And what was the risk and the consequence? I found that you could divvy up the guidelines into two groups: illnesses that crossed the placental barrier and affected the fetus, and those that didn't. To put it another way, would eating something make me any sicker because I was pregnant than if I weren't? Or would the outcome be the same?

Recommendations say to avoid deli meat or raw milk products because they can become contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that causes listeriosis. Listeriosis is serious, though very rare — 2,500 cases a year in the US, but something like 80% occur in pregnant women. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature delivery in pregnant women. So by my reckoning, any food that could cause listeriosis was on my avoidance list because the consequences were severe. So I skipped deli meat and raw cheese and most soft cheese and NYC street hot dogs during the course of my pregnancy.

But sushi and shellfish and many other prohibited items only make you sick the same way they make you sick if you're not pregnant. Yes, you might have a lowered immunity, so you might be more likely to get ill, but the result won't directly impact the fetus. If you get a parasite from sushi, the baby won't get a parasite. And so that was my guiding rule. I ate raw oysters several times (much to many people's horror) and suffered no ill effects. Of course, I ate them in season, from reputable restaurants, and I didn't push my luck by doing it weekly.

I stopped eating soft-boiled eggs every day simply because the odds of getting salmonella increased with every day I had an undercooked egg. But I did occasionally have undercooked eggs. And I ate medium-rare meat. But I ate it, again, at reputable restaurants where I could be confident of its quality, or I prepared it myself. Getting salmonella would suck, but it runs its course in a few days. Worst case, you take antibiotics and you get better.

With all my "reckless" pregnancy eating, I did get sick once. The culprit? Chicken enchiladas from the local Mexican place. That was in my sixth month, and I didn't eat chicken enchiladas again. But I never once heard warnings to keep away from chicken enchiladas. Every pregnant woman needs to find her own balance, and it's not going to be the same for each. For me the anxiety of worrying about what I ate was worse than actually eating it. Early on, I was so worked up I wasn't gaining enough weight. And that's a much worse consequence for a developing fetus.

Why take any risk? Because life is risky. Are you going to stop driving because you're pregnant? Are you going to stop leaving the house? I found my balance between enjoying food and tolerating risk, and it included the occasional Wellfleet on the half-shell. It's easy to get overwhelmed by all the recommendations, and to live in fear of every bite of food you put into your mouth. But that makes for a very stressful, anxious, long nine (plus) months. And that certainly isn't good for the fetus.