Friday, July 30, 2004

A supposedly fun... oh, fuck it

So one of those writers with three names wrote an article about lobster for Gourmet, and it's creating quite a stir among my betters, i.e., people who don't only read books about food. Rake's Progress provides a summary, and CAAF a disturbing and excellent analysis from "America," by which I mean Chili's (geoepistomolical background here). The article sounds interesting enough that I might actually buy Gourmet, which is saying something.

This is funny, because just last night I was discussing lobster with a vegetarian friend who has recently moved to Maine. Unsurprisingly, his reaction to watching you crack into the carapace and slurp out the meat is primarily revulsion. Also not such a big fan of the tomalley. Now, I am not disgusted by the lobster, but I do find the reward/effort ratio unacceptably low. First of all, the vast majority of you do not know how to cook a lobster; but even an acceptably un-rubbery "bug" (yes, they are bugs) is notable mostly for an oft-praised "butteriness" that I find somehow... noveau riche. I realize that sounds impossibly snobbish, but I grew up in a lobster-fishing town, and tired of the local wares at an early age.

If you're sqeamish about killing lobster, well, I can't help you, but you should read Steingarten's discussion of the various ways to kill a lobster, and their drawbacks, in It Must Have Been Something I Ate, 344 ff. And if you want to cook lobster, please consult Jasper White (even though he's from Jersey).

There will always be an England

A correspondent tells popbitch:

Further to the Brazilian proverb you quoted last week, 'Boozed arses have no owners,' I recall there being a similar saying when I was in the Royal Navy. 'A seasick arse carries no steaming lights.' Which roughly translates as, 'If you're seasick and get shunted from behind in the dark, it's your own fault.'
We also learn that Donatella Versace
was once refused entry to Splash disco, NYC, as the doormen refused to believe she wasn't a Donatella drag-queen impersonator.
Wait, she isn't a drag queen?

There will always be a Germany, also: they point us to the new Rammstein video, featuring the chorus:

Denn, du bist
was du ißt
... es ist mein Teil.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

apertifs are the new digestifs

Official confirmation of the LA-Times-says-it-is-so-it-must-be-a-trend, came last night, when the following exchange took place:
"Fernet is so trendy right now"
"Really? That's funny because..."
"Oh Yeah. It's very indy rock."
Remind me never to leave the house again. But in honor of this development, I unveil Fergus Henderson's Miracle. Although I have plugged both the book and the drink many times, I never published the recipe because I wanted you to go buy the book for yourself. However, this drink is so good it can only inspire you to buy the book. So please, buy the book:

A Miracle
Here is a cure for any overindulgence, taught to me by my wise father.
2 Parts Fernet Branca
1 part crème de menthe
Mix together and drink. Do not be put off by the color.
Be careful: this is so effective you can find yourself turning to its miraculous powers with increasing regularity. Do not let the cure become the cause.
The initial reaction to this drink, invariably, is laughter. Then, a slow-dawning smile. Finally, savoir-faire. Soon, you find yourself singing Mike and the Mechanics to yourself, every day. This may be one of the side effects to which Henderson refers. I would only add that a little less than 1 part crème de menthe suits me better.


Boston conventioneers are no doubt enjoying a cigar and some painful memories with the great Red Auerbach, or reliving a more innocent time with the Public Garden's ducklings. Art on a human scale and all that. But blanketing the town with statues of Wagner's dog is, well, menacing.

red    ducks

Update: Dialogue! Alex says they are not menacing. I was going to make a facile joke about how I don't like dogs or Germans (cf. Rammstein video above), but let's be serious for a second. It is very nice to have an intimate relationship with "your" past, but the festival form tends to spectacularize it (the past), with all the predictable distortion, trivalizing, elision, simplification. I'm not sugesting that Germans need to have a conference on nineteenth-century constructs of national identity every time they listen to Siegfried, but I'm not sure Wagner really needs a human face either. (I'm also not sure that I approve of the allegedly "humanizing" affects of pet love for that matter). The music itself should, of course, be the point, but if you're going to build a theme park you better put the anti-semitism ride next to the pet-lover ride.

Sonoma supervisors reject no-GMO ballot measure [Santa Rosa Press Democrat]

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Genetically engineered crops do not pose health risks that cannot also arise from crops created by other techniques, including conventional breeding, the National Academy of Sciences said in a report issued yesterday. The conclusion backs the basic approach now underlying government oversight of biotech foods, that special food safety regulations are not needed just because foods are genetically engineered. Nevertheless, the report said that genetic engineering and other techniques used to create novel crops could result in unintended, harmful changes to the composition of food, and that scrutiny of such crops should be tightened before they go to market.
Andrew Pollack's NYT article, NAS announcement (they want $35 for a copy of the report).


When I finally got an apartment with a yard, you know what I did first, don't you? 27" Weber Bar-B-Kettle, baby. I had spent the previous 5 years fantasizing about cooking every single meal over an open flame. But all too often laziness trumps our better intentions, and I end up resorting to the broiler more than I care to admit. Considering that my idea of a quick dinner is ragú Bolognese from scratch, I imagine that many of you grill even less than I do. But last night I managed to motivate enough to grill up a couple sardines by flashlight, grumbling to myself the whole time about how much effort was involved (even though the whole process took no more than half an hour). The finished product, however, was so indescribably delicious that I am going to spend as much of the summer's remains in the back yard as possible. Like bistecca alla fiorentina the concept is so simple that a recipe is practically insulting: clean and salt the sardines, rub in a little olive oil, and cook over the hottest flame possible. Serve with lemon.

If you are still trapped in a grill-less hovel, Rick Moonen's method, if you can master it, will produce some tasty fish at the expense of a stinky kitchen. Regina Schrambling has some suggested smoke simulacra, including the intriguing smoked pepper (but note that anchos are not smoked, and the Spanish paprika situation is more complicated than she lets on). And for your poor souls who claim to "grill" with gas, the minimalist shows you how to produce an undoubtedly edible "barbecued" pork shoulder.

Ferran Adria's fast food place in Madrid sounds not-so-good, but the idea is sound. How sad that we now have to make "counterintuitive" pronouncements that fast food doesn't have to suck. Just ask the Mexicans. Frank Bruni has been busy, visiting both Stone Barns (three stars) and the Hamptons, which sound even more revolting than you'd previously imagined. The LA Times comes up north to check out SF's restaurants and Ferry Plaza. Their analog for the Hamptons is the saga of "Mr. Mogul's" private chef, who you might remember from such movies as Ishtar. Seriously.

Kay Renstchler tortures some more grammar in an otherwise servicable okra appreciation [note to eds.: look up "emanate"]; the Chron has some ridiculous sorbet recipes and a nice appreciation of garlic biodiversity by Carol Ness; a little liquid gold for you gardening types [EB Express]. Also see OGIC on MFKF.

If for some reason you don't have the Zuni cookbook, you could just pick up the latest Saveur, which features the famous chicken/bread salad recipe, but since you can't duplicate that without Zuni's brick oven, you'd better just buy the book. Saveur also features a preview of Marcella's forthcoming book, in the form of a "master class" disquisition on insaporire, an important counterpoint to the River Cafe's Tuscan simplicity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

sailing to byzantium

A sequence of events so ludicrous it may as well have been fabricated by Terry, Franz, or the sac demands that I begin my day at the DMV. And it goes downhill from there. Until tomorrow, then.

Monday, July 26, 2004

looking for a job?

mediabistro [reg. req.] via gawker:
Jeffrey�s current assistant, Elizabeth, has successfully completed her two-year term, and he is looking for someone to take her place. The ideal candidate is equally effective at library research, shopping and cooking, repairing Xerox machines, speaking foreign languages, mise-en-place, writing clearly, doing errands, eating in fabulous restaurants, and even travel. The ideal candidate is a complete omnivore, or at least eager to become one.

The ideal candidate does not, of course, exist.
Jeffrey and Elizabeth have put up the ice cream recipes they worked out with Otto's Meredith Kurtzman in the August Vogue on eGullet.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I got yer sustainable agriculture right here. Christ.

N.B. The "yukon" mentioned is undoubtedly yacón (Polymnia sonchifolia).

ag policy sausage-making

a new AAI/OCM report [pdf] supplies all the ugly details of how the USDA has been hijacked by agribusiness. Al Guebert's take is here.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that genetically modified wheat made by Monsanto Co. was safe for human and livestock consumption, an agency spokesman said on Friday. [Reuters]

Thursday, July 22, 2004

De trinitate

My earlier ramblings on the "Mediterranean trinity" raised a number of questions, including: What is bread? Too lazy to do actual research, I turned to my favorite pastime, online amateur etymology. The English word originally meant a morsel of food; its etymology is instructive: Indo-European *bhreu-, to boil --> Germanic *braudam, cooked --> Old English bréad, a bit of food --> OE bréad, bread stricto sensu (this last stage by 1200, according to the OED, displacing hláf, loaf, the earlier word for bread). It is interesting that cognate derivatives include brew and ferment, which must go all the way back to an IE analogy between bubbling from boiling, and bubbling from fermentation, but this branch is unrelated to the word bread itself, which came directly from "cooked." Considering the restrictions the word was forced to undergo to get to its current meaning, it is strange that the OED [sub. req.] neglects the "food in general" sense, proceeding directly from OE "bits of food" to 2.a.:

A well-known article of food prepared by moistening, kneading, and baking meal or flour, generally with the addition of yeast or leaven.
Contrast American Heritage:
2a. Food in general, regarded as necessary for sustaining life; b. Something that nourishes; sustenance.

It is easy to see how this happened: bread is literally the staff of life whether you use Oxford's 2a. definition or American Heritage's. So pain B. is: "Toute espèce de nourriture indispensable à la vie" [cool TLF link thanks to languagehat]. This is etymologically explicit in all the Romance languages, derived from the Latin panis (from the IE root *pa-, to protect or feed): II. 1. Food in general. (The same is true in Hebrew, which I will leave alone for the moment). And a little Jesus takes the transf. to a whole new level [John 6:35]:

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

In any event, it does seem from the OED's cites that both bréad and hláf pretty specifically mean a loaf made from something (not necessarily grain) ground up and cooked (in some way -- I'm not certain that it had to be baked), whether leavened or not. I originally wanted to show that "bread" had another, narrower, general sense, in that it can also mean "polenta," which is just that same something ground up and boiled en masse but here the internet failed me. I'm not sure it can't be done, but it will be annoyingly painstaking.

A world in which men turn even to soft fruit for pleasure


And, apparently, not-so-soft as well.


Ok, this is going to catch on:
Food scientists working for the US military have developed a dried food ration that troops can hydrate by adding the filthiest of muddy swamp water or even peeing on it... Hydration Technology of Albany, Oregon, which makes the membrane, says soldiers should only use urine in an absolute emergency because the membrane is too coarse to filter out urea. The body will not find this toxic over the short term, says Ed Beaudry, an engineer with HTI, but rehydrating food this way in the long term would cause kidney damage.
On the other hand, you can fill your daily revolting protein ration by chowing down on the victims of chicken abuse.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


"New England clams are complicated": Johnny Apple nearly makes me nostalgic for my youth in Boston. At least his suggestions are better than Giuliani's. Excellent article by Julia Moskin starts with the Bronx Terminal Market and ends with a NYC Food Policy Council. (There are problems with Berkeley topography in one companion article on Ferry Plaza, and problems with math in another on the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program in New Orleans). As long as we're being picky, someone needs to tell Nigella (and/or the Eds.) that spatchcock is a word in America too. These problems pale in comparison to the revolting (and nonsensical) sentence with which Kay Rentschler compounds her fruit-grilling error: "Yet its sinewy viscosity flowed with the affection of an old friend." She's talking about condensed milk. We end on a happy note, when Bruni ventures across the East River to bestow a star on a new place run by as-seen-on-TV Laurent Saillard & wife, where the following exchange occurred:

When a server asked if I wanted yet another glass, I sheepishly muttered, "I'm afraid I do."

"Don't be afraid," she said, her French accent and her sure delivery making the command sound oracular.

Russ Parsons on heirloom tomatoes:

But all of this raises the question of whether a tomato grown, harvested and shipped this way is that much of an improvement over the standard supermarket varieties.
In fact, most heirlooms, like most other tomatoes, are watery and flavorless. A good grower's beefsteak will kick the average heirloom's ass. Pretty colors do not necessarily equal flavor. If you want to know more, check out "Twelve ways of looking at tomatoes" in Bertolli's Cooking by Hand. Napoletana in LA: "I want to be the one who wakes� California people� from the bad dream of pizza they have on their mind." Astonishingly, you can now get half-decent pizza in Berkeley: the Express reviews some of the options. Can bagels be far behind? (answer: yes).

Hot Marcella on Marcella action [via Sauté Wed.];

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

better late than never

"Once again," Mr. Cheney replied (quite obviously quoting a lyric from Ice Cube�s 1990 album, AmeriKKKa�s Most Wanted), "it�s on."


tech. [Note that full text links will usually require a subscription. Where available, I have linked to free abstracts]:

Leigh Turner, "Biotechnology as religion," Nature Biotechnology�22 (june),659 - 660

Biotech is not just an assemblage of research programs and techniques. In a scientific and technological era, biotech also offers a surrogate religious framework for many individuals. We might want to explore the dangers associated with turning biotech into a belief system. With little reason to think that the biotechnological rapture of posthuman bodies is imminent, we might want to start paying more attention to how biotech enthusiasts prey upon deep-rooted fears and anxieties and offer familiar messages about how death shall be no more. The religion of biotech needs to be challenged by debunkers and skeptics as 'antiaging' potions and nostrums become increasingly popular and profitable.
Interesting Roundup research: J. I. Vitta, et al., "Widespread use of glyphosate tolerant soybean and weed community richness in Argentina," Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 103, 621-624
The survey indicated that 37 species were considered by crop advisers as increasing, 18 as decreasing in importance (Table 1). Weed richness has increased in the area since glyphosate tolerant cultivars were introduced. Of the weeds listed as increasing in importance, a few are suspected to be tolerant to glyphosate at recommended rates:
And Cesare Accinelli, et al., "Influence of insecticidal toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki on the degradation of glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium in soil samples," ibid., 497-507: Bt toxins roughly double the persistance of glyphosate in soils (e.g., from 11 to 19 day half-life), but had no effect on soil microbial carbon. This is relevant because HT/IR "stacked trait" cultivars mean that both the Bt toxins and glyphosate will be present in large quantities.

De La Campa, et al., "Fumonisin in Tortillas Produced in Small-Scale Facilities and Effect of Traditional Masa Production Methods on This Mycotoxin," J. Agric. Food Chem. 52, 4432-4437 shows that nixtamalization, among its other benefits, reduces fungal contamination.

Hayes et al., "Farmer-owned brands?" Agribusiness 20, 269-85 is a rather amusing discussion of the economics of of what are essentially protected identity agricultural products.

In the news:

75% of "red snapper" is not red snapper [news@nature]; USDA's implementation of its "enhanced" BSE testing leaves rather a lot to be desired [Seattle Times]; Oregon farm dinners [Oregonian; cf. California's Outstanding in the Field].

Finally, There Will Always Be an England: Maccers drinks Sancerre by the pint.

My mom, untouched by the internet and its attendant vices, actually called me on the telephone to tell me to read Julia's Reed's review of the latest River Cafe cookbook [Yes, that Julia Reed]. Somehow, she found the friend-of-Rose/pregnant-Jerry-Hall-in-the-bathroom anecdotes amusing. The review does, however, get at the appeal of their cooking:

Some recipes are so simple as to be laughable. The list of ingredients for Beef Steak Fiorentina consists solely of a 5-pound T-bone, which you are instructed to ''season generously,'' grill and slice."
Of course, that does not really help you if you don't know how to grill a steak, but it is absolutely the correct recipe for bistecca alla fiorentina. If you do know how to cook, but are trapped in unnecessarily complicated recipes, you should check them out, preferably in the form of their first book (the blue one, called Italian Country Cookbook in the US and sadly out of print). Once you've grasped the concept, the later books are a little obvious.

Monday, July 19, 2004


Lame lo-carb "pizzas" are being sold in various guises all over the place these days. I believe, however, that the sausage crust is the ultimate solution to this problem. [via ttbbb,e, where we also find blt candles].

But I still feel that Karl Lagerfeld has the last word on Atkins in the photo on the right.


I now appear to have image hosting. For free. thanks to flickr. I don't know what it means, but I'm not complaining. Anyway, it seemed like an opportune occasion to draw your attention to Yoshitomo Nara.

purity and danger

Martha Nussbaum has some disturbing things to say about Hindu fundamentalism. Which could, by the way, be very easily applied to other fundamentalisms. Via mefi.

Friday, July 16, 2004

everything is everything

Apparently, "America" is "Kansas"

The state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year. Kansas aches for revenge. Kansas gloats when celebrities say stupid things; it cheers when movie stars go to jail. And when two female rock stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the heads of the liberal elite. Kansas comes running to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those rock stars' taxes.
Also, good things might happen if poor people had something to eat besides donuts. But the urban chicken coop might be too much.

misc.: GMO-free county measures gain ground in Cali.; and the OIG turns its pitiless gaze on FSIS.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

We "Other Victorians"

A propos of the previous post, it appears that I will now have to refer to "obese" "americans" [I will continue to insist, however, on the objective reality of SUVs]. Check out Paul Campos:

It would be difficult to come up with a better illustration of the distorting power of the war on fat than Critser�s explanation for why Americans -- specifically poor and working-class Americans -- are getting fatter, when being fat has so clearly become an enormous social disadvantage. According to Critser, it�s because America�s elites have been afraid to say or do anything to signal social disapproval of fat. Cowed by, among others, �a very vocal minority of super-obese female activists... the media, the academy, public health workers, and the government do almost nothing� to let Americans know that being fat is undesirable. This hypothesis, of course, is simply insane on its face.
Sound familiar?
[A] society which has been loudly castigating itself for its hypocrisy for more than a century, which speaks verbosely of its own silence, takes great pains to relate in detail the things it does not say, denounces the powers it excercises, and promises to liberate itself from the very laws that have made it function.
Personally, I find Foucault's persistant relevance infuriating. Why can't everyone stop being so fucking stupid?

Campos also writes:

I have no affection for conspiracy theories; and most popular accounts of how information gets interpreted and distorted by the media tend to be both too rationalistic and too conspiratorial. But I will say this: The experience of reading hundreds of articles about fat published in our nation�s major media over the course of the last few years, while at the same time actually studying the primary scientific research regarding the subject, is something that can make theories of manufactured consent and the like begin to look fairly plausible. As the joke goes, a paranoid person is somebody who suspects what�s really going on. Except that it isn�t always a joke: Spend three years reading the scientifically spurious propaganda of the diet industry dressed up as �investigative journalism,� and then get back to me.

further food

It turns out that getting to Los Angeles by car requires driving through "America," that mythical place where obese people drive their SUVs between McDonald's and Old Navy, and are easily persuaded to elect their oppressors by shiny objects, bright colors and comical mispronunciations. [Please note, I bracket this "America" with inverted commas, following the sac, to indicate my geoepistomological unease with the construct, which is to say I don't believe it really exists, despite noting a lot of SUVs]. As we all know, people here eat a lot of beef, and last weekend I did too, at several landmark emporia. It turns out that the superiority of "midwestern cornfed beef," like "the world's safest food supply," is merely an unexamined, and unsupportable, myth. The beef I had -- one place advertised it proudly as "top-third choice" -- was marginally better than what you'll find at the supermarket, but not in an exciting way. In fact, it had nothing on the grassfed beef that is supposedly incompatible with our national palate. It is also depressing to think that people routinely pay $40 for this kind of steak -- and I'm not talking about celebrity-chef steakhouses either.

On the other hand, last week I grilled myself a dry-aged Niman Ranch prime ribeye which was not only worth the embarassing price I was forced to pay, but was also a transcendent consumption experience. All mouthfeel and umami. Anyone who has been to Peter Luger knows what I'm talking about. No "American," no human, should be denied the joy of dry-aged prime cornfed beef. This does not mean that we should be able to procure it from the drivethrough twice a day. And of course, we can't -- we can't even, as I learned last weekend, get it for $40 at more-or-less highly regarded restaurants that specialize in the product. So let's excercise a little impulse control, people. Grassfed beef tastes better than whatever you're eating now. Treat yourself to some real prime beef every now and then and you'll save on narcotics.

(Of course this ignores the fact that we have to produce millions of cows to procure even the current tiny supply of prime, but that's a problem for another day).

Back home, I finally got around to testing Bruce Cole's sous vide salmon this week. First of all if, like me, you are not particularly good at reading recipes carefully, let me emphasize that fridge-temp. fish will take considerably longer than 4 minutes to cook. Mine was quite rare after 10. Rare is fine with me, but the problem, as I had surmised, was inedibility of skin, which is after all the best part. A problem easily solved by a quick sear, or a propane torch. However, there was no obvious benefit to my palate in the quality of the flesh. Neither flavor nor texture improved compared to my normal pan-sear and anemic broiler methods. Possibly the gap widens beyond rare. I have no doubt that Bruce, or Thomas Keller for that matter, could blow my salmon away with theirs sous vide, but for me, it wasn't worth the cost of the freezer bag. But I will experiment further.

Then, tragedy struck. My jealously hoarded bag of fagioli Zolfini del Pratomagno, the rare and extremely expensive cannellini I had brought back from Florence was teeming with unidentified weevils, or some kind of vermin. I am heartbroken, not to mention nauseated. I didn't even get to plant any.

by the way

According to popbitch, Rick James is very wealthy from his investments in pork: "Whenever there's hard times, black people going to eat some bacon."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

bastille day

Sorry, I have been absorbing a lot of information today. Like trying to get the c-span video of the House mad cow hearing. And successfully watching Glenn Danzig get his ass kicked. So best. Anyway, on to the food:

The LA Times rides Bastille Day hard, starting with an interesting article on LA's early "french" (i.e., francophone Basque) history. Apertifs are now officially a trend, but I'd advise you to consider the offerings of France's southern neighbors. And I'm afraid that Alain Giraud's pan bagnat look a bit too LA-ified in the picture: there is a suspicious absence of oozing oil. The alouettes sans tête are genius though; I can't believe no one's ever done it before. Finally, David Shaw reports on excessively expensive expat wine from from Paso Robles. [Not really finally: there is apparently more, but it's hidden behind the popular "calendar live" firewall.]

The best thing in the papers today is the Chron's story on awesome 14-year-old cook Elón Graham. I'm not saying I'd eat the pork chops, but it won't take long for Berkeley High to beat the Safeway out of him. Also in the Chron Olivia Wu tackles nam prik.

In NY, Marian Burros reports soaring demand for wild salmon, and problems for the aquaculture industry. Best case scenario is this forces the farmers to come up with better ways to farm. Perhaps consumers will wonder why they're paying $15/lb. for wild Alaskan King (just a guess -- who knows what they're paying in NY?) when fishermen see only $2 of that. Speaking of fish, for some reason, Peter Hoffman prefers oil-packed anchovies.

God, I hope this becomes a trend: the reasonable markup. Nancy Harmon Jenkins visits Ciccio Sultano in Sicily. Bruni lays the smackdown on V -- even Gawker gets in on the action.

In the Washington Post, Julia Watson discovers the caja China -- six months after Saveur, Vogue and the Times -- and lamely refuses to link to the blog that gave her the idea. You know she's going to be on the ball when she admits to googling mojitos in December 2003. I guess, on the analogy of Wonkette, we'll have to call it trendy-for-DC.

Regina Schrambling reviews a Carême bio; and Adam Platt reviews Sirio's -- can the hostess confessions be a coincidence? Elsewhere, the former points out some small problems with the latter (currently the fourth item).

Spotted at tfs: Big Boy breeder Oved Shifriss dies at 89; not to be forgotten email list [via Sauté Wed.]. More later.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004



The United States is neglecting to test the majority of cattle most at risk of having mad cow disease, government investigators said on Tuesday. U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators said the USDA was not testing adult cattle that died on the farm and had failed to test hundreds of cattle condemned due to possible central nervous system disorder -- a symptom of mad cow disease and many other diseases. "The problems identified during our review, if not corrected, may ... reduce the credibility of any assertion regarding the prevalence of BSE in the United States," said the USDA's Office of Inspector General. A draft report was provided by the House of Representatives Government Reform Committee. The report said the USDA failed to test 518 of the 680 cattle condemned at slaughter for central nervous system symptoms between fiscal 2002 and 2004. Those symptoms indicate an animal could be suffering from one of several illnesses, including mad cow disease.
House hearing tomorrow.

And, while you were out, the FDA dropped the ball again on ruminant feed.

clarification: Of course, this is not really shocking: any who's been paying attention has known about this for months, if not years. Still, the sad truth is that the OIG deserves credit for actually reaching the obvious conclusions, considering how much bullshit has been emanating from other sectors of the USDA. The draft report, courtesy of Rep. Waxman, is here [pdf], and Mike Lee's Bee article about it is here. No news yet on the hearing, but you should be able to find the video here.

As you can imagine, it may take me some time to recover from eating orange flower ice cream at the center of the apocalypse, among other adventures. In the meantime, please listen to this NPR story about AIDS drugs in India. I am not normally a fan of inter-sphere news in audio format, but the best thing about this story is the scathing voice of an Indian lawyer, as he says:

A lot of our clients are dying. They just continue to die, it's a ridiculous situation... It's such an absurd situation, it's so starkly absurd, that it shocks you sometimes. It makes you laugh also, unfortunately.
The other high point is the argument, allegedly made by first world pharmaceutical companies, that anti-retrovirals should not be made available to poor people because it might hasten the development of drug resistance in the AIDS virus. In other words, we should continue to deny poor people treatment so they can act as a selection-damping reservoir for the virus, thus maintaining the drugs' effectiveness in rich people, and the pharmaceutical companies' profit margin. This is so shockingly cynical that it actually surprised me.

On a lighter note, peer-reviewed scientific confirmation of the intuitively obvious:

Replacing chemical with biological fertilizers may extend crop growth and ward off disease, a new study suggests.
Kumar, et al., "An alternative agriculture system is defined by a distinct expression profile of select gene transcripts and proteins," PNAS early edition, 7/12/04.

Friday, July 09, 2004

SF Monterey reports on Mariquita Farm's benefit for Don Rogelio, complete with michoacan goat "haggis."

Thursday, July 08, 2004


The July ISB News Report features Chilcutt and Tabashnik's May PNAS article on Bt pollen in supposedly conventional refuges; Qi's June Nature Biotechnology article on very long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid synthesis in Arabidopsis; and Phillip B.C. Jones's convenient summary of Monsanto v Schmeiser and related U.S. cases.

The Times yesterday reported on industrial hog farming's swirling shit storm and N.C.'s attempt to do something about it while the FDA takes a nice long nap.

The Guardian takes notice of the USDA organic standards fuckup but fails to realize that the industry has already been hijacked by "big corporations."

Schlosser on Tyson and union organizer Maria Martinez in the Nation [via ABE].

safety first:
1. The title says it all: George et al., "Composition of Grain and Forage from Corn Rootworm-Protected Corn Event MON 863 Is Equivalent to That of Conventional Corn (Zea mays L.)," J. Agric. Food Chem. 52 (13), 4149 -4158. Well, the title and the fact that every single author works for Monsanto or a lab they contracted.
2. A freely-accessible article from Plant Biotechnology Journal 2/4 concludes:

The results presented for a number of environmental and human health impact categories suggest that growing the GM herbicide-tolerant crop would be less harmful to the environment and human health than growing the conventional crop, largely due to lower emissions from herbicide manufacture, transport and field operations.
3. This APHIS environmental assessment of a Prodigene corn trial application in Frio County, Texas [pdf] makes very interesting reading.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

food part 2

Once you get used to eating at least approximately seasonally, summer presents an embarassment of riches. I would have no problem eating ten pouds of peaches every week of the season, for example, but one must also take advantage of the end of berry season, and the beginning of the melon's. Suffice it to say I eat a lot of fruit these days. After many years, I have reached an uneasy equilibrium in the produce department, but yesterday I encountered the same dilemma at the fish counter.

At the risk of exposing myself to envy and/or mockery, the following story requires me to reveal that I eat wild local king salmon once a week in season. As I was buying my weekly filet yesterday, I noticed a rare treat at the other end of the counter: fresh whole anchovies. After a bruising internal debate, I made the sensible decision and bought both. Gutting a half-pound of anchovies affords ample time for reflection. Knowing that I was going to turn them into boquerones for later use, I contemplated the growing pile of "refuse" I was going to have to throw away.

Luckily, Colman Andrews's Catalan Cuisine had just the idea I needed: fried anchovy spines. The recipe begins: "I realize this recipe sounds like a joke, but..." [Actually it begins with a bizarrely irrelevant comparison of Catalan food and 'eighties French haute cuisine, but we will give him the benefit of the doubt on that]. The result was a surprisingly bland crispy snack, more like a chip than a skeleton, and rather tasty with a large amount of salt. Naturally, they would also be excellent dipped in allioli.

"Eating down the food chain" is often promoted as a way to more efficiently consume our planet's bountiful biomass. Less protein is wasted when we consume anchovies directly instead of through larger intermediaries. This is not really a solution to anything, however, because human competition for food just substitutes slow starvation for direct decimation of the predatory species that we would also like to eat. There is no easy solution to the problem, but it is certainly not a bad idea to use the animals we do eat as completely as possible. Peasants, of course, have never had to be persuaded of this logic by the Sierra Club, and neither should you. Rolled spleen may forever be a tough sell, but anchovy spines are easy, at least for the kind of people likely to clean the fish themselves:

fried anchovy spines (from memory)
soak the spines in milk for an hour, dredge lightly in flour, fry gently (~300 degrees F) in olive oil until golden. Serve immediately with generous salt, or allioli.
[The milk seems superfluous to me, and I skipped it, but it would be a good idea if you get your spines from salted whole anchovies].

Turning back to the papers, Russ spoils the effect of his first article by going on to provide recipes for stone fruit. The only legitimate recipe for a perfect peach is this: 1. walk over to the sink; 2. eat the peach; 3. repeat as necessary. To his credit, his interventions are minimal though, and he does have some good tips for picking out fruit. Meanwhile, David Karp takes on raspberries.

Corie Brown on Food Network's race to the bottom. The false dichotomy:

"Americans accumulate rather than inherit their culinary habits," [Laura Shapiro] says, noting that television is a critical part of that process. "It's the true future of viable home cooking." Gastronomica's Goldstein disagrees. Food television isn't cooking, "it's voyeurism. You watch it but you don't do it," she says.
It is, of course, both, and I don't see what is to be gained by bemoaning creeping voyeurism. That Sandra Lee bullshit is another matter. Conversely, Florence Fabricant confronts the business end of the restaurant business, which is, simply put, a shitload of money.

Battle of the expense accounts: David Shaw goes to London, Johnny Apple to Puglia, which the Times insists for some reason on calling Apulia -- the equivalent of referring to Lombardy as Gallia Cisalpina. But Marlena Spieler wins by visiting both England and Turkey. If Bittman's recipe for raita last week wasn't enough for you, try Spieler's for cacik.

The other recipe you should try is Florence Fabricant's pissaladière, which is connected to the Times's continuing attepts to badger you into drinking rosé. If you're not on the bandwagon yet, I don't know that you can be helped [note: my half-dead palate says the Saintsbury they recommend is not so hot]. Also, grind your own meat in the food processor. And buy Robb Walsh's new Tex-Mex book.

One more thing: where's Amanda? Everyone's favorite food writer has vanished from the pages of America's most beloved newspaper. Perhaps she is holed up to work on Bathing Mr. Latte?

This week the interweb brings us; Jamie Oliver's shocking tarragon salad; Whole Foods in Fast Company [both via Sauté Wed.]; Gastropoda, the fruit of Regina Schrambling's free-lancing free time, is reliably snarky, in a good way; e.g.,: "The surprise is not that Judson Grill is closing. It�s that anyone would think the world needs more Bobby Flay."; Peter Hertzmann enters the matrix; Flexipan: parisian tupperware party; and, if you need Robert Wolke to tell you that charcoal is better than gas, you need to get those crack rocks off the grill and try cooking meat instead.

food part 1

While you wait for me to complete my justly popular roundup of today's cooking sections, read Russ Parsons's superb interview with the masterful peach farmers Fitz Kelly and Art Lange:

By now [Lange] is nearly sputtering: "The question I always want to ask them is: 'Would you eat that, Mr. Farmer?' If the answer is no, then why do they think Harry Housewife would? Why would you want to pay for something that doesn't taste like anything?"
If you don't have an LA Times account, get one.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

To celebrate our nation's independence, I supported American, Irish and Italian distillery conglomerates, Spanish and Portuguese winemaking conglomerates, and South African and American brewing conglomerates. I was personally responsible for the death and subsequent cooking over coals of several species of domesticated animals. I consumed many hours of suitably flag-waving entertainment-content in the form of baseball.

And now, my fellow Americans, I have a headache. I will see you tomorrow, if I survive.

Friday, July 02, 2004

The Berkeley Unified School District on Wednesday signed an agreement with Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation to create a formal curriculum that weaves organic gardening, cooking and eating healthy lunches into the educational experience of the district's 9,000 students.


The USDA's decision to announce "inconclusive" test results before they can be confirmed predictably has the industry's panties in a bunch. For once, I have to agree with them. All it does is traumatize the futures market. And there are no benefits to anyone. Look, just tell us when you find something -- which you will.

Update: second cow confirmed negative.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

high and low

New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has a blog. I know nothing about classical music, but Ross is an excellent writer and critic, well worth reading. Note his unpublished review of fictional Manx composer Lionel Wainscotte Spew's The Gazebo of Ecstasy, Op. 132. The jokes are most likely over my head, but that doesn't mean they aren't funny. [Via the hag].

Speaking of music: PJ Harvery's new record has the best genius/not-actually-a-song ratio since rid of me. In particular, "The Letter" is a masterpiece of dirty metaphor.

And if you haven't seen Hatebeak yet for some reason, what are you waiting for? Boingboing has an .mp3. [via chicha].

Finally, totally-unrelated-to-the-New Yorker semi-celebrity Paige Davis has a website too, but it doesn't mention her recent charity work.

Also in the NYRB, Ingrid Rowland reviews Roy Strong's Feast: A History of Grand Eating, which may be "compulsively readable," but doesn't seem particularly original. The apparent focus on royal banquets, instead of communal rituals, is unfortunate. Please, spare me further Trimalchio.
Oh yeah: as you surely know by now, the inconclusive BSE test has been confirmed negative, but they already have a second inconclusive preliminary.

so another goddamn New Yorker came yesterday...

Wait, don't leave! I was only kidding: no incomprehensible ravings this week. It turns out the trick is to not read the annoying shit. (Although I did sneak enough of a glance at Caitlin's chronicle of the miseries of privilege to see that it closed with a reference to The Sun Also Rises. Coincidence? I think not.

I mention it only to bring your attention to Katherine Boo's fucking brilliant article on outsourcing in Chennai. It's not online, but she summarizes it in this audio clip, and you can read her excellent March article on Cameron County Texas here.

As long as we're being serious, please read former NEJM editor Marcia Angell's takedown of the pharmaceutical industry in NYRB:

And the magic words, repeated over and over like an incantation, are research, innovation, and American.

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