Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Monday, August 30, 2004
in the news
Birth of the Chez Panisse curriculum [Chron]; more competition for Monsanto [St. L. P.-D.]; Harry Cline, an ag. columnist whose brain exploded when confronted with the idea that biotech wasn't necessarily the best thing ever, gets excited -- six-pack of Viagra excited -- when the OCA calls him a "biotech bully." His only response is to call them socialists. And "out-of-staters." Agribusiness: it's the new red-baiting! [Western Farm Press]
there will always be an England
British conservationists are so worried about the fate of a rare plant species that they are making a tempting offer. The first 50 people to join Plantlife International's survey of where juniper shrubs live in the UK's uplands will be offered a free bottle of organic gin.
Friday, August 27, 2004
laughter is the best medicine
Wandering around the intersphere, a lot of people appear to be having a very bad week. I don't really understand the public confessional impulse, so I'll refrain from saying anything too specific, but: I hope things get better for all of you.
To cheer everyone up, I will for the first time violate the #2 rule of the blog* to discuss my referrer logs: Those of you searching for jerking off my bone should direct your attention to bad news hughes [if you already saw this after Maud posted it on Tues., just read it again]. Those of you looking for latina MILFs, i.e., everyone else, feel free to hang around.
Or, you could just download some crazy tabla action from music for robots. Don't say I never gave you anything.
* The #1 rule, of course, is: don't write about having nothing to write about.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
The Story of Food Plants
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
SF: Cretan beach picnic; crazy people who refuse to plant grapes on their six-acre farm in Rutherford -- frankly, I wish more of these people would grow tomatoes instead of their self-proclaimed "full Monty" swill; Charles Nob Hill bites the dust and Traci Des Jardins opens a taqueria.
My feeling about low-carb is that it's good for people who want to get fast results, but eventually everyone falls off the wagon. It's like everything else about America: It can't be sustained.Also:
Weight Watchers announced this week that it has tweaked its diet program to try to lure back members seduced away by the low-carbohydrate regimen. (Which is a bit like a wife shaving her head to try to win over the husband who left her for a man.)
Of course, the next big thing will be the food spray diet.
NY: It's canning time; Sagra della Porchetta in Wiliamsburg; trial by fire; cinq cépages citgo; Johnny Apple explains sweet corn genetics to deluded Marylanders who think they're eating a cultivar that hasn't been grown for probably 25 years
You can get away with calling the stuff Silver Queen anyway, because most customers don't know what Silver Queen looks like. They're blind men trying to choose between a Chevrolet and a Ford.
He claims to like the sh2 hybrids -- but I'm definitely with Alice on this one.
Elsewhere: Regina Schrambling is also dubious about heirlooms (though, just to be contrary, I should mention that I've gotten some good ones in the past week); making masa at home [via tfs]; Clotilde scores the marble mortar her grandmother unearthed in a Marseilles garden in 1937; hot-saucing update (via MeFi): 35% approve ("unscientific"); Robb Walsh is still fending off the Philistines who don't get Tex-Mex -- but you, my friend, should get Tex-Mex, the perfect combination of history and recipes; your beans are undercooked; fishing for dinner in Chesapeake Bay; secret aussie butcher language; Alice Walker's chicken poem [last 2 via/at the hag].
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Monday, August 23, 2004
The moonies are at it again, unearthing a 1990 USDA document warning of BSE in cows as young as 22 months. It is true that they have downplayed the risk at less than 30 months, but the current testing regime does not appear to have an arbitrary age cutoff -- unless it is 20 months -- a little close for comfort, maybe, but hardly a "smoking gun." I wonder, though, if the motivation isn't somehow Keyesian?
Friday, August 20, 2004
the power of smoke
microbial soup alert
Avian flu H5N1 found in pigs.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Listen, yuppies: a tomato is not a good tomato simply because it is an "heirloom". A tomato is good because it is grown carefully in optimal conditions, with as little water as possible, picked ripe, and never refrigerated. Ninety percent of "heirloom" tomatoes are just as revolting as the crap you get at the supermarket. [Also see Patricia Wells's IHT review of Christian Etienne's tomato menu; Oliveto's will be here, along with misspellings of terroir]. Also in the Chron: Oaktown soul food renaissance; memories of wasabi peas and the '76 Montreal Olympics.
NY: The Times gets Julie Powell* and Johnny Apple to write about Julia; cooking off the grid -- way off the grid; I find it odd that restaurants want you to eat at the bar -- surely both margin and turnover is better for drinks only? To take but one example from Grimes's unfortunate on language this weekend, Alice Waters is a francophile and therefore has always said "rocket," not "arugula."
LA: Russ Parsons's elegy for Julia is my favorite so far; Regina Schrambling knows what to do with zucchini: eat them only in season, which, by the way, is right now; she also knows what the Times left out of her obit. Plus, Clotilde on le fooding [via tfs].
*Like Maud, Julie Powell is a Texan in NY, and likes to remind herself of it with the patois of home. But how many monkeys' uncles can one woman be? Uncharitable northerners might construe this as a reference to inbreeding, or the absence of editors during vacation season. More seriously: we're all being told now about Julia the pretension-skewerer, anti-snob, etc. One can certainly understand how this appeals to a Texan in NY, among many other people. But Julie Powell has, I fear, misappropriated this icon, twisting it into a repudiation of the basic rule: it's the ingredients, stupid. Compare Julie's original manifesto from August 2002 with Russ Parsons's emblematic story (from the article above):
She had no truck with anyone who stood between her and a good meal, be it dietitians warning against the consumption of fat, or well-meaning chefs bragging about the purity of their (tasteless) organic produce.
"But is it any good?" she would ask.
The point is not that the quality of the ingredients doesn't matter, but rather that the quality of the ingredients is independent of their ideology. People who prefer "organic" or "heirloom" produce that tastes like crap do not really care about food, and deserve to pay through the nose for the mediocrity this kind of stupidtiy engenders. But I would like to see someone try to argue that mastery of mid-century French technique is more important than procuring the highest-quality ingredients, whatever the label says -- or that this was Julia's position.
clarification: I have nothing against heirlooms a priori. I just believe that a rational price would reflect the fruit quality, which is largely independent of the pollination method. Furthermore, many heirloom varieties simply do not taste good. No tomato tastes good when it is mass-produced, picked green, and dumped into the industrial supply chain. If you really care about tomato quality, as opposed to pretty colors, you will find someone who grows and handles them with care, and you will gratefully pay whatever they ask. They will often turn out to be organically grown (certified or not) heirlooms, because those are things that interest many farmers who care about the food they grow, but they are the means, not the end. And I am fairly certain that this is what Julia Child meant when she asked "Is it any good?"
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
annals of geoepistomology
When I was a kid, the only thing we could all agree on was the backwardness of the others. (Mostly, at the time, they came from "The Midwest" -- "The South" was something of a mystery). But, as anyone who has lived in New England for any amount of time knows, it is full of truly terrifying slackjawed cretins, in both urban and backwoods flavors. One-toothed rednecks, venemous bigots, moonshiners, speedfreaks, NASCAR fans, poor people... whatever you fancy in exotic depravity, no need to travel, Mr. Simic. Get out of your Volvo and look around.
"With the possible exception of the domestication of wheat, the green revolution is the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet." Richard Manning does the math [Harper's]. Read this.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Friday, August 13, 2004
update: Before my power went out on Friday, only the Times had posted an improvement on the AP story, Regina Schrambling's excellent obit above. Now they have a special section; also see the Globe's and the LA Times's obits; remembrances by Patricia Wells and Julie Powell; and her kitchen at the Smithsonian. PBS is showing something called American Masters on Wed.; I suppose it unlikely they will rebroadcast the original shows from the '60s.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Wee will pull them Down for you Wee will you Damd infernold Dog
Stern is writing from the mythical land of the win-win situation. Wall Street's "bias" is well-founded. You need look at only a few numbers to see why. Wal-Mart's profits are 3.5% of sales, Costco's 1.7%. Wal-Mart's return on equity is 21%, Costco's 12%. Over the last two years, Wal-Mart's profits have grown 13%, Costco's 9%... There is no getting around the fact that stockholders' gains are often workers' losses, and vice versa. The old class struggle is alive and well.You think?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to test for mad cow disease or collect the correct portion of the brain on nearly 500 suspect cows over the past two years -- including some in categories considered most likely to be infected -- according to agency records obtained by United Press International.
How is it that UPI owns the mad cow story? I mean, the coverage in normal papers is about as consistent as USDA's testing program. Seriously, it's a miracle we found bse at all. But there will be more, whether or not we can detect it.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
I also wanted to point out this news item [Honolulu Advertiser]:
After weighing the arguments, U.S. District Judge David Ezra ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify where four companies have received permits for open-field testing of pharmaceutical crops in Hawai'i and to reveal the locations to the environmental watchdog group Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that challenges food production technologies.Plus, more Chapela tenure-battle details from Nature:
As the senate continues its inquiry, Chapela is hoping for a second tenure review. He has also filed two claims that may precede a lawsuit. In April, he accused the university of discrimination, saying that he was denied tenure because he is Hispanic. Early last month, he claimed he was victimized by the university for speaking out against the Syngenta deal.
I know I'm supposed to be analyzing today's food sections, but I got distracted by Marian Burros's whole grain article. Burros says that spelt "is similar to" farro, but the cook's thesaurus site she recommends is not so precise, conflating the two. Farro, strictly speaking, is what the italians call emmer wheat, which is a common name that probably doesn't mean anything to you, which is why we refer to the scientific name:
Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum
Unfortunately, where cereals are concerned, scientific names are only slightly more helpful than common ones, and you will also see emmer called Triticum dicoccum. I am using the former nomenclature because it helps to clarify the genetic relationships of the different varieties. Anyway, spelt is Triticum aestivum var. spelta, and the difference is important, because it means that spelt is hexaploid -- it is basically a Triticum turgidum that has acquired the fabled D genome from Aegilops squarossa (just trust me on this), the crucial evolutionary event that created bread wheat (Triticum aestivum).this pdf) reveals that spelt is called gran farro (and einkorn -- don't even ask -- is called piccolo farro), but I suspect that this is perhaps more precision than really obtained when they were all grown regularly (although, as you can see, the morphology is quite distinct, and may therefore have encouraged the distinction -- but remember these people still call corn "turkish grain"). The point is more or less moot, because the only "farro" you are going to see in a store is Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum.
In other grain news, a new report from Ohalo II (background) demonstrates that they were processing wild barley at least 10,000 years before domestication Piperno et al., "Processing of wild cereal grains in the Upper Palaeolithic revealed by starch grain analysis," Nature 430, 670-673. That is to say, people figured out the appeal of refined flours a long time ago. Also, although there was evidence of grains other than barley, they could not be identified for technical reasons -- demonstrating again that the staff of life needs to be defined more broadly.
Which brings us to further considerations on the meaning of bread: I got a very nice email from the OED that politely explained that I am a moron, because they do indeed have a sense for bread meaning food in general:
4. a. Taken as a type of ordinary food or victual. (Perhaps from the Lord's Prayer.) bread of idleness: food not worked for; so similar phrases, as bread of affliction, etc. full of bread: full-fed.
c1175 Lamb. Hom. 63 Gif us to dei ure deies bred. 1340 Ayenb. 110 Vayre uader oure bryad of eche daye yef ous to day. 1382 WYCLIF Isa. xxxiii. 16 Bred to hym is oue, his watris ben feithful. 1388 Deut. xvi. 3 Thou schalt ete breed of affliccioun. c1400 Destr. Troy 13549 Me bus, as a beggar, my bred for to thigge. 1535 COVERDALE Ex. xxiii. 25 So shal he blesse thy bred & thy water [WYCLIF, looues, and watris]. 1593 SHAKES. Rich. II, III. i. 21 Eating the bitter bread of banishment....b. fig.
c1380 WYCLIF John vi. 35, I am breed of lyf. 1542-60 BECON Potat. for Lent. Wks. (1843) 105 Touch not the thievish breads of perverse doctrine. 1660 JER. TAYLOR Worthy Commun. i. �1. 21 The holy Sacrament..the bread of elect souls. 1875 HAMERTON Intell. Life X. iv. 358 The daily bread of literature and art.
I think I can be excused for bailing on the 4a. definition proper, but the cites make it clear that this is what we are talking about (even if some of those under 4a. should go under 4b). It is clear, if we can trust the sample, that the concept arrived with Christianity, especially the Lord's Prayer, which among other things reinforces its Mediterranean-ness. I still wonder how you can make the distinction, in the Lord's Prayer, between literal and metaphorical (or, strictly speaking, synecdochic): is "daily bread" supposed to represent everything one could eat, or just, literally, bread -- and is there even a difference? I say no.
serendipitous update [businesswire]:
ConAgra Food Ingredients is introducing a revolutionary whole-grain flour - Ultragrain White Whole Wheat - that allows consumers to enjoy the freshness, sweeter taste and smooth texture available from refined flour products in 100 percent whole-wheat products. To be unveiled at the International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas, the breakthrough ingredient combines the nutritional benefits of whole grains with the taste, texture and finished baked qualities of refined flour.
Update II (semi-definitive): Ok, I found what must be the best resource on "farro": Hulled Wheats. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. 4. Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Hulled Wheats 21-22 July 1995, Castelvecchio Pascoli, Tuscany, Italy (Rome: IPGRI, 1996). The word can apparently be used for all "hulled wheats" (namely einkorn, emmer, spelt), but Italians are alleged to distinguish spelt as "faricello" or "spelta." On the other hand, some farmers are said not to be too clear about the difference, and the two are apparently, as in Spain, grown together in the same fields. So you may be getting some T. aestivum, var. spelta in your "farro," even if only in the form of genetic introgresstion into Triticum turgidum subsp. dicoccum from cross-pollination.
I know you think I'm crazy, but the terminology is really fucked: the official EU listing calls Farro della Garfagnana IGP spelt (even though it is clearly T. dicoccum (you can even tell from this video), the Italian agriculture ministry says farro is "Triticum monococcum, T. dicoccum e T. Spelta," then goes on to say that there are 2000 hectares of "farro medio (T. dicoccum)," and 500 of "farro grande (T. Spelta)".
Monday, August 09, 2004
Cancel my subscription starting now. I don't care how many issues are left I don't want this magazine in my house again. Your article on 'Consider the Lobster' was written by a pompous,arrogant two- named twit. This is a FOOD magazine not a platform for social commentary and political correctness. We have numerous other cooking magazines that yield supurb reciepes and provide everything we need. Your lectures are not needed.I guess I have to buy it now. Cf. Alex Beam in the Globe.
This address on peaches and memory that Mas Masumoto gave to a group of organic farmers is a good corrective to the mental incapacity displayed on epicurious, even if, as he admits, it can be a little overwrought. New Farm also has an interesting article on "social sustainability" in organic agriculture -- I can only imagine the paroxysms of rage "Canelled Subscrtption" and her ilk will suffer when confronted with the specter of a living wage for agricultural laborers. It is amazing to watch people's brains literally seize up when confronted with an unpleasant idea.
an autopsy found vCJD in a person whose genetic signature is shared by about 50 percent of Caucasians. Previously the disease, which is thought to come from eating beef products from cattle infected with BSE, was believed to affect only people with a genetic profile found in about 35 percent of Caucasians.[meatingplace.com]. Peden, et al., "Preclinical vCJD after blood transfusion in a PRNP codon 129 heterozygous patient," The Lancet 364 (7 August 2004) 527-529:
Our findings also show that vCJD infection can be confirmed by western blot analysis of PrPres in an individual who is a heterozygote at codon 129 of PRNP. This finding has major implications for future estimations of numbers of vCJD cases in the UK, since individuals with this genotype constitute the largest genetic subgroup in the population. This subgroup might have a different incubation period after exposure to either primary infection by the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) agent or secondary infection by blood transfusion. A very lengthy incubation period might explain why no clinical cases of vCJD have yet been observed in this subgroup. Such preclinical cases might also represent a source of iatrogenic infection themselves, either by blood donation or by contamination of surgical instruments coming into contact with lymphoid tissues, even in the absence of infectivity in the brain.... It is also possible that the PRNP codon 129 genotype might affect the distribution of PrPres in tissues.Also see Lancet comment.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
it's what's for dinner
Between eight and 50 per cent of US retail beef carrying a label with the name "Angus" does not meet the USDA criteria for Angus branding, according to a recent DNA test.
The only weapon of power, its only strategy against this defection, is to reinject realness and referentiality everywhere, in order to convince us of the reality of the social, of the gravity of the economy and the finalities of production. For that purpose it prefers the discourse of crisis, but also - why not? - the discourse of desire. "Take your desires for reality!" can be understood as the ultimate slogan of power, for in a nonreferential world even the confusian of the reality principle with the desire principle is less dangerous than contagious hyperreality. One remains among principles, and there power is always right.
Oh, wait, that second paragraph is from a different source.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
We are all donuts
Wagner�s angriest modern critics have suggested that he would have approved of Nazi Germany if he had lived to see it. His angriest defenders answer that he would have been horrified by the uses to which his music was put. The argument is a foolish one: Wagner was a man of the nineteenth century, Hitler a man of the twentieth.
First of all, who wasn't an anti-semite then? This is not to relativize the problem, just contextualize it. To me Wagner is most interesting as a source for a particular historical moment, but also as a kind of case study of romanticism's outer limits (or logical conclusion, depending on your point of view). No matter how horrible he was, his work is important in that respect, and also, of course, as "art" on its own terms (which I am less qualified to assess). I do not even believe that Germans (or Wagner fans) should be forced to "come to terms with that legacy" all the time -- unnecessarily literalist. The dogs, however, struck me as more Disney than quirky, and that, the faux-humanizing, seemed more distasteful than usual in this context. But your defense of Bayreuth itself is well-taken. If anything, it seems to me, it ensures that we return to this issue annually. I just wish we could persuade people to do it without exploding scoreboards and lots of shiny objects.
Random synapse firing: this reminds me, I've been meaning to buy a copy of the best-subtitled book ever, so I can regale everyone with disturbing similarities between our present state of affairs and the situation in post-Versailles Germany. If you're lucky...
ionarts reports that the dogs have been removed, presumably because of my criticism.
Seriously, though, who doesn't love dogs?
everyone else appears to be on vacation edition
LA: Anya von Bremzen reports on a crazy new trend from Spain, called tapas. Apparently, they are served with sherry. Seriously people, if you're not on the Spanish bandwagon yet, I don't know what your problem is. [Cf. the Independent on Priorat]. Also: rich and stupid people enjoy chocolate fountains; breeders may be interested in Cindy Dorn's cooking with daughter piece.
SF: The seafood sommelier may seem precious, but you should read this if you're serious about cooking fish; Marlena Spieler cooks and eats in Ionia (the Olympics, of course; cf. NYT's Saveur-esque greek wine feature); tourists will want to read the rundown of North Beach restaurants.
NY: The minimalist reports on an interesting Trio-spinoff vegetarian restaurant in Chicago; Florence Fabricant is on crack if she thinks Bill Telepan invented the idea of cooking pappa al pomodoro for an hour (google is no help here, but I assure you the tomatoes are supposed to be well-cooked) -- and don't miss Peter Hertzmann's compendium of french tomato recipes; a beer frame of White Castle history.
Elsewhere: EU protected geographical indication for the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie? (plus bonus Cornish pasties intrique) -- cf. Time on the Country of Origin labelling debacle; Gen Tso returns to Wenjialong [last 2 via Sauté Wed.]; I'm late to the party as usual, but gothamist food looks pretty good for you New Yorkers; Surprise! Peach farmers are getting the shaft (perhaps more of them should be listening to Art Lange; I doubt the USDA's new varieties will help).
addenda: Robert Wolke examines the thermodynamics of pig roasting in the Post, and today's Niman Ranch newsletter plugs both the caja china and Fergus Henderson (they're happy to sell you pig tails); a brief history of chicken and waffles; where in the world is Bob Cannard? [via ciao Samin].
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
NEWSFLASH: gene expression is complicated
Carlborg and Haley, "Epistasis: Too often Neglected in Complex Trait Studies?" Nature Reviews Genetics 5 (2004), 618-625. Abstract:
Interactions among loci or between genes and environmental factors make a substantial contribution to variation in complex traits such as disease susceptibility. Nonetheless, many studies that attempt to identify the genetic basis of complex traits ignore the possibility that loci interact. We argue that epistasis should be accounted for in complex trait studies; we critically assess current study designs for detecting epistasis and discuss how these might be adapted for use in additional populations, including humans.Epistasis is a fancy way of saying that that multiple genes affect individual traits. I would argue that it is in part an intuitive grasp of this fact that makes people uncomfortable with the currently rather crude techniques of genetic engineering. There's more going on in the genome than 1 gene = 1 trait, and throwing foreign DNA at it and hoping something sticks (the fancy word for that is "microprojectile bombardment") seems like a good way to fuck up something more complicated than you understand. I'm just saying.
the farming news
Alan Guebert takes John Cassidy's New Yorker article on free trade and applies the factor-price equalization theorem to the WTO ag. subsidy negotiations:
This is important, because--all things being equal--in a world of conflicting trade, "trade between them (in this case, Brazil and the US) will reduce wages in the high-paying country and increase wages in the low-paying country until, eventually, workers in both places end up making the same amount."[By the way, the average U.S. farmworker wage is currently $8.58/hr., so I guess we don't have much to fear from Brazil.]
By the way, the going rate for a skilled Brazilian farm laborer is $6 a day. In China, it�s $1.75 a day. In India, it�s $1 a day.
Then he talks to a friend with Roundup-Ready corn volunteers in his soybean field. The only problem is he never planted Roundup-Ready corn. Guebert consistently produces the most interesting thing you can can read about farming in America.
On the other hand, there's poor Harry Cline, a columnist for Western Farm Press, who freaks out when confronted with a (slightly wacky, stupidly ad hom.) e-mailer who doubts the march of corporate biotech progress. Watch the carnage as worlds collide!
Monday, August 02, 2004
A grape picker died after working 10 hours in a field outside Bakersfield in triple-digit heat. Now his son and union representatives are appealing to companies to take the commonsense measures that could have saved his life.
Did you hear the news? They finally proved that prions cause TSE. Oh, you thought they already proved that didn't you? They gave the guy a Nobel Prize, after all. Well, he not only failed to prove it before, he still hasn't proved it.
Here's the deal: if you take prions from a tse-ridden brain, purify them, and inject them directly into someone else's brain (say, a mouse), they don't get the disease. In the latest experiment, they finally got some mice to get sick from these injections. The first problem is that the shit they injected was modified into amyloid plaques in advance, so they certainly didn't prove that prions spontaneously form these plaques of their own accord. Furthermore, the supposedly unique prion strain that resulted looks surprisingly familiar:
Dr. Laura Manuelidis, a neuropathologist at the Yale University Medical School, one of Dr. Prusiner's most vocal critics, said the prion strain that turned up in the experiment looked like a mouse prion frequently used in Dr. Prusiner's laboratory. She said that meant that something else might have caused the infection. "Basically I think the data look like contamination," Dr. Manuelidis said, possibly stemming from "inadequately washed instruments.''And then there's another small problem: the mice in question were genetically modified to produce prions all by themselves. [NYT story, ScienceNOW story, Science paper]