Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Biggest Food Trend of 2012


As we rapidly approach the kickoff to the Summer season, there has been one singular word that has been the pinpoint for much of the discussion regarding how we eat.  To my surprise, it is not the pig and it is not the duck (despite all this talk of foie mumbo jumbo; who cares about that, right?), but rather, the discussion has come from those outside the food hospitality community.  We are talking about the word “obesity.”

I can easily recall the time when the only exposure to the awareness of obesity was a visit to your friendly Midwestern heartland.  Today, it is the topic of every other food, diet and health article, and, it is beginning to center itself around politicians – to which, can be credited as the perfect cause taken up by the perfect champion: the First Lady.  Pick your politics as you like – donkey or elephant, but if you don’t like the First Lady and her universal agenda/message on fighting childhood obesity, then you’re a dumbass probably looking to ask her for a birth certificate.  Fighting childhood obesity is not a partisan issue and making it one isn’t going to win you many votes.

Obesity is a complex issue because it is a sensitive one with quite a bit of polarity.  You have the healthy, your obvious “haves”, and the unhealthy, your “have-nots”.  And like all scenarios involving the two, they are entangled in a classic titty-twister battle of “why do I give a shit about someone that can’t help themselves?” versus “why are people so mean?”  And then, you have the middle where everyone just saunters about feeling bad for each other (or themselves) and do just enough to show they do. 

What surprised and subsequently did not surprise me is how quickly the variety of discussions has come.  Speaking for myself, the first time I took notice of this came from the increasing amount of people posting workouts on social media.  To this, I commend you all – it is great to know you are working out and sometimes even better [for me] to know that you are only capable of a 14 minute mile.  (Not every bit of personal data is necessary, but then again, someone’s 14 min mile makes my shitty time sound so much better!)  The second surprise has come from print media – I have literally read 20 articles alone over the last couple of months from the NYTimes that feature detailed diet and obesity discussion/opinion/science – many of which are useful, informative and refute a lot of the piss-poor reasoning utilized in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  Trends such as fad diets, hollistic cleanses and the always popular “I know this one girl who did this one time and she lost like 2000 lbs” diet are beginning to be shed away by sound science and keen logic derived from the human psyche/habit.  Since this is not a diet and health blog (could you tell from the giant pink pig logo?), I will only offer you this from all my reading and recent experience – something everyone seems to already know but doesn’t really want to face – the secret to being healthy is you have to work really fucking hard.  Every. Single. Fucking. Day.  Now that we’ve settled on that, lets move on.

The “did not surprise me” portion of the obesity trend is the focal point for why I think this is the trend of the year.  After the last 4 years of hearing every Sally, Dick and Jane talk about bacon, pizza, hamburgers, burritos, Doritos tacos and other piss poor Sandra Lee concoctions made from processed garbage; what did you really expect?  It’s basic course correction for the market.  It just happens to have happened in a year where more people seem to be actually be paying attention.  I could not help but think that this was only a matter of time.

While I do believe, and have always believed, that you need to eat a juicy, plump, gruyere-coated burger on brioche with a slab of house bacon, pickled onions, mayo and ketchup, every once in a while (random Nopa shoutout), it should not be the mainstream in culinary focus.  The burger (in its true glory) might be the reason you want to go to a restaurant, but it really should not be the byproduct of being there.  As cooks, a lot of education comes from discovery, variety, restraint and exposure – so to have the conversation dominated by a limiting and retracted form of Americana cookery is insulting to the intelligence of some of the truly talented out there.  Do people remember the pizza shop bubble of 2009?  And last I checked, the world of glutton food blogs hasn’t made much noise recently either.

If there was ever a silver lining with recession and obesity, I’d say an oversaturation with processed or monotonous food options has been followed by an emergence of interesting new flavors and interpretations coming from unexpected or unheralded inspirations.  A good friend and one of San Francisco’s culinary tastemakers also seemed to take notice.  It feels as if people are starting to finally wakeup from the slumber of food recession. 

And that’s important, because the more we request, question, or yearn for [in terms of change], the better our options get in this city.  It’s not rocket science to understand that if we all eat a little less processed shit, then we can try to eat a little more whole, natural and well-sourced produce.  Great cities are always good at the self realization of their own potential – just as long as the need and demand is there.  So with this renewed focus on healthiness, we can hopefully continue to see growth and emphasis on variety, quality and flavor.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

An Open Letter On Foie Gras

From my twitter account: @HotFoodPorn

“I'll promise to never cook or eat foie if we can pass a bill for meat and meat distribution reform.”

“I will also promise to never eat foie if I can gavage it into a few protestors' mouths. #LiveFreeAndDine”

From John Birdsall’s twitter account: @John_Birdsall

@hotfoodporn I'd like to read a more thoughtful argument from you, Eddie. There's enough NRA-style rhetoric out there.

The following is a hopefully thoughtful argument from me to John:

Dear John,

I’m not very sure I can present you with a set of arguments that have not been endlessly recycled over the last few months [google: “CA foie gras ban”]. I fully support the production and consumption of foie gras. I have signed a petition – maybe even two, to reflect that support of the repeal of the CA Foie Gras ban. For those that are unfamiliar with the most basic of basic talking points, I will offer you the following basic information:

As a cooking professional, let me summarize to you some of the compelling reasons why I feel that foie gras should not be banned:

  • I believe the science of this case supports the feeding. Biologically, overfeeding is something that ducks/geese have adopted within their genetic programming.
  • I do not condone animal cruelty, but I do not believe that the nature of methodology in gavage feeding ranks on the list of “cruel” things that we do to animals when we domesticate them for eating.
  • Killing an animal should likely rank #1 on that list of “cruel” things that we do to animals for the sake of eating them. Some others may include sanitary conditions, quality of feed, living/grazing conditions (space), and method of slaughter. None of which is publicized or properly regulated.
  • I eat animals and I understand they must live and ultimately die for my consumption. I understand that how they live affect how they die and trickle down to the result of how they taste (well, that and avoiding bacterial diseases). I know I have to be invested and cook (lead by example) in the constant improvement/reform necessary in that process because the outcome has a direct effect on quality and availability (google: bluefin depletion). But, apparently, certain chefs this week felt that we should leave the worrying to the “world’s governments.”
  • Foie gras is a wag-the-dog vanity issue that appears to be a marginal win for vain politicians, ineffective animal right organizations and their hoodwinked protestors – forced to fight so hard for something that likely affects .5% of the population and will exhibit no progress (except to anger me) in food, meat or health reform.
  • The issue of foie gras holds no value in improving public health, meat safety/quality, or general welfare.
  • The foie gras ban helps less than 1% of people sleep better at a rate of [arguably] 1% of the time.
  • I do not believe in setting a precedent for banning what we can eat – unless it’s a global supply/extinction/eco-endangerment issue (e.g. shark fin). Yes, I feel it is a constitutional issue and a violation of my rights. Do we want to continue to draw lines in the sand?
  • I do not like that my human right to make a choice [to cook and eat foie] is being subjugated by another person’s perceived offense of the animal rights of a duck. Why are we regulating human choice because we have no success in regulating the meat industry?
  • I am not comfortable with the hypocritical nature at which this issue is perceived – allowing people to make an uninformed choice based on judging animal husbandry with the same views as pet ownership. The same people that have no issues with eating at the golden arches.

I have held this stance for quite some time and I have publicized those comments [some of which are more inflammatory than others as you can tell] throughout the twitter and blog universe to no avail. Therefore, I sometimes resort to absurdism and comedic sarcasm. I chose to bullet-point the arguments because I think my views have been echoed by others.

But instead – for you John, I will offer people something very different today. I will formally offer you my civil obedience. Today I will make a pledge and promise to never cook and eat foie in exchange for a few very simple things. I will pick up where I left off from our twitter discussion:

I, Eddie Lau, agree to voluntarily relinquish my freedom to cook, distribute or eat foie gras in exchange for any of the numbered tenets to be adopted or passed by law:

  • 1. Farm factory reform including
    • a. A sensible and properly regulated quota and reduction of farm animals in mass meat production ranches
    • b. Dissolution and or regulation reform of the use of antibiotics in meat
    • c. A timeline based law for major meat farms to meet greenhouse emission requirements with offsets, efficient new energy conversion and or proper disposal/sanitizing of discharge (18% of world’s greenhouse gas emission)
    • d. Farm feed regulation
  • 2. Manufacturing and Meat Distribution Reform
    • a. Dissolution and regulation of vertical integration practices by meat producers. In some cases, I’m convinced the anti-trust act is necessary.
    • b. Incentivize local meat handling and local distribution of small farmers
    • c. Regulate and reform unfair pricing (likened to fair trade for coffee) practices between disadvantaged contract ranchers and mass meat producers
    • d. Consistent enforcement of sanitation and worker condition requirements for farm factories and distribution
    • e. Labels for identifying meats produced in farms that utilize a series of listed antibiotic/chemical products.
  • 3. Require transparency, warnings and or labels for meat sold in fast food or supermarkets to display the farm practice, distance, and unnatural substances that the meat was produced in.
  • 4. Force every other McDonald’s to adopt local sustainable farm practices.
  • 5. Make basic cooking and food education as a curriculum requirement for all high schools.
  • 6. Require all school districts to limit the quantity of processed foods to a set percentage of food served (say 10%).
  • 7. Everyone in the US decides to eat 30% less meat per year.
  • 8. Everyone in the US decides to select natural and humane 30% of the time when they do buy meat.
  • 9. Everyone limits their purchase of internationally, out-of-season and imported produce by 50%.
  • 10. PETA does a yearly Christmas Head to Tail dinner featuring a nice heritage pig.

Echoing my own sense of futility, it may have dawned on you that I have just provided you a list of items that are completely unreasonable and in our world of “world’s governments”: inconceivable. All of the items listed above shares a good deal of commonality: they either receive no press, barely hold any public interest, have no public forums for discourse and will make little, if any progress in my lifetime. And, much like Shakespearean juxtaposition (comedies of horrors), we understand that any and all of these things are more worthy of our time than foie gras.

And now you know how I feel about giving up foie gras.