Sunday, June 15, 2008

Food. Work. Revolution.


One of the reasons I thought I would start a blog is because after cooking all my life I'm now trying to make food a career. I was always very reticent about taking something that I've loved so much as an avocation and turning it into work, my fear being that it would take something precious and ruin it by making it mandatory and mundane.

So far I'm pleased to report that isn't the case. I find every food-related job teaches me something new and improves my skills. I just wish there was more work, but that's where the blog comes in. It's pretty clear from the posts here so far that I have an impassioned view on the environment and food and how the two interrelate. I believe strongly that we need to radically change the way we live and eat. Food is not a commodity and corporations who make processed food "product" really only want our money and could care less the impact their products have on our bodies and planet.

It's funny to me how people perceive food and how it fits into their lives, how most of us have been totally co-opted into the idea its OK that we rarely have enough time to make something to eat for ourselves, that the invention of the frozen dinner was a gift from the Almighty, that microwaves are a miracle technology, and that living in a city has to be about alienation from nature.

"I'm so tired when I get home it's all I can do to throw something in the microwave" - a common refrain, no?

Well would we say the same about other necessary bodily functions like sex and bowel movements?

"I was just too tired to defecate – thank GOD for Depends!" Or...

"I told my wife that she had only 2 minutes to get me off because I was just too tired to be bothered procreating."

I don't think so. Maybe you see those as extreme examples but to my mind they aren't.

Sure, in the city we can always go out to eat when we just don't have it in us to cook, but the more you know and care about food the more you will realize, or at least the more I have realized, that very few places make food that I want to eat. Most of my favorite cheap and cheerful places in the East Village and on the Lower East near our apartment buy food that is the cheapest. It's a business and they want to make as much profit as they can and who can blame them? But the result, while often tasty enough, is still “cheap” in the worst ways as well as the best. So if you, like me, are increasingly (and painfully) aware of what goes into creating manufactured food - factory farmed meat, pesticide soaked, genetically altered vegetables, non-food poisons like trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup...you start to wonder if cheap and cheerful is really worth it.

I have started a campaign of questions. All the places I go to or have gone to on a regular basis I have started to ask the waitstaff if the chicken is free range, local, organic. I ask the same about eggs and dairy. Almost without exception I get looked at like I was crazy and they nod their heads "no" or say "I don't know" or "are you kidding?" and I order something vegetarian. Which is a drag because I love my chicken burrito. But I believe that in an aware cultural hub like Manhattan most people are savvy to the idea that they should be eating local and organic as much as they can. But if the option isn't there how can you order it?

The solution isn't to just go to the one or two places that specializes in this kind of healthy eating; the solution is to have a broad based diverse selection of restaurants that are all making an effort – which is so not happening at this point. Sure places like Cafe Orlin (nymag.com/listings/restaurant/cafe-orlin/) use organic eggs and sometimes have an organic chicken dish on special. This is wonderful, but how about dairy? And why is the organic chicken only ever a special?

The fact that when they do offer it, it's only $12 makes one also ask: if Cafe Orlin can afford to sell a delicious organic chicken dinner for $12, why can't other restaurants? And what if it cost $14 or even $16? If it was offered I believe enough people would order it to make it worthwhile, but it has to be offered.

Take oatmeal for example, what a cheap organic easily accessible grain. Yet how many places offer it for brunch? With some local yogurt and maybe some preserves they made last season when peaches where so sweet and flavorful?

Do we have to wait for some huge catastrophe to happen before we wake up to the reality that each and every one of us can, as individuals, make a difference? If we all were asking our local diners and burrito places why they don't have some local or organic food options on their menus maybe they would start listening, but they can only do this if we all join in this revolution of questions and start sending letters and chatting with managers and waitstaff and making it clear that their patrons want this change and that it would be in their best interest to make a change. The time is now. We can't wait and be complicit in the further destruction of our food and of our planet.

So please, speak up!

Oh and the image at the top of the post has very little to do with the post except it is a picture of a revolution, one that we need to all support and that is to Free Burma. For more information check out: burmaitcantwait.com/burmaitcantwait/

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