Monday, August 17, 2009

In The News

There used to be a time when I had several magazine subscriptions, food and travel magazines being my addiction.

My favorite food magazine for a long time was Saveur, before that it had been, for years, Gourmet. When I lived in Toronto my friend Ilse had given me a decade of Gourmet magazines to explore which I sadly had to part with when I moved to NYC.

I even had a subscription in the early days of my living in New York. Which was, back then, a real splurge as we were poor.

My feelings about Gourmet changed over the years. I began to feel that they were out of touch and mired in this weird 1960 aesthetics. When Ruth Reichl took over I had great hopes. She's done a great job and the magazine today looks much better and is taking on serious food issues along with their trustworthy recipes. Although I still can't help but think that I am not the demographic for Gourmet as it still comes across as a bit precious, uptight and posh for me. That's a very subjective opinion loaded with personal baggage, take it as you will.

So you can imagine my surprise when my friend Pam sent me a link to Gourmet's Food Politics section! It would seem the ladies who lunch have put down their lunch time glasses of Sancerre, paused mid bite from their Chicken Caesar salads, and have started to pay attention. Not a moment too soon either.

I have to admit that my rather poor view of most magazines is in part how beholden they are to their advertisers, editorial content so often influenced by advertising. I just have a problem with articles about sustainability, seasonality, and politics when they still have recipes calling for ketchup and corn syrup and are printed on paper from virgin forests. It's cognitive dissonance I have a hard time unraveling.

Ultimately, that's why I canceled all my fancy magazine subscriptions. Now we get Harpers and I see that, mostly, as a donation, as I never fully read an issue, I just think what they do is really important and they deserve our support.

Of course it is a good thing that Gourmet is doing food politics article, it's a great thing in fact, but take the article on strawberries, a discussion on whether or not methyl iodide should be used as a fumigant on California strawberries. It's a well written and interesting article, although one where by the third line I had already made up my mind as to the answer: No it's a bad idea lobbied for by chemical corporations who could care less about your health or the health of the planet.

It is with increasing perplexity that I wonder why instant gratification has become something most Americans see as their God given right, after all if we ate only local organic strawberries and only when they were in season this whole argument would be moot. Do we need strawberries in January in the northeast? No we don't. We want them, we don't need them. And big agri-business and chemical companies wanting to expand their market and bottom lines, make it seem like the world would end if we didn't have them. Farmers in California would have nothing else to grow and families would starve, is how it would play out in the media.


So instead we have to spend time, money and resources reading about and fighting against big corporations destroying our land and potentially our health because they want to make it seem like strawberries 24/7/365 days a year any where in the country are a perfectly reasonable and doable thing; when they aren't.

The real solution here is for people not to buy them.

Would we appreciate strawberries more if we only ate them in season? Yes. Would that in turn help local North East farmers who grow strawberries? Yes it would.

This brings me to Dan Barber's Op Ed in the NYT about unfortunate series of bad luck tomatoes have had to endure this season. Lots of rain, moderate temperatures, humidity and a late season blight akin to the one that caused the Irish Potato famine. In part this freakish series of events was made possible because large box stores like Home Hardware sold plants bought from huge industrial greenhouse facilitates in the South.

Maybe this is another case of how growing huge mono-cultures for profit is a bad idea? That maybe if the mega chemically driven plant breeders had, well, not used chemicals in the first place, in other words grown organically, might the plants have been more resistant and hardier and had they planted a wider selection of types of tomato plants might the blight not have been so successful? Just asking. The Irish potato famine was caused in part because the Irish only planted one type of potato: eliminating diversity is never a good idea.

Mr. Barber does take on the dilemma of the organic farmer and how to deal with the organically grown tomatoes which are also not dealing well with all the rain and the added burden of having to deal with what appears to be a Home Hardware et al imported blight to capitalize on the renewed interest in gardening.

Nothing can be done about bad weather conditions, but as is my constant refrain here I think this problem was made worse by big box stores and our dependence on wanting to by cheap at one store. Further perpetuating the need for bigger everything and more monoculture chemically maintained green houses. I live in NYC and have a half dozen tomato plants that I bought from the farmers market, I mixed them in with herbs and cabbages, they have been super slow to ripen, but they aren't blighted and taste great. Anecdotal as that is I couldn't help but mention it.

Finally, The Daily Beast has joined up with Cookstr to create Hungry Beast an exhaustive overview of everything food and well worth checking out.

Speaking of Cookstr the recent newsletter had a great recipe for zucchini fritters with feta that I'm going to try out this week.

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