Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food For Thought

The New York Times is always a good source of information and inspiration about food.  Recently Mark Bittman who'd written about cooking has been promoted to the opinions department, where he writes pieces without recipes with a more political bent, but still very rooted in food.  Yesterday's piece Why We're Fasting  particularly interesting to me as it looks at the draconian Republican proposed budget cuts for people who need help to feed themselves and their families.  Mr Bittman is fasting, along with 4000 others to protest a Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry.

Mr. Bittman touches on the rising cost of food and the issues around food distribution and criminality of cutting life or death assistance to this countries most needy:

...the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.

This is an important piece and will give great insight to anyone wanting to know more about what Republican priorities are in the current budget battle in Washington.

Also in the NYT yesterday was a touching and informative piece about a Japanese restaurateur, Ben Yagi who has almost single-handedly made the East Village into New York's little Japan. 

The article hit many personal notes for me, Hasaki has always been one of my favorite sushi restaurants and in the late '80s and early 90's would go there when every there was a special occasion or we wanted to splurge. 

Down the street from Hasaki is my favorite Japanese snack Shack Otafuku.  Which is just a few doors down from one of the only places I know of where you can go and have a formal tea ceremony, Cha An, a place I always tell visitors to go to because it is such a wonderful ritual so unique this ancient ceremony isn't something you'd expect to find, especially not on a side street in the East Village.  All these restaurants are Mr. Yagis, he owns 11 in total. 

One of the things I was surprised to learn in this article was that many of these restaurants got fish from the famed Tokyo fish market and had it flown in.  Concerns over radiation have stopped this practice for the time being.  The devastation from the earthquake, Tsunami and ongoing reactor meltdown are at the heart of this article. 

Mr Yagi was instrumental in organizing Dine Out for Japan Relief.

What most surprised me was that his first restaurant, which was not a Japanese restaurant, but rather a late night diner: 103 Second, which he opened in the '80s and is now occupied by the trendy new Vandaag.  103 Second is one of those nostalgic restaurants from my early days in New York when I would stay out late at the Saint and go for breakfast or very late night snacks there.  I always loved how bohemian and cool I felt going there, I was finally living the life of an arty denzien of downtown like I had dreamed of for so many years.

Two articles, that may on the face of it seem very different, yet in many ways are, to me, about the same things.  The importance of food, compassion and charity to support life and to offer a helping hand even in hard times.

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