Monday, June 18, 2007

The Politics of Eating at My House: Part I

Since when did it become essential to reference a laminated wallet card to figure out what constitutes acceptable cuisine? Wild Salmon from Alaska—Good. Wild salmon from the Atlantic—Bad. Farm-raised salmon—Bad, unless you know what it has eaten. Farm-raised shellfish-Good, however. Foreign shrimp—Bad. Domestic shrimp—Good. Yellowfin tuna—OK. Bluefin tuna—Bad. I don’t know about you, but most of the tuna I eat doesn’t have the fin attached to the can.

And how was it caught? Longline-Bad. Trolling-Good. Floated to the top after above-ground nuclear test—not referenced, but probably bad. Coaxed into the boat with soothing music and the promise of paradise in the next life—probably Good. Fresh? Good if caught recently. Flash frozen—OK if you must. Left on the loading dock in Honolulu for six hours, while some one tracks down the truck driver—Skip it. And, if you ask Thomas Keller, you should also know if it was packed in ice upright or flat on its side.


Chickens should range free, but what constitutes a “range”—certainly not a 20-foot by 4-foot wire enclosure attached to one side of an 80,000 square-foot, artificially-lit and heated windowless warehouse? Pigs should be pen-less; and cows grass-fed. Turkeys—heritage breeds only need apply. Tomatoes—heirloom! Mushrooms—foraged by some one you would trust with your life. Soon they will be telling us not to eat white asparagus, because the fact that it is shielded from the sun’s verdant-producing rays in its own vegetable-Guantanimo, constitutes a false imprisonment and an unprovoked denial of its God-given right to photosynthesize. And speaking of incarceration, my home state of California is changing its State motto from “Eureka, I found It” to “Eat a duck liver, Go to Jail”.

It is getting so it easier to do my taxes than to order a meal.

What about an organic approach to food? Well, it turns out this label means only no chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or hormones. It does not necessarily mean the animals were treated well or that the food is safe. After all, wasn’t it organic killer-spinach that Soprano-ed half a dozen people in 2006.

And the “industrial organic” food chain, Michael Pollan tells us, is not a substitute for sourcing our food locally and seasonally. We can get organic strawberries from Chile for Christmas, thus expending 50 calories in fossil fuel to deliver 12 calories of nutrition. Just last week, instead of contemplating the succulent flavors of my bowl of PEI mussels in their own broth, I found myself trying to remember where the hell Prince Edward Island is, and how far these briny morsels traveled to get to my dinner plate. Yes, I was actually calculating the carbon footprint of something that doesn’t have a foot.

But if we buy local, how do we support free-trade farmers in the Developing World. This is giving me a headache. All I want to do is have lunch without pissing people off.

Some believe the only safe and responsible way to eat is to gather and hunt one’s own food. Might work. Earlier this year, Gourmet Magazine encouraged New Yorkers to forage their way around their metropolis munching through the urban edibles available in parks, gardens and the cracks in sidewalks. An interesting idea, but is it scalable? Lets say only 10% of New Yorkers take the Gourmet sages up on their suggestion. Central Park would, in a fortnight, resemble the Bonneville salt flats, save for a few sunburned waterfowl cowering behind toxic rhododendron bushes.

Perhaps if the article had had less of a veggie-bent, the available rats and roaches could sustain the populace a bit longer. But in the end, my math says that the only way we survive a year as a society of hunters and gatherers is if we commence hunting and gathering each other. Trouble is that in the places on the planet where this is actually going on, real estate values are plummeting. No free lunch it seems.

So far we have merely scratched the surface of the politics of eating at my house. Next, we have to deal with my family’s idiosyncratic issues. My 3-year old sustains himself on fresh fruit, broccoli with chilies , blood orange juice, farmstead cheeses and pizza. Thank God for pizza! To get him to eat any meat, we have to tell him it is sausage. Ergo such inventions as steak sausage, roast sausage and my personal favorite sausage loaf.

My wife, who will unabashedly dismember a well-roasted six week old chicken, acts wounded when I attempt to serve rabbit or, my favorite, kid goat. Moreover, she is proselytizing her Save-the-Cute culinary philosophy to young Max with, I am pleased to announce, only mixed results. Last month, when Max spied a display of homeless animals at the Mall, he bee-lined to the rabbit cage. When the joyless but sincere PETA representative asked Max if he liked rabbits, my son replied “Yes. Bunnies are Deeeeeeeee-licious. Some days they just make you proud.


Blogger Sarah DeAngelis said...

Paul, thanks for the fantastic chuckle. I am still laughing about the deeeelicious bunny!

Take care,

5:20 PM  
Blogger Alfonso Contrisciani, CMC said...

Hello Paul,
How true of our food chain. I have trouble keeping up with the studies they are contantly publishing. The USDA,FDA,ACF,RCA,
CIA,FBI, LOL. I believe we have to research the information ourselves and look at both sides of the coin and make our own decisions on what's safe to eat! Thanks for the great article! Keep up the good work! Alfonso

12:29 PM  
Blogger Karen Edwards said...

Hi: if you liked Pollan's book, check out Hope's Edge which is the follow-on book to Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet. Come over one of these days with your son and forage at our place...we have lots of edible landscaping...for me it seems a shame to water and tend to plants that don't give you something to eat in return...

9:39 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Paul, you crack me up! I always look forward to your insights and perspective on food. Keep eating please! Dana

5:26 PM  
Blogger Jnaz said...

I definitely enjoyed the insights - i am concerned that i need to swear off fruits, vegetables and meats...back to my childhood and eating mud pies - after all, isn't that where the nutrition comes from anyway?

12:26 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

"calculating the carbon footprint of something that doesn’t have a foot"

But Paul, mussels do too have a foot! All molluscs do. Bivalve cousins like snails (gastropods) and squid (cephalopods) even feature the foot in their class names. Think about it:
an escargot is a stomach-foot; a calamaro is a head-foot.

Appetizing, no? :-)

11:21 PM  
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7:28 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Oh, you are hilarious! And kids do say the darndest the bunny comment/scene. (btw, Perbacco's bunny is quite good!)

I've got the eco-anxiety too. But boy, did I feel proud coming home with a handful of wild blackberries I found in our neighborhood on Sunday! (Bring the creme fraiche. Cowgirl Creamery, of course.)

Keep up the great work!

11:44 AM  

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