Category Archives: food

Cannibal Capitalism: Barbecue taster

Daniel Vaughn reviews barbecue for Texas Monthly.  Here he describes the bodily costs to him for his constant intake of meat.

I know this sounds terrible in a world full of hungry people, but to finally be hungry again is a welcome feeling. It’s not like I get chest pains while I’m driving around the state or anything, but I certainly take cholesterol medicine and I’ve put on about ten pounds since I started the job. (Let’s be honest, it’s fifteen, and it’s not coming off.) I get heartburn every time I’m sleeping in a hotel after eating barbecue all day. You wake up tired, so you drink a lot of coffee, so you get dehydrated, and then you’re driving all day, and you get hemorrhoids.

via Profile in Obsession: Daniel Vaughn | Lucky Peach.

Cheers to the Lucky Peach, David Chang’s new excellent food magazine.

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Salute to tofu

Tofu is delicious.  As a vegetarian who likes good food and cooking, tofu is an essential building block.  I want to talk about making fried tofu and tofu scramble.

Fried tofu should start with pressing out the extra water from the soy cake.  Buy firm or regular tofu, anything but soft tofu (which is great for smoothies and certain recipes where structural integrity isn’t the thing).  Open up the package and rinse your tofu.  Slice it into slabs and then lay it onto a clean towel and gently press the water out of the tofu.

Cut tofu into chunks and then add to hot frying pan with a little oil.  You’ll be getting the pan pretty hot, so I recommend a seasoned cast iron pan and an oil with a high smoke point like peanut or canola.  But anything will do, if you happen to be cooking with olive oil then just turn down the temperature a little.

One CRUCIAL tip is to leave the tofu alone for a minute or two.  Most of us want to stir and shake all the time.  But the first minute of cooking is when the tofu develops it’s developing delicious crispy skin.  If you move it before that happens you’ll tear up the tofu because it is still sticking to the pan.  Let the tofu sit until it gently moves in the pan with a little shake of the handle.

Flip the tofu chunks with tongs or by shaking the pan.  But remember to leave the pan alone after moving your tofu to let that tasty skin develop.

Tofu scramble is really a matter of taste.  There are a couple of health food store semi-corporate seasoning packets that you can buy to get inspired.  If you investigate this way, just note the seasonings on the back and you can usually remake the recipe with your own changes.

When I ate scrambled eggs I preferred them to be a medium for cheese and vegetables.  So my tofu scramble comes out the same way — more heavily seasoned and with a lot of vegetables mixed in.

Step one: sauté a few veggies — whatever you want to eat for breakfast.  Here is some cabbage and zucchini.

Step two: add tofu.  Once you get the veggies a little soft crumble the tofu on top and then stir it all together.

Step three: seasoning.

The most important addition in tofu scramble is nutritional yeast.  I’ll add it into the scramble at various points. It adds salt, fermentation flavor, sweet, color and it dries up the tofu bits making more browned (maillard reaction) flavor.   Start with a tablespoon and add more to your taste.

Turmeric doesn’t add much flavor but it gives a great color and smell.

Hot peppers, chili flakes, hot sauce, any kind of heat.

Soy sauce.  I’ll just splash in soy sauce and mix it around.

Italian seasonings usually go just fine — oregano, marjoram and thyme.

Cook and taste, adjusting seasoning along the way.  If you like runny eggs, then just leave a little of the moisture from the tofu and veggies going.  If you want a more crumbly dry scramble, then cook a little while longer and add a little more nutritional yeast.  Enjoy!

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Filed under do-it-yourself, food, vegetarian

Moral pressure for food choices

Illustration by Laura Jones Martinez from Bitch Magazine.

Nice paragraph on food trends, privilege, corporate health food, and the price of kale in Bitch Magazine.  Worth talking about guilt, stress and ethics involved in shopping for food.   Salute to Soleil Ho (and graphics by Laura Jones Martinez) explains the moral dilemma presented to shoppers:

I need to buy this if I want to be good, if I really want to take care of myself and my family As it turns out, this moralistic way of framing choice is extremely profitable for food processors, restaurants, and produce retailers: we’ve been effectively held captive by our own consciences.

via The Cost of Kale: How Foodie Trends Can Hurt Low-Income Families | Bitch Media.

 

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Filed under communication, food, health

Food, authenticity and cultural appropriation

Thanks to Bitch Media for the comic frame.

Shing Yin Khor has a wonderful comic about cultural appropriation and food at Bitch Media.  Five stars.

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Filed under art, colonialism, cultural appropriation, food, representation

Freestyle rhetorical analysis: Top Chef 11 finale

Rhetoric is a lived art — we use it in all of our discussions when we make arguments.  When we write stuff down or record our words, they can be analyzed.  There is mass critical discontent about the winner of Season 11 of Top Chef.  In the scrutiny of a single television episode, quite a few folks have made visible pathways of arguments presented in the TV show.  Salute to freestyle pop culture rhetorical analysis!

Consider the breakdown of the faux-humility presented by contestant Nicholas in Entertainment Weekly by Stephen Lee:

Back in the stew room, Nicholas infuriated me by saying to Nina, “Well, it didn’t happen.” Nina: “What?” Nicholas: “I had to be perfect to beat you.” Just in case anyone was mistaking that for humility, it was NOT. That’s Nicholas trying to look like the underdog so that if he lost, he could just shrug sadly, but if he won, he could do that whole dropped-jaw thing and make it look like some dramatic come-from-behind victory.

via ‘Top Chef’ season finale: An unsavory winner | Season 11 Episode 17 | EW.com.

 

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Eating, ecosystems, settlers and loss

From an Orion essay by J. B. MacKinnon

The wild plants and animals that used to feed us are akin to keystone species, which give structure to entire ecological communities. Wild foods were the tethers that tied us to whole habitats. Forget the taste of acorns and it becomes reasonable to fragment the unbroken oak forests that, besides people, fed tens of millions of passenger pigeons. Fish the shad into obscurity and there is less of a case to be made against damming the rivers of the Eastern Seaboard, or using them as dumping grounds for industrial pollution. Stop gathering the edible flower bulbs of the Rocky Mountains, and abandon the clearest argument against grazing those meadows to nubs. To stand in for such distinct foods of place, there will be, wherever you may roam, broiler chickens from Georgia, Texas beef, Idaho’s famous potatoes.

via Appetite of Abundance: On the Benefits of Being Eaten | Longreads.

Despite the nostalgic tone, I think MacKinnon has a strong argument about the loss from changing ecosystems to support settler food habits.

The most dramatic example is surely the Great Plains, where tens of millions of plains bison have been replaced by 45 million cattle—a straight swap of buffalo steaks for beef burgers. Yet so much more had to change as well. Ninety percent of the tallgrass and shortgrass prairies, fueled by sunshine and watered by rainfall, was ultimately replaced by hard-grazed cattle range and farm-raised crops—often for livestock feed—that require fifty gallons of oil per acre and the irrigation of more than 20 million acres of land. With the vanishing of the bison began the slow fade of an estimated 100 million wallows that the pawing, rolling animals eroded into the grasslands, creating ephemeral water pools in the wet seasons and dust basins in the dry. As the wallows declined, so did the spadefoot and Great Plains toads that gathered to breed in them; so did the grasslands song of the western chorus frog; so did birds like the McCown’s longspur and mountain plover, the latter so fond of prairie balds that they’re now known to nest, with predictable risk, on farmers’ bare fields.

Without bison calves and carcasses to feed on, the plains grizzly faded not only from the landscape but also from memory. Gone, too, is the strange reciprocal relationship between bison and prairie dogs, with the bison mowing down the grass to make way for prairie dog colonies, which in turn improve the quality of forage for bison. The two animals’ fates were joined: wild bison now roam just 1 percent of their former range; prairie dogs number 2 percent of their former population. The buffalo bird, which once fed on insects spooked into the air by bison herds, simply came up for a name change. Today, it’s the cowbird.

via Appetite of Abundance: On the Benefits of Being Eaten | Longreads.

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Filed under Animals, colonialism, food, memorial, Native, nature

Otherizing culture through food

Soleil Ho has a nice critique in Bitch Magazine of some trends of cultural simplification and racism in food culture.  I like her salty tone.  She kicks off the discussion with the one directional consumption/service relationship of immigrant cultures reduced to food.  Wondering what to reply when someone mentions to the author ‘Oh you’re Vietnamese, I love pho’:

What can one say in response? “Oh, you’re white? I love tuna salad!” It sounds ridiculous, mostly because no one cares if a second-generation immigrant likes American food. Rather, the burden of fluency with American culture puts a unique pressure on the immigrant kid. I paid attention during playdates with my childhood friends, when parents would serve pulled-pork sandwiches and coleslaw for lunch. (It took me a long time to understand the appeal of mayonnaise, which, as a non-cream, non-cheese, non-sauce, perplexed the hell out of me.) From watching my friends, I learned to put the coleslaw in the sandwich and sop the bread in the stray puddles of sauce in between bites. There’s a similar kind of self-checking that occurs when I take people out to Vietnamese restaurants: Through unsubtle side glances, they watch me for behavioral cues, noting how and if I use various condiments and garnishes so they can report back to their friends and family that they learned how to eat this food the “real way” from their real, live Vietnamese friend. Their desire to be true global citizens, eaters without borders, lies behind their studious gazes.

via Craving the Other | Bitch Media.

Ho seems insulted by the notion that you might be able to get at something essential or authentic in the culture by eating take-out food.  She makes a strong argument here.

Like a plague of culture locusts, foodies, Chowhounders, and food writers flit from bibimbap to roti canai, fetishizing each dish as some adventure-in-a-bowl and using it as a springboard to make gross generalizations about a given culture’s “sense of family and community,” “lack of pretense,” “passion,” and “spirituality.” Eventually, a hole-in-the-wall reaches critical white-Instagrammer mass, and the swarm moves on to its next discovery, decrying the former fixation’s loss of authenticity. The foodies’ cultural cachet depends on being the only white American person in the room, braving inhumane spice levels and possible food poisoning in order to share with you the proper way to handle Ethiopian injera bread. But they can’t cash in on it unless they share their discoveries with someone else, thereby jeopardizing that sense of exclusivity. Thus, happiness tends to elude the cultural foodie.

via Craving the Other | Bitch Media.

She is particularly good at pointing out the harms of reducing a culture to food.

Over time, you grow to associate nationalities with the quaint little restaurants that you used to frequent, before they were demolished and replaced with soulless, Americanized joints. You look at a map of the world and point a finger to Mongolia. “Really good barbecue.” El Salvador. “Mmm, pupusas.” Vietnam. “I love pho!\” When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth.

via Craving the Other | Bitch Media.

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The last meals of condemned prisoners

Brent Cunningham has a fascinating write up about last meals in Lapham’s Quarterly.   Consider some of the distancing methods articulated during the execution phase:

The last meal as a cultural phenomenon grew even as capital punishment faded from public view, and in less than two centuries the country has gone from grisly public hangings, in which the prisoner was sometimes unintentionally decapitated or left to suffocate, to lethal injection, the most common form of execution in America today, in which death is “administered.” The condemned are often sedated before execution. They are generally not allowed to listen to music, lest it induce an emotional reaction. Last words are sometimes delivered in writing, rather than spoken; if they are spoken, it might be to prison personnel rather than the witnesses. The detachment is so complete that when scholar Robert Johnson, for his 1998 book Death Work, asked an execution-team officer what his job was, the officer replied: “the right leg.”

via Last Meals – Lapham’s Quarterly.

Good observation that the act of eating the food provided by one’s killer is really a kind of communication to justify the act.

What unites these customs is an emphasis on the needs of the living, not just the dead; so too with last meals before an execution. When Susanna Margarethe Brandt sat down to the Hangman’s Meal, she signaled that she was cooperating in her own death—that she forgave those who judged her and was reconciled to her fate. Whether she actually made those concessions or not is beside the point; the officials who rendered and carried out her sentence could fall asleep that night with a clear conscience.

via Last Meals – Lapham’s Quarterly.

Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.

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Ketchup and xanthan gum

In my desire to spend some more time doing funky cooking, I bought a little bag of xanthan gum.  I’ve been thinking about making a sauce or gravy with it.  Reading this little ketchup article (thanks Hairpin!) tied the ‘two-finger-tap’ to my new food additive.

One interesting fact about ketchup that everyone should know is that it’s a non-Newtonian fluid. Naturally, ketchup is rather thin and watery, because the tomato pulp that gives it consistency is sieved out. As a result, commercial ketchup makers add a small amount of xanthan gum to their ketchup recipes to thicken it. But this ingredient has another side effect: It turns ketchup into a shear thinning fluid. In other words, how quickly ketchup flows depends upon the stress that is being placed upon it.

via How 500 Years Of Weird Condiment History Designed The Heinz Ketchup Bottle | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

That ketchup is non-Newtonian is the main reason why getting it out of a glass bottle is so slow. Allowed to flow naturally, ketchup only travels at a speed of 147 feet per hour. The only way to speed it up is to apply force, which through the principle of shear thinning decreases the ketchup’s viscosity, and thus increases its flow rate. This is why you have to thump a bottle of ketchup to get it flowing from the bottle. The concussive force makes it flow faster.

But despite common opinion, the bottom of a bottle of Heinz Ketchup isn’t actually the best place to thump it. If you apply force to the bottom of a bottle of Heinz, the ketchup closest to where you smacked will absorb most of the force of impact. It will flow freely, but the ketchup that is viscously clogging the neck and mouth of the bottle won’t, leaving you no better off than you were before. The solution is to trigger the shear thinning effect at the top of the bottle, not the bottom. That unclogs the mouth and lets the ketchup below to freely flow.

So while the substance of Heinz’s “57 Varieties” label may be just a fanciful whim on the part of the company’s creator, its positioning is deliberate. It’s a target. By simply tapping the label with two fingers, you create the optimal conditions for shear thinning, transforming non-Newtonian ketchup into a free-flowing liquid. Physics!

via How 500 Years Of Weird Condiment History Designed The Heinz Ketchup Bottle | Co.Design: business + innovation + design.

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Filed under cultural appropriation, food, health, learning, science

MSG and flavor

Buzzfeed has a nice article on MSG by John Mahoney.  Emphasis is on umami taste, DIY MSG, and the moral panic associated with the food additive.   It’s worth noting that like many other crucial food flavors, MSG is the product of a bacterial process:

Today, MSG is manufactured commercially by fermentation that is more or less the same as what’s happening in the Momofuku R&D lab. In factories around the world, a bacterium known as Corynebacterium glutamicum (so named for its prized waste products) is fed plant glucose (corn, beets, wheat). As it eats, it releases glutamic acid. The resulting fermented product is filtered and centrifuged to isolate the glutamic acid and remove by-products and impurities, it’s crystallized, and out comes MSG.

via The Notorious MSG’s Unlikely Formula For Success.

 

 

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