David Kamp (davidkamp) Fri 3 Aug 07 18:10
Thanks for letting me sleep AND for answering Pamela's question, Lisa. You're the most mothering moderator I could have hoped for. Yes, Bill Niman uses a network of small farms that adhere to his strictures. That's how he's able to have national distribution and a year-round supply of beef and pork. (Lots of people don't realize that meat, too, is seasonal when it's pasture-raised and not factory farmed. In the northeast, where I live, the slaughtering generally happens in the fall, after the animals have been fattened by summer grass. In Marin County, CA, where the original Niman Ranch is, I believe they do their slaughtering in late spring.) The thing that was most surprising to Niman, Chipotle, and McDonald's (which owned a stake in Chipotle for a while, but has since sold its shares back to Chipotle's founder, Steve Ells), is that everyone involved was prepared for Chipotle to take a short-term sales hit when the chain started using Niman pork for its carnitas burritos. The reason: Niman pork costs more than big-agribusiness pork, which meant that a standard carnitas order went up about a dollar in price--a big markup in the fast-food business. To everyone's surprise, the Niman connection was not a loss-leader but a bottom-line enhancer--sales of the carnitas burritos went up by 250 percent. Another indication that it's not just NYC and Berkeley freaks who care about better-quality food.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 5 Aug 07 09:44
Interesting data. Thanks, both of you.
David Kamp (davidkamp) Sun 5 Aug 07 14:37
Hey, I've alluded a few times in this forum to the scourge of "food issues" people, who must always impose their issues-mania upon their food experiences. Want to see an especially twaddly, equivocating example of this? Check this out. I just came across it: http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com/content.cfm?ArticleID=212&Entry=CurrentIs sue
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 5 Aug 07 15:25
Oh, lord. It's a meal, dear, just a meal. Not Armageddon. Be glad you had it; sit down and be quiet now. You'd need to have a heart of stone to enjoy a lovely meal and not sometimes, or even often, think that everyone doesn't get to do this. Then what? The answer is, don't go to Per Se? Write the congresspeople who just passed another rotten agriculture bill and tell them you're boycotting food, and that'll show them? Good food is a gentle and sweet pleasure. I honor the people who grow it, and I honor the people who prepare it. I particularly honor the people who astonish me with it. I wish the world were more just along any number of dimensions. Can I do more?
Eric Gower (gower) Mon 6 Aug 07 09:36
That was really hard to read. "Through my immersion in foodie culture...." Aiiiii!
David Kamp (davidkamp) Mon 6 Aug 07 10:55
Also this line: "The conversation was fluid, leaping over the votive. This is my favorite kind of talking, whether around a table or lazing in bed." She lazes in bed with votives? I hope she keeps a fire extinguisher on the night table.
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Mon 6 Aug 07 12:52
As annoying and sometimes stupid as the article is (guilt! I was eating good food while Katrina _flattened_ New Orleans! My fault! sister, don't overestimate your importance in the universe!), is anyone here going to argue against thinking about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it go to our tables? If only that was all she was doing.
caper fields guarded by decapitator bunnies (cjp) Mon 6 Aug 07 15:08
Emerging from lurking long enough to say that I was so enthralled by the VF excerpt that I went out and got the book. It's a wonderful read and a real work of scholarship. I've been reading Ruth Reichl's autobiographies lately just to sort of continue the high, and the discussions here have been enlightening and entertaining. Any way that this conversation can be continued for more than two weeks? BTW, perhaps Nobu could be persuaded to give the author of that OxAmMag article a live octopus swathed in fresh wasabi and Smurfberries so she can properly flagellate herself.
David Kamp (davidkamp) Mon 6 Aug 07 17:41
Re: Lisa's question, "Is anyone here going to argue against thinking about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it go to our tables?" I think Pamela's response in post #104 succinctly sums up the sane position on this. I will argue, however, against dreadful Oxford American articles. Written by NEA-endowed poets, no less: http://www.nea.gov/features/writers/Fennelly.html P.S. Thank you for your kind words, Caper Fields etc.
will work for food (rwilmeth) Mon 6 Aug 07 20:43
Great op ed in the NYT today about trade offs between eating local and reducing carbon footprints. The fact that enough people in the UK are even interested in NZ Spring Lamb I think is huge testament to David's points. David, what's your next project? More on a particular food? I'd love to see you tackle wine.
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Mon 6 Aug 07 22:27
Yes, I saw that - fascinating op-ed piece.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 7 Aug 07 07:22
Agreed. Another argument against simplistic reasoning.
Eric Gower (gower) Tue 7 Aug 07 09:47
And antiintuitive as well; who'd have thunk that the Kiwi lamb, who munch on buffet clover for all of their sweet little lives, flown in from 10k miles away to England, could have one-fourth the carbon footprint of British lamb ,who are crammed with high-carbon feed? Amazing. Maybe one day "total carbon footprint" figures will appear on stickers for all foods. Makes much more sense than "food miles."
will work for food (rwilmeth) Tue 7 Aug 07 10:15
Agree that's a much better solution. Just as the central US became "America's breadbasket" 100 years or more ago, it makes complete sense in today's global economy that some parts of the world could be very efficient at becoming producers of particular foodstuffs. I've been doing a lot of writing on this lately and it's increasingly the thing that bugs me most -- the knee jerk reaction of "local is *always* better* (or "organic is always better" or any number of those blanket statements people love to throw out there without really understanding all the pieces of the puzzle.) I had to laugh (and not in a kind way) the other day at the farmer's market as a local high end mom/wife consumer lamented to her friend that the gorgeous fruit she wasn't holding wasn't *organic* and how she never knew what was supposed to be better, *local* or *organic*. After passing on the gorgeous fruit at the farmer's market stand, she probably got in her SUV and drove to the market to get organic fruit that came from Michigan. Sorry for the gross overgeneralizations but I've been looking into these issues all summer and just had my fill of people who are just educated enough to be dangerous.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Tue 7 Aug 07 10:50
Maybe I'm just educated enough to be dangerous myself, but I have the same problem as the woman you laugh at. I want to support local farming; I want to reduce my carbon footprint; I want to eat as few pesticides as possible. In the case of fruit these seem like contradictory goals. Many of our local farms here in Massachusetts, including the one that I can see from my back window, are not certified organic and sell "no-spray" produce. But our local farms vary; some are organic in all-but-certification; others claim to practice "integrated pest management" and don't want to talk about whether your particular batch of vegetables have been sprayed. Besides the pesticide issue, we've got a short growing season, and some types of foods are just not grown here. What's a non-laughable consumer to do? (personally, we buy some of each)
David Kamp (davidkamp) Tue 7 Aug 07 10:59
All this speaks to my comment earlier that I don't think it's a bad thing for the rest of America to eat California salad greens in the dead of winter. Cali is more efficient and prolific at growing this stuff than any other region. Now, as the e. Coli scare of last year showed us, there's still lots of work to be done to ensure that farming methods are improved, and poop eradicated from the produce section. But I will never make virtuous show of eating nothing but kale and root vegetables in the dead of Northeast winter--even if it means being beaten by Alice Waters with a Fair Trade vanilla pod. Betsy, I think the answer to your question is to not get too hung up on the labels--"organic," "local," "biodynamic," etc. It's best to apply a combination of intellectual curiosity, which you've already demonstrated, and good old common sense. Niman Ranch stuff, for example, is not certified organic, because, Bill Niman tells me, it wasn't worth the hassle and expense of getting the certification. Yet he makes very clear, with no fuzzy language, that he only sells pastured meats that are hormone- and antibiotic-free. Likewise, lots of your local farmstands (and mine) aren't paying up to be organic, but I find that these folks are happy to talk about their farming methods, if you really care to find out. And more and more of the farmers I know in rural CT, where I am right now, are trying to cut back on the toxins and pesticides. Small farmers are getting VERY smart about this stuff. Finally, be smug. Be a food snob. Trumpet your virtue and make others feel small.
will work for food (rwilmeth) Tue 7 Aug 07 11:52
And I wasn't trying to be snotty, Betsy, at all. But my experience with meat has been *exactly* what David says above. So many producers are doing 100% grass fed, with no antibiotics, no hormones, etc and (and even a few really great ones are doing this and still corn finishing their beef), and could be certified organic if they wanted. Ask a ton of questions -- and find out what it all really means. There is no regulation for any of these terms (except for certified organic). I've learned more thsi summer about what I will and won't eat -- and like before, I pretty much eat anything that tastes really great -- but I've also learned about places that pray on people's worries. One of the worst producers of meat from true quality terms is our states 100% certified organic producer. The meat is just crap. But people flock to eat it. Is it really that important that the land is certified, the grass the cows eat is certified, and they're certified 2nd generation organic cattle? Not when I can better tasting, 100% grass fed, hormone-free, antibiotic free beef from a local producer who just can't afford the hassle of the lable. Some of the smartest people in the food business I've met in the past six months are farmers. Many of them on second very sucessful careeers. (One natural beef producer I've become friends with was running the energy trading desk at Canterfitzgerald on 9/11. She was out on maternity leave. She and her husband are farmers, happy and wonderful at it, but some of the smartest business people I know.)
poop eradicated from (cjp) Tue 7 Aug 07 12:08
Thanks for the pseud. Another question: I'm confused as all get out about the different kinds of eggs for sale now. What's better for us, for the environment, and for the chickens themselves: vegi-fed, free-range, or organic?
Berliner (captward) Tue 7 Aug 07 13:06
Hey, David, your book deals with the celebrity chef phenomenon, but there's a parallel phenomenon at the moment which sometimes intersects this, the world of food magazines. Are there any food mags you particularly like (in print or on the net)? More specifically, I'd like your take on Cooks Illustrated, Saveur, and Gourmet in its current incarnation (not to mention its historical function in bringing America into foodie-dom).
David Kamp (davidkamp) Tue 7 Aug 07 16:22
Even before Ed Ward asked his question about food magazines, I was going to share a food-magazine anecdote, because it ties into what Renee, among others, was saying about the new wave of right-minded small farmers, many of whom are second-career people who got into farming not out of some burdensome familial obligation (e.g. "This land was farmed by my daddy, his daddy, his daddy's daddy, and I'm just barely holding on") but becasuse they wanted to do something good (e.g. "I want to grow food that tastes better and is produced in a way that doesn't disgust me or desecrate the environment"). Anyway, in the wake of "Arugula"'s original hardcover publication last year, some of the food mags got in touch asking if I wanted to write for them, and if so, what about. I responded that I was most interested in writing about farmers--particularly this new breed of small, first-generation farmer who is farming for *taste*, to make a superior product. (This isn't some imagined, wishful phenomenon--the number of small farmers is on the rise, and lots of them are young couples with babies.) A certain food glossy, which shall remain nameless, seemed to like this idea. They told me to go ahead and do it. The one thing: Because of onerous scheduling requirements, the mag would need to photograph some of these farmers way ahead of publication, possibly before I even interviewed them. Fine. I canvassed my network of friends in food and farming, and got names, numbers, and Web sites of various first-generation farmers across the country who were doing inspiring things. I sent all this info, including links to the farms' Web sites, to the magazine for which I was going to write the article. The editor got back to me a few days later and asked if I could come up with more farmers. Why? Because, while the farmers I'd mentioned were noble and admirable, "Unfortunately, they're not photogenic enough." (I've saved the e-mail in which the editor wrote this, just in case someone doesn't believe me.) Needless to say,I pulled the plug on the article. That episode shook me to the core--an unwelcome wake-up call re: food-glossy values. Listen: I write chiefly for Vanity Fair, and for all the crap that VF gets about being celebrity-obsessed and superficial and so on, it actually features first-rate journalism, and I have NEVER experienced an episode remotely like this. I simply could not believe how baldly shallow and stupid this food magazine was. And it's a major magazine. On to Ed's question. I like Cook's Illustrated a lot--the body of it, the practical advice and recipes, the consumer tips, the step-by-step illustrations. I think they must be a bunch of loons, testing a smothered pork-chop recipe 57 times in different versions over the course of three weeks, but I admire their industry. The only thing I don't like is Christopher Kimball's editor's letter, which is trying to go for an adorably eccentric New England flintiness but actually comes off as insular and contemptuous of the rest of the country. I like Ruth Reichl's Gourmet more than I like her predecessors' Gourmet. I think she has recognized that food has entered the realm of popular culture, and her themed issues (the TV issue, the music issue, etc.), while considered abominations to the old-time readership, are to me a savvy embrace of what's happening now. I only wish she was more committed to long-form food writing, which the 1940s and 50s Gourmet under Earle MacAusland did quite nicely--there's simply not enough to *read* in the magazine. People are surprised that I defend Reichl as an editor, because I found her last memoir, "Garlic and Sapphires," just too full of it, and she too full of herself. (I reviewed the book for the NY Times Book Review.) But I think she's a smart editor and first-rate food journalist when she's not exulting in whatever wig she's wearing. Saveur is usually quite beautiful, probably the best in terms of food photography--a tricker, less automatic enterprise than you'd imagine--but it's kind of hit-or-miss content-wise. I still read every issue, though. There's still not enough narrative food journalism out there, though--in any magazine. We're still just only getting there, apart from Calvin Trillin's occasional pieces. Bourdain shows great promise, but he has to get over the bad-boy posturing and reflexive cussing; he has to get back to the authentically contrary person he was when he wrote "Kitchen Confidential," not the foaming caricature of himself that he now presents to the world. I loved an eccentric little food journal that used to be published sporadically in England by the late Alan Davidson and his wife, Jane, that was called Petits Propos Culinaires. The Davidsons were the English couple who spent years preparing "The Oxford Companion to Food." I met them once--they were wonderful people. They ran this oddly named little journal on the side, with fantastic, esoteric articles, some by name people, like Elizabeth David and Richard Olney in their last years, and some by unknowns. (One guy wrote an article about cooking food under the hood of his car while driving.) Ed Ward's old Rolling Stone compadre Charles Perry wrote a very funny article for Petits Propos Culinaire about trying to recreate medieval Arabic condiments made from rotted barley. There's a great compendium of Petis Propos Culinaire's greatest hits called "The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy." It's well worth picking up.
Eric Gower (gower) Tue 7 Aug 07 16:33
David might not confirm or deny but I'm betting the unnamed magazine has the initials BA, based on my experience with such an unnamed magazine. Buford is providing some awfully good food narratives, don't forget him. What do you make of Ed Behr and his "Art of Eating?" I find it totally hit and miss, with the "hit" making up for the misses and making it worth the subscription, cause when it sings, it hits some lovely notes.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 8 Aug 07 09:57
I'm not familiar with Ed Behr, and I look forward to David's response to gower's question, since it'll undoubtedly be as illuminating as the rest of what he's been saying here for the past two weeks. We've just launched a new interview here in Inkwell, but that doesn't mean this one has to stop, Lisa and David. This topic will remain open for further conversation indefinitely. If you're able to stick around, we'd love to have you stay on as long as you want. If you've got to get on to other things, The WELL would like to thank you for joining us. It's been a wonderful discussion!
David Kamp (davidkamp) Wed 8 Aug 07 12:41
Ed Behr and "Art of Eating"? I haven't seen that many issues, but I think it's a noble undertaking and I've more or less liked what I've seen. Also, the journal "Gastronomica" mixes some good food writing with more serious, academic-style enquery. But I think that we need more good, lively food writing smack dab in the middle of the mainstream--not just in little quarterlies and small-press publications, as wonderful as they are. I daresay Vanity Fair should have food writing in it, which it really doesn't. Maybe I can do something about that... Anyway, thank you, Cynthia, and thank you, Lisa, the kindest and most welcoming host and moderator a WELL novitiate could hope for. And thanks to all of you who chimed in, asked questions, or lurked anonymously--I appreciate your interest in my book and implore you to get the word out. Unless you disliked my book; then, I implore you to keep mum. I am happy for the Inkwell to keep this topic going, though I won't be able to check in as often as I've been doing--other things beckon, including, theoretically, a vacation. [In warbly Julia Child voice]: "Bon appe-teeet!"
John Ross (johnross) Wed 8 Aug 07 14:47
Another question for you, David: How does the "Slow Food" movement fit into the bigger picture? It seems like they're doing some interesting things in terms of creating more awareness of quality food, but in my experience, they're dominated by True Believers.
Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Wed 5 Sep 07 16:07
Hmm. I have been lurking and see that David hasn't answered that question. I will ping him by email and see if we can persuade him to come answer!
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