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inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #101 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #102 of 125: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Sun 5 Aug 07 09:44
    
Interesting data.  Thanks, both of you.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #103 of 125: 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
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #104 of 125: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #105 of 125: Eric Gower (gower) Mon 6 Aug 07 09:36
    
That was really hard to read. "Through my immersion in foodie
culture...." Aiiiii!
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #106 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #107 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #108 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #109 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #110 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #111 of 125: Lisa Hirsch (sunbear) Mon 6 Aug 07 22:27
    
Yes, I saw that - fascinating op-ed piece.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #112 of 125: Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 7 Aug 07 07:22
    
Agreed.  Another argument against simplistic reasoning.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #113 of 125: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #114 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #115 of 125: 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)
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #116 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #117 of 125: 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.)
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #118 of 125: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #119 of 125: 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). 
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #120 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #121 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #122 of 125: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #123 of 125: 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!"
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #124 of 125: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.304 : David Kamp, "The United States of Arugula"
permalink #125 of 125: 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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