Posts Tagged ‘Food Politics’


Hi, I’m Barry Fig. It’s been a wonderful New Years and I’ve had a great time.  Even though they forced me to wear this outfit.

I just wanted to say a few words, dudes. I used to be a human being too. But somewhere along the way while I was trying to make the world’s biggest cheese doodle, something happened and here I am.  A dog. And now a dog dressed up like a flying pig.

I tried to hang around with everyone at the New Year’s party but they pretty much kept throwing me bits of chicken from their plates and making coo-coo noises at me. I wanted to talk, dudes. I needed some serious communication to happen.

Nobody realized a thing that was sort of important. I’m not just here for the food. Food is great, but it’s only a part of it all. Chicken alone, no matter how great it is, just doesn’t cut it.

I used to like to cook, when I was a real dude. One day this chick showed me a poem that really pissed me off because it was sort of anti-cooking. I couldn’t stand her after that. Even though her legs . . . well, nevermind, dudes.

Here’s the start of the poem.  It must be wearing pink that made me remember it today.

All over America women are burning dinners.

It’s lambchops in Peoria; it’s haddock

in Providence; it’s steak in Chicago;

tofu delight in Big Sur; red

rice and beans in Dallas.

All over America women are burning

food they’re supposed to bring with calico

smile on platters glittering like wax.

It really pissed me off when this chick told me this poem because, well . . . it was like a slap in the face. I like to eat. I like to be cooked for. I can’t imagine anyone not loving to cook for me. Or, I guess – I couldn’t at the time, dudes. It didn’t make sense.

But wearing this pink costume and begging for scraps, and getting the scraps which were pretty damn delicious but nevermind it simply wasn’t what I wanted I wanted to be taken seriously – this poem came to my mind, guys.

What I’m saying is, take me seriously, even though I’m cute and wearing fluffy pink stuff. Talk to me like I was real, like I was one of you.

I’m not just here for the food.
Barry Fig

The poem What’s that smell in the kitchen by Marge Piercy can be found in its entirety here on Google books as excerpt from Arlene Voski Akavian’s book Through the Kitchen Window.

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To be a locavore, it’s possible that I might be able to give up tomatoes out of season.

Bananas, yes. Of course.

And really who seriously cares about kiwis?

But bubblegum is another matter. I do not believe that ‘gum base’ grows in my area.

If it did, I could be locavore. I could make my own bubble gum.

Then I could get a bumper sticker and put it on my car so everyone would know.

I’d tool around here and there in my car while blowing bubbles, placing my earnest gaze with a gentle hint of ever-so-slight underlying contempt upon those who know no better. But not too much. Gas miles to food consumption and foodie show-off factor – there is an algebraic formula that must be followed, of course.

Those glorious huge perfect pink bubbles would be emerging from my lips, as I turned my head right and left (and once in a while backwards as much as possible) so that all could see the gently glowing orbs the color of ballet slippers that would add just the right touch of glamour to my personal aura.

Pop! One would shatter, and quickly I’d have to be sure there was no elephantine flap of flattened pink gum hanging over sideways onto my chin. Then right on to the next bubble!

It’s but a dream, though. I haven’t made my own bubblegum yet.

But will it come out as good as DoubleBubble? As good as Bazooka? Where will my little comics come from that fit inside the wrap? These are small questions, really – in the face of my own potential artisan bubble gum, my own possible locavorism that will ring with absolutist purity in the Face of the Industrial Machine.

Pardon me. I must go think, and think deeply. And I will, right after I shove several of these shiny new bubble gum pieces into my mouth and have a popping spree.


Image Source: foto_decadent/Tim Walker/UK Vogue December 2008/Tales of the Unexpected/The Marvellous Mischievious Magical World of Roald Dahl

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Although there is some fuss going on in the cultured foodie-segments of society about the terrors of the food served in our public school cafeterias, it is a fact that Dreadful School Cafeteria Food is not why kids can’t read.

True, the fact must be faced that it is (barely) possible that some children – when feasting their eyes on the day-glo glop scooped out at lunchtime in school cafeterias across the land – may think of that food as a gastronomic prize for their day’s studies, if they are prone to thinking deeply about their food as linked to philosophy and to their life. If the child is like this, he might just go and decide to live up to the promise of it all by becoming day-glo-glop-like himself.

But somehow I think there’s more to it. Somehow, I think the quality of the teaching going on in the school system could also have an effect on the level of education being attained by those who consume it. But please don’t tell my kid’s teachers this – it might come back to haunt me with the mysterious Lowered-Grade Syndrome I’ve heard tell of that can supposedly happen if you don’t make nice with the teachers. This syndrome is of course related to the mysterious Rise-In-Grade Syndrome that one can make happen by revising essays to fit with the teacher’s own particular political bent. Tried and true, this one – in my experience. Not with all teachers, but with some.

My children are in high school now, but I remember the days past with fondness. Upon arriving home from school my kids would fill my ears with happy schoolday anecdotes about many things, including the words their teachers had spelled wrong on the blackboards that day. They thought that was pretty funny.

How did my children know the words were spelled wrong? Probably because they read books. Reading can set things into memory. Why didn’t their teachers have these elementary-school words set (spelled correctly) into their memory at some point – either during their formative years of education or during their four years of required studies in the higher-education system? It’s beyond me.

But tsk tsk. Why am I complaining about spelling, and teachers not being able to spell. It’s such a small thing. Teachers put up with the most incredible challenges in the daily tasks of managing the classroom within the bureaucracy that ties the classroom and all those within it into a macrame-like knotted sculpture of what one can do and what one can not do. Having a teacher who can spell words correctly can be the least of the problem.

I was amused by the stories related to me at the end of school days during elementary-school years. But the end-of-the-day stories I hear now, during the high-school years, are even more amusing. Amusing, that is, in a vaguely horrific sort of way.

Ugly behavior – or more often behavior along the lines of startling behavior that one looks away from quickly – happens in the hallways of  any high school. Sexual harassment is clearly the top winner in this category, with core groups of boys who are apparently unable (or unwilling) to not ‘talk dirty’ to any girl who passes by their line of vision, leaving the girls feeling not so much like students but more like a shambles of a vision wrecked before it even happened. I say that ‘one looks away quickly’ because that is exactly what the teachers do. They appear to have grown blinders.

One good thing (for the kids being bullied – not so much for the bullies themselves) is that the bullies-in-general who burgeon in rank and number during the middle-school years have calmed down to some extent by the time they enter high school.  Alternately it could be that some of them are simply not at school any more most of the time – they’ve fallen through the cracks existing in the worlds of those designated to be responsible for them.

The funniest thing though (and one does need to laugh at something for a sense of relief after looking closely at some of these other things) is that the teachers (who in the elementary system were merely for the most part bad spellers) have become replaced by teachers in the high school system – who are often much more interesting in a number of ways. And when a high-school teacher is amusing, they can be really amusing. Even moreso when they’ve somehow managed to survive the system for fifteen or twenty years doing exactly the amusing things they do.

Not to say we don’t enjoy this. A good story is a good story, and the day ended without a good story about school somehow seems wrong.

But back to the topic. My thesis was that ‘school cafeteria food is not why kids can’t read’. School cafeteria food is the least of it, the way I see it. It is not just the amount of sugar, the ‘balanced diet’, the dreaded soda machine, the frozen pizza and traditionally frightening frozen pea glop.

It can be other things. It can be a teacher who does not teach, yet who somehow manages to go on not-teaching for years. A teacher who sets aside the book planned-to-be-used-as-curriculum in favor of watching movies and having the class stuff envelopes for her latest fund-raising project to bring money into the sports program. One who thinks Las Vegas is in California. One who thinks sweetbreads are something made from bread and sugar. One who insists that the word ‘promenade’ does not come from the French language, does not mean ‘to walk’ but instead was invented to mean ‘high-school prom’. One who thinks the movie ‘Mamma Mia’ is a French movie. One who is teaching students planning on entering the fashion industry to pronounce Cartier as car-tee-urrr.  (Oh yeah. That will go over big in a job interview.)

One has to wonder if either a drug-scan or a brain-scan would be useful in these situations. Or maybe even some standard form of accountability might be found to put in place.

That all this can happen in an ‘AP’ class where college credit will be given for completion of the class is just the cherry on top.

Bad cafeteria food – that’s the least of it. That’s my thesis, anyway. But really, when considering it all at length, I definitely have to keep firmly in mind the always-useful words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.

Excuse me. My throat appears to be itching.

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“Just got back from dinner out”, my uncle said on the telephone. “Lobster again. Everyone’s selling it so cheap. Huge lobster dinners for less than ten dollars. Lobster’s going downhill. Less than four dollars a pound.”

My uncle lives in Maine. The price of lobsters in Maine (like the price of tea in China) may or may not have a huge amount to do with a general discussion of food, but it means a lot to me.

It means a lot to me because my family is from Maine, and because of that lobster is in my blood. Lobster is a part of me.

My mother and her brother my uncle-who-eats-lobster-dinners-out and who gives me the lobster news by telephone both grew up in Maine. I lived there for part of my early childhood. My cousins, three boys (now men actually, how soon we forget!) – have lived there all their lives. My uncle stayed in the place of the lobster. My mother ran from it.

But regardless of my mother’s fast exit from the state for Bigger Places, lobster is in my blood. Because she came from the place she came from I know the smell of the damp North woods with trees that close out the light in the sky. I know pine trees, sticky with their hint of turpentine scent. A clear cold light in a sky with no clouds enclosing the sharp red brick edges of a factory town – its bell tower centered with clock hands stuck in some position of time edged into decades ago, as two or three white church steeples careen into the heights vying for position of power as close to the center of town as possible . . . I know that too because of the place she came from. The dank smell of a lake with small wooden docks proudly rotting into the edges of it, motorboats bobbing alongside as drifts of moving water shift them – dribbles of lost gasoline adding its urgent essence to the smell of gunky lake bottom. Snow of brilliance is something I know. I can smell it, if I say the word. Snow. It is acrid, sharp, burning the nose and most delightful. Snow is not mushy gray stuff. Snow is a trumpet of glory, deep and new. A moose is not a thing named Bullwinkle from a cartoon but rather a large ancient-looking skinny-legged animal who peers out from the edges of woods near roads at the cars going by as the cars peer right back. But mostly, more than all these things, I know lobster.

Knowing how to cook it is part of it. Knowing as a natural thing how to get every sweet drop of meat out of the curled shell is another part of it. But the eating, the cooking – that’s the least of it, really.

I once caught my own lobster. It was during a time I lived on a boat, a wooden sailboat to be exact. The setting fit in with my deep-set Pippi Longstocking internalization, but Pippi, as far as I know, never caught a lobster. I’d made a fish trap out of chicken wire, just because I could. And I tossed it over the side of the boat tied up there to the dock at City Island and each day fish would be trapped by this charming and useful device. Blackfish, flounder, small nameless whatevers. Then one day I pulled up a lobster. It was mean and snappish, quick-moving and vicious. Finally I extricated it from the trap and cooked it and we ate it. It was not a Maine lobster. It meant nothing to me.

My mother who ran from Maine as soon as she could, would tell me lobster tales as she raised me in other places. “Now Maine lobstermen” she would start – and her Maine accent, the accent I did not have – would become stronger to the point where it almost sounded like Old English from a fairytale – “Maine is the only place that has lobstermen like this. Independent!” she’d announce. “Independent! They do what they please and they don’t let anyone tell them otherwise!” And we, my mother and I, were somehow part of the Maine lobstermen. We too were independent. We too somehow relied on the lobsters and the generosity of the sea to give us life – no matter that we lived far from the sea in an apartment with a Persian cat named Princess Puff who I believed somehow was my sister (lacking a real one) and that the closest either one of us came to fishing was when we lifted the tiny tropical fish out of the aquarium in the living room when we had to clean it – our tool of trade being a little blue net the size and heft of a cotton ball.

Now New England in general has a thing for being independent. “Live Free or Die!” cries New Hampshire. Vermont is the place to go if you want to start a commune in any century. Rhode Island of course grew Newport so is unassailable in all rights. Massachusetts (aside from being impossible to spell correctly) had the Bay Colony and is big, so you’d better understand how independent it is. Connecticut is an afterthought of course but Greenwich makes a stand for a new variety of new-money independence.

But how can any of these come close to matching me myself and I who is a lobsterman in my mind, with salt spray in my hair and a lobster-trap dripping from my strong independent hand? How can any of these even think they can approach the swell of the sea and the salt spray on my yellow slicker as I pull up my lobster pots filled (or sometimes not filled but that is part of my independent life) with grasping primeval sea-bugs clattering sharp claws and waving springy tentacles at my approach?

“Independent cusses” my mother would say, and she’d smile one of her small rare smiles. A rising sense of power made a trajectory straight out from within her and my seven-year old heart adored her for it. My mother was a lobster, and a big one. There was no denying it.

Lobster is in my blood. It runs through my veins directly into my heart. Lobster is me, myself, and I – when I stop to think about it.

And that’s what has to do with the price of lobsters in Maine.

This is also what has to do with the price of lobsters in Maine. It’s from The Bangor Daily News of October 16, 2008:

The boat price of lobster hovered near the $4 mark throughout much of the summer, according to some fishermen, but in recent weeks it has dropped rapidly to $2.50 and then to $2.25. There are reports that in some areas lobstermen are getting just $2 a pound.

Fishermen say they can’t afford to fish with the price of lobster at around $2 a pound.

“Four dollars is the break-even point,” said Dick Bridges of Deer Isle. “At $4, you might even make a little money.”

There’s been some discussion of limiting the lobster catch in order to stave off a full-fledged market glut. Many fishermen can’t afford not to fish, however, and continue, hoping to sell lobster where they can.

The crisis in Maine is tied directly to the collapse of Icelandic banks which were key lenders to processors in Canada, according to Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. Without ready credit from those banks, Canadian processors don’t have the cash to purchase lobster from Maine, Somers said.

The credit crunch hit Canada early in October, Maine’s peak season for lobster production and value, according to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

October is the time when fishermen make the bulk of the money they need to see them through the winter months. They’re worried about what will happen if things don’t turn around.

“This couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” Somer said. “And this is not going away right away.”

On average annually, between 45 percent and 50 percent of Maine lobster is sent to processors in Canada. At this time of year, however, 70 percent of the catch usually goes to Canada, but processors there are not buying.

According to the MLA, there are a number of reasons for that. The international credit problem is one. There also are reports that some processors already have inventory on hand and that others are operating at less than full capacity so they don’t create more supply than they can sell.

What to do? Here, from central Maine where Bangor lies (say Ban’-Guh) is an idea: A Thanksgiving Lobster Dinner.

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In this article about a (mute) swan that I found in a rubbish free paper that someone had left on a rain sodden table outside a Manchester bar, the interviewee claims to hear the sound of quacking outside. However, swans don’t quack on account they are swans and not ducks so someone is lying and I don’t like it one bit. Needless to say I am furious.

This news is from squacco and it must be said I agree with her. Like mutton for lamb, swans for ducks simply does not work and it is an appalling idea. It raises my hackles. Or it would if I had them.
Nobody serves swan anymore that I know of except for one small famous college over the pond. And it’s my feeling they do it mostly for the feathers.

If you’re looking for something motivatingly healthy to read this weekend about food, Clean Eating is out – it is the second issue of this new magazine, and it is very good. Ellie Krieger (who we mentioned earlier this week) is a contributor. You can get a taste at their beautiful website, just click here.

I wonder what ever happened in this town in Spain – from a story dated June 6, 2000 in Salon:

In two years, the northern Spanish towns of Villabilla de Burgos and Alcala de Gurrea will be running on artichokes. No kidding!

According to a Reuters report, the towns plan to burn giant, 10-foot-high artichokes at their twin power stations to convert the thorny vegetables to electricity.

Any guesses?

Back on Earth As We Know It, Men’s Health with their ongoing compendium of “Eat This Not That” offers yet another list up to the world: 125 Best Supermarket Foods.

Ladies and gentlemen, rev your appetites—and steer your shopping carts toward the delicious staples of a healthy diet. We scoured the grocery aisles and chose the most reliable basics and the best secret ingredients that will improve your diet and take your cooking up a notch—all in one trip to the supermarket!

God it sounds exciting! Rev rev.

In “the best thing I’ve read all week” category lives something by Rachel Laudan. A snippet to taste:

Sustainability. It’s up there with motherhood and apple pie, who could be against something so eminently desirable. Yet the fact is that we have no analysis of what is sustainable and what is not. Assuming that if it’s small and organic it’s sustainable won’t do.

Some of the topics Rachel writes on, from her blog:

Big issues in food history. Does America have a cuisine? What is a cuisine anyway? What are regional cuisines? Is it possible to eat locally and why would anyone want to? What about servants?

Big issue in food politics. Basically I think that for all its problems, there’s never been safer, tastier food. So why is that? What are we doing to keep it so? What about all the naysayers and their doom and gloom?

Not only can she write, she has the academic background to back it up and even better, the woman is brilliant. 🙂

If you’re still hungry just click on the YouTube video below. It’s possible you may never be hungry again.

Enjoy your week-end!

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organic prius

You put your left foot in

You put your right foot out

You put your left foot in

And you shake it all about

You grab yourself a partner and you turn yourself about

That’s what it’s all about!

Anybody remember the hokey-pokey dance? Always fun, even the confusing parts that should not have been but were, in the silly way of these song-and-dance routines.

What to eat. Why to eat it. Who does it affect, this seemingly not-all-that-important-decision made three or four or five times a day.

These are questions that run through every thoughtful person’s mind – some more, some less.

What a luxury of questions they are too – when one stops to consider that many people in the world can only ask themselves one question regarding their food: Where can I get enough of any sort to survive and thrive?

I haven’t come up with my own clear-cut food philosophy when it come to the (big? small?) questions of what I should eat. Like many others I know, I do the hokey-pokey. One day at a time, sorting and sifting the masses of information surging over the information superhighway, hoping that what I read is true enough to lead me down the right paths.

One writer I trust to give me accurate and useful information and ideas is the historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. In a compelling article in the Times-Online yesterday his essay begins:

The State exists to feed people. Politicians proclaim defence or law and order or social issues or wealth creation or health as their priority. But without food, nothing else matters. For most of history, leaders were those who knew how to get it – sometimes by hunting prowess, sometimes by means of a gift for commanding herds, sometimes by naked power, forcing subjects to work in the fields and dig ditches, and sometimes by mediating with the gods or spirits of nature.

The article can be found here. It’s one of the most interesting essays I’ve read on this topic (ever).

Artwork credit Mike Licht/NotionsCapital

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