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  • Archive | January, 2012

    Two Related News Items

    See if you can find the connection.

    Story #1:

    (Reuters) – The world is running out of time to make sure there is enough food, water and energy to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population and to avoid sending up to 3 billion people into poverty, a U.N. report warned on Monday.

    As the world’s population looks set to grow to nearly 9 billion by 2040 from 7 billion now, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially.

    Even by 2030, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, according to U.N. estimates, at a time when a changing environment is creating new limits to supply

    Story #2:

    Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has lashed out at Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s dream project, namely the National Food Security Bill, which the government introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 22.

    Pawar went on record as saying that there are insufficient funds to implement the Food Security Bill in its present form. However, he said “This is not a question of [an] individual. This is a question of investment in agriculture.”

    The bill, if it became law and was fully implemented, would cost the national exchequer Rs 1.1 lakh crore ($22 billion) annually in agriculture liabilities alone, but would provide subsidized food grain to more than 60 percent of the country’s population.

    I’m not a gambler, but I’m more than willing to bet we see more and more issues like this appear upon the world stage. How much they affect us here at home or in Western Europe is the only variable that I believe is truly in play.


    Love and Memories In the Oddest of Places

    There is a conflict within me. My head is all for scientific rationalization. I love the questioning various aspects of things we take for granted, and trying to find a coherent truth. But in my heart? I am a romantic. Beauty can’t be quantified or qualified. Things move us, emotionally, for many different reasons, and trying to find out their hows & whys only seem to destroy our reactions to such things.

    All of this is my way of introducing my love for the American fish shop, where deep frying is the order of the day, and cole slaw, french fries, and slices of lemon are the only nod to fruits and vegetables.

    We now know that deep fried items are, generally speaking, bad for us. Over the course of the past generation or two, this has changed the landscape of this particular type of restaurant. Deep fried clams, beer-battered halibut, or your standard fish and chips are things that “should be avoided”. And so people have. And so, over the course of the past generation or two, the fried seafood shop has lost its popularity.

    Even here in Seattle, home of Ivar’s and a handful of other similar places that take advantage of their place next to the Sound that is part of the Pacific Ocean, these restaurants have faded from their heights. Looking it the local newspapers and phone books from the 60′s and 70′s, one could get the impression that deep fried seafood could be found on every corner. Yet now? Now these places have taken a back seat to teriyaki places and Thai restaurants.

    I’m not going to lament this culinary shift in tastes and preferences. Time marches on, after all, and who am I to stop it?

    But I do admit to a feeling of comfort and joy when I walk into these places that I get in no other restaurant. These places feel like home to me, what with the aroma of malt vinegar, spicy cocktail sauces, and oil that is just about to break down.

    Here’s the thing: I know exactly why these places speak to me. The first restaurant my father took me to, without my brother and sisters, was an Arthur Treacher’s. It was there that he treated me to the joys of deep fried clams and the taste of malt vinegar. For an 8 year old who was growing up on baloney sandwiches, Kool-aid, and Quisp and Quake, Arthur Treacher’s was equivalent to a fine dining experience. And I know that every time that I have sprinkled malt vinegar on my french fries, or have ordered deep fried clams, it is a nod to that moment in time back in the mid-70′s.

    I look at this now and reflect upon the wonder of that. That this moment still affects me in restaurants to this day is astounding to me. Over the course of the past eight years, I’ve eaten in some of the top restaurants of the world, have eaten new dishes that were exotic, exquisite, or both, and have shared drinks with remarkable locations. And yet none of these moments, not one, have made me feel like I do when I walk into fried fish shop. No other place in the world can make me feel so tied to my past or to my father.

    I could try to psycho-analyse this to the nth degree, and figure out the hows and whys of the emotive response. But the romantic in me says this is unnecessary. Some people go to the cemetery to connect with those who have passed on. Me? I think I’ll keep the fish stand.


    How I Travel

    My friends and I are planning trips for the upcoming year, and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on what I think makes for a good-to-great trip. These are my own personal preferences, and some of them may not work for you.

    Before I leave:

    • Know Your Budget: Before even looking at flights or hotel rooms, you should have an idea on what you are willing to spend, per day, for where you want to go. This budget is important because it will limit you on where you can stay and what you can do. When you travel, it is easy to go beyond one’s means, and a budget will help you know when you can splurge or when you need to save.
    • Set the Length of the Trip: The best thing I’ve learned is that it’s difficult for me to do more than two weeks of travel at any given time, unless I move around a LOT.

      I’ve also learned that traveling with other people has a time limit based on the patience of the least patient person in our traveling party. If I am traveling with other people, up to ten days seems to be doable. Anything longer seems to bring people to into the “What am I still doing here?” phase.

    • Book your hotels several months in advance: This does two things. One, it ensures you get a room in locations where rooms will be sparse the closer you get to the date (Try finding a decent hotel room for Munich’s Oktoberfest or Seattle’s Labor Day in July). Second, an early made itinerary allows your excitement for the trip to grow for several months, rather than stress about when or if you’ll even get a room.
    • Research, Research, Research where you are going to stay: This means looking at more than one site. For every room I book, I tend to look at a minimum of three sites (Kayak.com or Booking.com, tripadvisor, and then the website of the hotel or apartment that I found.)

      I look at Kayak for pricing, and Booking for details on rooms I find interesting.

      I look at Tripadvisor to see how other travelers have rated the place, and I will consider any mid-range reviewed locations or higher because I’m okay with average hotel rooms. This is particularly important when you head to cities that have hundreds of hotels available, where a hotel ranked 150 out of 300 can still be considered ‘adequate for the task’.

    • Flights: Researching flights can be difficult, because I know that the quality of many flights are dependent upon many things out of the airlines control. Do I blame United because O’Hare airport is a bear to get out of? Or that one particular flight attendant is cranky? The only thing I really try to do is avoid too many layovers. One is doable, two is difficult, three is god-awful.
    • Research Things to Do on the trip: I have learned two things about Itineraries. First – They should be written in pencil. What I mean by that is that you need to be adaptable because sometimes people just don’t want to go to a museum, or circumstances prevent you from heading to the market you wanted to go to. Have a list of things you wish to do on the trip, but be satisfied if you only get to do half of that plan.

      Secondly, something should be available to do every day. It is better to have an event planed and not do it, then it is do want to do something, yet have no idea on what to do. I have found that it is worth it to have two places to go see per day, and one planned thing to eat or drink. We don’t have to do any of them, but having the option available is quite comforting.

      And yes, I make plans on eating at certain restaurants or looking for particular foods or drinks. I have particularly fond memories about the quest for haggis, trying to find the best Kölsch in Cologne, and looking for a good bratwurst in Milwaukee. Food and drink can be really strong ties to where you are at.

    During the Trip

    • Write off your travel days: We have taken to calling the days we travel “purgatory”, regardless of whether its by plane, train, or automobiles. Plane travel is NEVER pleasant, being either adequate to the task, or frustrating beyond belief. I’ve never had a great day of plane travel. I’ve had a few where there were no problems, but I have found that standing in line (check-in or baggage drop) after line (security) after line (getting on the plan) to be, at best tedious, and at worst, dreadful.

      Trains are somewhat better than airlines, and have been known to sneak up into the ‘pleasant’ region from time to time. But those times are rare, and are often dependent upon who run the train and the amount of people in your car.

      Surprisingly, cars afford the best opportunity for a pleasant trip, as you can come across a scenic route whilst driving, and can actually stop the car to appreciate wherever you are at. I’m reminded of my friend Andrea’s and my last minute decision to stop and enjoy coffee at a place in the Rhine river valley, and the stop Tara and I made to enjoy the Tantalus Range in British Columbia. These moments are rare but notable. If you drive on major highways or Interstates, it’s mostly dull.

    • Have a light first day: This is especially true if you travel overseas. Jet lag sucks, and it’s worth your time to not push yourself when you’ve had anywhere from zero to four hours of sleep. Stay close to your hotel if you can.

      Here’s what I do on the first day: I become acquainted with the closest commercial street, where it is in relation to the hotel, and where I can find it on the map. This allows me to establish where I am in relation to the rest of the city. My friends are amazed at my ability to never get lost in a new city. My success in this is almost entirely due to acquainting myself with where the hotel is located.

      I also try to acquaint myself with the local metro system. Nothing sucks more than learning that 50 minute walk you took could have been accomplished in 10 minutes with a ride on the subway. I’ve learned this the hard way.

    • Learn its okay to be a tourist, but acknowledge that you ARE a tourist: Many people dislike being called tourists. But the fact remains, you will be a tourist at some point. You can’t avoid it, unless you wish to avoid visiting areas where tourists congregate. To put it another way, if you want to go to Pike Place Market, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Tower of London, or the Eiffel Tower, but are not from the areas where these places are located, you will be a tourist. It’s unavoidable.

      This isn’t to say that you should always do touristy things. Good god, NO! It is a good thing to find things off of the beaten path, looking for the people, places, or things that the tour books are unaware of, yet help define your experiences. THESE experiences will differ from person to person and will make your trips different from everyone else’s. Besides, being a tourist is exhausting.

    • Get a Souvenir, but not from a Souvenir shop: I define a souvenir as any item that illicit a strong, pleasant memory from a trip you have taken. These can include pictures you have taken, to a piece of clothing you forgot to pack that you had to purchase to replace. I consider a small travel alarm clock that I purchased in London, and a scarf I purchased in Edinburgh as both souvenirs. I didn’t realize they were at the time I bought them, but when I look at them now, they both bring back a strong memory of specific moment in time that I find
      wonderful. Learning this, I’ve realized that I don’t need to purchase anything from the souvenir shops, as anything I find that brings back those memories will work. The only thing I buy from those places are $1 flag or coat of arm decals that I stick on my laptop.
    • Take pictures, but don’t go crazy about it: As I said above, pictures can work as souvenirs. By all means, take them and then get them printed out and framed to put in your house, as reviewing them on Flickr is nice, but not as effective as having a picture that you can touch and feel and move about your house.

      However, I have found that there’s a fine line between having an experience versus recording an experience. If you are continually taking pictures, then your memories may be entirely about you taking pictures.

    • Send Postcards, especially to the children in your life: Your friends really do want to hear (briefly) about your trips. Kids, doubly so, and many of my friends have used the post cards as a brief teaching experience. Additionally, I have found that there are friends who will get motivated to travel based on hearing of their friends experiences.
    • When possible, live (and engage) in the moment: That itinerary I told you to have above? You need to be able to adapt it, even to the point of throwing it aside if something better comes along. Traveling is not your schedule. Traveling is enjoying being somewhere else. Sometimes life will provide an alternative to what you have planned. Recognize it and engage it.

      Andrea and I were in a higher end restaurant in Palermo, one mostly dedicated to the locals. In walks a mime/clown (not in white-face, thank god). This clown would try to engage other customers who really didn’t want anything to do with him. Andrea and I took the opposite tact, and we engaged him, and he made us laugh and we made him laugh. Because we did that little bit of engagement, we have a very strong shared memory.

    • Be Safe, but don’t be paranoid: There are two things that, if you lose, make your life difficult when you travel – your identification, and financial resources. (Note that I said difficult, but not impossible). Everything else is easily replaceable, up to and including airline tickets. Have a plan to deal with the loss of these items, certainly. But the odds of you of being pickpocketed or having the staff of your hotel steal stuff out of your room is small. It happens, yes, but only to a minority of travelers. Taking small but notable actions will lessen those odds. Use common sense (don’t flash money about, keep your ID in a place where it’s difficult to pickpocket, etc. etc).

      Also, it’s here where not being in a touristy area works in your favor. Criminals can and do work Pike Place Market, North Beach, and the Eiffel Tower. Added consideration should be taken in these areas. If your at a coffee-shop in a residential area of a city, the odds drop dramatically.

      Additionally, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, then leave. There’s a difference between having a clown come up to you at a reputable restaurant, and having a stranger try to lead you away from the crowds of a commercial street.

      My point here is that, yes, be aware of crime and criminals. But don’t let the odds prevent you from enjoying yourself. Be smart, don’t be paranoid.

    hat’s all I have now. I may add to this at a later date.


    People of the Spice Trade: King Philip II

    Trying to write about King Philip II in a single blog post is akin to summarize Crime and Punishment in a paragraph. Yes, it can be done, but so much will be lost along the way that the reader (and possibly the writer) will still be ignorant on the subject

    However, his name comes up constantly when talking about both England and the Netherlands in the late 1500′s, and with good reason. Three centuries before Queen Victoria and her “The Sun never sets on the English Empire”, King Philip II of Spain had colonies the Americas and Asia, sought to expand the Holy Roman Empire to bring places such as England and Holland back into the Catholic fold, and tried to defeat the Ottoman Empire. His empire, by far, was the most powerful on earth at the time.

    Note that I did not say ‘wealthy’. Don’t get me wrong, his empire did have wealth, but Philip’s various wars and battles cost him a LOT of money, and in any given year of his reign, his treasury was just as likely to be empty as it was full.

    There are two, no, make that three things that I find interesting about Philip.

    1. His idea of statecraft and warfare – He saw himself as the face of Catholicism, and felt as if he had to defend the religion on any and every front. This was in large part due to the papacy naming his father , Charles V, as the protector of the Catholic cause. By Phillip’s reign, his empire was essentially the mouthpiece for the Cardinals of Rome.

      He also ruled his lands with the basic idea that religion of the ruler dictated the religion of the ruled, leaving no room for Protestantism in his realm. This would lead to the creation of the Dutch state, and would have a huge influence on how England and Holland perceived themselves and how they responded to any action by the Spanish.

    2. He was a Royal Bureaucrat – As recently as a century before, many Kings would paint themselves as warrior-kings, whether true or not. But as Monarchies evolved into ruling through laws rather than might, Phillip’s approach to his reign could be see as the logical extension of that philosophy – he ruled from his court.

      By many accounts, Philip was an a font of information, and every decision went through him. Consider the logistics of this. He had lands and colonies that were thousands of miles away, were communications would arrive years after they had been written, and a response would take years to return. Yet for many major decisions, this is exactly what had happened. It was this level of bureaucracy that allowed the English to antagonize the Spanish in the Americas, for many of the Spanish lords, governors, and captains were afraid to take an action or make a decision that the King disproved of. The result? A lot of inaction until Philip acted himself*.

      You’ll note that I said “Royal”. For a man who literally ran an empire, there was little to no appearance of stress, even when his armies lost battles, or armadas were lost. By all major accounts, Phillip was stately, religious, and gracious. Depending upon who you read, there are little to no accounts of him losing his temper. In short, the man acted like a King. He was never ruthless (although many beneath him were). But he always thought he was right because God was on his side.

    3. There are many views of Philip II as a villain – It is easy to come to this conclusion, especially if one is coming from an Anglo-Dutch point of view, where he WAS the greatest representation of “the enemy”. But history is rarely as simple as “Elizabeth was pure and Righteous and Philip was a monster”. He was, after all, the leader of the Catholic empire, and felt obligated to defend it in full. Additionally, many of the activities of the Dutch and English in each of their conflicts were implemented to deliberately antagonize the Spanish. However, many of the nuances of politics of that age are lost or glossed over in many history books.

    This is not meant to whitewash history. As the decision maker of the Empire, ultimately the atrocities committed in his name do fall at his feet. My point here is that wars are rarely black and white, and kings and queens are rarely solely good or evil. From my point of view, Philip II is enigmatic, with his persona running in stark contrast to the results of his decrees and rulings. While ultimately I side with both the Dutch and English in their conflicts with the Spanish, it’s difficult for me to see Philip as the sneering villain that some paint him as.

    *NOTE: There are a few Spanish figures in this time-frame who are the exception, many of whom can be found in the Spanish-Dutch conflict. Sometimes they acted of their own accord, other times they interpreted Philip’s instructions in the broadest possible way, resulting in accomplishing what Philip wanted, but with unfortunate results. Not surprisingly, many of these men were relatives and other members of the monarchy. I will call out these folks when necessary.


    Why Paula Deen Makes Me Sick

    Remember the kind things I used to say about Paula Deen? Yeah, I’m taking them back.

    If you’re not aware, Paula Deen, the Food Network celebre-cook of the high cholesterol, calorie laden recipes, has found out she has Type II diabetes.

    Let me be clear – this isn’t the part that makes me upset, or wants to call her out. All of us, every single person who lives a life upon this planet, make choices in each of our individual lives, and make decisions that affect our long term health. We get older. Our bodies break down. We live with the results of choices made years ago. This includes the people who are fans of Ms. Deen. They watched her show, they made their choices to eat Deep Fried Lasagna, Deep Fried Stuffing on a Stick, and the classic Lady’s Brunch Burger, the sandwich consisting of eggs, bacon, and hamburger placed between two slices of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. That Paula Deen likely came to have diabetes through her diet is ironic, tragic, and no different than the health problems we all deal with as we get older. When I first heard she had diabetes, I was willing to leave it alone.

    However, the news came out recently that her diagnosis occurred three years ago, and that she waited(!) to tell the rest of the world until she was able to leverage her disease into a sponsorship from Novo Nordisk that includes a promotional campaign that has its own website, and recipes that heavily promote Deen’s own product line.

    That, my friends, is unconscionable.

    Wanting to help those with diabetes is a laudable action.

    Profiting from your own diabetes, as well as the diabetes of others is sickening.

    To profit by offering advice where the primary solution is to “take medicine”, but “lose weight” and “get more exercise” appears secondary, is appalling*.

    Profiting off of the diabetes of others that she may have had a hand in help creating? I don’t believe that an adjective yet exists that can adequately describe such a whorish money grab.

    There is a line somewhere out there. We who work in Food Media know we are, at heart, entertainers and lifestyle coaches. Informing people of the risks surrounding food? Well, there’s even less money in that than there is in food writing. But in our roles in food media, there’s a line. I don’t know where it is exactly. But I do know that Paula Deen not only crossed it, she purchased a house over there, probably selling her soul for the down payment.

    * Note: The Mayo Clinic’s recommendation for Type II Diabetes Management is as follows:

    • Blood sugar monitoring
    • Healthy eating
    • Regular exercise
    • Possibly, diabetes medication or insulin therapy

    In other words, medication is not the primary response to Type II diabetes. Yet here’s Paula Deen, partnering up with a pharmaceutical that comes with its own FDA safety warning. That woman makes me sick, sick, sick.


    Who Should We Thank For Our Daily Bread?

    The best humor always has a grain of truth to it. The humor in the above picture has several loaves of bread made from the amount of grain. From 2010, came this report:

    Most of the one million farm workers in America are immigrants, up to a half are thought to be in the United States illegally.

    As summer fruits and vegetables ripen across U.S. farmland, the work of harvesting them depends on illegal immigrants.

    The reliance is so heavy that farmers, who tend to vote more conservatively, have rejected Congressional Republican sponsored bills that put more stringent requirements on documenting the legal status of its work force.

    Supporters of E-Verify, an electronic system that is currently mandatory for most federal contractors but voluntary for other employers, argue that it would eliminate any doubt about workers’ legal status. But farmers say it could cripple a $390 billion industry that relies on hundreds of thousands of willing, low-wage immigrant workers to pick, sort and package everything from avocados to zucchini.

    “This would be an emergency, a dire, dire situation,” said Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, adding that the prospect of an E-Verify check would most likely mean that many immigrant workers would simply not show up. “We will end up closing down.”

    That sentiment is echoed by growers like George Bonacich, an 81-year-old apricot farmer who has been working the same patch of land in Patterson, 80 miles east of San Francisco, since 1969.

    My point is, when you think of food production reform, including farming of both produce AND meat, conversations will inevitably have to include discussion about migrant workers, immigration, and how do we come to terms with the fact that a fair amount of our food has to, either through necessity or greed, hire undocumented workers.

    (h/t to Cuéntame for the graphic – note: facebook link. Also: Changed Title )


    McDonald’s And The Meat Industry

    From the movie Food, Inc.

    Just something for you to mull over today.