October 22, 2006

another thought on the subject

As I read more in The Omnivore's Dilemma, particularly the Grass section I've just finished about both corporate organic and extremely local intensively managed not-government-approved-but-might-as-well-be organic farms, the concept arises that local food is perhaps even more important in the fight for safe clean food than organic is. Local production by its very definition cannot be subverted into an industrialized machine, with the universe of sins that come as part and parcel of that industrialization. I have been thinking a lot about what this means in my own life.

Bottom line, I am going to keep doing what I am doing, going to farmers' markets whenever I can, growing my own vegetables and herbs, and supplementing that with organic from whatever supermarket I can get to, and generally doing the best I can. I will try harder to buy local, though, because the figures on how much petroleum is burned growing and transporting food to me are appalling (one quarter of america's petroleum use, if I remember the figure correctly, go to food production and transport?).

But here is the other thought that came out of this: If getting food and other goods locally is the most effective way to fight or at least circumvent the industrial food machine -- and all its foreign-oil, agribusiness, big-box, gene modification and chemical allies -- then isn't devoting time to the production and gathering of local food an intensely political act? And if that's true, it isn't just the farmers who are politicized. Isn't devoting time to "traditional" housewifery activities such as cooking, preserving, & gardening now even more overtly a deliberate political act in this attempt to improve the world? (Even sewing and crafts start to fall into this view of the world, if by so doing you thwart globalization and fossil fuel use.)

I think that hardline old school feminists really ought to put that one in their pipe and smoke it. The debate goes back and forth, who is most righteous, the mommies or the careerists, and most of the arguments are subjective. This view of local food strikes me as a pretty rock-solid argument for the mommies -- which I suppose I am, even with a full-time technology job and without any kids, considering how much cooking and crafting I do and wish I could do. Really it seems to boil down to a couple of things: what do you enjoy doing with your time? and what are your economic politics?

The worry for me, though, is what about those of us, men and women, without the time, inclination or know-how to eat local in any meaningful way? It's all very easy for me to say, considering that the same way men are reputed to think about sex every 17 seconds, I think about food at least as much, and cook far more than is warranted for a career girl living alone in a city.

How can we help the not-so-food-obsessed make the eat-local thing work?

Posted by foodnerd at 09:20 AM | Comments (3)

October 12, 2006

Organic doesn't always equal good

An interesting article on the Walmartization of organics:

"But Michael Pollan, a writer for the New York Times Magazine and author of a book on organic agribusiness, notes in a June 4 article that Wal-Mart's entry into this new market will almost certainly perpetuate practices that are at odds with the original vision of organic farmers. For example, demand for organic milk has already caused agribusiness companies to apply the tactics of factory farming to organic milk production. Cows are herded into organic feedlots where they never eat grass -- just organic grain. Thus their milk satisfies federal standards for the organic label, even though it lacks essential nutritional ingredients, to say nothing of the misery caused the animals."

Food for thought, as it were. [via our friend Jul at her new blog Veggie Chic]

Posted by tallasiandude at 10:51 PM | Comments (5)

October 09, 2006

gino's east

So last night a bunch of dancers and I went out for Chicago deep-dish pizza, and since I had not yet been to Gino's (home of the insanely long lines) I went along with the plan, just to see if ALL Chicago deep-dish pizza sucks or just the stuff I'd been having.

Pretty much it all sucks.

But Gino's is much better than the others. The crust is butterier and drier in texture, almost crumbly -- it's nice not to have it be all doughy, but there's still way the hell too much of it, and it's not that tasty. Way too much cheese, pretty decent sauce, and the spinach mushroom pizza has a very nice lightly-creamed spinach topping, if almost zero mushrooms.

It's fine, it's not horrible, but I can't imagine voluntarily going there, forking out absurd amounts of money, waiting in line, and then waiting another hour after ordering to get food ever again. What is the point?

Posted by foodnerd at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2006

eatin' good in the neighborhood: schwa

I have been absurdly busy lately, AND i left my digicam cable in Boston, so i have yet to write up all the good stuff from my trip to CA and beyond. So sorry for the lack of posts, y'all. But tonight I had dinner with C for the first time since July, since by some miracle we are both in chicago at the same time. I've been reading all kinds of buzz on Schwa, which is just up the street from my place, so because we both needed to watch the season premiere of Lost at 8pm (mildly disappointing, but i suspect only b/c they need to set up a whole season's worth of mindfuck in 45mins or less), we decided to get a late dinner at Schwa. Yum.

They do fixed menus of either three or nine courses. The 3 course meals appear to be standard sized portions (american style), while the 9 course is a standard haute cuisine parade of tiny plates. We went for the nine, of course, despite the appetizer course of fancy cheeses and Ur-Weisse that went along with Lost.

The entire staff is 4 guys, doing everything from booking reservations to cooking to dishwashing to waiting tables to marinating the enormous tub of beef shortribs we were eyeing from the dining room. It's a little odd when you walk in off a seedy stretch of Ashland Avenue into what looks like a shuttered storefront, and find yourself in the middle of a tiny dining room, elegantly decorated and half full of diners. It feels like having a fancy dinner in your living room, but once you get past that, I'd say that Schwa can compete with any dining room in the city.

A few of the dishes were a little over-elaborate in my opinion, with an element or two that didn't work or could just have been left out entirely (the butter-poached lobster with passion fruit puree and potatoes didn't in any way need a lavender foam, no matter how groovy a lavender foam may be -- and no matter how well the lobster and passion fruit work together, which you'd never guess, but they totally do), but as i said to C, that's pretty much picking nits that in a lesser restaurant i would totally let slide. Everything was well cooked, delicious, and inventive, and we had a fantastic meal. The service was attentive without being formal, and I definitely had the sense of being in a craftsman's workshop -- it reminded me of my brother's glassblowing studio, if you swapped out the furnace for a cooktop and ever so slightly lowered the volume on the hip hop.

I am a little goofy on wine, since we had a bottle of champagne and a bottle of burgundy, and i have to get up in 7 hours, so i am not going to go into detail about all 9 courses right this second, but let me just mention a few highlights:

turmeric ice cream with date puree
fleur de sel over all the icecreams (i am SO doing this at home)
beef tartare with asian flavors and a quail egg
yuzu syrup on the plate with the trio of beef - tartare, pickled tongue and shortrib
a tiny spoon filled with confit eggplant and pickled trimmings
quail egg ravioli with ricotta and brown butter, at once insanely rich and somehow light
perfect sweetbreads with a melted pool of humboldt fog and a bit of wine-poached rhubarb, apparently local from the market even in october
strawberry foam with berries and salty olive oil ice cream

I think probably i could live without having absolutely everything reduced to a paste or puree smeared on my plate, which is pretty much the way it is at Schwa, but since i have no shame at all i just ate everything with my hands or at the least scooped up all the smears of whatnot with a finger so as to truly appreciate every bit of them. And not one paste or smear was anything less than exquisitely delicious, so i think i forgive them their youthful extravagances. We had a lovely time, and we'll go back. Stay the course through the annoyance of having to leave voicemail to get a reservation -- it'll be worth it.

Posted by foodnerd at 01:22 AM | Comments (0)