Archive for October, 2009

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Shopping vs ‘sourcing’: scrap the sanctimony

October 4, 2009

ecoshoppingIn adding the postscript links to the Julia Child post here the other day I was led to the Julie Powell New York Times op-ed piece on organic food that apparently raised the hackles of foodie multitudes in the States a while back. I happen to agree with every word she writes in this piece about food snobbery and class. Her main objection is the moral high ground taken by those who only eat organic food, and their derision of ordinary folks who shop at crappy supermarkets:

What makes the snobbery of the organic movement more insidious is that it equates privilege not only with good taste, but also with good ethics. Eat wild Brazil nuts and save the rainforest. Buy more expensive organic fruit for your children and fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity. Support a local farmer and give economic power to responsible stewards of sustainable agriculture. There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices, but they do require time and money.

When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating penury with immorality. The milk at Whole Foods is hormone-free; the milk at Western Beef is presumably full of the stuff – and substantially less expensive. The chicken at Whole Foods is organic and cage-free; the chicken at Western Beef is not. Is the woman who buys her children’s food at the place where they take her food stamps therefore a bad mother?

“That’s not cooking, that’s shopping.” This epigram has been attributed to Julia Child and several other chefs of an older generation, in reference to the tenets of California Cuisine. It is sometimes used – often pronounced in a snooty French accent or Childean warble – by devotees of the organic movement (like Doug Hamilton, writer and director of the documentary “Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution”) to mock these fusty old-school cooks. For the newer generation, a love for traditional fine cuisine is cast as fussy and snobbish, while spending lots of money is, curiously, considered egalitarian and wise.

Like Powell, I’m as farmers-market addicted as the next gal, and I prefer to buy organic and free range stuff for the sake of the soil and the animals rather than any belief in its ‘safety’ for my own health (the various studies concluding that organic food is no healthier for humans than other food are perhaps dispiriting, but they are there – and claims from organic food producers like this one, that “Eating non-organic food will lead to ill-health with medical costs that will be far greater than the price of healthy eating” are  just simplistic rubbish).

If I’m honest, one of the main reasons I like to ‘source’ (we can’t say ‘buy’ anymore, don’t you know?) food from small fancy grocers and farmer’s markets is that it just feels nicer.

Supermarkets are ugly, and horribly lit, and often more expensive than other shops, and there’s hideous music, and the fresh food has been in cold storage for a year, and one is confronted by more people speaking viciously to their children, and the packaging is aesthetically displeasing and there’s too much plastic, and the cold food section freezes your bones, and the space is vast and impersonal and noisy, and so the whole experience just makes one feel one has been turned into a mindless participant in the whole mass-production, over-processed consumerist nightmare.

So it stands to reason that visiting a market where there’s open air, and one person selling meat, and another selling cheese, and another selling salad (picked leaves in bags rather than whole lettuces, I might add; I’m not averse to that kind of packaging and processing)  and so on, is a whole lot more pleasurable. But morally superior it ain’t. And it can far too easily topple into into fashion-driven pretentiousness (as we’ve discussed before), and, as Powell points out in her piece, can be as unattractively consumerist as any supermarket:

With his gastronomic tests, Brillat-Savarin sought to find others like himself, of whatever economic status, who truly enjoyed food. It’s easy to do the same today, but the method isn’t to assume that everyone at Whole Foods is wise and everyone at the Western Beef benighted.

Instead, look in their carts. Some shop at Western Beef for nothing more than diet cola and frozen bagels; some at Whole Foods for premade sushi and overdesigned bottles of green tea. These people have much in common. So, too, do the professorial types poring over the sweet corn and dewy blueberries at the greenmarket and the Honduran family at the discount grocery, piling their cart high with rice and dried beans and canned tomatoes and all the other stuff you need to make something out of nothing much.

End of rant. Read the whole Powell opinion piece here.


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Snark & envy

October 3, 2009

Just a pointer to a postscript I’ve added to the Julia Child post from way back in August (which, weirdly, seems to be getting a hell of a lot of hits this week – must be the movie coming out). At the end of the post I’ve added a couple of links to some amusing JC-related stuff I think you would like, so do skip back and check them out while you wait for the kettle to boil…

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Return of the mojo …

October 2, 2009

flameYou may have noticed I haven’t been so present here lately – what with a few trips away, followed by a couple of coming & going head colds, deadlines, book writing going ornery, a bit of piglet flu & a cricked back, I’ve not been in the kitchen much. Well, we’ve been cooking at home, but for the last little while our kitchen has had that dreary workaday feeling –  no spark, no ideas, no life. A brain drain, a lack of culinary imagination.  Know that feeling? When dinner seems a chore, the fridge is all but empty, and despite all the books on the shelf you can think of only two things to cook, and one of them is Thai takeaway?

However, I am happy to say that with a weekend of cooking for friends & fam ahead, my cookery mojo is coming back. Started making duck ragu for lunch a day ahead, and that led to tonight’s dinner of fennel risotto, with the disgracefully decadent roasting of fennel bits in duck fat (and it was gooood), plus a zinger side effect of tossing some duck necks in a pot for stock, bubbling away as we speak.

Oh, and this was all aided by a surprise delivery of a bottle of very fancy wine by a man from the postal service and a too-generous pal.

Nice to get the mojo back. And once again, it’s friends who get it happening … thanks kids. Now what about you – anything that gets  your flame fired up again after a low patch??

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To peel, or not to peel?

October 2, 2009

Carrot peelAs I was chopping a bunch of ingredients for tomorrow’s lunch (duck ragu – trying out a Ms Martini number from the white book, but adding a bit of this and that), I realised that I pretty much never peel vegetables, unless absolutely necessary because the skin is too hard or lumpy to eat.

I may as well admit that I almost never skin or de-seed tomatoes, regardless of instructions – what’s a bit of tomato skin between friends? I do peel parsnips and sweet potato,  and lumpy stuff like celeriac, but if I can avoid it, I do. Mostly because I can’t be bothered, but I also hate the idea of the waste – that, and my mother’s voice ringing in my ears, insisting that half the vegetable’s nutrients are in the skin. Is this true, or just one of those things mothers say when they can’t be bothered peeling?

What about you – peeler, or no?

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Ay, carumba!

October 2, 2009

stephburritosThe Empress has ventured into Mexico – well, the kind of Mexico you find in Oz restaurants – in her column on burritos this week. I’ve never been a fan of Mexican restaurants, scarred by the country town one of my youth (sangria = headache, let’s just get that on the table right now), but I have to say this column had me almost ready to change my mind…..

Writes La Emperatriz:

Burrito means “little donkey” in Spanish; it’s believed the name comes from a similarity in appearance between this street food and the animal’s ear. It’s simply a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling and when they were first sold in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1910, they were slim, containing only a couple of ingredients. American influences saw them grow to stupendous proportions…

Check out her recommendations here.