Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Locals Rule.....

Sorry....pretend these charts are down near the end of the post. Thanks, Blogger! Meanwhile......thanks to Phil Howard, from Michigan State....ex Santa Cruz food warrior:

Perusing my own writing of late, I noticed a theme: The Cuisine of Oppression.

First I started off railing about people that think St. Patrick’s Day is cute, and mentioned African-American cuisine and Jewish cuisine as being emblematic of the racial, cultural and economic oppression that afflicted the practitioners…..usually grandmothers.

Then I mentioned Mexican cuisine as an aside. Without really thinking about it, just as an adjunct of the culture that our immigration and economic policies have destroyed. Upon reflection, I realized we really have destroyed Mexican cuisine. I hark back to an era that read and saw Laura Esquivel’s “Como Agua Para Chocolate” in Spanish….and took all its lessons to heart. ("Like Water for Chocolate", for you unassimilated folk). I learned the Cordoniz con Rosas recipe (Quail with Rose Petals) from an abuela in Acapulco fifteen years before the book and movie, and it changed my life.

The idea that the chef’s tears incorporated into the wedding cake could have an emotional and physical impact on the guests rang an emotional bell like a giant fucking gong with us. We relive that environment every Monday Night. Blood, sweat and tears. Veal cheeks with thyme sauce and mashed edamame with goat’s milk. Fuck you for a stupid simple bastard if you don’t order it.

And, the idea that a Mexican granny could take a recipe involving quail and rose petals and beat it into a young visiting American chef as being emblematic of her culture is such a foreign idea twenty-five years hence as to be almost incomprehensible. I mean “beat”, as in “striking with fists”. Mexico is Taco Bell. It is poor meats cooked a long time, drowned in chiles and salt against corruption….accompanied by beans, rice and corn: amino acid building blocks for proteins for manual laborers.

The Cuisine of Oppression, Take Ten.

Almost unnoticed amongst the trampled down cultural kitchens around me were the Chinese in Monterey. Monterey used to be thick with Chinese. There was a Chinatown on the coastal rocks in Monterey about where Hopkins Marine Station and the American Tin Cannery are. (It was burned out by whiteys back in the day). Chinese laborers left over from the railroads chipped Tassajara Road out of solid rock in the late 1860’s and 70’s. They were the Mexicans of then, before the Sicilians came to the canneries.

I was scouting in Big Sur for a documentary shoot we are doing next week about Jack Kerouac. Susie Moon was showing me her property above Bixby Creek and pointed out a former Chinese village. There are tombstones still there from workers from two centuries ago who lived in the mountains in the hundreds…..mining and logging. Her kids used to dig amongst the graves like fiends….certain there was buried Chinese treasure amongst the tombs. (Nice, fit kids. All the other kids were growing pot).

Chinese culture and cuisine has been utterly destroyed in Monterey. We have the worst Chinese food this side of Omaha. “Chong’s” has entered the English language as the Chinese word for either: “hangover”, “cockroach”, or “MSG poisoning”.

Then I thought about the Sicilians. The worst cuisine in Monterey….other than Mexican or Chinese….is Italian. Eggplant Parmesan is the defining dish. Where the garlic is powdered and rancid, and tomatoes canned. In a once thriving seaport….all the sardines are frozen, and the calamari is from China.

I described the calamari scene before: local boats catch the critters off Pebble Beach and freeze them in the hold. The catches are assembled on the wharf, shipped to Salinas, trans-shipped to Alameda and sent to China. There they are thawed, cleaned and re-packed by Chinese ladies…..then shipped back across the ocean to be bought by us….18,000 miles of travel, six miles from origin.

The sardine story is almost worse. Asking for fresh sardines in a modern fish plant is like walking into Jesse Jackson’s church and asking for watermelon. The Italian grandmothers and grandfathers who built the fishing industry have left their progeny a sense of shame. Nowadays, we whiteboys fight the Asian housewives and grannies for the freshest, healthiest fish catch in Monterey…..sold as bait for a buck a pound. Or frozen in piles because there is no demand.

Just as I was getting smug about all these destroyed cultures, I started my battle with Whole Foods. Pricks from Texas selling farmed salmon as wild to the retired rich. White Hypochodriacal Overeducated Lame Egocentric....... Hucksters promoting this bizarre image of “organic” foods as being an exclusive ideal, leading to long life, happiness and giant erections for the anointed wealthy intelligentsia without access to fact-checking.

There is no longer any such thing as organic foods…..any more than there is Cordoniz con Rosas in any restaurant outside The Cachagua Store. It is a bullshit fiction bordering upon Weapons of Mass Destruction….and featuring the same marketing techniques, and many or most of the same players. Organic became Big Business…..and the organic food industry is now to food what Boy Bands were to music in the 90’s. A concept. A market. Definitely not Mozart. The federal guidelines were actually written by Jack Abramoff….and have you ever eaten with golfers?

Item: Whole Foods owns a major part of “American Gold”, a salmon farm destroying parts of Puget Sound. Whole Foods buys the fish from American Gold….but does not identify any fish in their cold case as being farmed. Farm salmon costs $5 a pound. Wild salmon is $12-20 wholesale….if you can get it.

Item: Sustainable Fishery Conference at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Pundits on the dias, rattling on about sustainable fisheries. The water on the dias in front of each pundit: Fiji Water. Derived from an ossified source that can’t be refilled, and flown 9,000 miles in tiny, non-compostable bottles at a cost twelve times greater than gasoline.

Item: Horizon Milk. Federal guidelines allow milk producers to establish an organic dairy. Commercial, chemically raised cows can be brought in, kept for a few weeks and donate chemically tainted milk to the organic dairy….and then cycled out to make room for new. Paranoia is defined as thinking everything is going to shit.....and being right.

Item: Salmon Creek Farms pork. We called looking for baby, organic suckling pigs. Turns out they only buy 200 pound pigs….which they buy from commercial power pork operations. A couple of weeks of organic feeding……presto!!! Organic pork. At double the price.

Item: 80% of the produce sold in Mid-West supermarkets is imported from out of state, and increasingly out of country. We grow only two crops in the Midwest anymore: corn and soy. All the laws and tax breaks are geared towards giant corporations, and single crops.

Item: 80% of most Americans food now contains corn. Weirdos like us even buy our Coca-Colas in Mexican markets because they still use actual sugar, not corn syrup.

Item: Free Range Organic Chicken. Chickens are raised in such dense, awful environments that there is no possible way to allow them near any windblown microbe for the first three quarters of their lives. At this point, a small door in the back of the giant temperature controlled shed is opened and birds could technically get outside to a tiny patch of lawn. Psychologically, they have already been conditioned to never move from their tiny little spot on the feed line. Please do not think deeply about the implications of this for you yourself in society. Please buy Omnivore’s Dilemma, read it and give it to someone you care about.

Item: Civil vs. Criminal Law. No matter what the federal and state guidelines are for fish, produce or meat producers…..a retailer selling unpackaged product can say whatever the fuck he wants about whatever the fuck he wants, and it is not a crime. Wild caught Martian Organic Salmon on a bed of Venusian Love Spinach. Not a crime. Civil fraud, perhaps….but you have to prove it. Trust me, the local DA investigators think the Onion Flower at Outback is a great way to celebrate an anniversary with the little woman. Better than roses. No quail involved.

And who gives a shit? To paraphrase Bill O’Reilly: Does anyone really care about a methyl bromide bomb going off in Fresno County? Especially if I tell you that it was set off by Democrats, with the best intentions, and the latest intelligence……with kindness and concern for your health. And Costco is SOOO convenient.

Here is some food for thought. Coke owns Odwallah and Chipotle. Well, check out the rest:

And here are the recent acquisitions: Well way up top.

And here are the stubborn independents: that.

American cuisine is a hop, skip and a jump from following Irish, African, Jewish, Mexican and Chinese into the hopper….to re-imerge as gray and brown sugar, salt, fat and starch. The four major food groups. These corporations have given us Worker Food: just nutritious enough to sustain physical life and work….and devoid of all social, spiritual and cultural context.

You are what you eat.

Even organic foods have already entered the abbatoir, as shown above..

We no longer pay any attention to the organic thing. If we do not know the supplier, we assume they are all lying. We no longer buy anything out of season. The local season. We find that we appreciate tomatoes and asparagus oh so much more for knowing we won’t have them all winter. Apples are for fall….strawberries are for spring and summer.

Is there any ecological advantage to be gained by buying organic apples shipped in trucks a thousand miles from people you don’t know? Bettah more a nice local apple shipped ten miles….screw the organic thing.

Locals rule.


Blogger Lee said...

Coincidently there is a farmed fish expose in the chronicle today:

11:53 AM  

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