The ick factor.

Some of you may have noticed I finally got a new book on the nightstand, after trying for weeks to finish “A Bend in the River.” (It was a compelling read that I unfortunately found easy to put down for days at a time. I’m saving it for summer at the pool.)

I broke down and bought Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters” because it’s time to make a change. We’ve discussed foodies and foodie religion here before, but I could never find a version of it that appealed to me, for a number of reasons that boiled down to stupid snotty elitism and stupid snotty worship of tomatoes. But I’ve been reading Bittman for years, and I’d follow him anywhere, and he has enough of a common touch that he can take the basics of the foodie argument — that our food choices do, indeed, matter — and strip away the vileness of the San Francisco School, which basically says, “And if you had it together, you’d choose what I choose.”

Maybe it’s because he structures the book around his personal story of losing 35 pounds following a fairly simple non-deprivation diet he calls “vegan until six.” Who doesn’t love a new diet book? Or maybe it’s the timing, me walking past the book at Border’s at the same time the latest salmonella scare was working its way through the news in its usual fashion:

Step 1: Salmonella (or other food-borne illness) breaks out somewhere, government assures us all is well and under control.
Step 2: Hmm, it turns out the contamination may be wider than we previously thought, however government assures us all is well and under control.
Step 3: Further investigation reveals government agencies are unable to actually track the problem very well, because of deregulation and open markets and the like, however, government assures us all is well and under control.
Step 4, 5, etc.: Contamination is wider than previously believed and may never be entirely contained, however, all is well and under control.

When the latest outbreak occurred, we were assured that the problem was confined to “peanut paste” used in those neon-orange vending-machine crackers and a few other easy-to-avoid products (under control! all is well!). Then, no, it’s in this stuff, and that stuff, and finally, yesterday, the last straw, a look at the peanut-processing plant where it all started. Warning: Put down your sandwich and drink a quick glass of water before reading:

BLAKELY, Ga. — Raw peanuts were stored next to the finished peanut butter. The roaster was not calibrated to kill deadly germs. Dispirited workers on minimum wage, supplied by temp agencies, donned their uniforms at home, potentially dragging contaminants into the plant, which also had rodents.

Even the roof of the Peanut Corporation of America plant here in rural southwest Georgia was an obvious risk, given that salmonella thrives in water and the facility should have been kept bone dry.

“It leaked when it rained,” said Frank Hardrick, 40, an assistant manager who, along with four other workers, described life inside the plant. “Different crews would come in to work on it, but it would still leak.”

It goes on at great, disgusting length, and it and similar stories are simply the last straw for me. I’m not naive; my husband has worked in factory-level food processing and I’ve heard the stories. I have a strong stomach — a strong appetite, anyway — and you know what they say about sausage-making. Even hand-crafted food, lovingly prepared, has a decided ick factor. But this is something else. This is a public-health issue.

Among the many things I am furious at my government for at any given moment, the failure of the Food and Drug Administration to keep us safe from the Peanut Corporation of America and its filthy plant is high on the list. I know that absent a workforce of inspectors equal to the armed services, “keeping us safe” is a pipedream. But the more you read about these owners, how they knew they had contaminated product and sent it out anyway, how they were more concerned with low-cost labor than quality labor, how they couldn’t even seem to swing a decent roof repair, it becomes clear that the plant was run this way because they knew they had nothing to fear from the FDA. In fact, they got advance notice of coming inspections, and instructed their minimum-wage workforce to say nothing.

So I’m doing the only thing I can: I’m opting out. I can’t go whole-hog, but I’ll go half-hog. I’ll restructure my grocery shopping around the assumption that every last item in the store could make me sick (especially the meat), that every word on every label is a lie, and I’ll offer in return the appropriate customer attitude and loyalty. And if making my own granola, decreasing demand at a feedlot and eating more fresh vegetables turns out to be a good strategy for my own health, well, then the foodies will win this one ugly. But as the Captain said in “Cool Hand Luke,” “This is how he wants it.”

Screw Big Food.

So, what’s going on in the world? Good to see the Curse of Madonna remains undiminished. I told someone last year, when she took up with Alex Rodriguez, that just you wait — he’s going to have a very bad year. Madonna has that effect on men. Sean Penn, one of the greatest actors of his generation, married Madonna and made “Shanghai Surprise.” Guy Ritchie, the English Tarantino, married Madonna and made “Swept Away.” Warren Beatty made “Reds” when he was with Diane Keaton and “Bugsy” with Annette Bening, “Dick Tracy” with Madonna. A-Rod is trickier, being a non-creative sort; I don’t know enough about baseball to make a credible prediction when they hooked up, but I knew it would be something, because it’s always something with Madonna. It’s her curse, the dark side of the fame and fortune, a sort of reverse Midas touch for men who dare to come near. She extracts their essence and injects it into her wrinkles, or something. Get away quickly enough, and you’ll live to work again (Penn, Beatty). Stay too long, and it may be all over; I hear “RocknRolla” sucked pretty hard, but Ritchie is still young.

Oh, so you say, and what about Carlos Leon, the personal trainer/sperm fountain tapped to produce Madonna’s Mini-Me? The rules may not apply, seeing as how he was essentially used for stud purposes and discarded more or less immediately, but let’s do a little Google … hmm, the NYPost spoke last summer of the Leon Fitness Center, said to be opening “this fall,” i.e., last fall. Oh, here’s more: It’s part of a condo complex in glamorous Long Island City, and is 1,050 whole square feet, about half the size of my house. I’d say: The curse holds.

Posted at 9:06 am in Current events, Popculch |

62 responses to “The ick factor.”

  1. michaela said on February 10, 2009 at 9:28 am

    We’ve been screwing Big Food for a couple years now… stepping it up a little bit at a time, which makes it seem not so daunting. We’ve belonged to a CSA for several years, so we get a share in a local organic farm run by people we know and trust. For the second year now, we bought 1/4 cow from a farmer we have gotten to know. And step by step we move away from the industrial food system. I’ve been making my own bread – the perfect task for a freelancer, since it requires a few minutes of intervention and hours of being ignored – and granola. This past weekend I made homemade graham crackers… turns out they’re mostly brown sugar and flour. So not the world’s healthiest snack for my carb-lovin’ preschooler, but at least the ones from my kitchen don’t include buckets of preservatives.

    One big advantage is that we’re in Maine, which has a pretty strong local-food network, including a solid and growing distribution system. The (ailing, natch) local daily had a story yesterday about another effort to improve the local distribution system, which is key for moving beyond the foodies.

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  2. coozledad said on February 10, 2009 at 9:29 am

    The vegan until six thing sounds good, but our chickens laid a dozen eggs just yesterday. We’ll have to start giving them away. I guess.
    You might be interested in this company: They make a couple of meat substitutes that are actually pretty good. I believe they will ship to individual addresses up north, or at least as long as it’s cold, or your local Whole Foods may have them.
    Cooked properly, I’m sure they’re pretty low calorie-low fat. But I dredge and fry the “chicken” nuggets most of the time. It’s that southern thing.

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  3. Jim said on February 10, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Glamorous Long Island City … snark.

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  4. Julie Robinson said on February 10, 2009 at 9:55 am

    One thing that struck me was that Whole Foods had items on the recall list. I’d bet most of the people buying there think they are paying those ridiculous prices for safe, organic food. Not so–the factory farm spreads its tentacles everywhere. That was the lesson I learned from both Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” as well as Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”.

    At different points in my life I have created everything from scratch or relied heavily on frozen foods. Now I try to strike a practical balance of time/energy/money. We don’t have enough sunny flat space for a good garden, nor do we have a nearby farmers market. So should I buy produce at the grocery store or drive many extra miles to get the local stuff? It’s kinda like the whole cloth/disposable diaper choice.

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  5. MichaelG said on February 10, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Seen that PBS show about traveling in Spain starring Mario Batali in full ham mode, Bittman, Gwyneth Paltrow and (sigh) Claudia Bossols? It’s pretty good. Mario has been one of my faves for years. I’ve long seen Bittman in the NYT but never before on TV. He’s excellent. A natural and there’s good chemistry between he and La Bossols. Claudia B. has tons of personality and along with being a goddess looks like a truly delightful woman to hang out with.

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  6. brian stouder said on February 10, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I think Rule One is: life is icky

    Corollary One: therefore, whatever we eat, the ick factor never equals zero

    (and Corollary Two: never buy anything you intend to ingest from some God forsaken vending machine)

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  7. Peter said on February 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I LOVE those neon orange peanut butter/cheese snacks – I had a consulting gig at a client who stocked those suckers up for employee snacks, and two packs of those and a free Mountain Dew made for a great breakfast. Hey, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

    BTW, does Madonna love those snacks as well? I bet she does – the curse continues!

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  8. brian stouder said on February 10, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Speaking of icky nuts, this quote from the Octomom’s PR flak(!) made laugh (albeit darkly and with much spite!). He is explaining what Ms Octo meant, when she stated that she’s NOT “on welfare”

    “In Nadya’s view, the money that she gets from the food stamp program … and the resources disabilities payments she gets for her three children are not welfare,” he said. “They are part of programs designed to help people with need, and she does not see that as welfare.”

    As opposed to….. what? What does she think ‘welfare’ is? Octomom is starring in her own Updike novel, and doesn’t get that she’s not the heroine

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  9. Dorothy said on February 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I too am a fan of the orange peanut butter snack crackers. They’re really terrific with a cup of hot chocolate (don’t forget the whipped cream on top). Brian – a Mounds Bar from a vending machine is a bad thing?! Say it ain’t so!! I have to have SOME bright spots in my life and a Mounds Bar usually does the trick!! That, or Junior Mints.

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  10. coozledad said on February 10, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I never cared much for the orange peanut butter crackers (called Nabs down here, and in the past enjoyed with a Pepsi or Royal Crown cola doctored with a package of salted peanuts,i.e. “Creedmoor Milkshake”.)
    The ones I never could resist were the imitation cheese filled neon yellow crackers marketed as “Nip-Chee’. I don’t know who came up with that name.

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  11. del said on February 10, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I mentioned it before but in 1983-84 I coached Madonna’s (1/2) brother who was a freshman in high school. While driving him home after practice his sister’s song ‘Holiday’ came on the radio and he started talking about the fact that she was dating a record producer named Jellybean Benitez who’d produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Don’t hear much about him anymore. Another victim of the curse?

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  12. LA Mary said on February 10, 2009 at 11:07 am

    We’re keeping with the new years resolution to eat meat no more than four meals per week, and it’s inspired some great dishes and some not so great ones. Polenta with white beans, tomatoes, peppers and onions is a winner. I won’t use things that are already mixed or seasoned. My peanut butter is from Trader Joes and I trust them. I hope my trust is well founded. I buy eggs and bread there and I read the ingredients in everything like jam, catsup and cereal.
    Aside from contamination, so much convenience food is full of crap. I’m not talking about it not being organic. I mean the amounts of corn syrup and weird, cheap oil in Prego. Read labels.

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  13. nancy said on February 10, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I’m not sure about Jellybean. Under “Currently,” Wikipedia says:

    Benitez owns Jellybean Productions, JB Recording and JB Publishing. In 1995, he founded the now-defunct H.O.L.A. recording label (House Of Latin Artists) which develops hip hop and R&B music by bilingual artists and releases the recordings in both English and Spanish. Voices of Theory was signed to this label. On September 19, 2005, Benitez was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his achievements as a DJ and producer.

    He may have recovered his lost mojo (cf: Penn, Beatty), or the curse may not have been as strong then. Like many demons, Madonna has increased her powers with age, a direct result of her succubus activities. This requires further research.

    Peter, I too love neon-orange peanut-butter crackers, but since I no longer work in an office with vending machines, I don’t have the opportunity to eat them nearly so often. I don’t even drink much soda anymore. I bought a 12-pack of Diet Coke the other week just for the novelty of it, and I can’t get used to seeing it in the fridge.

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  14. nancy said on February 10, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Also, people, I need some counsel. I’m starting to have a Dwight problem.

    I just deleted a Dwight comment from the moderation queue, the second in recent weeks. (He was, predictably, set off by my disapproval of the employment of minimum-wage temp labor at the peanut plant.) His comment went to moderation because he’s started to do this thing that is getting on my nerves: As I’ve explained before, our comment screen is set so that first-timers go to moderation, but after you’re approved, you’re in without approval. A lot of blogs are going to all-must-be-approved policies, but I think that’s wimpy. All (almost all) are welcome here. However, any change in your basic information — name, IP address, e-mail — will pop you back to the mod queue. Some of you comment from home and work, and both of your IPs are approved. (Brian Stouder in particular seems to pop in from about 18 different computers, but to my knowledge they’re all in.) There’s also a function that snags too many links, but that’s not Dwight’s problem.

    Dwight’s problem is, he keeps changing his e-mail address. Today it’s Last time it was Needless to say, I don’t use your e-mail to send you unsolicited crap, and I don’t sell it to anyone. (I wish someone would make me an offer, though; I’m interested in what you guys are worth.) I don’t even require it to be valid. All I want is consistency. I’m not crazy about the implied insult, but I’m a big girl. So Dwight, if you’re reading, pick a fake e-mail and stick with it, and you’re in. But if you keep going to moderation, I’m going to keep deleting you, because besides your comments being petulant and annoying, you’re acting like a big baby. No one here is interested in blowing you.

    Or, dear readers, should I keep approving him anyway?

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  15. moe99 said on February 10, 2009 at 11:36 am

    If you’ve not read it, I recommend John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up Somewhat dated science fiction, but it postulates what happens when the world’s food supply becomes contaminated. I have been thinking of it for a while given the peanut news. And I have an unopened box of those orange peanut butter crackers in my office. Ah work, the impetus for so much prepackaged food.

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  16. Kirk said on February 10, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Nancy, it’s your ballpark to run as you see fit. Anyone who doesn’t like the rules can look elsewhere.

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  17. LA Mary said on February 10, 2009 at 11:50 am

    I don’t think any of us object to differing opinions. We object to consistent obnoxiousness.

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  18. beb said on February 10, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Sometimes I think the problem wit contaminated foods, or toys or animal foods is the limited liability corporation rules. As long as an owner can’t be stripped to literally the clothes on his back for his malfeasance, they will continue to cheat, short-cut or ignore the system. But if every day you faced the possibility of losing everything and going to jail for screwing up, maybe people will stop screwing up.

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  19. MichaelG said on February 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    I’ll go with what Mary said. As usual.

    I find myself eating a surprising number of meatless meals mostly in the form of soups or omelets. I have no intention of cutting out meat altogether and I refuse to use meat substitutes. There’s plenty of excellent non-meat food around without I have to fake myself into vegitude.

    As far as I am able to scare up, Brian’s girl friend, Octomom, had a job with the State Department of Mental Health as a psychiatric technician. She earned $56,880 per year in base pay. She also had what is called in California “Safety Retirement” which is a method of computing retirement for those who work in specified hazardous positions such as cops, firemen, some prison personnel and some personnel in loony bins that house the criminally insane among others. People with “safety” don’t pay SS and they get a higher rate of base pay computation for their retirement. Reviews are mixed but generally pro-safety. Given the locations of DMH facilities in Southern California, she probably worked at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk. She could possibly have worked at Patton State Hosp east of San Bernardino, but Norwalk is more likely. At any rate, I don’t have her employment dates or the amt of overtime she worked although people in those psych tech positions typically can earn lots of OT.

    I think she lives in her own little world in a parallel or maybe divergent universe somewhere. She now says her fertility doc is a California guy. Kaiser and LA County and whomever else should sue the guy for the money to pay for his follies.

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  20. brian stouder said on February 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    What Kirk said.

    And, what beb said. Y’know, OSHA and EEOC can come down like a ton of bricks (pardon the pun) on corporate violators, especially if they’re willful.

    As for my girlfriend the Octomom, if the lighting is right, she’s purty. But if the lighting is bright, not so much. It’s like, the more you see, the less you want For example, I just noticed her french manicure when her hand was next to one of the very small beings she brought into this world. (or should we say – that her bottler brought into this world?)

    Once one has lip injections and a nose job, the finger nails cannot be allowed to ruin the effect! Can’t tell if she’s had a boob-job (although I’ve looked!), but with all those babies, she’ll probably end up needing a boob-bob anyway.

    Say – if the doctor was an American, then she can probably win another lawsuit, this time at the expense of that doctor’s liability/malpractice insurance. What’s her PR guy’s phone number?

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  21. mark said on February 10, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Your shop, your rules. I’m not a big fan of gratuitous vulgarity, whether from the left or the right or from simple petulance.

    On a more positive note, I hope things are abuzz at the “Dave Bling for Mayor” website. I’m sure the “hits” are up. You, too, can keep hope alive for Dave’s minions by joining me in checking the site frequently by clicking on the google ad on the nn.c sidebar. With a concerted effort, we can “bring a little Bling” to Detroit (and perhaps the proprietress).

    “Dave Bling”. What a great name for a Detroit mayoral candidate!

    On the food thing, do what’s best to keep you and yours healthy. Brian was right, though, life is icky. The first time I went to the Ben Thanh market in Saigon, the more than occassional critter skittering across the acres of floor were a little off-putting. Then I discovered that most all of them were available for consumption at a dozen or more stalls. What I saw might have been some guys inventory making a break for freedom.

    Bugs don’t bother me anymore. Most critters don’t either. I’ve had roach, rat, bat, cat and a lot of others. Parasites are a different story. And water carries them (though not here). Think “Alien”, but more painful.

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  22. Jolene said on February 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Michael, I’ve heard OctoMom say a couple of times that she expects to be financially secure after she completes the counseling degree she is currently earning. If that works out, she’d be one of the few people w/ that degree to achieve such a state. She also said that she’d always wanted to have a large family to compensate for certain deficiencies in her relationship w/ her mother. So I’d say she must not have completed the child development and family relations portions of her curriculum yet. And, yes, sue the guy who performed the fertility treatments or, better yet, hang him.

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  23. nancy said on February 10, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    It’s Dave Bing, Mark. But go ahead and cling to your illusions.

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  24. brian stouder said on February 10, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    And, yes, sue the guy who performed the fertility treatments or, better yet, hang him.

    He should be well hung, I say

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  25. Jason T. said on February 10, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    The bad news is, the food we eat is going to kill us.

    The good news is that we live in a wondrous age where Google Street View has already driven around Blakely, Ga., so we can look at the peanut plant in the New York Times story.

    At least I think it is, based on my detective work and Google-fu:

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  26. Jolene said on February 10, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Brian, I think I heard that tonight’s Dateline is all about your girlfriend. A whole hour. Might give you an opportunity to collect further evidence re her history as a plastic surgery patient.

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  27. Rana said on February 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I always figure – the blog owner makes the rules. You’ve been a more than gracious hostess, so if someone or something’s bugging you enough to make you second-guess your usual policy, I’m not going to question your judgment here.

    I found myself thinking – perhaps inevitably – of The Jungle as I was reading that description of the peanut plant. For all that it’s a period of history that I address in my research and teaching, I personally have little desire to return to the era of robber barons and Pinkertons and urchins begging in Hell’s Kitchen. We have a regulatory structure for a reason; it’s about time that we stop being too timid to use it. Actual people’s rights and health always trump those of corporations in my book.

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  28. John said on February 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    We have a regulatory structure for a reason.

    Yes we do indeed. But all I have heard for the past 20 years, is how the “government” needs to get off the backs of hard working businesses. I am not in favor of public floggings (though I would certainly pay to view them), but I think some time spent in Club Fed for a few non-compliant business operators would be a good thing.

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  29. Peter said on February 10, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Hey, for you single guys in NN’s audience, let Octomom be a warning to you.

    If she keeps this up Congress will need to add a few bil on to the stimulus package.

    Of course, her doctor provided her with his own stimulus package – ba da bum!

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  30. MichaelG said on February 10, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I lurve the Binh Thanh Market. I’d shop there every day if I could. Our SundayUnderTheFreeway market in Sacto is about as close as you are going to get around here. Very Asian. The older people don’t speak English. The youngsters (almost all female) look ethnic as hell but all sound like valley girls. Great place to shop and will be in good form in another month or so.

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  31. LA Mary said on February 10, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Oldest son does the Vietnamese market crawls in Westminster here in SoCal. He’s the pho expert in the house. I live very close the the Vietnamese edge of Chinatown, so we can find good VN eats whenever we want. There’s a new Indian grocery store nearby as well, which sells everything from lassi to cricket bats.

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  32. Rana said on February 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Turns out it wasn’t just that one plant:

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  33. nancy said on February 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    The definition of bad p.r.

    The corporation is housed in Lynchburg, Va., and the sister of the current company president is named Falwell. Curious, meet curiouser.

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  34. judybusy said on February 10, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I recently read a very good book about how to eat meat more ethically: The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend. She and her partner have farmed in SE MN for about 15 years, so she has some very good insights about what goes on in various farms. She also gives very detailed advice on how to find and interact with a farmer to supply you “happy meat.” By the by, her memoir of how they began farming is very charming: Hit by a Farm is the title.

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  35. LA Mary said on February 10, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    You don’t think THE Falwell family would engage in something highly profitable and sleazy, do you?

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  36. Gasman said on February 10, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    In Bill Buford’s book Heat, he makes clear that the question is not about fast vs. slow food, but big vs. small food. Relying on small food has many implications. It means eating as locally and in season as much as is possible. It means on relying less on processed food. It means knowing what is in your food and where, and ideally, from whom it comes.

    Small food is better for you and it tastes better. The PCA and the other peanut plant in TX are poster children for what is wrong with big food. Becoming a vegetarian meant almost by necessity moving toward small food. Being a cook and a gardener has helped move me further in that direction. After 8.5 years, there’s no going back for me.

    But hey, Republicans tell us that industry will always police themselves and government interference isn’t needed. It’s bad for business, don’t you know. Big business will always correct its own mistakes because taking care of customer’s needs is good for business. The free market, free from governmental regulations, is always best. (Feel free to genuflect now.)

    I’m sure that the Falwell family had it from reliable sources that God was looking out for the PCA. With divine intervention, what’s a few roaches and a leaky roof?

    Anyone care for a nice peanut butter sandwich from PCA?

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  37. MichaelG said on February 10, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Bob del Grosso writes an excellent food blog. He covers a lot of “ethical eating” ground.

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  38. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 10, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Working on a review of “Food Matters” for our local paper; will be watching here to see what i can borrow a cup of to make some base stock with. My pragmatic wife keeps asking “are people really taking waste into account?” By which she doesn’t mean what you might think — she suspects that commercially prepped stuff that is ready to cook ends up more thoroughly used than much of the raw, organic, bulk stuff purchased with great self-righteousness. Pollan didn’t give me much to answer her with; i have high hopes for Bittman.

    Miss the Spain thing, darn it. It looked interesting, but was always on Saturday when the Lad and i were out doing stuff.

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  39. beb said on February 10, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    James Galbraith wrote a book last year called “The Predator State” Although a slim book I found it tough going and occassional obtuse. But one of the things he talks about is how Free Markets are mostly a myth. Some areas don’t form margets (he specify health care as one such) and elsewhere the markets are not free. And when a free market does develop corporations act to control the market to prevent the sort of good things we’re taught free markets do. Free market capitalism is more like dog – eat – dog capitalism.

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  40. moe99 said on February 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Time to give Geithner the boot. He has no idea of what he is doing. And the markets are catching on.

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  41. mark said on February 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Sorry about the Bing/Bling thing. I’m trying to pay my admission by clicking, not studying the things I click.

    Hammering the corporations is fine by me, as long as you hammer the decision-makers. Bankrupting fines or judgments against the entity put everybody out of work and wipe-out shareholder equity. Sometimes those shareholders are “good” (like teacher pension funds) and not just nasty old Republicans.

    Glad to see some others appreciate VN cuisine. Seems I am blessed with a hearty immune system so I’ll continue pursuing food as adventure. Reasonable precautions, of course, but I love food as a reason for friends, family, etc to gather and enjoy each other, as an expression of creativity, and a way to learn about others. I don’t want to be the one constantly demanding the history of my vegetables before partaking.

    Travels and food have made me cognizant of how blessed we are to have reliably clean water. Most of the world doesn’t. A cooked bug or a bowl of hot bird spit (bird’s nest soup) is generally just icky not dangerous. A beautiful piece of fresh papaya might put you down for the count if the ice beneath it was made from unclean water.

    Best tip for eating street food abroad: Eat where the old folks eat.

    Jeff- waste is a matter of wealth. Countries that still face or remember starvation don’t squander protein.

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  42. Dexter said on February 10, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    LAM: Close to Vietnam-town and your son is a pho expert? I try not to turn green with envy, but I love that stuff.

    Dave Bling, eh? Dave Bing was the most business-like superstar the Detroit Pistons ever had. As unselfish and calm as he was, he was still an All-Star and a joy to watch on the court. I realize it was a typo or a mis-read only, but I had to laugh because bling was the furthest thing from Dave Bing’s personna.

    A co-worker always had a cardboard cup of machine coffee and a pack of those snack peanut-butter crackers every day for breakfast. I worked with him for years and it was the same every day. One day he didn’t call in, just was absent. By the following noon someone had found him. He had rigged a shotgun and blown his head off. Every time I read about those damned crackers I think about that.

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  43. Colleen said on February 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Just saw octomom on ET…My money is on a new nose and augmented lips, and that’s just for starters. She has more issues than National Geographic.

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  44. MarkH said on February 10, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Anybody else here catch this parallel?

    Madonna is exactly the age of both Norma Desmond and Gloria Swanson in the original Sunset Boulevard.

    “So you’re 50! There’s nothing wrong with being 50, Norma! Not as long as you don’t want to be 25!”

    Think Guy will turn out Madonna’s Max Von Meyerling with A-Rod in the Joe Gillis part?

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  45. Jolene said on February 10, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    “more issues than National Geographic” Cute. I like it. You’ve probably said it a hundred times, but I hadn’t heard it. Now I plan to steal it, Nancy’s policies on attribution notwithstanding.

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  46. alex said on February 10, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Speaking of the ick factor…

    Our local “liberal media” outlet just gave Rep. Dan Burton (R), a certified nutjob, a bully pulpit from which to castigate the stimulus package as a paean to “socialized medicine.”

    The Obamafreude is wearing off and it’s back to business as usual, I’m afraid.

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  47. LA Mary said on February 10, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    The real Vietnam town here in LA is Westminster. There is a part of Chinatown in downtown LA that has a lot of VN places, though. Chinatown isn’t really the strong Chinese neighborhood anymore. It’s in San Gabriel and it’s got some great places, mostly in minimalls, and not obvious. Good Asian supermarkets too.

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  48. kayak woman said on February 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    When I first read “Octomom” in the comments here, I was thinking octogenarian! My mom (of 2) is 88 and I have been known to refer to her as “Octo-woman” or “Octomom” on occasion. My most frequent nickname for her is “The Commander.”

    Of course, when I was a bratty kid, she would often say, “I hope you have TWELVE kids!” I quit after the second child turned out to be one of those “spirited” kids or whatever you want to call them.

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  49. basset said on February 10, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Just started “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Bought it at Costco, I might add, and took it home to our tract-development almost-a-third-acre, where a lot more of the yard is going to be garden this year.

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  50. MichaelG said on February 10, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Vietnam Town here in Sacramento is along Stockton Blvd. Malls, supermarkets, office parks, you name it. People from out of town have never seen anything like it. It’s not quite Bolsa in Westminster, but very close.

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  51. Dexter said on February 10, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Get off the Red Line at Argyle in Chicago and you’ll be in Vietnam Town. There are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants on Clark, Broadway, Lincoln, and Argyle, all about 500 north. It’s been a long time since we went there. We could bring our own wine or beer and there was no corkage fee.
    Food must be really special to remember a first experience with it…I recall my first pho, from a little roadside shack on Hwy. 1 in Vietnam. It was so good I have spent years trying to find a pho to match it. Ha! It’s like trying to find a match for your first…never mind!

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  52. Deborah said on February 10, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    The Argyle stop on the Redline in Chicago is 5000 North not 500 North.

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  53. Catherine said on February 10, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Mmmmm, Tung Lai Shun Islamic Chinese restaurant, used to be in the Great Mall of China in San Gabriel.

    Can’t claim any affinity for the packaged cheese or PB crackers, but certainly a camping trip isn’t complete without spray cheese.

    Jeff, my justification for buying meat at Whole Foods is the waste issue that your LW brings up re prepared food. It’s always fresh and tasty, so I know it will get eaten. I think she has a point about waste — the oats full of weevils I just threw out are a case in point.

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  54. alex said on February 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    The Argyle stop is Foster. That street is where you can find the merchandise running for its life as was so aptly described above. The best pho (at least tolerable to the health department as served by the late, great Pasteur, is now available somewhere up on Devon, from what I’ve heard.

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  55. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 10, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Y’all keep reminding me of my favorite Thanksgiving prayer, source unknown, that was a litany of things one might reasonably be thankful for, including the clause “Lord, i am thankful, that Cheez Whiz is neither.”

    I’ve just recently become a major user of something called “Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce,” which i believe is Vietnamese — it’s the bright red sauce in a clear plastic bottle with a light green top, and a white outline rooster on the front. Mainly garlic and chilies, it has less savory flavor than my favorite Cholula (the wooden knob top stuff, more orangey-russet), but the heat is strong, but friendly, and mixes well with all sorts of stuff . . . but especially eggs and potatoes O’brian.

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  56. alex said on February 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Brian, you are so wrong about Octomom. Even the surgeries cannot camouflage the freakness of that one. The chronically inflamed mouth this moment on NBC… ick! Who’d be nuts enough to look at what lurks below that face? (I checked it out and it all kinda flows into the blob that remains of her postpartum bod anyhoo. I’m so disgusted I’m thinking about retching but can’t quite go there and take my eyes off this horrific spectacle.)

    Edit: Sorta fascinating watching Octomom juxtaposed with Hoda Kotb, whose untampered nose and lips keep the freakness in perspective.

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  57. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on February 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Alex, i think this is Ann Curry (i’m late to the game, having just switched from “Chopped” on Food Network)

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  58. alex said on February 11, 2009 at 7:42 am

    You may be right, Jeff (tmmo). As one who’s generally a non-TV watcher, I’m unfamiliar with all the vaguely brown women doing news these days.

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  59. brian stouder said on February 11, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Alex – agreed (re: freakiness factor)! Jeff is right about Ann Curry, a genuine beauty (or at least, a more upscale, refined, restrained cosmetic surgeon)

    In Octomom’s “Before” pictures, back when she had only a few children, she’s very much more attractive; but in the show last night (we made it past the halfway point before the commercials put me to sleep) the Looney Tunes factor and the over-done cosmetic surgery (did I hear her deny it?) made her look more like Ledger’s Joker.

    One shudders to think how she’ll look a decade from now.

    I sense a mental incompetency suit coming, afterwhich the babies become wards of the state (which they are in any case), available for adoption by caring families

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  60. Kirk said on February 11, 2009 at 8:42 am

    A belated vote for Sriracha sauce. We discovered it several years ago in the bars of northwestern Pennsylvania, near the Cook Forest. It goes great with the giant, tasty chicken wings at the Vowinckel Hotel, which is not a hotel but a bar and restaurant.

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  61. brian stouder said on February 11, 2009 at 10:03 am

    btw – if you count the times I’ve peeked into nn.c from hotel lobbies (or “work centers”) while on vacation or otherwise travelling, plus our various machines, I bet one could count 18 different computers, and maybe more!

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  62. LA Mary said on February 11, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Three hot sauces that are on my table at all times: Cholula, Sri Racha and Tapatio. They all have their uses. I think the kids put Sri Racha on anything savory. I like it in soup with noodles. Cholula is the best on scrambled eggs. Tapatio is good on baked potatoes.

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