Tuesday, May 27, 2008

True Confessions of A Vegetarian


Chef is not now, has never been, and probably never will be a vegetarian. However, some of my best friends are. I'm even friendly with a vegan or two. So this is not about ME. If you're one of those who is absolutely clueless about what a vegetarian is or why any sane person would want to be one, read on.

Meatless Like Me

I may be a vegetarian, but I still love the smell of bacon.

By Taylor Clark

Every vegetarian remembers his first time. Not the unremarkable event of his first meal without meat, mind you. No, I mean the first time he casually lets slip that he's turned herbivore, prompting everyone in earshot to stare at him as if he just revealed plans to sail his carrot-powered plasma yacht to Neptune. For me, this first time came at an Elks scholarship luncheon in rural Oregon when I was 18. All day, I'd succeeded at seeming a promising and responsible young man, until that fateful moment when someone asked why I hadn't taken any meat from the buffet. After I offered my reluctant explanation—and the guy announced it to the entire room—30 people went eerily quiet, undoubtedly expecting me to launch into a speech on the virtues of hemp. In the corner, an elderly, suited man glared at me as he slowly raised a slice of bologna and executed the most menacing bite of cold cut in recorded history. I didn't get the scholarship.

I tell this story not to win your pity but to illustrate a point: I've been vegetarian for a decade, and when it comes up, I still get a look of confused horror that says, "But you seemed so … normal." The U.S. boasts more than 10 million herbivores today, yet most Americans assume that every last one is a loopy, self-satisfied health fanatic, hellbent on draining all the joy out of life. Those of us who want to avoid the social nightmare have to hide our vegetarianism like an Oxycontin addiction, because admit it, omnivores: You know nothing about us. Do we eat fish? Will we panic if confronted with a hamburger? Are we dying of malnutrition? You have no clue. So read on, my flesh-eating friends—I believe it's high time we cleared a few things up.

To demonstrate what a vegetarian really is, let's begin with a simple thought experiment. Imagine a completely normal person with completely normal food cravings, someone who has a broad range of friends, enjoys a good time, is carbon-based, and so on. Now remove from this person's diet anything that once had eyes, and, wham!, you have yourself a vegetarian. Normal person, no previously ocular food, end of story. Some people call themselves vegetarians and still eat chicken or fish, but unless we're talking about the kind of salmon that comes freshly plucked from the vine, this makes you an omnivore. A select few herbivores go one step further and avoid all animal products—milk, eggs, honey, leather—and they call themselves vegan, which rhymes with "tree men." These people are intense.

Vegetarians give up meat for a variety of ethical, environmental, and health reasons that are secondary to this essay's goal of increasing brotherly understanding, so I'll mostly set them aside. Suffice it to say that one day, I suddenly realized that I could never look a cow in the eyes, press a knocking gun to her temple, and pull the trigger without feeling I'd done something cruel and unnecessary. (Sure, if it's kill the cow or starve, then say your prayers, my bovine friend—but for now, it's not quite a mortal struggle to subsist on the other five food groups.) I am well-aware that even telling you this makes me seem like the kind of person who wants to break into your house and liberate your pet hamster—that is, like a PETA activist. Most vegetarians, though, would tell you that they appreciate the intentions of groups like PETA but not the obnoxious tactics. It's like this: We're all rooting for the same team, but they're the ones in face paint, bellowing obscenities at the umpire and flipping over every car with a Yankees bumper sticker. I have no designs on your Camry or your hamster.

Now, when I say that vegetarians are normal people with normal food cravings, many omnivores will hoist a lamb shank in triumph and point out that you can hardly call yourself normal if the aroma of, say, sizzling bacon doesn't fill you with deepest yearning. To which I reply: We're not insane. We know meat tastes good; it's why there's a freezer case at your supermarket full of woefully inadequate meat substitutes. Believe me, if obtaining bacon didn't require slaughtering a pig, I'd have a BLT in each hand right now with a bacon layer cake waiting in the fridge for dessert. But, that said, I can also tell you that with some time away from the butcher's section, many meat products start to seem gross. Ground beef in particular now strikes me as absolutely revolting; I have a vague memory that hamburgers taste good, but the idea of taking a cow's leg, mulching it into a fatty pulp, and forming it into a pancake makes me gag. And hot dogs … I mean, hot dogs? You do know what that is, right?

As a consolation prize we get tofu, a treasure most omnivores are more than happy to do without. Well, this may stun you, but I'm not any more excited about a steaming heap of unseasoned tofu blobs than you are. Tofu is like fugu blowfish sushi: Prepared correctly, it's delicious; prepared incorrectly, it's lethal. Very early in my vegetarian career, I found myself famished and stuck in a mall, so I wandered over to the food court's Asian counter. When I asked the teenage chief culinary artisan what was in the tofu stir-fry, he snorted and replied, "Shit." Desperation made me order it anyway, and I can tell you that promises have rarely been more loyally kept than this guy's pledge that the tofu would taste like shit. So here's a tip: Unless you know you're in expert hands (Thai restaurants are a good bet), don't even try tofu. Otherwise, it's your funeral.

As long as we're discussing restaurants, allow me a quick word with the hardworking chefs at America's dining establishments. We really appreciate that you included a vegetarian option on your menu (and if you didn't, is our money not green?), but it may interest you to know that most of us are not salad freaks on a grim slog for nourishment. We actually enjoy food, especially the kind that tastes good. So enough with the bland vegetable dishes, and, for God's sake, please make the Gardenburgers stop; it's stunning how many restaurants lavish unending care on their meat dishes yet are content to throw a flavorless hockey puck from Costco into the microwave and call it cuisine. Every vegetarian is used to slim pickings when dining out, so we're not asking for much—just for something you'd like to eat. I'll even offer a handy trick. Pretend you're trapped in a kitchen stocked with every ingredient imaginable, from asiago to zucchini, but with zero meat. With no flesh available, picture what you'd make for yourself; this is what we want, too.

For those kind-hearted omnivores who willingly invite feral vegetarians into their homes for dinner parties and barbecues (really! we do that, too!), the same rule applies—but also know that unless you're dealing with an herbivore who is a prick for unrelated reasons, we don't expect you to bend over backward for us.

In fact, if we get the sense that you cooked for three extra hours to accommodate our dietary preferences, we will marvel at your considerate nature, but we will also feel insanely guilty. Similarly, it's very thoughtful of you to ask whether it'll bother me if I see you eat meat, but don't worry: I'm not going to compose an epic poem about your club sandwich.

Which leads me to a vital point for friendly omnivore-herbivore relations. As you're enjoying that pork loin next to me, I am not silently judging you. I realize that anyone who has encountered the breed of smug vegetarian who says things like, "I can hear your lunch screaming," will find this tough to believe, but I'm honestly not out to convert you. My girlfriend and my closest pals all eat meat, and they'll affirm that I've never even raised an eyebrow about it. Now, do I think it strange that the same people who dress their dogs in berets and send them to day spas are often unfazed that an equally smart pig suffered and died to become their McMuffin? Yes, I do. (Or, to use a more pressing example, how many Americans will bemoan Eight Belles' fatal Kentucky Derby injury tonight at the dinner table between bites of beef?) Would I prefer it if we at least raised these animals humanely? Yes, I would.

Let's be honest, though: I'm not exactly St. Francis of Assisi over here, tenderly ministering to every chipmunk that crosses my path. I try to represent for the animal kingdom, but take a look at my shoes—they're made of leather, which, I am told by those with expert knowledge of the tanning process, comes from dead cows. This is the sort of revelation that prompts meat boosters to pick up the triumphant lamb shank once again and accuse us of hypocrisy. Well, sort of. (Hey, you try to find a pair of nonleather dress shoes.) My dedication to the cause might be incomplete, but I'd still say that doing something beats doing nothing. It's kind of like driving a hybrid: not a solution to the global-warming dilemma but a decent start. Let's just say that at the dinner table, I roll in a Prius.

Finally, grant me one more cordial request: Please don't try to convince us that being vegetarian is somehow wrong. If you're concerned for my health, that's very nice, though you can rest assured that I'm in shipshape. If you want to have an amiable tête-à-tête about vegetarianism, that's great. But if you insist on being the aggressive blowhard who takes meatlessness as a personal insult and rails about what fools we all are, you're only going to persuade me that you're a dickhead. When someone says he's Catholic, you probably don't start the stump speech about how God is a lie created to enslave the ignorant masses, and it's equally offensive to berate an herbivore. I know you think we're crazy. That's neat. But seeing as I've endured the hassle of being a vegetarian for several years now, perhaps I've given this a little thought. So let's just agree to disagree and get on with making fun of Hillary Clinton's inability to operate a coffee machine.

Because, really, peace and understanding are what it's all about: your porterhouse and my portobello coexisting in perfect harmony—though preferably not touching. We're actually not so different, after all, my omnivorous chums. In fact, I like to think that when an omnivore looks in the mirror, he just sees a vegetarian who happens to eat meat. Or, no, wait, maybe the mirror sees the omnivore through the prism of flesh and realizes we all have a crystalline animal soul, you know?

This is excellent weed, by the way, if you want a hit. Hey, while you're here: Have I ever told you about hemp?

Taylor Clark is a writer based in Portland. His first book, Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture,was published in November.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chicago Lifts Ban On Foie Gras

CHICAGO (AFP) — For nearly two years, foie gras fans in Hogtown slipped into "duckeasies" to indulge in a banned delight.

That all changed Wednesday when Chicago's city council repealed a prohibition on the sale of the fatty duck and goose liver dish.

"It's fabulous!" said chef Didier Durand. "Break out the champagne!"

Durand has been a vocal opponent of the ban on the French delicacy and, like a handful of other renegade restaurateurs, got around the ordinance by serving it for free.

"Yes, I was a duckeasy," he admitted furtively, nervous about potential problems with a pending liquor license.

The word is a play on Chicago's famed 'speakeasies,' which secretly sold spirits during the 1920-1933 Prohibition era when alcohol sales were banned in the United States.

"We also had a club called Turtle Soup where people were handing (us) turtle business cards and that meant they wanted foie gras," Didier told AFP.

The French delicacy, which is made by force-feeding ducks and geese so their livers become enlarged, has been the focus of an intense international campaign against animal cruelty.

Force-feeding birds has been banned in 15 countries, including Germany, Italy, Israel and Britain, according to animal rights activists Farm Sanctuary which runs the nofoiegras.org website.

But Chicago -- which garnered the nickname Hogtown because of its once sprawling slaughter houses -- was the only governmental body in the world to impose a ban on the actual sale of foie gras.

Chicago's ban followed a bill introduced in California in 2004 that bans the sale and production of foie gras by 2012.

While the ban was passed by a vote of 48-to-1 after animal rights activists won over a city council committee, few fines were imposed on the defiant restaurants which continued to serve a dish that has been granted cultural heritage status by the French parliament.

The ban became a cause celebre among those who opposed government intervention in culinary decisions. One hot dog joint even named a wiener after the alderman who sponsored the bill and topped it with foie gras. It was among the few fined.

Mayor Richard Daley has repeatedly called the ban "silly" and said it made Chicago "the laughingstock of the nation" but was, until now, unable to convince council members to repeal the ban.

The Illinois Restaurant Association also failed to have the ban overturned in court.

The repeal passed Wednesday over the shouted objections of the ordinance's original sponsor by a vote of 37 to six after a council member forced it out of committee.

Alderman Joe Moore said he objected to the fact that the repeal was passed without debate and said he continues to support the ban despite the ridicule.

"It's a form of abject cruelty," he told AFP. "I felt and I still feel it is important to speak out against such forms of cruelty. Chicago's ordinance did just that. Unfortunately it was a step back for civilization."

Animal rights activists were equally dismayed.

"To reverse a compassionate and admirable decision under pressure from political bullies and special interests shows a cowardly brand of cynicism unlike any we have seen in our efforts to give voice to the most vulnerable beings in our society - animals raised for food," said Julie Janovsky, director of campaigns for animal rights group Farm Sanctuary.

The ban will be stricken from the municipal code on June 10, city officials said.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sharing In The Office: How Much Is Too Much?

Posted on Forbes.com

Tara Weiss, 05.06.08, 5:00 PM ET:

The Monday morning ritual of asking co-workers what they did over the weekend isn't as ubiquitous as it used to be. If you're a Facebook user, you likely already know from reading their status updates and seeing photos posted throughout the weekend.

Not everyone is a Facebook user, but that same spirit of over-sharing is infecting the workplace. Thanks to Facebook, reality TV and personal blogs, it seems that a life not publicized isn't worth living.

Remember to think before you speak, or, er, post. Sure, sharing personal stories is vital to forming bonds at the office. But sharing too much, particularly inappropriate details of your life, can affect how you're viewed professionally.

The same goes for not sharing at all.

"Your colleagues are your professional family," says Barbara Pachter, co-author of New Rules @ Work and a business etiquette expert. "You want that connection, but ultimately you're also there for your career. That's where the balance needs to come in."

It also helps people understand who you are and where you come from. "It provides co-workers with insights and helps others deal with you," says Beverly Langford, author of The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules for Business Success. "If I know things about you it helps me know how to treat you. It also helps people form bonds because of commonalities. You realize that someone is more than just the person in finance or he's the marketing guy."

Pachter recalls working with a company where the sales manager rarely shared any personal details. He likely thought he was keeping a professional veneer, but when he left for a long weekend to get married and didn't tell any of his co-workers, they were offended. His co-workers didn't feel comfortable with him and, whenever possible, avoided working with him. As a result, he didn't get promotions and ultimately wound up leaving the company.

"What you're doing by not sharing is creating a sheet of black ice, and there's no way for anyone to feel connected to you," says Pachter. "In the absence of information, people will make things up that [are] often worse than the truth."

But be careful what you share. It's widely known that managers check social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace as part of the vetting process during hiring. Many say it's their way of examining a potential employee's ability to make sound choices. Blatant bad behavior aside, consider this: Do you want your boss or a potential boss to see images of you making out with your significant other or reading that blog post about your credit card debt? Don't think so.

"We leave a digital footprint that follows us wherever we go," says Dov Seidman, author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life).

Since we spend so much time at the office and with co-workers, it's practically impossible not to share intimate personal details. But someone who is a friend at the same professional level as you today might be your boss tomorrow. If you frequently come into the office hung over and brag about how much you partied, you might not be their first choice for a teammate on an important project.

The same goes for sharing the details of a breakup. If you tell a colleague that you fall to pieces and require several days off after breakups, that person might avoid working with you.

When sharing with co-workers there are some guidelines. First, always be honest. You don't want to be branded untrustworthy.

Stay away from discussing politics with people with whom you aren't extremely close. Sharing deeply held political beliefs "can change people's opinions of you," says Pachter. Also, steer clear of issues that might start heated debates at work. It ratchets up the tension level with someone you have to see daily.

It might seem obvious, but stay away from talk of sex. Feel free to mention a nice date or that you're interested romantically in someone. But anything that involves taking clothes off is off-limits. Some people might take innocent sharing as sexual harassment. Also, news tends to travel fast in an office, so be prepared to have those intimate details shared with others you didn't intend to hear.

Religion is another touchy subject. It's fine to mention spending the holidays with family or that you're taking time off for a religious day, but don't go much deeper than that. Many consider religion extremely personal and don't want to be part of a conversation on a topic. But also, for those that aren't religious, hearing about your belief in God might change their opinion of you.

Finally, don't be the office complainer. There's nothing that turns a group of people off more than the office downer.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Could "Healthy Eating" Lead to Malnutrition?

From The Times
May 2, 2008

Too much healthy eating is as bad for children as too much junk

It is no surprise that children love junk food. Its makers go to great lengths to make sure that their offerings deliver a full-on, unsubtle assault on taste buds, with plenty of salt or sugar to create the sense that it is “tasty”.

But a significant proportion of our nation's children are worryingly chubby and heading for potential obesity problems in later life, it seems that others are suffering from “muesli belt malnutrition”: the overzealous application of “healthy eating” rules imposed on their daily food intake. A recent study warns us that too much fibre and too little fat can lead to vitamin deficiencies and stunts growth in the under-fives.

This means that young children who have wholemeal bread, brown pasta and piles of fruit imposed on them are getting too full too quickly and do not have room for enough foods such as dairy products, meat, eggs and fish, which have vital nutrients for growth and development.

So how do we strike a balance? Children thrive on a good variety of foods, which includes grains and potatoes such as bread, pasta, noodles, rice and all varieties of potatoes; calcium-rich foods such as milk, yoghurt, fish canned with edible bones such as pilchards; protein-rich foods such as eggs, chicken and turkey, red meat and Quorn products; plus a variety of different fruit and vegetables. The million-dollar question is how much should they have of each at various ages.

This to some extent varies with the size and appetite of your child. The World Health Organisation has provided some useful parameters.

Lower-fat milk

You can start giving toddlers semi-skimmed milk from the age of 2. Fully skimmed milk is not suitable as a main drink until they are 5, because it doesn't contain enough calories for a growing child.


Because oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines contain residues of pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs, the Food Standards Agency advises that you can give boys up to four portions a week, but that girls should have no more than two a week, because the residues can build up in their bodies over the years and can affect reproductive functions in later life. Shark, swordfish and marlin contain relatively high levels of mercury, which may affect a child's developing nervous system, so these should be avoided.

Eggs and nuts

Toddlers should have their eggs well cooked until the white and yolk are solid to avoid salmonella, while nuts for children under 5 should be given only crushed or flaked to reduce the risk of choking.

Wholegrain foods

Definitely do not add bran to children's foods and avoid giving very young children wholemeal pasta and brown rice. Too much fibre can sometimes reduce the amount of minerals, such as calcium and iron, that they can absorb and leave them feeling bloated and too full to finish their meal. By the time they are 5, young children can gradually be weaned on to wholegrain versions of cereals.

What about salt?

There is no need to add salt to the food of children under the age of three. Children in the UK manage to chomp their way through as much as 10-12g of salt daily and yet under the age of 7, children should have no more than 3g of salt each day and those between 7 and 10 no more than 5g. Once over 11, like adults, they should have no more than 6g of salt daily. Current high intakes can damage their developing kidneys and store up potential blood pressure and heart disease problems.

How much sugar?

Our children are getting about 17 per cent of their daily calories from sugar when they should, like adults, be getting no more than 10per cent. This means that four to six-year-olds should eat no more than 40g of sugar a day; seven to ten-year-olds no more than 46g and 11 to 14-year-olds no more than 50g.

If you limit children's consumption of sweets, chocolate and biscuits, along with fizzy drinks and squashes, you will cut their sugar intake. But honey in flapjacks, fruit syrup added to “orange drinks”, glucose syrup in breakfast cereals and dextrose in fromage frais all also count towards sugar intake and also need to be watched.

A good rule of thumb is to look on the nutrition label. Foods and drinks with less than 2g per 100g of sugars (this figure will include all the various forms in which sugar comes) is low in sugar, while any with more than 10g is high.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Congratulations to Class #49!

Class #49 of the Second Helpings Culinary Job Training Program graduated on Friday, May 2, 2008. CONGRATULATIONS to the graduates!

Pictured (front row) Larry Simpson, Christine Warren (back row) Chef Conway, Anthony Abram, Keith Mays