Tuesday, September 1, 2009

food righteousness

so with the increase in my dinners, and the temptation to micro-blogging (yes, i'm looking at you twitter) it has been predictably quiet around these parts. however the temptation to put fonts to computer screen has grown, especially as i have been wrestling with a couple issues. swirling and twirling around my head. i am hoping that by articulating them they will become articulate. i know that sounds a little backward. in the past i think it worked the other way around. one didn't feel the need to send one's thoughts out into the world until the time that they were fully formed, but count among the many that seem to think any damn thing they think is worth sending out into the ether of the internet.

it has been a year now since i started doing my dinners around town. from the beginning i was determined to buy as many local products as i could. inspired in part by reading michael pollan, inspired in part by the zeitgeist, and inspired in part by my desire to somehow appease the silent chorus who might have judged me if i didn't. as the months went by i began to grow into the actual motivation behind what i did. giving money to local farmers and artisans was as much about keeping money in the community, supporting people i had come to know and respect, and recognizing quality as it was about any foodie cred that i might have gained along the way.

but as i became more and more aware of the culture surrounding the locavore movement the more distasteful i found it. and this is the crux of complaint. in so many ways we (humans - all of us) find those things in our life which justify us, which make us feel pure and good, which scrub us clean from indiscretions that stain. and we cling to those things, we point back to them as artifacts of our self-justification. to put it bluntly, it allows one to say, "i may be an asshole, but at least i eat organic, sustainable, local food - what about you."

when i worked at starbucks i realized this tendency as well. i divided the workers into two classes (my temptation to sweeping generalizations has never been more apparent): the law crowd and the grace crowd. the law crowd loved the rules and the regulations. loved pouring the tea and the lemonade to the exact measurement required by starbucks standards, what is more, they even loved the order. in other words, tea first then lemonade. and, if you deviated, they felt nothing but scorn for you. then there was the grace crowd. standards be damned. i know how to make a frappuccinno. a little bit of this and a little bit of that, blend, presto. these folks (if you can't tell, included me) found pleasure in not being tied down by rules, and certainly didn't find their identification in whether or not they followed proper procedure. they found their identity in ignoring procedure. regardless of where i, or my other co-workers, found their identity, it all revealed the temptation toward self-justification. in other words, i was better than that law crowd, those legalists. and of course, they thought they were better than me, the rule breaker.

so, back to the foodie crowd. this tendency, this human tendency has grown even more apparent and obvious as i have moved deeper and deeper into food culture. self-righteousness attached to the purchasing of certain products. self-righteousness attached to the promotion of certain labels. it is ethical to buy local, it is un-ethical to buy anything that requires a boatload of fossil fuel to get it to you. it is ethical to buy hand made, hand crafted items, unethical to buy processed. It is a moral duty to buy organic (an increasingly meaningless term). mind you, it has nothing to do with preference. for instance, “i don't like store bought bologna, i like hand made salami.” it has become moral, “you should not like store bought bologna, and if you do, there is something wrong with you.”

this need to divide and conquer through the power of moral judgment is somehow a deep down hidden thing. it operates in all of us. it certainly does in me. and despite the fact that i recognize it, i am not excused from it, or exempt from it's power.
i suppose what bothers me most about the self-righteousness of food culture is the lack of any moral touchstone. the foundational elements that give rise to moral judgments is sorely lacking. it's almost assumed. it looks like this "of course it's good to buy local". i keep looking for more than that. i am sure that someone, somewhere outlined the proper morality of the locavore philosophy, and perhaps at one time the rudimentary reasons were at the forefront of everyone's mind. but now it has become a dogma, an assumed dogma. with nothing to point back to, nothing really to ground it. the logic is the dogma, and the dogma the logic. the self-referential element of foody moralism bankrupts it, in my opinion. it seems any more the argument is, moral/ethical high ground is preferable because it is both moral/ethical and located on higher ground than where you stand.

having said all that, i still buy local when i can. i buy organic/sustainable when i can. i do so because i think there are ample reasons to purchase these products. i think it is good to support a local economy. i think it is right to give money to hardworking and excellent artisans.

it is when these codes of behavior are universalized that i begin to get creeped out. “because i do this, we should all do this.” by simply posing the question why, you begin to peel back the successive layers of reasoning and justification. what you uncover is not some universal standard but merely personal preference. that may be enough to explain the preference of any one individual but not enough to expand that into judgment of those who don't follow suit.

and I have waited until now to say this, the core of the gospel message is that the whole earth is the lords. The cattle on the hills, the lilies of the field, the seeds bringing forth flower and fruit. For the Christian, every behavior is shot through with ethical significance. When we act in the world we are to bear the image of the creator god. If this does not imbue our actions with the greatest significance I do not know what would. This does not necessarily entail buying local, or even organic products. But it does have something to say about how we treat the planet that was given to us, the earth over which we have been charged with responsibility, and the animals which we tend. As with most things, the gospel, when truly believed, gathers up all things and shows us how we are to live in the world…not blindly grasping at this or that in our vain attempt to justify ourselves, but clearly and directly because we have been justified already.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the evolution of a dish

okay, this probably isn't the most interesting thing in the world, but i have a few minutes and wanted to put this down.
so for the next dinner one of the courses will be asparagus soup. it is spring, and with spring comes asparagus. grilled, blanched, steamed, sauteed, the possibilities are endless. as a general rule i like to play with my food. take something, and twist it, make it interesting. so originally i was thinking pureed asparagus soup, with hollandaise garnish. the two are a classic combo, but not usually in soup. that's what makes it fun. i thought maybe i would whip the hollandaise. of course there are problems with temperature and so forth that could prove to be problematic with the sauce....but we would cross that bridge. anyway, my next thought was how to maximize the color of the soup. nothing wrong with a pale vermilion, but how could i get it lush and verdant, that was the goal. one quick way was to add something like spinach into the mix to get some more green, but i didn't want to take away from the uniquely grassy flavor of the asparagus. so, was there another way. i thought perhaps blanch the asparagus, then use the blanching water to make stock with. blanching heightens color. so perhaps this was my solution. the asparagus would be a darker green added to the blanching water would perhaps give me the darker color i was hoping for.
but here's a problem. blanching causes vegetables to release polyphenols in to the blanching solution, which in the long run would turn the water/stock brown, and that wouldn't be a good thing.
so, i wrote a local chef with some of my questions: can you blanch vegetables without salt (yes)(and by the way, the reason i asked this was because if i used salt in the blanching liquid i couldn't really use that liquid again...typically you use a LOT of salt when blanching, so if i were to use that liquid to make stock - which i always reduce - i would have an unpalatably salty green/brown liquor. no good), how can we improve the color (spinach). he mentioned that he had prepared an ice filtered asparagus consomme for a dinner he had done before.
hmmm. consomme. okay. new direction. what can i do with consomme? carbonate it perhaps. that could be interesting. but really kind of one trick pony. i mean, bubbles are great and all, but it wasn't really adding anything to the soup in terms of character. then i thought, what about soda...yep. asparagus soda. take the consomme, put it in a syphon and carbonate it. of course add some simple syrup of some kind, serve this is a champagne flute. but what to do with the hollandaise? ice cream. ice cream float. soda and ice cream.
so there you have it. with some more help from chef josh, the final dish. "ice cream float" asparagus soda with ginger and orange simple syrup and blood orange maltaise ice cream.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

fish redux

man, i don't know. call me crazy, but mr fish sounds like a believer. this particular column is just great...and i think, in so many ways, really right on. his point, for those of you who won't ever getting around to reading it, is simple. really. religious faith can be studied in two senses. one can be taught about religion, and one can be taught religion. fish's contention is that something fundamental is lost when one is taught about religion. one might, say, look at all possible political perspectives when learning about u.s. iranian relations, and by doing so one has only sought to expand one's knowledge of political reality. but to learn about religion in this sense is to deprive it of it's primary and sole function, namely that is makes a truth claim, and to "academize" it in order to sanitize it for secular consumption is to leave it bereft of any content. good stuff.
ok, it's 1240 a.m. and i really should be in bed. i promised to write more, and here i am become nothing more than the literary version of bob wiley, tethered to the computer with nothing better to do i proclaim: "i'm writing. i'm writing. i'm a writer!"
good night.

stanley fish

i think i read bits and pieces of "is there a text in this class" at some point in college. and if i didn't i should at least pretend that i did, being a respectable psuedo-intellectual and all. whether i did or didn't doesn't really matter, the point is i knew who stanley fish was: leading light of the post-modern blah blah blah movement. the type of dude who started out in the english department, convinced himself that texts no longer were capable of communicating anything anymore, so then he moved over to the philosophy department and of course was welcome with open arms. cuz, you know, if there's one thing better than nothingness, it's talking about it. despite the title of this blog post, this is not an entry about stanley fish. nor is it about post-modern blah blah blah, intepretive communites or other such things. what got me going was reading a column written by mr. fish in the new york times on a new work by terry eagleton. according to the column, eagleton's new book, entitled "reason, faith, and revolution" addresses the basic question, why are people suddenly talking about god? the simple answer is, religion not only asks questions that other fields/pursuits can't, but it also has answers. religion, at its core, attempts to wrestle with the great longings of the human heart. all other pursuits are only scraping the surface, and can only provide fleeting satisfaction if that. go read the article yourself -it's worth it-here.
what's interesting to me is how similar many of eagleton's arguments are. as i continued to read the piece i kept thinking, "that's lewis" "that's polyani" "that's augustine". i have no idea if fish was aware that many of eagleton's statements were so clearly based on previous arguments, i also didn't have the patience to read any of the 700 plus reader response to see if any else picked up on it either. i'm not claiming that i possess superior intellect, just noticed is all.

Monday, May 4, 2009

long time, and i promise

so, it has been a long time since i have written something here. i especially need to write on a more consistent basis. not because i think that people have to know every detail of my life, but for my own sake. and if anyone gets any pleasure from reading what i throw up on this sight, then that's great. i have less than one week left in seminary. it's been six years and i can't wait to be done. but to be honest it sort of feels like i am coming to the end of a cliff and in one week i am going to be falling off the edge, without a parachute.
on another note, check this out!! sounds pretty cool. and that guy in the picture looks familiar.