Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

The Price Of Fast Food

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I’ve got some thoughts up at Blisstree on Mark Bittman’s Sunday New York Times piece“Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?“:

 … articles like Bittman’s always rub me the wrong way, and I’ve been trying to pinpoint why. His gratuitous mention of “Brooklyn hipsters and Berkley locavores” bugs me—I know it’s an attempt to distance himself and his arguments from these people, but I think it only serves to reinforce the connection. More bothersome to me is his equation of fast-food consumption mainly with low-income folks. In my experience, eating crap is one thing that crosses class, geographic and educational-attainment lines. Middle-class suburban families live on fast-food. PhD students eat fast food. Young professionals eat fast food. And, yes, even New York hipsters eat it, too. Fast food is not a low-income problem, it is an American problem.

And, ultimately, I don’t think folks like Bittman go far enough in condemning it. Oh, sure, they’re fast to lay the blame on fast food companies and marketers. But progressives like Bittman don’t want to be accused of being elitist (or get lumped in with the mockable Brookyn hipsters and Berkley locavores), so they’re careful to couch any arguments about personal choice in sociological ephemera and resist saying anything too radical. Conservatives, meanwhile, are too reactionary, and too in bed with the idea that criticizing fast food is somehow an affront to business and a slide into ‘nanny statism’ to apply the same sort of harsh tactics to our table choices as they do to our bedroom behavior.

And yet, honestly, maybe what the fast food debate needs is some good, old-fashioned stigma and shaming, a la smoking over the past 50 years. We can talk all we want about so-called food deserts, ‘evil’ fast food marketing, the addictive properties of fatty food, etc., but none of these are really doing anything to stop individual consumption of fast food. We need to make eating fast food ‘bad’ in the same way we’ve ostracized tobacco users. People should feel bad about eating fast food regularly. People should know that in doing so, they are inviting myriad health problems on themselves. We coddle the fast food industry, and its devotees, because it’s so politically/socially volatile not to—and I think this is the root of the problem.

And here are Phoebe Maltz-Bevy’s thoughts, which at first blush I guess seem kind of antithetical to mine, but really aren’t, I don’t think:

Speaking of the Bittman article, yes, yes, socioeconomic factors, YPIS, another article telling the poor that they can totally live off lentils, etc. The class-warfare counterarguments write themselves, and are only partly fair. Fair, insofar as lentils get old quick, but plenty of people could cook but don’t. I mean, all of this Think of the People Who Can’t Afford a Saucepan is a bit much, because obviously people who can afford a saucepan and then some are also not cooking. (But to the commenter who points out that gender enters into this, why yes it does.)

But even if you’re not especially lacking in time, money, and (ahem!) grocery access, even if you like to cook, cooking remains a chore. Until food writers wrap their heads around the idea that cooking also means grocery shopping, that grocery shopping takes time, that even ostensibly cheap-to-prepare meals often meaning you buy $8 worth of some massive amount of an ingredient you only end up using twice, that planning meals for the week is either a major task of its own or you end up wasting a great deal of food (leftovers being tough if what’s left are perishable ingredients and not a prepared meal), that all of this food needs to be not only prepared but cleaned up from, that hands and surfaces need raw eggs and meat washed off them, in short, until they realized that no meal takes ‘only 30 minutes’ except possibly the meals they think take only 5, how is anyone ever going to be convinced?


Written by ENB

September 27, 2011 at 8:42 am

Cooking With Squash Blossoms

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Squash blossoms—the bright, dainty flowers that stem from winter or summer squash—have been making dramatic appearances on more and more restaurant menus, recipe pages and alongside other farmer’s market produce. These edible flowers, which taste like milder versions of the squash or zucchini they come from, can be eaten raw but are more often found battered, fried up with goat cheese or tucked into soups and omelets.

Look for squash blossoms at your local farmer’s market—most grocery stores don’t stock squash blossoms because of their short shelf life. “Be warned,” writes Kate Heyhoe of Kate’s Global Kitchen. “Squash blossoms live about as long as mayflies—at worst a few hours, at best a few days, and only in ideal conditions. Cook them the day you pick them, or the day you pick them up.”

Vegetarian Times cautions that you should avoid getting blooms too wet—water can cause wilting and spotting when ti comes in direct contact with the petals. Use a spray bottle to spritz picked blossoms clean instead of washing in the sink.

Originally published on Blisstree.com.

Written by ENB

September 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Posted in Culture, Food

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Where Have All the Vegans Gone?

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I would like to state for the record that I almost never earnestly call anyone a “hipster” (except Peter Suderman, obviously) or describe things as “hip” myself, but editors are always inserting the words into my headlines, subtitles or copy! Sigh. It’s shorthand. It’s a common cultural indicator, I get it. I get it. I just still wish it wouldn’t happen.

But, anyway, here’s a story I wrote for City Scoops NY months and months ago, “Where Have All the Vegan’s Gone?,” that’s finally appearing online:

Picture a restaurant in Williamsburg, or maybe the East Village. The decor is eclectic and artfully bohemian. The clients are youngish, thin, disheveled, and artfully bohemian themselves. In another time, they may have been slinging back soy smoothies, or gobbling down black bean burgers and tofu scramble with tempeh bacon. But this crowd is, instead, ordering the pork-shoulder sandwich, the ostrich-meat sliders, and the salad topped with bone-marrow butter and rabbit paté.

Aside from the “hip” reference, I’m pretty pleased with the article. It was something we began talking about last spring or summer, before it seemed like everybody was talking about the meat resurgence, just because we noticed that most of the restaurants we went to around Brooklyn had been shifting their menus. And it turns out we were right! Plus, I got to talk to Ms. Kathy Kirkpatrick, co-founder of the famed (i.e., in Rent) Life Cafe, who was super-sweet and interesting and gave me some hard numbers about meat and vegan menu-item sales to back up my postulating. It’s always fun when that happens.

Written by ENB

April 2, 2010 at 9:31 am

The “Hipsters on Food Stamps” Phenomenon

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The way the reporter (Jennifer Bleyer) wrote this article itself was like she was just begging people to mock her subjects:

Savory aromas wafted through the kitchen as a table was set with a heaping plate of Thai yellow curry with coconut milk and lemongrass, Chinese gourd sautéed in hot chile sauce and sweet clementine juice, all of it courtesy of government assistance.

Every descriptive word Bleyer uses is designed to imply maximum offensiveness, or to make very normal things—like vegetables, for goddsakes— seem exotic and luxurious.

So what if some people on food stamps buy more healthy/weird/international cuisine than do others? It’s not like they’re getting extra money to buy this food; they’re getting the same amount as the guy who’s buying fucking Wonderbread and store-brand Kraft singles. And yet …

Magida, a 30-year-old art school graduate, had been installing museum exhibits for a living until the recession caused arts funding — and her usual gigs — to dry up. She applied for food stamps last summer, and since then she’s used her $150 in monthly benefits for things like fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.

People are always railing, of course, about how people on food stamps don’t buy enough healthy food. But heaven forbid the food they buy is too healthy, or healthy and also outside the mainstream. It’s absurd. Fresh produce is a luxury? Soy protein (which costs about the same as meat) the height of libertine-ism? Not to mention that things such as Chinese gourd and coconut milk are the very kind of corner-store staples in ethnic neighborhoods that often sell these sorts of foods cheaper than mainstream varieties (at the Asian-run market in my neighborhood, I can get three large hunks of fresh, homemade tofu for $1, compared to $2.50 or $3 for the packaged stuff; the Polish corner store sells an abundance of large, quite good Polish beers for cheaper than domestic varieties).

Now you can argue with whether food stamps should exist in the first place, or at what level, or in what way, and that’s something different entirely. But the folks in this article had to have been at some certain pre-determined level we’d set as the threshold for food stamp eligibility, you know? And as long as we’ve already set that threshold, whatever sustenance one buys with those stamps (and in spite of whatever hobbies/passions/desired-careers they may have) is really nobody’s business.

Says Jessica Grose on XX factor:

I’m not sure that “hipster” food stamp recipients are anything but a fake trend, but it does appear that no article about food purchasing or ingesting can be written without irate and judgemental comments. The twenty- and thirtysomethings in the article are predictably called lazy and overly indulged, for example: “Of course people are going to be pissed that they’re busting their asses every day in real jobs so that some douchebag can satisfy his ‘flexitarian’ gourmet diet.” But even if these hipsters were using their own money to buy their organic food they’d be slammed. Or if they were buying the stereotypical foods purchased with food stamps—which is to say, heavily processed—they’d be criticized for contributing to the so-called “obesity crisis.” Eating is now a major moral issue in America, and whatever choice you make is wrong.

Written by ENB

March 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Department of Half-Formed Ideas: Carnivore Cool?

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One of the things we’ve been noticing for a while now is that there’s been a move away from the interesting/hip/cutting-edge/talked-about/whatever restaurants in Brooklyn serving an array of vegetarian and vegan options, and much more of a focus on meat, meat, all things meat. I’m slowly forming a grand unifying theory/article pitch about this in my head, but I want to know if anyone else outside of Brooklyn has noticed similar things in their cities?

Written by ENB

October 9, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Mad Men: Scary Food, Feminist Leanings

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I love, love, love this Brokelyn post on “scary food from the Mad Men era”:

If you’re thinking of catering a Mad Men party this weekend with authentic 1960s cuisine, you may want to reconsider—a look at the terrifying stuff that passed for dinner back then offers a clue as to why Julia Child was regarded as such a revolutionary. lemon-jello-tuna-pie1-250x153The following photos are from Betty Crocker’s Dinner in a Dish cookbook, published in 1965, a mayonnaise-slicked, canned-fruit dotted roadmap to an American culinary era thankfully gone by. First among the supper-time atrocities: a “Summer Salad Pie” (above), whose ingredients include lemon-flavored gelatin, tomato sauce, and tuna fish tossed together in a cheddar-cheese pie shell.

My mom still kinda cooks like this.

While we’re on Mad Men, interesting post at RH Reality Check from Amanda Marcotte, about the show’s feminist leanings:

I think the moment for me on “Mad Men” that made me realize the strong feminist bent of the show was far from accidental was the opening sequence of the masterful episode “Maidenform.”  You see the three main female characters Peggy, Joan, and Betty getting dressed and see how even Peggy, who is low maintenance by 60s standards, has to go through intense amounts of work just to be considered worthy of stepping out the front door.  You also see Joan rubbing her skin where her bra strap cuts into it. True, second wave feminists didn’t burn their bras–or their girdles or their garters–but the show argues with this visual imagery, that they probably should have.  As the actresses on the show have complained repeatedly, underwear for women then was a potent symbol of how painfully restrained women were, how their personalities, ambitions, desires, and very flesh and to be pinched and molded to fit male demands.

My favorite Mad Men lady is Betty Draper (I dressed as her for Halloween last year, although I ended up looking rather more like an erstwhile drag queen after having applied makeup for the first time than like the lovely Betty; I have never been able to pull off red lipstick), but then, I’m a sucker for repressed housewives. Too much Sylvia Plath as a teen, I’m afraid.

I recently watched Revolutionary Road (phenomenal!) and immediately ran out and bought the book, which I am in the midst of devouring. What’s interesting about April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road’s repressed housewife, is that author Richard Yates, through the viewpoint of her husband, Frank, explicitly states that the wanna-be actress on some level enjoyed falling into the wife/mother role, or at least finds it a little bit of a relief, because it saves her the disillusion of trying to “make it” and failing. Yet, at the same time, she clings to a kind of anger at her husband for having “trapped” her, as a response to her own guilt/sadness/whatever at being a suburban mother and wife.

Meanwhile, Frank, her husband, insists on working a job he dislikes, and doing all sorts of “responsible man” things, to the exclusion of his “dreams,” for the same reason—because it prevents him from having to confront that he might not actually be special, and might not actually be good at anything. But instead of, like April, lashing out about the inanity of it all, he finds himself defending it—especially when she wants to subvert it (by, say, having an abortion)—even though he actually agrees with her, because by pretending he can find confort in the normalcy she can’t find comfort in, he wins some small victory over her and his failed path in life. It’s crazy-intriguing stuff.

Anyway, it reminded me of the Mad Men episode in which, after Betty tells Don not to come back home, a friend tells her that the scariest part of being single is suddenly having to make decisions for yourself (paraphrasing, but it’s something like that). Having pretty-much predetermined paths in life might have been stifling, horrifying, boring, etc., etc., for both men and women, but damn if it wasn’t, at least for a while, probably a pretty easy way to avoid some of life’s big quesitons.

Written by ENB

August 16, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Education of an Urban Farmer

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Folkster alert? Next American City interviews Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. I liked this passage:

JL: But did you really call it urban farming at first?

NC: We never called it anything in Seattle. It’s like we were weird people who had chickens and bees and there was no kind of identity surrounding it. I think California is really obsessed with identity and so I became obsessed with identity as well, but I also started encountering people who were doing similar things and they called it urban farming. I was like, wow! That’s what I’m doing! I’m urban farming.

And this one:

What’s interesting is that in the developing world, urban agriculture is huge. It’s what people do. I had a guy from Nigeria come over to my house and he was like, “I heard you have goats. I want to go see them.”  I brought him into the backyard and the goats are all running up and down the stairs. It’s not a big backyard. He said, “It’s just like Nigeria.” And so I started to realize that it is an affectation a little bit for white people to talk about urban farming. But at the same time it’s a cultural identity for them in the same way.

But here’s what nudged my folkster radar:

JL: You talk in your book a little bit about distinguishing yourself from the Berkeley hippies and the like. How did you distinguish yourself from them?

NC: I don’t know that I’m necessarily trying to distinguish myself from them. Because I think what I realized is that in some ways, wow,  I’m doing similar things that my parents did, but it’s in a different era. It’s in a totally different time and the fact that I’m doing it in a city made me feel a little bit better about it, because I have access to all these different cultures and I can plug into the music scene or the art scene or whatever is going on in the city. So it is different.

Anyway, I could pick out too many more good passages. Read the whole thing.

Written by ENB

July 29, 2009 at 10:47 am

Farm Market Discovery: French Sorrel

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Via tiny banquet committee

Via tiny banquet committee

… that thanks to the good folks at the (newly reopened!) Eastern Market, I have, today, been introduced to a green called French Sorrel, and it is delicious. It has some of the kick of arugula, but also a very strong lemon-y flavor. Via Sustainable Eats:

French sorrel is a domesticated version of a weed – meaning it has a full nutritional profile.  It’s high in vitamin C, A and iron … order your seeds now from http://www.TerritorialSeed.com and start a patch of your own.

And, from a 1931 book (reprinted on Botanical.com):

In this country, the leaves are now rarely eaten, unless by children and rustics, to allay thirst, though in Ireland they are still largely consumed by the peasantry with fish and milk.

Written by ENB

June 27, 2009 at 2:26 pm

More on Starbucks

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Because I am apparently now committed to blogging about Starbucks at least once per week: I thought this article by Jacob Grier, “The Rise and Fall of a Caffeine Empire,” was interesting:

… the charge that Starbucks was driving other shops out of business was never justified. Competitor Peet’s weathered the attack and continues to thrive. Relative newcomer Caribou Coffee has expanded to become the nation’s second largest coffee chain. Most importantly, there are more independent coffee shops today than ever before. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), a trade group that tracks the market for high-end coffee, reports spectacular growth in the industry. In 1989, the SCAA estimated that there were just 585 coffee retailers in the United States. By 2006 that number had risen to nearly 24,000. Sixty percent of these shops are independently owned or part of micro-chains of less than ten units.

Starbucks didn’t take over the coffee retail market so much as it helped raise it out of its infancy.

Written by ENB

December 15, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Posted in Culture, Food

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Eat Some Poms, Hipster!

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After being told by a coworker that pomegranate was a “hipster fruit” (not pomegranate juice, mind you, that’s for health foodies, nor pomegranate liquor, which is for yuppies, but actually eating the pomegranate seeds), I was just sent this:

Which has pretty much made my afternoon.

Written by ENB

November 25, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Culture, Food, Photos

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Arugula as Symbol of Cultural Elitism is Soooo 2007 …

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… I only eat salads made with mâche.

Oh, just kidding, fine, I still eat arugula. Maybe a nice spinach, arugula and mâche blend. Regardless, John Schwenkler’s article on the Plenty Mag site had me from the headline: “A country so polarized that consuming arugula has become a political act.”

As a girl who spent many, many years thinking I disliked salad only to eventually realize it was just iceberg lettuce I disliked, I am saddened by all the arugula hating that has been building for years and seems determined to reach its final, maddeningly-stupid zenith this election season. I am also saddened by lazy journalists, pundits and pols who non-ironically use it as a stand-in for some sort of cultural attitude (also: moose burgers. moose in headlights. moose moose moose moose moose. can we stop this, please?)

Anyway, as John points out, not only is arugula really apropos of nothing, it grows like a weed.

Clearly Obama didn’t deserve it, but then again neither did arugula. Unlike, say, petite vanilla scones or that old liberal staple, the cappuccino, the plant that is known by much of the English-speaking world as “rocket” hardly deserves to be pegged as the exclusive province of left-wing foodies. It is, for one thing, widely regarded as an aphrodisiac, which makes it arguably the most pro-family of the salad greens out there – and in addition to pairing nicely with some fresh fruit and nuts in a salad, its spicy zest also lends itself well to pesto. It grows like a weed, too, which means that even if there isn’t a Whole Foods around, you can show what it means to embody the virtues of hard work and self-sufficiency by scattering some seeds and growing yourself an edible yard. If a guy can’t eat this stuff without being accused of being a latte-sipping closet communist, then what does that say about the state of our public discourse?

P.S. Could we start using truffles instead? I detest truffles. Plus, they cost a lot of money, so it would actually kind of make fucking sense.

Written by ENB

October 6, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Is Belgian the new Tapas?

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I have a friend who has a theory that the surest sign of a neighborhood’s yuppification is a tapas restaurant moving in. Ever since I heard this, I’ve been noticing that it holds up pretty well in D.C. (ahem, Gallery Place/Chinatown).

Last weekend, a friend and I were looking for apartments in Columbia Heights, sitting at Red Rocks Pizzeria on Park Road with an area landlord very excitedly telling us about the “up and coming” nature of the area. He pointed to an abandoned storefront across the street with great pride and said, “See that? That whole building is being gutted, and a Belgian restaurant and bar is moving in!” This reminded me of all the buzz around Dr. Granville’s Moore’s, the Belgian place that opened not long ago on H Street NE, and a co-worker bolstered my theory by telling me that about three years ago, two Belgian restaurants opened in the Eastern Market area of Capitol Hill.

This is the way a neighborhood ends; not with a bang but with mussels and Hoegaarden …

Written by ENB

June 3, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Culture, Food, Food

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