Archive for the 'Rant' Category

One-Handed Grapefruit Spoons

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

I know I’m a bit off-season with this, as it will still be a couple of months for grapefruits to come back around. But, it’s not too early to think about them—or the discriminatory silverware policy in place at Williams-Sonoma.

Williams-Sonoma makes perhaps the best grapefruit spoon I have ever used. My father and sister, on the other hand, will never be able to use it because for some inexplicable reason, Williams-Sonoma has toothed this spoon on only one side. As a result, southpaws cannot use this spoon without putting themselves through considerable contortions.

I first contacted Williams-Sonoma about this matter in 2005, at which time I noted in my letter to them that their 2004 annual report lamented, “we may not be able to reposition existing brands to improve business” (33). I pointed out to them that a simple re-toothing of the spoon so that both sides are serrated could increase their potential market for that particular product considerably. I never heard back.

Two years later, the spoons are still the same. Narrow and well-proportioned to get every piece of the grapefruit section out, but only if you are right handed. Their 2007 annual report declares, “Our success depends, in large part, upon our ability to anticipate and respond in a timely manner to… customer demands” (10). Well, if you’re a lefty who likes grapefruits or are friend or family to someone who fits that description, let them know that as a customer, you demand citrus equality! Write W. Howard Lester, Chairman of the Board & CEO; and Laura J. Abler, President at Williams-Sonoma, 3520 Van Ness Avenue, San Fransisco, CA 94109.

The FDA Knew About Problems

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

But Didn’t Act Due to Budget Constraints

According to published reports, the FDA knew for “years” about the problems at the peanut butter plant in Georgia and about the farms in California that produced tainted spinach, but didn’t do anything to stop the situations, instead relying on the industry to self-police.

I’m not quite sure what’s more frustrating: that the FDA seems to make so many of its decisions based on the desires of industry lobbyists, or that the FDA would still rely on the industry to self-correct even with evidence of ongoing problems. If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear to me, it’s that in most cases, most industries place profits at a higher priority than public safety issues. That’s the whole reason behind having a government agency to regulate the industries. What’s the point of having the agency if all it does is sit back and say, “OK, guys, looks like you’ve got everything under control; just keep doing what you’re doing…”?

I’d say give ‘em some teeth, but with their schematics being what they currently are, they’d probably use the teeth to make things tougher on the small, local farmer who’s trying to distribute regionally. Instead, I think it’d be a better idea to dramatically reorganize to place emphasis on encouraging regional distribution whilst deemphasizing national mono-cropped conglomofarming.

Put the burden on the largest farms to prove that their practices aren’t disturbing the environment and/or putting consumers at risk. Reward smaller farmers who plant a variety of crops and rotate them properly.

We’ve spent too long looking at the system and saying, “It’s broken, but we can’t fix it.” Heck, that’s what the FDA did with the spinach and the peanut butter. Unless we make changes soon, the worst is yet to come because our food is being produced in unnatural ways that, over time, lead to compounded safety concerns. I fear we’re on the crest of seeing the results of decades’ worth of compounding.

Other people see it, too. Why else would “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” make it on the cover of Time Magazine? It’s because there’s a groundswell of people saying the exact same thing I do: doped-up livestock shitting directly into the rivers and acres of corn / soy / tomatoes in soil stripped of its natural nutrients, propped up by even more chemical enhancers does not add up to a desireable situation.

It’s time for the government to recognize that the industry isn’t looking out for the people, it’s looking out for itself; to recognize that a populace raised on corn and chemicals is not a healthy one; and to overhaul the system for the benefit of everyone who eats, in favor of more sustainably raised food from smaller farms, distributed across a smaller swath of the land.


Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

A couple of my co-workers were really excited to try the iceberg salad wedge at a local restaurant. I don’t get it. In my opinion, iceberg is a bland, pointless form of lettuce that I’m always disappointed to discover on my plate.

Texture, they claim, is the big draw; flavor is made up for by adding blue cheese dressing, hard boiled eggs, onions, cucumbers….

But wouldn’t those ingredients be better with a form of lettuce that has a bit of zip to it? I mean, there are so many varieties of lettuce out there: arugula, bibb, mustard greens, radish greens, spinach, radicchio, red leaf, green leaf, oak (not the actual tree; the lettuce that resembles that leaf), turnip greens… and those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head in 45 seconds. So why iceberg?

If you haven’t noticed, I’m feeling crotchety today. All the same, I wonder if someone can provide me with a more compelling reason for iceberg than that it has a bit of a crunch. As far as I’m concerned, if you want crunch in your salad, add some carrots. At least they carry flavor with them.

Why You Should Always Pack Food for an Airport Journey

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Normally, I pack myself a lunch when I travel. The price gouging at airport restaurants is second only to amusement park restaurants, and I hate having such a large food tax added to my plane ticket. This weekend, I didn’t plan ahead quite as well as I normally do. My flight was leaving at 7:30 AM Saturday, and I just didn’t get up in time to make myself some food. What a mistake!

In case you missed it, there was a huge snowstorm across most of the Northeastern U.S. over the weekend. Pittsburgh was on the outskirts. Springfield, MA, where my parents live, was close to the center. That’s where I was trying to fly, to surprise my mother on the occasion of her 60th birthday party. I never made it.

US Airways had thousands of travelers stranded in the Philadelphia airport, and canceled many of its flights to and from Philly throughout the day. Unfortunately, they didn’t cancel my flight to there, but they did cancel pretty much all of the flights I could have taken out of there. Thus, I was stuck at the airport with neither food nor beverage (stupid no liquids rule!) in my carry-on bag. As a result, I got to taste some of the best and worst of what the Philly airport has to offer.


Alarmist? I’d Say So.

Friday, January 19th, 2007

From the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF):

Do you know when your hamburger is cooked sufficiently? Like many people, do you assume it is cooked because it’s brown? According the USDA, one out of every four hamburgers actually turns brown in the middle before it has reached a safe internal temperature!

Admittedly, hamburger can easily carry a higher risk of food-borne illness than other cuts of meat, due to the fact that most of the time bacteria are found mainly at the surface of the meat and ground meat has the surface meat intermingled with everything else. That’s why hamburgers are the only thing I ever order medium-well (I like steaks and roasts medium-rare).

These guidelines are probably quite reasonable for the elderly, small children, pregnant women, or individuals with a weakened immune system. To enact these guidelines for the general population, though, would have us all eating hockey pucks on toast. There’s no reason to cook it ’til it’s charcoal, assuming the ground meat is fresh; and if it’s not fresh, it shouldn’t be served at any temperature, anyway.



Monday, January 8th, 2007

Is anyone else as freaked out by the FDA’s preliminary approval of clones in the food chain as I am?

This is one of those situations where I’m convinced that industry lobbyists have more power than is good for us. Yes, I know that the FDA’s preliminary approval comes after five years of study, and I also know that their exhaustive study has found that milk and dairy from cloned bovine, goats, and swine (but notably not sheep) is indistinguishable from that of naturally-bred animals. I also understand, as the FDA’s press release describes it, that “Because of their cost and rarity, clones will be used as are any other elite breeding stock — to pass on naturally-occurring, desirable traits such as disease resistance and higher quality meat to production herds. Because clones will be used primarily for breeding, almost all of the food that comes from the cloning process is expected to be from sexually-reproduced offspring and descendents of clones, and not the clones themselves.”

What I don’t understand is, if the clones are indistinguishable, why bother using them in the first place? I mean, why not just let a bull hump a cow like nature intended? (I know, mass-market meat is already beyond that process; instead they inject sperm from a bull into a cow when thermometer readings have shown that the cow is most fertile and therefore most ready to make use of the commodity…)

Key word from the FDA’s quote describing where cloned animals will wind up: almost all of the food…. But basically, yeah, once that breeder’s put in her time and she’s not spittin’ ‘em out as reliably as she was a year ago, it’s straight to the processing plant with her so she can be made into hamburger meat. But that’s also assuming that as a food-purchasing public, we’re going to be comfortable with the breeders and the bulls being the same breeders and bulls, generation after generation because somebody decided that this matched pair makes beautiful angus steaks together. Am I being unreasonable here when the only response I can come up with to this situation is, Because it’s just not natural, that’s why!?

I suspect that I am, which is why I’m going to wait a couple of days and try to come up with a more eloquent objection to make before I submit my comment to the FDA. However, I encourage everyone to take advantage of the limited window that the bureaucracy gives us to voice our opinions and submit a comment before April 10, 2007.

Really, though, it’s remarkable that the FDA is only allowing a three-month window for public comments to be submitted. They’ve got five pages worth of topics on which they’re currently accepting comments, many of which have comment periods of a year or more. If they spent five years doing the preliminary research on this subject, why not wait another year and have a longer period of public commentary about what is almost certain to be the most contentious issue on their docket? I just don’t understand….

Striving Toward Sustainable Agriculture

Friday, December 15th, 2006

A recent article in The Economist has questioned the wisdom of efforts aimed at making agriculture more sustainable. A key passage from this article contends that chemical inputs help make the most out of available agricultural land by increasing yield per acre:

But not everyone agrees that organic farming is better for the environment. Perhaps the most eminent critic of organic farming is Norman Borlaug, the father of the “green revolution”, winner of the Nobel peace prize and an outspoken advocate of the use of synthetic fertilisers to increase crop yields. He claims the idea that organic farming is better for the environment is “ridiculous” because organic farming produces lower yields and therefore requires more land under cultivation to produce the same amount of food. Thanks to synthetic fertilisers, Mr Borlaug points out, global cereal production tripled between 1950 and 2000, but the amount of land used increased by only 10%. Using traditional techniques such as crop rotation, compost and manure to supply the soil with nitrogen and other minerals would have required a tripling of the area under cultivation. The more intensively you farm, Mr Borlaug contends, the more room you have left for rainforest.

The current state of large scale agriculture is, despite any claims to the contrary from Norman Borlaug or anyone else, disturbing. Admittedly, complete cessation of chemical fertilizer use is not realistic. Relying entirely upon them, however, is short-sighted and will only lead to compounded troubles in the future. Striving toward reduced synthetic fertilizer dependency is not only a realistic goal, but a desireable one, especially because chemical fertilizers show reduced efficiency the longer they are applied: each successive year of fertilizer use requires more of the chemicals to match the yield of previous years.


Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner in Bed

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

It used to be that I thought breakfast in bed to be a luxury. I would often be out of bed before Aurora on the weekends, and occasionally I would make a meal to take upstairs to her. On the mornings when she got up before me, I would whine about how she never made breakfast in bed for me; even if it was just cereal, couldn’t she at least deliver it to me so I didn’t have to get up?

Now, as my friends and other people who check out this page regularly may already know, I’m laid up in bed with a broken leg/ankle and can hardly get up at all. I spend mornings, noons, and nights in basically the same position: flat out on my back with my leg elevated on three pillows. The tables have turned in the meal preparation department, and then some. Aurora makes pretty much everything we eat without any help from me (though thankfully friends have been helping us out with an occasional meal; by which I mean, we’re thankful Aurora gets a break every now and again, as opposed to me being thankful I get to eat something not cooked by Aurora, which isn’t the case because she does pretty well in the kitchen), and then delivers it to me in our bed.


Herbicide-Resistant Rice Approved for Humans

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Request for approval made after rice contaminated supplies

I’m not sure what I find more troubling: that agrochemical companies feel the need to breed new, poison-resistant strains of staple crops, or that the government seems so apt to approve them. The USDA has approved for human consumption a breed of rice developed by Bayer CropScience that is resistant to herbicides. The path toward approval was set in motion last July, when Bayer notified the government that it had found small amounts of the rice (deemed LLRICE601) in rice storage bins in Arkansas and Missouri and in samples of commercial long-grain rice due to cross-pollination between test crops and commercial crops. Prior to that discovery, the rice was “not intended for commercialization,” but because the genetic alteration was found by the USDA not to pose any health or environmental threats, it was just recently approved for all uses.

I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that the “protein conferring herbicide tolerance” itself poses no threat to human health, but what about the extra herbicides that can now be sprayed on the crops? That stuff can’t possibly be good for our systems–its very purpose is to kill plants! I’d feel much more at ease if our nation’s best and brightest biochemical engineers were devoting their talents toward developing strains of plants that need less chemical input instead of developing strains that tolerate more.

Some more disturbing information about Bayer’s and the USDA’s business and regulatory practices are revealed in a press release from the Institute of Science in Society from September 29 of this year, with ISIS’s sources noted as applicable:


On Not Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

I’m not going to have any say whatsoever over the meal this year and everything’s going to be just fine

“If you’re making crusts for the pumpkin and the pecan,” I tried convincing my wife and my sister who are stepping up to take care of the whole meal this year, “why not just make crusts for the apple pie, too? It’s just as easy to make four crusts as it is to make two,” but that’s about as far as I got in my argument before Aurora shushed me, saying that I didn’t really have a say in it this year, now did I?

Unfortunately, she’s right. If I were in control of the meal, I’d be in full prep mode right now. I’d be dicing bread and toasting it for the walnut stuffing, cutting onions, celery, and carrots for the same purpose, making pie crusts and the fillings to go in them, salting the turkey, boiling eggs to be deviled, cutting vegetables for appetizers and making dip to accompany them, and occasionally poking my head into the living room to see what’s going on in the television show everyone else was watching. We’d have six pies for six people instead of the paltry four; the crusts would all be homemade; the turkey would be injected with garlic-infused hot sauce and deep fried in peanut oil instead of roasted; the vegetables would be cut more quickly than they will be… but all that having been said, truth be told, the differences will be minor and the meal we’ll be eating will still be damned tasty even if I had no hand in making it.

Whether I’m cooking or not, my family still wants to eat well. The pumpkin pie will be from scratch, as will the cranberry jelly and the dinner rolls. We’re still going to have the walnut stuffing and a free-range Pennsylvania bird. we’ve never actually had a fried turkey on Thanksgiving before; that’s more of a Mardi Gras thing for us, but I was going to try something a little different this year. When everything’s said and done, our meal tomorrow will be pretty much standard fare for what I’ve eaten on Thanksgiving day for most of my life. I’m not going to have any say over the meal at all whatsoever and everything’s going to be just fine.