Monday Morning Open Thread

Good morning, MTs. Happy Monday – hope it’s a good start to the week for you. I was reading New York magazine’s excerpt of the John Heilemann and Mark Halperin book that is causing the latest news cycle scandal. Not the bit about Harry Reid, but the bit about the Edwardses. Man, depressing and, um, what would be the opposite of illuminating when you learn something dark and depressing? That word.  Anyway, in clicking back to NY Mag’s home page, I found another article – a food and eating diary by Michael Pollan, who was apparently in New York to do promotional work for his latest book, Food Rules.

For lunch I was at Nobu 57. I was taking out a man named Steve Gold who is the president of Murray’s Chicken. I had been asked by the American Humane Association if I would contribute a lunch as part of their fund-raising auction, and the deal was whoever bid the most I would take out to lunch somewhere in New York. Since he was in the chicken business, I thought we’d go to a pretty fishy place. We shared a couple things: yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, salad with seared tuna — there’s a violation of my tuna rule right there — we had a lobster and avocado salad, and black cod and miso. We actually let the waiter direct us. We wanted two cold and two hot, and he recommended those, and the lobster was a gift from the chef. It’s funny, avocados are in season where I live, so it didn’t seem weird to see them on the plate. But you know this was a gift from the chef and one of my principles is — in addition to eating sustainably — to be a good guest and not reject what is served to you. Social values count as much as environmental values with me.

The article was delectable and it got me thinking about foodies with whom I’d like to share a meal. I’m sure I’m not the only one with multiple lists of top dinner party guests (authors, historical figures, actors, etc.), but this was the first time I wondered about whom I’d like to eat with from the professional food-eating/preparing category. I really would like to be led on a food expidition by Pollan – from this article, he sounds passionate about food without being up himself or too picky (both are key traits for a co-diner, IMHO!). I’d also love to eat a meal with Mark Bittman, The New York Times food writer and author of The Minimalist column and the Bitten blog. He also sounds cool and fun and curious.

Also, I’d love to eat with my hometown broadsheet’s food writer, Matt Preston. He sounds like an absolute blast – he’s Byronic in the extreme, favors cravats and writes equally well about high and low cuisine – I remember one side splittingly funny column where he recounts a top 10 list of favorite naughty foods in his house, with aerosol whipped cream (for shooting directly into the mouth) on the list. As Melbourne is a small town that masquerades as a big city, I’ve heard tell that he’s a very down to earth guy and doesn’t object to being approached on the street for off-the-cuff restaurant recommendations. Also, he seems to have a good sense of humor:

…[N]one could compare to my shirt-front disaster when eating at the three-star Le Meurice in Paris earlier this year.

This is one of the classiest dining rooms in the world, perched on the edge of the Tuileries Gardens. Eating here is like lunching inside a rococo wedding cake that has used up all of Paris’ annual quota for gilding. It’s the sort of place where you sit on cushion-loaded sofas rather than chairs and where the impeccably turned-out waiters in white tie outnumber the customers by two to one. It’s the sort of place so overstaffed that every time you go to the lavatory you are accompanied by an entourage of flunkies, and when the food arrives it is heralded by the buzzing of half a dozen waiters who describe, deliver, de-cloche, top wine and generally fuss.

Here, in what has to be one of the most over-the-top dining rooms in the world, is not the sort of place to spill down your shirt the dark, blood-rich gravy that is slathered over tender chunks of slow-braised hare meat. This is a classic French dish of almost unimaginable richness and density and that shirt was of a snowy whiteness and so just-out-of-the-packet new that I had pins jabbing into my torso. It looked like I’d squirted myself with chocolate.

“Would sir like a cloth?” . . . “Some mineral water?” . . . “Oh dear!”

Naturally, of course, my number one pick to eat a meal with would be La Divine Julia Child. Sigh. But at least I had the chance to interview her, so that almost counts. Or it’ll have to do!

So, what do you think, MTs? Do you have any favorite foodies/food writers/chefs that you’d like to eat with? Of course, this is an open thread, so please, what else is going on with you?


Book Discussion 9/14- The End of Overeating by Dr. David Kessler

 I am currently reading what is so far, a fascinating book called The End of Overeating by Dr. David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner during the Bush and Clinton years.  I felt compelled to read the book after reading Michael Pollan’s (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) recommendation:

“A fascinating account of the science of human appetite, as well as its exploitation by the food industry. The End of Overeating is an invaluable contribution to the national conversation about the catastrophe that is the modern American diet.”

A description from the book’s website:

Most of us know what it feels like to fall under the spell of food—when one slice of pizza turns into half a pie, or a handful of chips leads to an empty bag. But it’s harder to understand why we can’t seem to stop eating—even when we know better. When we want so badly to say “no,” why do we continue to reach for food?

Dr. David Kessler, the dynamic former FDA commissioner who reinvented the food label and tackled the tobacco industry, now reveals how the food industry has hijacked the brains of millions of Americans. The result? America’s number-one public health issue. Dr. Kessler cracks the code of overeating by explaining how our bodies and minds are changed when we consume foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt. Food manufacturers create products by manipulating these ingredients to stimulate our appetites, setting in motion a cycle of desire and consumption that ends with a nation of overeaters.

I’d like to put up a discussion thread the week after Labor Day (September 14th), once all of us in the US have gotten their kids back to school.  That should give everyone enough time to get a copy of the book (which I hear is in high demand at libraries right now) and read it before we discuss it.  As always, you don’t have to read the book to join in the discussion.  


Weekend Open Thread

The death toll in Burma after a vicious cyclone hit the country this past weekend could reach 60,000, the number of people reported dead or missing, according to the Washington Post.

Because the country is headed by an incompetent, despotic regime, the people are not easily receiving aid. passed around a link to donate to Burmese monks, who in turn, have been giving food and shelter to the country’s poorest people.

These People Scare Me: I was recently perusing the responses to New York Times Magazine’s green edition, when I came across this gem:

(Michael) Pollan asserts as self-evident that a small carbon footprint is always a moral good. But suppose a child is very sick and the nearest hospital is 50 miles away. You can ride a horse and the child might die, or take a helicopter and ensure the child lives. In that case, using more fossil fuel is clearly a moral good. Offering this same sort of choice, if played out less dramatically, is why the green movement may fail.

Pollan is asking for human beings to deliberately make their own lives harsher, duller, perhaps even shorter for the sake of an abstraction. Whatever your belief in the merits of cutting carbon emissions, it’s easy to see why this neo-Romantic argument may not win many converts.

Especially inane, though, is Wendell Berry’s suggestion that “specialization“ has been bad for humanity. Division of labor has allowed man to rise from savannas and caves to cities, to feed multitudes and to cure deadly disease. Specialization is precisely what will produce the experts who will ultimately figure out how to make cheap energy without fossil fuels. That process, not some Arcadian fantasy that all humanity will voluntarily regress to a semi-industrial state, is the way to a cleaner world.


Kansas City, Kan.


Other Strange Encounters: Here is another one of those quirky Berkeley Parents Network letters, although I bet this woman’s situation is not as uncommon as we’d like to think:

My husband recently had a one night stand with a woman with whom he previously (about 2 years ago) had a longer-term affair. The one night stand resulted in a pregnancy, and they’ve decided to keep the baby. The woman lives in another city so he will be parenting from afar – we also have a child together. We started marriage counseling a couple of weeks ago and, at least right now, we both think we’d like to stay together. We definitely have issues outside of this one that we need to work on, and are both committed to doing so. I’m honestly not that hung up on the affair at this point – it’s the realization that there will be another child in his life, with another woman, and that child will likely be incorporated into our family in some way, shape, and form in the future. Plus, the fact that the child will be in another city means he will probably spend time away from us, which is hard to handle. Has anyone dealt with a similar situation? This is all very fresh and new and I know my feelings will change over time (because they already have a million times in about 3 weeks!) but I need a little long-term perspective on how this situation might ever really work…thanks!

Whew. This woman sounded remarkably calm for what her husband did. Can’t wait for the responses…

Leaving Foster Care: The Washington Post followed around this remarkable young woman as she was leaving the foster care system. At 21-years-old, Marie Willis is learning to live on her own, and is handling it with such aplomb.

What else is in the news? What is on your minds today? Have a good weekend all!


In Defense of Food?

Anyone reading or want to read Pollan’s new book?  I’m about 3/4 through and finding it both enjoyable and provacative.  I’d be happy to host a discussion if others want to read.

Otherwise, I may just wait and share some of my favorite parts with all of you when I finish.

Expat Brit – have you read this – I think you’d find it very affirming!