Thursday, December 29, 2011

Forgive Me Rabbi For I Have Sinned, Part 2

God forbid you should miss Part 1.

Meanwhile, back at the corporate ranch, some of my office mates and I were discussing the imminent arrival of the In-N-Out truck. I had always held this family-owned business in higher esteem than the big burger chains since the food was fresher and the employees were supposedly treated better. But now, thinking about Cowschwitz, I was on the fence.

“The grilled cheese is just as good as the burger because they grill the bun on the same grill as the meat,” said a co-worker.

“I like it better without the meat," someone else chimed in. "You don’t feel as bloated afterwards. And I’m not even a vegetarian.”

Sheesh. After the carnivorous hand of god had touched me, were those two going to turn me into an agnostic again? Oh sure, they sounded like the voice of reason, but Rabbi, doesn’t god know best? I had heard about people ordering In-N-Out burgers without the meat and always wanted to try one, but today? After fantasizing about my bovine bad boy all week? After recalling the times when I had been so sated by his ilk, I could have lit up a Marlboro? Giving up now would be like enduring a Brazilian wax for that night's booty call, only to end up turning in early and watching a little Golden Girls instead. But this booty call would be with a beefcake named Bo.

“The truck will be here any minute,” I announced. “What should I do?”

“Get the burger,” a guy said with testosterone in his voice.

“Get the grilled cheese,” a gentler soul advised.

I decided to stick with my original plan. I would get the burger.

It was 11:55 AM when a couple of friends and I headed outside to line up for the truck before everyone else got wind of its arrival. There were about a dozen people in front of us, and I could smell that grilled meat wafting in the soft, gray drizzle. It wasn’t how I remembered it smelling. Now it had a gamey aroma, like, well, Cowschwitz. Ironically, I had been to the real Auschwitz on a gray, drizzly day, but there was no cow waft. Now, the closer we moved up in line, the stronger the Cowschwitz smell got. “Maybe I should get the grilled cheese,” I thought. But 30 seconds later I heard myself say, “I’ll have a cheeseburger with everything on it.” Pfew. I had made a decision. It was a done deal. But you know what, Rabbi? I didn’t feel a lot of conviction when I said it.

“Can I change my order to grilled cheese?” I blurted out as the order taker had already moved on to the next people in line.

“No problem,” he said.

Feeling both relieved and disappointed, I was an emotional oxymoron. While thinking I might finally be ready to commit to the meatless faith, I also lamented my loss as the burgers passed me by.

After my number was called, I carried the grilled cheese and bag of potato chips (they weren't making fries) to my desk in that wasteful cardboard box they serve it in. I took the first bite and tasted the crunchy bun slathered with the special sauce. Yep, that was how I remembered it. So far, so good. Then the Velveeta-like melted cheese announced its arrival. After a few more bites, it became clear that two overcompensating slices of processed American cheese did not a burger or a grilled cheese make. Sure, it still had that In-N-Out flavor, but did I really like the ingredients? Had I lost my taste for this stuff, even as a rare treat? An infrequent bag of potato chips was usually nirvana to me. But now thinking about the GMOs and the pesticides and the environment and big ag decimating the small farmers, well, it was too much. I could taste all the implications. Rabbi, you know what they say? Guilt is a terrible thing to waste. But I don't have to tell you.

Related Links:

Forgive Me Rabbi For I Have Sinned, Part 1

Monday, December 19, 2011

Forgive Me Rabbi For I Have Sinned

Hello, Rabbi. It’s been awhile. Sorry I haven’t kept in touch. A girl gets pretty busy after she gets her driver’s license. Oh, and those high holiday services I've missed for the past few decades? Whoops. My bad. Guess I figured I could atone alone. It's not too late to get in on the action, is it?

So Rabbi, here's the spiel. After going for a few months without meat, I had been toying with the idea of declaring myself a vegetarian. Not in a press conference or anything, but if someone should ask. Then the unthinkable happened. My company announced the In-N-Out Burger truck would be coming to our office. Yes, free junk food for all. Apparently they thought the Double-Double would be a little somethin’ somethin’ for the holidays. From my experience, one somethin’ is usually enough. In-N-Out would also be making “grilled cheese.” In other words, a cheeseburger without the burger. That’s like Fran Drescher without the whine. What’s the point? A slab of melted American cheese lying limply on sliced tomato, onion and “hand-leafed" iceberg lettuce on a grilled “sponge dough” white bun slathered with sauce? Sounded like a lotta nothin' nothin' to me. Hell, I figured I might as well call in sick that day.

I always loved In-N-Out burgers, and though I hadn’t eaten much meat or even craved it in the past year, the power of suggestion got my brain salivating. The things In-N-Out did with just a few ingredients to create the perfect mouthwatering alchemic reaction was always a mystery to me (but I was never very good in alchemy). So I discussed next week's truck visit with my vegan friend at work, and you know what she said? “You should have a burger if you want one. It’s a treat.” Did you hear that, Rabbi? A treat! I had a vegan’s permission to eat a sentient being! And I had just gotten a blood test back from the doctor that said I had slight anemia, so maybe I needed this. I had a doctor’s note and a vegan’s note! I felt a higher power summoning me to this sandwich. As far as I was concerned, I had been touched by the carnivorous hand of god. I had carte blanche to go hog wild. Oh, sorry about that hog reference, Rabbi.

For days I fantasized about that bovine bad boy. The mere thought of a grilled patty (I would have a single) and melty cheese nestling with peppy onion, tomato and crisp, plebeian lettuce between two crunchy, precisely sauced counterparts raised my serotonin. Sure, I still had some moral qualms, but in the sinning department I was no Jerry Sandusky. I would never be caught canoodling tender, young calves in the barn and coercing them into my scaloppini. I haven’t scaloppinied in 30 years. Veal is where I draw the line. My cow would be of consensual age. Although I doubt he'd be giving me the “hooves up” sign.

Yes, Rabbi, I would eat cheese and meat together, and unkosher meat at that. But as the big day got closer, I started wondering about my cow. Would Bo be one of those happy cows from California like in the cheese commercials? Would he be the George Hamilton of bovines with a tanned hide from hours spent luxuriating in an open pasture? Did he eat well on all that bountiful green grass or was he forced to subsist on a junk-food diet of GMO corn?

On the morning of my big day with Bo, I decided to do a little research into his provenance. Turns out my bovine bad boy would be coming from Harris Ranch—that huge feedlot you can smell on the freeway, midway between LA and San Francisco that's crammed with cattle. Rabbi, do you know what they call that place? Cowschwitz. I would be eating a concentration camp cow. I have been to the real Auschwitz in Poland, and can I tell you something? It was not pretty. But I don't have to tell you. So the thought of Bo and his family living in holocaustic conditions at Cowschwitz, subsiding on GMO corn nagged at me. And I only had a few hours left before the In-N-Out truck would arrive.

To be continued…

Monday, December 5, 2011


The sign in the produce section said Pineapples 87¢ each. “Hot damn,” I thought. "Big-juicy-sweet-yellow-cheap-thang: come to momma. I'll make a fruit salad or a smoothie or a pineapple upside-down cake. Hell, I could even throw a little luau. I wonder if it would still be festive without the pig.” Then I saw the cardboard hangtag that said the pineapple was grown in Costa Rica by a company named Kingston. Since they don't use a lot of pesticides on pineapples, I never worry too much about buying organic, but I couldn’t remember if they're genetically modified or not. I knew Hawaiian papayas were, but Costa Rican pineapples? Hmmm. To buy or not to buy—that was the question. Strapped for time on my lunch break, my head swirled with indecision. Sometimes a conscious consumer is forced to fend off a large primate, and you just want to scream, “Hey monkey, get off my freaking back! I’m buying this freaking pineapple whether you freaking like it or not!" This was one of those times.

As I was driving back to work with my questionably sourced fruit, my brain started doing its thing. Why was the pineapple only 87¢? Don’t you know that when something is that cheap, there’s a price to pay? Do you enjoy being a pawn in big agro’s game? So when I got back to my desk, I started Googling. Turns out Costa Rica uses the most insecticides of any country in the world and GMO pineapples would soon be introduced there. Exactly when is “soon?" I thought. Was my big-juicy-sweet-yellow-cheap-thang a dirty, little GMO tramp or a suitable, inexpensive suitor? Regardless, the thrill was gone, and cheap-thang would be going back to the store. Sure, it was only 87¢ and hardly worth my while, but it was the principle. I didn’t want to create the demand for it. And besides, the store was on my way home, so my carbon footprint wouldn't be compromised.

When I was leaving work for the day, my office mate (the one I cheated with last year), saw me carrying the pineapple. I told him it was only 87¢ and that I was returning it. "Only 87¢? I love pineapple," he announced. Then, upon the realization that returning it was more for my sake than for any real impact on the system, I offered it to him. I knew the cashier would probably just nod at me like when you're trying to placate a deranged person who's telling you about some secret society on Mars, and that would be the end of it. Besides, office mate was really excited about the prospect of acquiring a shiny, new pineapple. That is, until I ruined it for him. I'm pretty sure I could buzz kill anything with one strategically placed zinger. Call me gifted.

"It's from Costa Rica who uses more pesticides than any country in the world,” I said. “You want it?"

"Hmmm. Well, maybe not then."

“No, really," I said. "You can have it. You love pineapples, and I was expecting too much from my boycott.”

“No, that’s ok. If my wife wanted me to have a pineapple, she would have bought me a pineapple.”

I paused, scrunched up my face and crinkled my crow’s feet. “If you want a pineapple, you don’t need permission to have a pineapple," I said. "Here, take it.”

“No, that’s ok.”

“No, I really want you to have it.”

“Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

“Take the freaking pineapple!”

“What about the pesticides?”

“Your wife doesn’t buy organic fruit or shop at the farmers’ market,” I said. “This would have been the one she would have bought you if she wanted you to have one.”

Ten minutes later, as I gazed into the cashier’s vacuous eyes, I said, “I’d like to return this pineapple.”

"Okay. I owe you 87¢" he said, and handed me three quarters, a dime and two pennies.

“Thanks,” I said as I put the change in my wallet and walked out of the store. Pineapples, pesticides, partners, primates...I give up.

Related Links:

I am a Shameless Hussy

How to be a Bad-Ass Anti-GMO Activist

Monday, November 28, 2011

Travel Bite: Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, Part 2

I showed you the inside of San Francisco's Ferry Building foodie mecca in Part 1, but on Saturdays, the huge Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market takes place outside. Located on the embarcadero, it’s one of the premier farmers' markets in the country for local, sustainable and organic produce, meat and all things artisanal. As much as the snarktastic Anthony Bourdain wanted to hate it, he couldn’t help but rave (watch video). Did the churro man pay him to play nice?

See the sugary, fried dot in front of the building in the top photo? It's the churros (You may want to brush up on your Where's Waldo first). Farmers' market vendors are set up in the front and wrap all the way around the building to the back where a lively scene (hey, I like banjo music) and motley crew overlook the bay (no pic, but trust me, there's water back there).

You'll need plenty of water with all this heat.

Even the pistachios were jalapeno and habanero flavored. In case of fire, drink bay.

Claiming "raw, organic goodness," Farmhouse Culture got in on the heat too with smoked jalapeno kraut. Not that the horseradish leek is for wusses or anything.

Fashionista farmers say solids are out this season. Except for the color orange.

Plenty of wild shrooms were out back, while far-out ones from Far West Fungi were inside.

Frog Hollow Farm has a shop inside, but on Saturdays, it spills out into the market out back. I had one of everything. Including the sack.

Across the street was a craft fair, but I didn't see a single craft beer. For that you either have to head back inside the Ferry building or BYOCB (Bring Your Own Craft Beer).

Related Links:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Travel Bite: Ferry Building, San Francisco, Part 1

The historic Ferry Building, located along San Francisco's embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, opened in 1898 as a terminal for ferries that traveled across the bay. In its heyday, 50,000 people commuted by ferry every day. Then in the 1930's, the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate opened, and everyone could miraculously drive across the water. The building is still used for ferries, but it ain't what it used to be.

Now it's the Ferry Building Marketplacea big, honkin’ foodie haven that's jam-packed with jams and artisanal luxuries, from baked goods, olive oils and cheeses to charcuteries and other cuteries (see lioness with orange mane).

These linzer-cookie cuteries and fruit-filled lovelies are from the legendary Frog Hollow Farm. Located on the Sacramento River Delta an hour from the city, this organic farm produces seasonal fruits, including 25 varieties of peaches, along with nectarines, apricots, plums, pluots, cherries, pears and grapes. Their urban farm stand shop here also sells conserves, chutneys and marmalades.

Hey, what are labels doing on those pears? I guess they haven't earned their local, sustainable and organic stripes like Frog Hollow's fruit. But I'm guessing the candy-striped figs have earned theirs.

In this mushroom shop called Far West Fungi (see big mushroom sign at top left), you can find cultivated and wild shrooms, truffles and unusual forest products. What you can't find is a little saucer of butter to dip your lobsters in.

Boccalone Salumeria features over 20 varieties of handmade cured meats using local, sustainably raised, heritage-breed pork. Though "Tasty Salted Pig Parts" kind of says it all, I can't help but wonder which pig parts are unsaltworthy. On second thought, don't tell me.

Cowgirl Creamery is your go-to girl for organic, environmentally responsible, award-winning cheese, made locally in Point Reyes Station, about an hour north of the city. Yee haw! If cowgirls got to eat all that cheese, I'd be a cowgirl too. Or a cow, anyway.

Acme Bread is the nationally acclaimed artisan baker that has supplied Alice Waters and Chez Panisse with their bread for almost 30 years—ever since one of the restaurant's busboys started baking bread at her request and then started the bakery. Acme uses only organic flours and is still giving Panisse its panache.

More cuterie as dough-filled cream pies masquerade as muffins from the artisan-crafted, gluten-free Mariposa Baking Company.

Were the plum and green tea donuts from Pepples Donuts trying too hard? When you're a 100% organic, vegan donut, you tend to try a little harder. Power to the Pepples!

Related Links:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to be a Bad-Ass Anti-GMO Activist

Rally for the Right to Know, October 16, 2011, Westwood, California

So you've heard about those creepy Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that are infiltrating our food supply? You know, the ones that are irreversibly altering some of the world's staple crops? Okay. Now what? You gonna bury your head in the soil or get off your comfy GMO cotton couch and do something? Well, before you embark on the road to bad-ass, here are 10 things you need to know about genetically modified foods. Because when you hit the anti-GMO trail, you'll be up against the big boys like Monsanto. Oh, and when you make your protest sign, be sure to spell "genetically" right. Typos, like GMOs, are just plain wrong.

Wilshire Boulevard—the road to bad-ass

1. KNOW YOUR GMO. Flounder genes in tomatoes? Cattle genes in fish? OMG! Yup, those are GMOs—when genes from one organism are inserted into the DNA of another to create traits like pest or drought resistance. They can come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans. You've probably eaten a handful of them already today, and it's not even lunchtime yet. They're mostly in soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugar beets. Big agribusiness continues to spread these experimental seeds across the land, claiming we need them to feed an overpopulated world. Yet independent studies over the past decade show that GMOs can pose serious risks to humans, animals and the environment—from allergies and infertility to organ damage and cancer. Hungry for lunch?

Stuck in greedlock

2. KNOW YOUR FOOD. You wouldn't put arsenic in your gas tank, so why fill your bowl up with Corn Flakes? About 80% of packaged foods contain GMOs, from cooking oils, sodas, and cereals to dairy and soy products, but most people don't know they're eating them because they're not labeled. A survey showed that 93% of Americans want to know if their food has GMOs in it, but the biotech and processed-food behemoths don't want us to know because then we won't buy them. That means the onus is on us to know what all those scary-sounding ingredients actually mean. I don't know about you, but I have better things to do on a Saturday night than to wiki "maltodextrin." That's more of a Tuesday night thing.

3. KNOW YOUR ENEMY. GMO seeds brought to you by the maker of Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs and artificial bovine growth hormones. Monsanto is the huge chemical company that makes about 90% of the GMO seeds on the market. The seeds are genetically altered to tolerate high doses of their Roundup herbicide weed killer. Not only do Monsanto seeds require Monsanto pesticides (cha-ching!), Monsanto owns the patent and intellectual property rights to the seeds. That means it's illegal for farmers to save "their" seeds and are then forced to buy new ones every year. Using bully tactics, Monsanto has planted itself in every corner of the globe, putting small farmers out to pasture. You think the financial crisis was bad? What'll happen if one corporate hog owns the world's food supply?

4. KNOW YOUR GOVERNMENT. How come the FDA approved GMOs without proper testing? Because Monsanto said they were safe. Even though FDA scientists repeatedly warned of possible health risks, the FDA official in charge was Monsanto’s former attorney, later their vice president, and now the US Food Safety Czar, Michael Taylor. Between 1999 and 2009, the top food and ag biotech firms spent over half a billion dollars lobbying Congress to deregulate GMOs and prevent labeling. Stories of strong-arm tactics, bribes and threats are rampant throughout the history of the GMO approval process and promotion of them around the world. And the head of the USDA, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, has approved three new GMO crops since he's been in office. Go, USA!

5. KNOW YOUR GEOGRAPHY. GMOs are now grown in 29 countries? Congratulations, Monsanto! Lobbying foreign governments and buying up seed companies really paid off! But 20 international food and conservation groups reported that GMOs have not only failed to increase the yield of any food crop, they've created the growth of "superweeds," forcing farmers to use more chemicals (cha-ching!). Tragically, over the last decade, 250,000 farmers in India have committed suicide over failed crops and insurmountable debt—the vast majority, growers of Monsanto’s Bt cotton. On the upside, over 50 countries now have GMO labeling, including Europe, China and Russia, and many are banning GMOs. After Haiti's devastating earthquake, the Haitian people unanimously rejected 475,000 tons of free Monsanto seed. Go, rest of the world!

Sign translation: "I am corn and I don't want to be genetically modified."

Doing a corn dance before they're forced to dance to the corn god, Monsanto

6. KNOW YOUR HISTORY. Uprooting civilizations. Though the Mexican people oppose GMOs, Monsanto has still managed to spread its seed, wiping out many of the country's native corn strains that have adapted to local soils over thousands of years. The Mesoamerican civilization was built on corn, and it has deep religious and spiritual importance to their identity as well as their diet. Much of the heritage varieties now have GMO contamination from pollen or seed that has blown onto farms from GMO crops, forcing small indigenous farmers to leave their land since the crops won't grow without Monsanto's expensive, toxic chemicals. If the Aztecs and Mayans had subsisted on GMO corn, I'd hate to think what their pyramids would have looked like. Especially the food pyramid.

7. KNOW YOUR OPTIONS. WTF! Is anything safe to eat? If it's certified organic, it's not allowed to contain any GMOs. In addition to buying organic, look for voluntary non-GMO labels and avoid products made from corn, soybeans, canola and cottonseed (unless they're organic). The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization that tests for GMO content and has created an industry-wide set of standards through a third-party verification process. You can look for their label on products and find the non-GMO-approved brands on their site. You can also download PDFs and free apps for the Institute for Responsible Technology's Non-GMO Shopping Guide and the Center for Food Safety's True Food Shopper's Guide. Are we a bad-ass yet?

Bad-asses in training

8. KNOW YOUR POLITICS. The seeds of change in California. We have a chance to get mandatory labeling of GMO food on the California ballot for the first time in 2012. But getting an initiative on the ballot is a time-sensitive, carefully orchestrated endeavor. Starting in January, we'll have about 150 days to gather up to 800,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the GMO industry is gearing up to crush us, so we have to be poised to fight their deep pockets with our bad-ass, grass-roots offensive. Just think. If GMO labeling is passed in California, it's only a matter of time 'til the other states follow. What happens in California won't stay in California.

Total bad-asses

9. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES. A pesticide in every bite. This is the first generation that will grow up on foods spliced with genes that produce risky, untested insecticides. GMO soy, corn and cotton are grown with the Bt toxin—a built-in pesticide thousands of times more concentrated than sprays. But where does it say that on your infant formula? We don't tell corporations and lobbyists who they can buy. Why should they decide what we can eat?

10. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. Buh bye, lazy ass. Hello, bad-ass. Still sitting on your Bt cotton couch? Well, did you know that if just 5% of the population rejects GMOs, then the food makers will stop putting them in their products? It happened in Europe. Why not here? But first we have to get them labeled so people know what GMOs are. So be a bad-ass and demand the right to know.

Sign up to volunteer in California.

Sign the petition to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods asking them to support the campaign.

Sign the FDA petition demanding labeling.

Sources + Resources:

Institute for Responsible Technology

Center for Food Safety

Food and Water Watch

Organic Consumers Association

Just Label It

Non-GMO Project

Non-GMO Shopping Guide

True Food Shopper’s Guide

The Guardian: GM crops promote superweeds, food insecurity and pesticides, say NGOs

The World According to Monsanto

The Future of Food