Taco Tuesday

Taken from the Taqueria Zorro website.

I’ve learned a lot of things living on the East coast.  Things like when a Mexican joint hangs a “Taco Tuesday!!!” sign sponsored by Bud Lite, you’re probably taking a gamble on quality.

Last night I took that gamble.  After grabbing a few great beers at the Rogue Public House, I stopped in a narrow little place called Taqueria Zorro.  I ate my tacos in a virtually empty room, plastered with beer posters, neon paint, and streamers.  Tupac droned.  The one other diner – a tough, all-business looking guy – had no actual food in front of him, but sat in the corner, periodically picking his head up from the book he was reading to smile and nod at me.

With this unfamiliar and disconcerting backdrop, I had unquestionably one of the top 3 tacos of my life.  Grilled chicken on homemade corn tortillas with plenty of fresh salsa verde.  I ate ‘em quick, though, and made sure not to make eye contact with the reader on the way out.

What’s up, San Fran?

Hello from San Francisco!  I’m here for the next 3 weeks, externing at a very cool startup called Zipongo.  The company and the city both have a great food culture, and I’m really looking forward to exploring it.  If Day 1 was any indication, it’s going to be an interesting month.

I landed in San Fran yesterday a little after 1pm.  By the time I got into the city, I was crazy hungry.  Traveling and time zones put me at about 5pm (eastern time) with only a banana and an orange in my system – I needed food and fast.  Unfortunately, I was facing an uphill battle.

The reason was thanks to a documentary I just watched, called Forks Over Knives.  FoK is all about food from animals (and how bad it is) and food from plants (and how wonderful it is).  It presents a ton of evidence that all animal products (fish, eggs, and yogurt included) are slow poisons to the human body, directly translating to cancer and heart disease.  In fact, I found it all so convincing that I decided to drop them from my diet completely.

That left me combing the streets of San Francisco like a madman yesterday afternoon, praying to find something vegan.

I eventually stumbled on was a cool lunch spot just off of Union Square called The Grove.  I walked up to the counter salivating over the sandwiches I saw people eating.  Unfortunately, they were all off limits to me, and I ended up with the vegetarian chili… hold the cheese… hold the sour cream.  Dammit.

Was it tasty?  Yeah it really was.  Was it filling?  Not really.  I needed about 5 times the amount served to quell my monster appetite.  Why did I have to watch that movie this week?!

But things turned around: walking to the hotel, it became clear that I was headed straight to the heart of Chinatown.  I forgot completely about my stomach while I explored the neighborhood, wandered through the Italian district, and ended up at the bay by sunset.

Scenes from Day 1

By the time I made it back home, I was ready for dinner.  Veggie soup, again.  This time, though, it was probably of the best bowl of pho I’ve ever had.  And as I’ve learned in NY, the Vietnamese truly understand the proper size of a soup bowl.

Unbelievable soup in a completely empty restaurant.

As for my diet, late last night I came across this great critique of the documentary, which paints a more accurate picture of the research that led to the film’s conclusion (animals = poison).  It’s not that the doc was garbage, it’s just that it oversimplified to make its point, relying on black and white generalizations to describe the effects of complex processes.

In other words, look’s like meat’s back on the menu, boys!  

In conclusion, I recommend 1) watching Forks Over Knives, 2) reading the critique of the movie on rawfoodsos.com (and other analyses on the China Study and other examples from the movie), 3) staying tuned to eating goodly… this is going to be a fun month.

Let me steal your recipes!

A blank canvas...

I should start by saying I’m not great with recipes.  I’m the kind of home cook that supplements a lack of actual skills with impatience and creativity.  As a result, what I eat tends to resemble the same thing all the time (cabbage + flavor + beans, if you were wondering).

Trust me, a diet like that is a call for help.  But as luck would had it, I was given a blank recipe book for Christmas…

Now all I have to do is fill it.

Help me out!

If you have any good recipes, fill out the form below and send them my way. The dumber the better with this – whatever you make for yourself when you’re starving and exhausted after a long day is exactly what I’m looking for.  Of course, clazzy stuff works too.

Thanks! 

 

Required Reading

I just realized you can watch the entire Eames documentary on the PBS website.  Totally recommend you all do this – whether or not you care about design, their story is awesome and (best of all) really energizing.

If you’re on the fence, click the image below, go to the site, and check out the opening sequence of the film (it’s only 2 minutes).  It’s great in and of itself, and I promise it’ll leave you wanting more…

Click to watch the film!

The New Food Architects

Let’s say you’re a professional designer and you’ve just been hired for a major project.  Your task is to improve an extremely common and simple object.  Something every person you know already owns, uses, and likes.   Something like a chair.

You might start slowly, by thinking about the function of a chair.  “Well, I guess to be sat on,” you’d say.  Okay, well they pretty much all get that right.

So you brainstorm a little more.  What other things could it do?  You’d probably decide to add some cool features like heating pads, or vibrating cushions, or surround sound.  It’ll obviously need a USB port somewhere.  And you’d for sure make it beautiful, with the best materials you could find (double points if they’re locally sourced).  Then, after you finished, you’d take a step back from your masterpiece and you’d say to yourself, “I did it.  I improved the chair.”

But you’d be wrong.

The chair

Last night I watched an incredible documentary on Charles and Ray Eames, an architect and a painter who, in the early 1940s, redesigned the chair.  What was so awesome to me was how they approached the project.  Unlike this post’s straw-man premise, the couple didn’t think about how cool their chair could be, but how far it could reach.  For the project – and for their entire career – their motto was simple: “The best for the most for the least”.  The chair they ultimately designed was beautiful, comfortable, and cheap.  True to their goal, it was so widely purchased that the Eameses almost singlehandedly ushered in a revolution in American design.

The jump from the Eames chair to a revolution in food may not be obvious, but its there.  The food world is lucky enough to be full of talented architects like Charles Eams, all itching to redesign the stale system.  Still, it seems like too many of them are focused on growing food upward, rather than outward.

Consider that over the past 20 years, US sales of organics foods have grown from $1 billion to over $26 billion.  That’s a huge success for the industry.  Yet over the same period of time, US obesity has tripled from 11.6% to 33.8%.  One in three American adults is obese.  In other words, the foodie rich are getting richer as the poor get poorer.

Graphically, I imagine the landscape looks something like this.

Basically, for those with the means and the interest to eat well, the world is increasingly bursting with options…which is great.  I mean, check out how many people are eating awesome stuff.  But the graph clearly doesn’t paint a perfect picture.  And for architects looking to make a change, I figure there are two main ways to do it.

Option 1: Lower the Awesome Food Threshold

These architects are the ones engineering 20 calories out of the skinny Frappuccino, or adding extra fiber to your whole-wheat ice cream sandwiches.  By introducing cooler and cooler food options into the market, they incrementally raise the right side of the graph.  Some of the innovations may be a bit redundant, but as a designer, pushing the upper frontier is a pretty fun place to be.

But how many people do these innovations actually help?

Considering the dismal state of our nation’s health (including the limited access to healthy foods in many parts of the country), the work of these designers may lose some of its mystique.  What the food world needs is more architects like Charles and Ray Eames, people bent on making the best for the most for the least.  In that case, the future of food might look more like…

Option 2: Improve the Base Eating Conditions

…this.  It may not be as sexy, but the most needed innovations won’t happen on local farms or in artisan kitchens.  They’ll happen with frozen produce and over cramped apartment stoves.  Focusing energy on the left side of the curve will allow a huge number of people to view food differently, improving their health and their lives in the process.

Luckily, there are brilliant architects out there working on just this.  They’re people like Mark Bittman, who proves that fast food is no cheaper, no more convenient, and no more delicious than a meal prepared at home.  Or Jamie Oliver, who’s using his celebrity status to budge federally funded school lunches.  Or my recent professor, Dr. Brian Wansink, whose research cares more about the size of the plate than what’s on it.

But I guess the bigger point is that there’s still a lot more to do.  The systems thinking needed to restructure the way Americans eat is a massive undertaking, and demands the collective effort of an army of geniuses, dreamers, and leaders.  There’s no shortage of these people out there right now – they just need to adjust their focus to the left side of that graph.

Watching this documentary didn’t teach me a thing about food, but it got me thinking about the process of change itself.  Revolution doesn’t just happen, it’s designed.  Big picture stuff.  I feel it coming, and can’t wait to bust out of school and really join this new class of food architects – bringing the best for the most for the least.

Strange Dates: A tangled story of fate and beer.

courtesy of craft cans.com

Is there a better way to celebrate my return to blogging than by writing about something virtually irrelevant but still strangely interesting?  Only if I incorporate beer too.

So I recently experienced a moment of perfect coincidence.  It happened through a bizarre cocktail of winter ale, Indiana Jones, and fate.  Bear with me.

Timeline:

 All this month: I’m preparing for an externship with Zipongo in San Francisco, for which I’m developing a business plan and prototype for a mobile phone app.  Brand strength and customer experience are key components of the project.

 3 weeks ago: Over Thanksgiving break, Laura and I are channel surfing and catch the incredible “bad date” scene from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc.    We agree to watch the movie in full once I get back from Ithaca.

 1 week ago: My friend, Brian, sends me this article, which links the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Arc to concepts in brand management.  Essentially, it ties together elements of my future date and future externship.

 2pm Thursday: I’m back in New York and in the Whole Foods Beer Room.  With San Francisco in mind, I pick up the beer, Allies Win the War!  It’s apparently a collaboration between 21st Amendment (a SF brewery) and Ninkasi Brewing Co. in Oregon.  It should be a nice accompaniment to tonight’s movie night.  Plus, I’ll write about it for my triumphant return to eating goodly.

3pm Thursday: Zipongo itself enters the tangle of coincidence as I get an email from a future colleague who references 1) the beer list on eating goodly and 2) the local breweries of San Francisco.  Wait a minute… I was just planning on reviewing a San Francisco local beer on eating goodly.*  Weird.

6pm Thursday: Once I’m home, I take a closer look at that beer… Allies Win the War! is an “Ale brewed with dates”.  Dates!  As in, the scene from Indiana Jones that started it all!  What is happening???

 9:12pm Thursday: As Indie throws the date in the air, I throw back my glass of date ale. In so doing, I experience a zen-like state of perfect coincidence.

Whoa.

As for the beer itself, it looked great – really deep burgundy with a thick, stout-like head.  I approached it sort of timidly, anticipating something syrupy and intense, Belgian quad-esque. Instead, its nose was a lot more like a fragrant West Coast IPA – a lot of citrusy hops with some deeper fruits too (dates?).  The taste was where things got interesting… super thick, less bright than the smell suggested, and with this mellow sweetness that makes the overall flavor really round.  It’s also got some subtle toastiness, which combines with the thick body and mellow sweetness to remind me a little of a milk stout.

So for a flavor snapshot, mix 2 parts Left Hand Milk Stout, 1 part Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, and add dates (or at least close your eyes and picture them).

Consensus?  It’s a nice winter beer – definitely warms you up and has a deep, mellow profile.  Still, I would have liked a little more sharpness in the flavor to cut through the heavy body.  It’s really good as a one-glass experience, but doesn’t really leave you wanting another one anytime soon.

The question now is what fateful beer will I drink next?  Just to be safe, I think I’ll stay away from Zombie Dust for a while.  **

 

* In fact, I now see that the 21st Amendment Brewery is 8 blocks from Zipongo’s office.

** Or face grave/awesome consequences.

 

 

The F-Word

I have been reading an awful lot about Foodies lately.

An assignment for school has me analyzing 25 online food articles.  Some are written by true “gastronomes” (Item: Did France’s Le Fooding movement just snub Guy Savoy?!) while others take a grittier approach (Silk moth caterpillers = good eating!).    Despite their differences, one characteristic has been painfully universal: it’s all sort of embarrassing.

Take that with a grain of Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.  Writing about food is obviously something I really care about.  There are many writers who do good by drawing attention to certain issues, and many more that grow personally from thinking through what they eat (taking into account the the occasional fluff).  But what about the writer who masks gluttony as appreciation?  Or the smug celebrity chef who’s fences keep the public out?  Foodies may be fun, some may be talented, but often, they’re wolves in Curried Lamb’s clothing.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read B.R. Myers’ Atlantic article, The Moral Crusade Against Foodies.  Basically, it’s an informed rant against pretentious food writing.  And while Myers’ argument has no shortage of gross generalizations, it shines a spotlight on a trend that may harm as much as it helps.  Take the following (glorifying) passage from the Best Food Writing anthologies:

I watched tears streak down a friend’s face as he popped expertly cleavered bites of chicken into his mouth … He was red-eyed and breathing fast. “It hurts, it hurts, but it’s so good, but it hurts, and I can’t stop eating!” He slammed a fist down on the table. The beer in his glass sloshed over the sides. “Jesus Christ, I’ve got to stop!”

Enlightening?  Without a doubt.