Moonshot To Meatless

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Last month I learned enough from Ezra Klein’s food-related conversation with Mark Bittman to share the podcast episode. I listen to his podcast for the quality of his discussions with knowledgeable guests. But he is also a great essayist and yesterday he published an op-ed essay that is worth a read on a topic we have linked to many times:

Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat

It wouldn’t actually take that much of an investment for Biden to get us headed in the right direction.

I’m a vegan, but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon. That said, we can’t just wish away the risks of industrial animal agriculture. If we don’t end this system, soon, terrible things will happen to us and to the planet. Terrible things are already happening. Continue reading

A Conversation About Animal, Vegetable, Junk

First things first. The last time I linked out to a book based on a podcast interview with the author, it turned into a complaint about  the podcast’s link to Amazon for finding the book. This time the same podcast, interviewing another author about his recently published book, is linking to the book’s publisher instead of to Amazon. Click the image to go there. Progress. The book sounds like a perfect fit with our interests on this platform, and the quality of conversation with the author makes the episode itself worth listening to in advance of reading the book:

Mark Bittman Cooked Everything. Now He Wants to Change Everything.

The acclaimed food writer offers a sweeping indictment of our modern food system.

Mark Bittman taught me to cook. I read his New York Times cooking column, “The Minimalist,” religiously. Continue reading

Edible Houseplants

Michael Crowe holding the mushrooms he grew. Photograph: Mike Crowe/Stronz Vanderploeg

Growing edible fungi at home is easier than you might have thought:

Why mushrooms are the new houseplant everybody’s growing

Easy to grow, visually beautiful and oodles of fabulous fungi for breakfast, what’s not to love?

Michael Crowe with an abundance of homegrown mushrooms. Photograph: Stronz Vanderploeg

Selling home grown mushrooms – through bags small enough to sit on your kitchen countertop, filled with organic matter like grain or coffee grounds and inoculated with spores – has been Michael Crowe’s business since 2017. He enjoys hearing from happy customers, who sometimes send him updates on their progress. “It’s just so cool because it can bring together people of all ages, from all walks of life and people all over the place can grow food and have a really good time learning about it,” he says. Continue reading

Food Giants Exploiting Addictions

Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions, by Michael Moss. Random House

I have made progress, but not enough, changing my diet. Reducing meat consumption by more than half was challenging, but with more vegetarian restaurants and more vegetarian recipes being shared, tasty meatless is easier. I have succeeded more at eliminating processed foods than I have in becoming vegetarian, with maybe 80% processed foods eliminated. But on occasion I have slipped, put something crunchy in my mouth, and end up feeling like an addict on a binge. Barbara J. King, last seen in our pages nearly seven years ago, graces National Public Radio (USA) with another review, There Are So Many Flavors Of Potato Chips; ‘Hooked’ Looks At Why, that helps me understand the challenge I am up against:

Around the corner from where I live in small-town Virginia is a Kroger’s grocery store. According to its website, the store sells 20 flavors of Lay’s potato chips: classic, wavy, wavy ranch, baked, barbecue, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, lightly salted, cheddar and sour cream, limon-flavored, honey barbecue, sweet southern heat, dill pickle, flamin’ hot, flamin’ hot and dill pickle, cheddar jalapeno, jalapeno ranch, lime and jalapeno, kettle-cooked, and kettle-cooked mesquite barbecue. Continue reading

Olfactory & Gustatory Experiences, Better Understood

Butyric acid gives some cheeses their distinctively strong scent. Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

I had been putting off listening to this interview until I had the proper attention span. During the last two years I have worked to improve my understanding of the relationship between tastes and aromas (aka smells) of coffees, mirroring the work I did to better understand wines back in the day.  My patience was rewarded with a clear conversation that neither dumbed down nor over-complicated the relationship between olfactory and gustatory experiences. It made me think the book will be worth more than the purchase price:

…On why grass-fed beef tastes different than grain-fed beef

It’s absolutely true that the foods that animals eat in order to grow affect the way they taste when we, in turn, eat them as food. And in the case of grass and grain-fed animals, the difference is in the kinds of fat that they take in. So it’s not that we’re actually tasting grass or tasting grain when we detect the difference between the two. It’s actually the fact that the fats — the oils in grass — are very irregular molecules, and they tend to be broken down in the animal into particular fragments that are very characteristic of those original fats and oils. Continue reading

Rudy’s Vegan Butcher, A Re-Conceived Tradition In London

When they opened, the timing did not seem promising, but against all the odds they sold out and are prepping for the next virtuous wave:

Back Soon – Promise!

Wow! Thank you SO much – you guys have cleaned us out and we have been so overwhelmed by your generous support and custom. We are heads down in the kitchen restocking as fast as we can, and are also currently looking for bigger kitchen so we can continue to meet demand. Thanks for understanding while we take a short break – we will be back online as soon as we can! Rudy’s Vegan Butcher, Islington is still open! We’re busy working on our Christmas feasting box too, stay tuned… 😉

Common Language For Wine Pairing

Big Macs & Burgundy Wine Pairings for the Real WorldThanks to an episode of the podcast All Of It, this book  came to our attention. We swore off Big Macs and Cheetos and other over-processed foods decades ago, so the title was off-putting. But if you listen to Vanessa Price explain it the purpose of the book is clear: commonsense language, for a topic that normally is full of fancy language, is a good thing. Abrams books says this:

Essential wine pairings for everything from popcorn to veggie burgers to General Tso’s Chicken, based on the wildly popular Grub Street column Continue reading

Farming A Healthier Diet

Our thanks to Brent Loken for summarizing some the possibilities of better farming for a healthier diet:

About 10,000 years ago, humans began to farm. This agricultural revolution was a turning point in our history and enabled the existence of civilization. Today, nearly 40 percent of our planet is farmland. Spread all over the world, these lands are the pieces to a global puzzle we’re all facing: in the future, how can we feed every member of a growing population a healthy diet?

Understanding The Life Of Our Groceries

We apparently do not look as closely as we should when we go to the supermarket. One paragraph from this book review should be enough to know whether you want a closer look:

…Author Benjamin Lorr spent five years looking into that as he studied all aspects of American supermarkets — from the suppliers, the distributors, and supply routes, to the workers in the retail outlets themselves. In the reporting for his new book The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket, Lorr met with farmers and field workers and spent 120-hours-straight driving the highways with a trucker as she made her multistate rounds. He worked the fish counter at a Whole Foods market for a few months, and went to trade shows to learn about entrepreneurs who were trying to break into the industry. He also traveled to Asia to learn about commodity fishing – finding human rights violations along his journey…

Antitrust considerations might be of interest if you plan to purchase The Secret Life of Groceries.

Foodways As Tangible & Intangible Heritage

In the 1960s, the Green Revolution placed a premium on high crop yields over factors such as crop diversity and soil preservation. Photograph: Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters

2010-2017, from our base in Kerala, India one of our primary activities was food heritage preservation. And it is a constant theme in these pages. Along the way it became clear that both foodstuffs, the tangible things that are used to make food, and foodways, the intangible knowhow for using foodstuffs to make food, are equally worthy of our attention. Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this:

‘Mind-boggling variety’: the food crusaders preserving India’s heritage

A rich range of native crops and seeds is being nurtured in an effort to halt the country’s rapidly vanishing food diversity

Babita Bhatt left a career in software to launch her own business in natural products grown in the Himalayas. Photograph: Handout

A small army of botanical heritage enthusiasts is spearheading a movement in India for the revival and preservation of the country’s rapidly vanishing food biodiversity by bringing back the rich crop varieties that thrived in the past, but are now on the verge of extinction.

Babita Bhatt, a 43-year-old former software professional, is just one of these crusaders, who are eschewing established careers and fat pay packets to become farmers, activists and entrepreneurs.

Fear of feeding her young daughter foods covered in pesticides was the trigger for Bhatt to move to the hills of Uttarakhand. Trading a steady income for the financial insecurity of an entrepreneur, she launched Himalaya2Home, a self-funded venture, in 2018. Continue reading

What’s In A Name?

Europe’s main farming lobby group says it is “cultural hijacking” to place a vegan burger, right, in the same category as a beef burger. Carsten Koall/EPA, via Shutterstock; Daniel Roland/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since 2011 we have looked far and wide for information as well as inspiration related to our primary interest, entrepreneurial conservation.  Sometimes, instead of inspiration we find its dark counterpart, and the result is exasperation. Reducing consumption of animal protein has been just one topical focus in our pages. We have been inspired by the innovations around meat alternatives.

We know that what’s in a name is important to how we think about a product.  How we should refer to plant-based meat alternatives is one of those cases. Thanks to Isabella Kwai, today we see some potentially exasperating news from a region of the world we normally are inspired by, not least for its regulatory muscle:

E.U. Debates Whether a Veggie Burger Is Really a Burger

The European Parliament is voting on proposals that would ban products without meat from being labeled burgers or sausages, drawing ire from environmentalists and manufacturers.

LONDON — When is a burger not a burger? When it contains no meat, according to a divisive proposed amendment on which the European Parliament is scheduled to vote on Friday, part of a set of measures that would ban products without meat or dairy from using associated terms in their labeling. Continue reading

Upcycled Foods, Circa Late 2020

The first time I saw upcycling in action, I did not know the word. It became part of my vocabulary in 2012. And then I started seeing it more frequently, but only years later before I would see it in relation to food. Now it is more mainstream, but this PBS news segment shocked me anyway, with the revelation of how much waste there is in the production of tofu. In my experience growing up in the USA, tofu was one of the first “green foods” on the market. Little did we know. Shock is sometimes followed by awe. Case in point: Renewal Mill is providing solutions to tofu production waste and other forms of food waste that seem obvious once you see them do it. But first, someone had to do it. I have not tasted their products yet but I am confident I would savor it on multiple dimensions.

Ethiopian Vegan

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The vegan sampler at Ras Plant Based features an assortment of dishes traditionally eaten by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during periods of religious fasting, when they abstain from animal products.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Always ready to learn more about Ethiopia’s contributions to the world. And the move to animal-free food is an evergreen topic around here. So the story below is perfect for today. The photography is unusual, in the world of food, but the text by Hannah Goldfield is convincing:

Ethiopian Tradition for the Vegan-Curious, at Ras Plant Based

At Romeo and Milka Regalli’s Crown Heights restaurant, vegan proteins stand in for meats, and tangy, fermented injera soaks up sauces spiked with traditional berbere spice or puckery lime.

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Romeo and Milka Regalli, who describe themselves as passionate about vegetables, wanted to both showcase their favorite fasting dishes and offer vegan iterations of common meat preparations.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

Many of the recipes that the chef Romeo Regalli uses in the kitchen at Ras Plant Based—the restaurant that he and his wife, Milka, opened in Crown Heights in March—have been passed down through generations. A number of them came from Romeo’s grandmother, a passionate home cook who died last year, in Ethiopia, at the age of a hundred and four. Yet the dish that seems most likely to have a long, storied history, Mama’s Tofu, traces its origins only as far back as May, when Romeo’s mother texted, from Addis Ababa, a photo of what she had made for dinner.

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An avocado salad with diced tomato, onion, and jalapeño, in a lime vinaigrette.Photograph by Bubi Canal for The New Yorker

“I was, like, ‘Oh, my God, that looks so good!’ ” Romeo recalled the other day. She rattled off the ingredients: tofu, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños. After she mailed him a batch of her homemade spice mix (the exact contents of which he keeps tight to his chest), Romeo made an approximation, and promptly added it to the menu. Continue reading

Scaling The Urban Farm, In Paris

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Nature Urbaine. Photograph: Magali Delporte/The Guardian

The future of food: inside the world’s largest urban farm – built on a rooftop

In Paris, urban farmers are trying a soil-free approach to agriculture that uses less space and fewer resources. Could it help cities face the threats to our food supplies?

Thanks to the Guardian for keeping stories like this  coming:

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Urban farming on a Parisian rooftop. Photograph: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

On top of a striking new exhibition hall in the southern 15th arrondissement of Paris, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm has started to bear fruit. Strawberries, to be precise: small, intensely flavoured and resplendently red.

They sprout abundantly from cream-coloured plastic columns. Pluck one out to peer inside and you see the columns are completely hollow, the roots of dozens of strawberry plants dangling into thin air.

From identical vertical columns nearby burst row upon row of lettuces; near those are aromatic basil, sage and peppermint. Opposite, in narrow, horizontal trays packed not with soil but coco coir (coconut fibre), grow heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shiny aubergines and brightly coloured chards. Continue reading

Citizen Farming & Victory Gardens, 2020

WW1-and-WW2-posters

LEFT: “War gardens over the top. The seeds of victory insure the fruits of peace,” Maginel Wright Enright, National War Garden Commission, 1919 (Library of Congress). RIGHT: “War gardens for victory—Grow vitamins at your kitchen door,” lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York, between 1939 and 1945 (Library of Congress).

In the latest Gastropod episide, Dig for Victory, we get some new background on an old topic that has been on our minds lately:

VicGarden

You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.” Continue reading

Crickets, Food For Thought

Cricket

ANNALS OF OBSESSION

WHY YOU SHOULD ADD CRICKETS TO YOUR DIET

As climate change, disease, and political instability loom, the cricket farmers Adam Brody and Jude Tallichet, of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, find comfort in the insects they’ve raised in their homes.

When we started carrying nutrition bars made from cricket meal in our shops earlier this year, I was not prepared for how well they would catch on. We started with a small, exploratory inventory. They sold out quickly, and when we reordered more they sold out again. I had not had cricket in my diet previously, and I am still not fully there (Gricket bars being my only foray to date), but I appreciate the efforts of those entrepreneurs making the case.

Saving The Harvest In Europe

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Strawberries at Greens Berry farm in Wexford, Ireland. Photograph: John Greene

With farmers on our mind, recently, and especially the ability of family farms to get harvesting and distribution done we are watching for stories like this:

Farmers across Europe bank on improvised armies of pickers to save harvest

Growers from Ireland to Spain says coronavirus lockdown has stopped migrant workers from arriving

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Workers on a farm at El Prat del Llobregat, near Barcelona, harvest artichokes in March. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

At this time of year John Greene is usually preparing to welcome dozens of Slovakian strawberry pickers for another harvest at his farm in County Wexford in south-east Ireland.

The work is arduous and repetitive and he relies on their experience and stamina to get the fruit picked, packed and sold.

Greene surveyed his fields this week with foreboding. “I look out my window and there’s no one to pick it. None of them are on site at the moment.”

His pickers remain in Slovakia, immobilised by a continent-wide lockdown. It is a similar story for hundreds of thousands of other seasonal agricultural workers who cannot travel just at a time when Europe needs them for harvests. Continue reading

Dirt Candy’s Clean Win

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The eponymous Lekka burger, featuring a patty made primarily from portobello mushrooms and cannellini beans, is topped with vegan mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles, on a house-made bun. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

After a meatless month, and a strong belief that alternatives to meat are going to dominate my eating future, my thanks to Hannah Goldfield for another clue of where to eat in New York City if my goal is a mix of meatless and tasty. This one is titled Lekka Burger and the Quest for the Perfect Veggie Patty and the subtitle is the kind of question on my mind lately: In the golden age of vegetable-centric cooking, do we need more dishes made in the image of meat?:

There has never been a better time to eat a meatless hamburger. The current surge of interest in plant-based diets has sparked an arms race of sorts. Companies such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are using cutting-edge technology to make ground-beef facsimiles that look, feel, and even smell eerily similar to the real thing; you can find their products everywhere from small restaurants to national fast-food chains and supermarkets. Meanwhile, in New York, a number of creative chefs have put serious effort into improving upon the archetype, using actual vegetables.

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The menu offers five iterations of the burger, some with globally themed toppings such as guacamole and Hatch-chili sauce or papadum and curry-tamarind ketchup, plus French fries and a few salads. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

Since 2008, the chef Amanda Cohen has been the force behind Dirt Candy, the first vegetarian restaurant to hold its own in New York’s fine-dining landscape. Cohen had never served a veggie burger before Andrea Kerzner, a South African philanthropist looking for ways to fight climate change, cold-called her to propose that they collaborate on a restaurant built around one, but she was game to try. Last November, they opened Lekka Burger, in Tribeca. Continue reading

Weeds Are Not Automatically Enemies

Dandelion

Credit: NPR

We missed this when it was first posted, but on this topic never too late to share:

VIDEO: Dandelions Aren’t Just Weeds. You Can Fry Them, Too

Some may think of dandelions as just unwanted weeds, but expert forager and nutritionist Debbie Naha says “a weed is just a plant growing where you don’t want it to.”

Naha loves to collect and eat dandelions when they bloom in the spring and again in early fall, when the days begin to shorten.

Some may also think of dandelions as those white puffballs whose seeds you can blow away like a candle on a birthday cake. The puffball is also considered a dandelion — it’s what the yellow flower matures into after a few days. But these aren’t especially good to eat. Continue reading

Field of Greens

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Assembly required: Sweetgreen’s hexagonal, compostable bowls have become status markers. Rozette Rago for The New York Times

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Illustration by Gluekit; Photographs by Philip Cheung for The New York Time

It is not the first time we are linking out to a story on this company, but thanks to the New York Times for In a Burger World, Can Sweetgreen Scale Up?for a more in depth look at them.

And for that matter, for a theme we care deeply about, which is that we should all be putting more thought into the food we eat, and how it is packaged.

The market is rewarding those companies paying attention to these themes:

Squashing the competition: A worker preparing zucchini.  Rozette Rago for The New York Times

The chain that made salads chic, modular and ecologically conscious now wants to sell you a lot of other stuff.

On a Wednesday morning last fall, several executives at Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain, gathered around a conference table at their headquarters here. They were discussing a new store format, called Sweetgreen 3.0, that had recently been introduced in New York City after two years of planning. At Sweetgreen’s other 102 locations, customers brave queues that, at peak lunch, can make T.S.A. lines look tame. Up front, employees assemble Harvest Bowls, Kale Caesars and infinite customized variants from a spread of freshly prepared ingredients, in a ritual that has become a hallmark of the modern midday meal.

At 3.0, to increase efficiency, the action had been moved offstage, to a kitchen in the rear. Customers give orders to a tablet-wielding “ambassador,” if they haven’t done so ahead of time with their smartphones, retrieving their salads from alphabetized shelves. While they wait they can mull adding one of the Sweetgreen baseball caps or $37 bottles of olive oil on display to the tab.

Many of the changes being tested at 3.0 seem crucial to realizing the ambitious plans of Sweetgreen’s co-founder and chief executive, Jonathan Neman. With its prescient mobile technology strategy, the company hopes to become something bigger — much, much bigger — than a boutique urban chain serving arugula to health nuts and yoga moms. Continue reading