Archive for the ‘ethics & ecology’ Category

21
May

restaurant review – Schlesinger’s Deli

   Posted by: Livia

Just got back from a trip (which is what I meant my first post back to be about, but writing this instead), so I had a massage schedule because my back had been hurting and there was a long plane trip. Surely those would be disastrous together. Surprisingly, however, I’m doing pretty well, so the massage was just an extra bonus trailing end of vacation time.

Anyway, that put me walking to work from center city, which is rare for me. So I took the opportunity to try somewhere new for breakfast.

Schlesinger’s Deli
1521 Locust Street
Open 7-9 daily

I was looking for something light, but I have also completely run out of bagels… so the possibility of decent bagels won out.

I ordered salami & eggs (scrambled). They were cooked very firm and completely serviceable. The bagels were running low by 10am, but I scored an everything bagel. It had a crust, but not so much of one that it scratched my gums. The inside was bagel-y, instead of bready, but there was no stretch to the texture. Again, it was okay. The fruit cup side looked completely unimpressive, but was surprisingly good – they’d managed to ind canteloupes with flavor (still rare around here this time of year).

So I wasn’t wowwed but had nothing bad to say.

Except then I saw a patron come in and casually sexually harass one of the waitresses (“Can I get you anything?” “Come over on my lap and ask that again.”) and the waitress brushed it off and took it in stride, as she has to. But the manager was present and did nothing but welcome those patrons to the restaurant. So I was a bit disappointed.

And then that same manager publicly scolded one of the other waitresses for having been late to her shift and how dare she want to leave on time after that. She should stay the same amount late, since he has a restaurant to run and this is serious. And no matter how valid the critique, I should not be able to give you details of it, and it should not have happened right in front of the cash register.

So, no, I will not be going back there.

And, yes, I’d feel the same way even for the best bagel in New York.

2
Jul

Broccoli & Butter

   Posted by: Livia

In 1988, I was taking a course on logic. And, as is common in classroom debates, the topic was legalization of marijuana.

And we had the usual arguments with health studies and traffic studies and prejudicial enforcement. Fine. But the one that finally won the argument was this slippery slope extrapolation of, “Well, if you are going to go around saying people can’t get high when they are harming no one but themselves (i.e. in a controlled setting without involving non-users), then you might as well restrict people from consuming butter.”

Now at the time, this was ridiculous. And yet the class also had trouble pointing to the one thing that made it a different case.

In 2012, the arguments are exactly the same, but people take seriously the possibility that butter consumption might be affected by governmental oversight of some form. And every single time this comes up, I remember how incredibly unlikely it seemed back then.

What does broccoli have to do with health insurance? (NYT)
Broccoli in the Supreme Court decision (WSJ)
regulating soda size in New York (NYT)
Ruhlman fights back (tongue in cheek) with butter protections (blog)

20
Apr

Why are you feeding people?

   Posted by: Livia

Michael Ruhlman is a person who thinks about the whys and hows behind the food we eat, the methods we use to make it, and the sharing of it with others. He has given a TED talk. He has written many impressive cookbooks and books about cooking, with his most recent books exploring especially the fundamental components of cooking: Ratio and Twenty. And his recent post on Food Fascism has really struck a chord among the community of people who think about sharing food with each other.

The focus is on the decisions one person had to make in choosing the foods for a dinner that was part of her wedding celebrations – and whether it is reasonable for everyone to expect their preferences to be catered to, especially when that catering is expensive.

The whole post is not particularly long and worth reading completely for context. But his advice contained the following two paragraphs that will serve here as a summary:

“As you noted in a follow up email that no one in your party has any serious conditions (celiac disease, shellfish allergies), I would serve whatever the hell makes your daughter happy. I’m sure she’ll want a good variety, and so every normal person can enjoy his or her self.

But since you know that some of your relatives are a bit touched in the head with regard to their own diet, and that restaurants do charge by the head, I recommend including just what you elegantly wrote in your email on the invitation, politely. “I’m aware many in our big and diverse family may have diets they must adhere to, so if you suspect that our menu won’t suit you, please let me know so that we can let the restaurant know how many people will be attending the meal. If you won’t be attending do let me know, and also let me know if you will be joining us for the celebration following the meal.””

I’d say that a good 80% of the comments are in support of his positions, many of them with a wave of relief that they can admit to being unhappy about the sense of entitlement displayed by seeming-ubiquitous picky eaters.

There are even people with highly restrictive diets agreeing with his position because there are standards of behavior to be maintained:

The bottom line is that it’s never OK to rant and rave and make a scene about your food. Whether you’re at a party or a wedding, just remember that the event is not about you (unless of course it’s your own event). Even if you’re at a restaurant, the other diners don’t need to be subjected to your special dietary concerns. If you have a problem, quietly ask for a manager and pull them to the side to discuss it. Even better, write a letter to the management and don’t go back to the restaurant — both you and the restaurant will be better off. I’ve always appreciated a restaurant that will tell me up front that they can’t accommodate me as it means that nobody is wasting their time and even better, I’ve just increased my chances of not getting sick.

And I have to tell you that the whole discussion makes me wince. Because it’s the same discussion that you see in other venues – and it uses many of the same kyriarchal language that is used to refuse to examine privilege.

And I’m going to call BINGO

Who gets to be the “normal” eater and who gets the synonym for insanity? Well the picture right at the top of the post (which is held up as an ideal in the text) is meat and potatoes and a bit of vegetables. Ah, the golden era of nostalgia these days – the 50’s.

Also, there’s a generous accession that there are some people with real/medical needs to have restricted diets, and those are okay (but so inconvenient M I Rite?). And who are you to call the people eating fascists, when you are talking about asking for accreditation for food restrictions upon entry? Please may I have no ____, here’s my doctor’s note. Are you serious?

Why do we even care whether someone’s diet is restricted for health, ethical, or purely whimsical reasons? It’s restricted.

What reason do you have to want to feed people food they won’t enjoy? No matter that the reason!

Ruhlman says, “But foisting your diet on anyone or even talking about it in a way that even remotely self-serves or proselytizes, pisses me off.”

But by inviting people to eat your food and then serving people food they won’t enjoy eating is doing exactly that.

Making food for vegans and sneaking some butter in because you’re sure they’ll like it better that way if they don’t know – isn’t helping your guests. It’s helping you feel better about your own food choices. It’s betraying your guests’ trust that you are their friend and respect their ethics.

Making food for someone with an allergy and figuring that it’s not that severe, or probably faked, or just inconvenient to cater to, is risking their health. Even if they do not suffer for your choice, you are still the kind of host who is deliberately willing to compromise your guests’ health. Often times when this comes up, it’s discussed with a tone of spite – the cook getting back at the people who would dare make the person planning the menu think about the guests’ needs.

But even if it’s a fad diet. Even if it is just a food preference. Why are you calling them people who are important to you, if you don’t care what is important to them?

When I read the letter from the bride, I was pretty sure that the guests with the food restrictions were not just difficult to eat with, but also people who were generally unpleasant to be around. The answer there – don’t invite them. Don’t invite them and then test whether they’re willing to starve themselves for the pleasure of your company. Don’t invite them and expect a present when you are unwilling to offer food they can eat. Don’t invite people you know ahead of time you aren’t willing to have at your event. Because is slighting them on the invitation any less rude than slighting them on food? At least the former you can pretend was an oversight.

And what about more general cases? It’s important to ask yourself why you aren’t willing to accommodate the people you want to feed. What are you trying to prove to them? Why are you trying to normalize them?

And then once they are invited and you’ve undermined their needs and or values, don’t you dare say they aren’t being polite enough when they criticize you. (see also: tone argument)

And, yeah, it can be hard work to pay attention to what everyone will eat. It can take a certain amount of thought to pull together a meal with enough elements that people will enjoy that everyone will be pleased even if they can’t eat 100% of the meal. It’s much easier just to make a meal you’d like. But paying attention to other people’s wants and needs is one of the important steps in building friendships. It shows you give a damn.

24
Jan

review – Grill Fish (west philly)

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I was very excited when I saw that the Lai family was opening up a new restaurant close to me. I was excited because it was named Grill Fish.

Now there were dreams and fantasies in my head about the coming restaurant. In my head, this would finally be a convenient local source of exquisitely fresh fish (which is rather rare to come by in Philadelphia). Possibly, it would even be affordable. But just the name – Grill Fish – evoked images of the freshest fish, being treated very minimally, grilled all luscious and healthy.

Honestly, there’s no way I was going to get my wish.

But City Paper reviewed their opening, and it sounded like things would possibly be pretty close to my dreams. So exciting!

So I went there this weekend. And I’ll say right now that the food was very good.

But my dreams were shattered. For one thing, the chalkboard with the fresh special of the day? Had not been changed in the five days since the review.

And I realized that I hadn’t read the menu closely enough, and while I thought that under each protein there was a list of 5 or 6 ways it could be prepared, instead they were all ingredients in one dish.

And the two dishes we ordered were fried, not grilled. And so, not showcasing the freshness of the fish.

Right, but how was what we ate? Excellent.

We started off with the Grilled Squid appetizer. And it was exactly what I wanted the rest of the restaurant to be. Tender, mild squid melted with no resistance – and there was a strong note of char from the superficial seared grill marks. The citrus sauce was excellent, and it was a delightful start.

I ordered the Tilapia, which came with a tomato sauce. My dining companion’s comment on the sauce was that this would make an excellent stew, and she was not wrong. Having the sauce over the fish, did soggy the bottom of the light breading, but the taste was excellent and the overall texture mixing crisp crumb coating with a thin layer of mild fish. As much as I enjoyed it, I loved the side of greens even more – but then, I’m a sucker for greens, and these were very tasty.

My dining companion ordered the fluke. Hers was presented with the sauce on the side, so she had a nice, crisp coating all the way through.

We skipped dessert – because I would have liked some of the Vietnamese desserts from their restaurant next door, and caked just seemed off. (and unpriced. If your desserts and daily fish aren’t going to have a price in the menu, then my opinion is that it should be on the board, too)

I should go back and order the whole grilled fish, but since it isn’t giving me the amazing freshness I wanted, then I’m not comfortable compromising on ecological impact (though I am willing to do so for amazingness near me that I can afford).

More about ecological impact.

Tilapia: From the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who publish seafood watch and provide seafood pocket guides:

Most tilapia [Glossary] consumed in the U.S. comes from China/Taiwan (frozen) or Central and South America (fresh). Less than 10 percent of tilapia consumed in the U.S. is farmed domestically.

And from the preparation, I’d guess this was frozen seafood… whose likeliest country practices are listed as avoid because of the high level of pollution and because their systems frequently lead to tilapia spreading to local ecosystems and becoming invasive.

Bronzino: is harder to find data on. It wasn’t listed on the websites for either the Monteray Bay Aquarium nor the Good Fish Guide of the Marine Conservation Society – and that was after I found the scientific name on the Food52 message boards, Dicentrarchus labrax. Having gained prominence starting in the 1990s, I had first heard of it as a fairly green fish. Apparently these fish are suited to wide-ranging aquaculture practices, and people have been trying to make them greener because standard practice isn’t all that good. As far as I can tell with 20 minutes on google…

To end on a happy note, I’ll leave you with a TED talk in which Dan Barber talks about falling in love with a fish. (note: I don’t necessarily agree with his objections to the counter-example’s feed)