News that the global seed bank established in a climate-change-proof site had been flooded as the glaciers melt and the oceans rise was bad enough. Now I know we’re truly in end times, though. The other day the tasting bar at the corner liquor store was offering samples of Veuve Cliquot’s latest: sparkling wines meant to be poured over ice. Ice, I said. And they’re also meant to be “garnished,” whether with a berry or a sprig of mint. I’m assuming they’re meant to be drunk on hot days when the melting cubes will cut the syrupiness. But at $64/$65 a bottle, they ain’t exactly a quencher for the poors. So it all just feels like Evian for a new century. And how did bottled-or-tap turn out for the world?
I may be repeating myself, but for good reason: In 1992, when my consort and I schlepped to 12 states to document harvests of a dozen foods that come into season only once a year, we both got probably the sickest either of us has ever been after spending a day in a Vidalia onion field in Georgia alongside an industrial henhouse. Whatever was going on in that fowl prison would have put me off supermarket eggs even if I hadn’t already gotten wise to local=safe despite what the catapulters of propaganda will still tell you.
So I can feel North Carolina’s pain as the sad citizens, and the ocean, deal with the aftermath of the flooding from the latest storm to prove denial makes one crappy seawall when it comes to climate change. All the toxins that we inhaled a quarter-century ago are even more widespread in a country that has put a chicken into every 29-cent potpie. Add to the fowlness the 4,800 now-rotting sources of cheap bacon and you’re talking eco-disaster. The feces has literally hit the fan.
Back in the Seventies I worked on a weekly in Iowa where my job description included schlepping to farms to check out the status of the corn crop. Those were the days when farmers dual-cropped, and there were always a few hogs living high around the barn; the poop was relatively minimal and the stench bearable (think Blue Hill at Stone Barns today). Today I’m (somewhat) amused to see everyone freaking out at the photos of industrial agriculture a friend had published in the hometown paper. Twenty-five years ago Bob and I went to the pumpkin capital of the world at the peak of the season and stood by the field thinking: This is not a harvest. It’s mechanized rape of the fields. Now we’re finally seeing the shitstorm that is the reaping of the sowing. Even if a lot of deniers can’t spell the latter.
PSA, BTW: This is one of the most intense food movies ever made.
I am way, way behind on collecting my thoughts and images from an amazing revisit to Torino, which is an entirely changed city since our last trip in 2005. But I have to share a couple of thoughts from the flights to and from. On our way over, Bob and I were seated far apart because the photo center where he was teaching had booked his travel; he worked the American gate agents hard to get us together, but we boarded with me in like 86E and him in 23E. He gently asked the woman in the aisle seat in his row if she would consider switching and she instantly snarled: “I PAID FOR THIS SEAT.” Okay, bitch. It all worked out fine because two Italian guys in two rows near Bob figured out a way to win this game of musical seats, and then the crew came through with even better seating with tons of legroom. But it really struck me how the greedy airlines and their gouging are turning passengers on passengers. I mean, it’s bad enough you have to walk through the rows of business luxury to get to steerage these days (life was better when first class was curtained off). And it’s even worse when Turdblossom is seated in one of those fuck-you-peasants seats on your homebound leg from Milan.
The better part of my recollections involves the food and beverage service. I’ll give huge props to AA for generously pouring (decent) wine from jugs rather than handing out stingy little, cluttery bottles. I’ll take back half those props for them serving “Italian” dressing with the salad with the craptastic pasta on the way home. But the LOL came just before we landed at JFK and the bitchy flight attendant was condescendingly handing out the “hot pocket.” He offered one to my Italian seatmate, who waved it away, and got a snarky “Oh, you’ve had it before, have you?” And it was one scary slab of starch with a thin layer of processed cheese product in the middle, with so little flavor it actually verged into negative taste. This was on July 8, 2016. And the “best before” date on the box was 24 May 2017. Doomsday preppers need to fly more. . .
In the same set of coupons, I also came across one for something emblazoned “Let’s remove the guesswork.” Not once in the three blocks of copy did it mention what the problem was for the solution being sold. I’m guessing it’s diabetes, a guess that of course induces really sick thoughts about how Big Food and Big Pharma could have been in cahoots all these decades — make ‘em sick and then sell ‘em medically processed crap. Then again, there are billboards on bus shelters in Queens promoting oblique antidotes to opioid-induced constipation. One pill makes you plugged up, another makes you squitter?
So we’re in a typical West Village restaurant where tables are crammed together as if we’re all dining on the A train. A guy who had been using the light on his phone to read the menu knocked a saucer off his tiny table, and it shattered on the floor with about the shock and decibel of a gunshot. And the reaction was fascinating: Everyone freaked as if they were ready to shelter in place, as if we were in a school on Bring Your Semiautomatics To Class Day. My consort and I, after “CitizenFour,” had just been having an argument about the “NSA” and the International Man of Luggage and government overreach and how fear of terrorism has been so lucrative and so destructive to this country. The bugged eyes and hands-to-cheeks all around me reminded me Americans will always sheeple-y surrender their liberty/privacy against “terrorism.” But they know viscerally what the real threat is: eating lead after movie popcorn.
And this is a great story on bacon mania that stops before it gets to the nasty bits: the shit lagoons and the piglet Ebola. Keep choking that drugged-up chicken, America.
Maybe I should stable my high horse. I read the Murdoch Crier’s cheerleading piece on farmed salmon and wanted to blow it off as pinkwashing. Then I did some poking around for what it didn’t say. Turns out there really has been a literal sea change in the chicken of the sea. To the point that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch now rates farmed Coho as a best choice. I still have qualms, because I’m haunted by the Scottish fisherman I interviewed eons ago who saw such a threat to the beautiful swimmers from the chicken-cooped kind, and because all these years of shunning the latter have left me with a taste for the wild ones. But it was one more reminder of how you need to read the business pages for your food journalism these days. So much else is just service.
When a great friend in Philadelphia said he and his consort were planning to come north for the climate march, I hopped right up on my high horse and gave him an e-lecture on the futility of taking it to the streets — hadn’t we learned from the 2003 debacle, when hundreds of thousands froze our asses off before the illegal invasion of Iraq, only to be written off as a “focus group” by the White House and mere fodder for page A26 by the hometown paper? So what the hell was I doing standing outside the Dakota on Sunday midday, as close as I could get to the food contingent waiting to start inching down Central Park West to the “starting point” of the demonstration? I’ll blame some old Burgundies at a dinner of Fairway-frisky lobsters the night before; all the talk made me think maybe I should actually walk the walk rather than sit home posting endless links online.
I read crazy people, so I know the wingnuts perceived the demonstrators as “hippie filth.” (Seriously. In 2014.) Clearly they didn’t read any of the smart signs and T-shirts and banners, which were remarkably positive (I spotted only one Kochsucker message). But I’ll have to admit, after going through my photos and videos, after that hour and a half outside the Dakota: I’m not sure the food world was so well-represented. What I saw in that tight space were a lot of vegans out in force with healthier-than-thou smugness, and the indictments of beef and milk were over the top. For all the advocacy of “food justice” and clean water and rights for food workers, there were too many blinkered views of what’s really ailing this ecosystem. Years ago I read a sharp, unsettling piece in Harper’s that made a seriously persuasive case that it’s not just animal agriculture but all agriculture that should be banned for Earth’s sake. If we really cared, rather than beef-blaming and tofu-grilling we would be shooting elk and subsisting on wild plants — getting ourselves back to the real garden. Somehow I suspect marchers in leather sandals drinking soy milk are not going to buy that. The answer is far from simple. But at least I didn’t spot any signs blaming gluten for global warming.
Don’t ask why, but I had to spend way too much time recently in the baby food aisle of every store in our neighborhood. And there was not a jar of lamb and rice to be found, as the vet prescribed. There was, however, a generation of diabetics foretold. Nearly all the options, jarred or pouched, were fruit or fruity vegetable. Even the turkey had to be sweet-potatoed up. Maybe Darwin is intervening from the Great Galapagos Beyond, though. All those thirsty kids set loose in a water-deprived world will speed up extinction. And then the planet can finally right itself.
If sriracha met limes, the whole journamalism biz would blow up. The latest hysteria largely ignores the reality that you can still find the once largely uncelebrated citrus but will simply pay much more for much smaller fruit. Anyone who cooks by the calendar already knew that; only tasteless strawberries are cheap all year round because they have no season. What’s sad is, first, that Mexican growers are eating their seed corn because they desperately need the cash and, second, that most of the coverage of the latest “OMG, we’re going to thirst to death!” ignores one underlying reason for the shortage. Greedmeisters had this genius idea that farmlands could be turned into exurban sprawl for easy money from banksters. They paved citrus groves and put up what are now unsold houses. Now the country obsessed with “homeland security” has to rely solely on imports. A paragliding photographer friend has just provided visual evidence of China going down the same sad road, with rice paddies as the foundation for moatless wannabe castles. The epitaph for this world should be: You can have McMansions or margaritas. You can’t have both.
No wonder I’m distracted. There seems to be more than the usual amount of teh stupid burning lately. A chilling new aggregation of climate change reports makes it very clear we’re dinosaurs waiting to happen, fast, and still I see idjits asserting that “humans adapt very well — we build houses with furnaces or AC — so too bad about all the other species.” That’s like thinking you can just order in when the food riots break out.
As I keep saying, I am so glad I’m old and really hope there is no reincarnation. And I especially wanted to yell that the other Sunday when my consort and I were sitting at the window counter eating our Luke’s lobster rolls while watching a family with two little kids out at a sidewalk table. Partway through lunch the mom calmed the shrieking baby by giving her plastic tubular food, in the kind of unnecessary packaging that contributes to the garbage continents (no longer islands) clogging the oceans. I never understand how people can even bring kids into a doomed world to begin with, but seeing the obliviousness was as unsettling as reading this. Heckuva extinction you’re bequeathing her . . .
We get two newspapers a day except (until just recently) on Sundays, and one informed us that feedlots are now in withdrawal from something I didn’t even know existed: “Vitamin Z,” a growth additive that turns cows into “muscle-bound athletes” in a matter of weeks. I immediately clicked over to the hometown paper to see if I might have missed a big story, and at that point the keyword did not turn up a single instance. And this is so far beyond pink-slime-scary it’s insane. Cows are staggering into slaughterhouses after being drugged to fatten them without the need for suddenly pricey feed. Anyone who eats supermarket/burger-chain beef is ingesting a product so freaky it makes test-tube babies look edible. And yet whole business plans are built on a commodity that was never meant to be a commodity . . .
One of the most depressing stories I’ve read in some time was about a free summer lunch program for kids in one of the states that make up the richest country in the world. People are worried about ducks getting force-fed for foie gras, and here’s a whole generation being undernourished. What was doubly depressing was seeing what was on offer. Suffice it to say I’m just glad I grew up poor before Lunchables. Also, too: Call food stamps what they are — supermarket subsidies — and you’d see them busting the budget.
The older I get the happier I am to be past kiddledom, not least because the school lunch program in this country seems to be a cross between “starve the beasts” and “go all medieval on their guts.” My cranial sieve is notoriously unreliable, but I remember bringing crapwiches of peanut butter and brown sugar wrapped in waxed paper to school because my family could barely afford the 4 cents a day per spawn for a quarter-pint of milk. Whatever kids today are getting has to be better than that, even if the privileged are reduced to videographing the sins of the cooks. Although I wonder where the parents are, letting ’em eat GMO corn oil instead of time-honored butter . . . .