It is hard to point to a time where my obsession with whales began. Perhaps it was Voyage of the Mimi at school or seeing a Beluga whale in an aquarium. Since I can remember, whales have really inspired me. I love whales so much I was engaged under a replica of a Wright whale in the Museum of Natural History. I used my wedding to raise money for the anti-whaling organization, Sea Shepherd. For a long time I vowed never to support countries that supported whaling, specifically Norway and Japan.
I leave for a trip to Japan tomorrow and am wracked with guilt that by going on a vacation to Japan, I am implicitly supporting a country and a government that supports whaling. I’ve been interested in many aspects of Japanese culture since college and don’t want to deny myself the countless other awesome aspects of Japanese culture that have absolutely nothing to do with whaling. There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Japan Times, that discuss the racist undertones in anti-whaling rhetoric in which the Japanese are portrayed as ignorant and immoral. I don’t know how much of this is true and how much are claims propagated by the pro-whaling lobby, but they are troubling nonetheless.
As an adult I realize that it is silly for me to boycott a country I really want to visit just because I don’t like one practice. Yet, I just can’t throw my values out the window. I decided that my best option would be to pay a whale offset. Carbon offsets already exist in order to compensate for unavoidable emissions such as through air travel. Why not whale offsets to compensate for trips to Japan or Norway? All I have to do is to calculate the monetary value of the offset and determine where the money could best be utilized to help whales.
There are a number of ways that an offset could be calculated. One way is to take the amount of money earned by the whale meat sale (around 50 million dollars) and divide it by the number of tourists who visit Japan each year (6.2 million). 50 / 6.2 = $8. So each visitor to Japan would need to pay an $8 whale offset.
Another way would be to factor in the subsidy that the Japanese government provides for whale meat. The industry is highly protected so we could estimate the effects of the subsidy by doubling the cost of the whale meat to 100 million dollars. This would bring up the whale offset to $16 per person. To be safe, I set aside $50 for a whale offset.
How to use the offset is the final component. I wanted to pay the offset directly to an organization. My first choice would have been to donate the money to an organization working inside Japan to change the Japanese government’s stance on whaling. English language internet searches didn’t provide me with much information. When I looked at organizations working to save whales from Japanese whalers, the Sea Shepherds remained the group that most appealed to me. While their tactics are seen as controversial, I have no doubt that they are effective in saving the lives of whales and making things difficult for whalers.
It may seem silly to put so much thought into the lives of whales when I am going on a short vacation and am unlikely to do anything whale related. I know that I am not changing Japanese policy. Still, making a small contribution enables me to do something good and allowing me to enjoy my vacation to Japan while not compromising my values.
I really like the texture and the subtle flavor of summer squash. It stays pretty firm when you cook it so it can have a nice fleshy taste. It is also everywhere in farmers markets for quite cheap so its great if you want to throw some on the grill or keep some on hand for a simple side dish. This dish really keeps things simple and lets the squash flavors come through.
Step 1: Place a large skillet on medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and cook until golden. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.
Step 2: Add the squash to the pan and cook, stirring for around 2 minutes or until the squash has softened.
Step 3: Add the garlic to the pan for another minute. Make sure the squash is cooked on both sides. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 4: Toast the pine nuts and use them to top the dish.
Serve as a side dish. For a heartier meal, serve over brown rice.
With the recent opening of The Pig, a snout to tail restaurant in Logan Circle, and the nationwide launch of the Burger King Bacon Sundae last Thursday, the pork renaissance remains hot, with our cultural obsession peaking ever higher. Companies like the the Baconery add bacon to a range of baked goods including cookies, chocolates, and doughnuts. It is easy to find websites like Think Geek selling bacon-scented cologne, bacon-flavored gum, and bacon-infused soap, targeting a bizarre intersection of tech-savvy nerds and meat-loving bros. I’ve never been one to prevent others from eating what they want, but do we really need to go hog wild?
There are a number of factors that have led to pork worship. In the past decade, the rise of meat-based diets such as the Atkins diet and the Paelo-diet encouraged throwing out the conventional diet wisdom of calorie reduction and urged followers to cut carbs and focus on consuming large quantities of meat. These diets tapped into a simmering backlash against vegetarians. I recall a Paelo-dieter at my workplace telling me “steak and eggs, every morning for breakfast, its so awesome.” Indeed, it often felt like these diets were more culturally focused on masculine resentment than they were on nutritional soundness.
In contrast, the healthy food movement towards local, sustainable food was also growing during this time period.. Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move” campaign emphasized eating fruits and veggies. The precursor to all of these recent movements, vegetarianism and veganism, encouraged a diet free of meat. Vegetarianism is on the cultural wane, as more and more young people are turning to what is currently “hip” – an omnivoric diet loosely modelled off that proposed by Michael Pollen. Yet there’s something off.
While people claim to be omnivores, in a very real way the rise of pork is a reaction to vegetarianism and healthy living generally. When you go to a restaurant and order bacon – even locally-sourced, humanly-raised, foodie-approved bacon – you are thumbing your nose at healthy eating and giving in to something decadent that you know is unhealthy. Pork is bad which is part of the reason why, to fans, it tastes so good.
And this is not to say we should never give into to our cravings or listen to our bodies and do things that make us feel good. Extreme dieting and drastic changes to consumption rarely work for most people. Allowing ourselves a treat doesn’t “break” our eating habits.
But if pork is a guilty pleasure, why is it everywhere and in such quantities? At a recent dinner at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, a seafood restaurant, my partner and I determined that around half of the entrees have pork or bacon in them. There once was a time when restaurants needed to have multiple vegetarian or pescetarian options to serve the needs of its crowd. Now even seafood restaurants are loading up on pork.
What is particularly troubling is the worship of pork by the foodie/locavore scene. People who claim to care deeply about food and its sourcing have no problem avidly consuming pork and especially bacon. Celebrity food advocates like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin are used by foodies to defend their personal meat consumption and justify the pork craze. Yet I’ve never found these lofty justifications to match actual practice.
First, it is rare to find the person who only consumes snout-to-tail, sustainably farmed pork. I certainly don’t know of any amongst my peers, although I certainly know people who have lied to themselves about it. 99% of pork in this country is factory farmed under very inhumane, environmentally terrible practices and it is pretty difficult to avoid unsustainable pork. Even Michael Pollan eats factory farmed meat. It is nearly impossible to avoid.
Just as everyone thinks they’re an above-average driver, people think they are more responsible than most when it comes to these things – statistically they’re wrong. Not only that, many restaurants and corporations are active participants in greenwashing, a practice where they are less than honest about the eco-friendliness of their products. Yet I’ve never found any bacon-loving foodie who actually wants to interrogate these problems. There’s already strong backlash to ethical sourcing, as seen in a famed Portlandia sketch.
To be fair, the Pig appears to have sustainable sourcing and uses all parts of the animal, so it’s hard to fault them. There is no reason why pork can’t be a sometimes food if farmed sustainably. Hog to tail restaurants are a good start, as the whole pig is used, not just the bacon. But such restaurants shouldn’t be used by liberals to justify their food choices. I made a choice a long time ago to forego all meat except for the occasional fish because I didn’t want to take part in the factory farming system. It would be great if all meat lovers ate at places like the Pig for their meat consumption. But that isn’t how things work. My personal beliefs mesh with Jonathan Safran Foer, author of “Eating Animals” who stated in an interview ”I would like to do what I believe in and I would find it very difficult to do that by eating meat. There is no alternative to some flying but it is simple not to eat meat. There is nothing necessary about it.”
The ethos of pork today often wants it both ways. On one hand I hear: Lighten up and enjoy yourself – you know you like it. On the other I hear: We should follow sustainable, humane consumption practices and pork can be part of that process. The guilty-pleasure center of our brain seems to be winning out and merely using the ethical-morality center as cover. When our values serve merely as post-hoc justification for our behavior, it’s time to question both.
So I definitely make this dish when I am too lazy to go and buy groceries because I usually have the ingredients on hand. Its great for weeknight suppers or for healthy, filling lunches.
1 can pureed tomatoes
1/2 -1 cup veggies (you can use a combination of fresh and frozen, I used frozen edamame, canned corn, and cabbage)
2 cloves micced garlic
1/2 medium onion
1.5 cups basmati rice
1 3/4 cup vegtable stock
Step 1: Put 2 tbs oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until the onion softens (3-5 min).
Step 2: Add the rice and cook the rice in the oil until the rice is starting to brown slightly.
Step 3: Add the stock, 1 cup of tomato puree, and vegetables, add salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat very low and simmer for 15 min until most of the liquid is cooked off. Then turn the heat off and let it sit for 30 min before serving.
There has been a lot written lately on masculinity and how definitions of masculinity are changing both with the economic downturn and with a movement towards greater gender equality. Most people accept the fact that it is no longer feasible to make young men kill animals or complete a series of grueling physical tasks to prove that they are men. We are not cavemen hunting beasts or Spartans preparing for battle. As a result I was surprised to read Joel Stein’s piece Is it a Father’s Job to Teach His Kid to Fight.
In Stein’s world, kid means son, and the article talks about how Stein wants to teach his son how to fight, a skill that he never mastered. Stein writes “Because he’s a boy, he will get into at least a few confrontations with other boys, and if he doesn’t know how to fight, he’s going to back down from too many of those situations. Fighting might be awful, but backing down — like I’ve done in my life by not asking women out, never asking for a raise and never once asking for a balloon or a lollipop at the store when I was a little kid — is worse. So he’s going to learn how to fight. No matter how much he giggles as I teach him. So that when he gets intimidated, he’ll know he doesn’t have to back down like I do.”
There are a couple of things wrong here. First, it is understandable that Stein doesn’t want his son to back down from things. However, the opposite of backing down is being assertive, not fighting. It is important for all people, male and female, to be able to ask for the things they want in life; a raise, a discount, a dinner out with a friend. Fighting does not improve your ability to ask for things while assertiveness and negotiation training does.
Economist Linda Babcock in her book Women Don’t Ask explains that men ask for what they want twice as much as women do and initiate negotiation four times as much. Her book uses statistical data to explain the widespread problem of women not asking for what they want. While there are some men, such as Stein, who don’t ask, this problem is heavily gendered. Unlike Stein, Babcock does not advocate that girls learn how to fight in order to prevent them from backing down from situations. In her follow up book Ask for It she outlines negotiation techniques and strategies women can employ. Babcock’s non-profit organization PROGRESS organizes workshops for girls in which they can learn and practice negotiation techniques.
The notion that skill in fist fights leads to assertiveness is ridiculous. It teaches children that conflicts are best settled through physical means. Children occasionally get into scuffles but most of them know how to pull hair and punch each other without anyone taking the time to train them. Rather than parents teaching fighting skills, they should teach their children how to react to a bully or a school yard fight: by trying to defuse the situation and notifying a teacher as soon as possible.
When Stein discusses fighting, he is not referring to self-defense. I can understand why some parents, particularly parents of girls, would want their daughters to learn self-defense. In the US one in four college aged women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Self-defense through martial arts or rape aggression defense training makes sense for girls. Most martial arts schools do not advocate fighting, they advocate avoiding conflict and risky situations and turning to self-defense only when necessary. It is very rare that a martial arts practitioner fights someone outside of a sanctioned bout. This training is very different from teaching a kid to punch another kid when conflict arises.
Perhaps Stein should re-examine why he wants his kid to fight. Does he want his kid to be able to assert himself and ask for a raise at work, or does he want his son to demonstrate traditionally masculine traits through fighting and being an aggressor? If his son is shy and withdrawn, negotiation and assertiveness training could help. If his son is being picked on by a bully, self-defense training might help. Stein does not seem to be interested in either of these. He concludes that because he is a boy, he needs to fight. Fighting is quintessentially masculine, and his boy needs to do it to be a man. This gender essentialism is outdated and inaccurate. Stein wrongly blames his inability to assert himself on his lack of fighting ability. But throwing a few punches won’t make him a better, stronger man, asserting himself, diffusing conflict, and seeing cooperative solutions will.
Okra is an unsung American vegetable. I have no idea why people don’t eat it more as its textured pods are a pleasure to cook with. In this Indian preparation, the pods get a healthy masala coating.
16 oz bag of frozen okra
1/2 can diced or pureed tomatoes (about 7 oz)
1 large onion
handful fresh cilantro leaves
2 tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp tumeric powder
3 tbsp ginger/garlic paste or 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp mango powder
salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Slice onions. Heat oil in wok and add the onions.
Step 2: After onions have softened, add the cumin seeds, tumeric, and ginger/garlic.
Step 3: Stir-fry for 5-10 minutes until onions begin to caramelize. Add the okra.
Step 4: Add the cayenne, coriander powder, mango powder, and salt. Cook for another 5 minutes so that the okra defrosts and cooks.
Step 5: Add the diced or pureed tomatoes and cook another 3-5 min so that they soften.
Step 6: Top with chopped cilantro and serve!
Once in a while when cooking, you come upon a dish that is truly remarkable. The first bite is bittersweet as you realize you have made something perfect that will probably never exist again. Sure, you can keep a recipe, but will you ever have the same fresh cherry tomatoes, the same ratio of herbs, the same type of feta from the farmers market? Will you ever have the same amount of hunger in your stomach or the same feeling of lightness on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in June when you sit down to cook? No, this magic will never be again. That is the special thing about cooking, you never really make and taste the same dish twice.
I didn’t plan on writing about fava beans. I bought them on a whim from a famer’s market on Sunday. I’ve never cooked with fresh fava beans before. I just picked up some feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and fava beans thinking I would do something with them. However, the dish that resulted was truly sublime. Early summer in a bowl. I ate it for a simple lunch but it could easily be an appetizer, potluck staple, or picnic food. This recipe serves two appetizer sized portions so please scale up if you have to.
1 lb fresh fava beans in pods
1/2 tbs butter
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
springs of fresh parsley and mint
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs feta cheese crumbles
salt and pepper
Step 1: Preparing the fava beans is the hardest part of this salad. First remove the beans from pods and put aside. Then boil the beans in salted boiling water for 3 min. Immediately transfer to cold water to stop the cooking process.
Step 2: Shell the beans and discard white outer casing. Now that the beans are boiled, this casing should easily slip off.
Step 3: Mince the garlic and herbs separately. Halve the cherry tomatoes.
Step 4: Put 1/2 tbs olive oil into a saute pan and cook the garlic for 30 seconds until it starts to brown. Add the fava beans and the butter. Cook for another minute or two. Ass salt and pepper
Step 5: Transfer to a bowl, top with the feta crumbles, tomatoes, and chopped herbs. Serve immediately with a glass of chilled white wine.