The British vote to exit from the UK, better known as Brexit, which took place a few months ago, is admittedly quite a complex issue. Many have tried to explain it in terms of history , socio-economic conditions and politics, but none have tried to explain it with food. That is, until now.

With their new video How to Make Cucumber Sandwiches, Töad Meädow, a collective based outside Buffalo, New York, does just that. The group “wants to encourage people to become producers of artistic content, rather than rampant consumers” and with this video they’re doing just that.

It’s a funny, sometimes irreverant, take on Brexit, mixed in with a brief history of other places leaving the UK. There’s even a bit on the Levesque-era Quebec sovereignty movement.

The short film was directed by Damon Hudac and produced by Melissa Campbell, who also appears in it. They hope to “bring light to this enormously important world event,” according to a press statement:

“We would like many people to see and talk about it. Basically, through history, many countries have attempted to separate from the UK as well as many other groups separating from their larger oppressive controlers. This is a light hearted look with a very serious message.”

Also, you really should cut off the bread crust. Enjoy!

In the US food trucks are hailed as a cheaper, easier way for chefs and entrepreneurs to get into the food business. Unfortunately in Montreal, a city hailed for its festivals, parks, and diversity, getting a food truck is almost as difficult and expensive as getting a restaurant. Though other cities in Canada have had vehicles offering a variety of culinary delights to consumers, Montreal has only been allowing food trucks since 2013, finally ending a ban in place since the 40s.

In 1947 the City of Montreal banned food trucks for sanitation reasons. Attempts to lift the food truck ban were fought on cleanliness grounds and by restaurateurs who were paranoid about losing business. The city eventually came to a compromise and enacted the Règlement règissant la cuisine de rue aka The Regulation on Street Food.

The Regulation sets out rules regarding food trucks in the City of Montreal. Independent areas on the island of Montreal like Cote Saint Luc and Westmount have their own rules.

In the City of Montreal, only those possessing the proper permit can sell street food. At first glance it seems pretty simple: get a permit, get your food truck. Sadly, the process by which one gets a permit is extremely complex and costly. In order to be able to even apply for a permit, you first have to apply to a selection committee created by the city to assess applications from potential street food vendors.

The committee is comprised of two City employees and three representatives of either the restaurant business or the culinary arts. If you get a positive recommendation from the committee you can then apply to get your street food permit and in both steps of the process, the amount of documents required seems pretty absurd.

To get the committee to even look at your application you have to include not just forms, fees, and proof that your truck is fire and environmentally safe, but also a crazy amount extra information including a full menu, price list, ingredients’ list, colour photos of your dishes, the names and contact info of your food suppliers, and the CVs of the people who will be running your truck. You also have to include plans for the interior layout of the truck and any designs you plan to put on its exterior.

Have a secret family recipe? It won’t be a secret by the time the City is through with it, for though committee members are legally supposed to avoid conflicts of interest, the likelihood they’ll be objective and maintain the secrecy of applications in a city ripe with corruption is low at best. Furthermore, as per the regulation, the City gets to keep all the documents you sent in addition to the non-refundable application fee, making the temptation for restaurateurs and industry reps all the greater in Montreal’s highly competitive restaurant industry.

Photo: Chris Zacchia
Photo: Chris Zacchia

If you get a positive recommendation from the committee, you can move on to the actual permit application. In this application you have to prove that you meet Montreal’s ridiculous food truck requirements. You have to prove you have a kitchen space independent of your food truck at which the preliminary prep of the food must be made and have to provide copies of your permits, lease, and property tax assessments to that effect. You also have to be insured for physical and material damages up to two million dollars.

If all of this goes through you might be lucky enough to get a food truck permit, but your joy will probably be short lived. Food truck permits are only good for one truck and can either last for a season or a year with only one automatic renewal option. The foods and drinks trucks can sell are also outrageously regulated.

Food trucks can’t sell booze (with an exception if it’s an ingredient in a dish). They can’t sell anything “buffet-style” and any prep has to be done at your independent kitchen. Only items included in the menu you sent to the committee can be sold from your food truck.

Forget about selling hot dogs, inexpensive tacos, or plain poutines from the truck as some of the selection criteria for a positive committee recommendation include creativity, originality, and whether or not basic ingredients are transformed while making the dish.

Food truck owners can forget about competing with restaurants because they can only sell their wares in zones designated by the City, usually far away from areas with a lot of restaurants.

With all these crazy requirements, it’s no wonder food truck offerings in Montreal seem sparse and unnecessarily fancy. If you want a pogo and fries, you won’t find them in a food truck selling fish tartare and gazpacho and you can thank the City and its selection committee for that.

If you add up the cost of having a kitchen or restaurant space, the food truck itself, the equipment, the food, and the crazy application process, food trucks don’t seem worth the trouble for those wanting to break in to the restaurant business. They’re better off taking their chances on a small restaurant or going into the catering business.

This is what restaurant owners in Montreal wanted all along: the maintenance of their control over the city’s food scene, and they kept it via their sway on municipal authorities. Where food trucks are concerned, what the City of Montreal calls a compromise is just a thinly veiled attempt to maintain a monopoly.

* Featured image from cuisinederue.org

To think, we had our chance. A luscious one at that: green, fatty and garlicky smooth. Yet we didn’t let it sink in properly up here.

That heralding moment we called #GuacGate. The absurd #gate to end all #gates, it seemed to finally provoke laughs and calm South of the border, marking the death of the slowly decaying storm of …#gates over thirty or forty years.

Yet not only do Canadians make very poor guacamole, it seems, we completely fail to let go when it comes to our own “#gates.” On this one, we Canadians just can’t move on. Perhaps it’s the lack of godly, earthly, comforting avocadoes in our land.

The Trajectory of the #Gate

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It used to mean something, really. Both here at home and abroad. The ring of stature & sadness, or something just in between.

Even if one was not alive when it happened, even if still a child, the mere phrase “Watergate” would leave one curious, intimidated, even threatened. Remember it? A “gate” before peegate & hairgate, in other words before “#gate,” a Gate uttered in whispers, almost solemnly, by our elders.

One need only observe casual samples to see the slow decline of the #gate. Once lodged for matters of deep concern – corruption, foreign relations, world order – the phrase has evaporated into scandals of urine, doughnuts and teen idols.  Here’s a random selection, with my own legend for ease of reading.

  • 1980: #BillyGate (Scandal keywords: President Jimmy Carter, foreign relations, Khadafi)
  • 1985: #ContraGate (Scandal keywords: weapons, Iran, US)
  • 1987: #PonyGate (Scandal keywords: corruption, money, NCAA)
  • 1993: #TravelGate (Scandal keywords: White House, misuse of federal funds, Hillary bein’ sketchy)
  • 1993: #ZipperGate (Scandal keywords: White House, power, sex, Bill Clinton)
  • 2005: #TaxiGate (Scandal keywords: Scottish Parliament, misuse of public funds)
  • 2010: #GargleGate (Scandal keywords: Irish President, hangovers)
  • 2016: #DoughnutGate (Scandal keywords: Ariana Grande, licking unpurchased doughnuts, stating ‘I hate America. That’s disgusting.’)

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#GuacGate: The Final Straw (or Spoon)

Which leads us to #GuacGate, a bipartisan bill to end the #gates. If you recall, it blew up because people discovered this old New York Times recipe which called for peas in guacamole.

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In somewhat of a rare moment, the parties united, everyone laughed for awhile and most blessedly, most thought #gates could go nowhere further… they’d found their natural resting place.

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Only it turned out our Southern neighbours proved more capable of letting go, with things calming down on the #gate fronts.

Canadians & #GateGate

Don’t say Forget the Box didn’t warn the nation! Jason C. Mclean & Jerry Gabriel foretold (with doomsday glee) the end of the gate–called “#GateGate”–way back last year on our very own Forget the Box podcast. From here, they said, the only logical progression should be “#GateGate.”

Yet even though the US seemed to have gone in the direction, quieting down, Canadians dug in their heels.

There was #peegate (keywords: MP, coffee mug, relief), then #hairgate (keywords: Atwood, cached news, National Post).

Then finally, the day we were set to debate one of the most monumentally significant legal and medical bills in recent years. Which became…#elbowgate.

The thing is, there’s nothing left to be said about what happened, or what it “means,” as have so many others. So I’ll just beg this one thing: please let this be the gate to end all #gates. By that I don’t mean stop talking about things. Rather, just close the gate and move on once and for all.

One Memorial Day weekend back in rural Connecticut, I was invited to attend the now-legendary Memorial Day Meatfest and asked to bring a meat for grilling. Instead, I bought a bag of crickets from a nice Thai woman in Rensselaer, New York and at her recommendation, I roasted them with oil and chili powder. They were delicious and the ideal beer-accompanying snack, but they were not well-received by the guests at Meatfest. They simply weren’t presented well. Guests were hesitant (putting it lightly) to eat whole crickets, legs and all.

But if the consumption of insects were presented with some statistics explaining why it’s a great idea, Montreal-based Social Entrepreneur Sidiki Sow is confident that Canadians would buy them. In fact, of the 1000+ students he surveyed for his final research project to complete his degree in Agriculture and Environment from McGill University, 93% of those presented with the benefits of insect consumption would be willing to buy an insect-based product.

Sow’s goal is to “make a place for insects on our plate,” and by starting with education, he believes that Western diets will begin to shift to welcome insect protein. Sow’s cricket protein bar is entering the market by building off of a long and important culinary history.

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“This is not new. All over the world, even in the U.S., even in Texas, there is a long culinary tradition of preparing insects. And people love it! When they’re prepared with love, insects are just as good as a nice steak or barbecue chicken.”

Sow has a close working relationship with the Aspire Food Group, and currently works as  one of their ambassadors. Aspire is his enterprise’s inspiration, and he has benefitted immensely from their mentorship by the team, especially CEO Mohammed Ashour (Hult Prize Winner, McGill MBA).

Sow explained that the business model for his enterprise relies on presenting the protein, not the insect. “Promoting the idea of sustainability and educating people about the benefits of insect consumption will increase their willingness to pay for a product,” Sow told me. “[Insects] feed on basically any biological material, and they’re very efficient at transforming organic matter into high-quality protein. […] And crickets need 40 times less water than cattle do to produce the same amount of protein!”

Sow elaborated that most insects suitable for mass-consumption live in hives, and as such will require far less land use than grazing animals. However, as hives are active only in certain months, the challenge lies in making the process of building up insects’ iron and calcium a year-long one.

Once Sow’s subjects were presented with these facts, they were not only willing to eat insects, but even willing to pay a premium price for protein bars made with cricket flour.

According to Sow, there’s not a significant difference behind consuming animal protein and insect protein. “The marketing industry has been very good at completely separating our perception of the meat and our perception of the animal. We are so far removed from eating the animal, we don’t even think about it.” Sow elaborated that this teaches a valuable lesson for marketing insect protein: “[When we think that way,] we’re not consuming something that’s part of the biological environment, we’re consuming just meat… We need to do the same thing with insects.”

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By emphasizing the health and sustainability benefits of insect consumption, Sow’s product will market itself less as “insect bars” and more as “delicious protein bars made from insects.”

Sow exhibited his research at SOCENT NEXT, a Social Entrepreneurship event held at Le Salon 1861 that offers a collaborative working space for developing social businesses in Montreal.

 

Sow explained that “research shows we will have 9.6 billion people on earth by 2050, and we will need to double our food production to accommodate them. Currently, 9-18% of greenhouse gas emissions like methane come from agriculture, and 70% of our water supply is used in agriculture.” (Source: www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf)

Most of the methane produced and water used in agriculture goes to raising cattle and other animals. “If we have to double the current production. […] It will have terrible consequences for the planet. We need more sustainable agriculture, and that will come from insects.”

What do the 2016 US Presidential candidates eat? What do their gastronomic ways say about their presidential personality?

Though it only lasted five months, our own federal election in Canada gave us enough time to find out what out candidates ate, and what it said (or didn’t say) about their leadership style.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders is the Tom Mulcair of candidates south of the border. Just not in the way you might think.

Each has pulled his party in the polar opposite direction. Yet they share a gruff gastronomic asceticism on the campaign trail.

If you recall, Forget the Box was the first outlet to uncover the bombshell news: Mulcair’s organs are made of bricks and wool. Our investigative report disclosed that this Prime Minister hopeful had never been seen partaking in food, even when hiking on Mont-Royal, stumping in small towns, or Schwartz-ing with jovial peers.

    

Now Sanders’ food choices remain equally opaque, leaving us up here to surmise that he survives on his healthy diet of finger wagging. Even the hearty US press corps, with its fifteen months of research, has come up mostly empty trying to paint the “lifestyle” profile of loveable Uncle Bern.

In candidate surveys, the best they could come up with was “scrambled eggs for breakfast.” This sounds like it was filled in by some campaign intern. Though it’s not really an answer, we’ll assume they’re unsalted, devoid of condiments.

To be fair, Sanders has this slight edge over Mulcair. The latter was never even seen sipping coffee, whether in meetins or at pictoresque rural working class diners. Sanders, on the other hand, was definitively ID-ed sipping Vermont craft beer. It seems suspicious, sort of a photo-op setup.

Yet I believe it. He is drinking the hoppiest beer in a state known for very hoppy delights, which seems to fit with his enjoyably bitter personal brand.

Ted Cruz

You might recall the eponymous #GuacGate, spurred by the NYT’s suggestion of peas in traditional Mexican-American versions of guac.

We saw then that guacamole was a deeply divisive political issue, and this was before the immigration debate gathered full steam. Yet it also united party leaders in unexpected ways, such as Jeb and Obama’s ardent disavowel of this French intrusion into an already-perfect dish.

Fittingly, one of the only dissenters, even in a moment of bipartisan fun, was divisive Senator Ted Cruz. The Texas senator came up on the wrong side as his colleagues as usual, claiming his distaste not only for guacamole, but for avocadoes full stop.

Fitting consistent with his Texas image, Cruz picks enchiladas (the legal kind) over any other dish.

Donald Trump

Now to the frontrunners. We’ll save Clinton to the end, because her food preferences, like Harper’s in my original article, somehow leave me most unsettled.

This is a surprise in itself, because in this unprecedented US primary spectacle, you’d think Trump would reign supreme generating gastronomic headlines. Yet despite him criticizing Kasich for his hearty four-course Italian meal at a New York market food stand, he has been criticized for eating pizza with forks and generally unhealthy food preferences. This might be exciting for another candidate, though for Trump’s grand style, his diet lands up surprisingly boring, even unworthy of mention.

He claims he eats light and healthy on the trail, sans alcohol. He does, of course, mention that he indulges in his favourite dish once in awhile: US steak. This is helpful, given the cartons of unsold Trump Steaks likely sitting in some warehouse.

Hillary Clinton

Remember Obama’s epic stops at Ray’s & In n Out burger, photos of juicy burgers joyously shared with Senator Joe? They swarmed over social media, part of his fresh new image that helped launch him to the win.

Source: WaPo

Clinton, on the other hand, is ever the milquetoast frontrunner. In ways eerily similar to Harper who, lest we forget, was once touted to regain his majority reign, she avoids unplanned ops or stops or any real insight into her soul. So the first similarity is their over-advised inhuman personas: it’s hard to discern if they have any real passions or preferences at all.

Yet the second is spicy. We revealed Harper’s “secret obsession” with deathly strong hot-sauce (he supposedly kept a special pantry of it at Sussex Drive, if you recall). Clinton, too, has been said to carry hardcore hot sauce in her purse, a “confession” corroborated by aides.

Now, some criticized this as blatant pandering, since this detail unsurprisingly slipped out during one of her Southern campaign stops. It’s possible that Clinton’s hot sauce obsession is as manufactured as her Southern accent.

Like her true views on society, policy and values, one thing’s safe to say: we’ll never know the truth.

—–

What dirt have you uncovered on the Presidential candidates eating habits?

UPDATE: Press time: Carly Fiorina just announced her VP run with Cruz. We’re curious if the Cruz team vetted her dietary preferences before the presser.

‘I always used to eat Milk-Bones as a kid’: Carly Fiorina snacks on dog treats and tells puppies to vote Republican because ‘Obama ate your cousin’ in bizarre video – Daily Mail, 15 Dec. 2015

Souce: Daily Mail
GOP & Democratic primary presidential candidates policy on food issues

Where do the Republican front-running prez brigade stand on food policy? What do the Democratic presidential candidates say when it comes to important food issues?

More than most other issues, food remains foundational to the wider platforms of the GOP & Democratic 2016 primary candidates. It’s reach relates to the deeper economic, environmental, foreign policy, health and labour platforms on offer.

For all the debates, media hype and fact checking, there’s been little to no discussion of food issues, let alone wider food policy. Here in Canada, it took outside advocacy groups to push for food policy in the run-up to the election.

The Eat, Think Vote campaign urged citizens to eat with their MPs to get them to pledge to tabling national food policy. Luckily, it seems the tactic worked, as the eventual majority party made good on their promise to follow through on the national food policy mandate, not to mention what we see now in mainstream press running renewed calls for this policy.

US food advocacy groups have had a harder time tabling such issues, yet Food Tank put out this great list of questions for presidential candidates which I lauded last month with other similar calls. Recently, some others have joined in, most recently celeb foodie Michael Pollan (in Esquire, of course) and celeb chef Tom Collichio.

It can be hard to find what morsels of food-related policy the front-running GOP or Democratic candidates have publicly put out in their platforms.

So we’ve done the work for you. See below for the food policy snippets form their policies, starting with the Republicans. Or, if you’re interested in the Dems, skip down to our summary the 2016 Democratic candidates.

The GOP Primary Front-Runners on Food Policy

Ted Cruz

For Cruz, policy platforms on food fall under his reforms to small businesses and the stable dollar.

For small businesses, when it comes to food, Senator Ted Cruz promises to:

  • End EPA regulations like the Waters of the U.S. rule and the Clean Power Plan that “burden small businesses and farmers.”
  • Pass the REINS Act, “holding Congress accountable to vote on any major cost-inducing regulation.”
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Ted Cruz is promising that tax cuts and reining in the Fed will help food producers.

His platform promises to rein in the Fed, which he promises will help farmers and ranchers:

  • “When the dollar is high as it is today,” says Cruz, “prices tend to fall, which is good for consumers, but farmers, ranchers, and the energy industry get hurt, as do American exporters.  America needs a more stable dollar.”

For income of farmers and food workers, Cruz’ flat tax policy would promise to free up income to get the economy flowing so to speak

See Ted Cruz’s full policy platforms.

Marco Rubio

Rubio dedicates one entire policy platform to farms. His main premise is to “get government out of the way of farmers” via curbing overregulation, cutting taxes and opening up new markets.

This includes platform to:

  • Repeal regulations on farmers and ranchers. This includes undoing the EPA ‘Waters of the U.S. Rule’ which Senator Rubio pledges will “dramatically expand federal control over ponds, ditches and streams.” Other regulatory repealing includes cutting carbon mandates, to open up what he calls “swathes of productive land off-limits for agriculture or other beneficial development.”
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Rubio, who is fading from the front-running crowd, is promising to get the government “off the backs” of farmers and ranchers.
  • Cut the punitive “death tax” on farmers. This is part of his larger tax plan. This will free up cashflow for farmers and ranchers, e.g. “to immediately write off the cost of new machinery and equipment.”
  • Oppose new taxes on energy. Senator Rubio promises to fight cap-and-trade in order to decrease costs for farmers. This falls under his wider energy plan.
  • Open new markets for farmers and ranchers. This would be supporting pushing for “timely completion of trade agreements to boost exports for US farmers and ranchers”

See Marco Rubio’s policy platforms

Donald J. Trump

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Donald Trump does not explicitly state food policy platforms, though vague connections might be found in his trade proposals.

See Donald Trump’s policy platforms

Democratic Presidential Candidates Policy on Food Issues

Bernie Sanders

Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has the most lengthy public platform relating to food. In several sections of his platform, he touches food issues. In particular, food policy is explicitly mentioned in the platform he calls “fighting for the rural economy.”

Broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders supports:

  • Farm policies that foster the new generations of owner-operators.
  • Upholding land stewardship standards that include the commonwealth of clean water for all.

Sanders promises the following outcomes from the platform of his farming and food policies:

  1. Make sure that family farmers and rural economies thrive;
  2. Expand support for young and beginning farmers; 3
  3. Produce an abundant and nutritious food supply;
  4. Establish an on-going regeneration of our soils;
  5.  Enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship to keep our air and water clean and to combat climate change.

Specific food issues and food policy fit into Senator Bernie Sanders’ rural communities, farm agriculture, & renewable energy platforms. Here are the top lines:

Supports to agriculture

Senator Bernie Sanders promises to “fight for America’s small and mid-sized farms.” In particular, he pledges platform policy to:

  • Expand services of the D for new and underserved farmers. Says Sanders, this department should “live up to the name” it was given by Lincoln, who called it the “People’s Department”
  • Encourage growth of regional food systems. Senator Sanders pledges to invest into local farmers who sell “directly to local consumers, institutions, and restaurants.”
  • Reverse trade policies, e.g. NAFTA that he says “have flooded the American market with agricultural goods produced in countries with less stringent environmental, labor, and safety regulations.”
  • Enforce US antitrust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations. Senator Sanders pledges to “stand up to corporations” to make the prices that farmers receive more fair. He wants to prevent “few large companies” that  “dominate many agricultural industries, allowing them to force unfair prices on farmers.”
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By whatever measure, Sanders covers the most food issues by double in his platforms of other candidates.

Renewable energy investment

Several energy policies impact farmers, ranchers and small food businesses, not to mention food to plate distribution. Senator Sanders is particularly firm on this matter. His platform says it will:

  • Increase investments in wind energy to “substantial” degree
  • Make the Wind Production Tax Credit permanent.
  • Invest into biofuels, e.g. ethanol. Sanders calls these an “economic lifeline to rural and farm communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, supporting over 850 000 workers, all while keeping our energy dollars here at home instead of going into the pockets of oil barons.”
  • Support the Renewable Fuels Standard

Rural US

Though not directly related, Sanders speaks fully on rural US improvements, which has huge impact on farmers, ranchers and the future of food quality & distribution. Senator Sanders pledges to:

  • Improve the electric grid. “We desperately need to improve our aging rural electrical grid, which consists of a patchwork system of interconnected power generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, some of which date back to the early 1900s,” says Bernie Sanders.
  • Invest in high-speed Internet services for rural folk to improve infrastructure, e.g. for farmers.
  • Improve dams, most of which facilities exist in rural areas. His Rebuild America Act will invest $12 billion per year to repair “high-hazard dams that provide flood control, drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation across rural America; and the flood levees that protect our farms and our towns and cities.”

See Bernie Sanders’ policy platform

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her US presidential candidacy for the Democratic party, does not specifically offer food policy improvements. Certain issues for food production, distribution, farmers & ranchers crop up in her other platforms.

Renewable energy

She does have a platform on renewable energies, some of which touches directly farmers and food production. Secretary Clinton promises to:

  • Reform leasing on public lands. This includes to “reform fossil fuel leasing and significantly expand clean energy production on public lands, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
  • Promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship.
  • Fully fund programs to provide help to “producers who conserve and improve natural resources on their farms, strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard, and double loan guarantees that support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth.”

Minimum wage

Her labour and minimum wage policy touches food workers, in particular. These fast food workers started the minimum wage campaigns which Secretary Clinton pushes:

  • Raise the minimum wage and strengthen overtime rules.
  • Support raising the federal minimum wage to $12
  • Support to raise further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts
  • Support workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, “such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.”
  • Support the Obama expansion of overtime rules “to millions more workers.”

Rural communities

Clinton promises broadly in her rural policy to raise agricultural “production and profitability for family farms.” Vaguely, she mentions that:

 

Farmers and ranchers supply food for America’s dinner tables, invest in farm machinery and supplies, and provide domestic energy resources that fuel small businesses. The agriculture economy also drives America’s larger economic success—accounting for about $800 billion in economic activity each year.

Yet her policies do not go into specifics, except to:

  • Increase funding to support farm succession. This support would supposedly include “the next generation of farmers and ranchers, invest in expanding local food markets and regional food systems, and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that truly need support during challenging times.”

 

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See Hillary Clinton’s policy platforms

I recently found out that a rose picked out of the dumpster smells just as sweet as the one picked from your mom’s garden. To me it even smells better because it is saved from an ugly fate, reclaimed beauty almost lost to the sad depths of a landfill. FIlled with disposable diapers, plastic bags, produce, packaged meat that is not expired , enough plastic to sustain the ball in the middle of the ocean, and more. We need to start refusing the refuse.

After Valentine’s day a group of my diver friends came across a giant bag of flowers thrown in the dump. The next day we handed them out to people, only asking for a hug in return. Free hugs and flowers! Pure beauty, simple acts of kindness. We spread joy and love with no expectations.

Flowers are the universal sign of affection. Everyone smiled, most people hugged us, all and all it was a completely beautiful experience. It is important to make genuine connections with strangers. We are all bonded due to our own imperfect humanity, all just walking around this earth trying to make a difference. We all get hungry and need love to survive.

Many people took the free flowers, and it was always for someone else. These are for my mother, daughther, husband, or friend in the hospital. They acted liked it needed to be justified for them to take a flower. It’s not charity, it’s solidarity. Everyone deserves to be spoiled with a rose to the nose.

smell the roses

People are more likely to take a flower or a thing from the garbage than food due to the misconception that everything in there is gross and unsanitary. In fact most things are fully packaged, safe, and fresh enough to eat.

The other day I was sitting in a nature preserve watching deer eating grass, living their happy lives. Just to my right was a crazy highway, cars speeding, filled with miserable folks in rush hour traffic, driving to and from monotony, hell with a paycheck. Industrial decay and a face for our greed.

We live on a planet that needs a little love. The deer were so beautiful and kind to each other. They take only what they need. We have to learn to be like animals, stop it already with the unnecessary waste. If we were all environmentally conscious vegans who coexisted people would live longer healthier lives.

We build things and abandon them, skeletons from a past industrial boom, now rotting corpses of buildings riddle our waterfronts. Food deserts and barren lots make the idea of urban farming so lovely. I want to live in sprawling green fields and lush forests with the prettiest streams and trees, woodland creatures frolicking. There we will let the flowers grow, we will nourish them and never cut them and tie them into plastic bags.

At the same time I adore the culture and fastness of a city. I can’t decide if I am a city girl who yearns to drop off the grid and move to the country or if I want to start and urban farm in a post industrial wasteland ghetto. People need to take pride in their communities and get their hands dirty to transform the space we all inhabit.

Last week I went dumpster diving for the first time. Well, I didn’t actually go in but I assisted, so technically my dumpster cherry has not been popped yet. I need a step ladder, hopefully one will magically appear in the dumpster.

They jumped right in with head lamps on like ninjas with a mission, in and out, moving quick. Nobody stopped us. Eventually the goal is to dress up like raccoons wearing speedos (get it dumpster “diving”) and jump on in.

It was hard to see first hand all of the terrible waste that happens on a daily basis. It makes me sick to think of all the stuff that nobody saves. We live in a world where people are starving and so much food is thrown out that it’s fucking disgusting.

I am baffled, none of this logic makes sense. Starving children with dumpsters full of food. Good food deemed trash, there is something wrong there. Each store needs to have an ugly produce section for dinged up, mutant, perfectly ripe produce at a discount price.

Instead some stores pour bleach on their dumpsters to prevent people from going in them. Just let us take the abandoned food and flowers, don’t be a heartless. There was so much more too, slippers, toys, and household wares. The abundance needs distribution.

volunteers for food not bombs
None of us are homeless, we don’t “look like people who need help,” but the sad fact is that we all need help. Hunger is silent and needs to end. There is more than enough for all of us.

The group feasted with a pot luck made entirely of reclaimed food. I ate the things I grabbed for a whole week. It really makes your eyes open to see the rainbow bounty: piles of apples, bananas, crates of oranges, containers of hummus, day old bread, potatoes, cartons of eggs (with maybe one broken and the rest fine), purple onions, green peppers, bbq chips, coconut oil, and so much more.

Any hang ups are all in your head. I know people who survive solely on salvaged free food and that’s fucking awesome!

vegan feast
Be a Freegan! Reduce waste, only take what you need and share the rest, reject consumerism, be ethical, and fight for food justice. I am part of a group called Food Not Bombs, we cook and serve donated food that would have headed to the dumpster. There are pay what you can cafes and free restaurants all over the world that are on the forefront of food revolution.

Waste not want not. Spread joy and give people beautiful flowers. Cook them food. Share your love. Be part of the change.

We tend not to see food security in the headlines. Yet sustainable food systems underlie nearly every hot issue—from economy to foreign policy to health. Save for passing mentions at rhetoric-heavy Climate Change conferences, food systems remain in the shadows when it comes to everyday news.

Yet to many food advocates, researchers, farmers and workers, two hard numbers remain the serious fixation.

The first is 2050. The once far-flung year is suddenly within view.

The next is 9, or rather, 9 with 9 zeroes. That’s the number—9 billion—we’ll need to feed in 2050.

Far from some sci-fi fantasy, this is the massive problem at the core of humanity’s other crises.

You’ll hear from the UN that we produce enough food to feed every mouth. You might have heard that the waste, corruption, national squabbles and inefficient distribution systems our largest barriers to this goal.

Yet in the shadows, huge things have been happening. Here are three random food stories you should watch. Not only do I predict that each will grow immensely, creating huge waves when they do, they’re each connected to several other issues, representing the importance of food when it comes to climate, politics or economy.

Turbo Urban Growing & Open Source Planting

With the swell of urban populations and energy crises, urban veg growing has become something of the designer issue. Though many individuals boast of their container veg, few organizations have truly cracked the field wide open. In the end, urban food production, nice as it makes us feel, must increase its scale and efficiency hundreds of times to really be a factor in feeding urban populations.

In a recent Wired piece, one such game changing startup is mentioned. PlantLab has developed methods to (purportedly) increase production efficiency by 4000% while using 90% less water (which is the other big problem facing urban growing).

…it’s holding as proprietary secrets methods claimed to be 40 times more productive, using 90 per cent less water, for growing food that is ten times more nutritious.

Huge developments. Keep your eye out. Though the MIT folk who have been working on this issue say that the other thing to watch out for is the “joining up” of these solutions, in the open source fashion that created the Internet. If this type of cooperation happens, we could see disruption on the same scale.

“What we need,” they say, “is an open, joined-up approach to solving a significant global problem.”

Fish Farming Explosion

GMO salmon
Genetically modified salmon, made by AquaBounty, is one huge upcoming driver of fishfarming growth, not even accounted for in the massive growth mentioned in the article

The story that’s been passing us by lies underwater. Once again, while overfishing was the big issue of the end of the 20th century, the inefficiency of meat is the big issue of the 21st so far. Yet meanwhile, the FAO (UN Food & Agriculture Organization) has been tracking the rise of fish farming. Fish farming is simply the production of fish in controlled environments, the way agriculture did to plants and animals. Once the stuff of negative stories (ie salmon, etc.), fish farming is now simply the status quo.

It will be huge going forward. It’s the fastest growing food sector. Just pause and take that in. Considering this fact, when’s the last time you heard stories on fish farming?

Furthermore, next time you bite into some fish, consider that there’s more chance it’s farmed than caught by fishermen, even the trawler-types. The FAO tells us that it makes up

More than half the fish consumed in the world now comes from aquaculture, outpacing fish caught in the open ocean.

Furthermore, it’s made over 90 million tonnes in the past decades, making it the fastest growing food sector.

Veggie Cheerleading Has Sunk Us

We’re still eating too much meat. Yet the social factor of being omnivore might be destroying real progress. The food movement and social politics have led more and more in the US, say various new studies, to claim we’re curbing our meat eating.

In reality, we’ve hardly changed our meat consumption since the “food movement” and folk such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman made us aware of the wider impacts of eating meat, both ethically and environmentally. Here’s one quote from one researcher on National Public Radio:

In a nutshell, Americans’ meat-eating habits haven’t shifted much. “There’s no significant change in the number of times per week people eat meat in the last few years,” Mike Taylor, chief medical officer for Truven, tells us.

If anything, the social factor — and I don’t hold the ‘food movement’ blameless here — has led us to become “veggie cheerleaders.”

One more quote from researcher Roni Neff:

“We are still seeing a lot of people saying they are eating less meat, and a lot who want to eat less meat.”

I’d like to think that’s good.Though I fear it’s worse.

For if we “feel good” we usually don’t change. This is worth watching, given our rate of meat consumption is becoming less and less sustainable, certainly in light of 2050’s population numbers.

Thanks to the confluence of fracturing geopolitics and disenchantment with all things Capital, the blizzardy state of Iowa is something of a hot treat for us Canucks.

We’ve won cushy first row seats, been served a thrilling crescendo to the presidential Primaries, eleven months in the making, now just hours to first eruption.

Northern Naivété

The treat, I argue, lies not despite, rather in spite of, our Canadian naivété. For when it comes to all things Electoral College, it will only backfire to ask questions. Do not ask your US friends to Statesplain the arcane Electoral College inner workings to your pure Northern mind. You’ll just get confused, then pissed, then broken, when it comes to the pleasure of this tragi-comedy from the vantage of our comfortable perch.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 1.23.00 AM

Is it somewhat grotesque to play dumb, to simply sit back & revel? Certainly. Yet grotesquerie is not evil; what’s more the Presidential run-up is structured in part upon the blueprint of the spectacular, in which the latter must exist as precondition. If we can breathe once in awhile and enjoy our complicity as spectators, it’s time to practice some pleasurable gratitude.

The items on the menu we’re treated seem worth it. This 15-strong (previously 25) straight out of central casting.

Tragicomedies

The most adrenaline viewing experience can sometimes come from uncovering the latest cult B-movie relic or the season’s first sleeper hit.

Carson-Attkisson-2

They do have the quality of folk in some quickly drafted spec script, long buried in the unread pile.

  • The billionaire with the gold-plated private jet (who, in case you missed it, our real life version literally invited kids under 10 years old to ‘go run through the jet’ yesterday, ‘without your parents’)
  • The disheveled, grandfatherly, somewhat too-Brooklyn sounding socialist (who, in true 60s Hollywood form, is vaguely, culturally Jewish, never overt).
  • The loopy (okay, Ambien-laden) professor who supposedly once saved humanity, yet somehow cannot process everyday verbal cues.
  • Finally, of course, the brusk, unwavering Bible-thumper. Who is unwavering. In his commitment. To being…unwavering (see this)

If Canadians (like me) remain baffled at the disproportionate frenzy over puny Iowa & New Hampshire, states without major cities whose combined population totals less than 1% of US, it’s best to stay baffled.

Don’t seek clarity. Don’t ask questions. Don’t analyze.

Yet don’t minimize it.

I won’t pretend to enlighten you. Yet beyond its importance as an early voting state, the esoteric ethos of Iowa’s importance might be summed up in one 1976 anecdote (given my record of posting here, you may not be shocked that it happens to involve cooking, television and food)

You see, there was one sleeper candidate, not a serious contender, who said things like:

jimmy-carter-iowa-1976-ap

 

“The people of this country…want a fresh face, not one associated with a long series of mistakes made at the White House and on Capitol Hill.” (Source: The Atlantic)

The startling resonance of this statement with 2016’s anti-establishment candidates is clear; yet it’s important to know that it’s orator, Jimmy Carter, was at the time virtually unknown in the North.

So beyond soundbites like these, Carter had to pound the pavement hard in the Buckeye state, attempting to leverage the character-driven canvassing in this early state. There was time for platforms and talking points and endorsments and debates all year long.

Iowa, buoyed by new rules in the College process, was about human to human judgment; hoards of Iowans in a sense doing a solid for their compatriots, by suspiciously eyeing up the humanity, character and nature as leader.

His performance, as outlined in a recent The Atlantic piece, became legendary, securing him the shocking second-place finish—later, the nomination, the Presidency.

Like marinating fish in pan

Yet the pavement pounding involved one true kicker (to me): something so simple all it required was some fish and a pan. Carter’s Iowa morning cooking show appearance has, to my knowledge, never since been repeated in Primary mania: shocking given its simple and symbolic reach.

During one early morning interview on a local television station, Carter embraced the politics of personality when he dressed up in an apron and chef hat to show to audiences how he liked to cook fillets of fish. He talked about the way he would slice the fish and how he liked to marinate them overnight. The appearance was a smash hit.

(Source: The Atlantic)

 

If the Iowa primary is the way to the White House, and food is the way to human Iowan hearts, it’s shocking that other candidates, especially in this magnanimous era of food TV, haven’t done it.

So help these poor candidates out. What do you think Bernie or Marco should prepare? Drop us your fave below or use twitter (@ForgetTheBox@JoshDavidson)

Poll

My picks:

  • Cake Wars, Episode 19, ‘Sweet Revenge,’ feat. Jeb Bush vs. Hilary Clinton
  • Worst Cooks in America: Bernie Sanders gets his salami sandwich creation critiqued by Anne Burell
  • Guy’s Off the Hook, Episode 999: Guy Fieri gets up to some zany antics in the church kitchen w Ted Cruz

Bonus

If you must, you can chomp on some competition basics, for I’ll concede that even cooking competition shows get enhanced by the viewer grabbing hold of key rules.

Why Iowa, NH & SC matter, explained by a Canadian:

  • The early states are early. So they come first. Early risers get worms. These states set the tone for the rest
  • Early state importance has risen since 1976, not just due to performances like Carter’s. It’s also thanks to the exponential rise in our reliance on polling when it comes for our own decision
  • Iowans sport an inordinate amount of family diners, which the US constitution dictates must be used for “everyman” PR poses by candidates. Cash-strapped campaign teams also benefit from cheap hearty fuel (and supposedly the nation’s best hashbrowns)
  • Since New Hampshire motorcycle riders do not wear helmets, candidates long ago began to feel an obligation to solicit their votes early, in case of later hospital overcrowding

Philippe Couillard and his Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) needed a distraction, badly. With austerity everywhere except for Bombardier and mass protests ramping up again, they needed a way to take everyone’s mind off the damage they were doing and refocus it on something polarizing, though easy to get behind. If the battle lines get redrawn, even better.

They found it. The PLQ’s particular brand of smoke and mirrors politics starts with removing smoke and vapor from Quebec’s terrasses.

The National Assembly just passed Bill 44 which makes it illegal to smoke on outdoor restaurant and bar terrasses and bans electronic cigarette smoking (vaping) everywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. Establishments caught allowing their patrons to break this new law multiple times could face fines up to $100 000.

Whether you’re a non-smoker, a smoker, someone who hates cigarettes, vapes, you name it, one thing is clear: this law does nothing except help out the Couillard government.

No Health Benefits for Non-Smokers or Smokers

When Quebec banned smoking indoors in any public place back in 2006, bar and restaurant owners complained and some patrons weren’t happy either. Others, non-smokers and people who didn’t like their clothes smelling like smoke the day after a night out, rejoiced.

The indoor smoking ban made sense and had actual, tangible health benefits. Second-hand smoke can be a killer. When a room is filled with smoke, everyone in it is breathing smoke in, whether they want to or not.

Bill 44, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. It doesn’t protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke. Smoke outdoors is not enclosed, and with no ceiling to hit, it doesn’t linger. Some argue that there is a greater health risk sitting close to someone who is smoking, even outside, I fail to see how a smoker on the sidewalk, across an imaginary divide, poses any less risk to the non-smoker on a terrasse as one sitting on the terrace itself.

If this is correct, though, then doesn’t the smoker standing on a sidewalk pose a greater health risk to a non-smoker walking down the street then they did when they were sitting down smoking on a terrasse. If anything, this law just passes the buck. Health-wise.

This new law is even more galling when it comes to vapers. While the jury is still out on health risks faced by someone smoking an e-cigarette, one thing is crystal clear: there is no second-hand vape smoke, even indoors.

Image vapour.co.uk via Flickr Creative Commons
Image vapour.co.uk via Flickr Creative Commons

This new law offers no health benefits to non-smokers, but it also offers none to smokers. Smoking cigarettes is dangerous, but it’s just as dangerous for the smoker sitting on a terrasse as it is to a smoker standing on the sidewalk. Vaping, if it does turn out to be dangerous to the vaper, is equally as dangerous whether they are inside, sitting on a terrasse outside or on the sidewalk.

Only banning the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes outright can provide the health benefits to smokers that those who support this law want. Moving smokers to the curb is just an annoying esthetic measure that does nothing.

Esthetic Choices Should Be Left to the Establishment, Not the State

There is one solid argument in favour of Bill 44 that I have seen from non-smokers on my Facebook feed: cigarette smoke smells. It’s true, it does. No one, most smokers included, want their dinner to smell like an ashtray.

I fully support restaurants that banned smoking on their terraces. Most of them did it years ago. Some bars that want to offer a smoke-free experience to their customers have done the same.

I fully support an establishment’s right to select the esthetics they greet their customers with. People who want a smoke-free outdoor dining or drinking experience will support those establishments, as they have been.

If you don’t want people smoking next to you while you eat, select your establishment accordingly. There is no need for government intervention.

When the state imposes a uniform esthetic on all establishments, it doesn’t just hurt the dive bars and those places which prefer clients who like to smoke while they drink. It also hurts businesses that created a niche for themselves by offering a smoke-free outdoor environment. They loose that competitive advantage because now everyone with a terrasse offers the same experience…by law.

Creating Problems Where None Existed

If people thought smoking on terrasses was annoying, just wait till they experience having to pass through throngs of smokers standing on the sidewalk. Sure, that happens already in front of bars without outdoor space, but now it will be happening, even in the summer, in front of places with huge front and back terrasses.

Also, staff working at bars with terrasses will now have a new responsibility: making sure people don’t take their drinks with them when they step over the invisible barrier onto the sidewalk for a smoke. Even some of the most respectful and responsible people try to get away with little things like this (which carry a huge fine) when they have had a few.

So, there we have it. A law which does nothing to improve public health, creates problems where none existed and pits smokers as well as those non-smokers who hate government overreach against people who think any curbing of smoking is good. It even passes with unanimous consent, because which politician wants to vote against something that, in theory, curbs smoking.

Couillard has his distraction. Smoke and mirrors achieved by banning the smoke.

It’s taken decades for dumpster diving to nudge from the fringes to the mainstream. Hell, ten years ago, it wasn’t even the explicit goal of the practice.

When it was mentioned in the media, dumpster diving has always been something of a caricature: a bit part in stories of folk on society’s edge: the homeless, the penniless student, or the militant environmentalist.

Well, like local chicken and artisan popcorn, dumpster diving might have been bound to hit hipsterdom–or even possibly policy debates–once it got the prescient Portlandia’s treatment.

Pardon the pun: when it comes to vegetable-burdened garbage vehicles, 2014-15 has been the tipping point

From the reach of European Ugly Fruit & Veg campaigns to global glee when French banned supermarket waste.

The prominence of food waste might have reached the pinnacle last week: UN delegates were served a haute cuisine tasting menu of dumpster fare—prepared by elite American chefs, notably Dan Barber himself.

The delegates, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, munched on Landfill Salad, which, to quote the menu, consisted of:

  • vegetable scraps
  • rejected apples
  • …chickpea water

Next up, “BURGER & FRIES,” elegantly described in the roped menu: “off-grade vegetables, repurposed bread…cucumber scraps…”

The food was no doubt fascinating and faultlessly executed; witness:

“cocoa husk custard” dessert created with parts of cocoa beans usually discarded when making chocolate

Though food waste has long been a global crisis, its recent win seems due to piggybacking on something much more glamorous: climate change. Now that the two are finally seen as utterly inseparable issues, world leaders and mainstream media have a safe bet trumpeting the cause.

To what end?

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 11.27.55 PM

It’s hard to know if it’s too late, or if such events are anything more than fun food writer fodder. Certainly scholars and academics seemed markedly split. Some saw it as gimmicky or simply elitist, while others welcomed the PR for its far-flung benefits.

However we should be wary that it remains to be seen what really happens from this stunt.

European leaders, for example, who dined on Barber’s dumpster bites were likely unphased: they’ve been part of the swift sweep of the food waste over their political and industrial landscape—from the supermarket waste ban in EU debates to corporate responsibility measures in many of its largest supermarket chains.

Here in Canada, it’s much less obvious what effect—if any—such food waste celebrity status will have.

For someone small-minded like me, my mind goes to dumpsterized celebrity chef speculation. Who would be our nominee to stage similar recycled meals for Canadian leaders?

Perhpas Chuck Hughes digging through empty wine bottles in an Old Montréal alley, spinning out some renewed mullusk-shell bisque laced with dregs of private imports from his bacs de recyclage. Or a blazer-clad Mark McEwan scrubbing still-crisp carrots from the bins of his high-end Toronto store, repurposing them in day-old baguettes from his in-house bakery, all with a skeptical scowl.

Of course, none of this would happen here. If anything, we can hope for more events like Metro Vancouver’s mass free lunch of “rescued” food. In true low-key Canadian fashion, the 5000 people this event fed got one tenth the press ink of Chef Barber’s 20 precious plates.

Downplaying splashiness, however, goes hand in hand with Canada’s habit of downplaying food security altogether, to the point that we’re embarrassingly lagging behind other industrialized countries. Lest you jump to CPC-blaming, know that it’s far from just a diplomatic problem. It’s just as seriously a societal and cultural one. Old illusions of boundless natural resources and agricultural surpluses remain firm, not to mention the fact that most Canadians are urban-concentrated, downplaying rural and remote food crises: “out of sight, out of mind.”

Food Secure Canada, the leading umbrella group of scholars, advocates and policy coordinators when it comes to food issues, have been trying to hammer the severity of the issues for years.

With elections looming, it’s even more striking that the UN & Dan Barber style mega-attention on food waste remains mostly lacking here. Campaigns such as Eat, Think Vote, an initiative meant to bring citizens and their riding candidates together for a meal to discuss Canadian food issues, have helped nudge the issue forward, evidenced by some discussion at this Monday’s debate.

The nefarious effects of cosmetic produce took years longer to come to Canada after Europe, and even to this day, has trickled to market in frustratingly tentative fashion. My previous notes on the our slow-moving supermarket industry is helped by, for example Moisson Montréal’s widened food recuperation operations in Québec. Yet these are drops in the bucket, largely outside the mainstream mind or political debate.

It remains to be seen how this UN splash will speed up the Canadian progress on food waste

Last month, Harper’s commissioned something unusual.

Unusual in the context of our tight-pursed digital world. Less unusual, perhaps, in the heady (nearly bygone?) literary indulgence from which the magazine sprung.

Harper’s, based in New York City, flew a British writer across the Atlantic and, once in The Big Apple, covered her sprawling tab at New York’s most elite restaurants. Then they cut her a cheque—and seeming carte blanche—to fill up their pages with any ensuing adventures.

The piece seemed preordained by the magazine’s weighty masthead to be free-flowing and diaristic, spared the publication’s usual tight oversight.

New York food writers and bloggers generally hated it.

Now true, the whole endeavour was slightly un-Harper’s like. But the diaristic style wasn’t an error or oversight. Nor was the writing bad. It was good. At times, fabulous. So what’s the problem, you ask? Well this very fault line, more and more, is where the gap between between food culture, food writing and the reader is being drawn.

It would be hard to pick four more towering foodie temples to visit: Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Chef’s Table and Masa. It should be noted that Harper’s is neither food publication or news magazine. It doesn’t cover a regular “beat”, much less have a restaurant review section.

Who knows its mandate in 2015? Though broadly-speaking, Harper’s is still about excess: liberal reflection, the pleasure of the text.

…[Per Se] is not a restaurant, although it looks like one. It may even think it is one. It is a cult. It was created in 2004 by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, in Yountville, California. He is always called Chef Keller, and for some reason when I think of him I imagine him traveling the world and meeting international tennis players. But I do not need to meet him; I am eating inside his head.

Now I’m a long-time follower of people like Keller, a junkie of chef culture and resto innovation through and through. I’m the kind of guy who would waste hard-earned money on these nutty places.

Animal Farm may be a metaphor for the anxieties of those who dine at Through Itself: they are hungry, but only for status; loveless, for what love could there be when a waiter must stand with his feet exactly six inches apart … Through Itself is such a preposterous restaurant, I wonder if a whole civilization has gone mad and it has been sent as an omen to tell us of the end of the world — not in word, as is usual, but in salad.

What’s more, smug, foreign food critics are nothing new to this scene.

Nor am I sure that the human body is meant to digest, at one sitting, many kinds of over-laundered fish and meat…

Yet at every turn of phrase like this from Gold, I only dove in further. The thing is, it didn’t matter what my food sensibilities told me: this was crisp, fantastical, entertaining, and ultimately — like all good satire —based on more than a small grain of truth.

If knee-jerk reactions are to be expected from locals and overwrought foodies, they are worrisome when they come from food writers. Why? Because the stark opposite emerged from another specific group: a global collection of folk that may or may not have cared about famous chefs, or even heard of these places.

I can only unify this mass as readers — the targets, after all, of a magazine article. It would seem that readers’  conception of Gold’s essay was different. They perceived it as writing.

And they’d be justified. Let’s leave aside the premise itself: that the magazine doesn’t even do reviews, that the writer was flown in to a city brimming with food critics for an expository feature.

Readers got it, knew that they — along with 99.9% of the world — knew they’d likely never set foot in these uber-elite places, or even necessarily have the desire to. — and that was the whole point all along.

Readers did not require “disclaimers” of satire or elitism.

Yet things continued to split apart. Both sides soon christened Gold’s piece as “an evisceration.”

Fair enough. Yet thanks to the highly-evolved logic of Twitter, the label just wasn’t reductionist enough. Sure enough, as the narrative changed, Gold’s piece became something slightly more vulgarized: a “takedown.”

The thing with “takedowns,” it seems, is once defined, they require “takedowns of takedowns,” each step further distancing readers from any literary agency of their own.

Only one more reductive t word could possibly be invoked, could possibly paint a starker picture of what’s been going on for years now, a sheer widening gap between “food writing” and essay. It happened:

Now food is no exception. These things happen all the time. Social media dumbs things down, to no one’s surprise, I know…

Yet to me, this particular saga is exemplary for three reasons: the sheer spectacle of it all, the big players of food criticism involved, and the fact that it highlights the tense space opening up between foodies, writers and food writers.

The trend seems to be that dry, cutting, whimsical, food writing should never even edge on brutal or fabulous — it must never go too far off the edge.

It’s ironic that food writing started from the edges, with fantastical, metaphorical essays that touched upon food coming from somewhere else.

One level head reigned. Pete Wells, New York Times critic  himself—tasked with hallmark reviews of these joints over the years—might have captured it best: between diaristic and satirical, Gold was for him not just any writer, she was the foreigner turning heads by flirting at the precipice of food criticism.

All this to say that I learned three things:

  1. We’re drawn to New York misadventures just as we’re drawn to the ire of Parisians: their hunger to take down their own is outweighed only by their ferocity at defending outsiders from doing the same.
  2. Harper’s still exists. I should probably check it out more often.
  3. “Food writers” gotta chill.

Back when I first started raising this drama, someone pointed me an old Harper’s essay. Turns out, in 1996, they paid Neil Foster Wallace to write about the cruise industry.

I read it.

Suffice it to say that if such a thing came out today, cruise line bloggers (if they exist) would dissect it with glee. Industry experts and travel writers would doubtless be next at the gate.

For in the piece, NFW is out of his element — uncomfortably so — and one teeters with him as he lurches along in search of his point. It’s as if his grip on the topic might disintegrate at any moment.

Here’s the thing: it is a glorious and riveting essay.

So if there’s a lesson for us food writers, bloggers and commentators, maybe it’s simply to take a deep breath. If those of us who care most about the topic keep strangling it, food’s life within language won’t fully thrive.

It’s a phrase we hear often these days: eating is political.

In other words: we’re actors in food systems. Our decisions carry vast implications—the ethics of the brand we support, say, or the type of living beings we decide to ingest.

Yet now that elections are looming, it’s worth considering the literal sense of the phrase.

George Washington, after all, is forever associated with cherries: a symbol of humility and aversion to lies. François Mitterand had a not-so-secret addiction to caviar—anathema, said some, to his socialist past. Bill Clinton, of course, was the Prez of BBQ and fried chicken, indulging in the richest of Southern foods, it would seem, whenever opportunity arose. And we all know Obama’s love of quality burgers—especially In-n-Out Burger—frequent stops for him and his entourage that in some ways helped launch his social media persona.

We can even find some reaching significance on the plates of our past Canadian PMs. Budget king Paul Martin, for example, had a well-documented obsession with the ultra-frugal Kraft Dinner.

If food is the way to the political heart, what do the eating habits of our Prime Minister candidates reveal?

Spoiler alert: a mostly opaque snapshot of dullness, disjointedness, and general disingenuity.* (*though if the candidates return my dinner party invitation, more may soon be revealed).

Where to begin?

Justin Trudeau

Consider our dear Papineau homeboy Justin Trudeau. Though the Liberal leader has revealed little of his culinary personality, he gains hipster points for slagging off Schwartz and holding his latest presser in a retro Québécois diner (the latest foodie cult object, if you didn’t know). Sadly, however, Mr. Trudeau’s hipster swag is severely undermined by the generic grilled salmon meal he cooked as part of the Win a Date with Justin Trudeau contest, promoted by such gems as the snapshot below:

trudeau food
(via Maclean’s)

Popular opinion, however, is firmly in Mr. Trudeau’s favour when it comes to the culinary. An Abacus poll ranked him Canadian’s top choiceto have over for dinner with your family (43%),” as well as to “cook the best meal (41%)”. (Incidentally, he also outranks cat-loving Harper in the animal category, voted “most trusted to look after your pet (40%)”).

Stephen Harper

What of Mr. Harper, our teetotalling incumbent, who once famously said, “I don’t drink, except when I do.” What be the gastronomical keys to his heart?

We’ve boiled long weeks of exhaustive research on this question down to a simple answer: they’re dictated by his PR team each day.

Mr. Harper’s ubiquity in culturally-capitalistic food photos is matched only by his ability to appear lifeless when caught by the lens. Harper’s habit of seeming photogenically disengaged is so widely known that regular citizens have dedicated blogs to the phenomenon.

One, called Things Harper Does to Seem Human, captures Harper’s utterly unnatural food moments —captioning them with faux-naturalistic brilliance: “Buying candy from a machine. Everyone needs something to munch on while doing a little shopping,” says one.

via Tumblr
via Tumblr

While a posed Yellowknife shot says, “Just chilling round the campfire. Eating dinner. Getting ready to sing Kumbaya.”

Keenly aware of his poor “normalcy” index, Mr. Harper’s PR team recently crafted a Twitter campaign dubbed #dayinthelife. Yet besides beefing up his already prolific set of cat photos, the campaign’s thick veneer only served to reinforce his lack of humanity further.

The PM eats some unspecified breakfast which is dominated by Stanley the cat. Near noon, the PM’s “working lunch” is mentioned, though glossed over using lingo from generic dietary trends du jour; the suggestion is that it’s something similar to broccoli and fish (how perfectly healthy).

There’s no mention of dinner.

Stephen & Maureen Harper inspect some hot cross buns in photo op on campaign (via International Business Times)

Yet there is one thing thing of substance we do know about the PM’s eating patterns. It’s a big one, as antithetical to his stony public image as the perpetual selfies with kittens. Journalists and aides both corroborate that hot sauce is Mr. Harper’s serious vice. He is said to regularly request the spiciest version of any available food, to add jalapenos to his mother’s lasagna and possess a voluminous collection of deathly-hot sauces in his own kitchen.

Thomas Mulcair

If Harper is intent on ingesting all manner of PR-friendly goods (while secretly mainlining hot sauce late at night with Stanley), Thomas Mulcair is just as intent on abstaining altogether.

So-called “angry Tom” has been trying (to mixed reviews) to turn his frown upside down. Yet he remains mad as hell at his food.

All of it.

There is simply no evidence Mr. Mulcair eats. Or that he has ever eaten. Surely not on camera. Even the Maclean’s portrait of the candidate, perhaps the most intimate yet, offers only one fleeting reference to consumption. Mulcair downs some quick hot chocolate (no food)—only after a grizzly daylong trek through the snow.

Even food-themed photo ops suggest Mulcair’s disdain for ingestion.

Consider Obama, Trudeau or Layton. Each one can be seen wolfing down diner fare at their rural campaign stops. Though Mr. Mulcair uses similar resto backdrops, he hasn’t been seen so much as sipping a cup of joe.

Yet no one can accuse the industrious NDP head of slacking off in the kitchen. Even when he slaves away at the pizza oven, as at the Brampton pizzeria where he announced tax cuts to small businesses, Mr. Mulcair didn’t indulge in a single bite from his labours.

(via Mississauga Times)

Then there’s those pre-Orange Wave photo ops alongside the eponymous Mr. Layton. Just take a look below. Genuine though his smile may be, Mr. Mulcair conspicuously refuses to share in the pleasure of the bite; meanwhile Mr. Layton is in obvious joy with the food in his hands.

  

The sum of our findings… if they’re findings at all?

At best they’re useless – and at worst they are grim. For either these candidates are ashamed of their true passions (a bad sign), or their eating habits are impossibly dull and unconscious (even worse).

Elizabeth May

Perhaps there’s one candidate who proves the exception to this culinary rule. In the fiery vegetarianism espoused by Elizabeth May we see her natural fit with party ideals, not to mention the genuine, seemingly enjoyable relationship to food.

She’s known to haunt several Ottawa restos, is loved by the waitstaff, speaks passionately about seafood in her home province of Nova Scotia (though it’s unclear if she ‘cheats’ on the veggie diet), discusses openly her recipes and food thoughts with journalists, and even shows off her unvarnished love for the kitchen on this cooking show.

Let’s be clear: this is far from an endorsement of May (or her diet). Though I can’t help be moved by a politician that actually eats, actually experiences food, rather than posing with it: after all, that’s what humans tend to do.

With the heat hitting Montreal with full force this summer, you don’t want to miss out on some of the best food festivals around. What’s a better way to enjoy the sun than to have cold glass of beer and explore your taste buds? Take a peek at some of the food-related events and festivals happening in Montreal during the upcoming months:

First Fridays

premiers vendredisPlace: Olympic Park, Esplanade Financière Sun Life (4545 Avenue Pierre-de Coubertin)
Time: the first Friday of every month until October (4-11pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

First Fridays is essentially food truck heaven. Up to 47 different food trucks congregate on the first Friday of every month until October to offer a variety of foods that will blow you away. Good thing it’s around for a couple of months, because once isn’t close to enough to get a good taste of everything this festival has to offer. There will be live music on scene provided by evenko, so dance away with your taste buds on every First Friday!

Night Market

night marketPlace: In front of Alexandraplatz Bar (6731 Avenue de l’Esplanade)
Time: The last Saturday of every month until September (2-11pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

The Night Market is a monthly block party that celebrates local street cuisine in Montreal. Similar to First Fridays, Night Market features food trucks that offer a variety of food along with entertainment and local vendors. Support the local Montreal food community by heading over to the Mile-Ex on the last Saturday of every month until September!

Montreal Ribfest

Montreal ribfestPlace: Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough Hall parking log (13665 Pierrefonds Blvd)
Time: Fri. August 14 (11am-9pm), Sat. August 15 (11am-9pm), Sun. August 16 (11am-7pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

Meat lovers across Montreal have been counting down the days left until the Montreal Ribfest. Award winning ribs vendors from across North America will be grilling up a storm to satisfy that ribs craving you’ve had for ages. There will be live music to entertain you while you stuff yourself with a full rack (challenge yourself!). And the best part? The festival supports Canada’s leading youth mentoring charity, Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island.

Barbeque Bonanza

barbecue bonanzaPlace: Clock Tower Quay (Old Port)
Time: Sun. August 23
Admission: $45 (entrance and 4 coupons), $65 (entrance and 9 coupons)

Barbeque Bonanza is another charitable food festival that will blow your mind this upcoming August. With 26 restaurants showcasing cuisines from around the world and some proceeds going towards the Starlight Children’s Foundation Quebec, this is a culinary experience that you don’t want to miss. The variety of food that will be available at this festival guarantees that no matter what kind of food lover you are, you’ll find your fix. Not to mention that there will be alcohol served.

YUL EAT

yul eatPlace: Clock Tower Quay (Old Port)
Time: Sat. September 5 – Mon. September 7 (12-11pm)
Admission: Free (but bring $ for food!)

YUL EAT will be a dream turned into reality for true foodies living in Montreal. The festival, hosted by Les Premiers Vendredis and evenko, will feature leading professionals in the culinary industry to offer an unforgettable gastronomical experience – along with tastings, markets, demos, conferences, and more. We know this isn’t exactly during the summer, but who will be working during Labour Day Weekend, anyway?

* Featured image from cuisinederue.org

Have “foodies” lost the plot? It would seem at face value the answer is yes.

That is, if we judge based on public response to an innocuous New York Times guacamole recipe posted earlier this week.

This reposted recipe (it was posted on the site in 2013), was not only utterly unshocking, it was merely one of over 17,000 such NYT recipes innocently living in their Cooking section.

Yet here’s what happened.

And this.

And, hilariously (personal favourite) this.

And frighteningly, even crap like this:

And then this.

Good lord, even this.

I’d stand to wager that there are probably more guacamole recipe variations than almost anything other on the Internet. No, I didn’t bother to check that claim, because, frankly, those would be precious moments of my life lost. And that’s kind of the point: the vicious backlash and endless media attention means that someone has clearly lost the plot.

The question (if you’ve actually read this far) is: who?

To me the biggest is question is why, with access to the finest food writers and chefs in the country (and arguably world), NYT would even bother to (re)-promote such a page. If humous is the go-to lazy person potluck snack, guacamole is easily the second most overmade, over-fusioned, generally, over-dinner-partied dish in the US & Canada.

Now, perhaps that‘s a statement about foodies (run out of ideas much?).

Though to me, the real fallout of #GuacGate is threefold. Each point is depressing enough to make me want to drown my sorrows in a gallon of habanero-laced peadip.

1. Social media is a scourge upon humanity. “Foodies” really never existed anyway.

While most news articles seemed to label this a “foodie” fight, closer analysis reveals that most commentators are the type who comment on everything. Quickly. Without looking. On Twitter.

Even closer analysis reveals that most who lept into the (nonexistant) fracas felt compelled to call themselves “foodies” in their Twitter bios. Yet closer closer analysis reveals that, wait, 99.9 % of people on Twitter are “foodies'” according to their Twitter bios. Odd exceptions include the bios of those who, you know, actually cook, serve, grow, or research food for a living.

So if social media has made us immune to the impact of profanity, foodie is officially the new f-word.

2. #GuacamoleGate is snapshot of our modern “news” landscape.

A quick perusal of the #GG headlines shows: a) it was a slow news day, b) lots of pun-obsessed editors still have (ostensibly) paying jobs, c) news outlets have become a caricature of ideologies. Witness:

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3. Two decades of creative brilliance is worth less than a sloppy repost

It’s struck me that the one person least discussed in all of this #GG madness is its very auteur, the one and only Jean-Georges Vongerichten. If and when he’s mentioned, it’s in the last graph of these stories, though often not at all. Tweets? Forget it! Which, you know, wouldn’t be a big deal if he wasn’t the single most significant, if not revolutionary, chef in the world’s restaurant capital for nearly two decades.

So, I suppose, we love to scream at each other more than even look at recipe, much less try it, much less learn about its very source. Via a quick media monitoring search, I discovered that two days of guacamole shattered decades worth of Vongerichten media mentions.

Personally, I’m happy for him: he’s long escaped overseas, where it must be said, most Twitterers and newspapers seemed to resist the hashtag allure of GuacGate. I’m just sad for the generation who will now forever grow up knowing this legendary human as Guy Who Tried To Make Pea Guacomole And Failed.

—-

At this point, I’m tempted to go revert back to my turn of the century ways, and an old proclivity to over-make an equally great party dip, then new to Westerners: hummous. Unlike guac, it’s always been open to change.

Oh, supermarkets, what are we going to do with you?

It seems you’re embroiled in a certain love-hate relationship with many of us.

Think of those farmers: they stock many of your vast shelves, yet often remain resentful for being squeezed. Or the upwardly-mobile, who slag you off in public, all while filling your coffers. Even food waste activists, perhaps your most virulent critics, have also been known to sing your praises.

However you slice it, dear supermarkets, it seems we just can’t take our eyes off of you.

Here in Canada, for example, you recently roused our spirits by bringing ugly fruit to your shelves, all while appropriating it as a new, cost-saving “brand” promising to quell food waste.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, you waded into the edible insect trade, only to pull them from the shelves two days later without telling us why.

In Alberta, you convinced the Blood Tribe of your merits, who hope to leverage your model on their land.

Yet this nagging question remains: do you really help us gain access to food? Or do you just stand in the way—-you big, boxy bully?

Over in the Bronx, a recent high-profile study seems to suggest the latter.

faced_products_on_a_supermarket_shelf1-e1427602450548

The NYU report investigated the effects of a 17 000 square foot Associated Foods supermarket in a known food desert, Morrisania, a neighbourhood with high rates of: “heart disease, obesity, diabetes…depression, infant mortality, mental illness and HIV…”

Its $1.1M 2010 opening costs were incentivized to the tune of $449 000 (about 40%).

However, the team reported no “significant changes in household food availability” to neighbourhood children, with an equal dearth of improved “dietary intake.” Don’t dismiss this as a one-off, supermarkets: the study’s vast sample size (about 2000 children) and lengthy duration (before, during and after the opening) suggest that even your government-fuelled spinoffs might fail to offer tangible benefit to those most in need.

Another recent article goes even further, claiming that you might be causing some of these problems to begin with.

In “Supermarkets are the problem,” Deborah A. Cohen at Slow Food USA surveys research on impulse purchases at the cash register alongside nefarious-sounding “slotting contracts” in your end-of-aisle displays. In a decisive verdict, she holds you structurally accountable for obesity and chronic disease.

Now listen up, supermarkets, because what I’m going to say might surprise you. I think we should cut you some slack.

First, determinist conclusions like the latter should be taken with a grain of your finest No Name salt.

It’s not only deceptive to pluck out and blame you from within a living, breathing, increasingly-complex wider food picture, it’s dangerous. By over-emphasizing government regulation as an ultimate cure, it effectively disempowers us everyday eaters of the education, choice, and agency we already possess—the type of things we really should be encouraged to strengthen.

If for no other reason than you’re not going anywhere soon, we’ve no doubt got a lot to negotiate.

Practically speaking, we all find ourselves in your aisles from time to time. Sometimes we’ve driven a long distance to greet you. Other times, we’ve just met you halfway.

Other times, for many of use, we just get squeezed for options and feel almost forced to wander your aisles. Yet rather than praying to be saved or averting our gaze, it would be better to simply open our eyes.