Café Le Cagibi has long held down the fort as a sort of (meta)physical gateway to Mile End at the corner of St-Laurent and St-Viateur. Yet after more than a decade—and amidst a strip dizzyingly gentrifying—the iconic café and show venue is moving on up.

Faced with—among other things—rent spikes north of 200%, Le Cagibi has opted to restructure. The metamorphosis actually began over a year ago, says Jess Lee, one of the proprietors. “As a group we tackled the issue of our lease, discussed landlord negotiations, and weighed pros, cons and feasibility of our various options,” she says.

“We decided moving was the best option.”

The iconic Mile End strip of St-Viateur between St-Laurent and Parc, built and popularized by places like Le Cagibi, has been gentrifying for years. Yet the gradual price edging of yesteryear has tipped over into something of a point of no return.

As documented by Gazette‘s T’cha Dunlevy, Le Cagibi’s rent increase came at the hands of Jeremy Kornbluth and Brandon Shiller, proprietors of upwards of seven properties on the strip, in addition to properties housing the controversial Starbucks in Marché Jean-Talon and the (now defunct) Gordon Ramsay remake of Le Laurier BBQ.

Yet according to Lee, there’s a silver lining to all this jazz. “Cagibi has always tried to provide a space for employees to learn and develop new skills and take on projects they’re excited about. The coop really formalizes this and takes it to the next level, allowing more folks to access the work, responsibilities and profits of ownership,” she says, noting that the new space will allow employees “to have more input into how the business runs,” and that regular nonworking members are also set to “benefit financially by receiving profits of the business and be able to choose where and how money goes back into the business.”

As such, Le Cagibi will join a growing cadre of city co-ops, such as nearby Touski and Divan Orange. The latter two proved particularly inspiring to Le Cagibi, according to Lee. “(These co-ops) were doing similar business operations and Touski provided us with an understanding of their structure which we definitely used as a springboard for discussing our own.”

So when will Le Cagibi as we know it be dissappearing? Having held its final show, the latest word is that current Le Cagibi will close around April 3rd. Lee says that the new space—on St-Zotique near St-Laurent—is slated to be open “as soon as possible… in time for Spring.”

The food menu might see some changes, though the details are still being hammered out.

As for the fate of the iconic Mile End of St-Viateur east of St-Laurent, things are much less certain.

“I think it just becomes more palpable and stark as financial capital begins to explicitly dominate the landscape,” says Lee of the changes. “But I think there’s a lot of resistance in Mile-End to allowing things to progress and a lot of continuous local support for long standing neighbourhood institutions.  I think the real estate corporations buying into the neighbourhood are aiming to make Mile End a new Griffintown or Notre Dame in St. Henri, but in my opinion, they’re overshooting in their expectations.”

“If they continue to blow out the locale economy,” she says, “in five years time my guess is there will be many unrented facades, a lot of business turnover and a few boutique operations or multi-national corporations using their storefront as advertising rather then as a points of sale.”

Cagibi has a fundraising campaign, where you can also find out about joining the collective

Featured image via Flickr/bittermelon / Creative Commons reuse.

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

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.

Panelists Velma Candyass and Josh Davidson discuss over the top plans for Montreal’s 375th birthday, food at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) and Donald Trump. Plus another Sergakis Update and Predictions.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

Panelists

Velma Candyass: Producer of the Candyass Cabaret, burlesque performer

Josh DavidsonFTB food columnist

Catch Velma live this Friday!

FTB Podcast #15: Montreal’s 375th Anniversary, Food insecurity and the COP debate, and Donald Trump by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

FTB Podcast also available on iTunes

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

So, you’re single. Big deal. Who cares? So what if all your couple friends talk about you when you’re not around in a concerned tone usually reserved for speaking about someone who just found out they have cancer. There’s no shame in being single. Be proud, you impossible-to-love loner weirdo.

But just because you’re single doesn’t mean you need to fall into bad eating habits in an attempt to fill the all-consuming void inside you. Microwave burritos, frozen pizzas, and potato wedges from the fried chicken shack down the street that’s been shut down four times already this year for health code violations are easy options when you’ve got no one to impress with your culinary prowess. But, come on, you’re better than this. That chicken place is covered in rodent droppings. They found them on the ceiling fan once. How does that even happen?

There are loads of great tasting, simple to prepare meals for one out there that won’t hurt your wallet, either. So, whether you just got dumped or you’ve been perpetually single for years, keep in mind that you’re fundamentally damaged and no one will ever be able to commit to a healthy long-lasting partnership with you because you’re incapable of being happy with who you are.

Wait, sorry, I meant to say keep in mind that a fun, healthy solo dinner is just a few easy steps away. Ignore that last thing. Anyway, here are a few of my favourites for you to try.

This first one is a regular in my meal plan because it’s so quick and requires so few ingredients. Start with one 1.5 litre bottle of wine (red or white, the recipe’s pretty flexible), and drink a third of it. Officially the recipe calls for you to drink from a wine glass, but that’s not required. I usually use a nice ceramic coffee mug, but you can use pretty much any receptacle you have on hand. Or just drink straight from the bottle. The recipe doesn’t call for any judgment. I once completed the entire thing using a cat dish because I ran out of clean cups.

Once the first third of the bottle is finished, the next step is to go outside for five to seven minutes and yell at something alive. It could be a stranger out walking their dog, it could be their dog, it could be a squirrel or a bug, the important thing is that it’s a living being that can comprehend on some level that you’re angry at life and you’re taking that out on it unfairly.

In a pinch, if you can’t find anything else, yell at God. Whether God exists, or is “alive”, is not for this recipe to weigh in on, but if you can’t find even a bird or something hanging around, God can be substituted.

Once you have shouted yourself hoarse, or the neighbours have dialed the police, return to the wine, and drink the next third. As you’re doing this, log into Facebook. It’s time to start messaging exes. Begin by telling them it was a mistake to ever let them out of your life, and things were so much better when you were together, despite all those things you said, you can see that now. You’re seeing things clearly for the first time. They were right this whole time, and you’re sorry for everything, especially that unfortunate toast at their sister’s wedding.

Switch gears very quickly at this point, telling them that they don’t deserve you and they’ll never find someone as good at oral as you are. Then preemptively block them, catch a bus to where they live, and take a shit right outside the drivers’ side door of their Optima.

If you’re already blocked by your exes, you’ll have to find a more creative way to get a message out. I put them into articles I write, because I know you’re reading this, Stephanie. I hope Brad knows he’s not just moving in with you, he’s also moving in with your borderline pathological trust issues.

The final step is finishing the last third of the wine. This will complete the meal with a lot of crying, perhaps a hole punched in the drywall or cupboard doors ripped off, and a good deal of speculation on who would attend your funeral if you died tonight. The meal is capped off when you pass out in the bathtub.

That’s it, I guess. I know I said I had a few recipes to share, but, well, life’s full of all kinds of disappointments, isn’t it? That’s what I was screaming about at that caterpillar after a third of a bottle of wine last night, anyway.

 

Photo by korafotomorgana via Flickr

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.

Panelists Josh Davidson, Jerry Gabriel and Cem Ertekin discuss the Just for Laughs Ethnic Show and the meaning of “ethnic” comedy, the social media scandal surrounding peas in guacamole and the seeming about-face in Greece after the OXI victory. Plus the Community Calendar and a panel interview with JFL comedians.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

 

Panelists

Josh Davidson: FTB food contributor (read his column on #GuacGate)

Cem Ertekin: FTB news editor

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor

Listen to the full panel interview on “ethnic” comedy by Cem Ertekin featuring Gina Yashere, Ahmed Ahmed, Dan Naturman and Ronnie Chieng

FTB PODCAST #8: Ethic Comedy at JFL, #GuacGate with Peas and Greece by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer Hannah Besseau

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

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.

In our fifth FTB Podcast, we discuss school lunch shaming, the first openly gay pro football player Michael Sam joining the Montreal Alouettes and new PQ leader PKP. Plus the Community Calendar.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

    Panelists

 

Josh Davidson: FTB food columnist

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor & Als fan

School lunch shaming report by Josh Davidson

FTB Podcast #5: School Lunch Shaming, Michael Sam Joins Alouettes and PKP by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

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.

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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.

Back in January, I speculated that Canada’s world-leading habit of food waste might soon become too embarrassing to ignore. Following the (real) experts, I pointed towards supermarket waste reform in particular as a key to stemming this horrid tide.

It seems that last week, one food giant stepped up to the plate.

Well, sorta.

Though it didn’t touch on the waste problem directly, Loblaws announced that it will roll out the sale of blemished produce.

So, in what is perhaps a first for Canadian corporations, a supermarket giant acknowledged that un-cosmetic produce was actually fit for human consumption.

Sure, it’s a damn small victory. And despite the welcome news, Canada is a latecomer to the ugly fruit game as far as supermarkets go. UK chains began the practice in 2012, while France’s Intermarché giant scored a hit with their Inglorious vegetables campaign last year.

What’s more, if you’re reading Forget the Box, you probably get your fruit from farmer’s markets, “Good Food” boxes, overpriced épiceries, dépanneurs, or hell, any other store than a supermarket. So, you’ll probably be quick to chastise Loblaws that this particular brand of “responsibility” is about ten years too late.

Still, could it help our society, in some tiny way?

Let’s look at what we do know.

The Loblaws produce will come packaged under the label “Naturally Imperfect,” and will stand alongside its picture-perfect cousins, boasting near-equivalent taste. The brand will apply only to apples and potatoes at first, though others are said to be on the way.

Those deeply-discounted apples in the saran wrap (think pink 50% off sticker), will not be affected due to this change.

Rather, couched in packaging that hearkens back to their popular, 90s-era “Green” and “No Name” brands, the cut-rate, yellow-bagged produce will stand as its own brand, buffered by similar rhetoric that brought the latter to fame.

“If you were to grow produce in your backyard,” says Loblaws senior Director Dan Branson in the Financial Post, “there’s a lot that would grow that wouldn’t look as pretty as what you would see in a grocery store.”

He goes on, reminding us that even “Mother Nature doesn’t grow everything perfectly.”

You can almost feel the spirit of Arlene Zimmerman rising from this golden marketing-speak.

I imagine her leaping from her Dragon’s Den armchair, blemished McIntosh in hand, telling a would-be entrepeneur, “I’m in. Knotted, ugly vegetables are 100% on-trend.”

So while “Naturally Imperfect” promise a return to the mass market for tonnes of neglected apples and potatoes, it is also a new “product” in its own right.

The homely castaways seem expertly engineered to cash in on a portion of the market that—for some insane reason—other chains have been afraid to tap.

The product is already selling PR-wise. Loblaws’ official announcement last week was a runaway media success, with nearly every single mainstream news organizations picking up the press release—most funnelling it through largely untouched. Even hip restos got behind the announcement, sharing it in droves.

You have to wonder why an influential brand like Loblaws waited so long to cash in.

All hype aside, I truly do hope this will have some meaning.

Perhaps the trend will ripple through other chains.

Or, at the very least, perhaps a sheltered Canadian child might get to see what normal vegetables look like—possibly for the first time in their lives.

 

Hungry for love and BACON! Yes, awe yea that’s the spot. Put it in my mouth. Crispy crunchy glistening hot meat candy. Talk dirty to me, baby. Savor the sweet richness of chocolate volcano cake, seductively lick and coax the jelly out of the puffy powdered donut, caress the soft fuzzy peach with your lips, suck the raw oyster from its shell, blow the gooey cheesy pizza, bask in the loveliness of a ripe red strawberry, slurp that steaming soup, put your lips around that plump spicy sausage, enjoy those buns, let the juices from that orange dribble down your fingers, tear up every savory morsel of that perfectly cooked strip steak, pop the cherry, and give out a rapturous moan with every artful bite of sushi. Is your stomach growling with antici…..pation?

cat foodSploshing is a full body food fetish also called a WAM (wet and messy) fetish. A participant will be smashed with cream pies or mashed potatoes, covered in chocolate sauce, sit on messy desserts, eat while having sex, and use the food to initiate arousal. There are parties where women are the platter and they are covered in sushi, each bite revealing the real main dish.

Another group of food fetishists are called feeders. Often large BBW (big beautiful women) will eat for an audience or camera. People will pay big money to watch a powerful woman eat a cheeseburger or feed another woman some grapes.

Personally I have used both sploshing and feeding in my burlesque performance. I have dressed up like a pig cop and had girls smash donuts on me while a punk band played. I have eaten sushi to Oh baby I Like it Raw. I have pulled cheeseburgers out of my panties and showered crowds with freedom fries.

My favorite moment with food and performance would have to be my ode to Gluttony in a seven deadly sins show, where I had naughty housewives smash cupcakes on me dressed as Marie Antoinette:

Much of my art also revolves around food. For my senior thesis in college, called Pasties and Pastries, I did large paintings involving sex and cupcakes. I actually baked my weight in cupcakes (267 at the time) and fed them to the party.

I think that cupcakes represent the kind of woman I present myself as. A 50s housewife wearing nothing more than an apron and a finger full of frosting. Lick the spoon. Cupcakes and women are beautiful, decorative, fluffy, sweet, delicate, creamy, and pure art.

Taste, texture, and temperature: food stimulates all of the senses and fills our natural needs and desires. Phallic foods or any foods that look visually erotic are obvious choices. Raw oysters look like genitalia and are high in zinc, which increases testosterone and sperm. They also contain dopamine. Champagne and chocolate are both proven aphrodisiacs. Popping a bottle of bubbly is sure to make your night a little naughty. Dip those strawberries in dark, rich chocolate and feed each other. Eggs increase a man’s libido. A piece of sizzling steak on the grill, it’s juices and smells are like sex you can eat. Watermelon and peaches both contain libido enhancers and also just look sexy and messy while devouring.

Maybe I’m just a fat kid with an oral fixation, but food totally turns me on. Scrumptious and sumptuous deliciousness get in my mouth now, k thanks. My favorite moments in life revolve around the kitchen and not the bedroom. Cooking with friends, serving the needy (Food Not Bombs for life), or even baking Christmas cookies with Mom is amazing, but nothing like cooking with a lover.

There is nothing sexier than a meal made with love and passion. A good cook can provide more than orgasms. They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, do you agree?

We’re nearing the yearly gastronomical frenzy at the venerable Montréal en Lumière festival (Feb. 19-Mar. 1), purveyors of Nuit Blanche (Feb. 28).

This years’ offerings are more luxuriant than ever, and while the free outdoor site will be on hand for cheaper (corporately-sponsored) thrills, the real delights are to be found in dining rooms at the four corners of town as hundreds of global guest chefs descend upon our city.

In its first year as a UNESCO-recognized gathering, Montréal en Lumière doses up the usual geographical mashup to guide the culinary program: Switzerland, Washington DC and Lanaudière. I’m not going to pretend to find some throughline for these three places, so let’s jump into particulars.

Old Swiss food conjures up images of chocolate and cheese. Of course, things have long since changed and Montréal en Lumière is helping to smash stereotypes with a barrage of Michelin stars. From my count, we’re looking at a total 9 Michelin stars, if you tend to count that kind of thing.

Guest chef menus are vague, yet styles range from classic French to tapas, crossing kitchens from La Chronique to Maison Boulud. Prices vary wildly yet tend on the pricier side. For example, the “World’s Best Sommelier,” Paulo Basso, will pair wines at overfluffed Europea with Paul-André Ayer’s dishes for a smooth $300.

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For choco-cheese addicts, however, the rich nation’s iconic delights are on show across a flurry of fondue dinnerschocolate-inspired menus and all-you-can-eat raclette evenings. These tend to be more moderately priced.

Personally, however, I’m more interested in the focus on Lanaudière and Washington: two more “emerging” culinary scenes. Despite its general eminence in all things political, DC has never really found the same culinary footing as NYC, Chicago or even San Francisco.

Yet its culinary riches are developing: ethnically varied, innovative and well-financed chefs have recently brought some amazing ventures to the forefront. Big names such such as Equinox‘s Todd Gray and uber-competitive TV wonder Mike Isabella of Kapnos fill the program and are likely worth the tab.

However, from past experience, I’ve found the wine evenings can sometimes be the most revelatory—with dishes more odd & exciting than the headline dinners. In this spirit, check out Marjorie Meek-Bradley at the always-pleasurable Pullman wine bar.

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As for Lanaudière—that Nor’Easterly region right next to Montréal—well, what do we really know about its chefs and traditions? Top pick (and likely to sell out first) is Nancy Hinton’s guest spot at Les 400 Coups. Her rural joint Les Jardins Sauvages was the subject of great fanfare & controversy last year as duelling critics Lesley Chesterman and M-C Lortie disputed its merits. For a more low-key introduction to our neighbouring region, however, check out the Jean-Talon Market for local products and demos by Lanaudière cooks.

For amateurs of the peculiar world that is Québec culinary TV, you can brush elbows (and determine the financial fate) of four favourite Les Chefs! contestants in a $100 a head 12-course competition dinner.

In the series known as “Planète Montréal” you can have so many profound questions answered. Questions such as: “What would (Habs GM) Marc Bergevin make for dinner?” or “What kind of meal would (hipster band) Mister Valaire curate if they had a captive audience?”

Last and not least, the always-educational UQÀM agro-gastro talks come to the festival this year with a séance on olive oil. Tastings included.

The real wacky & budget friendly food thrills, however, are often found on Nuit Blanche. As we did last year, we’ll be providing a list of cheap (or free) thrills just prior to Feb. 28.

Follow us on Twitter for more updates: @Forgetthebox / @JoshDavidson

Here’s the newest episode of the Jules & Lara show. This time, they’re making pasta – from scratch. That’s really commendable, honestly, so kudos J&L. And, to make it even better, they do it the proper ‘Italian’ way. Watch the video to see what we mean.

Also, Jules & Lara have recently launched a Kickstart project, which you can find here. They need the money to get themselves better equipments to make even better videos! Be a part of history, people.