Category Archives: Food and Dining

The Circle of Las Vegas Life Is One Never-Ending Buffet

Las Vegas is a twinkling, cream-filled temple of excess where millions of pounds of food go to waste each year. At Eater, John Semley profiles the multi-generational family business that turns casino food waste into the slop that puts fattened pigs back on Vegas buffet plates. R.C. Farms is high-tech, smelly and growing. And that smoked pork shoulder sure is good.

Most importantly, the new facility’s located on landfill property 30 miles north of the city, far away from the prying eyes of tourists and hypersensitive noses of neighbors populating new suburb developments. The Combs boys seemed baffled — and slightly annoyed — by the effect that exurban sprawl had on their dad’s farm. “As the city developed, and encroachment came all around them,” Hank told me, “we would go down to city council meetings and just tell ’em: ‘We’re not moving.’ They’d go ahead and approve the developments anyhow. Right next to him. They have three schools right near there, within a mile.” (The proximity to the farm earned one of these schools the unfortunate nickname “Pigsty High.”) It’s a problem they hope to avoid with their new facility, located on landfill property, surrounded by industrial parks. “That’s the reason we’re here,” Hank noted. “You don’t see a lot of people.”

Hank estimates that the family company currently handles about 15 percent of buffet food waste in Las Vegas. The actual amount is tricky to tabulate, as the total tonnage of food that isn’t diverted to the farms isn’t calculated. “We really don’t know the true number,” Hank said. “Some of these hotels are throwing out eight tons of food a day!”

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Viral, Yet Ephemeral: Death On Your Cellphone

a cellphone screen with a collection of social networking app icons

Writing in Real Life magazine, Juli Min explores the way WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, has become a place to both mourn death and share graphic videos of the moment itself—a place where users post “viral videos of death as we create an endless stream of idle gossip.” What does this mean broadly, and what does it mean in a country where all data is subject to government monitoring?

Tencent WeChat accounts, like Facebook accounts, are technically leased to their users. The data and photos do not belong solely to individuals in the end, as Tencent maintains the rights to copy, use, and forward whatever is shared on the platform. Accordingly, Tencent’s servers themselves are leased from the Chinese government, subjecting all messaging data to government monitoring and surveillance. A viral video of a mother’s death by escalator will happily make the rounds, whereas a video of a Tibetan monk burning himself in protest will be shuttered by government monitors — “we” are allowed to gawk at the spectacle of death, but not the spectacle of resistance. In 1967’s The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, prescient founder of the Situationist International, wrote: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” Aside from the work of mediation, he wrote, spectacle also allowed for the proliferation and control of the masses and degraded authentic life and experience.

Monitoring is both the source and the function of internet spectacle.

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Good Coffee Shouldn’t Have to Cost More Than $1

A funny thing happened after colonists, disguised as Native Americans, dumped 300-some chests containing tea into the Boston Harbor: The importance of tea—both politically and culturally—in the United States was over, and the people needed something else to drink. That void was filled by coffee, which first arrived in North America courtesy of Captain John Smith, but until the Boston Tea Party, coffee was a niche beverage: just .19 pounds per capita was consumed in 1772.

Following the Revolutionary War, a period in which John Adams wrote of the troubles “wean[ing]” himself off tea, Americans had fallen in love with the coffee bean, drinking 1.41 pounds per capita by 1799, and the infatuation skyrocketed for the next 150 years. Coffee was enjoyed by all classes—Park Avenue socialites and coal miners alike could take their coffee black or with a dash of cream. And as boiling the grounds with water gave way to the percolator and the electric drip coffeemaker, Americans put the pot on more and more often, drinking an astonishing 46 gallons per person a year—a record that will never be topped. Read more…

The 2017 James Beard Award Winners: A Reading List

The growth of food writing has evolved with the explosion of all the food-watching that accompanied programs like Top Chef and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and we’re way past the days of Craig Claiborne or Ruth Reichl reveling about an up-and-coming chef in an out-of-the-way corner of a yet-to-be-gentrified-neighborhood somewhere.

The James Beard awards—otherwise known as the Oscars of food—were announced earlier this week, and befitting the honor’s nearly 30-year history, let’s toast sparkling rosé and caviar-topped amuse-bouches to the best food writing published in 2016 (here is the full list of winners).

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American Media is Still Getting Chinese Food All Wrong

Chinatown window by Pam Mandel

Of the 263 entries under the “Chinese” recipe filter on the New York Times food section, almost 90 percent have a white person listed as author in the byline. Only 10 percent of the recipes are authored by Chinese writers.

On Munchies (a Vice channel), Clarissa Wei shares what we’re missing when Chinese food is covered by writers with no personal connection to the cuisine. Many writers still use a colonial era style guide (the Wade-Giles guide). Some are stuck on the notion of Chinese food as cheap eats, with no sense of what it takes to make the food. Writing about Chinese food is also subject to a lot of “discovery,” as though a dish hadn’t been around for hundreds of years, influencing other cuisines we take for granted.

Prosciutto, in the Western world, is glorified, but people have rarely heard of Chinese ham. Marco Polo allegedly brought ham-making techniques from the Chinese city of Jinhua to Europe, and many of today’s processing technologies for dry-cured hams have evolved from the techniques from this modest Chinese city.

Clocking in at about 5,000 years, China is the longest continuous civilization in the world. The Chinese, after all, were master farmers and cooks. Though the country only has 10 percent of arable land worldwide, they produce food for 20 percent of the world’s population.

Yet, here in the West, we read and commission more stories about poop-themed restaurants, Communist hot pot eateries, and dog-eating festivals than deeply, thoughtfully researched pieces on Chinese pickling techniques and the art of Chinese lamb roasts.

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Tell Me What Donut You Prefer, and I’ll Tell You Who You Are

freshly glazed donuts on a conveyer belt

Have you ever thought really hard about donuts? Like, 7,000 words hard? Keaton Lamle did, The Bitter Southerner published it, and it’s very much worth the reading — an extended meditation on food, America, capitalism, regional identity, and the future. Turns out we have a lot to learn from donuts.

Lamle, who can be forgiven for reserving his most effusive gushing for Krispy Kreme rather than Dunkin’ by the accident of his Southern birth, gets a bit more personal when reminiscing about the famous Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign. And I’ll give him that; a freshly-fried donut is a thing of beauty and joy forever.

They are very much not all over Atlanta, or Birmingham, or Charlotte. Despite expansion around the turn of the 21st century, you’ve still got to go out of your way to find Krispy Kreme stores. In fact, it’s almost like they find you. You’re driving down Atlanta’s magnolia-draped Ponce De Leon Avenue, and red, cursive neon, evocative of a ’50s downtown movie marquee, unexpectedly beckons. Majestic Ks that trail to the end of each word — somehow without connoting the South’s tortured history with such plosive consonants and alliterative acronyms — calling you to come.

The inevitable dilemma comes when you spot that anachronistic “Hot Now” neon sign ablaze. The promise you’ve made to yourself or spouse or kids: that if it’s hot, we stop. But shit, that’ll mean pulling a U-turn across three lanes of traffic. That’ll mean turning around and fighting to get in the parking lot. Is anybody in this car even hungry? Can’t we let it slide this one time? What inviolable principle are we even abiding by with this “it’s hot, we must stop” directive, anyway?

For me, the prospect of wearing the paper sailor’s hats on Instagram usually ends the argument.

You’ll still pry my Dunkin’ Donuts medium iced latte and Bavarian cream donut out of my cold, powdered-sugar-covered, New Jersey-born hands, but Lamle’s piece is piped full of food for thought. (Zing!)

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Top of the Muffin to You! 25 Great Food Moments in “Seinfeld”

Food — from the infamous chocolate babka to the “big salad” — figures heavily in the popular ’90s sitcom, Seinfeld. At Eater, Chris Fuhrmeister serves up 25 Seinfeld food favorites, ranked “based on their influence on pop culture, accuracy at mirroring real life, and overall hilarity.”

Episode: “The Dinner Party” (Season 5, Episode 13).

One of many in which the gang is out in the world experiencing constant mishaps, the episode shines a light on the unwritten rules of a civilized dinner party. Elaine, George, Jerry, and Kramer must pick up a bottle of wine to take to their friends’ party (they can’t simply grab a bottle of Pepsi, as George would prefer). That’s not enough: There must be a cake, too. But in the events that lead to the group missing out on the last chocolate babka and having to settle for cinnamon, one wonders: What kind of New Yorkers are these? Forgetting to take a ticket in a crowded bakery seems like an amateur mistake.

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What it Means to be Korean in the West

While searching for a Korean radish called mu to make her grandmother’s soup, Vivien Lee meditates on family and food—what it means to be Korean in the West—where the burning desire for individuality is at odds with the communal approach to life, food, and family in the East.

Every other New Year, I’ve withdrawn from the potentially memorable (or not so memorable) eve of clinking champagne flutes with strangers to rise soberly at 6 a.m. with my family in Virginia, for an ancestral food ceremony called jesa.

These early mornings usually begin darker than day; a Prussian blue while my father wakes to light candles, opening the window to call his late father’s spirit in. The table takes a few hours to set, glorified with plates of dried fish, rice wine, jujubes, persimmon, pear, liver, and rice cake soup for my grandfather. After three rounds of synchronized bows, my sisters and I sit by his portrait to whisper gratitude and think of the other Lees who came and left before us. Once our silence is pardoned, we eat. Just as everyone’s ready to be done, grandma surprises us with more food, this time, with bowls of radish soup. During the Korean War she’d known what starvation was, and since then she has made sure that no one ever leaves a table still hungry. Eat more, she always insists.

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Who Says Healthy Food Can’t Be Accessible and Affordable?

Patterson stepped out the back door onto a sunny patio where three neighborhood men worked as “ambassadors” — greeters, really, but also unofficial security guards and community liaisons tasked with convincing neighbors that Locol really was for them. Watts has such a deep history of economic betrayal and abandonment, such pervasive skepticism about outsiders making big promises, and such well-founded fear of gentrification — a billion-­dollar “urban transformation” plan has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti — that acceptance of a splashy new restaurant created by two famous outsider chefs who are not African American was not a given.

Patterson embraced an ambassador named Anthony “Ant” Adams, a 44-year-old poet who was in the middle of telling a visitor about getting shot five times with an AK-47 during a 2007 attempt on his life a few yards from where he was currently standing. Patterson then walked past an ATM/lottery/tobacco shop where floor-to-ceiling bulletproof Plexiglas separated customers from the cashier and inventory. He entered a store called Donut Town & Water, where a young man sold doughnuts, water, and other convenience foods, also from behind Plexiglas. Patterson ordered coffee to go and said, as if exhilarated by the speed and audacity of his own thoughts, “I can’t remember if I told you that Roy and I might start a coffee company, too. We’re bringing back the great $1 cup. The fancy coffee industry is not going to be happy with us. We’re going into institutional food, too. We’re already talking about prisons and hospitals and schools. It all comes back to this question of ‘Why does our society always serve the worst food to the neediest people?’ It makes no sense. And everybody always says, ‘That’s just the way it is, there’s no other way,’ but we are going to prove that whole paradigm is fundamentally false.”

In the California Sunday Magazine, Daniel Duane narrates the difficulty of establishing a new way of serving fast healthy food in the impoverished neighborhoods that the conventional industry has helped trap in a food desert.

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The Current Hot Chicken Craze Is Also about Race and Gentrification

Food trends always say something about the cultural moment in which they burst onto our collective consciousness, and Nashville’s beloved hot chicken is no exception. At The Ringer, Danny Chau recounts three days enjoying the addictive pain of cayenne-coated fried chicken, while also exploring a history of racial tension and the changing vibe of the neighborhoods that gave America its Bourdain-approved, spicy food of the moment.

Hot chicken has become one of the biggest national food trends of the last few years, but I didn’t come to Nashville to Columbus a dish that has existed for nearly a century. I did come to see, from the source, why America’s fascination with hot chicken is exploding at this particular moment. As recently as 10 years ago, hot chicken wasn’t a universally acknowledged dish, even in its birthplace. For the majority of its existence, it was largely contained within the predominantly black East Nashville neighborhoods that created it, kept out of view under the shroud of lawful segregation.

Prince’s old location was close to the Ryman Auditorium, where the Grand Ole Opry performed for more than three decades. Its late-night hours were perfect for performers, and early adopters like Country Music Hall of Famer George Morgan helped build a devout following. But in the segregation era, to get their fix, they had to walk through a side door. Prince’s was operated like a white establishment in reverse: blacks order in front, whites out back.

Even after desegregation, hot chicken remained hidden in plain sight for much of Nashville, due to what Purcell described as “comfort” on both sides of the racial divide.

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