“Food has become entertainment,” Meehan said. As David Kamp showed in The United States of Arugula, a chef like Alice Waters can be a product of 1970s counterculture just like any musician. And Waters is much more likely to be available to talk about her motivations.
“Those of us who have pursued this course are on the pleasure beat,” Gordinier told me. “It doesn’t mean we partake of the pleasure the entire time. It means we’re interested in the way culture engages with pleasure, and what the pursuit of pleasure says about us. The defining pleasure of the ’60s was music. To some extent, the defining pleasure of the ’70s was film. The defining pursuit of our time now is food.”
At The Ringer, editor Bryan Curtis examines the rise of modern food writing and the confounding popularity of writing about food. Everyone’s doing it. Why is everyone doing it? Food writing is the new Applebees but at Lonchero prices, and something smells fishy. See? It’s harder than you think.
Cricket flour is here, now what do we do with it? In Lucky Peach magazine, Michael Snyder writes about the many ways people in the Indian state of Nagaland cook their local insects. Your garden species will differ, but Snyder’s article, paired with Jennifer Billock’s “Are Insects the Future of Food?,” provides practical food for thought for a planet whose appetite for animal protein might soon outstrip its ability to produce it. Chocolate covered ants were a novelty. There’s no more time to play gross-out. So fire up the skillet and butter the grasshoppers, people. It’s cricket burger time:
The best hornet larvae don’t turn up until November, I’m told, but even in early September, when the larvae are smaller, they’re a delicacy. In the market, they’re sold not by weight but by the stack: big rounds of cardboard-like hive, half the cells squirming with plump, cream-colored pupae, the rest covered with a fine white sheath that, peeled back, reveals larvae in different stages of gestation. The whole thing has a sort of creepy science-fiction vibe—it looks like a hornet factory, which is just what it is—especially when you remove the white, papery layer to find near-adults clambering out of their cells and attempting to stretch their immature wings. Though I was assured that even these wouldn’t be big enough yet to sting, the whole endeavor felt much like a high-stakes, edible game of whack-a-mole.
As a ramen maniakku or enthusiast myself, I reread Lucky Peach‘s debut Ramen Issue once a year. The issue has an essay by chef Ivan Orkin, where he tells what it was like operating a ramen restaurant in Japan, as a gaijin, or outsider. Lucky Peach is a food quarterly started by chef David Chang and writer Peter Meehan in 2011. The Ramen Issue is long out of print and fetches wildly high prices on eBay and Amazon, but Lucky Peach published Orkin’s essay online for the first time, just for us. Here’s an excerpt:
The first big break came at the end of August, when I was asked to make an appearance on one of the big prime-time talk shows. The episode aired on a Sunday night; on Monday, there was a line of thirty people outside a half hour before we opened. After that, the crowds kept up every day without fail. At least ten people waiting to get in every weekday, and at least thirty every weekend. Lines even in the midst of a typhoon, which happened more than once.
Following the fans came the second wave of blog entries, good and bad. My favorites were from the infamous Channel 2 websites, where anonymous writers go after everything and everyone, and where being criticized means you’ve finally arrived. Many of the threads were conspiracy theories: some people believed I was a front for a large Korean corporation, others that I was a front for a Japanese chef. The best theory was that I was actually Japanese, and only pretending to be a foreigner. It was an idea so good I wished I’d made it up myself.
The seashore is whereall our stories start. It’s understood that present-day humans evolved in littoral spaces, where the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and shellfish, originally from seaweed, were needed to evolve complex nervous systems and big brains. Which is to say: eating seaweed — either directly or by proxy — was what made us us. And seaweeds sustain life on earth, producing 70 to 80 percent of the world’s oxygen through photosynthesis.
The word seaweed is about as descriptive as “dog.” The “weed” part is especially misleading, because seaweeds look like plants but aren’t. They’re neither plant nor animal, but actually algae, which doesn’t narrow it down much, either. That term is also an incredibly vast umbrella, encompassing ten million different species that come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, from the tiniest microscopic phytoplankton to the most gigantic of kelp forests.
In Khmer language, the verb “to eat,” yam bai, literally translates as “eat rice.” Klean bai, which is how you say you are hungry, literally translates as “hunger for rice.” Rice is the staple accompaniment of every meal in Cambodia, and a driving force behind the economy. The grain is an accompaniment to a variety of meats—mostly fish from the abundant Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers—usually spiced with some combination of lemongrass, soy, and ginger. Popular dishes like amok (fish curry) and salam machu (sweet-and-sour fish soup) employ simply prepared ingredients and bright, fresh flavors to produce some of the most delicious, healthy—yet relatively unknown—peasant food the world over.
—Richard Parks, writing in the Summer 2012 issue of Lucky Peachabout “Khmerican food”—the fused cuisines of America and Cambodia. His piece finds an unlikely subject as its driving force: doughnuts, specifically Cambodian-owned California doughnut shops. A recent count found that 90 percent of all independent doughnut shops in California are owned by Cambodians.
Food is everywhere — we eat at home, at work, at school, on the go, and while traveling. Many of us are able to eat what we choose, when we choose; for some, deciding what to eat, obtaining it, and preparing is enough of a burden that we’re turning to meal-replacements like Soylent in such numbers that orders are backlogged for weeks. That all changes in jail, where you eat what you’re given — or you don’t eat at all. Among the many freedoms prison limits, where does losing the ability to choose the timing, quantity, and, most importantly, flavor of your food rank? Pretty high.
Three of these pieces look at what mealtime is like on the inside, from an examination of chow hall food to stories of inmates’ ad-hoc cell-made meals to an in-depth look at a commissary food that’s both dietary supplement and currency for thousands of inmates. A fourth adds a different dimension, revealing how some of the foods on our own tables are the product of prison labor.
Monterey Park became the first suburb that Chinese people would drive for hours to visit and eat in, for the same reasons earlier generations of immigrants had sought out the nearest urban Chinatown. And the changing population and the wealth they brought with them created new opportunities for all sorts of business people, especially aspiring restaurateurs. The typical Chinese American restaurant made saucy, ostentatiously deep-fried concessions to mainstream appetites, leading to the ever-present rumor that most establishments had “secret menus” meant for more discerning eaters. It might be more accurate to say that most chefs at Chinese restaurants are more versatile than they initially let on—either that or families like mine possess Jedi-level powers of off-the-menu persuasion. But in a place like Monterey Park, the pressure to appeal to non-Chinese appetites disappeared. The concept of “mainstream” no longer held; neck bones and chicken feet and pork bellies and various gelatinous things could pay the bills and then some.
While the old Chinatown was all clutter, meats that still resembled animals roasting in windows, and chopsticks typefaces, the new, more privileged one wouldn’t be obligated to play games. It didn’t beg for attention, for there was a surplus of space in the suburbs, and nobody’s cooking smells had to disturb anyone else. Rather than being confined to the worst parts of town, these new immigrants generally possessed the freedom to go where they pleased.
With the rapid expansion of the transpacific economy, Monterey Park was inevitable, particularly in California in the late 1980s and 1990s. Once Monterey Park was established, the model spread through neighboring communities in the greater San Gabriel Valley just outside Los Angeles. The same thing was happening in Santa Clara County in the Bay Area, bolstered by a burgeoning tech industry and the relative proximity to Asia. Good schools, the stability of suburban life, and abundant space were attractive traits of Long Island, Westchester, and Connecticut, the outer rings of Houston and Dallas. These became the new centers of Chinese life in America, similar in function to big-city Chinatowns but different in their privilege and access to the newest overseas trends.
Over the course of his or her lifetime, the average person will eat 60,000 pounds of food, the weight of six elephants.
The average American will drink over 3,000 gallons of soda. He will eat about 28 pigs, 2,000 chickens, 5,070 apples, and 2,340 pounds of lettuce. How much of that will he remember, and for how long, and how well? Read more…