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Archive for the ‘Food & Wine’ Category

The New York Times ran an obituary yesterday about Joseph Ades, “the white-haired man with the British accent, the expensive European suits and shirts,” who had been a fixture among the vendors at the Greenmarket in Manhattan’s Union Square. I was drawn to the article not because of a remembered encounter with Ades but because of my interest in the legal obstacles facing street vendors, often immigrants and people of color, in New York City. In the Times’ obit, David Hughes, the operations manager at the Greenmarket, noted that Mr. Ades conducted his business on the fringes of the market “because he never obtained a permit to do business there, and if he staked out a spot too close to the vendors, someone would complain and security guards would be alerted.” Although Ades managed to persist through this wink-wink arrangement, most street vendors are not so fortunate.

New York’s Urban Justice Center, a non-profit organization that serves “New York City’s most vulnerable residents through a combination of direct legal service, systemic advocacy, community education and political organizing,” several years ago established the “Street Vendor Project” to assist vendors who have been victims of New York’s aggressive “quality of life” crackdown (vendors have been denied access to licenses, restricted from streets closed to them at the urging of powerful business groups, or penalized with onerous fines for minor violations).

The most successful of the project’s public fundraisers is the “Vendy Awards,” a juried competition between five or six of New York’s best “street chefs,” with the winners determined by the attending public (who pay for the pleasure of sampling the various fare – all proceeds going to support the project’s work) and a panel of food “experts.” This past fall, the judges at the fourth annual event, held at the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO, included well-known food writer and journalist Calvin Trillin.

As to Mr. Ades (R.I.P.), his story, as told in the obituary, is a romantic one, to be sure, but better to ask almost any New York City vendor for his or her story if you want the real word on the street.

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Marfa, Texas, long a tourist destination for devotees of paranormal phenomena who journey to this remote desert outpost for a chance to experience the Marfa Lights, is still in many ways a typical small Texas town where languorous locals are animated by talk of high school football. But when I visited Marfa two years ago while en route to Odessa, Texas for a reunion of my wife’s family, the entire town seemed like a mirage: there, deep in the heart of George Bush country, were art and photography galleries, a public radio station serving “Far West Texas,” and a coffee shop, The Brown Recluse, providing customers with reading copies of such un-Bush publications as  “The Nation” and “The New York Review of Books” while serving some of the best fresh roasted coffee (organic and free trade) on either side of the Rio Grande. Marfa owes its current status as an art destination to the American painter and minimalist sculptor Donald Judd who moved to town in 1971 with hopes of realizing his art on a “grand scale.”

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still-life“Of all the truly seismic shifts transforming daily life today — deeper than our financial fissures, wider even than our most obvious political and cultural divides — one of the most important is also among the least remarked. That is the chasm in attitude that separates almost all of us living in the West today from almost all of our ancestors, over two things without which human beings cannot exist: food and sex.

“The question before us today is not whether the two appetites are closely connected. About that much, philosophers and other commentators have been agreed for a very long time. As far back as Aristotle, observers have made the same point reiterated in 1749 in Henry Fielding’s famous scene in Tom Jones: The desires for sex and for food are joined at the root. The fact that Fielding’s scene would go on to inspire an equally iconic movie segment over 200 years later, in the Tom Jones film from 1963, just clinches the point.

“What happens when, for the first time in history, adult human beings are free to have all the sex and food they want?

“Philosophers and artists aside, ordinary language itself verifies how similarly the two appetites are experienced, with many of the same words crossing over to describe what is desirable and undesirable in each case. In fact, we sometimes have trouble even talking about food without metaphorically invoking sex, and vice versa. In a hundred entangled ways, judging by either language or literature, the human mind juggles sex and food almost interchangeably at times. And why not? Both desires can make people do things they otherwise would not; and both are experienced at different times by most men and women as the most powerful of all human drives.” (via Policy Review)

[Rodney Dangerfield had a bit about food replacing sex in his marriage, something along the lines: “I’m telling you my love life is terrible. My love life is so bad, food has replaced sex in my marriage – things are so bad my wife and I even installed a ceiling mirror over our kitchen table.”]

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Turtles for sale in an open air market near Oudong, Cambodia (December, 2006)

“At open-air markets and restaurants in Asian communities here and abroad, millions of turtles are being butchered for food and their alleged “medicinal qualities,” and conservationists note that this rapacious craving has already wiped out some wild turtle populations in China, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  The international turtle trade is big business, and it’s conducted with little concern for the continuation of species.”

Eating Turtles to Extinction (via The Progressive Puppy)

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“McDonald’s is planning to this year create 12,000 jobs and open 240 new restaurants across Europe, it emerged on Friday, as the fast-food chain shows signs of being one of the few global companies to benefit from the financial crisis.

In stark contrast to the multinational groups announcing record job cuts and losses, McDonald’s plans for expansion in Europe are its biggest in five years.

‘We’re certainly not slowing down,’ said Denis Hennequin, president of McDonald’s Europe as he outlined to the Financial Times his plans to hire 50 people at each of the 240 new restaurants, mostly in Spain, France, Italy, Russia, and Poland.”

McDonald’s defies downturn (via Financial Times)

[The only good news, as I see it, is the increased number of clean public toilets that tourists and locals will now be able to utilize. During various overseas travels, in need of a public toilet, I have been directed to the nearest McDonald’s which locals called “The American Embassy.”]

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Plans for “serious” writing while traveling, as usual, were reduced to scribbling notes and promising (to myself) to compose a diary of our trip from memory (and notes) once home. The current plan is to organize my diary thematically, rather than chronologically. Over the next several days I’ll begin by writing about our food experiences. Here, to whet the appetite, is a photo of our dinner in Eger, Hungary: pisztrangfile, or brook trout, a staple of the Hungarian diet, chosen in honor of our good friends the Pistrangs, who may or may not be descended from trout.

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