Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What on Earth is America Eating?!? (CYOA)

Okay, so if you read my last reading response, I ended with the question: What on Earth is America Eating? And so this is where we will start for our adventure! This picture is taken from an page called:  Food Consumption in America and shows how much of what Americans eat per year. In comparison to other countries Time Photo's What the World Eats Gallery shows how much money is spent per week on food, and the family's favorite foods. And lastly, check out Parade.com's article What America Really Eats with stats and data about what people think about beef, expiration dates and more! I'm looking forward to a great discussion!!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reading Response Six

         Anger from a Now-Informed American Omnivore
          I hate corn. I hate feeding corn to animals that don’t naturally eat corn; But most of all, I hate the way corporate America decides to feed its people. Michael Pollan with his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” is making me angry, but not at him. The first section of the book painfully describes the process of corn seeping into our foods and the pocket books that are filled by it. As I sit here eating my “Fit & Active Popcorn,” that tastes nearly like nothing, I start to wonder if there’s any “real” corn in it at all.
            One of the first things that upset me upon this reading is the illogical nature of the process which corn is raised, processed and eaten. While the planting of corn used to be alternated with beans to prevent a depletion of nitrogen, after WWII “the government had found itself with a tremendous surplus of ammonium nitrate, the principal ingredient in the making of explosives. Ammonium nitrate also happens to be an excellent source of nitrogen for plants” and so began the use of it on corn farms (Pollan 41). I mean really? Corporate America is so set on productivity that they’re willing to recycle explosives in order to make it happen?
            This is not to mention the fact that America is actively changing the way the way humans eat but also other species in order to utilize the enormous excess of corn. It is also used to bulk up our beef as well. Pollan explains “What gets a steer from 80 to 1,100 pounds in fourteen months is tremendous quantities of corn, protein and fat supplements, and an arsenal of new drugs” (71) Not to mention that cows are not even designed to ingest large amounts of corn, but rather their rumens are designed to eat corn but to break down grass into proteins. And don’t even get me started about how the new CAFOs are creating more harmful and toxic wastes than the potentially self-serving, no waste, circuit of family farms ever did (67).
            Is this healthy? Are these chemicals, drugs and preservatives harmful to my health and the health of our ecosystem? The people who are likely to answer these questions have a vested interest in reassuring me of its safety. People such as David Wallerstein and companies such as Tyson want to get the most money for the emptiest calories; Pollan exclaims that “while the surgeon general is raising alarms over the epidemic of obesity, the president is signing farm bills designed to keep the river of cheap corn flowing, guaranteeing that the cheapest calories in the supermarket will continue to be the unhealthiest” (108). This to me is mind-numbing. It seems to me like there is such a simple answer: stop making corn! But to food producers, or food constructors I should say, would hear that resolution as: stop making money! And so we know that this will never happen. And the farmers who have to overproduce to make ends meet, and the cows who have to eat this food and take drugs just to digest, and the people who eat this food, all of it makes me wonder—how on Earth could this ever change? And What on Earth is America eating?!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Restaurant Review Draft: Fandango

“I’m sorry I guess I just don’t understand your question.” Well, I guess you don’t like new customers do you? Asking a waitress about how tapas dining works is apparently extremely confusing. Fandango, tucked in to Kalamazoo’s downtown district is one of few other tapas restaurants in the city. With broad windows and intimate booths it takes strides to be a more sophisticated Spanish cuisine than the Mexican tapas restaurant Casa Bolero.

The place is bustling with the seventy-five or so people that are seated at the closely placed square tables. Rock jazz, with the bass level too high, lightly booms from the kitchen. The waitresses scurry about in their black attire from candlelit table to table refilling waters and bringing out the next dish that was finished from the kitchen. The moody lighting with deep maroon walls makes any college kid feel like a sophisticated and established “grown-up” with real fabric napkins and no children’s menu. It also looks like the places they send people for e-harmony hang outs, but that is beside the point.

The point is, if you’re looking for a great place to test your taste buds and enjoy the results, this is the place to go.

Tapas cuisine gives each person involved the chance to literally bring something to the table. Once the waitress finally understood the “complicated” question, she explained that each dish was brought out as it was finished and then passed amongst the diners “family style” for each person to try. The Fandango Empanada, for instance, doused in sweet and sour sauce and sesame seed allows each taster to enjoy the tangy of the sauce with the crumble of the croissant: the spice of the peppers and onions with the chicken. If more than a few bites were taken at one time, though, the sauce would seem to win out. The two empanadas arrive on an adorable-sized red plate matching the stack of red and green plates placed on the table before guests arrive. Finding room for all the plates once the multiple dishes begin to arrive, however, can be a challenge.

The largest plate that arrives for the night is the artichoke and spinach dip served with pita chips. The hot plate is unapologetically left on the table for the people to find space for, attempting to pass it along without burning anyone on the heated dip. The taste was exquisite, however, once room on the plate was found. The pita chips were the perfect crunch without being too salty and thick chunks of artichoke comprised much of the dip; while hard to get on the chip, the dip had the golden ratio of spinach, to cheese, to chunk.

Passed around at the same time, was the chorizo and squash crepe cradled in its own white dish. The thin sheet of crepe was topped with various Spanish cheeses, and underneath is a puree of squash and chorizo with a texture that is similar to baby food: if baby food was fiery and delicious. The waitress returned to clear some plates, walking them past the semi-circle, barely lit bar serving out Guinness from a can and fun and flirty seven dollar martinis before bringing back dishes that had been ordered after the initial startup.

The flank steak, cooked medium well, and the smoked salmon arrived at the same time. The steak was a unique take on the traditional manly punch of seasoned beef. Finished in balsamic vinegar, the steak had a more subdued but equally satisfying taste. The smoked salmon arrived with a salad topped with olives that no one ever touched, the fish ribbon shaped like deli turkey. The taste was mature and woody and the cold a striking contrast to all of the spices in the previous plates of food. It was well complimented by the crunchy bread that was placed at the table, however getting used to the temperature difference could take some adjusting.

The crowd favorite seemed to be the Spanish take on what may be considered an “All American” dish: Mac and Cheese. Baked with melted cheese on the top, the thick shell noodles were plump enough to burst in your mouth. It lacked the familiarity of cheddar, but this by no means detracted from the taste. The white cheeses weren’t weighty but were instead the perfect hanging accessory to the noodles’ outfit. It was the perfect casually, yet dressy attire for the Spanish Mac—dressed like most of the people in the restaurant.

Fandango is definitely not a place to go alone. If you do, you’ve missed the point and your wallet will hate you for it. Each dish is reasonably priced, ranging from seven to fifteen dollars so with a large group of people it is a lot of food for your money. If each person orders two dishes from the menu, you will find yourself drowning in the beautiful midst of variety. The only downside is you have to barter with your friends to see who orders what because you don’t want to order the same thing at the table as someone else. It brings to mind the “family style” like a parent asking their child “so what do you want for dinner tonight?” and the kid always answers “I don’t know, what do you want?”    

Leftovers are out of the question as well. If you go hungry that is. Not a single take-out box was passed to anyone in the restaurant at any time. Not that you would need one. The six serving plates were taken back to the kitchen virtually empty and at that point everyone was the best kind of full: content but not stuffed.

Tapas dining is a great experience to share with the people you are close to, and Fandango is a nice place to do it.  It is the kind of place where you would try something different each time, rather than ordering your favorite item off of the menu. It is a great place to experiment and to get out the box with your taste buds, but still feel grounded in familiar tastes. If you can get past the waitress who is having an off-night and the adventure of trying something new, Fandango is a great time to be had with the people you love.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Skada moosh skada moosh will you do the FANDANGO

The first time I told my friends that I was going to a Tapas restaurant for a class assignment, they thought I had said I was going to a topless restaurant for a class assignment. How embarrassing. However, I can’t blame them because tapas dining is something that I had never even heard of until it was discussed in my Food and Travel Writing class. There was an article in the food section of The New York Times that showed all of these exquisite, tiny dishes that were served at a restaurant in NYC. It made me think that you would just go into a restaurant and tell the waiter “I’ll be dining tapas tonight” (not topless!) and they would proceed to bring you course after course of small delectable treats to please.
Unfortunately, I have come to learn that that is not how tapas dining works, but it still seems like it will be an experience. My first tapas experience will be at the restaurant Fandango in downtown Kalamazoo: a corner shop with two walls of windows. I looked up there menu and saw various dishes such as paella, mahi mahi, and something called lollipop lamb. Fandango seems to be taking up with its tapas dining, the Spanish influence behind it, also serving “patatas bravas” and “rojio chicken.”  I’m excited by trying this Spanish cuisine because, even though I know it won’t be the same, it’s like a pre-food tourism before my hopeful excursion to Spain this spring.
When I called the restaurant, a buoyant male voice answered and was happy to answer my questions about Fandango.  He told me that tapas dining is an experience meant to be shared with other people and consists of people ordering multiple entrĂ©es off the menu to be able to try various things. He also was happy to inform me that my planned time of arrival at 6:30 on a Saturday is the perfect time to arrive before the place gets hopping. I really like that guy. I hope the whole place is like him.
The menu and the service I have experienced so far have reminded me of our various talks about food is only one aspect of the experience. I will forever associate the happy, bubbly secretary with the restaurant, even though I haven’t gone there yet. As Lucy Long puts it in her essay “Culinary Tourism”: our expectations will shape the interchange…enactment of such tourism involves at least two actors, real or imagined, the host and the guest, the producer and the consumer” (Long 32). I hope that the place is as happy and upbeat as that man has made me imagine; and that goes for the food too. I’m expecting explosions of tastes that I’ve never had, and service that is off the charts. Maybe I’m setting myself up for failure, but that man’s voice has really gone a long way in boosting my expectation.
Being someone who is usually very reserved in food choice, I’ve never eaten seafood, or tried any other ethnic food than Chinese and taco bell, I hope to push my boundaries, perhaps break them. I also hope that this experience will be a prequel to the food I hope to have in Spain. Here’s to hoping. Bring on the tapas!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reading Response 5

“Food and identity are intimately connected, not only at the individual level, but in terms of group identity as well” (Molz 65).

The chapters from Culinary Tourism gives a huge perspective that I don’t think has ever really been seen before. The piece grapples with the perception of authenticity and the thought that a person does not have to leave home to experience exoticism or tourism. The two chapters really illuminate what it means to find identity, and how anyone can experience culture without leaving the house.
                As the quote stated above, this piece emphasizes the importance of food with identity. It’s not only what a person produces that gives them identity but also what they eat that groups them in with a larger culture. As Lucy describes it: “food plays a prominent role in the manipulation of the natural environment and serves as a window into the histories, ethos, and identities of the specific cultures tied to that environment” (Long 24). However, it is intriguing how much this identity can be manipulated in order to give the perception of authenticity. The second chapter depicts how the concept of what Thai restaurants are, or what Thai food is, becomes the expectation for Thai restaurants everywhere. The need for people to connect with the Thai identity from an outside view, forces changes in the actual culture; “The Thai restaurant’s menu, then, is self-contradictory, claiming authenticity on one hand, but adapting to the Western parameters of culinary acceptability on the other” (Molz 57). I also found it ironic how the hotter the Thai food was the more authentic the food became. It points to the irony of changing the way one person identifies with their culture, so an outsider can feel as though they are properly identifying with it.
                While people do often travel to see the world, culinary tourism is a whole other facet of traveling. Culinary tourism is an all-around experience that people can find anywhere. More than sightseeing, it encompasses all of the senses offering a “deeper, more integrated level of experience. It engages one’s physical being, not simply as an observer, but as a participant as well” (Long 21). This description really points to why people don’t have to go abroad to experience “other-ness.” People have all of their senses with them wherever they are, which means that you can take anything and experience it anew or taste something familiar as odd, as if for the first time. As Jennie Molz puts it: “eating is tourism,” allowing us to negotiate the four quadrants of eating: exotic, familiar, edible and inedible, wherever we go, allowing each dish to shape or sense of self and culture however we feel it applies to us.
                I really hope that I can start looking at familiar things as foreign, and be willing to try the foreign foods as if I had them my whole life. This piece illustrates that the food experience is truly in the eye of the eater and I think that’s the best culture there is.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Starving in a land of water: Drowning without Food
           The space in my childhood home between bedroom and kitchen was a fully functioning demilitarized zone. By this I mean to say that entering to the kitchen between meal times was absolutely not tolerated when my dad was watching us. My dad put away bags of chips in one sitting, greasy fingers and belly round. He hoarded all the food in his stomach that he could handle, probably because as a kid he didn’t get much. However, he felt the need to teach his daughters the value of food and that wasting food wasn’t acceptable. His goal was accomplished, however, at the cost of making me feel constantly unworthy of eating.
           My mom was the exact opposite, which is always the case when it comes to my parents. The only rules that applied when mom was around were: eat when you’re hungry and desserts are reserved for after meals. Our kitchen was painted a cloudy, almost gray, blue and the adjoined dining room a happy corn yellow. Both of the rooms were splotched with white over top the yellow and blue: displaying my mom’s artistic touch. I remember the little window that sat just above the sink and always thinking of it as a way out. I wanted to escape the suffocating space of my double-wide trailer, the cold of Michigan’s winter, and the yellow walls and eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I would be able to shove my face full of chocolate Swiss cake rolls, my favorite processed dessert, or, better yet, I could eat all the fresh raspberries and blueberries I could find: feeling the natural sugar swirl around with seediness on my tongue. No attention would be paid to the way my thighs rubbed together when I walked, how my feet bowed out to the sides to accommodate the jiggling trunks.
           One night, while my mom was at work caring for an elderly couple, the house was pitch black. Only the living room television illuminated the space playing various infomercials, and Billy Mays’ voice rang through my ears. I felt my way down the hall, across the back of our beige couch, and eyed my dad snoring loudly upon it. His rounded belly rose and fell evenly, looking full and fed if I had ever seen it. I made a break for the kitchen and as soon as my foot tapped against the linoleum floor my dad jerked from his sleep. He grunted his usual, “What are you doing?” and waited until I was back down the hall to put his head back down. So much for dinner.
           Defeated and hungry I stared blankly at my tiny television. My mind wandered back to riding around in my dad’s company car, him emphasizing that “you can never drink enough water,” reiterating that while food was bad for me, “you can drink as much water as you want.” I decided that this was the night to challenge his theory. I started by polishing off lemon-flavored Propel in a bottle that waved to the grooves of my fingers. I went across the hall to the bathroom in order to avoid notice from my dad, and refilled the bottle with tap water. Returning to my room, I started sucking the water through the twist cap. The water sloshed in my mouth like rapids before plunging down the waterfall of my throat and pooling in my stomach. One down.
           I refilled the bottle again. And again. And again. I was possessed by the idea of water’s capability of filling and cleansing me. After each bottle, the bloat in my stomach was merely from too much water, not because that was how it looked all the time. I eventually had to stop drinking mid-bottle and pee every five minutes. Captured in my obsession, I thought it would still be a good idea to keep drinking. And so I continued. My stomach felt bloated and slushy. I laid on the multi-colored carpet of my room letting the Propel bottle protrude from my mouth; I felt full and unsatisfied, my tongue chastising me for the lack of taste.
           After the severe belly ache from that night, I decided that I had had enough water for the next month, and then some. Weeks, even years after, I would pass a mirror and see my body stretched as if it was still full of water; my stomach waving up and down with each step, legs crashing into one another, as if the waterfall of water from that night stayed just beneath the surface waiting to burst out. My mom told me once I was older, that I hoarded food in my toy box which she would find after she got home from work. I don’t remember doing it, but I picture soggy PB & J’s, pathetically melting fudge pops, and browning apples in the purple side compartment of my toy box. I imagine her beginning my parents’ daily argument with: “You’re starving your own kids! They have to hide food because they’re so afraid of you,” before delving into their usual topic of money. My dad would defend himself with “Look at Taylor, she looks more than well fed,” always honest about what other people looked like. My dad wanted to teach me the value of food, but I just ended up hiding it away like he did.
I started pushing my food around at the dinner table, forced to stay long after the meal had cooled to finish it. People started asking if I was anorexic, rather than if I had the stomach flu; I went to Florida for a week and shrank my stomach so much that I couldn’t eat more than three bites of buffet grilled chicken. I never gave up food longer than that, afraid of getting in trouble or sent to therapy, but that water made me thirsty for thinness. If I told my dad that I wanted to lose weight, like I did the summer after my freshman year of college, he would look at me and say: “Probably five in each leg, ten in the stomach,” always emphasizing the need to eat an apple a day and to stay hydrated with, you guessed it, as much water as I wanted.