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Archive for the ‘meat’ Category

As promised, here are some things I ate or saw in France (Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny) a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Creme Brulee at an everyday kind of brasserie at the Place St Michel. Delicious. Burned to perfection.

Steak Tartar at Le Bistrot du Sommelier in Bordeaux, 163 Rue Georges Bonnac. Also fabulous. Very laid back. Very "homey" food. But it's entirely prix fixe, fast, rude-friendly (I suppose you'd call it), and certainly an experience. We had pink Champagne that night.

Fish, artfully jumping out of and diving back into...ice at Auchon, mega-awesome-supermarket

Tourte aux pommes. Giverny. Respite from the tourist hoards I had a luncheon fit for only the pudgiest of gourmands. No holds barred, a large bottle of San Pellegrino, 500 mL of red Bordeaux, duck pate, lamb brochette with amazing gratined potatoes, and this chunky rustic natural apple pie. Followed by coffee.

The potatoes!!! Best part of my lunch by far in Giverny.

The yummy lucky ducky luncheon I treated myself to on my very-hot-art-and-shopping- in-le-marais-day. What better than a salad on a summer afternoon? That would be fois gras (center) duck confit and preserved duck all around atop some heavily-dressed greens. Heaven. I believe I had a carafe of Sauvignon (blanc).

Cafe de Deux Magots. The famed literary cafe where all the greats drank and dined. St Germain. And now we, the tourist hoards, pay tenfold what the starved artists a century ago paid - and I'm not talking about inflation. I said to hell with it, it's expensive anyway, I might as well get what I want. Better a slightly overpriced gourmet salad than the death-provoking highway robbery-priced ham sandwich. The fois gras and smoked salmon salad (house specialty) was dainty, but worth every bit. Washed down with Leffe. Refreshing.

My last dinner. A bit disappointing. A bit of comfort food nonetheless. Jambon and fromage crepe with an egg on top. Yup, a croque madame a la Bretagne. The best part of the meal was a rich, smokey apple cidre - served in that brown bowl.

My first glass of Cinsault! A rose, but a Cinsault rose. I've been dying to try it since I learned that Pinotage was a hybrid of Cinsault and Pinot Noir. It was interesting, and not at all like what I expected.

Martzipan potatoes and figs. They were terrible, but only because of this particular shop. A decent potato consists of a small amount of cake, covered with a thick dense layer of marzipan (shaped into a potato) and then rolled entirely in unsweetened cocoa powder. It's my mother's favorite.

Macarons! Exceptional French cookies. Melt-in-your-mouth meringue and creme and almond and wow. So colorful and dainty. Specialty macaron shops seem to be popping up like the cupcake shops were a while back in the US. Much tastier, these are. The flavors are getting super-creative. I had a bergamot flavored one!

Last but not least. Desserts (a fairly typical, but typical is extraordinary here) at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. We have a semi-fredo with raspberry (if I remember correctly), creme brulee, profiteroles (my favorite this trip), and a chocolate fondant cake with pistachio ice cream.

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Despite the fact that I'm abstaining from meat, I love this photo from last year's Thanksgiving. Carving beautifully cooked turkey is a fabulous thing, indeed.

My favorite holiday is rather difficult to celebrate in Israel.  First, it’s not a holiday – it’s a workday.  Second – Israelis don’t really get it or think it’s amusing that we celebrate.  Third – the standard and necessary foods are difficult to find.  This year we have found it particularly difficult to find Brussels sprouts, fresh or frozen, so it’s off the list.  It’s also become prohibitively expensive to throw such a dinner for two single gals, so we’re having a cocktail party tonight with a few must-have Thanksgiving foods.  Pumpkin and apple pies will be thrown into the oven in a couple hours, mulled wine is on the agenda, and my sister is planning a green bean dish (thank you Martha for last year’s awesome recipe), a cranberry dish, and a spiced almond thingy.  I’ve got some of my winery’s best light young wines, the Galil Rose, and the Golan Gamay Nouveau, both chilling in the fridge.  As guests were instructed on the BYOB nature of the evening, there should probably be more than enough nibbles and alcohol to go around.  Now to get down to the housecleaning and cooking… Ugh!

In other news, grad school applications have taken on a lighter note.  Still intense, but I’ve realized as they’re the most important thing in my life right now, I’d better get over myself and put all my energy into them.  The fact that I found three incredible people who I respect immensely to write letters of recommendation for me and gave me words of encouragement has bolstered my confidence.  Whether I get in or not, some pretty amazing academics think that I belong in the academy.  It will happen sooner or later.

I will leave you with a picture-poem by Brian Andreas, my absolute favorite of his.  There is much to be thankful for this year.

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Follow the Africans.  Or the Asians. Or the Indians.  I’m not being prejudicial here, I promise.  I discovered something fascinating last Friday afternoon.  I’ve taken to doing my marketing just before Shabbat – and I mean just before.  Entering the fray at its very worst, I’ve left the house around 3 pm to go Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market), partly out of lazy Friday bad timing, and partly (when I recognized the pattern) for the prices, which I never would have discovered had I not noticed my fellow shoppers.  Maybe I should add – partly to experience this unique sort of excited chaos.

(Just realized I need to explain a bit: Israel until recently was pretty homogeneous, or well, all Jewish.  There are lots of different groups of Jews, but Jews nonetheless.  Arabs and Jews.  And that was kind of that.  Over the last 20 years, and especially the last 5 or so, we’ve had a huge influx of foreign workers as well as refugees and asylum seekers.  This has caused a lot of tension.  These people are needed in certain capacities, but they’re seen also as a burden.  It’s a touchy subject, and in my opinion, it’s brought out the worst in Israelis.  When there are no minorities present, it’s not apparent that there are racist tendencies.  But now…  In any case, I will blog more about this situation later.  All you need to know is that these foreigners live separately, in old, squalid neighborhoods.  They take care of our elderly.  They bus our plates and wash our dishes.  They sweep our streets.  They do our dangerous construction work.  And in many ways they are invisible.)

When I arrive at the market, the mayhem is overwhelming: huge crowds of people trying to push frantically through the narrow market, vendors shouting their brains out to make some last sales before they have to close, many vendors already packing up – using scary long metal hooks to lower high hanging items and noisily slamming heavy metal doors down over their stalls, tourists keeping things moving even more slowly by taking photos and lingering over cheap jewelry and mezzuzahs and Dead Sea cosmetics and za’atar covered pita breads (so cheap, let’s get some to snack on).

Then there are the real shoppers – people trying to get their Shabbat meals in order (and at this point, these guys are really pushing it with Shabbat starting so early – 4 pm ish maybe) or just get food for the weekend, or in my case, food for the week.  I’ve located the guy with the cheapest cucumbers (1.99 shekels per kilo), the cheapest tomatoes (3.99 per kilo), the cheapest and freshest cilantro (1.50 per bunch), the cheapest and most beautiful mangold – beet leaves – (3 huge packs for 10 shekels), and the only two stalls that sell sorrel (3 shekels per bunch).  These are my staples.  The rest of the good stuff this week was icing on the cake.  I got the most fragrant guavas I have ever smelled (and their taste ain’t so shabby, neither) for 7 shekels per kilo, really lovely persimmons (can’t remember the price, but I got a whole bag full for 5 shekels which is crazy cheap), and unbelievable deals on zucchinis and lemons and onions.

(I will always be amazed at the enormous gap between supermarket and shuk prices.  Are the stores nuts?!  Are the people, for shopping there?!  And in more “civilized” countries where there isn’t a real down and dirty market – we’re not talking local farmers’ markets – nobody has a choice!  Thank goodness we grow so much of our own food here in Israel.)

After I acquired the loot, I remembered I’d made a list of stuff to get if I had time, and it was good I remembered (because I really needed these things).  I was out of most of the cereal grains and pulses I rely on – rices, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, etc.  Not good.  So I decided to take a small street parallel to the shuk back north so that I didn’t have to fight my way.  And lo and behold, here was another crowd of people: the foreign workers.  Sure, they were in the shuk as well, but on the side street, it was like their territory.  There were more Filipinos and Thais and Nigerians and Eritreans than Israelis.  It wasn’t crowded, but it certainly was like walking into another world.  It was calm and “weekendy” – unlike the fracas I had just left.  The shop owners weren’t shouting.  People went on their way as if it were any other day.  The variety of the shops was fantastic – grain shops, spice shops, butcher shops, butcher shops specializing in pork, and Asian food shops.  Awesome awesome.  I picked the first dry goods place with adequate barrels of rices and lentils out front, and it was a good thing I did.  There were a good number of other shoppers, and I was the only Israeli.  You know what they say about restaurants  (and I suppose any business) – don’t eat there if it’s empty.  And vice versa.

I began scooping barley and soy beans and wild rice into plastic baggies when I realized I might not have enough money to pay.  The barley and soy were fairly cheap (10-12 shekels per kilo), but the wild rice was splurging on my part (16 per kilo).  Each of my three bags was sizable – at more than half a kilo each, and I was certain that I would be forking up 30-40 shekels, which was quite possibly all the cash I had in my wallet.  I make sure never to go out with a lot, because believe me, I will spend it.  Even if it’s on produce, I’ll spend it.  Buying exotic Korean cabbages and the like is not a necessity, no matter how much I convince myself it is.   But if the money isn’t in the wallet, I don’t spend it.  To my great delight, my bill came out to 15 shekels.  I honestly don’t know how that happened.  15 shekels for two week’s worth of food is pretty awesome.  The guy winked at me.  I don’t know if he gave me a great deal because of my, well, feminine charms (right), because it was the end of the week, or because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  The Africans and Asians kept on coming and going, and they seemed really happy too.

My shopping done, I continued north on the side street, and I passed what I can only describe as a ghetto butcher.  Back in Rome, hundreds of years ago, there were two kinds of butchers: the meat butcher, and the offal butcher (or as I’d like to think – “the everything else” guy).  Serious.  They had their own pushcarts, and they sold door to door or on the streets.  Rome is known for its offal dishes.  It’s probably one of the few places in the Western world that places tripe in a place of honor on all restaurant menus.  And the word “ghetto” is Italian – the place where they corralled Jews in – the first.  Jews being very poor, I’m sure they ate lots of the other stuff.  Hence, my ghetto butcher.

He was such a jovial chap, winking and cracking jokes with the customers around him, all of which were Thai and West African (which I ascertained after speaking with some in French).  And they were buying – and I’m not cracking jokes here – skin.  Skin and liver and especially (this really did seem to be this guy’s specialty) cow intestines.  This large rubbery and hairy looking monstrosity was hanging by two hooks.  My first thought was yes, this must be tripe.  Then I second-guessed myself.  It was so damned huge.  And the hairy looking bits did not look like villi.  It looked like shaggy hair.  It honestly looked like thick skin and hide of a cow.  I stared for ten minutes or so before asking on of the people standing next to me.  The butcher happily hacked away at it, using a sharp knife to strip yet another slithery 6-inch chunk off, packing it up for his satisfied clients.   Incredible.

I ended up spending a grand total of $20 for my groceries.  I’m quite thrilled.  And despite the fact that I had some other foodish adventures this weekend, this is what stuck.  Ask me to tell you about knafe another time…

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I have to admit, I adore being back in grad school.  Most of the time I don’t see it, don’t feel it, but when I’m in class, I feel like I’m on fire.  Tearing apart literature, analyzing every obscure little bit, my mind goes reeling, making connections to books I read a decade ago, favorite television shows, contemporary political issues, and Greek epics, and on, and on.  It’s like being at a banquet.  Not kidding.  It’s just unfortunate that I have to work so hard outside class.  I want to give myself over to study.

This week in my “Inventing the Novel” course, we covered Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t read it before, and part of the reason the course itself is so fascinating to me is that its bridging a gap in my literary knowledge; I’m fairly well versed in French literature of the 17th and 18th century, Shakespeare and some Restoration, and of course, some of the great 19th century novels (though not all written in English – some French, and of course, tons Russian).  I think Defoe’s Roxana is the only 18th century English novel I’d read before this course.

Yes, Crusoe made himself a leather/fur umbrella from his kills

Without going into detail, Robinson Crusoe is about an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a desert Island somewhere in the West Indies, and all his trials and tribulations, from the practical elements of survival, to psychological and spiritual transcendence.  It was a fun read, if not more than a bit tedious in the middle with all the God stuff which for me right now is not worth going into.  Delightful are the adventures of salvaging anything and everything off a sinking ship, building a fortress,  and (for me, especially) finding food.

It seems that throughout the 28 years of Crusoe’s tenure on the island, over 90% of his food was meat.  He is described as going on hunting walks every morning.  He must have killed hundreds of water fowl, native sorts of (who knows) chickens and geese, turtles, native goats, and who knows what else.  Eventually he tames a few goats and has his own milk and fresh stash of ready-to-slaughter meat in the back yard.  In the beginning the guy eats a lot of “cakes,” some sort of dried biscuit rations salvaged from the ship – which miraculously last him several years.  He drinks rum (also from the ship) every once in a while.  I think he salvaged a cheese or two, too.  Miraculously (or perhaps not – why blame Providence for everything), he accidentally scatters a tiny bit of chicken feed while emptying a sack, and all of a sudden, he’s got some corn, barley, and even rice.  Over the course of several years, he succeeds in cultivating these crops – but it takes him a while and a lot of perplexed effort to figure out how to make any sort of bread.  What a weirdo.

Cassava

What is shocking to me is how little of the native resources Crusoe uses.  He claims he looked for cassava early on, but didn’t find any, which is utter baloney as it’s ridiculously common, THE staple of the entire region.  There are lots of native fruits and veg, too, some of which are quite obviously fruit and veg – guava, heart of palm, plantains, yucca, tamarind.  This of course is taking into account that Westerners hadn’t visited this island before and brought countless other fruit with them that took to the place quite well with its lush hot wet climate.  And WHERE are the fish?  It’s an island!  The sea is teeming!  Crusoe faces death from starvation while clutching his rifle, when he could be enjoying the seafood at his doorstep.  Apparently the Caribbean is well-known for its lobsters.  The man should literally have been able to walk out the door (or climb over the fort with his ladder), pick a couple guavas and plantains for breakfast and then walk down the beach and check some lobster traps (which he was perfectly able to concoct with the whole carpenter’s workshop he was able to remove from the ship) or he could have picked up some crabs off the beach for his dinner.  I’m sure crabs must scuttle about from time to time.  God!

You gotta wonder about Crusoe’s general health.  He must have had dangerously high cholesterol, constipation, osteoporosis, and perhaps even colon cancer.  And he lived forever!  Ah well.  I’ll give Defoe a break – how hard on him can I be?  How little anyone knew about “the new world” way back when.  At least it was a plausible adventure…not like the lovely film below:

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USS Voyager's Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her daily replicated cup 'o' joe

There are a bunch of news stories and interesting new-science factoids I’ve learned from friends recently all related to food.  Fascinating stuff.  Again, as it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I feel more than a bit blocked – pressure to make this an awesome, stellar, better-than-ever, award-winning kinda entry.  It will be what it is.  This is interesting stuff.  Process as you will. (LOTS of cool videos below, too).

A real end to world hunger? Maybe?  Think again…

Child eating Plumpy'nut

Last week the New York Times published an article by Andrew Rice about Plumpy’nut, a new peanut-based food product that has already saved the lives of many severely malnourished children in Africa, Haiti, Asia, and who knows where else.  It’s basically a peanut butter packed with lots of other nutrients that can very quickly bring people back from the brink of death.  This is not a small feat, and I am certain of the fact that this is a great invention.  The issues as I can see it are these: the patent, the cost, the actual (long term) effectiveness.

  1. Patent: can one company brand and profit off of this kind of product and its recipe? Pumpy’nut is a trademark owned by Nutriset, a French company.  The inventor, French pediatrician Andre Briend apparently never meant to create a brand and profit off of this product.  AND there are two other companies trying to do similar work.  In my eyes, can such an important product be “owned”?  Can you patent peanut butter?
  2. Cost: it’s not cheap.  A two-month supply of Plumpy’nut for one child costs $60.  That’s a dollar a day — pretty steep in the food world, especially for such a simply product.  AND the main customer of Plumpy’nut (90%)  is UNICEF.  Sucks.  Essentially our tax dollars going to a private company.  We need to feed the world.  But it’s jacked up miracle peanut butter, folks.  It echoes the situation with AIDS medicine going to poor countries — they need it desperately, but do companies want to let go of their product at prices much closer to cost? Nope.  But people are dying…how do put a price on life?  Tricky.  But should it be?
  3. The long term: the company has marketed Plumpy’nut as a cure for hunger.  But is it?  The problem is that the vast majority of “hunger” in the world is not acute malnutrition, the kind we see on the news and celebrity TV appeals – results of famines, war, major ecological disaster.  Most people afflicted by hunger suffer chronically.  They are not on the very edge of death’s doorstep.  They suffer daily, whether a condition of their poverty, agriculture failure, lack of certain essential nutrients in the food they do have, etc.

Here is an excellent Huffington Post article written by Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Read it!

Replicator: Star Trek‘s solution to world Hunger

Ever heard of 3D printing?  I have for a while, but it was difficult for me to picture.  Well, I found some videos, and I’ll post one below for your viewing pleasure.  Basically, there are printers that make objects – and they work just like real paper printers.  It’s fascinating.

Ever heard of a food replicator?  This is a technology that is used in the invented scifi world of Star Trek.  Much like a 3D printer but working on super-futuristic advanced-science principles, this machine can create objects (including food) from any type of other matter by recombining its subatomic particles.  If it has the recipe on file, that is, whether it be for a cup of Earl Gray tea, the Klingon favorite Gagh, a ray gun, a dry martini, or a clarinet.  Scientists over at MIT (in a project called Cornucopia) have been trying to create a real life food replicator.  So far, it doesn’t work on such an advanced level (this futuristic contraption is really just as complex, if not much more complex than the Star Trek transporter).  As far as I can tell, MIT’s Digital Fabricator works by arranging an array of raw ingredients that are designed to print out 3D food to the sub millimeter level.  But no steak dinners here.  They’re working on chocolates and pastries – things that can be assembled, not whipped up out of thin air by recombining protons.  Goodness, I would kill to eat a real hot steak – faux beef that is exactly like real beef – without the killing…can you imagine that???

MIT's Digital Fabricator

Still, it’s interesting (and in my opinion, important) that this kind of technology is being seriously thought about.  It’s another example of contemporary science being influenced by scifi, our imagining of our better future where hunger is unimaginable.  Take a look at a clip of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, including a demonstration of a replicator:

Here is a video on 3D printing.  Pretty cool stuff.  I like that everything is reusable.  Much like a real replicator.

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The image of a 7 year-old wearing a bra is disturbing to me. Not only is childhood being cut short in the West driven by many factors including media of all sorts, an obsession with the body, with sexualizing everything, the glamorization of violence, etc, etc – you know the deal.  Now childhood is being cut short even earlier by means of biology.

As someone who matured early, I can tell you personally that it’s not a pleasant experience.  You don’t fit.  You look different.  You are treated differently.  It takes years for people to catch up, and by then, it’s “too late.”  You’ve been different, often ostracized socially, or at least placed in a different category for so long.  You are treated as more of an adult.  You think of yourself as more of an adult.  There is a vast effect on self-esteem.  The list goes on.  For a long time people have also talked about the health risks that these resulting women are afflicted by, including earlier-onset menopause and a much greater risk for breast cancer and osteoporosis.  Recent studies also suggest that these girls become sexually active much earlier, exposing them to potential disease, pregnancy, and all of the psychological issues that are involved in such behavior.  And the earlier a girl develops, the higher the risks for all of these things, physically, mentally, emotionally, and with the future of her health and lifespan.

A tough break.  Nobody asks for it.  And throughout all time it was something over which we thought we had no control.

Until recently.

My mother forwarded me this article published in Reuters citing a definitive study that concluded that girls are entering puberty earlier at quite alarming rates.  The main cause that they focused on was childhood obesity.  Fat girls were more likely to develop earlier.  OK.  I drew a connection to why much earlier than the article did.  As I read I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the article to mention it.  Come on now.  What are people eating that makes them obese?  The moment I was waiting for came at the end and wasn’t explored much: HORMONES in our FOOD.

In 2005 Americans 185 lbs meat per capita

Puberty results from hormone changes within the brain which signal the reproductive organs.  They in turn send more hormone signals to other parts of the body, initiating growth and change.  I’m not going to get into science.  I’m not a scientist and I’m not going to bother with citations up the wazoo.  Everyone reading this blog is capable of doing the same google searches that I do.  But here are the main things I gleaned:

  • Two-thirds of American cattle raised for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster, and America’s dairy cows are given a genetically-engineered hormone called rBGH to increase milk production.
  • European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health questioned whether hormone residues in the meat of “growth enhanced” animals and can disrupt human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, interfering with the reproductive system, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer.
  • Children, pregnant women and the unborn are thought to be most susceptible to these negative health effects.
  • Hormones are also present in animals’ excrement which remains in the soil for months, can seep into the groundwater supply, and also move into bodies of water where they affect fish reproduction.

Hormones and Puberty

Why are hormones used on cattle?  To make them bigger and to produce more milk.  More, more, more, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.   Having read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, as well as Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, years ago, I have become very concerned about the amount of hormones we’re consuming.  When you think about it, hormones of every sort are simply chemical signals.  Each hormone triggers actions that different systems in our bodies take.  We have hormones that control metabolism, growth, mood swings, immune system, reproduction, and more.   Can you imagine what we’re doing by adding (or flooding) wrong signals into our bodies?  Depression, hyperactivity, metabolic issues, goodness, everything can be affected adversely.  In the macro world, messed up signals and messages can cause airplanes to crash, cars to crash, wars to start, for goodness sake.  What systems are crashing, wars are being fought inside our bodies?

So, here’s one of the most obvious examples: little girls sprouting breasts at 7 and 8 years-old.  It’s easy to see because it’s the hardest to ignore.  Breasts are out there.  And little girls aren’t supposed to have them, poor things.  I can’t imagine what’s going on inside all of us that we can’t see.  And although I’m not eating meat right now (thankfully so, until I make up my mind about some issues, and if/until I find organic meat and humane slaughtering that I think are acceptable), I’m drinking English Breakfast tea with milk right now.  Milk.  You go on thinking, a little drop of milk won’t hurt.  I’m not drinking gallons.  But it might add up.  And as a good American child, I did drink gallons.  Every week.  I had a minimum of 3-5 glasses a day, (not counting what I added to my cereal), and with two sisters and a dad who liked milk too, we went through a gallon almost every day.  We would buy 2+ 2-gallon bottles every week.  Perhaps it’s not so shocking I went through puberty early.

As far as I can see, this is another strong strong and scary argument for forgoing non-organic meats and milk (and eggs, now that I’m thinking about it, although that’s more for antibiotics, also a related scary issue).   So scary that although I am so swamped with work, it’s not funny, I stopped everything to blog about this.  I leave you with this: think hard about what you put into your body. It becomes you.  I need to start thinking harder, too.

Links on the topic:

Scary UK National Obesity Ad Campaign (worth a look)

3 year-olds getting their period

Artificial hormones

EU scientists confirm health risks of hormones in meat

Puberty coming earlier for girls

Childhood obesity brings early puberty for girls

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In SE Asia, the best jobs pay $0.40 per hour

I saw parts of an interesting British documentary/reality series this past week on Channel 8.  The BBC series was called Blood, Sweat, and Takeaways, and followed 6 young Brit food consumers (one a picky eater, one a fast food junkie, one a rich gourmet foods enthusiast, etc, etc) as they were taken to Southeast Asia to:

“live and work alongside the millions of people in south east Asia’s food production industries. They must catch, harvest and process food products that we eat every day, seeing behind the scenes of the tuna, prawns, rice and chicken industries for the very first time.”

It was fascinating to see how our ultra-cheap chicken and seafood are caught and processed, and it was equally devastating to see how the people who caught and processed this food lived, how little they were paid, how hard they worked, and how much they sacrificed in order to even procure these “lucky” jobs.  Even the underworld of the sex trade, so rampant in Asia, has many direct connections to the food processing industry.

The series was also incredibly annoying due to these exceptionally obnoxious British 19-22 year-olds constant complaining, whining, and getting grossed out at every other job they were demanded to do.

What I found poignant is that despite their whinging, each were changed, as we saw in the concluding “follow up” portion of the film.  Some were simply more respectful in their eating habits, more open to trying new things, and were adamant about buying fair-trade products.  One girl even went back to try and help some of the women separated from their families, and was writing to newspapers and magazines with pitches on the subject.

The real eye-opener, and the question this documentary raised, is what this says about locally grown food products.  It seems common sense to buy from your local farmer, sign up for the local organic veg box, visit the farmers’ market, etc.  How can supporting and getting involved in your local agriculture be wrong?  In the US and Britain there have been what seem to be nationalist campaigns to buy British meat, or buy American beef (or cheese, or corn, or whatever).

One young man in the series was a young farmer, his family farm going generations back.  A very nice guy, he was one of the few that made the show tolerable.  He and he alone never complained, worked harder than the rest, and was often the only one working when others refused (e.g. gutting fish on top of one of the smelliest sewer-rivers imaginable and picking, packing, and lugging hundreds of kilos of rice).

Before the experience, he had been a staunch “Buy British” supporter.  Being a farmer, this makes perfect sense.  No complaints here.  But upon his return, he had changed his mind and was educating his friends on the matter.  Why?  The food industry in Asia supports millions of people.  Maybe more.  There would be no big Western food companies, whether they be MacDonald’s or Lean Cuisine, without ultra cheap foodstuffs.  Even fancy restaurants are affected.  Not every eatery can afford locally caught fresh fish and shellfish.  I know from experience at having to defrost and clean hundreds of prawns and scallops and mussels every day at a very high-end restaurant in Tel Aviv – one that specialized in seafood.

Now more than ever before we live in a global economy.  Our smallest of choices can and do affect economics in other countries.  Do the workers suffer?  Yes.  Do we want to pay less for our food?  Most of the world doesn’t.  But even for the idealist, does stopping to buy these “sweat shop” foods help anyone?

I don’t know the answers yet, but I will be seriously looking into this.  I think that the best I can personally do right now is to look for “Fair Trade” products.  This ensures good treatment and good pay for the workers.  I like my local organic veg box, for the time being.  And I have ALWAYS wanted to know who harvested the supermarket fruit and veg, where it all came from, what the names of the (potential) migrant workers were, pesticides used, genetic modifications made, how long it all even took to get here, etc, etc.  Maybe it’s time to finally find out.

We owe it to ourselves (if not the world) to know where the nourishment we put into our bodies comes from, and who was involved in bringing it to us.

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