Monday, April 30, 2012

Where do tacos come from?

How many really intriguing reviews does it take to get me to buy a book? I've been reading quite a few reviews of the newly published book Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano. Julia Moskin's review, featured on page one of the online New York Times (shown above), made me do it. From the reviews and amazon's Look Inside the Book feature, I'm convinced that Arellano will enlighten me about many features of American food  history. He emphatically says it's not a book about Mexico, and not a book about fancy "authentic" Mexican restaurants with that weird corn fungus and epazote. I wonder if he'll mention Xochimilco which used to be in downtown Detroit (maybe still is). And I wonder if it served his sort of American Mexican food or something else.

Maybe the first reference I saw to Arellano's book was L.A.'s Idea of Mexican Food vs. What Mexicans Really Eat last March. A Venn diagram from the article appears below -- it's one of a series of Venn diagrams about what various ethnic groups eat and what we think their cuisine is about. It's a fun article, with quite a few other ideas about "real" Mexican food.

See "Gelatina" in the list of things that Mexicans in Mexico eat? It's Jello with fruit in it. Colorful. Who knew?

The next thing I'm probably going to do: open my iPad to the Kindle app and start reading Taco USA. I'll write my own review some time soon.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mysterious Edible Mona Lisa

Depicted here on the blog The Amateur Gourmet -- but who is she, this mysterious woman made of something edible but unidentified. Is she warm, is she real? Or just a cold and lonely work of salami?

Sunday, April 22, 2012


The New York Times recently ran an online essay contest about the ethics of eating meat. Thousands of entries were reduced to six finalists, published here: Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is. Among them, one point of view favoring ethical meat consumption created a real learning experience for me. The surprising argument in favor of ethical meat-eating is that farming vegetables is impractical without animals. Here is the paragraph, by a former vegetarian, that I find most convincing:
"I became interested in growing vegetables and found myself apprenticing on a farm in Massachusetts. Still a vegetarian, I was surprised to learn that we amended soil fertility by applying bone and blood meal, both slaughterhouse byproducts, and we regularly dipped young transplants in fish emulsion. I realized then what farmers have known forever: the domestication of animals and the cultivation of vegetables go hand in hand. Growing vegetables is an inherently extractive process, removing nutrients from the soil, so a sustainable system requires other inputs to replace them. Every backyard gardener knows that animal manure enriches the soil, so it should come as little surprise that the animal-vegetable connection is so basic that it’s built into the words themselves: the word 'manure' is rooted in the Latin manuopera, meaning manual work. Through my first season on the farm, I gradually came to terms with the idea that using animal byproducts made good sense, especially in contrast to the alternative of synthetic chemical fertilizers."
This author concludes: "There is an ethical option — a responsibility, even — for eating animals that are raised within a sustainable farm system and slaughtered with the compassion necessitated by our relationship."

 Another excellent article among the top six states:
"While most present-day meat production is an ecologically foolish and ethically wrong endeavor, happily this is changing, and there are abundant examples of ecologically beneficial, pasture-based systems. The fact is that most agroecologists agree that animals are integral parts of truly sustainable agricultural systems. They are able to cycle nutrients, aid in land management and convert sun to food in ways that are nearly impossible for us to do without fossil fuel. If 'ethical' is defined as living in the most ecologically benign way, then in fairly specific circumstances, of which each eater must educate himself, eating meat is ethical, in fact NOT eating meat may be arguably unethical."
And I also find this statement of the issue enlightening:
"We need to seek balance in our land and in our kitchens. However, I also ask my vegetarian friends to consider that if they are eating eggs, then someone had to cull the roosters or mature hens, and I hope those animals were not wasted. If they are drinking dairy, someone had to cull the males from the herd, since a world where every animal is maintained would be unsustainable. And if there are no animal inputs on the farms, then that energy has to come from fossil fuels and other nonorganic sources."
I'm familiar with the usual discussions of animal welfare, planetary welfare, and global human welfare. I had often heard these questions, asked by several of the contestants:

  • Is it ever ok to slaughter a living being?
  • Do cows or pigs or chickens know what's happening to them?
  • Is meat eating "natural" for humans?
  • Does a vegan diet in humans lead to brain damage or other deficiencies?
  • Does the raising of grain-eating animals for some populations cause other humans to starve for lack of the grain that feeds the animals?
  • Is large-scale meat agriculture ruining the planet because of rain-forest destruction, methane gas production, toxic runoff, or whatever?
  • Is small-scale meat-raising sustainable and would it be less ruinous to the planet?

But I found the common-sense approach of asking about farming vegetables without animals very fascinating.