Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Ethics of Meat

Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Pescetarian, flexitarian or omnivore? Don’t even get me started on meatatarians. Maybe you’ve gone paleo?

When it comes to food politics, the divisions can be just as contentious as regular politics. And we all know how that is these days.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading an exchange on a local Facebook page devoted to sustainable food issues. Someone posted information regarding an event where pork was being served. Someone responded with a passionate denunciation of the event because of the presence of meat and advocated for strictly vegetarian events.

While I understand passions run high when discussing such matters, what struck me was the tone of the conversation. The person who posted the event was very diplomatic in pointing out this was a forum for all sorts of sustainable food issues – vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. The anti-meat person was basically shouting down anyone who disagreed.

I'm not suggesting that all vegetarians are zealots with poor communication skills, but it did make me reflect on my own journey with food choices.

Almost ten years ago, I started changing my food-purchasing habits. Thanks to an increase in local sources of humanely raised meat and poultry, my shopping options were more diverse.

At the same time, I was reading more and more about the horrific conditions in major meat and poultry farms and processors. Finally I made the decision not to participate in supporting that system.

Occasionally I’m in a position where I need to eat food of unknown or unsustainable origin. That’s part of life. Unless you’re growing and foraging all your food, you’re most likely eating something that exploits animals, people, or land.

When it comes to meat, I’d be most comfortable eating abundant game animals like deer, which desperately need to be culled. But due to local regulations prohibiting the sale of venison and my lack of friends who hunt, that’s not an option. So, I buy all the meat, poultry, and seafood we eat from the best sources I can find – usually local, small farms and fisheries.

All that being said, I still struggle with the ethics of eating meat, especially farmed meat. Some day I may decide to stop.

But what I will never do is lecture other people about their choices.

If you’d like to ask me about my decisions or have an intelligent conversation about your food politics, I’d be happy to engage you. I welcome the opportunity to hear different perspectives and consider alternate points of view.

This is what gives the sustainable food movement the opportunity to make real changes in our food system. By involving vegans, farmers, meat processors, fishermen (and fisherwomen), and people of all eating persuasions, we can move common concerns into the mainstream while having respectful conversations about our individual concerns.

And conversely, scolding people rarely accomplishes anything. So let's keep the conversations civil.

The same goes for politics.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Simple Ways to Cook (More) Like a Chef

Disclaimer: The only way to cook like a chef is to go to culinary school or cook for a long, long time in restaurants.

I’m no chef, but I’ve worked in and around restaurants long enough to pick up some tricks. Here are five easy things will up your game in the kitchen considerably.

1.    Use the best ingredients you can find.

Does this really need much explanation? Fresh, top-notch ingredients need less effort and preparation to shine. And if you’re putting a lot of work into a meal, it makes even more sense to start with the best raw materials.

2.    Get a good, sharp knife and learn some basic skills.

How precisely your ingredients are sliced, chopped, minced or julienned is a sure sign of kitchen talent. A former employer once made this point by taping a too-thick slice of onion to the kitchen wall with a nasty note. Check out this great intro to knife skills.

3.    Keep textures and tastes in balance.

All soft or all crunchy is monotonous. The same goes for sweet or tart flavors. Mix your dishes and ingredients to create a harmonious mix of textures and flavors. Watch how the pros at your local restaurants do it and steal ideas liberally.

4.    Sauces, salsas and condiments are your best friends.

There’s nothing more valuable to improve a meal than the flourish that these three things provide. Why do you think cookbooks have entire sections devoted to them?

5.    Think about how your plate looks.

And I’m not just talking about your dinnerware. Use different colors. Stack something. Drizzle something. Again, watch how restaurants do it and steal ideas.

Bonus tip: Fresh parsley and cilantro should be in your fridge. Always.

I’ll admit I’m not always good at this, but these two herbs are cheap and available year-round in just about any grocery store. Use them for garnish or to add a fresh kick at the end of cooking. You can bet your favorite restaurant does.

Above all - be fearless and have fun. The best chefs never stop learning. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wine Review: Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia

If you've written off pinot grigio, this wine might change your mind.

I rarely buy pinot grigio unless it's placed directly in my hand, as this bottle was by my local merchant. The world is awash in thin, generic white wine that gives this very worthy grape a black eye.

Pullus Pinot Grigio is produced by Ptujska Klet, the oldest winery in Slovenia. When was the last time you saw this claim on a bottle of wine?

Yeah, since 1239. If you're interested in learning some more about this fascinating winery, check this out. If you'd rather taste the most interesting and delicious pinot grigio you're likely to have anytime soon, run - don't walk - to go find this wine. It will be worth the search.

The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful pale salmon color in the glass. The winemaker allowed extended skin contact, which gives it that lovely color.

It's very dry and bursting with fresh flavors. I picked up melon, a hint of red berries and notes of herbs. It's complex, yet refreshing. Served with seared grouper cheeks over gnocchi and greens, it was a perfect match.

Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia - ($13.99 - Vino Garage)