Categories
musings OMG SPAM

Desperate Times Renew Demand for SPAM

I don’t post about it much, but SPAM is treated with reverence at inuyaki.com. “SPAM is good food” is still the default tagline for most of my online profiles and my Yelp avatar was a SPAM can before I started using the Inuyaki dog logo. I even wore a SPAM T-shirt to Slow Food Nation in San Francisco earlier this year.

SPAM ShrineOur personal SPAM shrine.

As the economy worsens in the U.S., Hormel looks like it will be one of the few companies that weather the storm as American demand for SPAM increases. SPAM sales are on the rise as Americans look for alternatives to more expensive cuts of meat.

From today’s New York Times:

Spam “seems to do well when hard times hit,” said Dan Bartel, business agent for the union local. “We’ll probably see Spam lines instead of soup lines.”

Even as consumers are cutting back on all sorts of goods, Spam is among a select group of thrifty grocery items that are selling steadily.

If you don’t know the history of SPAM, this passage breaks it down succinctly.

Spam holds a special place in America’s culinary history, both as a source of humor and of cheap protein during hard times.

Invented during the Great Depression by Jay Hormel, the son of the company’s founder, Spam is a combination of ham, pork, sugar, salt, water, potato starch and a “hint” of sodium nitrate “to help Spam keep its gorgeous pink color,” according to Hormel’s SPAM Web site.

Because it is vacuum-sealed in a can and does not require refrigeration, Spam can last for years. Hormel says “it’s like meat with a pause button.”

During World War II, Spam became a staple for Allied troops overseas. They introduced it to local residents, and it remains popular in many parts of the world where the troops were stationed.

Thanks to the U.S. military, Filipinos have a long history of SPAM consumption, as well as canned corned beef and Vienna sausages, all of which I ate regularly as a child. But as I got older and tried to be “healthier” (whatever that means, haha), SPAM faded from my consciousness, although I do remember being introduced to SPAM musubi when I was in college.

About six years ago, SPAM reentered my life when I started working with a bunch of guys from Hawaii, where SPAM consumption is the highest per capita than anywhere else in the world. Then I met my my future wife, who is also from Hawaii, and SPAM became part of my life again.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat SPAM regularly—that would be crazy. But I don’t fear SPAM (like Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern), and there’s a sense of comfort that arises from a bowl of SPAM fried rice or a plate of SPAM and eggs that can’t be duplicated by anything else.

SPAM and EggsBreakfast of Champions, although I probably ate this for dinner. :)

I’m glad that SPAM is experience a renaissance, but it would be nicer if it wasn’t because of such dire circumstances. Maybe the economic downturn will help people truly appreciate SPAM instead of loathing it.

Categories
Chicago entertainment musings reviews Top Chef TV

White Castle and Top Chef — A Match Made in Hell

Our first meal in Chicago wasn’t on my list, but it wasn’t entirely unwelcome either. I’ve always been intrigued by the White Castle hype, especially since the burgers don’t really look all that appetizing. My friend Maria mentioned that there were several White Castles near her South Loop condo, so we stopped by for a little snack on the way back from the airport.

The impromptu White Castle visit also coincided with the season premiere of Bravo’s Top Chef, and we made it back to Maria’s condo just in time to watch it from the beginning. Can there be a greater juxtaposition to White Castle than Top Chef?

White Castle - Chicago, IL

I really don’t understand the appeal of these burgers. The buns are soggy, the meat is mushy, and for something so small, they kinda just sit in your stomach like a big grease bomb. I think they’re easily outshined by something as mundane as McDonald’s regular hamburgers. Why do people like them so much? Is it the nostalgia? Or do you really have to be high to enjoy them?

As far as Top Chef is concerned, the chefs seem pretty boring compared to previous seasons, although there are a couple Filipinos in the mix this year. Gene is looking like the anti-Dale (temperamentally speaking) and Leah definitely has potential. The two cocky Euros (Stefan and Fabio) should be make the show interesting though.

Categories
dessert musings

Obama Pie? Yes We Can!

(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan)



Categories
musings

Michael Pollan Outlines Food Policy for Next President

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine is an all-food issue and features an an open letter by Michael Pollan (An Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food) to America’s future President detailing the fundamentals of 21st Century food policy. The current instability in the U.S. and world economy has had a ripple effect on all industries, but food policy seems to be the last thing on people’s minds.

The crux of the Pollan’s argument is that while health care, energy independence, and climate change are hot-button campaign issues, progress can’t be made on any of those issues without considering the impact of how America grows, process and eats food.

For example, on the issue of greenhouse gases, Pollan says:

…the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food.

Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis—a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

Pollan’s letter outlines his three-pronged plan to help stabilize and reenergize American food policy and culture. Excerpts include:

I. Resolarizing the American Farm
Your challenge is to take control of this vast federal machinery and use it to drive a transition to a new solar-food economy, starting on the farm. Right now, the government actively discourages the farmers it subsidizes from growing healthful, fresh food: farmers receiving crop subsidies are prohibited from growing “specialty crops”—farm-bill speak for fruits and vegetables. (This rule was the price exacted by California and Florida produce growers in exchange for going along with subsidies for commodity crops.) Commodity farmers should instead be encouraged to grow as many different crops—including animals—as possible. Why? Because the greater the diversity of crops on a farm, the less the need for both fertilizers and pesticides.

II. Reregionalizing the Food System
A decentralized food system offers a great many other benefits as well. Food eaten closer to where it is grown will be fresher and require less processing, making it more nutritious. Whatever may be lost in efficiency by localizing food production is gained in resilience: regional food systems can better withstand all kinds of shocks. When a single factory is grinding 20 million hamburger patties in a week or washing 25 million servings of salad, a single terrorist armed with a canister of toxins can, at a stroke, poison millions. Such a system is equally susceptible to accidental contamination: the bigger and more global the trade in food, the more vulnerable the system is to catastrophe. The best way to protect our food system against such threats is obvious: decentralize it.

III. Rebuilding America’s Food Culture
Changing the food culture must begin with our children, and it must begin in the schools. Nearly a half-century ago, President Kennedy announced a national initiative to improve the physical fitness of American children. He did it by elevating the importance of physical education, pressing states to make it a requirement in public schools. We need to bring the same commitment to “edible education”—in Alice Waters’s phrase—by making lunch, in all its dimensions, a mandatory part of the curriculum. On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary-school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals.

Our agenda puts the interests of America’s farmers, families and communities ahead of the fast-food industry’s. For that industry and its apologists to imply that it is somehow more “populist” or egalitarian to hand our food dollars to Burger King or General Mills than to support a struggling local farmer is absurd. Yes, sun food costs more, but the reasons why it does only undercut the charge of elitism: cheap food is only cheap because of government handouts and regulatory indulgence (both of which we will end), not to mention the exploitation of workers, animals and the environment on which its putative “economies” depend. Cheap food is food dishonestly priced—it is in fact unconscionably expensive.

The article is very long, but like all of Pollan’s writing, it’s eye opening and well worth the read.

Categories
Korean musings noodles

Gourmet.com Publishes One of My Photos

I got an e-mail from Gourmet.com’s online photo editor this morning asking for permission to use one of my pictures for an article on beating the summer heat with cold Korean noodles. Here’s the picture as it appears on their Web site (the photo credit is at the end of the article):


Gourmet version

She said that she found the picture on my Flickr account, which is where I store most of my food porn. What’s funny about the picture is that I didn’t recognize it at first, but as I was going through my pictures, I found the original:


Naeng Myun

Notice how pale and washed out it is compared to the delectable bowl of soup that Gourmet.com published? Photoshop is great, isn’t it?

For the record, this bowl of naeng myun was taken at Korea House in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Categories
musings Northern California reviews

Gluttony at Slow Food Nation ’08

Slow Food Nation '08I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to any of Slow Food Nation this weekend because I had family in town, but I managed to convince my wife and sister-in-law to trek down to the Civic Center on Saturday afternoon to check things out.

Our original mission was to get some ice cream from either Bi-Rite Creamery or the Ici Ice Cream booths since we had already eaten lunch before coming into San Francisco. We couldn’t find Ici’s booth, which bummed us out because we’ve heard so many good things about it, and by the time we got to Bi-Rite’s booth, all they had left were some pluot popsicles. The popsicles were good but weren’t exactly what we were looking for.

What we did find was Three Twins Ice Cream, an organic ice cream company based out of San Rafael, CA. It was late in the afternoon and a lot of the flavors we wanted to try were already sold out. Plus, scoops were $4 and pints were $6, so we ended up buying a pint of their Milk and Cookies and a scoop of orange sherbet.


Three Twins Ice Cream

The orange sherbet wasn’t very sweet, which was great, and it had a light airy texture to it. I loved it. The Milk and Cookies was one of the best versions of cookies and cream I’ve ever had. The three of us were plowing through this so fast that we had to stop ourselves and throw it out before we were too full to try any other food. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures because we were too busy enjoying it to bother. :-)

Three Twins was located in the farmer’s market section of Marketplace, so we ventured over to the other side of the plaza to the Slow on the Go section to visit the food vendors. We tried some really tlacoyos (stuffed masa cakes) from Primavera (left), a nice grilled sausage and peppers sandwich from Fatted Calf. Now we were really full.


Tlacoyos from Primavera (left) and a sausage and pepper sandwich from Fatted Calf.

I’m not a composter, but the Black Gold bricks were pretty cool.

Black Gold Compost

Categories
barbecue musings

Smoking Flower Pot — Assembly

Sorry for not getting these up sooner, but I wasn’t able to get to it until yesterday, when I did some more pulled pork. I was inspired a couple blogs when I was figuring this out, but especially Dave Naffziger’s instructions for getting the heating element controls out of the smoker.


[pictobrowser type=”flickr” userID=”arndog” albumID=”72157606794206748″]

I picked up a 20-inch terra cotta pot at Plant and Pottery Outlet in Sunol, CA, which is just down the freeway from me. Their selection of terra cotta pots is much larger than anywhere else I looked (Home Depot, Lowes, OSH), and the pots they carry are much thicker, which helps them retain heat a lot better. I got a 20-inch bowl to serve as the lid. Total cost: $56.00.

Inside the pot, I got a standard, 18-inch Weber cooking grate, which fits perfectly inside the 20-inch pot. To hold the wood chunks, I used a large deep-dish pie pan from a bygone Chicago-style pizza experiment. The pan sits right on the heating element, which is a deconstructed electric hot plate that I picked up for $10 at Walgreens.

One challenge of this setup is that adding wood chips or chunks becomes an issue because you’re bound to let out a lot of the heat when you remove the lid. I get around this by using only wood chunks, which don’t burn up as fast as wood chips. For meat that needs to cook longer, like pulled pork or brisket, you can simply finish cooking in the oven when the smoke dies down.

The main challenge is figuring out how to keep the temperature steady. I found that by turning the dial to medium high, I could get between 230–240F pretty consistently. From there you kinda have to baby it if you want cook at a lower temperature. I recently ordered a remote wireless thermometer with two temperature probes, which should help me both monitor what I’m cooking, as well as the temperature of the smoker.

Categories
bacon entertainment musings pork

The Bacon Flowchart

I found this on Flickr, but don’t know its origins. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. Just click on the picture so you can read it.

It’s funny.

I swear.

Bacon Flowchart, originally uploaded by ChrisL_AK.
Categories
musings OMG sandwiches

Canned Horror (a.k.a Cheeseburger in a Can)

Some of you might remember my previous post on the infamous Cheeseburger in a Can. They’re sold by a company in Germany, and they weren’t taking direct orders directly from America. A couple months ago, my wife told me she had a friend in Germany that could order this oddity for us. I asked for two cans, and they arrived earlier this week. Why two cans? One was for our collection of weird food, and one was…to eat.

Here’s how the product looks according to the Trekking Malhzeiten Online Store:


cheeseburger in a can

Looks appetizing, right?

Did the actual canned cheeseburger possibly resemble that picture? Not even close.

Categories
Mexican musings Southern California street food

L.A. Adds Taco Trucks to War against Street Food

Save the Taco TrucksPicture from lataco.com

First, the bacon hot dog carts, and now taco trucks? What the hell is going on in L.A.?

Chowhound’s C. Thi Nguyen had an Op-Ed piece published in the L.A. Times a couple weeks ago detailing the new regulations passed by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors that would basically put taco trucks in unincorporated parts of L.A. County out of business.

From the article:

On Wednesday, the supervisors passed a harsh set of regulations for unincorporated county areas. Parking a taco truck in one spot for longer than an hour is now punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, or six months in jail, or both. Developers and restaurant owners, particularly in East L.A., are pushing for tougher enforcement too. These changes, say some truck owners, will probably put them out of business.

$1,000 or six months in jail? Not surprising when Downtown L.A. food cart owner Elizabeth Palacios spend 45 days in jail for selling a bacon hot dog.

Nguyen says:

This is a cultural disaster. Forget the Getty — it’s the taco trucks, and their crowds, that are the true culture of L.A. Attacking the trucks is like New York going after its hot dog stands or Memphis banning barbecue pits.

What’s the motivation for these new rules? Competition.

Ron Mukai, an East L.A. developer, says the trucks are unfair competition, edging out the “legitimate brick-and-mortar businesses.” But the county’s 14,000 registered catering trucks seem just as legitimate as restaurants — they’re just providing a different service. Restaurants provide meals, and a table to eat them at, and walls to eat them within. Taco trucks provide food, pure and simple. They charge less because they’re selling less.

If I’m looking for food on the run, I’m not looking for a sit-down restaurant. I want something good, fast, and cheap, and if that happens to be the neighborhood taco truck, I’ll be first in line. It’s a lot better option than fast food.

But class is also at the heart of this issue. Nguyen puts it best:

…these new regulations don’t just attack taco trucks, they hurt eaters, especially poor eaters. In a lot of places in town, it’s the only meal you can get for three or four bucks. And in some places, it’s a great meal for three or four bucks.

I’m not really sold on the effectiveness of online petitions, but if you want to sign one or are interested in more information about this fight, go to www.saveourtacotrucks.org.

Let this Cinco de Mayo be about FREEDOM!