Tuesday, June 8, 2010



As a professional: a Chef, someone with understanding of Food conveyance. I have witnessed the growing trend and rebirth in popularity of “Gastronomy”. Since this is closely related to my chosen profession, it has been exciting to see. The recent rise in the TV Chef, the Ramseys, the Olivers, and all the other posers slapped-to-stardom in the make-up chairs at the US-Based “Food Network”, has seemed meteoric. I recall the days when one or two TV Cooks would appear daily... “The Galloping Gourmet”, “Wok With Yan”, “Urban Peasant”, and of course “Julia Child”. These would brighten my young green mind with the possibilities of a truly inspired palate. I was inspired then and somehow still remain so.
When the world bounded forward past the three channel TV to 13 on Cable... to Colour, to specialty themed networks, to the Internet... Somehow, this is when the rise of Gastronomy has re-emerged.

Is this a good thing? Well, yes... and NO.

Yes in the way that in does open minds, and attitudes towards trying different things, and even deeper, accepting different cultures. Eat a mile of a man’s diet! When I was a small boy, my parents were trapped in the race that seemed to overtake every one of their peers, the constant one-upping of their friends and colleagues. My dad would buy the latest stereo, Hi-Fi reel-to-reel. My mom would try to keep up with all the latest trends, exotic dogs, hair fashion, and clothing. They’d both be reading the latest books, and keeping up with the latest film and music. And we’d eat at all the newest restaurants. I was taken to restaurants by the time I could handle solid food. I was never one of those noisy babies: mom wouldn’t put up with it, and dad would give a stern look that could wither the skin off a plum. So I was lucky enough to be taken to HY’s steakhouse, Kobe, The Afghan Horseman, and Lychee Garden, to name a few. Esoteric cuisine was one of the things my parents tried to teach. Probably so they could talk about it at the weekly cocktail party. Whatever the reason was, I was fortunate enough to be there and start my life with an acceptance for the differences. At Chinese restaurants, I was taught to use chopsticks, at Indian, I never used my left hand to pick up anything except a fork. Culture and food were taught to me “side-by-each”, and without it being forced down my throat (heh, pun intended)! My mind was opened to whatever food was available at the time. I was also exposed to the waiters and waitresses of these exotic restaurants. These places usually kept the entire family employed, and the younger first-generation children would be the frontline. I never had any bigotry towards any different culture because of this... until I entered public school, and was taught it. Heading back to topic... Is gastronomy a good thing? Yes! And Yes, for me, as it opened my mind and opportunities!

Gastronomy is all good? NO! Let me look back to a time when the TV Chef was first celebratized. Personalities like, Graham Kerr, aka “the Galloping Gourmet”, and of course Julia Child, promised to change your palate and open the doors to food. But they tended to focus on foods prepared in the old-fashioned, extremely fatty ways that left many of us gasping for air, while reaching for our non-existent defibrillators. There was, and still is (if you watch most of what’s on today) a focus on “The Best”. They use all the best quality ingredients, the choicest cuts of meat, and the best equipment (thanks to the sponsors!) This perfection has spawned an attitude towards food, that I believe to be as unhealthy as the menus that are telecast: “If you can’t buy the best, then don’t!” Here spawns the “Foodie”!

The “Foodie” is a fad that has emerged thanks to that wonder, “the Internet”. The internet allows individuals who have a small knowledge of a subject to spray that tiny knowledge on anyone who passes by, like the neighbourhood Tom-cat who likes to stink up everyone’s begonias. Foodies, to me are just that: dangerous to the nose, and the palate. Now, don’t get me wrong... I’m not dumping on all of them! Just seems to me that the more free web space that gets doled out by ISPs (internet service providers), the more lousy “I-Hate-Your-Food-Blogs” are out there. With criticism a-plenty, but not enough knowledge for a solution. Here is the main reason I stop reading many a well written Blog (food or not). Critics and adjudicators must have the credentials to back up what they say. If not, it turns into meaningless nay-saying. Again, enter the Foodie: a self-proclaimed Gourmond whose palate exceeds yours and mine, who has perfect etiquette, and knows Feng Shui, and can afford anything. The Foodie: who has always treated all of his employees fairly, and paid them decent wages. The Foodie: who has always made the time to stop and consider every part of a menu item (cost, quality, season, viability, colour, and popularity) before he trashes said item. The Foodie seems to thrive in this new e-conversation... this one-sided harang that is allowed to happen. In the early stages of these “food-blogs”, true restaurant critics emerged and gave insights to what restaurants were good at, and what not so good at. But these critics, had their own critics! Readers would actually take the time to respond, keeping everyone honest! Not today! With the sheer number of Foodies out there, no one has the time to call them on their mistakes. If nobody calls you a fool, you tend to continue down that foolish path. (now’s the time to wave a finger at me!) Foodies, to me are the armchair quarterback of my profession, which never was a sport.

Selling meals is not a sport, no matter how many silly TV shows show “Chefs” running down the street, “chasing” the next team to victory. No matter how many “golden plate” competitions there are, the goal of any Chef, or Restaurateur should be to make money. They strive to do this by selling prepared food and drink to their customers. To be good at it requires a three-way balance between Popularity, Price, and Product. It’s not about awards, kudos, or being “best”. The smart (and successful) Restaurateur will understand this... so should the Foodie. If a Foodie would understand these principals too, then the Food-Blogs that they write would have some relevance.

When I read about how “the waitress never informed me that there was vinegar in the salad dressing... didn’t she know that I had a painful canker?!?” Or crap like “Snob-n-Snubs has really gone downhill... the plates used to be blue, and now they’re green! Totally clashes!” it’s rubbish like this that wastes everyone’s time, both readers’ and writer’s, but mostly the readers...*sigh*. And unfortunately, there’s allot more out there, and most of it not as obvious, easily disguising itself within prose and poetic use of “foodie-grammar”. Words that baffle more than they educate: the use of anything French (saying ‘ragout’ instead of stew, etc.) This serves no purpose other than to obfuscate or muddle the reader. It’s the old “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with Bullshit” routine.

Anyway! I hate Foodies... for the most part. I can’t see the point. I haven’t read any Blog that has helped me choose my evening’s dining experience. I do write reviews, both good and bad. Usually good. If I don’t like something, I don’t go back. I don’t write about it. If friends ask, I’ll tell them what I think, and why. Without a “why”, there is no learning, or reason. Foodies, read and heed!

Friday, April 16, 2010

I am a Squirrel

I am a Squirrel. I am a Western Grey Squirrel. I eat Nuts. Every year I gather nuts, bury them, hide them, and eat some. One day I was jumping from tree to tree, when I saw a human. This human saw me. Our eyes met and I froze. I flicked my tail. The human made some noise, “tchip-tchip-tchip”. Weird noise. Yet I wanted to see. The human held out its hand and rubbed two fingers together. I ran away.

Next day, I gathered more nuts. I ate some nuts. I hid some in the bole of a different tree. I ate some nuts. I buried some more nuts in a corner of a garden. I scratched. I have fleas on me. A cat saw me! RUN! I ran. I flicked my tail and climbed a tree. I climb fast. The cat stopped. The cat had a collar with a bell. A human saw me. I saw the human. Our eyes met and I froze. The human made some noise, “tchip-tchip-tchip”. Weird noise. Yet I wanted to see. The human held out its hand. The human had something in its hand. I climbed higher. The human took what it had and smeared it on the top board of the fence I walk on. I jumped to the next tree. I gathered nuts.

The sun was warm. I sat on a big branch and napped. The sun was warm. A robin flew by. Its wings hit the branch. I woke quick! I gathered nuts. I had three nuts in my mouth and went to bury them. I skipped along the board on the top of the fence. Smell! A yummy smell. What’s that? I hid three nuts. I follow the smell. Brown-roasty-nut Mud! Yum! The human left this. Yum!

I started to feel sad. I started to feel strange. The human came back every day, and every day did the same thing. I soon stopped gathering nuts. I soon started feeling sad for the nuts I gathered. Why did I gather nuts? It was wrong! These nuts were Baby Trees! Who was I to be eating Baby Trees!? The human was feeding me enough “Brown-roasty-Mud” anyway. I stopped eating Nuts! It was cruel! I couldn’t live with myself anymore... eating unborn baby trees! I wanted to change my diet! I wish I wasn’t a Grey Squirrel anymore. It was morally repugnant!

Squirrels don’t think this, nor could they. They don’t think about all the possible “Baby Trees” they are removing from the ecosystem. There is no morality for or against their diet. If we humans feed them peanut butter one day, and we invent some squirrel-proof bird feeder the next, they will still gather nuts... bury some... eat some, and hide some.

Why is it that we have come to the strange conclusion recently to want to control what some people think of as food?

Today I saw some images of dead gorillas tied on some bamboo racks. These were shown as part of a presentation by a photographer who was explaining how “Photographs Change Perceptions”. As the images of the racked, dead Gorillas was shown, the presenter used words like “Murdered” and “Crucified” to add to the display. He never once said that these gorillas were to be used as food. Do you find this repulsive? Are gorillas not to be considered food? They were traditionally hunted before photographers brought out pictures, like surrogate trophies from the hunt.

When Canada was first occupied by the French, English, and Spanish, the stocks of Atlantic Cod were purported to be so plentiful so that one could nearly walk in the water on their backs! We fished them ‘til they were nearly gone, blamed the seals: ate them until now that is also un-cool.

Our West Coast Native population has many long-standing traditions of hunting, fishing, and Ocean hunting. Salmon, Oolichan, Herring, Urchin, shellfish and Whale have always been staples of the western ocean-fairing tribes. All of these things were once accepted by the rest of us as food. Whale has since become taboo since the birth of Paul Watson.

Last week, I watched the documentary “the Cove”. This (like most ‘documentaries’ these days) is a very one-sided look against the customs of a foreign people. It slowly gets into its theme and hints, but never tells (at first), at what the real reason for the film is. Here’s what I see is the true nature of this fake-umentary. It is a film trying desperately to discredit the Japanese as ever-hungry rapers of the oceans. The film eventually reveals itself for what it wants to say. Murderous Japanese are eating Flipper!

The synopsis is this: an environmentalist, Ric O’Barry, who was one of the “Marine Biologists” who trained Flipper for the ‘70s Florida Lassie rip-off, is now sorry for his “Crimes against Cetaceans”. He has found that there is a town in Japan (Taiji) whose local Fishermen hunt, catch, and slaughter Dolphins. The film-makers gather themselves up and plan to film the slaughter (the word ‘slaughter’ has itself taken on new meaning in today’s world. Before it meant ‘the systematic processing of animals for food’. Now it has been perverted to mean ‘randomly killed in a gruesome manor’... I find this fascinating). The film stretches itself out by showing the clandestine, illegal ways that the crew uses to get “the angle”, interspersed with the side story of how Dolphins captured for entertainment help to fuel this catastrophe. The film comes to its inevitable conclusion, by showing the small cove where the dolphins were herded into: the water is entirely red. Gruesome for the uneducated. For the educated: for those who have actually eaten meat that they had to harvest, not so.

We are taught by this movie (I refuse to call it a documentary) to further hate the Japanese. Not only do they not speak English, but they pretend to kill whales for science (They actually eat them! How barbaric!). And now that they can’t get enough whale, they turn to killing... and eating... FLIPPER! Don’t forget. It was those rotten Japs who started WWII.

Gorillas, ‘Bush Food’, Whale, Dolphin, Herring Roe, Fried Tarantulas, Guinea Pigs, Scorpions, Testicles (goat, pig, cow, fish, etc.), insects raw and cooked, and many other different things that bleed, make noise, have eyes, lay eggs, fly, burrow, climb, or fight back with a fury that could kill the hunter, are food to somebody. We western people whose nearest chance of hunting is getting to the meat aisle first, should not be so quick to persecute other cultures.

OH! Must wrap this up now. My favourite show is on now: “Deadliest Catch”. You know, the one about the senseless raping of the Alaskan Ocean where they take as many crab as possible?
Good thing King Crab don’t smile.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just Thinking

I was sitting here at my desk (actually part of the open-plan kitchen counter) thinking about the upcoming Earth Day (now week) that happens sometime next week. Watching my LCD TV from Taiwan hanging on the wall, I look about the room at my other stuff. I have shelves of spices from India, Singapore, and Madagascar. There are Pans from Indiana, hanging and draining. Empty Sake Bottles from Japan, as well as a rice cooker that I hand-carried three years ago. There’s a Kitchen Aid mixer from Michigan beside my Sunbeam T20 automatic toaster built in Chicago (I love that toaster!). Behind me is my Danish dining room suite handed down to me from my grandfather, in it is a china dinner service from England and some imported glassware from Finland. My cupboards are about half-full of foodstuffs sent to us from Japan (the wife’s mother can’t help but think we don’t have food in Canada). As well as the Dining Room, I inherited a coffee table and two end tables made in Kitchener with Marble imported from Italy. I have knives from Germany and Japan, Cutlery from Sweden, and plates from China. I have all these things within 10 feet of where I sit.

When I think of Earth Day, I think of all the stuff the Earth has given us. How do we “give back”? I give back by not throwing things away to get “New stuff”. I’m not interested in the latest Blackberry. I’ll get a new TV when mine goes bust. I’ll recycle my Knives when I can’t sharpen them anymore. I will refinish and hand down to my son the Dining room suite and coffee tables. And when my Sunbeam T20 toaster breaks, I will have it repaired! There’s my “Earth Day”!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Plastic Baggage

Plastic Baggage

So the Boy came from school yesterday with a new rule. The teachers are ‘banning’ plastic lunch bags in favour of ‘reusable sealable containers’. “Why?” I asked him. “Because we’re ruining the planet by throwing away all this plastic”, Says he. I immediately got my back up, and my Father Is Right attitude and I said “You go tomorrow with your plastic-wrapped sandwich and tell your teacher” (I know I’m right about this one) “...tell your teacher that our family’s carbon footprint is so low that we can carbonally afford to send your lunch in plastic bags or wrap!” This is true! When I purchased our house 11 years ago I purposely bought it because it was centrally located... 30 minutes walk to work. Yes W-A-L-K! And in the dry season, we do! We have one car (and one motorbike for fun!), but not two!

I thought long and hard about the cost of commuting long before we made that big decision to buy our first house. To commute, we’d need two cars because there’s no way we’d be able to time it so we can all be where we need to be with just one! Let’s break it down;

- Car (second): Lease $250 per month
- Gasoline: $50 - $150 per month
- Insurance / maintenance: $100 per month
- Time (based on $20/hr): Approx 1-4 hrs/day x 5/wk x 4/month = $400 - $1600 per month

Grand total per month is between $800 and $2100. This is no joke. When we bought our house, the mortgage per month was $900. Was I willing to buy a house that may have been a slight bit better (maybe 25% more value) and pay double? NOPE! Never mind the fact that all you spend on transportation never adds into your equity... now let’s look at the Gasoline costs.
Never mind the dollar value for the past 11 years, I want to look at the actual amount used;

- Gas (if commuting): Cost per litre / month x 12 x 11years
$50 x 12 x 11 = $6.600.00
- Gas (commuting): Litre / month x 12 x 11years
50 x 12 x 11 = 6,600 Litres

OK, now let me go back to my original reason for thinking about this: Plastic Bags and Plastic Wrap. I had to do a bit of interwebbing, but I found that One Barrel of Crude Oil is used to make about 74 litres of gasoline in total as well as other things (Natural gas, Unleaded gasoline, Diesel fuel, Engine oil, Gear oil, Grease, Tar/asphalt). Meanwhile all the plastic grocery bags that are used annually in the United States can be made from 0.05% of one Barrel of crude.

Uh... Wait a sec!? YES, you read that correctly. ALL the bags used per year can be made from less than one barrel. So... If one less-than-average commuter vehicle on the road per year (average 600 litres) burns 8.1 Barrels of crude (600/74), we could probably produce enough Plastic Wrap / Bags / reusable containers/ toys from china for ten years!

I know that this doesn’t remove what might have been the Boy’s teacher’s concern about landfill and plastic bags. I also found facts about this too.


What really pisses me off about all of this is the old “separation of church and state” which this issue is really about. The teachers seem to think that this new religion of “Planet Green” is more important than the four “R”s (OK two “R”s, an “A”, and a silent “W”; “Readin’, (W)ritin’, (A)rithmetic, and RELEVENCE!). The fact that these teachers are like the rest of the sheep out there in the world, believing this new Planet Green religion as “Gospel”, doesn’t give them the right to force it down my family’s young and impressionable. Maybe we should start again by teaching the kids to read with the old classics like “Chicken Little”.

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Art – via the brain of Morgan

Why is Art? I prefer to think this question before I think of the What. Why the Why? Because answering the What seems to be quite subjective. Music, Paintings, Sculpture, Photography, Dance, Poetry, Opera, and Theatre: These some people might categorize as Art. These things you might decide to call the What of Art. Sometimes I, myself can’t decide the What.

OK then... Why Art? Art is to entertain. Art is to play with an audience’s emotions. Whether this audience is one or many, Male or Female, Young or Old. The better an Art is, the easier it gets its point across. More precisely: the better an Artist is, the easier he gets its point across. Some Artists have been labelled as “Masters”. Those that we think of are mostly Painters, Sculptors, and Poets. This is due to the resilience of their work: Carved Marble lasts longer than a loaf of bread! Oil on canvass is more resilient than Chalk on slate. Yet why couldn’t that loaf of bread be considered art? Here is the ‘subjective part’ of Art. This is why I prefer to think of the Why rather than What.

Art serves a purpose for us humans that no other living creature can appreciate. Before written history (I imagine) early proto-humans found ways to convey emotions by mixing ‘Pigments’ and using these pigments to tell stories of great hunts, or to leave their mark for posterity. I’m sure there was probably some sort of rhythmic movement accompanied by ‘Musical chanting’ to help emphasize a story. As Humans and cultures grew, Tribes gathered around each other and the fables that were told to protect and teach changed into traditions. Costumes, Pictures, dance and song... Sagas passed down. All these things became Art. Originally meant to teach, “Masters” would emerge as the best teachers, story tellers, singers and poets. Not so long ago in our past, Musicians: Troubadours, Bards, and Minstrels would travel the land between towns and cities, putting local stories to music and taking these stories “the News” to the next town. They were either kept by the aristocracy or ‘Put out the Hat’ as they went.

As cities grew, and the rich grew with, the things that separated the rich from the poor were how they proved their wealth to each other. Things haven’t changed much. Who can throw the best party with the best stuff hanging on the wall wins... for now! “Patrons of the Arts” became more and more common, and thus so did the Art! As the quantity of what is called Art became (and becomes even today) more abundant, mastery of the Art itself lessened.

Now, there is “Art” everywhere. We download it daily: we cut ’n’ paste j-pegs with abandon. We copy and miniaturize Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ until we forget who the original Artist was. Terabytes of mp3s fill our computers, IPods, cell-phones and Car stereos. All of it “Art” to someone. There is so much, and everybody seems to be doing it so much, that true mastery doesn’t happen that often anymore. I have seen so many ‘Hacks’ rise to the ‘Top’ of the fame game, with the gimmicks, falsehoods, and counterfeiture of ‘Mastery’. I give you as example: Kenny G. (Yes, I may be jumping on the bandwagon here. Pat Metheny, jazz master guitarist has already slagged Mr. G. But here I go too!) I’m sure that there must be some of us who have heard some of ‘Gs’ stuff, and can pick out his ‘stylings’ as they waft through the office’s canned music system. The overly echo-ed, non-vibrato-ed, dulcet stench that seems to only ever emote a smudged waterfall on a linty red velvet background. And I’m sure that we’ve all seen his Gerry-curled thinning hair splashed efeminitely over one shoulder of his silky blue satin suit, while he chews on his shiny star-filtered Soprano sax and looks longingly in the camera as if to hint how he knows that the cancellation of General Hospital hurt you deeply. He is what he is due to a marketing scheme that has managed to be the same as a McDonald’s or Nike: “Find the highest number of people with the most open wallets, and sell to them”. Talk to those that purchased a CD and they will tell you the joy he brings them! Utter tripe!

So, If guys like ‘Mr. G’ can be called artists, why can’t we all? Things such as this is the reason why we have so many second-rate (third, fourth, etc.) idiots clogging the system. This system where true ‘Masters’ could and should be propped up, “Patronized” and studied from! True Masters who are technically superior in their chosen craft. Masters who are able to convey emotions quickly and accurately. Masters who can tell the story in an entertaining way. Masters who aren’t fettered by charlatans and frauds.

For every “Kenny G dollar” spent, we should spend two or five on Ross Taggart! (or others like him!)


Here is one example of Why Art in today’s world. Pay for your Art. But don’t buy copies. If you can’t afford originals, learn a craft and Make Art.

Monday, April 5, 2010

100 mile diet?

160.9344 Kilometre Diet.

I am fascinated by numbers. I am also a food professional. These things immediately had my ears perked up tall as I heard about this new “theoretical greening of people’s food intake”. Sounds wonderful (if your brain is green-thinking), but is not entirely practical.
The idea is this – you aren’t allowed to eat any food that isn’t available unless it was gathered / harvested / processed no more than 100 miles from your home. This is to stop the unnecessary fuel costs that incur with our present system of food importation. What a great idea! Think of all the greenhouse-gas emissions we could stop! Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon came up with this, have written books on this (gee, it took me only a paragraph!) and are flogging this idea on the web http://100milediet.org/ . Yeah, ok I get the general premise, and I guess that John. Q. Public might also need recipes and such to help him along, so a website to keep it perpetuating is ok.

I have seriously thought about the merits of this interesting theory of how this will improve the world. I live in Victoria, BC. What kinds of foods do I have to my disposal? Firstly, what’s 100 miles from me? I am going to use ‘Crow flies miles’, not ‘bumpy un-straight miles’... also I am going to use miles even though I live in a metric country. 160.9344 kilometres from the center of town (I’m pretty close to this) gets me half of Vancouver Island up to about Fanny Bay, all of the lower Frazer valley up to Harrison Hot Springs. Washington state from its west coast to the North Cascades and Mt Baker national parks, Southeast to Riverbend, and south including all of the Olympic national park to just north of Olympia. I get all the Gulf and San Juan Islands to eat from. Now there’s where I can eat from. Now then... what to eat?

Canada food guide... that’s a good idea. Let’s look there next. For an under 50 adult male like me, I should have the following;
- Fruits and vegetables 8-10
- Grains 8
- Milk and alternatives 2
- Meat and alternatives 3

This is better laid out on the Health Canada website, but is basically a one cup serving size (average).

Now here comes the problem with this diet: Grains. There are not enough grown within my catchment area... at least not the right type. Yes we have seasonal corn that is grown, and it is delicious I might add! But the bulk of what is grown in the Frazer valley is silage Corn. Corn that we humans wouldn’t eat as it is too tough and dry for our taste. We do grow Barley (beer, hooray!), Oats, and Rye in BC, but this is primarily in the Peace River region - 90%. Some is grown in the Frazer Valley, but not enough. As for my neighbours in the south, Washington does grow many varieties of grain, but all east of the Cascade Mountains. Bummer.

Fruits and veggies are not a problem; carrots, Cabbages, Daikon, Bok Choy, potatoes, beets, melons, squash, legumes. Apples, berries and grapes and Hazelnuts. Tomatoes, Lettuce, Cukes, Peppers and a tumult of fresh Herbs are constantly available from our local greenhouses.

Milk and Cheeses? Easy! There are many a local dairyman happily squeezing the teat, and many Cheesemakers producing lovely edible curds!

As for meat, we have Beef, Pork, and Lamb. Poultry like Eggs, Chicken, Duck, Quail. Fish that includes (only locally available!), Trout, Salmon, Octopus, Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Oysters, Crab. Our local protein availability is great!

The problem still is the grains... There aren’t enough in the area (at least not to keep ourselves healthy according to the Canada Food Guide). We must import! Or do we? One Acre of prime grain-land can produce between 1500-2000 loaves of bread. That’s enough for me! But this area is too wet for grain... wet... grain... RICE! Why doesn’t someone grow rice here? They don’t. Other that a few boutique ‘Wild Rice’ farms, the production is not happening.

So, according to the Canada Food Guide’s daily suggestions, me and my family would not be able to follow this 100 mile diet due to the lack of available grain supply. Can I let this one thing slide? Perhaps...

Will I miss some other things in my pantry? Soy Sauce, Sesame oil, Spices, Salt... Salt? SALT!? Yeah, no salt for you! Not in BC! The nearest Salt mine is in Saskatchewan... in Canada. But wait - Washington State! There’s a gourmet Salt company in Woodenville Washington! Hah! I found my salt. Without salt, man cannot live, this includes me!

Spices are going to be missed on this diet. Since the days of Marco Polo who travelled thousands of treacherous miles without the use of fossil fuels to bring back spices, we have all enjoyed how the flavours of our foods have been enhanced. Wars have been fought and continents populated because of this! Our world was shaped in part due to the spice trade! Now let’s all forget that and become foodie luddites: no spices here on the west coast.

No Cinnamon buns or Coffee too.

COFFEE! NO FRIKKEN COFFEE!?!?! What kind of stupidity was this?! A diet without coffee? OK. No Coffee or tea or Bread. Can’t do it. I’ll have to import coffee and grain for my bread. 100 miles BAH!

Can we look at our world? Can we decide what makes it good? Can we try to stop degrading it as much as we have? Let’s not look at our diet alone, let’s look at our daily life. To stop creating a larger ‘Carbon-Footprint’ was the original goal of the 100 mile diet (quite an arbitrary number when taken out of context: why not 100 kilometres, or 30 furlongs? Why not 46.5 leagues?). The best way to decrease your CF is to not use any vehicle that burns petrol. Live where you work. Don’t get a job where you have to commute at all! If you are an employer, take command of your employees lives and build them housing that they can walk to work from. Don’t travel. Ever. Stop using public transport. Bicycle everywhere. Only farmers should have the right to use fossil fuels. Ships should go back to sail. Electricity can only be allowed for the people who live next to wind, solar, hydro plants... and only if the metals that are used in their construction were completely recycled from existing stockpiles. Guarantee one acre per person, given to all through a lottery-system where the best land can be unified in a collective to help improve the efficiency of production. Etc. Etc. Etc.

We cannot go back. We cannot become the agrarian fiefdoms that we were. We cannot till the soil without killing some worms. Anything that we touch affects something that we didn’t intend to. The wealthy among us can have a lower CF because they can afford to. The poor have to fill their childrens' bellies with cheap pasta-from-the-box that was imported from Ontario. They have to buy bread and peanut butter. We as a society have the means to change, but... The wants from the ‘Haves’ will always outweigh the needs from the ‘Have-nots’. And there will always be ‘Haves’ and ’Have-nots’. This disparity creates the need to buy Strawberries from Chile; for that special occasion!

I will try to buy locally as often as I can. But I cannot guarantee that the pork chops that I get didn’t come from a processing plant in Red Deer Alberta, or the Salt I get didn’t come from Saskatchewan, or my cheese wasn’t from Ontario. I won’t buy apples from New Zealand, or Lamb from Australia. But I will buy Oranges and the odd Avocado from California, Spices from India, and Malaysia. And I will buy my flour from wherever it comes from in Canada, ‘cause I need my grains!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Emotional Leaches

Emotional Leaches

Why did humans receive this gift? How come it’s us? Somewhere in our history, that spark was bestowed on us. This spark of self-awareness: This gift – or curse.

Self-awareness, Soul, Essence... whatever you call it. Whatever level your education, whatever your religion, and for whatever reasons you may think; we all as humans have it. Only we humans possess this! There are no other creatures on Earth that have a soul... Let me leave off for a bit... some of you readers will disagree with me. But as my reasoning continues, and my subject becomes clearer, I hope that you can understand.

In the beginning, God created the Earth. Well, not actually in the beginning, more like closer to the now. On it He placed every living creature, beast, cattle, and every creeping thing; and whales, and every fish in the seas; and all the birds that fly in the firmament between earth and heaven. Yeah, “God” made all of it... OH! and He thought it was good! And He slept and worked and slept and made light, day, night and dark. Busy guy, eh?!

Then He created “man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Very poetic! This according to the KJV of the Bible, Genesis. Personally, I’m not sure I can quite swallow this edict, but there it is.

So we have Earth, animals (including birds, bugs, fish, et al), All manner of vegetation, and minerals, and water... LOTS of water! And somewhere slinking in the middle of all this mess are us. Humans. You can tell that we belong here, because we have an internal skeletal structure that is too similar to many other animals, than is different. We have actually been able to transplant bits of pig into humans temporarily (heart-valves). We are some kind of “animal” that is an “earth-animal”. BUT WAIT!

Why is it us? Why haven’t the Pigs become the dominant species? How come it isn’t them transplanting human heart valves into some aging, well-to-do swine? Is it something as simple as our “opposable thumb”? Nope. There are other species that have thumbs (even on their “feet”) and can manipulate things, tools and the like to their advantage. There are countless species that use some things that we Humans would call “tools”. So it’s not tools, and not thumbs that make us Human and the dominant Earthling. It is our Soul. Where did we get it?

Let’s see, now... I know that many of you will tell me (the ones of you who’ve had dogs as pets) that all animals have souls. I don’t entirely disagree with you (I myself actually believe strongly in the Buddhist ways). But let me go on further. It’s the Human emotional soul that I am talking about. Does this disconnect us totally from the rest of Earth? Nope. That’s impossible. We are so much a part of the earth. We need the Earth.

This having been said, does the Earth need us? Nope. The Earth will get along fine without us, just as it survives without the Dinosaurs, the Dodo Birds, the Sabre-toothed tigers, Neanderthals, and the Native population of Newfoundland, the Beothuk. We are part of the natural fauna of Earth, but not essential.

Should the Earth feel sad when we depart? Does the Earth have any of these stupid emotional outbursts when one of its species vanishes? Nope. Some other group of creatures “fills the void” when one has gone.

There is a fertile valley in Siberia. It was a beautiful, lush Valley which was warmed with thermal vents, which sped up spring for many animal, bird, insect and plant species. Quite recently, the mountainside slid down to the valley, wiping out many of the birds and bears. This was quite devastating to the local populations. They may or may not recover. Some of these sub-species may be lost. Does this matter? If one kind of bird with black and white stripes that eat the bugs that live in the river is gone, only to be replaced by a bird with white and black stripes that eat the bugs that live in the river, does the earth care? Should we?

Sometime in our history, we were given an ability to “care”. This is helpful when raising your young. It’s a good thing to be able to have concerns about the welfare of your children if you wish them to grow up and keep your genetic heritage going. This “caring” that we have (in normal people) is innate and natural. It is not exclusive to Humans. Many species of animals “care” for their young. Some are even able to “care” for other species surrogately. We humans have other emotions that some other creatures seem to possess; Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Joy. I have seen many dogs, cats and birds all showing these “emotions”. Let me go back to “Caring”.

Human Caring has grown recently. I’m sure that most of us have heard stories from Grandma, saying how bad things were: the Great Depression, “Bennet-Buggies” and no food. Grandma’s stories usually included “Us vs. Them” stories. War forced families tighter, and separated emotional caring for one’s neighbours. Sure, if all the ‘boys’ were away to the front, then you’d look to your neighbour to help in the harvest. But all-in-all, most of Grandma’s stories told of how steadfast people were, “You had to be in those tough times”. “You’d pray to God that the boys lost were someone else’s, not yours”. After WWII, the Depression, and the Dustbowl: When the “Boys came Home”, emotions were allowed back. “Caring” was again allowed to be shown, and it grew as the baby-boomers were born.

Our ability to care seems to have grown as our faith has waned. These Baby-Boomers will mostly complain about their uncaring fathers – cold, quiet men who “did the best they could”, but never really cared. God-fearing boys who went to fight for God and country, who saw things, did things, and became things that they weren’t ready for. Boys, who came back as “Men” who were immediately given responsibilities far beyond many of their capabilities. The Boomer kids raised themselves. Questioned their fathers, questioned God... The Boomers read books, smoked drugs, dropped acid, "Turned on, Tuned in, Dropped out”, and generally gave up on the Christian God for a while. While all this happened, huge consumerism flourished. Houses, Highways, Cars and Cities were built. The Boomers who didn’t kill themselves with drugs or drink or Viet Nam protests grew up and are now concerned (funny, but they didn’t show this concern until recently. Maybe ‘cause they’re afraid of dying?). But they’ve grown up with a lack of faith, so they have started to channel this “concern” or “caring” to other things.

First it was Pandas. All the Panda bears were becoming extinct. This will never do! We need Pandas! The Earth needs Pandas! Then after Pandas it was Tigers, Elephants, and some broadleaf Mahogany. WE NEED these things! The Earth NEEDS these things! This is the “Caring” that has taken over. We humans are the main cause of all this destruction. Undeniable Truth. The question that I pose is: After we humans are all gone... Who Cares?

One evening, as the tribe slept, a cold humming filled the air. The big heavy Male grabbed at the two young females who clung around his legs and torso. He peered through the opening of the stone overhang into the darkness. Stirring, the old Female huffed her disproval at the awakening, kicked the few that curled up with her for warmth and lay her head down again. The Male, hearing no danger, lay his head back down amongst the warm fur-covered bodies that lay near him for protection and status. The tribe of pre-humans lay together in a mass of fur in a hollow dust-filled bowl under a sharp stone outcrop. They slept before the knowledge. They will not sleep without it ever again.

One of the youngsters awoke first. The morning dew clung to the outer fur of his arms and chest. Sitting up, he blinked his eyes open. He peers across the lump of entwined bodies through to the spreading light as it drew the outline of the cave-mouth. Something is wrong. The outline has changed. “whoa-ha, Whoa-Ha, WHOA-HA!” the youngster shouts as his excitement and warning grows. The big Male pushes his group away as he rolls up and ready. He blinks life into his eyes and looks to the youngster shouting the warning. The youngster looks past to the opening again. The big Male turns, instinctively getting up on his legs, knees bent... He sees. “Mmeh, mmeh-meh, Mmeh, mmeh-meh!” he grunts to the tribe and they stir, wake and get behind him. He cautiously steps forward, one step at a time grunting lowly as he went.

The change to the tribe is landed. Cold, dark – blacker than black, its sharp edges immeasurable to the micron, border the monolith. It stands upright, as a great Sarasin, but with a perfection that is unmatchable. Rectangular on all sides, forming the third dimension with an accuracy that nothing has witnessed. The monolith came to rest outside the entrance to the tribe’s sleeping cave, but was it by accident?

The big male dances closer, then retreats, but each time closer to this new “perfection” that has invaded the tribe’s space. His hand reaches out, grabs a stone, and has he has many times before throws it at this “perfection”, the monolith. The stone glances off with no damage – no motion – no reaction from the invader. Eventually the big Male, seeing the advances from his juniors and worried for his control, moves closer than his fear would normally permit. He reaches out, this time open-handed. He touches the smooth, black surface! Whooping his pride and authority, the Male taunts the monolith and the junior males. Then it hits him. The power, the Knowledge!

But here’s what I put to you. Did this happen to the Dinosaurs? Did one of them get the “God Touch”? Maybe the T-Rex was just about to start building cities to trade in Brontosaurus meat? Just as he started drawing up the plans, a huge meteor barrels through the atmosphere and makes the Yucatan. What if the Monolith was first touched by a wolf, rather than Human’s ancestor? Would we be bred as pets by them?

OK, this is how Arthur C. Clarke sort of explains it in his 2001: a space odyssey (retold by me). This is one method of the “rapture”. Whether it’s like this, or God breathing, or the way that our brain has evolved and changed, somehow we humans have gained the knowledge. This knowledge has allowed us to manipulate the Earth, to control its creatures, plants and resources. Why should we be able to do this and no other creature? Knowledge. Can we do these things without harming some other organism? Nope. Do I think we should worry? Nope. No matter How much we change our world, pollute it, rape its resources, kill its Pandas or “Melt all its polar Ice-caps”, The Earth will survive. If we kill ourselves off, the Earth won’t care. If we turn the Earth into Mars, it still won’t care. “Caring” is a Human emotion that only we Humans value.
So, in today’s “greening of the planet” should we truly be worried about our Earth? Nope. In this, we are being selfish. We are worrying about our futures, not the Earth’s. The Earth doesn’t need saving. Our habitability on this planet is what might need saving...maybe!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free Money

Instead of handing out free needles and “crack-pipes” to the abusive throng that have chosen their pitiful existence, we should instead give them each a 9mm handgun and a box of rounds. That way when they continue to rob the rest of us (as they are doing now), we can at least feel as though we’ve been robbed. All of the tax dollars spent on these “charities” were never part of my mandate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

GMO – Genetically Modified Organism.

GMO – Genetically Modified Organism.

OK. Here’s one of the latest things to fear and or cry about... or is it? Well, I’m sure that there’s some group of Vegans out there trying to protest our use of anything that they don’t deem “Natural”, which, as I delve deep into things, is... well... everything that is alive today!

Genetically Modified: what does this mean? Advanced science class now in session. “Techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified genes.” – pure ‘mad scientist’ EVIL!

The reason I think that most of the negativity towards this science is Fear. Fear of the “imagined unknown”. We humans have been doing this kind of thing longer than we have been able to classify ourselves as human. I give you “Selective Breeding”! Without this kind of manipulation, we would not have any dogs. Period. To stop manipulating our surroundings, via “Genes” or selective breeding would put a stop to ANY worthwhile food source. We would have about 20% of the population able to survive, and those poor 20% would be hard at work constantly farming a ‘wimpy’ form of barley or wheat with such a low yield, that we’d spend 10% more of our calories to gain 20% less food energy.

No cows or pigs or chickens for you to eat either! No domesticated animal whatsoever! (I hear all the Vegans cheering!) All Domesticated animals were ‘modified’ from wild stock, and gradually tamed and bred to harness the traits that we chose to be better. But wait what about the lovely leafy greens that we all love to eat? Nothing!?! You mean to tell me they have all been modified in some way? YES! Everything that we grow for food, whether ‘organically grown’ or not, has been modified over the years to produce higher yields, and even bug, blight and disease resistant crops. Remember the “Potato famine” in Ireland? What was it? It was a time (aside from the political BS of the age) when one of the staple dietary items the “Potato” in Ireland was hit with a widespread blight (Phytophthora infestans), which caused the crop to fail significantly. These crops were replaced with newer varieties which were in themselves more resistant: Modified. Just as most of our vegetables have been. Go to a garden center and witness this firsthand as you choose seeds for your tomatoes. A far cry from what Tomatoes were 100 years ago.

Poor Vegans! I guess that there’s nothing left for you to eat. The Mighty Soybean and other legumes are also far from their original form (soybean - Glycine Soja). How you all will survive in the Prairies of North America not having access to Kelp which you need for some of the vital nutrients we all need, is a great mystery. Unless you can forage in the forests among the rest of us omnivores who will all be hunting Grouse and Quail (two very stupid birds; the forebears of the chicken. *A little aside for a mo’*- Which came first, the Chicken or the egg? The EGG! Grouse and Pheasant Eggs eventually make lovely chickens with selective breeding!).

So what’s my point today?
Simply this: We humans are the dominant creature on the planet right now. We have manipulated Earth for thousands and thousands of years. We will continue to do so in ways that some of us in our petty coffee (all ethically grown harvested and roasted) cliques disagree with. We aren’t the “reason” for Earth, we are simply one of its temporary parasites. If there wasn’t that meteorite that smashed into Mexico, destroying the nice beaches and Dinosaurs, we wouldn’t be here manipulating our “Earth” (or even naming it ‘Earth’!) The Dinosaurs would, instead be herding each other in farms of Apatosauri, and Tricerotpsusses.

If we all changed our attitudes about ourselves first: Realize that we aren’t important! Then we could maybe get along with the Earth, each other, and all that Genetically Modified Broccoli that I hear screaming in the veg isle!

Monday, March 8, 2010



When we go out to eat, do we think why? In this day of blogging, (myself now included) there seem to be more blogs than readers. There are more people-with-opinions than laymen looking for one. I’m not going to join the throng of new foodies trying to push their own ideals of “What makes a restaurant perfect”. Instead, I want to get you the reader motivated. I want you to understand a little about the industry that is foodservice. Lately (due to my own personal situation) I am finally thinking about opening my own establishment. I’ve been cooking for a long time. And I’m good. Ego on paper is allowed... I’m damned good. To open up a restaurant, I’ll need a few things.

1. Location, location... location. Possibly the most important thing. You have to incorporate your menu with your prospective customer base and then and only then you need to search out a location that will allow your customers proper access to your location.

2. Menu. Possibly the most important thing. Your menu reflects who you are, who your customers will be and the focal point of what your restaurant “IS”.

3. Staff. Possibly the most important thing. The staff that you choose represents you, and how you would treat your customers.

4. Price. Possibly the most important thing. The prices that you assign to your menu items Depend on your menu (ingredient costs), location (rent, advertising costs), and amount of staff needed.

5. Customer “entourage” or “Mood of customers”. Possibly the most important thing. This un-thought-of ingredient is somewhat vital to how your restaurant is thought of. This allows and keeps customers coming back.

6. Decor. Possibly the least important thing. Strangely, I have been to many different restaurants worldwide (sure no truly dear, trendy places). And while first impressions are always visual, once seated, primary focus usually moves quickly to one of the other five “needed things”.

Did you notice? “Possibly the most important thing.” All of the ingredients to forming a vital restaurant are unique but equally important. You have to think of all of them at the same time and as having the same importance. Let’s detail them.

I think of using a sliding scale (1 to 10) to show the importance of an item. Example: “1” Crappy location; No view, customers have to walk through undesirables, no parking whatsoever, kilometres away from civilization. “10” Best location; Spectacular view, customers are delivered to your door, valet parking, in the center of town. The way that you can use this scale is to ensure that one of the other “six ingredients” makes up for the loss of location. Example would be that the menu and staff are both “7’s” on the scale might be enough to let your location slide down to be a “4”.

Location. Yeah we’ve all heard that phrase “Location, location... location” and understood the basic principal. But unusually, this may not be as vitally important as other businesses. For instance you can put a restaurant in a basement, or on the top of a building: it might not matter that much. But this might be the death of your place if the rent is so unreasonable that it kills your profits in the first years. Some locations have immediate customer appeal; a gorgeous view of the ocean, a patio on the main drag for excellent “people-watching”, or a roof-top rotunda that spins giving your customers a 360 view of the city. Or maybe yours is on the main commute and has a wicked “Dive-through” system or a corner spot in the food court. But as you can see these variables are contingent on your “Theme” or menu.

Menu. The food that you serve has got to focus on a few factors. Cultural, availability, and customer appeal. If you’re opening a “Madagascar Hissing Beetle / Guinea Pig BBQ”, you might run into some issues; availability of fresh, live cockroaches could prove costly, and customers (at least here in the North American market) may not be the return business you want. If you are opening in Chile (yeah donate to the Red Cross), where Guinea Pig is a regular staple however, you might just rock it out! (Going back to location). Considering your menu and tying it to your location is key. The two can’t really be separate. If the only location available is in the food-court, then opening a five-star Nouvelle Cuisine reservation only place is out. Your menu must involve your customers. Who and what they are will determine the items that will go on your menu. Another thing that will determine your menu might be “similarity or saturation”: opening a Quizno’s right beside a Mr. Sub may not be a wise financial move. Likewise opening a mainly Italian restaurant in a town with 40% of its restaurants being the same as yours... kinda dumb. If you are clever enough, you should find a niche that isn’t being filled and do that. If the entire population of your area all just came back from a holiday to Siberia, then you might do well putting Borscht and Latkes on the daily lunch fare. If the reason you want to open something is that “your mother’s recipe for chitlins is the best” but that’s the only thing you can make... you might reconsider. If you want your restaurant to succeed, your menu should reflect your customer’s wants, your location and more importantly, the ability to adapt to local trends.

Staff. OK. I’ve had many a jealous argument with my wife on this subject. I feel that the wait-staff should be primarily gorgeous (if possible). Nothing more than a happenin’ rack will keep those full-walleted 25-40 something males from emptying their VISAs on another plate of wings and a pitcher. It has been scientifically proven that “pretty” people make more tips. But does this actually mean better service? More return business? More profit? My analytical mind somehow doesn’t necessarily agree. Personally, I am a typical male: 5% charm, 55% libido 10% brains and 35% ego... (C’mon you math whizzes!) And when it comes to flirting with the waitresses, I rank myself as one of the best (remember ego?) Do I buy more if the waitress is cuter? No. Do I go back with four or more friends if the place is filled with babes? No. How about not going back if you’ve had a lovely blond screw up your order and given generally lousy service? YES, this is true! A careful balance between brains (including ability) and beauty should be the prerequisites to hiring staff. You also have to consider the wages that you can afford to pay them. Unless you have some magical formula that I can’t imagine, paying good staff enough to keep them interested in staying with you will be difficult. It is the nature of the business; profit margins don’t usually include large salary / benefit packages for servers. I would love to tell you that the perfect team of servers will stay working for you forever, with only meagre raises and hearty thank-yous and the occasional staff party... no luck. Not gonna happen. Choose staff that have an immediate (and I mean immediate) healthy appearance, and can perform a few brain-teasers. The best servers that I have noticed are able to solve problems on their feet, quickly and with humour. About 20% of your customers are idiots. Idiot customers are problems and unfortunately loud and “viral”. By this I mean that their attitude can infect the mood of the restaurant, which in turn can turn some of the other customers “off”. Having excellent staff able to quickly and cleverly diffuse “Idiot customers” can be worth their weight in gold. Hire staff that can “kick out the idiots having them think it was their fault, apologize, and never to return!” I’ve seen this. It truly is a thing of beauty.

Price. There are magical formulae when it comes to pricing, which I won’t detail here. When I was schooled, the magic number was 40% maximum. This means that if you cook, garnish and serve a “burger” and you charge $10 to the customer, then that “burger” better not cost more than $4 to make. $4 was considered high and excessive, but still somewhat profitable. Other factors will come into play that aren’t on most charts. The most important being: Competition. If you sell Burgers, for example, you will have to set your price carefully. Customers are very fickle. They will travel miles to save a nickel (fickle, NOT smart). You have to set your price to reflect the rest of the Burger-joint restaurants in the neighbourhood. If you overprice your product, you may find a drop in return custom... fine line! Don’t follow blindly into bankruptcy, however! If you get into a price-war with your competition, both of you will die. Ensure that your quality is superior! Tell your customer this! Don’t skimp (just make sure that you have a way to get paid for everything!) Calculate the cost of everything diligently, and keep up with changing costs. If you have to raise the price of a Tomato sandwich more than a customer will pay, then drop it from the menu. Bottom line is: To bring in and keep them coming back, customers expect competitive pricing. If you can’t deliver this, don’t even start.

Customer Mood. This one may seem obscure and difficult to categorize, but trust me. It IS important. Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve had a rotten day at work; your boss yelled at you, the coffee pot exploded all down the front of your favourite suit, your car had a flat tire and when you got home, the fridge was broken- no food. You decide to go out for dinner. You call all your friends (spouse/girlfriend/significant other) to no avail. You’re starving by this point. Where do you decide to get food? Do you go to that five star bistro with a dress-code, or do you simply put on your PJs and head to the drive- through? Extreme example? Yes. But hopefully you get the gist. Subtle moods of your customers will tell them which restaurant to go to. Hot date? Probably not going to that greasy spoon. More interested in the Hockey Semi finals? I see a pub with a TV and not a quiet steak-house in your future. You’ll need to decide what kind of customer you want before you design menu, pricing and staff you hire. This is becoming tougher as we go!

Decor. Finally, the “look” of your place. Remember that humans are very visual. If your place has pictures of Hitler in bikinis on the wall, cactus plants set up in a chicane between the tables and the toilet and red/orange/pink paint on the chairs, you might not have anyone happy to stay. I don’t think that there’s any truth in “money colours” or feng shui. Don’t be too gaudy, but not too plain either. The decor is there for a couple of reasons. One – to set the theme of the restaurant. When opening a Greek Souvlaki shop, don’t have Bhudas / Ninja swords / stuffed Llamas on the wall. If opening a “Culture Specific” restaurant, do a bit of research and get some of the culture in it. Two – To give your customers something to look at when the conversation dies. Some places I’ve been to overdo it – the proverbial “Restaurant-in-a-box” with shelves filled up with “Farmhouse antiquities” and other crap that has nothing to do with any “theme”. Plastic Decoys, Galvanized wash ware, and clay jugs are NOT decor. However. Strangely there are some places whose decor is more than questionable, yet this seems to have no effect of repulsion. Maybe this is unique to places with a solid history, or “fan-base”. I’m not willing to try the “Hitler-in-bikini” myself, but I’m sure that if all of the other pieces (location, menu, staff, price and customer) are churning at “10”, the restaurant will work.

OK, now that I’ve thought of everything. To put these things into practice. Oh, yeah... almost forgot. The most important thing: money! To open a restaurant you need money! I guess I’ll look into that next time.