Tag Archives: Food

Look Mom, I’ve Been Reading!

Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan has been on the bestseller list for forever and a day. But I started into this 400 pager as an introduction to thinking about Food with a capital F. Food is an issue that is powerful with people, and I’ve written about some of my own goals in eating locally and cooking. I usually call this the long form of the movie Food Inc., and I particularly like the way it’s divided into three snapshots of how one might structure their relation to food. It’s detailed but often repetitive, as many point out. Pollan does a great job using a journalists inquisitiveness with a personal voice. I think I’d read anything he wrote just to study the tone of his writing. Still, this is an important book not just for foodie types but for average people to get better acquainted with how food shows up in supermarkets and on the dinner table. My single biggest change because of this book: only buying stuff that has max 5 ingredients, all pronounceable.

A Room for Learning by Tal Birdsey is local folklore up here in Vermont. It chronicles the first year of starting a middle school up in Ripton, VT — just a stone’s throw from Middlebury’s ski hill, the Snow Bowl. I think anyone who has been to school is invested in education but with my particular interest in higher education as of late, this was an important book to throw out education policy and No Child Left Behind just to focus on what counts — a teacher and his students in a single classroom. Now, I’m not really entirely into the lovey-dovey-hippie-ness of anything but Tal sells it in this book. There’s something so genuine about the way Tal writes and portrays himself. I don’t think single-room schoolhouses are the answer to America’s education system but the lesson here is really intimate connections between teacher and student as well as among students. Great book, inspiring, flew threw it.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler follows River Town and Oracle Bones. I am impressed that Hessler continues to drop some of the most insightful, real, and important nuggets about China into his books. It’s not just a former Peace Corps guy cruising around the thousands of miles of new highway in China. He observes, tells us, and postulates how his experience might be indicative of larger trends in the Middle Kingdom. For many students who have studied abroad or now work in China, Hessler describes many of our experiences to a T. This book is not only entertaining but probably more informative than many business books about China. Read it.


Coffee Shop Culture

On the weekends, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I’m even mayor of one on foursquare. Yes, I can’t help but blogging there but I also read (newspapers, mags, and books, per my goals), people watch, and pretend to be a hipster/bohemian. Things I’ve noticed:

  • Limiting the number of electricity outlets is effective in getting people to not linger there all day. Yes, no juice=no dice. While my hometown of San Francisco debates whether to give free WiFi to customers at coffee shops, I think you can really “turn the tables” by just cutting electricity.
  • Limiting the number of small individual tables forces people to sit with one another at larger tables, and therefore forces people to talk to one another. I know this is blasphemy from a city kid, but imagine talking to someone in a coffee shop.
  • Overhearing conversations is the best in a coffee shop. You get to be nosy, look busy.
  • Draw in a journal and you’re bound to have someone ask you a question. Sit at a computer and no one will approach you.

Happy Farmed Fish Are Wild

I’ve watched a ton of TED videos since they first went online. My person favorite: Sir Ken Robinson on creativity, education. But yesterday, I was pointed to this video on fish. Well really, it’s about grappling with sustainable food in a way that integrates food systems in to ecosystems instead of creating isolated farms. Yes, we want sustainable fisheries and organic agriculture but too often those labels miss the mark because they are thought of as separate from “nature.” 20-mins and a great story:

Book Quotes: New Eaters

Getting back to my goals, a quote for Friday. Pollan, from Omnivore’s Dilemma:

…a successful local food economy implies not only a new kind of food producer, but a new kind of eater as well, one who regard finding, preparing, and preserving food as one of the pleasures of life rather than a chore. …This is a consumer who understands — or remembers — that, in Wendell Berry’s memorable phrase, “eating is an agricultural act.” He might have added that it’s a political act as well.


I visited the China’s beverage bottling giant Wahaha’s plant in Hangzhou a few months back and saw lots of how they bottled water. But the secrets to Nutri-Express were kept under lock and key. How on earth did they convince Chinese people to drink a room-temp, white-as-snow liquid that is made out of the powered milk? Go to a Chinese banquet and you’ll find Nutri-Express has somehow replaced the bubbling Sprite and golden-cider-esque liquid on the table. While no one can displace King Coke, Nutri-Express has made serious inroads.

So is Nutri-Express a health drink? Well sort of. Wahaha calls it “a perfect combination of fruit juice and milk.” It’s packed with all kinds of vitamins that Chinese people used to get from eating fruit and now don’t get because they are making a few too many trips to their local KFC. But I guess it’s about as close to Glaceau’s VitaminWater as we get in the Middle Kingdom.