Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reading Response: The Omnivore's Dilemma pt 1 (6)

I have come across parts of The Omnivore’s Dilemma from time to time, yet have never sat down to really give it a good read. I found that the information dolled out about corn and its travel from the field to the factory incredibly interesting. The dissection of this simple idea of “food” produced a story that is so easy to overlook, and that’s the scary part. Corn is something all around us, and apart of us. One of my favorite lines in the book referred to us as “…processed corn, walking” (Pollan, 23). It is so engrained in American culture that it had the potential to be abused by American corporations.

My interest lies elsewhere, for while I do think it is a shame that corporations have taken advantage of the American populous, whose fault is that? In my opinion, the consumers have been pointing the finger too much at these big corporations. To be fair, these big companies deserve much of the blame, but what I am saying is so do the citizens living and eating in the United States of America.

One of the most indicative stories of the lack of education in Americans is the story about Pollan’s son. After a meal eaten at McDonalds, Pollan asked his son if his chicken nuggets actually tasted like chicken (compared to the old recipe), to which his son replied, “‘No, they taste like what they are, which is nuggets…’” (112). This is somewhat of a sad tale, especially because this is our youth and future generations. Backtracking to our discussion in class and Kelsey B.’s CYOA, many children are not educated about food. Our society has removed itself so far from the source, that we do not even know what we are eating anymore.

My little sister is 11 years old, and she will eat good food when my mother cooks it. However, she prefers fruit snacks, gushers, lunchables, and go-gurts. She likes these things because her friends have them, and they taste great because they are loaded with sugar. I realize that not every family has the luxury to cook meals from scratch with fresh ingredients, but it is so important for our society to reverse this trend. Processed foods are hurting our bodies, our farmers, and the land. 

There are so many problems with the environmental effects of producing corn. Runoff from the synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus, fossil fuel inefficiencies in producing it, excessive use of antibiotics, and more are some of the problems with current farming practices. The rich loam that once wrapped our lands has been abused, and cannot withstand much longer. Sustainable farming is required if we wish to feed off our land for years to come.

There are so many faults exposed with our farming system in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. One basic solution for this structure is education. It is so important to educate consumers, so they make informed decisions. It is necessary for school systems to educate children in the classroom about these practices to ensure a healthy future for our people and our planet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rasa Ria, through a lens (or a hole) DRAFT

Florescent lights shine from the ceiling and reflect off the yellow laminated menus sitting at the front desk. The waiter is glued to his computer screen and hardly glances at incoming patrons, leaving new customers unsure of their actions for ordering. The style here is self-seating, which the regulars who frequent this quaint eatery have the benefit of already knowing. Customers can choose from about six to seven small tables in this classroom-sized restaurant. The tables themselves even resemble old school desks at an elementary, displaying their faux wood laminate on top. The décor in Rasa Ria is simple, it is a family restaurant started up about 9 years ago by the Gomes who hail from Malaysia. An Indonesian twist came from a close friend of the Malaysian family. This unique restaurant came about because of simple reasons: there was no Malaysian restaurant in the Kalamazoo area at the time. The restaurant has since been valued for its delicious Asian food. It is located on West Main passed Walgreens and across the street, if you are headed here from Kalamazoo College.
The waiter pauses his play at the computer to sit at a nearby table and take orders. A water pitcher and glasses are placed at the table. The customer at Rasa Ria is expected to be very independent. And looking around, that is what you see at this restaurant. This isn’t the run of the mill “American” eatery serving burgers and fries. And, this isn’t where the Smiths will take their 2.3 children out to eat after church. Here you will find the progressive college student drafting a paper, a mixed racial couple and their child, and a husband with a ponytail and a wife with boy cut enjoying their meal. No one here is trying to keep up with Jones, simply trying to eat at the Gome’s.
And for good reason, the food here is incredibly tasty and affordable. Flavors such as curry, coconut, and soy are a commonality between many of the dishes served. The Tofu Rendang is a delightful dish that encompasses many of these flavors. Served with a side of rice, the main course consists of a soupy concoction of tofu and potatoes drowning in a milky substance colored highlighter yellow. The tint of the liquid made is a dead ringer for curry, which is sweetened by coconut and lemongrass. The tofu is spongy and absorbs the flavors of the soup beautifully. The rice completed the meal, cleansing the palette after the mix of flavors presented by the Tofu Rendang. This meal is a favorite for many of the regulars at Rasa Ria.
For a side order, the curry puffs are a great route to go. From the outside, their appearance resembles empanadas. They are light brown and crescent moon in shape. Right until the crunch biting into the puffs, it is reminiscent of its Spanish cousin, yet this is where the parallel ends. Upon arrival into the mouth, little shards of soft chicken spiced by curry are activating every taste bud. The minced meat is zesty and contrasts the greasy shell beautifully. A new taster might find themselves with a runny nose on such an occasion; a small price to pay to benefit from the rich flavors.
Other dishes worth mentioning are the Chicken with Black Mushrooms and the Fried Kway Seafood. These dishes are less adventurous sticking to subtler tasting and spices. The Chicken with Black Mushrooms is a stir-fry dish complete with carrots, baby corn, and capsicums marinated in a soy sauce. The dish is nothing spectacular, yet can entertain for a night if the consumer is hungry. The vegetables are cooked nicely, and not weighed down with sauce and soggy. The salt in the soy sauce brought nice flavor to the rubbery mushrooms. All is just fine for this traditional dish, no extreme risks are taken.
The Fried Kway Seafood is a surprisingly textured dish, however the variation of such texture is lacking. From the shrimp, to the calamari, and flat noodles, everything is just extremely slimy. Still, the taste and consistency of the meal is not lacking. The seafood as well as the sauce introduce many flavors, and the range of consistency ranges from easy, soft noodles to the chewy ringed calamari. The Fried Kway is a great entrée for the nautical tasters.
The one mistake of the evening was a drink called Milo. The chocolate malt beverage is served hot in a plastic cup. Everything from the temperature, to the rich taste, and the presentation felt out of place. The beverage would better be served alone to warm up children after a long day in the snow.
Any food bought at Rasa Ria is money well spent, yet consider ordering takeout. The ambience, or lack their of is worth surrendering to a night in the dorm. Similarly, the service is also poor. The dishes may have only taken 10-15 minutes to appear, yet they came scattered making the experience awkward for polite patrons accustomed to eating once every meal is delivered. The dining experience may not be for those looking to spend a night on the town, spurring intense conversations with young intellectuals. Instead, people come here for good food and a casual atmosphere. The selection of food rests primarily on that of Malaysian and Indonesian roots, and maintains a sense of cultural purity. That is the ingredients are consistent with those of the Asian culture, the spicing is for the chef to decide, and the shouts coming from the Kitchen are not exactly English. Even better, the food is affordable. Entrees range from $6-$9 and side orders and drinks anywhere from $1-$2. Rasa Ria is known as a hole in the wall restaurant, it is simple yet, upon willingness, is able to offer some of the most unique food in Kalamazoo.
There is no reason to make a reservation for a casual night at Rasa Ria. You might catch it closed during open hours, so call ahead of time, it’s worth it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Expectation and Anticipation: Rasa Ria

My search for a restaurant to visit led me to one of my dear friends, Ellen Murphy. She knows a lot about the Kalamazoo community and the food world, so it seemed fitting for me to contact her first. She recommended an ethnic place called “Rasa Ria.”  “It’s a family restaurant, with a good story,” she promised. My next step was to do some light research on Rasa Ria, and was excited to find that it was listed as serving Indonesian, Malaysian, and Asian Fusion food. I also spotted a picture of the restaurant online, and it proudly wore the words “Rasa Ria: Authentic Malaysian and Indonesian Cuisine,” as I read this I couldn’t help but allude back to our reading on Tuesday and Lucy Long’s chapter on “Tasting an Imagined Thailand: Authenticity and Culinary Tourism in Thai Restaurants.”
I imagine our discussion dictating my upcoming experience. I will forever be wary of calling anything “authentic” and will challenge all of the indicators of authenticity at Rasa Ria. The restaurant claims to authentic, yet is also known for serving Asian Fusion food. A fusion of many different foods begs the question “Is it really authentic of one thing in particular?” In my judgment, and of opinions in Long’s article, it doesn’t have to be “Appadurai believes the term {authenticity} should not be applied to culinary systems at all, because it cannot account for the inevitable evolution that occurs in cultures in cultures and their cuisines” (Long, 54). I am expecting the food at Rasa Rias will be authentically fusion, using ingredients from both Malaysia and Indonesia to create interesting and unique plates. Which according to Appadurai is part of the evolution of cooking and culture.
At Rasa Ria, the plate I plan to order Tofu Rendang, which has been highly recommended by many reviews online. I am a little apprehensive about this because the only tofu I have tried has been from the caf, and it tasted like disintegrating rubber. Hopefully this Rasa Ria can redeem my opinion of this Asian cuisine. I plan on having a lot of new and unfamiliar tastes, which makes me very nervous to write a critique. However, many of the reviews mentioned the use of coconut within the dishes. I happen to like coconut, so this news was somewhat ensuring. On the other hand, I want to be able to give a fair assessment of the food I am about to eat, but if I am not accustomed to all the flavors, it might hinder my ability to rate the taste. Also, my lack of knowledge with Asian food might make me unsure about my experience, and therefore my writing will lack confidence.
Despite some of the apprehensions I have, I am excited about my upcoming dinner tonight. I am anticipating surprising tastes, flavors, and spices that I hope to enjoy. Our discussion on Tuesday really sparked many ideas about authenticity. I really look forward to evaluating the restaurant experience and include many of the ideas about our readings and dialogue. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Counting Calories (5)

After reading the food critiques from the New York Times and various other places, I found myself very, very hungry. So after I made some lunch for myself, I began to reflect on the topics discussed in the writings. Of course there were very precise critiques given by Sam Sifton, I found the most interesting part to be his food diary and Q&A. I particularly was entranced by two things, A. After all that food how does he still look amazing (even with exercising, I mean c’mon!), and B. his response to having calories on menus.
For starters, I did find the pictures of Sifton at KFC a little creepy, but became very intrigued by his maintained physique. This question has undoubtedly come up, and his response is the excessive exercise he maintains. Sifton never counts calories, yet just exercises based on what his trainer feels appropriate. Which brings me to my next interest, should calories on menus be more utilized?
Sifton argues no, “I don’t want to be thinking, as I do so, about how many calories are in this slice of (delicious!) olive bread, or in that crème brulee or pile of pea shoots sauteed in sesame oil with garlic. And I certainly don’t want to see that information on a menu. Two words that have no place on a good restaurant’s menu: ‘Nutrition information’” (Sifton.) At first, I was a little hesitant to see Sifton’s point. For example, with so much food and so widely available food, many people overeat and could use calories as a guide to help them make healthier choices. People would be more educated on their cuisine and be able to assess the appropriate meal for them based on the nutrition information. Smart eating choices would lead to less heart problems and other chronic diseases, and therefore a healthier society as a whole.
Yet after reading all of Sifton’s Q&As, I realized that the culinary world is very much so a work of art. It isn’t necessarily about providing the best nutritious information.
“Restaurant criticism ought to be about deliciousness and sociology and art. It shouldn’t ultimately be about nutrition, this exchange notwithstanding” (Sifton.) Not everyone eats out all the time, most Americans consider it a treat. Sifton’s job is unique in that he is required to eat out so much, he is required to indulge.
To be honest, I really motivated by the decision to put calories on menus, like here (for example.) Yet I find that the places that do have these listings are often more everyday places, which differ from fancy places. These places are often where families might eat a few times a week, and are looking for some nutritional guidance. Overall, I agree with Sifton that high-end restaurants should not have calorie indicators because it can take away from the unique experience. However, I do find mobile apps and devices helpful for times when I am on a diet. I particularly like “MyFitnessPal” because it’s free and easy to use! Overall, fine dining is a indulging experience that should be enjoyed catch free, and Sifton’s unique situation makes him susceptible to different criticism and inquiry.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Thai Experience, Kinda (4)

This term of culinary tourism is new to me. I imagine myself gliding through life not knowing I was a tourist, curious about other cultures and tastes. The truth of the matter is that I don’t think I have given much thought to other culture’s culinary experience until this year. Usually, I would just follow my friends to the restaurant of their choosing and wanted to taste something delicious. The chapter on “Tasting an Imagined Thailand” really got me reflecting on my experiences with “authentic” food and what was all staged for my pleasure.
Some years ago, when Thai restaurants began to popup everywhere, our town received “TN Thai.” This was a lovely little Thai place in the midst of our downtown and it was good food. The experience was also fun; it was different from my own dining style, yet drew enough parallels that I wasn’t freaked out or anything. Before every meal they brought out multicolored chips that looked like styrofoam and had a nice crunch to them before they melted in your mouth. (Upon a small internet search, I was able to distinguish these as shrimp chips.) This was comparable to potato chips before a meal, paralleling like a pro. Next, I would order a meal with rice, eggs, chicken, peas, carrots, and other vegetables. Easy enough, the veggies were like the one’s my mom cooked as a side dish, this; this was familiar. I played it safe every time I went there because I wanted to be satisfied with my meal on a taste basis. I repeat, I was not looking for some adventurous experience that would open my eyes to a new culture. That was NOT me. For example, when it came to the spiciness of ingredients, I was all for “’All meals are individually prepared and suited to your palate.”’
During my first year of college, my friend Tay became a huge influence on my life for many different reasons. Zeroing in, she really helped me to channel my adventurous attitude into acceptance and exploration of “otherness.” Tay studied abroad in Thailand and throughout LandSea, a backpacking trip sponsored by the college, she would tell about her experience. I became curious of far away places and different cultures. I remember one particular evening, Tay and her Thailad study abroad friends let me tag along to a Asian market in Kalamazoo to buy some food for the night. They purchased different veggies, rice, and spices. They cooked this kind of stir-fry and offered me some. So I gladly excepted because I was hungry like always. As I started eating this food, I realized my mouth was actually on fire. I ate the food as fast as I could because I wanted it to be over as soon as possible. I just wanted this taste to go away, but as I swished water around it just spread all over my mouth. They had been used the spice from their journey to Thailand, yet it was so foreign to me that it was a culture shock at the least. I love experiencing new cultures and definitely try to be “authentic” even though that is a malleable word. My authentic encounter with Thai food may not have been the most idealistic one, but I learned putting yourself out there is something within itself. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

60mg of Hunger- Memoir Final

I sat in a sterile room at Detroit Children’s Hospital listening to the doctor take roll call: Cellcept, Plaquenil, 81 mg Aspirin, Levoxyl, Naproxen, Vitamin D supplement, and Prednisone. I consumed these words practicing for the pills to come, but my heart sank as he fell down the list. Falling into a pit of confusion, I tried to grasp on to the little reality I could manage. Here is what I knew: take ten pills in the morning, three at lunch, five at night. Upon consumption of my medicine cocktail, a lovely spell fell over my body. The waves of pain that crippled my joints vanished, the chronic fatigue was curbed, and the possibility of blood clots diminished. My responsibility in life had been reduced to the size of a few pills, and in turn the pills let me live a life with responsibility. Unfortunately, this mutual agreement we formed stopped short of symbiosis. And, the magic fathered emotional agony that led me to question the importance of my medication. There was one, in particular, that became the ringleader of trouble. For me, Prednisone never really escaped the connotation associated with the word “steroid.”
This here is where my affair with food began, a lust affair. Everything on steroids looked tantalizingly edible, and a small snack easily turned into a feast. We had just gotten our kitchen redone that year, and I had found a sanctuary within it. Pomegranates, apples, and oranges crowded around the fruit bowl and reflected off the beige granite begging for a taste of my mouth. The produce on the counter was a mere offering of what the sub-zero refrigerator had in store. Milks, cheeses, lunchmeats, veggies, dressings, and more found their home in this chilled box. All the food in the world was at my fingertips, and Prednisone had created a bottomless cavity looking to be entertained. I ate all the time because I was always hungry. This continuous consumption even helped fill the gaps of confusion. The mist surrounding my life needed to be solidified by something, and food was something.
This constant procession of food that fell into my mouth did not continue without consequence. Soon the weight of the food began to find permanent residence within my body, and the side effects of Prednisone became visible. My cheeks began to swell, and my embarrassed eyes hid beneath them. The structure of my face elicited comments like, “Are you packing nuts for the winter? Your cheeks are huge!” I could tell when kids at school were talking about me. The side glance in my direction and a whisper in a friend’s ear. Soon my thoughts were consumed by food and how others viewed me, and I had given up on academics at this time. The school shortened my schedule to a half-day so I could attend all my doctor’s appointments. Lucky me. In this half-day, I walked through the halls knowing that I was the ugliest thing in the world. People had a hard time looking at me; my friends couldn’t shoot me a straight stare. A recognizable glance and a responsive wave would have saved my day, but no one wanted to meet those two slits in my face. So I became lonely. After a few hours of classes, I headed back home, walking parallel to the troop of students driving off to lunch with their friends. They’re Jeeps bouncing as the declined driveway of the parking lot met the street. They were ready to go to “The Big Salad” or maybe “Lunchbox Deli.” I could smell the vinaigrettes trailing behind their cars. A poignant raspberry with bleu cheese crumbling after it, tossed in a mixed green salad. My mouth watered at the thought of their food fun. With each step, I hoped one of those cars would stop for me, but no one ever bothered.
Upon my arrival home, I would sit in the kitchen waiting for my mom. My mother could always give me a straight stare into those slits that were bloodshot and inflamed. I absolutely hated her stares because she would get teary eyed. Her pity only led me to believe I was even more pathetic. I only wanted a friend that would remind me of the unfortunate life I was living. I started to personify food. A Pink Lady became the apple of my eye. I glided over to the fruit bowl and picked out a fresh one. I rubbed my hands along the rounded curves until my fingers come to a stop in order to cup the Lady. I closed my eyes and sunk my teeth passing the skin and going right for the meat. Crunching on the apple to diminish the bulk of the insides to juicy blood. Sweet nectar filling up my mouth until a swallow allows the juice to enter the cavity. I would eat a million apples and eat so loudly that I didn’t have to hear words like “Lupus.”
I walked out of Children’s with the looming uncertainty of having an ambiguous disease. One that meant pain, but never a clear, definite hurt. The doctor started me on 60mg of Prednisone during that first visit, a mistake that I have always had a hard time reconciling with. My symptoms and blood test results didn’t deserve the dose that I received. The side effects brought on by Prednisone were not ideal: the obvious weight gain, a roller coaster of emotions, confusion, and the stutter that paralyzed me in front of class.  It was hard to find a conversation with my classmates when the thoughts and worries of one another don’t coincide. Through all of this I learned, always growing in my own ways. I realized that food could be a lot more that physical sustenance. As people we want to be understood by everyone, or someone. And food, it became an emotional backup for me. Sure a lot of people criticize others for using “comfort food,” but where were you when I needed a friend? 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure

I’ve watched this TED talk numerous times and can’t help but share it. Dan Barber travels to Spain and discovers a fish that tastes so delicious, and the farm that leaves positive effects on the environment. His talk centers on an idea so simplistic, yet almost forgotten in these times of processed nutrients and calories. Barber questions the run-around of many fish suppliers and challenges these big companies. As consumers, I think it is important to consider our intake of food, where it comes from, and how it affects the surrounding environment. Also, with “social justice” being advertised throughout campus, I believe this conversation to be especially relevant. Eating fresh, sustainable food might not seem realistic to many, but I think Barber presents a valid argument as to why these practices are so imperative. After viewing this clip, I began to compare and contrast the benefits tasty, healthy, and environmentally conscious food to the access of less expensive, but perhaps more damaging to the body and surroundings.

Dan Barber kept me truly engaged throughout the whole talk with his great wit and knowledge. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and I look forward to discussing it on Tuesday!