Three Books for Conscientious Epicures

One pretty great thing about last year, besides getting a bit of my own work out in the world, was all the research I got to do to complete it. This meant reading a lot about food, drinks, agriculture, ecology, entrepreneurship, distilling, et glorious al. Here are a few of my favorites, very good starting points if you’re concerned that you can’t eat tuna on the reg AND be a good conservationist (hint…you can’t. I know. I’m sad, too.).

The following books helped me sort my thoughts on food-as-culture, drinks-as-food, and the many-tentacled concept of sustainability when it comes to what we consume.

The Third Plate, by Dan Barber

For all the likely deserved criticism of Dan Barber as a tyrannical and self-important chef figure, this was a fascinating and important book. Barber is the classic-French-trained, Alice Waters-indoctrinated chef/owner of the seminal farm-to-table Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurants, and he has used his caché as a world-class chef to go a few stops further on the Michael Pollan food train. The book’s premise: looking for the future vision of American cuisine, since its present, prime meats-centric incarnation has wrought ecological, nutritional, and economic ruin. Barber has well-researched takes on biodiversity on land and sea woven in with entertaining stories of meeting chefs and farmers from Upstate NY to Extremadura. Sure, we’re talking about expensive restaurant meals most of the time, but I do think there is validity in Barber’s stance that what chefs at high-end joints do influences how the majority eat, over time. It’s not every book that gets you this excited about wheat breeding.

Bread, Wine, Chocolate, by Simran Sethi

Again, great research, distinct voice, topic I could LITerally and FIGuratively eat up all day. It’s like seasoned journalist and podcaster Simran Sethi asked herself “What does Hope feel like reading about?” and the answer was this. Through the book, Sethi examines the need to preserve genetic diversity of not only the three title foods, but also beer, coffee, and seafood, by dishing out history and expert opinions from around the world.

Along the way, we meet scientists, chefs, yeast-hoarders, coffee nerds, and my favorite oenology legend, Dr. Ann Noble, who hilariously forgot the author was coming and wound up inviting her in to lunch, instead. One of the most interesting choices in the book, for me, was the inclusion at the end of each chapter of detailed tasting instructions. Sethi’s theme that we can “save” these foods by eating a wider and more expensive variety of them is hammered home by the insistence that parsing flavors in, say, a bar of nice chocolate is not only a fun thing to do, but a responsible one. No, this doesn’t absolve anyone of being otherwise socially responsible, but it helps this small part of the world.

Not everyone will be down with this premise, nor with the narrative voice. I was. I liked it a lot. I also spend more of my income on food and drink than on clothing, electronic gadgets, personal grooming, and housewares, combined, so you know where my loyalties lie.

Divided Spirits: Tequila, Mezcal, and the Politics of Production, by Sarah Bowen

I wrote about this book in Movers & Shakers, but really, my hopes for how many people will read the book all the way through are not super high. Not because it’s a boring book (it’s not!) but because reading is hard, and takes a long time, and we didn’t have the dough to make an audiobook, which is how I personally consume 95% of my reading material. So far, I know my sister has almost done it. Brava.

Anyway, IF you peeked into the “Mezcaleras and Madrinas” chapter, you would know the depth of my appreciation for Sarah Bowen’s comprehensive tome on the history, production, politics, regulation, consumption, etc., etc. of agave spirits. Her research into how ancestral foodways around the world are preserved through the DOC system is an essential read if you are concerned with how small farmers get paid and how good your cheese tastes. It really is the best exploration I’ve read so far about what “sustainable” does and can mean, socially and environmentally.

These three books vary in tone and subject matter, but what ties them together for me is not only how carefully researched and put together they are, but the common emphasis on flavor as an essential component when talking about food production. Industrial tequila, Bowen finds, is detrimental to Jalisco’s small farmers, and also tastes like turpentine. Why not do better? Dan Barber compares the rich and rangey flavors of heirloom wheat as opposed to the “dead” mass-produced wheat with as much concern for the taste of the bread as the health of the soil. The inseparability of the concepts–healthy soil = healthy plants = tastier and more nutritive food–is central to his book. Sethi concurs: specialty food production isn’t a wholesale solution to monoculture, but the speciality chocolate and coffee markets are helping hang on to the diversity that remains, and greater consumer demand will help change the agricultural systems, if we keep demanding it. They all acknowledge the need for systemic changes, but put the ball in the consumers’ court, as well. If you can afford to make better choices, it’s your responsibility to do so. Otherwise the mono-culturalists will win and really awesome chocolate will always be crazy expensive, and probably go extinct.

What other books belong on this list? LMK.

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Randomized 2018

A couple years ago, I wrote an end-of-year roundup that is the only kind of roundup I enjoy writing. Having, for work, had to wrangle lists of things like happy hours, doughnuts, and smoothie joints, I will let you all in on a little secret: I do these lists under great duress. I am happy for the jobs, no doubt about it. But every time I sign-on for a new “listicle” (a word that has thankfully fallen into ironic use, to be uttered in quotes or with accompanying grimace) I am encumbered with dread and dark thoughts until the piece is completed. I dislike ranking things. On Goodreads, as on Yelp, I have two modes: 5 stars or nothing. If I love something, I want to tell everyone about it. If I don’t, I’m content to leave it in silence. This is primarily because I’m an over-thinker, and if I had to rank everything from least-to-most favorite, it would take all year.

That is why I like the randomized end-of-year roundups. Because they take 30 minutes, and I don’t have to say x was better or worse than y, or that one made a greater impact, or whatever. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. The government is being run by climate change deniers, so we’re all basically dead already.

Here’s a random list of 2018’s greatest hits, obsessions, milestones, and terrible shit. And there was plenty of terrible shit. But there were lots of the other things, as well.

That book I wrote.
RIP Penny Marshall
Racism: Mainstream and ready to rumble
Misogyny: See above
My nephew Jerry making my heart explode, Grinchlike, from its box
I’ll have What She’s Having podcast
Visiting Dorchester, Mass and meeting an 8-month-old OFD
Now/Serving
Live forever RBG
The expense and humbling/grateful slog of a book tour
The post-partumlike depression that comes after your pub date that nobody tells you about
Absence of mood stabilizers
Founding a canned cocktail company
Evan F-ing Klieman!
Poetry
The Roxane Gay catalog
Friesling
Meeting a shitton of cool people on tour
Wondering daily if everyone else has gone crazy or just me
Feeling like I’m going to talk to my nieces about this year like my parents talked to us about 1968
One badass denim jumpsuit
Hearing someone use the word “fire” as an adjective in person
Nailed It
Myokos cultured cashew butter
Fondant
Listening to both CTRL and Z on repeat
Getting all into Poshmark
Realizing Poshmark is actually the world’s crappiest clothing swap
The LAPL Libby app
Seeing the gray hair, and letting it hang

Pick your own favorite!


Daily Poem Breads

In this week’s Amy Stewart newsletter, Ms. Stewart reminded me of a service I once subscribed to, but cancelled when I decided I had no mental bandwidth for anything but women in booze, women in bars, women in vineyards, etc. Those days are easing up, though, thankfully/sadly. Amy reminded her subscribers of the Poets.org service of Poem-a-Day, which I promptly re-upped, and suggest everyone else, does, too. 

As part of the Movers & Shakers book tour extravaganza, I had the pleasure of filling discussion panels with writers, entrepreneurs, artists, and the like who all had a stake in the booze/hospitality fields around the country. One of these was Boston-based poet Emily O’Neill, whose latest book a falling knife has no handle (Yes Yes Books, 2018) follows the poet as she falls in love with a partner while steeping herself in the food and drink world. It’s a beautiful book. Reading and re-reading it during my month of travel and talking reminded me of how poetry resets my brain in necessary ways. 

Poetry was my first literary interest, back when the internal timer on me sitting still was set to the length of an Emily Dickinson stanza. It’s slightly longer now, and my brain is more cluttered, so poems help me with this more adult concern. Prose writers can be flippant, but we are all jealous of poets. Jealous of their economy and their chutzpah in pursuing an art form even more subjective in its evaluation. I forgot how focusing for a few minutes on a set of words that is succinct and powerful in its purpose acts as brain-balm. 

Check them out. Then find some living poets and buy their shit. 

On Collective Retraumatization

Things that make it hard to write about current events include:

1) feelings of shouting feebly into a shitriver of voices, many of them more eloquent and better-researched than mine, but most a bunch of shouty creeps; and

2) feelings of utter futility of everything. The same knot is holed up in my gut as when Ivanka’s Dad started showing strong poll numbers in the Republican primaries in 2016. I didn’t want it to be true, but I knew that it probably would happen.

Now, as then, I am shot-through anxious. I can’t sleep, I’m yelling at my loved ones. I’ve become a stereotype. America I love you but you’re bringing me down.  Continue reading

They Still Make You?

I love working the bar at special events. It means I get to be part of something really special, minus the oppressive need to small talk. I also like getting to work with a different crew almost every time–that ADHD brain need for variety satisfied in every way.

But there’s always the risk of bad eggs when the cast of characters rotates that much. Continue reading

Movers and Shakers: The Blog!

For the past two years, I’ve been hustling around the country, trying to connect with some of the most interesting personalities in the beer, wine, spirits, and bar industries. I’ve done interviews with master distillers, upstart brewers, winemakers that defy all limitations in funding and latitude, and bar managers working toward a more sustainable industry. To say I was inspired was an understatement: I am, and remain, awed.

BTW, all of the individuals referred to above are women. It’s kind of my thing. It’s not that I don’t think men(cis, gender conforming, typically white dudes, specifically) are capable of being awesome, it’s just that I feel like they get plenty of cred for their accomplishments. They don’t need me to add to the chorus.

I wrote a book about these women and non-gender conformists. It’s called Movers and Shakers: Women Making Waves in Spirits, Beer, and Wine and it’s coming on on October 9, 2018. Order yours today if you’re curious! Here’s a colorful graphic with a picture of the book cover on it! Huzzah!

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As much as I loved writing about this and as exciting as it was to finish a project of this size, I was a little bummed when the chapters had all been compiled. Not just because potential success is as terrifying as failure, but because I felt I’d only scratched the surface. Every time I told someone new what my book was about, they pointed me to a fantastic woman making her own vermouth from locally foraged plants, or a boss lady running an international liquor conglomerate. Even some of those I had interviewed along the way hadn’t made it into the final volume because of time, space, or continuity. I wanted to meet all these women. I wanted to tell their stories, too.

Welcome to the Movers and Shakers Blog. It’s my ongoing attempt to shout out the accomplishments of cool women & nonconformists in the booze fields.* Stay tuned.

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*If you want to know why I focus on the booze fields, you’ll have to buy the book. I can’t give everything away…

 

 

ISO Perfect Punctuation

For a long time, I have had an em-dash habit. I use them a lot–perhaps too much–when I need to make a parenthetical or emphasize a clause. My theory is that since I gesticulate when speaking–hands and face, with funny voices–I feel the need to make certain phrases jump out–as if animated.

Recently, though, I’ve taken up with the semi-colon. I tutor several AP English students and make them do the editing exercises at the end of The Elements of Style. It’s then, after I beat them about the shins with far, far, too many commas, that the chimera mark starts cropping up. It’s insidious; there’s little I can do but wait it out.