Cloned cows, science vs. technology, Modern Farmer, et al.

Modern Farmer. What a fucking joke. I get their email newsletter. It led me to an article about the biggest animal cloning factory in the world. It’s being built right now in China. The piece fills one with…that untethered feeling that defines the 21st century, if UR old like me, LOL!

My comments, and responses below. My job is to smack your face out of Richard Dawkins butthole.

Mike A said:

Animal genetics have been getting more and more homogenized for centuries, if not millennia now, and cloning is the next logical step in that process. The questions we should be asking are: “is genetic homogenization a sustainable trend?” and, “Do we want our food-production systems to be so hyper-engineered that they can only be managed by the most powerful and technologically-advanced organizations in the world?” and “What do we lose when we lose diversity?”

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      Mike, Even if the Chinese company can clone a million animals a year, that is way less than 1% of the world’s beef supply. What they are doing is hardly any different than the highly selective breeding that has been going on with dairy cows for the last 50 years. Did you know that 10% of all the Holstein dairy cows in the world (and that is a majority of all the dairy cows in the world) are descendants of one bull?
      Unless some pretty significant improvements can be made in feed efficiency and disease resistance though genetic engineering, there will be a limited market for any one genomic variety of cloned beef. Even if they succeed in marketing multiple genomic lines of cloned animals, they are going to have a limited market. We are going to have plenty of beef, clones or no clones. Producers know that they must have mixed genetics to produce good calf crops – that is a market force that will insure that the cattle industry does not rely on a narrow genetic base.
      Our food production system is already highly dependent upon a few very powerful companies: Con-Agra, JBS, Cargill, Tyson, Smithfield, and Sysco. Shut them down, and there would be almost no meat in the stores within days. Cargill and Con-Agra control a big market share in some other commodities as well.
      Our food safety rules are getting tighter all the time – Chipotle just announced that their stronger food safety procedures would be such that some of their local suppliers would no longer be able to meet their requirements. Small processing companies will increasingly be forced to shut down. Government regulation leads to fewer, larger companies.
      Cloning will not cause a loss in diversity. We have dairy bulls now who produce over a half a million offspring; that injects better genetics into the herd, but it does not reduce diversity. If we can make significant incremental genetic improvements through genetic engineering, cloning will be a way to distribute those genetics faster than can now be done through artificial insemination. The fact that cloning is being done will not endanger our food supply, any more than 50 years of artificial insemination has endangered our food supply. In fact, genetic improvement is one of the main driving forces behind the enormous improvements in production efficiency of dairy cows over the last 70 years: today, U.S. dairy farms produce over twice as much milk as they did in 1940, with less than half as many cows.
      As I have already stated, I question the economic viability of the cloning enterprise, but there is no doubt in my mind that to the extent it is successful it will be a win for producers and consumers and the environment, just as it has been for the dairy industry.

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      As I said, I’m well aware of the genetic streamlining of human-bred animals.

      I don’t think that I implied that that this particular factory is a problem, in fact I implied the opposite: that it could be problematic if this is the future of breeding.

      Diverse genetics are important. I don’t think anyone disputes that fact. You seem convinced that we can trust agricultural technology giants to ensure that genetics stay diverse in the long-term, I think you have a naive and overly-trusting attitude toward these organizations.

      We have different world views: you have boundless faith in the wisdom of man, I think that man is filled with misplaced self-confidence. There is really no way to reconcile these views; only time will tell.

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      This has nothing to do with “world view”. It has everything to do with biology. Can you please tell me why you think cloning will reduce diversity?

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        Here we go, against my better judgement….

        Worldview colors every human endeavor, even science. When a scientist, who is after all a human being, imagines a hypotheses, it is invariably influenced by her worldview—her cognitive experience of the world. There is no purely objective way to go about imagining things, only in testing their veracity.

        In any case, we aren’t even talking about Science™, we’re talking about technology—the application of knowledge which is often, although not necessarily, derived from scientific methods.

        Many people like to hitch the two together, as in “Science™ and Technology.” Some people like to hitch the two together without declaring it, and assume that no one will notice. Other people like to take advantage of this linguistic trick, and cheerlead for greater corporate centralization, under the guise of the infallible truth-seeking mechanism that is Science™. What they are really talking about is technology.

        They do this because both Science™ and technology often require enormous sums of capital to function, but the capital invested in Science™ can be leveraged to bring the relevant technology to fruition. This often results in significant returns for shareholders.

        Cloning, as I’m sure you know, is creating an organism with the exact genetic sequence of its parent organism. That is to say, there is no genetic difference between the two, or five, or ten billion (mutations may occur though). So I can’t really see how cloning is anything but the loss of diversity.

        There is, after all, a slight difference between a cow created through artificial insemination, and it’s sister created through the same parents. There is (virtually) no difference between two “sisters” created through cloning.

        But more to the point, my belief is that if we have to depend on the organizations that are able to leverage the significant resources to make genetic diversity happen, we are placing foolish faith in unaccountable stakeholders. That is a manifestation of my worldview. Your belief is that…well, I don’t want to speak for you.

        The Gros Michele was said to be a superior banana to the Cavendish in every respect. But we just go on eating Cavendish anyway, even as it succumbs to a new blight, and we still have no successor. I’d love to taste a Gros Michele someday.

        I go on. If your worldview informs you that the best of all possible worlds is one that is engineered to the nth degree, and all products and endeavors are hyper-specialized for maximum efficiency, why bother with cows? Surely we can do better, in terms of efficiency, than to screw around with a beast that was created entirely by accident of evolution. What about a textured, flavored Soylent®? Or protein from insects, algae, or yeast?

        The technology already exists. All that’s stopping us from deploying it is an irrational belief in our need for…what? Diversity?

The cost of things

It’s become apparent that I think a lot about the cost of things. I write about the cost of water, bitch about the cost of opening a restaurant, and needle people about the cost of their cookware. I know it’s unseemly to inquire about the cost of things in conversation. I know that the phrase  “Nice! What’d you pay for that knife/camera/boathouse?,” is a bit of a turnoff to my friends who a more firmly and comfortably ensconced in their middle class position, but I don’t care. You see, the cost of a thing is the key data point that determines it’s value. Every value proposition has one variable that always matters: price.

Of course, there are plenty of other variables that are much harder to measure, and some of those may be unmeasurable. We could put the price of the boathouse in the numerator’s position over the number of of vacations taken in hotels and resorts over a lifetime to derive one facet of the value proposition. Of course some data points, as Visa informed us, can’t really be given monetary values. One might say: “I taught my son to fish here in this boathouse, and some day it will be his,” with a haughty bourgie voice. I’d reply: “You can’t really relax in a place that you own, because you constantly have to look around at all the cleaning and upkeep required. And you have to either do that work, or pay for it.” In other words, you’re throwing your money at the bourgeois illusion of great wealth, at the fantasy that money doesn’t matter. To be sure, there are people for whom money does not matter, for whom the value proposition might not even be interesting as an intellectual exercise. Because for them money is not only not an object, it’s not even a data point. I don’t think that I know any of those people.

Which brings me to cookbook writers, some of whom I imagine do OK in that vastly overcrowded literary field, but I can’t imagine that many of them ever get “money isn’t even a data point” rich. Yet they somehow always buy “the best ingredients,” and insist that their readers do the same. You know: the best olive oil, the best balsamic vinegar, the very best salt, the best cut of meat and on and on. Sometimes the very best makes a difference. Sometimes it’s just the laziness of lifestyle aspirational food writing.

Case in point: Tamar Adler’s mayo. She worked at Chez Panisse. She’s written for the New Yorker and Harpers and Food and Wine. She’s a big fucking deal. But if I could just whisper something in your ear here, over here where she can’t hear us in this dark little corner of the internet. You see this part here where it says in the ingredients list: “2 cups best olive oil around, plus more on hand”? Don’t listen to that. That’s nothing but bourgie aspirations talking.

You know the olive oil she’s talking about: comes in a 500 ml bottle, costs $20 for that; is bitter (“spicy,” as the chefs describe it). 500 ml is just over two cups, making that a $20 small jar of mayo. And you know what? Really expensive olive oil—the kind they give you a precious little dish of, for to dip your two measly slices of crusty bread at fancy restaurant—makes terrible mayo. Especially when you combine it with the requisite lemon juice, you get an unpalatably bitter spread that overwhelms the flavor of just about everything you put it on. How do I know this? Because of mayonnaise mistakes I’ve made in those fancy restaurants.  Use the cheap stuff that comes from a gallon can. This stuff is generally fresh, and buttery, or vegetal, or grassy—anything but bitter. And cut that by at least half with a neutral oil, like Wesson or whatever cheap stuff you use to cook with. You only have spicy, expensive EVOO? You’re reading the wrong blog.

I haven’t read Mrs. Adler’s cookbook, but I wonder if she has you brine with fleur de sel, or pickle vegetables in authentic aceto balsamico bought by the precious milliliter directly from some Modena grandfather’s attic? I wonder if “when it’s gotta be tender,” in her rarified world, “it’s gotta be tenderloin”?

I’d like to be able to tell you, as I was originally planning, that you can make a decent mayonnaise with soybean oil, commodity eggs, white vinegar, and yellow mustard, and this will make a fine fatty sandwich spread, provided the oil is fresh. However you may as well just use Best Food’s mayo in this case. They have some “natural flavorings” that make it better than what I can do on a budget.

mayonnaise bowl set up

That’ll stay.


Gangster of Food’s adaptation of Tamar Adler’s Mayo:

2 eggs see note

3/4 teaspoon salt  salt to taste

1/8 teaspoon dijon mustard or more yellow mustard if that’s what you got.

2 cups best olive oil around, plus more if the mayonnaise is too wobbly when your done 1/2 cup cheap virgin olive oil/ 1 1/2 cups neutral oil. If you don’t have the olive oil, just use all neutral oil. Oil must be fresh! 

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon room temperature water maybe a tiny bit of water

3/4 teaspoon (a squeeze) fresh lemon juice

1 drop red wine vinegar healthy splash white wine vinegar or a smaller splash of white vinegar.

splash of hot sauce (tabasco would be best)

I’m not going to keep up this charade of plagiarizing and needling my betters. Here’s the method:

Get a decent whisk (balloon whisk, preferably. Those weird spring whisks might have a hard time here), a damp towel, and a largish mixing bowl. You might also need another, smaller ceramic bowl.

What’s important is that the mayo end up thicker than what you want, so that you can adjust the flavor at the end with more vinegar or water.

Suck whisk.

Separate the eggs (use your hands; it feels good) and put the egg yolks in a large bowl, and put the bowl on top of a damp towel to stabilize it. Put the whites aside somewhere. Add the mustard and splash of hot sauce to the yolks and mix it all together with the whisk.

Mix the oils together in a liquid measuring cup, or anything with a pour spout so that you can control the flow into the bowl. As you whisk the eggs in the bottom of the bowl, start adding the oil in a slow drizzle. If, despite the towel, the bowl wants to careen all over the counter and spill, lay the towel over another, smaller bowl and put that under the large bowl. If you add too much oil at once, stop whisking, tilt the bowl so that the oil pools to one side, and whisk the egg mass separately, slowly incorporating the oil from the pool.

As the eggs get thick and want to stand up on their own, add a squeeze of lemon juice or a tiny splash of vinegar to keep things kind of loose. The water in the liquid is what really makes the emulsion and if it gets too tight, it will break. Keep going like this: oil for a while, then liquid, then oil, then liquid, until the oil is all used up. You want to end up with a mayo that’s much thicker than what you really want so that you can adjust the final product with more acidity or water, depending on what you need, and not end up with a loosey goosey sauce.

Season to taste with salt and vinegar or water, depending on how you like it.

mayonaise tamar adler

That’s thick!

A note on the raw eggs:

Lot’s of bloggers and aspirational food writers go on and on about the quality of their free-range (pasture-raised) eggs and claim that’s why they feel safe eating raw eggs. Maybe. I personally buy pasture-raised eggs most of the time, but that’s because I really believe that the American food production machine is all fucked up, and it’s worth a little financial pain on my part to help right those wrongs. Also, they usually taste better. Fact is though, even industrially produced eggs have a very low incidence of salmonella. About one in 20,000 eggs is internally contaminated with Salmonella, and even if you lose against those awesome odds, it’s unlikely you’d get sick if you follow good hygiene in every other way.





Graywater Gangster

Columbia River Bonneville dam

Fresh Water

Reason why I’m called the “Gangster” of food, as opposed to “Hip Foodie Daddy” or “Househusband of Gastronomy” is because, unlike those guys, I’m not afraid of doing almost anything in pursuit of food procurance and preparation.

Take, for example, my garden. The house is poorly laid out for sun exposure (a blessing in this heat) and the soil is like something from a novel about the struggle of the peasantry: stony, heavy, unproductive. So I did what a Gangster of Food would do and built a 40- foot-long by 6-foot-wide by 22-inch-deep raised bed in the parking strip. I rented a six yard dump truck to get the dirt, which was a comic farce that will have to be put down in ink some other day.

Illegal raised bed

Not to Code

Shortly after I raised this behemoth of a planter box, the City of Portland drafted some new regulations on exactly these types of structures, and mine doesn’t meet the code in any conceivable way. I’m still waiting for the Maoists down at the Bureau of Transportation to swing by and tell me to knock it down. And with the influx of a more affluent and conventional bourgeoisie, I expect that visit to occur pretty soon. But beware party loyalists, you will regret the decision to inform on me to your city-planning apparatchiks, ’cause I got a load of crushed pumice rock and cacti to replace that lush, roadside oasis.

Childish? Nay, Gangster. You can’t be a gangster if you don’t retaliate.

This summer is hotter than usual, you may have noticed. Heat makes everything thirsty, especially plants. Now I’m not one of these anti-turf gangsters, who preaches the importance of an edible, native, low-water landscape. I like a section of turf to lay in and watch the kid run around and play, without worrying she’ll skin her knees like a miniature world cup competitor. Bad turf is no fun play on. FIFA knows it, I know it, and the ladies of the World Cup know it. So I have to water it, with drinking-quality water provided by the fifth most expensive municipal water system in the US.

Rock Garden

Lush Roadside Oasis

Rather than be afraid, I’ve taken it on to bail my laundry water out to the yard. I’m not sure how you feel about greywater, and I’m not sure that I care. In our lifetimes it will become nearly unthinkable, and perhaps illegal, to grow a garden with potable water from the municipal supply. Some believe that our fortunate hydrological situation is a permanent feature of the Pacific Northwest, but the current weather patterns, although quite possibly coincidental and short term, should give one pause. Even if our rainfall, snowpack, and river levels hold up over time, I’m sure everyone is aware that we’re going to have a larger population to share it with, especially when fueled by speculation that, in a warming world, this is possibly the most meteorologically optimistic place to be in the lower 48. Thanks again, Times.

Sure, we still have the 4th largest river in the United States, when measured by discharge at the mouth (gross, get some lysine on that mouth), but I wonder how many cubic feet per minute the Colorado River would add to the Pacific, if it could get there at all.

Barge on the Columbia

Fourth Largest River

In other words: California’s drought, apparently in its 13th year, is our drought. So, I’m getting ready for that inevitability, and saving a few bucks, by hauling the dirty water out and dumping it onto the lawn, and some of the perennials. I’m not that crazy about using it on the vegetables since, you know, fecal bacteria and all. Turns out I shouldn’t even worry about that.

“But how could you let your kid play on that disease-laden turf? Her next knee scrape could go septic! She could die from gangrene!” Yeah, and when she drinks her bathwater from the dank and moldering interior of a squeaking duck toy, she could infect herself with a rotavirus and die of dehydration. Life is full of risks, this is not one that I’m worried about, especially when faced with the one, single fact that matters more than this whole heaping pile of useless studies on “fecal coliform loads” and “pathogen exposure risks”: There hasn’t been one documented case of someone getting sick from greywater exposure.

That the State of Oregon is worried about these hypothetical risks is evident in their preening, hyper-vigilant regulation of the substance they have decided to call graywater (as opposed to the multitude of alternate spellings: greywater, gray water, grey water). Once again, even with my super-primitive system of buckets and time, I am not in compliance. My dream of a simple graywater system, costing maybe $300 in materials, and requiring a weekend or two of hard work, is equally noncompliant. I envisioned just cutting into the lavatory and bath drains, equipping the diversions with valves to divert to the sewer in the rainy season, and sending it all out to a system of water barrels and a couple of ¾ inch hoses to divert the water wherever I need it that day. That “tier 1” graywater system could buy me a visit from the gangsters at the DEQ. They’re like my rival gang.

Washing machine interior

To a plant, that looks appetizing.

The group Recode declared victory in 2012 when the State of Oregon released it’s regulations for external graywater reuse, but a close reading of the declaration makes it obvious that the victory is so limited and circumscribed that to the average homeowner, the situation hasn’t really changed. Recode imagines that an association of 20 or 30 homes could share the burden of a $1500 “tier 3” graywater permit, and the burden of an $800 annual renewal fee. The utopian neighborhood would share a greenhouse, a pond, and a central irrigation station, at a modest permitting cost. It sounds great! Except, that’s not the infrastructure that’s here. On my block we have 16 homes, and those are largely occupied by people who barely speak to one another. I’d be lucky to find two families interested in such a scenario.

Gangster, you’re getting aead of yourself. What are these ‘tiers’ you speak of?”

Indeed! Let’s go backwards. Tier 3 is the most complex and costly of the graywater scenarios. It involves filtering the water first through a physical filter like sand or gravel or an artificial medium to remove the larger solids. The second filtration method can consist of either a “performance-based treatment” or a “technology- based treatment” to further remove suspended solids and to remove or break down much of the dissolved organic matter. “Performance-based” means DIY and implies a biological processing—think miniature, containerized wetland—while “technology-based” means off-the-shelf—think expensive metal contraption. This sounds wonderful! I have always been fascinated by the idea of creating tiered series of aquatic planters, gently cascading from one to the next, brimming with reeds and cattails. Gorgeous! But the last step in the Tier 3 process involves chemical disinfection. Now, since you’ve made potable water from bathwater, you can feel free to use it however you like. I have a better idea: just let it flow down the drain and the city will filter and return it to the hydrological cycle. It will come back as clean rain.

Now, if you forego this chemical disinfection process, and just do the first and second stage treatments, you can disperse this water with a drip irrigation system. Alright, I’d rather just put a ¾ inch hose on the end and let the water flow where I need it, but I could work this out.

Price tag to get started on this “tier 2” graywater system: $582. That’s just for the permit and review process from the Oregon State DEQ. I still have to plumb the house to get the water from my fixtures (washing machine, lavatory sink, and bathtub) out of my house. To get the water to a place where it can flow through the system by gravity, I’m probably going to need a sump box and pump. All the diversions are going to require back flow preventers and diverter valves so that it can be sent down the drain in the wet months. According to Portland’s Bureau of Development Services fee schedule, that’s gonna be about a $300 permit. So, without having so much as picked up a hacksaw, I’m down nearly a grand. Surely there must be an easier and cheaper way.

There is! The “tier 1” permit is the most basic and involves just sending that dirty water out to the landscape. A $90 initial permitting fee, and a yearly renewal of $50, unless you want to submit an annual report? Okay, not so bad, we could just stick the washing machine drain out of a hole in the wall. But then we get to this bit that says that all “tier 1” graywater must be released at least 2″ below grade…now that is a sticking point. So, in order to use my bathwater to irrigate my lawn, I’d have to tear up the whole landscape and install subsurface plumbing. That’d take me all summer. I know that the intention isn’t that I’d do it myself. This is the New Portland, gone is the chaotic DIY spirit of the past. The dream of the ’90’s is in fact just a dream! Specialization reigns! The Bureau of Development Services and the DEQ figure that, if I wanted to save a little money, I’d call the plumber and the landscape architect myself, rather than hiring a general contractor. Let’s face it though: I may be saving water, but I’m not saving any money that way. I spend about $100 more a month during the dry season over the wet season. Assuming I can make the graywater do all of my irrigation, a generous assumption, that’s a savings of about $300 a year.

Let’s be crazy and say that the plumber is both cheap and reliable, and only charges $1000 in materials and labor to install diversion valves and drains from the bath, the lavatory sink, the dishwasher, and the washing machine to the exterior. With the permits, and interior plumbing, I’m up to $1400. Let’s say I’m an especially enterprising (and frugal) Portlander with a spark of the dream of the ’90’s left in my decaying old frame, and I figure I can set up the pump and gravity feed system on the outside of the house.

Outside, I’m going to need maybe four 55 gallon drums, some PVC and some valves, and a sump pump to get the water from subsurface to above grade, because now I’m going to need that gravity pressure to push it through these buried pipes and into the soil. If I find the drums cheap on CraigsList, and get a sump pump from the Depot, that’s another $250. Some people seem to think that your washing machine pump, in a simple system using only the laundry water, could push the water up to grade and through the lines. Have fun replacing your washing machine pump every couple of years. Even if you have enough subsurface pipe to hold 20 gallons of water (what my washing machine uses per cycle stage), and holes big enough to emit that water without getting plugged by lint, biofilm, detergent scum, or root incursions (I mean, WTF, right?), how are you going to ensure that the water disperses evenly along the length of the run, rather than just dump out at the beginning or the end? Whatever, we’re saving the environment! That’s the added value!

Now, we have to pay our landscape professional to not only design the layout of the subsurface watering system, and the landscape that will go back in above it, but to dig the trenches and lay the drip line. The line itself is only about $100 for 500 ft, But if we want to water the grass this way, and we do since we aren’t saving shit for water just irrigating those deep-rooted perennials, we might need 1000 ft or so to distribute it. Without actually making a guy come out to give me an estimate, I’m going to (very generously!) guess $1000 for that work.

To recap:

Plumbing permit
Greywater permit
Distribution materials
Drip Line
Landscaper and architect

Oh, wait, I forgot running the electric line for the pump! And the electric permit! And the fittings for the drip line! Whatever, we’re already up to nearly 10 years before we can see a return on this investment. It’d be money better spent on almost anything else.

Gangster, why don’t you just use rain barrels and harvest the rain like everyone else?”

Oh, okay. I suppose I could put maybe six 55 gallon drums outside, and harvest the rain from September through June, and use all 330 gallon up in the first two weeks of July. Then they can sit there and take up space (but make me look like a real environmentalist) until it starts to rain again. I’m pretty sure the rain barrel people haven’t thought too hard about the real utility of those things.

I sound like such a tea party moron, don’t I? Down with regulations! Down with the state! I need my FREEDOM!

No, I believe in the power of government to protect society from the individual. I do believe that individual freedom needs to be balanced against social freedom. I’m all for smart regulations that preserve a high quality of life for all. I am not for regulations that restrict an individual’s activities based upon marginal and/or hypothetical risks. Hypothetically, I’m creating an elevated risk of disease transmission when I forget my towel in the bathroom, and have to run from the tub with wet feet. Hypothetically, a dish sponge should be disposed of four hours after it’s first use. Hypothetically, the filthy, shitting cat is an absolutely untenable disease risk. I’ve been trained in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) protocols—you people don’t know who you’re fucking with.

All of which is to say that dumping wash water on the lawn is hardly more of a risk than wearing shoes inside the house. Actually, it’s less of a risk. The lawn is at least subjected to fresh air and sunlight all day, every day of the summer months. The floor just festers until it’s washed. If the State really wanted people to reuse their water, they’d give them a financial incentive to do so. What we have instead is a system that locally penalizes water use through high rates, and on a state level disincentivizes smart landscape irrigation through high permitting fees and unnecessarily complicated filtration and disbursal systems.

You’re not just willing to take my word for it though, are you? “Where’s the proof, Gangster? We demand Science, not just the unhinged raving of a guy who bails his wash water.”


Looks sinister; Tastes great!

Alright, here’s a thesis paper in which the author irrigated three types of crops: roots, leaves, and fruits, with graywater, and a control group of the same with potable water. Although the graywater was crawling with disgusting fecal micro-organisms, the crops irrigated with the graywater were still apparently safe to eat. I still wouldn’t irrigate my carrots with untreated graywater, but good to know that I probably could.

Here’s a fun group who ran a probability model (a hypothetical projection), of the risks posed by the fact that drought-stressed Australians use graywater to water their lettuce, and some of them fail to wash that dirty lettuce. They looked specifically at norovirus—the stomach flu—and found that the additional risk added up to a little less than one extra case of stomach flu per person, every 33 years. They also looked at “the amount of faeces per pair of underwear.” Now, how are we going to trust a bunch of dirty bum-sniffers like that?

Here, the study authors irrigated several plots with biologically-treated graywater, and several others with tap water, then they tested the soil to see which one had more pathogens. The result? You know the result: dirt is dirty, whatever kind of water you dump on it.

Here again, graywater irrigated plots were analyzed for pathogens and pathogen indicators and compared to plots irrigated with freshwater. “Noise”, such as bird droppings, made the freshwater irrigated control groups sometimes more fecal-contaminated than the experimental sites. In addition, the graywater sites with highly sophisticated filtration systems were as pathogenically rich as those that simply involved hooking a water hose to the washing machine.

Reading studies like this one from the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control give the reader the sense that the purpose of these exercises is merely to imagine problems for which technological solutions can be invented.

Finally, let’s face the disgusting reality that graywater in France is probably much cleaner than here in the land of the dirty-bum. I mean, if you washed your ass after using it, there would be precious little fecal matter to get onto your panties, and into your wash.

Could graywater hurt the soil though, Gansgter?

Look, I don’t have time to hold your hand through this whole thing, but let me break it down to you: not unless you put bleach or something in your greywater. I personally use all these expensive “natural” plant-based soaps and detergents, despite my deep suspicions that they really do nothing except make us feel good about ourselves. Speculation suggests that sodium, boron, and phosphates might accumulate in the soil, but that hasn’t been born out in these studies. Furthermore, we live in Western Oregon. Nothing has very long to build up in the soil before being flushed out by months of rains.

But here’s a meta-analysis for you: “most studies that have examined the impacts of wastewater effluent have shown a benefit to soil microbial communities due to the inputs of organic matter and nutrients.” No wonder my turf is starting to look green again.

green grass

Green grass, great times

Steak with croutons

Steak Panzanella saladWe celebrated the slaughter of the cow, and the maturation of the the tomato ferment with the quintessential, the quinciñera, the dodecahedron of all summer dinners: Grilled steak over panzanella and fermented bloody Marys.

This will become one of my new American classics, when I finally get around to winning, and I shouldn’t just be putting it out there for the vultures of the internet to ignore, but I haven’t talked straight to you in so long. Instead, we (you and me) have conversations like this:

You: “Gangster, how do I make delicious pickles like you?”

Me: “This West Bank Situation is pretty outrageous, huh?”

You: “Gangster, can I get some tips on the best products at the grocery store?”

Me: “Don’t you think we’ve taken this social media shaming thing a bit too far?”

You: “Gangster, for the love of god how do I buy a good cut of meat?”

Me: “It’s weird how we profess to admire creativity, but fail to economically reward people who pursue creative work, huh?”

You: “Alright, I’m done, you pretentious, pseudo-intellectual prick. You don’t even know what you’re good for.”

But I’m going to make it up to you. I’m giving you my express permission to eat tomatoes in June! We’re only doing this tomatoes in June thing because of the damn weather, we deserve to eat tomatoes when it’s 95 degrees for two weeks straight. It wants to act like LA, we gonna eat like… well we’re going to eat like hot Portlanders in the heat. We’re gonna eat panzanella, with steak.

Yeah, you know, panzanella: making old bread sound healthy since the seventeenth century. The classic, according to the most reliable sources on the internet, is just stale bread soaked in water, tossed with onions in olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Sounds disgusting, no? That bread soaked in water thing, that’s what I don’t get. Instead, I break the (really very) stale bread into chunks, by hand if possible, toss them in a prodigious quantity of garlic-infused olive oil (heat the oil real quick with the chopped garlic, strain), season well, and grill until golden. Toss that with some tomatoes in big chunks, or just in half if they’re cherry-sized, some sliced Walla Walla onions, and tons of basil. Let that sit while you grill a huge steak. Take the steak from the grill and let it rest on the “salad.” After ten minutes you slice the steak on a hard bias and lay that beautiful bloody mess out on top of that meat- juice-soaked bread.

steak salad with panzanella

Oh god, it’s good to think about even though I’ve already gone and glutted myself.

I avoid balsamic vinegar like the brown acid at Woodstock, but I make an exception here, and just splash a little over the top. I’m sure that’s not traditional, but neither is the steak, so fuck the Tuscans. What do they know about cooking?

What I’ve fantasized about for so long was having a rare steak with a bloody mary, so I finally did. Last year, on the advice of a dude named Favero Greenleaf, a poster on Sandor Katz’s blog, I took a bunch of overripe tomatoes, sliced them into quarters and salted and layered them in a crock. After two weeks or so of carefully skimming the scum from the top every day (this is vitally important), I pounded them through a conical strainer and bottled them up. Pour a little layer of olive oil in, put an airlock, or just an overturned ramekin, on top and let it sit in the basement for a year. If that sounds dirty and bad, it’s because you’re really too uptight.

tomato bloody mary

This stuff is intense like heroin. I used half fermented tomato, half other tomato. By “other,” I mean whatever I had laying around in the fridge: a little juice from those delicious Mutti canned cherry tomatoes, a little tomato paste, and some chopped-up canned stewed tomatoes. Then it’s just a bloody mary: Worcestershire, lemon, horseradish, Tabasco, salt and pepper, vodka. Favero Greenleaf mentioned sipping it through a little piece of lovage stem, so I did that too.

I know we’re not even, and that’s why I’m going to help you through this heat wave, assuming it ends next week or so. Tonight you eat steak and bread, tomorrow, razor clams al ajillo!

T-bone beef

I’m gonna chew on that bone for lunch.



Cherry, Let’s Bounce

Cherry season is nearly upon us, and although the Northwest is primarily known for the harvests of sweet Bings and Rainiers, we all know what to do with those: eat them. They make terrible pies and bland jam. They just can’t be cooked. The only uses I have for sweet cherries besides eating out of hand is fermentation (see Double Mountain’s delicious, but now outrageously expensive, krieks), pickling (in vinegar, sugar, and spice—to serve with charcuterie) and, too a much lesser extent, preserving in booze (to get drunk on, out of hand, in the depths of a moldering winter). Sour cherries though, I got an idea for those.

You’ve heard of cherry bounce, that often wretchedly sweet blend of eating cherries and brandy or bourbon. Well, that’s just some slop people call cherry bounce in the amnesiac age, where disruption is indisputably virtuous, and hacking means you’re doing it right. Well, we got neither patience nor palate for that mess. We’re going to make cherry bounce the right way, the old school way, the Sheila Hibben way.

Sheila is kind of my hero of depression-era food writing. Even back then, she could see that American gastronomy was being hijacked by the technological gee-whiz of the industrial revolution and she, like me, had no misgivings about letting people have the tongue lashing they so richly deserve: “refrigeration and good canning mean progress, but before now, in many fields, progress has upset the apple-cart of permanent and enduring standards.” Boom! How’s that disruption taste now, Rob Rheinhart, Mark Post, Frederic Tudor? Not as good as this is going to be…

Bella Organics on Sauvie Island, that riot of Ray Bans, BOB strollers, and microbrews has a secret stand of sour cherry trees that they don’t even know about. You have to climb up into these perilously tall trees with a fruit picker’s ladder, and drop the cherries down into the bucket below, because you’re going to be too busy fighting your way through the cherry branches to get to the cherries hidden inside to deal with a damn bucket. Get a lot, since this is the lowest tech, most primitive and simple preservation method you’ve yet heard of. You could probably slip a microchip in the process somewhere to make it “smart,” but that would be dumb.

sour cherries bounce

Watch your eyes!

Fill a gallon jar with the stemmed but whole sour cherries and pour a fifth of rye whiskey over the top. Put something over the fruit to weight it down. Let it sit for three months or until you get to it again. Dead simple.

Sheila wants you to pour off the booze (and reserve it, of course), mash the cherries, and take care to break some of the pits. This is important. When broken, cherry pits release benzaldehyde, a cyanide precursor, and a little cyanide. This benzaldehyde is the flavor of almond extract. I normally despise this flavor, but here it’s subtle, and goes nice with the cherries. Then she wants us to strain it all through a flannel bag. Old school flannel bag. Here’s where I use a modern convenience that I hope Sheila would be okay with: the food processor. My weak little 21st century arms find all this crushing and squeezing too taxing. I just want to sink down into the smart sofa with a tablet device and pretend to be doing something super primitive and manly like building fortifications or engaging in armed combat

So after we lug that heavy anachronism of a kitchen tool (food processor? Ugh, so not modern) back into the cabinet, we pour the slurry into a conical strainer and pound it through with a pestle or rolling pin or something. Alternatively, you could probably find an old flannel from the ’90’s and squeeze it through that, don’t mind the fake blood stain from your last GWAR show, or the scent of marijuana and Manic Panic. You could also just line a wire strainer with a couple layers of cheesecloth, pour the cherry slurry in, and let it drip through into a bowl overnight. To summarize: extract the liquid from the solids. Then mix the booze back in to the juice.

Sheila wants us to sweeten the booze with “1/2 pound of sugar” “for every quart” of booze. Although I, more than most, appreciate a grandmotherly hand with the sugar, here again we part ways. Make a simple syrup (with as little water as you can get away with) and sweeten the bounce to taste. To my taste, it should resemble a dry cherry lemonade, so maybe half as much sugar as Sheila wants. If you’ve done it right to this point—tricky considering that you’ve had only this block of text rather than a video or an app to guide you through the process—you’re going to want to drink it all right now to shut out the dystopian scenario that your home has become. Don’t do that. Put it in bottles, cork it, and let it sit in the basement for a few more months. Better yet, let it sit a few years until the robots come to take your job away. You can take it with you when the robot sheriff comes on behalf of Bryncorps Financial to evict you from your home, and drink it on the banks of the Sandy River, since that’s the only place the new gentry (the robotic robot designers, programmers, and engineers) will allow homeless humans to stay without fear of being sentenced to hard labor in the scrapyards

cherry bounce in the glass

Robots cannot appreciate this stuff.

While sitting there in the fading light of a perpetually smoggy day at the edge of a garbage-strewn, fluorescent orange river (robots have no need for environmental protections), you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the ruby hue of the cherry bounce, while relaxing under the shelter of a beat-up old Arcteryx hardshell held up by a couple of ski poles; the color of a ruby port. The slightly oxidized aroma and fore-palate should remind you of that bygone era (right now) when dry sherries were all the rage. Finishing off a small glass will feel as refreshing as a lemonade did, back in the days when lemons were plentiful because the subtropics still had plenty of water, and agriculture was still an anthropocentric enterprise. That was before the robots turned vast tracts of arable land into canola and soybeans for biofuels and industrial lubricants, and forced humans to survive on algae and cicada gruel, with the occasional dollop of vegetable butter. Efficiencies.

The Roast Beef Roast

If you frequently hunger for roast beef sandwiches, you need to read this. If you cut meat behind a full-service meat counter, you probably also need to read this.

I adore a good roast beef sandwich. One with horseradish and mayo and lettuce and pickled beets, or sliced tomatoes, or hard-boiled eggs, shaved fennel, and pickled onions. But procuring the meat to make such a sandwich is way harder than it should be. I stand at the meat counter and shuffle my feet with indecision, hem and haw, wonder if I could just step back there for a brief minute, make a few deft gestures at the subprimal, and guide him through the process. But no. I just order, and wait, and hope for the best, and almost invariably end up disappointed. This last attempt was the very last straw. I am going to unleash the full power of the internet and Sketchbook to try to make sure that this never happens to me again. A three pound roast isn’t the same as just three pounds of meat. If that were the case, we would just let very primitive machines, built by a collaboration of General Motors and Microsoft, do all the work.

A dry-roasted round needs to be relatively free of major veins of connective tissue, needs to be tied well, and it needs to have the grain running the length. That last is the essential, elusive quality of any great roast because when the cook, the consumer, the customer upon which this entire retail paradigm depends, goes to slice the meat they need to have a fighting chance of getting it right.

Here’s how they’re not going to get it right:

Sorry Mel E. Mel, I jacked your photo. Send a takedown notice.

Sorry Mel E. Mel, I jacked your photo. Send a takedown notice.

That is a London Broil, possibly the worst cut of meat in the case. It’s actually a hate crime against cows. At least it will be when I’m called upon to fill the Attorney General position for the (Barney) Frank administration. It’s bad because it gives top round a bad name, while allowing supermarkets to move massive quantities of this unpopular cut. I imagine the reasoning is that the London Broil, being an enormous steak, appeals to the barbecue bro crowd. Roasts are stodgy.

This also isn’t going to cut it:


I can’t even play like that, mail-order meat purveyor.

Especially not with your boner, mail-order butcher! The face of that looks like a craggy geological feature.

Uneven face aside, the main problem here is that the cut is diagonal to the grain, rather than directly perpendicular. Here’s what I would show him if I came behind the counter at the massive warehouse where he works in an enormous refrigerated room in Pittsburg:


This is your first lesson.

The curved line pointing down runs the direction of the grain. That’s where, if you want to make a roast, you should bisect it. The straight line that cuts across the perpendicular is the direction to run the knife. Preferably a bigger knife than that one.

Now, let’s look at another hideous example of roast-hate:


Dont panic, its organic!

I’m not really sure why you would use this image to advertise your organic beef—it’s a terrifying frankenroast. First, it’s got two separate flaps of meat. With a roast, this isn’t what you want. So just leave that nasty old thing at the club. Not only is the grain running wrong, it’s running wrong on both pieces of meat, in two separate directions.


I gave it an evil hipster mustache.

See, to cut your cooked roast across the grain, you’ll need to start at an angle perpendicular to this line I’ve drawn. Does the average consumer know this? No, they do not. So it’s up to the meat purveyor to cut the roast so that it can be intuitively sliced against the grain. Most people look at a roast and they think, I should slice that across the short way. And they are absolutely right. It’s easier to slice it across the short width, and one isn’t left with a gigantic chunk that just flops over on the cutting board when you get halfway through it. Furthermore, as any roast beef aficionado can tell you, you need to slice it thinly, for maximum tenderness, and into reasonably-sized slices, to fit it onto the bread. Top round, as the bros-and-hoes-barbecue crowd can probably attest, ain’t the tenderest cut under less-than-perfect conditions. This is because there’s a lot of very thin connective tissue that… well let me show you:


I love learning with you guys! You’re the biology study buddies I never had!

See how the muscles’ connective tissues run the same direction as the fleshy muscle fibers? We want to cut those things with our tools, not wear out our teeth breaking them down into a digestible mass. When you slice the meat across the grain, you’re slicing the connective tissues as well. The thinner you slice, the smaller they get. This is how you can cook a top round of beef to an internal temperature of 130°,  perfect for rareish medium-rare roast beef, but far below the 160° threshold at which the connective tissues begin to melt, and still chew the damn thing. How will you slice your Flintstone steak across the grain? On a bias? Oh, good luck with that.

So when you head to the meat store, or to your job at the meat store, here’s what you need to know about cutting top round, and really all dry roasts:

  1. Get that thing down to one muscle mass. Management wants to save time and money by including that flap meat as part of the roast. Fuck that. Seam it out. Grind the rest or find some other use.
  2. Create a long piece of meat along which the grain runs. Sometimes this means bisecting it in the same direction as the grain.
  3. The first cut is often the best. The “front” of the top round, bottom round, and top sirloin are generally the densest in muscle fiber and sparest in connective tissues.

Here, I’ve used my newfound powers of graphic design to illustrate all of this in one handy image:


Print it out; take it to the store!

Wow! That is a beautiful image! The arrow shows the direction of the grain, and where the roast should be bisected. The lines crossing it show where most butchers like to cut, and where they actually should cut! Print it out, take it with you.

If all turns out well, and experience shows it rarely does, you’ll end up with something like this:Top-Round

Oh god, I’m sorry about that. I’m just really enthralled with this new drawing program. I’m also sorry to all the bloggers whose content I stole. But lets face it, you prolly stole it too.





Slumming Around the Carcass

As a meat-cutter trying to save money to travel, I took full advantage of my special position to make sure I could get my steak at least once a week. What kind of meat cutter doesn’t get his steak? For example, I could cut the flatirons out of the shoulder and wrap them up priced as ten percent grind, since that’s what the shop would do with them anyway. Eventually though, flatirons got popular, and management figured they were too valuable to grind, even though none of the other cutters could actually clean them up well enough to be worth grilling (except you, Kent). I don’t mean to be a braggart, that’s just a fact.

It was like having a decent little one-bedroom in the bad part of town, and they jack the rent. Now I’m eating pot roast and potatoes instead of rare beef and tomatoes. The price of off-cuts and what they used to call butcher’s cuts soared compared to the rest of the cow. Meanwhile, over in the poultry section, wings climbed to over three a pound, while management was falling all over itself to keep the price of boneless, skinless breast down. It’s the definition of gentrification, which is really just a dysphemism for trendy.

This “food gentrification” briefly became a hash tag a year ago after Whole Foods—in their stilted, white-people’s-overbite style of awe-shucks marketing—starting saying “Collards are the New Kale.” The mille feuille of absurdity inherent in this claim went largely unremarked upon, but collards seemed to strike a nerve with social media activists, probably due to their their race class connotations. Now, I know it sucks to see your old neighborhood—the place where you got your ass kicked on a regular basis growing up, where you learned to watch your back out of the corners of your eyes in the shop windows—being overrun first by a bunch of earnest and unafraid hipsters, and eventually by a bunch of Toyota yuppies, but you can’t gentrify a hardy, weedy, widely distributed green leaf. You can’t even gentrify pot (well, I suppose we’ll put that to the test here soon). But you can gentrify meat.

A cow only has two hanger steaks, two flanks, two outside skirts, two tri-tips, and four flatirons—and let’s be generous and say all that weighs twenty pounds trimmed—and you can’t just harvest cows like lettuce, on a cut-and-come-again basis, to get more trendy butcher’s cuts. The real tragedy though, has been for people who used to eat near the bottom of the price floor. Oxtails are like eight dollars a pound at the natural foods store now. Short ribs, six-fifty. Even beef bones, which I used to buy on the regular to fill up the freezer with stock, have been sucked up into the maws of pampered yuppy dogs and paleo dieters, to over three a pound. Never mind, I just use shank nowadays (three-fifty or so), while I still can. The boneless and trimmed rounds meanwhile, languishing from unpopularity, weigh about eighty pounds total. They don’t even stock half the cuts anymore.

I watched an old woman come into the store every other week or so for a couple of years, who always bought nearly all the wings we had for a buck-sixty-nine a pound. Expensive to her already, but she really liked our chicken—Petaluma Poultry free range at the time. She came in once after the price broke two a pound, got mad then laughed it off, bought some drumsticks for one-fifty-something I believe, and never came back. What I don’t think she noticed was that the boneless skinless breasts had stayed the same price: $5.99/pound.

Class Conscious

Back in November, the New Yorker reviewed a newish pizza place called Emmett’s, which has the audacity to serve Chicago deep dish in The City. Without apparent condescension, incredulity, or scorn, they offer this detail about the life of the charming, Midwestern rogue, Emmet Burke: “Taking a few years off from Wall Street to tinker with a recipe he came up with himself, Burke has devised a very savvy replica of the real thing.” We’re used to hearing this sort of thing all the time anymore—restaurateuring being the new yachting— but this sentence catches my eye every time I pick this rag up.

A few years off—from Wall Street—to “tinker with” his pizza recipe? Sounds cute but, what the fuck was he doing? Trying to hit on just the right grind of his proprietary artisan salt blend? Distilling the New York tap water in order to chemically recreate Lake Michigan’s distinctive blend of pharmaceuticals, herbicides, hexavalent chromium and lead? The proletarian mind boggles. I want to hate it. I need to hate it.

Where’s the impetus to work one’s way up from the line to restaurant ownership when every other new restaurateur is a guy who’s taken a step down from his career litigating corporate buyouts, or negotiating derivative sales? Career management cannot be beat, and this Emmet Burke is a real marketing genius besides.

I don’t mean to impugn the guy’s Midwestern “aw shucks” credentials, but this website is just too self-ignorant to be believed. That hokey font, the info box, the customer reviews proudly displayed right on the front page! This guy worked on Wall Street, and his website looks like a couple of not-too-bright bro dropouts from Peoria decided to open a sandwich shop: “I ain’t too savvy but….” No, I do not buy it sir.

Stop cooking guys. Go to college and study finance or economics. There’s nothing for you in this world anymore. If a Wall Street guy is taking years off of work to “tinker with” his pizza recipe, how will you ever get ahead? I call on the cooks at Emmett’s and every other management-professional/white-collar-dropout-owned restaurant to call in drunk. Shit, call in hungover.

Say it’s the wealth inequality that’s got you down. Say: “Hey, check that RGM watch of yours. I think you got just enough time to maybe hop into the LS, race down to the old offices, and round up a few interns to come in and cook those pizzas today. No problem bro, dial up some Dave Matthews on the in-dash mp3, and you got this.”

Then, go enroll in college. Take on a fuckload of loan debt and live on campus. If you can skate through economics with a c+, you’ll have a place in 10 years or less. That is, if the thought of a 5% profit margin in a good year doesn’t make you sweat too heavy in your new suit. This is called bootstrapping, and America will make sure that there are enough finance and management positions for everyone who is willing to stay the laborious path of cram sessions and cheap pizza. Also, there is no shame in being “college poor,” unlike the workaday version of poverty under which you currently suffer.


Fermenting Resolution

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? Drink more? Philander? Eat shittier food? Good ideas all!

Especially this “eat shittier food,” because you know what I love? What I have always loved? I love those cheap hamburger dill slices they put on top of hamburgers at virtually every fast food joint in the country. I’ve worked at a couple of those awful “bistros” (the early 90’s midwestern equivalent of upscale casual) where they serve the typical American city menu of burgers, grilled chicken, fajitas, caesars, a handful of pastas, and maybe a few atrocities that the “chef” (glorified kitchen manager) thought up on his own. Those kind of pickles usually make their appearance in places like these as a garnish atop the hideously wilted shred of green leaf, right alongside the crunchy pink tomato slice. I’d say they’re generally the most edible things on the premises. The diners may love it when their chicken fettucine alfredo is delivered with a flourish by a dude with a secret barbiturate habit and at least one venereal disease, but it don’t look so appetizing when you pull the pre-grilled chicken strips out of a little plastic baggie, where they were placed three days ago, and toss them with the equally old pre-boiled pasta, canned chopped garlic, and pre-shredded parmesan. The pickles are clean and pristine.

I’d always assumed these pickles were just quick pickled: tossed in a vinegar bath with some kind of calcium-based crisping agent and canned. Au contrair! They are in fact industrially produced in the hippest, most self-consciously artisanal method of 21st century food faddism: fermentation. The USDA does a ton of research on vegetable fermentation in order to devise and modify regulations for the fermented pickle industry. Artisan pickle producers: you have been found out! Your $10 pickle quarts will be a thing of the past when trendy foodies everywhere wake up and smell the lactic fermentation on their Wendy’s hamburgers. Although, it should be obvious to everyone by now that there is no earthly reason why a quart of pickles should cost $10.

Of course, Food Services of America will never be able to slap the label “small batch” on the sides of their white, five-gallon pickle buckets since they typically ferment in 30,000 to 40,000 liter tanks. But what disqualifies them from the label “artisanal”?

Pickle vats at the Mt Olive Pickle Company; scientists in funny pants. Photo by Robert Flynn for the USDA.

Pickle vats at the Mt Olive Pickle Company; scientists in funny pants. Photo by Robert Flynn for the USDA.


See those? Those are are the open-air, wood fermentation vats at Mt Olive Pickle Company, the largest independent pickle producer on the United States. Looks old world—artisan even. Of course they go and junk up the final product with corn syrup and yellow dye and Splenda. In fact, they proudly let you know on the website that they were the first food processor in the US to use high fructose corn syrup way back in 1969. In any case, shouldn’t the small-batch, artisan pickle cost less than the Mount Olive pickle since it doesn’t have polysorbate 80 or yellow #5? That stuff doesn’t grow on trees you know.

What’s nuts is that the research done by the USDA at their Agricultural Research Station in North Carolina, a lot of it in conjunction with the Mount Olive Pickle Company, has led them to the conclusion that vegetable fermentation is really, exceptionally safe. So safe that those five gallon pickle buckets aren’t even pasteurized. Sandor Katz likes to quote a USDA microbiologist named Fred Breidt as saying that: “There has never been a documented case of foodborne illness from fermented vegetables. Risky is not a word I would use to describe vegetable fermentation.” Whoa!

Actually though, there was the older California woman, first generation immigrant of Southeast Asian descent, who nearly killed both herself and her husband by leaving a bowl of tofu sitting on the counter in some chicken stock for a week, then eating it. Apparently, she had been preparing that recipe her whole life and this was the first time she had any problem. So even that risky-sounding procedure is usually just fine.

Leaving a fermented pickle fanatic to wonder: if fermentation is so safe and easy, why don’t more restaurants around here serve house-made sour pickles, rather than the usually painfully acetic and otherwise unexceptional little quick pickles that they so often do? I honestly don’t know. After reading this article in the Oregonian where Jason French and Ben Meyer claim that the state essentially forbids restaurants from fermenting their own vegetables, I got curious and did a little research.

I called the Oregon Department of Agriculture and asked them and they said nay: if they did regulate restaurants, which they largely do not, acidified foods are lightly regulated. So I called the county health department. Indeed, the old grouch on the line informed me, you can pour cold brine on vegetables and put it in the walk-in, and keep it there indefinitely.

I said that I didn’t think vegetables would ferment at walk-in temperatures. She insisted they would. I said that, maybe they would, but it would take a long time. She said that to do it otherwise would require a variance, and she made it clear that I didn’t want to try to get a variance. I asked how I could get a variance, and she gave me the number for a woman at the State Food Program. Aha! The state!

So I called Erica at the state. She said that yes, you can ferment vegetables in a restaurant, in the normal way, at room temperature, and then store them indefinitely. The people at the county are confused. She said that she would get on the line with them and set them straight.

So diners, chefs, restaurateurs, I removed the obstruction to the floodgates; you may now proceed with the tsunami of proper pickling. You’re welcome.



Yelp and the Art of Marketing

Poor Saint John’s still doesn’t have any businesses worth going to, except bars. This is hardly an exaggeration. They’ve got weird old Patty’s Home Plate—one-half retro lunch counter, one-half flea market—a Mcmenamins, a vegan market/lunch spot, a couple of brewpubs that serve little food, and a hippie, crunchy, punky restaurant. The only place I can ever think of to go is The Fishwife, which always seems to be closed, but which is the best seafood restaurant in town.

One amongst their number, a woman of apparently heroic ambition, would like to rebuild a historic hotel called Central Hotel, and she’s bought the building and put a sign outside that says Central Hotel, but it’s pretty confusing since it still just looks like the old Dad’s Lounge, a dive. They allow kids now, and they’ve put together a menu that includes latkes with lox, and a lamb burger, and a cocktail list with Punt y Mes, Weller bourbon, and nocello, which are some of the preordained ingredients for restaurant success. But man, that interior, and exterior, and the doorway with the cracked glass, and the video crack with the neck tattoo dude who needs a spit cup for his chaw—these are liabilities. Have these people heard of brand damage? I’m a hillbilly with a nine-year-old laptop and a website called Gangster Of Food, and I’ve heard of brand damage.

The idiots over on Yelp (not the ones who’ve kindly granted me permission to use their photos, the other ones) they’ve probably heard of brand damage, and they are doing their very mightiest to inflict it upon this hapless real estate agent who dreams of turning her property into a bona fide hotel and family-friendly restaurant. Yelpers have given the Central Hotel an average of 3.5 stars, and have made some very critical remarks besides. Oh my god! The fries are from a bag! Get over it Yelpers; you’ve sung praise to greater indignities.

I don’t know if you know this, but 3.5 starts on Yelp is pretty bad, except in the cases where it’s great, and it’s only great when it’s obvious that the entitled little honkies just don’t get it, which is fairly common. This time I’d say that the Yelp system worked out perfectly despite itself. The place deserves an honest 3.5 (okay maybe three) stars considering what a disjointed fucking mess it is. I like the neck tattoo dude. I like the carpet, and the paneling and the stained drop ceiling. I love the cut out piece of cardboard on the soffit over the bar listing the draft selection. These are check-check-check in my little book. The drinks are good! Weller with nocello—I’m into it. The food is…problematic, but fine. I don’t expect people with a background in property sales to understand food like I or my readers do. They’re like: “Hummus…check. Burger…check. Sausage…check. Chicken sandwich…check. Alright, the menu looks great; I think you guys are ready to move into the kitchen. Congratulations!”

But the food—despite some obvious flaws like the chicken sandwich whose actual chicken component is suffocated by the ciabatta sandwich component, and the pigs in a blanket, whose pigs have the savor of Hebrew National, while the blanket is little more than than a sage-laden cracker—isn’t really too bad. It’s at least as good as the overhyped, marketing-driven slop that Yelpers have driven me to before. What’s a really overhyped restaurant in the Rose City? Too numerous to count, but let’s take Kenny and Zuke’s for example:

The pastrami, to be fair, sucks. People go nuts for this shit, but I’m telling you now that any single one of you could prepare a beef brisket pot roast with sodium nitrite, put it on bread, and you would have approximately the same thing. This isn’t just an aesthetic consideration. This isn’t just, as the pastrami pariah Nick Zukin would have me believe, my modern, industrial sensibilities talking. Yelpers love(d) this place, although they have gotten considerably more critical of late.

The whole media establishment love(d) this place: The Oregonian, Willamette Week, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, the list goes on…, and I say that there is only one factor that accounts for its rabid popularity: Brand Strength. It’s at the bottom of the Ace Hotel (where I once stayed as a destitute transient, only it was called the Ben Stark back then), and it’s done up like a jewish deli, but sleeker. It’s Katz’s without the rough edges and somewhat worse pastrami! What more could the hipster republic ask for?

Take heed, restaurateurs. Take notice. How about Bunk? East Coast sandwiches with chef pedigree. The phenomenal popularity of this place had escaped my understanding until recently. Actually, it’s improved significantly since the early days, but if it hadn’t been for those line-out-the-door early days, they wouldn’t have five or six locations today. Marketing. A sort of underground, “oh here’s the dude from Ripe, worked for Mario Batali way back in the day. My friend says he’s really cool,” marketing, but that’s the best marketing of all! Marketing that don’t look like marketing.

Speaking of insider marketing, let’s look at some projects by Chefstable (where does the chef end, and the stable begin?): Lardo, Block and Tackle, Roe, Pok Pok! Phenomenal! How do they create so many hits?! Are they the Phil Specter of restaurants? Marketing. These are some very good restaurants, don’t get me wrong (oh please restaurant bosses—don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I’ll be back begging for alms again someday), but are they the very best restaurants that have opened in their respective fields? Maybe, sometimes. Mainly though, if you open a restaurant in The Stable, you get the very best hay that money can buy, and by hay I mean marketing. Eater and Portland Magazine will say nice things about you in advance of your opening. The guy at the Oregonian will be notified to put on his prescription secret agent glasses and and come on down to darken your doorway. You get the very best shot at it that money connections can buy.

So, do I do anything besides gripe about the success of others? Some restaurants are wildly successful; what’s the problem? The problem is that marketing is the monkey wrench in the meritocracy. For every new Bunk Sandwiches/Lardo/Pok Pok that opens, we lose another business that might be as good or even better, and give us a greater range of options for dining. Because the foodie masses will gladly queue around the block for an average meatball hoagie with rocker chef pedigree, we lose all sorts of other places —RIP Döner Kebab, Flogenes, Hillbilly Bento, Sauvage…—that broaden the palate. The gastronomic terrain becomes more predictable—”oh is that another Pok Pok opening up? Thank god, I won’t have to travel two and a half miles to for my Ricker fix anymore”—and less exciting. In my estimation, more diversity is nearly always a positive thing, and homogeneity is unequivocally evil.

So, to put this back on track: Would-be hoteliers of Saint John’s, I admire your ambition in restoring this eyesore of a dive (although I actually think the current facade is kind of cute) to it’s Gilded Age glory. And I really want you to succeed, if only so that I can take my daughter someplace nice after a day’s hiking in Forest Park or Sauvie Island. But I think there may be something you’re overlooking about this town: marketing rules everything. If the construction were done, and included lots of reclaimed wood, exposed rafters, and vintage chandeliers, and you had contracted a chef from say New York or San Francisco, it wouldn’t matter if you served fried horse poo sandwiches, people Yelpers would line up and praise your authenticity. You could be on the way to a hotel empire in no time at all. Imagine: the New Seasons Market of hotels. It could be such that the sustainability-minded traveler hadn’t even a choice in Portland anymore.

I’m telling you right now that this thing will follow you through construction, until the opening of your big, beautiful hotel. I really hope you succeed, but right now you gotta think about your brand. And fix that food, even Yelpers can tell it’s off.


P.S. to pastrami charlatans, hand sliced don’t mean thick as a textbook. I slice meat so thin by hand, I wrote this blog post with piece of lox on my glasses.