January 23, 2013
Wandering Buddha Restaurant, New Orleans
I dread going to New Orleans because it's not a city for vegetarians. But, on my most recent trip there earlier this month, I was shocked to discover that The Wandering Buddha, an all-vegan restaurant, had opened up...serving Korean food in a place not known for having a thriving Korean community. In fact, the Wandering Buddha may be one of only 3 Korean vegan restaurants in the United States--the others being HanGawi and Franchia in NYC. Pluses and minuses of my visit:
* It's a Korean vegan restaurant in a very meaty town. If you're a vegetarian or vegan visiting New Orleans, you MUST make the trek and support this bold initiative.
* The food tasted authentic. The cuisine wasn't clearly watered down for American or local tastes. Everything was fresh and good (not great, but good). We tried almost every dish on the menu and there were no standouts, but no clunkers either. On the plus side, perhaps I liked the side dishes to the braised tofu the best, and on the minus side, the lettuce wraps were so leafy that they were more lettucy than wrappy. The owner sold the scallion pancakes highly and my dining companions loved them. I thought they were fine but not hype-worthy.
* The bar was surprisingly clean and not too scary.
* We went on a Sunday evening and were entertained by two surprisingly excellent bands. No cover charge or drink minimum! It wasn't my kind of music (the first was zydeco and I'm not sure how to describe the second), but the performers were quite talented and overall I enjoyed the music a lot. With a full belly and good tunes in a completely unexpected location, for the first time I could almost understand why people liked vacationing in New Orleans.
* Prices were fair and I'm pretty sure we were undercharged.
* The neighborhood is sketchy.
* The restaurant faces out of the back of a dive bar, the Hi-Ho Lounge. There are a few tables outdoors. Alternatively, there are a few tables in the bar itself where the restaurant will serve food, but most drinks are ordered from the bar and are on a separate check. The arrangements were a little confusing.
* Though the bar was clean, like most New Orleans restaurants, it was smoky. The bar had high ceilings that prevented the smoke from being too oppressive.
* While the bands were great, there were some dramatic performers that acted out bizarre scenes in between the music. I had absolutely no idea what was going on or why they were there. And there was really no audience (the place probably had about 30 people in the joint, over half of whom were the band, the dramatic performers or the waitstaff) so I really didn't understand who they were performing for. Themselves, I guess. It was all too high-concept for me.
If you can handle the cigarette smoke and the sketchiness, go ahead and order in and enjoy the music. If not, order to-go and take it back to your hotel room if the weather doesn't permit outdoor eating. Either way, recommended.
January 22, 2013
Plant-Based Pizza, Willow Glen (San Jose)
Before Plant-Based Pizza opened in the Willow Glen district of San Jose in November, the Bay Area's leading vegan pizza spot was Pizza Plaza, inconveniently located in Oakland. Now, we have a hometown option! In fact, with the November openings of Plant-Based Pizza and Veggie Grill (just a few days apart), the South Bay vegan scene has gotten a lot more interesting.
Plant-Based Pizza has a small but clean facility with 5 eat-in tables, meaning they don't really expect most customers to eat on-site. On our visit, we got a peppers and shroom pizza slice and a 12" vegan BBQ pizza. The BBQ pizza had a thin crust, daiya cheese, an unobtrusively mild BBQ flavor, non-housemade fake chicken, and a few onion and cilantro here and there. Yet, the flavors worked surprisingly well together, creating an irresistible combination that meant we enjoyed every bite and had no leftovers.
Prices were on the high side but fair. The menu has many more intriguing options to explore. The world needs more vegan pizzerias! Please, let's support this place so it will remain a viable business.
Our photo gallery.
January 10, 2013
Recommended Vegetarian Cookbooks for New Vegetarians
by Guest Blogger Lisa Goldman
[Eric's note: I am occasionally asked for vegetarian cookbook recommendations by people who are becoming vegetarian or looking to eat less meat. Given that my cooking repertoire is quite limited and usually involves the microwave as a key resource, I asked my wife Lisa--who actually does cook using cookbooks--for her expert opinion. Note: the links are Amazon affiliate links, but I recommend you try out any cookbooks from the public library before buying.]
Eric has requested many times that I write a guest blog post on Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbooks. I promised to deliver and then, much to his dismay & frustration, delayed many months because I wasn’t sure where to start.
The Vegetarian & Vegan Cookbook category has exploded in the last decade. Back when I started to cook (around 1993 when I moved into my first college housing with a kitchen), library & bookstore shelves had such a limited selection, it was easy to navigate and narrow down which books to select or recommend. But now, their shelves practically groan from the load. This is a good thing! However, it has become impossible to put together a well-researched list that’s truly exhaustive of all the choices available.
My thoughts and recommendations below reflect only my narrow and somewhat dated sampling (I haven’t purchased nearly as many cookbooks in the past ~3 years as I did the previous 5+ years before that). Still, I hope it’s helpful, and I welcome your feedback.
CATEGORY 1 – MY FAVORITES
(1) Moosewood Cookbook – I’m talking about the original from Mollie Katzen. I think this was my first cookbook and it’s one of the top 10 best selling cookbooks of all time *in any category.* Originally published in 1977 (updated in the 1990s), some of the recipes are a little dated. But, many are still great. Three of my favorites: Brazilian Black Bean Soup, Lentil Bulgar Salad and Gypsy Soup. This one will never lose its spot on my shelf.
(2) Veganomicon – Isa Chandra Moskowitz has published many cookbooks. If I could only pick one, it would be this one, although it would be tough to part with her original book Vegan with a Vengeance. There are a lot of great recipes here. If you want to “try before you buy,” check out the dozens of recipes she’s posted at her website. Favorites include: Snobby Joes, Pineapple Cashew Quinoa Stir-fry, Lentils & Caramelized Onions, Pasta Della California, Tamarind Lentils, Potato & Kale Enchiladas, Jambalaya & Manzana Chili Verde.
(3) Peas & Thank You – I picked this one up on a whim at Costco a couple years ago. Author Sarah Matheny has a very popular blog. Her recipes are simple and very kid/family friendly. This isn’t the book I’d necessarily use to impress guests, as some of her shortcuts result in less exciting flavors than in Veganomicon (for example), but it still very good and certainly beats microwaved frozen food.
MY “PRETTY GOOD, IT HAS AT LEAST 3 RECIPES I REALLY LIKE AND HAVE MADE MORE THAN 3x SO I’M KEEPING IT” CATEGORY
I don’t have a lot of bookshelf space, and as Eric will tell you, I can be pretty unsentimental and ruthless in sorting and giving away lesser-used items in my house. So, the cookbooks that have made this category, while not my favorites, still deserve consideration.
(1) Books by Dreena Burton. I own Vive le Vegan and Eat Drink & Be Vegan. I’ve found many of her savory recipes to be serviceable but not “wow this is amazing.” In my opinion, she really excels in the sweets category. If you are interested in baking vegan, look here first. I prefer her chocolate chip cookie recipe to anyone else’s (including Isa’s), but all of her cookie recipes are excellent. If I were buying today, I’d probably go with her most recent and well-reviewed Let Them Eat Vegan (but I haven’t tried that book myself yet).
(2) Books by Nava Atlas. I own Vegetarian Express (now updated/revised and called Vegan Express), Vegan Soups & Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and Vegetarian 5 Ingredient Gourmet. I think Vegetarian Express might have been my second cookbook after Moosewood. It’s sort of the predecessor to Peas & Thank You: a simple cookbook for getting healthy meals on the table for the family quickly. No “wow” recipes, but lots of reliable and easy stand-bys (Mexican Casserole is my favorite). Nava also has a website if you’d like to try out some of her recipes to see if her tastes suit yours. I confess that, in the past few years, her books have collected dust on my shelf. I cannot recall the last time I cracked one. It might be time to pass them along. If I had to keep only one, it would be her Soups and Stews book because I’m a real soup & stew lover.
(3) Moosewood Restaurant Books. These cookbooks are often confused with Mollie Katzen’s original Moosewood Book. In fact, Mollie has nothing to do with these, and they are written by a variety of chefs from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca. Still, these books are generally very good. I own Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites and Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. I flip through these on a regular basis. I particularly like the Lentil Sambar recipe in Low Fat Favorites. I’ve also heard good things about the Moosewood Daily Specials cookbook. I’m not sure I’d buy these retail, but if you see a deal on them somewhere, they’re worth picking up. (Note, most of the Moosewood Restaurant books have a “fish” chapter, but they are otherwise entirely vegetarian.)
(4) Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World – If you’re really interested in vegan baking and cupcakes in particular, this cult favorite by Isa & her friend Terry Hope Romano is definitely fun. If I ever want curry favor with Eric, I know that the Banana Split Sundae cupcake recipe here will do the trick.
COOKBOOKS ON MY SHELF THAT I WISH I COULD SPEAK HIGHER OF, BUT RARELY USE
(1) Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone – Deborah Madison is a highly regarded cookbook author, and this book makes lots of other people’s “must have” lists. However, I have been disappointed with it. The recipes taste good; she does know how to cook! But they tend to be on the rich side, and she regularly does the “recipe within a recipe” stunt, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. I detest getting knee deep into a recipe only to realize that ingredient #7 is actually an entirely separate recipe (e.g. “add 1T of Romanesco sauce, found on page xx” which of course is complicated and makes a 2C batch, so now you don’t know what the heck to do with your 2C-1T of sauce). I rarely cook from this book.
(2) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian – This one was released more recently and is authored by Mark Bittman, whom everyone seems to love. And, while I have been impressed with several of his articles, I’ve been underwhelmed by the handful of recipes I’ve tried from this book. Nothing awful, but no obvious “must repeat” recipes either. Maybe I’ve just selected the wrong things. I’m not ready to toss this into the give-away stack quite yet, but it’s hardly at the top of my recommendation list.
(3) How it All Vegan – The was one of the first popular vegan cookbooks, and used to be talked about regularly, but it’s completely dropped off my radar in favor of more current vegan books like Veganomicon. I love the spirit of it, but I think Veganomicon supersedes it; no need for both.
(4) Vegan Brunch – I bought this because I thought Isa could do no wrong. And while I wouldn’t call this book “wrong,” I haven’t found a lot right with it. I like her coffee chocolate chip muffin recipe in here. Otherwise, nada.
(5) Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker – I LOVE the concept of the slow cooker. When I come home at the end of the day, I’m already too hungry to start cooking. It’s not uncommon for me to eat some crappy microwave dinner just to sate myself, and then start cooking a decent meal which I’ll have the next day (which rarely tastes as good as eating something freshly made). But with a slow cooker, I can prep in the morning, and then it’s ready for me when I come home later. But, there’s a price to pay for that convenience. Most veggie meals I’ve attempted in the crockpot come out mediocre. I bought this cookbook to help with that, but haven’t found anything amazing. Still, I’m holding on to it, because hope springs eternal. I’ll keep trying. The No Hurry Curry recipe isn’t bad.
(6) World Vegetarian – I like Madhur Jaffrey for some reason I can’t even recall. Maybe I saw her on a cooking show? Who knows. I also like the idea of this book. In general, I favor ethnic foods with interesting spices and flavors. So, I thought it’d be awesome to sample all sorts of exotic recipes from this book. Somehow, I haven’t ever found my favorites in this book though. Check it out from the library and see what you think. Let me know if you find some winners.
MY COOKBOOK WISHLIST
(1) Plenty or Jerusalem – Both of these cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi are bestsellers. With beautiful pictures and purported great recipes, there’s a lot of inspiration here. Yotam is a professional chef. I checked out Plenty from the library once and tried a couple recipes. They were very good, but pretty heavy (lots of oil) and somewhat complicated. I’d still love to have one on my shelf so I could have more time to peruse and try my hand at lightening some of them up a little for my tastes.
(2) The I [Heart] Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook – I am a loyal TJs shopper. I have previously purchased a cookbook devoted to TJs products before, but it wasn’t vegetarian and there weren’t many recipes that appealed to me. But, I’d love to give it another shot with this edition.
(3) The Indian Slow Cooker – I mentioned my unrequited love for the slow cooker. This book has good reviews, and I think many vegetarian Indian dishes may actually lend themselves to the slow-cooking methods. I wish my library had this book so I could try it out. Until then, it’s on my wishlist to purchase. (Not entirely vegetarian.)
(4) Super Natural Every Day – Heidi Swanson authors the very popular 101 Cookbooks blog. She’s based out of SF and I like her focus on health rather than diet. Her photography is beautiful too. Another highly reviewed cookbook that I’ve sampled from the library and enjoyed.
(5) Appetite for Reduction –Isa published this one a year or two ago. I’ve checked it out from the library a few times. The recipes are good. Not as amazing as some of the Veganomicon ones. There is a price to pay for cutting out so much of the fat and calories after all. But, if you’re interested in some lighter vegan recipes this is a good book to have around. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t put this on my shelf yet. (Hey Eric – do you SEE my spending restraint?!)
(6) The Sprouted Kitchen – I keep hearing great things about this one from people I trust. I’ll be looking to check this one out at the library soon. (Not completely vegetarian, but almost.)
November 06, 2012
Veggie Grill Santana Row (San Jose): Opened November 8, 2012!
The Veggie Grill is an all-vegan restaurant chain that specializes in vegan "comfort food." It's got the kind of dishes you'd expect at an "American" restaurant--burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, mashed potatoes, chili, etc.--but all veganized. The master chef behind the menu is Ray White, who was part of the brains behind Native Foods--another favorite restaurant of ours--along with Tanya Petrovna. Because of Ray's background, the Veggie Grill menu shares some similarities with Native Foods' menu, but we now prefer Veggie Grill over Native Foods. Customers place orders at the register and then have the food served to their tables. Prices are fair; entrees are in the $8-$10 range.
We first discovered Veggie Grill in El Segundo several years ago. See my prior review of that place. We fell in love with the restaurant instantly, and now we usually make a point of swinging by a Veggie Grill during our Southern California visits. Every time we go, we submit a suggestion card that they should come to the South Bay.
Our requests finally have been answered! This week, they are opening in Santana Row, less than 4 miles/15 minutes from my office. From the perspective of visibility and foot traffic, Santana Row is a great location for them; but it's a mild pain to get to/from--traffic is rotten and parking can be a challenge. The store is bright and colorful, although I could see them running out of seats during peak periods. It was hard not to notice the generational split in the crowd; I was about 20 years older than the average customer.
I like almost everything I've tried at the Veggie Grill (the biggest miss is the mac 'n' cheese--quinoa pasta is hard to do well). My favorite entrees are the V-burger and the Carne Asada, both excellent. I also especially like the chili and the sweetheart fries. I generally don't like kale very much, but their steamed kale is among the best I've ever tried, and I've chosen it as a side dish before.
Today, Lisa and I attended a soft launch lunch at Santana Row (our meals were complimentary). A report on the dishes we tried:
[see my photo gallery]
* V-burger with avocado. I rank the V-burger incredibly highly. I think it's one of the first-rate veggie burgers served anywhere, although the veggie burger at Source in San Francisco--a much different composition--may be my favorite anywhere. I don't think the avocado added much to the flavor, but I'm not an avocado fan.
* Sweetheart fries. These are outstanding sweet potato fries. I normally like potato fries more than sweet potato fries, but these are among the best sweet potato fries I've had. They are served with a ranch dressing for dipping (you can also get ketchup if you prefer) that complements the flavor nicely.
* Buffalo Bomber. This is a successful dish, but I liked it a little less than the V-burger. It's a big chicken patty with lettuce/tomato/onion on a wheat bun, with both buffalo sauce and ranch dressing. The servers warned that the buffalo sauce was spicy, but it was mild by my standards. I expected the sandwich to have a stronger "buffalo sauce" taste and more kick than it did. Still, a good sandwich.
* "Bean Me Up" Chili. The chili is hearty and flavorful. Personally, I think a cup is better than a bowl; the flavor can get a little tiresome after a while.
* Chill Out Wings. Their fried chicken strips with BBQ and ranch sauces for dipping. This was a satisfying appetizer.
* Carrot Cake. I'm not a big carrot cake fan, but this was an excellent carrot cake, especially for being vegan. Both the cake and frosting were moist and flavorful.
* Chocolate Chip Cookie. I thought this was average.
* Chocolate Pudding. Lisa was lukewarm about the pudding, but I thought it was tasty. However, like the chili, a little may go a long way. A small cup was perfect, but a larger serving could get tiring.
* Drinks. I tried the strawberry lemonade, peach black tea and pomegranate green tea. I thought they were all OK, but none of them did much for me.
I'm so thrilled to have the Veggie Grill in our neighborhood! I hope you'll check it out. I'd be happy to meet you there for a meal any time!
UPDATE: A group of 4 of us went back Wednesday night for another complimentary beta-test meal. This time, the place was so packed that all of the seats were taken, and a line formed outside the restaurant waiting until seats opened. I hope they are a success, but I hope they aren't so successful that lines out the door are common. Comments on our second round of menu sampling:
* Uptown Nachos. I loved the taste of these nachos, more so than most other restaurants' nachos. Recommended.
* Buffalo Wings. I would get either these or the Chill Out Wings; I wouldn't get both. These had a nice flavor, but once again I thought the buffalo taste was milder and less pronounced than I would like. What stands out about these wings is their texture, which is quite meaty. Our meat-eater companion raved about the texture.
* Blackened Chickin Plate. This was a big disappointment. Basically, it's a pile of the steamed kale, a pile of the quinoa pilaf--which is plain and thus indistinguishable from unadorned quinoa--and a cutlet of fake chicken, blackened, with a small dollop of papaya salsa. The steamed kale was fine, the quinoa was boring, and the chicken cutlet was surprisingly mildly flavored (tasted a little like a Gardein chicken cutlet), and the salsa didn't enhance the flavor much. If you like bland basic food, this could be a nice dish; but compared to the better options on the menu, I don't see any reason to pick it.
* Thai Chickin Salad. This had a great taste, and I recommend this dish as well. However, I could imagine eating the whole salad might get a little tiring. It might be better to split this dish with a friend; a half-salad might be the perfect amount before the flavor gets tiring.
* All Hail Kale Salad with blackened tempeh. My wife LOVES this salad! If you're a kale fan, this is a must-have; but even if you aren't (like me), this salad is very well-constructed. I didn't think the blackened tempeh added much to the flavor.
* Carne Asada. I still love this dish, but sometimes I love it more than others. I'm not sure why that is. The V-burger is a more consistent success with me, so I will probably pick the V-burger more frequently and save the Carne Asada for special occasions. Our meat-eater companion complained (quite fairly IMO) about the bun-to-meat ratio in this sandwich.
We also got samplers of the carrot cake again, and all of us loved it. The carrot cake is a crowd-pleaser! But then again, so is the entire menu, so if you haven't gone yet, definitely check it out.
UPDATE 2: We went back for Jacob's 10th birthday:
* I had the VG-Cheeseburger, El Dorado style. I enjoyed the burger, although I'm not sure if I liked it a lot more than just the baseline VG Burger. It was very, very messy!
* the red cabbage slaw. This is bland. Between the chili and slaw, pick the chili or pay to upgrade.
* Lisa tried the All-American Stack. We were both surprised that the stack isn't a single "patty' but instead loose strips. That made the stack messy. Personally, I didn't like it much better than the regular burger, but it's a fun and exotic option nonetheless.
August 29, 2011
Northern California Staycation Notes
After my big trip to Russia earlier this summer, it made sense to keep our family vacation local. We spent 3 days in the Sierra Foothills, then I took a father-son overnight camping trip with Jacob to Angel Island, then I took a father-daughter day trip with Dina to kayak in the Elkhorn Slough. Comments on our activities:
Mercer Caverns, Murphys.
I've been to Mercer Caverns a few times over the past 2 decades. I like the caverns for their convenient location and visual interest compared to the other local cave options. Moaning Cavern in Vallecito is also convenient, but the main tour just visits one big chamber. California Caverns in Mountain Ranch is interesting inside, but it requires a long twisty ride on backroads from Highway 4. Mercer Caverns, just a mile outside of downtown Murphys, is easy to get to; and the tour goes through multiple chambers with diverse and interesting formations. The cave is a cool respite to a hot summer day. We were comfortable wearing our sweatshirts despite the 90+ degree day outside.
Overall, I was disappointed with the tour. First, it's pretty expensive. It cost our family of 4 about $45 for the 45 minute tour. Second, our tour guide was uninspired. The tour guides work off a script that's fine (it has some stock jokes and anecdotes that I remembered from many years ago), but our guide showed her youth. Third, although the kids seemed to enjoy themselves at the time, I don't know that the cave visit made much of an impression. The cave was soon forgotten and didn't make any highlights lists.
Yosemite. See the photos.
Yosemite is filled with icons revered around the world: Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and so much more. Yet, I haven't gone in decades because I've been deterred by the seemingly omnipresent and crushing crowds. This year, we decided to go despite the crowds because the huge runoff meant the waterfalls were running especially high.
We parked at Curry Village, took the shuttle to the Mist Trail trailhead, and hiked up the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls. The Mist Trail is noteworthy on three fronts. First, the trail is beautiful, especially as it goes into the splash zone and then to the fall's top with its emerald pools. Second, the trail was PACKED with people. At some narrow junctures, we had to wait for traffic going in the opposite direction. Third, it is dangerous! We went right after 3 people went over Vernal Falls to their death, and more people have died since. Some of those folks made riskier choices than we did, but the trail is very steep and very slippery.
Remarkably, both kids handled the trail fine. Jacob is a bit of a mountain goat, so I wasn't worried about him, but Dina likes the concept of hiking more than she likes the reality. My wife found a way to motivate Dina, however, by promising an ice cream cone back at Curry Village if she got to the top without complaining much. Dina got to the top, didn't complain much, and got her earned treat. Everyone won!
We went on a Monday, and Yosemite was still quite crowded. It was unquestionably better than going on a weekend or holiday, but the off-season is a better time to visit.
Angel Island is a fantastic camping destination. It easily ranks in the top 10 most scenic campgrounds I've ever camped at. If it weren't for one serious defect, I'd rank this one of the best camping destinations I've been to.
Getting There. Ferries service Angel Island from Tiburon, San Francisco and Alameda. The Tiburon ferries operate frequently, but Tiburon isn't convenient unless you live in Marin. We took the Blue and Gold Ferry from Pier 41, which only operates a few times a day during the week. We took the 1:05 pm ferry to the island (which stopped in Tiburon along the way) and the 1:45 ferry back the next day, giving us about 24 hours on the island.
As an integral part of our adventure, we took mass transit almost the whole way: Caltrain from Mountain View to Millbrae (we drove to the Mountain View train station), BART from Millbrae to Embarcadero station, the electric streetcar from Embarcadero to Pier 39, the boat from Pier 41 to Ayala Cove, and then a hike from the cove to our campground. The mass transit added a couple hours of extra travel time, but the multiple transportation modes was exciting to my son, more earth-friendly, cheaper than driving plus parking, and didn't involve us leaving a car overnight in a San Francisco parking garage.
The Campground. We camped at East Bay #3. This site was huge and fairly well set-off from the other two East Bay sites. We didn't hear our neighboring campers or see them except at the water spigot (although we could hear some shouting from the workcamp at the Immigration Station). The East Bay sites are much more private than the Sunrise sites, which have effectively no visual or aural privacy from each other. Both the East Bay and Sunrise sites have favorable microclimates compared to the Ridge campsites on the island's southwest side. By being on the island's east side, they are shielded from the fog pouring in from the west. Indeed, our tent's rain-fly was barely wet in the morning. The mountain ridge also blocks some of the wind, but we did get a little wind.
When the fog lifts, the Ridge sites have jaw-dropping views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. However, in summer, the fog rarely lifts for very long In contrast, our campsite had fantastic mostly fog-free 180 degree views of the East Bay from Richmond to Oakland. Among other points of interest, the shipping lanes run along the island's east side, so we watched ship after ship trundle past. At sunset, I watched the fog roll through the Golden Gate and across the bay, hit the East Bay hills, and spread progressively further north. Check out my short videos of that scene. I could have spent hours just watching the fog, the ships and the sunset. It was amazing.
The campsite required about a 45 minute hike from Ayala Cove. It wasn't very steep or arduous, but we had packed light. The campsites have a water spigot for fresh water, so you don't need to pack water. The campground has an outhouse. Our campsite also had a picnic table and food locker.
The campsite, including the reservation fee, cost less than $40/night. If you want a comparable view of the Bay at a hotel, expect to pay many hundreds of dollars a night. Camping on Angel Island is unquestionably one of the best bargains in the Bay Area. Even better, because we were willing to go mid-week, we had no problem getting a prime campsite with about 10 days advance notice. Weekend reservations will require more advance planning.
Now, about the major downside. From East Bay #3, we could hear a buoy warning signal going 24/7. It wasn't very loud, but I'm sensitive to those kinds of noises. If you listen carefully to my videos, you'll hear it in the background. Then, as the fog deepened through the night, other foghorns turned on. By pre-dawn, 3 or 4 different foghorns were going simultaneously along with the buoy warning, each with their own sound and cadence. It was like a discordant symphony--beautiful in a way, but not very peaceful. I take melatonin when I camp to help get some sleep, so I ended up doing OK overall; and my son slept through it all. If you can sleep with earplugs, bring those.
What to Do. Angel Island activities mostly relate to nature, military or immigration.
For nature, you can hike or bike around the island and to the top of Mt. Livermore. We did both. Mt. Livermore offers 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay, but the view depends heavily on the fog situation. For the best views, go on a clear winter or spring day. In summer, it's highly likely that some of the iconic sights--such as the Golden Gate Bridge or downtown San Francisco--will be partially or wholly obscured in the fog. The good news is that the fog is aesthetically pleasing itself...so long as it's not on top of you! The loop around the island offers constant beautiful views with the same fog caveat.
For military history, Angel Island is remarkable. I was blown away by Ft. McDowell (on the east side) and Camp Reynolds (on the west side). They are exceptionally well-preserved ghost towns with interesting ruins set among beautiful views. I could have spent more time poking around Ft. McDowell, where visitors have effectively unrestricted access to most of the abandoned buildings (be safe, but many of the buildings still look very sturdy). Camp Reynolds has a totally different feel, and it was instantly obvious that it was from a different military era. I didn't get much out of the batteries and Nike missile installations, but they are an important part of Angel Island's military history as well.
For immigration, the immigration station has been nicely restored. Unfortunately, we missed the guided tour, but we still enjoyed taking the self-tour and inspecting the remaining buildings. I include the quarantine station at Ayala Cove in the immigration category; and while it's less interesting than the immigration station, it's a nice complementary destination.
It's hard to see all of the sites during a single day trip to Angel Island, even if you catch the first boat in and leave on the last boat out. Overnighting on the island left us with the perfect amount of time to do everything. I would have enjoyed another night on the island (except for the foghorns) but only to watch the fog and the ships; we saw virtually everything else we wanted to see.
On a day trip, you might choose to take the tram ride around the island with its pre-recorded instructions or rent a Segway or bikes. If you're a Bay Area local, bring your own bikes on the ferry if you don't want to hike.
I plan to take Dina on father-daughter overnight trips similar to the trips I've done with Jacob the past 2 years, but I didn't think Dina was quite ready this year. Instead, I proposed a day trip, and she said she wanted to go kayaking. This might have something to do with the fact that I took Jacob kayaking last year when we went to Mendocino and he loved it. I chose the Elkhorn Slough for kayaking due to its proximity (less than 70 minutes from Mountain View) and the odds of seeing marine mammals.
Unfortunately, the kayaking trip was an unexpected bust. We took the 2 hour family tour from Monterey Bay Kayaks. This was a disappointment on a few fronts.
First, I misjudged Dina's readiness for kayaking. Her short arms just weren't strong enough to hold a kayak paddle, so kayaking wasn't very participatory for her. She didn't complain, but it wasn't the experience I planned.
Second, the tour guide wasn't very good. Inexplicably, he paid more attention to the other family than ours. More importantly, he didn't relate well to kids. He was soft-spoken, prone to tangents, and dry. Dina couldn't hear him, and when she could, his commentary didn't resonate with her.
Third, the two-hour tour barely got out of the Moss Landing harbor--and everything in the harbor could be easily seen from the harbor parking lot. So we didn't see much from the kayak that we couldn't have seen from our car. In fact, after we got out of the kayak, we walked back around the parking lot to get a better view of the sights we passed on the kayak. Naturally, a longer tour would go deeper into the slough itself, but a 2 hour tour was plenty for Dina.
On the plus side, we saw plenty of sea lions, otters, seals, jellyfish and birds. Elkhorn Slough looks worth another visit, but probably as an adults-only visit where I can see more of the slough.
We are vegetourists, and that's true even when we're close to home. Some of our stops during the week:
Garden Fresh, Mountain View. Garden Fresh has been one of my favorite restaurants since the 1990s. I became a little disenchanted with the restaurant when it changed owners in the early 2000s because I felt the quality dropped off some. Since then, I think the quality has improved, although it's been accompanied by higher prices and fewer freebies. For example, back in the old days, the lunch special used to include fried spring rolls, and all of the dishes included complimentary brown rice (even at dinner). Still, Garden Fresh is one of the better deals around, and its best dishes are excellent.
On our most recent trip, we got the lettuce cups and the veggie chicken curry. The lettuce cups were not nearly as good as I remember; something was "off" with the flavor. I don't think we'll try that dish again. The veggie chicken curry is wonderful comfort food. Sometimes I'm not in the mood for something tasting so "heavy," but this time it was exactly what I wanted.
Some of our other favorites: Mongolian veggie chicken and Hunan veggie chicken (these dishes are pretty similar), basil moo shoo rolls, the veggie curry noodle soup and the moo shoo vegetables. Many other dishes are good too. I also like the tofu chowder they frequently serve complimentary. My wife prefers the hot-and-sour soup, and sometimes they will substitute that for the tofu chowder without charging more.
The restaurant itself is hardly atmospheric, although it is slightly more spruced up than it was in the 1990s. It's basically a few rows of formica tables in a mini-mall. Then again, my culinary tastes were honed in Southern California, where the best meals always were in mini-malls, so the setting doesn't bother me. For us, its convenience is an added bonus; it's in easy biking distance from our house.
Mineral, Murphys. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around Mineral. It's an upscale vegetarian restaurant located in Murphys, a small and out-of-the-way Sierra foothills town. There probably isn't another all-vegetarian restaurant within 60+ miles in any direction. When Mineral first launched in 2007, it aimed for the high-end vegetarian connoisseur flush with dot com money. See my review of the restaurant in that phase. In 2008, during the last crash, it revamped into a more mid-scale vegetarian restaurant/cafe, broadening its audience and becoming a place where we felt comfortable bringing the kids for lunch.
The boom must be back on, because Mineral has abandoned its mid-scale orientation and is back to positioning itself as a high-end gourmet vegetarian restaurant. The good news is that the food remains excellent, with extraordinary attention to detail, and the prices are reasonable (compared to Bay Area prices) for the quality of the food and presentation. We had the Mineral Burger (an excellent burger), the "Land Scallops" (a tofu dish), the Watermelon Salad and the Green Papaya Salad, and we devoured everything from all plates before they went back. Total cost at lunch was about $65.
Unfortunately for us, Mineral has lost any pretense of being a kid-friendly place. Even if the menu options look passable to kids, the tastes are just too sophisticated for most kids' palates. I understand that not all restaurants cater to kids, but it's an issue when we're on a family vacation. The server basically warned us when we walked in with Jacob and Dina in tow, asking us discreetly if we'd been to Mineral before as a way of trying to signal that it wasn't a kid-friendly place. It's even more strange because the proprietors were warm and gracious towards our kids and let them watch the laborious presentation of each dish, which our kids totally enjoyed.
For now, assume Mineral is an adults-only place. Murphys has better kid-friendly options just across the street if you're on a family vacation. If you're on an adults-only vacation and you haven't tried Mineral, I highly recommending taking the trip to Murphys for a meal. It's worth the detour.
Sunflower Drive-In, Fair Oaks. This is a funky place. Old Town Fair Oaks is a ramshackle business district with undomesticated chickens wandering around. Then, this restaurant seeks to be the cost-effective vegetarian fast food mecca that we as vegetarians dream about. Most seating is outdoors, amidst the chickens, with unappetizing views of the parking lot baking in the hot Central Valley sun.
Sunflower Drive-in a holdover from the 1970s, and the menu mostly reflects a conception of vegetarianism from 4 decades ago. Their flagship item is a 1970s-style nutburger. Nutburgers have become trendy again, but their recipe is anything but trendy. The nutburger was the best thing we ordered, but it hardly compares with the veggie burgers at Mineral or Source or even Smart Alec's.
Other items were hit-and-miss. The falafel--which some people raved about at Yelp--was only vaguely reminiscent of a "real" falafel. I thought it was bland and uninspired. The kids' menu items were about what you'd expect--the burrito was lots of bean and cheese but not much else; the quesadilla was cheese and not much else. Chips and salsa were run-of-the-mill. The vegan potato salad was pretty good. Vegan cupcakes were as dry as you would expect. The root beer float was a rare overpriced item: $4 buys a paper cup, a dollop of ice cream and a can of off-the-shelf root beer.
As many other reviewers have noted, for a restaurant called a "drive-in" and hawking pseudo-fast food, they process orders at a maddeningly glacial speed. I don't know exactly why things take so long for what should be a well-oiled machine after decades of practice. We placed our order at 11:35 am and the bulk of the order took about 20 minutes on an ordinary workday. With properly calibrated expectations, this wait isn't insufferable; but compared to a place like Smart Alec's in Berkeley or Oreans in Pasadena where fantastic vegetarian food comes speedily, it's nevertheless baffling. I guess their method of operation works for them, but I imagine they could boost profits and throughput if they upgraded their operations.
Although I can't say the food rocked my world, we'll revisit Sunflower Drive-in when we go to visit my stepfather (now living in an assisted living facility just a couple miles away). It's cheap, filling and tasty enough to justify the small detour.
Plant Cafe, San Francisco. Jacob and I patronized the location right by the Embarcadero BART station (101 California Street). At lunchtime, it's a high-volume operation. Order at the counter, hunt for a seat, and wait for the food to arrive.
We tried four dishes: the Plant Burger, Masala Vegetable Stew, Shiitake Spring Rolls (we took it for later) and a Chocolate-Banana Smoothie. The Plant Burger was a little disappointing after all the Yelp raves. My son rejected it outright; I thought the burger was average. Personally, I think Source has the best veggie burger in town. The Masala Vegetable Stew, which comes with some nice flatbread, tasted excellent, was a generous portion, and was priced attractively. My son hijacked my bowl and ate most of the stew. The Shiitake Spring Rolls were tasty but fairly expensive for what you get. The Chocolate-Banana Smoothie was fantastic, but it had an unexpectedly "adult" chocolate taste that I expected my son would reject. He loved it anyway. My overall assessment was strongly positive, and I'm sure we'll be back. I know some reviewers have complained about the price. We spent about $35 for our meal, and I thought that was fair.
I noted that my old law firm (Cooley Godward) is in the same building. If I still worked at the law firm and had this restaurant in the building, I would eat there nearly every day. We need more restaurant options like Plant Cafe. Please come to the South Bay!
Saturn Cafe, Santa Cruz. Saturn Cafe is a venerable vegetarian institution, but it easily can get lost in the shuffle. Trendy restaurants like Source and Plant Cafe have stolen some of its thunder, and Saturn Cafe's chainification has diluted its uniqueness. But Saturn Cafe always delivers a hearty, tasty, cost-effective meal, and it retains a special place in our heart accordingly.
I kept Saturn Cafe as a secret post-kayaking destination for Dina. Even when the kayaking trip went bust, I knew Saturn Cafe would be a hit. We took Dina there a year ago and she loved it--the decor, the coloring menu and the food. What fun!
This trip she had banana walnut pancakes and I had the very tasty vegan breakfast burrito. Both were completely devoured before we left our seats, feeling quite full. The bill was a paltry $15.
I wish Saturn Cafe would come to the South Bay. It would compete directly with Hobee's in both food and price, but I would pick Saturn Cafe over Hobee's (a long-time favorite of mine) both for being completely vegetarian and for its more flavorful options.
May 31, 2011
Alternatives to a School Field Trip to In-and-Out Burger
You may recall that my son's school took an official school field trip to In-and-Out Burger as part of their lessons on food distribution chains and economics. I sent a polite but pointed email to the school principal explaining why we were opting-out of that trip. The principal sent me an appropriately polite response to my email and invited our suggestions of alternatives. My wife Lisa sent the principal this email describing what she did with Jacob instead of the In-and-Out Burger field trip:
I just wanted to follow up with you about alternatives to the In-N-Out field trip. Since both the field trip & our decision to pull Jacob was kind of last minute, I didn't have much time to research alternatives. I ended up taking Jacob out for breakfast at Hobee's & while there, discussing the cost of his entree & what went into that. We discussed the expenses restaurants incur (cooks, servers, rent, utilities, etc.); we also touched on the differences between "fast food" restaurants & other types of restaurants as well as regular vs. organic. Then we made notes about the ingredients used in his entree. From there we went over to Trader Joe's and priced out those ingredients (going through the store with a notepad & pen, noting prices, quantities & serving sizes - we didn't actually purchase anything). Then, we came home and calculated the total price, and then did a lot of division to calculate the price of one serving. (BTW, the $8.50 Florentine Scramble at Hobee's can be made at home for $2.83, and that's with about 50% organic ingredients to boot! :-))
The same morning Jacob's class went to In-N-Out, our daughter's class went to Hidden Villa Farm where they saw how crops are raised, eggs are harvested, goats milked & pigs born. I thought that was a nice view into "where food comes from," and since HV also sells commercially, they can also discuss/show how they choose what to produce, how they package, transport, market & price it, etc.
If I'd had more time, I would have looked into possible "behind the scenes" tours from places like Whole Foods Market, the local Farmers Markets, Trader Joe's and other local farms. If you would like me to research these sorts of options further, please let me know.
Lisa's alternative excursion made quite an impression on Jacob. He became especially interested in organic foods, but the cost accounting also seems to have made an impact. Lisa also told me that several people at Hobee's and Trader Joe's overheard her talking to Jacob and gave her unsolicited compliments for her efforts.
In terms of alternatives, I think a visit to Hobee's is a little better educationally than a visit to In-and-Out Burger, but I think both of them are inferior to a trip to where students could get multiple vendor perspectives, such as a farmer's market. I think it would be really neat to hear different farmers at a farmer's market explain why they think their product is superior to their competition and why it's financially advantageous for farmers to sell their product via a farmer's market as opposed to other distribution options. My guess is that the students would never look at Safeway's the same after hearing that.
May 15, 2011
Thoughts About a Second Grade Official School Field Trip to In-N-Out Burger
[Introductory note: next week my son Jacob's class is taking a school-sanctioned field trip to In-N-Out Burger during normal school hours. We have decided not to participate in that field trip. I sent the following email to the school principal explaining this:]
I know you get a lot of gripe emails. This isn't one of them. We love the school and have been super-pleased with the education and other support that Jacob is getting. However, we decided to opt-out of an upcoming field trip and we wanted to explain why. It seems to us that there may be an issue that warrants further scrutiny in future years.
This coming week, Jacob's class is going on a field trip to In-N-Out Burger. [Jacob's teacher] has indicated that the trip has the following pedagogical objectives:
"Students understand basic economic concepts and their individual roles in the economy and demonstrate basic economic reasoning skills.
1. Describe food production and consumption long ago and today, including the roles of farmers, processors, distributors, weather, and land and water resources.
2. Understand the role and interdependence of buyers (consumers) and sellers (producers) of goods and services.
3. Understand how limits on resources affect production and consumption (what to produce and what to consume)."
These are great pedagogical goals, but we're a little confused how a trip to a fast food restaurant advances those goals. It seems like any single vendor is going to extol the virtues of its offerings. Without any critical analysis of those explanations, the vendor's explanation will be impliedly endorsed by the school and treated as credible by students.
This could be especially problematic in the context of fast food restaurants, whose resource allocation practices and efforts to advertise to kids have come under significant criticism; yet unrebutted favorable descriptions of their practices will not yield any insights into those concerns. Jacob is very much still learning how to critically scrutinize marketing claims, and I don't think he is ready to defend himself against such a subtle form of marketing. I suspect most other 2nd graders are about the same place.
Ordinarily, I'd recommend counter-speech as the fix, such as bringing in a critic of fast food restaurant marketing and practices and letting the students decide who they find more convincing. However, that back-and-forth sounds pretty sophisticated for a 2nd grader audience, and certainly it is well outside the lesson plan.
Thus, my wife and I are left wondering (a) if a school-sanctioned field trip to any fast food restaurant actually advances the stated pedagogical goals, (b) if it does, if there are more effective alternatives (my wife Lisa has been researching options and can provide suggestions if that's useful), and (c) even if not, if the risks that the field trip acts as a form of surreptitious marketing to kids outweighs those pedagogical benefits.
Despite all of this, we are not complaining because we've decided to opt Jacob out of the field trip this year. It's a small nuisance to do so, but we understand its our decision, and we are comfortable with that decision. Given that many classes sought to participate in the In-N-Out Burger excursion, I also want to reinforce that we don't intend to criticize [Jacob's teacher] or single her choices out. Instead, we hope that the faculty and administration will review the pros and cons of any fast food restaurant field trip for future years; or if that conversation has already taken place, we'd welcome any further explanation about the deliberations.
Many thanks for listening and for your and your teachers' and staff's hard work and dedication to educating our children. We remain very appreciative.
February 13, 2011
Review: Royal Greens Vegetarian Restaurant, San Jose
I love trying new vegetarian restaurants, but the Royal Greens Vegetarian Restaurant in San Jose (on De Anza, very close to the Cupertino border) did not rock my world. My wife and I tried three dishes:
* kung pao chicken
* a "hot plate" sizzling chicken dish
* a noodle soup with vegetables
They also brought out a complimentary pot of tea. Brown rice was $1.25 a serving.
The kung pao chicken was just OK. It was mock chicken (passable but not the best I've had), celery, peanuts and dried chilis. It was a little spicy for my wife but not too bad. The flavor was good but not great.
The sizzling dish had mock chicken, green peppers, mushrooms, carrots, ginger chunks, basil and some other stuff. This sounded better than it was. Surprisingly, the flavors didn't really blend together. The green peppers tasted mostly green peppery, and neither the basil nor the ginger influenced the dish's overall flavor. The hunks of ginger weren't really edible, either. This wasn't a bad dish but it was forgettable.
The noodle soup had the long, thick Chinese noodles plus large chunks of veggies. My wife and I both thought it was bland. The soup included some strange white balls that did not taste great.
In addition to being relatively bland, we thought the food was pretty greasy. Perhaps not greasier than most Chinese restaurants, but more greasy than I prefer.
We arrived at about 7:45 on Sunday night. The place was empty except for another patron group that left soon after we arrived. They closed the restaurant at about 8:10 (earlier than their posted 8:30 closing time). Service was limited by typical language barriers, but we got served quickly because we were the only people in the joint. Total price was less than $20/head for 3 entrees and rice. However, some of their dishes were in the mid-teens.
Their website is still "under construction," so you can't check out the menu online. It was filled with lots of strange mock meats: veggie squid, veggie eel, veggie kidney, veggie mutton. The menu clearly indicated which dishes were vegan vs. vegetarian.
If you like Taiwanese food and are looking for a vegetarian version, this may be a good choice. Otherwise, if you're willing to make the drive (or if it's more convenient), we definitely recommend Garden Fresh in Mountain View over this place for very similar food. Garden Fresh is slightly cheaper, less greasy, better tasting and all vegan.
June 28, 2010
Netherlands and Paris Vacation Reflections
It took me 42 years to make my first trip to Europe; then, my first two trips to Europe came within 3 weeks of each other. First, at the end of May, I went to a conference at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, followed by some time in Amsterdam. Then, about 10 days later, I returned to Paris for an OECD meeting. This post recaps some of my observations seeing Europe for the first time through 42 year old eyes.
The Netherlands were a great introduction to Europe for an American who doesn't speak any foreign languages. There was plenty of support for English-speakers. Most Dutch speak English flawlessly, and many of the museums and other tourist attractions had parallel English and Dutch explanations (indeed, many times they included French and German translations too). Plus, navigation by train/tram was mostly painless. I didn't ride a bike but the seemingly every Dutch person did. I didn't see a single bike helmet the whole trip, though.
I'm going to start with a seemingly small detail but one that colored my entire trip. For a country that has battled having too much water for centuries, the Dutch make it frustratingly hard to get drinking water. There are no drinking fountains, water was rarely presented as a free option at meals, and bottled water was overpriced. I guess the dutch lack of interest in drinking water makes some sense given that historically unprocessed water was unsafe to drink. Instead, at mealtimes, orange juice, beer and buttermilk were commonly served. Fizzy carbonated drinks were also popular.
Perhaps related to the difficulty getting hydrated, the Dutch approaches to bathrooms differ radically from American sensibilities. First, most bathrooms (public and private) are tiny. Public restrooms typically had an inadequate numbers of stalls/urinals. Second, it was almost impossible to find free public bathrooms. I figured the small and infrequent bathrooms completes a weird logic circle--the Dutch don't drink water, so they don't need bathrooms. The lack of public bathrooms has led to public urination problem in Amsterdam, which has responded with "pee guards" in dark corners that are designed to throw urine back on a (presumably drunk) offender. Pee guards have been through multiple innovation iterations. Apparently, it makes more sense to innovate ways to dump pee back on public urinators than to offer more free public bathrooms.
Consistent with the lack of Dutch freebies, it was virtually impossible to find cost-effective Internet access as a tourist. I didn't find any open WiFi signals, the hotels gouged, and I didn't see many cybercafes. Even Erasmus University wanted to charge me 30 EUROS for guest Internet access. No thanks.
My grades for some common tourist destinations:
[note: I'm generally a pretty tough grader, but my grades will look high because the tourist attractions I went to were, for the most part, world class.]
* Rotterdam Harbor tour. Grade: A-. A great look at a very active harbor. My only beef is that the recorded audio repeats everything in four languages, so on the hour-long tour, there was less than 15 minutes of English narration.
* Delfshaven. Grade: C. An old Rotterdam port--one of the few parts of Rotterdam that wasn't obliterated by WW2 bombing. Unfortunately, there was no "there" there. It's a small island in the middle of Rotterdam sprawl, and the remaining buildings were not worth the detour. Worse, I went to find the vegetarian restaurant Bla Bla, which was unexpectedly closed with no posted hours.
* Kinderdijk. Grade: B. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the remains of a windmill-powered drainage system for a polder. The area was studded with more windmills than you've ever seen in any one place. But other than the thrill of seeing lots of windmills near each other, there wasn't much more to recommend the site.
* Slot Loevestein. Grade: B. A nice 14th century castle bordered by two scenic rivers. The renovations were nice but the tour itself was oddly unenlightening. Getting to the castle involved an adventurous tour through surprisingly bucolic Dutch countryside.
* Free walking tour of Amsterdam by New Amsterdam tours. Grade: A. This free walking tour was a great introduction to the city and visited most of the highlights in the central city, including Dam Square, the Royal Palace, the New Church, the Old Church and the Waag. The guides impress upon their audience that they work for tips, but our guide did work hard and it was a bargain even with the tip.
* Canal boat tour. Grade: B. This was a bit of a disappointment. The canals make for a pretty tour, but the boat tour was not much more insightful than just walking around.
* Red Light District walking tour (I also took a tour by New Amsterdam tours). Grade: A. The Red Light District is fascinating, but I was not comfortable walking around there on my own. Numerous people there were surly and unfriendly and, in many cases, drunk. Fortunately, the tour answered all of my questions. One note about the women in the windows: most of them looked incredibly bored--while waiting, they were smoking, filing their nails and checking their cellphones.
* Van Gogh Museum. Grade: A. At its core, a great museum requires great content, and this museum has that. Van Gogh's work is moody and amazing, and it is so much more vibrant and electrifying in person than in washed-out reprints. His paintings virtually jumped off the walls crackling with excellence, even when placed side-by-side with works of other extremely talented artists. I spent several hours at this museum and enjoyed every minute. I bought my ticket in advance and skipped a 200 person long line. Afternoons are less crowded than mornings.
* Jewish History Museum. Grade: A-. On my trip, I wanted to understand why the Dutch were so tolerant of the Jews compared to all other Europeans. This museum did not directly answer the question, but it came close.
Amsterdam's Jewish community initially populated by Portuguese Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Amsterdam had already established its economy on trading, and the Portuguese Jews brought valuable trading contacts (especially with other Jews spread out as part of the Diaspora). Plus, Amsterdam itself was already composed of plenty of transplants.
Thus, a symbiotic economic relationship developed. The Portuguese Jews brought significant extra wealth to Amsterdam, and thus they were tolerated. I missed the time window to see the Portuguese Synagogue (it has limited hours), but given its importance to the Portuguese Jewish community, I wish I could have seen it. Ironically, at the same time the Portuguese Jews were ascending in the Amsterdam community, Catholicism was officially banned in Amsterdam--creating a bizarre situation where Jews were legal and Catholics were not.
Counterintuitively, then, the Sephardic Jews initially were the wealthy Jewish community. Meanwhile, the Ashkenazim Jews from Eastern Europe were poor, but the Portuguese Jews provided economic support for them, which in turn meant that the Amsterdammers tolerated the Ashkenazim as well. Eventually, the Portuguese Jewish community was economically ruined by the Dutch East India company's collapse, while the Ashkenazim Jews ascended in wealth and prominence and started providing economic support for the Sephardics. Eventually, the Holocaust destroyed the Amsterdam Jewish community.
If you're at all interested in Jewish history, especially Amsterdam’s unique relationship with the Jewish community, I enthusiastically recommend the museum. I allocated only 70 minutes; it would have benefited from 2 hours or more.
* Anne Frank House. Grade: A. I've always been a little uncomfortable that Anne Frank's story gets more attention than the stories of millions of other Holocaust victims. Nevertheless, Anne Frank's story is poignant and heart-wrenching. The self-guided tour tells her story very well without being overly sentimental. It subtly communicates the tragedy of her death and how the world is less rich without her--and the millions of other Jews (and others) whose lives were cut short.
Meanwhile, the museum provides a glimpse into the duality that many Dutch feel towards the Jewish community--the Franks and van Pels were saved by Dutch gentiles, but many Dutch feel that they didn't do enough to resist the German persecution of Dutch Jews. I sensed this psychological duality continues even today.
I bought my ticket in advance, which required me to set a specific time appointment. This helped skip a long line. Going in the late afternoon meant I wasn't crowded in the small rooms.
* Rijksmuseum (the Dutch National Museum). Grade: A. What I loved most about this museum is that it didn't try to cover all of Dutch history. Instead, it focused on the Dutch "golden age" in the 17th century when Amsterdam was one of the wealthiest and most sophisticated metropolises in the world. The amount of wealth that flowed into Amsterdam during that period is staggering, and the Rijksmuseum presented the opulence in all its glory. The silverwork, pottery, furniture and other craftworks were all remarkable; the dollhouses were especially mind-blowing. Also, in a collection of remarkable Renaissance paintings, Rembrandt's skill, use of light and ability to manufacture drama stood out against his talented peers.
* Begijnhof. Grade: B-. This is an old part of the city, including the oldest wooden house from the 15th Century, an old convent-like community, and a 16th Century English Reformed church. It's a peaceful oasis in a dense and crowded city. But there really wasn't much of interest to see, although I did enjoy the church, which has catered to an English-speaking community for centuries. A bonus freebie: I went back through the Amsterdam Historical Museum, which has a free-admission hallway filled with 17th century old master paintings of militia companies (another rare freebie).
* Vondelpark. Grade: B. Vondelpark is the biggest park near Amsterdam's city center, and it is well loved by Amsterdammers. On a warm early June evening about 7 pm (the high latitude means that the sun is still high in the sky at that time), the pathways were packed with bikers, runners, skaters and others. The park was laid out in a typical Europe manner--tightly constructed with every element carefully organized--although at least we could walk on the grass (unlike the Paris parks). I personally do not like these overly manicured parks very much. There's something to be said for raw nature, not nature reinterpreted by people. I also got nervous for my personal safety in some of the less well-traveled parts of the park, especially around stoner hill where everyone was brashly toking up in public.
* Amsterdam's Flea Markets. Grade: C. No bargains, but lots of junk. Cities in the Arctic joke that they are where cars go to die...Amsterdam flea markets are where junk goes to die.
* Amsterdam Architecture. Grade: A. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, especially in the city center. It has a beautiful foundation of 17th century architecture that has retained its feel, but the more recent additions--especially from the 19th century--are also beautiful.
The vegetarian scene in the Netherlands was generally OK. Amsterdam had a number of good vegetarian destinations. I especially enjoyed a satisfying but basic meal at De Waaghals ("the dare devil") near de Pijp, although at the cost of about 20 euros.
Some odd standardization issues. To turn on a light switch in the Netherlands, you press down (normally, in the US, you press up). And to flush a toilet typically requires a push button rather than depressing a lever. I wonder why there hasn't been international standardization on these user interfaces? Also wondering why the Europeans don't use a top sheet on their beds...?
A final observation: the Dutch are tall. I am about 5' 8", and I looked eye-to-eye with most Dutch women and looked up to just about every Dutch male. Even the bathroom urinals are set high, presumably for the tall Dutch men.
See my photo album of Paris.
There's little I can say about Paris that hasn't been said many times before. Let me group my overview reactions into "things I liked" and things I didn't.
Things I liked:
* the tourist attractions. World class. More commentary on some of those attractions in a moment.
* walking around. Paris' architecture is beautiful. I was surprised how much of the architecture dated to the mid-19th century and not earlier. This is due to the city's redesign then. But the mid-19th century architecture was very aesthetically pleasing. I liked the flourish and details, the pretty stone, and the wrought iron fences around window balconies and patios. More generally, Paris was full of visual treats everywhere. I felt there was a surprise around every corner. The main attractions were also close together, making it easy to walk everywhere.
* the metro. It was PACKED during rush hour, but the metro gets high marks for convenience. There were stations everywhere, and the wait for another train was rarely more than 2-3 minutes.
Things I didn't like:
* the crowds. More than anything, my dominant memory of Paris will be standing in line. There were lines for everything! Of course this is especially true for the tourist attractions, although I didn't go during peak tourist season. I can understand why Parisians tire of Americans, because we overran the town. At the top of the Eiffel Tower, almost everyone was speaking American English. Paris is a pretty dense city and the ratio of tourists to resident Parisians is uncomfortably high in the summer.
* the weather. In a word, it sucked. At its best in mid-June, it was 70 and sunny but hazy and humid. More typically, it was overcast and humid, with drizzle, rain and even thunderstorms.
* the expense. Paris is expensive like any big city, but it was hard for tourists to find any bargains. Money just flies out of the wallet, especially when eating out. But I did like the cheap baguettes.
* Charles de Gaulle airport. I can't recall a more baffling airport to navigate.
* all the smokers...everywhere (but fortunately not inside restaurants).
Some comments about the tourist attractions:
* Notre Dame Cathedral. Grade: A. This was a truly amazing building. The details were incredible. I would have loved to spend more time exploring this treasure. If my travels take me back to Paris, I will definitely revisit.
* Eiffel Tower. Grade: A. The Eiffel Tower is beautiful to look at, the views from it are spectacular, and it epitomizes superlatives (i.e., once the tallest building in the world). However, I was most impressed with its elegant engineering. Every design choice is a remarkable monument to late 19th century ingenuity. As a result, I'm giving it an A despite its two structural limitations as a tourist attraction. First, it is super-crowded, so the lines and overall mass of humanity can be ridiculously oppressive. Worse, in June the weather improves in the afternoon…exactly the peak time for crowds. Second, the Eiffel Tower has some interpretative material about its construction and engineering, mostly on the 1st floor (which they didn't even merit a stop on the way up). However, the materials are poorly laid out and surprisingly thin. The Eiffel Tower would benefit from a bona fide museum to showcase its brilliance.
* Arc de Triomphe. Grade: B. The Arc de Triomphe is a stunning monument. It is a cultural icon and aesthetically beautiful--grand in scale but also replete with wonderful details. I was especially interested in the 500+ military generals permanently inscribed in the monument (some in larger lettering than others). It's an interesting social statement about what the community rewarded (the leaders, not necessarily unexpected "heroes"). I saw similar celebrations of 19th century individual accomplishments throughout Paris.
The monument is an "A" attraction, but I downgraded it because the paid admission was surprisingly a tourist trap. For 9 euros, I got access to the interior, which was supposed to be a museum but was remarkably content-free, and the rooftop--a nice view but partially duplicative with the Eiffel Tower's views. I could have gotten 90%+ of the value of visiting the monument from the free portions (which allow you to visit the exterior base) without paying the admission fee.
* Champs-Élysées. Grade: C. I'm not much of a shopper. especially at the high end, so this was not a place for me. It reminded me a lot of Magnificent Mile in Chicago (not a compliment). The most remarkable thing is that I saw at least 2 McDonalds within a few blocks of each other.
* the Louvre. Grade: A-. This is probably the most spectacular museum I've been to. The massive and palatial physical setting lets you know, before you even get started, that this is not your ordinary museum. Then, the collection. Wow. I started with some "highlights"--the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, etc. All cultural icons. Then I went a little deeper into the Roman and Greek antiquities, the 19th century French paintings, the Italian late medieval and Renaissance paintings, and the French sculptures. The Louvre's collection is overwhelming, so perhaps it's better to think of the Louvre as about 10 museums in one, each of which would be among the world's finest if separated out.
I was blown away by the depth of each collection. It was dramatic evidence of the immense wealth that flows to the capital city of a colonial imperialist. The museum has so many treasures, it doesn't know what to do with them all. The "throw-away" items stashed obscurely in a corner each would be the centerpiece attraction at almost every other museum. I ended up spending a couple extra hours at the Louvre more than I had planned, as I kept addictively negotiating with myself "just one more room."
So why only an A-? Four knocks on the Louvre. First, they advertised an English highlights tour that I built my day's schedule around, but it was canceled without any notice when I showed. Second, I got the audio tour, but the first machine konked out on me in the middle of the museum, costing me valuable time to go back to replace it (there were at least 3 of us who showed up simultaneously with failed machines--apparently the handheld devices aren't very reliable). Third, the museum layout is thoroughly confusing. For example, it took me quite some time to figure out how to enter the sculpture garden. Finally, the Louvre is (surprise!) massively overcrowded, in many places oppressively so, although I did go to some rooms that were refreshingly quiet.
* Tuileries Garden. Grade: B. A typical and large Parisian manicured garden (no enjoying the grass) between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. There were fewer flowers than I may have expected, but I got excellent views in every direction.
* The Jewish Quarter. Grade: B. An especially old part of the city with apartments towering over narrow streets. There was evidence of a robust Jewish community, including synagogues and kosher butchers, but the community is now a small fraction of its former self. Still, I liked poking around, but I would have benefited from taking a guided tour of the area.
* Walking along the Seine. Grade: B. Every walk in Paris is a treat, but walking along the Seine wasn't clearly better than other walks. I got a little nervous for my personal safety going through dark underpasses.
Paris was generally a disconcerting place for a vegetarian tourist. Although I found I was able to communicate successfully with most Parisian servers, I still inherently distrusted the vegetarianism of dishes at non-vegetarian restaurants no matter what the server said. I had competent vegetarian meals at Le Potager du Marais and Le Grenier de Notre Dame (Paris' most venerable vegetarian restaurant--30+ years old). Both weren't cheap (20+ euros), and each meal consisted mostly of unrelated mounds of different food on the same plate--a very different conception of a vegetarian meal than in the US.
Although generally it was easier for me to communicate in the Netherlands than Paris, Paris was a more friendly tourist destination in two ways. First, it was easier to find water and free public bathrooms. Second, it was easier to use credit cards in Paris than the Netherlands. The Dutch aren't big fans of Mastercard/Visa. However, unlike the Netherlands, many French attractions only had narratives in French with no English translations.
May 05, 2010
Law Professor: We Should Petition the FDA to Certify Vegetarian Foods
Carrie Griffin Basas, 'V' is for Vegetarian: FDA-Mandated Vegetarian Food Labeling
I became a vegetarian over a quarter-century ago, when the vegetarian market was small/fringe-y. Back then, it was hard to get a supply of high-quality and trustworthy vegetarian food, either in the grocery stores or when I traveled.
Things have changed so much for the better in the intervening years. The vegetarian market has grown a lot, which has spurred competition and innovation, with the result being that vegetarians are now blessed with a panoply of high-quality vegetarian offerings. Despite this, I remain baffled that the market has not successfully self-organized a vegetarian certification. The vegetarian market is large enough to drive significant business from a successful certification, and there are so many products with obscure or hidden ingredients that vegetarians would like to know about.
Carrie Griffin Basas, a self-described "herbivore" and VAP at UNC, argues that this market failure should be cured by an FDA certification process. Normally, involving the FDA automatically goes into the bottom 10% of my desired outcomes (I don't know what options are in the top 90%, but I know FDA involvement never is). However, given the long-standing failure of the market to produce a reliable vegetarian certification, perhaps government involvement is necessary. She concludes:
Currently, vegetarians do not have the full information about ingredients that they need to make informed dietary choices. A federally mandated system of vegetarian food labeling hinges on having a consistent definition of “vegetarian” and addressing concerns about crosscontact that might arise in the manufacturing process. Consumers need to be involved in generating a compelling petition for these changes at the FDA. Unsuspectingly, vegetarians may be consuming food that contains animal ingredients because the current regulatory scheme falls short of full disclosure of ingredient sources. Manufacturers can play pivotal roles in ensuring that the FDA takes a consumer-driven petition seriously. Short of a successful petition, consumers should form coalitions with manufacturers to strengthen existing, voluntary certification systems. A cohesive, functioning model of labeling and certification can spur progress at the federal level, as well as in the food industry.
I have reached out to Prof. Basas about pursuing an FDA petition. If you would be interested in the effort, please let me know.
More than eight million adults in the United States are vegetarians and around forty percent of all people in the United States seek vegetarian food options while dining. Vegetarianism comes in a multitude of flavors, but a “pure vegetarian” or a vegan does not consume any products that come from animals, including milk, eggs, and gelatin. People practicing a vegetarian lifestyle may have turned to these dietary restrictions for ethical, religious, environmental, health, or other reasons. Currently, the FDA does not require the labeling of vegetarian foods as such. Because of the FDA’s permissive attitude toward food labeling generalities, such as “natural” or “artificial” flavoring and colorings, many vegetarians find it difficult to identify if their foods are indeed compatible with their lifestyles and ethical choices. Without this information, people interested in making food choices that respect the lives of animals may unintentionally cause harm to the creatures that they seek to protect. While voluntary, community-driven labeling programs exist, they reach only a small fraction of food products.
This article will explore the case for a standardized vegetarian packaged food labeling and certification system designed and implemented by the FDA. Part I presents the current problems with the FDA’s laissez faire approach to vegetarian food certification. Part II of the article addresses the law giving the FDA the authority and duty to ensure that vegetarian consumers are fully informed of food ingredients. Part III then presents three case studies - kosher certification, bioengineered foods, and food allergens - that could assist the FDA in designing a consumer-friendly, animal-conscious approach to vegetarian packaged foods. In Part IV, I outline a proposal to assist the FDA in addressing this critical monitoring and labeling issue.
Another reason to read the article: the footnotes provide a useful citation collection of academic research on vegetarianism.
February 09, 2010
Burger Wars Are Back--HAG LLC v. B&I Enterprises
HAG LLC v. B&I Enterprises, 9:10-cv-80127-KAM (S.D. Fla. complaint filed Jan. 26, 2010)
Over the past 5 years, I have repeatedly blogged about over-the-top commercial burger offerings, including:
The latest burger wars are similarly over-the-top gastronomically, but they are especially noteworthy because they have also spilled into a courtroom. Heart Attack Grill, an Arizona restaurant, has sued Heart Stoppers Sports Grill, a Florida restaurant, for allegedly ripping off its trade dress and concept. Both restaurants have a number of similar/identical product attributes that self-mock their unhealthy menus. Ha ha.
From a legal standpoint, the plaintiff's position is legally aggressive but not clearly wrong given the amorphous nature of trademark and trade dress law. The good news (to me) is that the law might be ambiguous enough to lock both litigants into a death struggle that knocks both of them out of the marketplace. That would be appropriate karma. Unfortunately, my guess is that the average American consumer will be delighted to learn of the latest disgustingly unhealthy burger options, so both restaurants will experience a spike in traffic due to the added publicity from the lawsuit. Perhaps this gives new meaning to the phrase "eat your heart out."
April 29, 2009
Rebranding Cow Parts to Move More of Them
The New York Times has an expose on the efforts of beef manufacturers to come up with new fancy brand names for cow parts to increase consumer demand for beef. The article starts out:
the nation’s 800,000 cattle ranchers began a radical search for cuts of meat that consumers would buy besides steaks and ground beef.
The idea was simple. Dig around in the carcass and find muscles that, when separated and sliced in a certain way, were tender and tasty enough to be sold as a steak or a roast.
Thus, the article discusses the new "Denver steak" cut of beef, which is going for about 2X the price of ground beef. As one butcher says, “The difference in a good name is worth $3 or $4 a pound."
So if you're tempted by the new beef cuts coming out, just recognize that you are being merchandised to buy rebranded and repackaged cow parts. As the article's title says, "Same Cow, No Matter How You Slice It?"
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February 06, 2009
"Squirrel finds new popularity among British diners"
Today's post continues this blog's running theme on the crazy meats that people eat. I've blogged before on whale burgers, horse steaks, and insanely large burgers. The latest entry in this category: squirrel. The New York Times ran a lengthy feature on the resurgence of squirrel on Britain menus, the byproduct of a squirrel management campaign. The article says:
in farmers markets, butcher shops and elegant restaurants, squirrel is selling as fast as gamekeepers and hunters can bring it in
Not all is rosy with the growth of squirrel meat. People differ on whether it tastes good (one critic described it as "a greasy texture and unpleasant taste"), it's apparently a lot of work to separate meat from bone, skinning a squirrel is "difficult and unpleasant," and squirrel brains contain a variation of Mad Cow disease. If those reasons aren't good enough to take a pass on squirrel, let's not forget the fact that squirrels are just rats with fluffy tails.
January 25, 2009
Want to Save 1/2 Gallon of Gas a Day? Eat Vegetarian!
Audubon magazine ran a lengthy article on one of my favorite topics, how being vegetarian can help save the environment and reduce climate change more than other energy-reducing efforts.
raising beef, pigs, sheep, chicken, and eggs is very, very energy intensive. More than half of all the grains grown in America actually go to feed animals, not people, says the World Resources Institute. That means a huge fraction of the petroleum-based herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers applied to grains, plus staggering percentages of all agricultural land and water use, are put in the service of livestock. Stop eating animals and you use dramatically less fossil fuels, as much as 250 gallons less oil per year for vegans, says Cornell University’s David Pimentel, and 160 gallons less for egg-and-cheese-eating vegetarians...
livestock production worldwide is responsible for a whopping 18 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases, reports the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. That’s more than the emissions of all the world’s cars, buses, planes, and trains combined.
So why do we so rarely talk about meat consumption when discussing global warming in America?
Just a reminder that you don't need to become a fastidious vegetarian or vegan to make a difference. You can help even if you take much smaller steps, like changing your lunch.
January 18, 2009
Fish = Sea Kittens? Another Odd Campaign from PETA
Reflecting on the numerous times I've blogged about them, it's clear that I have mixed emotions about the animal rights activist groups like PETA and the Humane Society. They have done a lot of important and laudable work, such as the fight over the California cheese ad campaign that "Happy Cows Come from California." However, they have also undertaken some baffling projects that are funny but not in a good way, such as the protest over serving fish at an aquarium cafe (brought by PETA's "Fish Empathy Project," presumably the sponsor of the latest campaign), the effort to put a veggie chicken option on the KFC menu, a misdirected lawsuit against Amazon that's preempted by 47 USC 230, PETA's efforts to manufacture meat in vitro, and the ridiculous crusade against Internet hunting. (I'm also still grumbly about PETA v. Doughney, a terrible initial interest confusion case over "People Eating Tasty Animals" that distorted Cyberlaw for a few years before it was effectively overturned in the Lamparello case.)
The latest effort from PETA clearly falls into the "odd" category. Trying to raise awareness of the plight of fish, PETA is seeking to rebrand fish as "sea kittens". Although I think the idea is that no one could every contemplate hurting or eating cute kittens, people will eat just about anything (1, 2, 3), so I wonder about the premise of the campaign.
I'm sympathetic the rebranding impetus that prompted this effort. Fish certainly don't get the respect they deserve. I'm reminded of the lyrics from Nirvana's Nevermind album that "it's OK to eat fish cause they don't have any feelings."
But c'mon! There is a fine line between brilliance and insanity, and this effort IMO falls on the wrong side. Fish have nothing meaningful in common with kittens, and any attempt to import our positive feelings towards kittens and apply them to fish is so linguistically nonsensical that the branding has no chance of sticking. Instead, it just reiterates that PETA doesn't speak for vegetarians like me. Sorry, guys, you're on your own with this quixotic quest. Meow!
December 13, 2008
West LA Vegetarian Restaurants Quick Reviews: Veggie Grill, Real Food Daily, A Votre Sante, Interim Cafe, Rahel
Lisa and I took a 48 hour veggie-tourist getaway to Los Angeles last weekend. Our principal agenda was to visit some old vegetarian favorites and explore some new ones. A quick recap of the tour:
Veggie Grill, El Segundo. Website. This is a relatively new chain with 2 locations in Irvine and 1 in El Segundo just a couple miles south of LAX. The menu architect is Ray White, who was also half of the brains behind my long-time favorite Native Foods in the desert. Because of their common heritage, the menu at Veggie Grill reminded me a lot of Native Foods--which is a good thing! The restaurant has been receiving accolades, including this year's VegNews' restaurant of the year, so we were anxious to try it.
Physically, the El Segundo restaurant is attractively designed, with the now-standard high ceilings, concrete floor and modern furniture. It looked like a hip college hangout. Patrons order at the counter, put a number on the table and wait for the food to be brought from the kitchen. Wait times were minimal at 5 pm on a Saturday, and seating was ample. By 7 pm the place was crowded but not full.
We ordered four items: the V-burger, the Carne Asada sandwich, the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin sandwich and the Beam Me Up chili. Entrees were $8-10. Everything was good, although I especially liked the Carne Asada sandwich, which I thought was a first-rate dish. We got sweet potato fries and steamed kale as side dishes, and both were very good as well. I'm not a huge fan of sweet potato fries but these may be the best I've had. I personally don't like kale but they put a nice dressing on it and made it taste palatable. I'd say it was the best kale dish I've had, and I wouldn't be adverse to ordering it again.
So, very high marks for this restaurant all around. I can't wait to go back and sample more things on the menu and get the Carne Asada again. The restaurant is so close to LAX that I may just have to swing by next time I'm flying in or out of there. Even better, I'm crossing my fingers that maybe someday the chain will expand to the Peninsula. I promise to be a regular and hungry customer!
Real Food Daily, Santa Monica. Website. I like Real Food Daily. I've gone there numerous times over the past decade, and I've never had a bad meal. The problem with Real Food Daily is that it's just a few miles away from a restaurant I like even more--A Votre Sante--and given our scarce time in LA, A Votre Sante usually wins out.
We went for Monday lunch and tried the Tac-o-the-Town and a weekly special, the Burger in a Salad. The food was good, but as the server told us, RFD does Mexican food really well, and the tacos were IMO better than the salad. I might focus on the Mexican dishes on the next visit.
My real problem is that RFD is expensive and, frankly, overpriced. Lunch entrees were $14-$17, about $5 more than comparable dishes at A Votre Sante and Interim Cafe (discussed below). So while the food is good, I think the food at A Votre Sante is better and cheaper. So I will gladly go back to Real Food Daily, but preferably on someone else's dime!
A Votre Sante, Santa Monica. Website. If I had to pick a single favorite restaurant in the world, I might very well pick A Votre Sante. It's not fully vegetarian (only about 1/2 the menu is vegetarian), but their vegetarian food is consistently outstanding. I have loved this place for 2 decades, and I go as many times as I possibly can. I've been disappointed watching their empire consolidate--in the 1990s, they had as many as 4 locations, and now they are back to just their original San Vincente location--although I was heartened to see that they had taken over the neighboring space, doubling their seating capacity, and had done a renovation that gave the interior a decidedly more upscale feel.
The surface had changed, but the food was just as good as I remembered it. It was so hard to choose only 2 dishes! I got the T&T, one of my favorites (along with the Dragontail, a classic), and Lisa got the Stir-Fried Vegetables. Yum! Both plates were completely cleaned before I left. I'll be back!
Interim Cafe, Santa Monica. i couldn't find a website for them. I wasn't able to make it to Interim Cafe, but Lisa picked up a couple of dishes to-go for our ride to the airport. The Interim Cafe is by the same folks who launched Newsroom in West Hollywood. Two years ago we tried the Newsroom and were less-than-impressed. It was fine, but not worth an extra schlep to West Hollywood. This time, Lisa picked up their basic burger and a stir-fry. The stir-fry was pretty heavy on the tofu but was otherwise fine. The burger was excellent, and I really enjoyed it. The menu is about 1/2 vegetarian, but it's a big menu with lots of attractive options. Prices were $8-$10 per entree, making this substantially cheaper than Real Food Daily. I definitely want to sample more things from the menu, so next time in the area I'll try to swing by.
Rahel, Little Ethiopia/Fairfax District. Website. I love Ethiopian food. Indeed, it's a little known fact that Lisa and I went to an Ethiopian restaurant (the Blue Nile in Berkeley, sadly now closed) on our second date. There is a cluster of Ethiopian restaurants in Little Ethiopia, a modest district on Fairfax, but Rahel stands out because it's entirely vegan. Furthermore, on our first visit 2 years ago, we thought it was absolutely terrific food. We've been salivating to visit again.
I think the best time to visit Rahel is for their all-you-can-eat lunch specials on the weekdays for less than $10. That's a pretty good deal. We went on a Sunday for lunch and instead got the Veggie Paradise combo. It was more expensive than I expected ($15/person), and I'm not sure we ordered the right combo because I remember our last visit including more options that were truly terrific. Nevertheless, the food was good, the service was good by Ethiopian restaurant standards, and we got more food than we could eat. We will definitely go back to Rahel, although because our last visit was a 4 instead of a 5 star visit, we probably won't view it as an essential stop.
Farmer's Markets. In addition to all of this eating, we went to the Sunday morning Santa Monica Farmer's Market on Main Street and the Sunday afternoon Brentwood Farmer's Market between San Vincente and Montana. Both were fine farmer's markets, although the Brentwood market had a limited number of produce vendors. Both farmer's markets had numerous vendors of ready-to-eat vegetarian food that was absolutely mouth-watering, and it took a lot of restraint not to pig out there instead of our restaurant destinations. If you're around, you might decide to pick a meal at the farmer's markets instead of the local restaurants--there are some good options.
October 28, 2008
The Loving Hut, Palo Alto--Forgettable Vegan Fast Food
The Loving Hut is the oddly-named new vegetarian chain of restaurants with locations in Milpitas, San Francisco and Palo Alto. (The name practically invites salacious riffs). They are a spinout of the vegetarian stalwart restaurant in San Jose, the Vegetarian International House. Unfortunately, Lisa and I didn't enjoy our only visit to the International House a number of years ago. We didn't like the food, and more importantly, we were put off by the cultish overtones, especially the multiple TVs blaring promotional materials for the cult. Nevertheless, I hoped that the Loving Hut chain would transcend its origins and offer a new strong competitor to the marketplace.
The Loving Hut in Palo Alto is Palo Alto's newest all-vegetarian restaurant and the first in downtown Palo Alto since the Bayleaf Cafe closed a couple of years ago. It is one of only two vegetarian restaurants currently operating in town (the other is Cafe Soulstice, a raw food restaurant attached to the Equinox gym by Fry's). Unlike Berkeley, the sister college town across the Bay, Palo Alto has had an inexplicably difficult time supporting all-vegetarian restaurants. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 3 recent predecessors that have been churned out of town, compared with at least a half-dozen all-vegetarian restaurants currently thriving in Berkeley. Why is it so hard for Palo Altans to keep all-vegetarian restaurants in business?
Unfortunately, I don't think the Loving Hut is a strong enough entrant to break the jinx against vegetarian restaurants in Palo Alto.
The facility is well located on University Avenue between High and Emerson. There is a limited number of seats, but this didn't seem to matter when I visited at 6 pm on a Monday as everyone was ordering take-out. The seating area is uniformly colored in a bright white plastic, which gives the restaurant a fresh and bright look but also felt a little sterile. There is a flat-panel TV on one wall playing the same kind of cultish promotional material as I saw at the International House, but the sound was off and it was easy enough to avoid (unlike at the International House, where there were TVs everywhere I looked and the sound was loud).
Customers order at the counter, which is next to a large deli case displaying many of the items available for purchase. (Other items are prepared in the back). I was very disappointed that the menu on the website apparently is only for their Milpitas location, and the actual menu at Palo Alto was much smaller. Right now, the Loving Hut offers a total of only 6 entrees, two of which are sandwiches, Worse for me, the most interesting sounding entree (the Guru's Curry) was unavailable because they had run out. The menu also has 3 salads, one soup and a few other sides/accompaniments.
I thought the food overall was average--not great, not bad.
* As I mentioned, they had run out of the Guru's Curry, so we tried the 7 Seas Rice instead ($6 for a decent sized portion). Without the sauce, it was bland and was dominated by the smell of nori (although the nori didn't overwhelm the flavors). With the sauce, it was a little less bland, but still not nearly as flavorful as it should have been.
* The Heavenly Salad was similarly average-tasting and comparatively expensive ($9 for an medium-sized portion, which isn't too bad except when you compare it to places like Intermezzo or Smart Alex in Berkeley, where you get twice the salad for half the price).
* The quinoa side dish was fine, a little more flavorful than the others but still inferior to the quinoa my wife makes at home.
* The fresh spring rolls ($5.50) were large but just OK--mostly good but there was a surprisingly bitter and tough-to-chew green included in the roll (not an asset). The dipping sauce was unremarkable. I think the fresh spring rolls at Garden Fresh taste better and are a better value.
* The daily banana muffin was flavorful and had a good texture. It was the best thing we ordered. However, it was not a good value--$3.50 for an average-sized muffin.
Overall, the Loving Hut may be hampered by its relatively high prices ($9 entrees/salads for counter service), which will reduce its appeal to the students, and its lack of flavorful options, which will limit its appeal to the Palo Alto high-roller crowd. Without those two market segments, who will be left to support the restaurant and its high-rent location?
Even so, I'll give it at least one more try. I have obligations in Palo Alto that routinely bring me to within 2 blocks of the restaurant, so it's easy enough for me to go back. But if it weren't so convenient and I wanted vegan Asian food on the mid-Peninsula, I would prefer to go to Garden Fresh in Mountain View, which has a more extensive menu, tastes better, and has a better cost-to-food ratio.
October 07, 2008
Pesticide Drift and the Coase Theorem
Two farms are next to each other. The brussels sprouts farm uses pesticides; the herb farm is seeking organic certification. When the pesticide is deployed, the wind or fog may blow pesticide onto the herb farm, destroying its organic status. What result?
According to this article, $1M in damages to the organic farm. At the same time, there is apparently a California code that says a pesticide user's responsibility ends as soon as the chemicals are deployed, and a county investigation exonerated the brussels sprouts farm of wrongdoing.
So what gives? This seems like a classic application of the Coase Theorem, which says it shouldn't matter if the brussels sprouts farm has the entitlement to deploy pesticide or the herb farm has the entitlement to run an organic farm without worrying about pesticide drift because the parties will bargain with each other to achieve an efficient outcome. However, it's interesting to see that California law expressly gives the entitlement to brussels sprouts farm, privileging chemical use over organic farming. Sounds like maybe a little rent-seeking took place.
Personally, it seems much more logical to me to set the defaults the other way and make the pesticide users figure out how to avoid drift. After all, if the pesticide is drifting onto other crops, where else is it drifting?
September 11, 2008
Two Vegetarian Products I'm Not Likely to Try
1) KFC Canada is launching a new "Classic Vegetarian Sandwich" made of soy chicken. This is the result of negotiations with PETA, which has had KFC in its sights for some time. This move reminds me a little of Burger King's launch of a veggie burger a few years ago. I must confess I never tried it (my wife did and gave it lukewarm reviews), and I'm not likely to try KFC's offering either if they bring it to the States.
I've tried to determine why I'm so reluctant to support these new offerings from the fast food chains, and I came up with a few reasons. First, it may reflect the strength of my brand perceptions of these chains as a place for meat-eaters, not me. Thus, a single offering for me can't overcome the deeply contrary brand perceptions. Second, at least with KFC, the smell of fried chicken is so powerfully set in my memory that I really can't contemplate going into a KFC and enjoying my vegetarian meal amidst the odor. Finally, I am suspicious of restaurants that don't "get" vegetarians that they won't do a good job keeping meaty products out of the vegetarian food (recall McDonald's fiasco with the beef-fat drenched french fries after they had said their fries were vegetarian).
So thanks KFC Canada for the effort. I hope it's a great success in getting crossover business from die-hard chicken eaters. Sorry I can't be more supportive.
2) A product on the market: Vegetarian Scottish Haggis. You can buy a (very expensive) can at Amazon. If you don't recall, haggis is...well, it's too gross for me to write, so check out the definition here. I find it impossible to believe that any haggis-eater would ever become vegetarian and thus want to replicate the experience. (This reminds me a little of the Hufu product). At the same time, I can't imagine any vegetarian getting a craving for haggis. Even if it got rave reviews from my closest vegetarian friends, I can't imagine giving it a try. So who in the world would buy this?
September 01, 2008
Best of Mountain View 2008
The local paper (the Mountain View Voice) published its Best of Mountain View edition. The best businesses. The best restaurants. As usual, these are generally competent lists of where we go as locals:
* House of Bagels (just down the street from us) satisfies even bagel snobs
* Hobee's is my favorite destination for business breakfasts
* Amici's pizza has become our standard lunch when we have parties at home. Their vegan pizza is pretty good.
* the Mountain View farmer's market is really terrific. We love biking to it on wonderfully sunny Sunday mornings. However, for more cost-effective and convenient produce just over the border, we're new fans of Foothill Produce next to Trader Joe's on Homestead, under new management by one of the key buyers from the Milk Pail. The prices are ridiculously low compared to the farmer's market.
* we were a little disappointed with Garden Fresh for a while, but it seems to have righted the ship and once again is a favorite vegan option. Among other things, we like the basil rolls, the vegetable curry soup and the Mongolian chicken (similar to the Hunan Chicken, also a favorite). I also like the "complimentary" tofu and corn chowder that starts the meal when you eat-in.
July 26, 2008
Soy Milk v. Cow Milk, the Environmental Comparison
Slate's Green Lantern compares the environmental impact of drinking soy milk v. cow's milk. The conclusion: "soy is the somewhat more eco-conscious choice," a conclusion reached somewhat reluctantly because soy milk is so much more processed than cow's milk.
June 30, 2008
Buying Local Food Isn't The Most Effective Way to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
I've repeatedly complained that the talk about global warming and environmentalism has been oddly silent about vegetarianism as an option, even though it's one of the single most effective ways to reduce carbon footprint. As more evidence of this, see Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2008, 42, 3508–3513, which argues that reducing meat consumption does a lot more to reduce emissions than jumping on the "local food" bandwagon. The punchline (from the abstract):
dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local.” Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food
April 22, 2008
PETA Encourages Production of In Vitro Meat
PETA is funding a $1M prize for the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012."
I don't know much about in vitro meat, but I can see why it would be so controversial. In vitro meat reduces or eliminates the ethical/animal rights and environmental justifications for vegetarianism, which makes eating meat a more justifiable decision. On the other hand, any health concerns about eating meat would remain, plus for many existing vegetarians, our diet is so ingrained in our lifestyle that we can't fathom eating meat under any circumstance. (And, for "vegansexuals," that includes intimacy with a meat-eater).
At minimum, it's easy to see why the PETA move would be controversial among its members and employees. After all, it runs completely counter to the "meat is bad" mantra that has been thoroughly instilled into them. Personally, I have no interest in eating "in vitro meat" but I applaud PETA for taking an aggressive approach to address some of the major social ills associated with meat manufacturing.
April 06, 2008
Lawyer Named One of 25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians
I'm backlogged as usual, but reading through the August 2007 issue of VegNews, I saw that Christine Garcia of the Animal Law Office was named one of the 25 most fascinating vegetarians by VegNews. I'm a little unclear on the state of her practice; her website says that she is not taking any new clients until mid-March 2007. Looks like her website could use some updating. But the vignette about her practice was nevertheless inspiring, especially this part:
"I offer a vegan discount to clients. Anyone who seeks my services is entitled to a sliding discount depending on how many days a week they pledge to adopt a vegan lifestyle....I implemented this because I hated representing people's animals, then going out to lunch with them and seeing them eat more animals."
This is the first time I've heard of a lawyer offering a vegan discount, but I respect someone who puts dollars behind her beliefs.
March 09, 2008
States Trying to Stimulate Demand for Hunting
From the NYT: There appears to be a downward shift in the demand curve for hunting. In 1975, there were over 19M+ hunters; in 2006, only 12.5M. This decrease might reflect widespread changes in consumer preferences, but some states are losing a little hunting permit fee revenue. For that reason and others, states believe it's their responsibility to stimulate demand for hunting. Among the initiatives:
* lowering the minimum hunting age (just like the tobacco companies
* "learn-to-hunt classes for single mothers"
* expanded state-sponsored trips for women, children under the age of 15 and disabled people
* state-sponsored youth hunting weekends
* "a 'Leave No Child Inside' initiative last year that encourages families and children to try fishing and hunting."
Did you notice a running theme? Just like the tobacco companies, states appear to be trying to hook the kids early.
Ironically, many of these states have shut down Internet hunting, which might have actually expanded the ranks of hunters. And it's hard to distinguish Internet hunting from the modern state of physical-space hunting, which as one hunter described, "the habit is to ride an all-terrain vehicle to a tree platform, pour out a bag of corn and sit waiting for the prey to show up."
January 27, 2008
Will Meat-Guzzlers Go the Way of Gas-Guzzlers?
Regular readers of this blog know that I wish that the environmental benefits of vegetarianism were better understood. To that end, another NYT article explores the topic. This article recaps a lot of social science I've blogged before, but I hadn't heard that "an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production."
The article touches on how livestock demand for soy and corn raises the price above the prices for these grains that lower-income countries can afford. We might dismiss the comparatively higher prices as the consequence of normal market forces, but given the upstream subsidies used to encourage meat manufacturing, it's a distorted marketplace effect with life-and-death consequences.
The article concludes with a prediction for the future: "meat may become a treat rather than a routine. It won’t be uncommon, but just as surely as the S.U.V. will yield to the hybrid, the half-pound-a-day meat era will end."
January 21, 2008
Pizza Plaza, Oakland--a Vegan Pizza Joint
I've mentioned before that I've found vegetarian restaurants in some pretty obscure locations, such as the five-star restaurant in Murphys and the raw restaurant in a Las Vegas mini-mall miles from the Strip. This weekend, using my typical technique of investigating vegetarian restaurant lists, we discovered another surprising find.
Pizza Plaza (6211 Shattuck Ave Oakland, CA) is an all-vegetarian pizza joint--and winner of a Best of Veg 2007 award in the vegan pizza category--in a most unlikely neighborhood in North Oakland. Perhaps its location isn't too unexpected as it's near the border of Berkeley, home to numerous excellent vegetarian options. However, like many parts of Oakland, this particular stretch of Shattuck is hardly confidence-inspiring. As we pulled up amidst the boarded-up shops and modest residential and commercial buildings, we looked at each other and wondered if this was a wise choice.
Our confidence didn't improve when we walked into the restaurant and saw 4 plastic tables, a large pizza counter, some wood beads "separating" the eating area from a storage area, and a leftover "Happy New Year" sign over the counter. Even worse, we were the only customers to be found on a Sunday afternoon at noon. What in the world had we gotten ourselves into?
My confidence turned around when our friend started chatting with the proprietors, a lovely couple from Sudan who fled the strife in Sudan looking for a better life. The husband is a microbiologist but when he arrived in the US, he started working in pizza joints to pay the bills. Eventually, as a vegetarian, he decided to start up a vegetarian pizza joint.
The menu offers a host of attractive options. They divide the menu into vegetarian and vegan, offering the most extensive list of vegan pizzas I can recall seeing. They offer other interesting items, including a vegan spaghetti with "meat" sauce and a vegan ceasar's salad with grilled vegan chicken. They even carry Maggie Mudd ice cream among other vegan desserts.
We ordered four "slices" of different vegan pizzas listed on the menu (each $6). Each "slice" was about 4x6 inches and cut diagonally into two. It was enough to satisfy most lunchtime appetites. The pizza crust was a sturdy whole wheat crust that I thought was tasty, the "cheese" was lightly sprinkled over each slice and pretty realistic, and the various mock meats were well integrated. However, the tomato sauce wasn't especially flavorful, and in the end I thought all four menu items tasted about the same. Taste-wise, I'd grade the pizzas as a "B"--competent but not spectacular.
If you're in Oakland and looking for something different, or if you're a vegan with a hankering for an old-fashioned pizza joint, definitely check this place out for a take-out lunch. (I would not go here after dark, and it's not well set up for eating in). As for us, I'd go back in the right situation; but if I'm coming from the Peninsula, chances are I'm going to drive a little further to some of our Berkeley favorites.
December 25, 2007
I love stuff like this. Feel like having a hamburger? Choose to eat a peanut butter & jelly sandwich instead, and you will save 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 280 gallons of water, and up to 50 square feet of land from deforestation or other destruction. As the PB&J Campaign website says, " You don't have to change your whole diet to change the world. Just start with lunch."
December 02, 2007
NYT on San Francisco Vegetarian Restaurants
A couple of weeks ago, the NYT ran a lengthy article on vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco, spotlighting Greens, Millennium, Herbivore, Cha-Ya and Cafe Gratitude. I've never tried Cha-Ya, so I'll have to check it out. Of the others, Herbivore is my favorite. The food at Millennium is better, but at a premium price. On a cost-benefit basis, Herbivore is a better deal. I wouldn't go back to Greens on my dime (although the view is splendid), and Cafe Gratitude is farcical in its feel-good approach, plus I'm not a huge raw foods fan.
I thought it was amusing that the VegNews editor complained that she's bored of the vegetarian offerings in town. Even if the City lacks good South Indian restaurants like Udupi Palace, San Franciscans are blessed with their options!
November 18, 2007
Mendocino Anniversary Trip: MacCallum House, Cafe Beaujolais, Mendocino Cafe, Living Light Cafe and More
Lisa and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary in Mendocino, my favorite tourist destination of all time. Great scenery, great food, lots to do. This time, we stayed at the MacCallum House right in town, which turned out to be a disappointment. See my Epinions review of our stay at the MacCallum House. Read my other reviews about Mendocino:
This trip we tried Cafe Beaujolais for the first time. It doesn't try hard to cater much to vegetarians, so I wouldn't recommend it on that basis. However, the two options we found were both excellent. The bread was terrific too. We went for lunch, and I think that's a much better value than dinner. Two odd facts: (1) the floor noticeably slopes, so it's like eating in a mystery house; (2) at our lunch, we were the youngest couple there by at least a decade--at my age, this doesn't happen very often any more.
We also went back to Mendocino Cafe, one of my all-time favorite restaurants. I like it because it's casual and fun with terrific food. However, I was disappointed to learn that some of the putatively vegetarian dishes have undisclosed fish sauce in them. Ask before you order!
Finally, we were blown away to discover the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, which bills itself as "the premier organic raw vegan school in the world." Who knew that Fort Bragg could support a major raw foods cooking school? They have a cafe as part of the school, so we were thrilled to try it out. I'm usually not a big fan of raw foods restaurants; I find them overpriced and typically not very tasty. This place definitely wasn't cheap, but I thought it served the best raw food dishes I've had. I thoroughly enjoyed everything we tried. I think Fort Bragg gets unfairly overshadowed by Mendocino, but the Living Light Cafe is yet another reason to spend some time there.
November 17, 2007
Mineral Restaurant, Murphys, California
Over the years, we have found vegetarian restaurants in some wacky/unexpected places, but Mineral Restaurant ranks up there as one of our most surprising discoveries. Mineral Restaurant is a high end vegetarian restaurant designed to compete with other five-star Northern California vegetarian favorites such as Greens, Millennium and The Ravens. But instead of being located in a major metropolis like San Francisco or an eco-friendly upscale tourist town like Mendocino, Mineral is off the beaten track in downtown Murphys, a lovely but tiny town in the bucolic Gold Country about an hour from Stockton. How in the world can this small community support a vegetarian restaurant, let alone one charging top-of-the-line prices?
Mineral seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much. It celebrated its 1 year anniversary, which is probably 11 months longer than anyone expected, and every seat filled on a Friday night in late October (so make reservations). Then again, the restaurant only seats 20 (including the bar but excluding the outdoor patio). But they run a lean operation, with a staff of two—the owner-server and the owner-chef. So between low labor costs, high prices and filling to capacity on the weekends, perhaps the economics work out OK.
Mineral uses big plates to serve small portions. I suspect many meat eaters laugh when their plates arrive; this visual presentation may psychologically reinforce that they are going to go home hungry. But the three course tasting menu (which is what everyone orders) was plenty of food. At the end, we were too stuffed to contemplate dessert.
Although the restaurant isn’t fully vegan, the restaurant is an excellent choice for a vegan looking for a special meal.
Because Mineral’s menu changes constantly, I’m not going to critique each dish. Instead, to generalize the experience, most dishes had multiple and complex flavors, of which one was typically a little sweet. My wife absolutely loved the food, and she ranks it among the best she’s ever had. I was less enthusiastic. I thought the food was good but overly complicated and expensive--including the wine tasting, we ended up spending about $60/person. I would be just as happy spending $15/person at a much lower-frills but still tasty restaurant like Udupi Palace or Native Foods.
Although I’m not sure about the value proposition, I enthusiastically recommend that you check out Mineral if you’re willing to spend top dollar for a top quality culinary experience. It’s certainly competitive with Millennium as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Northern California (I think Greens is overrated and isn’t close to either). Better yet, enjoy a weekend as a tourist in Murphys. There is plenty to do, see and eat. As an added bonus, come back to Mineral a second time for lunch. Lisa and I both thought their “X-burger” made for an outstanding and affordable lunch.
UPDATE MAY 2008: Perhaps the economics weren't so great after all. Mineral has rechristened itself as the "Mineral Wine Bar and Kitchen' with a revamped, noticeably cheaper and far less vegan-friendly (but still vegetarian) menu.
October 28, 2007
Vegans vs. Vegetarians: What kind of diet is best for the environment?
Slate has an article recapping the environmental consequences of meat eating, vegetarianism and veganism. The article rightly explains the complexities of doing proper environmental cost accounting of our food choices, which must include both the manufacturing consequences but also the consequences of transporting food. The science is currently cloudy, so it's not 100% clear that veganism is always better environmentally than vegetarianism. At the same time, it IS clear that this issue is hardly getting the attention it deserves, which means that we as a society are missing obvious and easy ways to reduce our footprint on the earth.
October 15, 2007
Sitcoms with a Vegetarian/Animal Rights Emphasis
Over on Post Punk Kitchen, they are reminiscing about TV shows (especially 80s sitcoms) depicting vegetarianism or animal rights issues.
October 01, 2007
Vegans v. Vegetarians and Matters of the Heart
Religion and social status have always been deal breakers in relationships. But for those navigating today’s dating pool, the currents may just have gotten rougher....there’s the friction between vegans and vegetarians. It might sound counterintuitive; after all, neither group eats meat. But for many vegans—who also eschew animal products like the dairy and eggs eaten by vegetarians—love may not be enough to conquer ideology.
September 30, 2007
Vegan Cart Wins NYC Food Competition
Congratulations to the "Dosa Man," who operates a Sri Lankan vegan cartstand in Washington Square, for winning the Vendy Awards, a competition among Manhattan cart vendors.
August 29, 2007
"Meat Is the No. 1 Cause of Global Warming"
My wife and I have been a little baffled by the newfound attention paid to global warming and reduced footprints following An Inconvenient Truth. As consumers, we have been encouraged to take a wide variety of steps that have relatively small beneficial net effects--changing lightbulbs, buying carbon offsets, etc. Meanwhile, there is an obvious option that no one seemed to want to talk about--if we really want to reduce our footprint on the Earth and help reduce global warming, one of the single most effective steps people can take is to reduce their consumption of meat. Yet, this option--which requires no large outlays of cash like buying a hybrid car--is virtually ignored in the discussion, even though the science suggests that it would be more effective than changing cars. As a PETA rep says, "Environmentalists are still pointing their fingers at Hummers and S.U.V.’s when they should be pointing at the dinner plate." So why isn't vegetarianism/veganism getting the attention it deserves?
A recent NYT article discusses this phenomenon. According to the article, in response to a UN report concluding that the livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas than all types of transportation, animal rights groups are (IMO, belatedly) embracing global warming as a reason to go vegetarian/vegan. In contrast, many environmental groups continue to sidestep the issue. As the Sierra Club rep says, "we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective." I agree that lecturing isn't good, but consciousness-raising could work spectacularly, especially given how much attention and money is being allocated to the global warming issue right now.
Meanwhile, if you're buying carbon offset credits, you might consider saving your money and instead offsetting your impact by adding some extra vegetarian meals to your diet.
August 10, 2007
WSJ on Internet Hunting
From the WSJ: the battle to outlaw Internet hunting rages on. The Humane Society has boosted the number of outlawing states to 33, and along the way, gotten some bonus coverage, like California's ban on "Internet fishing" (I'd love to see that technology). The Humane Society is pleased with its success; its representative says this is "one of the fastest paces of reform for any animal issue that we can remember seeing." Well, of course, given that no one lobbying against the law! As a result, according to the WSJ, of the 3,563 legislators who have voted on Internet hunting bills, only about 1% (38) have voted no. At least a few legislators have realized the stupidity of this initiative. As one of the naysayers, Gerald W. Hocker from Delaware, said, "Internet hunting would be wrong...But there's a lot that would be wrong, if it were happening."
One remarkable thing about the effort to ban Internet hunting--it has produced some of the most god-awful asinine quotes from our public officials. I've blogged many such quotes before (check my vegetarian category from 2005), but the WSJ adds a few more pearls:
* "Melanie George Marshall, a Delaware state representative who sponsored an Internet-hunting ban that passed in June, considers her legislation a matter of homeland security. "I don't want to give ideas to people," she says, "but these kinds of operations would have the potential to make terrorism easier.""
* "Ms. Marshall, the Delaware state representative, realizes that nobody is actually killing animals on the Internet, but thinks now is the time to act. "What if someone started one of these sites in the six months that we're not in session?" "
For more on this topic, see my Internet hunting editorial from 2005.
June 23, 2007
No More Dairy Ice Cream for Me
It's been a few years since I've eaten dairy ice cream regularly. (When I eat "ice cream" at home, usually it's Double Rainbow Soy Cream). However, I do eat dairy ice cream occasionally when I'm out of the house, but no more. I was troubled to learn that some ice creams now contain "ice structuring antifreeze," which is genetically modified fish proteins derived from an unattractive eel-like fish called the ocean pout. I'm not thrilled about genetically modified proteins, but I'm even less thrilled about non-vegetarian ice cream. So, from now on, it's only vegan ice cream for me.
Speaking of vegan ice cream, we finally tried Maggie Mudd recently in Bernal Heights. What a spectacular vegan treat! Definitely worth the schlep.
May 22, 2007
NYT Op-Ed Against Vegan Kids
The NYT ran an op-ed called "Death by Veganism." Some "high"lights:
* "You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants."
* "There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run."
* "Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow."
FWIW, our kids are vegetarian, not vegan, and they do consume a fair amount of dairy (and some egg) in their normal diet. I'd love to see some scientific critique of this article though; it seems more troll-y and designed to spur sales of the author's book than a rigorous argument.
UPDATE: Another doctor blasts the editorial's author.
May 06, 2007
"Vegan eateries not just for hippies"
AP article on the proliferation of vegetarian restaurants. The article says there are 1,000-1,200 nationwide, a number that sounds very low to me, but it also says the number has doubled in the past 7 years, which I can believe. The article focuses on the growth of high-end vegetarian restaurants: "Once a network of grungy, obscure cafes, the vegetarian and vegan experience in some cities has blossomed on par with its carnivorous counterparts, complete with Zagat ratings and celebrity clienteles." While all of this is good news, I really don't like the headline. Maybe some day newspapers will run headlines like "Hamburger joints not just for carnivorous freaks."
April 27, 2007
Best of Mountain View 2007
Everyone loves rankings, so here is the 2007 ranking of the best services in Mountain View. I think in general this list is very good, but of course we could quibble--our favorite burritos are from Bueno Bueno; we think Garden Fresh (a cherished institution in our pre-Milwaukee days) has slipped; and I've never understood the big fuss over Amber India. But other conclusions are spot-on: Amarin for Thai food (ask for the special/separate vegetarian menu), and Hobee's for breakfast. Good stuff.
March 11, 2007
Associated Press on Internet Hunting
Yet another recap on the legislative frenzy to stop Internet hunting despite the lack of anyone in the market or wanting to be. I am always fascinated by the shifting basis of what constitutes the essential attributes of "hunting"--the lack of consensus on that topic makes it very hard to say why Internet hunting is different, but everyone quoted in virtually every article on the Internet hunting topic is sure that it is different!
March 07, 2007
British Report on Consumer Knowledge about Meat Manufacturing
I've blogged repeatedly on dichotomous consumer perceptions towards animals, such as consumers freaking out about SaveToby.com even though they would gladly eat Toby if prepackaged in the supermarket. As a result, I've asserted that consumers' willful ignorance of the meat manufacturing process increases consumer demand for meat compared to the "true equilibrium" level of demand if consumers actually understood the manufacturing process.
We get some further evidence of this in this new report about British consumers of meat. From the executive summary:
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the issue of welfare standards of food producing animals. ... However, consumers also lack knowledge on the food production system and, while they may express a demand for information on animal welfare, consumers will also voluntarily ignore the information, to avoid the realities of production.
Previous research has shown that consumers regularly over claim their propensity to purchase products with higher standards of animal welfare. Their willingness to pay more for improved animal welfare is in reality sometimes not put into practice. While consumers are more conscious about their food and where it has come from, many still do not use their beliefs within the decision making process.
This new research also reveals that consumers know very little about the supply chain, and in particular they are deliberately ignorant of anything that happens between slaughter and consumption. The only area that consumers do know – and want to know about – is the rearing and living stage prior to slaughter. By feeling that animals have been treated well at this stage, it helps to alleviate the guilt that consumers feel about consumption. This, in turn, drives the demand for higher welfare foods:
[Here's a nice money quote:]
“Higher welfare is about making sure that they can run around, and have a nice life before we eat them!” Leicester,Mixed Gender, Empty nesters, (BC1)
This raises a conundrum I haven't been able to solve. Normatively, I want consumers to confront the ugly truth about meat manufacturing, but descriptively, I have no idea how to accomplish this--if consumers aren't interested, there are very few ways to force them to care. The best I've come up with is putting a picture of Bessie on every package of meat containing Bessie, but I don't think that really hits the nail on the head.
February 27, 2007
Burger Wars Are Back--Introducing the Beer Barrel Main Event Charity Burger
In 2005, I had a series of posts about noteworthy burgers, including the 12.5 pound Zeus burger, the 15 pound Beer Barrel Belly Buster (only 10.5 pounds of beef) from Denny's Beer Barrel Pub (see the photo), whale burgers and poodle burgers.
Denny's Beer Barrel Pub has reignited the burger wars with the Beer Barrel Main Event Charity Burger, a 123 pounder (only 80 pounds beef) that costs $379. See the photo--mmm mmm good. Don't ask about calories--as the owner says, "If you were worried about calories you would be at home eating Kellogg's." Sounds like it would be a little pointless to ask about the number of cows sacrificed for the cause, too.
In any case, the escalating burger wars may spark a new variant of Moore's law by doubling the poundage every 2 years. In 2036 we'll be talking about the Galaxy burger which weighs more than all of the matter in our galaxy.
February 20, 2007
Internet Hunting Update
The AP updates the status of laws banning Internet hunting, a topic I blogged about extensively in 2005 and even wrote an editorial about. Encouraged by the Humane Society (on a roll with their regressive perspectives about Internet law), 25 states have now passed anti-Internet hunting laws. A proposed law is pending before the Connecticut legislature, but this law looks especially silly now that the only website ever to offer Internet hunting stopped doing so some time ago. So what, exactly, are Connecticut legislators regulating--the hypothetical prospect that a new player will decide to create this "industry" despite 25 other state laws to the contrary? Glad to see that there are not more pressing problems in Connecticut than to regulate non-existent websites!!!
February 02, 2007
Why is the National Pork Board, an extension of the US government, buying the trademark "the other white meat" for $60M? One economist speculates that it's because the seller, the National Pork Producers Council, is a private actor, which means the $60M wealth transfer can be used for lobbying purposes and other activities that aren't available to a government actor. I think it would be hard to find lots of comparable transactions where a trademark like this was valued so richly.
Whatever the case, I remain completely confused why the government is trying to encourage us to eat pork products. It reminds me of the dust-up over the California "Happy Cows" commercials, where the government propagandized (outside of judicial control) that California dairy cows are happy. Given all of the problems associated with the production, distribution and consumption of meat, I find it unfathomable that the government is trying to manipulate us to eat more of it.
UPDATE: Marty makes some other good points.
January 05, 2007
"You Can't Rattle a Robo-deer, but You Can Be Arrested for Shooting One"
Catching illegal hunters in the act can pose some unique challenges. The solution? Robotic animals that act as irresistible targets for the illegal hunters. According to the story:
Poachers aren't easy quarry, yet more and more law enforcement officials are nabbing them with a special kind of game that just begs to be shot… something like a young deer with an impressive rack of antlers, standing peacefully along a country road.
After a while, a truck drives by, stops, then backs up. The deer turns its head towards the vehicle, and a rifle barrel emerges from the driver's window. A shot breaks the silence. As the ricochet dies away, two game wardens leap from the brush, surprising the poacher. "Game warden!" they yell, "Put the gun on the ground, put the gun on the ground!"
The story says that the decoys are cost-effective; the $1,300 cost is made up by fines from arrests. One decoy in Wisconsin single-handedly has been responsible for 15 busts.
December 27, 2006
According to the Washington Post, kids with high IQs are more likely to become vegetarian than those with lower IQs. The article says: "Vegetarians were more likely to be female, of higher social class and better educated, but IQ was still a significant predictor of being vegetarian after adjustment for these factors."
December 02, 2006
SaveToby.com -- the Final Chapter
You may recall that I've blogged several times about SaveToby, the site that threatened to kill and eat Toby the cute rabbit if people didn't donate a total of $50,000. People went bonkers about the threat to a bunny (as opposed to livestock). Then, Toby's owners changed their story, saying that they required people to buy 100,000 copies of their book by Thanksgiving or Toby would get it.
It's hard to know if these fraudsters have ever told the truth, but surprise! Toby allegedly is still alive. (And, I'm reasonably confident, they didn't sell 100,000 copies of their book). According to their website (as of today):
Toby Has Finally Been Saved!!!!!
News Flash - In an unexpected twist with the story of Toby, the rabbit that was going to be cooked and eaten if the owners did not get enough donations to stop it from happening, Bored.com has taken over the SaveToby.com website and saved Toby from certain death. The owner of Bored.com heard about Toby on the NBC Nightly News and read about the controversy in the many newspapers and magazines savetoby.com was featured in over the past year, and decided to put an end to this atrocity. Terms of the deal are undisclosed, but Toby has been quoted as saying he is very happy with the arrangement.
Other than the joy of saving a cute and loving animal from a cruel demise, Bored.com gets nothing out of this, so please show your support by visiting some of their websites:
Unexpected? Hardly. I predicted in January: "the hucksters won't sell 100,000 copies of their book (who the heck is buying this book anyway?), yet miraculously Toby will find a way to survive the latest pratfall." And so, Toby lives (allegedly).
Meanwhile, from Bored.com's perspective, this is a straight traffic acquisition. SaveToby.com has a PR6 and presumably still generates significant traffic, so Bored.com probably paid the cash value of the new ad inventory. As a result, I don't advise visiting SaveToby.com. If you go, watch out for the multiple pop-up ads, and clicking on the text ads (such as the casino links) probably isn't a good idea.
In any case, with Toby putatively no longer in the frying pan (literally or figuratively), I close the book on this saga. Live long, Toby, and may your parsley always be fresh. As for Toby's owners, I suspect karma isn't through with them yet.
November 27, 2006
Beef with a Frank--Gershengorin v. Vienna Beef
Some observant Jews are suing Vienna Beef Hot Dog for extensively marketing that they are 100% beef (and, thus, acceptable for some Jews to eat, even if the hot dogs aren't otherwise strictly kosher), even though allegedly the wholesale ingredients list discloses that the ingredients include pork casing. As a vegetarian, I HATE undisclosed ingredients! My recommendation: next time, skip the meaty hot dogs altogether and go for the tofu dogs.
October 20, 2006
Eathufu.com -- Was it a Scam?
You may recall that last year I blogged on a website called Eathufu.com, which offered tofu designed to taste like human flesh. At the time, I wondered if this was just a big joke. Now, a year and a half later, there are some people who believe it may have just been a scam. The Eathufu website is down (according to Wikipedia, it's been down since the summer 2006), and apparently there are unhappy customers. According to the Wikipedia entry, "At present, no confirmed or reliable claims can be found of anyone's having received Hufu purchased via the company's home page."
July 28, 2006
Dead Deep Fried Fish = Threat Level Orange?
Vermillion County, Indiana, population 17,000, is located in the country's heartland along the Illinois border. It seems like an unlikely place to worry about homeland security. However, the county has a chemical depot that could be a terrorist target, so the Department of Homeland Security spent $300,000 to build a network of 11 emergency alert signs.
But obviously these signs aren't used very often by DHS, so why not find some other uses for them in the downtime? Like, for advertising! Sure beats one of those boring roadside signs "Litter Picked Up By..."
So far, the lucky advertisers include a local elementary school promoting its carnival, sponsors of a spaghetti dinner fundraiser(both of which reported above-average turnouts) and the fire department advertising its fish fry. Then again, maybe it is fitting to use the emergency alert system to warn of the massive destruction of fish!
July 21, 2006
"Extortionate Destruction" and SaveToby
An article in the Yale Law & Policy Review, Saving Toby: Extortion, Blackmail, and the Right to Destroy, discusses SaveToby.com, a perennial topic on this blog. The author argues that the law doesn't adequately inhibit threats on a bunny's life. In response, the author proposes a new crime of "extortionate destruction." Would I be a criminal if I threatened to start eating burgers and bratwursts unless I get $50,000 by the end of the year? Meanwhile, I continue to reiterate my call to Toby's owners to eat the damn rabbit already--before more trees get killed!
If you want to read more, the author posts a third party critique of the article and further defenses of it. In that post, the author lets us in on the fact that the article was written "with tongue at least partly in cheek." That was news to me! Given that the article was a critique of a gag website, I would think the author would know firsthand the difficulty of communicating humor (or, even harder, partial humor) in written form.
On the website SaveToby.com, one may find many endearing pictures of Toby, the cutest little bunny on the planet. Unfortunately, on June 30, 2005, the lovable Toby was scheduled to be butchered and eaten - unless the website's readers sent $50,000 to save his life.
Though Toby's owner has since granted him a temporary reprieve - until Nov. 6, 2006 - the threat raises a fascinating issue of law. Extortion statutes prohibiting threats to destroy property generally do not prohibit threats to destroy one's own property. The law thus provides insufficient protection to a variety of resources on which others place value, including historic buildings, treasured paintings, and adorable bunny rabbits.
This Comment proposes that legislatures protect Toby under a new criminal offense of extortionate destruction. It presents the moral case for the offense by analogy to blackmail. Although destruction of property, like telling others' secrets, is normally lawful, both can be rendered wrongful by the unjustified use of a coercive threat. Such a threat specifically aims at causing unpleasantness to the offeree; the owner commits to killing Toby only because he hopes someone else will pay him not to. Such threats cannot be defended by the economic or expressive values inherent in the traditional right to destroy, and shed light on the ongoing debate over the nature and wrongness of blackmail. The Comment concludes by suggesting model statutory language designed to safeguard property owners' legitimate interests, while appropriately protecting future artworks, antiquities, and bunny rabbits from Toby's sad fate.
May 25, 2006
Whole Foods vs. the Outpost
I maintain a page on being a vegetarian in Milwaukee. On that page, I discuss a local natural foods grocery chain, the Outpost, and the eagerly-anticipated arrival of Whole Foods. I wrote: "When Whole Foods gets here, I don’t know how the Outpost is going to successfully compete" because the Outpost is very expensive and Whole Foods has such a strong brand.
In response, I got an email from Lisa Malmarowski, Director of Brand and Store Development of the Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative. With her permission, I'm quoting her response:
"I really wanted to communicate with you personally about your question regarding how Outpost will compete with the national chain Whole Foods moving into our market.
It's no secret that Whole Foods has been looking for a site in the Milwaukee area for more than 10 years. During that time, we haven't been content to rest on our cooperative, community owned laurels. We've been actively improving our operations, opening new locations and striving to lower prices without compromising quality.
Outpost currently employes more than 350 people, we're a UFCW union workplace too (unlike Whole Foods), we expect to net more than 22 million in sales from our three locations, magazine operations and catering division this year and we're co-owned by nearly 13,000 area residents. We're not going anywhere! We're in a stable position, ready to compete - not just with the nationals, but also with places like Pick N' Save, Sendik's and other strong regional players.
We are also connected with other food cooperatives across the nation via the National Cooperative Grocers Association. Co-ops nationally are second only to Whole Foods in their buying power and are still viable, vibrant businesses. For example, the Riverwest Co-op is one of many new co-ops that have opened across the country.
We plan to compete by offering a unique shopping experience, a fast in an out trip and excellent customer service. The Milwaukee grocery market has become increasingly competitive in the last 5 years with new grocery stores opening (Sendik's expansion), the Public Market, Pick N' Save's new locations and others. Yet we have still grown.
In other markets with strong cooperative groceries where Whole Foods has opened, these stores have survived and thrived, sometimes seeing an initial nominal drop in sales, but then a sales increase. Whole Foods positions themselves to compete w/ big stores, especially those that feature gourmet, fresh selections. They also do a great job of increasing awareness for natural foods and savvy retailers can draft off this awareness.
Hopefully you've stuck with me through my marketing discussion. What you said struck a cord in me and reminded me of that famous quote by Mark Twain, "The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” We'll do okay, and even Beans & Barley will do okay, because the main part of their business is the service restaurant. Sure, folks will check out the new places, but I imagine that many Milwaukeeans will want to continue to patronize the places that make and keep Milwaukee unique - that's a position that Whole Foods can't own since they're a national chain."
I think it would be great if Whole Foods has a tentpole effect of stimulating demand for natural foods across-the-board. At the same time, while Milwaukee isn't California, there's a lot more options for the natural foods consumer than we imagined there would be. Not only are there venerable institutions like the Outpost and Beans & Barley, but as Lisa says, there has been an expansion in the market, such as the new Riverwest Co-Op, the new Public Market (which is terrific, BTW) and the expansion of Sendik's. The market has gotten noticeably richer in the past 4 years, even without the arrival of Whole Foods. In any case, Milwaukee is lucky to have the Outpost, and I hope it continues to thrive.
Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful response, Lisa. And good luck to you and the Outpost!
April 01, 2006
Real Firefighters Eat Tofu
A fire engine squad in Austin, TX has gone vegan. I think it's amazing that this news item makes the NY Times. It shows just how deeply meat is ingrained in many American subcultures (including firefighters). Kudos to the crew of Engine #2--I'd be proud to have them working on my tax dollars.
March 27, 2006
Sunstein on Animal Cruelty
Cass Sunstein and Jeffrey Leslie weigh in on animal cruelty and the market for meat in the new article Animal Rights without Controversy. Predictably, they favor a disclosure-based scheme as a regulatory control, but they punt on the optimal types of disclosure.
Though I am normally cynical about mandatory disclosure schemes, this one may have merit. Unquestionably, there is widespread deliberate ignorance about "how the sausage gets made," and greater understanding of the process could significantly influence social attitudes towards meat.
I'll go one step further than Leslie/Sunstein and suggest a specific disclosure approach. Meat manufacturers should be required to display the animal's name, picture and date and method of death on the product packaging. The label could say: "This is Bessie. Here's a picture of her. She was killed by a piston to the head on March 27, 2006." As we saw with the (over)reaction to SaveToby.com, many people freak out when they visualize their meat as an individual animal.
However, instead (or in addition to) a disclosure scheme, I think it would be even more powerful to eliminate the variety of subsidies in the meat manufacturing, distribution and retailing chain. People may or may not care about the size of pig stalls or the debeaking process, but they absolutely care about their pocketbooks and the availability of cheap meat. Put an end to cheap meat, and lots of animal suffering will end as well.
The Leslie/Sunstein abstract:
"Many consumers would be willing to pay something to reduce the suffering of animals used as food. The problem is that existing markets do not disclose the relevant treatment of animals, even though that treatment would trouble many consumers. Steps should be taken to promote disclosure, so as to fortify market processes and to promote democratic discussion of the treatment of animals. In the context of animal welfare, a serious problem is that people’s practices ensure outcomes that defy their existing moral commitments. A disclosure regime could improve animal welfare without making it necessary to resolve the most deeply contested questions in this domain."
January 12, 2006
Atlanta High School Cafeteria Has Separate Vegetarian Lunch Line
Atlanta is one of my least-favorite big cities to visit because of the paucity of vegetarian options. Even food that ought to be vegetarian is usually spiked with meat. Not infrequently, I'll hear from restaurant servers comments like "Yes, [X] is vegetarian--there's just a little [pig product] in it for flavoring." (I'm always fascinated by how many Southerners think of pig as a vegetable.)
So it was very surprising to read that Grady High School in Atlanta is one of the few high schools in the country to offer a vegetarian lunch line in its cafeteria. Among the offerings: veggie eggrolls, pasta salad, vegetarian pizza and--get this--sloppy joes made with tofu!
Further, the article notes how many meat-eaters "jump the line" to the vegetarian options. I'm not really surprised by this; instead, I am constantly surprised by how many restaurants don't offer a "real" vegetarian option or do so only as a clear after-thought. I think many meat-eaters will voluntarily choose vegetarian options when restaurants take those options seriously.
January 01, 2006
Save Toby Book
You may recall the pathetic tale of SaveToby.com. I blogged on it previously here and here. A short recap: two uproariously funny dudes threatened to eat cute Toby the Rabbit unless we do what they want--initially, pay $50,000 by June 30, 2005; now, buy 100,000 copies of their side-splittingly funny book by November 2006 (one place on the website says Nov. 6; another place says Thanksgiving).
I'm not sure if these charlatans have ever told us the truth, but at least they did deliver on one promise--they published their book about Toby. You can buy it on Amazon for $10, but why would you do that? If you absolutely, positively have to read the book, make sure to BUY IT USED so that the charlatans don't get another cent. (You can find used copies on Half.com and Amazon).
This likely will be my second-to-last posting about Save Toby. My last posting will be in November 2006 when I check in to see what happened. Here's my prediction: the hucksters won't sell 100,000 copies of their book (who the heck is buying this book anyway?), yet miraculously Toby will find a way to survive the latest pratfall. After all, I seem to recall a fable about killing the golden goose...er, golden rabbit... Then again, don't be surprised if November 2006 brings yet another new peril to Toby's well-being.
Meanwhile, read this expose on SaveToby and the copycats who lack both humor and originality.
Finally, the SaveToby story inspired my contracts exam question this year. Check out the fun my students had.
November 21, 2005
Thanksgiving and Vegetarians
I don't think meat-eaters fully appreciate how many Thanksgiving rituals revolve around the bird. The turkey determines when dinner is served. The turkey occupies the center of the table. The head of the household displays his or her carving excellence in cutting the turkey. Everyone fights over the wishbone. The turkey causes everyone to be sleepy after the meal. And then we talk about turkey leftovers for weeks afterwards.
Vegetarians often feel excluded from these rituals, so Thanksgiving often has different connotations for vegetarians. However, I'm not suggesting that meat-eaters shouldn't enjoy their turkey-related rituals. On the contrary, let me suggest three ways that meat-eaters can accommodate vegetarian guests like me at Thanksgiving:
1) Please don't do anything special for me. It breaks my heart when someone invites me to their home for Thanksgiving, cooks up a storm, and then feels like they have to something extra just for me. The ironic part is that there is always so much vegetarian food at the table that I don't need more. So don't fret about whether I've had enough to eat. I prefer not to be the center of attention, and as my expanding spare tire attests, I rarely go hungry.
2) Please give me accurate information about which dishes I can eat. Many Thanksgiving recipes unexpectedly contain meat, so I often don't know what dishes I can and can't eat. A quick narration of dishes helps immensely. But sometimes the narrator doesn't understand what on my verboten list; if in doubt, this should be discussed.
3) Please don't feel guilty about enjoying your rituals. The last thing I want to do is undermine the experience for you.
I'm often surprised how much the food distracts from the spiritual aspect of Thanksgiving. To me, Thanksgiving is about realizing how blessed we are and sharing that realization and the experience with loved ones. If this happens, I have a wonderful Thanksgiving regardless of who eats what.
November 18, 2005
Turkey Prices and Economic Inefficiency
This kind of stuff drives vegetarians crazy. Wholesale price of turkeys: $0.70/lb or more. Retail price of turkeys during Thanksgiving: $0.39/lb. The reason: grocery stores subsidize turkey sales as a loss leader to increase traffic.
I don't have a problem with people eating turkey on Thanksgiving (or at other times) so long as they pay the true social cost of turkeys. But if meat prices reflected true social costs, people would eat a lot less meat. Instead, subsidies and incomplete cost accounting throughout the manufacturing, distribution and retail chain lead to meat prices well below its true social cost. In turn, underpricing leads to overproduction and overconsumption of turkeys and other meats. So cheap turkey prices makes for an artificially happy Thanksgiving for eaters (and definitely not for turkeys).
Meanwhile, we've been reading "Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving" to Jacob. I'm not sure the ultimate conclusion makes sense (I wouldn't want a live turkey in my house), but it's a seasonally-topical yet vegetarian-friendly book.
UPDATE: Reuters talks about the heritage turkey phenomenon, where people can watch a webcam of free-range turkeys frolic before meeting the ax. I wonder why this website is treated differently than the SaveToby.com website?
October 19, 2005
eBay Removes Auction for Right to Hunt Deer
eBay Britain removed an auction offering the right to bag a specifically-identified "21 point farmed master stag," which is probably a "semi-tame" deer. eBay responded to a complaint from an animal rights activist group about the auction, even though print periodicals regularly run similar ads--the only difference being that the eBay auction specificially identified the target with a photo. eBay's rationale? Advertising to kill a live animal violated eBay's policy against auctioning live animals. This rationale is a joke--the point of the live animals auction ban is that the shipment of animals is heavily regulated and, in the case of certain types of animals like ferrets, sometimes outright illegal. As the article points out, there's nothing illegal about advertising a hunt.
So what's eBay's real reason, and what's causing the animal rights group to target eBay and not the print publications? I see strong analogies to the silliness over the Toby the Rabbit extortion flap and the irrational dichotomy between Internet hunting (bad) and physical-space hunting (tolerated). In all cases, the Internet appears to be clouding clear thinking. What is it about the Internet mediation that makes killing animals worse than the offline analogues???
October 02, 2005
NY Enacts Anti-Internet Hunting Law
I've lost track of most state initiatives to outlaw Internet hunting, but this article from Michael Gormley at the Associated Press caught my attention because of all of the rhetorical posturing/intellectual dishonesty. Consider the following quotes:
NY Gov. George Pataki: "Hunters play an important role in environmental conservation, but these remote hunting games serve no useful purpose."
[Eric's comment: it would be great to unpack how hunters play an important role in environmental conservation. Note, of course, that offline hunters are allowed to hunt on game farms just like online hunters. Also, I wonder why providing physically-challenged individuals the opportunity to engage in hunting isn't a "useful purpose."]
Sen. Carl Marcellino: "The practice of making road kill out of living animals via the information superhighway should be stopped now."
[Eric's comment: there are many ways to riff on this quote, but I think it speaks for itself.]
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm: "Using computer technology to shoot at caged animals from a distance is a corruption of our proud hunting traditions."
[Eric's comment: who said anything about caged animals? Maybe she thinks of game farms with potentially thousands of acres as a "cage"...but offline hunting is legal there too. Also, what makes our hunting tradition "proud"?]
One final point: the "safety" concerns about Internet hunting are a joke. Which one gives you more concern?
* a controlled access game farm where a mounted gun is monitored by a real person who can override any commands from the hunter (as is the case with Live-shot.com), or
* arming thousands of people--who might have limited gun safety training and who may be drinking while hunting--and setting them loose to blast at anything that moves (even if it's wearing an orange blaze vest).
Consider some empirical data.
FWIW, I simply will not go hiking in Wisconsin during deer hunting season. I don't consider it safe regardless of any precautions I might take. As a result, if we're really concerned about hunting safety, I think Internet hunting would not be our top priority.
September 29, 2005
"It is now illegal to blast Bambi over the Internet in 11 states"
August 24, 2005
VegNews Best of... Survey
VegNews is running its annual survey of the best of vegetarian products and services.
I voted for Native Foods (LA, Palm Springs, Palm Desert) as the best vegetarian restaurant. I was torn because I also cannot get enough of A Votre Sante (Brentwood; not purely vegetarian). When I travel to LA, I swing by A Votre Sante virtually every trip. But when I'm in Palm Springs, I make my trip almost daily. Honestly, I could eat at Native Foods for every meal.
[Addition: two other restaurants of note--Udupi Palace in Sunnyvale, a mandatory stop every time I'm in the South Bay, and Smart Alec's in Berkeley, another place I could eat at every day.]
I struggled with favorite vegetarian celebrity. There were many good choices! I admire Alicia Silverstone for her recent hard-core vegan wedding. Pamela Anderson has done positive high-profile work for PETA. Tobey Maguire is...well, he's Spiderman. They didn't even include Kelly Monaco on the list (I guess she was too low profile before Dancing with the Stars). But in the end, I voted for Natalie Portman. She's so classy!
I must confess to being shocked at the choices for best vegetarian cookbook author. Tanya's Native Foods cookbook is great (but complicated), so she was the best of the listed choices. But Nava Atlas' recipes are generally wonderful--where was she? And, even more critically, where was Mollie Katzen??? Mollie got my write-in vote.
UPDATE: The winners.
July 23, 2005
New(ish) Vegetarian Restaurant in Milwaukee--Riverwest Co-Op Grocery and Cafe
In Fall 2004, the Riverwest Co-op Grocery & Café (733 E. Clarke St., Milwaukee, WI 53212, (414) 264-7933) quietly launched an all-vegetarian café next to its grocery store (which is located in the Riverwest district, an eclectic and somewhat dilapidated part of East Milwaukee). This is an exciting addition to the vegetarian community in town, and early reports suggest that the café is popular.
The menu isn’t huge and the hours are spotty (you should call ahead to check hours), but we enjoyed our meals on our first visit. Virtually every menu item can be made vegan, and prices are extremely reasonable (the most expensive item on the menu is $6.00). We especially liked the vegan pancakes—they were decently fluffy, and it was impossible to tell that they were vegan.
There are only 3 ramshackle tables at the restaurant, so you will probably want (need?) to take your meal to-go. While you’re waiting for your meal, you can check out the tiny selection of groceries at the co-op; you’ll have better selection at the Outpost or Beans & Barley, but the co-op’s offerings still are a welcome contribution to the community.
If you're interested in more about the Milwaukee vegetarian scene, I've completely updated my list of vegetarian/vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Milwaukee.
July 13, 2005
Will Poodle Burgers Be Next?
A New Zealand restaurant offers "Mr. Ed is Dead," a meal made from char-grilled horse steaks. The restaurant received a number of complaining calls that were "pretty lively and disgusting and not comforting for the staff." Nevertheless, the restaurant sold 10 horse-steak dinners in one evening, going to show that people will eat just about anything.
UPDATE: Ever the curious researcher, I learned a new word today: "hippophagy," or the practice of eating horse. This article does a pretty good job talking through the pros and cons of hippophagy. As the article says, "So we’ll eat Bambi, but we won’t eat Trigger?"
July 05, 2005
What Happened to Toby the Rabbit?
You may remember the silly story of Toby, a cute bunny featured on the website SaveToby.com. The owners threatened to kill and eat Toby if they did not get $50,000 in donations by June 30. I'm sure you're as shocked as I am that (a) the extortionists didn't get their $50,000, yet (b) Toby is safe, at least for now. The charlatans blame their shortfall on PayPal for blackballing them, but they decided not to devour Toby yet despite the shortfall.
Meanwhile, showing their typical enterprising spirit, they have found a new extortion scheme. They promise to release a funny book and will spare Toby's life if you buy their book. (So far, no specifics on how many copies need to be sold (and by when) to save Toby). They promise the book by September, but their (minimal) credibility is already spent.
Here's my counterproposal to them: eat the damn rabbit already, and spare all of us from having to see your book. I think that would be a better outcome for all of us (except Toby).
July 02, 2005
Like Serving Poodle Burgers at a Dog Show...
Karin Robertson, manager of PETA's "Fish Empathy Project," has asked the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA to stop serving fish in its cafeteria.. She claims "serving fish at an aquarium is like serving poodle burgers at a dog show" and notes that "they don't sell elephant burgers at the zoo, and they shouldn't be selling fish at aquariums."
For me, this raises several questions:
* I wonder how many people would eagerly try a poodle burger or an elephant burger, whether served at a dog show, a zoo or somewhere else? I've given up underestimating Americans' appetite for burgers.
* What professional development steps must a person take to get a job working at the Fish Empathy Project? I assume that most people are unaware of this as a career option.
* If the Aquarium does not have a whales exhibit, would PETA be OK if they served whale burgers?
Unfortunately, the Aquarium of the Pacific has declined PETA's request, continuing to offer clam chowder, rainbow trout, catfish, tilapia and salmon.
June 24, 2005
Wisconsin Legislature Passes Anti-Internet Hunting Law
The Wisconsin Senate has passed AB 179, the anti-Internet hunting law that had previously passed the Assembly. The law is going to Gov. Doyle, who has said he plans to sign it (although he thinks cat hunting is a bad idea). I have nothing good to say about this law, and I have an editorial in the works that takes aim (sorry for the pun) at those who think that this law is either important or a good idea. I've posted on this topic previously--start here and work backwards.
June 23, 2005
In America, the newest restaurant "innovation" is increasingly massive burgers. In Japan, the newest innovation is to use massive animals as the source of fast food burger meat--in this case, Minke whale meat, putatively left over from the 900 whales a year killed for "research."
May 31, 2005
PETA has "spies" who get jobs at companies that might be engaging in animal abuse so that they may document the company's behavior. On the face of it, this seems to put the employee/spy in a potentially illegal position, as most companies will require the employee to sign restrictive NDAs that would need to be breached to make the intended disclosures. However, I would think that any disclosures of illegal behavior would be protected by whistleblower laws--this may or may not be enough for the employee to keep the job (which is a moot point) but should excuse any breach of an NDA.
I'm not sure I agree with the commentators who call the spies illegal/unethical. Every employee has private agendas, not all of them disclosed to the employer. I do think the "spy" has to perform the job that he/she was hired to do, but if this is done, then I think it's perfectly legitimate for the person to have a second agenda.
May 17, 2005
Good News for Vegetarian Cannibals
It’s a little hard to take this seriously, but I’ve been unable to confirm if it’s a joke/cheap publicity stunt.
A Dartmouth Business School student is planning to offer tofu designed to taste like human flesh. Initially the website will just offer Hufu Classic Strips, designed to "resemble the choicer flesh, which is upper arms, thighs and buttocks." However, future offerings are supposed to include Hufu Hearts and Dr. Lector's Liver, along with a recipe for “Dr. Lector's Liver and Fava Beans.” (Not sure about the trademark implications of the Dr. Lector-branded products).
The student wisely recognizes that the market for cannibals who would prefer tofu substitutes is small, but he hopes to build a branding empire on the cannibalism shtick. I guess that passes for a business plan nowadays.
Meanwhile, I think I speak on behalf of most vegetarians who like tofu when I say: gee, thanks for further denigrating the public’s perception of tofu. Like we don’t get enough grief as it is.
(Thanks to Jewish Buddha for the reference)
May 10, 2005
Massive Burger Watch
3 gentlemen (weighing a combined total of 910 pounds!) ate a 12.5 pound “Zeus” burger from Clinton Station Diner in a little over an hour. Still no announcement that anyone has conquered the Beer Barrel Belly Buster.
May 09, 2005
Update on Live-shot.com
The Washington Post runs an update on Live-shot.com and the immense legislative response to shut down the website. Meanwhile, due to the apparent magnitude and time-criticalness of the problem, the California Fish & Game Department is rushing to prepare ”emergency” regulations to prohibit Internet hunting.
I find it interesting that hunters have stated, in such emphatic terms, exactly what constitutes “hunting.” It reminds me a little of the debate taking place among virtual world scholars about what constitutes a “game.” Is Internet hunting “hunting,” a “game,” or something else?
I'm less interested in the semantics and more interested in how we morally justify hunting generally. Why is shooting animals in person is OK but shooting animals via the Internet is wrong? The outcome is the same (dead animals). The process is the same (pull trigger/click mouse). The morality, in my book, is the same (killing for “sport” seems equally questionable to me). If we could answer why allowing hunting is good social policy from a holistic perspective (i.e., not just that it’s tradition), then perhaps we could be more accurate why we shouldn’t allow Internet hunting. My suspicion is that there’s no rigorous way to distinguish the two. Certainly I can't haven't seen a valid distinction yet.
You can read my several other rants opposing the regulation of Internet hunting here.
May 03, 2005
Beer Barrel Belly Buster
Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, PA is now offering a 15 pound burger (only 10.5 pounds are actually beef). Says one patron who tried to unsuccessfully tried to consume the entire burger with 3 buddies, “It's like trying to eat half a cow.” The proprietor says it can feed a family of 10, but that's still 1.5 pounds of burger per person.
UPDATE: CNN has some more details on the burger escalation wars.
April 30, 2005
Yet More on AdSense Ads
AsSense has now gone 180 degrees with my ads. Having had hunting ads for several days (which did pretty well clickthrough-wise, FWIW), today I’m seeing the following ads on my site:
One-stop vegan shopping
Hundreds of cruelty-free products Shoes, food, cosmetics and more
LACTAID® Milk Products
LACTAID® Milk is Real Milk - Great tasting, farm-fresh, Lactose Free
Gluten & Dairy Free Foods
Looking for Wheat & Dairy Free Food Mom to Mom Support and Answers
I wish this meant that Google is getting better at understanding this site. Instead, with my next round of posts on Internet hunting or kitty-hunting, I’m sure to get more about bagging bears in Maine.
April 26, 2005
New Ads--This Time from PETA!
Why dairy products won't help you maintain healthy bones
I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian, so I’m not completely anti-milk. However, I’ve definitely scaled back my consumption of dairy products in the last couple of years (such as switching to soy milk for my breakfast cereal), so I’m a lot happier to have the PETA ads than the hunting ads!
(FWIW, Jacob doesn't seem to like dairy milk; we've offered it to him but he won't drink it. Plus, he has an allergy to eggs, so we don't give him eggs either. So he's a nearly vegan baby!).
April 22, 2005
MacMillan on Internet Hunting
Robert MacMillan at the Washington Post weighs in on anti-Internet hunting laws. He reaches the sensible conclusion that “using a broadband connection to bag game isn't any better or worse than doing it in person.”
In the course of doing so, MacMillan references an LA Times editorial by Dale Jamieson, who made a jaw-droppingly asinine “slippery slope” argument: “you have people who enjoy killing animals over the Internet. But of course the next step in this is that people start killing people over the Internet. That's the worry.”
No, that’s not the worry, at least not among hunters, animal rights activists or anyone else whose logic I respect. Animal rights activists generally object to all hunting, so Internet hunting is just another objectionable variation. For hunters, Internet hunting denigrates the psychological dynamics of why hunting matters to them. Hunting is about bravado/ego and power, a way of measuring cojones and satisfying a god complex. Thus, I think hunters oppose Internet hunting because it reduces the impressiveness of in-person hunting and democratizes the power to dispense death.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure whether remote-controlled hunting or in-person hunting is more susceptible to the slippery slope argument. What is more troubling—killing an animal remotely or while watching the victim up-close-and-personal, close enough to sense any suffering, close enough smell the blood? It seems to me that a person who can kill "for fun" while experiencing these senses is at least as comfortable ignoring the collateral implications of their actions than someone engaged in point-and-click hunting.
My goal isn’t specifically to rail against hunting generally. I don’t hunt and I hope my children will never do so either, but I’m not advocating that we outlaw it either. Instead, I reject the hypocrisy of finding unique ethical challenges in Internet hunting. The fact that some hunters, animal rights activists and commentators have embraced, and tried to rationalize, this hypocrisy is analytically amusing and emotionally dispiriting.
April 21, 2005
Unhappy Cows Aren't Protected From Government Propaganda
The California Supreme Court denied certiorari in PETA’s lawsuit against the California Milk Producers Advisory Board over the marketing “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.” As a result, it appears that the case is dead. (You can find the appellate court ruling at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. California Milk Producers Advisory Bd., 125 Cal. App. 4th 871, 22 Cal. Rptr. 3d 900 (Cal. App. Ct. Jan 11, 2005)).
I’m not a member of PETA and I don’t always agree with them, but I think they are 100% right to have challenged this campaign. The case turned on a technical point about government immunity, but that immunity is the problem. I’m not sure we would all agree on what constitutes a “happy” cow, but I think the lives of most dairy cows (in California or elsewhere) would be considered “unhappy” by anyone’s standards. Thus, if cheese consumers fully understood the living conditions of dairy cows, I think the desire to consume cheese (or dairy products generally) would significantly decrease. Instead, a public entity is freely disseminating misinformation to create/prop up the demand for cheese. This is what I call propaganda; isn’t there any way to stop it?
April 14, 2005
Congress Goes After Live-Shot.com
Rep. Davis has introduced an anti-Internet hunting bill to Congress.
Rep. Davis said “Why should someone be able to point, click and kill?” Clearly, hunters should be required to point, pull trigger and kill.
He continued “fair chase is a basic element of hunting.” I’m not sure how “fair” the chase is when hunters have high velocity projectiles that can kill an animal from hundreds of yards and when hunters camp out on stands well off the ground. It might be worth noting that Live-Shot.com conducted its first Internet hunt last weekend but the hunter came up empty. Too bad he had such an unfair advantage over the animals.
The president of the Humane Society criticized Internet hunting because it “would distance the hunter entirely from the act of killing.” And how does that differ from a meal at McDonalds....?
April 13, 2005
Gov. Doyle Threatens Veto of Cat-Hunting Proposal
Gov. Doyle has threatened to veto any proposal to legalize cat-hunting in Wisconsin, saying that the proposal “hold[s] us up as a state that everybody is kind of laughing at right now.” Some of us are still “laughing” at Wisconsin for wasting its time trying to ban Internet hunting as well, especially in light of Sen. Kedzie’s statement that the issue is “a distraction from the main tasks we have at hand.” Presumably, those main tasks include banning a type of hunting that a single website in Texas has proposed to offer. Perhaps some of us will stop laughing when the Wisconsin legislature demonstrates that it is serious about improving social welfare instead of spending an inordinate amount of time debating about how to regulate/deregulate hunting.
April 12, 2005
Cat-Hunting in Wisconsin
I’ve already blogged about Wisconsin’s efforts to ban Internet hunting because it’s not “real” hunting. Now Wisconsin is considering allowing hunters to hunt kitties. Is bagging Fluffy more consistent with hunting norms than Internet hunting?
April 06, 2005
More Fallout From Live-Shot.com
California is moving to pass a law against Internet hunting. According to Cal. Sen. Debra Bowen, “This isn't hunting; it's an inhumane, over the top, pay-per-view video game using live animals for target practice….Shooting live animals over the Internet takes absolutely zero hunting skills, and it ought to be offensive to every legitimate hunter.” Perhaps Sen. Bowen can clarify why “legitimate” hunting is both humane and something more than using live animals for target practice.
On that front, there are some weird bedfellows supporting anti-Internet hunting laws—hunting groups like the California Sportsmen's Association, Safari Club International and the Outdoor Sportsman's Coalition of California, but also the Humane Society of the US. Clearly these groups support the laws for very different reasons!
Meanwhile, Wisconsin had its hearing on AB 179 last week but I’ve not been able to find any information about what happened. Further, the bill’s history shows that yesterday “executve action” was taken on the bill—still trying to figure out what that means.
March 30, 2005
Google AdSense Thinks This is a Site for Hunters
Google AdSense thinks this site is relevant to hunters. This is due to my prior post on the Wisconsin legislature’s efforts to regulate Internet hunting. I used the phrase "hunt," "hunting" or hunter 12 times in that post. As a result, today my blog displays the following ads:
Utah Pheasant Hunting
Premium guided bird hunts on 3000 acres of private Utah farmland
Saskatchewan Deer Hunt
Great Hunt, I can't go, take my spot in 2005 get your 180
A Bird Dog's Dream Hunt
Guided hunts on private ND acres Limit out on pheasants, grouse
Colorado Elk Hunting
Primitive Wilderness Elk Hunting Since 1982, Guided and drop camps
Needless to say, Google has mischaracterized this site and its likely audience!
March 25, 2005
Live-Shot.com and the Wisconsin Legislative Response
A few weeks ago I blogged about Live-shot.com, a Texas-based website that is planning to allow a person to operate a real 30.06 gun on a platform to “hunt” animals. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the operator of Live-shot.com claims that "hunting on the Web is for people with disabilities who can't get out in the woods or for those who aren't able to participate in hunts, such as soldiers serving overseas."
A Wisconsin legislator, Rep. Scott Gunderson, also heard about Live-shot.com. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quotes him as saying: “When you talk to regular hunters, they say this is just wrong…It's about being out in the woods, being one-on-one in nature with the animals.”
Rep. Gunderson has introduced a bill (AB 179) that says "No person may shoot or shoot at a farm−raised deer [or captive wild animal] while hunting unless the person is in physical possession of the weapon." The Wisconsin Assembly Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on this bill next Wednesday. Note that this flurry of activity has been initiated by a single website, not in Wisconsin, that has yet to conduct its first web “hunt.”
Unquestionably, hunting is a Big Deal here in Wisconsin. During deer-hunting season, little towns in deer-hunting areas swell from wide spots in the road to 10,000 person boomtowns. On the Interstate freeways running through town, it’s almost impossible during deer season to drive without seeing a deer carcass strapped to a vehicle. So it’s not surprising that local politicians are desperate to grandstand for the hunting voters.
However, the Wisconsin legislature spent a lot of time over the last 2 years debating the definition of “marriage,” and now it will spend time debating the definition of “hunting.” From my perspective, the Wisconsin legislature seems to have too much discretionary time. Perhaps they might choose to allocate that time trying to define things like “balanced budget” or “no new tax increases.” I’m going to go out on a limb and venture that even Wisconsin hunters would be more impressed by that.
UPDATE: Channel 3000's report with photos, video and poll
March 18, 2005
Silly story about SaveToby.com. The author claims that he will eat Toby, a little bunny, unless people chip in $50,000 by June 30, 2005. This threat isn’t all that weird, and it’s not even all that original. What's weird that some people are upset about this—why? Because the author is going to eat rabbit? Because he has identified a specific rabbit he wants to eat and that he has a name for it? Because he wants to be paid not to eat the named rabbit? (This is just the Coase Theorem in action—we can pay him to not engage in actions that create negative utility for us).
The “joke,” of course, is that people eat rabbits and other livestock every day. Most of the time, the meat is delivered in plastic-wrapped packages or doused in some sauce—in each case, as anonymized and depersonalized food, not as the remains of an animal with a name and cute picture on the website. So any meat-eater who is upset by SaveToby.com should consider exactly how these situations are different.
Meanwhile, I’m making a promise/threat of my own. Pay me $50,000 or I will go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac made from Bessie.
Thanks to Steve Middlebrook for the reference.
March 04, 2005
Hunting Technologies and Ethics
AP article on how states are regulating new hunting technologies. The lead item from the story: a website where hunters can control and fire a 30.06 by point-and-click. The article quotes Kirby Brown, executive director of the Texas Wildlife Association, a hunters' group as criticizing the website because "It's off the ethical charts."
From a vegetarian’s perspective, this attempt to fix a line between ethical and unethical hunting practices is very, very strange. Technology has already grossly distorted nature's balance between hunter and hunted, so how can we know when we've gone too far?
February 15, 2005
McDonald's Hit With Second Large Settlement Over its French Fries
McDonald’s pays out $8.5M for failing to adequately disclose delays in switching the oils used to cook its french fries. Of course, vegetarians still remember McDonald’s past misrepresentations about its French fries being vegetarian.