There is a persistent rumor in San Francisco that Zante Pizza & Indian Cuisine, birthplace of the distinctly regional phenomenon known as “Indian pizza,” is run by one “Mr. Zante,” a dark-haired man of indeterminate age who blends the affable bravado of Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Kahn and the sphinx-like calm of a young Omar Sharif. While I’m almost entirely sure I’ve made this up, it seems just as likely to be true as the story I’m told by the man who serves me a slice of chicken tikka masala pizza on a Friday afternoon.
Mona Lee Brock went into the office early that morning, as she always did, when she received a panicked phone call. The telephones in the crisis center were lighting up all over the place, as was common. This particular call was from a farmer’s wife. A day prior, the farmer had spoken to Brock and agreed not to hurt himself, but now his wife couldn’t find him. And she was afraid. Brock asked where the farmer kept his .410 shotgun.
It was the height of the ’80s farm crisis, one of the greatest economic turmoils since the Great Depression. Drought and defaulted loans left hundreds of thousands of farmers broke. Many farmers became homeless or worse yet, turned to suicide.
Brock visited their home later that morning. The farmer’s wife stayed inside the house while Brock went to investigate where her husband might be. She found him in the driveway, at the left rear wheel of his truck. He had already shot himself in the head.
“It just leaves you speechless,” Brock says, “You just forget to breathe, you forget to live.”
Mergers and acquisitions in the food sector rarely draw the eye of supermarket shoppers. The companies involved are sometimes too obscure for customers to care—take for example the ongoing litigation surrounding the attempt to merge America’s two largest food service companies, Sysco and US Foods.
But name recognition has brought the recently announced merger of H.J. Heinz Co. and Kraft Foods Group Inc. to the fore of business news. After all, these companies’ products are household staples—most readers of this article probably have a Heinz or Kraft product in their refrigerator right now. While this merger may seem innocuous—who cares that the mac and cheese company owns the ketchup company?—there could be serious ramifications for consumers and producers.
There’s a uniform-cleaning service in Staunton, Va., where Joel Salatin buys his work shirts: castoffs marooned there by workers who’ve been fired or died or otherwise gone AWOL. Salatin gets them cheap, and he’s not picky. If it fits, fine, and so he answers the door on a Monday afternoon sporting the logo of George’s, a behemoth poultry corporation, embroidered above his left breast.
You’ve heard of Joel Salatin, right? The self-proclaimed heretic who runs Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley? The eco-friendly, avant-garde Old MacDonald featured in Michael Pollan’s 2006 bestseller, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.”? The vociferous critic of industrial feedlots and petroleum-based monoculture? The one who slings blunt terms like “evil” when he’s talking about modern corporate agribusiness?
Sometimes he wears shirts repurposed from that evil system.
If you ask people in the city of Mexicali, Mexico, about their most notable regional cuisine, they won’t say street tacos or mole. They’ll say Chinese food. There are as many as 200 Chinese restaurants in the city. North of the border, in Imperial County, the population is mostly Latino, but Chinese restaurants are packed. There are dishes in this region you won’t find anywhere else, and a history behind them that goes back more than 130 years.
Taco Bell is the best Mexican food I ever ate. I will say this to your face over a plate of enchiladas suiza. You will shake your head at such transparent provocation. What a shocking thing to say at a restaurant that has the best tacos in New York City!
I won’t even correct that assertion. There is no such thing as “the best tacos in New York City.” There are only two kinds of tacos in New York City: adequate, and whatever is a little better than adequate. Unless we’re talking Taco Bell. Which I will talk about, at length, even if you haven’t asked a question that has anything to do with Taco Bell.
Yes, fast food is unhealthy. It preys on the poor by offering scientifically-engineered food products that are devoid of nutritional value, but are richly emotionally satisfying. These products are intensely tasty, and most of all, cheap. Why spend five bucks on groceries? What can you get for five bucks at a grocery store anyway? A stalk of broccoli and a jar of mayo? Since we’re at dinner, and I’m busy proselytizing, I’m not currently able to fact-check the following statement, but I’m pretty sure you can buy ten tacos for one dollar.
Taco Bell tacos are crunchy, crispy, meaty sailboats of spicy chemical flavor. The Taco Bell Cool Ranch Doritos taco shell is the most important invention of this century. But we’ve come this far, and you’re halfway through your plate of organic, locally-sourced, New York Magazine-celebrated Mexican tube casserole, so we have time to talk about Taco Bell. I’ll order more chips and salsa. Now I’m going to hold up my fingers and wiggle them. This will signify we’re flashing backwards in time.
The Wyoming Food Freedom Act is a rare beast: a bill, just signed into law by Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead, that fights for the deregulation of locally-produced foods and promotes direct farm-to-consumer food sales.
As The Republic reports, the act exempts “Wyoming food sales from government inspections, licensing and certification as long as they are single transactions between a producer and an ‘informed end consumer.’” This applies to farmers’ market sales, as well as “the ability for small farmers or other individuals to sell homegrown or locally raised products.” Such direct-to-consumer sales will no longer be subjected to any “licensure, permitting, certification, inspection, packaging, or labeling” requirements by state agencies.
“This law will take local foods off the black market. It will no longer be illegal to buy a lemon meringue pie from your neighbor or a jar of milk from your local farm,” Representative Tyler Lindholm, sponsor of the bill, told Farm to Consumer.
The truth is, while the motivation to feed the world sounds noble, it’s often a front for corporate consolidation and power.
Industrial agriculture displaces the people who farm and steward the land. It produces cheap food that damages our health. It pollutes the soil and water. And it makes it harder and harder for small- and mid-sized farmers to access the credit, markets and fair prices they need to make an honest living. Yet, it’s these very farmers who show up in report after report as the ones who will actually feed the world, while also diminishing climate change and alleviating rural poverty.
In the 1980s, during the height of the farm crisis, as I toured the country on my bus, Honeysuckle Rose, I stopped in at diners and truck stops. I wanted to talk to the people who lived in the towns I was driving through. It was from these folks that I came to understand the challenges our family farmers and rural residents face—and to know what a tremendous resource they are to all of us.
Indian food, with its hodgepodge of ingredients and intoxicating aromas, is coveted around the world. The labor-intensive cuisine and its mix of spices is more often than not a revelation for those who sit down to eat it for the first time. Heavy doses of cardamom, cayenne, tamarind and other flavors can overwhelm an unfamiliar palate. Together, they help form the pillars of what tastes so good to so many people.
But behind the appeal of Indian food — what makes it so novel and so delicious — is also a stranger and subtler truth. In a large new analysis of more than 2,000 popular recipes, data scientists have discovered perhaps the key reason why Indian food tastes so unique: It does something radical with flavors, something very different from what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture. And it does it at the molecular level.
By restaurant industry standards, Chipotle Mexican Grill does countless things wrong. Its outlets aren’t in the busiest locations. It spends too much money on food. It doesn’t serve breakfast; it doesn’t do drive-throughs, franchises, or even much in the way of advertising. It almost never adds anything new to its menu. Employees still cut all the tomatoes — hundreds of thousands of pounds a day — by hand. It is, in so many ways, the anti-McDonald’s.
Which is strange, particularly when you consider that Chipotle spent roughly eight years under McDonald’s corporate arches. McDonald’s early investment in the burrito chain gave it capital to grow, an inside look at ultra-efficient supply-chain economics, the know-how it needed to manage its expansion from 13 stores in 1998 to almost 500 in 2006. For its investment — roughly $340 million by the time of Chipotle’s initial public offering — McDonald’s got a nice little return. It turned out to be the short end of the stick.
In the years since their split, Chipotle’s rapid growth and consistently astonishing financial results have made it a darling of investors. Its commitment to fresh, high-quality ingredients at only slightly higher prices has helped to define a new wave of “fast casual” dining. And McDonald’s … well, everyone knows what’s happened to McDonald’s. As consumers’ tastes changed, the chain became the poster-child for America’s obesity epidemic. Sales slumped, and, recently, the stock price followed. Last week, McDonald’s announced that Chief Executive Don Thompson would step down on March 1 and be replaced by Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook. The incoming CEO has one job: to get the iconic chain back on some kind of track at a time when Chipotle and its disciples are ascendant.