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Saturday, April 13, 2002

i'm not the biggest fan of deepak chopra. . .

for example, i don't like the way casual surfers who guess at a plausible web address for him are asked to register with his marketing machine to learn the real address of his website! that's cheesy, frankly.

but it is interesting that his publicity machine is raising the medical establishment's awareness of yoga. now he's working with doctors and clinics to introduce it as a tool into the standard system of western medicine. could this be progress -- or just an attempt by for-profit hospitals to cash in on the current yoga fad by bringing in more paying clients while cutting out the hmo bean-counters?

posted by fortune | 5:16 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Friday, April 12, 2002

you know, all this boring yak-yak-yak about fair trade coffee and sustainable coffee agriculture might be working. . .

the government of costa rica announced that it is beginning a certification program for sustainable coffee. this is when the whole concept will begin to take off -- instead of many small independent certifiers, large governmental agencies work to move a country's entire output in a certain direction. if the costa rican government can offer coffee growers some financial incentives or assistance to actually move themselves into this program and gain the certification, that's perfect.

i don't mean to get off on a rant, but about that oxfam initiative i mentioned yesterday -- those critics of mine who write complaining that i'm anti-global will be heartened by this link to an article in the international herald tribune, where one p. bowring argues that oxfam gets it wrong. (you see, i'm balanced, i'm open to all angles.) and bowring does note some good points.

he argues that the low prices of coffee have nothing to do with the actions of large transnational firms, but are solely due to overproduction based on improvements in yield from the coffee trees: it [oxfam] ignores the role that increased plant productivity -- surely a good thing -- has had.

here's where i depart from bowring. because what if that increased plant productivity may come at too great a price -- to the environment, to the songbirds, to the stability of developing countries, to the world supply of illegal drugs? (those near-bankrupt farmers, pulling up their coffee trees -- c'mon, we know what they are going to plant instead!) and some go so far as to say to the quality of the coffee grown itself. bowring also overlooks the actions of development institutions in encouraging certain countries to overproduce coffee to help them generate foreign capital to pay off their large debts.

when coffee costs, say, just a nickel a pound but tastes like boiled tarpaper, who has benefited? not the producer, not the producer's country, and certainly not the consumer. only the middleman -- the transnational. the mega-firms have no concern for inherent product quality, but only for their short-term stock prices, which can be boosted when analysts glowingly report how much they are cutting their costs. the large companies have followed this strategy for some time -- keep consumer prices constant, introduce lesser and lesser (cheaper and cheaper) coffees into their products.

the result is that coffee consumption in the western world has been declining for the last couple of decades. despite the growth of starbucks et. al., fewer and fewer people drink coffee. because most people are used to simply cranking open a can of nationally-advertised supermarket brand x. and when that doesn't taste good, they don't have the knowledge to say "brand x isn't what it used to be." instead they say, "i guess i don't really like coffee anymore."

the specialty coffee industry -- and the government of costa rica -- needs to do more to advertise its wares, to educate the public. not only on the social issues of coffee, but also on the taste and quality issues. this education has to go beyond simple brand awareness, beyond just teaching people to remember colombian coffee with a cute picture of juan valdez and his happy donkey.

posted by fortune | 6:52 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Thursday, April 11, 2002

if you can't drink the coffee, maybe you'd better get off the porch?

or however you want to say that. you know i don't really like to lecture on it, but i can't stop: the world is beating us over the head with the fact that coffee is political. . .

example: will someone please notify sec. of state colin powell that when you go visit an arab, you'd better darn well drink his coffee? even the most cursory survey of saudi customs and manners shows that coffee is a crucial part of hospitality in that culture!

traveler's tales from the 18th century note the importance of coffee in arab (see here; page 13 of the adobe acrobat file) and turkish (see here; dec. 24th entry) greeting customs. coffee is always poured for guests; as in the case of lady stanhope above, even for her horse! and you are supposed to drink at least 1 of the tiny, sake-sized cups; to have 3 is considered normally polite.

when the saudi prince remarked to powell that "you don't have to drink it if you don't like it," was he perhaps politely and not-so-secretly trying to tell the secretary that if he can't take even a thimbleful of full-strength coffee, then powell had better re-think whether he's up to the full-throttle politics in that region? this thought gains more punch when you remember that the saudis often don't add sugar to their coffee, but rather drink it kick-your-butt straight with cardomom. instead they may serve yummy drenched-in-honey arab pastries and sugary fresh dates alongside. . .sec. powell shouldn't expect "sweetness and light" in his coffee there!

on another front, oxfam international is beginning a fair-trade campaign of its own, with a nice website.

posted by fortune | 6:22 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

at first it began as a kooky human interest story. then my heart sank. . .

yes, american tax dollars have extended our prowess into a new frontier: a chemical sponge resembling a sandwich that won't mold or deteriorate for up to 3 years. i understand that you might need such a formidable piece of military technology in a foxhole, but not in our grocery aisles!

when i read: like dehydrated eggs, freeze-dried coffee and processed cheese -- all originally developed by the military -- the long-life sandwich will probably find its way into grocery stores, the thought of gazillions of americans gumming down this flaccid mass is so saddening i barely have the heart to raise my head and murmur my usual "resist . . .bake your own real bread."

in fact, i probably should just give up now and accept the fact that soon you'll be trotting through your favorite market attempting to decide whether you want to buy the mcdonnell-douglas, dow-corning, or monsanto brands of this kevlar nutrition bit. which you will probably gulp down with a swallow of nescafe.

what will they call it, when they're planning the splashy tv ad campaign? limp bizkit is already taken. . .

dear readers -- use the comment link below to post your suggested name for this new food item that will doubtless soon sweep the globe. in the meantime, i'm going to creep away and cry hot tears of deepest sorrow.

posted by fortune | 7:09 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

you may remember that i wrote a while ago with joy about dr. r. clavel's book on bread finally being available in english. . .

dr. clavel can almost single-handedly be credited with giving birth to the artisan bread movement in this country, and reviving the industry in france, as well as a growing awareness in the general french public that traditional methods of bread production are better. for many years, the corner bakeries france had begun to switch to the use of pre-made frozen dough, instead of actually making the bread from scratch. this allowed them to have hot, supposedly "fresh made bread" available throughout the day for their customers.

but now thanks to the efforts of dr. clavel and many others, the french are beginning to fight back, before they lose their centuries-old bread traditions. i've talked a lot about the marvelous country loaf or miche baked by lionel poilaine. now let's hear it for the baguette baked by raoul maeder of the boulangerie alsacienne.

and i salute the 6-year-old french movement de la graine au pain (from grain to bread) for offering certification and support to local bakers who insist on preserving the french culinary heritage.

posted by fortune | 7:50 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, April 08, 2002

i think it's time we talked more about pizza, again. . .

it's not that i don't love bread anymore -- i do, more than ever. in the coming weeks, i'll be talking more about bread than i have in a while. but pizza does appear to be universal favorite in my house (even the cat will eat it if you let him near your plate). . .

to my mind, there's a certain charm to the old pizzaiola, the experienced pizza-maker. and here in new york we just happen to have the oldest of them all.

this charm aside, i continue to be saddened by the ever-growing number of americans who won't make their own pizza. they buy delivery or take-out pizza, or even worse to my mind, "fresh from the grocer's freezer," as the marketing types would say. it's because they don't know how simple pizza is to make; how to freeze or chill the dough to make the process fit nicely into their busy lives; and they've lost the notion of actually cooking anything. i've no doubt many people believe tossing a frozen pie in the oven counts as making one.

if you buy pizza outside the home, dear readers, you are being ripped off. pizza is so incredibly cheap to make it's shocking -- even with my emphasis on quality or fancy ingredients. the pizza you make at home tastes so much more delicious and is actually rather healthy for you. i encourage everyone to counter the frozen pizza trend.

make one at home for your friends and family this weekend! if you try it just once, you will never be able to compromise on that amazing, fresh tomato taste that comes from your own home-made sauce ever again. . . new-york-style single-crust or chicago-style deep-dish with a cornmeal crust, i don't care. . .but your family will thank you endlessly.

posted by fortune | 6:28 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, April 07, 2002

what an amazing afternoon! several of us got together and had a marvelous coffee party. . .

neighbor alan rothstein brought over his mazzer mini grinder; i had my rancilio silvia; and surprise guest jim from 1st-line dropped by with some of dr. joseph john's cult espresso, malabar gold.

we also had some fresh espresso vivace dolce, torrefazione italia perugia, and a nice bag of segafredo zanetti. combined with a pile of hazelnut biscotti from aldo and bernard castelain's 70% macaibo chocolate, it was an excellent afternoon.

first, i have to say that jim makes an amazing espresso. i aspire to his technique. dear readers, it would blow your mind, it's that good. naturally, he makes it seem effortless. long time readers know that i adore caffe d'arte's firenze blend.

so i was skeptical at the prospect of the malabar gold. but as roasted and prepared by jim, it was incredible -- easily the best espresso i have ever had outside of italy. the amount of crema it made was almost frightening, threatening to overflow the cup. what a thick, honeyed pour! jim's technique, plus the excellent grind the mazzer put out, just made for espresso perfection.

malabar gold's not for everyone; it contains the aged monsoon malabar bean, which will not be to everyone's taste. but since i spent years drinking aged indonesian coffees, the malabar gold turned out to be right up my alley. . . .

posted by fortune | 5:12 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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