animals, anticipation, food

The Mendocino County Crab

Some time back in the summer of 2008, I joined my friend Mark Sung for a short trip to the Mendocino coast. We meant to go camping, but the tent spots were full and we ended up fishing until about 4 a.m., anyway. Actually, we weren’t fishing for fish, but crabbing for crab.

Mendocino’s a pretty spot. Here, for example, are some nicely situated homes.
mendocino houses

But there isn’t any shortage of pretty spots north of San Francisco. Less than a quarter mile from those houses, we ran into the Pacific Ocean.

mendocino coast

Those are brown pelicans flying past. They plunge bill-first into the water at 40 miles an hour.

Mark is a great cook, and like some cooks, he’s happy to procure the ingredients himself. The fisherman’s lament (one lament, anyway), is that he never gets out as much as he wants. And the same goes for crabbing.

Mark used a regular fishing rod, and he lent me an extra one. He tied wire cages to the lines, and we crammed pieces of half-frozen squid into the cages, which we secured with thick rubber bands. Along the perimeter of each cage were about a half dozen loops of blue line. With a quick flick of the fishing rod and some luck, the loops close around a crab claw or leg as it pulls the squid from the wire cage. Then reel in.

Mark caught two crabs worth keeping. I caught one. Here’s one of them, which Mark cooked later that morning in its shell with nothing but boiling water and served unadorned. Good eating.


Alaska, animals, anticipation, environment, food, geography, life

Spotted: Whale Hunting

The Whale Hunt is worth a look. It’s a high-production slideshow (come on, that’s what it is) created by Jonathan Harris, who is a mere 10 days younger than me. He spent a week on the northern shore of Alaska, photographing a group of natives. Some of the photos are really great, others are just pictures–the conceit was that he took a photo ever five minutes. The whole thing is an impressive construction.
animals, consumption, environment, food, journalism, science, unfortunate

Learn Something New: Honeybees

The amazing, disappearing honeybee has become the sleeper hit of journalism. It has slowly gained momentum over the last nine or ten months and now it seems like just about everyone has heard of it, even if they don’t really know anything about it. Most coverage follows the same beaten path: bees are disappearing, did you know that people truck bees around the country?, etc. It’s all very interesting, in a panicky sort of way (kind of like the disappearing banana, though that never tugged at America’s heartstrings like this story).

070710_science_honeybeetn.jpgAnd then Heather Smith writes in Slate about why maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised or so worried. Because the honeybee that we’ve come to think we know and love is already long gone. Smith notes, “The only honeybees left—i.e., the ones that started disappearing in October—had become the cows of the insect world: virtually extinct in the wild, hopped up on antibiotics, and more likely to reproduce via artificial insemination than by their own recognizance.”

Illustration from Slate by Robert Neubecker.

food, irony, journalism, money

When to Talk Elitism: The Times is great, but how’s its timing?

After I got back to San Francisco last night, I paged through the New York Times‘s list of most e-mailed articles. It’s one easy way to catch up and sort through the news after being offline and away from the papers.

I started reading Frank Bruni when he was in Italy. He’s now the principle restaurant reviewer. Here’s his article, which has moved up considerably on the list (the positions of all these articles have changed since when I took the screenshots).


I appreciate that when discussing the question of how food “should be,” one considers the possibility of elitism. But why doesn’t the question of elitism pop up in some of the other lifestyle and consumption articles on Sunday night’s list?


My question: When is it a good time to bring up the specter of elitism?

Maybe now just isn’t the time to talk about elitism when covering people busy buying Parisian pied-à-terres (one broker advises that if you’re looking at more than $1000/foot, you might as well buy in Manhattan), or how to find something to do at Lake Como (the writer dangles the prospect of seeing George Clooney shirtless), or the best ways to vacation with your pets (go with the private jet).

They are all interesting. The pet article does acknowledge the fashionably conspicuous consumption associated with its subject:

“Traveling with pets is in some ways the latest status symbol, a sign that travelers have the means to indulge themselves. Sure, anyone can load the family dog into the car and head to a beach house for a week. But checking into a hotel or resort with your pet undoubtedly carries a certain impression of affluence. Flying with a large dog means you’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars on transportation alone or, in places like Aspen, that you flew in the old-fashioned way: on a private jet.”It all has become part of the lifestyle — the whole trend of pets as accessory, ” said Joel Morales, the marketing manager of the James Hotel in Chicago.

I’m not particularly interested in piling on the Times for being elitist (those who do might be careful to differentiate between the lifestyle content and the news content). But last night I couldn’t help noticing when elitism was mentioned on the list, and when it wasn’t. Why do concerns about ethics and eating warrant a mention of potential elitism, while there is no mention of elitism in so many other articles? Perhaps the elitism is already settled there.

I should point out that the question of elitism doesn’t really crop up in Bruni’s article as much as it does in the capsule description of the article shown above–when it comes to actual food, the article gives quite a bit of space to the treatment of oysters, lobster, and geese (foie gras), which don’t usually grace the tables of most regular people, anyway. But Bruni does do a good job of highlighting the wild inconsistencies in our beliefs about how best to treat animals, given the space he has to work with.

When it comes to reporters’ interest in status and elitism, Slate‘s Tim Noah and Daniel Gross shed light on the issue. (Can we trace this interest to the 1960’s, when Clay Felker made status a subject of his New York magazine and would tell young writers he would make them famous, which he sometimes did, helping to create a generation of wealthy superstar journalists?) Noah wrote last year about journalists’ tendency to write about their summer homes and what it might say about their confused sense of equality. For example:

The offense against which I rail is not owning a summer house, but being clod enough to write about said summer house for a broad reading public that, in most instances, summers at the same address where it winters, springs, and falls.

Gross looks at the issue more directly, citing David Brooks’s “status-income disequilibrium.” He writes:

. . . .Given the types of lives many journalists wish to lead—and think they’re entitled to lead by virtue of their education and positions—the wages aren’t anywhere near sufficient.It’s ironic that much of the expanded coverage of both the Times (Thursday Styles, House & Home, Real Estate) and the Journal (the Friday weekend section, the Saturday edition) is dedicated to the sort of high-end consumption that reporters can’t really afford. As a result, there’s a nose-pressed-to-the-glass quality to much of the coverage.

So there’s a possible explanation about why elitism gets only a glancing mention in regard to these articles.

Now that we’ve figured that out, maybe the next step is not to keep asking whether the discussion is elitist (that’s like saying we need more research to determine whether global warming is happening or how to improve fuel economy: a stalling tactic), but to look at the bigger question of affordability–tackling the problem, for example, of making something like better food more available.

And so we’ll leave off with Michael Pollan, who recently wrote about Wal-Mart’s plan to bring organic to the masses (and was interviewed for Bruni’s article). He begins: “‘Elitist’ is just about the nastiest name you can call someone, or something, in America these days, a finely-honed term of derision in the culture wars, and ‘elitist’ has stuck to organic food in this country like balsamic vinegar to mâche.” With Wal-Mart’s decision, Pollan says, “all this is about to change.”

The question is less about whether Wal-Mart will make organic food affordable–it almost assuredly will deliver on that promise or something close–but how the corporation will make it so. And the answers, Pollan writes, may be far from ideal, entailing tasks of commerce, production, delivery, and probably lobbying and regulation.

But wait: We started here by looking at self-referential elitism and end by almost jumping into a discussion of production, scalability, and influence? (I stopped myself from going further–who would read it?) Oh, complexity! Maybe I am not cut out for blogs.

art, education, food, music

This Week in Tim: February 26 to March 3

I don’t have much patience for those blogs that dwell on the minutiae of their authors’ lives, so I will probably hate this post. But, I can take some satisfaction in the fact that this post is about one of my favorite subjects: Tim. And Tim had an interesting week, so I’m calling this “This Week in Tim.” Tim’s agreed to go along with this, but isn’t sure if it will go over all that well. He thinks that if you don’t like reading about authors’ lives you should skip to another post.

Sunday, February 26: Tim decided he’d better get off his ass and go to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. How many people can say that? This, in many ways, was one of his grand exercises in procrastination, and it allowed Tim to put off working on his financial aid applications (the federal application—FAFSA—and the Columbia Journalism School’s aid applications), which were due March 2. But he really wanted to see the Chuck Close self-portrait exhibition, which was scheduled to close February 28. March 2, February 28, museum exhibit, financial aid—here’s where “urgency” and “priority” become muddled in Tim’s world.

Tim eventually made it to the exhibit, which he enjoyed. He was accompanied by his friend Katia and her family. It was a rainy day, but warm: San Francisco had been struck by a winter storm from Hawaii, the so-called “Pineapple Express” that brought rain up to 9,000 feet in the Sierras.

Tim had dinner with several friends later that night. He was able to put his latent puppeteering skills to use when he gave Katia’s daughter, Isabel, a little bear-in-a-sleeping-bag puppet. Isabel originally thought it was a backpack and all the rest thought it was an oven mitt. She promptly named the bear “Angelina.” Everyone was most satisfied with the evening, and when Tim discovered that his friend Vera had briefly been a mime in Bulgaria (and had gotten tips from Marcel Marceau), he thought this was a good start to what might be a promising Week in Tim. Plus, he realized that no matter how daunting all of that financial paperwork might be, on March 3, he would be free of it. Probably.

Monday, February 27: Tim arrived home from work at about 7.30 p.m—early for him. That is, he thought he was arriving home. A garbled message from his roommate Pablo indicated a tree near his house was blown over by high winds during a storm that evening. Upon arrival, Tim found his block blocked off by a firetruck and yellow tape and three firemen keeping people back.

A firefighter named Shane, dispatched from Station 5, apprised Tim of the situation.When the wind picked up (in some places, it picked up to 100 mph), said Shane, the phones all lit up. The tree in front of Tim’s house was a high priority site because the falling limbs pulled down a 1,500 kilowatt power line. The wire happened to touch down directly in front of Tim’s door. The firemen had to reroute traffic and watch the site until PG&E workers turned off the power. Then city workers would take care of the broken limbs. While Tim described the scene to Pablo on the phone, a nearby car rear-ended another car. A cameraman from the local CBS affiliate showed up to shoot some B-roll for the news. Because it would take hours to sort all of this out, Shane suggested that Tim should go get some dinner, or at least a few beers. Tim thought that was a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, February 28: Tim went to the Chuck Close show again at lunch and discovered that the new special exhibit at SFMOMA would be work by Alexander Calder. Tim was excited. That night, Tim finished his taxes, his FAFSA, and his Columbia forms. Two days early? Amazing! He stayed late at work to finish and left a little after 9 p.m. As he walked toward his subway stop, he noticed a large white van with its doors thrown open and a small storage trailer attached. Spraypainted on the door was “!” Tim suspected it was a band.

A tall man with shaggy brown hair, thick brown earlobe tunnels, and a shaggy brown fur jacket stepped out from the small group clustered near the van and said to Tim, “Excuse me. Do you know any cool bars around here?” The tall man was polite and exuded a sort of rock star charisma. His friends, an assortment of young men in black leather or hooded sweatshirts and scruffy beards, all seemed excited to be in San Francisco, but had no idea where to go.

“What kind of a scene are you looking for?” Tim asked, suspecting he knew the answer based solely on the style choices of his interlocutor. But before the tall man could respond, a shorter, high-strung man dressed all in black leather, with massive mutton chops and clenched fists interjected, “Anywhere where there’s no fuckin’ rich pricks!”

“Fair enough,” Tim said. He was tempted to tell them, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood for that, if not the wrong city.” But Tim didn’t want them to be discouraged. He suggest they go to Zeitgeist, in the Mission. Tim was probably right on with that suggestion: the Mission is more their style, though it, too, is full of rich pricks (just dressed differently). But they wanted to go somewhere within walking distance. Tim eventually suggested the 21st Amendment Brewery, five or six long blocks away, and their eyes lit up at the word “brewery.” They seemed like decent guys, so Tim felt bad that he couldn’t make a better suggestion.

When Tim got home, he went to and listened to what this band describes as hardcore/punk/rock music. It was sort of like Gwar and Rollins Band and unintelligible. Their band was called Mich!gan, and they were from Salt Lake City, unsigned, on their own little tour of the West Coast.

Wednesday, March 1: Nothing much happened today.

Thursday, March 2: Just kidding! Something happened on Wednesday. OK, let’s go back to Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 1: Really?

Thursday, March 2: Yes. Go ahead.

Wednesday, March 1: Tim went to lunch with Mike, the Sierra Club’s Webmaster. As they walked through the Financial District, they noticed a man walking parallel to them across the street. He wore headphones and, when not vaulting over fire hydrants, trying to climb over street signs, or jumping into the window recesses of buildings, he danced in place. Mike was entertained by the acrobatics and Tim speculated that the man was on drugs. At one corner, Tim tried to get a picture of him from across the street. Unfortunately, the photo came out blurry. The man noticed Tim taking the picture, but since Tim was fiddling with his camera, he failed to notice the man scowling and giving him the middle finger.

After a block or two, the man crossed to Tim and Mike’s side of the street. He pretended to walk in front of them for a short distance, then turned to face them. He slouched backward and yelled, “Why don’t you take a fucking picture? It’ll last longer.” He had a discernible Scottish accent, which meant he said “fooking.”

He also said, “It’s just a lark,” which Mike interpreted to mean the man was not high or drunk, simply very enthusiastic. In any case, Tim didn’t take his picture, though he now wishes he had. At lunch, Mike and Tim talked about corruption. Later that day, Tim wrote an embittered blog post about tilt-shift photomanipulation.


On the eastern side of the eastern block of Union Square, on Stockton Street, there is a tall man with dyed blonde spiky hair. He wears slick suits and wraparound sunglasses and stalks up and down the street. His job, apparently, is to hand out brochures and to direct people to an upscale men’s clothing store. He used to be somewhat massive, but in the last year and a half, he appears to have lost at least forty pounds. Tim sees the suited man as an enigmatic figure, tense and aggressive.

Tim thought it was strange to see the suited man out of his element later that night. Stranger that he saw him at Tim’s gym, and stranger still that the suited man wore to the gym a fine black turtleneck sweater, black dress slacks, and shiny Italian-looking black leather shoes. Alas, no suit. But he also carried a black and white tartan scarf to wipe down the equipment. Tim was profoundly embarrassed, because this is also his gym outfit, yet he still managed to grin and gleefully whisper to himself, “How bizarre!”

After pacing around agitatedly for several minutes, the suited man settled on the lateral pull-down, and yelled at a nearby person in an effort to ask if the equipment was available. Apparently, he was unable talk to anyone in a normal tone at the gym; the atmosphere inspired him to speak with loud-mouthed gruffness. Tim remembered that this is how the suited man always talks. On the machine, the suited man leaned far backwards and jerked the bar toward him with as much force as he could muster. He did this for about 20 repetitions, with audible exertion. After a short pause, he did another set of 20 reps. And then a third. During those breaks, Tim says the suited man tried to “pick conversations” with people, which Tim describes as being like picking a fight, except that it is aggressive engagement in conversation, not aggressive engagement in physical combat. Sometimes, Tim adds, the man tempered his aggressiveness with a dose of amiability. For example: “Not as easy as it used to be,” barked the suited man at one unwitting bystander. The bystander just nodded in agreement. “It’s not like when I was these guys’ age,” he added, indicating the other men at the gym. He sat back at the lat pull-down. “When I was 25, it was a lot different.” The suited man’s self-consciousness overwhelmed his coherency, and he half-barked, half-mumbled, “I’m just starting. I haven’t been doing this long. When I was younger, this was a lot easier.” And then, with special emphasis as he re-commenced pull-downs, he proclaimed, “I was huge.”

Thursday, March 2: Tim no longer works in the Conservation Department, but he still attends SNAX, the weekly Conservation Department ritual of eating sweets provided by a rotating host. The hosting had rotated to Tim, so he was a little on edge. Every SNAX host worries about the reception of his or her snacks, and that said reception will determine the participants’ perception of the host. No SNAX host gets to enjoy his or her own snacks. Of course, the participants almost never judge.

In an effort to allay his own concern, Tim decided that SNAX should be a tool to be wielded, not an obligation to be feared. The realization crystallized in his mind that he could view this SNAX as an opportunity to impose his dessert aesthetic on a ritual marked by rampant chocolate partisanship. He also realized he could view SNAX as performance. He notified the department of his intentions:

E-mail from Tim. 12.19 p.m.
Subject: SNAX: An opportunity for change
Brothers and Sisters,IT IS REVOLUTION!

We are overthrowing the TYRANNY of Chocolate!

Too LONG HAVE WE SUFFERED under the sweet, GOOEY thumb of Chocolate. It has grown corrupt and lazy with its homogenous corporate taste and insipid
style while we are left to chew mindlessly through the AGONY of its banality. We see through its DARK sometimes SEMI-SWEET curtain. We know the TRUTH.

No, Chocolate, no, you WON’T FOOL the Children of the Revolution.

JOIN ME! Our staging area is the Yellowstone Room at 3 PM. Bring any tool at hand to help us achieve this dream: your shovels and hoes and pitchforks and regular forks and plates and hearts (and/or minds), or possibly just your hands if you want the Paul Newman vegan-friendly GINGER-CREME OPTION.


*Note: There will be no caramelized snacks at Snax. However, we will not be swayed from our plan to subvert the dominant chocolate paradigm.

Beside the aforemention Newman-O’s, Tim also brought a box of mandarin oranges and a mixed fruit shortcake from Tart to Tart. It was an astounding success, much to Tim’s satisfaction. People actually came up to him and said things like, “I’m at SNAX today because you don’t always get a call to arms like that.” Others said they were there to support the revolution. Nobody seemed to mind that Tim had asked his friend at the bakery to write “Down With Chocolate” on the cake in yellow frosting. It was all lustily eaten by the assembled.

Tim was prepared for an uproar, if not a full-scale counter-revolution, provoked by his criticism of chocolate. So uncertain was he of the reception and the viability of his revolution that he snuck a can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup into SNAX. He was prepared to sarcastically drench everything in syrup if the complaining got too loud. Not wanting to tip anyone off, he disguised the can like so:

And he prepared a statement to be read in case of popular dissatisfaction:

Even the most zealous revolutionary eventually learns to sacrifice principle for the sake of politicial expediency. Which is to say he’ll do whatever he can to keep his job. Even though one form of chocolatey tyranny may be deposed, another, simply in a different form, may rise to take it’s place.And since I can see the natives are getting restless, I have this….

Brothers and sisters, eat it and weep.

Here is another view of the label. The expression on Tim’s face was a point of much discussion. It was merely a file photo that he had on hand.

Friday, March 3:
As I write this, it is Friday morning, and I’m not sure if anything interesting enough to warrant bloggging has happened. But something will probably come along. Maybe at the airport—I’m going to see Alisa in San Diego. We’ll see. But in the meantime, I have posted what one successful blogger has termed “too much content.” So we will leave it at that.