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We Interrupt this Food Blog

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Freedom of speech in the Philippines is under attack. The Cybercrime Act recently signed into law is a disastrous piece of legislation, the consequences of which could only be to the detriment of your rights.

Those whose careers are most vulnerable to criticism through free exchange of information and ideas, have criminalized libel online in bold defiance of the Philippine Bill of Rights. As well the Cybercrime Law grants sweeping powers to law enforcement to monitor the online activity of Filipinos and shut down websites, all without due process.

What does this have to do with a food blog?

Well, for starters, I could no longer speak critically about anything, publicly or even privately by email without fear of ruinous legal consequences. Should I write a post criticizing a restaurant or other business (which I have been known to do), I could be subject to criminal charges. The definition of a “libelous statement” is murky at best, so the advantage would clearly be to those with the best lawyers, in other words most money. Furthermore my website is a .ph and could be shut down or blocked without any due process.

Am I also responsible for censoring the comments left on my website? Am I liable for these comments?

From now on all restaurant reports will be sparkling. I love everything! Why? Because I have no intention of being on Locked Up Abroad, that’s why.

In the States, like many other countries, there are restaurant critics, there’s Yelp.com and countless other ways that professional and amateur critics can bash and talk irrational shit about a restaurant. Sometimes they even have good things to say. The advantage to you as a diner is that you are empowered with an abundance of information to make a choice where you want to eat. You may use this information but must take all of the reviews with a grain of salt. Nothing like this exists in the Philippines yet, and it never will with criminalized libel on the books. The liability to the reviewer is just too great.

What does this have to do with you?

Ok, so most of you maybe don’t operate websites and let’s say you only use the internet for Facebook and sharing pictures of cats. Well you’re not off the hook either. Think twice before you click ‘Like’ and consider every possible ramification and distortion of every online comment you make.

Let’s say I write a post about a terrible restaurant experience. You read my post, maybe Tweet it or Like it, or make a witty comment below, such as “LOL.” Suddenly when the lawyers come for me they will also note your endorsement of my libelous statement, or indeed, “laughing out loud” about it. Now you’re on the hook too. ROFL or LMAO may be tantamount to treason. We don’t know, because in their clumsiness, the Senate has left this to the courts to figure out and ruin people’s lives and livelihoods until they do. Every comment in every social media platform is public. Even your emails are now subject to inspection by the NBI and are considered public if viewed by more than one person.

The insidious thing about libel is that it could be a statement that’s perfectly true or an opinion that’s perfectly well grounded. In further absurdity the truth of the statement is not considered a defense. Libel was a tool in Mike Arroyo’s belt when he filed over 40 lawsuits against Filipino journalists to dissuade criticism. Now imagine each of these further criminalized with a 6-12 year prison term as is now the case for online libel. This law will only further empower those seeking to stifle critics, those victims of “cyber-bullying.”

The Philippines is uniquely poised with strong economic growth in recent years to become a formidable economic force in Southeast Asia. But as Philippines Director Neeraj Jain of Asian Development Bank said, “issues like poor infrastructure and weak governance must be tackled if the country’s economic gains are to benefit all.” What will motivate government officials to tackle these problems without public pressure and criticism?

What do we do now?

This law has been decried by the UN Human Rights Committee and Human Rights Watch because of the draconian penalties it imposes and the consequences it will likely bring for freedom of speech. The opposition is gaining ground so make lots of noise until this law is drastically modified or repealed.

Just a gentle reminder:

Section 3. (1) The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.

Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

The Day the Organic Movement Died

chemical-ddt-sprayed-on-children

 

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In the past couple weeks there have been numerous skirmishes on social media and in the news on the not-so-new debate over the benefits of organic vs. conventional foods and farming. A Stanford study published in the September 4 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine pissed gasoline all over the fire and set it alight anew.

Let me begin with one semantic gripe about this debate. To call this “organic vs. conventional” is a misnomer. Conventional farming is an invention of the 20th century whereas organic farming was invented some time around 8,000 b.c. Therefore the burden of proof is upon “conventional” farming, not organic. But I digress.

I read about the Stanford study the day it was published. There wasn’t anything too surprising or groundbreaking about it. The study’s conclusions were basically that no significant difference was found between organic and conventional meats and produce in nutritional value. It also concluded that organic foods contained considerably less pesticide and antibiotic-resistant bacteria contamination.

The conclusions were based on 17 studies in humans and 223 studies on nutrient values in foods.  One detail I think was important but largely overlooked was that the study was non-clinical and heterogeneous. Meaning, for example, its conclusions could be drawn by comparing a ripe tomato from one part of the US to an unripe tomato from a different part of the US.

The problem started when the media grabbed ahold of it, knowing this could be spun into a controversial topic, and a frenzy ensued. Headlines read “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce” from the New York Times and “Organic food no healthier than non-organic: study” from Reuters. Really Reuters? Is that the most accurate way to depict the findings?

Following the media reaction as always is the social media over-reaction. First came a million “I told you so tweets” from the curious anti-organic camp.

Dozens of foolish straw man arguments have been popping up on the internet recently to purport this as the silver bullet that killed the organic movement. Their approach is to poorly refute an argument that we never made, and then call us all hippies (I wish this was a joke).

 

I don’t know if Michael Specter would characterize me as an “organomaniac,” since I generally prefer organic foods but have been know to occasionally devour an entire bag of Cheddar Cheese Jalapeño-Flavored Cheetos. Nothing but full on hypocrisy here at Mr. Delicious, and that’s a promise!

But ignore it they did not. To the contrary this study became a huge inflammatory topic amongst organics enthusiasts and activists with many crying conspiracy, even attacking the scientists behind the study.

Now everyone, please, take a deep breath and relax. The organic movement isn’t going anywhere, and for those of you who prefer the taste of pesticides on your produce, I’m sure Monsanto isn’t either. This study really didn’t change anything and we’re all going to die on December 21 anyway. So you might as well just settle in.

For those that are at all informed on the topic, it was never about nutritional content, but rather a distrust of the effects of chemical pesticides and reckless use of antibiotics in or foods.

It’s also about the effects that conventional farming is having on the environment. With a relatively short history it’s hard to determine what the long term effects might be. I remember being stung by a lot of bees when I was a child. Somehow I suspect my son will not be so imperiled as they’re a lot harder to find now.

Many of us find it hard to believe or even a bit arrogant the claim that science has an exhaustive understanding of the effects all of the chemicals in our lives. Each generation looks at the last in disbelief. How could they not have known better? What will the next generation think about this?

Trust us, we’re scientists!

The conclusion here is that there is no conclusion. I really don’t believe these scientists did anything wrong and were only furthering our understanding of important issues. So don’t kill the scientists, we might need them. By there own admission there is still much to study. And the debate will go on.

My Trip to Barangay Encanto, a Visit to GK Enchanted Farm

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I get lost a lot living in the Philippines. Sometimes I don’t even have to leave Makati to get hopelessly lost.  So for me to drive solo deep into Bulacan was an ambitious endeavor.

A dozen wrong turns later after desperately looking for street signs that don’t exist I saw a beacon of hope, a wind power turbine. It looked every bit as much out of place in its surroundings as I did. Found it!

Gawad Kalinga is a non-profit organization whose goal is to eradicate poverty in the Philippines through community building and social enterprise. What’s unique about them is they build an economic platform for the poor to sustain themselves. So it’s not about handouts but making profits in a socially responsible manner. Capitalism 2.0.

The Enchanted Farm is the model of GK’s vision. They have brought in the poorest families from the surrounding province. Many of these people came from other parts of the Philippines to Manila looking for work. When they were unable to find work they would live as squatters, under bridges and in the slums of Manila. The local government would literally truck them out to Bulacan where they would remain.

GK would offer them homes, education and a livelihood. Some of these people were even involved in communist militant groups. Many will turn to militancy when they perceive no other options. When they are given other options they would follow peaceful pursuits. After all many of them have marketable skills. There are farmers, basket weavers, textile makers, etc. What they did not have was the means to produce and market their wares.

Hand-crafted baskets ready to be sold

One such product is Enchantea which is a brand of healthy brewed tea drinks made from local fruits and botanicals. One product was being developed that was a blend of lemongrass, calamansi and comote leaves. It was delicious, especially on a brutally hot day.

 

One of the best things I’ve tasted in 90+ degree heat

A means to produce and market is precisely what is provided here. There is a village university to teach the community how to earn a sustainable livelihood. The farm also serves as an incubator for businesses. It’s a place to test and develop products, especially agriculturally-based products. In addition to that it is being developed into a tourist destination with up to a hundred guest villas being constructed as well as a spa and restaurant.

One of the air conditioned guest villas

Upon entering I was greeted by a flurry of activity. Flowers and landscaping everywhere, the farm is a green oasis dotted with buildings made from local materials. There is a small community that houses over 50 families. There were dozens of people gathered there for an event that day.

I had the opportunity to tour the farm and see what is being produced. Each family is given a plot of land to work. They grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables. There were papayas everywhere, ube, chilies, corn, tomatoes, etc.

Ube field (local purple sweet potato)

Dill grows like crazy all over the farm

Samples of products under testing were being served, giving me a perfect excuse to have two desserts.

Malunggay langka ice cream, they should package and sell this. They should do it now!

It’s hard not to be inspired by a place like this. As a chef I feel it is my responsibility to support local agriculture and to build a bridge between the diner and the farmer. I grabbed up some samples from the farm and brought them back to begin experimenting. Unfortunately the salted duck eggs were sold out on my visit but I will be back for them.

Golden Egg salted duck eggs are dyed naturally with tumeric

To those who would like to help you can give through GK’s website. I would also encourage you to visit the Enchanted Farm. It’s a great escape from the city. But you can also help by supporting GK community brands, such as Human Nature, Kape Maria and Enchantea.

The Philippines is a country that has always imported a lot despite what is available locally. There is an assumption that exists here that imported goods are superior to local. However local goods have been steadily improving and it’s time to refresh that assumption. Every vote counts and you cast your ballot with every peso you spend.

Nihonbashitei, My Silent Scream of Joy-Makati

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Isakaya Nihonbashitei

Arnaiz Rd. (formerly Pasay Rd.) Corner EDSA

Makati

818-8893

 

On May 30, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) released this video, titled “Silent Scream”:

My first reaction, as usual when I see the trash propaganda these people produce, was a tinge of anger, but that always quickly subsides when I consider the source. It’s PeTA after all, they’re a little difficult to take seriously.

I have something really important to say!

My second reaction was an intense craving for sushi. A couple text messages later and we’re on for Nihonbashitei.

The servers at Nihonbashitei are a little bit inept. My favorite part of dining in restaurants in Manila is when they hand you a 15 page menu and then stare at you with a pen and notepad, ready to take your order. I said something to the effect of “would you kindly fuck off?” and we studied the menu.

I came on a mission. I wanted little more than raw fish. We settled on an assortment of sushi and sashimi and even added in some cold soba with tempura.

The salmon sashimi arrived first. Now I realize that all salmon in the Philippines arrives frozen but often the difference is how it was handled between arriving and being served. They do a pretty good job here.

Salmon Sashimi

I made sure to include several uni nigiri in our order. The uni here is really good, squishy and umami. All of my favorite sensations.

Also of note was the unagi. Clearly not all unagi is the same but this was another score for Nihonbashitei. It had a good texture and wasn’t too sweet.

Unagi, Uni and Aji

Nihonbashitei is a great place to go for sushi on the cheap. The quality to price ratio is very favorable and it’s pretty authentic.

I wonder what my next PeTA-inspired meal will be. They have recently been on a kick attacking chefs and purveyors of artisanal products, which is peculiar because these are some of the most responsible and ethical stewards in the meat supply chain. Though it should not be surprising given the group’s stated mission of “total animal liberation.”

Who says modern day pork is too lean?

I think I will need to discuss this topic more. For now, I leave you with a quote from Ingrid Newkirk, PeTA’s founder when she was explaining to the New Yorker why the world would be a better place without people.

“Having a purebred human baby is like having a purebred dog; it’s nothing but vanity, human vanity.”

 

 

Stand up for Foie!

No animals were harmed in the making of this beefcake....well maybe just a few

Foie gras is life-changing delicious-ness

The time draws near. July 1st will begin the ban of sales and production of foie gras in the state of California. This ridiculous Hollywood-backed bill signed into law by Hollywood personality-turned Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has won this battle against one of the best practitioners of animal welfare in the meat industry.

No animals were harmed in the making of this beefcake....well maybe just a few

No animals were harmed in the making of this beefcake....well maybe just a few

Which one you ask? Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras. There is only one producer of foie gras in the state of California and the law will specifically ban the production of foie gras in the state. So this is in effect an assassination on one of our brethren, somebody who’s doing it all the right way. These people handle their ducks with greater care and humanity than most who raise ducks as pets.

Without any grounding in science, the proponents of the ban have resorted to emotional appeals and Hollywood personalities to persuade the unknowing public to support their campaign. Their long sappy internet videos make me sick, not from their content but from their low quality of thought. It’s quite easy to make a villain out of that which is misunderstood and most people simply do not understand what foie gras is or how it is raised.

Foie gras or fatty liver is produced by force feeding ducks or geese (usually ducks) in the final weeks of their lives. Avians, like pythons, will store food in the esophagus for a slow digestion process. They use this mechanism to consume whole fish. They are very different physiologically from humans or other mammals. For example the trachea of a duck extends out through their tongue and they are in no way choked or gagged by the force feeding process. These animals also naturally store fat in their skin and livers to be stored for long migrations.

Anthony Bourdain did a great segment on No Reservations on the topic.

The truth is foie gras is an artisanal product and its producers are some of the more ethical in the industry. The anti-foie gras movement found them to be easily bullied because of their relatively small voice and lobbying power. Tyson Foods is a far greater villain and these people know that but it’s a hard target. But imagine the backlash if America couldn’t get its frozen chicken tenders in the freezer aisle.

Furthermore this is not just an anti-foie gras campaign but an anti-meat campaign. This is just one step toward painting meat eaters into a corner and they know very well that they can’t tackle the whole industry at once. Thus one by one, your choices will be taken away from you.

So! In defiance to this encroachment of personal freedom and in solidarity with our friends in the foie gras industry I will create a foie gras theme brunch menu on Sunday, July 1st. This will surely be even more epic than the Epic Brunch at the Slagles’. Now clearly this is no great act of courage or defiance as nobody is trying to ban foie gras in the Philippines but it will be a hell of a good time. Comment below if you’re interested, six seats available.

Inside the Flavor Matrix

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We live in a world where things are not as they seem. So much so that we are no longer able to decipher reality from mere illusions.

It all started with methyl anthranilate. Thought to be the first artificial flavor, this was discovered by accident in a lab by a German chemist who found his lab suddenly smelled like grapes. Since then it has been used to make numerous sweet things taste deliciously purple and strangely is also an effective bird repellent.

Last November 60 Minutes did an interesting segment on the Swiss-based flavor company Givaudan which develops and manufactures chemical flavorings and aromas for foods. Here’s a link to the Youtube video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7Wh3uq1yTc

This is an uber-secretive industry with carefully guarded trade secrets. They will not reveal who their clients are or certainly their formulas. So you mean to say that they’re putting chemicals in our foods and won’t tell us what chemicals or which foods? Yeah, pretty much. By their own admission they are trying to create habit-forming flavors to keep the user coming back for more. They formulate the flavors to be intense but short on the finish. These flavors overstimulate the brain and cause the consumer to seek them out again and again. When you’re used to shooting up meth every morning it’s hard to go back to waking up with just a cup of coffee.

 

Call me a luddite, but if I’m trying to introduce an orange flavor in a food that I’m preparing, I’m going to start with a goddamn orange. And the chicken hose in the 60 Minutes video defies my definition of food. I must confess I watched with a sense of indignant satisfaction the chefs that had sold their souls even worse than I have.

Chicken-less chicken...whoa...

To further complicate things, there is no clear definition of what can be labeled as ‘natural ingredients’ on a food label. Even a synthesized chemical can be called natural if it otherwise exists in nature. In the US there have been calls for the FDA to offer some clarity on the matter but they still have not yielded any success. So if you want eat natural foods there is nothing on a food label to tell you if you are eating food of the earth or of the chemistry lab.

Yep, all natural. Says so right here.

But I regress. The overwhelming majority of us are guilty and I’m a hypocrite too. We are all willing accomplices to this trend that could obsolesce my own craft. I come from the country that invented Nacho Cheesier Doritos. I would wager to say that most people don’t give a rat’s ass.

So what’s the point? Why bother simmering bones for hours to extract flavors when all it takes is a small amount of super-umami-meaty powder to blast your taste buds into slobbery Pavlovian submission? Because it’s all fake. And because we are all guinea pigs in a giant experiment. Are these chemicals edible? Are they carcinogenic? Does your body process them the same way whether they are synthetic or naturally occurring? I don’t know and neither do you because it’s all still new. There’s very little case study to draw from and those with the information aren’t sharing.

I know these things aren’t going anywhere so the best strategy would be to manage it. I’m not an activist or an absolutist but I would like to know what I’m eating and what I’m feeding my son. We should demand to know and share information. So I say buy fewer processed foods and more natural foods. Go to your local farmer’s market. Eat less fast food. And don’t take the red pill.

Chapter 11 for Slime Peddllers

mmm... soft serve

mmm... soft serve

With my website in a state of disrepair I have preempted my launch because I was compelled to discuss this news story that just broke a little bit ago. I simply had to chime in on this issue.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/pink-slime-bankruptcy_n_1397432.html

The meat industry calls it “finely textured beef” and the activists call it “pink slime.” Essentially they take the unusable fatty parts of a cow carcass, heat it and spin it in a centrifuge to separate the meat from the fat and then treat it with ammonia to kill off any pathogens. Sounds delicious right? If you’re wondering what it tastes like you probably already know. After all it’s in about 70% of hamburger patties in the US.

Though as magical as this process sounds it wasn’t really working out. Beef Products Inc. the manufacturer of the stuff faced a difficult dilemma in producing this stuff. Is it better to use more ammonia to make the substance more alkaline then any food should ever be or reduce the amount of ammonia and expose the consumer to greater risk of salmonella and E. coli contamination. Either way they can make people sick.

After a few outbreaks they start getting a little unwanted attention. Jaime Oliver famously created this video last year on Food Revolution:

I find the whole controversy fascinating but maybe for different reasons than most. I believe the success of the backlash against pink slime could largely be attributed to its appearance and the notion of a liquified pink meat that the name so vividly paints in our heads. But who really cares about ammonia treatments and E. coli? Here’s an interesting article from the NY Times from 2009 on the  safety issue:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?_r=4&pagewanted=all

In a way Beef Products Inc. was using sound cooking principle in utilizing the entire animal carcass without waste. I have created pink slime myself in my very own food processor many times. If you enjoy patés or hot dogs you are a lover of pink slime. In our world we call it a force meat. I really was not bothered by the sight of it. It actually reminded me of making boudin blanc back in culinary school.

So, am I defending Beef Products Inc. McDonald’s or any other culprit who sells this product to the public or puts it in our school lunches? Absolutely not. What happened today needed to happen and it’s a step forward for those of us who want greater transparency and responsibility in our food supply chain. Firstly I would really rather not see ingredients like ammonia used in my food. Secondly if it is used it should not be legally labeled as 100% ground beef. I don’t think that’s unfair.

It doesn’t make me happy to hear of 800 people losing their jobs but the market has spoken for Beef Products Inc. But this is just one example. It proves that your ingredient label might be lying to you. Have we become to desensitized to the ugly business of industrialized food? Anyway we’ll take this as a history and say good riddance to this one.