Cost, Health, and Flavor – they battle it out in America’s abundant, controversial, and fascinating food industry, and change your own tastes #food #cooking #sustainability #future

Heritage Red Delicious Apple varietyThis is a Red Delicious apple. You’ll notice it looks nothing like the dry, mealy mahogany fruits in your grocery store. I can tell you it tastes nothing like them either. It’s wonderfully sweet, crisp, and apple-y.

This apple came from a tree over 60 years old in the Mimbres Valley of southwest New Mexico, and you’ll have to visit a local farmer’s market to buy one.

I seem to be on a food kick lately. America’s food industry gives us more, safer, and cheaper food than ever before, but at a price. Are we poised to take a step forward to a better system?

This reminded me of a book I read recently.

Third Plate book coverDan Barber is a chef concerned with the farm-to-table journey of America’s food. He works with boutique farmers in upstate New York, including the Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture – a farm built in the 1930’s in a “Normandy style” by wealthy philanthropist John D. Rockefeller to “preserve a memory – the place where he sipped warm milk from the lid of the milking jug.” (No matter how nostalgic, I do not recommend drinking raw milk, more strongly the longer it’s been out of the cow.)

Barber is owner and chef at two New York restaurants, Blue Hill in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown (45 minutes from Grand Central Station). I visited his website at Blue Hill Farm.com.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is an elegant restaurant where jackets and ties are preferred for gentlemen, though apparently fancy restaurants have given up trying to tell women what to wear.

In keeping with the ideal of serving the day’s harvest (and perhaps because of shortages of entree-sized portions), Barber serves “multi-course tastings” for about $200 per person. You’ll be happy to know you can buy Dom Perignon by the glass ($80).

Most Americans are unlikely to dine here. But rich or extravagant people serve a social function. They are early adopters for things that can become everyday benefits – air travel, electric cars, television, ocean cruises – so perhaps they can blaze the trail to better eating. Trends from expensive restaurants can affect the local grocery store so, for example, designer pizzas are now available in your frozen food section.

New York is the right place for this venture. Judging from my travels in lower upstate New York, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a farmer’s market or produce stand. Farm-to-table is a popular idea.

Barber presents interesting stories about growing heritage varieties of crops and rotating crops and livestock to maximize soil fertility. This is not mass market organic farming that retains America’s industrial mindset to grow monocultures and supply slabs of meat to serve with a few vegetables. It must be wonderful for a farmer to have the financial support to try these ideas and we meet many such farmers (at least one who, by the way, eats “hulking pork chops” and butters bread so thickly Barber “thought he was joking.”)

It’s not clear the average American wants the foods Barber champions. He notes that while “feeding grain [to animals] flattens flavor” and modern crops are not bred for flavor, the system produces bountiful, low cost food. “[T]he cost of one pound of meat is cheaper now than at any time in history.”

Americans prefer “soft, almost flabby meat” and “have a singular preference for blandness.” We want mild butter that tastes the same across the country and the year, rather than tastier butter that varies by region and month. But is this truly our preference or what we’re trained to expect? Maybe popular, super-spiced snacks prove that American’s want flavor.

Barber always comes back to flavor. His farming methods are labor intensive, generate less profit even at higher boutique prices, and produce uneven and limited supplies, but Barber says the food tastes better.

Gardeners will find the stories Barber tells fascinating. Non-gardeners may find some sections too long.

What others are saying
The Third Plate remains popular four years after it was published, with 4.7 stars on Amazon from 237 reviews.
“It has taught me so much about making sustainable food choices.”
“Pretty cool take on the food industry.”
Rebecca had a pros and cons review: “This is one of the most interesting books I have read that discusses everything wrong with our food culture today. That said, it’s also one of the most obnoxious… His book is dripping with elitism, and most of the time I felt like he was so out of touch with reality it was laughable.”

Looking for a Good Read? Check Out Reviews Here including my book :) #review #bookreview #scifi #sciencefiction #fantasy

Thanks to N K Chavush for reviewing my scifi story about a near-future Mars colony, Glory on Mars. Authors can be the hardest critics, so it’s an honor to be his Book of the Week.

Glory on Mars coverLately there has been a buzz with Mars being at its closest to earth for a long time and appearing bright in the summer night’s sky. Kate Rauner’s genius writing style brings the red planet even closer to us and is so original that it’s a lot different to other science fiction space novels. The characters work so well together and fit well into the alien scenery.

If you’re looking for a good scifi/fantasy read, check out the reviews here by author N K Chavush.

Then check out N K Chavusk’s own book, Anto: Curse of the Hidden City, also available in the UK

book coverWhen something dark and evil is headed towards Anto, an underground city that is unknown to man, the Anthidden tribe will do anything to protect their very own existence. Only one soldier: Tarmus has what it takes to save the city, but will it be enough against what’s coming?

Scifi by Asimov and a Transgendered Search for Identify – Wait a Minute – Isaac Asimov? #scifi #sciencefiction #bookreview #genderequality

cover Robots of DawnIsaac Asimov, a giant of early 20th Century science fiction, is often criticized for awkward writing with flat characters. Could his book The Robots of Dawn, and in particular a sex scene in the story (Asimov? sex?) have helped a trans preteen find his way?

This is a great article and you should read it in its entirety. What riveted the author about Asimov’s character was:

Bailey’s desires and fantasies effortlessly become reality: Without his asking for it, sex came to him exactly as he imagined it because he was a smart masculine detective guy. I wanted that pleasure and ease and wordless understanding between the object of my desire and myself…
The phrase I now have for it is gender dysphoria—I shunned any experience that sought to tie me to my female body, and in turn escaped that body by mapping my sexual fantasies onto those of cisgender, heterosexual men, in scifi, in pornography, and beyond.

Asimov’s story focuses on a case of roboticide. There are, of course, robots with positronic brainpaths (Mr. Data, here’s your creator.) But he set his story on a planet where sex is casual and monogamy nonexistent. Well, Asimov is also known for writing for adolescent boys. And his story opened up new possibilities for at least one youngster.

I’ve never read the book and headed to Amazon to find over 200 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Readers love the robot mystery, and also note some elements that didn’t age well over the decades.

  • Fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made–even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.
  • The sex scenes were written in an odd way, I thought, showing that the character (as well as the author perhaps?) was not comfortable
  • There doesn’t seem to be any ethnic diversity
  • This book dragged on and on. I bought it for my 14 year old and found it was really inappropriate.

Even the writer who found the book transformative as a preteen says, “When I re-read The Robots of Dawn now, passages that I absorbed uncritically at the time are transformed into stumbling blocks… a fantasy world that had no place for me or anyone like me.”

I’ve found some of Asimov’s other work to be dated. I have fond memories of some of his books and have avoided re-reading them exactly because I don’t want to spoil the memories.

I’m intrigued. The book resonated for a particular person at a particular point in his young life. What do you think? Should I read Robots of Dawn? Will you read it?

Bowl of Heaven a bowl of rehash, doesn’t even have an ending #bookreview #review #scifi #sciencefiction

Bowl of Heaven coverIt’s not often I finish a book with the urge to throw it across the room, but that’s where Bowl of Heaven left me. I didn’t even get that satisfaction because I had a hardcover book and was afraid I’d break something.

With two popular authors, “science fiction masters” (so the blurb says) Larry Niven (best known for Ringworld) and Gregory Benford (best known for Timescape) I expected more. The story begins with grand ideas – an interstellar ship with most of the crew in hibernation and an amazing, huge ship-star, a variation on a Dyson sphere (and, therefore, a variation on Niven’s Ringworld from 1970) that is quite cool and fun to contemplate. Cool enough that the book seems to repeat descriptions and slack-jawed wonder of the contrivance (the authors like the word contrivance) from time to time throughout the book. But, okay, maybe some readers forget and appreciate the repetition. I noticed but wasn’t especially annoyed.

A landing party from the interstellar ship gets separated, one group captured by the enormous bird-like rulers, the other running and trying to learn about the vast contrivance. They’re mostly on foot so we see only a teeny tiny bit of the vast Bowl. The captured group escapes, so the story follows two groups on the run in the Bowl, plus those remaining on their ship above the contrivance. (I’m getting used to that word.)

Some scenes are told from the Bird-Folk’s point of view and therefore comment on humanity’s weaknesses, though I couldn’t shake the image of Sesame Street’s Big Bird from my mind.

The landings parties wander around the Bowl. Well, I guess wander isn’t fair – they are being chased. As the story progresses, they find more interesting technologies and species of Bowl inhabitants. Interesting, but not especially riveting.

What got me was – the book ends after 400+ pages, but the story doesn’t. There isn’t even a particular cliffhanger. It just stops – go buy the next book. The blurb on Amazon doesn’t warn you that you’re buying half a story (at $8.99 for the Kindle version.) That makes me angry. I’m used to multi-book series, but I expect each book to have an ending. Scheisse. The next book is available. They call it a sequel. Sequel my eye – it’s part 2, and I hope the story gets to a conclusion, but I don’t expect to read it.

The Bowl gets 3.1 stars on Amazon (from a hefty 291 reviews the day I checked.) I’ve never seen a distribution like this – reviews are evenly divided among all five star rating levels! As many people hate the book as love it.

“Old themes rewarmed and mixed together,” “long, rambling, resolves nothing.” I agree with those comments. “Physics is solid and the engineering is great.” I agree with that too. Maybe that’s why the book returns to descriptions of the Bowl so often.

So after six years on Amazon Kindle, how can this book still rank #644 in its scifi category? With an overall Kindle store ranking of #118,990, someone buys the book every day. Those are awesome rankings that I, as a newbie scifi author, would love to have.

Come on people. Try something new! How about my near-future Mars colony? Find Glory on Mars and the rest of the series on Amazon and other favorite stores. Or join my Readers’ Club and get a coupon for a free download of Glory on Mars. Mars isn’t as big as the Bowl, but give the story a try.

RetrogradeIf not my story, give someone’s story a try. You can probably buy two or three ebooks from new authors for what the Bowl will cost you. Here’s a story by a friend of mine that offers the exploits of an interstellar diplomat, with thoughtful themes I rarely find in scifi. With art on the cover instead of the almost-standard Fiverr covers assembled from stock images. Creativity is good 🙂