I planned on writing a bit on this lately controversial topic. See this: Action On A National GMO Labeling Measure Heats Up On Capitol Hill.
It’s a sensitive and frustrating topic because people seem to have strongly held beliefs on both sides. One side is defensive about corporate greed, evil scientists, evil government, and extreme caution of anything perceives to be “unnatural.” The other side sees this technology as a marvel of human progress that can potentially save the world and safely feed billions.
The longer answer for me personally is that all GMO technology is different, and if you want to claim that one specific example is safe, unsafe, environmentally friendly, or not, you really need to address which specific GMO you are talking about. Then you need to convince me with some objective, hard data to defend your side of the issue. The shorter answer for me, personally, is that I generally tend to think that advancements in science are in large part responsible for giving us all the modern, comfortable lifestyles that most of us enjoy. This includes safer food, clean drinking water, smartphones, tablets, cars, vaccines,…
However, my mind is continually open (just not so open that my brains will fall out). If someone is claiming that a particular GMO is bad for whatever reason, convince me with the data and I will gleefully change my mind. I first would caution you that this may be an uphill battle for a couple of reasons: First, before you start screaming about how the evil scientists are trying to murder us or gain control of our brains, maybe you should exclude the good scientists at Oxitec, who managed to genetically modify male mosquitoes to mate with females and kill the babies, thereby potentially eliminating the Zika virus wherever they are released. I’m sure there are quite a few pregnant Brazilian women who are happy to lessen the chance of having babies born with shrunken heads. Thank you, GMO scientists.
Oh yeah, you also may want to thank Norman Borlaug, who genetically altered wheat to give it higher yields, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been credited with saving roughly one billion people from starvation.
Second, the term GMO is very loosely defined. Where do you draw the line? Just so you know, just about everything we eat has been genetically modified at some point in its history; that’s how life works! Show me wild corn, it’s not a thing. Ever try eating a wild banana? They’re just about inedible. Cross-breeding, cross-pollinization, grafting, hybridizing, and more have been practiced by farmers since farming became a thing. You think cows that produce extra milk that their calves could never consume happened naturally? We humans have been running this show for quite some time now.
Today’s scientists simply have better tools at their disposal to experiment more quickly and efficiently on the genetic level.
There I go ranting on again. Just remember, I am open to the possibility of any product, GMO or not, to be unhealthy or risky in some way. Just show me the mechanism and let me see the data. There are certainly many foods that can hurt me and I don’t want to eat them. GMO foods are certainly no exception, but I have to take each one on a case-by-case basis. These two statements are equally silly to me:
• “I got sick eating a mushroom that I picked, therefore all mushrooms are bad and can kill you.”
• “GMO tomatoes have been proven to increase your risk of heart disease (not true) by 10%, therefore, all GMO foods are bad.”
Although I did get violently sick from drinking too much rum in 1982 and I haven’t had one sip of rum since.
Anyway, if this topic at all interests you, please read Neurolgica’s blog post on the subject. It’s quite good, easy to read, and eye opening. He’s much smarter than I am.
One of our best and most loyal customers won an Oscar on Sunday night! I think it’s probably best to ask him or her for permission to give their name out but I am so happy and proud of him or her. To be honest, I am not a big fan of the Oscars but if someone I know pretty well gets nominated, I’ll suck it up and watch. Besides, it was a nice diversion for my family just one week after the biggest tragedy of our lives. Fortunately, the award was given extremely early on and I was spared from sitting through countless minutes of nonsense. It’s funny, I have been known to jump through extraordinary hoops to avoid witnessing this festival of self-congratulating rich people, but if somebody I know gets nominated, I’m like a high school girl at a Back Street Boys concert! Did I just reveal my age?! I’m pretty sure I’m down with all the homies and whatnot. I can feel my niece rolling her eyes at me right now. Anyway, I’m back to work after being gone for about six weeks to be with my family. It’s nice to have a routine to come back to and the Oscars provided some much needed distraction and excitement while my family and I try to move forward after the loss of my beautiful mother. She was always so eager to hear about all the celebrities that visit the shop. She even had a list going to brag to her friends. She knew about the nomination. She would have been so pleased to see the selfie I will inevitably take with me and the Oscar winner next time he or she comes into the shop! I guess I’ll have to send it to my sister instead. She will love it.
Ahh, Rungis. No thank you, I don’t need a tissue. Most of us, even the French, even Parisians, have never even heard of the largest and greatest food market in the world. The stories are almost legendary. It is the size of a small town, located near Orly airport in a southern suburb of Paris. This gastronome’s fantasyland covers 573 acres, employs 13,000 people daily, has its own train station, freeway exit, and is not open to the general public.
The Marché International de Rungis (Rungis International Market) is open to professionals only. They hold the seemingly bizarre hours of 1:00 am – 11:00 am. The freshest seafood always disappears by 6:00 am or so. The market is constantly patrolled by security and omnipresent food inspectors, including veterinary, bacteriological, and provenance. It’s so huge that you have to drive between sections. The bulk of this gargantuan display of food winds up in the specialty shops, supermarkets, and restaurants in Paris and the surrounding areas.
Rungis is not for the squeamish. There are aisles full of hanging animal carcasses including pigs, cows, calves, lamb, rabbits, and more exotic game. That’s just the Boucher (butcher). There is a whole other section for the cured styles of meats (charcuterie), and yet still another section called volailler (poulterer) where you will find all manner of very recently deceased birds. Needless to say, they keep Rungis quite chilly and you would be wise to wear a winter coat inside. Have I mentioned the fish section? 200 lbs. of halibut, anyone?
There are also separate buildings for more humane fare. Flowers, dairy (mountains of cheese!), fruit, and veggies.
This brings me to my point. In France and most of Western Europe, people generally shop at specialty shops. They like to seek the advice of experts, and are generally better educated about their food products and where they come from. Part of what makes America great and successful is our work ethic and competition derived from our capitalistic economy. The other side of that coin is that we are always in such a hurry. We can’t even imagine doing our food shopping at seven different stores, much less two or three. We like to make as few stops as possible, and load up with enough ground beef to last a family of four for a month. Europeans are much more likely to walk into the butcher shop, tell him or her what they want the ground beef for, choose the exact type or mix of meats for the meal they have planned, listen to suggestions of what looks good right now or what may go well with it, and possibly watch the butcher grind it right there in front of them. Then they go to the Boulangerie for the bread, the florist, the farmer’s market, the cheese shop, the wine shop, and the patisserie for dessert. The service at all these places will be similar, probably curt but professional and helpful, and the selections will be perfect.
So, you can certainly save some time and money with one-stop shopping. I do it myself more often than I’d like to admit. But maybe one day soon, maybe for Valentine’s Day, try a little Euro on for size. Go to a bakery and find some fresh bread, visit the farmer’s market for your fruit and veggies, stop by a specialty seafood store or a butcher, get some flowers for the table from an actual florist, swing on by a cheese shop, grab a nice bottle of wine out of that little fridge that you bought when you thought you were going to start buying Bordeaux futures, and walk into that pastry shop that you have been drooling over. Maybe do the shopping together and prepare the food together as well. It’ll be cheaper and better than buying that overpriced prix-fixe at that famous restaurant anyway. By the way, send me a note if you find a volailler in Los Angeles!
We had a private Grilled Cheese and Beer Night again last night at the shop. That makes five events this week! The event went extremely well. As far as I can tell, they all left very impressed with our signature event. They were all fathers of children in a local nursery school. I think it is called “Crestwood” and it sounds like it’s in Brentwood. We do quite a lot of these fundraisers. I believe it’s called a “party book.” The participants contribute a fixed amount to pay for their tickets, they pay our fees from those proceeds, and the school gets the rest. It works out great for everybody. We get paid our regular fees, they get a great event, the school benefits, and most importantly for us, we get to introduce new customers to the shop and forge new relationships.
Usually these events are for both parents but sometimes, like last night, it was fathers only. We’ve had women only nights before but this one was just for the dads. It was a small group of 12 (we can accommodate up to 26), and it seemed to me that this was the first time that most of them had met.
The social behavior was fascinating to me. It worked out that the first six men were there for several minutes before the next guests showed up. I took one look at the seating arrangement, leaned over to Jackie (she was working the event with me), and said “look how they’re sitting.” She asked what I was talking about. I said “not one of them is sitting next to anybody else.” They had naturally occupied every other seat. In fact, even though there was plenty of room between seats, the guys at the end actually slid their chairs around slightly to the corners of the table to get as far away from the others as possible!
I wondered if I do this too. I’m pretty sure the answer is “yes!” The first thing I thought of was public restrooms. If I’m in an airport or a movie theatre, somewhere where there are a big row of urinals, I would never take one directly next to another occupied stall unless I had no other choice. Why do we do this? It strikes me as very antisocial. Maybe it has something to do with machismo. Men like to be perceived as strong and independent. Maybe that explains it. Maybe most of us are secretly terrified that someone might think we’re gay. I don’t know if this behavior is a bad thing or a good thing, but it’s certainly interesting and pretty amusing. It might not even be specific to men but it seems to me that we’re more often guilty of this behavior than women seem to be.
I also have noticed that when people are forced to go outside their comfort zones and have no choice but to sit directly next to a stranger, they quite often wind up exchanging contact information by the end of the event. Not much makes me much” happier than to see relationships get forged at one of our public events. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they met their partner, husband, wife, best friend, or new business relationship at one of our events.
The lesson for me is to not be so afraid to meet knew people. We are all interesting in our own way and have unique stories to tell. As a recovering curmudgeon, I will force myself to sit next to strangers more often. I’ll probably get more dirty looks, but also meet some interesting new friends. Maybe not so much in public restrooms though, I’m talking to you, Larry Craig.
I hate blogs. I don’t post to Facebook as much as I should. I’m not very fluent in Twitterese. I logged into my LinkedIn account exactly one time, when the future Mrs. Andrew’s Cheese Shop posted a geeky video for me to laugh at. I am aware that other social media outlets exist. In fact, I am pretty sure that I have accounts on most of them, I even wrote down the passwords because I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (diagnosed). I don’t really care what my friends had for lunch. I certainly get irritated when people I have never met decide to share pictures of their favorite food. This is one of the many reasons why I very rarely check my Facebook feed.
For most of my life, I would be fairly classified as a curmudgeon. To be honest, I have also been very guilty of being lazy and not following through with things. I have always been terrible at keeping in touch with people that I care about. I have no idea why, but I will not return calls or contact friends and relatives for very long periods of time. Until about 10 years ago or so, I was also a pretty bad son. I live 3,000 miles from home (New York), and I would call my parents maybe once or twice a month. Fortunately, I realized that they were most likely not going to be around forever, and I decided to fix that behavior. My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in January of 1995 and was given a 25% chance of living another year. She beat it, beat the living crap out of it. I used to say that she’ll probably outlive the doctor who diagnosed her. Then my dad had an emergency triple bypass. I decided that the time to start paying attention to them was now. There may not be a tomorrow to put this off until. So, I talk to one or both of them almost daily now, even if I don’t really have the time or if I’m super-busy. I make time. They gave me life, I can call. That’s a good deal for me.
My mom is 72 years old and it seems unlikely that she will see 73. It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, or my sister, or my dad. She was playing tennis last month and it seems likely that in a short time she won’t even know who we are because of this terrible, terrible thing attacking her brain (glioblastoma – I never heard that word before this and now I wish that I still didn’t).
Sometimes it takes tragedy to knock sense into people. For me, at the tender age of 49, it’s beginning to sink into my thick skull that the people I care about wont be around forever, and neither will I. I also realized that in spite of my personality flaws and failures, there are a lot of people who care about me! I generally don’t deserve that, but maybe I should think more about what they want and less about what’s convenient for me. Ive tried before to keep in touch, but I just suck at it. That’s not an excuse, there is no excuse. But I feel bad and would like to change this, so I guess that’s a start.
The other amazing thing that I have noticed is that people seem to want to know what I think about things. People who know me well also know that I like to rant on about almost anything. I guess I can now mention the good qualities about myself that I believe I possess (I can’t beat myself up forever). I’m intelligent, extremely passionate, I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, I have an overdeveloped sense of fairness and justice, and I’m pretty witty and funny. In other words, I have a lot to say but I’m so bad at keeping in touch with people that there are few people to say it to. So I decided to start a blog. I’m not really sure if it’s just for me to get my thoughts out, or for the readers to be entertained or informed.
So, I will obviously talk a lot about my professional passions of cheese, beer, wine, charcuterie,…(hard to believe that I get paid for all of that), but I will also interject some personal items and whatever moves me to get excited about and rant about. Kind of like the Jazz version of a blog. I hate jazz, by the way. It’s one of those things that a lot of brilliant people love and I wish I did too, but I find it boring and self-indulgent. Expect a lot of strong opinions like that last one on this stream/blog/journal/emotional masturbation. If I cross a line, I will most likely apologize, but sometimes I won’t. That doesn’t make me or you a bad person. Sometimes you will disagree with me. I just hope to make you laugh, think, and maybe learn some things about specialty food/drink. Maybe we have some things in common and this will make you or me feel like we have some like-minded company about some things.
I look forward to sharing with you all and I promise to post these entries to all the social media sites. Endless thanks to MainBrainCreative.com for all the geeky technical stuff that is way outside my area of expertise and making it easy for me to do the easy parts.
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