Your pathway to healthy food, ethics, beer, and how these things can (and should!) come together in daily life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Service industry in America

So I've been in the service industry, mostly hostessing and waiting tables, for about, mmmm, 4-5 years. I refuse to work in corporate-owned restaurants after my first job (disaster!) so now I only work in family owned restaurants. And let me tell you, without seeing the absolute worst treatment of servers (which occurs in corporate restaurants, unsurprisingly), I have some pretty horrific stories.

We'll just disregard what happened this weekend at work.

What I want to talk about is the treatment of service industry folks in the US. These people work long hours dealing directly with other people, do not get health insurance, and are rarely paid over minimum wage. I am obviously biased because I work in the industry, as do almost all of my friends and room mates, but just take a moment to think about all the work that these people do. Think of it in a Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club-esque way... these people wash your car, take care of children, prepare and serve your food, help you find things in the store, ... and guard you while you sleep! (I couldn't help it...)

The typical attitude that managers... and sadly, the ever present asshole customers (of course not all of them are...), hold is that the customer is ALWAYS right. Now, this is good business practice, but to a point. When your employees are barely being paid a living wage and have to deal with all of this anxiety, well, does this seem like a good way for people to live?

I'm starting to think that this is why people "go postal" and come to work "and then stalk from office to office with an Armalite AR-10 carbine gas-powered semi-automatic weapon, pumping round after round into colleagues and co-workers." (sorry, I felt this reference really proved my point).

I just think we need to change the way we treat the service industry employees, I mean, they're the largest body of workers in the country, right? The problem is that Capitalism needs some party to externalize its costs to... and that goes to the service industry people. So that everyone can get cheap goods, the service people are treated horribly and hardly make any money.

So I am writing this post after talking to my favorite cousin about life in America. It seems like we have to go through a lot of crap to get to the all important "American Dream". This high anxiety, time-poor lifestyle we all endure seems to blind us from what is important. We want money, power, things... but at what cost? I, for one, am sick of selling lamb chops and beef kabobs. I am going to change this as soon as I can... and work in a job where people actually give their employees a voice.

Speaking of giving employees a voice, right now I am eating at "Hard Times Cafe", a restaurant that treats its employees right with healthcare and vacation time. It's an all vegetarian/vegan cafe, and I am enjoying one of my *favorite* sandwiches: the Tempeh Reuben. All you non vegetarians may scoff at tempeh (my man being one of them), but all you other veggies know what I'm talking about.
I ate half the sandwich before I realized I was going to take a picture of it. That's what Tempeh does to me.

*For anyone who doesn't know, tempeh is a fermented soybean cake. It's a little like tofu, with a much nuttier taste and a strange texture, which is kind of like softened soybeans. For those of us who can understand textures... its amazing.

So tip your servers right, only complain to managers when you really mean it, and take a moment to look at situations from the service industry employee's perspective: they take a lot of crap, and do the jobs that no one else wants to do. A lot of them are in this country illegally trying to make a living to support their families. They have the same dreams and ambitions as you at a deep level, and they're human beings. Shouldn't we all be treated with equal consideration and respect?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Ethics?

So obviously I am a philosophy student, I'm getting a minor in ethics. I think that ethics are really important to think about. Having an ethical framework helps you make decisions about moral things every day.

Every day?

Yep. Every single day. I think that just about everything we do has an impact on other people. If you sat in a closet all day, maybe you wouldn't need to think about ethical behavior, because you aren't in contact with others. Everything we do, buy a coffee, go to work, buy and read the newspaper, and especially, EAT, has far reaching implications that effect other people, animals, and the environment.

That's why cooking with ethical implications in mind is important. Eating is another thing we do EVERY DAY. So, as Michael Pollan would say, that's three votes a day with your fork. You could choose to conform to the status quo of the typical American: processed food, meat, added sugar, added fat, and chemical enhancers and sweeteners.

Or, if you don't like the fact that we dump all kinds of fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides into our fields and food (some which have the potential to cause cancer and disrupt ecosystems), or that both farmers and field laborers hardly make enough of a living to feed their families, or that our nation's waistlines are growing considerably (Mrs. Obama said 1 in 3 kids are obese or overweight) and the rates of diet related disease are skyrocketing, or that farm animals are treated as commodities instead of sentient beings....

These are the reasons I eat conscientiously. I eat mostly plants, which are mostly organic, and I do the best I can to buy local products, even though on a waitress' salary, it's kind of tough. When we get meat for my man, I insist on no hormone, preferably organic and local.

So keep your values in mind when you eat. If everyone did it, the world would be a different place.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Potato Curry, Raita, and Naan: An Indian Feast.

It has been ridiculously snowy this week, and I thought that it was prime time for some heat in the kitchen. And while, in retrospect, it would have been a smarter idea to turn the oven on, we made some pretty awesome potato curry. This recipe was from Practical Cooking: Vegetarian, my favorite cook book because of all the different interesting recipes it contains. From Thai Noodles to Veggie Wellington, these recipes are seriously amazing. I'll make sure try new ones, but I'll definitely give credit where it's due! So potato curry came from this cook book, the Raita recipe came from All Recipes, and we bought some Naan at the store.

The Raita is really creamy and kind of cleanses the palate between bites of the thick, spicy potato curry. If you don't like too much spice, just leave out some of the pepper.

Potato Curry and Raita with Naan

Like all the best dishes, start out with some potatoes.
Three to be exact.
Two Onions
For some reason, the cats LOVE smashing my groceries.
Three giant cloves of garlic, crushed
Four tomatoes...
1 cup Cauliflower florets
2 tablespoons cilantro
... and also 3/4 cup peas. I used canned.
Cut the Onion into quarters.
Crush the garlic
Cut the potatoes into equal pieces. Next time I make this, I will definitely cut these into smaller pieces. Like half the size of these. It took forever to cook... and I even nuked them in the microwave first!

Peel the tomatoes. I thought this step was ridiculous... but the result was great and apparently I'm pretty good at peeling tomatoes. I'm still toying with the idea of using stewed tomatoes next time.
Next, cut the tomatoes into quarters.

Now heat some vegetable oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan or skillet. I used my trusty, not-so-rusty-anymore cast iron skillet.
Add the potatoes, onions, and crushed garlic, and fry, stirring frequently, over low heat for a couple minutes.
Add 1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. ginger
Chilies... the recipe recommends 1 fresh chili but I used 3 dried ones.
But I really like spice.
The first on the left is garam masala, next is coriander, then cumin. The little container is ginger, then turmeric, and finally, a giant container of chillies.
Now fry for about a minute at low heat, stirring constantly.
Next add the cauliflower florets, tomatoes, peas, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, and 1 and 1/4 cups stock (I just used water).
Cook this on a low heat for 30-40 minutes or until potatoes are cooked all the way through and but still tender.

This is gonna take a loooong time. Now it's time to make the Raita.

I kind of changed the recipe from to suit my liking.

start out with 2 cucumbers, and seed and chop them.

Don't worry. I was being very careful and I moved my hand right after the picture.
Next, seed and dice one tomato.
My peeler is pretty awesome.
Now add about 2 cloves of garlic, minced.

And add 2 cups of unsweetened yogurt and 1 tsp. cumin
Add salt and pepper to taste. Done with that!

This is taking forever.
Seriously, next time I will make smaller pieces.
It's so close to being done... I also made rice to go along with this meal, as you can see...
It's done!
It smelled so good!!!
Now I heated up the naan over the stove in a skillet so it was nice and pliable.

And serve the curry with cilantro as a garnish (or pretty much all over it) with some Raita and rice on the side with naan! I wish we had more.
I love how the cauliflower turned into this light yellowy color.