Peanut Butter Knife

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My History With Food

I'm not sure if I've become a full fledged foodie yet, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to get there sooner rather than later. But if you ask anyone whose known me awhile and this development might come as some surprise.

For instance. I eat sushi any chance I can get now, but just 5 years ago, I wouldn't touch seafood raw or cooked with a 10 foot pole. I claimed I was "allergic" to it. Granted, this fear of seafood had some basis in reality. When I was just a wee lad of the age of about 8 or 9 whenever my mom would serve fish, I'd throw up. For the longest time, the smell of fish would make nauseous and any suggestion that I even try something from the sea was quickly rebuked.

So what changed? How did I go from the classic picky eater raised on fast food and potato chips -- the kid whose aunt threatened to call a social worker on my mom due to my "lean" physique -- to the burgeoning 30-something gourmet who will try anything once and who might accurately have the term "stocky" applied to him? Who lives to discover new restaurants and flavors heretofore unknown?

Some possible answers:

1. The Indie Factor. Yeah, I'm a bit of a recovering music snob. Somewhere along the way though, it mattered less to me to always be the first to discover a band or a genre. I still love music and collect vinyl, but my identity is not defined solely by what I listen to. But where is that seeking spirit supposed to land? Maybe instead of always having to find something new to listen to (and I went through it all: an electronic phase, an experimental phase, a jazz phase, a country phase, a world music phase -- sometimes concurrently) I've transferred that desire within me to food. Having been so isolated, culinarily speaking, all my life each new national cuisine I discover feels more new, the tastes so vibrant. Another indie band? Heard it all before, it can be good, it can be comforting to listen to, but can it really expand my ways of thinking at this point? Taste is also, I think, a more immediate thrill than sound.

2. The Vicarious World Traveller. If there's one thing I've always wanted to do and never have, its to make travel a priority in my life. For whatever reason: money, job, illness, etc I never seem to make it anywhere. OK, I did go to England on a semi-business trip in 2001, but that turned out to be a disasterous experience that I'd rather not relive in this public forum. Yet I'm always glued to travel shows like Globe Trekker and No Reservations. Always longing to be the kind of person who can pack up and wander around SE Asia by myself for a few weeks. At this point, probably not going to happen. But when I eat Vietnamese food, or (good) Mexican food, or sushi... I can have some of that cultural experience, at least in a second hand sort of way.

3. The Incrementalist. Perhaps I've been more adventurous than I give myself credit for. I can only respond to what I get exposed to and given my semi-sheltered, suburban existence to age 22, that exposure was quite limited. But there were signs. I discovered Pad Thai in college, but at the time Cleveland only had 3 or 4 Thai restaurants. Shortly after moving to Chicago, I even contemplated writing a zine with my friend (hi Katie!) that did nothing but review the Pad Thai in Chicago's literally hundreds of Thai places. Of course now, Pad Thai is usually the last thing I'll order in a Thai restaurant. It wasn't long before I was exploring the Indian restaurants along Devon Avenue, the Mexican places of Pilsen, or a great Middle Eastern restaurant in Evanston called Olive Mountain. I even accompanied friends out for sushi. I was too chickenshit to order any fish, but man did it look good, it was only a matter of time. When I moved back to Ohio, I had loads of time on my hands and access to the Food Network, so soon not only was I trying things in restaurants, but I was learning what went in to making things what ingredients were responsible for what flavors, etc (This was before all the semi-homemade 15 minute garbage infiltrated the network). Then came reading books on chefs and cooking, particularly the work of Michael Ruhlman. Now I'm discovering, not just food as world travel, but the pleasures of more high end cuisine.

I suppose there is probably truth in all 3 reasons, and probably other reasons as well. But I'm hoping the next stage in my food evolution will take place in part on this blog. Hopefully I can keep up with writing this time, because I've missed doing it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Why I am Endorsing Barack Obama in the Ohio Primary

So nobody is probably reading this thing anymore and thats fine, but I had a brief conversation this morning with Ms. 54 and she asked why I had gone from being ambivalent on the Dem candidates to an Obama supporter. Here's my detailed explanation why:

To be honest, the fact that I didn't hop on board the Obama train from day one says alot about some of the weaknesses in his campaign. He's a politician I've followed and admired long before he hit the national spotlight, so I should have been a natural supporter. However, his campaign floundered through much of last year, and to be honest I was waiting, hoping for Al Gore to jump in the race. Ultimately, I understand why Gore bowed out, but he was the only potential candidate that would have made me much more passionately engaged in this election. I liked Chris Dodd, but he never gained traction. John Edwards was great with his populist message, but I could never fully trust him, because he seemed a recent convert to progressive causes.


Just about every expert following this race can tell you that there are very few substantive differences in Clinton's and Obama's platforms. Its true in his public appearances, Obama has been vague at times and skirts specifics, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have detailed, fleshed out proposals on nearly everything and they are all available on his website. Running a public campaign that doesn't delve into too many details is a campaign strategy, and one that Gov. Strickland (a big time Clinton backer incidentally) used very successfully in 2006. Unfortunate as it may be, many voters decide these things on gut feelings and style. John Kerry was a brilliant man who has worked his whole life for the public good, yet in 2004 he was scorned for being too much of a policy wonk, for not making that gut connection with a lot of voters and it cost him.

Neither candidate has an ideal healthcare plan, though I will say that Hillary's is better by a nose. Both health care plans are far and away better than the frankly, quite frightening "free market" based health plans of the Republicans. What disturbs me about Hillary on this issue is that she went from being a vocal advocate of the kind of single payer health plan that we need, to taking more money from insurance and pharmaceutical companies than any candidate in the race from either party.

Elsewhere, Obama has a very progressive platform on the future of the internet and a strong stance in favor of net neutrality. The Clinton camp hasn't really talked much about this issue, but Bill Clinton was responsible for the onerous Communications Act of 1996, which has done more to harm the state of free and independent media in this country than anything in our history.

I like Obama's recent calls for community service among young people. Its sad that we have come to the point where these things need to be instruments of policy, but it can only be a good outcome.

I suppose the biggest area of disagreement I have with Hillary is over the war. Quite simply, this issue more than any other is what made me engage so deeply in politics. I believed that the war was wrong from the start and it has ruined our country's reputation in the world and I'm not even sure that its able to be repaired in the span of one administration. Thousands of American lives have been lost in Iraq and exponentially more innocent Iraqi lives. Barack Obama had the sense of judgement to oppose the war from the start, and did so at a time when he could have paid a steep political price. Hillary voted to authorize the war and even now won't call it a mistake, which at least John Edwards had the courage to do.

Now that we're over there, there are no easy answers and both candidates have flawed, but similar plans for withdrawal. But at least they're both thinking about withdrawal, as opposed to John McCain's pledge to stay in Iraq for 100 years. However, I don't want a president that is going to continue to view our relationship with the rest of the world through a militaristic or imperialist lens. I also think that we need a president with credibility on this issue if we're ever going to begin to change the perception in the world of America, the bully; America, the tyrant.

Both candidates have been deficient in areas that mean the most to me, notably climate change, infrastructure and science. But I have faith in both of them to be better in these areas than we have seen in many years. I just wish they'd both be more bold in their proposals.

On Politics:

The moment that really started tipping me more decidedly in Obama's direction, was when we started to see many of Hillary's surrogates and then later Bill "The First Black President" Clinton himself trot out race-baiting, fear mongering attacks on Obama. And for as many warm, fuzzy memories we may have now of the 90s; it recalled the darker side of Clintonism. These are exactly the same type of tactics that we recoil from in disgust when George Bush and Karl Rove use them. Honestly, I'm tired of this type of divide and conquer politics. I've grown weary from it and have over the last few years began to tune out the messages of both parties. Its made our government small minded and bitterly divided. Barack wants to move past that and judging by the diverse coalition that he's cobbled together, he can.

Obama is not a saint in this regard either. His embrace of anti-gay bigot Donnie McClurkin at rallies in 2007 and later his personal (and flat out wrong) attacks on NYT columnist Paul Krugman were both leading factors in my not wanting to support him for some time. However, he's moved away from this kind of thing recently and has reclaimed some of the high ground that he held after the 2004 convention speech.

The campaigns each reflect such strikingly different structures. Obama represents an activist bottom-up approach to campaigning. He raises money from hundreds of thousands of small donors, and only 3% of his donors have given him the max amount. Meanwhile Hillary has begun to struggle financially because she relies on wealthy donors who have all maxed out in their giving, which is why I find it odd that she is claiming the mantle of the candidate who is fighting for working class interests, if you see who is financing her campaign the opposite appears to be true. In the bottom up approach, Obama talks in "we" not "I", every one of his supporters has a stake in his campaign. That just appeals to me more. And to further that, this has always been his message from day one, going back to his days as a community organizer in Chicago. Its in his nature to bring people together to solve problems.

Looking at cold-hard numbers, Obama at this juncture seems to have an advantage over McCain. One of McCain's top advisers and a former Bush strategist has even said he'll quit if Obama is the nominee since he's not interested in running against someone who actually has a positive message. There's a bit more of a dice roll with Obama, but I'm comfortable with it because he has never run from any of his flaws. Rather, he talks about them openly and diffuses the issues with ease. What worries me with Hillary is that she's down in the polls for the general election now, and there isn't a person in America that hasn't formed an opinion of her, many of them negative. Its hard to see how she turns that around.


There is no question that no matter who is nominated, we are going to make history with our nominee this year. I'm proud to be part of the party that is going to break down those walls no matter how its decided. However, in a few areas, Obama gets slight edges here as well.

His youth is appealing. We've seen how the baby boomer generation has led this country over the past 20 years and much of it isn't pretty. I think its time the page was turned on that chapter. While Hillary being a woman is a definite positive in her campaign, that fact that Obama's background is bi-racial and international is also a positive and one that I think brings up some interesting possibilities. He comes from a humble background with roots in far flung places like Kansas, Hawaii, Kenya and Chicago. He's uniquely positioned to understand rural, urban, and suburban issues, immigrants and natives. He's supported in the south by primarily African American voters, but his biggest victories have been in nearly all white areas like Minnesota, Idaho and Maine. Quite simply, he has the potential to be a map-changer, a generational leader and we don't get too many of those coming along that often.

So, there's my case for Obama. I've said before, we're lucky this year to have two candidates who are bright, good on the issues, and have the chance to make history and a positive change in this country. I'll be happy to support either as the nominee, but for now, I feel more strongly that Barack Obama will make the stronger case for change.

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