The Taste of Tomorrow
  • Dear TofT Readers:  Simgresorry for the woefully belated update! My New Year’s resolution is “better web site feeding.” There are a couple of new developments to report…

    First, in September, I started writing about the future of food and agriculture for TIME.com.

    One recent piece “The Frankenburger is Coming Sooner Than You Think” takes a look at the state of cultured meat research — one year after The Bite.  A second piece “Forget Kale: Try These Three Real Superfoods” spotlights a couple of highly nutritional plants with extraordinary world-saving qualities (that’s not hyperbole). And the latest piece, “You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon,” focuses on a promising way of raising fish that is finally starting to get some well-deserved attention by the Consumer Reports of seafood.  I will post my TIME pieces here on the TofT.

    I am also very excited to be part of National Geographic’s documentary The Story of Food.  The first episode, Food Revolutionaries, airs on Friday, November 21st at 9pm.

    Finally, I’m having a great time curating a new Taste of Tomorrow magazine on Flipboard.  If you don’t know Flip, check it out. My Flip site is my nearly-daily take on interesting ideas, people, and technologies shaping the future of food (in other words, it’s The Taste of Tomorrow’s reading list in the aesthetically-pleasing Flipboard format!)

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    The Taste of Tomorrow rarely invites people into our highly secretive test kitchen.

    But we broke the usual policy a few weeks ago because of an unusually charming producer with an interest in one of our favorite topics — animal livestock alternatives.

    Here,  I prepare one of my favorite, high-protein foods — a cricket quesadilla — for the CNBC London program, The Edge, using a recipe from Mexico City native, Latin foods guru, and tacos al chapulin-enthusiast Arturo Nava.  Unfortunately we did not have a chance to follow Arturo’s suggestion to pair this with a single source mezcal  (It was 10 a.m). Next time…

    The next glimpse inside the TofT Kitchen is coming…. We badly want to try a new product from an SF-based company Hampton Creek  — an entirely plant-derived mock egg. We’ll keep you posted when we have the goods.

  •  “If it’s food, and it’s from south of the Sahara, buy it.

    The Taste of Tomorrow editorial memo, May 2011

    As regular TofT readers know, in addition to trying to persuade you to eat genetically engineered Hawaiian papaya, warehouse-raised barramundi, cricket quesadillas, and cultured beef burgers,  we are very much committed to searching N. American grocery stores, restaurants, bars, food trucks, farmers markets, street vendors  and strip malls for foods from the 37 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

    We do this not only because we want to find the elusive yaji or the ingredients necessary to make a sublime chicken yassa or Nigerian goat pepper soup, but because we are eager to say, “I told you so,” and, especially, “I told you so, Dad.”

    Recall the post publication days of 2012. That guy who came up to us at a lakeside barbecue only to say “I liked the book… But African food?” The college professor who told us The African Inevitability Thesis was preposterous.   The  man who declared, after one (one!) visit to one (one!) Nigerian restaurant,  “African food is not going to be popular in the United States.”

    Well, we dedicate this post to those nattering nabobs of negativism, which include a very high ranking member of the Schonwald family.

    It was a very good 60 days for The African Inevitability Thesis.

    African Maafe with Roasted Bananas in Evanston!

    It all started in Sept. when the weekly email from Meez Meals, our favorite local vegetarian/vegan prepared meals maker —a frequent go-to option when we are too lazy too cook featured a maafe-based dish: African Maafe with Roasted Bananas.  Meez, which is often creative fusion-wise and does a great job heating up vegetarian meals,  built a whole spread around the classic W. African peanut-based sauce — adding lots of ginger and cardamom,  sautéed broccoli, kidney beans, brown rice, & roasted bananas.

    The Meez take on maafe, which we paired with a Red Hook, was delicious. Two points for African fusion.

    Then, a few days later, still giddy after the discovery that a foodmaker based here in our hometown of Evanston had discovered the wonders of maafe, a dish as common in West Africa as tomato sauce is in Italy – we were doing a routine search of our favorite trend-tracking sites and found this:

    Now,  why was it so pleasing to see Baobabest Fruit Cubes, featured beneath a box of Quinoa Milk,  on a blog?  

    Well…. as TofT readers know,  last year,  given the chance to opine in one of the end-of-the-year food futurist stories (What’s the next Kale) we laid down the gauntlet and went with baobab.The TofT predicts that baobab — the iconic tree of sub-Saharan Africa, the producer of a fruit with an extraordinary range of health properties – was destined, for next acai/pomegranate/blueberry — aka superfruit status.   We were also pleased to see that a post about the emergence of baobab-derived products at Natural Products Expo West was on Kara Nielsen’s trend-tracking blog (Kara Nielsen is one of our favorite trend trackers, and, ultimately, is the one who really started our curiosity in African foods.)

    But the super big news started coming a week later — when we were alerted to the exciting news that Zingerman’s was also hot for maafe.  In fact, one of Zingerman’s food trackers declared a maffe, from The Gambia, to be his “food find of the year.”

    Zingerman’s Chooses Maafe as “Food Find of the Year”

    Now many foodies will instantly know why it’s a huge deal to the TofT that Zingerman’s is enthusing about maafe.  But for those who have never heard of Z’s— it’s  a legendary Ann Arbor, Michigan food store (the NY Times journo/gastronome RW Apple called it the “deli of my dreams”) that routinely attracts gushing praise,  long lines and has a loyal, cult-like following that will buy whatever Ari (co-founder) loves at whatever cost he charges.(For more on the cult of Z’s, read here, or watch this) In short, Z’s is a trend-maker  — they were pushing olive oil and good coffee 20 years before everyone cared about artisanal olive oil and coffee, they were ahead of the pack, nerding out early on balsamic vinegar,  high-end chocolate, and ancient grains and  artisanal bacon.

    So the fact that Brad of Zingerman’s,  a guy who surely tastes hundreds – maybe thousands — of products from all over the world, went ga-ga over a take on maafe,  calling it his  “food find of the year,”  explaining it’s significance in West African culture (Brad likened it to an Italian grandma’s pasta sauce or a Louisianan’s gumbo), and then introducing us to The Gambian version of said Italian grandma (Jainaba Janga of The Gambia) before concluding  with this seductive how-can-i-not-try-it description:

    It’s made from garlic, vegetables and spices all cooked in a peanut and tomato sauce. In Jainaba’s version she adds lots of fresh ginger and garlic as well as habanero peppers and lime juice. It’s bright, tangy, spicy and nutty all at the same time—totally delicious to palates from any country.

    Well…. it’s a big, big moment for people who believe that the pleasures — and potential — of sub-Saharan African food have been overlooked.

    We are very excited that Zingerman’s is now exploring sub-Saharan African cuisines.  In recent years, Zingerman’s has been on a north African exploration, and they’ve featured some wonderful Tunisian foods —  harissa, couscous, preserved lemons. They even had a pop-up Tunisian restaurant called “Café Memmi” Given Z’s past, its track record of finding unbelievable stuff, its creativity, and consistent quality, it is hard not to wonder what’s next. Could a delightful egusi recipe be coming next spring?  Could Zingerman’s Bakehouse experiment with fufu? Will Zingerman’s Roadhouse offer baobab juice?).

    IF you’re interested in more info on the maker of this maffe, check out the Kitchens of Africa site – they also make a yassa sauce, which we are hoping to try soon.

     

    More Spicy African Ketchup, More Smoky Baobab Barbecue Sauce — Taste the Future at… TJ Maxx.

    Last but not at all least… the final good news of the good news era…. 

    Just last week, we got an email from James “Bim” Adedeji of Bim’s Kitchen, maker of perhaps the world’s first collection of modern African – or African fusion — sauces with the pleasing news that ANOTHER major shipment of Bim’s is en route to the US. See photographic evidence here:

    Why is this a big deal? Well, as TofT readers know, we fell very much under the spell of Bim’s Kitchen last year — see earlier posts . Basically, we believe that Bim’s is a taste of the future — and are hopeful that more folks will get a chance to experiment as we did last summer with lemon piri piri chicken wings, baby back ribs in a smoky baobab barbecue sauce, French fries dipped in a spicy African ketchup.

    Last year that simply wasn’t possible for most Americans.  Bim’s distribution was overwhelmingly in the UK.  But that’s changing.

    TJ Maxx (yes, that TJ Maxx) tested Bim’s, with a small North American debut last spring. And not surprisingly, the sauces, which incorporate sub-Saharan African flavors into familiar condiments (egusi paired with curry, ketchup spiced with African peppers, a barbecue sauce infused with baobab)  have proved to be very popular.

    TJ Maxx is doubling its order! That means, Bim’s will be available in select TJ Maxx (they have a small food section), Marshalls, and Homegoods stores.

    James sent us a list of the sauces coming (Smoky Baobab BBQ Sauce,  Hot Tangy BBQ Sauce,  African Lemony Piri Piri,  Hot African Lemony Piri Piri,  Smokin’ Red Hot Sauce, Fiery Hot Sauce) and the general location where they’ll be available, but it’s hard to tell from the list. Call ahead!

    We’ll keep you posted if we get confirmation of Chicago-area stores that offer Bim’s…. Meantime, here’s a short interview with Bim (audio and production quality are poor — our first attempt — BUT… you’ll learn the back-story of Bim’s which is quite interesting.)

  • Not long after tasting the first cultured beef burger (aka Google Burger, Franken Burger, lab-grown burger), and just a few days after declaring, only half-jokingly, on NPR’s Science Friday that I am the Neil Armstrong of lab meat,  a friend asked me a very good question.

     If not lab beef, then what?

    In other words, if I was a professional high-profile, highly-symbolic eater — if I had to be the chance of being the Neil Armstrong of another food — what would it be?

    That was, refreshingly, a no brainer.

     Golden rice.

    Yes, if ever I get another chance to eat on a stage, with hundreds of television cameras watching —   it would definitely be to eat a heaping bowl of golden rice.  I’d get a chef to fry up vegetable golden rice in a wok and then I would, pause pregnantly, and say the line that I chickened out on saying on August 5 on London.  “One small bite  for man… One giant bite for mankind.”

    If you are one of the few TofT readers who never heard the long, tortured saga of golden rice, here is a good story “Golden Rice, Lifesaver,” in the New York Times.  For more extensive information take a look this backgrounder from the International Rice Research Institute or from the The Golden Rice Project.

    I got a chance to throw in my .025 cents for golden rice last month.   And, in the Time piece 11 Foods That Are Changing the World, the reporter quoted a line from the conclusion of The Taste of Tomorrow:

    “Savoring the slowest food shouldn’t be viewed as at odds with championing lab-engineered vitamin-A enhanced rice that could save children from blindness. Pairing [ those foods] is not an incompatible, ethically confused choice.”

    The Time blurb does hint at golden rice’s potential — citing an American Society for Nutrition study that found that one cup of golden rice daily could provide 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A.  But what the piece doesn’t say is that —although there is likely no crop in existence today that could have the potential life-saving impact of golden rice— there are  plenty of people who are fighting, jihadistly (my new word) to prevent its release — such as Greenpeace and these anti-GMO activists in the Philippines who destroyed a field trial.  For more, on the intensity of the anti-golden rice movement read Bjorn Lomborg in Slate —The Deadly Opposition to Genetically Modified Food.

    Opponents may legitimately argue that there are more effective ways of delivering desperately needed beta carotene to people in  rice-subsisting parts of South East Asia.  But even if there are better ways — even if golden rice isn’t a single bullet cure— there is not a shred of credible evidence that it poses any human health or environmental risk. In short, as  it’s morally indefensible to do what these activists are doing — destroying a crop that could save lives.

     

    Here’s a petition that has received thousands of signatures over the past months that I hope you’ll read — and sign — and then encourage your friends to sign.

  • Back in July, The Taste of Tomorrow, called for a boycott of Whole Foods in 2018. Well, we are now revising our boycott to RIGHT NOW— yes, October 2013. Put back that lamb sausage, kashi & organic milk — head to the exit. Go elsewhere or abstain. You can come back to Whole Foods on Nov. 1.

    Why are we boycotting our favorite major grocer until the end of October?

    It’s because of this awfulness that arrived in our email box last (see image above). Here’s the advert text:

    Celebrate Non-GMO Week with the 2-Day Non-GMO Sale!!

    October is non-GMO Month and We are Celebrating!

    If GMO’s are a no-go on your grocery list, stop in 10/25 – 10/28 for a sale on hundreds of Non-GMO Verified products.

     

    It was upsetting to hear last March that Whole Foods was going to add an overly simplistic this-is-GMO, this-is-not label to all its products by 2018 —see our earlier post — but this is more depressing. This is, in our view, a line crosser.

    You see, with the TWO-DAY SALE, Whole Foods is not just advocating the right to know about whether foods are bioengineered, now they’re actively ENTICING people to go non-GMO. Yes, consumer, if you’ve never really seriously considered going GMO-free today, give it a try now!

    From a business standpoint, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the Two-Day Non-GMO Sale. There’s a market out there —people who want GMO-free living. And Whole Foods is using a classic marketing technique– the good old reliable negative claim that is straight out of the grocer’s playbook.

    But this is not Safeway or Jewel or Kroger or Sainsbury or Tesco. This is Whole Foods, a trusted brand on environmental responsibility and healthy eating. Millions look to Whole Foods for guidance on earth friendly food decisions. Whole Foods can shape minds.

    Let’s say the Two-Day Sale to Celebrate (yes, celebrate!) Non GMO Month sale is a spectacular success. Let’s say that some curious customer gets hooked. In fact, let’s say the whole Whole Foods audience goes GMO-free, and then the country goes GMO-free, and then Africa and Asia go absolutely GMO-free (If GMOs aren’t good enough for Whole Foods customers, why us?) And then we humans just ditch it – no more bioengineering. Just organic and conventional ag. Then what happens?

    More harmful chemicals will be used in agriculture, more forests will be destroyed, more GHGs will be emitted, more farmers will get sick from chemicals used in ag, more children will die of malnutrition, more algal blooms will happen because of agricultural runoff.

    In short, going proactively negative on ag biotech is in direct conflict with among the holiest parts of the Whole Foods Declaration of Interdependence:

    We Practice and Advance Environmental Stewardship

    We see the necessity of active environmental stewardship so that the earth continues to flourish for generations to come. We seek to balance our needs with the needs of the rest of the planet through the following actions:

    • Supporting sustainable agriculture. We are committed to greater production of organically and bio-dynamically grown foods in order to reduce pesticide use and promote soil conservation

    Now, there’s only two days left in non-GMO Month. But …. inspired by the growing movement of anti-anti GMO activism —the TofT hereby urges, Whole Foods customers, who care about sustainability and who favor science over superstition, to do the following:

    1. Skip Whole Foods for the next 48 hours. You can get your lamb sausage and soy milk after Halloween.

    2. Email John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO: Read Tomorrow’s Table. Tell Mackey that Whole Foods had done so much good on so many issues — supporting ecologically responsible small farmers, providing information on seafood sourcing, green buildings, water conservation, introducing more kelp-derived products to American consumers— BUT demonizing GE is not consistent with your mission.  Biotech can support sustainability  — here’s a short checklist from Kent Bradford of UC-Davis. Tell Mackey that we know you’ve been lobbied incessantly by the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Mercola, Jeffrey Smith, and the Magic Soap guy, but urge him to think, first, about the health of the planet, not the needs of the organic industry.  Then tell him to read Pam Ronald and Raoul Adamchak’s Tomorrow’s Table asap. Why Tomorrow’s Table? It’s a book, co-authored by an organic farmer and a genetic engineer, about how organic methods and biotech seed development should not be viewed as enemies.  Ronald and Adamchak offer a vision, we believe, Whole Foods will soon embrace — one that sees organic farming practices AND GE seed as potential allies in ecologically responsible agricultural practices.  More than anything, we hope that Whole Foods’ view of genetic engineering will become more nuanced. GE crops aren’t good or bad.  They’re sometimes GOOD and sometimes BAD.  As Pamela Ronald wrote in The Economist, each new GE variety will need to be tested on a case-by case basis in light of the criteria for a sustainable agricultural system.

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    Barton Seaver is my favorite chef. 

    It’s not necessarily because of his food.  I’ve never been to Cafe Saint-Ex or Bar Pilar or Blue Ridge or Hook, his DC-restaurant that had 78 species of seafood on the menu in one year.  And I haven’t had a mind-blowing, life-altering experience with his cookbook, For Cod And Country. 

    No, the reason why Barton Seaver is my favorite chef is because he’s about as rare as a California condor in the foodie world — he’s sensible about sustainability.   

    I first discovered Seaver two years ago  – I was driving to a party in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when I heard him on Here on Earth, a show on Wisconsin Public Radio. Initially, I was just captivated because here was this enthusiastic, hyper-articulate guy talking about fish, especially lesser-known species of fish (a particular interest of mine).  Americans only eat about 10 species of seafood, even though the ocean offers hundreds of varieties, and Seaver argues that we need to take advantage of the huge variety of fauna out there. Amen. He struck me — with his energy and passion and gift at seafood porn —as a kind of Rick Bayless of seafood.

    But what really made me fall in love with Seaver — what created the NPR driveway moment (specifically, it was the parking lot of Pic-n-Save on 63rd Street) — was hearing his answers to questions like:  “Should I eat wild or farmed fish?”  (You can hear his answer to that on  at around 9:49 of the Here on Earth interview.)

    My point: here was a chef with some of the foodiest bona-fides possible —hailed as Chef of the Year by Esquire’s John Mariani — who talks the importance of INDUSTRIAL aquaculture.  “It’s our patriotic duty to eat farm-raised mussels, clams, and oysters,” he says.

    Why is this such a huge deal? Why was it so exciting to hear a chef talk about the importance of industrial-scale fish-farming?  We live in the age of Pollan, and for so many chefs — local, organic, wild-caught  = sustainable — has gone from a well-intended ideal into an inflexible dictate. Too many chefs have a view of the world in which the definition of sustainable is organic, local, artisanal.  End of story.

    Seaver, by contrast, talks about sustainability in a refreshingly nuanced way. 

    “You and I could rent a canoe and harpoon a blue whale,” he says. “Just because it’s local, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”

    He talks about seasonality and diet— when is the right season to eat your sablefish or your halibut, why you should eat smaller portions, why you should eat species that are lower on the food chain. Yet he also talks, with equal passion, about the virtues of canned fish (yes, industrially-produced canned fish)  He even explains that a sustainable choice can involve shopping at Walmart —  yes, Walmart, that paragon of industrial scale, globavorism can be part of “restorative seafood.”

    That’s why Barton Seaver is my favorite chef. It was exhilarating to hear a guy who shared a kitchen with Jose Andres, a guy who can make you literally ache for a crab cake,  talk so pragmatically about sustainability.

    The reason I’m enthusing about Seaver right now, today, is because I just stumbled upon an old interview with him on another radio program, The Splendid Table.  Here, in a show titled, “Seasonal Seafood,” that was recently rebroadcast, is a little taste of my favorite chef talking about the virtues of canned products — and a suggestion for how to work with canned pink salmon.  

    Then look at some of the other canned products: sardines, mackerel, herring, pink salmon, clams, mussels, oysters, and my favorite, anchovies. I mean these are nearly across the board some of the very best things we should be eating. And talk about ease of Tuesday night, when you’re coming home from ballet and soccer and you’ve got a report due. Pull out two 7-ounce cans of pink salmon; drain it off; add a little bit of mayonnaise, fresh dill, bread crumbs, and lemon juice; throw it in the oven under a broiler; and in 10 minutes you’ve got a beautiful, pink, salmon cake, crisp and crunchy on one side, soft and moist all the way throughout, perfectly cooked. You’ve got your protein portion for four people for $4 or $5, you’re ready to roll with your broccoli and there you go.

    Check out the Splendid Table site for two of his recipes for Pacific cod and mackerel.

    ALSO… a promise to TofT readers. One of these days…  when I get back to DC, I will try to meet and interview Seaver… And if I do, I will post the interview , along with a collection of canned tuna/salmon/anchovy/sardine recipes, right here on the TofT site.

    Till then.. have some canned sardines or anchovies tonight and watch this Ted Talk “Sustainable Seafood — Let’s Get Smart.”