Monday, October 26, 2009

Living with Intention Takes more than 140 Characters

I like to use Twitter. I tweet about what is going in my life, a funny joke, some political ranting and even about dumplings. But Twitter often is a bit over whelming and has some serious limitations. Outside of the brevity of the commentary, tweeting often leaves me feeling somewhat removed from what it is that I am either tweeting about or reading about via Twitter. It creates a disconnect between what is actually happening and figuring out how to truncate the story into short 140 character descriptions.

Recently I have been reading and hearing more about trying to live intentionally. Rabbi Josh Strom of New York discussed the difficulty of living “in the right now” during his Yom Kippur sermon:

It was a blistering hot afternoon in Manchester, Tennessee, the final day of the 8th annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The What Stage … featured Grammy-winning soul and R&B artist Erykah Badu….Towards the end of her set, she spoke to the tens of thousands gathered on that Tennessee farmland. She looked out at the crowd and said, “Let’s just be here right now. No thinking about the past, no thinking bout the future. Just here. Just now.” And she concluded with the words, “I’m so glad to be with you, right here, right now.”

And I thought, “Yes!” I think I might’ve even shouted out something to the extent of, “That’s what I’m talking about!” This was something I’d been thinking about for quite a while. Over time, it had become sort of an unofficial thesis or mantra, if you will, something I knew I wanted to speak about for these High Holy Days. And here, standing in the overpowering sun of rural Tennessee, I shared a moment with Erykah Badu. Clearly, we were on the same wavelength.

I was so pumped, so fired up by this connection, this shared passion for trying earnestly to be here and now, that what did I do? I took out my Blackberry and wrote a little memo to myself, quoting Erykah so that I wouldn’t forget it. So moved, so jazzed up was I about being nowhere but in the moment, that I knocked myself right out of it with my electronic leash.

Yeah we all do it. I even live-tweeted the Dumpling Festival eating contest last weekend. It was a blast and I feel like nothing was lost on those who didn’t make it down to the festival but read about it via Twitter. The event, while supporting an important and complicated cause, was light in content. Shoving dumplings in one’s mouth really doesn’t necessitate in depth commentary.

This week JStreet is hosting its first national conference in Washington, D.C. This gathering of advocates and activists is a real accomplishment of the nascent pro-Israel, pro-Peace org and should be well documented by the press and those in attendence. However in the first few hours of this event, my Twitter feed and many of the blogs I read regularly were inundated with tweets and posts about every little detail of what was happening.

I asked, via Twitter of course, if anyone was actually attending the event to attend the event or were they only there to tweet about it. In this case, you really need that in depth commentary. You need to think about your answers and react carefully. I played into the problem and for that I apologize. But live-tweeting this event pulls you away from the seminar. It must make it harder to pay attention to the people speaking and nearly impossible to learn from them.

In an article in TechCrunch, Paul Carr wrote about a similar situation at a recent exclusive Weezer concert, sponsored by MySpace. He remarked that the "kids" and the MySpace invited dignitaries all were laden with smart phones, ready to document the event live and in real time. Here are the most important aspects of his piece:
…What were we all doing? Filming and tweeting and checking in rather than just putting our phones away and enjoying the gig. Why does the world need two thousand photos of the same band on the same stage, all taken from a slightly different angle? That kind of 360 degree imagery might have been useful on the day Kennedy was shot – not least because it would have kept Oliver Stone quiet – but for a Weezer gig? And what’s the point of checking in on Foursquare at a ticketed event that no one else can get into. You might as well tweet “I’m a dick” and be done with it.

And yet this real-time mentality – pictures/tweets or it didn’t happen – continues to seep into every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. Whereas once we might attend a conference to watch the speakers and perhaps learn something, today our priority is to live blog it – to ensure our followers know we’re on the inside; first with whatever news might be broken. And it’s not just journalists doing the live-blogging, but anyone with a laptop and a wifi connection.

So what happens when we tweet to prove existence? Will speakers be reduced to carefully crafting easily tweeted statement and killer sound bites? Will bands cut jam sessions so to provide the right length for direct upload to YouTube? I highly doubt Lincoln’s debates with Douglas could have been cut down to 140 character segments.

The existential tweeter is in for some troubled waters. If you tweet to prove it happened, then what is happening is diminished and therefore you are diminished. A vicious cycle really.

My mom, someone I respect deeply as an intellectual and communications expert, regularly says “ACH these people have too much time on their hands” when discussing a blogger or tweeter. In many cases I believe she is right. But perhaps the segmentation of time into 140 character tweets and witty blog posts (such as this one) actually cuts our time making it much shorter and less meaningful. (but not this blog post…please keep reading my blog.)

The real-time, right-now mentality makes it very hard to live intentionally. This isn’t anything revolutionary, but it struck me as strange today that so many advocates for Israel and peace when presented with such a rare opportunity to be taken seriously in a large group with real power in Washington, chose to tweet about it as opposed to action in the moment. The real power isn’t in the tweet, but in the people and the voice.

Social networking is great for great distances, but living intentionally is paramount to a political struggle, a great concert or even learning something from a blog post about living in the moment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dumplings Fight Hunger

On October 24, 2009 a group of men and women gathered on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to join together in battle. With over a thousand people in attendance in the Sarah D Roosevelt Park, we the men and women of the fight gathered to eat way too many delicious Chef One Whole Wheat Organic Chicken Dumplings.

I clearly joined this battle for social justice; aiming to eradicate the horrific hunger problem in our wonderful city. It is shameful that millions of people are hungry or at risk of hunger in the richest city in the richest country in the world. 1 in 5 children in this city suffer from hunger related issues on a daily basis. It is wrong and I knew I could do something about it.

So I ate some dumplings and so did about 75 more of my newest friends.

The New York City Food Bank helped organize the first ever Dumpling Festival in New York City. With generous sponsorship from Chef One, the festival and eating contest raised many thousands of dollars and a ton of awareness about the issues surrounding hunger in the city.

I arrived at our battle station at 11:45 am to register and sit quietly. I met some of the most seasoned professional eaters in the business and got some tips on how to take down as many of those little meat packets as possible in our two minute time period. I listened. We laughed. Big Will the Champ (pictured right), a Tweep friend of mine, gave me some pointers about how to be a bad ass and also eat lots of food quickly.

And then it got serious. After a mandatory reading of the wavier we all signed by the PR folks at Chef One and an optional bathroom trip (also facilitated by the PR folks at Chef One; they think of everything) we were getting ready to go into the heat of struggle.

I was lucky enough to be in the first wave of men to hit the stage. But before I went up I spoke briefly with a Food Bank staffer regarding his feelings about an eating contest to benefit hunger awareness. He said, all the things you would expect but the fact of the matter was, he explained, that Chef One’s parent company TMI donates more than two tons of food a year to the Food Bank as well as monetary donations. This is significant cash and their food is good, some of it very healthy and nutritious. So in the end everyone wins.

As I marched onto the stage a woman from Florida (the MC) walked down the line to introduce the warriors against hunger. I was number six and my supporters numbered three (My lovely wife, Rachel R and Sapana S) until I said something clever and two people in the back started cheering for me as well. I liked them, outside of the fact he was wearing a Yankees hat; all is forgiven on dumpling day.

At the sound of the air horn, we started eating. Pro-Eater "Furious" Pete Czerwinski (he is Canadian) eating next to me had finished an entire bowl of 20 before I had polished off five. Those suckers turned into cement in the mouth. That was when I slowed down just bit, to enjoy these very tasty little bites of dumpling goodness. Took a sip of water and went back to it.

In the end I put down 18 bad boys. I believe I came in fourth in my heat and definitely did better than the worst. The other guy next to me, almost hurled and got a little dumpling on my arm but that wasn’t even close to as bad as the Canadian who dumped two bottles of water on his dumplings so to better shovel more into his mouth. He ate 52 of them in two minutes to come in second over all and the now four time champ "Gentleman"Joe Manchetti put down 53 (also pictured right) to win again. A first timer in the women’s division put down 40 to win it for the females.

All in all it was one of those crazy days on the battlefield of New York. I don’t believe I will be entering another eating comp anytime soon but I will continue to help the Food Bank of New York and our other local hunger fighting organizations in our battle to bring tasty and delicious food to those who need it in our city.

Friday, October 23, 2009

THIS JUST IN: dumpling contest will be held on Rain or Shine

I just got the final instructions from the Dumpling Eating Contest that will benifit the New York City Food Bank.

See you tomorrow!

Dear Contestant,

Congratulations to be one of the final contestants for the 6th Annual Chef One Dumpling Eating Contest, please don’t forget to bring the confirmation letter along with a valid picture ID on the day of the contest, and be at our Contestant Booth no later than 12:00PM this Saturday.

Time: 11 AM – 3:00 PM, 10/24/2009 (Saturday) at the NYC Dumpling Festival

Location: Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Downtown Manhattan, NYC (Between E Houston
Street. & Chrystie Street., right across Whole Foods Bowery store)

Direction: Take F or V train to 2 Ave, exit near E Houston Street (As it is very difficult to find parking in the event area, public transportation will be recommended)

Contact Info: In case you can’t locate our venue on the day, please contact Jenny at 1-800-Dumpling (editor's note: not really but still fun)

Please also be informed that Tang’s Natural Whole Wheat Chicken Dumpling will be used for the contest. Tang’s Natural product is now available at Whole Foods in case you would like to practice at home.

Please also be reminded that there is no refund for the registration if you fail to show up or violate the contest rules and regulation on the contest.

Should you have any questions, please kindly let me know.


Oh yeah it is on!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fighting hunger by eating a lot, fast

There are a plethora of ways to fight hunger in our society. You can volunteer at your local soup kitchen. You can serve a hot lunch to isolated seniors like I did last weekend with Project ORE. You can advocate for smarter allocations of funds to food stamp and school lunch programs. You can donate food stuffs or money to a neighborhood food bank.

Or you can eat as many dumplings as you can put into your mouth in two minutes.

This Saturday I will take part in the 6th Annual Chef One Dumpling Eating Contest. This event will benefit the New York City Food Bank. Last year the three time champ Joe Menchetti put down 66 dumplings taking first place, $1000 prize money and a year’s worth of bragging rights. That is 1.81818 dumplings per second in case you were wondering. (For those of you who don’t click on links, this link goes to an ESPN radio station…yeah eating is so a sport)

But Joe, you better watch your back. This may be my first competitive eating event and I might not be able to stuff half as many dumplings in my mouth at a time as you can, but boy oh boy do I hate the fact that millions of people —-and one in five children (!!!)—- in the richest city in the richest country in the world go hungry. So you better believe I am coming after you!

In the very unlikely event that I place in this contest I promise to give a significant portion of my winnings to the New York City Food Bank and I will use the rest to pay for a personal trainer.

So, if you are in New York City this weekend and are looking for something to do, come cheer me on at the festival. I will be hopefully wearing a dumpling contest shirt but if not I will wear a “The dcc Fights Hunger by Eating Dumplings” shirt, possibly a hat too. (Replicas will be made available by order only)

The sixth annual dumpling contest will take place this Saturday, Oct. 24 during the first-ever New York City Dumpling Festival, presented by Chef One.

Saturday, Oct. 24 1 p.m.
Sara D. Roosevelt Park
E. Houston Street, New York, NY (between Chrystie and Forsyth)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Spoofing the First Amendment

Generally, I have a good idea of how to make fun of a situation in which most people are offended. But I must say I am stumped.

Last week the JTA reported that The Pamphlette, a student run humor magazine at Reed College in Oregon had to apologize after this headline: “LC students kill Jewish people.” The article started:
"In what is being called a 'tragic, but all too predictable' event, the staff of The Leaphlette, a student humor publication at Lewis & Clark College, have been accused of rounding up and gassing all of the Jews on their Portland, OR, campus."

Yeah so this is strange right?

The story behind it was about an overreaction to another somewhat less offensive satirical take on Anne Frank done by the publication that some folks at Lewis & Clark’s above mentioned The Leaphlette enabled “real genocide.”

While not that funny, it does prove a very good point…college students are idealistic numb-sculls who live in a world where nothing they do actually matters until it interferes with donorsthe First Amendment is powerful and must be respected. It also proves that when you are fighting those who satirize for a line on their resumea living you must be prepared to be hit back.

The only funny thing here is that the president of the Reed College didn’t stand up for his students’ right to publish very stupid, ill-informed and inflammatory statements. This wasn’t the student paper, it was a humor rag. Students, faculty and staff didn’t think this really happened. Nor do they think it should happen. Satire is intended to make you think.

Being offended is part of the deal of the First Amendment.

While this is in extremely poor taste, there is nothing wrong with this situation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bitchslapping Bourdain (and Chang)

Like every writer needs an editor, every critic needs a critic. And who more needs a swift kick in the gastronomy than venerated bad boy of food, book and travel than Anthony Bourdain?

His bombastic lexicon thickened with flour, butter and years away from the line and in the spot light has placed this man in my crosshairs. His insistence to pretend he is still just one of the artists—complete with thumb wedding ring close ups and rejection of our rejection of disbelief needed for such a travel log—make him such a prime target. The insistent, pretentious and down-right silly hate he displays towards those who have destroyed cooking in America is somewhat misplaced. Just like his time in the kitchen high as a kite, we all need gateway drugs to get into the harder stuff. Clearly his ratings and nominations prove that America food-addicts are now shooting up when they used to only get the Yum-o munchies.

He gets to be such a prick and no one on his show or even the direct target of his ire (The Food Network) calls him out on his prickiness. But this Ten Things Bourdain (and David Chang) hate thing is just too much for me to ignore (because I know you all were waiting with baited breath until I made my judgment).

I first read the rants of these wunderkinds a few days back and my dad sent it to me again today and now I am done. I like Momofuku, even its “I am cooler than you and serving your food while wearing a dirty yet ironic t-shirt that cost more than my rent for that shanty in Brooklyn” scene. I watch Bourdain’s show religiously, read one of his books and believe he has one of the best gigs in the world. But Bourdain and to lesser extent Chang need to stop talking or prove something.

I still like tuna tartar even if it is passé and possibly less than environmentally sound. I will continue to enjoy the belly of most animals when served to me roasted. (On that note all should head to Resto and try their Lamb Belly Ribs, fantastic). Your holier than thou opinion matters not if you can’t put forth something better.

You complain and yet Chang, you are still serving Pork Belly and Bourdain, your safe haven of the Travel Channel is widely expected to be purchased by the Food Network…what will you two iconoclasts do?

If I were to guess (‘cause that is the point of a blog: write authoritative statements with no back up) Chang will continue to serve trendy Pork Belly and Bourdain will continue to jet around the world on the company dime, not matter who is running it.

Bourdain and to a lesser extent Chang are like those popular kids in high school who would do really trendy shit and then, when someone called them on it, would say they always did it but won’t anymore because dorks were now doing it.

The hipster attached at the hip mentality of these two culinary stars is pretty sad. I just wish someone besides meaningless bloggers and vapid Food Network personalities would take these guys one and tell them to put up or shut up. Doubt it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

May we one day live in a world where everyone has that privilege

From a Friend on Facebook: on this national coming out day: thank you to everyone in my life who has made it possible for me to be honest about who i am and who i love. may we one day live in a world where everyone has that privilege.

Civil rights are some of those things that are often and easily rationalized away. As a straight married man, I have a unique prospective when it comes to LGBT rights in this country.

It would be very easy to do nothing and give nothing to bring about equality for the LGBT community. I could very easily say that I support the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which is so hot right now) and not call the White House to complain. I could easily believe that everyone should have the right to get married and then not act upon the calls to action when bigoted legislation like Prop 8 are proposed. But I don’t. Most of the time.

Yeah sometimes I delete the Victory Fund emails and the Human Rights Campaign legislative alerts. I was a member of HRC’s PAC but ended my subscription (granted I was broke at the time). But for the same reason that my prospective is unique, I easily become complacent about the inequity of our country’s current legal view of gay folks.

Those pesky civil rights getting all easy to take for granted.

The LGBT rights movement in this country should have the same mojo as the civil right movement had in the 1960s. In that I wasn’t around during that time, I only know what I know from history books: all the white people in the North (each and every one of them) were so in favor of ending Jim Crow in the South that they were willing to send almost no one to the March on Washington to prove it or work in the South to stand for equality...

But seriously now, when we look back on this period of time will we be proud of our actions or will we create an apocryphal history to hide the fact that California, while voting in mass numbers for one of the most liberal presidents in a while, acted to codify discrimination in its state constitution? Will we be pleased with how we stood up to the teabagging-small-government-except-in-your-bedroom numbskulls or will we paint a picture of how these bigoted, ignorant, followers of Glen Beck were just one of many points of view that helped make our country stronger?

So on this National Coming Out Day I am coming out for civil rights…no more talking or painting pictures.

Friday, October 9, 2009

One more unsolicited opinion on the Peace Prize

Peter Lindholm: I have a vision of peace! Can I have one too?! I've officially done as much to promote peace as Obama so mine should be in the mail :) From President Obama's Facebook feed

According to my LinkedIn profile, I too have won the Nobel Piece Prize... I won it for carrot cake and apple pie. But today we learned that the President of these United States won the award for his vision and oration.

This makes as much sense as my faux culinary awards.

I voted for President Obama in the primary and the general. I knocked on doors in Pennsylvania, called lots of people in Ohio, Florida and Nevada and organized trips during the primaries. I was pulling for him since I heard him speak at the 2004 Nominating Convention.

But this award doesn’t work for me.

In recent weeks media outlets have started asking if President Obama is loved by all and feared by none. This is a problem considering the situations he has to deal with as the leader of this country. We are at war with some pretty nasty people. We have a gnarly economic situation to fix with people who need to fear the power that is fixing the problem. The healthcare crisis in this country is going to bankrupt us if we don’t change it now but Congress is dragging its collective feet.

Without the big stick, speaking softly is pretty boring.

This is only complicated by this Prize. It used to mean something. You used to have to sign a treaty or something, end a war, establish meaningful change for a group of people, you know get something accomplished. Awards are for accomplishments.

But now we see people win the Peace Prize for increasing awareness about climate change or inspiring hope. I get it Nobel people: we didn’t like President Bush either, but stop cheapening the Prize. One day President Obama may be worthy of the Nobel Committee’s praise but today, less than a year into his presidency with little accomplished outside of some killer speaking engagements, he doesn’t deserve this Prize.

Flying to Stockholm is nice this time of year, but perhaps he should focus on the wars, the economic issues, healthcare and maybe winning another Grammy instead of being awarded for his vision.

I am all for cheering the success and defending the failures of our President, but honoring nothing is a waste of time and devaluation of the Prize.

But what the hell do I know?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Feigning Sadness

So Gourmet is shutting down its test kitchens, recalling its correspondents and stopping the now-digital presses. Hundreds of thousands of foodies around the epicurean capitals are throwing themselves to the ground, donning sackcloth and ash to pontificate on the meaning of food journalism in the wake of this tragedy for which the same foodies are directly responsible.

This ad still pops up when you leave the wonderful Epicurious website (owned by the same folks who just shuttered Gourmet in case you didn’t know). It asks us free-riding foodies to put down just $1 an issue for two great food mags. But clearly we didn’t do that. Closing the magazine, firing its unmatched staff and saving some trees is about revenue.

So all of the digital shiva calls, the what I am sure will be many late night tweets maligning the decline of culture as we know it, and email recipe exchanges in honor of Ruth Reichl are just for show. If you were a subscriber to the magazine over the last two years, which I doubt considering that its year-to-date ad pages were down nearly 50%, you are entitled to your piety party. But the rest of us, we deserve this and were the only people who could have stopped it.

Good bye Gourmet, I will miss the pop-up ad when I close Epicurious the most.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Selfish Food

He suggested that while it’s “very bourgeois” to constantly talk about food, it’s also very bourgeois to criticize people’s enjoyment of talking about food.

“I mean, I get it. I understand the douchy aspects, I really do, and your little super-artisanal South Brooklynite can make anyone want to kill themselves,” he said. “But if you have things that captivate your interest, then whatever. Go ahead and talk about 800 varieties of cheese, or be some asshole talking about how he kills pigs in his
own backyard. Go for it! Have a blast! It’s nothing to hate on.”

So perfect

Sometimes people just nail it right on the head and you can’t say it any better.

The above quote is from the very funny and spot on article exploring the yuppie New York City food obsession. My very cool and hip mother sent me this post; I bet she found it on her Twitter feed. Joe Pompeo of The New York Observer interviews 20s and 30s somethings from around the city to find out why they are no longer talking about important things like sex in favor of talking about other things with which they stuff their mouths.

And while the article is tongue-in-cheek about the cultural shift about eating, it also honestly exposes the selfish nature of our foodie and foodiot (exactly what you think) mentality. It is a critique of not only the stupid blogs like this one but also a more penetrating observation. The picture accompanying the article online is a photo of Boulud and Maccioni sitting at a classically French appointed dining table at Le Cirque. The caption reads: “Back when dining was fine, not ‘mine’: Daniel Boulud and Sirio Maccioni at Le Cirque in 1990.”

Food, like all good things, is better when enjoyed with others. But when we cut out people because they don’t like escolar or really enjoy a Big Mac, foodies fail. We food snobs of the world have an obligation to know better than to judge based on norms. I mean some of us cook and eat pig head. I think it is fair to say that seems kind of nasty. (It tastes pretty damn good though.) Then again some foodie type people I know have an obsession with Popeye’s Chicken...well just one and no, it isn’t me. You know who you are...

I suppose the quote with which I started this post sums it all up: Yeah it is smug to talk about your farm-to-plate mentality, but it is also smug to judge those who talk about it. But go deeper: This is about life-style and culture and class.

Over the last five years of so, people have started to spend significant sums of expendable income on food as entertainment, as cultural exploration and for bragging rights. It isn’t the first time this has happened in the United States. (If you want to learn more about that, head to your local library and pick up The United States of Arugula.)

But this time it isn’t just the rich doing it; it is the struggling artist who is paying for the artisanal cheeses and farm fresh lamb leg at the hip new place run by that chef we all know from somewhere. The food space is where the rich aren’t emulating the artist for cultural advancement; rather the artist is emulating the rich.

There are about a million problems with the way we eat in this country and even our new hip and earth friendly food mentality. But we can’t forget this is a class question. What and where we eat is 100% based on our class and how we choose to express it. We are lucky to have the option of terrine of pig head or Popeye’s chicken in this country. In reality the cost (not, the time of course) is pretty close. To say that you had a slow cooked meal with friends and family is not just a statement of fact, but a statement of values. These are class values: how we spend time, money and energy is always about how and where we see ourselves in the world.

We all have to eat and in reality we all should—and can—eat better. If we can remove the snobbery and some of the classist mentality associated with foodies, and their black sheep cousins the foodiots, we might be able to make a significant change in the way this country consumes. Until then, eating food from sources you know or taking in a well made localized meal at an independent restaurant will remain an elitist action.

Foodies of the world can unite to achieve great eats for all…or we can stay in our little clubs, talk to the same people and continue to isolate the good food experience. For all the talk of the slow food groups, the Pollans, Waters and all those suicide-inducing South Brooklynites, we are selfishly limiting the admission into our club based on the fact people don’t have the knowledge that can only be gained by being let in to the club.

While we can’t end the hate we see from the other side, foodies can do a better job of adding just one more place at the table and explain a few things without the air of snobbery that we all tend to fall into when talking about our meals. I think there are many people, Saint Tigerlily and The Boss especially, who do this exceptionally well.

We can all do better. So why not come over and we can talk about it. There is a great cheese shop near my place; I will get some of the reserve and we can discuss over wine.