February 22, 2013

sriracha == n00b

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 11:04 pm

I love sriracha as much as the next guy, but I have to admit, the sortof viral meme-like spread of its popularity is suspect to me. Frankly, I think it's a bit of a newb food. Who would have thought that chiles, garlic and sugar taste good?! I'm shocked, SHOCKED! I'm surprised there's not an entire subcontinent whose culinary tastes are founded on this combination!

"What's that? Sugar?", you say? Oh yes. It's there. Roughly 1/3 the sugar in maple syrup, actually. So, come on. Stop fooling yourself. Yes you, guy, out there, slathering all your food in sriracha and gloating about how you just looooooove spicey food: be real with yourself. It's the sugar. Sriracha isn't that spicey, tough guy. You're slathering your food in sugar.

February 6, 2013

chili

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 5:02 am

I know what you're thinking. "Didn't he already post some stupid recipe for chili already? Again with this?" It's true. I'm gonna write about chili again. Like all true artists, I've grown since then. I simply must share my art with the world! (But not the chili.) As I mentioned in that post, I'm no purist. I put beans in my chili. I am not really even sold on something like chili requiring a recipe, per se. I think of making chili more like jazz. Sure, there are general rules, and, if you require it, a general melody to come back to. But otherwise just wing it, and have fun. Every pot of chili I make is the BEST CHILI EVER. Because it's always a little different.

I grew up with chili, but in the Midwest and the south -- and the chili I knew and loved reflected that: it had ground beef, tomatoes, and beans. It had little in common with either traditional Mexican dishes or Texas chili. There was nothing religious about it except that it could be made quickly out of cans and a tube of beef in an hour or so. It wasn't until my late 20's that I discovered the wonders of a more basic, authentic chili -- e.g. chile colorado, which my mom had actually made for me on occasion as a kid as well. You can google around for recipes, but for the uninitiated, it's basically the essence of chili: not much other than slow-cooked beef and chiles -- the combination of which delivers an amazingly complex bouquet of flavors on its own.

Lately I've started playing more with this, taking bits and pieces from the different styles I like. This weekend I made a batch of chili that is probably my favorite yet (although I say that every time). A rough recipe below, which this time isn't written in the style of a drunken fratboy:

Ingredients

  • 1-2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 9-10 dried New Mexico chiles
  • 3-4 dried Ancho (Poblano) chiles
  • 1 beef Chuck roast, cut into 1-2" squares. (feel free to use any other cut of meat -- I prefer chuck for stewing).
  • 2-3 cups of beef stock (I used homemade, storebought is fine, water will work in a pinch)
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Beans. Yeah, I said it. (optional, and to taste)
  • Cumin (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)

The Chiles (not a Mole)

I won't call this a Mole, because I don't want a Mexican grandmother reading this and coming after me because I dared to compare what I did in 10 minutes to what takes her hours upon hours and generations of experience. And it's really not a Mole, but it's a Mole-like thing. That is, it's groundup chiles.

  1. Remove and discard the caps of all the chiles, and remove the seeds by shaking/clearing the pods with your finger. Getting every single seed isn't necessary -- they won't significantly add to the heat of the dish, but they can make it bitter.
  2. Put the chiles in a small saucepan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cover.
  4. Let this sit while you prep the rest of the chili and then come back here when you're ready to mix everything together. They'll be well hydrated by now.
  5. Transfer the now-hydrated chiles into a blender or something similar with a small portion of the water they were boiled in. I use a stick blender for a relatively mess-free cleanup. Blend the chiles thoroughly until they form a thick paste.
  6. (Optional?) Filter the paste through a medium/large-holed colander or sieve. Sometimes the chile peppers, no matter how well hydrated and blended, have little bits of pepper that didn't blend down. These can be annoying or distasteful to some, or get stuck in your teeth, so filter it out if you want to get rid of them and any stray seeds that made it through.
  7. Add this to the rest of the prepped ingredients (see below)

The Chili

  1. (Optional but unnecessary step): Dredge the cubed beef in flour. Some people do this because they feel it insulates the meat while searing and makes for a better, more flavorful crust even though science says otherwise and they are wrong on both counts. It can help thicken the resulting chili, but my tastebuds and certainly my waistline don't require the flour.
  2. Coat a large stockpot with vegetable oil (I used peanut because it's what I had on-hand), and bring to a medium-high heat.
  3. Add the beef to the pot when the oil is shimmering (Just kidding. I have no idea what this means, but every recipe I read says it. Shimmering? What is this, Twilight?) Just add the meat to the damn pan when it's hot.
  4. Thoroughly brown all of the beef (do it in batches if you have a lot -- it's best to keep the temperature really high here). Remove and set aside.
  5. Lower the heat (let it cool so you don't burn anything) and add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, maybe 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add the beef stock to deglaze, and make sure to scrape up any little delicious brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add the beef chunks, the not-Mole chile paste, and if necessary, enough water to cover all the beef.
  8. Bring everything to a low boil and then adjust to a low simmer.
  9. Simmer until the beef is cooked and can be easily pulled apart with a fork. In the past, at this point, I've painstakingly pulled all the chunks apart with a pair of forks, until I had the GENIUS idea to just grab a potato masher and go to town. Don't go overboard, though: mash just enough to get a healthy balance of stringy beef incorporated in the dish along with some bigger succulent chunks.
  10. Add in any canned or pre-soaked beans at this point, and let them cook a bit.
  11. Add salt and cumin to taste. I am loathe to give specifics about cumin, because I like a lot of cumin. Do what you feel.
  12. Add the teaspoon of cocoa powder towards the end of cooking.

Et voila! er .. Y aqui! Note that there are no tomatoes in this recipe. After the past few years of experimenting with rehydrated dried chiles and of noting the amazing complexity of the flavors and richness of the color you get, I am now convinced that tomatoes really have no place in chili. So far I think the cocoa powder is a decent addition, but I am not 100% sold on it. It makes sense, given the presence of chocolate in many mole recipes. It stands out noticeably, though and it's very easy to overdo it. I am not convinced that the crappy Hershey's cocoa powder I am using is doing justice to the dish.

The result is a beautiful deep red chili, with beans interspersed with delicious chunks of beef. Ground beef could have easily sufficed if browned and added in order to save time. It's surprisingly unspicey -- new mexico and poblano chiles of course are very mild. Had I been making this only for myself, I probably would have added some dried habaneros, but I was happy to supplement my bowl with cayenne powder for kick. Enjoy!

August 29, 2012

what makes a wing?

Filed under:, , , , , , , , — cwage @ 5:44 pm


wing

While I have been on hot chicken kick lately, my one true love is the hot wing -- preferrably, traditional buffalo. However, a recent contender for my favorite wings ever are the "extreme heat" wings at Ghot Wingz. Despite not being buffalo (they are more of a saucey sweet/hot barbecue-ish type wing), they are easily my favorite, and are hands-down the best wings I've ever had in Nashville. So good, in fact, that I have yet to even try their buffalo wings because I can't forego the extreme heat.

I had them today, actually, and it got me thinking: we can all agree that the sauce is a key factor in what makes good chicken wings. But what about the chicken itself? This is clearly a huge part of the quality of the final product. To me, Knockout Wings is a great example of this. I really wanted to like Knockout Wings. They came highly recommended. They are located conveniently right down Jefferson from my office. Service is fast and friendly. But their wings just aren't good. I wrote in my yelp review that the sauce itself is good (although my opinion even of that has gone downhill lately), but that the chicken itself just tastes.. gross. The bones are small, and the meat, clinging desperately to the bone, has that sortof dehydrated and withered look, and the taste is much the same. Ghot Wingz' chicken, conversely, is excellent. Large (but not too obscenely hormone-induced huge like you find some places), flavorful, juicy wings.

So what is the difference? I realize that in this wide world, there are myriad ways to raise, butcher, brine, and season chicken meat that will all vastly change the end result. But I find it hard to believe that all of these local hot wing places in question aren't all just buying the same Sysco bagged frozen chicken that everyone uses. But maybe I'm wrong. Does anyone know? Are there different sources for worse/better chicken? Is it possible Ghot Wingz isn't using frozen chicken? Does Sysco offer different grades of quality that you can buy? Is it all the same chicken but different methods (e.g. baking before frying versus not)?

August 13, 2012

hot chicken fried steak

Filed under:, , , , , , , — cwage @ 7:43 pm


2012-08-12-00942

So, I will freely admit that this dish had its genesis purely in the amusement I derived from the name: what possible dish could have a nest of more confusing terms than "hot chicken fried steak"?! I'm sure I'm not the first person to be amused by the concept, or even try it. Its construction was pretty straightforward. I took a basic southern-style chicken-fried steak recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I made it, and then I made up a traditional Nashville hot chicken style paste. Et voila.

So how was it? Uhm. Not very good! I mean, not bad. It was basically about what I expected. This may be, in part, a symptom of the fact that I am not a huge fan of chicken-fried steak to begin with. There's something about breaded beef that just doesn't work as well as chicken, or even pork. Beef stands out too much on its own, and it gets in the way of the flavor of the breading or the heat. Something about chicken and sweat-inducing heat just really works in ways that it doesn't with other meat.

I would make hot chicken fried chicken, but then you're basically back to what Bolton's makes and slaps on a stick.

And for all the northerners reading this and going "what the fuck", here's how it works: Fried chicken, you've had. "Chicken fried steak" is a process by which you take a cheap cut of beef, tenderize it rigorously and fry it "in the style of fried chicken", hence: chicken fried steak. And "chicken fried chicken", then, is a chicken breast cooked similarly: tenderized flat and fried in the manner of chicken fried steak. Simple, right?

All in all a fun experiment, but I wouldn't add this one to your classics of southern cooking anytime soon.

July 26, 2012

food porn, marinara edition

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:58 pm

2012-07-25-00111

Posting a recipe for marinara is admittedly silly, since few things are probably as well-documented, and marinara is not exactly brain surgery. But, for the sake of documenting what I did, here it is. What good is the Internet if we can't endlessly analyze and document the most trivial of processes? Also, pictures.

  1. Ingredient 1: a bunch of heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market, peeled and (mostly) seeded.
  2. I used the method for peeling and seeding where you score the tomatoes, blanche for 15-20 seconds and then chill in ice water bath. Peel them, and then put the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl (to save the precious, precious juice) and use your fingers to pierce/seed the tomatoes. Strain the seeds, saving as much of the juice and meat as you can, toss the seeds, combine with the tomatoes. Don't sweat getting every little seed, but try to get the bulk of them, as they can add bitterness and they get stuck in your teeth.
  3. Ingredients 2 and 3: garlic and onions.
  4. Ingredient 3: basil.
  5. Sauté garlic and onions in olive oil and high heat until soft/translucent.
  6. Cool/deglaze with white wine and/or water. I used some leftover sauvignon blanc, but typically I'd pick something less sweet. Add tomatoes/juice. Add water to cover as necessary.
  7. Season with basil and oregano (I had no fresh oregano, so I used dried.). Oooooor, do this at the end, closer to serving time. See notes below.
  8. Bring it all back to near a slow boil (I never let it get too hot because I was paranoid about burning the basil/bitterness). Simmer on low. I let this simmer for around 20 hours, covered, and then removed the cover to start boiling off water content.
  9. The result after around 24 hours.

Notes:

  • The heirloom tomatoes I got had the "green shoulders" or whatever the term is -- a much more fibrous/green stem area at the top. Rather than meticulously trimming it away, I just dumped the tomatoes in whole and worried about the stems after it cooked down a bit (fished out each top, trimmed away most of the meat, and tossed the stem). Tedious, but not a big deal. Worth it for the flavor of these tomatoes, in my opinion.
  • Only after I got everything stewing did it occur to me that I've heard that basil can get bitter if you cook it too long. I rolled with it anyway. After around 24 hours of total cooking, I didn't notice any bitterness imparted. Possible theories: I don't notice or don't mind whatever bitterness it imparted? Maybe basil only gets bitter when cooked too hot, and not necessarily long? Maybe the whole thing is bunk. I don't know. But it seemed fine. Add the basil at the end if you're worried about this.
  • It was pretty damn good. Anyone have any suggestions for improvement?

June 10, 2011

food trucks

Filed under:, , , , — cwage @ 6:32 pm

Okay, here's the thing. Food from a truck is awesome. It's great when you can grab some awesome tamales from some grandmother and her kids in a truck when you're in a hurry and running across town, or grabbing an awesome hot dog when you're late for a meeting downtown. It's good food and it's convenient and it's cheap.

The trendiness of it kills it for me. This is not a "i am too school for school" anti-trend thing. It's a convenience thing. Standing in a massive line in the hot sun in 93F heat is not convenient -- it's masochistic. While my coworkers baked in the sun to get cheesesteaks, I drove to Kroger and got stuff to make awesome turkey subs and was on my way back before the line had moved.

I'm not hatin'.. just sayin. Call me when the food trucks have reached market saturation and you can get food from them quickly. I'll be at Kroger.

Negative Nelly here, over and out.

October 6, 2010

up with the MSM

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 7:23 pm

For once a blog post referring to the MSM that isn't about the mainstream media! So, there's this meme about mechanically separated meat that's going around. Chicken, specifically. As a quick visit to snopes will tell you, the original text with the meme is riddled with errors and exaggerations -- e.g. the meat is never "soaked" in ammonia, nor do they grind up everything in the carcass. But even aside from that, I find the whole thing fairly irritating. Can someone please tell me what the actual problem is, here? Yes, it's a "gross" picture. Lots of our food is gross before we eat it. A fresh butchered chicken by itself isn't the most pleasant thing even before it's ground up. How is this pink paste any more revolting than tofu?

tofu

Tofu is made by taking soybeans and blending them up and pressing them into a homogenous juice, and then adding a coagulant (usually Calcium sulfate, Magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, or Glucono delta-lactone), which causes it to curdle. They then press the resulting curd slop until it's solid and cut it into uniform squares of this hideous white substance. Oh man, can you believe people actually eat that revolting, processed food?!

Seriously, though: let's talk about mechanically separated meat. Here we have, possibly, the one actual benefit of widescale industrialized meat production -- an efficiency of scale. I could just as easily see, if this process did NOT exist, an impassioned, cutting expose about how wasteful the evil food industry is by not even using 50% of the carcasses they process. Jamie Oliver had a clever little experiment he liked to pull on kids, and he was shocked to learn it didn't work on American kids (see the video here). In the clip, he butchers a chicken and takes the remaining carcass and blends it up and presses out the meat from the bones and uses it to make chicken nuggets. The American kids are not daunted and want to chow down, leaving Mr. Oliver shocked, SHOCKED that they'd eat something so bad. While this may be an example that Americans are less aware and critical of what's in their food, I fail to see (in this case) what's so gross or unhealthy about the food he made. It's fresh chicken. People have been making the most out of animal carcasses (out of necessity) for millenia.

I'm not one to defend food inc., here, but come on, people.. get a grip. Mechanically separated chicken is not the biggest problem we're facing. If you want to get serious, let's talk a little about corn. Now THAT'S gross.

September 2, 2009

dietary choices (for my vegetarian friends)

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 1:31 pm

I have a serious question. I'm looking for two things: 1) recommendations for books that discuss the morality/ethics of eating different foods (plant, animal, etc) and how those decisions are made, and 2) your own personal opinions/anecdotes about/for the dietary strategy you have adopted.

The reason I ask this is because I'm a bit perplexed about what factors go into this for various people. I've asked a lot of my various vegetarian/vegan friends why they don't eat meat, or some forms of meat, but not others, or animal products/byproducts but not meat, but I've never gotten a concise/straight answer, really. I realize I'm opening a big can of worms here (but not eating them).

Here's an abbreviated list of some of the various points/counterpoints and strategies I've encountered for dietary decisions, some of which I agree with and some that I don't (as noted):

  • Taxonomy-based exclusionary diets -- the most general definition of vegetarianism is "doesn't eat animals -- that is, the decision-making is based essentially on the evolutionary class/branch of creature. Although this taxonomy is the common-place discriminator, it's clearly just a convenient mechanism and not the actual justification for not eating them. For example, if it became clear that a plant suddenly developed some form of sentience, I don't think most vegetarians would eat it, right? More on that later. But why do animals get a pass and not plants? Why not fungus? And what about slime molds?
  • Sentience -- this is a complicated one, because our (humanity's) definition and understanding of sentience itself is pretty weak, so I have a hard time with this as a method for discriminating what you eat or not. If we define it as general awareness, then it fails a consistency test with vegetarianism, because there almost all plants are aware in some way or another. They grow, they reproduce, they re-orient towards light sources. They fight, they consume one another. They consume animals. They sense and repair injuries. One common test for advanced sentience is self-recognition, but obviously all sorts of animals (dogs, for example) fail that test miserably. So a more likely criteria for "sentience" in this context is something else, aka:
  • Pain/Suffering -- this is the other most common justification for vegetarianism -- that killing for food causes undue suffering/pain in the victims. Either in the actual act of being killed for food, or their suffering in being raised. I can jive with this, but I again have doubts/questions about how exactly this is a form of criteria that somehow applies to animals but not to plants or other creatures. There's an old Mitch Hedberg joke: "If fish could scream, the ocean would be loud as shit." I know it sounds a bit puerile or something you talk about on the couch after smoking a joint, but who's to say plants don't feel pain? Or, to be a little more scientific, what is our criteria for discrimination there? A central nervous system? Or does it have less to do with pain/suffering and more with:
  • Killing -- this is an odd one for me, but there is the criteria that you should never kill anything for food. A lot of vegetarians consider this consistent with their diet, because I guess they don't consider plants alive, or alive (or conscious) "enough". There are groups, however, that extend this to plants as well. Jains, for example, will not eat root vegetables, because it kills the plant.
  • Intelligence -- I've heard this as a basis for dietary decisions in general, vegetarianism aside. For example, I have a friend who won't eat octopus because of their recently observed intelligence. This gets into a similar interesting discriminatory strategy I've seen:
  • Evolutionary/genetic similarity -- i.e. very rarely will you hear anyone (in our western culture anyway) advocating eating primates at all. There seems to be a trend based loosely on the food chain, or maybe more superficial shared characteristics that makes it taboo to eat a creature similar to us. (And there are evolutionary theories that demonstrate why this is potentially a good strategy.)
  • Environmental concerns -- mostly citing the vast quantity of resources put into domesticated production of meat. For example, the number of people that could be fed with a vegetable crop versus the number of people that can be fed by a domesticated animal fed using that same quantity of crop. This is actually the only compelling argument I've heard, but only in a very limited circumstance. This concern really only pertains to mass-farmed domesticated animals (pigs/cows) and is really a question of our oversized agricultural system in general. It's a compelling argument to avoid eating mass-farmed red meat or pork (which I've considered), but it's not a moral argument for not eating meat. And further, if you consider that human beings evolved as omnivores, there's a compelling argument to make that everyone switching to a vegetarian diet could be disastrous for the environment. Just as many animals could be displaced/killed by expanding agriculture, if not more. We evolved in a complicated, sympathetic system of competing and cooperating species/organisms for millions and millions of years. Granted, that delicate balance and our dietary evolution has been jarringly disrupted and upended in the last few thousand years, but that's a side-effect of technology and scale, not of our dietary choices. That is to say: our evolutionary "nature" isn't really justification to keep eating meat necessarily, but there's no compelling argument that it's "natural" not to, either (or even relevant anymore)

Part of the reason I am curious about all this is because of the controversy that has emerged as a result of this story:

DES MOINES, Iowa – An animal rights group publicized a video Tuesday showing unwanted chicks being tossed alive into a grinder at an Iowa plant and accused egg hatcheries of being "perhaps the cruelest industry" in the world.

This story was posted on facebook by a few friends, and most of the resulting conversations involved vegetarianism/veganism as a choice that precludes and condemns this sort of thing. The controversy is interesting to me because all the above arguments factor in to how/why we should/shouldn't consider this cruel. As far as intelligence goes, chickens are pretty lacking -- they're basically a giant hardwired grain-pecking egg-laying machine. Neural network science probably isn't far off from reproducing this sort of behaviour. As far as the pain/suffering -- I hate to say it, but being tossed into a grinder is probably a pretty quick and painless death, compared to other methods (and arguably the pain experienced in a millisecond of crushing is comparable to a lifetime cooped up in close quarters being forcefed and stuffed with hormones until having your head chopped off and body drained for processing, I'm just sayin'). What is the outrage, here? Is it really that people are having an emotional response because a chick is "cute"? Is this how most people make decisions on their dietary intake? I can think of a million other standard practices in food processing that strike me as way worse than this.

So, anyways, that's what got me thinking, but in general I'm curious, as I said, how you guys make these decisions. I'm also looking for reading material on the topic, if you know of any.

June 15, 2009

sushi snobbery

So, I seem to have incurred some wrath by daring to criticize local favorite Sam's Sushi on twitter today:

it's really hard to take a place like Sam's Sushi seriously after the place i went to in SF. sushi nazi? really? newsflash, you're INLAND

Nick called me out in particular:

@cwage Dude, I love Sam's Sushi! You've adopted "other cities are cooler" syndrome. I'm betting the SF places are also more $$$.

Now, the disclaimer I have to immediately throw out is that I've never actually been to Sam's. But it has nothing to do with the fact that it's in Nashville, or even that it's subpar sushi in exchange for cheapness. It's because of his reputation for being a "Sushi Nazi" on top of that. For one, I don't really care to get yelled at. I try to get paid to be yelled at, not the other way around. Possibly I'd consider it, if it was supposed to be some amazing experience, or something -- but everything I'm reading seems to indicate that it's a pit. This review is particularly brutal:

The first thing I noticed was how sloppily it was assembled. Sushi is one of those culinary niches that takes pretty exacting technique and attention to detail. It takes practice and focus to make tight, neat maki, which is why it isn't something delegated in kitchens, but reserved for a specific sushi chef - a guy who knows what he's doing. Sam, with way too much rice spilling out of his maki and his loose wrapping, clearly does not know what he's doing.

...

I tried another piece of nigiri, no soy sauce this time. I nearly gagged. The fish was not only at room temperature (which was warm, considering the place had no a/c or circulation), but also was very, very obviously not fresh.

Before I totally gave up (and because I was hungry), I tried a piece of crunchy shrimp roll. The shrimp was bland, the tempura not at all crispy or light and once again it was definitely not fresh seafood. The biggest offense with his roll, however, was the rice. The grains seemed bigger than they should be, making me think he was using regular long grain white rice, instead of the slightly more expensive sushi rice. Additionally, I found out part of the reason why his rolls are so sloppy, other than the over stuffing. When my roll fell to bits when picked up and when I tasted the rice, it was clear there was no vinegar in it, meaning it was not prepared correctly for sushi and therefore, not sticky rice in the least. Let me reiterate, this guy has no idea what he's doing.

Granted this review is flanked and outnumbered by plenty of other positive reviews, but they all seem to amount to variants on a theme of: "it's cheap!!!!" or "you get a ton!!!" or others that don't seem to indicate a vast familiarity with sushi. This really has nothing to do with whether or not it's in SF, or some sort of elitism. Even Koto and Ichiban (to name the closest downtown sushi alternatives) I know are great places that do a pretty good job for a sushi restaurant in Nashville, despite some obvious limitations. This isn't because Nashville is some backwater hole. It's because we're not coastal. There's just some stuff you don't get here. That's life.

I can understand a restaurant being cheap, mediocre food. Sometimes you just want something cheap on the go. I've eaten sushi from Kroger before -- I'm no elitist. I can also understand the appeal of a haughty "Nazi" serving finely crafted food at the expense of condescension and beratement. You know, if you're into that. But you can't really mix the two. You're gonna yell at me as you serve me your mediocre sushi? Uh yeah, I think I'll pass?

Incidentally, the place I went to in SF is Hama Ko. Yes, it was expensive. But it was also one of the best sushi meals I've ever had. And I didn't get yelled at -- I got served warmly by a charming old Japanese couple. I had the opportunity to try sea urchin, which was incredible, and unfortunately something that would probably be a bad idea to try around here, even if you could find it.

May 19, 2009

economies of scale

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 1:41 pm

If we take it as a given that many of our societal ills are due to overextension of various institutions (e.g. "big" government, "big" business, etc), the obvious conclusion is that it's a result of various forms of subsidization causing an artificial inflation of the natural economies of scale. Businesses, governments, et al become artificially inflated by externalizing costs in ways that are absorbed or accumulate in other areas. Put more simply: they get bigger than they "should" be in a "naturally" competitive capitalist economy (whatever that hypothetical beast might be). This seems to be accepted by a lot of "progressive" (anti-status-quo) types: particularly by libertarians/anarchists, obviously, but I think even many left-leaning liberals, as well. The former tend to focus on big government, whereas the latter tend to focus on big business; but "big" is the unifying negative attribute.

But it seems that the backlash found in a lot of those outlooks sometimes has swung too far the other direction. That is, it has culminated in the operating assumption that everything is better if it's small, local, or exceedingly individualistic. It's important not to forget that economies of scale really are a valuable thing. People do really work better in groups; specialization is a good thing for efficiency, and quality of life does go up when we work together. You know, our entire civilization is sorta based on that fact.

I think this occurred to me when I was attending a meeting last week about urban gardening. The emphasis in the CSA/local agriculture movement seems to be focused tightly on locality as a measure of negative or positive impact -- that is: the more local, the better. This isn't always strictly true. Granted, our food distribution system is really messed up in a lot of ways, but that doesn't preclude the possibility that sometimes, in the right economic conditions, it might make more sense (that is: be better for the environment, people and economy) to ship a truckload of oranges from Florida than to grow them here. Similarly, the idea that growing a self-sufficient garden on your personal property in the nooks and crannies of your urban yard may be pretty cool, but it's probably actually not all that efficient. A community garden is probably a much better idea and use of time and resources (environmental and economic).

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