Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fattoush and fallacies

Inspired by a beautiful photo by Karsten Moran and a short article by David Tanis in the New York Times, I made fattoush the other night. It had been a long, travel-weary day - a southern tramp through the seedy side of Prospect Park, which was truly dilapidated and depressing, and then a walk across to Green-Wood which was very green after rain. We saw a beautifully fat and unafraid groundhog mowing the lawn, there.

Our return journey was spoiled by the sudden realization that our subway had just started the ascent over the Manhattan Bridge. We don't live in Manhattan. Sunday and the MTA. Why do we do it? The F and G were not running. We were on the D, which we thought was an R. Well, it did say R...

When we got to SoHo we rose to find the R near Dean and Deluca, so I popped in for some ground lamb. Dean and DeLuca has no ground lamb. Nor grass fed beef. Which makes me think about the Stanford study that proclaims loudly that organic farming methods deliver produce that is no more nutritious than conventional.

Cue my icy silence. Talk about asking the wrong question.

As time passes it depresses me more, and more profoundly than I had imagined.  I am disappointed in how The New York Times covered it, but especially by the space given to the fatuous and glib op ed written by the moron*, Roger Cohen.

I don't question the vitamins in my organic strawberry versus the conventionally raised one. I don't choose an organic chicken over a factory-raised one because it is nutritionally superior. I choose these things when I can because of how the plants and animals were grown and raised and what synthetic pesticides and drugs and hormones and fertilizers they may or may not be laced with. And where those poisons and drugs and fertilizers came from, how they were manufactured, and by whom.

It's about the big picture.

I hope The Times publishes the other point of view, with its attendant sharp questions, and soon. This study, this article and the dozens it has spawned across the globe sets attitudes right back, like a dullard clock turned in reverse. I can only hope that the heavy guns of a food revolution are as disturbed as I am, and are writing about it as we speak. Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan...Nicholas Kristof has weighed in, albeit gently, and through example.

At best the study was conducted by researchers with doubtful intentions, track records and funding. I hope The New York Times chooses to investigate the ties between Monsanto and Stanford, and ties between the scientists and big tobacco.

We could not catch the R home in SoHo. There was red tape hanging limply across the entrance to the station, on the corner of Broadway and Prince, perhaps the most zoolike intersection in the city when it comes to pedestrian clog. So we found a 6 on Spring Street, and limped home to our own hood.

We never did find lamb. Staubitz and Los Paisanos were closed by the time we got back. So it was beef from Union Market, with allspice and cinnamon and sumac and raw onion on top, formed into flattish köfte. And from the roof - plum tomatoes and peppers and the last cucumber; mint and basil and thyme from the terrace. More sumac. Olive oil, and pita bread.

*Incidentally, about Roger Cohen's op ed. I prefer moron but I could as easily have used airhead, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, bubblehead, chowderhead, chucklehead, clodpoll (or clodpole), clot, cluck, clunk, cretin, cuddy (or cuddie), deadhead, dim bulb, dimwit, dip, dodo, dolt, donkey, doofus, dope, dork, dullard, dumbbell, dumbhead, dum-dum, dummkopf, dummy, dunce, dunderhead, fathead, gander, golem, goof, goon, half-wit, hammerhead, hardhead, ignoramus, imbecile, jackass, know-nothing, knucklehead, lamebrain, loggerhead, loon, lump, lunkhead, meathead, mome, idiot, mug, mutt, natural, nimrod, nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit, nitwit, noddy, noodle, numskull (or numbskull), oaf, pinhead, prat, ratbag, saphead, schlub (also shlub), schnook, simpleton, stock, stupe, stupid, thickhead, turkey, woodenhead, yahoo, or yo-yo.

With a little help from Merriam-Webster.


  1. Hope you read the comments, what a pompous bliksem (have I got the spelling right they missed this off our curriculem). One of the comments I hope anyone logging onto you blog reads is from : -

    Julie Whitman

    There was an incredible documentary shown at our film festival two years ago. It is titled "Submission", it is Swedish and difficult to put your hands on. It is about chemical infiltration from our environs . European scientists have just started to study pesticide combinations effect on the human body. Yes, they just started...no American studies had ever been done on chemical safety of these combined chemicals. The results are horrific. This film was shown to members of the UN, funny how the rest of the world won't see it. I strongly suggest you get a screening copy, watch it, then rethink yor article.

    Watch it - it may scare you organic!

    Lisa from London

  2. One last thing, sorry this is a huge bone of contention with me! Thank god we have Riverford, Cole and Able etc in the UK - a conglomerate of organic farmers delivering yummy boxes to our doorsteps. Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle should be on all school's to read list world wide, if you have not read it get a copy. Plus http://www.eattheweeds.com/ brilliant blog.

    Lisa ranting from London

  3. http://www.naturalnews.com/035105_Bill_Gates_Monsanto_eugenics.html

  4. Amen Sista'!
    I like that you used the word "moron" to describe Cohen. Everyone is an authority. It makes no sense.
    I will continue to eat my organic produce, eggs and dairy.....
    Sorry you had the train problems....not fun.
    Regarding the lamb, try Dickson's Farmstand Meats in the Chelsea Market, I know it's too late now, but he usually has it, as well as goat and pig. It's a special place.
    Leaving for France in a few hours, will see what the food city has to offer!

  5. I too was absolutely stunned, not only by how Stanford chose to spin this one, but by how the media just flew with it as if they hadn't read the paper. Here's my blog post on the topic -


    The NYTimes article was pretty good, but the headline skewed it all and the Op Ed just makes no sense at all. No one I know touts organic as more nutritious - It's about the pesticides and the antibiotics, and the study clearly supported these claims.-

    Something is definitely going on with this study, I just can't pin down who or where the influence is.


  6. What a great rant! Best yet! If you find a link or connection to Submission let me know. I am searching too.

  7. So maybe organic doesn't actually have more vitamins or minerals or whatever - but.... No residues of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, detergents, additives, etc. will be left in your body after you eat. I only buy grass fed beef from a local college Angus farm. Why are children entering puberty at 9 years old and even younger? Could it be all the growth hormones pumped into beef, chicken and milk - you think? Oh heavens - preaching to the choir! Keep up the good fight and I still love your blog!

  8. Right on, Marie! And I, for one, will never concede that organic is equally "nutritious" as conventionally grown. In fact, that whole study (Shame on you, Stanford!) should be suspect in my book when the authors are known to have connections to Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. Researchers can be bought, and quite frequently are. Corporations are the only ones who have the resources to fund studies anymore.


  9. Right on, Marie! And I, for one, will never concede that organic is equally "nutritious" as conventionally grown. In fact, that whole study (Shame on you, Stanford!) should be suspect in my book when the authors are known to have connections to Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. Researchers can be bought, and quite frequently are. Corporations are the only ones who have the resources to fund studies anymore.


  10. I'm glad you wrote this post, this topic was just sliding by me. Are the experts waiting for proof in humans which are found in the toads: born with three legs or pairs of both sets of sexual organs? The book "My Year of Meats," by Ruth L. Ozeki is convincing about the need to watch what we eat along with our food. Hormone free at the least. Maybe they should hand out sedatives with those articles so we can just "chillax" and not worry about it.

  11. O, I forgot, the sedatives are already in the water, along with traces of everything else we take!

  12. Calling someone a "moron" or any of the other equivalents you list does not engage with Cohen's arguments. I think that's called "ad hominem." (Look it up in Merriam Webster.) Is there not some truth in the elitism charge? If not, explain why. In any case, I think he agrees with what you say about the ecological case for organic foods. To my earlier comment here, that I appreciate your blog for what you know best, you responded that you knew your "heart." Hearts, it is said, don't have reasons for things. I personally like to hear reason occasionally.

    I eat and shop, it seems to me, pretty much the way you do, but I realize I am a very privileged person to be able to do so.

  13. I don't know if this link is on or off topic, but it goes back to your post some time back about Scotts Miracle-Gro. Thought you might be interested in it:


  14. Lisa - love her book...thanks for the info about the Swedish film.

    Stacey - have a safe flight and wonderful holiday.

    Peggy, you're right, I guess the headline of the initial reportage really ticked me off.

    Betsy - gardeners unite :-)

    Barbara - thanks :-)

    Sara - I'd forgotten about that book. I read it years ago. Very good.

    Rick's Wife, ah, yes, I remember - the stick-to-what-you-know woman, regarding the post about guns. I wish I had oodles of time to formulate a cogent response to Mr Cohen's op ed but I'm a little eyeball deep at the moment. And I have written about it manymany times before. So "moron" sums it up pretty well. The whole point of the organic food movement is to make it available to everyone. Your condescension is loud.

    Karen - yes, I am aware of that, thank you. Part of the big picture...

  15. Condescension was not intended; it was simply meant to be a discussion. I would be eager to know whether you think organic food is, as Cohen writes, elitist. By the way, I am more than "the stick-to-what-you-know woman." We all have many sides.

  16. The Times article and in particular its deceptive headline (is the Times in bed with the big farm lobby?) enraged me as well.

    What I ended up doing was taking my camera over to my local organic farm, here: http://judithaross.com/2012/09/05/why-i-buy-organic-food/

    Don't let anybody tell you that organic food is more "expensive" than conventionally grown food. According to my local organic farmer - and I agree - you may pay more at the counter when you buy organic, but when you buy conventional, you pay for it in other ways: through your taxes that support subsidies for those big farms, and in your health care costs when someone gets sick from pesticides (I have a friend who had lymphoma and with no cancer in his family, it is pretty clear, it was caused by his summers working on a non-organic farm) or develops problems from consuming too many antibiotics and hormones in their meat.

  17. Hello - coming to you from Accra, Ghana. Firstly I love your turn of mind; your blog is a continuous source of delight, information and inspiration.

    I am a born and bread Natalian - lived as an adult between Jozi and NYC. My brother is a naturalized American - social Architect (NYC). Escaped having to go to war with his countrymen. I am a retired film/video editor turned gardener, cook, and observer, still wanna be everything - one day

    Your latest 2 entries once again brought home the smallness of the world we live in, and it tickles me tremendously - I feel compelled to share this with you.

    Brother Peter skypes Sunday says there is a ‘storm’ warning - he too, is in Brooklyn - we chat - he has recently used the bicycle workshop attached to the bar in Brooklyn which I recommended via an article I read here in Ghana, in the NYTimes (digital), which he kindly subscribes to for me. And so obviously, I also read that abomination on organic - I am speechless! I won’t go there.
    Moving on - the biggest and oldest expat community here is Lebanese, three to four generations and as a result one has access to some really exciting Lebanese ingredients.
    So which recipe was bookmarked this weekend? Yes the fattoush!

    Enjoy the Cape at the end of the year and for the book - break a leg!

    Renee E Engelbrecht
    Accra, Ghana

  18. Well Said Marie! This is almost as ridiculous an argument as the case that is often attempted to be made about the existence of global warming!!!

  19. Ja, whew, good rant. Like, agree. And as for organic farming being elitist, huh. Magtig. In my heart I want to say but if we carry on with monoculture and indiscriminate use of dodgy pesticides and fertilizers, then we won't really have much farmland to play around with anyway. Actually, it is not potentially the Monsanto et al approach which is elitist, in that it mostly serves wealthy multinational corporations and puts small farmers out of business?
    It is true that the reverence for beautiful organic food, the high prices, the elegant marketing and so on pitches organic at an elitist market perhaps, but that could also change, no?


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