I first became aware of Padma Lakshmi in a rather odd way. In an effort to save a little money I was borrowing audiobooks from the public library rather than buying them from Audible. This meant that the most recent and most popular titles were checked out and unavailable. Scrolling through the available titles I encountered her autobiography Love, Loss, and What We Ate. I had not been previously familiar with her, but I thoroughly enjoyed her book (which she read herself) in which she describes being born in India and then, as a child, following her mother to the United States after she completed her education and found work as a nurse.
You may be familiar with Padma as host of the television program Top Chef on Bravo, but if you have been reading this blog you know how I feel about cooking competition television shows. There is a lot more to Padma than Top Chef, however, and after listening to her audiobook I started following her on Instagram. I was pleased to learn that she was developing a television program on which she sampled immigrant food around the country.
The series, entitled Taste the Nation, dropped on Hulu this past spring and is still available if you are a subscriber. It is a real delight. She samples Mexican food in El Paso, German food in Milwaukee, and Gullah food in South Carolina. She cooks Indian food with her mother and samples the food of the one group that does not have immigrant roots: Native Americans. (As one woman makes clear, Indian fry bread is not truly native American. It is what they made do with they were gathered up by the white man, put in camps, and given flour to cook with. True Native American food derives from what can be hunted and harvested in the desert of the American Southwest.)
If this sounds very similar to Marcus Samuelsson’s PBS program No Passport Required, it is. But each show brings its own perspective. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and immigrated to the United States. Padma brings her Indian American perspective. Both programs remind us of what we owe immigrants for the variety of food and culture we experience throughout the country.
Taste the Nation was produced pre-COVID-19, so Padma freely interacts with people, eating in their restaurants and homes. It is a delightful series to watch. I’m happy that a second season has been commissioned.
I have long avoided shopping at Walmart. I didn’t like the way they treated their employees regarding health coverage in the pre-Obamacare days, and I didn’t like their profit-above-all-else approach to business.
Here in Hemet I was happy to do my discount staples grocery shopping at WinCo, an employee-owned chain in the West and Southwest. They have low prices and a wide selection. You must bag your own groceries, but I have no problem with that. I was, after all, a box boy at two different grocery stores when I was in high school.
But in this time of COVID-19 I was unhappy that after Riverside County lifted its requirement for face masks in public most of the staff there stopped wearing them. That was not the case with other grocery stores in town. I submitted a comment on the WinCo web site and received the following response:
Currently, our employee-owned stores are complying with all local mandates in each area we call home. If a local jurisdiction mandates that each individual should wear a face covering, our employee owners follow those requirements. In areas where it is not mandatory by your local governing bodies, every employee has been provided guidance and is allowed to wear a face covering at their discretion – from home or provided by the company.
As Captain Picard once shouted at Guinan, “Not good enough, dammit! Not good enough!”
Walmart, on the others hand, has a national policy requiring employees to wear face masks and is limiting occupancy in its stores while enforcing social distancing. I also have to say that I appreciate Walmart’s commitment to energy efficiency and the use of solar power, despite some of its other faults.
So, instead of doing my usual WinCo run, I paid a visit to my local Walmart Neighborhood Market. I have long found Walmart stores to be cold and impersonal, and nothing changed on this visit. When I go to WinCo I generally find everything I’m looking for (of course there are those COVID-19 exceptions), whereas Walmart did not have several items on my list.
I’m going to have to rethink my grocery shopping patterns. Perhaps it will be a combination of buying more staples at a slightly higher price at Stater Bros. (my mainstream supermarket where I buy fresh meat and produce) and making more frequent trips to Aldi, with their particularly low prices but limited selection. And of course at Aldi you never know what interesting food item you might come across.
Really, though, I wish WinCo would change its policy on employees wearing masks. That would be the simplest solution for me.
I have written quite a bit recently about plant-based meat substitutes. For six months after my surgery in February I was not allowed red meat, and those products helped satisfy my cravings. I am once again allowed to eat red meat, but those products are still a part of my diet and cooking habits.
There has, however, been something of a backlash against the Beyond Meat, Impossible, and LightLife products. I see items pop up on social media and in suggested stories on my Google iOS app. My good friend Farrell has railed against them on Facebook. In one CNBC article, John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, said that these products are highly processed and not terribly healthy. The Impossible product has been criticized for being made with highly processed soy.
But let’s back up a minute. Beyond Meats says its burger product contains a blend of pea, mung bean, and rice proteins. The LightLife product is somewhat similar. Processed, yes, but healthy vegetable products. And these products are far healthier for the environment, as Mackey admits. The CNBC article states, “According to a study commissioned by Beyond Meat with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, a plant-based burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 45% less energy, has 99% less impact on water scarcity, and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of traditional U.S. beef.”
It was back in 1971 that Frances Moore Lappé, in her groundbreaking Diet for a Small Planet, pointed out that animal products are a highly inefficient way of getting protein. And within that realm, beef is far and away the most inefficient. Folks, one reason (among many) that the Amazon is burning is our insatiable desire for beef. Getting our protein from plant-based sources is far easier on the planet. These products will continue to evolve and improve. If people can shed their lust for beef by eating these products then we ought to give them a fair shake.
Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
You are, perhaps, getting tired of my reviews of plant-based meat substitutes. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t offer just one more.
Earlier this summer I received an email from the good folks at Beyond Meat saying that they were coming out with an improved burger with marbling and a meatier taste. Around that time the burger disappeared from the store shelves. Within the last week, however, the new, improved burger (as per the packaging) has been in stock both at WinCo and Stater Bros. I picked up a package on Friday and made burgers using my homemade sourdough bread for buns that evening.
It really is better. You can see the marbling in the burger, and the cooked burger has a meatier, fuller, more flavorful taste with an even more meat-like texture. And it is, in both Terry’s and my opinion, more filling.
The team at Beyond Meat is doing some excellent work.
It has been an interesting journey in that the rise of plant-based meat substitutes corresponded with the time after my surgery in which I was not allowed red meat. I am coming up on the six month mark and so should be able to return to red meat. I’ll check with my surgeon at the beginning of next week. (I really want a Double Double from In-n-Out!)
In the interim, however, I have tried a number of plant-based products: the Beyond Meat burger, two varieties of Beyond Meat sausage, the LightLife ground, the LightLife burger, and, of course, the Carl’s Jr. Beyond Famous Star. I have been pleased with the taste and texture of all of those.
Then there’s the one I’ve been waiting for: the Impossible Whopper. It rolled out nationwide on Thursday and I tried one yesterday. Now I have long been a Whopper fan. It’s not In-n-Out, not by a long shot, but one cannot live by In-n-Out alone, and the Whopper is a pretty darn good burger as fast food burgers go. The only problem is that it doesn’t come with cheese. You have to specifically request it, which I think is silly.
So the Impossible Whopper? Marvelous. I could not tell the difference from the beef Whopper. I just need to remember to ask for cheese.
Beyond Meat. LightLife. Impossible. It’s a whole new world and I love it.
I had planned veggie burgers for dinner a week ago. On Tuesday I went shopping at our nearby Stater Bros. supermarket and discovered they were out of the Beyond Meat burger in the fresh meat department. I had noticed that they had been missing at WinCo recently as well. The sausages were there, but not the burger. It seems that Beyond Meat has a supply problem, which, I suppose, is a Good Thing because it means that there is demand for their product. But that didn’t help me with Wednesday dinner.
I went up the street to Sprouts, which had both the Beyond Meat burger and the LightLife burger in the meat department’s freezer case. I had recently made chili with the LightLife Ground, and it was quite good so I decided to try the burger as well. It was fine that the burgers were frozen since they would have more than twenty-four hours to thaw out in the fridge.
On Wednesday I cooked the burgers using the grill pan on our stovetop and served them with my homemade sourdough bread for the buns, which I also lightly grilled. Excellent! Both Terry and I agreed that the LightLife was really indistinguishable from they Beyond Burger. Trying the two in a blindfolded taste test would be strictly a coin flip.
That was a great discovery. And I understand that the Impossible Whopper is rolling out nationwide tomorrow, August 8. I’ll be trying it soon.
My brother Brian is really good at updating me on things he knows I’m interested in. Like when he told me that there was an Indian restaurant going in on the east side of town. Terry and I live on the far west side of Hemet and my brother lives near the extreme eastern border of the city limits. So I appreciate it when he tells me about what’s happening out that way.
The restaurant was “It’s Taste of India,” which is rather odd grammatically. Either there is an “a” missing or the restaurant was owned by someone named It. In either case, Terry and I were delighted that the restaurant opened, because previously the closest Indian restaurant was thirty minutes south of us in the congested, high-traffic realm of Temecula.
We were pleased with the food at Taste of India and valued the hospitality of the owner. We had lupper (late lunch/early supper) there a number of times and always loved it.
I was unhappy, then, when Brian told me that a Mexican restaurant had moved into that space. When I had a chance to head out that way myself I saw that beneath the restaurant name the sign said, “Authentic Mexican Food.” Say what? There must be two dozen Mexican restaurants here in the San Jacinto Valley. So all of those are fake?
No matter. What is important is that we’ve lost our local Indian restaurant, and for that Terry and I are very sad,
I continue to be impressed by the work that the good folks at Beyond Meat are doing.
I have now tried two more of their grocery store products.
The Beyond Beef Crumbles, feisty flavor, is a frozen product. I used it to make tacos. It’s very tasty. From my perspective it requires no additional seasoning. It’s perhaps just a tad rubbery, but it’s really not bad at all.
I had been wanting to try the fresh Beyond Sausage for some time. I finally had the occassion to do so recently. There are two flavors; I bought the Brat Original. I used it on spaghetti and it was quite tasty. Terry really liked it as well. We both agreed that it was a hell of a lot more flavorful than the turkey sausage we’ve purchased.
The other sausage flavor is Italian. I’m looking forward to trying that one. These people are doing a marvelous job.
I wrote a while back about trying the Beyond veggie burger from the grocery store. I was really impressed with the texture and taste and was anxious to try the Beyond Famous Star burger from the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain.
I finally got the chance to give it a try, and I was very impressed. Quite tasty, just like the beef Famous Star, hardly indistinguishable. A second try confirmed my feelings.
More recently Del Taco came out with their Beyond Taco. Now I am not a big Del Taco fan. (What’s a Mexican fast food chain doing selling french fries, and who wants french fries with a taco?) Nonetheless, in my quest to learn about the new generation of plant-based meat substitutes, I felt that I owed the product a try.
My perception: not bad. The consistency was the consistency of taco meat and the taste matched that of a Del Taco taco. I won’t go back, but I’m glad I tried it.
I also have to give Del Taco credit for being fully committed to the Beyond Taco. They have dedicated printed Beyond Taco wrappers complete with logo. Carl’s identifies their Beyond Famous Star by wrapping the burger a certain way or affixing a sticker that says “Promo.”
Now I’m waiting for the Burger King Impossible Whopper to arrive in Southern California. I’m looking forward to that.
What’s that meal we eat on weeknight evenings? I say “dinner.” It’s what I said when I was growing up. “Mom, what’s for dinner?” But somewhere in the back of my mind I think I knew it was really supper. Maybe my dad used the term; I’m not sure. On Sunday in the mid-afternoon we had dinner. My mother made a roast, we had sides, and my Grandma Christie often joined us.
The folks at Wide Open Eats published an interesting essay on the subject. They point out that from an etymological standpoint dinner is the main meal of the day, whatever time it is served, while supper is by definition the evening meal.
No doubt you have your own perspective on this critical issue.