Wage Justice Is on the Menu

When I first wrote in some small detail about food workers in the United States, it was thanks in part to Saru Jayaraman, a leader of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. I’ve since come to rely on her for news about labor in general and food workers in particular. At that point, three years ago, her main focus was on tipped workers, who in 43 states are still paid sub-minimum wage (as low as $2.13 per hour) under the often-flawed and completely unfair assumption that tips will routinely make up the difference. Mostly, evidence shows, they do not.

But the 11 million-odd food service workers in the United States are subject to many other injustices, as Jayaraman discusses in this video: underpayment no matter what the scheme; sexual harassment; part-time work with unpredictable hours; lack of health insurance, sick days and paid vacation, and so on. In those terms, the plight of most workers in the food industry resembles that of industrial workers in the United States 100 years ago. What changed that, at least in part, was organization and, ultimately, unionization. That is what food workers need today.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, California Matters, Food Politics

What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change

This is kind of the good news/bad news department, as so many things are: The good news is that terrific oysters are being farmed in several locations in California; the bad news is that ocean acidification — the absorption of carbon dioxide into the sea, a direct result of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere — is a direct threat to that industry.

I saw both when I visited Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, an operation north of San Francisco on Tomales Bay. (Actually, I’ve eaten at and of Hog Island dozens of times, and even shot video there for a PBS series more than 10 years ago.)

I went with Tessa Hill, who’s been researching ocean acidification at Bodega Marine Laboratory for eight years. Hill studies how changes in marine chemistry impact a variety of marine animals, including oysters, whose shells are getting thinner, smaller and more susceptible to predators. Her research looks at current conditions and develop a baseline for tracking the effects of climate change going forward.

Read the rest of this column here.

The Ultimate (for now) Pasta with Clams

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TIME: 30 minutes
MAKES: 2 servings

I’ve made many pasta-with-clams recipes. This is the current, simplest, and I believe best version. My mouth waters just thinking about it; I’d say three of the best meals I’ve had in the last six months were just this. Is that too hard a sell? Try it.

Salt
Good olive oil as needed
24* hardshell (“littleneck”) clams, the smaller the better, scrubbed and dried in a salad spinner or a towel
¼ cup (a little splash) of good white wine (or use water)
6 to 8 ounces linguine or other long pasta
1 tablespoon, more or less, minced garlic
Dried red chile flakes to taste
½ cup chopped parsley

1. Salt a pot of water for pasta and bring it to a boil.

2. Put olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the clams in one layer; be generous – the oil should thickly coat the bottom. Heat until shimmery, then add the clams and, quickly, the white wine. There may be some spattering but it’s worth it; don’t cover the pan; keep the heat medium-high to high, depending on your stove.

3. Start cooking the pasta.

4. The clams will open one by one, and exude a lot of liquid. (You probably will not need to salt this dish but you’ll see later.) Keep cooking until the pasta is nearly done. When the clams are all, or mostly open, add the garlic and chile. Stir a few times, drain the pasta, and toss it with the clam mixture and the parsley. Cook if necessary, tossing, until the pasta is perfect.

5. Add salt if necessary — you might also add a little splash of olive oil — and serve. Do not fall for the trap of discarding clams that appear not to have opened; just open them with a butter knife. If the clams were unbroken and tightly sealed to begin with, they are fine.

*: You can use 36 if they’re real small or you just want more. Or you can use cockles, which are tiny, and use 48. Your call. All should be firmly closed – any that you can pry open with your fingers are dead and should be discarded. And don’t buy any with broken shells.

Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Alice Waters’s Perfect Aioli

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In Berkeley, where I currently live, ‘‘Alice’’ is a one-name celebrity, like Madonna. This is completely justifiable. In her lifetime, there has probably been no more important American in food than Alice Waters.

It was a matter of timing, of course — Alice is not a superwoman. She is, however, a dreamer and an uncompromising visionary. Some 40 years ago, when she settled in Berkeley — she had graduated from the university and then spent many summers in France — she had already recognized that good cooking was not about fancy French ingredients or techniques, but about taking the best local food you could find and not messing it up.

Chop Suey’s Next Wave

The history of Chinese immigrants and citizens in California is long, complicated and not entirely pretty. Like every nonwhite immigrant group (and many white ones), the Chinese were treated as second-class citizens. Quotas were low and citizenship was especially hard to obtain. Furthermore, there were restrictions on family members; the vast majority of early immigrants were men, living alone or in groups, but almost always without women.

Many arrived for the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century and stayed to build the railroads. Then followed a kind of Chinese diaspora spreading eastward and scattering small groups of immigrants throughout the United States. Discrimination and outright racism drove many of them to establish independent businesses, including laundries and… restaurants.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, California Matters, Chinese, Travel

A Walk on the Wild (Edibles) Side

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Illustration by Becca Stadtlander from “Salad From the Sidewalk,” the illustrated accompaniment to this column.

When I went foraging with Philip Stark and Tom Carlson for what became the first of the California Matters series of videos, I had an idea of what to expect. I spent a lot of time in Vermont in the ’70s and, armed with Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I learned about eating dandelion leaves, roots, and the base where they met, as well as crowns and even the little balls of unbloomed flowers (actually the best part, sautéed). I learned, too, about milkweed, a plant that can be eaten at several stages.

Most of the other ostensibly easy-to-find plants, however, remained elusive, largely because I found books inadequate for identification purposes and I had no guide – I was on my own. (I was finally shown wild asparagus by Lidia Bastianich in Istria, Croatia, 30 years later.)

 

Eating Outdoors: July on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for conversations from past months.

Photo illustration by the New York Times

Photo illustration by the New York Times.

For most of us north of the equator, it’s picnic season. I’m taking advantage with a perfectly packed basket and 101 20-minute-or-less dishes to eat outdoors. The best picnic foods get better as they sit, and since it’s summer, the less time spent in the kitchen the better—adventurous riffs on familiar foods are perfect. I bet in your neck of the woods the weather is nice enough right now that you’re also enjoying as many meals as possible outside.

There are plenty of ways to talk about food and the great outdoors: dining al fresco at restaurants, nibbling fresh harvests in the garden or market, having cookouts or going camping, and thinking and talking about the impact of our food system on climate change. Whether you’ve taken it to the streets, a boardwalk, or in a basket, I’d like to see.

Tom Willey among his eggplants. Photo by Jeff Minton for The New York Times.

Tom Willey among his eggplants. Photo by Jeff Minton for the New York Times.

Where and what are you eating outside right now? What’s fueling your adventures and vacations? Have you eaten anything good off a stick? How do you pack for a day the beach? Stay in touch this month—on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and in the comments below—and be on the lookout for details on the next tweetchat. Tag your photos, recipes, and reading with #BittmanTopics and I’ll feature my favorites back here in a few weeks.