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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cilantro Takes Front Page, Shares With Giant Pastrami

Illustration by Stephen Webster
New York Times

Today's New York Times Dining section has a striking front page. What is most striking to most I imagine is not the small cilantro article on the lower right, but the hyperbole of a pastrami sandwich that overwhelms the page.

I've been thinking a lot about juxtaposition recently (always) and while Harold McGee's excellent article provides so much fodder to dive into here in this blog, fodder that I'm excited to dive into in the near future, while I have the eyes and possibly attention of more than I'm used to, it's the pastrami sandiwch that juxtaposes cilantro hate neuroscience/anthropology that I'm concerned with today.

Beginning January of this year, I've adopted a vegan diet that I keep at a strictness of oh, say 98%--due dilligence applied, the occasional doubt of trace amounts of dairy infrequently ignored. I'm not here or anywhere else to try to convince anyone they should do the same, but I think I have an interesting and less-obnoxious-than-most take on it.

The Times asks "Can This Sandwich Be Saved?" in its headline (Julia Moskin asks in her headline). A better question, I argue, is "Should This Sandwich Be saved?"

The article is about the slow but consistent decline of the Jewish deli (the number of them, the success of them, the perceived quality and authenticity of them) and the corresponding ascension of the not-Jewish deli (which is not to say gentile deli--some not-Jewish delis are Jewish delis, just not Jewish delis of yore). It profiles several mostly younger chefs and restaurant owners who are bringing things like "sustainability," creativity, and vegetables (that aren't coated in mayonnaise) to delis.

On the one hand, while I value tradition, knowing what you're going to get when you go into a place, a kind of place, on the other hand I believe in progress, that what worked yesterday at least might not work so well today. As Jonathan Safran Foer points out in his excellent book Eating Animals--which I read to rev myself up for veganism 3.0 (I've dabbled before for years at a time)--no one, and I can't speak to this personally not being Jewish and all, but especially no one from such a strong cutltural and culinary tradition as the Jewish one, wants to see tradition die, even if there are not so great maybe ethical or other considerations that might not make them the best practices to uphold.

My argument here isn't whether or not certain traditions should be upheld. Certainly you can uphold their spirit and modify their specifics--this has always been so. But it gets complicated when one tries to determine what is the vital essence of this tradtion--what part of it needs to be preserved. Which is why religion is so flawed--who gets to decide that essence?; but that's another post.

My argument here is that making things better or more progressive, here through sustainable butchering practices (in house, local, grass-fed), and flavor and creativity and all these ostensibly wonderful things, can sometimes obscure that they are really much farther from that than being good enough. That is, sure grass-fed pastrami is better than its factory farmed equivalent, but is it good enough. Maybe it is good enough for you and maybe it is good enough for a lot of people (everyone knows the whole slaughter process and everything is still really awful, right?) and that it should or shouldn't be still isn't my argument (exactly).

My argument is that these progressive means of producing meat and dairy and eggs and other foods while obviously good in some ways may be detrimental in that 1) they make well-meaning liberals and people who otherwise give a damn feel like they're doing enough, that things are moving forward enough to 2) eat these things (maybe not so bad) and 3) (the real problem) eat the old-guard counterparts of these foods more often than the sustainable version because 99% of meat and eggs are still facotry farmed. Basically, the very margainal market (supply, not demand) that exists for organic, local, sustainable, not factory farmed animal products seems larger than it is and because many seek out the good versions when they can, are used to eating these things at all, they will inevitably eat these things in their factory-farmed-mixed-pig-part-ball-park-frank-at-the-Yankees-game variety too, right? In fact, many if not most end up eating this kind of food (think cubed chicken in that make your own salad New Yorkers) more often than the good kind, because the good kind is out there.

And I'm not here to judge that. Food writing for years I ate my share of all these things--foie gras, Yankees hot dogs, Shake Shack burgers, Heritage Pork chops, etc--and I'm not on a mission to change anyone's mind about anything. But I'm interested in spotting flawed logic and unwarranted self-congratulation and while I really hope that Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt of Saul's Restaurant and Deli in Berkeley and chefs like them continue to create a better product, maybe at least some of us should also be thinking of creative ways of not eating this stuff at all.

Despite all this, you can say one good thing about delis categorically--I've never seen cilantro in a single one.

Also, I think the New York Times should give me a vegan and/or cilantro hate food column. Just a thought.

Most Emailed, Most Read

NY Times today.

Real analysis to come circa lunchtime.

Rupert Murdoch Eat Your Heart Out... I'm Finally in The Times

More later, but for now a link to The New York Times article and this juicy bit from Harold McGee, paraphrasing Northwestern (GO CATS!) neuroscientist Jay Gottfried:

"the great cilantro split probably reflects the primal importance of smell and taste to survival, and the brain’s constant updating of its database of experiences."

Indeed, to hate is to survive.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Hate Stands Alone

The queue of compelling cilantro hate topics to entertain grows as my time/commitment wanes and while the list is long and I do hope to cover some ground in the weeks and months ahead, one topic stands apart from the others and deserves immediate attention.

The apparent hiatus/tech failure/abandonment of the I Hate Cilantro site by my cilantro-hating brethren at has got me thinking: who, what, why? But, given that I prefer speculation and creative thinking to good old-fashioned investigative journalism (contextually), let's go Fox News on the situation, let's go rogue!

Possible explanations:

1. I Hate Cilantro quit hating cilantro.
2. I Hate Cilantro is having a very serious tech problem (the site has been down for at least a month if not longer) manifest in a lone sad face surrounded by gratuitous negative space.
3. I Hate Cilantro just quit. Enough. The burden is too great to alone shepherd the growing and growingly vocal numbers of professed cilantro haters.
4. I Hate Cilantro is making an implicit statement about internet media: the masses seek a return to critical experts telling them what to think without the interruption of clunky forums and various interactive templates that would seek to make their voices heard in ways more cumbersome and complicated than the immensely efficient "comment" option provided by nearly all blogs.

Whatever has happened, the implications are clear. I must carry the cilantro hate torch alone. I accept this responsibility and will do my best to not let you down cilantro haters everywhere.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Need to Write, The Need to Hate

I've been getting annoyed a lot recently, not that me getting annoyed is in anyway anomalous. I am someone who gets annoyed: whether a person (or group) is being a jerk or too nice (in a an ostensibly genuine but upon closer inspection not altogether genuine way), too loud or too soft spoken, too dumb or too erudite, admittedly there's a thin tipping point in my book where something goes from just right, to just not. But I'm not a hypocrite--(or at least not an unknowing hypocrite, we're all hypocrites after all) I'm annoying too.

But getting annoyed is not, you know, a trait I'm interested in nurturing. I'm self-aware enough to know that an over abundance of getting-annoyed-ness has more to do with me than with the world around me, that I have some power in getting annoyed less and that getting annoyed less would probably have the effect of, rather intuitively, me being less annoyed, which seems pretty good.

So I've done a bit of science on this situation. Having a predisposition to getting annoyed, I'm going to need somewhere to channel this propensity. And that's where you, neglected cilantro hate blog, come in: nothing is more reliably, even comfortingly, annoying than cilantro, and unlike say republicans hellbent on stopping health care reform, cilantro being you know an herb, as opposed to near-half the American population, seems like a healthier, easier and altogether more fun place to direct my annoyance.

There are other reasons, too, why I've come to think revisiting this blog might mitigate this annoyance phase (don't we all live in phases? I know I do.). Principally, I very much miss writing and not just writing, but writing about something that is so uniquely mine, not the hate of cilantro--we're a large, vocal group--but the whatever unique blend of memoir, personal philosophy and of course cilantro hate encounters this blog evolved into. In no uncertain terms: my blog is way better than ThisIsWhyYou'reFat, however fun it is (I guess), but rather than be annoyed with how much better my blog is, it seems a better use of time to write my blog than be annoyed that other people are writing (popular) stupid ones. With that I bring you....

The Week in Cilantro Hate:

1.) Thank you Vanessa for your tip on McDonald's' new salad, the Southwest Chicken Salad, which features cilantro lime chicken and some sort of Ranch dressing with cilantro in it. Now, call me a snob if you will but Ranch dressing isn't my first choice, and McDonald's chicken belongs in a group (with say haggis) of "meats I don't want to eat" (As a side note, I'm dabbling in veganism at the moment), but McDonald's: consider yourselves removed from my cilantro safe-restaurant list, a blow certainly as detrimental as Fast Food Nation, Super Size Me and Food Inc. combined (oh wait, McDonald's is doing better than ever?)

2.) This morning I had a falafel platter at Miriam in Brooklyn that came with a green tahini sauce. I of course asked if it was green from the addition of parsley or cilantro. "Both," said the waitress, "but you really can't taste the cilantro."

"But, I really hate it."
"So do I, you can't taste it."
"Is it on the side?"
"Cool, I'll try it."

Guess what? I couldn't taste it. I didn't eat much of it, but I really didn't taste it. This leaves me wondering if there was actually cilantro in it or if the amount was so small that even I couldn't taste it (this doesn't seem likely, haters know even the slightest amount is totally egregious). In any case, the waitress was surprisingly right, and it was great to not be annoyed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

These Bitches is This Bitch

In all things cilantro love and cilantro hate, seriousness can be difficult to gauge. I hope I haven't left anyone confused about my true feelings re: cilantro, nor on this hate's seriousness in my life--to clarify, let's say the hate is more ever-present and real than serious.

But seriously, it's fun to do the occasional site meter read-up, the twitter @reply rundown, the google alerts perusal in the inbox and notice something is abuzz in the esoteric realm of cilantro feelings good and bad.

An enthusiastic "writer" has recently found page view success through a front page Reddit appearance this weekend past. In between "posts" the author of "Fuck Yeah Cilantro" has found time to attack this "blog". Anchor text: IN OTHER NEWS, THE WORLD IS FULL OF SHITHEADS brings you here. It is followed by the elaborating: "i would throw smallpox blankets on these bitches."

Well, sorry to disappoint, but these bitches is this bitch.

Being in the magnanimous mood that I am, I'd like to take this opportunity to reach out to Fuck Yeah Cilantro and say "Love is not the opposite of hate," as a friend once said, "Indifference is the opposite of love." And so, while we ostensibly stand at irreconcilable ends, we're united in a similarly strong, however opposite, relationship with cilantro, which while I hate and you love, we clearly both notice, and in this noticing we both win.

As cilantro becomes more and more popular, so does the hater's ability to ask for its omission in dishes increase. That is, even English speakers of the not proficient sort tend to know what I'm asking for when I say no cilantro these days. That's because it is increasingly, for better but more for worse, part of the American cultural landscape. So cilantro enthusiasts, enjoy your passion, but seriously--lox and cilantro on bagels?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Top Chef's Fabio Viviani Hates Cilantro, Exclusive Interview

Fabio Viviani, incontrovertibly the most charming of Top Chef contestants, ever, hates cilantro.

He doesn't just casually hate it--as if that were possible--he really loathes the stuff: His secret dream is to "be filthy rich, grow 20 acre of cilantro, and drop a bomb on it." He kids. I asked Fabio how hating cilantro has affected his life, he laughs in characteristic Fabio manner and says it hasn't affected his life of course but then admits "People are having fun with me when I say I hate cilantro… [It's] something fun."

Hating cilantro is so fun that he has banned the herb in his restaurant Cafe Firenze (though he is sure the Latino cooks (cilantro is popular in Mexican, Central and South American cuisine) prepare family meal with it in his absence as he finds it in the walk-in when he returns from a short vacation). Hating cilantro is so fun that he refused to help co-competitor and European compatriot Stefan Richter prepare his (losing) dish of salads and meat for the "Super Bowl Chef Showdown" episode. Come to think of it, not helping Stefan cook does sound sort of fun.

Fabio feels like he's the only member of a club. "No way" I assured him. Please read the Wall Street Journal or check out or Facebook or anything--you aren't alone! He feels the herb tastes like soap, and there is a lot of support out there for that opinion.

I'm not the only one who has noticed that cilantro is everywhere. Fabio agrees and is not happy about its growing prevalence. While would-be fancy chefs find cilantro sophisticated, new and exciting--Fabio says it just wouldn't happen in Italy: "It's outlawed in Italy," he jokes.

Once he and his (Italian) mother prepared meatballs and accidentally purchased cilantro (in the U.S.) instead of parsley--they look similar. Neither noticed the mistake until they tried them--they were both repulsed.

Erin: Does your mother not like cilantro either?
Fabio: No, she's Italian.

While I have often argued that cilantro has no place anywhere, it certainly has no place in Italian cuisine: cilantro in pasta sauce? Please. I can imagine those meatballs must have been very terrible indeed.

Some people think we cilantro haters are just a winy group of crazies, or that we must just hate everything. Fabio admits he isn't crazy about artificial cherry flavor, (clearly a man of good taste) but quickly goes for typically less-desired foods like rooster neck or bull's testicles. Not a finicky eater, just a man who knows what he likes, and what he really fucking hates. (Fabio likes to use the word "fuck" by the way--this cilantro hater approves--am I gushing, how embarrassing. I'll admit the company is nice).

So, what's next for Fabio (he was robbed and told to "pack his knives and go" last week)? He's cooking me an 8 course cilantro tasting menu at his restaurant Cafe Firenze, of course.