Sunday, September 27, 2009

Michael Pollan Lecture at Xavier: Better than Donuts

It's confusing and treacherous territory at the grocery store. Michael Pollan's books and articles have attempted to offer us some guidance in a time of general nutritional chaos, and on Sunday, he offered more advice in a lecture at Xavier's Cintas Center, clocking in just under an hour.

Armed with a Kroger bag of groceries in each hand as he took the stage in a pair of striped sneakers, he laid down some of the same themes he'd explored in his books. The demonizing of certain nutrients while we sanctify others, the link between our healthcare crisis and our diet crisis, and the pitfalls of nutritional science in its current form.

And then he touched on the really scary stuff, like the powerful viruses coming from cattle and hog breeding facilities. And the fact that Froot Loops cereal receives a "check" as a "Smart Choice" food because, as Pollan quotes an unnamed nutritionist, "it's better than donuts."

His lecture reaffirmed my admittedly already solid belief in the guy. He's on our side - the side of the supermarket shopper, the consumer, the eater. His passion is evident, his concern genuine, and his arguments are sound. In the confusion of the supermarket, we need some guidance. And if Michael Pollan is going to help us out, well that's a hell of a lot better than donuts.

Anyone else make it to the lecture? What were your thoughts?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

West Coast Coffee in an East Coast City

I've complained often, in a very nasal-y high-pitched voice, that I don't get to eat well when I'm in New York for business. I visit one of the greatest dining cities in our country and somehow end up with only enough time for an "Old Timer" (that's "hamburger" to those of us who speak plain English) at Chili's in La Guardia's claustrophobic Delta terminal.

My most recent trip started no differently. Stranded outside of my hotel until check-in at three, I set up a make-shift office at a Starbucks on West 31st. I picked up a New York Times, because when else would it be more appropriate to read the New York Times?

It was the Chili's syndrome again. I found myself reading a rave review of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a recently opened outlet of a Portland-based chain just a few blocks away, while I was sitting in a Starbucks.

I resolved to put a stop to that nonsense. The next day, I marched myself right past Starbucks and found the Ace Hotel that houses Stumptown after circling the block once.

The baristas are outfitted in newsies hats, tattooed and pierced and pouring frothed milk into little wiggly leaf patterns.

Not surprisingly, the NY Times was right on the mark. A plain, no-frills latte from Stumptown was hands-down the best coffee drink I've ever had. Maybe I don't have enough street cred to say that, being a kid from the Midwest who's never set foot in a west coast coffee house. Maybe it's really just an average latte, and it only shines in comparison to the sub-par, over-roasted espresso I've been drinking all my life.

I find that hard to believe. It was just so damn good. A beautifully pitched balance between slightly sweet espresso and perfect frothed milk. Well worth seeking out if you're in Manhattan or Portland. I guarantee you won't find one at La Guardia.