Friday, June 28, 2013

A Quick Round-up

The Globe and Mail ran an excellent obit of Tony Koulakis, the owner of the Montreal greasy spoon Cosmo Snack Bar.
Out went high-falutin’ words like “nouveau,” “au jus” and “reduction.” Montreal foodies, their palates jaded by decades of haute cuisine, fairly tripped over themselves to find multiple ways of saying “artery-clogging,” “heart attack on a plate” and “the ultimate hangover food.”
“Out of this world” was a standard.
For 35 years behind the counter at Cosmo Snack Bar, on Montreal’s Sherbrooke Street West, proprietor Tony Koulakis (no, his name wasn’t Cosmo) served up all-day breakfasts that would cause palpitations in cardiologists. Eggs, bacon, glistening sausage and Tony’s signature hash brown potatoes, in portions fit for a stevedore, were heaped onto plates that were often chipped – that is, if you could snag one of the 11 rickety vinyl-topped diner stools at the counter (some regulars preferred the ones plastered with duct tape). Tables? Only outside on the sidewalk, in the summer.
When smoking was still allowed in restaurants, four of the stools were designated “non-smoking.” Bills would be randomly rounded up or down.
The very definition of the greasy spoon, the hole-in-the-wall eatery is a Montreal landmark where, on weekends especially, diners stand three-deep to tuck into: The “Creation” sandwich, an egg, salami, lettuce, tomato and cheese monstrosity (it used to contain sausage as well, until that was deemed overkill); the Good Morning Burger, a hamburger topped by a fried egg; and the ungodly MishMash omelette: bacon, four eggs, ham, sausage, salami, tomatoes, onions and cheese, all fried in margarine, with a side of hash browns (the concoction was once sent for chemical analysis and clocked in at a gut-busting 1,800 calories).
Nothing cost more than $10. And the place offered 15 types of bread. It was once estimated that Mr. Koulakis went through 25 loaves of rye, kimmel and black Russian bread a day, and fried 20 dozen eggs and 25 pounds of bacon every day, too.
From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., every day but Monday, the mustachioed, baseball-capped Tony laughed, cooked, kibbitzed and faux-hollered. And smoked. Quebec’s politics and hockey were always on the menu. Out of milk? No problem – just send a diner across the street to the grocery. When orders were placed, he would call out, “nice breakfast, Niki!” Which worked, because the person holding the spatula was often either his daughter, Niki, or his son, Nikos, standing maybe a metre away. Or both.
We would all be lucky to have an obit that good.
Also in the Globe is an article by Charles Abbott, discussing the proposed purchase of Smithfield Foods (the world's largest pork processor) by  Shuanghui International Holdings of China. The part that interested me?
Led by Ms Stabenow, 15 of the 20 senators on the Agriculture Committee and the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee wrote last week to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to say food security must be a factor when regulators decide whether to approve the sale. (emphasis mine)
The letter recommends that food safety and and food supply experts should be given roles in the review process, while China's Commerce Ministry said "the transaction was unrelated to food safety issues." really? Because what gets me is how when it's a foreign government taking over US food chain suppliers, it's about food safety and security. But when it's US giants taking over the food chain of other countries, it's about free trade.
Of course it's about security and safety. It is more difficult to ensure compliance with food safety when dealing with foreign-held corporations. the few government regulations that are still in place are more difficult to enforce--look at Canada's relationship with Tyson.
But more interesting still is the issue of food security raising it's head. When the goal of a company is to use one country to supply the food needs of another, how can you ensure food security in both countries? Under international trade regimes currently in place, you can't. If you try, your government can, and will be, sued under the WTO rules. Canada's had that happen too many times just with the US for it to be considered a theoretical occurrence.
But with international trade regulation superseding national sovereignty, perhaps it's time for a re-think. We could ignore the international food trade--at least for the most part--and under the rubric of national security, devise a second, more secure, local food system. Set a goal: "The national secure food system must be able to supply 80% of  the country's food needs," and insist that this means fruits/vegetables/grains/proteins. Standards of production for the system could be set higher than those for the industrial food system (think "organic" and "sustainable"). And covered under "national security," it would be much harder to subvert. Yeah, I think there's an idea here.....
And finally, the Globe is also reporting that:
Over the past five years, food prices have risen at nearly double the rate of the rest of items used to calculate the consumer price index, according to an analysis by Statistics Canada.
While the price of the items went up by a cumulative 10.7 per cent during that time period, food prices went up by 19 per cent.
Even the economic crash didn't slow the pace--while most other items became cheaper between October, 2008, and January, 2009--food prices continued to rise, both in Canada and around the world. Between 2007 and 2008 international food prices increased by 58 per cent. Of the 39 countries the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development tracked between 2007 and 2012 the majority, 24 countries, saw food prices go up greater rate than overall inflation. (sic) Globe and Mail, B3, 28 June, 2013.
It wasn't your imagination. You really are getting kicked in the stomach. 

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