Script for Episode 014: Real, Nerdy, Food

| April 25, 2012

Cooking Online

Photo by Anastasia Drabicky

Bienvenidos gastrónomos y cocineros y cocineras. Mi nombre no es Juan Carlos. Mi nombre es Will Burdette and y esto es “No Satiation.”

Ok. I’m faking it. Yo no hablo español, Hablo Inglés, por supuesto. For some reason I can only speak Spanish in a voice lower than my normal voice. Anyway, we’re all having a good time here. I tell you what a good time is. It’s a Fiesta. Fiesta is also my favorite new grocery store. Now, obviously fake Spanish speaking gringos like me are not the target demographic of this store, but I remember when I first moved to Austin, I lived next door to a Fiesta and it was awesome. The produce was fresh. The food was cheap. And no one looked askance at me when I used my Lone Star tarjetta. That’s food stamps in Texan. Anne and I were on food stamps when we first moved to Austin, but it was part of our experience doing Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA, which is the domestic peace corps. We kind of took a vow of poverty for a year. At the time, I volunteered full time at Sustainable Food Center, and what a great organization that is. They run farmers markets all over town. They do community gardens. And, they do healthy cooking classes that teach people how to cook low-cost meals. Like $2.10 a serving. So anyway, Fiesta, this grocery store is where I used to shop. But they closed that location and gentrified that neighborhood and now it’s an Alamo Drafthouse. Look, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with gentrification. When rents got too high we just moved a couple miles south and now we’re doing our best to gentrify our neighborhood. And I’d love to live next door to an Alamo Drafthouse. My point is that I could walk to that Fiesta and I loved it. Now I have to drive to a different Fiesta and I’d rather walk. But hey, it beats Walmart and the prices are just as low and, they are not kidding, it’s like a party. There is Tejano music playing and food vendors outside and cilantro bunches 3 for a buck not to mention, I found Sichuan peppercorns. It was a multicultural experience, and that’s what I dig.

Hey before we get to that, remember last week when I was stealing condiments from fast food places? Well I discovered that if you mix a bunch of them together, you can make a pretty good barbecue mop for chicken or pork. I got a bunch of chicken legs at the Fiesta for like $.67 a pound. I don’t want to know where they came from at that price. I don’t advocate buying cheap meat. I just wanted to grill some chicken. So I mixed up some ketchup packets, some hot sauce from Jack in the Box, some Heinz mustard packets, my secret hobo spice rub and pickle brine left over from a huge jar of Claussen pickles. This makes a great mop, but if you overdo it, your meat might taste like pickles. My new pal Mary, from, told me she had a friend who used to just cut up veggies and throw them in the pickle jar brine when all the pickles were gone. Don’t throw out that pickle brine, people. You can make stuff with it. It’s like stone soup, making something from nothing. Speaking of Stone Soup, I found a better version than the one I used last week. There’s this touring company, Act!vated Story Theatre, and they do a podcast, which if you have little ones, you might check it out.

[Clip from Activated Story Theatre's podcast]

I don’t have kiddos yet so I’m not going to spoil the fun that is children’s theater. That is an experience for future Will. Ok, so I’ve talked about the past, and I’ve talked about the future, I guess it’s time to talk about right now. This week’s show. Let’s get to it.

I’ve started to notice there are a couple different types of food nerds. Now you all know I use the word nerd as a term of endearment, so I don’t have to explain that. But I’ve noticed there are these different groups of food nerds. There are the molecular gastronomy food science nerds, people like Nathan Myrvolds and Alton Brown and Wylie Doo-FRAYN. These are the geeky subset of food nerds. Then there are the sort of folk-food-nerds. These are people who grow heirloom things and join CSAs and preserve things and make their own cheese and crackers. And there are urban and country versions of the folk-food-nerds. There might also be suburban folk-food-nerds, I don’t know. Maybe. Then there are the food wonks. These are people who get really into food policy like farm-to-table school lunches and farm aid and stuff. Did you all know that farm aid is still going strong. Willie was behind that. I would suggest that the foodways folks are a special breed of food nerd. Then there are the iconoclastic food nerds. The ones who don’t really fit in anyone one food nerd camp.

I mentioned my new pal Mary at the top of the show when I was talking about pickles. I think Mary is a good example of an iconoclastic food-nerd. She went to culinary school, but she’s not like a pretentious big culinary school chef. From her web-site, I glean that she has a prominent food tattoo, but she does not seem like she’s totally punk rock or goth or anything. I mean everyone in Austin has tattoos, so whatever. She knows her stuff, but she’s not obnoxious about it. She lived in China for a while and this is important to the story because I spent several hours with Mary as she taught me how to make Chinese dumplings in the classic Bejing style. Mary runs a web site called Mary Makes Dinner, but she also teaches cooking classes online through Chef Hangout is built ontop of Google Plus’s hangout thing. It allows you to buy cooking classes for like $10 or $20 or $30 a pop. Then you set up your laptop in the kitchen. Be careful. Then you hangout with others and cook for, like, an hour or two or three. In this case, I got to hang out virtually with Mary and another food blogger, Angela Bell. Now, I’ve been listening to a lot of utopian talk about what the internet and computers are going to do for us. Here’s a good example. This is Ray Kurzweil in his TED talk back in 2005:

Ok. So we were not using nanobots to do this, but Mary, Angela, and I were hanging out in Google plus, talking and cooking together. You can’t yet send smell through the internet, but Mary talked to us about how the smell of the oil with Sichuan peppercorns and garlic permeated all the food in Bejing.

[Mary talking about the smell of the oil.]

At the same time, Mary was instructing Angela and I to heat up the oil. We were not all the same place, we were smelling the same thing. We could see each others’ faces and hear each others’ voices along with the the clang of the pots and pans. It was really, really cool. At the end of three hours I felt like I had actually hung out with these women. I audio recorded the class to try to capture the experience. Also, Anne took pics, so look for those under the look tab of the site later this week. Obviously, I’m not going to play the whole thing for you, but here’s a snippet. Now remember, we can see and hear each other. So we can hear each others pets and spouses and friends as they come in and out of the kitchen.

I’ve done a lot of audio and video chatting online. I’ve heard the promises of telecommuting. I’ve heard people who still don’t trust telecommuting. But let me tell you something, right now, I believe the hype again. If I can learn to make new foods and new friends in a few hours, then I can push pixels around the knowledge economy from home. The same day I had this awesome online experience, I read an article in The New York Times by Sherry Turkle. I used to really like Turkle’s, work. Her book Life on the Screen was really influential to me, especially the part about tinkering. But her most recent book, Alone Together, was kind of a let down. Then, in her New York Times article titled “The Flight From Conversation” she writes, “I am a partisan for conversation. To make room for it, I see some first, deliberate steps. At home, we can create sacred spaces: the kitchen, the dining room. We can make our cars “device-free zones.” We can demonstrate the value of conversation to our children. And we can do the same thing at work. There we are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters.”

It was ironic that I read this the same day that I brought my computer, my recorder, my camera, into the sacred space of my kitchen. I did the opposite of what Turkle suggested. I made it a devise-open-on-and-engaged zone. And you know what? It made it more sacred, not less. Let me suggest something. If you read Turkle’s article and you agree with her, it is time to retire, people, because you have become too set in your ways to be open to the richness that new technologies can bring to your life. One of my tweeps, betajames sent this to me. One of his tweeps, rmehlinger, tweeted “You can almost here her spitting “And get off my lawn.”
computer screen and Will using Google +

Photo by Anastasia Drabicy

Now, do I get in trouble with Anne for having my phone out in conversations? Yeah. Is she right, yeah to communicate this to me. Yes. Is her frustration valid when I forget the rules we have agree to? Yes. But that is a locally negotiated thing between the two of us. There are no blanket arguments for how technology is going to affect us. Turkle writes, “Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.” You want to hear some unedited moments, listen to this:

Ok. Ironically I edited those in right there. But they were there in the original experience. The point is there were boring bits and stutters and silences. There were pots and pans banging around. There were moments of frustration and moments of joy when we tasted our final product. I’m so sick of it when people make rigid distinctions between technologically mediated experiences and real life. It’s all real life, people. It’s all real life.

Sorry to get all soap-boxy. That’s the show for this week. Tweet me your mailing address for a free no satiation sticker. You can check those out on the merch tab of the site. Also click some links and buy some books. I’m trying to figure out how to monentize this mofo. Has anyone figured out how to monetize the internets yet? Can we do a G+ hang out where you show be that recipe? That would be awesome.

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About the Author ()

Will Burdette has cooked in restaurants and institutions, written food reviews for an alt weekly, and volunteered for food related non-profits. He's on the board of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance. He's working on a dissertation at the intersection of food and new media.

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