I was away last week on a deserted island (really) and returned to hear that Three Fish closed, shocking several of the staff and servers. They told my buddy that it was a real surprise to arrive one day at work and find the place shuttered. I am not shocked that Three Fish closed. Despite the favorable esteem in which that restaurant was always held, it simply did not have the register ringing enough to stay open. The only thing shocking to me is that more places have held on this long (many places are intending to stick it out through New Year's passing). Based on numbers being down all over the industry, I was expecting it to be worse earlier. I still think many places will close in the first quarter of 2009, however.
Elissa Altman, one of my fave food bloggers, has a great piece on Huffington Post , pinning a tail on the fleeting feeling that many of us have and many of my pals seem to ignore. The S**T is indeed hitting the fan, and no one seems to notice how bad things really are--not only from a economic point of view but, more importantly, from a gut feeling POV.
Anyone out there planning on buying a new car? How many of us have seen friends get axed or phased out of work? How many office parties have been canceled or scaled back? At our office, we were swimming in office-to-office gifts last year. I was stepping around crates of Harry and David, boxes of Torres chocolates, and tins of Magnolia Bakery treats. Not so this year. And we also sent only cards; no extravagant wine offerings this season. All I know is that as Elissa's piece notes, this too shall pass . . . hopefully.
Sara Johannes, sous chef at 20.21 and member of Puck's team here since day one, has been promoted to Head Chef of Wolfgang Puck's newest fine dining restaurant, Five-Sixty, in Dallas. Five-Sixty opens in late January atop Reunion Tower, a 560-foot landmark tower in downtown Dallas.
Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak announced the launching of Eureka Recycling's comprehensive restaurant composting program last week. The mayor also announced the addition of recycling and composting to the Minnesota Energy Challenge, a website designed for people to calculate their carbon footprint and learn how to save money and energy at home. "The City of Minneapolis is fortunate to have organizations and local businesses like these who will step forward and take action. Now it's up to our residents to take action--to choose restaurants that are composting and to take their own steps to recycle and compost at home," stated Mayor Rybak.
Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl, Red Stag Supperclub, Common Roots Café, and Birchwood Café worked with Eureka Recycling to create the program. These restaurants are now composting and recycling more than 90 percent of their waste. According to the mayor's office press release, the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE), the host of Minnesota Energy Challenge, added recycling and composting to the list of steps that people can take to reduce their carbon footprint. Eureka Recycling received a Climate Change Initiative grant from the City of Minneapolis to do the research and number crunching necessary to calculate how recycling and composting reduce climate change and to promote the website at restaurants.
Recently, five more restaurants have joined the program: Chowgirls Killer Catering, Gluek's Restaurant and Bar, Brasa, Fireroast Mountain Café, and Sen Yai Sen Lek. Interested restaurants should call Eureka Recycling at 651-222-7678. An updated list is available on Eureka Recycling's new composting website along with information and tips for how residents can make dirt, not waste.
I like this idea, and restaurants can all benefit from this type of greening up, but the million dollar question is this: How can the state of Minnesota and Minneapolis and St. Paul incentiveize households to recycle and compost also? Tax credits anyone? How about reorganizing sanitation programs that are currently run by local governments? Why collect garbage the old-fashioned way? I like Rybak's idea, but why start so small, and why not embrace some bolder method of change? If a restaurant can reduce its waste in such a large degree, homes and other businesses can do even better.
Anyone see Nick Kristof's piece last week about the AgSec? NK said (and I am reprinting some of it here because I want you all to read it):
As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed "secretary of food."
Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy -- all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The Agriculture Department -- and the agriculture committees in Congress -- have traditionally been handed over to industrial farming interests by Democrats and Republicans alike. The farm lobby uses that perch to inflict unhealthy food on American children in school-lunch programs, exacerbating our national crisis with diabetes and obesity. But let's be clear. The problem isn't farmers. It's the farm lobby -- hijacked by industrial operators -- and a bipartisan tradition of kowtowing to it.
One measure of the absurdity of the system: Every year you, the American taxpayer, send me a check for $588 in exchange for me not growing crops on timberland I own in Oregon (I forward the money to a charity). That's right. The Agriculture Department pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in a forest in Oregon.
Modern confinement operations are less like farms than like meat assembly lines. They are dazzlingly efficient in some ways, but they use vast amounts of grain, as well as low-level antibiotics to reduce infections -- and the result is a public health threat from antibiotic-resistant infections.
An industrial farm with 5,000 hogs produces as much waste as a town with 20,000 people. But while the town is required to have a sewage system, the industrial farm isn't.
"They look profitable because we're paying for their wastes," notes Robert P. Martin, executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. "And then there's the cost of antibiotic resistance to the economy as a whole."
One study suggests that these large operations receive, in effect, a $24 subsidy for each hog raised. We face an obesity crisis and a budget crisis, and we subsidize bacon?
The need for change is increasingly obvious, for health, climate and even humanitarian reasons. California voters last month passed a landmark referendum (over the farm lobby's furious protests) that will require factory farms to give minimum amounts of space to poultry and livestock. Society is becoming concerned not only with little boys who abuse cats but also with tycoons whose business model is abusing farm animals.
An online petition that can be found at www.fooddemocracynow.org calls for a reformist pick for agriculture secretary -- and names six terrific candidates, such as Chuck Hassebrook, a reformer in Nebraska. On several occasions in the campaign, Mr. Obama made comments showing a deep understanding of food issues, but the names that people in the food industry say are under consideration for agriculture secretary represent the problem more than the solution.
Change we can believe in?
The most powerful signal Mr. Obama could send would be to name a reformer to a renamed position. A former secretary of agriculture, John Block, said publicly the other day that the agency should be renamed "the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry." And another, Ann Veneman, told me that she believes it should be renamed, "Department of Food and Agriculture." I'd prefer to see simply "Department of Food," giving primacy to America's 300 million eaters.
As Michael Pollan told me: "Even if you don't think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we're not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on -- health care, climate change and energy independence -- unless we reform agriculture.
Now I know many of us realize what an important role Minnesota plays in this issue, as one of the leading farm s tates, with congressmen and senators alike in influential positions, and with some deep connections to the Obama team here in the Twin Cities, it might be time to call in a chit or two with the President Elect. Let him know how you feel.