Edible Boston and local food

December 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

For a slideshow of places to find local food, click on this caption.


Winter usually indicates a barren culinary landscape. Or rather, one filled with food from far off lands, trucked in using thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of pounds of fossil fuels. Even with the local food movement, commercial fare is still more prominent. But a national network of local food magazines, Edible Communities, illuminates the local food landscape by focusing on our nation’s food producers, and thus, promotes local food.

Edible Boston, the Bay State’s branch of Edible Communities, is a quarterly magazine edited by Brookline resident Ilene Bezahler. In fact, she runs the magazine out of her home. Here’s a small part of the message Bezahler wrote to readers on the magazine’s website:

Our publication and website will be a resource for finding out what’s new, what’s available locally, and an introduction to the people instrumental in bringing about the change. Isn’t it time you knew about the farmer at your local farm stand?

Bezahler became the editor of the magazine in January 2006.

“I had seen a copy of Edible East End [Long Island’s local food magazine], and I decided that’s what I wanted,” Bezahler said.

She started with a marketing job in the corporate world and then Sept. 11 happened, and she decided “it was a good time to rethink life.” So she got a marketing job with the Allandale Farm in Brookline.

“That was my exposure to actual agriculture,” she said.

Shortly after, Edible Boston began. Bezahler approached Edible Communities, which offers franchise opportunities for its magazines. At that time, Edible Boston was one of only ten magazines within the company, she said. Now, there are 72 total across the country, and Bezahler sits on the board of Edible Communities, in addition to mentoring new editors of other magazines within the company.

But franchising works differently with these magazines – Bezahler said she has total control over nearly every aspect of the magazine. The idea is that the editors of the magazines work in the communities their writers cover, so everything is hyperlocal, and personal, too.

Alex Unger, a junior mechanical engineering major at Northeastern University, keeps the locals in mind when she shops at Haymarket, a weekly market with food left over from grocery stores.

“I think [vendors] go to the warehouses in Quincy and get the food that the grocery stores didn’t want the week before, and it’s still good, but you have to use it the first couple days,” she said. “But it’s really inexpensive and it’s helping those people. It may not be local farmers, but it’s local people.”

At the magazine, Bezahler doesn’t have any full-time staff, but rather freelance writers who answer to her.

“I collect story ideas, and very often writers will pitch ideas. I have a list of about 150 stories; every issue I have about 12 [in the magazine],” she said.

So what’s the content like? It ranges from articles about producers of raw milk, mushroom harvesters and local cheese producers. For readers who can’t find a copy of the magazine (see a list of locations here) the website offers a virtual magazine you can flip through – see it here.

Beyond the virtual edition, the website doesn’t get much more technical. Social media is great for spreading the word about the magazine (I first heard about the magazine on Twitter, when my local Whole Foods tweeted emphatically that it had the most recent issue), but for a one-person staff, it can be a lot of work. And expanding the magazine’s influence to the Internet isn’t necessarily the best business decision, Bezahler said. (The magazine is packed with ads, and does just fine as a print-only publication.)

“Very few websites deliver any monetary value,” she said. “But if I provided content, [the website] could be updated without a problem.”

Plus, the kind of content the magazine publishes isn’t the kind of information that needs to go viral instantly. By the time the magazine comes out, any event on which it might report has long been over, she said.

So the content is timeless, but some people say the popularity of local food feels very of-the-moment.

Elisha Clark, a senior international affairs major at Northeastern, said she felt this way.

“It’s managed to pick up this trendy tone,” she said.

That tone has manifested in farmers’ markets all over Boston. Does Clark visit them?

“This semester, not at all. But I used to go to Haymarket once a week,” she said.

The trend can be a good and bad thing, Bezahler said.

“It makes me crazy.”

What she means by that is the shallow branding of “local” goods, when the purveyors of those goods haven’t really taken the time to find out where products are coming from, or meet the people who made of harvested them.

For the winter, Bezahler said she hopes the new farmers’ market in Cambridge works out – it needs the support of customers she said; a certain culture of buying what’s fresh and seasonal. And the magazine’s role in that?

“It’s as much about the people as it is about the food itself. … We’re getting at the culture of food.”

 

Check out this video I made about some Northeastern students and how they feel about local food:

Breaking open Pinyadda

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Pinyadda is a social networking/news website that aims to engage users through comments. It’s like a social network plus RSS reader. In theory, the site makes a lot of sense. The world is addicted to social networking, and news is vital, so why not combine the two? The problem arises in the necessity for user interaction. The site depends solely on people joining, getting their friends to join, and actively using the site.

It’s a little unclear who the site is targeting. It’s focused on spreading news with intellectual comments, but then rewards users with badges and points for using the site more and more. Would news junkies be into that? I’m not sure. Also, the color scheme/layout of the site is a little juvenile.

To be honest, in a world with Facebook and Twitter, it seems unlikely that another social networking tool can edge it’s way into the competition (but I discredited Twitter when it began, so there’s a good chance I’m too skeptical). Pinyadda incorporates Facebook and Twitter, but the question arises: Why not use those sites in the first place? It’s easy enough to share news with your friends on both of those sites already. And I like having my RSS reader independent from social networking (I also deleted my Twitter account this summer and didn’t get a Facebook account until about a year ago. I prefer to avoid the distraction of social networking).

So, the site isn’t for me. But objectively, I like the idea of hearing from friends about interesting things to read, and that’s what the site is all about. Not to sound like a sheep, but if all my friends were on it, I would be too. I did a little experimenting with it (view my profile here) and it’s really only fun when someone you know comments on something. Otherwise, you’re just having a conversation with someone you don’t know/will never meet, which I’m not too keen on. But this article from the Nieman Journalism lab would disagree. I think I’m just from a different time.

A visit to GlobalPost

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Before Thanksgiving, we paid a visit to the newsroom of GlobalPost, an international news website based on Boston’s waterfront. Aside from the beautiful architecture and the breathtaking views of the water, the visit impressed upon me the importance of a news organization operating with a sound business structure. GlobalPost uses a for-profit/non-profit model to get the best of both worlds, and it’s been working well for them in a business climate that’s seen many papers close, or on the brink of closure.

But on to the site. It’s a great, comprehensive source of international news. I usually get my international news from The New York Times (I get all my news from NYT actually. I love it.), but this site provides a refreshing departure from The Times. And because its focus is only on international news, it tends to have a more, well, focused approach than a news source that covers much more. I like the way it links to so many other sources – it’s a way of giving the site a more comprehensive feel. But I don’t like how it doesn’t identify those links within the story. You’ll get a link mid-sentence to something important, but the sentence doesn’t always directly attribute the information. I’d like to know what I’m clicking on before I click it, you know?

It’s special reports are another feature of the site I like. There’s something attractive about a nicely packaged, multimedia story. It feels like they’re giving you all the info you need to know about a certain topic.

The feature, “Life, Death and the Taliban” is especially good. The page is really well done. Pictures, articles, videos, a timeline – all set up in a nice little box and ready to be experienced. My favorite part is the timeline. It takes an issue (terrorism in the middle east) and repackages it into an easy-to-understand timeline that provides a necessary context for such an important (and sometimes confusing) issue.

The thing I don’t like about the feature is it doesn’t include all of GlobalPost’s content – below the nice, graphic package is various lines of text links to other relevant stories. Why not include those in the visual part above?

Another cool thing about the site is its Study Abroad series, which includes stories by college students who are abroad. Here’s what I would pitch for the series:

An article about civillian reaction to WikiLeaks. Julian Assange and his nefarious site must be worrying the helpless masses at the mercies of their governments’ leaked secrets.

A slideshow of pictures of Christmas around the world.

A video following people doing their jobs in other countries (I know this sounds mundane, but I’m a sucker for personal stories and seeing how people live. Plus, I think employment in other countries is slightly different than it is here.)

Secret Ingredients

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

The other day at the Brookline Booksmith (which I love, btw) I picked up a copy of Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. First, let me state that I love The New Yorker, and everything it does. Have you seen this commercial for TNY’s iPad app? Please view it for your comedic pleasure.

Back to the book. I got it for $10 on sale, and it’s a hardcover. (Full disclosure, I passed it up the first day I saw it because I didn’t have the money for it. I’m in college and broke!) I am so glad I got it. The writing in The New Yorker is some of the best anywhere. And the length of the articles is daunting at first, but once you get accustomed to it, it’s great; something you can live with for  a few days.

The first essay I read in this book was by Dorothy Parker. It was about her conversation with her next-seat-neighbor at a dinner party, and was hilarious and intuitive and everything else Dorothy Parker is. I would post a quote from it, but you really just have to read the whole thing to get it. Her essay was in the section called Tastes Funny, which has humorous pieces from writers like Steve Martin and Ogden Nash.

Another piece I liked in the book was “Taste” by Roald Dahl, a short story about a wine connoisseur who’s humbled when he’s revealed as a cheat. And an essay about the demise in the quality of French cuisine in another section of the book was truly enlightening.

To boot, there are lots of entertaining cartoons in the book.

This is a must read for anyone who enjoys literature about food. The best part about it is you don’t have to read the whole thing, like a novel, to get the full effect. Pick it up once in a while and read an essay. It will expand your knowledge and probably your appetite.

Pizza, fall edition

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Pizza’s good all the time, but when you alter it to suit the season, it’s even better. Check out the pizza I made for me and a friend (the best part is, it’s completely vegan):

Here’s what I started out with: whole wheat pizza crust my mom bought, homemade pizza sauce my mom made, leftover roasted veggies made by my mom, vegan cheese bought by my mom, oregano I got a Trader Joe’s for a reason I can’t remember, olive oil.

Oh and here’s the prosecco we drank with the pizza. The picture is appropriately blurry.

Spreading out pizza dough is harder than you would think. There’s some olive oil on there too.

The sauce my mom made wasn’t exactly made for a pizza. It’s kind of chunky; it’s probably better for some other kind of dish. But I like chunky! And it was the only sauce I had, so I used it.

Here it is, ready for the oven. I only had enough veggies for half the pizza, but I was also unsure of how good it would be, so I was fine with half. Also, vegan cheese is surprisingly tasty. It tasted like … vegetables. Or something.

Fresh out of  the oven! I cooked it according to the time and temp on the package (actually I kind of guessed because the oven in my dorm is old). Doesn’t it look delicious?

Here’s the pizza, ready to eat. My friend and I both decided the roasted veggie pizza was by far better than the plain cheese (although that was good too). Perfect for fall/winter. I plan to make this again soon.

Reviewing stories on NewsTrust

November 19, 2010 § 1 Comment

I just joined NewsTrust, a website that lets users comment on the quality of articles on other news sites – a kind of check on the media. I think NewsTrust is built on a novel idea. Educated people giving their educated opinions on the quality of articles that lots of people read. It’s a way of seeing what’s really good, which I like.

The only drawback is the opinions you see are only from (first) those people who choose to join NewsTrust and (second) those who choose to actively participate in NewsTrust and (third) those who choose to actually pay attention to any given article.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s all based on the whim of those with the ability to use the site well. And so you may not always get the best variety of opinions about something. But then, I suppose even one opinion about something can be nice.

And NewsTrust does have a system of regulating the users who can really become active reviewers, so the hooligans are weeded out and you’re left with reviews that are actually intelligent and relevant.

So, I think what NewsTrust is doing is good, but it could be even better if more people participated.

Here are my reviews:

I did one review on an article from NYT about Google TV.

The next review I wrote was of an article from NYT about Ireland accepting bailout money.

Here’s the the third review I wrote about an NYT article about an “Afghani Hero Dog” that was accidentally euthanized.

The Case of the Comments

November 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

There are sites out there that leave their comments unmoderated, and the results can be somewhat … disastrous. It seems that behind the veil of anonymity, people are likely to write anything and everything, indecent or immoral as it may be.

But here’s one site that has fixed the problem: Money.cnn.com

It’s commenting text field isn’t just a product of the website platform the site uses; instead, the site uses a social plugin from Facebook that integrates comments on the website with an individual user’s Facebook wall. In other words, in order to comment, a reader must first sign in using his or her Facebook account, and comment on any given article with the option to publish that comment on Facebook. Here’s an example (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

Linking comments to a person’s Facebook account makes him or her instantly accountable. The person’s name, picture, and even more personal information, like his or her birthdate, is tied to the comment. And so suddenly, those rogue, ne’er-do-well commenters are shooed away, and all that’s left are comments that are relevant and respectful.

One site that doesn’t do comments so well? MSNBC.

And not for a reason you would think. Ostensibly, the comments on this site are moderated, which is a step in the right direction. But here’s the thing: At the bottom of every article, one comment is displayed. If you want to read more, you have to click on a link that brings you to a different, comment-specific page. (View it here.) Meaning that if you read a comment that provoked you and wanted to counter it with an intelligent comment of your own based on information from the article, you would have to toggle back and forth between both pages, write your comment in a word processing program, and then finally paste it onto the site. It’s baffling to me why MSNBC would set up comments this way. It completely disengages readers, which is the entire purpose of allowing them to comment in the first place.

If you ask me, the Facebook comments are the way to go. No anonymity, only real names. That way people are forced to put their money where their mouth is, or something like that. But I will say that anonymous comments are better than none. The Internet is about interaction, and it would be foolish to disallow comments on an article, except, of course, if it was an obituary or something of such a delicate nature.