in which I respectfully disagree

could you eat this chicken?

At the third annual Eat Drink Blog conference this year, blogger Tammi Jonas and chef Simon Bryant ran a panel discussion on local and seasonal food which quickly became a discussion of food ethics. Controversially, both agreed that they would not refuse a meal served to them by their host, even if it clashed with their principles.

I want to briefly examine the line of argument that says if someone serves you up a platter of something you can’t stomach or have an objection to, it is more disrespectful not to eat it than to eat it. Please note I mean no disrespect to either Tammi Jonas or Simon Bryant. The decisions they choose to make regarding food are up to them.

“Refusing hospitality is rude/ungrateful/inconvenient/impolite/makes people uncomfortable.”

This argument holds that basically, you should eat what you are given. It was the way I was brought up myself – the idea that it is rude to be picky, it is impolite to make people feel uncomfortable and ungracious to refuse their hospitality. I don’t agree. I see no reason why a vegetarian refusing a slaved-over meat dish at a dinner party is any more offensive than someone telling a vego or vegan that their much agonised-over food ethics are ‘inconvenient’ or ‘ungrateful’.

There seems to be an assumption here that somehow, your host’s comfort outweighs your comfort as their guest. The whole thing is totally backwards. The idea of hospitality is that as a host, you do not want your guest uncomfortable, unhappy, or traumatised by the food you serve them. If a vego or a vegan or a ceoliac or a picky bastard shows up unannounced, you do your best to do what you can so that they don’t starve. (Mind you, if guests have zany last minute dietary requirements, they may have to go hungry, as it is completely rude to storm in and demand to be catered for).

And there are times when politeness is actually inappropriate. When someone makes disgusting remarks, or racist jokes for example, or when someone threatens you or someone you love, politeness goes out the window, and it is time to say ‘Fuck you, mate,’ or words to that effect.

This is not to say your friends’ bbq presents you, the vego, with a chance to lecture them for supporting factory farming. But the mere fact that your vegetarianism may be an inconvenience doesn’t in any way mean that you’re wrong for not chowing down on that homebrand sausage in its blanket of cheap white bread, marge and super-sweet tomato sauce, any more than you would be wrong for not laughing at someone’s racist joke. Politeness doesn’t trump all.

Cultural Relativism – “When in Rome…”

I once met a vego who stopped being one after travelling through South America. To a tourist, the Argentinean streets seem lined with steak and vegetables are often hard to come by. In some parts of the world, vegetarianism is something they just won’t get. Don’t want to offend a whole Colombian village? I get it. Suspending your ethics temporarily because all you’ve had to eat for the past month is mashed potato? Understood.

However, I disagree with the idea that it is intrinsically wrong to upset a group of people because they all believe the same thing. Yes, you should always be respectful of other cultures. You shouldn’t mock or ridicule people for not behaving the same way as you, if only for your own safety. But you do not have to agree with every cultural practice of every cultural group, simply because you are not from that culture. Furthermore, you should not have to participate in activities that completely undermine your own values.

What if one of their cultural practices is slowly and agonisingly killing a goat and drinking its blood? Or greeting people by punching them in the face? If you’re not allowed to disagree with those practices, or if you cannot choose non-participation, then neither can anyone within that culture, and thus the culture cannot change and evolve. If someone believes very strongly that eating meat is the wrong thing to do, I see little point in guilting them for not eating that guinea pig their host offered them in Peru.

“It’s already dead, so why waste it?”

This is by far the most ridiculous argument of all. For someone to choke down the scraps of meat left on the table simply because they are there makes no sense. No one should eat something they don’t want or need. That is a different kind of wasteful. That is gluttony.

And to argue that throwing away meat is disrespectful to the animal that ‘gave its life for you’? Ok, maybe it is disrespectful in some sense. Maybe it is wasteful. But let me tell you that animal did not ‘give its life for you’. It did not die for your sins. Someone killed that chicken/pig/goat/sheep, whether cruelly or kindly, and you are about to eat it. The animal is dead. It doesn’t give a flying fuck whether you gobble up its carcass or throw it in the bin. Sorry to be harsh, but there you go. There is only one sense in which ‘honouring’ the dead animal is of benefit; that the community attitude towards animal cruelty can be changed for the better. Other than that, it is pure speculation.

Why not just be flexible? It’s not black and white.

Of course it is not black and white. You are free, if you like, to never eat pork, except on Tuesdays, be wheat sensitive only 27 days out of the month and only drink milk ‘when you feel like it’. I’m sure people do it.

But for many people, being vego or vegan boils down to making a black and white decision to save themselves from making a zillion tiny grey decisions each day. ‘No meat’ for example or ‘No meat and eggs’ or ‘No animal products.’ This is a simple way for them to guide their daily eating.

A vegetarian may acknowledge that there are well treated pigs out there, that some crops could be harder on the planet than some herds of animals and that there are better and worse ways to kill and pluck a chicken. But they make the choice not to eat meat/dairy/whatever and they live by that choice.

So, where to from here?

To my mind, the kindest thing you can do for your host is be clear. Ethical eating is evolving. But to your host, ‘Sorry, I don’t eat meat’ is a hell of a more simple/kind/polite/straightforward/easy to digest message than. ‘Sorry, I don’t eat factory farmed pork, food from any of the major supermarkets, non-organic vegetables, and milk makes me feel slightly queasy.’

Just by having an ethical stance on food, it is expected that yours will be perfect. But it doesn’t have to be. If Simon Bryant is on a road trip in the middle of woop woop and buys a mars bar from the 7 11 , he is no less of an ethical eater. If Tammi Jonas comes to my place and eats the factory farmed pork roast I serve her, she is no less of an ethical eater. They are in environments where they have little control over their food choices and they are doing their best.

By the same token, if Tammi refuses my pork roast, sure, I’m kinda embarrassed, but so what? I’ll get over it. If eating that pork roast was going to totally compromise her values and break her heart, I can honestly say I’d rather be mortified than have her eat it.

And when in doubt, you can always just say ‘I’m allergic.’

The idea of a small bar crawl has been brewing for a while, but it really came to be after a conversation with some food bloggers at a dinner I was at a few months ago. The conversation went sort of like this:

Me: “Ok, well what about a bar crawl, hashtag small bar crawl.”
Other food bloggers: “Yes/yeah/ok/great/I’m in!”

And so it was that finally, on Monday August 6th a group of 8 food bloggers and drinkers assembled to crawl the bars of York St. Below is a sampling of the bars we crawled, with a bonus bar thrown in for good measure – 5 bars in total.

Thanks to the bloggers of Sydney Feed Me, Love Swah, CookSuck, Alanabread and I Can’t Believe it’s not a Food blog, as well as the two non-blogger chums who shall not be named (unless they want to be) for making my #smallbarcrawl dreams a reality. Read on!

1. York Lane, York Lane (behind Wynyard Station)

This teensy recycled and upcycled laneway hidey-hole is such a well designed space, you wouldn’t think it, but it can fit 30 people. Even better, these guys are open Monday to Saturday from 6:00am serving coffee, breakfast, lunch and snacks all day for the nine to fivers, and share plates, boutique beers and wine by the glass at night. York Lane makes almost everything on site; case in point, when we arrive they’re whipping up tomorrow’s brownies. They even let us lick the beaters.

The highlight for me is the complete lack of attitude; friendly, attentive staff with a sense of humour to boot. The prices are more than reasonable and I enjoy my first taste of Pink Lady apple cider. We nibble on some yummy dips and muffin-shaped portions of baked polenta- everything here is cooked and assembled in their teensy milk-crate-framed kitchen. The decor is right, the mood is right, the essence of the place is right – can’t lose.

Opening hours:
Monday to Wednesday 6:00am – 10:00pm
Thursday to Friday 6:00am – midnight
Saturday 6:00pm – midnight
Closed Sundays

York Lane on Urbanspoon

2. Uncle Ming’s, LG 49 York St

Formerly a community hall for Chinese expats, Uncle Ming’s is a small bar so new you can still smell the lacquer on their mid-century armchairs. Chinese pinups adorn the walls and the space is large, warmly and dimly lit.

If you can find this place, treat yourself to a beer as a reward. Friendly staff are eager to make recommendations from their large selection of asian beers. There’s also a cocktail list and some dumplings. They opened their doors on August 7th and word is spreading fast. Hint: look for the Roman Daniels sign.

Opening Hours:
Monday –Saturday 4:00pm – Midnight

Uncle Ming's on Urbanspoon

3. Stitch, 61 York Street

One of the earliest small bars in the area, Stitch is pretty small, pretty popular and can be tricky to get in to. As such it’s run like a restaurant, with table service and shared bills. Cocktails are the drink du jour and they’re renowned for their hotdogs. Everything is sewing themed, from the vintage singer sewing machines to the spools of thread and fabric patterns lining the walls.

I order a boring glass of prosecco, figuring it’ll come fast, but everything comes out at once so I have to wait like the rest of the fancy-pants cocktail crowd I’m with. The food looks good and in between bites, my chums attest that this is indeed the case.

This was my third visit to Stitch and my opinion remains unchanged. The staff are perfectly nice but not overly friendly, there is something a bit awkward about the service. Drinks take a long time and the fact that you’re seated, as in a restaurant, makes it feel sort of…not like a bar, in contrast to somewhere like Freda’s, which also has table service but feels natural and friendly.

Opening Hours:
Monday to Wednesday 4pm – 12am
Thurs – Fri 12pm til 2am
Saturday 4pm til 2am

Stitch on Urbanspoon

4. Mojo Record Bar, 73 York Street

The story goes that after a day’s work, a bunch of music addicts would meet at Mojo’s and then go for a beer. Eventually a bar was built behind the record store so now they need never leave. Music is obviously a feature but it’s not so loud that you can’t hear yourself think. These guys specialise in Australian Craft Beers, with a few music-inspired, masculine cocktails thrown in for good measure, names like ‘smells like gin spirit’ and ‘lemon cohen’. They’ve been out of 4 pines Kolsch two of the three times I’ve been in, which is kind of annoying as I always prefer a tap beer to a bottle.

Mojo feels like a place where everybody should be smoking. Grab a beer, a coveted red vinyl booth, or, second prize, a bar stool and sit mesmerised by the Edison bulbs while you munch on free pork rinds. This is the bar Nick Hornby’s characters wish they were cool enough to dream up.

Opening Hours:
Monday – Friday 4:00pm – Midnight
Saturdays 6:00pm – midnight

Mojo Record Bar on Urbanspoon

5. The SG (formerly Spooning Goats), 32 York Street

Spooning Goats has had to change its name to The SG as it has been deemed ‘too suggestive’ by the liquor board. Fair enough, I may be missing some double entendre but I never got the name anyway – they have a massive collection of spoons, but where are the goats?

The SG is different from most other small bars in that it is visible from the street. It has a uni-sharehouse-retro-furniture vibe, but strangely bare walls. The lighting’s a bit brighter than most other basement level bars as well. They seems to do a bit of everything – cocktails, beers and wine. You can get a cheese plate or one of their famous house made pies, which I’m yet to try. It’s actually a tad uncomfortable to sit around what feels like someone’s drafty living room on a cold winter’s night, but the staff are friendly and there’s plenty of space to hang out. I feel like this place is still finding its feet.

Opening Hours:
Monday –Saturday 4:00pm – Midnight

Spooning Goats on Urbanspoon

Corridor Kitchen will continue #smallbarcrawl-ing in the months to come. Which is your fave small bar?

Writing a blog is by and large a solitary activity, and social media, paradoxically, can be anything but. But lately I’ve had the pleasure of becoming, dare I say it, part of a community. It’s a loosely-bound, organic kind of community, but a community nonetheless.

In a time when it’s commonly assumed we’re all living nutso, hectic, increasingly isolated lives, with the breakdown of family values, declining influence of religion, lack of moral fibre and increasing technologification (not a word) of daily life, I find this quite heartening. So I thought I’d take a break from writing about food and coffee today and turn instead to the food blogging community.

How to become part of something
Having an interest makes you interesting, at least to people who share that interest. This is why women’s mags will always tell you if you’re having trouble meeting people, join a club, take a class, or get a hobby. It sounds lame but that’s because they leave out two important ingredients:

1. The interest has to be genuine (verging on obsession helps), and
2. It takes time.


Photo courtesy of Food Scene Investigation

Genuine Interest
Most people can spot a faker from a mile off. I know I can, especially if what you’re faking is my bread and butter. It’s hard to have genuine interactions with people who are liars. But not only that. Say you want to become part of a community based on an interest in… nail polish. You want to really *love* nail polish. To death. Because everything you do in that community will be defined by nail polish. We see this all the time in cults. If you don’t want to drink the kool aid, you have to leave the cult. Your bible study group won’t have much to say to you if you stop reading the bible. I dread to think what I’d do with friends if I stopped drinking coffee. Senhor R and I have often turned to each other and said ‘What would you do with someone who didn’t love food? What would you talk to them about? How could you be in a relationship with them?” That’s it. Right there. That’s why I’m a food blogger and not a nail polish blogger.

Doing the time
This goes hand in hand with the genuine interest thing, because if you aren’t obsessed with something, how the hell are you going to be part of a community based on it for years to come? But more importantly, it takes time to make yourself known. In the case of blogging, no one’s really going to read you that much at first. On social media, conversations, building up rapport, all that stuff – that can’t just suddenly happen. Even meeting people you’ve chatted to online can be weird and awkward, you may not get on. You may not ever meet. But when you’re present – online, at events, wherever, you’ll be seeing the same faces and names popping up over and over again, and yours will be too.

A Community doesn’t have to mean BFFs 4-eva
This is a really important point. I’m not saying you’re not going to meet your BFF food blogging or bible studying or nail polishing – you very well just might. But I am saying that it doesn’t matter if you don’t, and that being your aim is…lame. Because an interest-based community is by definition, based around an interest, it’s fine to meet your community just for dinner, or bible study, or nail polishing, or things related to or based around that. Anything else is just icing on the cake and not everyone’s a fan of icing (or so I’m told). The aim of the game is not to make friends by having an interest. Pursuing that interest is the aim in and of itself.

Why become part of something?
Study after study has shown that being part of the herd makes us want to kill ourselves a little less. It gives our lives meaning, we feel connected. Note I’m not encouraging you to join a clique, with rigid rules, a reluctance to let in new people and a tendency to shun those who don’t follow protocol. I’m talking about a group where people come together to do something, together, that they are interested in, and that gives them a feeling of purpose. But the main reason to become part of a community is IT’S FUN! And yes that warrants caps and an exclamation point.

Are you part of an interest-based community (or as I am now calling it, an IBC)? What’s been your experience?

If food blogging means you can fly the length of this great brown land to spend the weekend eating and drinking  yourself stupid with kindred foodie spirits you’ve met once, then I don’t see a downside.

I spent last weekend in Perth with two awesome food bloggers, hosts, tour guides and, dare I say it, friends Heather and Ai-Ling, who showed me all ‘the good Perth’  has to offer. We did cafes, small bars, markets, breakfast, the list goes on. They planned out every minute of my trip but somehow it was a laid back weekend. Seriously guys, get your foodie tours of Perth business going soon. You’d make an absolute mint.

At the Subiaco farmers’ markets, I picked up a swag of corn cobs and limes. I had no plans for them, other than perhaps to grill them on the BBQ. After a night stumbling through small bars and drinking out a of jam jars we found ourselves in a bookshop and I found myself thumbing through Lonely Planet’s ‘The World’s Best Street Food’, where a recipe for elote (corn cobs) caught my eye.

This Mexican/US recipe is the kind gracing the menus of many an up-to-the-minute dive bar or slider-serving eatery in urban Australia these days. Now you can start your own Americana/Mexicana shack right in your own living room with the surprising flavour combo of corn, lime, mayo and cheese.  Elote goes great with any virtually flavourless cerveza such as Mexico’s Corona or Korea’s Hite (but for God’s sake, not Quilmes, NEVER EVER drink that), just stuff a lime wedge down the bottle’s gullet for a bit of zing. We ate these on the beach in Perth at the end of a long hot day, watching the gorgeous sunset  over the sea.


Elote asado

Grilled corn cobs
(Adapted from Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food)
Makes 12 mini cobs

You will need:
4 large corn cobs, husks on (each whole cob should make 3-4 mini cobs)
4 juicy limes, cut into quarters – ¼ of a juicy lime per ‘mini cob’
About 8 teaspoons of mayo – about ½ teaspoon per cob find out how many cups this is!
100g freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese – I used pecorino

Heat up your grill or BBQ until it is quite hot. Place the cobs, in their husks, on the grill, turning every few minutes or so. They will take a long time to cook, probably 30 or 40 minutes depending on the heat of your grill, but trust me, it is well worth the wait to have those gorgeous charred morsels popping in your mouth. You will know when they are ready when the husks are blackened and burnt to a crisp.

The cobs will be quite hot so you will may need to wear oven gloves to remove their husks. You could also wait a while and let them cool slightly, but the joy of eating the corn hot is kind of the point and anyway, after waiting so long for them to be ready, you’re probably starving. De-husk them ASAP and cut them into thirds or quarters.

The rest is simple – rub each mini cob well with a lime wedge, smear on some mayo and then roll it in grated cheese. Serve immediately and with beer.

As this is a street food  there are many variations. Most commonly lime, sour cream and chilli powder are used. You can also use salt instead of cheese. Go nuts!

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