Posts Tagged ‘essay

08
Feb
14

Cigarettes, Mangos, and Poop.

Who needs air fresheners?

Who needs air fresheners?

I’ve eaten so much fruit here. I’ve basically consumed an orchard worth of fruit and I’m not complaining at all.  It’s still winter here in Taiwan, so my access to fruit has just begun. When I was little, I never really understood the concept of seasons or regional fruits. Growing up in Southern California, I never really needed to know the gestation period of an orange tree or how it was possible to produce strawberries year around. Or even, why bananas couldn’t grow in the states, but we still had them year around.

Here, it’s different. Here, they understand the weather and the fruit that comes with the seasons. There isn’t a farmer

Wax apples only exist on roadside stands when there is a chill in the air and families start gearing up for New Year’s celebrations.

Wax apples only exist on roadside stands when there is a chill in the air and families start gearing up for New Year’s celebrations.

who is creating guavas out of season just to please a consumer from a first world country. Mangos aren’t showing up in the markets during the winter time, and wax apples only exist on roadside stands when there is a chill in the air and families start gearing up for New Year’s celebrations.

I’ve discovered that there is an integral role that fruit plays in Taiwanese culture. Without fruit, there is no aid in digestion after a filling meal. Some generations believe a meal isn’t complete without it, and some even travel to the south to ensure that they get the ripest and freshest of fruits. People buy it in bulk, specially packaged in gift boxes to send to family and friends. Whereas fruit baskets in the states are more of a novelty, here they are truly appreciated.

He was so proud of the mangos that he was growing.

He was so proud of the mangos that he was growing.

About a week ago I had the chance to visit southern Taiwan. My cousin graciously drove me and his family the six-hour trek to the southernmost tip of the island, and on the way home, we stopped by a vendor on the side of the road selling wax apples (莲雾). I was intrigued by his farm, and I noticed behind the steel shed that he and his wife sold fruit from, there was a field of mango trees. The owner offered to show me around. He was so proud of the mangos that he was growing. As he was showing me around, he began to tell me the story of his fields.

He planted his first tree 20 years ago. It was a wax apple tree. Then, about five years later, came the mango trees, with many more to follow. With my camera ready, we walked around and the farmer started pointing at various trees; he had a story for each.

“That one was the first one. I took it from a friend’s plot.  He let me have a few sprouts to start growing mangos because there was an opportunity for income, but also because my son likes them.”

*click*

“This one was planted with eight others.  For some reason, there was some tree rot going around that almost killed all of them, this was the only one that survived.”

*click*

"Do you smell that? That is the smell of real animal poop.

“Do you smell that? That is the smell of real animal poop.

“Do you smell that?  That is the smell of real animal poop.  It’s good for the trees, doesn’t have any of those weird chemicals.  That’s why my mangos are the best and are already growing. There’s the pile of poop over there, it also makes the mangos smell better.  Smell the air, take a big whiff.”

*sniff*

*cough*

*click*

I felt like I was on a tour of the Amazon, and the farmer was my naturalist guide

You can see the pride that he had in his trees and the fruit that came from it.  It was an insight into the business that many of us, or at least myself, take for granted.  I don’t think about the story of the fruit, the tree it comes from and the care taken into making it.  Mango season doesn’t start for another three months, so I didn’t really think about getting the chance to see the fruit, but my guide wanted to make sure that I got photographs of his prized possessions. So with cigarette dangling off his lips and the ashes curling down ready to blow off with the slightest gust of wind, he removed the wrapping around each mango and looked so proud of his accomplishment.

So with cigarette dangling off his lips and the ashes curling down ready to blow off with the slightest gust of wind, he removed the wrapping around each mango and looked so proud of his accomplishment.

So with cigarette dangling off his lips, he removed the wrapping around each mango and looked so proud of his accomplishment.

 From his off-yellow grin to the wrinkles in his face, you could see how happy he was to share his creation with us. It was something magical to witness.  Even more amazing, was when he let my cousins take some of his mangos, still early in the season, home.

He offered to sell us a few of the mangos, but they weren’t quite ripe yet.  Again, mango season isn’t until May and there was no way he was going to give us unripe fruit like what we get in the states.  He made a point to tell us that and looked straight at me, as if he had a sixth sense about where I came from.  So, with the mangos, he gave us explicit directions.  “Don’t let it out of the box.  I’m wrapping it with some blankets to keep it warm.  Once you get to Taipei, because it is so cold, find the warmest place in your house.  You have a heater?  Stick it there.  After 6 days, open the box and then let it breath for a few hours, then stick it back in the box and keep it warm for another day.  Then open it up and let it sit out to finish ripening.  Don’t let it near any cold or it won’t ever be ready. “

It was clear through his specific directions that he loved his work so much that he didn’t want us to not enjoy his products.  We then packed up the mangos and waved goodbye from the car, as he continued to remind us about the directions through the closed window of the car as we drove off.

I'm wrapping it with some blankets to keep it warm.

I’m wrapping it with some blankets to keep it warm.

We followed his direction to the T.  We had those mangos wrapped, re-wrapped, and heated.  We even added some extra heat just in case.  When it came time to finally cut into a mango,something was wrong.  It had completely turned black on the inside.  The mango hit too much heat and had spoiled on the inside.  From what I hear from my cousin’s kid, what she was able to taste (the two bites) were delicious.  I guess I’ll just have to wait until May.

I noticed behind the steel shed that he and his wife sold fruit from, there was a field of mango trees

I noticed behind the steel shed that he and his wife sold fruit from, there was a field of mango trees

But it’s ok.  If having to buy fruit from the side of the road will give me the chance to randomly meet a farmer again and hear his story and see the love and pride he has in the work he does, I’ll accept a few spoiled mangos.

If buying fruit from the side of the road will give me the chance to randomly meet a farmer and hear his story, I'll accept a few spoiled mangos.

If buying fruit from the side of the road will give me the chance to randomly meet a farmer and hear his story, I’ll accept a few spoiled mangos.

04
Feb
09

Save Nemo! : Seafood Watch Guides

”]one of my favorite tools

The other day I was at one of those warehouse superstores with my sister-in-law. I was in need of industrial sized items. After avoiding all the gallon jugs of mayonnaise, mustard, and everything else that is not necessary in my life right now, I found myself standing in the middle of the frozen food aisle contemplating what I could get from that section and what delicious-ness I can create at home with industrial sized stuff. And I realized my body was in dire need of some fish.

I love my neighborhood. I have a western supermarket, Korean supermarket, Chinese supermarket, and organic supermarket by me. There are two butchers with great cuts of meat and access to various cured things. The only thing missing is a good fishmonger. If anyone has a suggestion for a fishmonger in Queens near Woodside, I will gladly take it. So, until then…I was in search of frozen fish. Most of the fishes in these wholesale stores, and most fishes that are frozen in general (but just because I type it does not mean all fish are…check the labels…I am not the all knowing fish dude), are cut and flash frozen on the boat, which means fresh and delicious flavors stay in tact. Problem is, I wasn’t sure which one to buy.

Ever since I was little and trying to start an environmental club in my living room with my dad and mom ( and yes…it was just my dad and mom, no one else), I always knew the importance of the three “R”s (reduce, re-use, and recycle). But it always stopped there. Much more recently, the last three years, I’ve been more conscious of my purchases and what I cook. I buy organic meats and vegetables when I can, I prioritize seasonal fruits and vegetables, and you will most likely see me post foods that are in season. My meats, if the option is there with my butchers and supermarkets, are free range, grass fed animals. But fish always was hard to figure out.

”]victim of bycatchI read somewhere a couple of years ago that as long as it is wild, then it is good. I then later learned that wild is only good with some fish, sometimes you have to get farmed. I was lost and confused, so I ignored it. I know…bad Oregonian (went to school there). But I started to figure and learn about my fish. Like, did you know that 25% of fishing is bycatch? That means that for every three fish, shrimp, crab, whatever that is caught in an unsustainable way, one is just thrown away (sometimes even more…google image search it.  It’s sad). And this isn’t thrown away to let live and be merry, but this is thrown away like dead and to sink. This is including fish, squid, shellfish…all things that can be consumed but isn’t because the fishermen can’t sell it or don’t have the permit for it. Not to mention the dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and seals that get caught up in the nets and lines. This, on top of overfishing means a whole lot of sea life dying and disappearing for our over consumption and wasteful practices. All of this is hard and confusing and it just adds to the “what should or shouldn’t I buy” and “where should I buy it from” and so on when you stand in front of the fish counter.

But lo and behold, my brother came to save the day again. His friend is this great underwater photographer

seafood watch app for iPhone

seafood watch app for iPhone

and conservationist. He was the one that introduced my brother to one of the most important tools any seafood lover should have with them. It was the “Seafood Watch” card. This is an amazing tool. It breaks down for you the types of seafood to avoid, buy sparingly, or consume all you want. It also breaks the fish down into regions. So you can learn that while Cod can be good from the Pacific, the Atlantic is not where you should get it from. It’s easy to read and portable so you can carry it around when you go shopping or to a restaurant. Monterey Bay updates it twice a year, January and June, so now is the best time to get one or five. I have a couple of copies floating around my place: one next to my cookbooks, one in my wallet, and one on my iPhone.  It’s great.

Now, unfortunately I didn’t get into this need of making sure I had fifty million copies until recently so my last trip to this warehouse store was sans cheat sheet. I lucked out and remembered a few fish that where in the “Best Choice” category so I knew the Cod from Alaska was good and sustainable so I got that. But, I knew if I had downloaded the application earlier on my iPhone, I could have gotten the halibut from the Pacific and told the woman to avoid the Atlantic flounder. But next time I am ready to be the “Seafood Defender” at the warehouse store, dodging all the hungry little kids running towards various food sample carts and informing Soccer Moms of conscious, sea saving choices.  So please, the next time you are deciding on seafood, consult the card.




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