Eating tofu at the CIA

One person I originally stumbled across via the Effective Altruism community, made a Case for rare Chinese tofus, and has a book releasing in a few hours, where the Kindle version is surprisingly cheap, at least in my region.

Looking at his views in the original post where I encountered him, I'd try sum up his case for a different approach to cuisine as follows:

To a large degree, American omnivores object to vegan food because it’s reductionary, focused on subtraction (i.e. chicken-less chicken salads) and substitution (i.e. inferior alt proteins). For most consumers, these foods taste chronically worse than the originals. ... To go mainstream, vegan cuisine should explore moving beyond reduction–basing itself off meat–towards creation–leveraging culinary strengths of plant-based ingredients to build all new foods.

What's he's interested in is not "tofu" as many people seem to think of it but as a broader category:

In 2021, a team of chefs and I researched how to create new foods and found a simple yet effective formula: cross rare Chinese tofus with traditional, western cooking methods.

In the west, tofu is often seen as an ingredient, but it's actually a category of ingredients, like chicken. In China, the birthplace and mecca of tofu, there are over 25 distinct types, which are as dissimilar as chicken feet from chicken breast. The most common types of tofu in the States–firm, soft, and silken–are like chicken feet; while popular in Asia, they are poor fits for western cooking methods and taste preferences. In contrast, there are other varieties that while rare in Asia are great fits–like chicken breast.

He also looks at why views of tofu in China may be counterproductive and actually looks as promoting alternative tofus in Western cuisine as a way to make them more popular there:

In China, tofu is a symbol of poverty —a relic from when ordinary people couldn’t afford meat. As such, ordering tofu for guests is often seen as cheap and disrespectful. This “shame” drags heavily on tofu consumption and elevates the status of meat. If tofu became prized in the west, however, I think these perceptions would change.

In some ways he thinks that there are broader reasons why he thinks he could be influential:

Hardly anyone knows about these ingredients, and the few people who do don’t have incentives to share them. Because tofu is seen as a cultural relic of poverty, there is no central authority that surveys and promotes them. Rare tofus are spread out across China, most often in remote inland villages, making surveying even harder. Local producers have very low social status, so aren’t taken seriously. Practicing Han Buddhists, China’s largest block of vegetarians, are generally no more knowledgeable: a) they live clustered around China’s southeast, a region with very few rare tofus; b) in addition to not eating meat, Chinese Buddhists avoid alliums (garlic, onions, chives, etc.), which is present in >90% of Chinese foods; this means that even when Buddhists visit inland areas, they can't eat the local plant-based foods, so have little knowledge of the proteins. Historically,* western Chinese immigrant communities have come from Guangdong (Cantonese) and Fujian (Fujianese) communities, which again use very few rare tofus.* U.S. tofu producers aren’t from in-land China, don’t understand those rare tofus, and don’t know how to market them to western chefs. Because of the above reasons, western vegans also have little knowledge of vegan Chinese food and rare Chinese tofus.

As he argues elsewhere "The most distinct vegan Chinese foods come from culturally and economically isolated regions", and even the biggest US consumers of tofu aren't likely to know too much about them.

Will he be successful? I'm not quite sure. What makes me mildly optimistic is his experience at the CIA - the culinary version not the intelligence community one. On a day wherein he describes so much going wrong some things also seemed to go right:

Our Shanghai tofu soup was met with an affection reserved for chicken noodle. The fried cannoli reminded one attendee of the startlingly delicious “bell” rolls she had tasted in Singapore hotpot. The fermented tofus were shocking. Especially the rose red and chili oil variants.

As we sampled the different flavors, it hit me… oh shit! I never added tofu any to our cherry tomato sauce!! I immediately folded some in, wincing as the others leaned in for a taste.

But when I looked up, my host’s face was in sublime disbelief. I will never forget her expression, seemingly questioning how… why… and what the hell!

When I tasted the dish, I joined her in disbelief. It was so damn good.

“You want to bring this stuff to Eleven Madison Park?” I joked, knowing she was externing at the 3 Michelin star eatery next term.

“Yes.” Still confused, she sounded solemn.

Or to quote another attendee:

“We’re so tired of produce! And extra-firm tofu!” Cynthia was adamant. “You’re opening my mind!”

Will you start seeing tofu in Michelin star cuisine? I'm not quite sure, but I suspect Stiffman's efforts are at least making that a more-significant possibility.

(On a different note, I didn't notice any server downtime yet so it's possible that the outage is still to come as part of a rolling upgrade of the servers instead of tackling each at the same time).

Pumpkin spice season

Pumpkin pie is not a thing where I live now, but I usually have some of this pumpkin spice blend kicking around in my cupboard. Mix that in with some brown sugar, water and pumpkin as per this recipe and I've got my usual pumpkin spice syrup. (Well, I do filter it through a nut milk bag before consuming).

Nice and easy to make, has pumpkin unlike the original Starbucks version and I rather enjoy it. When I moved where I live now pumpkin pie wasn't and a thing (and still isn't), but pumpkin spice lattes have been appearing for the last few years. Somehow I've come to prefer my own pumpkin spice lattes though over those from Starbucks.

It's not just this site that's here - tools, strategies, etc.

This site is scheduled to be down for an estimated 10 hours tomorrow while my web host performs hardware maintenance. You probably won't notice as this site doesn't exactly get all that much traffic these days (not that it ever really did). However, I'll find it annoying as traffic to this domain likely comes largely from me and most of it's not going to the "main" site here.

What actually gets most traffic here is an install of WackoWiki which I use for personal note-tracking. The link goes to the software's homepage rather than the Rotundus installation of it as the local installation is intentionally locked down. Don't know my password? Well then, you won't be able to see much other than a login page.

The process things go through

If I look at the pipeline as to how things might wind up getting posted here it usually passes through a pipeline much like the following:

  1. It'll start out likely via either Twitter or a blog I'm following on Feedly, the last being what I personally replaced Google Reader with once that product was discontinued.

  2. The next stop is likely Instapaper, the read-it-later tool. I more often read articles through Instapaper than on the sites themselves, with Instapaper allowing me to add highlights for later reference and to categorize or tag articles (and in the case of most things they'll quickly wind up getting archived from view.

  3. Once I've gone and marked up things in Instapaper, the next spot they'll likely wind up is the wiki. That means further classification and aggregation, and writing up partial drafts of things. As bad as the writing here is, most of what's written I wind up setting aside without it ever having seen the light of day. As is the largest page on the site contains roughly 800KB of text with 188 subheadings, not accounting for the contents of its currently-42 subpages.

  4. The final stage is appearing here. It doesn't happen all that often, even though over time the wiki here has stayed quite busy.

How things have changed / what might in the future

The above is how things works for me but I'm not sure to what extent I'd recommend it to anyone else. It's also changed a bit over time.

For example, I used to also spend a fair bit of time involved in discussions on Reddit where I've got an account with a decent amount of karma. I don't spend all that much time on it anymore, particularly once they started blocking the app that I used to use to access it. Reddit used to act as a parallel ramp to the wiki, where I'd gather info and partially formulate my thoughts, loosely replacing (1) + (2) above. (There are some interesting details there - it's actually Reddit rather than here where things I've written have probably been more widely read. One of the reasons that I'm relatively confident about that is that something I was involved in there came up in a book someone published that got some good reviews and even won some awards).

The wiki started out as an install of (the now-discontinued) WikkaWiki which I'd look at WackoWiki as being the successor of. One thing that's progressively annoyed me more and more over the years is that the wiki syntax those use isn't the relatively widely used Markdown but something slightly different. Will I eventually migrate to a different wiki solution? Perhaps. I haven't decided yet.

I'm also not sure if I'll stick with Feedly over not over the longer term. It can be a bit annoying to self-host at times, but my web host supports Softaculous, a tool for automating the installation and updating of various supported software packages. It's got a couple of feed-reader apps in there and I do find Feedly a little annoying at times. (By contrast, if Elon follows through on threats to make Twitter paid-subscriber only I'll likely abandon that platform).

I'm also not overly committed to Instapaper, with it being inertia keeping me there to a degree. It seems to have some problems at times parsing out the contents of pages into reader format, and does from time to time lose previous highlights on a document if the underlying article changes. I've been considering the pros and cons of moving to Pocket instead.

Then there's this site. It originally started out running PHP Nuke for a few years before I made the switch to Drupal. Now there's the upcoming end-of-life for the Drupal release I'm using, which means that something will have to be done software-wise if I wish to keep the site alive. I've been debating a switch to Wordpress over here. There are some interesting tools like this which you could find on the Wordpress Migration page on my wiki if you could access it... because of course there's a wiki page aggregating info on it.

(EDIT: Just figured that I'd add that the site itself has been hosted on BuyShared in Luxembourg for probably at least a decade so far. Been happy with them and they're quite affordable).

Random links

I Documented “Book Bans.” I Thought They Were All Hysteria. Then I Opened One of the Most Controversial Books.
Kind of interesting how this author goes from their reactions like "flipping through the book’s pages finally, I was a little shocked. I had an involuntary reaction to seeing the nude cartoons, like I needed to make sure I was alone and hide the book. ... I was sure I wouldn’t hand this book to my kids when they are 10. And I began to wonder if in my own allergy to the book-burning fervor, I had been a little too dismissive of the parents at the root of this fight." to by the end of the article seeming to approve of its inclusion.
Realistic Prepper Advice
"Preppers are fundamentally right about the problems, unsustainability, and fragility of the current system… but are utterly delusional about what’s likely to succeed it. Simply put the wish that in a suitably apocalyptic disaster, the state will recoil away into non-existence and leave people to fend for themselves (at which point the prepper will presumably thrive) has basically never happened." (Goes too far down the rabbit hole IMO, but this point and the discussion around it I'd agree with)
Sam Dumitriu on Twitter
"Incredibly, £267m has been spent on the Lower Thames Crossing’s 63,000 page planning application. Norway built the world’s longest road tunnel and the world’s deepest subsea tunnel for less."
Is Making Divorce Easier Bad for Children? The Long‐Run Implications of Unilateral Divorce
"Using 40 years of census data to exploit the variation across states and over time in changes in divorce regulation, I confirm that unilateral divorce regulations do significantly increase the incidence of divorce. Adults who were exposed to unilateral divorce regulations as children are less well educated, have lower family incomes, marry earlier but separate more often, and have higher odds of adult suicide."

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