beefjerky, Germany, Light Crap

A Difference of Taste

I still like to write people letters occasionally. And generally, if you receive a letter from me, it will include a clipping from a magazine or the weekly grocery store circular. When I lived in Germany, my favorite clippings were in the weekly Angebote at Rewe or Edeka. Most of the stuff was standard and of little interest, but the pictures of meat were exactly that: meat in the raw.

Big slabs of Kalbsbraten bleeding Schweinenackenbraten, pasty Hähnchenbrustfilets, or flaccid Puteschnitzel. They had it all – and all was presented rather matter of fact. Sure, there’d be the occasional decoration propped nearby, like the slices of pepper next to that floppy chicken breast below, but most of it was blissfully unadorned.

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beefjerky, Serious Shit

Sticks and Stones (and Marketing Hyperbole and Such)

Did you know your coffee may have twigs, stones or even ground up ducklings? It’s true and it’s horrifying. This means that those dodgy, crafty coffee farmers are up to their old tricks again! Trying to cheat you, the hard-working consumer, out of your hard earned cash and get  you to drink extra filler swill at the same time – just like the kid wiping boogers on your burger at Hardees.

You may have seen some of the headlines over the weekend:

Besides the fact that this is probably one of the first times you’ll see Fox News and Grist.org running the same angle on a story – the stories are depressingly misleading. What sounds like a major problem is just a sales pitch for the American Chemical Society who figured out a tricky way to determine what’s in your coffee besides coffee (other than milk, hazelnut flavors, bucket of sugar, etc.).

But rather than just pitch it to the coffee industry that would be interested in using this new tool, they decided to go full guns blazing and sound the alarm! Greedy coffee farmers are dumping whatever they can get their hands on into your morning cup so they can rake in the big bucks. Dear God in heaven, help us if we can’t get one by those conniving small-scale farmers! They even came up with a crappy info graphic (which shows absolutely no scope of the alleged problem).

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beefjerky, duh, Serious Shit

Insult to injury in the world of coffee

Google result when you search ‘Worst coffee website ever’

Don’t mind this link. It’s just the worst website ever on some crappy news site, but the headline ‘Coffee prices fall after bumper crop‘ caught my attention.

So back in January the whole of Central America, Peru and Colombia exploded with an infestation of leaf rust, a fungus that sweeps through coffee farms, strips trees bare, and leaves spindly zombie bushes that are shadows of their former selves. Which is bad. For you. If you’re completely dependent on coffee for income – as most farmers are in countries where coffee is grown.

But then out of nowhere Brazil comes up with a predicted bumper crop in a supposed off-season prompting the bookies setting the futures at the NY ICE to lower coffee prices further. So what you have here is a textbook case of salt being heaped into a gushing wound. While some of the finest coffees of the world come out of Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the whole gang, there’s no income if there’s nothing to sell.

And it’s cool because all sorts of people are rallying around to help coffee farmers improve things. There’s this great Roya Recovery Project, the International Coffee Organization is up to some good things, and of course Fairtrade International is putting together  funding proposals and dong trainings, and the folks at Fair Trade USA have jumped on the bandwagon as well.

Now I apologize as I will get a bit cynical here. But what is it when we’re okay with it if farmers are struggling to cover  basic costs of production and can’t even afford a full meal everyday for their families. But then if  production falls and we can’t get the special coffees we so richly desire, suddenly it’s an international crisis.

No doubt it is a crisis as this is destroying people’s only livelihood in many cases. But what if folks in these communities weren’t completely dependent on coffee? What if there was a local economy beyond the coffee monoculture, maybe this crisis wouldn’t be so bleak? Or maybe the price of coffee ought to not only cover costs, but also extra so people can invest in improving their plots and fixing things up. But with prices as they are, even if these farmers had a full harvest, that wouldn’t happen.

So this stinks.

But there’s hope and people doing cool work out there. People like Coffee Kids, Food 4 Farmers and others who have the uncanny ability to look beyond coffee and see that people need options. People who understand that the future of coffee is dependent on people having choices. So maybe you should go over there and give whatever extra you would pay for a really fancy coffee to them to do their work.

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beefjerky, Germany

Satan is not dead

This is not Cetin, but it’s the first image that comes up when you search the name.

My downstairs neighbor’s name is Cetin (pronounced similar to Satan). He’s a slight Turkish man with greying temples and a plain-spoken manner. If I were good at caricatures, he would be easy to draw. Cetin works at Haribo. I don’t think he likes his work, but it pays the bills. Cetin is a barometer for my German level. When I moved here I told him, ‘Ich bin ein fussballer.’ That was it. We did not become fast friends.

Cetin controls the backyard and is in charge of the front yard. He takes a laissez-faire attitude to yard maintenance. It’s the kind of yard where neighbors shake their head as they pass. The house is nice inside, but leaves a bit to be desired outside. I should probably take it upon myself to do more.

There’s a cherry tree in the backyard. One day I was feeling a bit more confident with my German and so I said the equivalent of ‘Cherry tree yard me cherries eat please?’ I think he got the idea and acquiesced. On another day Cetin invited me to have a beer in his place on the ground floor. We talked while the TV blared the news from Turkey. We discussed women, Turkish politics (I’d just returned from Turkish holiday) and life in Germany. We’re the kind of neighbors who don’t go out of their way to interact, but when fate deems it necessary, we get along swell. Continue reading

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beefjerky, cockfights, hell, petpeeve

Trust

The guys in the center are the guys

“Stupid Mother F%#k! Denk an die Kinder! Stupid! Die F#$ker!”

It was a sunny, hot day in Vienna. After three coffee conference days filled with cappuccino quaffing followed with beer drinking, we headed across the Danube to the Old Danube, an oxbow of the river where Viennese gather to swim, row and sun bathe.

“So you think I can change here?” I asked as people milled around on the crowded beach, no changing rooms in sight.

My friend Anna (a Finn living in Vienna) replied in the affirmative. “Yeah, I don’t see why not. We do it all the time.”

And so I quickly yanked off my pants and in the blink of an eye pulled up my swimming trunks – literally, blink -of-an-eye, no extra jiggles, nothing – and sat back down in the grass between my friends. We began talking about the hotel where my friend stayed on the weekend and the prostitutes that gathered down the road.

All the while, in the background I could hear someone muttering.

“Mother F*#ker! F&#*ing sh*t!”

I thought they were referring to me, but it was hard to tell. Anna assured me that it was fine what I had done. There were women wandering around topless. Naked kids all over the place, and men in Speedos that left less to the imagination than if they wore nothing at all.

But the cursing got clearer and closer. Continue reading

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beefjerky, duh, Germany

Picnic table stage fright

This is what comes up as an image when you search scheiss Deutsch

I pulled up a seat at the Gut Ostler Farm Saturday Afternoon Open House in mid-October.

“Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

“Ja, ein bisschen,” I replied.

“Nein, Kyle sprichst gut Deutsch,” my friend interjected.

And then I froze.

As a person familiar with the stage and mostly comfortable in front of people, it was surprising how an intimate gathering of four around a picnic table could suddenly become the largest, most ominous audience in the world.

My throat tightened, my eyes searched for a way out and all looked at me expecting something to spring forth. And it didn’t.

I stuttered and stammered, and tried to remember how to say simple things. And eventually I excused myself to get some food.

My vocabulary continues to grow and my confidence has picked up a bit, but I am nowhere near to what I would call a good German. I’m not even sure if what I wrote up there is correct and I’m too lazy right now to go check, so please just apply a ‘(sp?)’ to it all.

I eventually returned to my table with a plate of meat.

When your language skills are right on the verge, you’re bound to occasionally end up with something you’re uncertain of (check out my next post for more on that). Being affirmative and smily can often carry you through to the the next contextual contact and may make the difference between interrupting the flow or finding a verbal lifesaver to pull you back into the conversation. Other times you end up with a large plate of gristly meat when you thought you’d be getting the potato salad platter with lamb shank.

My friends looked at my plate of meat and I proceeded to tear at it with razor-sharp incisors as if it’s exactly what I ordered. Fortunately, that gave me something keep my mouth busy until the conversation changed to a direction I could follow.

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beefjerky, hell, Holy crap

Lot of departures going round

I wrote about him before, but Andy Rooney has played a fairly important role in my life. I can remember back in high school when Brock Gourlie and I would compete to see who could check out “And more by Andy Rooney” the most. It was a good time and I fondly remember his sage response to the check out woman at the grocery store.

“Is that all you need?”

“Of course it’s all I need. If’ I’d wanted more, I would have put it there, bitch!”

I added the ‘bitch’ part because I thought it would make this post more entertaining. But that was the gist of a three-page story in this book and helps explain how I learned impatience and crotchetiness and how to be ornery.

It saddened me to see he will be retiring at 92 years of age. If you ever read this Andy, stop being such a lazy ass. Just kidding, I salute you and I’ll miss you dearly.

Here is a video you might enjoy.

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