I’ve always wanted to generate a tag cloud of ALL my public Twitter posts. The problem is that most services, like TweetStats, will only take a small subset of the most recent posts to analyze. With the help of a great friend, Sacha Chua, who helped me scrape all 2000+ Twitter posts over the past few years (using Python and Perl scripts… stuff I don’t understand), I was able to create a word cloud via Wordle of all my public tweets:
Frankly, I was surprised tacos weren’t more prominent in that tag cloud. I see this mostly as a function that my priorities are misaligned. (Mental note: more tacos, less work). But Sacha also helped me do some other analyses too. Perhaps the most interesting is the break down of how many times I respond to certain people. Here’s list of the top 21 people I speak to most on Twitter:
Personally, I feel like I’ve gradually begun to use Twitter less and less as it’s gotten more popular. Call it the inverse Ashton Kutcher effect. But the tag cloud and @ list at least give a window of where I’ve spent a lot of my time over the past few years, what I’ve been talking about and who I’ve been spending it with.
Oh, and my first ever tweet? Appropriate:
I’ve been on a Port Chester binge lately. And in delving deeper into PC goodness, I’ve been tripping over some new places that I’m dying to try. If only I didn’t have pesky work (or limited cash), I’d try them today. But in the meantime, here are the three places now at the top of my to do list:
- Rancho Grande, 8 Poningo Street, Port Chester, NY
This is a little Mexican place that always seems so lonely I feel guilty not going in and trying it out. Every time I pass by, one of the owners is peering out the window like a puppy dog waiting for an owner. If for no other reason than to absolve myself of guilt, I need to try this place.
- Aqui es Santa Fe Cafe, 32 Broad Street, Port Chester, NY 10573 (914) 305 1060
I wrote up more about this place here on Chowhound, but, briefly, it’s a nice, cozy little place for which I’m holding out a lot of promise.
- Keylee’s Restaurant, 11 Pearl St., Port Chester, NY
I snapped this photo as a friend and I drove down to Rinconcito Migueleño. I have no idea how long this has been around, but any place that references “guatemalteco” food is worth noticing. I’m hoping for some great hand-made tortillas. Here’s hoping.
So many places, so little time…
My two worlds have collided this week: work and food.
At IBM right now, I’m deeply involved in the communications efforts supporting the “Smarter Planet” agenda. Basically, the premise is that the systems that make the world work – financial, food, health, water, traffic, etc. – are largely broken and need to be fixed. IBM’s point of view is that it takes technology, sure, but also policy and cultural change to really find solutions to these problems – to make them smarter.
This week, we’ve been focusing a lot on building smarter food systems. You can read through some of the content here for more background, but the essence is that as our food systems have become globally interconnected, it has heightened the potential risks associated with food safety, nutrition, affordability and availability.
Clearly, this topic of food interests me very personally. So allow me to be indulgent and offer some of my own perspectives on the topic. While many people far smarter and more qualified than I are working on this issue, I have but one point of entry to the topic: taste. Simply, I believe this country’s food problems can be solved with a greater emphasis on better tasting food. Trust me, I’ll explain. But first, some background:
I remember as a kid frequently driving to San Diego from my home in the Inland Empire – about 45 minutes East of Los Angeles. Anyone who has driven that stretch of the I-15 corridor to San Diego knows you pass miles and miles of rocky hills, largely covered by dark avocado trees. The avocado groves thrive in the warm hilly terrain and make the dry, often parched hills, look lush and verdant. Not long after one such trip, I went with my mom to a local produce market and was tasked with buying the avocados. Expecting to find avocados from some of the trees I’d seen on my last trip, I was surprised to find only avocados from Chile or Mexico.
If avocados grew commercially in abundance just miles from my house, why could I only buy ones picked from trees thousands of miles away?
Fast forward 20 years to my now hometown supermarket in Connecticut. It’s August, prime summer produce season in the Northeast, and yet all I find in my supermarket are tomatoes from California. (Ironically, it’s easier to find California grown avocados in Connecticut than in California, as this blogger also noted this week).
Clearly, something is wrong. How much money is being wasted sending food across the country when it’s grown around the corner? What kind of unnecessary energy is burned in the process?
With populations on the earth facing devastating food shortages, something feels wrong about shipping food across the globe to places fully capable of providing for its own.
Somehow we need to create an independent market for local agriculture that is capable of supporting the local population, as much as practical. We need market incentives that force supermarkets to make dramatic changes to how they source, distribute and market food.
How do we do that? the government’s solution, to date has seemed to hinge on farm subsidies. Just read Nicholas Kristof’s column from today’s New York Times to see the absurd results of those programs.
I have a different idea. Remember, I love food for food’s sake. So it always comes back to taste. And, I can’t help but think that peoples’ desire for better tasting food can, ultimately, help lead to the kind of systemic changes needed in our food supplies.
Trivial, you say? Well, let me explain.
Simply stated the closer food is consumed to the place it was grown, the better it tastes. That is an absolute rule.
So, as people yearn for better tasting food, they’ll ultimately yearn for more locally grown food. And as demand for locally grown food increases, demand (read: money) for local agriculture increases. And demand for local agriculture translates into incentives for supermarkets to stock local products. And stocking local products requires more efficient local distribution systems. Problem solved.
It all comes down to consumers’ understanding of what truly good food tastes like. For the most part, we’ve been complacent with two generations worth of mediocre food and have forgotten the link between local food and good food. But if we can begin to remember that linkage, the above scenarios begin to come true.
See how beautifully it all works out in the end? Who can’t get behind the idea of demanding better tasting food?
And that’s what I love doing. Hunting for great food, wherever it exists. And now it’s doubly good to know that my quests are contributing to a smarter food system.
Now, as a pay off for reading this post, a great little video from a colleague explaining why it’s important to know where your food comes from:
When I’m done with this trip, I’ll write up all of my notes on my food exploration. But in the meantime, I’ve started a quick thread on Chowhound on some of the food I sampled in the Mission District.
But as a preview, here’s where I’ve been eating thus far:
Katana-Ya – 436 Geary (Sushi and noodles)
Baudin Bakery – O’Farrell St. (bread and breakfast)
Crepes O Chocolat – O’Farrell St. (breakfast crepes)
Colibi – 438 Geary (Contemporary Mexican)
Dotties Diner – James St. (American diner)
Antojitos Aminta – 2590 Mission (Salvadoran)
La Piñata Tortas y Jugos – Mission St (Mexican)
Yucatasia – 2164 Mission (Mexican/Mayan)
Tanpopo – 1740 Buchanen (Japanese noodles)
Yank Sing – 101 Spear (Dim Sum)
And I’ve still got a day left. So, until the excursions are over, this will have to wait.
At some point in my life – I’m not really sure when – I became completely addicted to tacos. I grew up in Southern California and no doubt had many a taco there. However, I didn’t really grow up in the most chow-centric home, obsessed with authenticity. My mom was a great cook and we ate a home-cooked meal every night. We had tacos weekly, but they consisted of ground beef, fried corn tortillas, refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, cheddar cheese and sour cream. Now, I still find that to be quite comforting, but somewhere down the line, I became totally and unapologetically obsessed with Mexican food. Real Mexican food.
Partly it started when I was on my mission for my Church. I served in Sydney, Australia, which is a tremendous place to get introduced to nearly every culture on earth. Except for one: Mexican. In my two years of knocking on doors and speaking to every person I could see, I met a total of one Mexican. So, with such a dearth of people from the home country, needless to say what passed as Mexican food in Australia was poor at best. When the general pronunciation of taco is “tack-o” you are in for some trouble. (Don’t get me wrong, I credit Australia with turning me from someone who simply loved food into someone obsessed with the cultural and ethnic variations of every kind of food).
But, for two years, I was on a Mexican food fast. I tried to make it myself, but as an inexperienced 19-year old cook, I had no idea what I was doing. My taste buds suffered.
So when I came home from my mission, I was starved for Mexican food. Within a week, my friend and I took a trip down to Mexico, which we’d done a number of times in High School, to go to the beaches and towns south of Rosarito. Somewhere near K-38 there’s a little taco stand, “Surf Taco” where a guy sells Tacos al Pastor. Thinly sliced, marinated pork, skewered and roasted on a vertical spit. The middle-aged man behind the stand, who had probably been doing this since he was a teenager, deftly shaved off the meat with his machete onto the corn tortilla, threw on cilantro, onions and salsa and within 10 seconds I was eating the best thing I’d ever eaten in my life.
At that very moment, I was hooked. Ordinary tacos wouldn’t do. The crap passed off in most “Mexican” restaurants and taquerias just didn’t cut it any longer. I needed to find tacos that reminded me of that first taco. Surf taco.
Now, more than a decade later, I’m more obsessed than ever. Living on the East Coast makes satisfying this obsession more difficult, but the process of searching, exploring and, in rare cases, finding a great taco makes the prize that much more rewarding.
And so you have it. My taco obsession. It’s insatiable qualities motivates me to explore each promising neighborhood, pursue every vague tip and scoure every possible source to find that perfect taco. That K-38 Surf Taco. And when I do… I’ll talk about it here, and on chowhound.com. Then… it’s on to the next one.