Sunday, September 27, 2015

Port size perspective: how big are the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles?

Photo of ships and cranes at the Port of Long Beach

In my review of The Box, I noted that containerization required ports to cover much more ground to support cranes, container storage, roadways, and so forth. To illustrate the size of major modern ports, let's take a look at the Ports of LA and Long Beach. These are the two largest ports in the United States, handling approximately 6.8 million TEU at Long Beach and 8.3 million TEU at Los Angeles in 2015. (TEU is the standard benchmark in the container port world, and stands for twenty-foot equivalent unit, which represents a container that is twenty-feet long.  A thirty foot container, therefore, would be 1.5 TEU.)

I have driven around the port areas a few times (once even getting lost on the peninsula west of downtown Long Beach and almost getting stuck in a lengthy line of trucks waiting to get into the port).  The port complexes seemed endless:  crane after crane, vast expanses of stacked containers, roads going every which way, scores of trucks.  But how would the ports' size compare to well-known geographies?

One way to check would be to draw an outline around the ports on a map, then drop that outline onto a map of a well-known place. 

The first map below shows my rough outline of the ports' boundaries on a map from the U. S. Geological Service's National Map project. The word rough should be emphasized, since I don't know the exact boundaries of the ports and it's possible that there are other entities that own some of the land. Nonetheless, it's a good enough estimate for this simple exercise.

Map of Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach from USGS

To give some regional context, I dropped the outline onto a map of southern Los Angeles County. On this map, the ports loom large, covering a pretty big area on the southern boundary that is about the size of city of Santa Monica.

Map of southern Los Angeles County with port boundaries. USGS map.

Next, let's compare the ports to something a bit smaller than southern LA County: the City of San Francisco. The outline covers almost one-half of the city:  from the outer Richmond and Sunset to the eastern bayshore, from the Marina to Twin Peaks.

Map of San Francisco with port boundaries.  Base map from USGS.

The next map puts the ports on top of parts of New York City, showing that they would cover Manhattan below Central Park, as well as the neighboring East River and a small section of Brooklyn. 

Map of New York with port boundaries.  Base map from USGS.

Of course, some caveats are in order. 1)  The ports are two separate entities that just happen to be next to one another, so perhaps a fairer look would consider about one-half of the outlined area.  Even in that case, each port is quite large, covering almost one-eighth of San Francisco or Manhattan below Central Park.  2) There is a lot of water within the boundary that I drew, which perhaps shouldn't be included in port area.  On the other hand, these are shipping ports, so a significant amount of open waterways are necessary to bring ships in and out.  It would probably not be hard to find official statistics on port acreage and then create some equivalent size boxes (I'll put that off until another day).   3) This post is a follow-up to my review of "The Box," and the two ports handle more than just shipping containers. They also import and export bulk goods, odd-sized items, vehicles (via "roll-on, roll-off" ships), oil, and other non-containerized items.

Image Credits

All maps are from the USGS's National Map project and are in the public domain.  Top photo taken by the author during a tour of the Port of Long Beach.

Random link from the archive: More fun items from the March 27, 1898 New York Herald

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review: "The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger," by Marc Levinson

Photo of bananas being unloaded in New York, from U.S. National Archives Flickr page

From Chaos to Order
If you watched a ship loading or unloading in the early 1950s, it wouldn't look that much different than it would have in the 1850s or even the ancient world. Sure, the port of 1950 might have forklifts and motorized cranes, but like long ago nearly every piece of cargo would be touched by a person. Furthermore, the ship's holds would be crammed with a wide variety of cargo — industrial goods, food, clothing, chemicals — all packed together to maximize the carrying capacity of the ship and maintain seaworthiness. This made loading and unloading an arduous and dangerous processes. For example, the 60-kilogram sacks of green coffee in a pile in the aft hold would be carried one by one to a pallet in the center of the hold. The port's crane would lift the pallet to the dock, where it would be shuttled to a storage area. Or, more likely, the bags were just piled onto the docks to be sorted later. To make matters even worse, the tight packing and limited access to the holds meant that ships often needed to be completely unloaded and the docks cleared before loading could begin, thus keeping the ship tied up even longer. This chaotic, expensive and body-breaking process meant that cargo ships often spent a week in port, resulting in a high fraction of the shipping expenses being port-related.

Photo of containers and crane at Port of Long Beach

Contrast this with today's container ports. Soon after the container ship ties up at the dock, a team of cranes starts stripping the ship of its hundreds of containers like a flock of vultures removing the flesh from a dead animal. Every two minutes or so, a crane grabs a container, carries it to the dock, sets it on a waiting truck trailer or train car, which then carries it to a storage area or the customer's destination. On some docks, there is more than one crane working each ship, which speeds the process even more. This goes on around the clock for 24 to 48 hours, whereupon the reloading begins. The cargo is protected from the elements, relatively safe from theft (getting free stuff, like bottles of booze, radios, and other small things used to be a fringe benefit of dock work), and ready to hit the road or the rails.

Shipping by container is a relatively new development, and it took many years to evolve from a hunch to a world-wide method. How we got from the random-pack chaos to container order is the subject of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson (Princeton University Press, 2006). Levinson, an economist and writer, is interested in three themes: how transportation technology evolves, the importance of innovation, connection between transportation costs and economic geography ("who makes what where'). Along the way, he explores the birth of the modern container, its effects on port labor, the challenge of standardizing containers, and how they ended up changing the nature of ports and world trade.

I have been wanting to read "The Box" for quite a while. Living a few miles from the Port of Oakland (the 5th largest port in the U.S.) and working in the diesel emission control industry, port operations intersect with my life: during my many years of commuting through Oakland on I-880, I'd drive alongside many trucks hauling containers to and from the port; the above-ground stretch of BART between the 12th Street station and the transbay tube provides expansive views of the container storage area and the cranes; on my infrequent ferry rides across San Francisco Bay, the ferry travels next to the containership docks; port trucks were always an important market for my company; and, of course, there's a chance that some of the many imported goods I use came through the Port of Oakland.

The Trucker Who Shook Up the Transportation Networks
The hero of Levinson's book is Malcolm McLean, the person most often credited as the driver of containerization. Born in 1913 in North Carolina, McLean grew up in relative affluence. In the midst of the Depression, he more or less fell into the trucking business, and founded a one-truck trucking company in 1934. Driven to succeed through relentless cost-cutting, a willingness to gamble, and refusal to go along with "that's just the way we do things" thinking, his company grew steadily, from 11 trucks in 1935 to 617 trucks in 1954, with steady revenue growth (and plenty of debt — McLean's companies were always highly leveraged).

In McLean's early container explorations, he wasn't thinking about completely reorganizing the global shipping ecosystem — he simply wanted to get his trucks up and down the Atlantic coast in less time for less money. His first idea was to load truck trailers onto specially designed barges, sail the coastal waterways to the next destination, and unload the trailers. The idea was soon followed by a plan to deposit just the trailer container (not the wheels and frame, which took up valuable space), thus freeing valuable space and dramatically reducing costs. Levinson recounts an early cost calculation involving a shipment of beer. McLean's team estimated that the current "breakbulk" methods would cost about $8 per ton to ship from Newark to Miami. Using containers, the estimate was an astonishing $0.25 per ton — over 90% cheaper!
Fig. 2 in U.S. Patent 3,042,227, inventor Keith W. Tantlinger;  original assignee, Sea Land Service;  issued July 3, 1962

McLean was ahead of his time: the suggestion to link transportation modes was incomprehensible to most in the industry and government, and he no doubt heard many comments like "that simply isn't done...", "trucking, railroads and ships are completely different universes — it makes no sense to combine them," "our regulations aren't set up to handle your plan." Shaking off the negativity, his companies pressed on, building prototype containers, designing cranes, and retrofitting an old tanker to hold containers, and finally running real-world experiments. Eventually, he had enough equipment to make a full-scale test run between two ports. It began on April 26, 1956, when 58 containers were loaded onto the Ideal-X in New Jersey. Five days later, they were unloaded in Houston, making this the first significant container shipping event in history.

To be sure, McLean wasn't the first to think that containers should be used shipping — many small attempts had been made in previous decades. But McLean's critical realization is that container shipping requires an entire ecosystem of infrastructure and dramatically new ways of doing business: expensive specialized cranes, truck trailers that are compatible, rail cars that are compatible, an inventory of containers, land to store containers, business integration between the modes of travel, and so on. He and his associates had the drive and financial resources to keep pushing forward, to keep taking risks. Levinson writes,

Malcolm McLean's fundamental insight, commonplace today but quite radical in the 1950s, was that the shipping industry's business was moving cargo, not sailing ships. That insight let him to a concept of containerization quite different from anything that had come before. McLean understood that reducing the cost of shipping goods required not just a metal box but an entire new way of handling freight. Every part of the system — ports, ships, cranes, storage facilities, trucks, trains, and the operations of the shippers themselves — would have to change. In that understanding, he was years ahead of almost everyone else in the transportation industry. His insights ushered in change so dramatic that even the experts at the International Container Bureau, people who had been pushing containers for decades, were astonished at what he had wrought. As one of that organization's leaders confessed later, "we did not understand that at that time a revolution was taking place in the U.S.A." (p 53)

Along the way, McLean's enthusiasm convinced others to get into the container game, which eventually required international standards to be created so that everyone's hardware could get along.

Developing Standards, Dealing with Labor, the Importance of the Vietnam War
Levinson extensively covers the years between the early days of containerization and the big boom in the late 1960s, devoting chapters to international standardization (so that containers can be held by all ships, lifted by all cranes, etc.), the turmoil in the labor markets caused by containerization (the responses on the east and west coasts were quite different), and the effect of the Vietnam War on container shipping (it played an important role, providing huge revenues to support expansion of containerization).

Photo of containers and truck at Port of Long BeachHow Containerization Changed the Ports
One of my most significant take-aways was a new appreciation of the tremendous land-side changes caused by containerization. In the old days, the port was part of a tight-knit ecosystem of customs brokers, manufacturing and retail, and they had "prospered by interrupting the flow of trade." Ships were small, significant time and labor were needed to unload them, so it made sense to put the piers were the people were, e.g., with scores of piers along the waterfronts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Baltimore and San Francisco.

The container era, in contrast, is all about efficiency and utilization of equipment. To have a container port that will attract ships and cargo, you need waterways, land, access and money.  You need deep channels and long docks for the ships, a lot of land to handle containers, good access to road and rail networks, and money to make the investments. In the Bay Area, Oakland had these but San Francisco did not, so Oakland became the major regional port. In the New York area, the New Jersey waterfront near Newark had these items, so New York's major port moved across the Hudson in the 1960s. In the mid-Atlantic United States, Hampton Roads, Virginia took much of Baltimore's cargo because its coastal location allows four more trips per year for ships sailing back and forth to Europe. When your shipping company is highly leveraged and your containerships are costing more than $50 million each, it's imperative to keep them at sea as much as possible.

The shore-side network and high cost of ships might help explain the dominance of the megaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Amazingly, even though they are in the far southwest of the country and their transportation networks are often overtaxed, approximately 33% of imports to the U.S. flow through those two ports (by weight, see "Import MT" in this spreadsheet from MARAD). This happens because so much of our trade is with Asia, and it makes more financial sense to bring cargo to LA/LB and then move it across the country by train and truck than to travel through the Panama Canal or around South America to reach ports on the East Coast or Gulf Coast (the Canal is expensive and too small for the biggest ships).

The world of container ports is like so many other parts of the modern economy: the rich get richer, the poor get left behind. Successful ports can plow their profits — or public money that is appropriated because of lobbying muscle — into improvements like new cranes, deeper channels, integrated systems like the Alameda Corridor in L.A. County.  These improvements increase throughput and make them more attractive to the bigger and bigger ships that are sailing the seas.

How Containerization Changed the World
Levinson argues that the container is a critical element in globalization: massive trade between far-flung regions would simply not be possible using old-style shipping. The container revolution also shaped the contours of globalization separating nations into the haves and have-nots of modern ports. If a country has efficient ports, it's more likely to get international contracts that take advantage of lower costs. Without that expensive infrastructure, fewer ships will call on your port to pick up your exports. The rapid reduction in shipping over water also creates major advantages for coastal regions. For example, Levinson notes that it costs $2500 to transport a container from Baltimore to Durban, South Africa. To move that container from Durban a few hundred miles to Maseru, Lesotho costs about $7500 (p 270). 

Superports have downsides, of course. They concentrate air pollution in a relatively small area (a piece I wrote for Eat Local Challenge a while ago describes this in detail). Although the ports are making progress, especially on truck pollution (e.g., improved truck technology, rerouting trucks, shore power for ships) whenever you have so many emitters in one space, it's not good for breathers. Good arguments can also be made that the low cost of shipping goods around the world can create labor and environmental injustices (e.g., large corporations exploiting workers around the world).

As I reviewed the book again while writing this piece, I was impressed by the scope and level of detail provided by Levinson in The Box, and often wanted to dive in again. Levinson's writing can be evocative, like this one from the opening chapter:

An arriving ship might be carrying 100-kilo bags of sugar or 20-pound cheeses nestled next to 2-ton steel coils. Simply moving one without damaging the other was hard enough. A winch could lift the coiled steel out of the hold, but the sugar and cheese needed men to lift them. Unloading bananas required the longshoremen to walk down a gangplank carrying 80-pound stems of hard fruit on their shoulders. Moving coffee meant carrying fifteen 60-kilo bags to a wooden pallet placed in the hold, letting a winch lift the pallet to the dock, and then removing each bag from the pallet and stacking it atop a massive pile. (p. 17)

However, unless you love details about financial arrangements and corporate organization, you'll run across many sections that are long strings of statistics or explanations of complicated business arrangements (joint ventures, debt loads, mergers, spin-offs, etc.). And so I found myself skimming a bit until the narrative picked up again. Nonetheless, the story of how the container took over world trade is an fascinating story and if you want to understand the origins of today's global economy, The Box is essential reading.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this, NPR's Planet Money re-ran an episode about the history of the shipping container. As part of a series of stories about how their special T-shirts were made, some of the team are visiting a port in Columbia where a portion of the Planet Money T-shirts are being loaded onto a containership. One of the guests in the piece is Marc Levinson. The episode is The Humble Innovation at the Heart of the Global Economy.

Photo of ship, containers and crane at Port of Long Beach

Photo credits

Photo of bananas being unloaded in New York, from U.S. National Archives Flickr page, no known copyright restrictions (created for the National Research Project)

Figure 2 in U.S. Patent 3042227, "Shipboard Freight Container Transferring Apparatus" (inventor, Keith W. Tantlinger;  original assignee, Sea Land Service;  issued July 3, 1962).  Sea-Land Service was one of the companies that McLean controlled.  The company went through various owners over the years, and most recently was purchased by Maersk and renamed SeaLand, so when you see a container marked SEALAND or some variation, it has a connection to McLean. 

Photos of container ports by the author from the Port of Long Beach harbor tour in 2015.

Random link from the archive:  Oak Tree Galls

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Two Small Rants about Book Design Flaws

As I work on a book review that will certainly take me a while, here's a short rant about two elements of book design that can be irksome.  (For what it's worth, the book I'm reviewing — The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson, has neither of these flaws.) 

Irker 1:  difficult to use endnotes.
There are good ways and bad ways to organize endnotes, making the notes easy to consult or more of a treasure hunt.

Let's start with one of the bad ways, something that makes me wonder if the book designer actually tried to find an endnote in the book — or could it be that my mind works differently than a book designer and the vast majority of readers.  This irksome design is shown in the next illustration, the top of page 476 of Taken for a Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution, by Jack Doyle, a monumental history of automobile pollution and battle for clean air in the United States.  

Page scan from Taken for a Ride, by Jack Doyle

The blocks are headed by the chapter number but not the chapter name — so, if you are like me and remember don't regularly remember the chapter number that you are reading, it can take a few steps to find the footnote:  go to the front of the chapter to get the number, go back to the endnote section, find the chapter block, then find the note.  I doubt that publishing software in past years was sophisticated enough to automatically generate the cross-reference lists, and so it would have required countless hours to manually create the page headings (headings which could all change if text was added or deleted).  However, it would not have been too hard to include the name of the chapter (I doubt those change much in the final stages of production).

Two excellent books that use good ways of presenting endnotes are Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin and the superb Four Fish by Paul Greenberg (truly a must read book if you are interested in seafood and our damaged oceans).  The notes section in Four Fish shows the page number for each note, so it's simple to find the note you need.  Leviathan is even more helpful, providing a heading that lists the page number range. 

Page scan for page 266 from Four Fish by Paul Greenberg

Page scan from Leviathan by Eric Jay Dolin

Irker 2:  Narrow inner margins, wide outer margins (i.e., a gutter problem)
Some time ago, I was browsing the incredible selection of used cookbooks at Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, and I picked up a thick, expensive cookbook about maximizing flavor (unfortunately, I don't recall the author or title).  The pages were beautiful, the recipes clearly presented.  But the inner margin (the "gutter") was so narrow that letters were swallowed up in the darkness, making the book only marginally usable, and definitely not a book I would purchase.  This flaw is especially bad for a cookbook, something that is often propped open in the kitchen during cooking.   One should not need to perform physical gyrations or break a book's spine to read the full text  To make things worse, the outside margins were quite generous, so a simple shift to the outside would have made the book much more pleasant to read.

I see this far too often (IMHO) and wonder why.  Is there some key principle of book design that I don't know about?  Or something inherent in the book printing process that requires such a layout?   

Random link from the archive: An adventure with live cuisine

Saturday, August 08, 2015

More on the Unswept Floor Mosaic from Ancient Rome

In a previous post, I commented on ancient Roman dining habits — tossing bones, shells, and scraps on the floor — and shared a mosaic that records this practice in exquisite detail. At the time, there were two things bothering me. First, what do we know about the mosaic? Second, it seemed a little strange to me that a rich Roman would have spent so much to mock Roman dining habits. Unlike a painting or sculpture, one can't easily move a mosaic if the subject becomes boring. It turns out that my hunch might have been correct, and that this floor was not a joke, but something much more serious.

At the University of California, Berkeley library, I found two books that had detailed discussions of the mosaic:  Die Sammlung antiker Mosaiken in den Vatikanischen Museen (The Collection of Ancient Mosaics in the Vatican Museums), by Klaus E. Werner, with contributions from Guido Cornini , Giuseppina and Claudia Ghirardini Barsanti, and Vaticano I Mosaici Antichi (Vatican Ancient Mosaics), by Paolo Liverani and Giandomenico Spinola. With neither book being in English, I turned to Google Translate to get a sense of the text. And it worked relatively well! The translations were ugly at times, but the meaning usually came through.

The Full Floor Context
The unswept floor that was shown in the photograph on Wikimedia Commons is actually a small part of a much larger mosaic, as this tiny picture of the surviving portion of the mosaic illustrates.

The mosaic was found in 1833 during construction work in the vineyard of Achille Lupi near the Bastione di Sangallo / Porta Ardeatina (see A Rome Art Lover’s Web Page for photos of the area). The best guess is that the work is from the time of Hadrian (who ruled from 117 to 138 CE), with alterations possibly made later in the Antonine era (138-192 CE), the Sevaran era (193-235 CE), and possibly even after Constantine (fourth century CE). [Werner]  One thing that is clear is the name of the artist, since it is at the edge of the mosaic near the room's entrance: "ERACLITO FECE", i.e., "Heraclitis made this." [Liverani and Spinola]

The entrance to the triclinum has six theatrical masks with other theatrical symbols on each side (olive branches, cloth, an amphora and more). The other three sides of the border are the unswept floor mosaic ("certainly inspired by the famous work of the mosaic Sosos Pergamum quoted by Pliny the Elder"). In the middle of the room is a reference to Egypt and the Nile with crocodiles, birds, aquatic plants, and figures representing Isis and Osiris. These three themes — the theater, an unswept post-banquet floor, and the Nile — are connected. They refer to the quest for intellectual and physical pleasures, with the Nile symbolizing the joining of the two (at the time, the Nile delta was regarded as a wonderful place to live, both for physical and intellectual reasons).  [Liverani and Spinola]

Memento Mori in Mosaic Form
Liverani and Spinola contend that the mosaic's remnants of a meal represent the death of the food. And so the unswept floor and theater motifs point to the memento mori —  "remember you must die"— and the fact that although the banquet, a theatrical performance and our lives must eventually end, we must make the most of them.  They write that Pythagoras describes a tradition of leaving inedibles on the floor until the feast was over because this food was meant for the dead [Ed. notes: 1) this sounds like an ancient equivalent of pouring one out, 2) Liverani and Spinola’s book has plenty of footnotes but they failed to note which of Pythagoras’s writings described this tradition.].  Consequently, the spirits would be irked if sweeping was premature. This section of the text contained a possibly illuminating phrase that wasn’t translated very well: "Ma in questo caso non sembra trattarsi di cibi caduti, quanto, invece, dei loro resti: fra questi avanzi traspare quindi solo il riflesso di un lusso che non inquina." —> "But in this case it does not seem to be of food falling, as, instead, of their remains: among these leftovers transpires then only the reflection of a luxury that does not pollute." I’m not sure what to make of this.  [Liverani and Spinola]

This interpretation makes more sense than the mosaic as a joke.  Having this theme in your main dining would show your guests that your are a pious, serious person who respects the ancestors.  At the same time, the themes remind the guests to have a good time.

Earlier Observations
I wasn't the first to come across these observations of Roman culture.  I recommend checking out these posts for further reading and photos of other unswept floor mosaics from the ancient world:
  • Mouse Interrupted: Historical background on the unswept floor design
  • (what is this?):  Photos of mosaics showing the unswept floor as well as photos of mosaics illustrating snarling dogs (an artistic version of the “beware of the dog” sign).  The unswept floor theme was used for a long time:  from at least the 2nd century BCE to the 5th century CE. 
  • (what is this?):  Commentary on the idea that the food mosaic was a tribute to the dead, and notes on memento mori.
Vaticano I Mosaici Antichi (Vatican Ancient Mosaics), by Paolo Liverani and Giandomenico Spinola, Musei Vaticani, 2002

Die Sammlung antiker Mosaiken in den Vatikanischen Museen (The Collection of Ancient Mosaics in the Vatican Museums), by Klaus E. Werner, with contributions from Guido Cornini , Giuseppina and Claudia Ghirardini Barsanti, Città del Vaticano : Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontificie, 1998

Photo credit:  Photo of Roman mosaic from Wikimedia Commons, deeded to the public domain by the creator.

Random link from the archive: Bulgur salad a slate for summer's bounty

Monday, July 06, 2015

Finding kale boring or uncool? Try the next big things: cauliflower leaves and broccoli leaves

Updated 8/23/15

Are you sick of seeing kale everywhere? Kale salad after kale salad. Kale green-smoothies. Kale chips. Dehydrated kale dust garnish.

Or are you worried that kale's recent entry on to some McDonald's menus, will make it totally uncool?

Broccoli leaves and cauliflower leaves could be the alternative you are looking for.  They are nutritious, tasty, and offer extra karma points since they are often considered waste.

My recent connection to cauliflower and broccoli leaves began during a trip a friend and I took to an open house and plant sale at the Sunol Ag Park in Alameda County, California. While touring the Happy Acre Farm, my friend pointed out the cauliflower and broccoli leaves, saying that she especially loves cauliflower leaves, but that they are hard to find. From that point on, I started seeing these two underappreciated leaves on my media menu.

Cauliflower Leaves
On her Adventures in Yogaland blog, Heather Haxo-Phillips (one of my yoga teachers at Adeline Yoga in Berkeley) was writing about her “fairy godparents” in Jordan who were hosting her while a massive international bureaucratic logjam was being cleared.  In a recounting of daily life at the house, she wrote that "One highlight was stuffed leaves of cauliflower. The cauliflower here is HUGE and so are the leaves. Mary went in the fields and carefully cut dozen of leaves. She stuffed them with rice, vegetables and spices. Then steamed them and served them to me."

A little while later, I was listening to the May 30, 2015 episode of Good Food from KCRW and the market report (from the amazing farmers market in Santa Monica, California) featured a chat with Bruce Kalman, chef at Union in Pasadena. Kalman has a bit of a reputation as a warrior against food-waste (e.g., mentions in L.A. Magazine and the L.A. Times) and much of the segment is about how his restaurant uses things that most people think of as garbage.  At the beginning, he mentions cauliflower leaves in passing, but doesn’t say exactly how he has used them. Here is a page with the audio embedded as a SoundCloud player (the cauliflower leaf part is at the beginning).

Update, 8/23/15:  The Trendspotting section ("What's Hot Now") of the August 2015 issue of Food & Wine has a sidebar with "5 Fixes for Sandwich Fatigue" from Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson of Madcapra in downtown Los Angeles.   Item 1 is cauliflower greens:  "'After a quick blanch, the stemmy leaves around the cauliflower head can be used wherever other hearty greens like kale would go.  Delicious and also economical -- they'd otherwise go to waste.'"

Broccoli leaves and BroccoLeafTM

If Foxy Organic has its way, broccoli leaves will become a mainstream vegetable.  In a piece for the Wall Street Journal (sub. only, summary at, food writer Jane Black reports that Foxy Organic is starting to sell broccoli leaves as a stand-alone product (using the trade name BroccoLeaf).  Since you can't have broccoli without a bunch of large leaves around the stem, the produce company finally decided to give them a brand name and start selling.  The BroccoLeaf home page has a series of news clips that include BroccoLeaf appearances on Rachael Ray's TV show and two appearances on local news in New York City, so the Foxy marketing team has been hard at work.

Asking “ garbage the new kale?”, Black also explores other examples of vegetable root to stalk cooking, like Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant having a series of pop-up dinners that served "waste" foods and vegetables to stimulate discussion about the topic (Good Food had an interview with Barber about the dinners).  

Economic Questions
I have never seen cauliflower or broccoli leaves for sale at the farmers market or grocery store (even at places with huge selections like Berkeley Bowl or Monterey Market), which leads me to wonder about the economics.   Some questions that would be interesting to explore:
  • What does it cost to harvest and pack a sellable quantity of normal cauliflower or broccoli?  What does it cost to harvest and pack the leaves?  These figures will clearly be different for a national company like Foxy that needs to print packaging, manage orders and so forth, than for a small farm that focuses on farmers markets and restaurants and therefore only needs to put the product into crates.
  • What are the margins on cauliflower and broccoli?  What do they look like on the less traditional leaves? Can leaves be a money maker?
  • Is substitution an issue?  For example, if a farmer were to offer cauliflower leaves at $1 per pound and cauliflower heads at $3 per pound, would sales of the leaves eat into their profit because too many people choose the now cool leaves instead of the stodgy heads?
In any case, the overarching question that drives all of this is "Does anyone want to buy broccoli leaves or cauliflower leaves?"  If I see them at the farmers market or grocery store I will certainly give them a try.  Or, perhaps, I'll try to grow some cauliflower in my garden.

Recipes (that I haven't tried)
Searching for recipes wasn't as easy as it should be because some of the top recipe sites amazingly don't allow quotes to enclose phrases, so a search for "cauliflower leaves" brings up myriad recipes about cauliflower or things with leaves. Google performs quote-bounded searches so I was able to find a few recipes that look promising:

Random link from the archive: Yeasted Chocolate Cupcakes

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tossing shells and other inedibles on the floor, in Ancient Rome and today

A dinner party for the elite in ancient Rome was often as much about politics and social climbing as about food and drink: who was and wasn't on the guest list, who sat next to who, who sat where, what foods were served, and so on. The food was often carefully chosen to illustrate the prosperity of the host, or perhaps his or her connections (e.g., "Gaius and Livia Maximus must know some powerful people to obtain ostrich eggs this time of year"). As always, good table manners were important, as Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa recounts in A Taste of Ancient Rome: "Etiquette required that small amounts of food be taken each time and that one should always remain clean. Ovid admonished: 'Take the food with your fingers, this is the usual way to eat; but do not soil your face with your dirty hand'" But there were exceptions to these guidelines when it came to the inedible parts of the meal. Apparently the host didn't provide little bowls for olive pits, nor dedicated bowls for bivalve shells, nor was it common to discreetly pile animal bones at the edge of your plate. Instead, a diner simply tossed inedible parts of the meal onto the floor, which slaves would periodically clear.

Over the years, archaeologists have found several mosaics showing what a mid-banquet floor might have looked like, with some even adding a little mouse (perhaps the highly desired edible dormouse, but more likely a common house mouse). The image below (from Wikimedia Commons) is a photo of a portion of the mosaic from its current location in the Vatican Museum. Note the splendid detail work on the pieces humble subjects and the inclusion of shadows. 

This particular mosaic was uncovered in 1833 in the vineyard of Achilli Wolves near the Porta Ardeatina in Rome. It was probably created during the time of the Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from 117 to 138) and decorated the entry room (triclinum) of a luxurious villa.  

Detail of asàrotos òikos mosaic (unswept room) from Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican, catalog 10132. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Today's Unswept Rooms
These days, if we went to the right location, one could find material to make a modern day unswept room mosaic. We might go to a bar or tavern where you can throw peanut shells on the ground, or a large sporting event where many people just drop their trash to the ground (peanut shells, empty cups, and hot dog wrappers).  Not having any skill at making mosaics, I turned to the internet and found a tool at Picture to People. Using a photo from the Creative Commons collection at Flickr, the tool and gave me the result below.  Not quite as interesting as the Roman mosaic.

Original photo from Flickr user tyl_r

I spent a lot of time (too much, probably) searching for good photos of messy floors with appropriate licenses. This wasn't an easy task because debris on the floor of a bar or baseball stadium is not at all photogenic and also hard to photograph well (especially a dark bar), and a few good photos had licenses that weren't compatible with my desired use.  But while searching, I ran across two amusing items.

The first is a sign reminding guests that peanut shell tossing is encouraged from the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel in notoriously neat Singapore.  A photo from Flickr user willposh shows the sign, which reads in part:  "Quite possibly the one place in Singapore where littering is actually the Long Bar at Raffles, feel free to brush your peanut shells onto the floor."

The second is a woman remembering an embarrassing lunch with her birth mother at a restaurant that had the word "roadhouse" in its name. Her birth mother was convinced that it was another "roadhouse" that she used to visit — despite many facts from the daughter, like that they are on different sides of town, that the prices are far higher, that the decor is less casual.  But that information doesn't sink in and so there is a bit of trouble after the server leaves a basket of unshelled peanuts on the table:
When we returned to our table, there were tons of peanut shells on the floor surrounding her chair!  Worse yet, just as we sat down, she tossed yet another handful down beside her feet!  “What are you doing?” I asked her.  “They gave you an empty basket to put those in!”  (I think my face must have been about three different shades of red by then.)

As it turned out, she was still not convinced that this new restaurant was not the old steakhouse where people were encouraged to toss peanut shells on the floor.  I told her to look around and see how clean the floor was under everyone else’s table.

Photo credits

Random link from the archive: Wine from Manhattan

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Old and New Approaches to Take-Out Containers

Painting of the Pantheon from the National Gallery of Art (USA)An Old Approach
In ancient Rome, it was common for guests at a banquet or dinner to bring their own container – usually a napkin – and carry something home.  This worked well for everyone, as there were no storage facilities for cooked food and it allowed the host's generosity to be remembered the next day.

In A Taste of Ancient Rome, Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa includes an epigram from Martial (ca. 38 CE–103 CE) that pokes fun at his friend Caecilianus's habit of filling his napkin to the breaking point: 
XXXVII WHATEVER is served you sweep off from this or that part of the table : the teats of a sow's udder and a rib of pork, and a heathcock meant for two, half a mullet, and a bass whole, and the side of a lamprey, and the leg of a fowl, and a pigeon dripping with its white sauce. These dainties, when they have been hidden in your sodden napkin, are handed over to your boy to carry home : we recline at table, an idle crowd. If you have any decency, restore our dinner ; I did not invite you, Caecilianus, to a meal to-morrow.    (source:
Photograph of first century bowl from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Romans didn’t have plastic yet and paper was an expensive good, so reusable napkins were a discreet way to be ready for leftovers. Although a sturdier container might be more useful – and almost all upper-class Roman would have a slave or two at the party to help carry things to and from the home – a solid container has a tackier feel, a more direct expectation of bonus food.

A New Approach 
More than two millennia later, disposable take out containers are taken for granted, an most people don’t think twice about the resources needed to make, deliver and dispose of them.  Some restaurateurs and entrepreneurs are trying to change that.  The East Bay Express recently ran a piece by Food Editor Luke Tsai on several attempts to reduce restaurant waste by swapping disposable take-out containers for reusable ones.

One restaurant profiled in the article is following what you could call the 'captured container,' meaning that the container is only useable at one institution.  In this article, the example is West Berkeley's Standard Fare, which offers a high quality ceramic container for take-away.  It's only returnable at Standard fare (and you'll incur a hefty $45 fee if you break one or don't return it in a reasonable time).  You will see a variation on this approach at Mission Heirloom (Berkeley) and the Local Butcher Shop (Berkeley), where they only accept the containers that came from their shop.  

The second approach is a more widespread offering – what you might call the 'networked container' – is the GO Box, a waste reduction project started in Portland in 2011. It's fairly simple, nearly as simple as one could imagine.  Vendors sign up for a supply of boxes.  Customers sign up for a membership (and pay an annual fee) and then are allowed to 'check out' the boxes at member restaurants using a physical or virtual token. When the box is dropped off at a depository (which might not be the place where it was picked up), a new token is received.

A Bay Area branch of GO Box has launched, with a handful of sites in San Francisco's Dogpatch (e.g., Jolt N Bolt, The New Spot) and South of Market (e.g., Rincon Market, Thai to Go) districts.  Over in the East Bay, you’ll find GO Box in Oakland's City Center at places like Awaken Café and Tia Maria.

GO Box costs customers $19 per year in Portland and $29 per year in the Bay Area.  This, in my opinion, is a major shortcoming, as it requires a year-long financial commitment to a relatively small network of restaurants.  What if you lose interest in the restaurants in the network?   It would work better if the restaurants footed the operating costs, but that might not be practical because of start-up expenses, even though GO Box claims that the service can be cheaper for restaurants than standard single-use or compostable packaging.

GO Box is designed to comply with health regulations that don't allow customer-provided containers (i.e., fresh take-out orders).  For leftovers after a restaurant meal, the rules don't apply and there is a simpler and cost-free approach that I strive to use when I go out to eat (and manage to do so about 75% of the time):  bring my own containers for leftovers.  At the end of each course, I transfer the remainders to the container and set them aside (tip:  if the dish is rice and something, put the something on the bottom and the rice on the top; this way you can simply tip the container onto a plate and it's ready for reheating).  

Image Credits
  • Interior of the Pantheon, Rome (c. 1734) by Giovanni Paolo Panini. Downloaded from the National Gallery of Art (USA) website.  Yes, the people in the painting aren't from ancient Rome, but I wasn't able to find any good paintings of ancient Roman scenes that aren't mythological or historical (e.g., the death of Caesar, the triumph of X on the battlefield of Y). 
  • First century bowl from South Gaulish area of the Roman Empire (early Imperial period, ca. 90 CE).  Downloaded from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

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