Don’t Ditch the Beet

January 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

When they go after the foodie you stay silent; when they go after the beet, will anyone be left to stick up for you?  We apologize to all our foodie friends for not jumping quicker to your defense when Chicago Tribune food writer Chris Borrelli turned against his own kind.  We realize, our role in his plea for calm.  After all, who wants to hear more about a product being “”sustainable-locally sourced-housemade” than us Beetniks.  Yet, we let it pass.  Haha.  We could take a good joke.  We could laugh at our foibles and accept our latent holier-than-thou auras.  Mock our concerns.  But mock our beets.  Mr. Borrelli, have you no shame.

No one stopped him then.  Now, he shoots at a target apparently easier than insufferable food lovers, the earthbound, dirt tasting beet.  As when he went after foodies, Borrelli turns to those more learned than him to support his view.  That beet not only tastes like dirt, chef Tony Conte of The Oval Room says it is like “eating dirt.”  Our beloved beet is ubiquitous yet secretly reviled, we are told.  It is used, it seems, mostly for its brilliant magenta and its easy partnership with soft white cheeses.  Borrelli carries their hidden agenda.  Help us ditch the beet.

Ditch the beet.  We will have none of that beet hate around here.  We need the beet.  It makes for a clever title for our CSA and farmer’s market reporters.  They are Beet Reporters.  It makes for a clever name for our nascent community of local food fans.  We are Beetniks.  And mostly, we are in love with our clever name for this site.  The Local Beet.  Get it.  Yet, we also believe that a beet is more than a good pun.  It’s very place in the local diet gets told in the Borrelli piece:

Beets can grow practically anywhere you find a menu. So it’s virtually never out of season! And it stores very well! And it’s cheap! And there’s no shrinkage when in storage! For a long time the beet was lost in space, but we’re living through an economic time when we need something different and enjoyable and affordable — and the palate in this country is based on sugar.

It’s perfect, Borrelli’s source admits. Alas, it appears that perfection is a bad thing.

Too many chefs have mimicked Alice Waters. We see beet salads too much. It is so easy, it seems for chefs to grab some goat cheese and grab some beets. You know what, as a proud beet lover, that hardly rings true. Grab some beets. Who the hell grabs some beets. You grab some beets and a few hours later you are grabbing at their skins and a bit after that you are grabbing at the stains on your nice shirt you forgot to cover. Beets may be perfect but they are hardly grabbable. Encouraging people to eat beets is good.

Just yesterday I was talking with someone about why it remains difficult to have a local food system in Chicago. We cannot just encourage people to eat local food, we need to encourage people to eat the local food that is available to Chicagoans. That means from late fall until early spring, the population of local foods stands at storage crops, preserved foods and a small supply of indoor grown produce. If you want to have local food in Chicago, you are going to have to get used to having beets. After all, they store without shrinkage!

Borrelli says we got glommed on to beets because they are sweet, and to drive this point across, he also notes that there is a related crop called the sugar beet that produces good old, plain old, used to be evil, but against high fructose corn syrup is maybe not quite as bad, white sugar. Thing is, beets may be sweet, but that sweetness is paired against a good degree of bitter. It is why kids, in fact, tend to hate beets, and also why the naked flavor of beets is often soften by the inclusion of goat cheese. Are beet fearing chefs really fearing their inner demons. It is memories of mom food that haunts them. Come on. Eat beets because they taste good. In a grown up way. The earthy flavor of beets matches up well against things besides cheese. Beets are especially good, Polish style, with grated horseradish or grated onion. It is a variation of the Tom Coliccihio mantra about things that grow together go together. Here we have things that grow in the same place go together. Beets also pair well against citrus. Like be, the Editor of the Beet, they also love fresh herbs. Love the beet. Hell, love the Local Beet.

Listen fellow foodies, we apologize for not sticking up for you when Borrelli went after you. Now that he wants you to ditch the beet, we won’t have any of it. We shall be united. We shall stand up to Chris Borrelli today and going forward.