Flash in the Pan 

Falafel and the great taste of freedom

Falafel, those little fried balls of spiced chick pea batter, just might have a secret—a top secret—that is. As Amy Goodman reported in the November 8th installment of her syndicated radio show, Democracy Now, the FBI has taken a particular interest in the Middle Eastern delicacy as a first line of defense against Iranian spies.

According to Goodman, “Congressional Quarterly is reporting that the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern foods would lead to Iranian secret agents. The idea is that a spike in, say, falafel sales combined with other data would lead to Iranian agents in the region. The program was the brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism Officials Phil Mudd and Willie Hulon. The data-mining operation was eventually stopped after FBI officials determined it was possibly illegal to place someone on a terrorist list because of what they ate.”

Legal concerns aside, I imagine this sting was complicated by the popularity of falafel in countries other than Iran—Israel, for example. Chick peas, the raw material, are grown in such far flung places as Ethiopia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Mediterranean, Mexico, Chile, Northern Africa, and Afghanistan, as well as Iran. And while they might not be the ultimate diagnostic against terrorism, chick peas are known have a very low glycemic index, which makes them a great blood stabilizer for diabetics. And diabetes kills more Americans than terrorists do.

Indeed, there is a strong symbiosis between food security and national security. Consider Don Bustos, an organic farmer in northern New Mexico. Bustos sells food to, among other buyers, the Espanola school lunch program. The food is purchased with funds he helped the Espanola public schools raise from the Department of Defense.

That’s right, Don Bustos helped the local schools get a grant from the Department of Defense to put local food in the mouths of school kids. He says the selling point of the grant was that local foods, which tend to be fresher and more nutritious, would help us raise stronger little soldiers.

Well, if stronger kids are what we’re after, then we definitely need more chick peas. They’re known to increase sperm count in men and breast milk production in women. More sperm means more babies. And more milk can feed all the babies. More chick peas could mean more Americans.

As diet can affect homeland security, so too can it shed light on one’s true allegiance—but not only in ways the FBI was anticipating with its falafel sting. True Americans, of course, would never choose food grown overseas over food from American farmers—even if the imported stuff is cheaper. That’s why if I were an FBI agent, I’d make a list of all those commies who buy garlic at the Peoples Republic of Wal-Mart. Not only are they hurting America’s farmers, they are increasing America’s dependence on the foreign oil required to ship that food here. And if they would sell out over a bulb of garlic, what makes you think they wouldn’t sell top secret information to enemy spies, if the price were right?

Well, speaking of covert action, in just a few days we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving. While the Thanksgiving myth celebrates the relationship between community and harvest, the actual event may have been more of a case of keeping your friends close and enemies closer. Still, it’s a good story about people setting aside their differences to celebrate the common goal of producing enough food to make it through the winter. What could be more American than making it through the winter?

Speaking of Thanksgiving, maybe you’ve heard of that most American of inventions, the Tofurky, a soy-based food product designed to serve as the protein-rich centerpiece of a holiday meal. I’ve heard cynics call it something for vegetarians who want to pretend they’re eating turkey. But hey, where else but in America do you have vegetarians pretending to eat meat at Thanksgiving? That makes it American.

The Tofurky is extra-patriotic because it’s made with soy beans—one of America’s biggest cash crops. But I’m starting to wonder if we should be making our fake turkeys from chick peas instead of soy. In addition to potentially boosting sperm and milk production and stabilizing the blood sugar of America’s diabetics, chick peas have almost three times more protein than soy. More protein means more muscle, and more muscular vegetarians.

So that’s why I’m working on a chick pea-based recipe for fake turkey, which I hope to have ready in time for the holidays. With one of my “Afel Turkeys” on your table, your guests—including any FBI informants—will surely know that you are not a terrorist. And your vegetarian friends, while getting a square meal, will be full of sperm and milk.


Ask Ari: Kimchi powder makes good start for beginners

Q: Dear Ari,

Any input on kimchi? I can eat it morn, noon and night. It’s quite nice with potato chips (acid loves fat, I’ve come to understand through your columns).

I got a package of kimchi starter at the Vietnam Noodle Restaurant grocery store in Missoula. Now I’m in the middle of making my first batch, and the anticipation is full.

I’ve also been looking up recipes online, but can’t find a recipe I would adhere to. I did get a bottle of Yeo’s chili sauce (sans preservatives) at the Vietnam Noodle store as well. I want my kimchi hot. Do you have any suggestions of what peppers or sauce to use?

—Janine


A: Dear Janine,

I think the easiest way, by far, to make kimchi at home is with Noh brand kimchi powder. Hopefully that’s the same as the “kimchi starter” you mentioned. While using powder might sound like cheating to purists, it brings kimchi back into the realm of possibility for those of us who don’t have time for making the complicated sauce from scratch, much less an earthenware kimchi vessel in which to bury it while it ferments. Use the powder, follow the directions (which are still complicated), and you will have your kimchi.

As for somehow enhancing kimchi with your new bottle of Yeo’s chili sauce, I don’t think so. First of all, Yeo’s is made in Vietnam, and kimchi of course comes from Korea. Although your Yeo’s might be red and hot, like kimchi, it won’t ferment your cabbage no matter how much you add.
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