Thursday, November 23, 2006

How would I like my steak? Raw

People on the caveman diet eat their meat uncooked. Some think they're 'a little off.'

Mario Fiorucci, proprietor of the Healthy Butcher in Toronto, is talking about some of his regular customers: "They come in several times a week and everything they buy they eat raw." That includes organic chicken, game meats like elk and bison, and organs. Liver, he adds, is a favourite -- at the Healthy Butcher they've blended it raw to create a "liver shake." One of Fiorucci's customers will even "grab some ground meat, open the bag and start popping it like potato chips on the way to the cash."

There may be a new diet born every day, but it's not every day that a diet fad takes its cues from the paleolithic era. Alternatively known as the Stone Age diet, the caveman diet, the primal diet or the hunter-gatherer diet, the paleolithic diet looks back -- waaay back -- for its eating cues.

What's on the menu? The rules are simple: eat only what was available to early hunter-gatherers, meaning foods that are edible raw. So on the "yes" side: meats (including organs), fowl, fish, vegetables (excluding potatoes and sweet potatoes), berries, and nuts (but not peanuts -- a legume). On the "no" side: grains in all forms, beans, sugar, salt and dairy products (unless raw). Basically, if the food can be sourced with bare hands (or rudimentary tools) and ingested without cooking or processing -- then bon appétit! "Surprisingly," says Fiorucci, "the raw meat eaters actually look quite robust."

Rasha (who asked that her last name be withheld) is a 32-year-old private fitness coach in Toronto who started on her paleolithic path following a trip to India after university. "Within two weeks I started getting this intestinal thing, then was on antibiotics for months. That cleared out all of my bad bacteria, but also took the good with it." For the next 10 years she suffered from debilitating intestinal problems, eating only easily digestible foods, all of which, she says, would nonetheless putrefy in her system. And then she discovered the teachings of Aajonus Vonderplanitz, the creator of the primal diet. Within a couple of days of being on it, "I had my first real bowel movement in a decade."

She's been eating raw for five years now. "A good day is a pound of stewing meat, the toughest cut from the shoulder. Tougher meat grows tougher muscle." Normally she'll eat a pound of meat a day, uncooked and unadorned, but sometimes throws together a recipe, like dressing her organic beef with raw cream and scallions, or raw honey and cream. Reaction from family and friends has been vocal: "One day I was eating raw chicken livers out of a jar, and a couple of my friends just got up from the table and left."

Hoven Farms in Alberta raises and processes certified organic Alberta beef, which they sell fresh and frozen at the Calgary Farmers' Market, as well as area organic food stores. "Many of the people who are on this raw meat diet," says Tim Hoven, "try not to promote it that much because people think they're a little off." One of Hoven's customers "buys a pound or two, then portions it out and freezes it, and thaws as needed. Personally, I'm not comfortable with it. A rare steak is about as raw as I like to go."

The first thing Toronto dietician and nutritionist Fran Berkoff can see wrong with the diet "is the chance that you could get really sick. We shouldn't drink unpasteurized milk in terms of bacteria, and we shouldn't be eating raw chicken or raw eggs because of salmonella. Cooking gets rid of that. Historically maybe we didn't have to, but now there's a real safety issue." Berkoff does concede that there is something about following a very restrictive pattern of eating that can be good for some people, no matter what it is. "They're focused and motivated and careful about what they eat," she says. "The thought of raw liver just strikes me as incredibly gross. But if you're eating it, at least you're getting lots of iron and tons of protein." Still, "it's one thing to be focused and eating fruits and vegetables and nuts, but another to be eating raw meat, which is why I would totally be against this diet. Sure, people will say, well, show me a chicken that has salmonella. But all you need is one to make you really sick."

Rasha, who routinely eats raw chicken breast, slicing it sashimi style, says she's never felt better. She has a message for naysayers: "I don't say anything to you about eating pasta with béchamel sauce, and then having a cigarette afterwards on the sidewalk. I think that's gross, but I don't say anything."

By Amy Rosen, Maclean's

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Nick Gold

World Music Pioneer Looks Back On Two Decades Of Exposing African And Cuban Music To A Global Audience

Some 20 years ago, young British history graduate Nick Gold joined small London-based concert booking agency Arts Worldwide, run by two women who shared a passion for the then-nascent world music genre. Shortly thereafter, when the company renamed itself World Circuit Arts and reinvented itself as a record label, Gold found himself overseeing the imprint and producing its early releases. Since then, he has developed East London-based World Circuit into one of the leading independent world music operators in the business, with a roster based mostly around Cuban and West African artists.

In the Grammy Award-winning "Buena Vista Social Club," the label claims the most successful world music album of all time, with more than 6 million units shipped, while its African artists such as Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate have earned further Grammys.

Gold bought out the company's co-founders, Anne Hunt and Mary Farquharson, in the early '90s. These days, he is World Circuit's sole owner and managing director--and still produces most of its releases.

In October, the label marked its 20th anniversary with "World Circuit Presents . . . " a 28-track, two-disc compilation of past favorites and previously unreleased recordings. Ironically, its release came at a critical time for World Circuit, with some of its biggest stars, including Toure and the Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer, having recently passed away.

Billboard talked to Gold about what lies behind World Circuit's success--and what the future holds.

World Circuit is one of the few labels to make any serious money out of world music. How do you account for that success?

The biggest seller, of course, has been "Buena Vista Social Club," and I think we were very lucky with our timing there. But a decade before that, we'd come along at a moment when there was a huge surge of interest in music that had previously been almost completely ignored.

My first love was jazz, but that had all been done. In African and world music, there were all these incredible musicians you could work with--and a huge range of possibilities opened up.

What made World Circuit so different from the other world music labels that emerged at that time?

Working with Ali Farka Toure was the key. His music and personality were so powerful--and you couldn't allow it to be sidelined as something obscure and exotic. You had to give it the best treatment on every level.

That led to him recording "Talking Timbuktu" in L.A. with Ry Cooder, which really put the label on the map and gave us our first Grammy.

World Circuit's U.S. releases come out on Nonesuch. How does that deal work for you?

Nonesuch originally approached us about 10 years ago because they were keen on Oumou Sangare, who has now recorded four World Circuit albums. I appreciated that very much. It's a very comfortable relationship. They are knowledgeable with a great team and they care.

How do you balance the business role of owning and running the label with the creative side--for example, producing most of the recordings?

It's not easy. You get enthusiastic about an artist and project you're working on, and you want to get it out there in the best possible way to as many people as possible. But the balance is helped enormously by the fact that we've got a great, dedicated team at World Circuit which we've built up over time.

One British newspaper recently described you as looking for "the 'Sgt. Pepper' effect," aiming for a perfect record every time. Is that why World Circuit has a fairly small output?

I'd like to put more out, but you've got to take time to get it right. We don't put anything out unless it's the best. If it isn't, then it doesn't get released. You hear people say an album needs three or four great tunes, and you don't need to bother about the rest. That's anathema to me. Records are expensive. I think it's shit to expect someone to buy something you don't think is quite good enough yourself.

The other point I'd make is that in rock music, you've got the lyrics and the relationship between the band and its fans to carry a record. With this sort of music you have to find a way of making each album new and special.

Was there a sense that you had a duty to record the "Buena Vista" musicians, who were nearing the ends of their careers, before it was too late?

There definitely was that feeling when we embarked upon it and discovered what was there. The pianist Ruben Gonzalez was approaching 80, but he was on fire the first couple of years we worked with him. Ibrahim Ferrer had reached this fantastic maturity in his 70s. And Compay Segundo, who was nearly 90, was singing with huge elegance and authority.

For eight years, you've had the recordings of the only concerts the full "Buena Vista" lineup gave. Why no album release?

There had been Wim Wenders' film ["Buena Vista Social Club," 1999] and I just didn't think it was the right time. But we're finally going to release the July 1998 Carnegie Hall concert next year. Its moment has arrived.

Many of the "Buena Vista" stars are now dead, and this year Ali Farka Toure also died. Where does World Circuit go from here?

It's a bit of a "what happens next?" moment for us. Ali has left a huge hole because I'd worked with him for nearly 20 years. But at the same time, we've only recently started working with the kora player Toumani Diabate, who is a genius. The first record we did with him was "In the Heart of the Moon," which won a Grammy this year. We've got a new record coming from him, which I'm really excited about.

Is the Cuban music adventure that began with "Buena Vista" now over?

There's going to be a posthumous Ibrahim Ferrer record. It was always his dream to make a purely bolero album. We did two sessions in Cuba. We were due to go out there and finish it when he died in August last year.

On his deathbed, he left me a note asking me to complete the project. The tapes got stuck in Cuba, and we've only just got them back, and we're now trying to finish it. There's some wonderful stuff there.

Almost all of World Circuit's artists have been masters of their art. Have you thought of recording young Cuban or African acts in newer genres?

I get asked a lot why we don't do younger stuff, like timba and rap, because you're right--pretty much all the people we've recorded have been the finished article. That's made it easy for me because I wouldn't know what to do with someone young and raw. Maybe that music's good, but I don't like it, and I wouldn't know how to treat it properly.

By Nigel Williamson, Billboard