Friday, March 22, 2024

The Uyghur Connection

The People's Republic of China is the world's largest seafood producer, producing over sixty-seven million metric tons (67 MMT) of seafood per year, which includes more than twenty million metric tons of processed seafood. Much of that production comes from aquaculture, the domestic cultivation of fish, shrimp and other crustaceans, with wild caught seafood in decline. 

China also has a very sizeable seafood processing industry. There are approximately 9,202 seafood processing facilities, mostly in the coastal provinces of Shandong, Fujian, Liaoning, Zhejiang and Guangdong. The largest export markets for Chinese seafood are, in order of size, (1) Japan; (2) the United States; and (3) Thailand. The exports principally consist of processed seafood products. The magnitude of the exports is also staggering.  For example, it is estimated that half of the fish sticks served in American public schools were processed in China. 

Yet, in recent weeks and months, additional light has been shed on some of the workers who process seafood in Chinese facilities for both domestic and foreign markets. The revelations expose, at least for me, some of crueler dimensions of the Chinese government's ongoing persecution of the Uyghur people. This is a story of how a people, whose home can be found in a landlocked region, end along the coastline, processing seafood.

I have previously discussed China's persecution of the Uyghur people. Those discussions can be found here, here and here.  This persecution is best described by Anthropologist Adrian Zenz as a "strategy of control and assimilation ... designed to eliminate the Uyghur culture." 

One major component of this strategy is a forced labor program in which the Chinese Government forcibly transfers Uyghurs across the country to work in various industries. One of those industries, as it is being reported, is the seafood industry. In recent weeks and months, new light has been shed on some of the workers who process the seafood in China for both domestic and foreign markets. These revelations expose even crueler dimensions to the ongoing persecution of the Uyghur people.  

Investigative journalists have been chronicling this persecution and forced labor. One very good resource is The Outlaw Ocean. Investigators for the Outlaw Ocean have followed Chinese seafood vessels around the world, from the waters of North Korea to the waters off of The Gambia and then to the waters off the Falkland Islands and Galapagos Islands. Their method of communication with the crew involved throwing plastic bottles with handwritten questions (in Chinese, Indonesian and English) onto the seafood vessels. Surprisingly, the investigators received some answers. Those answers revealed abuses such as debt bondage, wage withholding, excessive working hours, forced labor, beating of crew members, confiscation of passports, prohibiting medical care and death.

Once the food made it back to the mainland for processing, The Outlaw Ocean tracked the food to a processing plant in the Shandong province, where they found forced labor working to process the catch. The forced labor consisted of Uyghurs who had been sent to work there. The forced transportation of Uyghurs has been part of what China has called as "Uyghur Aid." The communist government claims that the program is to promote "full employment" and "ethnic interaction, exchange and blending. The actual purpose is the forced assimilation of Uyghurs through forced labor. The program is "door-to-door," with Uyghurs being "delivered from the collection points in Xinjiang to the factory." 

The United States enacted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act ("UFLPA") in 2021, which requires the United States Customs and Border Protection ("CPB")  to block the import of goods produced with the forced labor of Uyghurs and other minorities. Over the past two years, CPB has seized over a billion dollars worth of goods, ranging from cotton to solar panels. However, most of those goods originate in Xinjiang or East Turkestan, making it easy to seize. 

By contrast, the production of seafood, as noted above, takes place along the coast, as opposed to a landlocked province like Xinjiang. By putting Uyghurs on trains and transporting them to a location that is thousands of miles away, China is able to evade many of the eyes watching for forced labor. 

As a result, seafood processed with forced labor has made its way into the markets of the United States and Europe. According to the Outlaw Ocean and other media sources (like Politico):

  • Over $50 million of salmon from plants in China that used Uyghur labor went to federally funded soup kitchens and programs to feed low-income elderly people;
  • Another $20 million of pollock (that is, fish sticks), was shipped to the National School Lunch Program and other federal assistance programs; 
  • Another $140 million of cod, salmon and halibut was delivered to U.S. military bases domestically and abroad. 

Those are just a few examples of how seafood processed with forced Uyghur labor has made its way into the American market. There are probably more given that at least ten large seafood companies in China have used over one thousand Uyghur workers since 2018.

There is a lot more than can be said on this issue and I may have more to say in the future. While I would ordinarily end one of these posts with my favorite recipes, it doesn't seem appropriate here. Instead, a word of advice ... try hard to determine the source of the seafood that you buy in the market. If it comes from China, buy something else. 

Until next time ...


Sunday, March 17, 2024

Three Creeks Winery Petit Verdot (2018)

Every wine region has its particular grapes, blends, and wines that set it apart from every other wine region. When it comes to the State of Virginia, it may be safe to say that one particular grape sets it apart from other regions. The grape is the Petit Verdot. To be sure, Petit Verdot is grown around the world. What happens in Virginia is its own story. 

Petit Verdot -- translated as "little green" -- is a grape varietal that matures late in the growing season. As such, it is often used as a blending grape. The winemakers of Bordeaux rely upon the grape to add color, tannins and depth to their iconic blends. Few if any produce a single varietal wine that feature the grape. 

Like many grapes, Petit Verdot has made its way to other parts of the world, some close like Portugal, and others further way, such as  Chile, Argentina, Australia, Mexico and South Africa. In the United States, the grape is grown in ten States. As noted above, one of those States is Virginia. 

Virginia has become a place where there are multiple winemakers produce a single varietal wine that features the Petit Verdot grape. One such winemaker is Three Creeks Winery, which provides a Petit Verdot that, quite frankly, provides a robust red wine that stands out. 

This particular Petit Verdot is aged for nine months in new and neutral American Oak barrels. It pours a dark crimson red, with inky depths in the middle of the glass. There are aromatic elements of some very dark fruits, like plums, black cherries and blackberries. Much of those dark fruits carry over to the flavor of the wine. Plums and blackberries, with hints of vanilla and clove, greet the taste buds. 

The taste also includes other elements that one would expect from a Petit Verdot. One noticeable element is the tannins. There is also some earthiness that emerges from the wine as it sits in the glass and opens up. 

The Three Creeks Winery is a lovely place in Hamilton, Virginia. It is definitely worth the visit, not just for the scenery, but also this Petit Verdot wine. 


Friday, March 8, 2024


"Food can bring people together in a way nothing else could." 

-- Yottam Ottolenghi

There is a reason why this post, which focuses on an Arabic dish, begins with a quote from an Israeli-born, British chef. The name of this dish, arayes, is the plural word for "bride" in Arabic. Some say the name is a reference to the "marriage" of the meat mixture with pita bread. An alternate explanation, offered by cookbook author Reem Kassis, is that "the culinary world of the Levant draws upon this poetic imagery." The culinary imagery painted by the combination of crispy pita bread and the rich meat mixture, results in a dish that is as beautiful as a bride.

The key to arayes is balance. One needs the right pita bread. (I realized this fact during the process of making this dish, because I think the bread I used was too thin and broke easily as I tried to stuff the pita.) There must also be an equilibrium between the bread and the meat. In doing research for this post, I found that there were a range of arayes, some thickly stuffed with meat and others that were more thinly stuffed. From what I could tell, the more thinly stuffed arayes are the more traditional way to prepare the dish. This is a point that draws support from Reem Kassis, who described arayes as "pita bread spread with a thin layer of spiced meat...."  

I prepared arayes for a reason. I cooked this dish and wrote this post in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war. That war began with unspeakable horrors on October 7, 2023, when Hamas fighters entered into Israel and carried out war crimes against innocent Israeli citizens. The war has continued, day after day, with the Israeli Defense Forces carrying out war crimes against innocent Palestinian civilians across the Gaza Strip. One of the worst crimes committed by the IDF involves not simply restricting food and aid into the Gaza Strip, which is starving the Palestinians, but destroying the food systems in the strip.  Not only does starvation present clear and present dangers right now, but it will also have long lasting effects upon the Palestinian people. The short term effects include muscle wasting, stunted growth, nd medical issues that include sepsis, meningitis, diarrhea and severe anemia. Longer term issues include cardiovascular disease, hypertension and metabolic disorders. Medical issues may even carry into future generations when pregnant women are subject to starvation, leading to medical issues for the children after birth.

This reality is very distressing to me. Food should never be used as a weapon, especially when it involves innocent civilians. To the contrary, food may very well be one of the most effective means of achieving peace. Food has the ability to create connections between groups of people, build relationships, and promote understanding.

Arayes provide an example of how we have more in common than we have in differences. There are many claims to the origin of this dish. Most of what I found traces those origins to Lebanon, but similar dishes (with as long of histories) can be found in neighboring Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Even the Palestinians lay claim to arayes. Yet, even with its Arabic roots, the dish has become very popular in Israel. The popularity began with a small restaurant known as M25, located in the Carmel Market of Tel Aviv. When the restaurant opened, it served basically three dishes: kebabs, minute steak and kebabs in pita. That latter dish became a version of arayes. Customers wanted a particular type of kebab in the pita, and the owner connected the description with arayes that he had in Nazareth, the largest Palestinian city in Israel. Eventually, M25 began to serve as many as 800 arayes per week. 

In the end, a simple dish demonstrates how much we have in common despite decades of division along religious, cultural and other lines. People of different faiths (Muslim, Christian and Judaism) and different cultures can come together to enjoy crispy, meat-filled pita breads. If they sit together long enough, they may find that they have more in common than what they have been told or led to believe. 

In fact, true peace will never come with a politician's words or a general's actions. It can only come when the people themselves come together, recognize what connects them and understand that those connections exceed what separates them. Food may not get us all the way there. But, it is a start. If people can gather around a proverbial table to share a meal, that is when discussions can begin. That could be the start. 


Recipe from Food & Wine

Serves 5


  • 1/2 medium (about 8 ounces) yellow onion, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup (about 3/4 ounces) loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 1 pound ground lamb or beef (lean) or 1/2 pound of each combined
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1-2 teaspoons red chile paste, such as sambal oelek
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice, seven spice or Palestinian nine-spice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, plus 5/8 teaspoon divided
  • 5 6-inch pita bread rounds, halved crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Greek-style yogurt, for serving (optional)
  • Toum, for serving (optional)


1.    Prepare the oven. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a a broiler-safe wire rack in a baking sheet and set aside.

2.    Prepare the mixture. Place onion, garlic, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped into a rough puree, about 6 to 8 pulses, brushing down the sides of the bowl as needed. There should be about 2/3 cup of the onion mixture. Place in a medium mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press on the mixture to drain excess liquid. Discard the liquid. Combine the onion mixture and ground lamb (and/or beef) in a large bowl and mix until evenly combined. Add tomato paste, smoked paprika, red chile paste, pepper and allspice (or seven spice or nine spice) and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and mix to combine. 

3.    Prepare the pitas. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the filling into each pita, spread and flatten so the filling is evenly distributed and reaches the edge of the pita. Brush some of the olive oil onto each side of the pita and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 5/8 teaspoon of salt. 

4.     Bake the pitas. Place the filled pitta halves onto the prepared baking sheet and bake on center rack until filing is cooked through and the pitas are crisp on each side, about 18 to 20 minutes, flipping the pitas halfway through cooking. If desired, turn the oven to broil and cook on each side until desired crispness, about 1 minute per side. Serve with yogurt or toum. 


Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Xocoveza

Beer reviews have become fewer and fewer on this blog. It is not so much that I am not drinking beer. It's just that I have been drinking many of the same beers (some of which have already been reviewed and others which don't really need or deserve a review). However, every once in a while, there comes a beer that deserves its own review. 

The Xocoveza from Stone is such a beer.

The story of this beer begins back in 2014 as a mocha stout recipe submitted by Chris Banker as part of Stone's Annual Homebrew Competition. Banker's recipe won the competition. After joining a collaboration between Stone Brewing and Cerverceria Insurgente (a craft brewery in Tijuana), Banker's recipe became the Xocoveza. Nearly ten years later, the beer is now brewed with a range of ingredients beyond the traditional barley, hops (English Challenger and East Kent Golding) and yeast. The additional ingredients include cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and lactose. The combination of scents and tastes elevate this stout to something well beyond any chile stout (pasilla peppers) or holiday stout (cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg). 

The greatness of this beer comes from the fact that the additional ingredients contribute to every aspect of the beer. The beer pours pitch black with a brown foam. That foam gives way to an aroma where the cinnamon, coffee and coca become gradually more noticeable. While the brewers say there is also nutmeg and peppers in the aroma, I had a little more difficulty pinpointing those elements. 

However, the nutmeg and peppers are evident in the taste. Those flavors emerge out of the cocoa, coffee and cinnamon, and there is a heat that comes through in the middle and the finish from the peppers. Together, the complexity of the numerous flavor elements remind me of a simple mole. Indeed, this beer would complement a mole very well, although I have to admit that it would probably be drunk long before the mole was finished. 

This beer is on my short list of favorites. It also makes me happy that Stone has made the Xocoveza one of its annual offerings. If you see it in the store, buy a six pack or two. It's definitely worth it.