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Sunday August 31st 2014

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Why I Buy Organic Hamburger

I’m just a consumer, so what do I know?

Well, that’s not exactly the complete picture. I’m a consumer and food guy who has worked for one of the big all-natural meat companies in years past. People would call in and ask if the product was organic. It wasn’t. Just natural. No antibiotics. No feed additives. No hormones. These were humanely treated animals, but not organic. And that troubled a surprising number of people. It was as though “organic” in and of itself actually meant something.

Well, it depends. If a label tells me the product is organic according to standards set by Oregon TILTH (http://www.tilth.org/certification), the grand daddy of all organic certification programs, I pay attention. All others, federal standards included if not most especially, pale. These are the standards set by committee, standards set by politics and compromise. The thing that’s overlooked too often with organic farming is the farmer. You can be a crappy organic farmer and that’s what your product’s going to be like, albeit crappy organic. You can be a cruel, ignorant organic farmer and mistreat your animals, but when they go to market they are certified organic.

For me organic means I am feeding the earth, because organic suggests sustainable farming practices. The farmer is growing topsoil as much as any crop, and isn’t poisoning the soil or the water table with pesticides, fumigants, and fertilizers. Or with manure loaded up with growth hormones and antibiotics. That’s the theory anyway.

HerefordSo, I buy organic hamburger at the crazy-ass price of $4.89 a pound! I’d buy all-natural if Costco carried the product, but they don’t. If the meat is organic I am assuming the feed was organic, the farm wasn’t treated with any pesticides, fumigants, or chemical fertilizers, the feed lot isn’t sprayed with poison, the animals aren’t fed antibiotics and growth hormones to rapidly put on fat and muscle. Are they grass fed? Maybe. We hear grass fed and think of lovely Swiss alpine pastures. Grass fed is more likely a bail of hay tossed over the fence into the feed lot. But, if the animal’s organic then the hay should be organic too, and, like I say, that encourages healthy topsoil.

What I am not thinking about is how the animal is slaughtered. Unless the slaughterhouse is all-organic – and I have heard they exist, but only at an artisanal level, not commercial – there’s no telling what’s gone down the line or when. Fine, maybe a company has enough clout that all their organic animals are segregated and slaughtered together after the entire line has been scrubbed down, and maybe the slaughter practices are as humane as can be made possible. But there’s nothing in organic certification that says it’s so. And don’t be thinking about prions, those renegade proteins that set you up for Mad Cow Disease. They may not be in that organic beef. But no manner of scrubbing and sterilizing the slaughter line gets rid of rogue prions. They aren’t bacterial. They aren’t viral.

Put “daily beef slaughter” in your search engine of choice and you get the national figures. Last week well over a half million cattle were slaughtered. One week. Most of those animals grow up on feed lots on a diet of drugs and hormones, standing around in piles of manure. There’s a feed lot like that just off Interstate 5 half way between Los Angeles and Sacramento. You can smell it long before you can see it. The locals call it “Cowschwitz”. Farther south, however, down closer to Bakersfield, is the other side of the story, a mega dairy with thousands upon thousands of head of milking cows. Not organic, and just as smelly. Milk cows, however, are held to a higher standard. If they have to be put on an antibiotic to treat infection, their milk can’t be added to the daily take. So there’s a little extra care involved. They can be pumped with hormones that force them to produce more milk than would be normal. So by the time a milk cow has done her do she has burned all the fat out of her system. No steaks there. No standing rib roasts. Just hamburger. And it is so lean, when they grind milk cows they have to add in fat.

One of the salmonella strains that causes so much trouble, forcing recalls of millions of pounds of hamburger everyone has probably already eaten by the time the recall is in effect, is most common in the dairy herd. When I buy organic hamburger I am thinking the chances are pretty good I am not getting ground up milk cows that have seen better days. I might be wrong. What do I know? All I am is a consumer.

I could, of course, stop eating beef. But for now…..

[For more writing by Blue hat man, click here]

Tuna Salad Surprise, or A Surprising Tuna Salad

Sometimes cooking – as in, adding heat to ingredients – just seems a bit much for what’s in play. The other day, for example, Joyce and I missed lunch. It simply got past us. But by two in the afternoon we were both feeling a little empty.  So, what to do? Too early for dinner, too late for lunch. I settled on a salad, letting whimsy be my guide.

The lettuce in the refrigerator was getting a little old and sad, and the spinach had begun to dissolve in that slimy way peculiar to spinach. I cut out the majority of lettuce leaves, going for the hearts. The rest went to compost. I double-checked the lettuce in the garden and, as I suspected, the recent heat wave had encouraged bolting. So this set me up for a salad with minimal greens. And it turned out to be an interesting option.

I cut a bunch of garden tomatoes into the bottom of the salad bowl, then sliced in a cucumber. I always cut the seeds out of cucumber, and I am not sure why. Funny, huh? I had an avocado in perfect shape, so I cut that in, too. All of this I salted (sea salt, mind you), and gave a few grinds of the pepper mill.can tuna

Back to the refrigerator, a scrounge fest. I came up with a red bell pepper, cantaloupe, papaya, Mission figs, blueberries, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, green onions. And, in the cupboard, a can of chunk white albacore packed in water. I used a melon baller on a piece of the cantaloupe and half the papaya. I sliced the figs and the pepper, crumbled the feta, chopped the olives and the onions, minced the sun-dried tomatoes. The blueberries I simply tossed in, about a handful. I looked into a bowl of variegated greens, reds, and oranges with dollops of blue and olive brown peeking out. Amazing. Delectable.

I turned to a cookbook I wrote some years back with Sharon Kramis – Northwest Bounty – for her oil and vinegar dressing. To whit:

1/3 C malt vinegar

2 tsp chopped shallots

1 tsp Coleman’s mustard (the dry stuff)

1 tsp salt

2/3 C salad oil

Mix vinegar, shallots, mustard and salt together. Slowly whisk in salad oil. Makes about a cup.

The final flourish was teasing the tuna with a fork out of the well-drained can, crumbling it onto the top of the salad ingredients. Moistening the whole with dressing – and I say moistening on purpose; people tend to drown their salads in dressing, which damps down any cross-referencing of flavors and contributes to a soggy mess on the plate. I tossed the ingredients with salad spoons, giving the bowl quarter turns, making sure everything was well blended.

By 2:30, Joyce and I filled our plates. The sweet fruit leaned into the arms of the savory like dancers moving slyly to a tango. What lettuce there was gave a pronounced crunch where needed, but didn’t overwhelm the whole. The tuna was a friendly co-conspirator, not too loud, not too restrained. Best of all, we could eat all we wanted knowing that come 7, we’d be ready for supper. Or popcorn. Whichever came first.

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

Recipe Road Test: Blueberry Breakfast Cake

Recipe Road Test is exactly what it implies: selecting a recipe and taking it out for a spin. It’s about kicking the tires and slamming all four doors, about making the convertible top go up and down. The works.

This time out I have selected a blueberry coffee cake from Dorie Greenspan. The recipe ran in Parade Magazine, but I found it on Dorie’s website .

Blueberry Breakfast Cake by Dorie Geenspan

1 ½ C flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

Pinch each salt and cinnamon

1 stick unsalted butter

½ C sugar

½ C brown sugar

2 large eggs

½ C buttermilk

1 pint fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter a 7X11” baking pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.

  1. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugars until smooth. Add eggs one by one and beat for 1 minute. On low speed, mix ½ the flour mixture, the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour mixture. Gently stir in berries. Pour into a baking pan.
  2. Bake for about 45 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes, unmold, then cool right side up. Serves 12.

Recipe Road Test: Dorie’s coffee cake looks like it’s about 2 feet tall, with billowy pale crumb. Mine looks like road kill. Hmmm.-1

Here’s what I did. I followed the directions, except I didn’t have a 7X11” pan. I used a 9X9” pan, buttered. The butter was right out of the refrigerator, and I sort of wondered when I cut it into the sugars in the mixer bowl if it shouldn’t be at room temperature instead, all nice and soft. Then there’s the question of smooth, as in “beat until smooth”. My sugars/butter mix was on the slightly granular side, and I think this showed up in the finished cake – it had a vague grittiness to it.

As for pouring he batter into the pan, my batter wasn’t about to pour. I could have stood there all day with upturned mixing bowl. I scooped the batter out with a spatula and spread it around in the pan. Perhaps as a consequence of this, my cake didn’t really rise.

I cooled the coffee cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. After running a knife around the edge, I upturned the cake onto the rack thinking I would flip it back over onto a plate. No such luck. The bottom of the cake, where all the berries sink in a quest for ultra deliciousness, stuck to the pan. In her blog entry for the cake and a streusel topping that sounds fabulous Dorie does say she had heard about this problem from other bakers. Her suggestion, that she would be more inclined to serve right out of the pan is the one I’ll follow next time I give this a whirl.

Bottom line for me, I’ll use softened butter next time and make absolutely certain I’m beyond the granular and into the smooth. As or the batter, maybe there’s a weather issue here. It has been hot and dry in Oakland of late. Maybe I needed a little more buttermilk to go from sticky dough to a true, pourable batter.

Anyway, it tasted great and I am glad I wasn’t whipping it out for guests. They would have needed a sense of humor.

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

Cold Water Coffee: Goodbye Acid

True confession time. I had settled in the last few years on brewing my morning coffee in a stove top Italian espresso maker. I had stopped buying designer beans and used one of the canned espresso coffees found in local Hispanic market, Café Bustelo or Cafe Llave. Two cups of that hot blackness every morning was all I needed. And some Tums. The acid afterwash was really getting me down.

I had arrived at the espresso maker by a long and circuitous route that included filtered drip coffee way back in the day, French press pot, home countertop espresso from a machine that continually broke down – always searching for that perfect hot black goodness. I had a ringside seat for the rise of Starbucks. Believe it or not, Starbucks used to be one tiny shop in the Pike Place Market in Seattle where you could get a terrific cup of coffee and decent beans. Then there was street coffee, the first heady days of espresso carts like Monorail Espresso, where the double short latte was actually a triple.

It’s amazing what you can get used to. I tried drinking a cup of stovetop Café Llave the other day and just about blew beets. Man, it was awful. Hot battery acid couldn’t have been worse. And cutting it with soy milk took it from bad to simply disgusting.

What had intervened was cold water brewing. I have been at it for months now and feel assured I have finally found my home, my daily brew.  I bought the coffee maker – called Toddy (info at www.toddycafe.com) –at Seattle’s Best Coffee when I was killing time at Borders Books. It was the pitch about acid that got me. Use this device, I was told, and you will reduce your acid load by 67%.  It turns out to be true.toddy

You grind your coffee beans on the coarse setting. A pound of coffee sits in 9-cups of cold water for 12-hours, then drips through a thick felt filter into a decanter. Thick black lusciousness is what you get for your troubles. I eyeball a third of coffee mug of the liquor then add hot water. I the boost the heat in the microwave for 45 seconds. The first cups were, well, disappointing. Sort of tasteless. It takes time to “forget” what you had been drinking and calling coffee. Like I say, I go back now and can hardly bear it.

I also put some time and effort into finding the right beans. I use Italian roast beans because they are so dark and chocolaty. I like a cup of coffee that stands up, and the Italian roast does that for me. A lot of mellowing goes on in the cold water process, as well as acid reduction (it isn’t so much reduction as not releasing to begin with the acid and other irritants in coffee beans), and the Italian beans are able to come through with a bold profile.

My wife and I go through 2-pounds of coffee in 10 days, so I am not convinced there’s any real saving going on here. The decanter of coffee essence, the liquor, lives in the refrigerator. It’s perfect for iced coffees, and for cooking.

I was getting to the point where I was going to have to give up coffee for good, all because of the acid kick back. Cold water saved my day.

[Fore more writing by Bkue hat man, click here]

consummate

Biscuits, bacon, and other loving goodness

Joyce and I ran 6 miles this morning, the first run of any length in a couple of weeks. She runs farther and faster than I do, so I was pleased at maintaining the pace, following along behind. It seemed to me a celebration was I order. So on the way home I stopped at the market for buttermilk, a key ingredient in buttermilk biscuits.  Harold McGee would explain away the mystery of rising buttermilk biscuits as some sort of chemical reaction between baking powder, soda, and buttermilk. I just call it kitchen magic and leave it at that.

I took two ibuprofen when I got home, then measured out a couple of cups of flour into a sieve balanced above a bowl. I reached over and set the oven to 425. My oven takes forever to heat up, but the thermostat is dead on. To the flour I added a couple of teaspoons baking powder and a half teaspoon each soda and salt. It’s amazing how these ingredients and quantities stick in your head. I bet I haven’t made biscuits in six months, maybe more. Joyce and I tend to watch the carbohydrates religiously. It’s either that or watch my pot belly grow.

_biscuits_300x400I sifted the flour and powders into the bowl, and then cut in a stick of shortening – all vegan, no trans-fats, non-hydrogenated. It’s the cutting in where the baker adds his love to the mix. Cutting in is fussy work, demanding a certain amount of attention. You want to end up with a grainy mix, but you can’t over do it. The time and attention it takes, the love of the doing, as well as the love of the making simple deliciousness for someone else, that’s what makes buttermilk biscuits rise. I peered out from the kitchen and saw Joyce in the living room chair, laptop open on her lap, her head tipped back a bit, her mouth slightly open, her eyes closed. The love of my life.

It takes about ¾ of a cup of buttermilk to moisten the dry ingredients, sometimes a little more, weather depending. I used a spatula to moosh everything together, then dusted my fingers with flour and gave the dough a light knead. It’s easy to get carried away at this point, and if you do the results are like hockey pucks.  I used a bottle of wine to roll the dough out ½ inch thick.

It has been months since I bought a set of stainless steel biscuit cutters. I know. I know. I’m nuts. It’s not like biscuits get baked more an twice a year. But cutting out biscuits with a small glass just doesn’t do the delectables justice. The thick edge of the glass crushes the edge of the biscuit and you don’t get the rising flakiness you deserve. The official biscuit cutter worked brilliantly. I slipped the baking sheet into the oven, and set the timer for 13 minutes. Sometimes it takes 15-minutes. I don’t understand why. But I never peek until the bell sounds.

I cut up some pineapple and a white nectarine while I waited, adding a big handful of blueberries, a squeeze of lime, a little honey. And then I sautéed strips of applewood smoked bacon. All that and hot coffee was the sum total.

Joyce woke just in time, and she approached the table looking like the happiest six-year old girl ever. It’s a trick of hers when she’s really pleased, and I love to make it happen. Pouring time and attention and true love into the baking of biscuits is one way.  There are others, too.

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

As the wood turns

Djema dumps logs in my driveway from time to time. She’s a foreman on a San Francisco city crew that maintains parks and highway medians. Any time there’s a big blow I can expect Djema to show up in her battered puck up truck with fresh sections of cypress, yew, sometimes cherry and the like. Green wood. So heavy I can barely budge it. And yet Djema simply hefts and tosses the logs off her truck. I guess there’s something to be said for constant physical labor. If she had a mind, I am sure Djema could pick me up and toss me just as easily.

I paint the ends of the logs with a sealant that slows down the drying process. Wood loses moisture content most quickly from the outer layers, most slowly from within. The tension between the two forces playing against each other leads to cracks, or checking. Cracks don’t lend themselves to successful woodturning, and the well-turned object is where all this wood is headed.

The process flows like this: chainsaw, bandsaw, lathe. Each log has its own story, its own language. Cut me this way, it says. Not that way. So some logs I simply rip-chainsaw in half, right down the middle. Others want their faces exposed. Others intend their end-grain to come into play.

The bandsaw is for shaping the blank to be received by the lathe, for squaring up ends, for rounding out the slab. The bandsaw refines the language of the wood, like a good editor. It reveals the thread, the lede, the place to begin the dialog, in earnest.DSCN1193

And finally, the lathe. Here’s my question: Is the finished piece, the bowl, say, in my mind or in the spinning wood waiting to reveal itself? Or does it reside in both places at once and require a kind of metaphysical transformation of time, space, and matter to take finished form? The tools — the gouges, scrapers, and skew chisels –become extensions both of mind and of the soul in the wood demanding shape.

Here’s my struggle, then. When Djema backs her battered pickup into my driveway and starts chucking short logs onto the ground, is that me I feel hitting the pavement, or a bowl?

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

Recipe Road Test: Turkish Grated Carrot Salad with Yogurt

Nancy Harmon Jenkins has given us many thoughtful, enlightening cookbooks over the years.  Flavors of Tuscany, Cucina del Sole, and The Essential Mediterranean all come to mind. But The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook may be her greatest contribution. Don’t quote me, but it seems to me this was the first American cookbook that trumpeted the benefits of eating like you lived on a Greek island. It certainly changed my life. The book has been updated since I got the original. The new tag line on the revised edition says it all: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health.

Well, I pulled the last of the carrots from my garden yesterday. I had enough for a couple of salads you can find in The Mediterranean Diet, so I thought I would take the recipes out for a spin. First up, the Turkish Salad. Then, its Tunisian cousin.

Turkish Grated Carrot Salad with Yogurt

5 to 6 medium carrots, peeled

Turkish Carrot Salad

Turkish Carrot Salad

2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup plain yogurt (nonfat is fine)

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil and plunge carrots in. Cook for about 5 minutes, long enough to start softening them but without really tenderizing. Remove from the heat and immediately plunge the carrots into cold water to halt the cooking and cool the carrots. When they are cool enough to handle, grate them on the large holes of a grater.

In a small bowl, crush the garlic and salt together with the back of a spoon. Mix in the yogurt, oil, and lemon juice, beating with a fork. Pour the dressing over the carrots and toss to mix thoroughly. Taste and add a little more salt if necessary. Serve piled on a lettuce leaf as a first course or in a bowl as part of a meze or as an accompaniment to a main dish.

Makes 6 appetizer servings.

Road Test: First of all, I don’t peel carrots. That’s where a lot of the goodness is to be found, as well as flavor. Now, with commercial carrots there can be a problem with whatever chemicals were used to grow them. The skins can be bitter. But organic? Homegrown? Just wash off the dirt.

The carrots I used were shaped like, well, carrots – thick at one end, tapering to the other. So I cut them in half, and then I cut in half the thickest pieces. That way all the pieces were more or less the same size, and would cook at the same rate. It doesn’t take as long for a carrot to soften as you might think. Mine almost got too far into tender, so give a piece a bite test along the way. Just don’t burn your tongue in the process. You want soft, not tender, because tender won’t grate very well.

I had a bowl of ice water ready. Really. Ice water. It stops the cooking upon impact, and it sets the color. The orange absolutely pops.

Be careful as you grate. I say this only because I got sloppy with the last piece and managed to snag the edge of my thumbnail on the grater and split it down to the cuticle. I did not, however, bleed on the food.

The rest is pretty straight forward. I’d recommend giving yourself some time and effort smashing the garlic and salt together. And be sure to use a good quality sea salt. It has a pronounced impact. I’d also try to have on hand a flavorful olive oil. I used a bulk extra-virgin I buy at Costco because it’s what was sitting on the counter. It worked. But I bet a more fruity oil would improve the ultimate experience.

I was able to make this salad far enough ahead of time to let it sit and blend together. It stood up to a Malaysian curry on brown rice we had for lunch, and was actually a cooling presence. The garlic, the salt, and the yogurt tease out the deeper flavor found in carrot. And the bright orange color simply encourages excitement on the plate.

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

Recipe Road Test: Tunisian Carrot Salad with Harissa and Feta Cheese

This is another recipe from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ seminal The Mediteranean Diet Cookbook. You can’t go wrong with this book on your shelf and in your life.

As for the carrot salad, let me start at the end and work forward to the beginning. I just finished lunch – a nice Asiago cheese, some cold cuts, some nice crackers, a glass of suntea on ice with a squeeze of lemon, a plate of sliced mango spritzed with lime and sprinkled with salt, and this carrot salad, this Tunisian carrot salad with harissa and feta. My mouth is alive! Any one or two of the above flavor combinations might be enough. But the carrot salad – its color, its flavor, and its sensory impact – ties the whole together into a meal. This is one you want to try.

Tunisian Carrot Salad with Harissa and Feta Cheese

Tunisian Carrot Salad

Tunisian Carrot Salad

6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick rounds

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp ground caraway seeds

salt to taste

1 T harissa (recipe follows)

¼ C cool water

¼ cup brine cured black olives, pitted

¼ pound feta cheese, crumbled

¼ C extra-virgin olive oil

2 T red or white wine vinegar

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add carrots, and cook for 5 minutes, or until they are starting to become tender. Drain and plunge into a bowl of cold water. Chop the carrot rounds coarsely.

In a mortar, pound the garlic to a paste with the caraway and salt. Dilute the harissa with the water. If the olives are very large, chop them coarsely. Set aside a bit of feta and a few olives for garnish.

In a bowl, combine the carrots, garlic paste, and diluted harissa. Mix together well. Add the oil and vinegar and toss once more to mix well. Sprinkle the crumbled cheese and olives over the top.

Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to develop the flavors. Garnish with the reserved olives and cheese and serve.

Makes about 6 servings.

Harissa, North African Hot Sauce

12 medium-hot dried chilies such as Anaheim (New Mexico)

2 hot dried chilies such as pasilla or ancho

1 very hot dried chili such as arbol

2 T coriander seeds

1 T caraway seeds

sea salt to taste

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

extra-virgin olive oil as needed

½ tsp ground cumin (optional)

Cover the dried chilies with hot water and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes to soften.

Meanwhile, pound the coriander and caraway in a mortar with about ¼ tsp of salt to a soft but grainy powder. Add the garlic and pound to a paste.

Drain the chilies and discard most of the seeds and membranes. Using a spoon, scrape the softened pulp into the mortar. Pound with a pestle to a coarse paste. Pound in about ¼ C of olive oil, 1 T at a time. Taste and add salt and cumin if desired.

The sauce should be very thick, but easy to spread. If you are not going to use it right away, put it in a jar, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon, and pour a little more olive oil over the top to seal it. It will keep, refrigerated, for 2 or 3 weeks.Makes about ½ C or 8 servings

Recipe Road Test: Ok. For starters I didn’t peel my carrots. And I didn’t manage to buy ground caraway, but whole caraway seed instead. So, first off, I had to grind and pound the caraway in a mortar with a pestle to a reasonable powder. Some caraway crunchies remained, but I figured that’d simply give the salad a little character. When it came to pounding in the garlic, I opted for 2 cloves, not just 1. They looked small. And be careful with the salt because the olives will be salty, and so too will the feta.

You can buy harissa paste in a tube if you have Middle Eastern or upscale markets anywhere near you, but it’s not the same. I highly recommend that you go to all the trouble of making harissa from scratch. At least once. Then, you will know the difference, and if the tube brand seems just fine, you know as much from experience.

The black olives Nancy is talking about are not the California black olives in brine you use for your enchilada casserole surprise. Don’t even go there. No one in Tunisia has ever seen that California olive and if they ever tasted one, probably wouldn’t understand what it’s supposed to be.

Finally, use a good feta. I like the one that comes packed in brine in a box at Trader Joe’s.

This salad, once you have everything rounded up, is supremely simple to throw together. Such is the conclusion of my road test. But don’t confuse simplicity with lack of complexity. This salad will turbo charge the rest of the meal. It awakens the palate and makes eating exciting. And exciting is a lot more than simply filling your stomach.

[For more writing by Blue hat man, click here]

Network Marketing 4: The Second and Last Meeting

[Note: There have been three earlier pieces to this series on network marketing. In their order, Buying In, First Meeting, and Bracing for the No]

I figured, what’s one more meeting? Kind of wrap everything up. Check out the impact that the three days of convention in Las Vegas might have had on the assembled.

Fifteen thousand people had attended what was called a “leadership conference”. Michelle, my upline, the woman who had jumped me in, had sent a string of frenetic text messages from Las Vegas, and upon her return had insisted I make it to the next business meeting ($10), and then the next C.O.R.E. meeting after that ($10), and then on Saturday, the monthly Super Saturday all-day meeting ($20). So Tuesday night I returned to the hotel meeting room out by the airport.

And it was interesting, to be there but not there at the same time. To listen as much to what’s not said as to what’s said.

We were told to shut off cell phones and any other distracters, and to keep in mind that bathroom privileges had just been closed. “We don’t want you to miss a thing,” the first speaker said. “So just cross your legs.” She introduced the next speaker, layering on thick gobs of bright oil paint praise, the edification process. And he, in his turn, said much the same of her when he took over.Fort Knox Gold CoinMesh

He asked to see the raised hands of the “guests” in the room, and he said, “Someone has thought of you enough to put you in front of this business opportunity that can change your life. Financial independence. Anyone in the room feel that?” He had the natural vocal grace and flow of a minister, continually calling out for affirmation from the audience. “I used to have too much month left at the end of the money,” he said. “Anyone know that?”

And then he moved right in to the same pitch I had heard from a woman a week before. His own words, certainly. His own stories about making something of himself despite his dubious beginnings. But it’s the same Power Point deck that he’s clicking through, slide after slide. It’s the same structure — lots of talking about what he’s going to talk about without really ever getting into any detail.

There’s no time. “I have so much to tell you.” But there’s no time.

It’s his job to build the credibility of the company and the value of the product. And when he’s finished, he lavishes praise on the next speaker, who covers how this can be your own business, how you can be the CEO and build your organization from the top down, not work your way up the way you were taught in school.

It’s called the “income proposition” this part. It’s about how commissions flow up from an endless chain of new “investors”. We’re called associates in this room, and we all own the product, a monthly tithe. The higher up the endless chain you rise – by recruiting new associates, not by selling the product in and of itself — the more money you stand to make.

In this scenario, according to a pyramid marketing expert, if each person recruits five other people, and this is continued successively, the entire population of the earth is sucked up within 13 levels of the chain.

In this call and response Church of Network Marketing you need to have faith that the promise of income is unlimited, and that you are in the right place at the right time –“the ‘T ‘ in timing is more important than the ‘T’ in talent.”

You need faith that your leaders in the room and all the leaders rising above them have integrity that’s beyond reproach. No one here is simply getting rich at someone else’s expense. “We are leveling the playing field, making social justice available to everyone, not just the rich. This product isn’t about lotions and potions.”

You need faith about the notion of the outstretched helping hand, that all these assembled good people are here to free you from your loser’s life as a wage slave. Financial freedom is here for the taking. You don’t need to be someone with a 9-5 job, someone working 8-to-faint making someone else rich. “I don’t get up at 6 every morning anymore,” the speaker said. “I wake up when I am done sleeping.”

There are people in this room who have been coming every week for years. They start clapping before the hot lines are completely delivered, they know so well what’s coming. I am reminded of serious Star Trek fans watching re-runs together, silently mouthing all the lines as they are spoken on screen. There are Associates, Junior Associates, Managers, Directors, and Executive Directors in this room, and they have all been coming every week for God knows how long to hear exactly the same spiel, sometimes giving it themselves. This is part of the promise you keep, to always come the meetings. To maintain an open mind. To listen closely to people further along in the opportunity than you, and ignore people on the outside. The naysayers.2880_StarTrekFans

These are not wicked people. These are essentially good people. Some are more successful than others. Statistically, very, very few will be successful in any meaningful, measurable way, for all the effort, for all the meetings, for all the trolling through the world for new recruits. These are people who can somehow take the network marketing sermon at face value and overlook all the mushy spots, all the illogic (if this is such a fabulous product, why no competition? In America?).

They are happy to gaze at cover shots of financial magazines and not ponder how those same publications could tout Bernie Madoff as the King of Wall Street, and completely miss the impending collapse of the Western economy. They don’t wonder that when the speaker calls out for new associates to stand, I am the only one in the room on my feet. And yet I represent what keeps the company going. I am the new income stream that’s supposed to support the dozens of more elevated souls who stand when their ranks are called out.

These aren’t people who look at annual reports even though this is a publicly traded company. The published figures over the past few years show a rapid decline in new recruits, and those figures alone suggest impending doom.

And then there’s the Business Opportunity Rule under consideration by the Federal Trade Commission.  This rule would bring “work-at-home schemes and pyramid marketing schemes”, two types of potentially fraudulent and deceptive opportunities, under FTC law enforcement overview. It’s a little like convincing Wyatt Earp to become sheriff of Tombstone, and bring a bit of civilization to what until now has been a wild west.

I just don’t have it in me, the hunting down and bagging of the prospects, the recruits, the pigeons. I’m just not wired that way, and I am fascinated by people who are. I discovered I am deeply susceptible to positive mind think, as Orwell would call it. Because I did get all excited and filled with energy and at one time would have run off to Las Vegas for the big convention if the money had been there. Hell yeah. It’s a can-do attitude I can’t shake.

So, instead of turning it in a dubious direction, I’m going to turn it on myself, and build what I have always wanted to build, a small business, brick by brick. So watch out. The boy’s on fire!

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

Network Marketing 3: Bracing for the “No”

I attended my second “business briefing”, this one called a C.O.R.E. weekly training. And the man who ran the show, the star of the evening, the presenter extraordinaire, was indeed a natural phenomenon worth witnessing. “I am Mr. I Ain’t Worked a Job in Seven Years – that’s who I am.” He could have been doing stand up. “You look good tonight,” he told us, warming up. “I know I do.” But he was up front and on fire not to make jokes or entertain but to sell the idea of selling the idea.

“Any one who says ‘no’ will say ‘yes’ to someone they respect,” he said. “Y’all with me?” He, like many of the modestly successful people in the room, would arrive in Las Vegas the next day for the three day annual convention. This, however, was an evening of making it exciting and keeping it going, half way between Oakland and san Jose.Antique telephone

It was not an evening about the product. It was a step behind the curtain. “C.O.R.E.” was never spelled out, never explained. I have no idea what it means. So I began to think of it as the “core” issue. And that issue was all about building teams. Not the product. It was about recruiting players in much the same way I was recruited. Here’s the product, and here’s how you can sell the product and achieve all your dreams.

“You deserve to live he life you desire.” Step beyond the product. Because if all you ever do is sell the product, you aren’t likely to end up rubbing two dimes together. Instead, build a team beneath you in such a way that it multiplies like an Old Testament family. Go forth and spill your seed. That’s where the money is. Not in the product, but in the numbers of new recruits generated by your very own seed. As it was in the beginning…

It’s like following with your eyes the movement of one of the magician’s hands, only to be startled when the other one pulls a bouquet of flowers out of thin air. And it is all done with palaver. An amazing gush of words and images and allusions to wealth and appeals to deepest, fondest dreams. Just a stunning, exciting display against which any other speaker that night simply seemed like, well, another speaker with room to improve.

Could I put myself in those shoes, stand up there, shape my mouth to make the words, deliver the same message? Because that was the implied question. “I had to sit down until I earned the right to be in front of the room,” our speaker told us, with a bit of self-edification, self-elevation. And he earned the right not so much by helping the disenfranchised buy into legal justice, but by selling a lot of people on selling a lot of people.

We all stood and clapped, stood and clapped. The Chinese women. The East Indians The Phillippinos. The African Americans. The Pacific Islanders. The other older white guy, kind of seedy looking, but showing some success.  The two young girls. The young men fidgeting in poorly tailored suits. We all stood and clapped.

There were two things that were going to be essential to success. One was a list of 100 names. “It’s amazing how many people don’t even get this far,” the speaker said.    “But without the list, there’s nowhere for you to go.” The other element is the why. “What is your why?” he asked. “Your real why. It is what gets you through the tough times.” And there will be tough times. There will be people saying no and hanging up the phone, times when you feel the fool.

I still remember a no from before, from a dozen or more years ago when an unbelievably generous long distance plan seemed like the thing everyone should have, and want to sell. I remember wishing that I could retrieve the phone call, reel in the words, reverse time. And I hoped that he who had hung up on me wouldn’t have a terrific story to tell at my expense, something that would start, “You won’t believe who gave me a call the other day…”

I didn’t have a why back then to take the heat out of the shame. “Don’t listen to outside naysayers,” the speaker warned. “Listen to people who know how to make it work. You’re not burdening people. This isn’t lotions and potions. You’re helping people.” Well, sort of.

I started working on my 100, and set it aside. I kept bumping too many people off the list. They were the kind of people to whom I would not want to make the implicit admission that it had come to this, the wish and the prayer. But you aren’t supposed to do that. You put everyone on the list, I was told. Leave no one off. Because, who am I to presume some individual shouldn’t hear the opportunity? If they aren’t interested, they will say so. And you have your why to fall back on.

So I started working on my why. Which led to one of those who am I explorations. And that bumped me right into stuff like integrity. Like, my good name. Like, why do I have to set aside so many of my core values to simply be able to leap to my feet and clap?

I came back around to core. “To have success,” the speaker had said, “you have to narrow your focus.” Which I did, a narrowed, personal view my own self, my sense of self-worth. And I arrived at my own “no”. I hung up.

[For more writing by Blue Hat Man, click here]

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