Life as a Gold

All in the family -- Jonathan at work.

Thanks to my spontaneous retort to the L.A. Weekly’s article on whale-meat  consumption in Seoul, the word is on the street.  Jonathan Gold is indeed my brother. The Pulitzer Prize-winning foodie — who coined the slogan “Tacos Forever!” long before the food truck battles began — has spent most of his adult life chowing down on the marine critters I’ve spent over 20 years trying to protect.

I have gone to dim sum in San Gabriel when he tried to order shark fin soup.  I said OMDB! I went to a restaurant with him in Chicago when he was the lead grub guy at Gourmet magazine. There, he nearly ordered wild-caught sturgeon until I complained vociferously.  We did see Sammy hit 61 and 62 at Wrigley the next day, so the trip was well worth it.

If that’s not bad enough, my other brother Josh, an ad exec at DDB on Madison Avenue, has spent his life selling products most of us don’t need. (He brought us Mr. Hanky’s cousin: Mr. Fudgems of Domino’s fame). Some products he helps pitch are extremely harmful for the environment.  One of his last campaigns was for some universally toxic pesticide, Spectracide, which I believe kills every species of invertebrate known to mankind. OK – Josh did the real cool “Revenge” PSA for  Heal the Bay in the mid 1990s with Chiat Day, in which a  dolphin and two sea lions trash the local hood. But that does not balance the scales for selling death in a bottle.

All right, I may sound a little bitter. But that doesn’t mean I ever miss a birthday party at Jonathan’s house, and not just because I love my niece and nephew, or the strawberry, whipped cream Phoenix bakery cake.  As for Josh, I understand he yearns for Project Mayhem as much as I do, but he’s trapped in Jersey suburbia, 3,000 miles from the 10 surfboards he stores in my garage.  Lately, our discussions have centered around Scioscia’s unfortunate reliance on the squeeze play and the Bruins’ near trips to the hoops promised land.

Working in the environmental movement can be tough.  Our few wins are always countered with far too many losses.  Heal the Bay has made a lot of progress, but there is so much more that needs to be done.  The challenges are overwhelming to get elected officials, regulatory agencies and the public to go beyond mere compliance with environmental laws to actual progress towards sustainability and protection of public health and the environment. I’m frustrated by that lack of progress each and every day of my life, but never more than when I read about the latest threatened species that Jonathan has gleefully consumed.  Or Josh’s recent ad campaign for the latest gas guzzling SUV or product that brings back Rachel Carson’s ghost.

And one more thing: How come Jonathan’s colleagues on his NPR spots never ask about the environmental impacts of his adventures in dining? Now that’s something I’d like to listen to. (I have already heard about his trek to every eatery on Pico when he was 18 – about 100 times!) No doubt about it.  Both bros are at the top of their field.  If only Jonathan focused on sustainable seafood for a year, imagine the positive impact he’d have on local restaurants and the dietary choices of the food obsessed.  As for Josh, I know better.  The ad agency that starts taking on only environmental clients doesn’t last longer than a week — although I do give Josh major props for his talking moose head spot that emphasized Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience and her penchant to shoot anything that moves.

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9 Responses

  1. […] of sorts over sustainable seafood back in 2008, hurling the kind of insults only two siblings can (Mark: “He tried to order shark fin soup.” Jonathan: “The purity of my diet cannot be […]

  2. Siel- you reprimand Mark for finger pointing but that is all you seem to be doing. Why don’t you look at the positives of what Heal the Bay is doing. I was at that volunteer orientation also and learned a GREAT deal about the bay and what I should be doing to protect it. I didn’t even notice the food or the which cups were used for the water because I was completely engrossed in the cause and how inspiring this organization is. I think you should stop criticizing the organizations that are actually helping the environment and focus on other that aren’t. We are all part of the same environmental community and should be supporting each other.

  3. Siel — First time I’ve ever responded to a blog retort. That is some serious respect for what you do. You keep everyone’s green cred honest.

    I appreciate your green watchdog beat and it fills a critical need in the city. Also, despite the fact I haven’t eaten a hamburger in 16 months, neither Jonathan or myself would win any awards for a sustainable diet. But neither one of us dodge the issue either.

    Heal the Bay also has a long way to go on going sustainable. Yes, our Aquarium just got Santa Monica’s sustainable seal of approval and our Stream Team vehicle runs on natural gas, but that isn’t near where we need to be.

    You nailed us, correctly so, on the donated flavored drink in the plastic bottle at our most recent benefit dinner. You won’t see us do that again. But I would like to point out that we didn’t serve bottled water – we served Santa Monica’s finest, and the dinner food items were all local and pretty green.

    I’m just glad you didn’t come to some of our early dinners. Your list would be a lot longer.

    If you’re like me, you don’t want to hear that it isn’t easy being green. With so many green choices available, it never has been easier to move towards sustainability.

    However, some situations are pretty tough. What do you put trash in at a beach or river cleanup? A plastic bag. Not cool, but necessary when you pick up thousands of pounds. How do you avoid heat stroke at a clean up? Not with individual water bottles, but with five-gallon bottles and compostable cups. Not cool, but volunteers have to drink during all that hard work.

    You get the point. We can always get better and I hope you continue to tell us how to be greener.


  4. Mark — I’m with you on the importance of sticking to sustainable seafood, but dude — If you’re gonna point fingers, you gotta clean up at home first!

    A couple weeks ago, I was at Heal the Bay’s volunteer session (the coordiinator was great, BTW) — where the food served was what looked like Lay’s chips (the non-recyclable, non-biodegradable packaging which is helping fill up a landfill at best or suffocating a fish in the ocean at worst ), highly processed cookies and crackers (likely containing genetically modified trans fats or high fructose corn syrup or both), and old, sad-looking strawberries which didn’t look like they came from the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market.

    I was thirsty, but the drinks offered were all soda pop containing high fructose corn syrup. What does a girl have to do for organic orange juice? 😛

    I think there was something like sugary lemonade there too, but despite the fact that Heal the Bay holds multiple volunteer sessions each month, there were no reusable cups in sight! If I wanted to drink the only liquid that may potentially not contain high fructose corn syrup, I had to use up a disposable cup. Granted, it was a waxy paper cup, not a styrofoam cup, which you condemned at the Green LA event where I last saw you — but a non-recyclable, one-use cup nonetheless!

    Alright — I wasn’t all that hungry or thirsty, and I did eat a few of the wilted strawberries — so I’m not actually complaining on a personal level. But if you really wanna talk food issues, Heal the Bay’s gotta learn to practice what it preaches. What was up with the disposable plastic water bottles given out at your last fundraiser?

    It was the first thing my Bring Your Own friend Anna Cummins noticed — Unsurprising, since her fiance was one of the dudes who sailed on that crazy plastic bottle raft from Long Beach to Hawaii to educate the public on the evils of disposable plastic. I believe a Heal the Bay spokesperson was actually at the sail-off event supporting the trip, talking about the evils of the very product Heal the Bay included in its gift bags!

    I heart Heal the Bay — I’m just saying that as a supporter of your org, and as a member of the neighborhood and community of which your nonprofit is a part, I’d like to see more leading by example — and perhaps a little less finger pointing at those who, when it comes down to it, aren’t exactly eco-devils.

    I first came to really respect your brother when he showed his support for fair trade coffee in his columns by repeatedly big-upping Monkey & Son coffee — talking not about the touchy-feely eco-fair trade stuff, but about the superior taste that comes with quality coffee. Since then, I’ve admired his ability to make sustainable eats sound sexy without getting preachy / off-putting to the less-than-converted.

    Which is to say that I’m appalled Jonathan ate shark fin soup! But I’m more appalled at the thought of you eating “beef, diet root beer and pre-shredded cheese” every day. Dude! Quit that — if for no other reason than your health. We just lost Dorothy, and we’d like you to live a while —

    I think this is the longest comment I’ve ever left on a blog.

  5. Mark, I avidly read your brother’s column and I agree that most of the fish/shellfish that is commercially popular is tasteless. Finding good quality seafood is a rare thing. If consumers learned to treasure good quality seafood, then the overfishing of the oceans wouldn’t be as prevalent. Take out things like endless shrimp at Red Lobster, or fish sticks in the school cafeteria, and focus on high-quality, line-caught fish (despite increased cost). Like sustainable produce menus, I think restaurants should have sustainable seafood menus.

  6. Mr. Gold
    That you insist on raising private sibling rivalries in the context of the work done by a distinguished public interest advocacy organization — not to mention one you lead — suggests poor leadership judgment on your part. Who cares that your brother eats fish or fish eggs? Ot that you have a cheeseburger habit. If your writer-brother were sampling the meat of endangered species or your ad-agency brother marketing hate crimes, maybe that’s worth elevating in a public forum — or, better, taking to law enforcement authorities even as you private pity your brothers their errant ways. Meanwhile, stick to genuine stewardship and spare us the airing of family squabbles in public, especially in connection with the honored name of Heal the Bay.

  7. Brother Mark:

    The purity of my diet cannot be said to approach your daily menu of beef, diet root beer and pre-shredded cheese, although it does have its consolations. (In Mark Gold’s world as in Ronald Reagan’s, catsup counts as a vegetable.) I stress the local-sustainable-organic trope in my columns almost to the point of self-ridicule, and I would as soon amputate a toe as buy meat or fish from a supermarket.

    But it’s true: I did once snag a shark’s-fin dumpling from a cart at Empress Pavilion in your presence sometime in the 1990s, although I don’t make it a habit, and that sturgeon in the Chicago restaurant Blackbird was very good. (To me, the term “California sturgeon” meant that it was probably farmed: Commercial sturgeon fishing in the Sacramento Delta has been illegal for eons.) And when life presents me with the odd half-ounce of toro, I don’t refuse quite as often as I should.

    But the seafood I am most enthusiastic about is lowish on the food chain, and when I specifically mention swordfish or farmed salmon, it tends to be more in connection with parasites and mercury levels than with taste. Bluefin isn’t just a primary predator, it’s also boring. The only possible virtue of Chilean seabass is that its high fat content makes it difficult to overcook. Shrimp and crab harvested from worst-practices farms aren’t just bad for the environment; they taste bad too. If you have spent the last 20 years of your life trying to protect sardines, mackerel and sea cucumber, Heal the Bay is in worse shape than I thought.

    And in my defense, I have just in the last couple of months written about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s watch list – in the context of the aquarium’s in-house seafood restaurant, but still – and about salmon farming. I have talked about overfishing on NPR, and undoubtedly will again . . . probably months before you muster up the courage to eat another green vegetable.

  8. I’m in LA, and I do a restaurant cartoon for papers all over the country, mainstream and alternative, so I love to read restaurant reviews.

    However, I have a few little rules for eating out or in: no wild animal, no veal, and no parts of animals served up as if that makes them gourmet. Sorry, don’t read Jonathan Gold for that reason!

  9. Great point re: “How come Jonathan’s colleagues on his NPR spots never ask about the environmental impacts of his adventures in dining?”

    Especially in LA, the land of Sushi with a eatery on every other corner (particularly in West LA). Seems at the very least, they would want to focus on a resource like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Card, which now comes in a specific flavor for the LA palette: Sushi Seafood Watch Card .

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