Tag: cooking

The Future of Food*

organic veggies 2-22-18 copy
Organic local carrots, winter radishes, & kohlrabi. Watercolor pencil & gouache on paper, 15″ x 11″ © J.Hart 2018

Instagram is filled with seductive photos of food from high end bloggers, chefs, and assorted foodies. Some of these creative food aficionados were even kind enough to respond to my recent posts. A thank you to all the bloggers who commented and responded!

Now, as a practicing foodie, I appreciate both the pleasure of food sensually and visually. However, our present huge interest in using food as a creative outlet gives me pause. It seems to me that it  rests upon a faith that the supplies that support it, the diversity of crops, both vegetable and animal, coming in from all over the planet, will continue to exist, certainly through our lifetime. I think that is very unlikely: what is more to be expected is that we will lose, in the very near future, many of the foods that we take for granted:

http://www.businessinsider.com/foods-that-may-go-extinct-2016-6?r=UK&IR=T/#chickpeas-2

In our present situation, it is heat that is, in the next couple of years, going to radically change the way we eat and drink. It is going to mean that the huge fields of corn, soy, and wheat-with which the mammoth industrial corporations support their empire of fast, processed, and cheap food-will be burned and destroyed by fire and drought. It also means that smaller crops like barley which supports the cheap beer that is the main alcoholic beverage in the States will also be affected.

https://thefern.org/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-montanas-barley-farmers-possibly-beer/

Very high temperatures during the growing months will make harvesting basic crops like strawberries by hand very dangerous.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/ucdavis/protecting-californias-farmworkers-as-temperatures-climb/

The short-term solution will probably be night harvesting, and, of course, the development of robotic harvesting:  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/07/437285894/4-labor-intensive-crops-farmers-wish-they-had-robots-to-harvest.

Not only heat, but lack of water or too much water at the wrong time, will affect basics like olive oil:

The systematic destruction of the soil and ecosystems will eventually eliminate crops like cocoa:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/13/chocolate-industry-drives-rainforest-disaster-in-ivory-coast

Finally, the change in the weather and the creation of what Elizabeth Kolbert calls the new Pangaea – the unimpeded spread of microbes, fungi, and insects carrying diseases throughout the globe – are leading to the destruction of crops and the disappearance of foods we have learned to take for granted like bananas and oranges.

This does not even begin to cover the destruction by industrial fishing of ocean habitats that support the seafood we are all encouraged to eat for better health. (Here in Dallas, the grocery stores sell a relatively inexpensive shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, I am hesitant, knowing what I do about the dead zones and massive pollution in the Gulf, to buy these shrimp!)

So one issue is that cooking as if the whole world is one’s grocery store is a reflection of a fossil fuel dependent mentality that refuses to imagine that this way of living will shortly end. Even health books promote, without being aware of it, a static delusional world view. Recipes, such as those I just found in  Dr. Mark Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Lean cookbook (which advertises a combined paleo and vegan diet), depends heavily on foods, like coconut and avocados, which have a huge carbon footprint for North America.

The other more difficult problem is that cooking as a commodity for consumption by the wealthy (food as art!) normalizes habits that are destructive to the planet.  I can imagine in the not too distant future millions of poor people worldwide starving; the middle class here paying much of their income for food and being disappointed that the wide diversity of food they were used to is no longer available; and the superrich continuing to eat as if there is no tomorrow!

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/11/mass-starvation-humanity-flogging-land-death-earth-food

(This is probably the best opinion piece on the coming food catastrophe. It is not the first time that I have posted this, nor will it be the last!)

So my suggestion, as always, is to move away from the exotic and expensive in cooking as in life: to focus on your area’s food traditions and local crops; and grow some of your own food. Your recipes will become more wholesome if less photogenic and novel, but the planet will thank you!

*Warning: this post is what I call a Cassandra Report. As many of you may remember from Greek stories, Cassandra was a beautiful woman with whom the god Apollo fell in love. He gave her the gift of prophecy, but she rejected him. Enraged, he cursed her with the ability to tell truth about the future, but the inability to have anyone ever believe her!

So my modest guesses of what the future will hold for us are Cassandra Reports. As a disclaimer, I do not believe that I am clairvoyant. However, I do believe that anyone with a good imagination and the courage to accept change, can “foresee” the future: you do not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows! (Bob Dylan)

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Grow for Flavor!

 

carrots for Grow for Flavor
My drawing from page 71 of James Wong’s book: ‘Grow for Flavor.’ Photos by Jason Ingram.

It is the beginning of the growing season here in Dallas, Texas. Be still my heart!! I have lived for the past 20 years in a place with a 10 week growing season, so this is pretty amazing! Having found a community garden where I can help with the gardening (more information to come on that in a future post), I have started to research what to plant here in the South (again, very different cultivars than what I am used to); and I found a terrific book at the library that I want to share.

It is James Wong’s Grow for Flavor, published by Firefly Books, 2016. I loved this book so much that I purchased it on Kindle. James Wong is a self-described botanical geek and serious foodie, and the information he supplies in this book is very different from what one usually finds in gardening books, even organic or sustainable ones.

The main focus, as the title tells us, is on flavor. Now, that seems like a given, especially for home gardens, but when James read the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2014 action plan for crop breeding, he found that not once was “flavor” or “taste” mentioned, and surprisingly, that the cultivars promoted for the home gardener are the same as those used in large farms! Happily, as James read through thousands of new studies, he found that there is a shift going on to, not only better flavor, but to better nutrition (and they are connected chemically!) in the new plants being developed.

So,  James Wong focusses on flavor and, its partner, nutrition as the goals for your garden, and dismisses advertisers’ hype promoting large sized photogenic fruits (usually bland) and huge yields (unnecessary in a personal garden) to which we have become habituated. Instead, think small but intensely flavored blueberries, cherries, strawberries; carrots of all colors from deepest purple through orange to cream; and salad greens from sweet to fiery including what we mistake for weeds. Wong provides great suggestions of the names of the best cultivars and descriptions of what they taste like as well as super suggestions on how to grow them.

Because the basis of this book is the latest trials, James also gives all sorts of neat tricks (scientifically tested!) for improving the health of the plants. Did you know that you can jump start your tricky-to-germinate seeds like parsley and corn by soaking them overnight in an aspirin and seaweed soak (pg.34)? Or that watering your tomatoes with a 2% solution of salt water twice a year will make your tomatoes taste better (pg.49)? Or that slowly and gently stroking seedlings once they are one inch high makes them stockier and more resilient (p.34)?! And finally, James suggests in his recipes (also included in this book!) that you can cook with tomato leaves (pg.52)?! I have been adding carrot greens to my soups for awhile now, but chefs are starting to add tomato leaves for that leafy smell!

One final note, before I send you out to get this book and I start researching where to get these great cultivars, Grow for Flavor has also a lot of information for us permaculture fans including how to plant trees, best ways to prune, and when to harvest. You can learn more about and from James Wong at http://www.jameswong.co.uk. Happy Gardening!

 

Eating in Season

CSA food 12-8-17
CSA food, December 8th.

One of the interesting side effects of getting my food from a local farm through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is that I have been made aware of what still is growing down here in Texas (zone 8b) in early December. Now for a Northern like me, when only the most well-constructed gardens in Zone 5 (like my favourite, the One Yard Revolution:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jtw7pnqFeS4) is capable of producing anything fresh, which is to say not frozen or canned from the Fall, I am jazzed to get lovely golden beets with green tops that can be steamed, lots and lots of sweet potatoes (speaking of which, a shout-out to Wish to Dish for her recipe on her blog of a delicious looking sweet potato soup that I am trying out tonight  https://wishtodish.co.uk/2017/11/14/sweet-potato-ginger-and-coconut-soup-vegan-gluten-free/!), also spinach, kale, fennel, broccoli, and, of course, jalapeño peppers!

In the not too distant future, if things continue going the way they are (Cassandra alert!), we will all be forced back into a much more local way of eating (my home state of Vermont has already a very vibrant locavore culture:  http://seedstock.com/2015/05/17/ten-reasons-vermont-deserves-to-lead-the-strolling-of-the-heifers-2015-locavore-index/) which will make our instant gratification mindset obsolete, as well as force us to resurrect some of the lost home skills of canning, smoking, freezing, and drying fresh foods.

Again, my suggestion is to get out in front of this by practicing on a small personal scale a reduction in foods coming in out of season from very far away. Okay, coffee will clearly not be part of this experiment (!), but oranges and bananas should be. Incidentally, both fruits have recently been under attack from fungal and bacterial diseases:  https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/biotech-breakthrough-hopes-save-bananas-extinction.html    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-orange-groves-greening-citrus-tree-killing-bacteria-disease/ which will make them much less available and much more expensive in the near future.

If you are interested in imagining what a life would be like based completely on food you raise yourself, please read Barbara Klingsolver’s beautifully written book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Though Barbara and her husband Steven are professors, they both came from farming families, so they had some of the knowledge and traditions of farming available to them from their grandparents and parents.

I, on the other hand, come from at least four generations of urban peoples! My mother learned what little cooking she knew from her family’s cook, and my father did not know how to boil water. Happily, my husband (now my ex) and our daughter are good cooks.  I am still struggling to learn the basics that some lucky children learn in their mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. At my age (sixty-seven) I may not live to see the world change as radically as I worry it will, but still, it seems the wiser course to give up frivolous past times and concentrate instead on one of the basic necessities of life: the growing, cooking, storing, and, of course, eating wholesome foods.

 

 

 

How an American family got “supersized.”

heavy Texans eating web
Visitors to the Texas State Fair, 2017

My true story starts about one hundred years ago in a village in a rural part of central Ohio. There a family (mother, father, and six children) had a small home with enough land to grow food for themselves, including apples, walnuts, and golden raspberries, as well as flowers to sell for income. The parents were such good cooks that they also ran a local restaurant.

The youngest daughter married a boy from a nearby small town. They were ambitious and both went to work out of the home to pay for their starter house. The mother, now a widow, took care of her two grandchildren, a girl and a boy while their parents were away at work. She cooked for them every day, and the boy learned to make pies from her.

Eventually, the daughter and her husband decided to leave the countryside and move  to a suburb of a large eastern city. The husband bought a store, and he and his wife worked long hours to be successful. The wife continued to cook, but the food she bought came from the large grocery store nearby, and much of it was processed and packaged. There was a yard large enough to grow vegetables behind their home, but nobody had the time or interest in doing that. In fact, the father of this family believed that only poor country people too ignorant to know better would want to grow their own food.

Now it was time for their eldest daughter to have a family. She married a man from the Midwest, and she returned with him to live there in a suburb near a large Midwestern city. She cooked occasionally, but mostly she bought fast food and ready-made meals for her family. This daughter had always been heavy, and after having three children, a girl and two boys, she found that she could not lose the weight, no matter how hard she tried, so she had an operation to have her stomach reduced. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bariatric_surgery)

Meanwhile, her husband was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure and two of her three children also had serious weight issues. Her eldest daughter had to have stomach surgery too, and her youngest son became morbidly obese. The other son didn’t cook at all, and he married a girl who had never cooked. All their food is prepackaged or bought at fast food outlets.

This American family is middle class, educated, and health conscious. They use doctors and read articles about medical issues. They didn’t realize that they were choosing a way of eating that would give them obesity, diabetes, and other serious diseases.  The information- why eating foods produced by industrial farming in the now normalized manner of huge portions with meat at almost every meal is unhealthy- was not available to them through mainstream media outlets.

Changes in the nutrient quality of the food itself as it is grown on exhausted soil through industrial agribusiness processes; the inexpensiveness of food (the U.S. has the cheapest food in the world!); and the idea promoted by advertising that food (and I use the word loosely!) should be processed and pre-cooked for immediate consumption (let’s not waste any time on that dreary chore of cooking!) are some of the complex causes for this weight gain in many Americans, but even doctors seem unaware of this or unwilling to talk about it to their patients!

I  suggested in this story that there are furthermore two important cultural reasons for the disruption of healthy eating patterns: the loss of the skill of cooking in many families as processed and fast foods replaced real sit-down meals, and the deep alienation of Americans from the sources of their food. Joel Salatin, Michael Pollen, and Barbara Kingslover write about these major shifts in our American traditions.

Michael Pollen in his In Defense of Food has some good suggestions about how, through simple small steps, one can reverse this debilitating trend and bring back older more sustainable habits. His mantra is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

So how does one begin cooking again and start reconnecting with the staples of a good healthy diet? First, buy food that is grown or raised locally. This food will appear to be more expensive than the stuff trucked in from thousands of miles away, but it will taste much better! Dallas, which is a great foodie city, turns out to have a lot of organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. I pick up my weekly box of vegetables every Friday from one of them (https://johnsonsfarm.com/farm-market/produce/csa/). Still experimenting with recipes to use up all the jalapeño peppers I got in my first order (did you know that you can make cowboy candy with them?  http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/candied-jalapeno-or-cowboy-candy-453141)

Another great way to get into cooking is to grow one’s own food. This doesn’t have to be a big deal: a couple of containers with herbs or tomatoes or salad will work to begin. I have no garden in the apartment I rent in Dallas (though I am in the process of looking for a community garden to join), and my balcony is too shaded to grow much. However, I have installed a grow light (total price $35 with bulbs) in my kitchen to raise rosemary, cilantro, mint, basil, and chives this winter. And I have all these herbs right at hand when I’m cooking!

herbs under grow lights
Chives, rosemary, German thyme (hidden), spearmint, basil, and coriander under grow lights.

Cooking is a better choice for using your time, and growing food is the best choice for reconnecting with the earth beneath your feet!