Tag: food

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.

 

 

 

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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!

Change of Life…

courtyard at home in Dallas copyThe courtyard of my apartment complex in Dallas, Texas. You can make out a banana tree at the far left by the stairs!*

Howdy, y’all! Here I am, for the winter, in Dallas, Texas…not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be a “snowbird” in what is, in the U.S., the Deep South. (The West does not technically start until a few miles farther west in Fort Worth.)

But coming down here to spend the winter and early Spring months was a decision intimately connected to a larger change of life that I have been experiencing the past year. The news has been uniformly bad, and although I am not of a pessimistic mindset, I believe that we have passed the tipping point to an increase of 4 degrees warming that will cause a catastrophic collapse of many environmental systems.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/letter-to-humanity-warning-climate-change-global-warming-scientists-union-concerned-a8052481.html

So to be very clear, I do not expect the changes (“the better choices” that I am and will be making) to do very much to avert the coming disaster. And, though I am by nature a “fixer” (and many of my friends will know what that means!), I am resisting the urge to tell other people (including my own daughter) what they should do under this environmental crisis. Instead, I am simply going to document my choices and explain my reasons for my change in life and lifestyle.

One of the central reasons that I am investing the time & energy on redoing my way of living is that I believe that in the very near future we will all be forced to reform our profligate lifestyles; and I think that it will make it easier & less stressed to be proactive about changing before it is forced on us. The crux of our challenge is how to switch from a worldview that privileges personal accumulation (of money, power, property, etc.)  speed, and personal gratification (no matter at what the cost) to a much slower, simpler, and less “glamorous” way of living.

The idea of “progress” is so embedded in our lives & in our economic system that it feels almost counter-intuitive to reject it, and try to return to an older simpler way of living. The whole definition of progress is that each generation will live far better than the one before.  But the problem with human progress is how fast it is expected to happen. In this it is in direct and dangerous opposition to progress as it plays out naturally and even culturally. The Western capitalist lifestyle in particular rejects the more ancient indigenous methods of living as backward even though the solutions contained in these modes of livelihood have been tested and incrementally improved over generations!

Though I don’t like (or even approve of) most of this Western life style, I am finding it very challenging to extricate myself from a fossil fuel dependent way of living, and from very long ingrained habits!  Now, my strategy for facing a problem is first to read myself through it. So in the past year I have read a considerable amount, first on the crisis itself, and then about ways to avoid some of the more egregious pitfalls, and maybe even ameliorate this dire dilemma. My booklist can be found in the sidebar at the right.

The reading continues, but now I am making some substantial changes in my life. Some things have been in place for a long time; some are in the process of being instituted; and some are plans for my future. Because it is just me, these are all tiny steps, but they are part of greater systems; and I hope that some of them will turn out to be keystone actions.

My goal of a sustainable life will include new (for me) ways of moving through the world; eating, growing food, and cooking; getting rid of waste; and developing a community from which to learn & get moral support. I hope to connect with other people working through the same challenges!

*If you go back to my previous posts, you will notice that I have removed all the photos except for the ones I took. I have been “borrowing” photos online which is not kosher (read illegal) or fair to the photographers who made them. From this point forward, all the photos or illustrations will be my own work!

 

 

 

 

 

News vs. Noise

 

After a break of almost ten years, with the election of Trump I began once again to watch “the news.”  I read two newspapers (The Guardian & The New York Times), check out the headlines of one other (The Washington Post) and visit a couple of online sources: The Rachel Maddow Show (for her historical slant on the news); some online magazines (Treehugger ; Orion; and Facebook (in order to follow Bernie Sanders, Rep. Guiterrez from Chicago, & March for Science).

In the U.S., my news choices are considered left of center politically, but to most of the rest of the industrialized world, they are very much centrist. What becomes apparent after a few weeks of following the news, is how little actual information in presented, and how repetitious the stories and commentaries are. After a news story has peaked, it often disappears even if the event itself is still in play.:

https://chicago.suntimes.com/chicago-politics/puerto-rico-hurricane-relief-brown/

The news is also very generalized and homogenized, much like our food, housing, and clothing. During this past horrific hurricane season, all the news outlets carried the same story describing the storms themselves with barely a mention of the global warming that was responsible for their ferocity and size:

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-climate-change-natural-disasters-20170907-htmlstory.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-04/cyclone-and-extreme-weather-events-intensifying-bom-says/8869042

The other thing about the news is that almost all of it is “noise” not really news. My daughter the other day asked me how to differentiate between news and noise; in other words, with the limited time we have, what subjects should we pay attention to and what should we dismiss?

My answer to this is in the present climate is the following:

1. If the news is about an existential threat, it should be followed and understood.

So the recent information about the demise of flying insects is newsworthy:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/21/insects-giant-ecosystem-collapsing-human-activity-catastrophe

while Trump’s tweets or speeches  (for instance, his inability to make empathetic condolence calls or his dislike of football players’ civil disobedience) are not.

Existential threats include problems with our food supply:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/vast-animal-feed-crops-meat-needs-destroying-planet

And science-based articles on extreme climate change that will in the near future make the earth much less habitable than presently:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/02/climate-change-to-cause-humid-heatwaves-that-will-kill-even-healthy-people

2. If the news is about action taken, it is worth knowing. This is more difficult to find out about as the government becomes less transparent and more secretive. Rachel Maddow is good about following underreported stories. With the foxes in charge of the henhouse in the present Administration, these stories become more important:

news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

3. And finally, and most difficult to find (hence this blog!) news about what to do under these difficult circumstances both politically as the federal government is dysfunctional and dangerous:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/climate/epa-climate-change.html?mtrref=www.facebook.com)

and the state governments are very uneven:

https://www.fastcompany.com/3053928/these-states-are-the-most-and-least-at-risk-from-climate-change

In California where the state is helpful:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/ucdavis/protecting-californias-farmworkers-as-temperatures-climb/?hpid=hp_no-name_national-rightrail-brandconnect%3Ahomepage%2Fbrandconnect-sidebar

compared to Texas where it is not:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/23/post-hurricane-cleanup-work-health-safety

And what to do personally:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/smarter-living/how-to-clean-up-after-a-hurricane-or-flood.html?mabReward=ACTM3&recid=61bc0d1a-fc3d-4d34-7023-2695078b3d52&recp=7&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&mtrref=undefined&auth=login-email

Better choices, for me, begin with the actions I take including resistance to information, much of which comes under the heading “news,” that is distracting, anxiety-provoking, and/or unhelpful. In this blog, I want to show you how I am deciding on the best actions to take in these hard times, and hopefully it will help you in your planning too!