Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mirror, mirror on the wall

who's the biggest (and priciest) cheese producer of them all?

California is on its way to being number one, and my locale to reigning as #1 in high end cheese production.

In today's Press Democrat:

Frankly, if I want local cheese, I find I either have to go to the source, or make my local bigger (to include Humboldt and Del Norte counties). I can't afford the prices charged at local markets for local "artisan" cheese. (Too bad the cows aren't artisan. Organic maybe. No synthetic bovine growth hormone, certainly. But the increased yields of milk with fewer cows touted in the article can only mean that cows are being kept in a state for milking more months per year than is healthy for them or us.)

Just when I am wondering who does pay $20 a pound for cheese, my market sleuthing reveals this interesting phenomenon: the grocery cart in front of me in line holds three kinds of the pricey stuff - including a Humboldt County type I recognize as running $17 and up a pound - and a loaf of wonder bread. Will wonders never cease?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I'm finishing up some cooking to take to friends with whom I will be eating Christmas dinner. I also raided the pantry for some preserves and condiments to take along, and am still having difficulty deciding on which wine - since only two of us drink it, it seems silly to have one for the crab (the local, seasonal Christmas treat) and one for the turkey (without heritage, but locally and kindly grown).

Last evening I made the right decision - to drive north and celebrate the first Eucharist of Christmas in the Redwood Cluster. The array of holiday lights along 101 and 20 was amazing. But the most amazing was the gorgeous moon rise.

I quote yesterday's poem of the day from the WACCO digest:

Cold moonlight shines
on the end and beginning
of everything.
Andrew Zarrillo

May you feast well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

salmon woes

Last week I read a couple of articles about problems with pink salmon parasites. Farming is impacting the wild populations as the young fish swim from their river nurseries through coastal areas where the farming pens are out to sea. In the words of one scientist, it's not a question of whether but when pink salmon, that staple of the canned fish world, will be extinct.

I found the BBC story somewhat more informative than the NY Times one, but I post both here.

Cultural Choices

I've been thinking even more about food and culture lately, though I think food and culture may be a bit redundant. Surely our behaviors and choices and taboos around eating are an integral part of culture, maybe even central.

It's easy to blame the big food manufacturers and the system of farm subsidies for our fascination with mixes and prefab and faux foods. But I realized in reading Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads (Sylvia Lovgren, 1995) how much of an influence World War II shortages, rationing and patriotic promotions had on our taste for Crisco, Bisquick, Karo and the like. Mixes contained rationed fats and sugar - and were not themselves rationed. And there is a reason most of my grandmother's recipes contained molasses: she cooked her way through two world wars and a depression on my grandfather's working man's salary.

Then today I heard the latest Hidden Kitchens story on NPR, about Nisei tastes and traditions influenced by foods available or grown in the internment camps.

Reading about the camps always makes me weep for shame for our country, but the recipe for Weenie Royale and the thought of Spam Sushi (or Spam Musubi as they call it in Hawaii) somehow lighten my thoughts.

The writers extend their reflection in a way that should give all of us pause about the way wars and colonialism destroy food cultures:
"Millions of people live in refugee camps around the world now, being fed commodities and surplus. It made us think about the impact on so many cultures within so many nations when they are denied their own food and traditions, when they are forcibly displaced and their land and homes taken from them."


Monday, December 17, 2007

seasonal wisdom

Just as I love everyday frugality and simplicity, I love holiday splurges.

Nigella Lawson in her latest cookbook, Nigella Express (too many expensive shortcuts in some of the recipes, but her usual food loving breezy prose) offers:

"This time of year [Christmas] anyway invites excess, so don't worry about overdoing anything, and just go for it. The only thing that ruins a party is anxiety."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simply the best study course yet

If you are looking for a study course on food for your congregation let me recommend the Simply in Season Leader's Study Guide.

This is a companion to the Simply in Season cookbook - in fact the texts for the study group are the cookbook and the bible. What could be better than that?

Perhaps the fact that this is a balanced, thoughtful, study - with enough attention to detail that an inexperienced leader could convene and facilitate it, but enough flexibility that someone already knowledgeable about the subject and skilled in adult ed practices could have fun enriching, adapting and varying it.

The basic six sessions will help any group begin to engage more with food as a spiritual issue.

And the supplementary lessons allow for a deeper exploration of biblical background and engagement with specific food system issues.

These books - and a third one in the suite, the Simply in Season Children's Cookbook, are brought to us by the Mennonite Central Committee. Those of us of a certain age remember the More with Less cookbook, with its emphasis on frugality, and living simply that others might simply live in the seventies when more of us in the churches were concerned with world hunger than perhaps are now. That book is still in print, as is its sequel, an international more with less Extending the Table.

For the last year or so it seemed like whenever I looked at cookbooks on Amazon, Simply in Season came up under the you-might-also-like banner. A few friends had recommended it. But it wasn't until I learned about the study guide that I broke down and ordered the package.

Imagine a cookbook arranged seasonally, with real recipes from real people like an old fashioned church or community cookbook, plus thought pieces on food and ethics and peace and spirituality, and with a glossary, helpful tables, and a detailed guide to the 51 seasonal produce items featured in the recipes. Talk about having it all...

And - it's beautiful, and the comb binding allows it to lie flat on the kitchen counter.

Read more about it here:

and peruse the fruit and vegetable guide.

And check out the study sessions here:

I'm wondering which congregation or group I can persuade to do this study with me.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Consumer Heaven

Last Wednesday a new market opened in my neighborhood. There are three Oliver's in the county now, and this one is only .9 miles from my home.

I'd been apprehensive about this, considering it an elitist sort of place, with too many things I don't need at prices I can't afford. But because they have local food and it's within walking distance, I've been practicing getting over my reverse snobbery at one of the other two.

What I had learned was that if I shopped for seasonal produce and specials it would not be so bad. Then I learned that if you shop before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, and if you are an older person, you get a 10% discount. This began to look pretty good.

I went on opening day, stopping by on my way back from errands farther afield. The store felt like the casinos in Reno did when a senior tour busload had just been decanted. And it was jammed. Difficult to park, difficult to get around, difficult to see many things. I did have the pleasure though of running into some acquaintances from southern California who retired up this way a decade or so ago. I learned that the crabs - first of the season - were from Crescent City, and just by ducking down a less crowded aisle or two, I saw items on sale I never would have thought of at a high end market - like cat food. I also felt covetousness beginning to kick into gear... As my neighbor said - it was hard to get out of there without wanting everything in the store.

On Sunday, realizing I was out of cheesecloth in which to wrap fruitcakes for storage, and needing some exercise, I walked over for a second visit. More pleasant surprises: local tortillas on sale, local honey available in bulk, coupons and samples of local goat's milk yogurt. And the unbleached cheesecloth was cheaper than the bleached - imagine! Usually when less has been done to an item in the market, it costs more.

(They still didn't have any dried pears - see my entry of December 2 - but I had managed to get some at a fruit stand in the west county in the meantime - so the fruitcakes are done and swaddled.)

The saddest part of this trip was that even on the afternoon of a crystal clear 60 degree day I saw only one other pedestrian in my half-hour of walking. I am thrilled to have a place I can walk to that feels like a food field trip, and this is not exactly a low density neighborhood. Why isn't everybody out there on the streets, exercising and grocerizing?

Women, Men and Food

was the title of a syposium at the Radcliffe Institute last spring.

You can view all the panels via Harvard at Home:

I haven't watched them all yet, but the lessons about women and sugar, women and famine, women and eating disorders, etc., are all important, and the speakers include popular food writers, activists and scholars.

Besides, what are you watching? re-runs? or the Frosty Rudolph specials?

More here as I study the various panels.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Why is it that when I want to participate in the consumer culture...

I fail so miserably.

These days I am looking for a couple of ingredients for holiday baking, and looking, and looking, and looking...

Over the years I developed a recipe for what I call a California fruitcake - because it has lots of dried fruit soaked in plenty of alcohol rather than the nasty bits of candied tropical fruit, faux cherries, etc., and plenty of California nuts. Just think - a pretty much local seasonal treat. The backbone of this cake is dried pears. But I can't find any anywhere around here. I now have checked five markets - a national chain, a regional chain, a local market, a health food co-op and whatever Trader Joe's is - a transnational specialty food emporium? I used to always get these at Trader Joe's when it was a California chain, but the choices in dried fruit have been greatly reduced, and many of them are imported. You can get dried pears in mixed dried fruit - but both the national brand, Sunmaid, and a small organic label I found are not California fruit, but from China or Argentina, if I recall correctly.

Some of the best pears in California come from the region north of here where I am working with the congregations. Today I drove by the Safeway in Lakeport, where they had a rather tattered banner flapping "We have Lake County Pears" - but the only dried ones were the imported jobs in the Sunmaid mixture, and the weekend produce manager said there were no dried pears on her order sheets.

I'm now wondering if the fruit and nut emporia between here and Sacramento might be the places to check - but I've just had a trip over that way, and don't expect another until next year.

So, I tried the internet, where the best prices on California dried pears are kosher markets in New York and New Jersey.

The other item I've been looking for is rolled rye, which I use in some yeast baking items. Heck, you can even get rolled quinoa in the bulk bins - but only rye flour (no pumpernickel) and rolled rye as one of the four in a rolled cereal flakes melange. This is now a several year quest. I may have to order a case of it from Bob's Red Mill in Oregon if I want to ever make those great rye rolls again.

Bottled Water at the Spiritual Smorgasbord

I'm not sure whether this article in the NY Times (Wednesday, November 28) is worth commenting on or not.

Any takers?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Our conflicted way of food

I've been wanting for some time to write about attitudes toward food in our American culture, but have been mulling over just where to begin and what to say.

Then this weekend I noticed that our seasonal confusion now extends to confusing times of feasting and times of fasting. Used to be we had lots of advertising and editorial copy in the various media about feasting until the New Year, when the ads and features about exercise and dieting began. Gradually this moved backward until one could see the diet and exercise pitches beginning on Boxing Day. This, more than anything, signalled that the Christmas season was dead except liturgically. Now it seems that the diet data comes right along with the recipes for butter cookies. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I turned on the tv a few minutes in advance of something I wanted to watch and stumbled upon a segment - on one of those shows that fills the gossip column niche - on how to take off the pounds gained on Thursday.

So I want to know - who gains multiple pounds in one day? Surely that is only possible for chronic dieters and the dehydrated? And who weighs themselves the day after a major feast? And I want to know why we must jettison the leftovers and get all puritanical right away?

Are we afraid of food? afraid of pleasure? afraid of losing control? Or we are just determined to make ourselves miserable and never enjoy anything?

Actually, I have been wondering if our life circumstances are so out of control, or seem to be, that one of the few places we feel we can exercise control is over our food choices. Is this a motivation for both the addiction to diets and the interest in fresh, seasonal and local food?

I want to think that the latter is somehow more positive than the former because it allows for seasonal celebration and choosing foods for taste, not just for caloric, carb or fat content.

But I'm still mulling.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Open Season on Food

It's the Wednesday before the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and today's food edition of my local paper sold out before I went in search of a copy early this afternoon. That's because, I'm assuming, it's loaded with food ads and wine ads and recipes for the great American meal.

I decided yesterday to go ahead and cook, even though I don't have very many people to come and I won't do a turkey. Whoever comes is the right group, and whatever leftovers will get eaten eventually.

I'm not sure what I'm having yet. I like stuffing, so I think I may try baking some winter squash and then stuffing them with something. Perhaps adapt my standby stuffing, with brown and wild rice instead of bread cubes, but retaining the butter, onion, cranberries, orange juice and rosemary. Then more vegetables: Brussels sprouts or another flavorful dark green veg in some form, and creamed onions with blue cheese. Green tomato mincemeat pie with cheddar for dessert for sure. Haven't homed in on a starter yet.

I began, as I came up with menu ideas, worrying about having cheese in every dish. But then I realized that too much cheese is a dairy vegetarian's equivalent of too much gravy. Most days I limit myself to one ounce of cheese. Maybe my goal should be to have cheese in every course for this celebration of abundance.

And cranberries in every course, too. I was surprised to read in one food column that the writer felt she must choose between having cranberry sauce with the turkey and a cranberry tart for dessert. Why?

But then, I think about two precedents. One is that I came from the land of Ocean Spray world HQ. (You've seen the guys in the bogs in the ad. Bogus bogmen.) We thought little of having cranberry juice and vodka cocktails, cranberry sauce, cranberry jello salad, cranberry-raisin pie, etc.

The second is the learning when in Japan twenty years ago that if you went to a crab restaurant, every course, every dish, had crab in it. I do not see why Thanksgiving should not be a similar celebration of the cranberry for those of us who truly love them.

And I have absolutely no food miles shame around the fact that yesterday I went in search of guaranteed Massachusetts cranberries from Wareham. Not the kind that say they may have been packed in Oregon, Wisconsin or Massachusetts.

Here's a helpful article from the Times with three great looking vegetarian dishes that really do fill the bill for one person's hearty side is another person's main dish.

What is sane? what is green?

Yesterday, after coping with my hmo and doing some necessary things at my desk I decided I needed to escape for a while to the movies. I saw Michael Clayton which seemed the best classic sort of movie I have seen in a while. I thought going to the movies might even be an escape from the thinking and writing about food issues which I ought to be doing, but not so. The food system is everywhere.

An attorney who has been working for years on a liability suit against an agribusiness company goes off the rail - he's bipolar - and begins taking the plaintiffs' part. The huge corporate law firm's "janitor" (Michael Clayton / George Clooney) is sent in to manage the attorney having the meltdown. There are many interesting twists and turns involving things like an idealistic Iowa farm girl who has lost parents and siblings to the offending herbicide and is living with her older sister's family, the fantasy novel which Clayton's young son is reading, and the dysfunctional, addicted, but ultimately redemptive bonds of Clayton's cop culture family.

One is left wondering if the crazy attorney might not have been the sanest one after all, his break a break out of amorality. And the backdrop of greenwashing in the agrichem ads has to make us all wonder if we are all the crazy ones, buying into their system in the many ways we do.

Enough. The food system is everywhere, and it's a good movie. Go see it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Garden themes and meanings

I've just added to the book list City Bountiful which is a history of community gardens in the United States, from the turn of the century depression (19th to 20th) to the present. It was a bit of a slog for someone like me who is not a history buff, plowing through all the details - but well worth it in the end. If you are part of a community garden, or thinking of starting one, I hope someone in the group you are working with will pick this up, read it, and share the learnings. The last chapter summarizes very useful ideas for planning a garden project.

The interesting thing, of course, is how purposes, values and organizational patterns for urban gardening have changed as times have changed. We can welcome the fact that gardens and garden schemes are a lot less paternalistic these days, involving, as they do, the gardeners themselves in preparation of sites and policy development.

Another interesting note is that community or urban gardens have become more important at times of societal stress and insecurity. The author writes "garden programs serve to further a vision of what should be in times when society is unclear about where the future is heading. " (emphasis hers)

I couldn't help but think of the story of a garden in Genesis, and the purposes it serves. It's a constructed ideal past, what we wish life were if it weren't so complex and limited. The song echoes, "We've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

"Restoring Eden" is not about restoring anything, but about a longing for what we feel creation should be. This plays out in our biblical garden story, and in our dreams for our little plots.

The author points out that urban gardening has also served, and still serves, a variety of practical purposes such as food security, health, recreation, economic opportunity, and community building. The last has become more important and more time consuming as leadership in community gardens has become more widely shared. This is something I recognize as parallel to my work in congregational ministry development. When one person is not the boss and delegater, how we do things, especially decision making, takes lots more time and energy, and how we do things becomes more important than what we do.

Like developing a garden, developing community is a process with many twisty feedback loops, and much to learn.

Monday, October 29, 2007

words and phrases

There are a bunch of notes on my desk, written on scraps of paper and the backs of envelopes from junk mail, on words and phrases that have caught my fancy. It seems like a good idea to do a little round up of them here. None really spawned a full entry, but all are clever or amusing, I think.

I've seen both "agrofuels" and "agrifuels" but am wondering if it should be "aggrofuels".

An article in the NYTimes a while back talked about a wonderful sounding emporium in Milan called "Eataly" - with local artisan foods and produce, cooking classes, etc. There will be one in New York, but of course it will feature all high end imports: somebody else's slow food jetted to the USA and bought in a hurry. I'd like to propose a center here with our local stuff, which could easily be called "California EATalian". So much of it is.

"Eco-gastronomy" - somehow this feels like me in a word.

But a phrase that can be used to describe the extreme ecogastronomes (I think this is from Barbara Kingsolver) is "veering past purity to madness". They may be suffering from "food miles shame".

I found a recipe which described its method as basically a "dump, stir and taste operation".

And reading a history of community gardens, I found this excellent reminder among the slogans used during WWI "Practice Economy Without Parismony". I like being frugal, but I find cheeseparing and those who talk about it very tedious indeed.

I'll wrap this up with a phrase that conjured up a different image than I think it was intended to: "battered frozen food".

Dear readers - if you've found great turns of phrase appropriate to my topic, please add a comment.

one piece of the puzzle

This article
about Culinary Cornerstones at Episcopal Community Services in Kansas City doesn't say much about local, sustainable, seasonal - but it does offer one piece of the puzzle.

Why shouldn't folks who love to cook but don't meet the profile for students at other professional cooking schools be given an opportunity to develop good skills?

And the synergy between a community meal program and a classy cooking school for those who are variously abled and situated is just great.

When I was working with a community meal at my parish in Los Angeles, I often dreamed of meals open to anyone who was hungry or lonely in the community that were so good others who were well fed and befriended would pay to eat them. Shouldn't life as though the reign of God mattered be like that?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Early Rains and eating locally

Winter is arriving early here this year. Not winter as in cold, but winter as in rain. We have had 10% or our annual rainfall already, and it's only the middle of October. Not that we didn't need it, having had such a dry spring, but it does put an end to the summer garden in a way that is equal to but different from those areas where frost does the work.

Between the weather and the busyness of church schedules in fall, I've done most of the fall chores at the community garden with good help from others. Over the next week, I will mulch and sew some cover crops.

There are lots of tomatoes in several forms put by, but tonight I will be approaching the last fresh one, and using the last of the fresh zucchini and string beans, in a vegetable stew with polenta. Only the pumpkins will be left as fresh garden produce, until I harvest the first of the winter chard from my backyard in a week or two.

This has got me thinking about the challenges to eating locally, and fresh when possible, in the winter. Even in this benign climate, even with some garden space and year round farm markets, even with my own preservation efforts, it isn't easy to eat local in the winter. As I mentioned below, I do give in to frozen vegetables once in a while. And I will be buying fresh cranberries that are from Massachusetts (best flavor, flavors of home) if I can get them. Our food system and food habits have moved so far from do-it-yourself local food that even those of us with commitment and resources find it hard to change our habits.

The shift from encouraging home and community gardens to addressing food insecurity with subsidized commodities toward the end of the Great Depression is just one movement whose impact is still with us. We have organized around Big Food, the pal of Big Oil, and undoing the work is daunting.

The article in Wednesday's NY Times, "Local Carrots With a Side of Red Tape" seemed depressingly typical of the challenges we face. If individuals find it hard to undo our ways with food, how much harder on a larger scale, like getting carrots farmed in NY state to NYC school children.

Saucy Tricks

Finally, a food celebrity who makes pasta the way I do.

The minimalist this week recommends making pasta with less pasta and lots more sauce, using more seasonal vegetables. Up the veg to white carb ratio and eat well, tastily, healthfully.

And as long as he is being unorthodox about the one dish pasta meal, let me add another tip. When seasonal vegetables are a bit scarce, you can add the pasta to boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes, then add some frozen shelled edamame or lima beans to the pot and cook until the pasta is al dente - drain and dress with the rest of your saucy vegetables.

Messy Links

My list of links is getting out of hand!

Short of a complete reorganization, I just grouped all the ones directly related to the Farm
Bill at the beginning and double checked them to be sure they all still go somewhere, so that they would be useful for informing contacts with senators. It's expected that the bill will be voted in the Senate Ag Committee on October 24.

Tip: if you only have time to read one thing, check out the California Coalition on Food and Farming for recommendations on what to talk to your senators' offices about.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Happy World Food Day

Yes, today is World Food Day, the anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
I am celebrating by going to a meeting where grant apps will be reviewed. Our Sonoma County Food working group is looking for a piece of the pie, as it were, to conduct a survey of our food system and develop some base line indicators so we can track progress toward fresh, local food for all.
Studying the WFD web site, this photo caption caught my interest:
"What is adequate food? It means an amount and variety of food sufficient to meet all of one's nutritional needs for a healthy and active life. The right to food is more than the right to basic staples or to sufficient dietary energy."
Now, I resist the nutritionistas and the obesity police, but I would have to agree with them on this: many of our US children, most of them affluent by any global standard, are not having their right to adequate food honored as they subsist on chicken nuggets, Kraft dinner, artificially flavored and colored yogurt, cola and its cousins, with canned or frozen corn as a vegetable - as though they weren't getting enough corn in the other things.
The other thing that struck me as I read so many of the materials on the WFD site is this: food aid is a last or emergency resort. Adequate food requires that we address all the issues that impede people's ability to meet their dietary needs - land rights, environmental degradation, living wage, water resources. If a person is hungry it usually means that lots of other things have already gone wrong in their lives, most of them systemic issues. Hunger is the last symptom of a community that is not supporting the lives of its members.
I struggle with how we get churches to see that food aid for the hungry is the least we can do. Unless it is accompanied by other initiatives that work to develop or change policies that eradicate poverty, it's useless. Unless we look at the whole food system, we are only doing good for the next meal or the next day, not really doing anything to secure and sustain adequate food for all.
I'm posting the link to the Right to Adequate Food guidelines on the list to the right.
The excellent leaflet for World Food Day is available here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

culture and local food

The last line in this article on Tanka Bars tickled my fancy:

I suspect the word for the portable food varies from tribe to tribe, too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


An article from last week's LA Times food section on potlucks,1,3971443.story?coll=la-headlines-food

got me thinking about how we might do better at eating together.

There is a certain bias against potlucks, probably because of the jello salad - tuna casserole connection. I've been to plenty of them (occupational hazard) and usually tried to eat a little of everything, praising all the cooks. Now I don't eat meat and have a range of other things I'd rather not, which makes navigating such potlucks difficult. And they are a challenge for those on restricted diets, too (whether for medical or vanity reasons).

I've also been to planned potlucks, at least in my Reno days, where a main dish was chosen and folks negotiated things to go with it and committed to prepare them, or a menu was developed and assigned.

Not so much anymore, though.

Church potlucks seem to have more and more stuff from Costco, or a centerpiece of Kentucky Fried Colonel surrounded by homemade and deli salads - or they just aren't done at all.

And I don't know anyone anymore (maybe I know the wrong people) who is part of a circle of friends who regularly cook and eat together.

It occurs to me, though, that the potluck may be a solution to the frustrating problem of who to invite to dinner and what to serve.

I know some people go into high anxiety wondering what to serve me when they invite me - even though I always say "Just don't put bacon in all the vegetable dishes and I'll be fine." I've figured out some ways to do vegetarian or piscatarian menus when type II diabetics are on the guest list, but I am stymied by the absolutely no sugar ever crowd of whom I know too many.

The worst thing is the people who say, "Invite me over and I'll bring the food." Well, I hate - that's HATE - to clean and I love to cook, so it's no fun for me to prepare the setting and have someone else bring the food.

If we had more potlucks and each person brought plenty of something we like that is on our sugar free/gluten free/soy free/low sodium/low carb/low fat/meatless/vegan diet, then we each would be sure to have at least one good thing, and the omnivores would be in heaven.

It's worth thinking about...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

vacation reading

I'm just back from a vacation which was probably too short to be called a vacation, but a day too long for a long weekend. As a treat, I saved the copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which I'd purchased to read while knitting and seeing friends and sights in Seattle.

I can't recommend it highly enough.

I'm not sure that I'm learning anything major from it, but it seems more than worth the read for the turns of phrase Barbara Kingsolver uses. The boxed notes by Steven Hopp sum up some good science and always point to a web site where one can find more information, and Camille Kingsolver's recipes and menu ideas are fun and sensible.

What I like most, though, is the humor and affirmative tone in this book. The apocalyptic, tsking and blaming, purity seeking tone of so many books on eco-gastronomy take all the joy out. Not so here. As someone who uses appreciative approaches in consulting, I appreciate the joy in eating well, seasonally and sufficiently in this book. Kingsolver is right - the problem with diets is the negative apodictic framing. (Did she use that phrase? I don't think so... Call it "thou shalt nots" or taboos or unclean, that's the usual approach.)

Why shouldn't we start with where we are, what is good and wholesome, and figure out how to build on that, rather than creating lists of what to take away?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

now is the time to write to your senator

The House of Representatives did some good, but not nearly enough, with the Farm Bill before summer recess.

Now some in the Senate are trying to push the envelope on reform, led by the chair of the Senate ag committee, Tom Harkin of Iowa. When somebody from Iowa says it's time for a change in the way we do ag, it's definitely time for a change. But the transition toward a more sustainable and just farm policy will take money.

Looks like next week is when mark-up of the bill in committee will happen.

So please - write to your senators and ask them to support Harkin's efforts.

And follow any of the links related to the farm bill for more information. (Californians: see California Coalition for Food and Farming on the list to the right for the latest.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

reading and picking

It's been weeks since I did as much writing here as I had hoped, but I have been reading and picking.

Things are slowing down in the garden - or I am. Still produce is everywhere. Yesterday at a meeting of the Sonoma County Food working group New College students brought a huge box of produce - which I resisted. But when I saw the eggplants, I brought some home to go with the squash and tomatoes I have.

I think that we are finally moving, having agreed yesterday to tackle a countywide food assessment. This is foundational - knowing where we are to identify how to move toward where we want to be - fresh, affordable food for all, that's good for people and our environment.

All of this for me against a backdrop of pondering food globally. I'm recording notes from Food Wars today, before returning it to the library, and taking at last look at Hungry Planet before it, too, goes back. Whenever I feel sorry for myself trying to can and bake at the same time in my galley kitchen I will remember the two page spread (pp. 54-55) "Kitchens".

If you are not familiar with Hungry Planet, it has photos of a families with their food for a week from a number of places around the world. Some, mostly in Africa, have no packaged foods, and perhaps not enough. Some, like Greenland, have curious mixtures of packaged, imported items and local foods. Others, like the family that shops at Raley's and Costco and the German and Japanese families have an astounding array of packaged items. If I had to eat anywhere else, based on these photos, it would be Guatemala, Italy or Turkey.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

god and mammon and a cup o' joe

An investigative report for The Sacramento Bee, by Tom Knudson, indicates that the individual consumer, however reassured by corporate marketing, must still be wary of claims of eco-friendly or worker-friendly production.

Perhaps we'd be better off with Just Coffee

Saturday, September 22, 2007

greening the synagogue

Rabbi David J. Cooper on Yom Kippur encouraged his congregation to use the day to think about how to become better stewards of the earth.

Reported by Meredith May, Saturday, September 22, 2007

Kehilla Synagogue - High Holydays Services 2007/5768
"The Earth Upon Which You Stand is Holy Ground" (Exodus 3:5)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

greening the church

September 23 bulletin insert focuses on 'a fair harvest,' the U.S. Farm Bill

September 17, 2007 [Episcopal News Service] Fairness for farmers and food for the hungry at home and abroad, and how you can help are the main ingredients in the September 23 Episcopal Life bulletin insert

commodification gone cuckoo

'Twenty years ago, who would have thought that someone would get money for a bottle of drinking water? Now, in Belgium, a glass of drinking water in a pub is more expensive than a glass of beer! The trend towards the commodification of almost everything has been most exemplified in Ireland with the commodification of drinking water....'

I'd copy the whole dang article if I could - but check it out for yourself. Dara lives on Inis Mor in the Aran Islands - he grows potatoes the old way, in lazy beds, fertilized with kelp gathered from the sea and brought up from the beach for manure (as is shown in "Man of Aran" 1934 film - on IMDB a viewer ponders, "I wonder if people are still farming Aran or if they have all left for the big city.").

The Reverend Billy (yes!) taught me a lot about the commodification of experience.

'Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir believe that Consumerism is overwhelming our lives. The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. Our neighborhoods, "commons" places like stoops and parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatized world of big boxes and chain stores. .... So we are singing and preaching for local economies and real - not mediated through products -- experience. We like independent shops where you know the person behind the counter or at least - you like them enough to share a story.'

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Urban Chicks

This NY Times food news brought an article about urban backyard poultry

It ALMOST made we want to get a few chickens - which I am sure are not allowed in the condominium where I live. But memories quickly staunched the flow of longings for my own supply of animal protein and manure. My job as a grade school child was the chickens. (My brother's was the pigs - which I liked a whole lot better as creatures.) My father had Five Acres and Independence ambitions, and frequently quoted from St. Paul (though I'm not sure he knew that was the source) that "Those who don't work, don't eat." Eggs still warm from the girls are lovely, but not lovely enough to overcome memories of the daily round of care and the periodic mucking out of the hen house. Slaughtering I could probably do - but the plucking!

Perhaps I need to find someone to partner with who has some hens but isn't much interested in vegetable gardening. We could have our own little sustainability system.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interlibrary Loan

I'm speeding along reading a book I have for just two weeks, wondering why with all the foodies in this county my library didn't have a copy of it.

It's Food Wars: the Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets by Tim Lang and Michael Heasman. (London: Earthscan, 2004) It is a global book, much less US centered than most of the other reading I have recommended. There are lots of charts and graphs and tables here, which I like a lot. But most significant is that this book does not mince words about the tensions between human health and nutrition values and ecological values. This is a tension I feel a lot when I meet with food system folks around here - I came close to a shouting match with a woman who felt it was more important for folks to have fresh produce, even if it does come from Mexico. I was arguing for sustainability values. It's not that I don't care about health - but that I see the values as nesting. Unless we look at planetary health, our solutions to individual health will be for one generation at most.

One of the tables toward the end of the book is "some tentative rules for food and ecological health (adults)". I love the last bullet
- Enjoy food in the short term, but think about its impact long term

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh No - Not PASTA!

The Food Museum Blog alerted us to an interesting AP story a few days ago. Italians were being encouraged to boycott pasta because the prices are rising. And why are the prices rising? Because wheat prices are going up. And why is that? Because of the impact of biofuel crop production on the grain supply.

tomato tyranny and zucchini exuberance

I've been neglecting writing because I seem to be spending too much time with my own harvest and (literal) gleanings. As long as I have the oven on to bake zucchini muffins, I might as well roast the excess grape tomatoes for the freezer - that kind of thing.

I've also made muffins with the first pumpkin and grated some zucchini for the freezer, for more muffins later. And frozen some single portions of marinara and giardiniera sauce.

And as long as I have enough green tomatoes and a donation of some backyard pears, why not say yes to an ad for free apples? So tomorrow I can make and can green tomato mincemeat.

But I might have to make applesauce, too - there are so many. They are a beautiful variety - pink pearl (no, no - not erasers, apples) and would make beautiful sauce - or a galette or kuchen.

And with the apples came some tomatillos - and the poor woman was so tired of canning, I could not say no, take them home! No more produce! So instead of sitting with my knitting and watching a ballgame this evening, I made a small batch of salsa verde.

The apples also came with a copy of a recipe for zucchini relish. Frankly, I don't eat much relish - but I suppose it could be a novelty for the fantasy league reunion next winter. But as long as I can find anybody to take zucchini and crooknecks - still producing like their lives depended on it - and, of course, they do (since summer squash are harvested immature, they keep making new ones in pursuit of seeding the next generation) - I think I will keep giving them away.

One of the wonderful things about the garden project is the happy responses of people to whom I give extra produce. I don't know which is more edifying - to look at a colorful basket of tomatoes you grew yourself, or to see the happy smiles of people with whom you share them.

But really plants - time to slow down, and relax into fall, so I can get out of the kitchen in the evenings before the 10:45 weather report. I do want to extend the harvest, with local food put by to enrich winter meals. But I don't want to be building bigger barns.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Okay - I just like the word. We have "farm trails", Brits have "farm stays", but the Italians help to support small scale agriculture and all those resources for slow food with "agroturismi".

Thanks to the Food Museum Blog for this new word which I can practice saying as I prepare pasta with fresh tomatoes from the community garden and Sonoma County cheese.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why I don't eat meat

I've been meaning to write this piece for a long time, so here goes.

Today I followed a trail in a NY Times article - about aggressive pro-vegetarian ads, aimed at people concerned with climate change - to a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report Livestock's Long Shadow. (See link to right.)

I'll admit that I was more than a little annoyed when I saw "An Inconvenient Truth" (aka All About Al) that there was no mention of the contribution cattle make to global warming. Now it seems PETA is taking on our former Vice President, basing their billboard campaign on data in the the UN report.

So I tracked it down, and even though reading on line and reading sans serif is not easy, decided not to print all 408 pages. I read the introduction, skimmed the report (good pictures, better charts, graphs and maps!) and then read the conclusion.

The report outlines the impact of livestock globally on climate, water and biodiversity - and it's not a pretty picture.

There's a strong appeal for policy change - to move from the superficial nuisance issues related to livestock such as flies and smells, through the intermediate issues like local clean air and water, to consideration of the long term issues, like climate change and loss of biodiversity.

And it's not easy, since the social importance of livestock far outweighs its economic importance globally. Think about the way meat eating is used as a dividing line socially in the media here in the U.S. Think about Precious Ramotswe's father's cattle. (#1 Ladies' Detective Agency stories - and by the way, cattle in Botswana use 23% of the water) Think about using goats as dowries, think about sacred cows - and you begin to get the picture.

And over a third of the world's poor depend on livestock production for at least a piece of their livelihood.

The environmental impact of livestock is also grossly disproportional to their economic value (about 1.4% of global GDP). One third (33%) of the arable land in the world is used to grow feed for livestock. Eighteen (18%) of the global warming effect is due to livestock - that's larger the transportation sector worldwide.

Growth in production of livestock around the world is not in small scale farming, but in industrial production, usually near urban areas. Manure is a huge problem!

I am reminded of wondering, when listening to the keynote from Petaluma Poultry (Rockie and Rosie) at the Sustainable Enterprise conference, that they can't call themselves a sustainable enterprise until they solve the manure issue, preferably cycling it back into the system nearby to produce feed for R & R.

I'm not sentimental about animals (Okay - except the ones I know. Okay - I have watched the movie Babe half a dozen times.) And if I were much concerned about eating meat and health I would eat much less of everything. I stopped eating meat ten or twelve years ago for environmental reasons, and then I rather lost my taste for it. I might still eat a little if I were still working in rural Nevada, where range fed beef, backyard sheep, and venison from the annual hunt were common - and sustainable. But I live in a suburban/exurban area where good produce is much more readily available than sustainably grown or harvested meat, and most restaurants (and congregations) speak vegetarian.

Livestock's Long Shadow does deal with policy changes, not with consumption and lifestyle issues, yet it does note
"While not addressed by this assessment, it may well be agreed that environmental damage by livestock may be significantly reduced by lowering excessive consumption of livestock products among wealthy people."
I would assume that means us, and that it includes leather and fiber, too - though there was little about the latter in the report.

It's not my job to "convert" anyone to vegetarianism. It is part of my calling, I think, to remind environmentalists that livestock present very serious issues. The report says with great understatement
"Perhaps even among the majority of environmentalists and environmental policy-makers, the truly enormous impact of the livestock sector on climate, biodiversity and water is not fully appreciated."

We got the first environmental set of 3R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. Perhaps now it is time to consider another set: Reform farming practices, Reduce meat consumption, Replace meat in the diet with other things.

Take me out to the (meatless) ballgame

I'm not an animal rights activist - but while looking at the PETA site to find something else, I stumbled upon this.

Lo and behold! Even though the embattled Black Muslim bakery is no longer at the Coliseum, there is meatless fare. I can't wait for Stitch n Pitch with vegetarian lunch on Sunday, September 16.

If you're headed to an MLB game near you, you can check out the park here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

agroindustrial cryogeneticism

In a recent issue The New Yorker profiles a scientist who is developing a global cryobank for plant seeds - to be stored in a vault in the cold of an island off the Arctic coast of Norway. The seeds are stored country by country and each country may only have access to its own. While Monsanto, ADM, and rest of the Big Ag oligarchy shy away from allowing patent hybrids to be even that far out of their control, certainly the governmental powers that be are buying into the idea.

As for the work of the people, Gary Paul Nabhan of Native Seed/SEARCH gets a brief mention as an ethnobotanist; no word of Ecology Action or Bountiful Gardens, Alan Chadwick or Michael Pollan. There is apparently lots of room left for individual action - seeds in a deep freeze may preserve the future of our planet's biodiversity about as well as coal has.... so go plant some heirlooms of your own and share them with the living.



Annals of Agriculture
Sowing for Apocalypse
The quest for a global seed bank.
by John Seabrook August 27, 2007
John Seabrook, "Sowing for Apocalypse," The New Yorker, August 27, 2007, p. 60

ANNALS OF AGRICULTURE about seeds, seed banks, and the genetic modification of crops. Writer accompanies Cary Fowler to the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry in St. Petersburg, Russia. Fowler, the director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, was in St. Petersburg to gather contributions for the world’s first global seed bank, which is being built in Svalbard, Norway and is scheduled to open in February, 2008. Briefly discusses the history of agriculture, which began about 8000 B. C. in Mesopotamia, and the preservation of seeds by early civilizations. Tells about Nikolai Vavilov, the founder of the Russian seed institute and the first man to think of creating a global seed bank. Vavilov fell afoul of Stalin and died in a Siberian labor camp. Writer mentions the destruction of the national seed banks of Iraq and Afghanistan during the U. S.-led invasions. Seed banks in countries such as Honduras and the Philippines have recently been lost to natural disasters. Most national agricultural banks contain the seeds of crops grown in that country. The American national seed bank is in Fort Collins, Colorado. Explains the basic principles of seed storage: low humidity and cold temperatures are essential. Tells about Fowler, who grew up in Memphis and became interested in seeds while working on a magazine article about the disappearance of family farms in the South. Describes his battle with two forms of cancer. Surviving cancer motivated Fowler to become more involved in seed preservation efforts because he believed he hadn’t contributed constructively to society. Writer describes the development of hybrid crops by companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, the first private seed company. By 1945, hybrid corn amounted to ninety per cent of the corn planted in the U. S. Tells about the green revolution, the process by which American-made hybrid seeds were sent around the world. While the hybrid crops allowed farmers to increase their yields, they also planted an American-style agrarian capitalism in developing nations. The backlash to the green revolution was led by writers and activists such as Pat Mooney and Jack Harlan, who warned that the adoption of hybrid seeds might cause traditional crop varieties to become extinct. Discusses the role played by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in negotiating international agreements regarding the sale and use of seeds. American agricultural corporations had successfully patented their hybrid seeds, many of which had been taken from developing countries, whose farmers were now forced to pay for the seeds they originally helped cultivate. Tells about the controversy over genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.s). Writer accompanies Fowler to Svalbard to inspect the site of the global seed vault, which is also where the Nordic Gene Bank is housed.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Reflecting on what the NY times found newsworthy

Do we (Episcopalians and other moderate to liberal Christian denominations) care about the ethics of food? And if not, why not? I have been musing about this since I posted the link to Wednesday's Times story.

On the one hand most of our congregations have or participate in some sort of program to get food to the food insecure. An emergency food pantry, a community meal, a weekly food handout, or in some parishes a large scale effort. On the other hand, my observation remains - that few want to go beyond that - to look at the ethics of our food system. Example: a few years ago when I did a program on Measure M (our local initiative to ban GMOs) I had half as many people attend as worked handing out food on a weekday afternoon when it's Episcopalians' month to do it.

It seems to me we won't care about food system issues if we don't care about our own practices around food. I haven't been to a coffee hour in some time around here when there was homemade food on offer. Oops - I take that back - there were homemade toll house cookies two weeks ago at Thanksgiving Lutheran. But mostly it's stuff bought in quantity at Costco.

It's not that there is better food at the Eucharist, either. Two weeks ago an appeal was made for folks to bake bread for the Eucharist. "How many of you have a bread machine at home?" was the opening question. I just sat there. I have taught folks in more than one congregation how to make good uncrumby bread for the Eucharist - but I don't have a bread machine and don't much like the product.

In the Los Angeles diocese in the 90s my experience was that if you wanted anything to eat after the liturgy, you should go to a congregation where English was not the primary language or get two hours away from central Los Angeles. There are congregations in some places which do not even have kitchens where you can prepare a meal - and I am not talking about old and tiny small town churches, or buildingless congregations. We have fewer and fewer communal meals at our congregations, it seems to me. And we feed our youth a steady diet of take away pizza. Why don't we teach them to cook?

And when is the last time I have heard anyone talk about fasting? I've noticed that those who have been to seminary or something like it and those who have been among the more Catholic Episcopalians for decades do exercise some form of fasting, at least on the two required fast days. But it's been years since I ever heard it mentioned in a sermon, or even an announcement.
I think most people's piety around food is strictly secular - whether the South Beach/Weight Watchers kind or Mickey D's/Costco or Slow Food. We don't want to bring back dietary laws, by any means - but surely our eating practices ought to be begin with the many meanings of our Sunday meal together, and flow from them?

There are also the time pressures of too many people's lives which cause eating to be hurried and food prep to be minimal. And I think we also have some class issues, wedded to a strange asceticism, that cause us to not want to make too much of food, not to pay it too much attention (except for individuals who are labeled "foodies"). And our disregard then gets mapped onto our thinking about food system issues.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The NY Times notices that food is a religious issue

though it's too bad that so little attention is given to mainstream and liberal protestantism. Or do we care as much about the ethics of eating as Roman Catholics, conservative evangelicals, and observant Jews?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Food Access"

Tuesday I went to the Sonoma County Food Access meeting. I knew some of the folks there from working on our Food Connections conference last summer. I knew a few others by reputation or organization. Some I didn't know.

Things were heavy on the school garden, childhood obesity end of things. I know this is partly because that's where the grant money and the programs are these days. But it discourages me that the perspective of some of the folks involved is so narrow. What about food security generally? what about environmental concerns? what about the whole peak oil re-localization agenda? what about, if you are going to be part of a county-wide interest group, trying to take a broader perspective, not just advocate for your little project?

I also have some issues with some of the racism and classism I see around this obsession with the obesity epidemic. It feels a little judgmental, a little condescending. In some ways it parallels the stop smoking campaign. Since fewer of even poor and working class people smoke now, let's attack the fat.

I keep thinking about the woman I met at the gathering in November of Episcopal commissions and committees, the urban nurse educator from the Health Commission. She said, "We've been working so hard with our young black women, trying to build self-esteem, and now we have to tell them you're fat and that's bad."

I couldn't believe that one woman concerned with child health in this community did not know what Lola's was. We were talking local supermarkets and I mentioned Lola's. Lola (is there a Lola, or is she like Betty Crocker?) has two smallish supermarkets serving the Spanish speaking community. I can't get a non-profit job because I don't speak Spanish - but I know where Lola's is and what she sells. How can anyone concerned with Food Access in this community not know? (And now I am embarrassed to admit that I don't know if there really is a Lola - another research project.)

Limiting food systems policy development to the realm of health bugs me too. That seems to be the best banner in the county plan under which to place our concerns, but the food system is about so much more than personal well being. (My favorite edible symbol of American individualism and self absorption: the "personal watermelon".)

Clearly I probably shouldn't be attending these meetings. I'm sure I make almost everyone there crazy asking system questions and challenging them to take a wider perspective.

We also talked about a name for the group. People seem happy with "Food Access". It makes me uncomfortable. And toward the end of the meeting I realized why. It implies a consumer perspective. Now in one way we are all consumers. Consume food or die. And we live in a consumer culture. But I think one of the reasons our food system is such a mess is because of consumerism. So why are we looking at a consumerist solution? That's intervening in the system in a way that plays right into the problems and reinforces them.

As long as we are focused on an individualistic consumer solution to food system issues we are only going to reinforce the problems. We need some approaches that stress building relationships and community, and that respect people as participants and producers in the food system, not just shoppers.

Mapping Hunger

I have some found time today, so have been plowing through all my "read later" bookmarks. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger site is pretty impressive. The interactive map is fun to play with. You can almost read it backward - you know the areas with more small food stores, for example, are the lower income ones - but it's good that someone has demonstrated this.

There are other features on the site, too - like downloadable neighborhood handbooks with information about eligibility for food stamps, where all the soup kitchens and food pantries (but not, I note, community gardens) are located, etc.

I don't think there is anything like this concerted effort in my city, but I think the Food Access group with whom I met on Tuesday does have it as a goal. (More about that later.)

If you cruise around the NYCCAH site you will also find news of research on hunger. Why are there more hungry US residents than Canadians at the same income level? One paper summarized here suggests that its partly due to the cost of medical care in the US. Makes sense - even when some basic care is offered to low income families it is for the children only, and doesn't cover those trips to ER. And I wonder what the dynamics are for those of us who are too old to get jobs with benefits, but too young for medicare (and senior feeding programs)? I suspect that there are people my age who are eating a less than wholesome diet because of their medical bills. What's wrong with this picture?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Today's News - 3 Things to Check Out

Marion Nestle just plain makes sense. I learned today listening to Science Friday that she has a blog with the same title as her most recent book, What to Eat. Check it out here:

In my links list you'll find Science Friday. Usually it takes them a day or so to get the broadcast up in podcast form. Do listen to today's second hour with Marion (okay - I feel like I know her, and you will, too, after reading and listening) and Michael Pollan and others on the Farm Bill. Hope remains that the Senate might do something more creative than the House when all get back from their summer vacations.

There's also a blog item on SciFri about urban agriculture with some helpful comments and many links:

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Everytime I hear more hype about ethanol from corn I shudder

And another reason to is that farmland prices in the heavy corn growing parts of the country are going up. Today's NY Times report is a helpful introduction.

Imagine! Land near ethanol plants going up as much as 30% in one year.

One of the effects of this is that the generational transition of farmers, in trouble all ready, is in worse shape. Young farmers cannot afford land. Minority farmers cannot afford land. People who'd like a small farm for diversified agriculture can't afford land.

And what happens when the corn-based ethanol boom crashes?

Will we get an energy bill through the congress that has stricter mileage standards for cars and trucks so that we'll have some land left to grow food?

Local Urban Agriculture

In today's Press Democrat, city council approval for annexing the Imwalle site was announced. What this seems to mean is that the amount of land the Imwalle's are planting now will stay the same for the near future, but the adjacent land that's been lying fallow will go to housing. I was interested that councilwoman Veronica Jacobi voted against the move, favoring an even denser development on the ten acres in question. This would leave more open space, and place houses further from Santa Rosa Creek. Jacobi is the council member from my quadrant of Santa Rosa (NW), not from the starter castle NE.

Earlier this week, the PD covered the new park in the SW, specifically Roseland. The land has an agricultural history, so Landpaths, the nonprofit which works with the Open Space District, will be starting a community garden there. I hope to see what they are doing, maybe get involved a little. And I think it would be great to get an urban agriculture network going here in Santa Rosa.

Read about the Bayer Farm and proposed park here:

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Green Chefs

I'm having to write a blurb on Episcopalians and Anglicans who made Grist's top 15 religious leaders list, but I got bored with it, so I started webgoofingaround. Rather quickly I found this list
and began exploring its links.

And so I discovered my new favorite blog title, even though I don't eat the stuff anymore - Offal Good.
The best news is that Cosentino's restaurant has stopped selling bottled water.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Foodie trends for the frugal gleaner

It all comes together in blackberry zinfandel icepops.,0,3149603.story

I felt a little foolish last summer when I bought a set of molds to make my own frozen treats. The idea was to make cool snacks instead of buying ice cream - and avoid the temptation to construe whatever size container I brought home as a portion. The whole operation was kind of a throwback to childhood, too, as my grandmother used to make homemade popsicles when I was a child - usually improvised from koolaid and whatever juice was around, and frozen in ice cube trays with little sticks or in dixie cups. So last summer and this I have been experimenting with different combinations - and not always being the good scientist and recording my experiments, so that every batch is different. The coffee yogurt - chocolate almond milk combo needed something to ramp it up, but was still edible, and the best have been smoothy mixtures with mangoes and peaches and plain yogurt.

Now I read that I am right with a trend here. Good for me, and an excuse not to participate in the cup cake trend. One trend at a time, I think. Frozen nursery food in adult flavors somehow seems a more wholesome idea than nursery food with gloppy frosting, whether in adult flavors or not.

The other aspect of this story is that I do enjoy gleaning, and particularly I enjoy harvesting nature's bounty. From a later period in my childhood/youth - later than the koolaid popsicles - comes a love of making preserves out of wild fruits. This year I've decided to ramp it up and try a hybrid blackberry-wine jelly.

And now I read that blackberry wine is a flavor to try for a grown-up ice pop. But not too much wine, as it does have anti-freeze properties. What a way to celebrate life's freebies on a warm summer afternoon!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

new feature

I just added a new feature, titled "curiosities", because I stumbled upon a site with cucurbit postage stamps. Squashes and gourds around the world. I could not resist adding a link.

The garden continues to amaze me. I find reasons to go by even on days when I don't have to water. There is something about growing things. Lately I have been musing about how the pumpkins and gourds change shape as they get bigger. What gene interactions are causing that development? (I'm also wondering if they cross pollinated, because some of the shapes aren't shown on either seed packet. Near as I can tell they are all Cucurbita pepo, so this is quite possible.)

In an anthology of Thomas Merton's writing on nature, When the Trees Say Nothing, he marvels at the growth of the corn in the monastery garden. "I know the joy and worship the Indians must have felt, and the Eucharistic rightness of it!" he says.

He continued
"The irreligious mind is simply the unreal mind, the zombie, abstracted mind, that does not see the things that grow in the earth and feel glad about them, but only knows prices and figures and statistics."
This captures how I feel about the garden. But I would add that even when I find myself asking scientific questions, I can still experience deep awe. Science and communion are compatible, but commodification and communion aren't.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Goals not shoulds

Some years back I was trying to sort out my alcoholic family legacy, and doing some bibliotherapy around codependency. Turned out I am not very co-dependent. But I recall one very important learning from Codependent No More. It was "Goals, not shoulds." Get away from blaming and shaming yourself, and work on positive goals, not the negative apodictic. ("Thou shalt not...")

I think this is why I was taken aback when a friend told me she was never going to read The Omnivore's Dilemma because everyone who does becomes a fanatic, and if she wants a banana she's going to have a banana.

Now there were several things going on here, as it turns out. One was a criticism of me, I think, though a pretty gentle one. Another was that kind of stubbornness we can all identify with - your standards will not rule my life, thank you very much. It is not nice to feel judged. The third, though, was pretty troubling to me, a tale of guests asking their host where the food came from - is this fresh, seasonal, local, sustainably harvested, etc. This last was pretty appalling. I guess I have just assumed that while reading Pollan's book might well change someone's perspective, it would be in terms of choices they made themselves, or organizing so that others could have better choices, but not in guilting others.

There is a world of difference between striking up a conversation about food sources and practices in a public place - at the market, for example - and criticizing someone who has invited you into their home, or is treating you to a meal out. But there is no end to rudeness, apparently, especially among those who are affluent enough to exercise the most choices.

And there does seem to be a blurring of lines between the goals we set for ourselves and our attitude toward others. The 'not shoulds' part means as well that we must not shame or blame or others.

How about the line we heard on Sunday from the letter to the Colossians:
"Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink"

And don't try doing it to them, either.

Purity codes had no place then, and have none now. Though I must say I have noted that we do have informal dietary codes in our popular culture, which shape shift as fats go out of style, and then carbs, and who knows what next. I have actually preached on the text "It's not what goes into his mouth that defiles a man."

We need to cut one another some slack on all this. We need to help one another find goals that build up, not rules that tear down. We need to be ready to explain our own disciplines, but not impose them on others. We need to be more flexible as guests. And frankly just polite. (There are few people I invite to dinner any more because of all the rules people set for themselves. Some tell me they will bring their own food - but then why am I, a good cook, bothering? Let them clean their house. Or maybe we could go on a brown bag byo picnic. )

note to self

Next year taller bean poles.

The garden is beginning to yield. I have high hopes as long as we can stay ahead of the gophers, who seem to have developed a taste for marigolds.

I'm also very encouraged by the vision those of us involved in the garden so far are developing. We are thinking theologically and largely.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Do you live in a farm state?

Well, the Farm Bill is all over the news now that it is being considered on the floor of the house. There was a story on my local Fox affiliate (I watch it for the weather) a few nights ago, and I stayed in bed an extra quarter hour this morning to hear the NPR coverage. Things have heated up on the ecunet list "Farm Bill", too.

It's interesting to me that issues are not covered until they come to a head legislatively, when your average citizen can't do much about it. Interesting, but not surprising. We are a nation of consumers, not citizens - we consume our news, rather than using it to shape our lives and common will.

But I digress.

The most interesting thing in the Morning Edition piece was a reference to how Nancy Pelosi had to consider farm state interests. Apparently neither Nancy nor the NPR folks realize that she IS from a farm state. Where do they think the lettuce, spinach, nuts, wine and cheese come from?

Really, there is this bias, which comes up on the ecunet (actually Luther Link) list, too - that farming is about the Midwest.

I spent a day with two high school classmates this week, one from Florida and one from Southern California. We were viewing Sonoma County cows and talking about the Happy Cow ad campaign - and the Floridian said she had only recently heard of California cheese. Where she lives it's only about Wisconsin.

California has been the leading dairy state for years, and is catching up with Wisconsin in quantity of cheese produced. California also excels in the variety of cheeses offered, including Mexican style and artisan.

(In checking the facts on California cheese, I stumbled upon a web site called America Eats with all sorts of interesting articles. Link to the right - check it out!)

And finally to the point - if we all thought of ourselves as coming from "farm states" wouldn't it make a difference in the way we develop policy and programs? Wouldn't it make a difference in food security? Wouldn't it make a difference in the environmental impact of our growing, sourcing and eating practices?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

garden update

When I began working at the community garden site, it looked like our biggest issue would be weeds or clay soil. But it appears the gophers are winning the award for biggest hassle.

Last week I discovered that they had taken down a marigold. I didn't plant them in gopher baskets because I couldn't imagine a little critter wanting to eat anything that smelled like that. Actually, they took the plant down - but then left it there, rather than pulling it into their tunnel.

Then Friday evening when I watered I discovered that one of the zucchinis looked poorly. It perked up a bit with some attention from me, but it really did look like the gophers had been circling its roots. And all this was happening dangerously close to the heirloom tomato.

Why is it that I don't mind sharing with the quail, but I really resent the gophers?

All in all, though, things are looking good. We got a very late start, planting Memorial Day weekend and up through early June, and some of that from seed. But we are taking the first of the zucchini now, and the crookneck squash have finally produced female flowers and a few infants. A few of the sugar pumpkin vines have fruit four inches in diameter. The romano pole beans are blooming, though the other varieties seem sluggish. Both pepper plants and all seven varieties of tomato have set fruit. The romas are showing some white and yellow - not just green. Actually that's an interesting story. A roma plant appeared stressed initially, didn't grow much, but set a cluster of fruit - kind of a teenage mother. Now the plant is catching up and it looks pretty good - and it will also be the first to produce ripe fruit.
The grape tomato, though, is vying for king of the jungle, with the sunflowers also in the running.

I'm glad we decided for this year, when it's really just a sample of things to come, to plant some things that are showy. People who didn't know they cared are noticing the pole beans, sunflowers, sprawling pumpkins and gourds. But I do wish that I had digital camera so I could show you with more immediacy the changes I note every time I water.

Tomorrow we meet with the city water conservation folks, to plan for future expansion.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

a little irony?

I get my news eclectically, and perhaps in ways that might appear random, mainly from the radio and the internet, plus the tv for weather. I am frequently struck by what a huge proportion of it is about a) the middle east or b) celebrities I am not celebrating. Yesterday I was listening to a Robert Segal NPR interview with Colin Powell on the way home from somewhere, primarily about the war on Iraq and the senate's posturing with their overnight debate. Now here's the interesting part: toward the end of the segment, in identifying that legislators do have other things to deal with, Powell mentioned two farm bill issues! Interesting that a retired general and secretary of state notices - while almost no other newsmakers or newsbenders seem to.

And the push is on - to get a faux reform bill through the Congress. The California Coalition for Food and Farming is urging Californians to let Speaker Pelosi know how they feel about this.
There IS coverage of the issues in the print media.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What are you bringing home the bacon in?

As long as we are posting information that is tangential to food issues -

An article on designer canvas bags from WholeFoods in today's NY Times cites Worldwatch as the source for this statistic:

Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags a year.

So do the math. That's almost one bag a day for every man, woman and child.

Now take stock - be honest. How many do you throw away in the average week? month? year?

The point isn't paper or plastic - it's reduce the number you take of both, and then reuse what you do take. Then recycle (or compost for paper) what you can.

I'd love to know how others are doing at this. Please post a comment...

When I blow a dollar on a bottle of water...

From Sunday's New York Times
Ideas & Trends: A Battle Between the Bottle and the Faucet
Published: July 15, 2007

THOSE eight daily glasses of water you’re supposed to drink for good health? They will cost you $0.00135 — about 49 cents a year — if you take it from a New York City tap.

Satisfying the National Thirst ...

New York ads offer tap water as an appealing choice over commercial beverages.

Or, city officials suggest, you could spend 2,900 times as much, roughly $1,400 yearly, by drinking bottled water. For the extra money, they say, you get the added responsibility for piling on to the nation’s waste heap and encouraging more of the industrial emissions that are heating up the planet.

But trends in American thirst quenching favor the 2,900-fold premium, as the overflowing trash cans of Central Park attest. In fact, bottled water is growing at the expense of every other beverage category except sports drinks. It has overtaken coffee and milk, and it is closing in on beer. Tap, if trends continue, would be next. . . .


My impression is that bottled water is being consumed as the last safe soft drink - as a consumer alternative to packaged beverages that news reports tell us are bad for you: alcohol, caffeine, sucrose, fructose, sodium,...

There is the consumer validation of buying a product, consuming a healthful beverage, and then throwing the container away. Of course if you chuck it into a recycle bin then you can add virtue to the list of features and benefits.

Tap water, by contrast, takes work: finding a glass, a drinking fountain, a canteen in your knapsack. What a drag.

"When I blow a dollar on a bottle of water, I buy Perrier!"--old Robin Williams routine

NYC dept of environmental protection, info on drinking water

"People need water"--Paul Ward, architect of the Pat Brown era California state water plan

Friday, July 13, 2007

Marion Nestle videos

Well, I would have preferred more shots of the food and fewer of the shopping guy, but you can get the lowdown on food shopping from Marion Nestle in video short form on the Treehugger blog.

Start here:

food and climate change

I have spent a chunk of today doing environmental ministry things, some of which meant catching up on reading and following links.

One of the things that caught my attention is what isn't there. When I visited the site for the Church of England's "Shrinking the Footprint" campaign I found nothing about agriculture and food systems, even though I know there is much consciousness and concern about these topics in the UK, including among people of faith.

When I read the National Council of Churches "Faith Principles on Global Warming" I found the only specifics mentioned were energy consumption and carbon emissions. And this with all the work they have done on food and farming issue awareness from a faith perspective.

And when I followed the link from the NCC eco-justice notes for last month to the blog "Ride for Climate USA", recounting the cross country ride of the former managing director of Interfaith Power and Light, I learned that he had been ignorant of the issues around coal extraction in Wyoming (even though the state council of churches has been working on them for some time) and could tout "cow power" in Wisconsin without mentioning what methane contributes to the climate change picture.

Meanwhile, from secular sources I get invitations to events that tell me how I can vote against climate change three times a day (in my food choices), learn of the complex role conventional agriculture plays in climate change, and explore research into the impact more sustainable practices could make.

What's wrong with this picture? Is it because church bureaucrats are basically urban? Do denominations and organizations own stock in the agribusiness multinationals? Are we afraid that outing the contribution of conventional agriculture to climate change will diminish the sources of food for the poor? Or is it, as I fear, that we are too used to issue-of-the-month-club thinking and organizing, and unwilling to engage systemic complexities in our advocacy ministries? And are we vying for turf on our issues? Mine is the banner issue, yours subsidiary, or viceversa? rather than recognizing the connections?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Still more on the Farm Bill

Michael Krasny did a nice hour on the Farm Bill this morning. You can scroll down and listen or download here.

I was amazed at some of the email comments he read toward the end of the show. People in the Bay Area can be so myopic. (And a myopic liberal isn't really any better than a myopic conservative, IMHO.) Sure we need major change in farm subsidies - we need to value different things - but conventional farmers live pretty close to the edge financially, and there must be a plan for transition over a period of time. The vision should be clear by now, but the solution is going to be complex, which may be why congressmembers and senators seem short of the nerve to tackle it.

Mom's cooking

I'm one of those rarities - born in the vanguard of the boom, but with a mother who worked outside the home. My mother also cooked - supper every night. So I've wondered why this is no longer done - why is it that children whose mother's are employed get nuked chicken nuggets and Kraft dinner and take away pizza - instead of a hot home cooked meal of meat or fish and 2 veg. Reading this article in the NY Times

I realized one of the differences is that this author/mother gets home at 7:30 p.m. My mother worked in the days when not everyone overworked, and she took a job closer to home with less pay, rather than trading life for a commute. So she got home, back then in the fifties and sixties, at 5:15 p.m. Time to cook, eat, and many evenings get out to a civic or church meeting, to be involved in her community, not just with her job and family.

Times change, not always for the better. But thank God for one modern mom's commitment to feed her family real food, and then publish her ideas for doing so efficiently. Now, if she could just combine that with a consciousness of seeking a local, sustainable food supply...

The Composter

The Composter, newsletter of the Tucson Organic Gardeners
TOG InfoLine: 520-670-9158 has lots of interesting bits. The May issue has an article on What Those Food Labels Really Mean by Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH RD (dietician & clinical assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill): 100% Organic means something, Reduced means less, and Natural not much of anything. The seasons are very different from northern California – there are six, as you learn at Sabino Canyon nature preserve or Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and summer temperatures average 100F from mid-May through late August, with lows in the low 70s. There is an article in the Sustainability Corner on Envelopes – reuse or recycle? And lots about gardening. Ads for free manure for the taking, and Barbara Kingsolver & Steven Hopp signing books at Grace-St Paul’s Episcopal Church in a benefit for Native Seed/SEARCH. Had a chance to visit Tucson Botanical Garden (aka Bernice’s house) especially its heritage, xeriscape, and Tohono O’odum areas. “Corn, corn, corn, bad, bad, bad!” does not apply so much when it is a native crop not mixed into industrial products.

And there is a carrot cake recipe, from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

We also had a wonderful visit with retired president of Arizona Historical Society, which gives you a broader perspective on how the people have lived on the land.

Woodbrook by David Thomson (1974) continues to give me new facts and feelings about farming in Ireland – he studied famine relief agency records. Incredible.

On Inishmore, westernmost of the Aran Islands, I saw “lazy beds”, raised beds for growing potatoes; there they are fertilized with kelp hauled up from the beach at low tide and dried on the limestone. …Most of the island seems to be limestone in flat long shelves that look like abandoned skyscraper foundations. The piled-up stones of the walls around the fields provide not only a place to put the rocks but wind shelter, some containment for cattle, and even a spot for the sun to warm. The enclosures are relatively small – though one brownie calf had a good quarter-acre to herself during weaning.

Dara Molloy, who farms traditionally, says that the islanders are trying to go green; e.g., using propane instead of petrol. And they continue to use not only mini-buses for tourist transport, but also the traditional “side car” with pony.

Enjoy this article from the Los Angeles Times about Reverend Billy (Bill Talen) and his bullhorn activism against consumerism, big box retail, the general Disneyficiation of the landscape....,1,1214518.story

And don't miss San Francisco Chronicle coverage of the Farm Bill

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Of mission and diets

I'm in a ruminative mood today, processing learnings of the last ten days or so.

On Sunday I preached on the gospel, trying to look at Jesus' instructions to the seventy in context so that I could extract some meanings for mission today. All who preach know that is not easy. Since then I have been wondering if there are lessons to be pulled from that passage in Luke and applied to our ministries around food and environment. Not anxiously hoarding, receiving what is at hand with thanks, not chasing after privilege or novelty, and remembering that it's not about us - all seem applicable. So much of the teaching is really about hospitality. What if we had an attitude of receiving hospitality toward our local foodshed and toward the planet? Being gracious guests might give somewhat the wrong angle - since it seems to imply that our real home is elsewhere (in heaven) and that's pretty tired theology. But the behavior of a good guest works in many situations, and could be a model for traveling light on the planet.

I wonder about the two by two message also. I prefer to do ministry in community, with others, at least cooperatively, but better collaboratively - but so much of my life is lived alone. My footprint would be much less if I shared living quarters, ate more with others, drove more with others. It was great during my at home vacation to have someone to eat meals with. While I'm proud of the fact that I don't resort to junk or heat-n-eat options when I dine alone, I ought to find more occasions to share meals.

If I ate more with others, I would probably eat less. Table conversation satisfies in a way that second helpings can't. Certainly I have a need for some strategies to help me lose the extra fat I have added since moving to Sonoma County. I don't feel that I can ever face another diet.

Last week in San Francisco I noticed how many fewer obese people there were. Maybe you can never be too rich or too thin to live in the City. You certainly can't be too rich if you want to own your housing. But I suspect that it has more to do with how much people take public transportation and walk there: another un-diet strategy good for you/me and the planet .

This morning on NPR I heard of web merchants who sell products for the obese - like 800 lb. test lawn chairs, and seat belt extensions. While I think fat people deserve more respect than they get, I don't want to go there - to that fat.

I started reading The Sex Life of Food by Penny Crumpacker. If it's any good I'll write more about it later. I offer her comment on a demonstration by fat people in D.C. in 2004:
" 'Fat is not a four letter word,' one of their signs read. But what fat is a four letter word that has been on a diet."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

holiday ramblings

I've been vacationing at and around home, and am now in Crescent City for the weekend. Not much time to write. In fact, it's only this morning, sitting in an overheated coffee shop (yes, heated - it's about 60F outside here on the north coast, and the barristas are skimpily clad) that I got around to reading the NY Times food news from midweek.

This is a good summary article on farm bill developments regarding some promise of beginning the move away from subsidies or large scale monocropping of the big five.

Vacation included some food and wine adventures. I went to yet another farm market, the one at the old Souverain winery, now Francis Ford Coppola's Rosso Y Bianco. Friday evening fun - live music, cheap pizza for wine tourist food - but disappointing in terms of vendors - only one local produce, and one value added, locally scented soaps. I begin to wonder if we are saturated in Sonoma County - too many farm markets for too few small scale growers of varied produce.

I've taken some pictures at the community garden, but there's a time lag given that I don't have a digital camera. Maybe next week I'll have something to show. We have baby zucchini, and tomatoes have set fruit.

Now I am off to the farmers' market here in Del Norte County, at the fair grounds. There won't be much produce yet, but it's still fun. And they do enable use of food stamps and other programs to provide access to local produce for the poor - good to see. AND I've got my cooler and hope to pick up some cheese bargains at Rumiano's shop.