Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sow Justice

Wow did I make a mistake when I read the two word phrase above. Today I downloaded and printed out the National Council of Churches resource for Earth Sunday 2007. These materials, focusing on farming, may be used on Sunday, April 22, actually Earth Day this year, or they may be used at another time in congregations. One that makes extra sense for this theme is the old Rogation Sunday, the Sunday before Ascension Day, this year May 13.
[Here's the feature I wrote last year for Rogationtide: ]

Oh, back to my mistake: When I read the "Sow Justice" heading in the materials, I assumed it was going to be about factory farming. Remember those opening scenes in Babe? Where the little guy is separated from his mother? Or perhaps you have seen the animation "The Meatrix"? (Which reminds me to add the link to it - a great educational site, and a resource for finding sustainably produced meat and other animal products in your area.)

Turns out that first word is meant to rhyme with mow, not how. Oh dear! Had I read the biblical quotations on the first page of the packet, or remembered Hosea 10:12, I would have gotten it immediately.

The "Sow Justice" message is about equity for smaller scale farmers, supports for sustainable farming, and insuring access to fresh, locally grown food for all Americans. It is featured on a postcard, either reproducible from the program materials, or available from the NCCC Eco-justice unit for free. The idea is to get folks to sign these postcards, then send them back to the Eco-justice office for delivery to your elected representatives. What a great idea in this year when the farm bill comes up for renewal, and, we hope, reform.

As in past years, the packet contains materials to use or adapt for worship including a bulletin insert, thoughtful short essays, and suggestions of things to do. I have to say it saddened me to see that one of the activities suggested for youth was to "make a meal together". It seems like the most natural thing in the world, something anyone would think of with a farming theme. I mean, wouldn't you say - oh let's take the kids to the farmers' market and then cook together. But somebody had to suggest it, and perhaps should have said even more strongly, if we're studying farm issues, don't order out for pizza this time.

Use the NCCC Eco-justice link to the right to navigate to the "Our Daily Bread: Harvesters of Hope and Gardeners of Eden" materials, and check it out.

More on the Farm Bill coming soon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

lenten learnings so far

Last week John Leech sent me an article from the Guardian titled "Is there anything else to give up for Lent?" The writer asked the question, in a somewhat spoofy way, from the perspective of those of us trying to live earth friendly lives.

If you want to form a new habit, trying it on for six weeks can be the beginning. It worked for me with shunning fast food, and it worked for me with giving up meat. So what do I do now?

Well, this year I decided to try two things that might effect not so much what I eat, as how I eat, and my attitudes toward food.

First, I realized some time ago that I don't really want to give up anything else, having in mind Mae West's excellent maxim, "Moderation in all things, including moderation." But there are some foods I know I shouldn't bring into the house, as I eat way too much of them. (Mae also said "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful." I do not think this applies to junky food.) Ice cream and fatty snacks - chips and the like - were already on the list. For lent I figure I will add chocolate, cookies, and diet soda, the last because it's just plain stupid. It's not that I can't have ice cream - but that if I want some I have to go out, get a small serving of something good, and eat it there. Chips or a diet coke with a sandwich out, fine - but no bringing them home in quantity. If I want sweets, I can make them. And if I want chocolate I can walk to the drugstore and buy a little and eat it. You get the idea.

So far it's working pretty well. I know, only half a week....
I'm taking kind of a manna approach to these foods - hoarding is destructive and unnecessary.

The other discipline I am taking on is much harder. No eating in the car. I've become aware, since trying to truly appreciate what I eat, and since reading a bit of slow food philosophy, how disgusting this American habit is. I watch people eating and drinking while driving. And I've become aware of people who buy prepared food at Trader Joe's, then sit in their cars in the parking lot and eat it. Sad and unappealing.

But I eat in the car. I got in the habit when working for the diocese of Nevada years ago, trying to save stops on long drives. Often I would pack food from home - but that didn't make it a nicer practice, just more wholesome. The best times were the times I stopped the car, got out and stretched, and enjoyed the food with the scenery. And then in LA everyone does everything in their cars, sometimes all at the same time. (Would you believe I once saw a woman in rush hour traffic putting on her make-up, sipping coffee, and talking on the phone?)

I've had some little tests already. And this morning I had the first big one. I was heading for Gualala, to preach at Shepherd by the Sea. Usually I leave at quarter or ten to seven to get there in plenty of time for the 9 a.m. service. And usually I pack a mug of tea and a peanut butter sandwich to enjoy in the car - on the few sections of that seventy mile drive that don't require both hands on the wheel. Today I had to get up much earlier to have my breakfast at home before I left - not easy for a night owl.

The good news is, though, that I saw so much more during the drive, as my attention was focused on the road and the roadsides, not juggling snacks. It was showery on the way up, sunny on the way back. Fruit trees are in bloom - mostly cherries and ornamentals, I think - many birds were out, and there were tiny lambs in some of the pastures.

Friday, February 23, 2007

More than shopping

Yes, we can't shop our way out of this mess that is our food system. But we do need to look at the retail aspects of the system: at how and where food is sold to us and who benefits.

More than thirty years ago when I moved to Reno, I first lived in a low income area in the northeast part of town. Having neglected to learn to drive (and hurrying to catch up!), I was happy that there were both a supermarket and a mom and pop market within walking distance. Soon, though, the supermarket closed, as more housing was built on the outskirts of town and markets moved there.

In 1990 when I moved to the Los Angeles area I was happy to find a nice apartment on a tree lined street in a walking neighborhood. Almost anything I could want or need in daily life was within a mile walk - bank, library, shops. But when I made my first three block trip to the supermarket, I saw that it was preparing to close its doors. Eventually it became an Office Depot, and when I moved my office into my home that was a boon. But retail food in my neighborhood consisted of two corner markets serving primarily the Armenian community. You can't knock feta, lavash, and hummus either, but there was little variety in the other foods, and fairly limp produce. Finally, in the last year or two of the nineties, we had a mid-week certified farmer's market a little less than a mile's walk away.

Now I live in a neighborhood that never had a center. It's suburban in flavor, but pretty densely populated with condominiums, mobile home parks, apartments. There was a supermarket (the local expression of Kroger, unfortunately) within nine-tenths of a mile, but it closed. There's another, one of the big discount variety, within a mile and a quarter. They have very little that's local. Then 1.6 miles away, there is a farm stand. The Imwalle family is in their fourth generation of growing and selling produce and garden starts. It's not all local, though much of it comes from fairly near, and it's not all organic, but they tell you what's theirs and what else is local, and you can ask about anything, "Where did this come from?" and get a straight answer.
Then about 2 1/2 miles away in different directions are a regional chain supermarket, which is pretty good also about identifying sources on fresh produce, and a local huge supermarket, with better prices than information, but with a full range of local dairy and eggs.

Now this is all fine for me. I have an economical car to get me where I need to go quickly, I organize trips, and once in a great while I will walk (and may find myself doing it more often if a local high end market really does come in where Krogerland used to be). But I have been wondering for some months - how does a person in my neighborhood who is transportation indigent obtain fresh and mostly local food? Is it possible? How much would it cost as compared with doing a week's shopping at the big bargain market? And how much time would it take each week to do so, again compared to one shopping run? I keep threatening to try this for one week. One thing I've already figured out - being a vegetarian makes it easier. The only local sustainably grown meat - turkey, sold at a shop not really near anything else - would require a trip on an infrequently running county bus.

Why am I going on about this? Because the access to fresh local food is a particular challenge to those who live in poor neighborhoods in cities all over this country. The movement to put California certified farmer's markets into the poorer neighborhoods has failed, I think, here in Sonoma County. Even if one were near my neighborhood, prices here are two or more times what one pays at a supermarket or at Imwalle's - whereas it was the exceptional market in southern California (Santa Monica, for example) which catered to high end produce shoppers.

I've posted a link to a new policy briefing today, "Facing Goliath" by Katy Mamen for the Oakland Institute. Katy takes on the systematic issues of supermarket consolidation and food security. There are even more reasons in her report to shun Walmart, if you didn't have enough already.

And I have been pondering this reality: when communities offer incentives for new box stores to move in - usually near more affluent neighborhoods which require a car - the community appears to win as sales tax revenues are increased. But the community loses over time, as local businesses decline, and then churn much less money back into the local community. And the poor lose in two additional ways, as they pay proportionally more sales tax, and their access to local wholesome food declines.

We need concerted community action, far beyond individual shopping decisions, if we are to address the unjust and unhealthy things that are happening to our food supply. Check out Katy's report.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Culture and Locale

One of the factors we sometimes forget when we think about eating locally is the influence of culture - particularly our birth culture, and the cultural heritage of our parents and grandparents.

I can easily live without bananas, not so easily without mangoes, but God forbid I should have to live without cranberries. My ancestors learned of this little berry from the heath family which grows in the wetlands of eastern North America from the peoples they met when they landed almost 400 years ago. Within a few miles of my childhood home there were many bogs, and cranberries, a good keeper, found their way into many winter meals. For me there is nothing quite like them - and that includes Oregon and Washington cranberries, which just aren't the same. And so on my list of non-local essentials, somewhere between chocolate and tea, are cranberries.

What got me thinking about this? Yesterday I read an article from the New York Times about a man in search of his family's spaghetti sauce. You can read "A grandchild of Italy cracks the spaghetti code" here:

It seems a recurrent pattern that immigrants and children of immigrants adapt the recipes of the old country to the new locale's ingredients, but the grandchildren seek to recover authenticity. Why had it never occurred to me, for example, that the reason we find tomato paste in so many American spaghetti sauce recipes is that until recent years most readily available tomatoes here were more juicy than meaty? But I do think the author of the article could consider buying plum tomatoes at a farmer's market in season and canning his own, rather than buying canned tomatoes from Italy. But then I'd have to confess that I am fascinated by the food section at IKEA! That's the other side of my family's eating traditions.

And then today I remembered the article when I needed something for a potluck, not the main course, and decided to work with what was in the house. I used my maternal grandmother's recipe for an applesauce cake, one she made during WWII because it worked within financial and rationing restraints, and was sturdy enough to ship well in boxes to her nephews serving in the armed forces. What struck me about the recipe was that some of the ingredients - walnuts, raisins - were more local to me than they were to her. And I used applesauce made from my friend's backyard golden delicious.

The challenge here in California if one is sourcing locally is the flour. The grain we grow is rice, not wheat. I used the same brand of flour as my grandmother, King Arthur. I don't want to think about the environmental cost of grain moving from the prairies to New England and then back to California in its floury form.

Thinking about how mobile many of my friends have been in the course of their lives, I wonder what some of the interplays of culture and locale are for others in their cooking and eating... How about some comments?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Is it really Ash Wednesday already?

I've been away from a computer for four days, at the annual meeting of the Living Stones partnership, this year in Spokane. And now suddenly it is Ash Wednesday.

Around the edges of intense conversations about local ministry development there was opportunity for some conversations about food. I'm sure people get tired of me when they sit with me for a meal, since I am capable of offering commentary and reviews on several levels about the food at hand.

I was struck by the responsiveness of the hotel where we met to the various dietary patterns, restrictions and allergies of those who were there. But I was also struck by all the out of season fruit those of us who don't eat meat were offered - and how flat it tasted. I would have been quite happy with the apples which grow in abundance nearby, many varieties of which keep into winter quite well.

I picked up some thoughts and tips on resources about food security in Canada, which I'll follow up on and share later. On the other hand, sometimes you have to go to a distant meeting to learn things closer to home, and one of the joys of this trip was learning more about the composting, gardening and cooking adventures of John Vafis, from Colusa in my own diocese. And we all had some time with Sisters Catherine Grace and Helena Mary, Community of the Holy Spirit, whose activities and spirituality are so inspiring.

A learning that was reaffirmed: the development of agriculture 10,000+ years ago is one of the things that drew humanity away from the rest of creation; but it is also through our experiences of food that anyone can return to an intimacy with earth, can reconnect with the rest of life.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lenten Reading

Most of us who keep Lent already have more then enough planned. Frankly, I'm a fan of doing less for Lent, so that we don't arrive exhausted at Easter, unable to sustain our celebration throughout the Easter season.

But just in case you don't already have more lenten reading than you can manage, I want to offer a little bibliography of books that have been helpful to me in thinking about food and faith.

The most basic reader, with a great sampling of articles and chapters, actually has that title: Food and Faith: justice, joy and daily bread. It's edited by Michael Schut of Earth Ministry in Seattle, and available from the Morehouse Group. Published in 2002, it includes a study guide for group use.

Another interesting volume is Food for Life: the Spirituality and Ethics of Eating by L. Shannon Jung. He's a professor at St. Paul School of Theology. I interacted with this 2004 title from Augsburg all over the margins. It's not in the same place as I am theologically - being less kind to science, and paying less attention to a sacramental view of life - but then, I haven't written a book. It was provocative enough that I am looking forward to reading Jung's 2006 title, Sharing Food: Christian practices for enjoyment. Bonus: great covers.

Just a few weeks ago I picked up a little book from Oxford University Press, one in a series on the seven deadly sins. Gluttony by Francine Prose is a tour or art and literature, with witty comments on our society's attitudes toward food and eating. Lots to think about, pictures and jokes - all in a small format.

I'm mindful of the fact that this is the year of Luke, when churches which use the western church's ecumenical lectionary read primarily from Luke's account of the good news of Jesus. Seems like in Luke Jesus is always eating, and often with somebody the powers that be think he shouldn't. Some years ago I wrote a lenten curriculum based on a number of key texts from Luke called At Table with Jesus/Cenando con Jesus.

At the time I recommended a volume called Dining in the Kingdom of God by Eugene LaVerdiere. I'd enjoyed both taped lectures by him, and live workshops at the Roman Catholic Religious Education Congress in Anaheim when I lived in southern California. The 1994 book from Liturgy Training Publications holds up as a survey of Luke's texts about Jesus' meals from a sacramental perspective. It has substance without being turgid or requiring Greek.

Even breezier is a recent entry by another Roman Catholic who has written lots on Luke, Robert J. Karris. Eating Your Way through Luke's Gospel would be great for a study group without much theological or biblical studies background wanting to engage themes of food and hospitality. It was published in 2006 by Liturgical Press. I must have been eating my way through it at a restaurant because there's an envelope of sweet-n-low, something I don't do, as a bookmark!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A few more sites

Today I'm noting a few more sites of interest. Nothing profound, just trying to get the resources out there as I think of them.

First, I just learned that Sister Catherine Grace, CHS, has a new address for her blog. It's
Scroll down for her adventures in cheese!
Cheese is something I've never made, so I really appreciated her notes. But it's no secret around here that I buy cheese wherever I travel by car. See the happy cows, buy the cheese. I'm sorry if you are not from California and have never seen the happy cow ads. And I must confess that not all California cows are happily noshing in green fields. But around here, and even more so when I travel north to coastal Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the cows look the way we want to think of them, and the cheese produced locally is good and reasonably priced.

I'm also thinking about the community garden project I am helping to start at Thanksgiving Lutheran Church in my neighborhood. And thoughts of gardens quickly turn to thoughts of seeds. I've been pouring over the Bountiful Gardens seed catalogue.
Bountiful Gardens is a partner organization to Ecology Action in Willits, California.
I bought an earlier edition of "How to Grow More Vegetables" when I was part of a community garden in Reno in the 80's, so it's especially fun to now know the folks at Bountiful Gardens and Ecology Action and to worship with some of them when I am at St. Francis' in the Redwoods in Willits.

A very good resource for getting started examining your life with food is the Sierra Club's project, The True Cost of Food. Good ideas here for working with families, too.
I often judge a site by its links, and this one measures up.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Is local the answer?

Today I went to Target, something I don't do that often, and discovered they now have their own brand of industrial organic food.

This reminded me that I wanted to say some more about local eating, and about the detractors from that movement.

Over the last two months several people have called to my attention an article in The Economist, print edition of December 7, 2006. Called "Ethical Food?" it raised yet more questions about shopping one's way to a healthy planet. (If you subscribe to either the print or on-line version of the magazine you can access the article at the web site. If not, check the print version at your local library. There's no free linking with The Economist.)

Some of the article made good sense, reminding us yet one more time that shopping is not the answer, but concerted political action. I wonder though, about people who have to engage at the level of shopping before they start thinking politically (and we hope, eventually questioning shopping as their entry point!). Is shopping a place to start for some folks, just not the place to stop?

The article also made a good point about fair trade crops. Fair trade may contribute to economic justice for growers now, but if fair trade encourages mono-cropping, in the long run it's not going to be good for the planet or for the grower's community.

There some silly stuff in the article, though. Like a comment that growing lamb in New Zealand and shipping it to the UK uses less energy than just growing the lamb in the UK in the first place. How could this be? We know for humans one pound of body weight equals about 3500 Kcals. Presumably it would be about the same for warm blooded creatures of similar body temperature and metabolic rate. And presumably a pound of lamb takes the same number of calories to produce whichever hemisphere you are in. Then the energy needed to ship would be added to that. If someone reading this understands how shipping something half way around the globe takes less energy, please add a comment!

But this is quibbling. As one of my colleagues here pointed out, the thing that is not considered in The Economist article is the value to the human community of the locavore movement. It's not just the cost to the planet which we must consider, but also the value in rebuilding communities, in fostering human connections - in ways that often feedback to the health of the planet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Woe to you who are full now...

After writing yesterday, I went to the evening service at Holy Family Episcopal Church in Rohnert Park. I hadn't read the lessons in advance, so when I was asked to read the Gospel at this informal service, the "woes" from Luke's Gospel hit me hard, and seemed to extend the thinking I had been doing about appreciating the things we have to eat.

I know that I rarely experience hunger. And I know that even when I do, it's a choice - and a choice that's easily reversed. Full, sated, is a normal state for so many of us. Blessed are the hungry, says Luke - but woe to you are full now. What does this mean for us?

Of course it challenges our collective greed, the carelessness with which we indulge ourselves, most of us, in our country and our time. Some translations use "happy" instead of "blessed", though, and this makes me wonder if beyond economic injustice, beyond disregard for those who have little or nothing because we have too much, are we emotionally crippled, unable to know true joy, because we are full all the time?

In a moment of quiet I asked myself that question all fat people must ask themselves - what am I truly hungry for? And I realized I am hungry for hunger. Not hunger in the sense of gnawing deprivation, but hunger in the sense of a generous appetite for all of life, hunger that enables me to sense God's bounty in every way, hunger that enables me to delight in creation always.

I had a sense of that as I thought about the first people gathering mushrooms, subject to the caprices of weather; I had a sense of that on Saturday's walk as I took in the freshness of new green growth, and realized how hungry I had been, to get out and walk in the rain.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Mushroom Madness or just plain madness?

Yesterday I went on a walk sponsored by LandPaths, a non-profit which works with the county open space district to provide access to public lands and offer related environmental education. I'd looked forward to "mushroom madness" (as it was called) for weeks. Turns out it was not a good time for mushrooms. Our winter weather has been unusually cold and dry. Serious rain finally came, but only a few days ahead of our walk on Sonoma Mountain. Actually serious weather was happening as we walked. 4 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday was the wettest 24 hour period so far this season.

Still, we saw a lot and learned a good deal about the fungi in both redwood and oak dominated environments. Dr. Chris Kjeldsen – Professor Emeritus of Biology at Sonoma State University - led us, along with Autumn Summers, an ethnobotanist and herbalist on the LandPaths staff.

I don't have lots of hiking gear for wet weather (e.g., no rain pants), so I got pretty soaked, but my boots are water proof and I wore a wool sweater and socks, so I did not get cold. It was worth it though, beautiful in the rain, wonderful to see the leaves of spring flowers starting up, and the many shades of bright and promising green.

Reflecting on what we saw and what we learned caused me to contrast the way first peoples here got their food with the way we do. Even though this is a diverse and easy environment, anyone dependent on hunting and gathering must have had to be very flexible in what they ate. I can go to the farm stand and depend on them having cremini mushrooms any time I want them. While gatherers might track the best locations for mushrooms from year to year, varying weather can vary widely the times of their fruiting, and unrelenting rainy seasons (like the one we had last year) would mean no opportunity to dry mushrooms for later use.

I wonder if the ready and steady availability of produce has in some way deadened our appreciation? Would we savor more, and be more eager to thank God for our food if it weren't so predictable? We have vestiges of this dependency on weather. Certainly the irreplaceable home grown tomato varies greatly in quality and quantity around here. When we have a wet grey summer we complain about the loss to our salad bowls. But still, industrial food tends to flatten out our appreciation, and sometimes, I think, make us lust after the novelty that nature provides to those who do more gathering and small scale growing, and less shopping.

Friday, February 9, 2007


This link arrived in my e-mail a few days ago:

While there's a bit of hyperbole in the article, "Voting Beyond Our Forks," the main point, that "We can't simply shop our way out of this mess" is right on. Consumer solutions to problems rooted in consumerism may appear to help, help a little, help for a time - but they aren't sustainable solutions. It will take concerted political effort to heal and rebuild our nation's food system. That means becoming informed about the 2007 Farm Bill, among other things.

It troubles me when I see individuals and congregations focusing on food aid to the hungry in our communities, and not looking at the big picture. Going beyond this article and our own plight here in the U.S., the same applies when we consider the plight of the hungry around the world. How much do our farm policies affect our food aid policies, which affect the ability of other countries to become food secure? The paper "Food Aid or Food Sovereignty" from the Oakland Institute really opened my eyes on this, as did hearing Anuradha Mittal, co-author, at the Food Connections conference at Sonoma State last summer. The paper's not a quick read, or necessarily a comfortable one, but I think it is worth the effort.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Today I've begun to add links.

The first two - eating well and eating green - are ones I recommend for anyone beginning to think more deeply about food. Be inspired by the quotations, and take stock of what you are eating and its impact on the environment.

The National Council of Churches Eco-Justice site on Food and Farming and the site of Environmental Commons are great places to look for resources and ideas. I particularly recommend the handouts available on the Environmental Commons site.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Why Just Gleanings?

"Gleanings" sprang to mind because sometimes I feel like I am running a home for unwanted fruit. So much backyard fruit, or fruit in untended orchards, or fruit in orchards where the owners are too cheap to pay a fair wage to pickers, goes to waste here. We need more gleaning and more gleaners, to distribute this bounty to those who are hungry for fresh local produce. "Gleanings" has that wonderful other meaning, too - the bits of surprising information or wisdom we pull from our experiences.

"Just" has two meanings, too. It may may mean "only", or "limited to" - and I do intend to limit this blog to gleanings about food and food systems. But I hope here it will always carry a connotation of "righteous," "equitable," etc.

For some time now I've been wanting to start a blog. But I didn't want a blog that was all opinion. And it became clear to me after checking out a number of them that the world did not need another cozy blog about knitting and cats - though I could certainly do that.

I've loved food in all its aspects all my life: gardening, harvesting, preserving, cooking, eating, serving food to others. I've worked to gather, cook and distribute food for the hungry, too. And I have a deep concern for how we might develop sustainable food systems which will foster the health of the planet and all people.

As an Episcopal deacon, a meal is at the heart of my religious practice. Table fellowship, good bread and good wine, is for me where the sacred and the mundane intersect.

I'm also at heart a teacher. I love to share information, provoke reflection, encourage action. So why not, I asked, a blog where I could reflect on the many aspects of food, share resources, and invite others to share.

This won't be a recipe blog, but don't be surprised if one sneaks in from time to time.