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?