Friday, August 29, 2008

Conventional Food

I watched quite a lot of the coverage of the Democratic National Convention (a good thing to do when it's too hot to do anything), but I heard precious little about food issues - except a nod or two to rising prices. I hope I missed something.

Aside from food, in the economic justice dimension, I find it interesting that so many want to claim working class origins - but so few talk openly about the poor and the working class today. It's always the middle class we hear about.

Last evening Jon Stewart asked what kind of a silly remark is "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For." Dear, dear. It's the title of a book by Alice Walker. And as far as food system change goes, I'm not sure we are the ones we've been waiting for, but it appears we are going to have to be the ones to do it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Evolution of Healthful Diets

Last week I finished reading Why Some Like It Hot by Gary Paul Nabhan. Published in 2004, the book is a sound treatment of the adaptation of peoples to their local diets. I must say - it got off to a really slow start. But the latter chapters on the indigenous peoples of the American Southwest and Native Hawaiians were really interesting. Communities where obesity and diabetes were epidemic recovered health by returning to a diet of traditional crops and foraged wild foods. This book is not a platform for some wiggy blood type diet, or a pseudo-anthropological call for people to return to being hunter-gatherers. Rather, it's a reasoned treatment of science and culture, and their impact on human and environmental health.

Nabhan reasons that the increase in diabetes these days can be attributed to four things:
1) a loss of wild foods
2) a loss of diversity in crops and livestock
3) the unnecessary refining of so many foods, resulting in the loss of fiber
4) the development of so many additives to industrial foods, additives to which our bodies have no long term adaptation.

One of the things Nabhan points out is that human adaptation to local food stuffs does not seem to take hundreds of thousands of years, but more like just hundreds - fewer generations than many scholars have thought. (Let's hear it for evolution!)

In the chapter on the Waianae community on Oahu he quotes Dr. Terry Shintani:
"In traditional medicine it is recognized that there is really only one disease that all of us must learn to resist: arrogance. It is simply arrogant to think that we can violate the laws of nature and get away with it."

The implication is that we need to eat our native foods, the ones to which our people's bodies
have adapted over generations.

But this left me pondering - what about those of us who are dispersed and dislocated from the places where our ancestors lived? Surely that's a lot of the human community these days?
If you are Pima living in southern Arizona, or Hawaiian or hapa living in Hawaii - well fine. But what if you are from Africa via Jamaica living in Toronto? from Japan living in Sao Paolo? from Croatia living in Auckland? from Oaxaca in Chicago?

What if you are from assorted northern European tribes living in the Mediterranean climate of California? Some of the things that might be traditional foods for my sort of person would be grains that grow in crummy climates, like rye and oats - rhubarb and berries, particularly berries in the heath family - fish from the North Atlantic and Baltic - root vegetables native to Europe, turnips maybe? But that'd be racking up some food miles to eat that diet. While a few might be grown here, most aren't. And even when someone tries, they just aren't right somehow. You can keep California blueberries and Oregon cranberries as far as I'm concerned.

So to be healthy are we all supposed to go back where we came from?

CSA's on the rise

A NY Times article this past week reminded me that I had never posted the link to the Local Harvest locator. It does seem like CSAs are everywhere. Niece Pam in Massachusetts is pleased that she has a share in one, as her backyard produce consists of tomatoes, herbs and chickens not quite laying yet.

I'm happy that I don't need to subscribe, but then I realize being smug about it probably is not nice! How many people have the advantages I do, with a nearby farm stand and supermarket with lots of 100 mile produce - and people I know. How many people have a chance to participate in a community garden that's nearby, and have or can make the time to do so. And how many people have work that allows them to visit other farms and vineyards?

Today on the way home from Lakeport I visited a homely farm stand near Kelseyville. I came away with a cantaloupe that actually smelled, a couple of pounds of onions, and twenty pounds of Bartlett pears for $12.50 How many people are that lucky or have that much fun on the way home from church?

(Lake County is known for pears, walnuts, and, increasingly, wine. A fine combination.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm ready

for tomato jam

I will probably use the recipe in Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty, a cookbook I've relied on for 20 years. (I've already made the annual batches of seedless blackberry jam - with wild blackberries gathered from behind the community garden - and peach preserves with rum - with a gift of peaches from a parishioner's backyard tree in Ukiah.)

But the tomatoes are finally coming in - in this patchy weather year which slowed everything - and I'm ready for a new tomato turn.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yes, but we must cultivate our garden

Just a note to recommend conversation around the topics treated in "Gardening at the Dragon's Gate" by Wendy Johnson - who gardened at Tassajara and at Green Gulch Farm near Muir Beach in Marin County California, both SF Zen Center projects, and now carries on in her own garden near Stinson Beach.

Lovely beginnings - friends who got me started on it also got me thinking about community gardens in Snohomish County WA where I now am (mostly). . . some local churches have (I think) gotten into community gardens as well as food banks -- making the connections from land to table.

What is going on around here for sure is Annie's Kitchen at Edmonds Lutheran Church - open to all, and all sorts of folks come. It's free, using donated food from local grocers, and cooks and servers are volunteers (including some from St Alban's, Edmonds, my own place). I'm wondering if we might cultivate a garden (displacing some himalayan blackberry bushes, at least temporarily) out behind our education building.

Meanwhile two of my 'bio-intensive' organic gardening enthusiast friends are staging a pumpkin growing competition in Santa Cruz..... will fog-kist squash beat out hillside sunned?


At Christ Church, Bayfield WI, a couple bring produce grown in their garden to the sherry hour after High Mass - help yourself and leave a cash donation for Lutheran World Relief (one of the most efficient charities, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, so you get a lot of bang for your buck - as well as string beans and summer squash).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On a confused note

The same L.A. councilwoman who would not get behind saving the South Central Farm is the one behind a ban on new fast food restaurants in the same neighborhood. Does she not understand where good inexpensive food comes from? You've got to grow it and cook it yourself to compete with the $1 menu.

Olympian eats

I'm not quite sure why I am so interested in the Olympics. Perhaps my life is less exciting than I thought.

Of course, I am paying attention to the food angle. There was a really culturally disparaging piece on NBC about Chinese food. The implication was that they'll eat any part of any creature - and the critic apparently just faked eating things, not really tasting them. When did making fun of another culture become acceptable again? Let's criticize China for the tiny underage gymnasts, but not trash their centuries of amazing food culture.

The ads would suggest that the successful athlete eats fried chicken sandwiches on white buns with pickles as a vegetable (MacDonald's), Coca-cola, and Pringles. Mmmm. Actually it might be tasty- but nutritious?

The little vignettes about American stars are pretty interesting from the food angle, too. I wonder what is going to happen to Michael Phelps when he stops training for six months given how much he eats. How long does it take for the metabolism to begin to drop? He commented in the biosnip that basically, he "just shovels it in." Sleeps, eats, trains, eats, plays with his dog, eats some more. An interesting contrast with Natalie Coughlin who was depicted - both by NBC and local news - as enjoying a variety of activities, not just competitive swimming. And - yea Natalie - though I'm sure that Berkeley influence helps - she enjoys a trip to her neighborhood farmers' market and cooking for her friends.

Here's my analysis: At any given time there are probably about 1 or 2 billion people alive of an age to compete in sports. Only one of them can be the most decorated - and it may be worth ignoring good health habits and being single-minded to the point of not worrying about later until later to get there. But our local girl Natalie has gold medals and the beginnings of a fun and well fed life - lifelong.

update: Natalie won six medals, the most of any American woman in swimming at any Olympics. But somehow the media didn't bother to celebrate the fact.

Meanwhile, Shawn Johnson's biosnip showed her in her West Des Moines supermarket, reviewing her image on packages of all sorts of processed industrial food. AND - they sculpted her in butter! But one of her sponsors is Orowheat (bread and butter!) and she reports eating only the occasional junk food item.

update: Iowa's woman track star was sculpted in ice at the State Fair. What does this difference say?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Questing in locavore land

I'm back from Vancouver, B.C., where I participated in the conference of the Association of Anglican Deacons of Canada.

It seemed like a good thing to pay attention to the food (as though I wouldn't anyway) and stimulate some conversations about it.

The venue where we met was something of a mixed bag. I appreciated the fact that no one was pushing bottled water - there was a filtered tap in the cafeteria where one could refill one's water bottle - and there was not much of the individual packaging one sometimes finds in such contexts. But the lack of a vegetarian option at dinner and the dearth of local seasonal fruit was a big disappointment. When I skipped the business meeting Saturday afternoon to go to the UBC anthropology musuem I managed to find a patch of blackberries - the invasive Himalayan kind, but still blackberries - on my wandering way back to my room. (There was an area roped off for habitat restoration behind the museum where the blackberries were invading over the far fence.)

The other thing which surprised me at the conference were the quantities of meat which many people seemed to be putting away. One woman did comment that at home it's porridge or muesli and fruit for breakfast, so bacon and sausages were an away from home treat. Perhaps this was the dynamic.

It was fun talking with people about their gardens, farms and local food adventures in the various provinces. One woman lives on a sixteen acre farm - range fed beef in inland B.C. Another, I think from southern Ontario, reported having a meal with ten different veg from her garden a few days before leaving for the conference. And I could taste the berries of the maritimes just hearing about them. The saddest story was from a woman whose Ontario town is being converted from dairy farms to suburban tracts. And the most fun was drinking the homemade wine women from the Diocese of Kootenay (inland B.C.) had made - though it was from purchased Lodi grapes!

The wine and cheese at Vancouver School of Theology on our first evening included some Ontonagon Valley wines - as well as Napa! There was also a good local cheddar among the cheeses. The Saturday evening buffet banquet included wild salmon, potato salad, and a golden beet salad which were big hits with me. Local beer and more Ontonagon wine were available at the cash bar.

On Sunday after the closing Eucharist, I should have gone to Granville Market, but was too tired for a major adventure. We walked way too far to a neighborhood bordering the university lands and wandered into an eatery identified as a diner, but really a fish and chips place. It felt like slipping throught the looking glass into a Monty Python routine. I met my need for some 100 mile fruit at an Asian grocer nearby where they had huge local cherries for $2.99 a pound. Then back to the same neighborhood that evening for a trendier meal. The British influence caught up with us again though - we Americans puzzled over what "upside down pudding" was. What is the difference between upside down and right side up pudding? Of course, it was an individual steamed pudding - and I, with a grandmother who was the queen of puddings (yes - I know - there is such a dish - bread pudding dolled up with jelly and meringue) should have guessed that.

Perhaps the best eating surprise was the fact that food vendors at the airport charge no more than they do at locations outside the airport. Coffee and a bun at Tim Horton's (Dunkin Donut equivalent) costs the same in the city and at the airport. "We have an anti-gouging law," offered the woman in front of me in line.

The locavore impulse is never pure, of course, and rarely as influential as one would like. There are always cultural and economic influences on what is possible in honoring the seasonal, local and sustainable. But it's fun to explore them.

Prince Charles on GM crops

"If they think this is the way to go, we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness," he said.

Thanks to BBC News UK for quoting him in a story on their web site.