Monday, July 27, 2009

Can we just call it food?

I have noticed a creeping trend to speak of "nutrition" when "food" would be a perfectly adequate word. Why is this? Seems like food is a word with many layers of meaning, cultural and affective as well as biological, while nutrition is clinical and without nuance. From my vantage point, using "nutrition" bespeaks an analytical, bloodless and cheerless attitude toward food. Nutrition is what thin rich people want for fat poor people.

It all reminds me of when we gave up sex for gender, and began referring to women as females. Ugh!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Reviews

Some time ago - the 80's perhaps? - I attended a conference in Toronto and then took in an exhibit at the science museum, called "FOOD: feed your mind about it". This summer I seem to be feasting on food books, everything I requested at the library rolling in at once.

Today I finished and returned Mark Bittman's Food Matters and Cooking Green by Kate Heyhoe. What the two books have in common is that both feel like they were rushed into print to take advantage of a Pollanated reading public.

Bittman's is breezy, sometimes flippant, sometimes given to hyperbole, with a bit of a slapdash feel about it. He recounts his story - learning that what's good for the individual human body is also good for the planet.

The big message is eat less meat, and no junck food, in whatever way works for you. But if you want to try it Bittman's way, there are menus and recipes. Some of the recipes are in his style - simple frameworks with myriad variations.

One I tried suggested we shouldn't limit our vegetable purees used as dips or spreads to hummus and baba ganoush. So I roasted lots of yellow summer squash with some whole garlic with a little olive oil, then when really done, squeezed out the garlic, added some fresh dill and black pepper and a little more oil and blended. Surprisingly good with crackers or pita chips.
(Dill, garlic, squash all home grown.)

If you have his vegetarian cook book, and have read his blog, you don't need this book. But if you know a gourmand who needs to rethink things, or someone who is interested in eating green but doesn't know where to start, this would be helpful.

If you want to think comprehensively about reducing your carbon footprint in the kitchen, then Cooking Green could be helpful. There's a lot here on energy use and choosing the right appliances, cooking methods, and pots and pans to reduce it. I learned a few things - and there are some I might shop for if I had any money. Mostly, it's about things you are already doing if you're trying not to overspend on your PG&E bill.

But beware - there is lots of sloppy or downright erroneous science in this book. Heyhoe has struggled hard to understand the physics of boiling water - but she might have done better to quote someone who really does understand it. And the biology! She doesn't know the difference between a cultivar and a species, thinks salmon are freshwater fish, etc. A good fact checker would have been handy. Again I had that feeling - that this book was rushed into print. Or maybe it's just the effect of blogging on acceptable writing (my tongue is in my cheek), so that the distinction between fact and opinion doesn't really matter anymore. Just say anything and maybe it will make it's way into Wikipedia as a fact for 15 minutes.

Heyhoe's preoccupation with energy interested me because of some of the stats she gives:
If "transportation creates 11% of an average US household's greenhouse gases generated by food consumption"
and "agricultural and industrial emissions from growing and harvesting account for 83%" of them,
well that leaves 6% - presumably caused by food preparation and disposal or composting. So - how one's food is grown, and how what it eats is grown, and how much, etc. are the most important considerations in reducing one's "foodprint" from greenhouse gases.

Cooking Green does have information on water usage, which Bittman does not. For example, a plant based diet requires 300 gallons of water every day to support it, but a meat based one needs more like 4000 gallons.

Don't buy Cooking Green, though. Borrow it from the library like I did. Or check out the two related web sites where the author has material if you like.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fishy news on Sunday morning

Good News:

The sardine fishery is back in Monterey Bay.

Bad News:

90% of the catch goes to feed farmed tuna in Australia.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

There is always something new to learn

The fact for today:

Half of the one billion hungry people in the world are small scale farmers living in developing countries.

I learned this from a story about international land grabs on this week's "Living On Earth", an interview with Olivier De Schutter of the UN Food Programme.

A few weeks ago I posted a comment about a story I heard on Weekend Edition - about Saudi Arabians' buying land to raise feed for milk cows. This is more about the trend.

DeSchutter points out the three major problem areas in most of these deals:
access to land
food security for the nation whose land is used
and a lack of transparency in the deals - leading to corruption in how the funds gained are spent

Apparently many of the deals are spelled out in a few pages, with no provisions for worker justice, environmental health, etc., etc., etc....

The UN's 15 pages of guidelines are here:

DeSchutter maintains that the deals don't have to be prime examples of neo-colonialism.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"I don't believe in organic"

says Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times.

Check it out here:,0,2885942.story

Actually, he doesn't shun organic, but raises some questions about why it should not be the single issue in purchasing produce.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Here's Ian with our first box of produce for F.I.S.H. - carrots and summer squash.

The context of concern

I've been trying to follow the General Convention from a distance, which isn't easy, given that the issues I care about tend to be ones not seen as major or newsworthy by others, and so are not reported.

What I have heard about environmental issues is that much more attention is being paid to them than at earlier conventions. But what I see in the documented "mission priorities" is that ecological concern is once again seen as a subset of social justice, the last item on the list, a tagged on concern.

I appreciated Mike Schut's comment on the economic justice panel, in response to a questioner, that the vocation of Christians has not changed, but the context has. I want to push that a bit further, and say that the context hasn't changed, but our awareness of the context in which we respond to Christ has expanded to comprehend a much larger, more complex, interrelated creation - not just the human sphere.

Now it may be that my struggles with this are a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. I am after all, spending most of my time on food systems rather than other environmental issues. And one of the reasons I am doing that - in addition to liking to eat, of course - is that food systems are an area where all the banner concerns come together: water, land, air, biodiversity - and social justice, too.

But I think there is a difference between seeing social justice issues in the context of mercy toward all creation - and seeing human well being as the canon by which we measure environmental decisions. And please don't say it's a chicken and egg thing: we are just one species, and our existence is not privileged.

So that's the context - but there's a kind of back drop against which I have been mulling this over - and that's reading the Desmond and Moore book Darwin's Sacred Cause.
Learning about how Darwin, his kin, and his mentors worked for the abolition of slavery, and how that value set was one of the drivers in Darwin's work on human evolution, gives me pause. In reality there is no way to separate our concern for other people, for their freedom and dignity, and our attitudes toward the rest of creation. Compassion and respect for the other in its integrity is an attitude which we hope depends only on the other's otherness, not the details of who and what that other is. Compassion for other people can open us to compassion for all creation - if we have an opportunity to experience it. Darwin did. I did and do. Many people today - not so much, or only when it bites back.

Here's a sound review of Darwin's Sacred Cause:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I wonder if they'll have time for Slow Food

at their meeting in Italy. The G8, that is.

I finally took a moment to read the articles John posted. I also read an article posted today by Anuradha Mittal on the "G8 Italian Gala". (Love the title.)

And all of this against the backdrop of listening to the General Convention forum on the global economy, and the Diocese of Los Angeles lunchtime forum on economic empowerment.

I'm suffering a bit of mental indigestion - yet it seems like it's the same old story, too.

We need some radical changes in the way we consider economy, and a revival of moral values.

First, a comment on the article below by Prime Minister Aso (Japan). I appreciate his noble goal of eschewing "land grabs" in favor of "renovated agro-industries" - but wait - what's the key word there? "Industries" I would suggest - a word at war with the policies he suggests would be important, like respect for local land rights and local food security issues. I think there are way too many loopholes in his proposals - especially when one thinks about putting them into practice in countries of great poverty (and probably because of it great stress and great corruption). What starts as a noble effort to partner with folks in other countries, who have the land Japan does not, might well end up just another land grab. Think about the missionary movement of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mittal reminds us that those 800 million or so hungry people that we intended to halve - the number, not the people - were 963 million by the end of 2008. Even with some amelioration in the staple food prices over the last six months or so, the number is now estimated by some to be rapidly approaching one billion, and by Mittal and her sources to be 1.02 billion.

If you think about those much touted millennium development goals -we have 6 years to reverse the trend by 600 million people. And if we want to look at sustainable hunger reduction 6 years probably is not possible without great will and a mobilizing of human effort and education on an unprecedented scale. Transforming industrial ag land to smaller scale diversified farms takes years.

But I digress.

The main points in Mittal's report as I see it are
1) As long as the global food crisis is framed as simply a supply and demand problem, the need for more industrial ag, more chemical inputs, and more GMOs will be the go to solution. In my language - it's a triple bottom line concern. And it must be addressed systemically, with regard for social and environmental health, as well as provisioning food stuffs.

2) Free global trade in food only works for those who have money to buy it. For rural folk whose livelihoods and way of life have been destroyed by the colonizing effect of global agribusiness, there is no money and little food.

Here's a phrase I liked from Canterbury's presentation: "local level community regeneration".
Surely this is the goal, with restoring healthy and healthful food systems as part of it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

G8 shifts focus from food aid to farming (

G8 shifts focus from food aid to farming

By Javier Blas in London

Published: July 6 2009 00:08

The G8 countries will this week announce a “food security initiative”, committing more than $12bn for agricultural development over the next three years, in a move that signals a further shift from food aid to long-term investments in farming in the developing world.

The US and Japan will provide the bulk of the funding, with $3bn-$4bn each, with the rest coming from Europe and Canada, according to United Nations officials and Group of Eight diplomats briefed on the “L’Aquila Food Security Initiative”. Officials said it would more than triple spending. ...


Taro Aso: The world must learn to live and farm sustainably (

The world must learn to live and farm sustainably

By Taro Aso (Japan’s prime minister)

Published: July 5 2009 20:08

Food security will be the highlight of the discussion when the heads of 27 countries and 11 organisations meet on Friday at the Group of Eight summit in L’Aquila. I expect substantial progress to be made, particularly on aid to countries affected by the food crisis. I will also make a new proposal to promote responsible foreign investment in agriculture, in the face of so-called “land grabs” – the growing trend for large-scale investment in farmland across the developing world.

A year has passed since this phenomenon first gained attention, and new deals continue to hit the headlines. The United Nations special rapporteur called for a set of principles, and the African Union discussed the issue at its summit last week. What is needed now is for concerned parties to frame a co-ordinated global response.

Japan, as the world’s largest net food importer and a major donor in agricultural development, believes it has a role to play.


We believe non-binding principles would promote responsible investment and sustainable farmland management. They should include, among other things:

● International agricultural investments, particularly sovereign interventions, must be transparent and accountable. Investors should ensure that key stakeholders, including local communities, are properly informed. Agreements should be disclosed.

● Investors must respect the rights of local people affected by investments, in particular land rights. They should also ensure the benefits are shared with local communities in the form of employment, infrastructure, skills and technology transfer.

● Investment projects need to be integrated into recipient countries’ development strategies and environmental policies.

● Investors must take into account the food supply and demand situation in recipient countries. Foreign investment must not aggravate local food insecurity.

● Deals for land and products should adequately reflect market values. Trade arrangements must adhere to World Trade Organisation rules.

Japan will work with key partners to develop a global platform to agree on principles and compile good practices. We call on interested parties to meet in September. We need a grand coalition with a common vision, for our interests are all entwined.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Seafood Update

Greenpeace is particularly concerned with the oceans' health and they've just published an update of their report on seafood retailers.

There are some things that may surprise you here: Target has passed Whole Foods in the rankings, WalMart is making progress, and Trader Joe's is in the basement due to a lack of transparency and blatant greenwashing. (I find I am going to TJ's less often these days, and being much more selective about what I buy. They still have some good deals - but it just ain't the same since going national under international ownership.)

Since we don't have a Target with fresh food in this area, it looks like the best bets are local stores or Safeway (groan). I think it's time to tell Raley's, our regional chain, they need to at least get out the red, yellow and green labels and stop selling red snapper and a few other things. Oliver's labels, and says they are cutting down on red items, but you couldn't prove it by me.

I note that in Massachusetts the best bet is Stop and Shop - and of course, local outlets where people will talk to you. But curiously Stop and Shop does not include the red/yellow/green in their ads - you have to go into the store.

Okay - my only question of Greenpeace is what in #*@#!! are "ocean quahogs"? The quahog, Venus mercenaria, is an intertidal species.

Okay - I checked on this. It's another genus (Artica islandica), hardshelled bivalve mollusc, that looks like a quahog, and lives on the North Atlantic sea floor. It is not a sea clam (Spisula solidissima). Apparently the issue is not its rarity, but that it must be taken by the most destructive kind of trawling.

Meanwhile, I am going to spend the rest of the day reciting those Genus species names of the East Coast clams. Aren't they great? And don't forget Mya arenaria the softshell clam (steamers).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Food activity

I've been doing more with food lately than writing about it. I got my annual box of stone fruit from the Fruit Group in Cotati, and there are just a few nectarines left. The rest have been turned into salsa, conserve, jam and some unjarred goodies along the way. And I froze some to go into a crisp or cobbler with blackberries in a few weeks. It won't be long now for the free bounty of creekside berries - the fireworks I can hear as I type this are my first clue as to just what time of year it is.

In the garden we wait for tomatoes to ripen. I have lettuce, annual herbs, summer squash and beets, and I harvested my garlic. It's drying in the garage. Since the garages are somewhat loosely connected, I'm sure my neighbors wonder why they can smell garlic when they go to get their cars and motorcycles. I find the smell, the look, everything about it one of the more satisfying things I've done. It just did its thing underground from Thanksgiving to July 1 - et voila!

The one thing I have been thinking about is the opportunity to speak about food issues at Epiphany West at CDSP the last week in January. John Jeavons and I are going to be doing a three hour workshop, focusing on the boom in community gardens and the importance of small scale ego-agriculture. And I will have an opportunity to offer my CALL course on food and faith again in the spring of 2010. Seems like with increased interest in these things and the tie in to Epiphany West, we ought to be able to make it go.

And the one thing I have been writing, if you can call it writing, is compiling my tried and true preserve and condiment recipes from their various sources - scrawled over clippings and books with pages stuck together with jam! I was feeling the need to have them all in one place - for myself, and for some at the garden with whom I may share them.