Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Cooking Animal

Several years ago when I was working at the NCSE, one of the things I thought about a lot was "What makes us human?" I realized that one of the reasons people resist the complex of well-established theories we call evolution is this - everybody wants to be special, and they want humanity to be special, too.

For a while laughter was my favorite distinguishing characteristic. Apes do it - but it's different, on the inhale rather than the exhale - and never loud and hearty. But still it's a continuum - and it seems like anything we can think of that distinguishes our species behaviorally has precedent somewhere among our warm-blooded kin of one sort or another.

But cooking stuck with me as a strong candidate for species specific behavior - something we do as a regular intentional behavior, not just for one kind of food in one situation - like the monkeys of Nagano Olympics fame in their hot springs. Turns out that cooking may have influenced our evolution, and be truly integral to humanity. At least Richard Wrangham thinks so:

And if he's right, cooking may be foundational to what evolved as patriarchy, a sex-linked behavior that kept our early sisters in the kitchen. And we've adapted to cooked food, evolved with our cooking, so that raw food diets are not adequate for us. So much for all those diet books based in faux anthro.

If you, dear reader, have read the book, Catching Fire: how cooking made us human, please comment. The library waiting list is long, and I'm resisting buying books.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No More MacDonald's!

in Iceland, that is.

The franchisee there simply can't afford the imported ingredients since the big financial meltdown.

Apparently Mac requires they use certain suppliers, and the freight, literally, is too high.

Instead there will be local hamburger joints, sourcing meat and buns and all locally and selling cheaper. And of course, being a good deal more environmentally friendly. Financial crises and the straightened circumstances they cause are, apparently, not always anti-green.

The prime minister who helped set up Iceland for its financial crash was publicized eating the first Big Mac when the joints opened. Will he be the last one Mac-ing it up?

Heard on "The World" this afternoon on public radio.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This may be a step in the right direction

Posting the CO2 count on food labels in Sweden

but it would be even better if they posted the total impact on greenhouse gases - including methane, for example.

And if carrots are a better choice than tomatoes or cucumbers - grown in hothouses - and barley than rice - the parallel may be encouragement to eat even more rhubarb, that northerly fruit substitute.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Other than the early Julia Child shows, Gourmet was my portal to cooking beyond good New England fare. I quit subscribing when the perfume inserts got to me. They discontinued the "Gastronomie sans Argent" column, too, my favorite recipe source.

But when I picked one up at a news stand a few months back I was pleasantly surprised with how the magazine had seemed to keep up, not promoting waste, and covering food system issues while appealing to high end foodie tastes. So the demise of the magazine is not a pretty thing. The low and middle brow cooking magazines I've skimmed while waiting in line at the market are not covering the issues, and rely way too much on prepared foods as ingredients IMHO.

This opinion piece nails it, I think:

And as someone who's had a brush with journalism over the last few years, it nails a few other things, too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Finally a Sonoma County Food System Alliance

I went to the inaugural meeting Monday afternoon.

And as I began to type I thought about the fact that this blog is public, so while I will share some of my learnings, I won't share all of my impressions.

Joseph McIntyre is the fast moving facilitator and Dan Schurman the ED of the coordinating organization Ag Innovations Network.

The participants were heavy on the human health and environmental advocacy angles, not so much economic justice. Farm labor, small scale farmers and the Food Bank were represented, but no other dimensions of labor, like food service workers or food processors, and no restaurateurs. There was also no one from the food waste angle.

Last week when I was at the Imagine conference for ordained women of Province 8 of the Episcopal Church, I figured something out. I'm in the middle on this food system business, upholding the environment related issues to the church, and the economic justice issues to the eco-foodies who dominate the scene in my locale. I can live with this, and work with this.

We met at the Food Bank this time. What I hadn't thought about until I walked through the warehouse, was how dependent our food safety net for the poor is on nationwide sourcing. This is very scary. If there were a terrorist attack or environmental disaster that disrupted transportation; or if there were a huge spike in gasoline or diesel prices; or just a few decades down the road when peak oil is way back in our rear view mirrors, we are going to be in big trouble trying to meet the needs of the food insecure from local sourcing.

I haven't been paying attention

and I'm embarrassed.

There are two agricultural issues here in California which I kinda knew about. One is the impact of price regulation on dairy farmers, driving more to organic (not regulated) and a few to suicide. It's not just in India anymore.

The other is the threat of major pest invasions. I've seen the vaguely apocalyptic ads on television, but assumed it was a ploy by chemical companies. Now I've got to do some research, and since I have a month with no overnights away perhaps I will have time.

New resource for churches

I just hate when I can't find the right person to talk to so that I have an Episcopal hook on an ecumenical story. It happened again this week when I found nobody home so that I could write up the efforts of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon at their October 3 conference, Food Sovereignty for All.

But I can at least post a link to their handbook here:

Download a copy and have a look. It's great stuff - practical advice for congregations wanting to do a food system related project, with real life examples. If you've got extra land or a big underused kitchen at your church, of if you just want to strengthen connections with and support for local agriculture, there is help with getting started in these pages. Even if a congregation has never done a community ministry project before, there should be no excuses after reading this handbook. There are also several pages of resources if a congregation wants to begin with study of the food and faith connections.