Thursday, October 28, 2010

of course food matters

Mark Bittman has been touring, promoting his new book, the Food Matters recipe collection. Interesting to learn that he was, before becoming a food writer, a community organizer, and has a sense of returning to a role as advocate - this time for food choices that are better for personal and planetary health.

There's a good conversation between Mark and Michael Krasny of KQED here

It includes some helpful audience comments, and some that are pure baloney and food fetishism.

People really do seem to prefer to attribute magical qualities to food, rather than using some science mixed with common sense. I do think that Bittman has his priorities in order.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Waste Not

Some weeks ago I read the book Waste by Tristram Stuart, and went around appalled at what I'd learned, wanting to ask questions everywhere and of everybody about food waste.

It influenced the handout I prepared for 10.10.10 on climate change and the food system. In my thinking it was no longer about whether you overfilled the teakettle when you set it on the burner to heat, but about the impact of over buying, over preparing and the waste that ensues, on the generation of GHGs.

I wanted to go into every food related business and ask hard questions. I actually did ask about composting at my market. And I even had to repress some urges to start dumpster diving. (Because I knew if I dove in, I probably wouldn't be able to get out - limber not being my middle name now, if it ever was...)

And, of course, I started spouting uncalled for remarks, citing glaring statistics.

Stuart has a way of doing the math and then some. For example, waste of grains in their various forms and at all levels in the US and UK would provide enough to supply the additional calories needed by the more than 1 billion hungry on earth. Not that we would ship our leftovers, but that if we waste less through buying less more grain would be left on the world market for others.

I even liked some of the retail gimmicks which Stuart referred to. How about restaurants giving smaller portions for the same price they charge now, but offering seconds to those who really are that hungry? or fining people who don't clean their plates and giving the money to a development organization? And there's the supermarket chain home economist giving tips on how to use your leftovers.

I'm resisting giving the lengthy detailed quotes here, but encourage reading the book. Stuart is UK based, but there is plenty of information about the US food system, too, and helpful charts and appendices. But it's probably not a good idea immediately after reading this to go to an ungreen potluck, or go to a restaurant where all portions are supersized, or even eat at the home of friends who don't share your sensibilities as an ecotarian. You'll be looking at all that food very differently.

Good Egg(s)

I always thought that shortening days caused hens to slow their laying, but the girls around here have been busy this month. My neighbor sold me a dozen eggs from her girls because they were laying much faster than she and her tenants could eat them. And a woman at my gym is selling eggs, too. Today there were pictures of her girls which I admired while doing my stretching.

It's something of a relief to have these neighborly suppliers, because research I've done on store eggs suggest that labels are suggestive, not really descriptive.

Now here's a short video that tells some of the story:

The Cornucopia folks who bring us this have also prepared a score card of organic egg brands.

So for me it'll be those eggs from girls I know, or as a backup Clover Organic.

What about the cost, you might ask?

Well, a dozen large eggs (the standard for use in recipes) weighs 1 1/2 pounds.

On sale at $3 a dozen, that's $2 lb - about the same as the low end of organic tofu.

At $4.50 a dozen, $3 per pound. Compare to organic tempeh or organic peanut butter - when they are on sale. Or maybe cottage cheese.

Even at $6 a dozen, that's $4 per pound, less than any fish or cheese is ever priced.

Sorry, I can't compare to meat, 'cuz I don't ever buy it, but you get the idea. Good organic eggs priced fairly are still inexpensive protein.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let Haitians lead the effort, says Bread for the World analyst

Let Haitians lead the effort


Haiti is attracting renewed international attention as it prepares to elect its next leader, thanks in part to the potential candidacy (ultimately ruled invalid) of Haitian-born musician and producer Wyclef Jean.

Also at the heart of the scrutiny are two important questions that the upcoming election raises: How do we keep reconstruction moving, and what type of leadership is required in Haiti to do so? The remaining candidates must consider these questions as they also prepare to inherit all of the problems that Haiti has faced for many years.

Even before the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day and the highest malnutrition rate in the region.

Despite these obstacles, this time of transition provides an opportunity to ensure that development assistance for Haiti is delivered far more effectively than before. Enter the United States and the international community. Since the January earthquake, the United States and other nations have shown unprecedented levels of goodwill, focus, and commitment.

Our commitment to Haiti must also be matched with consistent action, keeping the following goals in mind:

• Recovery must be led by Haitians. The Haitian government must reclaim its role and lead rebuilding efforts in Haiti. While we cannot discount the critical role of nongovernmental organizations in Haiti relief and recovery, the government of Haiti must increasingly be visible in the lives of its citizens. Undoubtedly the temptation has been to work around the beleaguered Haitian government to get results, but donors and aid groups must make it a priority to include Haitians -- and their government -- in accomplishing their tasks.

• Efforts should build -- rather than undermine -- the capacity of the Haitian government. Similarly, one of the most valuable ways we can support Haiti is by coordinating our relief efforts with the Haitian government so as to strengthen it and ensure future self-sufficiency. Through Feed the Future, the Obama administration's new global food-security initiative, the United States is making a concerted effort to work with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture to revive Haiti's agriculture sector. We must do more of this.

• Aid must be accountable, transparent, predictable, and better coordinated. Haiti has suffered one of the largest urban disasters of modern times. People all over the world have responded to Haiti's needs by contributing billions of dollars to relief efforts. However, only a small percentage of the aid that has been pledged has been disbursed. To continue to support Haitians in rebuilding, we must respond quickly and effectively with resources to meet the needs -- not allow stalled legislative processes or stagnant bureaucratic structures to cloud our resolve.

• Haitian civil society, including members of the diaspora, must have a seat at the table. No one can rebuild Haiti more effectively than Haitians, with their concrete and intimate understanding of their own needs. The United States and the international community can provide resources, but Haitian civil society must have a seat at the table. Failing to engage the diaspora, which offers an enormous flow of financial support and a growing pool of professionals, would undermine the rebuilding efforts.

Haiti will need support and encouragement to continue rebuilding long after the elections are over and the international media stop reporting on the country's challenges. If we are serious about long-term recovery, we should work to harness the considerable energy around Haiti today to make aid more effective in building a better future for Haitians.

Diana Aubourg Millner, a Haitian-American, is a senior policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

Read more:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gleanings on gleaning

If I were a fundamentalist this could be an illustration for a lesson on original sin, but there is nothing original about confusing charitable activity with justice.
I've been struggling for two weeks with how to say that without sounding harsh, and maybe there is no way to do so.
It was a wonderful day of gleaning, though a bit hot by late morning. As part of a Slow Food Russian River initiative we gleaned a private small orchard in Sebastopol, and got 676 pounds of apples which eventually went to the Redwood Gospel Mission and a public school in north county.
The team I worked with were great - good conversation along with the sun and scent of an apple orchard and rewarding work - marred only by the chain saws across the farm track where Dutton were taking out another orchard to put in grapes.
But I think it was the conversation with some of the gleaning leaders in the county at the luncheon celebration afterward (great fresh local food eaten in the shade at Bayer Farm) that really made me pause.
I have had an idea for some time that we need to get young people involved in gleaning. I've been thinking particularly about high school students doing service learning. But it seems like the gleaning being done now is by people who already know the food system in order to supply charities with produce. I'd so like to see both a learning component, and an involvement of those who could benefit from more fresh, local produce, and often can't afford it, in the gleaning effort itself. If that means that volunteers who are experienced and trusted by growers to glean their fields and orchards need to companion others, well, that's fine. I wish I were sure they were willing to. But I am questioning whether gleaning which is done to redistribute surplus by those who don't need the gleaned produce is really gleaning as I understand it. And whether such gleaning efforts can really be called food justice actions.
Give a person an apple, or teach a person to pick an apple, or help low income people form an apple gleaning cooperative? which is the just thing to do?
Is it those Hebrew bible images of gleaning getting in the way? Perhaps I am a bit of a fundamentalist?
(Thanks to Michael Dimmock for the photo.)

Why I've been neglecting posting

Doesn't everyone have a lot of excuses this fall? and not just excuses, but reasons. It seems way busier than the usual fall press of things to do.

I've been working on the on-line class through CALL at CDSP on Food and Faith, so some of my writing and thinking energy has gone in that direction.

Meetings about aspects of our local food system seem to be multiplying, too. The Sonoma County Food System Alliance has chosen some things to do and divided into working groups. I'm on the forum committee (a big meeting planned for February - I'll link to details when we have a firm date) and also on "policy".

Two Saturdays ago I participated in the Slow Food gleaning day, and tomorrow is our Harvestfest at the community garden.

And Sunday I'll be leading the between services conversation at Grace Cathedral on "From Seed to Compost", focusing on food and climate change issues marking 10.10.10

Somewhere in the midst of all that activity I am cooking and preserving the bounty from this strange weather year. The tomatoes and peppers are still ripening, and the winter squash, after some harvesting on my part, is trying to grow some more. Now it's a race against time - who knows in this year of a cold summer and early fall temps in the 100's when the first frost will be?