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Showing posts from September, 2011

Hmong Food Culture

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Last spring, I wrote several times about the Global Food for Thought Meal Series that I organized for the GreenHouse environmental learning community. Check out the following posts from the archives to catch up: Overview and 1st Meal: GreenHouse Global Food for Thought Meals2nd Meal: Taste of Tuscany3rd Meal: Hunger Banquet 4th Meal: On Top of the World, Nepal5th Meal: Global Vegetarian6th Meal: Kallari Chocolate Cooperative and Ecuador I'm continuing with the Series this year, and we have a great line-up: Hmong, Afro-Caribbean, a new and improved Global Vegetarian, West African, and more! 
The first meal featured a focus on Hmong cuisine and food culture, with a fascinating presentation by a Hmong student from the UW, who introduced the student audience members to a range of stories and facts about Hmong people.

Most of the knowledge I have about Hmong culture comes from a book and a film that I highly recommend: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a book by Anne Fadiman, w…

First Grist Post!

In case you've haven't seen it, my first Grist post went up today!

You can read it here: It all began with spam

And I've updated the schedule of the remaining posts, which you can read more about here:
Post 1: Thursday, September 29 Post 2: Thursday, October 13Post 3: Friday, October 28Post 4: Monday, November 14Post 5: Thursday, December 1Post 6:  Friday, December 16
Thanks for reading along!

BPA in the news

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I spend a lot of time thinking about canned food in the historical sense, so when I see it in present-day news, I find it pretty darn exciting.

The latest issue that has brought canned food into the spotlight--and one that I will likely discuss in the final chapter/epilogue of my dissertation--is Bisphenol-A, or BPA, an endocrine disruptor present in many plastics that has negative impacts on human health. Almost all cans are lined with plastic, to create a better seal and to keep the metal taste from leaching into foods. Unfortunately, what's leaking into the foods instead is BPA from the plastic lining.

When I was at the doctor's office recently, I noticed a poster prominently hanging in the middle of the exam room, which alerted patients to the types of plastics to avoid (those with numbers 3, 6, and 7) because of BPA. It was mostly directed at women who were pregnant, breastfeeding, or feeding small children; and it explicitly suggested that they avoid canned foods.



So, w…

Slow Food Cafe

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Today is the grand opening of the Slow Food Cafe on the University of Wisconsin campus! You can find it from 12-2 PM in the basement of the crossing, at 1127 University Avenue.

Today's menu choices:

Savory crepes with braised poultry, wild grape redux, and greens. Sweet and spicy tahini with sliced apple and greens on house-made pitas. Beefy dumpling soup with aromatic vegetables. Chilled watermelon gazpacho, with a kick!! Ice Cream sandwich with shortbread cookies, Sassy Cow ice cream and apricot jam. Coffee, tea, and seaberry lemonade I knew this little cafe (or at least the idea of it) when it was but a twinkle in its mother's eye. In fact, our wedding rehearsal dinner was a sort of fundraiser for this very cafe, and we donated the plates from that event to the cause. So, if you show up for lunch today, you can eat off our rehearsal dinner plates--a little piece of history!

Last week, the cafe had a sort of soft opening, and I was able to attend for a delicious lunch featuri…

More on Calories

In last Monday’s post about the Men’s Health review of “healthy” restaurants, I referred to my concern that not everyone realizes “the problems with reductive nutritionism.”  But appropriately, in a comment, JH prompted me to say more about what this means, and to suggest some alternate criteria on which to base measurements of health, if not the calorie count offered by the cited report.

On the one hand, the number of calories you ingest is indeed an important indicator of obesity and its accompanying health problems. On the other hand, counting calories leaves no room for more nuanced understandings of what makes up those calories. For example, though the McDouble may have only 390 calories, about the same number of calories as an 8 ounce avocado, the ingredients of just the bun part of the burger are:

Enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, enzymes), water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, yeast, s…

College Food Progress

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After spending the last few years getting to know the impressive programs at the University of Wisconsin that are promoting knowledge about local food and environmental sustainability among undergraduate students--GreenHouse, F. H. King Student Farm, and Slow Food UW, for example--it is really interesting to see what's going on at other universities.

I had a chance to wander through the campus of my own undergraduate institution, Washington University in St. Louis, to see the progress it had made in those same areas of local food and environmental sustainability. A little overview:

The main eatery on campus, the DUC, was advertising their featured local suppliers, and there were posters for an on-campus eat local challenge: 

Wash U now has its own student farm! This wasn't around when I was there, so it was exciting to get to see and tour The Burning Kumquat Farm, and talk to a few of the students who were working there when we passed through. They told us that they their pr…

Soon: Response to Calories

If you haven't yet read the thoughtful comments posted in response to my Healthy = Low-Calorie? post, you should do so now!

I have some responses (at least half-formed ones) in the works, but I won't have time to properly write them up until next week. So, until then, go read those comments, mull them over, and share your own thoughts, if you have further ones!

I'll be back next week with more opining, and stories of dining.

Grist Blogging!

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Many of you have already heard about this, but I wanted to write here about a new opportunity I've been granted: For the next semester, I'll be blogging for a Food Studies series over at Grist!

If you're not familiar with Grist, it's probably the biggest and coolest environmental e-magazine around. Time magazine referred to it as, "The Colbert Report of climate change, The Daily Show of deforestation, the Oprah of oil dependency--except with real reporting and analytical journalism."

The Food Studies series follows 11 bloggers who are studying food in some capacity at universities around the world, and gives readers a peek into their lives and studies. It should be pretty cool (if I do say so myself).

Here's the series introduction that our editor, Nicola Twilley, wrote: Food Studies, The Edible Curriculum

My first post doesn't go live until next Wednesday 9/28, but I figured I'd give you my writing schedule here, so you can all be sure to follow…

A Perfect Salad

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I enjoyed this salad so much, simple as it might have been, that I wanted to share.

It was just delicious.

It all began with the previous day's project of using up food in the fridge that was starting to look a little limp. I began with beets, red peppers, fresh soybeans in the pod (edamame), so many eggs (from the farm), celery, and some potatoes (plus some lettuce and lemon that would later come in handy)

I roasted the beets with a little oil and salt until they caramelized; roasted about half the red peppers, in long strips, separately; boiled the edamame and shelled them; made a big egg salad with most of the eggs, the rest of the red pepper, and the celery; I also just left a couple of eggs hard-boiled and peeled them for later; and I roasted the potatoes in thin slices with salt and a touch of oil.

So all of those contributed to my being able to quickly throw this salad together:

a few leaves of lettuce, torn into pieces a handful of caramelized roasted beets a few roasted …

Bike the Barns

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Bike the Barns 2011 has come and gone!

And what an event it was!

This was the fifth year that MACSAC--the Madison Area CSA Coalition--has put on this day of bike-riding and good food to raise money for Partner Shares, a program that makes fresh, local produce available at reduced cost to low-income families in the Madison area.

We've been wanting to do this ride for a few years now, and finally made it this year, with the help of some friends and family who pledged money to help us. Thank you! We raised $200 with your help!

The day began with seeing lots of friends who were riding and volunteering at the start line, at Lake Ripley Park, east of Madison. It made the whole day sunny (at least metaphorically) to have such a warm community with us as we began. We made time for some bike maintenance and a breakfast of fresh pears, melon, and yogurt-waffle-fruit cups:


And then it was time to hop on the bikes to begin the 63 mile route through the Southern Wisconsin countryside!


Less t…

Healthy = Low-Calorie?

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Sometimes, as hard as I try not to, it seems that I forget about the bubble I live in. Turns out, not everyone has a holistic view of health, not everyone values local foods, not everyone realizes the problems with reductive nutritionism.

Well, of course, you might say.

But this video that my father-in-law recently sent me still left me with my mouth hanging wide open:

Report-card time: 5 best, worst restaurants in America

In it, some journalist from Men's Health magazine, David Zinczenko, rates a bunch of "restaurants"* and gives them grades according to how "healthy" they are. Here's what they decide:

McDonald's: B+
Olive Garden: D+
Red Lobster: A-
Chick-Fil-A: A-
Chipotle: C-

The results are ridiculous, and the incredibly narrow criteria they use remind me how much the nutrition paradigm hasn't really moved beyond where it was 20 years ago.

Why does McDonald's get a relatively good score? Well, because of their "McDouble" burger and …

Apple Cheddar Scones

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I am a regular reader of Smitten Kitchen, a lovely cooking blog that you should totally be reading if you aren't already, if only for the gorgeous photos (but also for the light writing voice and the great food!) But although I never miss a post, I've almost never actually made any recipe directly from the site. This is partly because I rarely follow a recipe unless there's a particularly thorny ingredient I need to use up, but also because, although the food on Smitten Kitchen always looks delicious, it looks like food that someone else would make (and that I would happily eat!), but not me.

Today's recipe, apple cheddar scones, is a total case in point. I haven't baked a lot of scones, I don't usually have much extra cheese on hand, and whatever apples I have typically get eaten raw. So, the fact that I came to bake these amazing little scones had only to do with the fact that my friend RM suggested we make them with some of the abundant apples straight off t…

The Variety of Apples

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While staying out here on the farm, I've been dealing with a lot of autumn apples. I don't know the particular varieties they have out here, but they range from small and yellow-green and tart to medium-sized, golden red and yellow.

But I got to experience an even wider range of locally-grown heirloom apple varieties over the weekend, at Appleberry Farm, a pick-your-own operation in nearby Cross Plains, WI.  Although they only had two commercial varieties growing on the trees that we could pick ourselves (MacIntosh and Cortland), they had a wide range of heirloom apples inside that you could also buy.

Who knew there were such exciting and delicious apples?! See for yourselves:

There were Duchess of Oldenburg and Chenango Strawberry:

Paula Red and Gravenstein:

Tetofsky and JonaMac:

Ashmeads Kernel ("a treat for the apple connoisseur") and McMahon:

I tried about half of these, and especially liked the Gravenstein, with its juicy, sweet/tart flavor.

And now I have to find t…

Not taking it for granted

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And so I write from the quietness and stillness of a central-Wisconsin farm, where the sky is vast and studded with stars; the nearest neighbors are so far we can belt out Engine Driver and Don't Stop Believin', accompanied by a twelve-string guitar, in the middle of the night, with no fear of waking anyone; the chickens must be protected from prowling foxes and raccoons at nightfall; the donkey requires an apple and a chat (or graceful conversation) each morning; and the eggs come in at mid-day, warm and golden.



We find ourselves here because this is the home of one of the professors in Justin's department, who has traveled abroad on vacation for a couple of weeks (to watch his sheepdogs compete in the world championship of sheepherding!). Because the animals need tending to, he has left them (along with his beautiful home) in our care.

Being here, in this place removed from the city and somewhat removed from the buzz of our daily lives, we've reflected a lot on rural…

Scenes from the farm

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This week, we're farm-sitting at this beautiful place full of rolling hills (and sheep and chickens and donkey and apple trees!) near Blue Mounds, WI. I'll be back to write more about it the rest of this week, but for now some glimpses of the beauty:







An Embarrasment of Riches

I recently came upon something almost too remarkable to be real:

A class at UC-Berkeley co-taught by Michael Pollan and Nikki Henderson, Executive Director of People’s Grocery, with guest lectures by so many people I admire. There's Carlo Petrini (the founder of the international Slow Food movement), Marion Nestle (my favorite nutritionist), Ann Cooper (the Renegade Lunch Lady), Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation), Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse and the queen of seasonal eating), Frances Moore Lappe (author of Diet for a Small Planet), Van Jones (human rights and green jobs advocate), and so many others! Seriously.

The course description reads like this:

"One of the many currents that the opening of Chez Panisse in 1971 helped set in motion is the movement now rising to reform the American food system. The restaurant focused an early light on the social and environmental benefits of farming sustainably and helped spur the growth of organic and local agriculture.  T…

Top 10 Food Films: Aesthetics

Here's my Top 10 list for the best food films that focus on the joy and aesthetics of good food (check about my list of best ethical/political food films). You can watch the trailers below, by clicking on the links [for some reason, I couldn't figure out the embedding today, so links are all I've got!]. And please share others I missed in the comments below!

1. Ratatouille

2. Waitress

 3. Julie and Julia

4. Chocolat

5. Eat Drink Man Woman

6. Like Water for Chocolate

7. Babette's Feast

8. Tortilla Soup 

 9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

10. Fried Green Tomatoes

Top 10 Food Films: Politics

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Here's my Top 10 list for the best food films that engage with issues of ethics and politics (I'll be back with best foodie/aesthetic films tomorrow). You can watch the trailers below, or follow the title links to the films' webpages to learn more.  And please share others I missed in the comments below!

1.Food Inc.




2. Our Daily Bread



3. What's On Your Plate



4. Real Dirt on Farmer John



5.Super Size Me



6. Queen of the Sun



7. King Corn



8. Dirt! The Movie



9. Fresh





 10. The Future of Food






Archival gem

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This week, I've been putting the finishing touches on two dissertation chapter drafts! It's been a long haul, and it'll be a longer one yet, but progress is progress.

Because this is so on my mind, I figured I'd share a little gem from the archives that didn't actually make it into my Chapter 3, but that is too funny and quirky to ignore entirely.

This is from the files of Ernest C. Dickson, who was a Stanford University scientist who worked on behalf of the canning industry in order to help make ripe olives safe from botulism (after a big outbreak of botulism poisonings in 1919-1920).

In this document, a California state health official went to investigate a case of poisoning that was allegedly caused by eating canned ripe olives.

He talked to the victim and the victim's wife, the grocer, and the doctor who initially diagnosed the illness. The doctor, one Dr. Grosvenor, didn't seem to happy to talk with the state health official:


"He would take to th…

Open-faced Sandwiches

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I made these little beauties so long ago, but the idea of them has been alive in my imagination ever since:


It's a very simple idea--the tray of open-faced sandwiches--but it offers such tastiness and opportunity for creativity that it's worth spending some time with.

In this particular incarnation, we have (across from the top row):
Hummus with carrot-broccoli stem slawSpread home-made or store-bought hummus on a piece of bread.  Top with slaw (shredded carrots and broccoli stems--or throw in any shredded veggies you want!--mixed with a little olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and a tiny bit of sugar)
Tomato-basilMix chopped tomatoes (fresh are best, but canned and drained will do in a pinch) with a large quantity of chopped basil. Taste and season lightly with salt and pepper, if needed.
Mashed avocado with yellow pepperMash one avocado with a little salt and lime juice, if you have it on hand. Spread it thickly on a piece of bread, and lay something crunchy, li…

Class syllabus

Thanks to some help I got in planning my syllabus (both online and off) for this one-credit course I'm teaching this semester, I've managed to put together a preliminary schedule for the semester. Check it out via Google Docs through the link below, if you're interested:

Creating a Shared Meal syllabus

I'll definitely be writing again about how the class goes, about what kinds of issues our discussions bring up, and about the food that my students (co-learners?!) and I cook together!

Summer Picnic Pesto

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End of summer brings a wealth of basil--rich, green, and shiny. Which, of course, spells P-E-S-T-O.


I threw together this little pesto last week, and paired it with some chopped up tomatoes and baguette slices for a start-of-semester picnic. It was a hit.


Just because the other food at this potluck picnic was so beautiful, I want to showcase some of it before sharing my pesto recipe, below.  Zucchini fries, grilled vegetables, three-bean salad:

Bean and greens salad in a yogurt dressing; couscous salad; a mexican salad with veggie crumbles; and delicious baked beans! A feast, to be sure.

This little pesto of mine was made from basil from our garden, and whatever else I had on hand.  Because we didn't have any parmesan in the house, I looked up a recipe in the awesome vegan cookbook, the Veganomicon, and modified it according to available ingredients and my taste. Hope you enjoy it!


Vegan Basil-Cilantro Pesto
3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves 1 cup loosely packed …