Thursday, June 30, 2011

Airport Breakfast

So, I recently wrote about the kind of egg breakfast that we like to have when we have access to toasted English muffins, fried eggs, sauteed onions, assorted greens, plus peaches and plums and cherries and strawberries!

But what to do when you're in an airport, traveling at the end of a family vacation, with not much more than the leftover fridge items of a few hard-boiled eggs and two bread heels? What kind of egg sandwich can be made with that?

Well, with the aid of an old cottage cheese container that I stubbornly hadn't thrown away, our favorite take-anywhere utensil the "spo-fork-ife," and some airport condiments, we managed to put together a delicious couple of open-faced sandwiches.

We just peeled the eggs, chopped them up in the plastic containers with the knife/fork end of our utensil, added some mayo, Grey Poupon, crushed red pepper, and salt...

and spread the whole mixture on our bread heels before enjoying!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Capitol Vegetable Garden!

For the first time last year, Community GroundWorks planted a vegetable garden in one of the flower beds around the state Capitol, and it was awesome. People from all over the city got to see how bountiful and beautiful vegetable gardens could be, and it offered a useful production counterpoint to all the consumption that goes on at the same location at the Dane County Farmer's Market every weekend. Most of the produce grown in the garden is donated to the food pantry at the Goodman Community Center.

According to Senator Fred Risser, one of the Wisconsin 14, "The Capitol vegetable garden is a public laboratory to highlight the work of Dane County's many small farms and to inspire people interested in planting vegetable gardens."

Read more about it here, and if you're in Madison, go see the garden for yourself!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Barry Estabrook, whose blog Politics of the Plate was nominated for a James Beard Award this year, has just come out with a book called "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit :

I just read one of his earlier articles on which this book is based, "Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes," and I want you all to go read it, right now. 


Ok, now you're back? And you're shaken by the deft writing, stellar reporting, and gruesome facts? 

A few excerpts: "Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Florida...when asked if it is reasonable to assume that an American who has eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or food-service company during the winter has eaten fruit picked by the hand of a slave...said, 'It is not an assumption. It is a fact.'"

And as for what we, as consumers, can do differently?  Estabrook writes,

"Buying Slave-Free Fruits: In the warm months, the best solution is to follow that old mantra: buy seasonal, local, and small-scale. But what about in winter? So far, Whole Foods is the only grocery chain that has signed on to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Campaign for Fair Food, which means that it has promised not to deal with growers who tolerate serious worker abuses and, when buying tomatoes, to a pay a price that supports a living wage. When shopping elsewhere, you can take advantage of the fact that fruits and vegetables must be labeled with their country of origin. Most of the fresh tomatoes in supermarkets during winter months come from Florida, where labor conditions are dismal for field workers, or from Mexico, where they are worse, according to a CIW spokesman. One option during these months is to buy locally produced hydroponic greenhouse tomatoes, including cluster tomatoes still attached to the vine. Greenhouse tomatoes are also imported from Mexico, however, so check signage or consult the little stickers often seen on the fruits themselves to determine their source. You can also visit the CIW’s information-packed website ( if you are interested in becoming part of the coalition’s efforts."

Of course, eating greenhouse tomatoes in the middle of winter (especially if you live somewhere like Wisconsin!) also takes its toll, at least environmentally-speaking.  I'd suggest in this case learning to eat more seasonally, and to forgo "fresh" tomatoes in the winter, instead relying on canned or frozen versions--which work just as well in soups and stews and pastas.

Even if you have to take your Potbelly sandwich without tomatoes, it seems worth it to help avoid slavery, eh?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Conversation in the Comments

Because I want to make sure you're all aware of it, I'm re-posting the conversation that's been happening in the comments of the guest post Justin wrote a couple of weeks ago, A Simple Argument for (Quasi) Vegetarianism:

Boris said...

     Justin, your post inspired me to write like you, a philosopher. As a university town, Madison is a center of rationality first. Vegetarianism and other convictions come next as products of rationality. Vegetarianism can be inferred from ethical standards, energy efficiency, health, and other considerations. Rationality starts with setting some assumptions and then deriving consequences. Let us consider whether we agree with the following premises dealing with factors of happiness.
     1. The main thing that living creatures desire is to exist, to be alive. They prefer almost any level of suffering to the non-existence of death. Those who happened to have different preferences are eliminated by natural selection.
     2. Youth when we are free from handicaps of old age is the most enjoyable period of life.
     3. Among other factors of happiness are:
     - Availability of food.
     - Protection against elements, predators, and pests.
     - Minimum of efforts to get the food and protection.
     - Quick and painless death.
     - Some unexpected consequences can be drawn from these premises.
     4. The greatest benefactors of our eating meat are chicken and cows: short life of plenty is preferable to non-existence. Vegetarianism may be good for your health but bad for the animals: majority of them would not have chance to exist.
     5. Now when the crowded and polluted environment of feeding lots is on the way out yielding place for free-range systems, meat-eating humans appear not as cruel exploiters but as suicidal (cholesterol kills us) altruists.
     June 10, 2011 6:29 PM

JH said...

Boris: Thank you very much for the reply. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond.

Some people respond to vegetarian arguments by denying that animal suffering matters. Your reply is interesting in that it takes the opposite tack: you assume that animal well-being matters and then claim that we should eat meat because this benefits animals. You reason that existence, however brief and miserable, is preferable to non-existence, and farm animals will only be able to exist in large numbers if we eat substantial quantities of meat.

One concern with this approach is that it is hard to assess the relative preferability of never existing vs. living a life as a factory-farmed animal. You appeal to the preferences of existing animals, but it seems to me this isn't quite the relevant measure. Animals prefer a painful existence to dying, but this does not show that a painful existence is preferable to never having been born. When I ask myself whether I would prefer a) an eternity of nothingness after my death, or b) to return to earth as a factory farmed animal, I think I'd prefer the nothingness.

But this is highly speculative, and I think there is a more promising way of responding to your objection. As you mention, moral reasoning involves inferring the logical consequences of principles, and assessing those consequences. I'd like to continue by drawing out the implications of the position you sketch. Your argument seems to rely on a the following assumption: if creating an organism and then using it for our own ends creates more well-being for that organism than it would have if we never allowed it to exist, then we cannot be accused of treating the organism unethically. Indeed, by your lights, failing to bring such an organism into existence would be immoral.

I suggest that this approach is implausible when applied to other contexts, and should be rejected for this reason. Suppose that tomorrow, President Obama were to issue an executive order for a certain line of stem cells, which are currently set to be destroyed, to be transformed into human clones. Further suppose that the plan is to use these clones for "spare parts"; whenever an American citizen needs an organ, we simply kill a clone and harvest that organ. Applying your principle, there can be no objection to this. Had we not created the clones, they would not exist. And in the case I've described, we never would have created them unless we intended to use their organs. Since a short life is preferable to no life at all, such a practice of cloning and organ harvesting would be morally praiseworthy. But in fact such a practice seems completely monstrous.

It seems that the problem is that consequentialist reasoning runs into trouble when we apply it to issues of creating new life. Painful existence is preferable to non-existence, but the mere fact that we're responsible for a creature's existence does not entitle us to treat it however we please provided its life is better than non-existence. No organism has any "right" to be brought into existence; this explains why there is nothing wrong with couples deciding to remain childless. If a being does not exist, it can hardly complain that it is being wronged! It seems more plausible to conclude that only organisms that actually exist at some time are entitled to our moral consideration. Thus, it seems to me that any “harm” caused by failing to bring new chickens and cows into existence is of no moral concern.

Thanks again for responding to my post. If you have more thoughts on my thoughts, I'd be interested to hear them.
     June 24, 2011 1:22 PM

Boris said...

Justin, who am I to argue with a specialist in metaethics? Surely, you are right. It occurred to me that we are dealing with different dualities. My thinking concerns the opposition between natural and unnatural rather than moral/immoral. Ethically, it may be true (though I doubt it) that there is nothing wrong with couples deciding to remain childless. But definitely those couples are not natural because they are not able to pass their traits to the posterity. Eating chicken and even cabbage is immoral (because it involves killing other organisms) but it is natural. It is natural to prefer a short life to no life at all.

For us, natural behavior is called anthropocentrism. It does not mean cruel or even egotistic. Anthropocentrism includes care and responsibility for other creatures, except those that harm us. The real opposition is between the immediate gratification of short-sighted anthropocentrism and inclusive anthropocentrism concerned with all species useful for us now and in the future. Can such inclusive anthropocentrism be called morality?
     June 24, 2011 5:30 PM

JH said...

Hi Boris,

Thanks for the further comments. Your opening sentences sound disconcertingly like something Socrates would say. I hope I fare better than his interlocutors!

I have a hard time assessing claims about what is “natural” or “unnatural”, and I think this is because these terms have a number of different senses, such that a single thing can be “natural” in some senses and not in others. In claiming that a behavior is “unnatural”, one might be claiming that it is statistically unusual, or that it is not practiced by other animals besides humans, or it does not proceed from innate desires, or that it somehow violates the “natural purpose” of some organ, or something else entirely. Behaviors might be natural in some of these senses and not others, so I think claims that something is “natural” or “unnatural” are hard to assess until one clarifies the sense of “naturalness” that is in play. As as philosopher, I'd prefer this to take the form of an analysis, along the lines of “x is natural if and only if...”. But I'd settle for some clarification that falls short of this.

Even with this clarification, though, I think another step of argument would be needed: we would need some explanation of why considerations of “naturalness” give us any reason to act some ways rather than others. One might reasonably claim that vaccines are “unnatural” in at least some of the senses listed above, but this does not establish that we should stop using them. Likewise, I accept that there is some sense in which the decision to remain childless is “unnatural”, but I think more would need to be said to show that such a decision is worthy of condemnation.

I doubt very much that you actually think that eating cabbage is immoral. I should further point out that vegetarians are not committed to such an implausible position. The argument of my original post was simply this: given that it is immoral to cause large amounts of suffering for the sake of trivial pleasures (a principle most of us already accept), eating meat from factory farms is immoral. Cabbages don't suffer, so this argument has no implications about the morality of eating cabbage.

I'm puzzled by your identification of “natural behavior” with anthropocentrism. As already mentioned, to assess this I would need a clarification of what sense of “natural” you intend. I'd also need a clarification of “anthropocentrism”. In philosophical debates in environmental ethics, “anthropocentrism” typically refers to the view that only human beings are morally valuable for their own sakes. According to this view, to the extent that we have any moral obligations at all concerning animals, these derive from our moral obligations to humans. So, for example, an anthropocentrist could claim that I have an obligation not to harm your pet dog in virtue of the fact that I have an obligation not to harm your property. Kant famously adopted an anthropocentrist position and argued that we have a duty to treat animals kindly only because those who are cruel to animals inevitably become cruel to humans as well. I find anthropocentric positions implausible because they entail that there is nothing wrong with gratuitous torture of animals in cases where doing so does not harm any humans (directly or indirectly).

June 25, 2011 10:22 PM

Friday, June 24, 2011

Snug Haven Farm Fundraiser

Though we missed our fathers on Fathers' Day, we managed to make the most of the day with a trip to one of the most beautiful Wisconsin farms I've ever visited, for a fundraiser to help pay the medical bills of one of the farm owners, who has chronic Lyme's Disease.

The farm is Snug Haven Farm, in Belleville, Wisconsin, which is reputed for having the most delicious overwintered spinach anyone has ever tasted.  I can attest to this.

So many local restaurants and vendors pitched in to help support the event, providing the awesome food and items for the silent auction and live music and entertainment:

We ate like queens and kings: Portabella Mushroom Burgers with Arugula Pesto and Homemade Ketchup from Mermaid Cafe, Potato Salad from L'Etoile, Ravioli Salad from Madison Club, Rhubarb Lemonade from Graze, and Apple Strawberry Bars from Honey Bee Bakery:

And we even got to spend the morning with old friends, like DocDirD, who was a joy to be with despite being sick as a dog:

These are the kind of events that make the Madison food community feel like home.
If anybody would still like to be donate to the cause, please make checks out to Judy Hageman and send to 1170 Hageman Rd., Belleville, WI 53508, Call: (608) 424.3296 or Email:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Agricultural History Society

So, I've alluded to the Springfield, IL farmer's market a few times this week, in earlier posts. What might have brought me to Springfield, Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, you might ask?

Well, it was none other than the 2011 Agricultural History Society meeting!

Not only did I get to pose with the whole Lincoln family (and my dear friend HC):

But I also got to see the kitchen of the actual Lincoln home, and to learn about how the family might have cooked in the 1850s:

But in addition to seeing Lincoln (everywhere in that city!) I also partook in a really cool conference. The program describes it thus:

"Contemporary debates about food, agriculture, and rural life are often framed in opposition with little attention to historical context. Proponents of the local, slow, and organic often emphasize quality while advocates of the global, fast, and industrial stress quantity to satisfy world demand for food. The Agricultural History Society addresses this conundrum in a three-day conference with sessions that engage or transcend these debates by examining questions about quality and quantity as they relate to food, farming, and/or rural life from a historical perspective."

And why Springfield, you might ask? Well...

"Springfield, Illinois sits in the heart of the Midwestern Corn Belt, an area notable for its contrasts. It produces and processes corn that feeds and fuels much of the world, but critics decry the production system as non-sustainable. Agricultural manufacturing and processing industries helped define the post-World War II production revolution in agriculture, and have remained influential in technological changes that increase productivity and expand uses of cash crops. Archer-Daniels-Midland opened the first ethanol plant in the United States in 1978 nearby, in Decatur, Illinois. Those traveling to Springfield to tour historic sites associated with Abraham Lincoln drive through fertile flat land that sustained the most capital-intensive farms in the nation by the “Golden Age” of agriculture in the early twentieth century. Railroads such as the Illinois Central, for which Lincoln served as legal counsel, facilitated sale and drainage of swampy prairie; transport of grains to elevators and markets; and distribution of Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery & Ward products to rural consumers. The conference itinerary incorporates tours of Springfield attractions that further the conference theme and recognize the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War."

My own paper was entitled “The ABCs of Crops and Cans: Grading for Quality in the U.S. Canning Industry,” and was part of a panel on "A Taste of Quality: Reevaluating Transformations in Industrial Food Systems." I'm happy to share it, if anyone is itching to read about ways that early twentieth century canners attempted to standardize the consumer by introducing uniformity all along the production line.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Egg Horn-Muffins

Because Justin is training for a half marathon these days, he has been a good influence on me in athletic ways. After our last run, I turned around sooner than he did, and hurried home to make him some breakfast, so that it would be awaiting him upon his arrival.

Justin is a big fan of egg sandwiches, and of english muffins (the Thomas's brand, to which he's loyal despite all my suggestions of trying the organic brands), and so I whipped up these little sandwiches (which, when he makes them himself, Justin refers to as "Egg Horn Muffins"). Although it's simple and doesn't really require a recipe, I thought I'd throw one up here, at least for inspiration.

Egg Horn Muffins, aka Egg Zeide Muffins

2 English muffins, sliced in half, toasted
2 eggs
1/2 onion, diced
assorted greens
condiments: something creamy (mayonnaise in this case) and something hot (sriracha in this case)

Toast the English muffins. In the mean time, saute the diced onion in a little bit of oil over medium-high heat, until soft and golden.  Then, divide the onion into two separate sections in the pan, and crack an egg over each pile of onions.  Agitate the egg slightly so that the yolk breaks and the egg runs to about 5-6 inches in diameter. Add salt to taste. Cook the egg until browned on one side, and then flip until cooked on both sides. Slide each egg onto one half of each English muffin, and condiment as desired, given your available sauces and seasonal vegetable availability.

Serve with beautiful fruit (peaches and plums and cherries from the Springfield Farmer's Market, and strawberries from Harmony Valley Farm, in this case). Yum!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Post-surgery food

I've managed to go 27 years without ever having had real surgery or having to undergo anesthesia.

Tomorrow, that surgery-less stretch comes to an end.

I'll be having my one wisdom tooth extracted, lest it continue growing and yield infections or crooked teeth.

And although we have a fridge full of delicious, crunchy vegetables from our CSA and from the farmers' market in Springfield, Illinois (where I was last week--more on that soon), I don't think I'll be eating any of those with my raw and impaired mouth. So, this leaves me wondering just what exactly I will be eating.

What are some favorite soft foods that carried you all through wisdom teeth surgery?  Any general advice?

So far, I'm thinking: oatmeal, mashed sweet potatoes, refried beans, applesauce, smoothies, avocado, pureed soups. And I've read that pineapple juice is good for healing?

What else, to keep me nourished and fed?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Clean Plater

Some silly, yet tender, food poetry by Ogden Nash to start our week off right:

The Clean Plater by Ogden Nash

Some singers sing of ladies’ eyes,
And some of ladies lips,
Refined ones praise their ladylike ways,
And course ones hymn their hips.
The Oxford Book of English Verse
Is lush with lyrics tender;
A poet, I guess, is more or less
Preoccupied with gender.
Yet I, though custom call me crude,
Prefer to sing in praise of food.
Yes, food,
Just any old kind of food.

Pheasant is pleasant, of course,
And terrapin, too, is tasty,
Lobster I freely endorse,
In pate or patty or pasty.
But there’s nothing the matter with butter,
And nothing the matter with jam,
And the warmest greetings I utter
To the ham and the yam and the clam.
For they’re food,
All food,
And I think very fondly of food.
Through I’m broody at times
When bothered by rhymes,
I brood
On food.

Some painters paint the sapphire sea,
And some the gathering storm.
Others portray young lambs at play,
But most, the female form.
“Twas trite in that primeval dawn
When painting got its start,
That a lady with her garments on
Is Life, but is she Art?
By undraped nymphs
I am not wooed;
I’d rather painters painted food.
Just food,
Just any old kind of food.

Go purloin a sirloin, my pet,
If you’d win a devotion incredible;
And asparagus tips vinaigrette,
Or anything else that is edible.
Bring salad or sausage or scrapple,
A berry or even a beet.
Bring an oyster, an egg, or an apple,
As long as it’s something to eat.
If it’s food,
It’s food;
Never mind what kind of food.
When I ponder my mind
I consistently find
It is glued
On food.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Garden Update 1

What's that saying about the best laid plans of mice and men?

Well, whatever it is, it most certainly applies to my ambitious garden plan as I described here. We finally broke ground and did some garden planting yesterday, and it ended up looking like this:

Mostly a big plot of tomatoes.  Which we love! But, it's a far cry from the 15 different vegetables I had previously envisioned.  Instead of looking like this:

Our garden mostly looks like this now:

All the tomatoes and sungolds on the right are the ones we'd been growing indoors, while the peas and beans and cabbages and cucumbers are the only seeds that actually sprouted of all the ones I tried to start indoors (I assume the other seeds were just too old to be viable).  Everything on the left side of the garden is just what was growing as weeds in the garden before we hoed it all up.  All those "Tomato transplants" were just growing as volunteer tomatoes in the garden, from seeds that had survived the winter, and so I transplanted them to one side of the garden, just to see what happens. The dill was also growing rampantly as a weed. The "unknown" seedling looks like this:

And although it may very well be a noxious weed, it looked sort of familiar to me, and so I decided to let it grow and see what happens.  Any gardening experts out there recognize it? Will it be something tasty, or have I made a terrible mistake?

Oh, and am I right this this is a milkweed, and that it's good to have it in the garden for some reason?  To attract butterflies or something? 

Is anyone sensing that I don't really know what I'm doing?  But at least it's all a mostly-fun big experiment, that might culminate in delicious food!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Anniversaries, like birthdays, are a way to pause and reflect and celebrate on how far you've come in one year. Justin and I got to do just that earlier this week for our second wedding anniversary (though 7.6 years total!), and although our many travels left us without a full day to devote to celebration, we did manage to squeeze in some frisbee-playing, annual letter-writing, and, of course, some delicious eating.

Because our ultimate frisbee game took us to a part of town, Fitchburg, that we don't often visit, we decided to dine at Liliana's, a restaurant in that neighborhood that has gotten really great reviews from friends and Yelpers, and that also accepts the Wisconsin Restaurant Association gift certificates I received from my parents and Justin's parents for my birthday.

We started with the special wine flight, three half-glasses of a zinfandel, shiraz, and port wine:

And with a delicious fennel and arugula salad, tomato bisque, and some amazing cornbread and jalapeno biscuits:

Our entrees, which were good, but not great, were blackened catfish and the vegetable wellington:

After dinner, we came home for a dessert of frozen wedding cake (cake we bought last year, but from the same co-op bakery that baked our actual wedding cake) and frozen strawberries that we picked on our first anniversary last year and froze for the year.  Although it looked a little less lively than last year (photo from last year), the cake and strawberries were still really delicious!

And most delicious of all was acknowledging how lucky Justin and I are to have one another. Last year, our dear friend Kroy felt "too corny quoting Bright Eyes directly in public" and so gave us a a little scavenger hunt to find a song lyric that he felt described us: "LOTSIITSKYETTG, Track 10, Verse 5, Line 4." Can anyone identify it?

I  have no such qualms about corniness (and think I identified his Bright Eyes quote correctly):

And I love their love and I am thankful that someone actually
receives the prize that was promised by all those fairy tales that drugged us.

I, too, am thankful. So thankful.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yosemite Vacation Food

We just returned from a place filled with stunning views of mountains and valleys and waterfalls, a place that inspired John Muir to write "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."

Can anyone name that place?!   Yosemite, of course! (since the post title already gave it away...)

We spent a week in that fountain of life with Justin's family, and amid the hikes and wildness, we also managed to eat some pretty darn good food.  Because there were seven of us eating most meals together with a variety of dietary restrictions (gluten intolerance, pre-diabetic diet, vegetarian/locavore diets, baby/toddler diet, etc.), finding meals that pleased everyone was a difficult thing to do.  But we managed!  For now, a list of our dinners that fulfilled all these dietary limitations, but I'll return soon with recipes for a couple of these dishes. Let me know if you want some of them in particular!

  • Mom Horn's famous Taco Salad, with boysenberry pie for dessert
  • Spaghetti with vegetables in a tomato sauce, with Italian cabbage salad
  • Dinner out at the Evergreen Lodge
  • Grilled burgers, portabella mushrooms, corn, and asparagus, served with watermelon
  • Vegetable enchiladas with corn tortillas, served with a Mexican slaw and a corn salad
  • Broccoli-mushroom peanut stir fry, roasted new potatoes, and a green salad
  • Veggie chili and fruit salad (with assorted leftovers to finish it off!)
All of this food and good company (along with Yosemite Falls behind us) left us happy and smiling:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rented Kitchen Space

Ever since I read this article in the New York Times last year about kitchens-for-rent, I've been inspired by the idea of this sort of collaborative space. The article describes a particular Queens kitchen as a "5,500-square-foot work space [that] is both a refuge for dreamers and a life preserver for the unemployed."

So, I'm really excited that Madison is now moving on a similar project, Food Enterprise & Economic Development (FEED) Kitchens, under the sponsorship of the Northside Planning Council of Madison.

FEED will be a a shared-use food processing kitchen and a food business incubator that will help aspiring entrepreneurs start and grow local food businesses, and help train potential bakery and foodservice workers to develop new marketable job skills. The kitchen plans to open in early 2012.

Sounds awesome, doesn't it?

To help raise the money to make this thing happen, FEED is having a Summer Solstice Event on June 21, with a silent auction. You should come!

But even if you aren't in Madison or can't be there, you can bid on the items online, through this site. There are some really awesome items up for bid like:
And much more!

Help make this dream a reality, and maybe I'll even end up using this awesome shared space (for canning projects? for my next wedding catering gig?)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: Kitchen Literacy

It's rare that someone from my world (environmental historians who write about food and are trained in an academic setting) actually writes a book that is immensely readable, and brings ideas of history to bear on the state of the current food system. But in her 2007 book, Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back, Ann Vileisis succeeds in doing just that. Here she explains the premise of her book in a short video:

If you're looking for a book that connects history, food politics, and American food today, I'd highly recommend this one (until my own book comes out, that is!)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mark Bittman on TED

If you don't all already know and love TED talks, you should get on that.  It's basically a nonprofit that gets experts and innovative thinkers on all kinds of subjects to give 20 minute talks on their areas of expertise. Although it costs a bajillion dollars to actually be in the live audience for a TED talk, we plebeians here at home get to enjoy all the wisdom for free through the power of the internet.

Here's one from Mark Bittman about "what's wrong with the way we eat." In short, his answer is that we're eating "too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking" and that that's "putting the entire planet at risk."

What do you think of Mark Bittman, and this talk?

What are some of your favorite TED talks?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

No More Food Pyramid

So it looks like the USDA's come out with yet another revision to the food pyramid.

This time, it's called MyPlate:

What do you guys think of this incredibly innovative new way of thinking about food? (sense some dripping sarcasm there?)

What ways of eating might this visual perpetuate, in terms of what proper food is? How is it different than the food pyramid that many of us grew up with? What is the USDA (and Michelle Obama, who helped back this) saying about what we should and shouldn't eat, and how much of it?

I'd love to have some discussion about this, and the way that government shapes assumptions about a healthy diet.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Simple Argument for (Quasi) Vegetarianism

The following is a guest post by my husband, Justin.  He doesn't have his own blog yet, but perhaps with your encouragement, he could be persuaded to start one!    -AZ


Anna and I are grad students living in Madison, Wisconsin. Our parents, and Wisconsinites from smaller towns, often like to tell us that our fair city is “not exactly the real world”. There's something to this. We live in one of these puddles of urban blue surrounded by rural red. Drive 30 minutes in any direction and the difference in prevailing worldview is palpable.

I happen to really love the prevailing ethos of Madison. One of the many, many attractions for me is that the city is quite vegetarian-friendly. Nearly every single restaurant, even the barbeque joint I went to last night, is obliged by custom to provide at least one respectable vegetarian option--something that is certainly not the case in the south where we both grew up. Probably about half of our friends here are more-or-less vegetarian, and nearly all the others are at least moderately sympathetic to vegetarianism even if they themselves do not practice it. It's easy to take for granted being around people who share a number of our values and who actively reflect on their food choices. Consequently, it can be a bit jarring to realize that in fact we vegetarians and vegetarian sympathizes form a pretty small minority outside of the bubble-within-a-bubble that is the grad student community in Madison.

I was reminded of this recently when I served on a discussion panel on the ethics of meat eating for an Zoology course entitled “The Philosophy and Biology of Human/Animal Relationships”. I was invited by the instructor of the course to advocate for ethical vegetarianism for a class of about 200 undergrads. Before we began, the teacher asked how many of the students tried to restrict their meat intake in some way or another, even if they weren't entirely vegetarian. Fewer than 10 students raised their hands. Clearly I had my work cut out for me. In this post, I want to share the simple argument I shared with those students. I don't claim any striking originality, and clearly the considerations I'll mention are only one small piece of the big picture when it comes to deciding how to eat. At the same time, I don't think I've ever heard a reply to this kind of argument that has satisfied me. I'm curious to hear what you think. So here it is:

Consider the case of Michael Vick. Four years ago, the promising NFL quarterback was arrested for running a dogfighting operation in Virginia. Vick and his partners would force dogs to fight while spectators cheered. The dogs who lost fights were often shot or wet down and then electrocuted. The operation involved a tremendous amount of animal suffering, and for what? So spectators could get the enjoyment and excitement of it. When news of this broke, people were horrified. Vick was condemned by nearly everybody, and served 21 months in prison.

Now think about modern farming. The overwhelming majority of meat Americans eat comes from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, often known as factory farms. These are operations where animals are severely confined, branded, castrated, and routinely have body parts cut off without anesthetic. In other words, they are places where there is a tremendous amount of animal suffering. And for what? It seems to me that the answer is more or less because people like the taste of meat, and they want their meat to be cheap.

Most people think what Michael Vick did was wrong, while eating meat from factory farms is permissible. If one is permissible and the other is not, there must be some morally relevant difference between them. But what could this be?

Many people object to Vick's actions because he was mistreating dogs. Dogs, as we all know, are pretty smart, lovable and cute. On the other hand, while pigs may not be cute, they are every bit as intelligent as dogs. It seems undesirable to rest a huge difference in moral status on so flimsy a basis as cuteness.

Here's an obvious response: factory farms provide people with food! Unlike Vicks' dogfighting ring, you might argue, factory farms serve a fundamental human need. But the fact is, nearly everyone who doesn't have severe dietary restrictions can be perfectly healthy on a vegetarian diet. Although there are certain parts of the globe where agriculture is difficult (see Minkster's excellent comment on an earlier post), in most places meat production on factory farms uses way more energy, produces way more pollution, and generates less food than if we devoted the same land to growing grains and vegetables. The choice to eat an omnivorous diet as opposed to a vegetarian one is, for nearly everyone, simply a matter of gustatory preference.

You might say: We're not doing the factory farming, we're just eating the products. In contrast, Vick was actually running the dogfighting ring. It's worth noting, though, that Vick could never have maintained his dogfighting ring if people hadn't gone and paid to see the fights. The people who supported the enterprise, and enjoyed themselves while the dogs suffered, were partially responsible for what was going on.

So, it seems to me that it is actually very difficult to provide a principled basis for objecting to dogfighting while consuming meat from factory farms. If you object to dogfighting on the grounds that it subjects dogs to tremendous amounts of suffering merely for the sake of relatively insignificant human enjoyment, you should object to factory farming on the same grounds.

This leaves open the issue of eating meat from more “ethical” sources. (Perhaps that is a topic for another post.) But since well over 90% of the meat Americans eat comes from factory farms, the acceptance of this simple argument would mean abstaining from nearly all the meat that people actually eat.

And yet I realize, as I said, I'm in the minority in endorsing this view. Have I been brainwashed by the Madison bubble? Are there some “real world” considerations that I'm ignoring? If so, what might they be?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Garden Garlic

While visiting my parents last week, I got to experience not only my Mama's amazing food, but also my Papa's gardening prowess.  I arrived just in time to help harvest the garlic that had been growing all spring, and so I got down in the Georgia soil and helped harvest a pile of garlicky goodness.

After we dug up the garlic, we cut off the tops and bottoms, and then buried the green tops into the soil to add nutrients back. And the fresh garlic went either into a bag to come home with me, or onto the counter to dry for use throughout the summer!

Other beauties blooming in the garden, of the tomato and blueberry varieties:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mama's food

As I write in my About Me, "I grew up in a house where my Russian-Jewish Mama was always able to add a pinch of this and a dash of that to create flavorful, meaningful, natural dishes, that stood at the core of our family closeness."

During a brief visit to my parents' home last week, I got to experience some of these dishes and some of this closeness. 

My days started out with breakfasts of delicious tomato, onion, and pepper quesadillas, which my Mama dolled right up with sliced avocado and banana and peaches and mango. (She was always the one who was great at food presentation).

Other beautiful and amazingly yummy foods I got to experience included my favorite version of the Russian dish solyanka (front and center), vegetable lasagna (upper left corner), and the classic Russian salad vinaigrette (upper right corner):

I tried to look up recipes for solyanka online, but all of them linked to things totally unlike the dish I know and love. Wikipedia suggests that it is a "thick, spicy and sour soup" made with fish, meat, or mushrooms. But in my Mama's version, zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, onions, tomatoes, fresh dill, and fresh garlic take center stage.  I'll try to wrestle a recipe out of her soon , so you can all recreate it at home. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

100th Post Survey

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Muffin Mix Gifts

I love giving homemade food gifts. So when I recently saw muffin mixes being sold in cloth pouches sewn to look like the fruit in the muffins, I was smitten. It would be really easy to sew together two pieces of banana-shaped yellow cloth and tie it all up with a brown ribbon, and put a banana bread mix inside, yes? Yes!

Here are some ideas and recipes for muffins/quickbreads I especially love, but you can check out the whole line at The Old Muffin Factory's website.

Banana Nut Muffins: In a zip-top bag, combine 1.5 cups all-purpose flour, 1.5 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts. Sew this bag into the cloth banana.  Add a gift tag that reads "Preheat oven to 350° F. Empty contents of bag into a large bowl. Add 2 egg whites, 1 cup mashed bananas, 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon lemon zest.  Stir until just combined. Fill greased muffin pan cups 2/3 full. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Remove muffins from pan and enjoy!"

Carrot Cake Muffins: In a zip-top bag, combine 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or use half white and whole wheat), 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/8 cup dry milk, and 1/2 cup raisins. Sew this bag into the cloth carrot with green pipe cleaners for stem and leaves.  Add a gift tag that reads "Preheat oven to 350° F. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 slightly beaten egg, 3 tablespoons oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1/2 cup water. Add 1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple, well drained, and 1.5 cups grated carrots. Add contents of bag and mix until just combined. Fill greased muffin pan cups 2/3 full. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Remove muffins from pan and enjoy!"

Blueberry Muffins: In a zip-top bag, combine 1. 5 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup sugar, and 3/4 cup dried blueberries. Sew this bag into the cloth blueberry.  Add a gift tag that reads "Preheat oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 slightly beaten egg, 3 oz melted better, 1/2 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add contents of bag and mix until just combined. Fill greased muffin pan cups 2/3 full. If desired, sprinkle tops with sugar or cinnamon sugar. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Remove muffins from pan and enjoy!"

What other fruit-nut bread or muffin recipes would work well? I'd love to hear what you come up with.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Video: Seed Starting Pots

Even though it's pretty late in the season for seed starting, I'm still going to be starting a few late season crops, like tomatoes, eggplants, and cabbage.  Rather than buying plastic cells pots for my seed starting, I decided to make my own seed starting pots using empty toilet paper rolls. Easy and fun!

All you need is some toilet paper, which you then use to yield empty toilet paper rolls, and some scissors (but  having a cute orange cat also doesn't hurt!) to make little seed starting pots.

I made a video to show you how it's done (with the help of some Bruce Springsteen guitar riffs). It's no artful quinoa video, but it gives you some visuals:

Let me know what you think, and if you have any questions!