Friday, December 14, 2012

How tastes change

Image from here

I was just reading an old canning industry manual for my dissertation research, and came across this sentence amid a list of other agricultural "achievements":
"Canners were among the first to use the strains of beets that are solid red in color all the way through, instead of having alternate bands of red and white"
This sentence made me do a little bit of a double take--the canners were proud of this?

I don't know about you, but I remember the first time I cut into a beautiful chioggia beet--the rarer kind with red and white stripes (pictured above)--that I'd gotten from the farmers' market, or in our CSA farmshare box. I was stunned by its beauty. I wanted to capture those stripes and hang them as artwork all over my house, reveling in their messy symmetry and the watercolor effect of the deep reds and pinks and whites.

It felt like a real discovery to find that not all beets were just red throughout. Not that the solid red beet isn't beautiful in its own right, but this striped version won the beauty contest in my opinion, hands down.

So, now to find that the canners worked hard to develop varieties that were more uniform and less beautiful?

It has left me thinking hard about how food aesthetics have changed over time, how uniformity may have been praised in the middle of the century, where heirloom varieties with quirky features are praised today. How consumer preferences shift and morph as the years pass....

But I'm glad that I've still got access to the "alternate bands of red and white" of the chioggia beet.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Fostering healthy eating habits

There was a short piece on the Wall Street Journal blog today called "How to Have the 'Happy Meal' Talk,"  in which the author considered how to tell his five-year-old twin sons why they would not be eating at McDonald's, that magical place where "they give you a toy with your food."

The Dad/author considered a number of strategies and evaluated their efficacy:

  • Saying, as his wife suggested, "it’s poison and you must never go there."
    • Problem: (You can fill in the blank here, I imagine)

  • Describing the problem of feedlots and factory farms
    • Problem: Too scary for five-year olds? 

  • Michael Pollan's suggestion: teach kids about the marketing itself, explaining why the healthiest foods tend not be adorned with pictures of cartoon characters.
    • Problem: Too complicated?

  • Just say “No, we’re not going to McDonald’s.”
    • Problem: Elevates fast food to an unattainable treat that makes kids want it even more.

  • Tell kids how healthier foods do more to make them grow strong.
    • Problem: Some kids don't care

  •  Reward healthy meals with toys
    •  Problem: “Research shows that bribing or rewarding kids for eating their vegetables can actually decrease children’s preference for these foods,” says Donna Pincus, director of Boston University’s child and adolescent fear and anxiety treatment program and author of “Growing up Brave.”

  • The "Green Eggs and Ham" strategy. Keep asking and offering healthy options, over and over again.
    • Problem: Can be exhausting and frustrating. But remains the ultimate strategy suggested by psychologists to divert attention and create longlasting healthy preferences.
I think it's really interesting to consider this question of how to foster good eating habits in children.

(Not all the commenters on the WSJ post agree with me. As one of them wrote, "I just rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.")

Although I don't yet have children, when I imagine how I'll feed and raise my future potential kids, I'd like to bring the same intentionality to their diets that I bring to my own. And yet, so many of the reasons that inform my own dietary practices are the result of many years of exposure and education. How to convey the same ideas and priorities to little kids, who don't have that deep foundation?

I'd like to think that, ultimately, offering a strong model is the primary way that we foster good habits (in all realms, not just food). Kids soak up the world and practices around them. If we don't eat at McDonald's, our children will likely rarely do so. If they go with a friend a time or two, they may like the hamburger (I loved the thin pickles and minced onions and American cheese when I was a kid. You didn't hear this from me, but there may even be photos of my 8th birthday at the local McDonald's floating around somewhere...), but it certainly won't become a regular part of their diets.

What do you all think?

How have you (or might you) cultivate good habits in those in your sphere of influence? 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Recipe Round-Up

I'm not yet quite sure what will be on my Thanksgiving table, but here are some ideas and recipes that really get me going, all with links to their sources, where you can find the full recipe:

And if you're going to have turkey: Eat Wild (link to find heritage-breed turkeys and other free-range organic meats in your area)
A few notes: I'd be totally happy with a Thanksgiving meal made entirely of salads (and some desserts thrown in for good measure). I definitely don't subscribe to the idea that a vegetarian thanksgiving needs to include some "main dish." I think the "sides" are all delicious and hearty enough to stand up on their own, especially in combination. But I've included the "centerpieces" list for anyone looking for ideas on vegetarian Thanksgiving entrees. And, of course, many of these recipes are a little more complicated than your average meal for holiday purposes, but can be simplified quite easily (just ask in the comments if you want ideas for simplification or modification!)

What's on your table?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Los Angeles Food Procurement Policy

Lots of big changes are on the horizons for the food systems of Los Angeles. On Wednesday, at the celebration of the Second Annual Food Day, the city announced a Comprehensive Food Procurement Policy that offered a serious commitment to building a sustainable regional food system. 

LA is ahead of the game and, I hope, will be leading the way, with ripple effects throughout the country. Maybe Madison can use this LA plan as a template and work to bring even more systemic change to food in our own city? 

Read the full press release below, and let me know what it makes you think about possibilities for your own city!

For more on LA's Good Food Procurement, click here, or sign the Good Food Pledge, here.

City of Los Angeles 

October 24, 2012 

Peter Sanders 


Mayor and City Council Adopt Good Food Purchasing Pledge to Increase City Purchase of Local, Sustainable, Fair and Healthy Food 

LOS ANGELES – Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa and Los Angeles City Council today adopted The Good Food Purchasing Pledge, a food purchasing policy designed to increase the purchase of locally grown, sustainable food, while promoting healthy eating habits, workers’ rights, and animal welfare. By issuing an Executive Directive in support of the policy, Los Angeles implements one of the most comprehensive city food procurement policies in the country. 

“Healthy food makes healthy communities,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “By issuing this Executive Directive to all City departments to adopt the Good Food Purchasing Pledge and its accompanying guidelines, we incentivize other municipalities and institutions to follow our lead, encouraging sustainably produced food, healthy eating habits, respect for workers’ rights and support for the local business economy.” 

 The Good Food Purchasing Pledge is a commitment from food service institutions to improve our region’s food system through the adoption and implementation of Good Food Purchasing Guidelines. The Guidelines include: environmentally sustainable food production, local sourcing, fair labor practices, animal welfare, and nutrition. The system is the first in the nation to take into account labor practices as part of its guidelines. 

“The City of Los Angeles will be the first to adopt this type of program which promotes and rewards progress across multiple food-value systems,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz, who brought the motion to the City Council. "This ground-breaking policy has consequences from farm to fork. By simply guiding the City's purchasing power, we can make tremendous strides toward a more sustainable, more humane, and more worker-friendly food system." 

While other cities around the country have adopted a variety of local, sustainable, or health and nutrition policies, none have adopted a policy that has all included all five categories represented in the Good Food Purchasing Pledge. 

“The Good Food Purchasing Pledge is like establishing LEED Certification for City food providers,” LA Food Policy Council Chair and Mayor Villaraigosa’s Senior Advisor on Food Policy Paula Daniels said. “It is designed to allow easy entry for compliance so as not to be a strain on budgetary resources while allowing institutions to express support for these values.”

In order to gauge program participation and growth, the Good Food Purchasing Pledge has a unique metric-based system of award points with escalating levels of compliance, rewarding progress with a rating of one to five stars. To develop the guidelines, the LA Food Policy Council, founded by the Mayor’s Office, thoroughly examined best practices nationally and vetted the document with nearly 100 experts in various fields. The guidelines were developed by taking into account the viewpoints of stakeholders from all aspects of the food system including farm owners, food distributors, public health departments, food chain workers, restaurants and other large institutional food purchasers, to name a few. 

The Los Angeles regional foodshed, which spans the 200 mile and 10 county region around the City, is the largest producer of fruits, vegetables and nuts in the nation. Most produce grown in the Los Angeles regional foodshed is exported outside of the LA region, often at an economic loss to our local small and mid-sized farmers. At the same time, only about half of Los Angeles County residents eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and the region also faces an obesity epidemic that costs the county an estimated $4 billion annually. 

 "We are seeing a continued worsening of the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles County, an epidemic that exacts a tremendous human toll in chronic illness," Dr. Paul Simon, Director of the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said. “I applaud the City of Los Angeles and the Food Policy Council for their leadership in promoting healthy and sustainable food purchasing practices." 

 “This policy is a leading example of using market signals to encourage the right kind of food production in a holistic way,” Dana Gunders, Project Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council said. “It will sustain local farming, preserve the quality of the City’s surrounding environment, ensure better treatment of animals and get more healthy food to the people.” 

The announcement came during a celebration in City Hall marking the second annual National Food Day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bill and Lou: Oxen for Lunch

A few days ago, NPR's food blog The Salt shared a fascinating story, "Despite Protest, College Plans To Slaughter, Serve Farm's Beloved Oxen." It told the tale of two oxen, Bill and Lou, who have worked at Green Mountain College, on the campus's Cerridwen Farm, for the last ten years. But now, because Lou has an injured leg, the two oxen are to be retired (Bill will retire too, because oxen work as a team).

 Although a nearby animal sanctuary, Vine, has offered to take the oxen and let them live for free in the sanctuary space, Green Mountain College has declined the offer and plans to slaughter the oxen and serve their meat in the form of hamburgers in the college cafeteria.

Because so many of Green Mountain's students love Bill and Lou, and consider them to be campus mascots, there has been a significant outcry from those who believe it cruel and unnecessary for the college to kill these gentle animals.

But the Cerridwen Farm workers who advocate the slaughter think that it's important to see the animals as part of a sustainable farm venture, and not just as pets. They do not want to deny the cycle of life and death, and believe eating these animals will preclude having to support consumption of meat that most likely would come from factory farms. (See the bottom of my post for the full response from the Farm staff).

I think this is a particularly interesting case study that highlights the complexity of meat-eating in our modern world (to read previous posts on this topic, see: On the Complexity of Meat Substitutes and A Simple Argument for (Quasi-)Vegetarianism).

Reading the comments on the original Salt post is especially fascinating, because it pits vegans and animal rights activists against environmentalists and the major representatives of today's "real food movement". In some ways, it seems like all of these groups would have some fundamental goals in common. But when it comes to actual conversations about animals' lives, little agreement can be found.

What do you all think? Should Bill and Lou be served as hamburger meat? On the broader issue, how do we balance animal ethics with environmental ethics?

"At Cerridwen Farm, Green Mountain College’s working farm operation, we seek to teach and model small-scale farm production that is ecologically, economically and socially sustainable. We work to maintain high ethical standards for treatment of the land, people and animals. We have draft animals on the farm because they do important work which would otherwise be performed by equipment that consumes diesel fuel. We are currently engaged in many promising projects to demonstrate how small family farms, managed sustainably, can survive and thrive in an agricultural landscape dominated by industrial farms.

Bill and Lou came to us nearly ten years ago as malnourished and neglected animals. At GMC they received considerate and humane care.

This was a decision many months in the making, with members of our community carefully weighing alternatives. On complex ethical matters, thoughtful and well-informed people may reasonably disagree. Here is a bit of background on the complexities and the decision-making process:

  • This past year, Lou sustained a recurring injury to his left rear hock that made it difficult for him to work. After attempting several remedies and giving him a prolonged rest without any improvement, it was the professional opinion of the farm staff and consulting veterinarians that he was no longer capable of working. Farm staff searched for a replacement animal to pair with Bill, but single oxen are difficult to find and it is uncertain that Bill would accept a new teammate.
  • Our Farm Crew works with the farm managers to implement plans for overall livestock management, including sale and slaughter decisions. In particularly complex situations, College faculty experts in philosophy, policy, ethics and animal husbandry are consulted, and students from a variety of disciplines are often involved in these discussions. Many of the decisions about livestock on the college farm are rooted in classroom and campus-wide dialogue, representing a variety of perspectives.
  • Our process was open and transparent. We delayed making any decision over the summer and held an open community forum on October 4 to discuss the ethics of sending draft animals to slaughter, and Bill and Lou’s case specifically. Our commitment to providing these challenging discussions within the college community is all too rare in higher education.
  • While many of our students are vegan or vegetarian, many also eat meat, and we strive to meet the dietary preferences of all students. Bill and Lou, when processed for meat, will yield over one ton of beef. If this meat doesn’t come from our animals, it likely will come from a factory farm setting which carries with it a significant amount of ecological impact. For example, the American agricultural system uses approximately 5 million gallons of water to produce the same amount of beef (not to mention greenhouse gas production, soil erosion, and water pollution).
Those who know Lou and Bill best—our farm staff and students—are uncomfortable with the potential ramifications of sending the animals to a sanctuary. Bill and Lou are large animals, weighing over a ton. A transition to a new setting will be difficult for them, and only postpones the fact that someone else, in the not-too-distant future, will need to decide that it is kinder to kill them than to have them continue in increasing discomfort. If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate. As a sustainable farm, we can’t just consider the responsible stewardship of the resources within our boundaries, but of all the earth's resources"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Halloween Costume Help: Sriracha Label

As another Halloween rolls around, I've noticed increased activity around my Sriracha Halloween post, in which I showed off the Sriracha and Chili Garlic costumes I made for us last fall.

So, I thought it would be helpful if I shared a little more about how I drew the shirts with white puff paint, and if I shared a black-and-white version of the Sriracha label.

First up, another photo of the costumes:

And now a black and white version of the label, which you can download:
Here it is as a downloadable PDF version and the JPG version

A few methods for transferring this image to fabric:
  • Print it out on iron-on transfer paper, iron it on to your fabric, and then go over the image with a white paint pen or white fabric paint
  • Enlarge the image on your computer, place fabric over your monitor or laptop screen so that the image shines through the fabric, trace the image lightly with a fabric-marking pen (making sure the ink doesn't bleed through onto your screen), and then go over the image with white fabric paint
  • Print the image, blown up as large as you like, onto regular paper. Cut out the various pieces of the image, and free-hand copy the pieces of the image onto the fabric, in the appropriate placement, with white fabric paint, referring to the image to maintain proportions
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any questions.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jam Love

Just as the leaves began to turn yellow here in Madison, a taste of summer landed on my doorstep: Two beautiful jars of homemade jam from my college roommate, sent from Florida with love.

Cantaloupe Peach and Strawberry Peach, jewel-like and beautiful in their glass jars:

I broke into the first jar as soon as it came, licking the sweetness straight from the spoon, feeling so grateful for friends who know just the kind of treat that keeps me smiling.

Since then, I've been slathering the jam on everything.

From my morning granola:

To toast:

And everything in between--I've stirred it into my oatmeal, scooped it my into yogurt, eaten it on top of brownies for dessert, and have licked it right off my fingers.

I can't wait to open the second jar...

Thanks, SF, for this delicious gift, and for keeping me buoyed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Global Meals: The Big Round-Up

Since February 2011, when I first posted about this topic, I've written here often about the Global Food for Thought Meal Series that I organized for three semesters for the GreenHouse Environmental Learning Community. (see all posts tagged "Global Meal"). 

This series provided an opportunity for students to taste the foods of other cultures and then engage the social and environmental issues of the places whose cuisines they sampled. Through this, students began to understand how the production, preparation, and consumption of food involves us in intimate relations with the natural world and with each other. Chefs from Madison’s ethnic restaurants and other food experts worked with Housing Food Service staff to prepare dinners characteristic of a certain place. These meals were followed by an hour of discussion with the guest, to situate the food in environmental and cultural context.

My role was to decide on the ethnic cuisines we wanted to feature, recruit knowledgeable chefs or other experts from the community, work with the guests to develop their presentations, help design menus, choose readings (during the first semester only), manage the communication with Housing Food Service, coordinate student sign-up and room set-up, and all other details, both conceptual and concrete.

Recently, I got around to compiling all the menus and details from the whole series, and thought I'd share them with all of you. Hopefully, by reading through the meal descriptions, you'll be exposed to the cuisines and cultures of new places, the world over. And perhaps you'll be inspired to cook a feast full of dishes from another country. 

Travel to Tuscany, Nepal, Indonesia, Ecuador, Hmong America, Afro-Caribbean Brazil, Mali, the Northwestern Arctic, Bangladesh, and MesoAmerica with me, won't you?!


Spring 2011

Eating for One, or Six Billion
  • Date: February 2, 2011
  • Guest: University of Wisconsin Food Service Staff (Mark Gauthier, Julie Luke, Barb Phelan)
  • Menu (based off of ingredients that Mark Bittman, in the assigned reading, suggests sustain people from all countries the world over)
    • Apple cider
    • Selection of breads from Bakehouse Bakery
    • Chopped cabbage salad with apples and walnuts in a red wine vinaigrette
    • Chicken or mushroom stir fry in a dry marsala sauce served over local RP’s pasta
    • Cajun style red beans and rice
    • Baked apple crisp with fresh whipped cream
  • Readings:


Taste of Tuscany, and the Global Slow Food Movement

  • Date: February 23, 2011
  • Guest: Chef Francesco Mangano of Osteria Papavero
  • Menu:
    • Bruschetta and Salsa Verde Crostini
    • Arrosto di Manzocon Funghi Sotte 'Olio (Italian-style roast beef, served with shaved parmigiano cheese, baby arugula salad, and oil-cured wild mushrooms)
    • Polipo in Umido (Braised octopus with sweet peas and chili)
    • Baccola in Umido (Salt cod, braised with tomato and garlic)
    • Yellow corn polenta
    • Peperiota (Stew of sweet bell peppers)
    • Testaroli al Pesto (Tuscan-style spelt "dumplings" with basil pesto)
    • Salame di Cioccolato (Chocolate “Salami”)
  • Readings/Assignment:

Hunger Banquet, and Global Poverty

  • Date: March 2, 2011
  • Guest: Alhaji N'jai, founder of Project1808 Sierra Leone
  • Menu (depending on what socioeconomic status card was drawn):
    • Rice for all
    • Rice and cabbage salad for some
    • Rice, cabbage salad, and chicken stir fry for a few
    • Beef tenderloin and mixed greens for two
  • Readings:

Nepalese Cuisine: The Taste of the Roof of the World

  • Date: March 23, 2011
  • Guest: Gokul Silwal, chef at Chautara Restaurant, and Krishna Sijapati, current President of the American Hindu Association and of the Hindu Dharma Circle
  • Menu:
    • Lentil Dal
    • Cauliflower Tarkari
    • Chicken Curry with Rice
    • Home style Roti
    • Chiya (Chai) tea
    • Rice pudding
  • Readings:
    • General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions, GEFONT on Food Sovereignty. By Umesh Upadhyaya. Globalization and Nepali society.
    • Overview of Nepali Cuisine History Collected by Krishna Sijapati from various sources, March 2011
    • Rudra Gautam, Umesh Upadhyaya and Bishnu Rimal, “Dalits, Discrimination and Food Industry in Nepal,” GEFONT Anti-slavery International, UK. May 21, 2002

Vegetarian Tastes: At Home and Abroad

  • Date: April 13, 2011
  • Guest: Jennie Capellaro of the Green Owl Vegetarian Restaurant, Kristen Chilcoat and Roni “Papah” Sjachrani of Bandung Indonesian Restaurant
  • Menu:
    • BBQ jackfruit sliders
    • Tempeh-Lettuce-Tomato-Avocado (TLTA) sandwiches
    • Keto prak (tofu salad with Indonesian sweet soy sauce and freshly squeezed lime)
    • Oseng Oseng Tempeh (Cultured soybeans, green beans, lemongrass-coconut sauce)
    • Jackfruit, tempeh and vegetable curry
    • Chocolate vegan cheesecake
  • Readings:
    • Kathy Freson, “The Case for Fake Meat”
    • “Indonesian Kitchen”
    • A review of the Green Owl Vegetarian Restaurant on
    • A review of Bandung Indonesia Restaurant,

Ecuadorian Cuisine and the Kallari Cooperative’s Sustainable Cacao Production

  • Date: May 4, 2011
  • Guest: Judy Logback and Roxana Salvador of the Kallari Cooperative
  • Menu:
    • Ensalada Mixta: A simple lettuce salad with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette
    • Locro: A thick, rich soup of potatoes, cheese, and corn, popular in Peru and Ecuador
    • Fish Ceviche and Mushroom Ceviche, served over Ecuadorian Rice
    • Plantains, Pickled Red Onions, and Aji Criollo (a green hot sauce)
    • Mango, Orange and Pineapple Juices
    • Kallari chocolate tasting
  • Readings:
    • Check out the Kallari website
    • A cheat sheet on chocolate production, from Kallari (PDF)
    • 2008 New York Times profile of the Kallari Cooperative

Fall 2011
Hmong Cuisine and Wisconsin Culture

  • Date: September 21, 2011
  • Guest: Mai Vang, of the Hmong American Student Association
  • Menu:
    • Squash Soup (taub hau)
    • Stir-Fried Chicken (or Tofu) with Holy Basil (Pad Kaprao Gai)
    • Spring Rolls with Hoisin Peanut Sauce
    • Steamed white Jasmine rice
    • Tapioca Pearls (Nab Vam)

Afro-Caribbean Cuisine and Environment

  • Date: September 21, 2011
  • Guest: Scott Barton, New York City Chef and Food Scholar
  • Menu:
    • Pão de queijo: small baked cheese buns, made with cassava manioc flour
    • Moqueca de Peixe: A stew of white fish in a fragrant sauce, with Moqueca de Ovos with eggs instead of fish as a vegetarian option. Served w with Molho de Pimenta, a spicy sauce, and Steamed Rice
    • Salada de Feijão Fradinho: A salad of black-eyed peas and tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette
    • Doce da Abobora: A dessert of stewed sweet pumpkin

Global Vegetarianism and Animal Ethics

  • Date: November 9, 2011
  • Guest: Justin Horn, Food and Animal Ethicist
  • Menu:
    • Creamy Feta-Spinach Dip, served with pita chips
    • Veggie Burgers, of tofu and walnuts, made by the local Nature’s Bakery Cooperative
    • Three Sisters Salad: A bright salad of squash, corn, and beans--three main agricultural crops of various Native American groups in North America.
    • Aloo Gobi: A potato and cauliflower curry with a variety of flavorful Indian spices
    • Vegan Chocolate Cake: A rich chocolate-y dessert, with a “buttercream” frosting, all made without animal products

West African Food and Dance

  • Date: December 7, 2011
  • Guest: Otehlia Cassidy, co-director and lead choreographer of WADOMA (West African Dance of Madison)
  • Menu:
    • Cucumber-Tomato Salad
    • African Peanut Stew
    • Creamed Chard
    • Mango Bread Pudding w/ Caramelized Mango Sauce

Spring 2012

An Arctic Feast

  • Date: February 8, 2012
  • Guest: Andrew and Ariana Stuhl, Arctic Environmental Scholars
  • Menu:
    • Caribou Stew and Vegetable Stew
    • Baked White Fish
    • Macaroni Salad
    • Caesar Salad
    • Dinner Rolls
    • English Trifle
  • Description: In the Arctic, the feast offers families, visitors, and old friends a chance to connect with one another--and the land around them--over a shared meal. The feast has been a feature of northern communities for several centuries, marking important occasions in the year, allowing for the continuation of practiced values (such as respecting elders), and acting as a site for exchanging information. For this global meal, the feast offers not just a tasty dinner, but a unique window into Arctic life, past and present.

International Influences in Wisconsin Cuisine

  • Date: February 29, 2012
  • Guest: Terese Allen, Wisconsin food author and local foods activist
  • Menu:
    • Wisconsin specialty cheese platter, with locally-made Potter's Crackers
    • Traditional Cornish Pasties, served with salsa, with a Vegetarian Pasty Option
    • Southeast Asian Tomsum with carrots
    • Wild Rice and Cranberry Salad
    • Sweet Potato Pie
    • Cranberry juice and apple cider.
  • Description: Our guest Terese Allen writes about the pleasures and benefits of regional foods, sustainable cooking, and culinary folklore. She is food editor and columnist for Organic Valley Family of Farm, the country’s largest organic farmers’ cooperative, and a food columnist for Edible Madison magazine. Terese has worked as a chef, cookbook author, and food historian. Her books offer extensive histories of food and cooking in the Badger State (The Flavor of Wisconsin, co-authored with Harva Hachten), as well as everyday tips on sustainable eating through the year (Wisconsin Local Foods Journal, co-authored with Joan Peterson). Terese is president and founding member of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW) and is past-chair and long-time board member of Madison’s REAP Food Group, a grassroots organization that advocates for sustainable food systems. in southern Wisconsin.

Bangladeshi Food and Ecology

  • Date: March 21, 2012
  • Guest: Micah Hahn, Public Health Scholar in Bangladesh
  • Menu:
    • Jal muri (snack mix)
    • Chicken Curry and Egg Curry (Vegetarian Option), served with Kichuri Rice
    • Vegetable Mixed Curry
    • Rosh Malai (a sweet dessert of clotted cream)
    • Chai Tea
  • Description: Micah Hahn is a graduate student studying global environmental health at UW-Madison. She will be joining us for the Global Meal having just returned from her research site in Bangladesh, where she studied how villagers' consumption of palm tree sap may be contributing to the spread of the dangerous Nipah virus. Her research studies whether and how fruit bats transmit the virus to humans via the tree sap. She wants to work with local villagers to brainstorm ways to curb the disease while preserving their culture and traditional practices.

MesoAmerican Food and Culture: Insights from a Pedal Bike Trip

  • Date: April 25, 2012
  • Guest: Alan Turnquist, GreenHouse Program Director, who cycled across Latin America
  • Menu:
    • Beet juice with Lime
    • Cream of Squash Soup with chipotle cream and popcorn
    • Shredded cabbage salad with tomatoes, lime, cilantro, and sweet peppers
    • Mole Poblano (Chicken or baked Tofu/garbanzos) with rice and fried green plantains
    • Champurrado (Mexican hot corn chocolate) and Churros (Mexican Fritters, rolled in cinnamon and sugar)
  • Description: Alan Turnquist is the new GreenHouse Program Coordinator. He has lived, worked and traveled extensively in Latin America. He is recently back from pedaling around the Americas on a tandem bicycle with his wife Erin. He is really looking forward to sharing some food and stories from southern Mexico and Central America with the lovely GreenHouse Residents. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Food Writer's Panel, this Thursday

I posted about this before, but just another announcement that I'll be part of a Madison food writer's panel this Thursday at the Sequoya branch of the Madison public library. It would be great to see some of you there. (though, with such a large number of folks on the panel, who knows how much I'll actually get to speak!)

When: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm
Where: Sequoya Library, 4340 Tokay Blvd., Madison, WI, 53711, 266-6385

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Images of My Own Harvest

Remember that garden plan of mine way back in June?

Well, some of it came to fruition anyway. Lots and lots of Roma tomatoes! (and a few green zebras hidden in the mix):

Otherwise, the melon seeds never even sprouted, the cucumbers yielded a few delicious but scrawny crunchers, the broccoli got immediately eaten by critters, the bok choy produced a few lovely heads,
the white clara eggplants made for some exquisitely tender eggplant parmesan and beautiful table centerpieces, the Cheyenne peppers turned out to be hotter than hot!, the basil offered several rounds of pesto making, and the tomatoes...well, the tomatoes, you can see for yourself:

So much acidic sweet fleshiness from the garden this summer. Granted, there were far fewer sungolds than I might have hoped for, but the cherry tomatoes and the romas and the green zebra pulled through like champs.

Is it already time to say goodbye to the garden? The increased blog hits for my Sriracha Halloween post suggests that it is, indeed, getting close to October.

Goodbye to the ease and enveloping warmth and abundant green of my favorite season, summer! Goodbye.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Images of the Harvest

Thanks to all of you who have stopped by to check out Organic, Schmorganic?, my rebuttal to Roger Cohen's New York Times editorial. I have really appreciated all the comments, challenges, and positive feedback. It feels good to know that simple, thoughtful, well-researched commentary can still bring readership! (I guess it's easier when you've got colleagues and friends like mine).

While we're in the mood to think about agriculture around the world, let's check out this amazing new pictorial article from The Boston Globe featuring beautiful, thought-provoking images from the harvest. Be sure to check out the full set of images here, but let me share a few of my favorites [for aesthetic reasons], to whet your appetite:

I think it would be really instructive to share the whole series with students, reading each caption slowly, while projecting each image onto the board, in turn, and have them write observations and questions about what's being shown as you proceed. One could learn so much about agriculture, the global environment, climate change, drought, cultural customs, and international diets, simply by studying these photos.

Which ones are your favorites? Why?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Organic, schmorganic?

The recent kerfuffle over the Stanford organics study has dominated lots of the blogs and media outlets that I follow, but I haven't yet commented on it in writing (see a partial list, with links, below). But now, this new piece, "The Organic Fable," by Roger Cohen in the New York Times has put me over the edge. How can there be so much bad writing on this topic in the country's leading newspaper? How can an esteemed journalist write such poorly-argued drivel?

The Stanford study began with the somewhat questionable goal [perhaps a topic for another post] of determining whether organic food was more nutritious than non-organic food. The key findings of the meta-analysis the Stanford doctors conducted were that "the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods," and that, with regard to chemicals, eating organic food "may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

On the whole, these results are not damning at all, given that organic proponents rarely tout the nutritional benefits as one of the primary reasons to go organic. Instead, they point to the lower exposure to pesticides and antibiotics, the decreased development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the protection of farmworker health, less toxic run-off into waterways and thus fewer hormone disruptors in our marine ecosystems, the decreased reliance on petroleum resources, the reduced production of greenhouse gases, humane(r) treatment of animals, and more.

But Roger Cohen takes the Stanford findings and says, as though it's the last word on the matter: "Organic, shmorganic." (Really. That's an actual quote.)  Unfortunately, his "argument" goes no further. As far as I can tell, the only claims he makes, none of which follow from the Stanford study at all, are these:
  1. Organic food is elitist, and only the oblivious upper middle-class can afford it
  2. Organic food is somehow threatening to poor people because it provides lower yields, and we need more food in order to feed more people
  3. The "overall impact [of buying organic] on society is debatable"
  4. We need genetically modified crops, pesticides, and fertilizers to feed the world
  5. The industrialized food process had led mankind to "live longer than at any other time in history"
The thing is, though, that none of these claims are founded (and Cohen doesn't even try to offer evidence for them). Some evidence to the contrary, for each of his claims, in turn:

1. Organic food is elitist, and only the oblivious upper middle-class can afford it 
For one, although producing organic food is more labor-intensive, and thus can increase costs, in the U.S., the high cost of organic food is in part due to massive agricultural subsidies for conventional agriculture under the Farm Bill. With its roots in the agricultural depression of the 1920s and 1930s, today's agricultural policies benefit large farms producing commodity crops like genetically-modified soy, corn, and wheat. These crops, rather than being primarily used to feed people directly, are instead used throughout the food industries to produce unhealthy processed food or to feed livestock. Organic, small-scale farmers who grow non-commodity crops like fruits and vegetables, get little of the federal subsidies, leaving their products more expensive. So, this is less an issue of elitism, than of political wrongdoing. (Read more)
Further, there are many movements in the U.S. to help get healthy, organic food into the hands of people with lower incomes than the typical Whole Foods shopper. There's the large urban agriculture movement with amazing programs like Growing Power in Milwaukee, there's the USDA's move to accept food stamps at farmers' markets, and many other community-driven solutions.
Instead of simply calling organic food expensive and elitist, Roger, why not try to find ways to reduce its cost and make it more accessible, either through political or community change?
 2. Organic food is somehow threatening to poor people because it provides lower yields, and we need more food in order to feed more people
As has been shown time and time again, world hunger is a problem of poverty, distribution, and power. Not a problem of too little food produced in the world. (See these facts from the World Hunger Education Service). The Food and Agriculture Organization shows that world agriculture produces enough food to  provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day.
Hunger is also exacerbated in some areas by climatic conditions like drought and flooding, which are becoming increasingly common with climate change. The production of petroleum-based chemical inputs that conventional agriculture relies on leads to higher rates of greenhouse gases and thus, further contributes to climate change.
What's more, the introduction of industrialized agriculture into developing nations has led to what's known as the "debt trap," in which farmers grow increasingly dependent on inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, but are unable to make enough money to pay for these expensive chemicals. When the market for their product is low, they can't sell enough of it to cover their costs, and because they are often growing commodity crops like corn and wheat that are intended for animal feed, they are also left with nothing to eat. This problem was behind the tragic case of the Indian farmer suicides in the 1990s.
What is actually threatening to poor people is this debt trap and the loss of autonomy that comes from industrialized agriculture. What developing nations need is not high-yielding export crops, but food security--the ability to grow fresh food for their own communities, using sustainable agricultural practices.
If Cohen is so concerned about the underclass, he should also take into account the havoc that industrial agriculture and its attendant chemicals wreaks on the health of farmworkers. From the National Center for Farmworker Health: "Pesticide exposure is the cause of a variety of occupational illnesses, including eye injuries, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and dermatitis. Between 1982 and 1993, California averaged 1500 reports of pesticide exposure each year. 41% of these exposures occurred in agricultural workers. EPA estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 incidents of pesticide illness per year from farm work...based on severe underreporting of illnesses."
3. The "overall impact [of buying organic] on society is debatable"
Impact on society is a tough thing to quantify, but there are so many benefits to organics, many of which Cohen himself points out in the article. Somehow, although he admits the organic movement has all kinds of benefits--supporting high-quality, small-scale local farming; being better for the environment because of reduced chemical contamination; being strictly regulated to "promote ecological balance"--he just dismisses all of this without engaging with these impacts at all! He just follows up this list by writing, "Still, the organic ideology is an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype." That doesn't seem like much of a logical conclusion to me.
4. We need genetically modified crops, pesticides, and fertilizers to feed the world 
Many recent studies have undermined this claim, showing that organic agriculture (or, at the very least, a mix of conventional and organic) can produce comparable yields. A 2008 United Nations  study (PDF) of farming in 24 African countries found that organic or nearly-organic practices increased yield by more than 100 percent. Another U.N. study (PDF), from 2010, showed that not only could sustainable agriculture feed the world, but that it must do so; that changes in agricultural practices were needed to sustain a growing population. See a great compilation of even more studies that reach basically the same conclusions, from this excellent Barry Estabrook piece in the Atlantic.
5. The industrialized food process has led mankind to "live longer than at any other time in history" 
While Cohen may be right that the twentieth century has seen both (1) a general decrease in morbidity and mortality, and (2) the rise of industrialized food, the causal link between the two is not at all clear. In fact, research from the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that today's children may be the first generation to have a decreased life expectancy relative to their parents. Why might this be, you ask? Because of higher rates of obesity due to...[wait for it]...the industrial food system! The NEJM article links obesity to "heart attack, stroke, kidney failures, amputations, blindness, and ultimately death at younger ages." And obesity in America today can be linked directly back to a higher intake of calories because of cheaper food, to fast food, to processed food made from cheap corn, and to other central elements of the industrialized food system.
Although you can make crap food that is also organic, and although, of course, lots of non-organic food (the fruit and vegetable and whole grain kind) is healthy, it's precisely this kind of cheap, highly-processed, empty-calorie food that the larger organic movement fights against.

Beyond all this, Cohen's whole piece is shot through with this snarky, whiny, uncharitable tone that takes jabs at the "pampered parts of the planet" and makes fun of those who shop at Whole Foods, without trying to portray organic-food-buyers fairly or to understand the range of folks who care deeply about organic food, myself included.

It seems to me that the "fable" here is not the value of the organic food movement, but Cohen's belief that he has any sound arguments against it.

Some Links: 
***Special thanks to my husband and most-dedicated blog reader, JH, for encouraging me to write this piece by sending me the Cohen article with the email subject, "Paging D&O"

Friday, August 31, 2012

Food Writer's Panel, Th Sept 27

Join me and other Madison food writers for a wide-ranging conversation on food writing!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Terrible Tapestry

Another food writing workshop exercise, this one in response to a prompt to "write a food piece that makes a point":

One twelve-year-old, Jon, played the role of Jose. Jon traded his South Chicago accent for that of a Mexican migrant worker (or what he imagined it to be). A girl in the class, Lindsey, assumed the role of the overseer, pushing Jose to work long hours in the grueling sun, offering only measly wages in return. 

The class of kids, part of a summer pre-college pipeline program for students from under-represented groups, tried to put themselves in a whole other world. 

The skit, set in the tomato fields of a southern Florida plantation, encouraged the students to think about the deep and complicated picture of agricultural labor in this country. It made them consider how deeply intertwined immigration issues were with the tomatoes on their hamburger, made them realize that a form of slavery exists in our modern world in which migrants are forced into labor, and gave them some foundation to understand why it's so unfair that farmworkers are the only sector of our economy who don't get paid over time, who aren't allowed to organize or collectively bargain with their bosses.

The kids found all of this shocking, and these facts angered them. They asked, what can we do? And why is the world like this? 

The teachers certainly didn't have all the answers, and could only began to tease apart the thousands of yarns that form this terrible tapestry. Yet, they offered the kids a few ways to address the problem through pushing for change at both the level of policy and the level of consumption. 

The kids made posters as part of a Campaign for Fair Food by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The posters they produced would be sent to the Coalition, who would have a chance to share them with the group's 4,000 members, and would then forward them on to Congress, along with all the other posters drawn by children across the country, urging the legislators to bolster farmworker rights. In bright shades of green and blue, the kids drew posters thanking the farmworkers for their hard work. They illustrated pictures contrasting the idyllic farm scenes of their imagination with realistic ones filled with mistreated laborers. They colored in hand-drawn sketches of big, red, juicy tomatoes with voice bubbles saying, “I want to be picked by a farmworker who is paid enough to feed her family!”

And then, they got the chance to see how delicious it can be to begin to address this problem at the level of consumption. The teachers brought in tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, all from a Wisconsin organic farm that employs seasonal farmworkers from Mexico, who are paid well under an H2A special agricultural visa, and who are provided comfortable housing and fresh meals made by a chef hired just for the job. The kids got to chop the vegetables themselves, got to add the salt and lime, and then got to load the cool, spicy salsa onto tortilla chips and savor this possibility. 
Suddenly, one of the students, Jermaine, jumped up from the table, and said, “I know what would make this even better!” He ran over to his backpack, hastily unzipped it, and pulled out a bright orange bag of Doritos. He ripped the bag open, and plunged the fluorescent orange chip into the salsa. 

Then Trang ran for her Sun Chips, and tried them with the salsa.

Marnie eagerly tested her Lay's.

All the chips came straight from the bin of snacks provided by the program in the morning, after free breakfast, before the kids came to class, to ensure that the students were properly fed.

Marcus loaded his Cheetoh with the fresh salsa and pronounced it delicious.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Morning Memoir

Here's a brief vignette I wrote this morning, in twenty minutes allotted to write some short food memoir piece. This exercise was part of this wonderful food writing workshop I'm taking part in this week at the New York Public Library (about which I hope to write in more detail soon!).

For now, the story:

It was common practice I suppose, finding ways of getting kids to share and to reflect. We perched on our mats before nap time, in a circle, sitting, as we then called it, Indian style. (The other kids all had special sleeping mats intended just for nap time, in bright shades of red and blue. But mine was a dull gray, with small drawings of women in leotards and legwarmers bending their bodies into various poses. Why waste a perfectly good exercise mat?)

Mrs. Gardner, our kindergarten teacher, in a long Southern drawl, put the question before us, “What did y'all all have for supper last night?” The kids in my class went around, offering a peek into their kitchens—fried okra, pork chops with mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders, kool-aid, ham sandwiches.

And then it was my turn.

“Rice and milk,” I said.

The teacher, with a pause, looked at me a little longer, not yet turning to the next kid in line.

“Oh,” she said sweetly, “were you still sick?”

All of the alarm bells were flashing, warning signals shining bright letting me know, even with my dim, five-year-old awareness of social positioning, that I had exposed myself. Revealed myself to be something other. Reminding my friends that I was the outsider, whose parents were immigrants, who did not go to the Baptist church on Sundays or Wednesdays, who didn't watch sports or own any camouflage clothing. I was the girl who ate warm rice in a bowl with milk poured over it.

And it's true, I had been sick the week before, had stayed home from school with a stomachache and fever. But that had nothing to do with my dinner the night before. Still, my teacher was offering me a way out.

 “Yes,” I nodded, “the doctor told me I had to eat it.”

And with that, I was off the hook, the teacher had made sense of this culinary anomaly, had smoothed over the rocky shores of cultural difference with the cool balm of medical expertise.

 Rice and milk. What made sense and what did not.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lunch Hour NYC

For those of you in New York, or anyone who will travel to NYC before February 17, 2013, the New York Public Library has put together a real treat. The exhibition "Lunch Hour NYC" has recently opened, to much acclaim.

"Can an exhibition about the history of lunchtime in the city have that much to say? Yes: Going to this show is a bit like heading out to a street cart or a food truck and finding that there is much more to choose from than you thought possible...It is all playfully and elegantly designed. The Web resources are rich as well, including detailed links to images and invitations to help transcribe menus from the library’s collection."
 Here's a video trailer for the exhibit:

And I'll be getting to see this exciting display for myself in two weeks, when I head to New York for a Food Writing Workshop at the Cullman Center Institute for Teachers, led by the one and only Laura Shapiro--curator of the Lunch Hour NYC exhibit and author of some of my favorite books: Perfection Salad, Something from the Oven, and a biography of Julia Child.

More on my food writing workshop soon! Until then, go explore this beautiful exhibit, either in person, or digitally!