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?!

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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:

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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:
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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” www.huffingtonpost.com
    • “Indonesian Kitchen” http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/01/24/indonesian-kitchen-lets-have-tempeh-today.html
    • A review of the Green Owl Vegetarian Restaurant on host.madison.com
    • A review of Bandung Indonesia Restaurant, www.asianwisconzine.com
***

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 http://www.kallari.com/
    • A cheat sheet on chocolate production, from Kallari (PDF)
    • 2008 New York Times profile of the Kallari Cooperative http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/05/dining/05choc.html?pagewanted=all

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.

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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"