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Archive for the ‘food systems’ Category

I was making some buckwheat crepes to wrap around some mushroom stroganoff the other night. I made it with soured cream from my raw milk share, as suggested a while back – it wasn’t a hit with John, but I liked it a lot. I had just purchased eggs from the food co-op, not the eggs I normally get but those from another farm nearby (they were on sale and I was curious). I cracked three eggs into the buckwheat flour, and here’s what I got:

Five yolks! The next day I cracked open three more when I was making pasta for some delicious delicious lasagna. Double yolks again! I know I have some readers with ducks/chickens/other fowl. Is this uncommon? Why on earth are there so many double yolks in my eggs? I’m not complaining, just curious.

I’ve not been posting much because, sadly, my MSU boss informed me that no information from the farmers’ market vendor study should be made public. Damn. It’s been going wonderfully, I’ve seen 5 farms so far, and it’s all so exciting – I wish I could share it with you, but as Jim told me, it would be a breach of the confidentiality agreement our farmers have signed. It makes sense, but I’m sad. I do, however, feel comfortable talking briefly about my own impressions of the farms in general.

The only farm I’ve ever worked on, and the only farm I’ve had any really close contact with, was the Flying J farm in Johnstown, Ohio. It was only in its fifth year, begun by a retired evangelical christian aviation professor. He wasn’t in it for the money – he was already quite well off. He let me take care of market sales, and never asked how we did. I can’t imagine he brought in much income, if our market sales were any judge. He wasn’t lazy really, but there was just too much farm for one man of advanced years to handle on his own.

The misconceptions that this experience gave me about farming are quickly unraveling. Farming is fucking hard work. These families push themselves and their budgets to the limit, struggling to keep their operations alive. Even the most commercially successful farms I’ve visited have reinvested all their income into the business, because their business is their life. I’m amazed and humbled by how hard they work to provide me with the food that I so often take for granted. I’m also impressed by how much some of them rely on farmers’ markets, and how skilled most of them are at marketing themselves and their produce. This is an incredible learning experience for me.

In other news, John wanted me to write briefly about his bike. We actually met because of bikes: he had an adorable 1959 Schwinn Tiger. I complimented him on it, and offered to help him fix it up (I’d been learning some basic bike repair that summer in a volunteer bike garage). The rest is history, but we’ve continued learning to repair and restore bikes ever since. He found a beautiful (but abused) old blue Raleigh Sportif for sale a block from our house last summer for $10. Last week he decided he was going to transform it into a tougher, more militant, less baby-blue vehicle, and he’s been working on it incessantly since then. It’s done now – he stripped it, repainted it red and black, removed the derailleur (but not the freewheel – we’re not that hardcore), chopped down the handlebars, and pieced it all back together. It looks incredibly tough, rides like a dream, and I’m impossibly proud of him. I’ve always been the one doing the bulk of the real repairs, and he’s handled the artistic details. This time though, he took it upon himself to learn the real mechanics required to build a bike from nothing, and I hardly helped at all.

When he asked me to write about the bike, I told him, “No, this is a food blog.” But I thought about it for a minute, and realized that bikes belong here too. This project is inspiring me to work more on another bike I have, to fit it with a basket so that I can take it to the farmers’ market and the garden without burning fossil fuels. We’ll ride our beautiful, tough bikes to Old Town and eat amazing brunches at Golden Harvest (a fantastic diner that has a list on its menu of all the local farms and businesses from which they buy their ingredients), building an appetite as we go. So much of my interest in food systems is centered around sustainability, and I love bikes for the same reason. Eating local food, like abandoning motorized vehicles, is a way of creating a closed-loop system, taking away no more than what we’re put ting in. Goes to show me that everything, yes, everything, comes back to food.

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I was temporarily distracted from the writing of this thrilling post, but the house is now empty, the dishes are done, the cats are healthy, and I have time at last to type. As was the case last year, “working” the conference mostly meant sitting at a booth for a couple of hours to make Barb happy, then running off to eat good food and sit in on workshops I wasn’t invited to attend. I can’t say I have a problem with that.

I sold more tote bags for the C.S. Mott Group (designed by a company called, aptly enough, Eat Local Food), bought one for myself, along with some whole what pastry flour from Westwind Milling (not much of a link, sorry) and some garlic from Owosso Organics. I then ran off to eat a tasty brunch, the highlight of which looked something like this:

It was a salad made with all local ingredients, save for the marinade and dressing: tofu, black beans, baby greens and various sprouts, on a crispy wafer of bread. The tofu was marinaded in something that involved sesame oil and spiciness, and the dressing was gingery, with mustard and horseradish in there somewhere. It was incredible. I basically skipped the rest of the options and ate three salads instead. Apparently, the recipe will be made available sometime next week, and you can bet I’ll be making it at least once a week.

I went to two workshops. The first was called “A Day in the Life of an Organic Farmer.” The speakers were Lee and Laurie Arboreal of Eater’s Guild Farm in Bangor, near Kalamazoo. They are the super-cute couple I sat with for dinner the previous night. They have a 30-acre farm where they grow veg for a year-round CSA, and sell greens to Organic Valley and Whole Foods on the side. As an interesting aside, we talked over dinner about John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) and his proposed moves toward supporting local farms. It turns out these efforts are indeed trickling down to the Arboreals, who say it’s getting easier now that in the past to get their produce into Whole Foods stores, and that they’ll soon be applying for funding from Whole Foods to start converting some of their mechanical equipment to biodiesel.

The workshop they hosted didn’t offer much of anything new: they gave an introduction of organic standards and “beyond organic” concepts that I already knew plenty about. But I don’t know many farmers, and it was nice to see faces attached to these practices I hear so much about. I’ll admit (and I know that this is bad of me), but I was a little turned off by the hippie-talk in the presentation. I’ve been known to eat my fair share of granola, but I just can’t swallow the idea of plants absorbing the “good vibes” we put into the earth. Nope. But they absolutely have their hearts in the right place, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for the both of them.

The other session was on community food systems development, and it was wonderful. There was a panel of four representatives from different community food organizations from around Michigan, one of whom was my friend and former roommate Julia, from the Allen Neighborhood Center down the street from me.  There was also another woman, Katie, from the Northwest Initiative Food Systems Project (also in Lansing, not quite so near me). I liked what the other panelists had to say just fine, but Julia and Katie were wonderful. The Northwest Initiative is a very small, poorly funded non-profit serving a very poor segment of the city. Their food systems project is creating elementary school garden projects, taking farmers’ markets to senior centers in town, and forming partnerships with convenience stores int he poorest parts of town to provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables where otherwise there would be none. It’s horrifying to think that there are large parts of my city where the only accessible grocery store is not a grocer at all, but a gas station. But there it is, and grocers seem reluctant to move into these neighborhoods, so the Northwest Initiative is helping to make these convenience stores better, healthier places to buy food. While talking about the school garden project the Northwest Initiative had started at an impoverished elementary school, Katie said there were children in the class she was working with who literally could not identify a raw tomato. It’s heartbreaking stuff, but she’s doing extraordinary work.

Closer to home, Julia talked about the Allen Neighborhood Center’s food systems work. There are three tiers serving this low income neighborhood: the first is the breadbasket program, providing free bread and produce to community members on a weekly basis. Second is the farmers’ market (where I shop in the summers), which has started accepting food stamps. Third is a large hoop house currently under construction in a neighborhood park: it’s designated for use by community members, and part of it is reserved for classes, teaching kids in the neighborhood how to grow and market their own produce. The idea is that almost everyone in the neighborhood needs food, and while the ANC would like to eventually see everyone growing their own, that’s not a reasonable entry point for most people. So they start with the breadbasket, and move people on up through these tiers, teaching them about nutrition on the way. It’s interesting work, and after the workshop I offered my volunteer services to Julia for whenever they need help. What interested me most about Julia’s talk was her take on the farmers’ market. She said the hardest part about keeping it going was providing the  right mix of vendors for the community. A lot of people who come to the market are (as she put it) “white women in cars” who want local organic food. So there are a lot of organic vendors. But most of the neighborhood walks or bikes in, and they don’t have money for organic food. Or rather, they do, but if they have limited funds, they will try to get the most for their money. And that means conventional produce. So many of the vendors at the Allen Market are not organic, and they’re cheaper. I’d never seen that divide before, as a shopper. I knew that some of the vendors weren’t organic, but I didn’t understand the sharp divide between the shoppers who can afford to buy organic produce, and those who can’t. And while I understand the argument that our food is too cheap, and doesn’t take into account the social and environmental externalities incurred by their production methods, I’m starting to see what it means to be really broke, to know that the money in your pocket has to last you all week, and to put your children’s stomachs before your politics.

I don’t have much money these days: more than when I was a student, certainly, but not by much.  John is making enough for us to live pretty comfortably (quite comfortably, in my opinion), but because of the alarmingly low numbers on my bank statement, I make a point of eating as frugally as I can. And sometimes, that does mean eschewing organics, for better or for worse. How do people feel about this? It’s something that’s been ringing around in my head all week, and I need other opinions.

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Slow Food vs. slow food

This might be long, as this post has been a long time in the making. Apologies in advance.

This week I’ve been helping Barb, my MSU boss, prepare for the Choices Conference (irritating pdf link – consider yourself warned) next week. Choices is a food-related conference geared toward dietitians, nutritionists, and health educators in Michigan. It used to be an annual conference, but some years ago it died off. Barb has helped to resurrect it with a new focus on local, organic, sustainable foods. This is its second year, in its newest incarnation. The theme this year is slow food.

If you’ve spent much of any time around dietitians, nutritionists, or health educators, you may know that local, organic, sustainable and slow really have no place in their vocabulary (I speak in generalizations, forgive me). Last year, when the conference had a considerably broader (but still food-systems based) focus, I had the arduous task of transcribing the hundreds of evaluation forms that conference-goers had filled out for each of the many many speakers. I noticed a pretty frustrating pattern: most of the respondents really hated hearing about local food. Hated it. Several of them mentioned that the speakers advocating a locally based food system were “behind the times” and “too idealistic.” No one was convinced by the organic farmers, or by the chef who did a cooking demonstration during lunch with local, seasonal foods. Clearly, the audience was not ready for the message. This is why I’m a bit nervous about this year’s conference. If they don’t like local, how can we ever expect them to like slow?

I have pretty complex feeling about slow food in general. Scratch that. I have complex feelings about Slow Food – not the food itself, but the movement/organization. I’m not the first to say it, but I just can’t swallow Slow Food’s elitism. I feel like I’m going to be pounced on for this one, so let me qualify it: slow food – that is, the act of enjoying food and food culture, appreciating terroir, and making such things a central part of your life and community – absolutely does not have to be elitist. I’m reminded of that during farmers’ market season: my market is located in a fairly low-income neighborhood with a large population of recent immigrants. It’s a small market, but incredibly vibrant and filled with people who, while they may not have a lot of money to spend on it, really love their food, love talking about it, touching it, knowing where it comes from.

For those who do have the means to support Slow Food, that’s great. I can’t afford a $60 membership to a club that will make me feel guilty if I can’t afford to buy (or don’t have access to) the foods on the Ark of Taste. Sorry. If you can afford it, it’s a noble cause and I applaud you.

It reminds me very much of the feeling I had upon finishing The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I loved it, and I love Michael Pollan. I was so so happy that his book was getting the attention that it deserved. But the conclusions he came to dissatisfied me. His central question throughout the book was: what can we as Americans eat that it respectful of our bodies, of animals, of the environment? His answer: if have enough money and access, you can buy pasture-raised beef, or take a few days off of work to forage for mushrooms, age your own cured meats and balsamic vinegar and eat like a sustainable, respectful king. He had nothing at all to say for those without such means except for a cursory Sucks To Be Them. As one of Them, I was more than a little put off, just as I am more than a little put off by Slow Food.

I won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here – Slow Food does good things and raises really important issues, particularly relating to biodiversity. But they are limiting themselves by giving slow food the appearance of snobbishness. Here’s an example.

On Tuesday, two days before the Choices Conference, Slow Food Red Cedar will host its first Slow Food Dinner as a fundraiser for the conference. The menu looks like this:

Course One
Organic Local sweet Corn Polenta, Cannellini Bean Mushroom Ragout,
Pancetta wilted baby greens, Detroit Asiago Cracker, Crème fraiche
Course Two
MSU Campus grown Butternut Squash Bisque, Caramelized Pecans, Maple Sour Cream
Course Three
Herb marinated grilled Organic Chicken Breast topped with Grand Traverse Cherry Bails Sauce, Minnesota Wild Rice Pilaf, Asparagus and Bell Pepper
Course Four
Michigan Apple Pithivier, Organic Pear Espuma, Beet Sugar Caramel,
Fair Trade Coffee Zabaglione

For Lansing, this is a Fancy Ass Meal. Advertisements for this dinner went up a couple of weeks ago, and several friends of mine expressed serious interest in going. Except they couldn’t. Because the dinner costs $45 a person. That’s the most expensive meal in Lansing, so you know. And my friends are, generally speaking, in more dire financial straits than I am (which isn’t saying much, given the pitiful state of my bank account). They’re either students or paying off student loans, living in shitty apartments with too many roommates to keep costs down. But they still wanted to go. Badly.

They know I work for Barb (who is also helping to host this dinner), and wanted to know, is there a rate for students and low-income individuals? I asked, interested for myself as well. And no, of course not. There is no sliding scale, no reduced rate. They are not interested in the money of poor students or otherwise poor community members. When I asked why, Barb said that the overhead was so high (because they’d hired a very expensive chef, and were holding the dinner at a very expensive venue) that if they charged a reduced rate, they’d end up losing money.

I had a long talk with Barb about this. Much of (most of, really) her work is geared toward providing access to good nutrition to low income families. This conference is geared toward health professionals who work with low income families. Introducing the idea that good food, slow food, is prohibitively expensive by nature, is terrible. Like, inexcusably terrible. I was pretty adamant about what a bad idea this was, even after she told me that I could eat for free if I worked the registration table (just me, though).

So I was incredibly happy when the next day she came into my office to tell me that, while she couldn’t do anything about the pricing of this event so late int he game, she’d decided that future Slow Food Red Cedar events would be held with accessibility in mind, keeping overhead low enough that they could afford a sliding scale for membership and dinners. I was eating a homemade pastie at the time (good old fashioned, takes-a-long-time-to-make-em U.P. miner food, for those who don’t know), made in part with local rutabagas and potatoes. She pointed at it and said, “You know, that’s slow food too. It really doesn’t have to be expensive or intimidating.” It felt really good to know that something I’d been struggling against like that could be changed so easily. The rest of Slow Food could learn from that, I think.

I’ll be attending the dinner on Tuesday – expect pictures and commentary on great food and insufferable snobbishness.

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Ethical Meat

A happy cow at AppleSchram Orchard, not far ouside of Lansing

Cookiecrumb of I’m Mad and I Eat fame brought up a good topic the other day: that of former vegetarians being swayed by humanely-raised-and-processed meats. I’ve seen some of this here in Michigan, though not a lot. I’ve seen more meat eaters switch to ethical meats, however. It raises interesting questions though, and while I’m still vegetarian and plan to stay that way for the foreseeable future, that’s no reason not to take a look at the issue.

I’ve heard it said that sustainable/local is the new organic. I’m fairly convinced that it’s also the new vegetarian too. As more and more people are talking about local, humanely-raised animal products, people who once might have considered vegetarianism are instead starting to buy more pastured products. My mom is a case in point. I’ve been talking to her about food for years, and for years she has told me “if it wasn’t for your dad, I’d probably consider going vegetarian.” She’s the cook in the house, and if she stopped cooking meat, there would be trouble. Sigh.

Anyway, I made her read Omnivore’s Dilemma this summer, and she immediately decided that she wanted to find local sustainable and friendly sources for her meat from now on. It fascinated me that she latched onto this so quickly, while the idea of not eating meat was such a struggle for her. I think that for people who have the means to do so (and let’s not kid ourselves: these are considerable means we’re talking about here), eating “humane” animal products is a way of assuaging their guilt without taking a more radical stance.

Now I need to back up, because I’m making claims more antagonistic than I really intended when I sat down to write this. I eat animal products too. As I’ve mentioned before, I was vegan for 4 or 5 years until this past year, when I caved. This caving was not the result of serious thought and consideration. It was because I’d moved in with John, and he didn’t know how to cook vegan food. I didn’t want to end up cooking all of our meals, and I was pretty tempted by eggs and cheese to begin with, so I just started eating it. It wasn’t an ethical choice. And I was eating eggs and cheese from the supermarket, too: organic, mostly, but nowhere near humane. So I’m not speaking from any kind of moral high ground here. I’ve since cleaned up my act a bit, buying local milk and eggs form happy cows and chickens, and I’ve been trying to find more local happy cheeses, but I’m by no means spotless.

When I first stopped eating meat, I did so for a whole host of reasons. For the most part, those reasons have stayed the same for the past 6 years. I’m less focused on animal rights/liberation now, and more on sustainability, but all of my original problems with meat are still intact. Eating meat is inefficient, environmentally unsustainable (at least in the way it’s being done at the moment, and with the current global population) and cruel to animals. The first two issues are addressed fairly well by pastured/ heritage/small-farmed meats. If those were the only issues I had with meat, I’d be eating bacon for breakfast.

I still can’t shake the opinion that eating meat is cruel, no matter how you slice it (forgive me). I believe, pretty firmly, that it is cruel to kill something if you don’t really need to. These pastured, humanely raised meats are certainly much less cruel than factory farmed meats. But they are still cruel in my book, and I try to avoid unnecessary cruelty.

I won’t state any moral absolutes. This issue becomes tricky when I expand the issue beyond my own circumstances. I was reading 100 Mile Diet a while ago, and got to this part:

Alisa and I were near-vegans when we began our Hundred Mile Diet three months ago. Suddenly, everything we could eat or drink at home had to come from local land and waters, and immediately an unexpected ethical question loomed. What the hell are we going to eat for breakfast?

James and Alisa (vegans) decided that they couldn’t eat a local, sustainable diet that didn’t include animal products, even fish. In Vancouver, that’s probably true. And I’m okay with that. As I said, it’s cruel to kill something if you don’t really need to. If the choice is between humanely raised chickens from the farm 10 miles away and Boca burgers, I’ll take the chicken. I’d sill feel a little bit gross about it after all this time not eating meat, but I really think that would be the right decision in that case. Fortunately, Michigan (while cold) grows a whole lot of really great food, much of which is protein- and calorie- dense enough to stand in for meat. If Michigan stops producing beans and grains and the like, and if I don’t have my mini-farm by then, I’ll give it some thought. But for the time being, that’s where I stand on meat.

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Career Indecision

I haven’t written in a bit. I honestly thought I might give this blog up as a waste of time, but it seems a handful of people are interested (more than I’d anticipated they would be) in the things I’m writing about. Food is a pretty hot topic these days, as well it should be. So I’m back.

The primary reason for my absence is my new job. I have three now: bookkeeping for MOFFA and temping for this MSU grant project as before, and now 20 hours a week at the Capital Area District Library (CADL), stamping books and boring myself to death. That all adds up to 40 hours a week, and means four things: more mony, less time to goof off and write blog posts at my MSU desk, more stress, and (this is the pertinent one today) the sudden urge to reconsider my career options.

I haven’t really mentioned it yet, but while I love food systems work, and do food systems work, I have not been planning on pursuing it as a career. I want to be a librarian. I’ve recently been accepted into Wayne State’s Library and Information Science masters program, and I’ll be starting in the fall. For the past couple of years I’ve been trying to convince CADL to hire me so that I can get me feet wet and make sure this library business is right for me. Well, I’ve finally been hired as a processing page (the lowest of the low, really), and it kind of blows. A lot. I won’t go into specifics, but it’s really not a position I want to keep for very long.

Now, the fact that I hate low-paying mindless repetitive labor (regardless of the fact that it takes place inside a library) does not mean that I won’t love being a librarian. But I’ve invested so much time in getting employed by CADL that this letdown is bigger than it probably should be. With any luck, in a few months a clerk position will open up, I’ll be working with real people, in the company of real librarians, and I’ll enjoy my job and projected career choice a whole lot more. Until then, however, I’m being plagued (no exaggeration) with these doubts about my ability to be happy as a librarian. This was amplified tenfold last night when John and I visited my parents for dinner.

My dad, knowing me pretty well, had saved the latest copy of the New York Times Magazine to show it to me because he thought I’d like the Pollan article (okay, so he doesn’t know me well enough to know that I read it the minute it came out, but he’s pretty perceptive nonetheless). We talked about it for quite some time, and then started talking about the farmers’ market vendor study I’m working on (it’s going wonderfully, might I add). And he asked me point blank: “I know you want to be a librarian, but have you every thought about getting your masters in the CARRS department instead?”

I really didn’t want him to ask me that question, because it’s been in the back of my head for months. I work for a grad program (the aforementioned CARRS – Community Agriculture Recreation and Resource Studies at MSU) that offers a specialization in Community, Food and Agriculture. I have friends in the program, and I’ve been working on various projects there for about three years now. When people there hear I’m going to grad school, they all assume I’ll be at MSU, in CARRS. Why am I not?

I want a job when I graduate. And I have no idea what I would do with a Community Food and Ag degree. I am geographically limited to the greater Lansing area (or Mid-Michigan in general, if I decide I can handle a commute) because John has already established his career here (not that I mind – I love Lansing and want to stay), and that will really make it difficult to find a job when I’m done with school. It will take a while to find a good position within a library, and it would take even longer to find work in some unspecified area of food systems research.

Also, I’m helping multiple professors prepare the readings for the classes I would be taking if I were admitted into the CARRS masters program, and because of that, I’m doing half of the readings already, for fun. The professors in the department are my employers and co-workers, and we discuss food systems-related issues all day long. There is very little I would learn, I suspect, from the program itself. I’d be buying a degree, essentially. On the other hand, library science and information management are completely new to me, and I love learning new things.

Potential selling points of studying community food and ag? I’d love it, for one. Also, I’d be almost guaranteed acceptance and an assistanceship, as I’ve already been working for half of the CARRS professors for years. It’s not quite a toss up, but it’s enough to make me uneasy. I’ve taken John’s advice and I’m trying not to think about it too hard for right now. I’m going to be reading some of the recommended books for Wayne State’s library school, and talking to friends in the CARRS program about their career options after graduation. I’ll see what feels right.

I think that I will resolve this shortly, and my guess is that library science will win out. But I’m rededicating myself in advance to pursuing food systems writing, researching and reading as my Primary Hobby for a good long time, and this blog, if all goes as planned, will become a big part of that.

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Anastacia Marx de Salcedo has this to say about Annie’s Homegrown Macaroni and Cheese. She also has the best name ever.

In summary: WTF, hipsters? Don’t you read ingredient labels? Are you naive enough to think that “all natural” has any meaning in the food industry? Because, um, it doesn’t. Processed food with happy bunnies on the box is still processed food. Which means it’s probably bad for you. It is not difficult to make killer homemade mac and cheese. I’ve done it drunk at 2 am – that means it must be easy. I don’t care how convenient powdered crap in a box is, it can’t be good for you. I’m fine with ramen noodles – I’ve eaten them many a time. But never have I ever thought that they were in any way wholesome or nutritious.

I think the most insidious thing about nutritionism (again, please go read your Pollan: it’s good for you, and goes down easy) is not that it is reductionist, but that it creates the illusion that the food industry knows more about what’s good for you than you do. Granted, we’re quickly forgetting what to eat, but it’s a circular problem, no? In buying processed, packaged foods, the closest we can come to understanding our diet is reading the fine print on the box, which is not at all the same as making a conscious decision about what ingredients to put into this night’s meal.

Someone on Metafilter left a comment on the Pollan thread talking about their hypothetical one-page diet book called You Fucking Know What You Should Eat. I’m about halfway through Marion Nestle’s What to Eat, and I think she probably could have gotten away with the now-rendered-anonymous-Metafilter-user’s suggestion. Isn’t it all common sense? She starts off with her standard sensible Nestle advice, “Eat less, move more, eat lots of fruit and vegetables…go easy on junk foods,” then spends a mighty heavy 600 pages elaborating on it. I feel like this is unnecessary. I like reading about food and nutrition, so I’m fine with paging through this tome. But it must seem daunting to the average consumer, a book entitles What to Eat that is, literally, two inches thick. Am I being naive in thinking that people really do know that, beyond all of the faddish diets and nutrients, processed food isn’t as good for them as fresh food? Am I?

If that’s true, then the solution to our ills lies not so much in nutrition education as it does in decimating food advertising (particularly to children) and eliminating subsidies on processed foods and thier precursors. Not like that will ever happen. But if people are given the opportunity (both economically and psychologically) to reclaim the wealth of nutritional knowledge that resides in their families and communities, I think the health of the country will improve dramatically.

I’ve been getting so much closer to my food the past few years. I sincerely feel that when people do this, they will recognize the difference between Annie’s “Homegrown” crap-in-a-box and something real, something fresh, something they’ve made themselves.

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the lake at Flying J Farm

Otherwise known as “my first post.”

I’m not exactly a foodie. In fact, I’m not at all, mostly because I think the term “foodie” is one of the most pretentious nouns I could possibly use to describe myself. But.

I love food, all kinds of food, and over the past several years I’ve become more and more interested in the ways that food production and consumption affect the environment, the economy, and our health. I started thinking about these things when I, at 17 years old, watched far too many PETA propaganda videos and became an obnoxious self-absorbed vegan. After a short stint at Oberlin College (where I was surrounded by hundreds of self-absorbed vegans), I dropped out and came back home to Lansing where I waitressed for a while. Working in the food service industry taught me a lot about food: I realized I cared less about animal liberation than I did about food waste and overconsumption. Quickly, vegan turned into freegan, which is equally obnoxious, if only for its dizzying inconsistency and longwinded explanations.

The spring after I started waitressing , I took a summer off (off of what? that’s a great question.) and moved back to Ohio, this time to live in a bug-infested trailer on a 250-acre organic farm. That sounds huge, but a good deal of the property was made up of a lake, a pond, and a large stand of sugar maples. Dick, the farmer, grew hard red wheat, corn, and soybeans, and it was my job to run the 2-acre vegetable garden. I discovered muscles in my arms I never knew I had, I learned I could handle being alone in the middle of Ohio with a 50-something evangelical Christian bachelor, and I learned an awful lot about food systems and farming. Oh, and I ate better than I ever had in my life.

I spent the next two years at school, living in a co-op in an attempt to eat according to my newly-strengthened principles on a limited budget. It mostly worked. The poorer I became, however, the less I found myself caring about heirloom tomatoes. I was reinvigorated when I started working at my current job with the Mott Group for Sustainable Agriculture at MSU, and decided to study abroad for a semester in northern India. While there, I had a 6-week internship with a seed bank/community development NGO in the Himalayan foothills that really brought all the knowledge I had about local food into perspective.

Each valley in the Almora district where I was working had a different ecosystem, with surprisingly different crop varieties. After the advent of the Green Revolution, biodiversity in the region plummeted, and women (who provided the bulk of the agricultural labor) lost one of their only sources of income. They could no longer save their own seeds, nor could they sell their unique products for a good price at market. They became dependent on multinational corporations, and most devastatingly, they lost their place in their society as repositories of invaluable agricultural knowledge. Aadhar, the orgnaization I was working for, established the seed bank, and encouraged women to return to the crops that would truly support the community and themselves. I was of limited use to the organization, but they provided me with a phenomenal education of the effects of globalized industrialized monoculture.

While I was in India, I started eating dairy again, because veganism comes off as pretty rude there. I tried going back when I got home, but it made less and less sense to me, and I finally decided I’d stick to ovo-lacto. I’m back to where I was now, working for the Mott Group and struggling to eat well on a limited income. My boyfriend John has become a huge part of my food-education, coming for a very different background than my own. Through him I’m getting a better understanding of how much of the country eats, and we’re gradually shaping each other’s perceptions of health and sustainability as we go. That’s all for now.

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