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Archive for May, 2010

One of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had recently was sitting in on a reading by a food writer, who, in the question and answer session, responded to a question from the roomful of older ladies from our very rural, very small localized town by asking if we had a Whole Foods nearby. The entire room immediately responded with a resounding NO.

Here in the so-called middle of nowhere, our radicalism takes a little bit of a different stance. We don’t want box stores of any kind destroying our community. We get our food at the farmer’s market, occasionally from the grocery store. We get our organic sugar and the rest from the tiny, locally owned natural food store. We don’t need a Whole Foods with their fancy labeling and marked up processed vegetarian treats, because we get our food from our neighbors.
You don’t shop at Wal-Mart, probably don’t eat at McDonalds- so why would you shop at Whole Foods?

Whole Foods has taken the concept of alternative food and made it accessible to yuppie liberals who drive hybrid SUV’s and think they’re saving the environment. They are by far a better business than McDonald’s- but I’d still rather purchase my food from an independent retailer, thanks. If you believe all the labeling, you may as well believe those idiotic commercials for California dairy products- all the “happy” cows, who supposedly make better milk. I’d like to see a few of those happy cows, who, undoubtedly, are lucky to see a shaft of sunlight in their brief lives. The only thing organic about organic milk is usually that they feed them “organic” grain, instead of regular old corn. I can drive down the road and see one of the so-called organic dairy farms, and the cows don’t look particularly happy to me. They are usually wandering around in a tiny muddy field full of their own shit.

I also have enormous issues with MorningStar, and Earthbound Farms, and the rest of the major label foods that are marketed to people in our circles. I’ll admit some of the MorningStar products are pretty good- those black bean burgers they have, for one (but mine are better)- but how is buying the exact same processed soy burger as someone on the other side of the country better than people all over the country buying the exact same burger at McDonald’s? (And in what universe does that quantity of preservatives and processing qualify for organic, other than in the corporate oriented minds of the USDA?)

The only reason this fucked up system continues to exist is by convincing everyone to be the same. The thing that will destroy the world as we know it, and us with it, is everyone being the same. Every law, every regulation is geared toward giving you two basic options: join the system, participate in their hellish domination of our spirits, our lives, our environment, or die. Humans are communal creatures, and on some unconscious level, our brain is hard wired to tell us that to fit into the community is the way to survive. But this sham of a community that we call civilization is killing us, and life lies outside, where we can make our own choices, starting with what we eat. Health comes from eating a variety of foods (not corn, corn and corn), strength and freedom come from being able to choose the way you live, be it more dirty, chaotic, and joyful than the processed, sterilized, pre packaged version offered by the civilized.

The biggest complaint against McDonald’s, or Wal-Mart, is that they’re everywhere- they invade local communities, they destroy small businesses, they shackle people to some distant corporate office run by people who could give a shit about who works in the store- and you’re going to tell me Whole Foods is different? Please. There aren’t as many, yet, and they pay higher wages and have some health insurance options for their employees- but their aim is still the same. Spread. Conquer. Make everything the same. Keep you trusting the recognizable name- keep you coming to the same store, whether you live in Maryland or California. Keep you in line. Keep you from thinking. Is that really what you want?

“Supermarket Pastoral is a most seductive literary form, beguiling enough to survive in the face of a great many discomfiting facts. I suspect that’s because it gratifies some of our deepest, oldest longings, not merely for safe food, but for a connection to the earth… Whole Foods understands all this better than we do. One of the company’s marketing consultants explained to me that the Whole Foods shopper feels that by buying organic he is ‘engaging in authentic experiences’ and imaginatively enacting a ‘return to a utopian past with the positive aspects of modernity intact’” –Michael Pollan

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This was written long before I started eating meat, and would have been in the cookbook after a paean to veganism. I’ve taken out the parts that were actually flat out wrong, but thought it was an interesting insight into my mind a year plus ago.

I feel the need to point out, before moving on, that not all animals are treated with vicious, disturbing cruelty. There are exceptions, and I have met them and patted them on the nose.

I am going to pause for a moment here and point out that eating animals is not inherently the problem. The industrial farming system is the problem. Living in the country for several years introduced me to the concept of well-treated, sustainably raised animals. My friends raise chickens, and if the thought of eating meat again after all this time didn’t make me want to puke, I’d probably join them in eating them, because these chickens are spoiled more than most of the humans I know, and really, when you get down to it, humans are omnivores. On a self-sufficient farm, it would be stupid not to have animals, which are a necessary part of returning nutrients to the soil so plants can grow properly. And it would be wasteful, on these small farms, to raise animals to complete the cycle of nutrients and then not eat them (even if you didn’t raise them for eating, at some point they will die, and then what are you going to do with them?). But there is a big difference between raising a few chickens in your backyard and raising thousands upon thousands of chickens in a factory, and since most people are not fortunate enough to live in a rural area where their neighbors are happy to share the bounty, vegan or vegetarianism is one way to opt out of the industrial food system. [If not a particularly healthy one for many people.]

An increasing number of farmers absolutely refuse to fall in line with the practices of the factory farms. This may mean they cannot turn quite the profit of the factory farmers, and they may struggle every day against adversity from all sides, but they persist in their belief that animals should not be kept in tiny, filth ridden cages. This is not to attack all those who participate in the factory farming industry. Many, many people feel as if they have no choice, and if, faced with starvation for your children or cruelty to animals, many choose cruelty to animals, you really can’t blame them. It’s the practices themselves that must be attacked, and the insatiable demand for cheap meat from the public, though I honestly wouldn’t mind a few attacks on the executives that have the opportunity to change practices and are more concerned with profits.

That said, there are many farms where you can find happy, frolicking cows eating grass and chickens running about scratching in the dirt and all those things you come to expect when you picture cows and chickens. Often these farmers sell their meat at local markets, and slaughter onsite (except for cattle, which the USDA requires be sent to a slaughterhouse). However, some simply raise their cows under humane conditions, and ship the milk off to the big processing companies that make the products you see on the shelves. Either way, it is almost impossible to identify these conscientious farmers unless you visit the farms yourself.

As it turns out, the meat you buy at Whole Foods that reads “organic free-range” may be nothing of the sort. Free-range, as defined by the USDA, only means the animals have the opportunity to go outside. Likely they spend their entire lives in cramped conditions with the door open. For example, though the chickens may be cage-free, they may be crammed onto the floor of a barn with little more room than they would have had in the cages. Additionally, organically raised animals (in cramped conditions) are so susceptible to disease that to allow them outside would likely cause them all to die before they could be fattened for slaughter. Many of those who raise cattle particularly protest raising cows organically, as this would forbid them from administering antibiotics to sick cattle. They instead propose raising cattle as they are meant to be raised, in a pasture eating grass, finding this keeps the cows healthy enough that the only chemicals they must administer are the occasional antibiotic for the cow version of the cold.

While it may not be true across the board, food labeling is lax in defining what exactly constitutes organic or free-range, and the only sure bet is seeing the animals for yourself. If you meet a farmer at your local market and they tell you their animals are treated well, they probably aren’t lying, but anything bought at Whole Foods and produced by an enormous company is likely just as suspect as the meat, dairy, or eggs purchased at the regular grocery store. However, I cannot protest eating meat, dairy, or eggs if you feel they have come from places where everyone involved is treated humanely.

In the end, the choice is up to you, and you have to do what feels right. Yet a conscientious, informed buyer is always, almost without fail, more revolutionary than the one that eats whatever is set before him without question.

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Pad Thai
3+ garlic cloves, minced
2/3 c peanut butter
6 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp soy sauce
½ c vegetable broth
12 oz rice noodles
lots of snow peas
vegetable oil
opt- bamboo shoots, broccoli, other veggies, whatevers around
local free range chicken or beef if desired

1. Chop up all vegetables.
2. In blender, combine first 4 ingredients. Slowly pour in vegetable broth and process until smooth.
3. Cook noodles according to package. Add snow peas during last 30 seconds of cooking. Drain.
4. Heat oil in pan, cook veggies/ meat until tender.
5. Combine all.

Asparagus
Asparagus is a wonderful vegetable, and a frequent find early in the spring at most farmer’s markets. The best way to have it is grilled, wrapped in foil and coated with a little lemon juice and black pepper and thrown right on a grill. It can also be roasted in the oven, again with a little lemon juice and pepper, right on a baking sheet, or blanched (dropped in boiling water for a few minutes). It is fabulous wrapped in tortillas with sun dried tomato pesto and mozzarella, or with a curry sauce (again wrapped in tortillas) or on naan or some other kind of soft bread. Or chopped and put in pasta. Or risotto. Or just eaten (but not raw. ew.).

PS Happy birthday mom!!!

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More cookbook bits, while I continue to not be inspired.

If you’re really going to be revolutionary, I suggest eating a lot of vegetables. It doesn’t sound that appealing- in fact, it sounds like something your mother told you when you were a kid. But think of it this way- aside from fast food, vegetables are way cheaper than meat. Ok, not if you’re buying really weird fancy vegetables, but regular vegetables? Less than meat, I promise. Add rice and pasta, the cheapest things in the grocery store besides Top Ramen packets, which, I’m sorry to say, I think are really gross.

If you’re really lucky, you live near a community share farm (CSA), and you can get together with your buddies and buy a share for the season for something in the neighborhood of $300 for about 25 weeks of all the fresh vegetables you can eat. Most of them also offer the option of working on the farm for a few hours in exchange for a share of vegetables. If you’ve never heard of these, get some info at csa.org. The basic idea is that your contribution covers the cost of running the farm, and you get fresh (and usually organic) vegetables, every week. If you’ve never tasted freshly picked vegetables, you don’t know what you’re missing. The difference between something that came off the vine this morning and something that was grown in California, coated in wax, and shipped in a refrigerated truck for two weeks, is astronomical. Trust me on this one.

Besides, if you’re getting vegetables from a nearby farm, you know where they came from. I cannot put enough emphasis on what a difference this makes. You know who picked your vegetables, you can probably figure out if they’re making a decent living or not, you can see your vegetables growing if you choose (a revelatory experience), and you know whether they’re using billions of pesticides or practicing wholesale slaughter of bunnies as they grow the vegetables. Plus you’re getting vegetables from a local, small farmer, meaning they get all your money, instead of your money going to a giant chain grocery store and a big agri-corporation. It’s like buying your vegetables from your next door neighbor instead of Wal-mart. Obvious benefits.

You can also grow your own vegetables, if you’re lucky enough to have a yard, a balcony, or a big window and some pots. Recommendations for growing your own vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, basil, or upright peas (like snap peas or shell peas). Very easy to grow in a pot without a lot of space, and one plant costs around a dollar, especially if you grow from seed. One decent sized pepper plant can yield 10 or more peppers in a season, and if you can do math…

If all else fails, try the farmer’s market. I have yet to find a city that does not, somewhere, at some time of the year, have a farmer’s market or some version thereof. They are usually pretty cheap and have awesome things like homemade preserves, and you can usually meet some of the people growing your food, or at least their friends. And, if you’re really smart about it, you can get seconds, the stuff the farmer hasn’t sold at the end of the day and usually doesn’t feel like carting back to his farm. Oftentimes if you get friendly enough with the farmers they are more than happy to give you a big crate of veggies, absolutely free.

If you haven’t ever seen vegetables growing, and most of us haven’t, you’re really missing out. They’re fucking weird. It’s a real experience to see your broccoli sprouting out of the middle of a big leafy thing in the middle of a field. If you ever get the chance to work on a farm (or join a CSA) you’ll quickly realize vegetables grow at different times of the year (unless you live in California). For most of us East coasters, the vegetable season starts in late April and ends in September or October (when global warming kicks in: begins in March ends in November). For the first months of the season you have cold weather vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, bok choy, lettuce, spinach, asparagus, lettuce, radishes, and probably some lettuce. Fortunately the beginning of warm weather induces a liking for salads that will quickly disappear after your fifteenth or so. Also fortunate for the cold weather vegetables, most of them work well together in recipes, especially Asian-derived recipes (broccoli, cauliflower, and bok choy are fabulous in pad thai or teriyaki). Shortly after the cold weather crops (and sometimes simultaneously) are favorites like cabbage, snow peas, shell peas, beets, scallions, carrots, and turnips. Snow peas go well with the cold weather vegetables, and turnips… well, I’m pretty sure there’s something you can do with turnips. They add a nice kick to mashed potatoes, on occasion. Once it gets nice and warm, you get zucchini, squash, peppers, and, after another week or so, green beans, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, and, if you’re in a warm enough area, melons, especially watermelon. Corn is a late summer vegetable in most areas, as are soy beans. Strawberries are early summer, but good luck finding them organically grown, while apples and pears and the like are early fall.

Why should we care, you ask? Well, if you live anywhere other than California, it’s useful to know when you can access certain vegetables without buying them in the grocery store. If you’re really ambitious (and become addicted to fresh local veggies), you’ll start eating things only when they’re in season, and saving certain vegetables in the freezer for the months when you won’t be able to find many veggies unless you’re lucky enough to know someone with a greenhouse. Eating veggies in season connects you a little more with what you’re eating, and really adds a touch of excitement when you get the first fresh tomatoes of the season that you’ve been anxiously awaiting since the end of last summer.

But wait, you say, are you getting all spiritual at me?
No, I’m really not.

But I do strongly believe that if the revolution is actually carried off, it makes absolutely no sense for us to keep eating vegetables that we have to ship from California, or even worse, from South America. When vegetables travel that kind of distance, you have no idea where they’ve come from, how the people growing them were treated, what chemicals were used in the growing process… or how much gas was used transporting those oranges to your local grocery store. If you can understand why revolutionaries don’t own SUVs, the same logic applies to oranges. Unless you live in an orange growing region, your orange could have traveled over 1,000 miles. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Learn what can grow in your area. If you can, join a CSA, or start your own small version, because the idea is about as communal as food can get, without going all hippie and starting a farm in the middle of nowhere. Our present methods of food distribution are not going to fit well with the social revolution. But all of us have to eat. Part of our revolution will have to be in how the food gets from the farm to your table.

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Dear readers, I apologize for not writing for so long. There has been a lot of soul sucking going on lately. Fortunately things seem to be looking up, and I will hopefully be back to posting on a regular basis once my brain kicks back in. In the meantime, here are some pretty pictures of birthday cake made for the handsome fella:

It is vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. The strawberries were very fresh and local and soaked in Cointreau and vanilla, which is why they are leaking all over the icing. Oh and there is a layer of frosting and homemade strawberry preserves in the middle. It was quite good, if I do say so myself. I am still adjusting to non-vegan cakes, and haven’t quite got the hang of it, but at least this one didn’t fall. It didn’t really rise, either, but it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s so hard to be inspired right now, even though the weather is steadily improving and the temperature is steadily rising. It occurred to me, while I was morosely washing dishes, that this is fairly normal. I get so incredibly burned out at the end of another year (college schedule, of course), and I kind of forget what my own life is about. Usually at this time of year I escape to Germany to be reinspired by the incredible clickclackgorrila. Only this year I’m not going. I’m stuck here. I didn’t realize how much I was relying on that trip to remind me what life is actually about, but I can distinctly recall, possibly on this very day last year, walking along in Mainz and discussing how easy it is to fall into the trap of working a job and thinking that’s all there is. I need to find a way out: I need to find something here to inspire myself. I’m not even cooking anymore. But I am so used to depending on external events to inspire my sense of adventure- I’m not sure how to find it myself.

Any suggestions?

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Raw Milk Articles

Some things to read about raw milk. While I go work on a farm. Like I’m supposed to. I guess I should be thankful for a day job that let’s me take vacation once a week to go do real work.

SF Examiner: Raw Milk Raw Food Popularity Surges
Mark McAfee Interview
The Food Rights Firestorm Spreads

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Wine Carries On

As I stood over the sink, very slowly straining a gallons worth of wine, it occurred to me that I do spend an awful lot of time doing some ostensibly silly things.

The wine spent the better part of the week getting increasingly more bubbly. The stuff on top looked more and more disgusting, but didn’t appear to be doing anything it shouldn’t. The raisins swelled up and looked like over sized lizard eggs, which was a little terrifying the first time I lifted the lid and stirred, only to discover this hoarde of grape sized pale yellow orbs. For one panicky moment I thought something had laid eggs in my wine. Then I just realized the raisins had rehydrated and were basically grapes again.

Then on Thursday it was time to strain out the raisins and lemon bits and the oodles of dandelions. I had to think for a bit to figure out how to do this. I couldn’t strain straight into the carboy, which has this tiny narrow neck. I only had the one bucket. But fortunately I had borrowed a big pot from my friends for canning, and this was still on the stove, and I told myself it would be ok to strain the wine into a metal pot if it was only there for a few minutes. So I covered the mouth of the pot with cheesecloth, rubber banded onto the sides, and poured. A gallon of dandelions does after all look like a lot, especially when water logged. I left it hanging there, dripping, for a good ten minutes, then squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. Apparently I was too enthusiastic in my squeezing because bits of dandelion started squeezing their way through the cheesecloth. Oops.

So then I had to get the liquid into the carboy anyway, which was hard because I have no funnel, except the one I use for canning which is too big. This gave me the idea to use a measuring cup (since they have that nice little pouring spout) and strain again through cheesecloth rubber banded over the top of the carboy (to catch the rest of the dandelion). I didn’t count on the cheesecloth continuously getting so full of wine that I had to squeeze it out or risk the wine going all over the sink instead of into the carboy.

Finally, an hour later, I had this:

I have no idea if I did this right. The airlock definitely didn’t come with instructions, but I understood the basic concept to be: insert into neck of bottle. Fill with water. It seems to be doing its job which is to keep out the evil fruit flies, which have since infested the kitchen, going after the remains of the dandelions in the compost. It is an ingenious little device. With only tiny holes in the lid, it is terribly difficult for little flies to get in. And if they do, they are immediately drowned by the water. However, bubbles can come up through the water and escape through the holes. Which they are doing steadily. This gives me hope that I have done this correctly.

The funny part is that it just looks like orange juice. Very bubbly orange juice. Smells kind of like it too. Here’s to hoping that’s not what it tastes like. At least it’s yellow, which seems like an appropriate color. The dandelions, because of their extended time in the freezer, were actually brown when they went in so I was afraid it would turn out all brown and gross looking. This looks like it at least has potential.

Bubble, wine, bubble! Go, go, go! With the best of luck, the next report will be in three months, when I get to try out the siphon concept to put it into a clean carboy.

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