Posts Tagged ‘environment

14
Jan
11

Where does breakfast come from?

A great summary of major environmental issues, from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, 1949:

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

I found A Sand County Almanac through Patricia Klindienst’s The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans, which has a lot more in it about land use, land distribution, and farm displacement, and migration than I ever imagined when I first checked it out of the library. Things I’m thinking, and writing, about, lately. The connection to A Sand County Almanac was the epigraph Klindienst chose for her book: “To change ideas about what the land is for is to change ideas about what anything is for.”

As you can imagine, these two books, and the seed catalogs recently delivered in the mail, have got me hankering for a little plot to cultivate. Unfortunately, all of the community gardens around here have waiting lists at least two years long–more often five or ten. Salvation may come in the form of John, Sarah, and Brigitte, who are moving to the Mission from Boston tomorrow, into a wonderful house complete with a back courtyard perfect for a container garden. I am going to propose to be their serf.

26
Oct
10

efficiency in farming

California seems to be affecting me–I flaked out on the book club meeting on Sunday. The cookie party started late, it was raining fiercely, and the party was still in full swing when I should have been leaving…

One thing that stuck with me from Righteous Porkchop is the connection that Hahn Niman never quite makes between two arguments in her chapter “Answering Obstacles to Reform.” The first is that factory farms have only one area of greater efficiency over traditional farms in producing animal products: labor. It takes fewer people to raise more animals in a CAFO than it takes to raise fewer animals on a traditional farm. Every other advantage that factory farms have is about power: the power to dictate the terms of their contracts with smaller farmers, the power to make the pollution from their vast concentrations of manure a public problem, rather than one that they have to pay to deal with, the power to have impunity in contaminating our food supply with antibiotic-resistant microbes that they have helped create. And, given their efficiency in labor, their claims to create lots of jobs are pure bunk.

The second argument is that hunger is a distribution problem, not a supply problem. Producing more food over the world’s current surplus will not feed one single person more who doesn’t already have the money to buy that surplus food. And many of the people who don’t have the money are people who have been pushed off their land by the market and political power of industrialized agricultural producers. These people, who used to grow food for themselves and make a living by selling their surplus to others, end up migrating to cities to become the urban poor, the favela-dwellers, the colonia-dwellers.

The connection that Hahn Niman doesn’t make is that from there, especially if they’re in Central America or Mexico, they migrate to the United States, many of them to work our fields with disease-causing chemicals or in our slaughterhouses, where the risk of injury is astronomical. Our dominant method of producing food has devalued the work so much, both there and here, that this seems to make sense. We’ve devalued the work of producing food so much that it sounds plausible to say that no one (who matters) wants to be a farmer anymore, even though there are plenty of people who do–as long as the job involves the traditional benefits of caring for plants and animals and spending time outdoors, rather than monitoring spreadsheets in metal warehouses full of miserable meat-producing machines. And most of the people would like to do traditional farm work would prefer not to have to migrate to do it, but our food production system is one of the things that compels their migration.

That connection, as much as anything that Hahn Niman said directly in her book, has me thinking hard about my food choices again.

04
Jul
10

comparative breakfast

In Helsinki, the Klaus K laid out a very satisfying breakfast for its guests. I gorged on salmon, trout salad, cheese, ham, brown bread with salty butter, mixed fruit, and coffee. Besides that, pullas and other sweet breads, fresh fruit juices, soft-boiled eggs, roast beef, muesli, yogurt, oatmeal, and tea were available. I ate what seemed like a lot, especially compared to the daily bagel that J-P and I have at home, but it wasn’t just gluttony; it was an experiment. The results? With a brick of protein sitting in my stomach, the need for second breakfast doesn’t overwhelm me at 10, and lunch by 11:30 isn’t a necessity. In fact, I didn’t have much appetite for lunch, at least not compared to normal. I was prepared to skip it the first day, although Patty caught me up in her search for a midday meal around 2:30. The second day, despite a late-morning run, I was content at nearly 1 with small helpings of stewed reindeer (psst: it tastes like venison), mashed potatoes, green salad, and stuffed cabbage leaf.

On the day we returned to England, I breakfasted on a so-called protein shake, a banana, and a pastry. The sugar crash returned with a vengeance. I found myself sweating and shaking in a byway between Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and its bus terminal, letting J-P choose a vending machine snack for me while I chugged desperately at a Coca-Cola. It was more or less empty calories all the way to dinner on the Isle of Wight, and I felt more gluttonous than I ever did in Helsinki. So I imagine the two approaches at least balance out, calorie-wise, and certainly the big-breakfast approach feels better all around.

The Isle of Wight also did well by breakfast. There was a buffet (meager by comparison) of cereals, yogurt, fruit, pastries, and juices, and guests could also order a hot meal with toast and caffeine. I particularly enjoyed the English breakfast plate with beans, a sausage, two slices of bacon, an egg, a grilled tomato half, and a grilled portobello.

Of course, eating half my weight in salmon or pork every morning is by no means sustainable, no matter how much I might enjoy it. But the smoked trout that Klaus K offered is better, at least for now, and so are sardines.

Further experimentation so far supports my hypothesis that my stomach can handle soft-cooked farm-fresh eggs with little complaint. Beans are also an option, whether English/Boston-style or Guatemalan/Mexican-style. And an inadvertent experiment at Ginny’s hands seems to show that whole-wheat pancakes, accompanied by maple syrup and a little yogurt, are worlds less disruptive to my metabolism than white-flour ones. (She fluffs them up by beating the egg whites frothy, and they’re great.) Mark Bittman also has suggestions for hearty but meat-light breakfasts, and I might have to try my hand at kedgeree, a fish-and-rice breakfast popular in Victorian England.

Speaking of Victorian England, my vacation reading (The Smell of the Continent: The British Discover Europe) informed me that differences in expected meal times and content were a point of contention between traveling Brits and their Continental hosts as modern tourism developed during the long nineteenth century. Tour organizers, travel agents, and eventually large hotels were sure to advertise “meat breakfasts,” but even late in the century, satisfying the British desire for a large early meal could be still difficult once off the beaten path. In southeastern France, one traveler complained, “A bowl of black coffee and a piece of bread is the only breakfast that one can expect in a rural auberge. To ask for butter would be looked upon as a sign of eccentric gluttony, but to demand bacon and eggs at seven in the morning would be to openly confess oneself capable of any crime.”

15
Jun
10

link round-up

I just spent six days on at the bike shop, which is why new posts have been spotty. Rest assured we’ve been eating well Chez Cervantes-Ferguson: my lunch leftovers today included lamb steak, zucchini casserole, and homemade basil pesto.

Summer is in full effect at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market, and San Francisco even had two genuinely warm days last weekend. So I’m primed for:

Light, summery recipes
Mexconnect’s Sopa Fría de Sandía y Jitomate re-works one of our favorite Mark Bittman salads as a soup. In a related article (with more recipes), Karen Hursch Graber shares Alice B. Toklas’ remark, apropos of gazpachos, that “recipes, through conquests and occupations, have traveled far.” And the Jul/Aug issue of Cook’s Illustrated has a recipe for pureed tomato gazpacho, along with a description of pre-tomato versions: “yesterday’s bread, almonds, garlic, olive oil, and water … mashed … together into a humble potage.”

Meanwhile, Joumana at Taste of Beirut offers an appealing spiced cheese salad, and Mark Bittman a quick pasta preparation with shallots, peas, lettuce, and proscuitto. Bittman has also been experimenting with using tomatoes to deglaze his pans.

Old News
Besides continuing to love Mark Bittman and Taste of Beirut, I am also charmed all over again by Robb Walsh, and his latest analogy: authentic Mexican restaurants are to Tex-Mex as Ballet Folklorico is to Freddy Fender. Or, if Freddy is too old-fashioned for you (say it ain’t so–he was my favorite rodeo performer when I was a kid!), Walsh recommends Chingo Bling.

Environmental News
But summer isn’t all good food and fun commentary. The BP oil slick has forced the 134-year-old, family-owned P&J oyster shuckery to close, lending credence (as though it were needed) to this Facing South article on Louisianans’ fears of cultural loss to environmental damage.

In better news, the EPA has moved to ban the insecticide endosulfan, which is known to cause neurological and reproductive damage in humans (especially farmworkers) and animals. Counties in California’s Central Valley are also mandating pesticide buffer zones around schools.

Miscellany
In a recent podcast, James Howard Kunstler discusses urban food production past, present, and future, and the need to preserve rural lands regardless of what we can produce in our cities.

Jan Chipchase reports on the cultural significances of breath mints.

This one is more for me than anything, since J-P and I will be leaving for London (then Helsinki, then the Isle of Wight) a week from tomorrow: James Ramsden’s highlights from this week’s Taste of London. I love the preponderence of Malaysian restaurants on his list: is it Britain’s new Indian?

03
Jun
10

reuse: a history lesson

On Tuesday morning, I finished typing up notes on Michael Krondl’s The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice before I returned it to the SFPL (only two days late!). My favorite:


Still Life with Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz, 1627

Detail:

That’s ground black pepper, sold in a paper cone made from an outdated almanac page.

I want to be able to buy my spices this way. I wonder what the cashiers at Rainbow would think, and if they’d give me the bag-reuse discount…

25
May
10

link round-up

More Questions of Authenticity and Fusion
Members of the Daring Kitchen take on Robb Walsh’s recipe for stacked green chile enchiladas. Australian suggestions for simulating tomatillos include gooseberries with sugar and green tomatoes mixed with tamarind paste, lime juice, and prune juice. Robb Walsh’s report on the results of the challenge links to recipes from London, the Netherlands, and Canada.

Taste of Beirut reminisces about a childhood favorite, chocolate salami: a French confection made from American and Middle Eastern ingredients and exported back to the Middle East. In which of those locations is it most authentic?

The National Museum of American History’s cafe celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) by adding Asian flavors to the menu at each of its stations. You’ll find pizza with Asian plum sauce and black rice used in a recipe that actually called for purple rice, but the title of their blog post about it proudly proclaims the exclusion of one of the oldest Asian-American fusion dishes (one with a history similar to chili gravy’s): No Chop Suey Here.

Locavores Tackle Meaty Questions
Culling the pest population in a deer-hunting class (actually, a deer skinning and processing class) in Charlottesville. Thanks to Jon of Audrey and Jon for the tip.

Mission hipsters consume another kind of pest at a cricket- and mealworm-tasting.

More Things Hipsters Do
Sell coffee from a bicycle-mounted stall.

Sell seed packets (seed bombs) from old gumball vending machines.

Follow-up: More on Arizona, Tavern on the Green, BP
Arizona’s racial profiling law raises worries about this fall’s lettuce harvest in Yuma.

New York City has revoked Dean Poll’s contract to re-open Tavern on the Green after he failed to reach an agreement with the restaurant’s workers’ union. The city is looking for a new new operator.

It’s about time: the BP oil slick has made Cake Wrecks.

13
May
10

link round-up

A Glimmer of Green in Houston
Restaurateurs, urban farmers, and investors are working together to plant gardens to serve local vegetables to Houston diners.

Gulf Fishing News
The South I know and–um, love?–has finally appeared in coverage of the BP oil slick. Only part of Louisiana’s shoreline and Gulf waters are directly affected by the oil, and fishermen west of the line blame media coverage for driving the tourist trade away from their charter boats. Yep, the gol-darned liberal media absolutely caused the BP oil slick.

Meanwhile, though Mexico is unlikely to see oil from BP’s slick wash ashore, the country is considering legal action against BP for damage to wildlife species that spend time there–and attract tourists.

Unrelated to the BP oil slick, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1529 are ready to strike against Delta Pride Catfish for proposing contract changes that would greatly reduce benefits and job security, eliminate daily overtime pay, and increase the work week–erasing all the benefits the workers won in their three-week strike in 1990.

Restaurant Labor News
Central Park’s Tavern on the Green, which has been closed since January 1, is transferring to new management, who are having trouble agreeing to honor the terms of the employees’ previous contract.

Marc Forgione kicked a New York times blogger out of his restaurant last weekend for asking him not to yell at his staff so that his diners could hear.

Everybody Knows About Arizona, Goddam
What with his state’s new requirement that brown people carry their papers at all times, John McCain feels he has to get tough on immigration. That’s hardly news, but what I really appreciate about this post at the Latin Americanist is Vicente Duque‘s comment listing municipal governments, school districts, and sports teams that are boycotting Arizona by refusing to fund employee, student, or team travel to the state. San Francisco, Oakland, and Boston are among them.

Oh, and by the way–ethnic studies classes are now outlawed in Arizona. “It’s just like the Old South,” says Arizona schools chief Tom Horne. And he’s right–except he means that ethnic studies classes cause Chicanos to resent and oppress white people. No, Mister Horne, it’s not my education that makes me resent you–it’s stunts like this. Which, I’ll note, you have the power to pull. So where’s the oppression again?