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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking a Fall

tiny pumpkin
It's getting toward the middle of September and I am getting ready for a trip to the East Coast during my sabbatical which will last one month.  And I am getting nervous.  Not about the trip so much as what will I miss the this next month at the farmer's market?  I was hoping to get some butternut squash today, but I didn't see any organic ones.  I hope I won't be too late for them when I get back in October.  I must have a bunch of squash, butternut and others, for the winter.  People always think it is strange that I buy a winter's worth of squash in the fall, but they will be just fine stored in my cold kitchen.  I did get one small pumpkin this morning.  And had to remind myself about buying more than I could eat this week--which was difficult to do.  And I had to remember that my freezer is totally full.  Not really any room to squeeze anything else in (well, actually, I did squeeze in two quart bags of chopped celery). See the photo of my freezer below.

Actually, I know what I will miss the most, the people.  My two favorite young farmers are contemplating some big changes for next year and it makes me sad to think they might not be "my" farmers next year.  The vendors and people who shop regularly at the farmers' market become a little community.  We care about what happens to one another.  I overheard one farmer ask after the health of a woman's husband this morning, and a shopper inquire after the health of a farmer's husband.  We talk, we get to know one another, it is personal not industrial.  That's a big part of ethical eating for me--knowing where my food comes from and knowing that they have values like I have and that those values protect the earth, protect the community, and foster relationships.

full freezer, very full
But just in case you might think that my trip east means I won't have ethical eating things to talk about, let me assure you I will have some culinary adventures--I will be in NYC for a few days, talking on community food security and environmental justice at Fairfield University in CT, and continuing to work on my sabbatical project (of the same subject as my Fairfield talk).  I'll be helping my Dad, I am sure, take down the little veggie patch he has (yet I am hoping there will still be a few tomatoes when I get home).  And am planning a book review blog entry on the book I am reading now for my research.

drying tomatoes
I will offer one regret--I didn't get to can tomatoes this year.  I have lots of jam, and jars, but the tomato season was a little late and my trip will interfere.  Still, I was able to freeze a few pints of sauce and am continuing to dry lots and lots of them.  Having a few pints of sauce will be good for pizza and such over winter, and having dried tomatoes will be good for soup, stew, pasta, risotto and lots of other things.  Either way, the bright, sunny taste of summer is preserved.  Next fall, I will be better prepared and perhaps a little less timid about the canning.  I'll figure out some winter canning projects to keep my burgeoning canning skills.

Things are heating up, even as the weather starts to cool down.  Fall is my favorite time of year and while Fall in Spokane is much more like a New England fall than anywhere I have lived in the last ten, fifteen years, I am happy to get some time in New England this fall.  Until the east coast then--

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Take Rest

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop-- Ovid.

It’s Labor Day weekend, which many of us associate with the last days of summer.  A week or so ago I was asked to write something to be cross-posted on my blog and on my friend Deb’s business’s website—Roast House.  I have been thinking ever since on what I would write about (she told me I could write on anything I thought was important and bore repeating—I told her that was maybe a dangerous thing to say to a philosopher!).
But it is Labor Day weekend and as I walked around the Spokane Farmer’s Market this morning it struck me that for these farmers, Monday was probably not a day off, not a holiday.  I am a professor and have spent most of my life in academic institutions in one way or another, so Labor Day really feels like the end of summer, since it is the beginning of the academic year.  But we are still in the height of bounty of the agricultural season—the fruits and veggies of high summer are coming into their best and yet we start to see that which is good of fall—the winter squash and pumpkins, apples, potatoes and storing onions.  There is likely a lot of work to do on farms on Monday.
Labor Day in the US started over 100 years ago as a sort of day of thanks to those who work hard in the US, who by their labor were reaching out for the American Dream and achieving for the nation prosperity and strength.  (For an interesting history check out As those things are challenged by tough economic times, it serves as a good reminder that there are many who have labored hard in this country for generations and some who have just newly arrived and farming is an entry into the American Dream for them.  Agricultural labor has changed a lot in the US in the 100-plus years since the beginning of Labor Day, and agricultural labor has been almost wholly overlooked when we think about the holiday.  It seems to have more to do with organized and industrial labor. 
But I won’t overlook this agricultural labor.  Nor the labor in other countries that provide me with things I need and want. Worker’s rights are often a third or fourth thought for people who are concerned with local sustainable food, but for me it is high on the list.  I want to know, as much as I can, that the food I eat was grown in a way that was good for the earth and good for who grew it.  Buying fair trade or relationship coffee, as I do from Roast House, is one way of doing that.  Buying from farmers I have gotten to know, is another.  Asking questions and learning about what I eat, where it is from, and who is selling it are others.  Knowledge really is power, as trite as it might be to say it.
As I am asked, pretty frequently now, “what’s one thing you would recommend doing about food?” I find myself thinking about Alice Waters collection of essays from a special edition of The Nation (see a few years back called “One Thing To Do About Food” in which she had food writers, activists, and scholars write short pieces describing what they would do.  I think in particular about Wendell Berry’s piece in that collection, not so much for the content he offered (although it was great), but for saying that he’d have to say two things.  I am afraid I have even a third thing to say: know your values, know your food, put your values to work. 
A lot of our everyday values can have a food aspect.  That the labor that helped bring food to my table isn’t taking a break on Monday, whether here in America or abroad.  Agricultural labor is hard work, especially when done in a sustainable way with fewer industrial and mechanical inputs. In being part of the sustainable food movement in America and here in Spokane in particular I have gotten to know really great people who care for others and the earth, who think and work hard, who feel sad when there is an injury or death on a farm, who worry about the weather and what it will do to the crops and the livestock, who rejoice at the harvest and laugh with one another.  That’s what I am remembering this Labor Day Weekend. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

GU Magazine

The fall semester started yesterday, but I am on sabbatical.  Even so, I have already had one meeting on campus.  I guess that is what happens when one doesn't go far away for sabbatical.  I am heading out of town for a chunk pretty soon, though.

But, what I want to share today, is the article in the Fall issue of GU Magazine on my ethics of eating class.  I was really excited to be asked to be interviewed for it and it was fun doing it, having the photographer into class (yes, that is actually a picture of the pizza we made before it went into the oven).  It's good to be recognized for interesting work and good to share it with our whole university community.

This marks the second time in six years I have featured in the GU Magazine--I guess I must be doing something right!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Founding Farmers

It's a clever name, right?  You might have heard of this restaurant, Founding Farmers, in Washington, DC--their pot roast was featured on The Food Network.

I just got back from a quick visit to our nation's capitol.  I have a friend, Nadine, heading to Nigeria, her first foreign service posting, and I wanted to see her and her husband before they go.  It also gave me a chance to see my alma mater and all that has changed and stayed the same in The George Washington University's Foggy Bottom campus.

Nadine knows I like good food, and by that, she knows I mean ethical food.  She planned our meals lovingly around this fact.  We went to the Falls Church, VA farmers market--bustling with people and stalls, some even making food in stalls.  We gathers what we needed for the evening's dinner and brunch the next morning.  And for Sunday she made and early dinner reservation for us at Founding Farmers.

Now, when I say "early" I mean 4:30.  We were trying to accommodate her sister's travel schedule back to New York.  We went into the city, took in the Renwick Gallery across from the Old Executive Office Building.  It's a small part of the Smithsonian with American art, including craft work.  Some of the pieces are extraordinary and it is a shame most tourists miss them.

It's August, in DC, and we were somewhat prepared for inclement weather.  My flight coming in to National was "delayed" because of weather--we sat after landing for over an hour waiting for a gate at the closed airport to free up so we could get off.  But Sunday afternoon, while we were at the Renwick, the sky opened up.  Torrential downpour.  We got soaked just crossing the street!  And we got soaked again as we made our way the few blocks to the restaurant.  But by that time it was only 3:30!  I swear, some people were having a late brunch.

They were nice and happy to seat us immediately, even though we were an hour early for our reservation.  Laughing about how wet we all were, we were greeted with a pretty extensive menu and it took us a while to figure out what we were going to have.  But what a treat, eating at a restaurant that had really good food values.  That made it all the harder to decide--nothing was really off limits for me.

We settled on fried green tomatoes to start, served with goat cheese and a green goddess dressing.  At first I thought the breading was a bit much, but with the tangy goat cheese it was a nice pairing.  I had a "Farmers Fizz" cocktail--simple and light--gin, St. Germain and prosecco (that's a sugar cube on the bottom which makes for more bubbles rising to the top) and for dinner I had meatloaf served with a white mushroom gravy, mashed red potatoes and asparagus with lemon zest and tarragon.  Delish!  We did decide, as we all snagged one of Brian's french fried (which were good) to test the homemade ketchup that what I think was raspberry vinegar in the ketchup made it a bit too fruity--we don't want anything messing with ketchup unless we are warned in advance and expect it.

My only regret was that it all was so good I didn't save room for desert.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Club

I have been thinking about how to blog about this for almost a week, so I am just going to go with the flow.  About a month ago, a member of one of the advisory boards of the University asked me if I would pick a book and come lead a discussion with her and her book group.  I said yes.  It would be a hard thing to say no to.

I picked the book I usually assign to my class, Peter Singer and Jim Mason's The Ethics of What We Eat.  It's accessible to a non-philosophical audience, has a lot of interesting facts in it and covers a lot of ground.  While I am not a utilitarian and take care to highlight this and the parts that are very utilitarian to my class, it is a good, fast overview of a lot of the ethical issues that make up the landscape of the discussion.  Some are given shorter treatment than others, some perhaps more treatment than they deserve, in a classroom, I can mitigate those effects.

As the day of the book group approached, I got a little more anxious.  I likely was going to be speaking with a group of fairly well-to-do women.  I did not know their educational background or anything really about them.  In a class, I have time to get to know students and figure out what to focus on.  In a one shot deal, not so much.  And while I have done some unconventional speaking in relation to my academic work in the ethics of food, this might be the most unconventional.

All in all, it went ok.  I had some fun.  They surely did.  They all brought donations for the local food bank and the hostess made a donation to Catholic Relief Services' work in Kenya helping the Somali refugees to mark the occasion.  (This was in lieu of my "fee."  She wanted, graciously, to pay me for my time, but I was unsure what to ask for and felt a little weird about it anyway.  An honorarium for an academic talk is one thing, but to take a fee for a book club seemed weird to me.)

The discussion mostly focused on ethics and food as it related to personal health, which is often the first thing people want to talk about.  I tried to connect it to the health of the environment, animals and workers rights, but it was a bit of a tough sell with some of them.  I gently corrected some common myths about diet and health, about the environment, and about how government regulations do and don't work.

On reflection, though, it's not a bad idea--have an expert (yes, I guess I am the expert here) in to talk to a book group.  It's the M.O. of this group.  And if I ever get asked to do something like this again, I will be better prepared and have a better idea of what to do and how to work in that setting.  I guess everyone learned something, then!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Of Famine and Heartbreak

Watching the pictures on the news of what is going on in Somalia I am often brought to tears.  And watching this news, these starving children and refugees huddled together to tired and weak to cry reminded me that I have almost always been a food activist.

As an elementary school child I collected cans and bottles for the nickel deposit to raise money to send to Ethiopia.  I even got some of my friends involved and got my Dad to let me use a lot of the space in the garage to store the empties.  I was so moved by their plight that I had to do something.  I really felt called.

And there have been famines since then, they move me as well.  I teach about famine when my ethics classes cover poverty.  I remind them that it doesn't matter which famine the author is talking about, it doesn't make the article out of date, there will be other famines and the arguments still hold.  I hope they prompt some to act.

I often have to turn away when the news is on and there is famine.  Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist and development scholar was right when he said that pictures on the news of children actually starving to death is horrible and has kept there from being a real famine in some places.  He wrote this when talking about his native country, India, and how they have not had a real famine in the modern age, but that malnutrition still plagues the nation.  It plagues many others as well.  But the actually starving is more likely to move us to action.

And while malnutrition is a real problem to be solved be it due to a lack of food overall or a lack of access to nutritious food, starvation must be dealt with first.  Consider donating to a charitable organization working in East Africa right now.  Choose which one you think is reputable and will do the most good with your money, but try not to sit idly by.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Philly Cheese What?

What's the best part of a Philly Cheese Steak?  For some it is probably the steak, for others that drippy cheese, but for me, it is the grilled veggies.  Love those grilled green peppers, onions and I add mushrooms.

I have been eating rice salad leftovers from a dinner party since the dinner party.  And I just couldn't eat it again for lunch today.  So I grilled up some veggies on my new electric indoor grill, split a roll, and broiled some cheese over those veggies.  Yum.

The onion and green pepper were organic from the farmers market -- who cares if the green peppers were a little small?  Perfect for the grill!  And the mushrooms were organic (from the co-op) and the single leftover skewer from that dinner party (it didn't fit on the grill for the party, so I just threw it back in the fridge).

It's getting to be the hot summer we usually get in Spokane, the farmers are getting in what they can at this late part of the season, and I am not wanting to spend all day in my hot kitchen, so the indoor grill and taking advantage of whatever I get at the farmers market is great.  Having a few go-to recipes that aren't salads of any kind but are seasonally friendly (both in ingredients and in low use of the oven) are key.

So consider the Philly Cheese sandwich--no steak--vegetarian friendly and the tastiest, healthiest parts of this normally greasy classic American sandwich.  Another version of taking what we know and love and making it more ethical.  I never even miss the steak!  (I'll save my meat cravings for grass-fed, local meat when the meat is really the star!)