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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Baking Cookies

I'll admit to being on a bit of a baking binge of late. I am not sure why. And mostly it has been OK, since I have a wonderful cookbook for baking small batches of things (I'll blog about that another day).

But this afternoon I am baking a whole batch of peanut butter cookies. And I'll admit to one more thing -- I love peanut butter. Not the natural, nothing but ground peanut kind, but the kind that is super smooth, has added sugar and vegetable oil. I know it isn't all that good for me. And I know there are other better choices for my health and probably for the earth, too. But it is an indulgence. So while the cookies are baking, I thought I would do a little research on my peanut butter of choice.

Here's what I found: all peanut butter has to contain at least 90% peanuts to be called peanut butter according to federal law. That's better than I expected. But mine does have some added oil, and more sugar and sodium than some other brands. But honestly, these are the ingredients that make "regular" peanut butter taste so good! It has no trans fats, is high in niacin and vitamin E.

What about the other ingredients in the cookies? Pretty standard peanut butter cookie recipe I think (it is the one my mom used -- one of the few recipes she used from The Joy of Cooking). Butter, sugar, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, flour and baking soda. Most of my other ingredients came from the co-op and therefore are likely either local, organic, or both.

And I go through phases with peanut butter, some times eating a lot of it over the course of a week or so, and other times, not even remembering it is an option for months at a time.

But there is one thing for certain -- eating peanut butter always makes me feel like a kid again, and sometimes I need that.

My cookie jar is filling up, but my peanut butter jar is running low. I am going to try a peanut butter that might be a little healthier for me and the earth next purchase. I will have to report back. They say that peanuts make up an enormous amount of the land that is planted in this country, so if more people chose organic peanuts it could make a big difference in the amount of chemicals used in American farming.

I'll report back on my next peanut butter purchase to see if I can make a recommendation for an organic brand. It must, in my book, make a good sandwich and bake into cookies well if it is going to be a contender.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Over leftovers, planting in the garden and the farmers market

Finally, I am finished with the leftovers. Hallelujah! I admit to some strange meals while working through them. But, such is cooking ethically with the leftovers still in the fridge.

So last night I cooked for myself again, not merely making some rice or pasta to fill out the leftovers. I made white pizza with local new spring onions cooked slow in olive oil with salt and pepper. At the very end I put in some arugula from the window sill and some pine nuts to toast. That was put on pizza dough made with local flour in my bread machine and then some shaved Parmesan cheese. Yummy.

But tonight I am at a loss for what to cook. I have some time to mull it over and I am planning on using some of the bounty from stopping at the farmers market this morning, but I am still unsure. I might just stir fry up some of the snap peas and asparagus I got and serve it over pasta.

I have been thinking more about the plants I got at the farmers market today that I put in the ground at the little garden I am working this summer. First priority was a cucumber plant to replace the one that died in the super cold temperatures a week ago. That was actually a taller order than I expected. A few of the farmers who were selling plants either had no cukes or were also lamenting that the colder weather had done them damage. But I eventually found a couple of the "muncher" variety -- thin skins, good for salads. I also picked up a black beauty eggplant, a brandywine tomato, a golden nugget cherry tomato and a roma tomato, plus a pattipan squash--got to love those little UFO shaped summer squash!

I spent about an hour at the garden today under overcast skies and cooler breezes putting in those plants, some onion, carrot and beet seed as well. I gave the garden a good soaking, checked to see a few beans and peas coming up and hoping the lettuce sprouts soon.

This is the part that makes eating ethically fun. It is work to grow things, sure. But the work is so very rewarding--I know that in a while there will be food to pick (there are strawberries that will be ripe, soon!) and I know that food is ethical.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and other tales of the impending summer

Ah, summer time. Both the best, and it seems, the worst for eating ethically. On the one hand, there is a great bounty of local, sustainable food on the way with farmers markets and growing one's own. On the other hand, there are the many summer activities that crop up (no pun intended) in the American summer that put many perils in the way for ethical eating. Summer events usually mean food. And summer events like barbecues and other get-togethers mean choosing wisely what one eats and thinking about all the values we hold that contribute to decisions about eating ethically.

Last week I attended a college baseball game and was pleasantly surprised that there were some OK choices. I had a veggie burger and some potato chips (at least these were local if not so healthy).

And yesterday I went to a barbecue and a colleague and friend's house. This is sometimes a tricky proposition--the summer barbecue or picnic. Often these are potlucks and you can bring something to eat that is ethical, but one often has a little of this or that of unknown origin. I had an enjoyable meal with some friends and friends of theirs. But the food I ate was primarily an unknown quantity to me. Still, I do think there was an ethical value at play -- one I have mentioned before -- community. Breaking bread with others and asking for a blessing as we do is a valuable thing for all of us. Most of us have more choices than many when it comes to eating, so remembering that so many go without or have very little choice is an important realization.

Yesterday at the barbecue we did talk some about a local community garden that is run by an organization that helps women and children on the margins in our community. I had the privilege of meeting one of the people running this garden a few weeks ago. A community garden with a CSA reserved for those of limited means is a brilliant idea for a healthy community and healthy people in it. The more I learn about that community garden the more I think that it could be used as a good model for other areas. A visit seems required. But more on that at a later date.

Summer is a time when many of us entertain and are entertained in ways that are different than the rest of the year and bring with it some ethical eating challenges. I am sure to have more soon. For example, the weekend art festival in my neighborhood always features some food vendors and soon I will be visiting my parents who eat very differently than I do and attending a wedding of a college friend. All challenges that await.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Digging in the Dirt--A Modified Community Garden

I spent some time today digging in the dirt. Some people who know me well find this fascination I have with food and ethical eating to be antithetical to my normal persona when it comes to this one aspect--gardening and digging in the dirt. But I grew up in a family that always had at least a little vegetable garden and some of my earliest summer memories are of chewing on pea pods just picked from the garden and of being handed an aluminum mixing bowl and being told not to come in until it was full of cherry tomatoes. There was the "accidentally" planted watermelon vine in the front lawn and the year we kids somehow convinced Dad to let us plant cantaloupe in New England (we were rewarded with one softball sized, hard as a rock, inedible cantaloupe). And the year Dad accidentally (really accidentally) planted brussel sprouts, not broccoli and my sister called them "stinky little lettuce balls. I don't think she eats them to this day, although I love them now more than I did that summer.

A friend and colleague is moving to Italy for work (yes, poor soul, I know) land of good, local food that he will much enjoy and home of the Slow Food movement. He cares about food and agriculture more than most. So, he started a decent sized vegetable garden in his community (he's a priest) and needed a few brave folks to take over for him this season. He asked me--apartment dweller--if I was up for some digging, planting, weeding, watering and most importantly, harvesting. Being in an apartment without any outside space makes gardening difficult, although I manage to grow quite a bit in the window sills. Still the chance to really garden was appealing. He thought to himself out loud he was surprised he hadn't thought of apartment dwellers earlier when thinking of people to ask.

So, today I spent a few hours digging in the dirt. And I loved it. We thinned some raspberries out and gave the plants to another friend of his. Planted some seed potatoes from another colleague, put in bush beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce and radishes. There is one rogue carrot from last season, a few onions and some chive still sprouting around. The plot will need more carrots and onions, some more herbs, maybe some mustard greens or arugula and I will put in some eggplant.

It is a decent sized plot and some others will be helping with its tending. Which is good, since there will be some days where I won't be able to look in on it. But this is really a good thing for me and eating ethically. It will be good to show my students on those long warm summer afternoons that even in the middle of a college campus in the middle of an urban neighborhood in the middle of the city people can grow food.

And even though some of my friends don't believe I like getting dirty, I like the physical work of it. The sun and warm breezes, the smell of the earth, the little bit of color on my face from the sun, and the promise that a small green plant has for the future.
I met some nice people and look forward to working with a few of them and the others I will soon meet on this little garden plot. The plants growing there in their slightly neat rows and areas are like a community themselves, hemmed in by a wall here, a lawn there, a flower garden on the other sides. We people who will work this garden will hopefully be a sort of community, too. I hope to share with them my love of ethical eating, and hope to share some eating of what is produced with them. Ah, what the summer holds. I smile to myself.
(The garden is a bit to the west of the red sculpture in the picture. More pictures to come!)

Loving Leftovers Part II: The Potluck

My fridge is full. I have been to the farmers market, had a dinner party, eaten out and helped host a going away party for a friend and colleague that was a potluck. There are many leftovers from the potluck now in my fridge. Thankfully, many of the party-goers are like-minded about ethical eating and I could "cherry-pick" what leftovers I wanted to take. I only ended up with a single container of something I am unsure about. There were a few items that were not things I would eat ethically or otherwise and I did say no to. I don't want to waste food. At some point , though, when dividing up the leftovers after this kind of party, you just have to say "sure, I'll take it."

I've had some interesting meals made of leftovers since the potluck as I combine leftovers and other items. Last night for dinner I had some left over "grown-up" mac and cheese with a salad. Today I had a salad for lunch that had some orzo salad leftover from the potluck as well as some cheese and steak from a salad I had out the other night with a friend. Who knows what tonight's dinner will be?

There is more orzo salad, wild rice salad and some baked ziti I made for the potluck still left. Some of the ziti I brought home from the party I smartly froze when I got back knowing what was already in the fridge and knowing of the things left, that would freeze the best.

Loving leftovers is really important after a potluck. There are always leftovers. And usually it is not that the food wasn't good. People just always bring too much. Admittedly, I almost made even more of the baked ziti than I did. And talking with the person who hosted the party at her home, she was worried that there might not be enough food. I always have the same worry. We wondered aloud if it was our New England upbringing and the memories of our parents (our mothers in particular) and the parties they hosted that gave us this inheritance. But it might not be. It seems a worry of most party planners -- will things go well? Will people have a good time? Will there be enough food?

But there almost always is enough food. When was the last time you were at a party and there wasn't? What a luxury since most people come to a party for the company first and the food and drink only second or third.

I have made a pledge to myself. I will not go the store to buy anything but toilet paper or milk until I have made my way through the leftovers in the fridge. We'll see how long I can keep that resolve! Wasting food is a bad idea. It is itself unethical, because usually it is waste that can be avoided. So I am going to avoid as much waste as possible.

Friday, May 21, 2010


I'm baking up a batch of my somewhat famous fair trade cocoa brownies for a potluck tomorrow. I'll admit to loving chocolate. Not too many people don't love it. But chocolate provides a real ethical problem for people in the know.

When most Americans think about their chocolate preferences they will tell you what kind of candy bar they like best. (An interesting side note--think about candy bars for a moment. Most of them are just chocolate covered, yet you pay the same for a chocolate bar as a chocolate covered something bar, and chocolate is the expensive ingredient. The biggest coup in the candy industry was convincing us we wanted something other than just a chocolate bar!) But for me, it is a different question. For me, the kind of chocolate I like best is fair trade chocolate.

Similar in concept to fair trade coffee with which many more people are familiar, fair trade (or sometimes for chocolate "ethically traded") chocolate is cocoa, that among other things, is not produced by using slaves. Yes, you read that correctly, slaves. A lot of cocoa, especially that produced in places like the Ivory Coast, is harvested by children who are slaves, most of whom will never eat a candy bar themselves. The average price of a child working on a cocoa plantation is about 50 US dollars.

It is a heart breaking reality than in some places of the world parents are so desperate that selling a child into slavery seems like a good option. And as the old story goes when it comes to choosing something other than slave traded chocolate (and this is just a version of the argument that concerns all sweatshop labor), don't I hurt those who need that work by choosing the other? Well, on that score, I think that we have to do what we can to make the choice of slave labor, sweatshop labor, and any other labor that does not pay a living wage, unattractive to those who would take advantage of the desperate and provide better opportunities to those who are the desperate. This is what "fair trade" is supposed to help do--provide a living wage for those who work in industries and agriculture that is especially unstable given the peaks and valleys of the market.

Chocolate other than slave trade chocolate is very tempting in many situations--restaurants, parties, and the "big chocolate" holidays--St. Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween. I try really hard to say "no." And most often do. But sometimes a polite "no" meets a more insistent "have some, really." And usually in those situations, a lecture on the slave trade is a bit rude. But I still try to say "no."

So, when I bring a chocolate something to a party, make hot cocoa, or eat a chocolate bar or whatever, I try to make sure that it is made with fair trade chocolate. It means I read a lot of labels when buying a candy bar and have some "go to" brands for things. And it also means I had to change my brownie recipe. I had a good one. A really good one. But it called for baking chocolate. And I still haven't found a reliable source for fair trade baking chocolate. But I have for fair trade cocoa powder. I scoured the Internet for cocoa powder brownie recipes and mostly found some real duds (dry, bitter, cloyingly sweet). And finally I found one. I read the recipe and thought "this can't be right" but tried it anyway. It was good, but not quite right. I had to adjust the temperature and cooking time, but now I have a killer brownie recipe that is dark and rich (a very small brownie will do you!) and tastes like a soft, slightly sweeter cakeier version of the outside of an oreo cookie.

I made these brownies for a gathering of students coming to discuss the social justice magazine I am the advisor for and pushed the remaining brownies on the students. The day after the gathering I ran into the roommate of one of these students who was a beneficiary of the leftovers. She said that while they were eating them that were sitting around and asked "is there anything Prof Mac can't do?" That's high praise indeed.

So, in case you were wondering if I would ever get to the recipe, here goes:

Fair Trade Cocoa Powder Brownies

4 large eggs

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup flour

8 ounces melted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter and flour a 13 x 9 inch glass baking pan. Beat eggs, add sugar and beat. Pour in melted butter and vanilla. Stir to combine. Add dry ingredients and stir until blended. Pour batter into pan and bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. Remove to rack to cook. Cut into small bars and serve. Yum!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Learning to Love Leftovers

Leftovers. Sometimes it's a dirty word. I remember as a child the nights we would make dinner by, as my parents put it, "cleaning out" the refrigerator. It was not usually my favorite night. Sometimes there would be something that was good and we impatiently made claims, my brother, sister and I, on what it was that we wanted. Sometimes we made almost no claims on the leftovers--none seemed appealing. Usually dinner was a little of this and a little of that and not always a balanced meal with all the four food groups represented.

But the longer I study food and its ethical implications, the more I think that we in the developed world had better learn to love leftovers. This is for a couple of reasons. First is that for many people all over the world having enough food is a luxury, so having too much is something unfathomable. Yet many days in my own kitchen, even if I am just cooking for myself, there are leftovers. Now, I try to make good use of them so I often make more than I eat at one sitting so as to have a hot lunch the next day (I embrace soup for example for this very reason).
Second, though, is that many people, myself included, carry a few extra pounds on our frames. Remembering exhortations to join the "clean plate club" I often ate more than I should have when I was young, and often still do. Sometimes it is because something is just so good, but other times is out of a bad habit to finish what is on my plate. But if I were to learn to love leftovers even more than I do now and in a different way than I do now, maybe that could change a little bit.

So for these two, disparate reasons, learning to love leftovers is important. It is good for me physically as I could stand to lose a few pounds and good for me intellectually and spiritually as I recall that many go without. Now, I don't mean for this last point to sound like the "clean your plate there are children starving in China" (or some other country) thing that many of us heard and has been memorialized in television shows and movies. We all know that if I eat all that is on my plate it doesn't do a thing to feed a starving or malnourished person. But the idea here is a little different. It is an acknowledgement that when we have enough to have leftovers we should be recognizing that we are living in a time and place of plenty which is not the case for so many others around the world, around the country and probably around the block. And it moves from this recognition to hopefully action that works to prevent hunger and malnutrition.

So today it has been primarily dining on leftovers. Breakfast was coffee (fair trade and locally roasted, of course), juice (from a northwest farmers collective) and toast from left over bread from the dinner party. Lunch was made from the leftovers from the appetizers from Monday's party too. Homemade hummus, cucumbers, feta cheese and some more baguette. Dinner was made up of leftovers, too. Some roasted acorn squash bought in October at Green Bluff and held over the winter (just a few squash left--thank God they won't be seasonal again for a while!), leftover wild rice salad and chicken marbella. I put some arugula with the rice salad -- got it eat it while it is still green on the plant now that it has bolted!
And a side note--last night I was out with a friend for a drink who told me after I ordered my drink (and somewhat obnoxiously I admit, changed her drink order) that she had been wondering after seeing my blog how I would go out for a drink ethically (that is, "ethically" in the sense of eating ethically). She said that when she heard my drink order she answered her own question--drink locally. And boy, oh boy, does that Dry Fly Gin mean drinking locally and drinking well. Hope she liked it!

Post Party Wrap Up and a Few Odds and Ends

There's a lot to say today about my adventures in ethical eating. First, the dinner party. It was a smashing success. Everyone had a wonderful time and enjoyed the meal, the wine, the company. We even spent a few moments talking about ethics and food. I was asked if the food we were to eat was ethical, and I think by and large it was. But there is one ethical value associated with food that I think is often overlooked--community.

We generally enjoy food more when it is shared with others. Family gatherings, dinner parties, meeting for coffee or a drink, dinner dates, etc., are all reminders of this fact. Last night's dinner, shared with good friends, who all shared in the bringing of the food to the table in one way or another, make the meal a more ethical one just by being there and sharing. Sometimes this ethical value competes with others, sure. But I do enjoy the laughing and the talking that comes along with the eating when eating together.

A note of thanks, therefore, goes to my guests who brought with them great wines, good salad, decadent desert, and a reminder of our time together in Italy. But most of all for the sharing and celebrating we did last night together. You all have my gratitude!

Today, lunch with friends at the Main Market Co-op in downtown Spokane. Always a treat! Good company there, too. And some unexpected company, too as another friend joined those I was planning to meet there. Gotta love the co-op--always fun to meet on purpose and accidentally there!

If you haven't been to the co-op -- go! You don't have to be a member to shop or eat there, but shopping and eating there might entice you to join. For lunch I had the faro salad (absolutely a fabulous mix of this old grain, celery, dried cranberries, asparagus and onion) and a spinach, strawberry, pear and fennel salad with a really nice, very light, lime yogurt dressing.

And last but not least, as the photo above indicates, my early arugula (planted the first week of April) has bolted. I guess that means some arugula in things for a few days, and better plant some more greens over the next day or so. Not sure if it will be arugula or mizuna, depends on which seeds I find first.

Thanks for reading and remember eating ethically can be easy--a few conscious choices like shopping at the co-op or growing your own food shared with friends makes for a meal that feeds the body, nurtures the soul and does well by the earth. Happy eating!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ethical Dinner Party

Tonight I am having a few friends over for dinner. I know that Monday is an odd day for a dinner party, but with summer schedules for academics, this was the night that worked. The table is set and soon the guests will arrive and I am looking forward to a comfortable evening with good friends, easy conversation, some celebration, and some good food.

Friends are bringing the salad, the wine and desert. I am taking care of the appetizer and the meal (and a bottle of prosecco to celebrate a law school graduation!). Since the weather is supposed to be warm today, I opted for a dinner that will be best served at room temperature. Roasted asparagus (pictured in Saturday's post), wild rice salad (mostly ethical ingredients, including mint and chives from the farmers market and organic raisins, but I wonder about the sourcing of the pecans), and chicken marbella (adapted from the Silver Palate cookbooks). The chicken is the one thing that I have to get better at sourcing. I don't eat a lot of meat, but want to feel better about the meat I do eat. This chicken is from a bioregional grower that does not use hormones and uses only vegetarian feed for the chickens, but they are kept a little closer together than I would like.

For our appetizer, I've made some hummus, have cukes from the farmers market, kalamata olives, almonds and bought some organic baguette and feta at the Co-op this morning.

I think it will go well. These are foodies for the most part coming over and they know I care about the ethics of food, but I wonder if they will notice anything about the menu. Will something stand out as odd because it was chosen to be ethical? It doesn't seem so to me, but I am used to eating this way.

We shall see! More to come, post-party!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spokane's Downtown Farmers Market

Today was my first trip of the season to the Spokane Farmers Market (now at Browne and Fifth). I always miss the first two weeks due to end of the semester stuff. But the first weeks are always a little thin anyway.
I enjoyed being back at the Market with its new location. Catching up with people I talk to every week in the summer (yes, those people are the farmers) and meeting some new ones, too. Had a great chat with a new face at the Farmers Market and will be back to talk with him again.
Even though the produce was a little thin at the market this week I did get the asparagus and spring onions featured here. And I also got chives, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes and some potted herbs.
Still not entirely sure how these will work their way into the dinner party I am having on Monday night. I know the mint from the potted herbs and the chives will be in the wild rice salad (more on that later) that has been requested. I had hoped for some fresh raspberries for raspberry chicken, but it has been a cool spring and I guess it is a little too early for that.
One way to eat more ethically, I think, is to eat locally and the farmers market surely lets one do that. Hard to get more local than food grown close enough for the farmer to drive to get it to you. And eating locally helps one eat seasonally, too. Another ethical value. None of these things are hard and fast -- there are usually some exceptions.
That brings me to the wild rice salad. It uses both wild rice (I brought this back from my last trip to Minnesota, where it is in fact a local crop) and white rice, which is not local. I don't buy local white rice. It is a crop that gets to us from the developing world mostly by ships using little fossil fuel and creates a market for the economic development of those in poverty elsewhere. These are some of the competing values that make most "rules" about ethical eating merely guidelines. (And yes, Doug, if you are reading this, I realize that I am talking about the difference between rules and guidelines.)
A lot of what I will be talking about this summer is local and sustainable food and a lot of it will come from the farmers market. I admit, I do slip up sometimes and eat junk. But, with so many food choices to make, the more I can make ethically the better. I can't choose perfectly, but there will be another choice to choose something better, the next meal or snack, which is only a few hours away.

First Post

It has been a while now that I have been interested in ethical eating. I have taught about it, written about it, lectured about it. Seems only right to start blogging about it. Everyone else is blogging, why not me?

So here it is. An attempt to write about food and the values that it helps us express. Food is more than about nutrition and biology. It's about how we nourish our bodies and our souls. It's about how we connect with others and the earth.
Summer's the time when it is sometimes the easiest to eat ethically -- the bounty of the earth is all around us. And it is also sometimes the hardest -- graduation parties and cook-outs with others who might not share our ideas about food. Ethics is always about competing values, and here it comes to the fore again.
But since it is the time when people are growing their own, going to the farmer's market and enjoying seasonal foods, it is the time for me to start sharing about what I think about the ethics of food since so many people keep asking me how I got interested and how I think about it. Let the gustatory journey begin!

About How I Got Into the Ethics of Eating

I got interested in the ethics of food from an unlikely route. I am not a vegetarian, am only an accidental environmentalist (mostly because I am interested in the ethics of food), and I am not a farmer. I am a good cook and I do like to cook. But I got interested in the ethics of food because I am an applied ethicist. That's right, a full-fledged PHD holding ethicist. I teach philosophy, mostly applied ethics--and that's how I got interested in the ethics of food. I like to have concrete ways to live my values and to let my students know they can live theirs, too. Making choices about food is something we all do and we can do more or less ethically.