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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Food Revolution

I don't always catch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on television, but I did last night.  It was heartbreaking.  But also very telling.  The LAUSD doesn't want him in their kitchens with his cameras because they are fearful of being criticized on television and I don't blame them.  I am sure he'd be criticizing them.

But, as Oliver is pretty clear in his presentation, this isn't just about healthy food, this is about healthy people and healthy communities.  This is why healthy food really is an ethical issue.  It might be easy to think that healthy food is an ethical issue because of the environmental impact (hey, even my ethics of eating course is cross-listed with environmental studies).  But there is a real human impact as well.

Oliver himself started to break down when he spoke of 17 year old West Adams High School students, including boys, breaking down in tears, talking about their fears.  Their fears ad to do with family having health related illnesses like Type II diabetes and hypertension.  These kinds of health related illnesses are in epidemic proportion in the US right now and it has taken a Brit for some folks to see the light.

Oliver has forged a relationship with these kids and this school.  He has said he won't abandon them, moving his kitchen where he will teach classes to their neighborhood.  He's shown the administrators what is possible at a school not unlike theirs--healthy food, a teaching garden, and kids eating and enjoying the food prepared from scratch by happy food service workers finally getting to use their skills.

When people say they don't have time to cook, I understand, but I think to myself, I don't have time not to.  I am pretty sure that healthy meals prepared at home will pay me back with a healthier, longer life.  I try to pass this idea on to my college students in my class and I hope that they can take it to heart.  It also isn't more expensive if it also means one eats out less, buys junk food less, and doesn't just replace high fat, salt and caloric foods with other kinds of processed food.

I hope Jamie Oliver perseveres.  He is doing good for people.  It is good for us to see how much he cares about this, how it frustrates him not because he isn't making good tv (after all, even getting shut out of the LAUSD does make good tv), but because he cares about these people and what their diet means to them, to their families, to their community and to their future.  This is an ethical issue because it either contributes to or detracts from a flourishing life.

If you haven't see The Food Revolution, check it out.  Lots of the episodes can be found on the website, too.  I don't normally plug tv on this blog, but I do think this one is worthwhile.  And, if you are parents who need to inspire young kids try this PBS web-only show, Fizzy's Lunchlab, developed by a former student of my Dad's.  It's cute, has some good ideas, and even encourages kids to want to cook.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Busy Food Week

Fabulous Mural at Roast House.

Tuesday Part 1: Roast House Field Trip

It's been a busy week in ethical eating.  On Tuesday I took my class to Roast House for a tour and discussion about coffee. They were impressed and we all had a really good time learning about the roasting process and how Deb and Dave choose which coffee to buy and how it meets their ethical and gustatory standards.  I always learn a lot and have a great time visiting them at their place.

Deb and Dave are great educators about coffee and how we can choose better quality coffee that is also more ethical.  I don't know if they think of themselves as teachers, but they are. I really ought to ask them if they do think of themselves that way.

Dave in his element--teaching about roasting!
One of the interesting things I learned has to do with coffee itself.  Perhaps I should have been able to figure this out myself, but I hadn't.  I knew that roasting coffee differently made a differently tasting coffee.  But it really had never occured to me that roasting the same beans in different ways made for completely different but perhaps an equally palatable finished product!  And, I had no idea that a just warmed green coffee bean would smell like a mixture of grass and fresh cut alfalfa.  But it does!

Mubarak, one of my students, asking a question.
Deb told us that part of the reason that specialty coffee prices are going up has to do with Americans buying good coffee.  The demand for the best beans has extended to the countries that grow them making those beans in far greater demand.  Coupled with some bad weather in coffee growing regions, expect prices to go up.  Given that--find some place that sells a good product and buy direct from them if you can.  And when I say good -- I mean at minimum fair trade (farm to cup or relationship is still to be prefered I think), organic and shade grown.  If you are in the Spoakne area--check out Roast House.  They even sell in Yokes now!

Tuesday Part 2: Spokane Regional Health District Meeting

Tuesday night I headed pretty much straight from class to a meeting sponsored by the Spokane Regional Health District.  It featured Jeremy Smith, author of Growing a Garden City, a wellness consultant, an economist interested in sustainable food and a presentation by the Heath District on the information gathered in their food assessment of Spokane county.

Smith was entertaining and inspiring.  I even bought a copy of the book which he inscribed "To Ellen, Keep Growing! Jeremy."  A simple sentiment that in the quest to educate about sustainable, ethical food, means a awful lot of things.

But the information that was the most important and disturbing came from the Heath District.  I knew things were likely to be bleak--too many kids living in poverty without good access to fresh food, too much fast food available, etc.  But food deserts in Spokane county?  Really?  We grow so much food here.  A food desert up in Green Bluff where there are all those farms, orchards and u-pick places?  It breaks my heart.  The USDA has defined "food desert" (like so many other important terms about food) in a really complicated way.  But the idea is that there are some areas where there are no grocery stores.  People therefore do not have reliable, easy access to fresh, healthy food.  They USDA now even has a "food desert locator" where you can put in your zip code and see if that region qualifies. 

Wednesday: Farmers Market

Went to the first Wednesday market of the season to get some produce for cooking in class on Thursday.  Chatted with my favorite farmers, bought some rhubarb for the crisp, some fresh parsley, onion, and zucchini.  For myself I bought some leeks, radishes and peas.

Thursday:  A great mail day and Cooking with Class

Good Mail!
Thursday's mail came early, or was it Wednesday's I never picked up?  In any event, I got two cooking magazine's, a spice catalog and some other nice mail and no bills!  I've looked through them all and there are some great ideas for things I have never made or haven't since last year--cherry clafutti and a coffee granita look so good!  (A coffee granita with Roast House Batzchocola?  How good does that sound?)

I am going to cooking this weekend even though it is already busy, I just know it!

I ran to the co-op to get a few things for my class's cooking adventure--I needed canned tomatoes and olives, vegan "cheese" and some margarine.  The mushrooms and summer squash looked so good that I picked some of the up and a red pepper.  The vegan pizza came out really well, except for some reason that bread dough for the crust required a lot more kneading and working than it has in previous makings.  Thankfully I had a student who really knew how to work with it and was a great help. He even explained to the other student working with the dough what he was feeling and when to change his approach.  It was like having a pizza dough teaching assistant!

alma mater.

Phew.  Is the week over yet?  Well, Fridays I have off so, sort of.  But I have a couple ethical eating ideas in the works--one given to me by a student who asked about the chocolate in nutella.  And much to my surprise, it appears that making a nutella type spread isn't too difficult and with more ethical ingredients, I think I can make that student's day!  I'm planning on testing it out first, though.  More on that later!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nature's First Green is Gold

It may be a week into June, but spring has been long coming in the Inland Northwest.  I was reminded of the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost tonight as I was making two salads for tomorrow.  One for lunch and one for dinner.  After teaching class and our field trip to Roast House Coffee, I am heading across town to a meeting about our local food community sponsored by the Regional Health District.  I'll surely have interesting things to say on both the field trip and the meeting.

I have been loving my salads recently, but likely only because they are the first salads of the season.  They really aren't very interesting or colorful.  The salads I made for tomorrow have red leaf lettuce, cucumber, English peas, roasted asparagus and leftover oven fried chicken.  The chicken is the only thing that isn't green!

I am hoping that soon there will be more colorful veggies to be adding to the salads, but that of course will mean the end of the asparagus and phasing out of the peas.  The seasons within the growing season do march on.  As I do more reading about local food and sustainability and the critique of the local food movement, I am struck once again that eating seasonally is a better compromise on a lot of these issues.  I eat locally because I want to eat more intentionally, more seasonally, even though it is often difficult being an urbanite as I am.  I have more information about my food this way, and that is reassuring to me given my food values.

Nature's first green is gold--as we anxiously await the green coming into our lives as leaves on trees, lush grass and good food, we are reminded that there is something bigger than ourselves that has a memory into the past and will stretch out ahead of us long past our lives.  The green that indicates the beginnings of life will eventually fall away, as the title says, "nothing gold can stay."  There is a life cycle at work both in our own lives and the plants and animals we eat.  We can't forget that.  Frost's words are a very nice way of reminding ourselves of this fact of life.

"Nothing Gold Can Stay"
           by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Picnic in the Park

Today is the last day of the Art Fest in the Park that the local museum puts on the first weekend of June every year.  It always features food booths as well.  But this year I decided to picnic in the park with some friends listening to one of the musical acts.  Picnics always make me think of either summer food or weirdly, take out from Au Bon Pain in Washington, DC with cherry blossom petals falling like pink snow--a memory from college.

Oven 'Fried' Chicken
So I made oven fried chicken with homemade BBQ sauce or homemade honey mustard sauce, potato salad from my Mother's recipe and brought sparkling water.  One friend brought corn bread (hers is much better than mine--I should get that recipe) and the other a rhubarb galette with orange sauce and whipped cream.  I ran into her at the farmer's market yesterday and we discussed what delightful sweet thing she'd bring.

Mom's potato salad--I love it!
We had much better food than the fare food that was being sold.  Don't get me wrong--sometimes fried dough, hot kettle corn or other fare food treats really hit the spot.  But it's over-priced, not terribly good for you, and who knows where it is from or what is in it.  Since the park is just a block away, I don't have the "I've gone to the fare" feeling that would help me justify that food.  I'll get my kettle corn when I head to the ball park this summer.

We spread out our blanket in a both shady and sunny spot in front of the band stand, had out picnic, enjoyed the music and finally got some sun--it's been too long here and this upcoming week promises to be rainy and damp again.  I hope everyone in town was able to get out this weekend.

And a recipe today--my Honey Mustard Sauce/Salad Dressing.  It's almost too easy to be a recipe, but it is so much better than anything out there commercially and completely fat free.  A little thicker it is a great dipping sauce and a little thinner it's my favorite salad dressing.

Honey Mustard Sauce/Salad Dressing

Equal parts honey, grainy mustard and Dijon mustard.  A splash or white, white wine, cider or raspberry vinegar.  Stir until smooth.  Adjust sweetness to taste.  Delish.

All the ingredients and the finished product!

A word about honey.  I always use local honey when I can.  Studies have shown that using local honey can improve the immune system because the bees have processed local pollen.  And also, studies have also shown not to feed it to babies--because their immune systems are still developing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bye, bye Food Pyramid!

So the "food pyramid" that so many of us grew up with, which was even revised fairly recently is a thing of the past.  We now have a "dinner plate" which honestly makes a little more sense.  Who eats off a pyramid anyway?

It will be interesting to see what the fall-out is of the change.  Even Michelle Obama has already offered some criticisms of the organization of the plate and it has only been officially released for a few hours.

It seems to me that it is a better graphic, but only if people have enough food information.  That's sort of what the First Lady said as well.  That saying "protein" will make a lot of people think of meat, whereas a lot of protein comes from other sources.  I think also the little "dairy" circle above the plate will make a lot of people think of milk in a glass, and even having a section labeled "dairy" is problematic for vegans and explaining why they might still have a healthy diet (although less so than the old food pyramid).

So, if the new "dinner plate" is really going to work, it is going to take a lot of food education, which was also true for the food pyramid.  That education doesn't always seem forthcoming by the government or educational system but has been mostly grass-roots and that has been a problem.  In addition to food education, healthy nutritious food will also have to be available widely for the intentions of the "dinner plate" to be realized, which is another real issue in American given poverty and processed foods.

Still, it seems to be a step in the right direction, but just one step.