Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seven Billion Co-Producers

I recently read an article in the latest National Geographic about the impending seven billion world population.  It was a good article, and I fell immediately into a deep sleep on the sofa after finishing it.    When I was awakened I blurted out- I can never have children!  Now that I have regained my senses I am thinking much more clearly about that whole matter.  Although much of the article talked about the rapid rate of population growth, the gist of the article was focused on the consumption of the people more than the number.  It's not the people themselves that are harming the planet, it's really more about what the people are DOING with themselves after they are born.  And of course we all know who we are REALLY talking about- ourselves.  India and China may be the most populated, but we are by far far far and away the hugest consumers.   Of course, the densely populated slums of India are causing their own problems but that is what I let other people work with.    What I am really interested in, more than anything else, is what my neighbors are eating.

We were talking the other day about STUFF.  It's nice to be on the lower level of middle class because that means I don't even have very much money to spend on stuff.  But even if I did I sometimes wonder what it would be spent on.... more bacon maybe?  Or I bet I would order fair trade produced fabric or chocolate over the internet.  I might get a new wok, or maybe some really nice handmade shoes.   I realized the other day that there are people I occasionally bump elbows with who spend $18 dollars on jeans from Wal-Mart because that is what poor people do, and don't have enough in their budget to buy local, sustainably grown food because that is what rich people do.  I would NEVER spend $18 on jeans, even if I wore jeans.  I certainly wouldn't buy them, or anything else, from Wal-Mart.  I would go to the Goodwill, spend $5 on a beautiful wool skirt and take that $13 and get on over to the market and buy me some grits.  And kale, carrots, and a couple bright red beets.

I am very lucky to have been brought up this way.  I once told a friend that we didn't have a TV when we were growing up because we were too poor, and he laughed at me.   It is partially true, but not all the way.  I'm sure we didn't have a TV because there were better things to do, but I have the feeling that if my parents had an extra $500 to spend, it would not be spent on a TV.  That was not in any way the priority.  Somewhere along the way we were given a TV which was not turned down, thereby exposing me to a few years of Sesame Street and whatever else my brother and I could scrape out of PBS before the TV blew up.   I am told that I found the Painting By Number hour fascinating.  There actually ARE people out there who are too poor to buy a TV.  And they own one.  This was illustrated so well in Peter Menzel's book, Material World.  It is a book of photographs of families around the world with all of their possessions hauled out of their homes.  The image that sticks with me most clearly is a family on a tiny boat in China, in it are their fishing ducks, traps, a cooking pot, sleeping mats, and a TV run on a tiny generator.  I may not have everything in the photo correct but you get the idea.  I just remember thinking, seriously, a TV?  

Nomadic Family- somewhere in China, photograph by Huang Qingjun

A TV is just a token example, not really what I mean.  I currently own a TV, not for channels, which I don't get, not even PBS, but for Netflix.   The point, which I'm sure everyone understands, is that what your children are eating is much more important than what they are watching on TV.   This is really a much bigger topic than I am really interested in getting into right now, or really ever.  That is what my smarter friends are for.   I am just reminding yall of this- what the article said- It's too late to keep the new middle class of 2030 from being born. But it's not too late to change the way we all consume.

Speaking on consuming, after I heard Carlo Petrini speak at the CDC almost a year ago I learned a whole new way of thinking about consumption.  Since I don't see the need to re-word what I already wrote, I'll just stick it here:

"But rarely do you hear an international modern leader speak so humbly and yet so radically.  All Slow Food stands for is sustainable community.  It doesn’t even stand for McDonald’s bashing- although that might be where the name came from.  Slow Food, or should I say Carlo Petrini, doesn’t want to go around tearing down fast food restaurants.  We, the Slow Fooders, don’t have time for that.  Slow Food stands for moderate consumption of local food grown healthily, traditionally, and moderately by real small-time men and women who are proud to be human.   We are proud to carry human traits like umami, anger, love, greed, guilt, compassion, and generosity.

Petrini also said he doesn’t like the word consumption- it is and sounds like a disease.  We are not consumers, we are co-producers.  As eaters of food we are co-producing with the farmers.  We can make the choice (which sadly we have to do just that, make a choice) to become a fellow producer with the farmers who grow our food.  So when we buy a bunch of collard greens (Carlo’s new favorite southern delicacy), we are choosing to stand beside the farmer in the field where these greens are from.  If we buy collards from California in mid-summer we might very well be sweating in the sun with our Latin American brethren.  As a consumer we can return to our cush homes and cook those collards in top quality consumer rated pots but the people we worked the fields with that day might not have the same dinner (and we, as aware compassionate human Americans should know what that means by now).  On the other hand, if we choose to buy collards in April from the sustainable farm down the road we can work the fields with those brethren and bring our collard dish to the local pot-luck later that night and share it amongst friends.    

The saddest thing about that last paragraph is that we aren’t actually co-producers in the present.  Surely our decisions will affect the future but right now in the present we don’t really have to co-produce.  We can eat those organic collards grown in California by our Latin American brethren and not actually feel a dern thing.  We don’t actually have to live their lives just yet.  But somebody will.   And that most likely will be my grandchildren.  

And what I like about Carlo Petrini is that he is not like me.  He does not say radical things like I do.  And yet he has somehow he gathers eight thousand “peasants” together every two years to talk; much more radical than anything I will ever do.  Terra Madre is a meeting of moderation- a gigantic pot luck- where peasants, food producers, fermenters, young business owners, leaders of community, farmers, natural dyers of cloth, weavers, basket makers, shoe repairmen, cooks, musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, cheesmakers can all get together and just COMMUNICATE.  That means to start a world-wide COMMUNITY of this simple moderation that defines humanity completely.  The title Slow Food is such a shallow name for such an important movement.   It is not about food, it’s about humanity.  We are co-producers of our life.  Everything we do is shoulder to shoulder with our neighbor. "

So, have those babies.  But feed them with love and respect for the entire planet.   Fortunately that doesn't mean to go without the necessities, but it does mean that we might need to toss the TV out the back door and open the front to some grits and collard greens.   Remember that we co-produce not only our food but also our clothes, light bulbs, and the gasoline we put in our cars.  We are working side-by-side with children in sweat shops when we purchase $18 jeans at Wal-Mart.  We are stripping the seas every time we order a tuna steak, etc, etc, etc.  You know what it means.  As I said above, WE might not actually be co-producing right now, but if we don't slow down and think about everything that passes through our hands and mouth, our grandchildren just might have to.  In a real way.  There is nothing radical about changing just a little.  See yall at the market!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shopping Without January

Now, I'm not trying to say that I am the best cook in the world, nor am I passing (much) judgement on those who must shop with recipe in hand.  All I am saying is that, if you really want to get things done, shopping with a recipe is NOT how you shop at a farmer's market.  Shopping with a LIST is almost pushing it.  The point of shopping at a farmer's market is to fill your basket with whatever catches your fancy and then make the menu later.  I think recipes are wonderful but I honestly think that they are the biggest obstacle in the way of empowering us all to the best best cooks in the world.  Recipes are not LAWS, even for very inexperienced cooks.  They are simply guidelines written mainly by people who do not live in Chattanooga, Tennessee or the surrounding area.   They don't know what our farmers grow or what is in season in our area at any given time.  But we do so we can take what they give us with a grain of salt, take out the celery, and add extra carrots.   I walked past an abandoned cart at the grocery store the other day and I could tell exactly what the shopper was going to have for dinner.  There was 1 small hunk of ginger, 1 chicken breast, 1 head of garlic, 1 can of coconut juice, 1 red bell pepper, and 1 green.   Any guesses?    If you took that list to the Main Street Farmer's Market last blustery and rainy Wednesday you would be sorely disappointed.  If you took an empty shopping basket and enough money for 3/4 of your weekly food budget (they don't sell salt or beer yet at the market) and a very open mind you would go home happy as a pig in mud.   It is a little harder in January, I will admit.  But that's what eating seasonally is all about.  We can't have what we think we want all the time, but what's there is actually all we need.  A little creativity never hurt anyone either.

 When Jim and I did the Pulse article together we started at one end of the market with a wad of cash and worked our way to the other end.   The second booth had the squashes and Jim asked me So, what are we going to do with them?  And I thought, Are you crazy?  I have no idea, they just look good so let's get them.  We'll figure it out later.  Jim is in no way an inexperienced cook.  I'd even bet that he is better than me at some things, like cornbread.   But I realized at that moment that that question is NOT the gateway question for  shopping at a farmer's market.  If you had to ask that question with every ingredient you bought then it would take well over the hour you have alloted in the winter to shop.   You would be rummaging your mind for beef flank recipes while the carrots zipped off the table next door.  Just BUY the dern thing and think about it later.  And if, when you find the recipe you like most of all, fajitas for example, don't be deterred by the lack of ingredients on the list.   Make something else up.  Don't have peppers?  Thinly sliced turnips and carrots marinated in lemon juice and garlic and then sauted til soft with some cumin and ancho pepper are a wonderful substitute.   Come up with an idea, look at the recipe and then pretend like you never saw it.  Grated beets and thinly sliced kale make a great slaw. Or beets roasted with cumin seeds til shriveled are amazing in fajitas or on top of refried beans. It also helps to have a shelf full of jars of relishes, tomatoes, and pickles from last summer when you went overboard at the market.   As taste of the summer bounty always jazzes things up.

We are amazingly blessed  to have so many farmers in our area with such diversified product.    The staples of meat, honey, eggs, grits, cornmeal, polenta, sorghum, flour, and coffee are always there.  And every week is a new opportunity to try out an old recipe in a whole new way, for every week comes something a little different.    Last week at the market made me feel happy and proud to live in Chattanooga.  When I showed up in the rain at five minutes after the market began the parking lot was packed and Crabtree had already sold out of green onions.   Can you believe that?  In the dead middle of winter.


and a snack while you wait til next week.....

SCC Cumberland Quesadillas

I do buy tortillas from time to time.  I like the whole wheat ones from Greenlife/Whole Foods.  I REALLY like the sprouted grain ones but they are on the more expensive side.  Quesadillas are a perfect and wonderful snack, especially pared with homemade sauerkraut and made with "the good stuff" (Cumberland cheese of course).  Just grate it up, cover half the tortilla with it, and cook in a medium-hot cast iron skillet til browned on both sides and melted in the middle.  Serve with homemade kraut, cucumber and pepper relish from last summer, or just as they are- warm and yummy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Eating in the Dark and Other Such Tales of Winter

Although it is cold and dark outside most days, most of the day, there are still those out there who are digging in the frozen soil, checking on the roaming pigs, and milking the cows through rain, snow, ice,  and mud.  I have tried very hard to not break down and buy any vegetables this winter from anywhere but the Main Street Farmer's Market and so far have succeeded.  There was one week though where we got awfully tired of cabbage.  Fortunately there is a nice supply of various kimchees in the fridge and pickles, sauces, and relishes in the freezer and on the shelf.  There is still cheese, grits, bacon, honey, sorghum, and pecans at the market.   And every now and then, if we're lucky enough, there is lettuce for salads, sweet crunchy carrots, beets, turnips, kale, and even tender brussel sprouts.  The produce in my fridge is confined to the produce drawers instead of sprawling everywhere, but sometimes it's nice to have an empty spot to stick a pot of chili.

This meal took me maybe 20 minutes and is most comforting and delicious.

For two very hungry folks:

Williams Island Carrots and Lemon-Orange Tahini Dip

I was lucky enough to receive a case of biodynamicly grown oranges and grapefruit for my birthday in November.  Even if you aren't that lucky it's kinda locavorily allowed to buy citrus this time of years,  tis the season after all.

  • 1 cup tahini
  • juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon, more or less, ground cumin
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon or so chopped ginger
  • 1 close garlic, chopped
  • Salt to taste- about a big pinch
Puree everything in a blender til super smooth.  Taste for seasoning and add juices, salt, or spices as desired.  Serve with super fresh and crunchy carrots.

Steamed Kale with Muscadine Vinegar and Sorghum

I am also lucky enough to have a (vinegar making) crazy father.  He recently blessed me with a growler full of muscadine vinegar.  It tastes of the clear blue skies of autumn and a twang of muscadine goodness.   Sorghum, I am realizing, goes well with everything.  It has a rich earthy sweetness that almost isn't sweet anymore and compliments almost every flavor in the world.

  • 1 bunch kale, coarsely chopped or torn
  • Splash of vinegar, muscadine or otherwise
  • Drizzle of sorghum syrup
  • Dash or pinch of salt
Steam the kale with the vinegar and salt in a bit of water til wilty and tender.  This time of year greens start getting much tougher and more bitter.  Sometimes, although it is not in vogue, it is nice to steam them a little longer. Drizzle in the sorghum at the very end.  Serve warm.

Udon Noodles with Homemade Miso and a Little Bit of Beets

Of course I am not crazy enough to make my own noodles, I buy them at the Asian Food Store on Hixson Pike.  I AM crazy enough to make my own miso, but one fit of insanity can last you several fruitful years.  I made black bean miso over three years ago and it is still doin' me good.    The recipe I used was from Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation- the best "cookbook" in the world and there is no excuse not to own it.

  • 1 bundle udon noodles
  • 1 beet, grated
  • 1 tablespoon miso, handmade or otherwise
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • Splash of tamari
  • 1 teeny tiny drop of sesame oil
Bring a pot of water to boil, and add the noodles.  Make sauce by diluting miso with hot noodle water and then adding ginger, tamari, and sesame oil.  Add a bit more water to make a thin-ish sauce that can coat the noodles.  Toss noodles with grated beet and sauce.  Serve warm.