Archive for the ‘Food Culture’ Category

Denver City Council Supports Local Food

A few weeks ago, the Denver City Council adopted a resolution supporting local food. Although on one hand this doesn’t directly translate to new zoning laws or change the way people eat, it is a step in the right direction. The more we talk about food and how it’s grown, the more we can work together toward food systems that nourish ourselves and our planet.

Here’s a video of the City Council meeting where the proclamation was read and discussed by several members of the Council. I don’t know about you, but when an elected official says, ‘growing and sharing food with neighbors is a sacred act,’ I get very excited. Perhaps we can have healthier food systems.

In any case, here’s the link: http://bit.ly/17HxRy The grow local proclamation starts at 23:52, and there’s even a part where I talk about local food and the economy at 40:30. (and if someone is able to capture and edit this video to just the food piece, I would be extremely grateful)

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Saving Seeds (aka, Yes, your choices do matter)

Recently my housemate Jim took me to a garden that his friend cares for to harvest some of the abundance of veggies found there. The homeowners are wealthy retirees with a beautiful landscaped property, including a garden large enough to feed a small army. The two of them could never possibly consume all of the yummy vegetables they grow, so I was thrilled to spend time there.

My half an hour visit yielded 25 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, 5 pounds of huge carrots, chard, herbs and a few other random vegetables. But the tomatoes…ahhh. They had around 30 healthy plants of at least ten varieties. Because my own garden is pathetic, I was sooo happy to hang out in the 6 ft tall tomato vines, finding the ripest and most beautiful fruits.

I could go on and on about these tomatoes. But I’ll focus on just a few things I wanted to share.

The first dish we made with our newfound heirloom tomato wealth was a strange casserole with sauteed zucchini, mashed potatoes and sliced tomatoes on top. When I sliced into a 2-pound yellow brandywine, the center was still warm from the sun.

For me, the essence of food happiness is found in a fresh, still-warm tomato in all it’s delicious glory.

Because I love tomatoes so much, I did a little research into saving tomato seeds so I can grow them in my own garden next year. As I sliced carefully into each tomato, scooping out the seeds and goop into a jar, I thought about the cyclical nature of food. How each plant contains within itself the potential for hundreds, even thousands, of new plants. And how the only reason any of us are able to *live* is because of the variety and tenacity of plant life and all the supporting species that build our food system.

Real food does not come from a grocery store. It comes from the ground, nourished by soil and water and earthworms and bees and sunshine. This local food “movement” is quite simple at its core. We are rediscovering this most basic connection – of where our food comes from and why it’s so important.

I believe it is a basic human right to have access to healthy, safe, fresh food that nourishes us and others (like the bees). And I imagine how our food and how we eat it would change if we prepared each meal not only cognizant of where our food came from, but also, where our next meal came from. Saving seeds out of the tomato (or eggplant or pumpkin) means there will be more tomatoes, more meals. I now have the ability to nurture more life simply by being aware of how those plants grow and my part in it.

Even if you aren’t interested in (or unable to) grow a garden for yourself, you still have an enormous amount of power in determining the future of our food. If we want food that is delicious, healthy, safe, and available to all, then we must be aware of how our choices are impacting our food system. And because I’m now on a roll about the importance of food, I’ll make a few more declarations. Consider it a summary of how you can have better food.

Choose organic fresh food grown close to home. Learn where your farmers are, and get to know them. Seek out meat that is humanely raised, eggs that come from happy chickens, and food products from local sources. Give yourself more time to prepare food and share it with people you love. Stop throwing out food. Start composting, saving seeds, and growing them. If you can’t use it, give it away. Stop killing bees and grow more flowers. Invest in local food systems and ask restaurants where they buy their food. Take the extra time to read labels. Notice how your food tastes, what makes it better, and how it makes you feel. Stop pretending as if your choices don’t matter, as if you can’t change anything, as if what we put into our bodies doesn’t impact everything else. And when you are able, spend some time with plants and bugs and soil, and delicious tomatoes still warm from the sun.

Garden Destroyed by Hailstorm

On Monday night, west Denver was hit by serious thunder and hail storms. At my house in Lakewood, we had up to 5 inches of hailstones within 10 minutes. The storm ripped the leaves off all our plants and trees, including the 20-something tomato plants and new apple trees we’d planted this spring. 😦

Here are some photos from the night of the storm; sorry they’re dark, but you can see the crazy volume of hailstones lying around.

Our cars were also damaged, but no one was injured and our house is fine. Others in the area were not so lucky; thousands of people were without power and dozens nearby had broken windows and felled trees.

Being from Kansas, this kind of storm is not unheard of; however, it’s been a sad week as we’ve lost all the beautiful plants in our garden. I never thought I would ever cry over plants, but this kind of devastation is powerful and a bit overwhelming.

I’ve been gardening for several years now, but I feel as though my awareness of ecosystems has greatly increased. I cried not just for the loss of bushels of insanely tasty tomatoes, but because of the the sheer volume of life that has grown in my garden. Our backyard is home to dozens of plants, but also bees and ladybugs, spiders and dragonflies, squirrels and birds and earthworms. And all of those species have worked together season after season to increase the health of our soil and produce more life. A tomato plant represents more than just the fruits of this season – each fruit contains dozens of seeds that are the spark for next season. To lose such a volume of this life (and the new possibilities for more life) is staggering.

My heart goes out to the farmers and ranchers who can lose entire livelihoods from this kind of weather.

Luckily, the farm we support through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was not damaged by the storm. It’s had me thinking a lot about distrubted food systems; how vital it is that we don’t put “all our eggs in one basket,” so to speak. A healthy food system is about more than just good soil and clean water and responsible farming. It’s also about building a web of interconnected and overlapping food sources.

I spoke with one of the farmers from our CSA farm this week, and he told me about their support of another farm who’d been devastated by hail storms, fulfilling their member’s shares each week when the other farm could not. Our farm doesn’t advertise this fact, and it’s not a marketing ploy or stunt. They stepped up because that’s what we have to do to take care of one another. And their support is an investment in CSA programs, in local agriculture, in people and plants and in what it takes to have communities that work.

When we prepare and eat food from our own backyards, or when we search out the mushrooms and spinach from our own region – we are making a consicous choice to invest. Not only in better quality food and reduced fuel use, but in the kinds of community systems that are stronger. A healthy food system can weather any storm, and we can build it – by growing, by sharing, by knowing where our food comes from. And as we struggle to deal with pounds of kale and or with how to fit in canning all those cherries, we’re doing something so much bigger than ourselves or our dinner.

Please, pay attention to your food and where it comes from. And know that every choice, every investment, every seed and plant and home cooked meal makes a difference for our ecosystems and food security and communities.

And, hug a farmer soon. They might need it.

Shifting Food Culture

Last Thursday, I flew to Oklahoma to participate in my tribe‘s annual heritage festival, which is basically a huge family reunion (some years 5,000 people attend) with stomp dancing and frybread. My head is still swirling with all the mundane strangeness of family and the ongoing question of what it means to be Potawatomi today; but this post is all about the food.

Or really, the lack thereof. You see, our Nation takes very good care of us when we’re gathered each year to celebrate family and tribe. Three days of games, music and the sharing of stories and culture. And, all the food and drink you can eat. The problem is that the food mainly consists of hot dogs, bratwurst, ice cream and soda. This year, everyone was thrilled to have fried bologna added to the menu. (really?) They serve three meals per day in addition to the never-ending processed meat fest, which are also heavily processed and not vegetarian. Water is available in bottles, but by and large, soda rules.

This was my sixth year attending the festival, and the facilities and activities improve each year. The food menu has also increased, but not in terms of food I can eat. Knowing this, my mother and I always bring a cook stove and enough beans and rice to satisfy an army for our meals. Although my mother is not a vegetarian, she has weaned herself off of many processed foods because of the trouble they cause her digestive system.

So although I knew what was coming, this year was not easier. My food consciousness was doubled by finally reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle during the trip. I loved the book and was impressed by Kingsolver’s story telling abilities alongside a very practical manual for eating locally throughout the year. I may write more about the book in another post, but for now, back to the festival food.

Desperate for some live, fresh food, I bought spinach and strawberries from the grocery store my tribe owns. As the largest stand-alone grocery store in Oklahoma, Firelake Foods has thousands of square feet of products. The fresh food section is a tiny portion, filled mostly with onions, potatoes and bananas. (there were four squishy eggplant in one part, and I was impressed with the bok choy) The rest of the food is uniquely american – boxed, canned and bagged “food” products filled with chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. Do you know how much food has HFCS? Check your loaves of bread next time you’re at the store.

I know for a fact that our store employs “loss leaders,” to draw in traffic and compete with chain stores. The biggest of these is soda, sold by the large case. There is more soda in that store than fresh vegetables. Although I won’t get into a debate here about HFCS and it’s connection to obesity and diabetes (because I’m not a scientist and because you won’t change my mind about it), I do think it’s telling about our society when our food stores are loaded with “junk” foods over those things that come from the ground.

But we slurp it up, gallons and gallons of carbonated sugar water and pounds of meat of unknown origins. And at the same time that we’re serving up heart attacks on a plate, we struggle with how to pay for the rising costs of health care for our members. We give classes on managing diabetes and the health clinic screens for blood sugar and cholesterol. But the issue of food and nutrition is never addressed. This schizophrenic disconnection from the stuff we put into our bodies and our health is so… frustrating. Although I don’t understand the mechanisms that keep us eating crap while we gain more weight and require more medication to keep our hearts pumping, I do feel extremely compelled to change it.

The scariest part is that my tribe is not unique in this domain. Shelves look the same in almost every conventional grocery store, with some exceptions. (In my hometown’s grocery, there is now ONE small shelf for organic or otherwise “natural” foods)

The question for me is, how do we alter our food consciousness on a large scale? The hardest part of this weekend wasn’t the overload of gross food, or even that I could taste the chemicals on the strawberries, but it was watching my loved ones eating all of this and not saying a word.

Well, I did say a few words. But food choices are like religions – you’re supposed to mind your own business about other people’s choices without saying anything. It’s as though we’re allergic to holding one another accountable – is it because, once we start, it’s hard to stop? That if we call someone on smoking cigarettes around their children, that now WE may have to be more accountable? And, why is this a bad thing? When did we start believing that we somehow live separated from each other and that it’s somehow better that way?

How do we alter our culture of entitlement? And how do we become reconnected to the source of our food – the soil, water and sunshine that are the building blocks for all of life on earth? When will we recognize that what we put into our bodies determines our health, and then actively choose those things which are most healthy?

If I’ve learned anything in my six years as a vegetarian, it’s that healthy does not have to equal tasteless. That Cherokee Purple tomatoes off the vine have a unique fragrance you won’t find in a grocery store. That plants offer us so much in terms of flavor, texture and aroma…that things like soda actually taste gross compared to a juicy strawberry or crisp apple, unmarred by chemical additives.

But now that I know this, how do I share it with others without alienating them?

Last night, upon my return home, I prepared my favorite salad with more of the greens we received this week. And although I soaked and rinsed the greens a lot, I didn’t quite remove all of the dirt from my salad.

And I ate it anyway, knowing the people who grew that lettuce and the ground from whence it came. Here’s to farmers and foodies and CSA’s and, of course, having dirt on our food.