A Vision for a Resilient, Connected & Healthy Food System

I wrote this today as part of a fellowship application for healthier food systems. It’s difficult to condense such a huge idea into one page, but I managed. And while my writing isn’t amazing, I think it’s worth sharing.

In answer to the question: describe your vision for an ideal global food system.

The optimal global food system would provide for the needs of people without sacrificing the long-term health of our plant, animal, soil and water systems. An ideal food system would acknowledge the inherent value of all of life, and be unwilling to destroy other species through environmental degradation, population loss, over-consumption or poison.

Our current food system has disconnected from its source and has caused us to ignore the consequences of how we grow, raise and eat our daily meals. Almost 75% of the US population is now overweight or obese, while malnutrition contributes to more than half of the world’s cases of child mortality.

In contrast, a better global food system would demonstrate three primary qualities: resilience, relationship and what I’ll call “healthfulness.”

Resilience is the capacity of a system (and its components) to adapt, repair, and build long-term system performance. A resilient food system would have distributed means of production, storage and distribution. Food security would not lie in the hands of a few small food companies or government agencies, but in many small producers. Other hallmarks of resilience include redundancy and diversity. The 2010 flood in Pakistan killed nearly 2,000 individuals, but the long-term impact of losing more than 200,000 head of livestock and 17 million acres of fertile land is yet to be seen. A resilient food system would fulfill the needs created by crop loss due to disease and disaster.

Relationship is about understanding the interdependent connections between all aspects of the system, including its impact on other systems. Mindful production decisions would be made considering the impact of and relationship between pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, water and soil. The crops we select would account for nutrition as well as how their growth fits inside the ecosystem. Effort would be made to thoughtfully determine what, how and where we grow food. Healthy communication would exist between growers, ranchers, distributors and others involved in providing food. Decisions would be made for the greatest good for all involved.

Healthfulness is the inherent ability to contribute to the well-being and health of all participants in the system, including people, plants, animals and the soil, water and air that sustain them. Healthfulness is the expression of vitality, responsibility and contribution of all participants. An ideal global food system would measure the impact of each component, and incorporate healthy feedback loops to help participants at each system level understand what’s best, and modify behaviors that don’t support the healthfulness of the system as a whole. Here’s an example: in our current system, the value of a cow is extracted as the amount of money that can be made from her parts, in the form of milk, meat or hide. But this perspective fails to acknowledge the systems that the cow represents. The extraction of a cow into parts has led to unsafe, unhealthy, and inhumane systems of beef production. A healthy food system will acknowledge and include ALL of the parts of the system that is a cow. If any parts of that system are dysfunctional or unhealthy (such as the waste of the cow polluting the water supply, or the cow itself being unhealthy while alive, or the processing of the cow exposing the butchers to unsafe conditions), then actions would be quickly taken to repair the unhealthy parts and restore them to something more healthy.

A healthy, resilient and connected food system is possible. It will take changing the underlying systems of governance and wealth distribution, and the definitions of profit and ownership. It will mean restoring the ability of all people to participate in the growth, production and control of their food. It will require personal and community responsibility, and the creation, nurturing and sharing of better means of production and governance. We must provide better examples of how food can be provided, and share these means with all involved. Every seed planted and nurtured with long-term health in mind will make a difference, and move us closer to a more just and sustainable world.

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Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

My friend Shannon made us these awesome cookies, and shared the recipe. yummmm.

2 cups of all-purpose or bread flour (I used bread flour; it is supposed to make the cookies thicker)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted (melt on lowest power setting in microwave or slowly on stove — do not burn!)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon powder
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325°F (for pure convection, adjust accordingly; I used 310°F). Grease cookie sheets, or line them with parchment paper or use a Silpat.

Sift the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon powder and set aside.

Mix the sugars and butter just until thoroughly mixed. Add egg, yolk and vanilla and mix until creamy. Add sifted ingredients and mix until just blended.

Stir in the chocolate chips, then drop dough ¼ cup at a time on cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Leave them on the cookie sheet to cool a bit when removed from the oven (they will fall apart otherwise). Once they cool a few minutes, move cookies to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Or, eat them right away with cold milk!

Rhubarb Pie

I found this very simple pie recipe to cook up all the rhubarb we’ve been getting in our CSA and from the garden. In one pie, I split the fruit 1/2 rhubarb and 1/2 berries, to experiment with the flavor.

Also, everyone loves a little rhubarb pie:

Ingredients:
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb stalks
1/3 -1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar

Topping:

Strawberry-raspberry-rhubarb pie!


1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preparation:

Heat oven to 350° (325° for higher elevations). Prepare pie shell or thaw a frozen pie shell.

Trim and rinse the rhubarb stalks. Slice large stalks in half lengthwise. Slice rhubarb stalks crosswise in 1/2 to 1-inch lengths. Combine sliced rhubarb and water in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons flour and 3/4 cup sugar, stirring until well blended; add to the rhubarb mixture. Stir well and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover but leave the cover ajar to let steam escape and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, or just until tender. If desired, add a little red food coloring to make the filling more colorful. Spoon filling into the prepared pie shell.

With a pastry blender or fingers, combine the topping ingredients until blended and crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the pie. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until topping is browned and the filling is bubbly.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

I love green bean casserole, but I abandoned mainstream canned soups a year ago because of the non-food additions found in most of them (like high-fructose corn syrup). So I’ve had to learn how to make my own creamy soups for such delicious comfort foods as the green bean casserole. Here’s my cream of mushroom soup – it’s easy, it’s delicious and well worth making.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ingredients:

* 4 Tablespoons butter, divided use
* 1 pound mushrooms
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
* 1/4 cup flour
* 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
* 3 cups veggie broth
* 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
* 1 cup heavy cream
* Chopped parsley for garnish

Preparation:
Clean mushrooms with a mushroom brush or damp paper towel. Cut half of the mushrooms into slices. Chop the remainder.

Melt half of the butter in a large saucepan and saute sliced mushrooms until golden. Remove and reserve sliced mushrooms. Add remaining butter to the same pan, along with the chopped mushrooms and sweet onions. Sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring often, until onion is soft.

Return sliced mushrooms to the pan. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly about 2 minutes, until smooth. Slowly add broth while stirring. Simmer, stirring often, until thickened. Add nutmeg and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, if need be.

Add heavy cream and bring to a simmer. (Do not boil.) Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with chopped parsley.

Yield: 2 entree servings or 4 smaller appetizer servings

Gluten-Free Pie Crust

I’m traveling right now to visit friends and family in Oregon. Arthur’s mother Loree has recently discovered a gluten intolerance, so one of our Christmas gifts to her was a gluten-free berry pie. Following is the pie crust recipe I modified and used. It was slightly grainy, but otherwise the texture was pleasant – not too dry and nicely flavorful. I’ll definitely use it again.
Gluten-Free Pie Crust

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons rice flour
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup potato starch
3 teaspoons sugar (I use honey or maple syrup here)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon strong cinnamon
8 tablespooons (or, one stick) cold butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 ice-cold water, or enough to make the dough stick together

Mix together all the dry ingredients, including the sugar and cinnamon. Cut the butter into little pieces, about 1/2-inch thick and drop the pieces into the dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter or fork, meld the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter has crumbled into pea-sized pieces.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Drop the egg and apple cider vinegar in, then stir them in, gently, with a fork, stirring from the center out. Once they are incorporated into the dry ingredients, slowly drizzle the ice-cold water into the mixture, a little at a time, then stirring to see if it has become dough yet. You do not want this dough to be too wet. Add water only it all coheres together.

At this point, drop the ball of dough onto a large piece of parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment paper, the same size, on top of the dough. Gently, smoosh the dough outward, equally in all directions, until it is a thick, round cake of dough, about the size of a pie plate. (despite using parchment paper, the dough still sticks *very* easily. Spray with cooking spray in advance or sprinkle with gluten-free flour)

Refrigerate the ball of dough, for as long as you can stand. Ideally, you would prepare the dough in the evening and refrigerate overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator at least twenty minutes before you want to work with it.

Leave the dough in the parchment-paper sandwich and roll it out. By rolling it, gently, between the pieces of parchment paper, you will not need to add more flour to the mix. Roll it out as thin as you can, then strip the top piece of parchment paper off the dough. Gently, lay your favorite pie plate on top of the dough, then flip the whole thing over. The dough should sag into the pie plate. You can crimp the edges at this point. If some of the dough falls off the sides, don’t worry. Simply re-attach the pieces to the crust-to-be by pressing in with your fingers.

This dough recipe makes enough for two single-crust pies or one double-crust pie.

Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek Soup

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes

8 potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
4 cups vegetable broth
cooking oil (2-3 T)
2-3 leeks, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
herbs to taste (such as thyme, rosemary and basil)

In a large saucepan or stockpot, bring potatoes and broth to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, heat cooking oil in another pan and cook leek slices until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Try not to overcook them; you don’t want them to be soggy in the soup.

When the potatoes are tender, stir in the leeks, heavy cream and herbs. I tried even amounts of dried thyme, rosemary and basil, which was quite tasty. Stir to blend and remove from the heat; serve hot.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Homemade Applesauce

Although it’s been a while since I posted, we’ve still been cooking away. Our final delivery of summer CSA shares was last Monday, and we received 15 pounds of delicious honey crisp and pink lady apples.

Considering we’ve gotten 5-8 pounds of apples every week for two months, it was time to do something other than making pie and eating them fresh. So today my mother and I made 7 quarts of delicious applesauce.

I found several recipes online, but this is the one we used:

Homemade Applesauce

  • 13-15 pounds yummy apples, cored and sliced
  • few tablespoons cinnamon & nutmeg (to taste)
  • Canning equipment – jars, lids, bands, etc

Wash, core and slice apples. We left the skin on the apples, but next time we’ll cut the apple slices again to make the skin pieces smaller. Place sliced apples in large bowl of cold water with a little bit of lemon juice while slicing everything to prevent the fruit from browning.

Put a small amount of water (1 cup) in the bottom of a large pot and add apple slices. Cover pot and simmer on medium-to-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning the apples.

Cook the apples for 20-30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft. Use a potato masher and mash up all the slices – making them as chunky or smooth as you like. Continue stirring and simmering until there are no standing pools of water. This is a good time to add spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. This would also be the time to add sugar, but because our apples were sweet to begin with, we didn’t add any sugar. (woo!)

Some recipes I found call for putting the cooked apples through a food mill or other sieve to make the sauce smoother. We don’t have a food mill, and like our sauce chunky – so we opted for the chunkier appleasauce.

Remove sauce from heat and can using already sanitized jars and lids. Process about 20 minutes. (canning instructions & resources here) Our 15 pounds of apples made about 7 quarts of sauce.