Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Local" Grocery Shopping

Since I was traveling back from a trip to a friend’s in North Carolina this weekend, I missed the Sunday farmer’s market. Sadly, I was left to do my big weekly grocery at Whole Foods. Not only is it less fun to shop at the grocery store, I find it very frustrating to shop in Whole Foods, which claims to stock “local” products and find only fruits and vegetables from California (with a dash of Mexico and Florida). Looking around at all the nice looking food, all I could see was: California, California, California.

The only produce I could find that was actually local was two heads of VA lettuce, two VA heirloom tomatoes, and a container of NJ blueberry’s (still pretty far away, but I’ll take what I can get). I also noticed that there was very limited selection of local meat or cheese.

I’m going to go to another farmer’s market Wed. or Thurs. this week, since I am lucky enough to live somewhere that has multiple farmers’ markets during the summertime. But, I think that we ought to challenge our grocery stores to do better and actually stock local food—maybe they could shoot for as many local items as they have signs and posters claiming to be “local”. Especially considering all the fantastic farms in the area.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food Inc.

Saturday started out as another rainy day in DC, so I met up with a group of friends to see a matinee showing of Food Inc. I went into the movie with high expectations, especially since many of my heroes, Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin among them, are the "stars".

The movie was fantastic. It was well organized and easy to understand. The filmmaker, Robert Kenner, did an excellent job presenting complicated and interconnected concepts. Even after presenting the horrors of the current industrialized food system, Kenner was able to change the tone at the end to empower consumers to make new choices for themselves and their families and change the food system. The movie tells us: "You can vote to change the system, three times a day.”

The presentation of Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg and his growing business with Walmart was spun to exemplify how consumer choice can help power change in the food system. And, although there was a segment on workers' rights in the film (as it relates to big agribusiness and food processing plants), Kenner was able to avoid a trap that most documentaries fall into... trying to take on too much. It is hard to mention Walmart in a film that advocates for workers' rights without chasing Walmart down the rabbit hole as well. This was just one example of how Food Inc. was successful in keeping the viewer on target.

For those of us who have read Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, the movie does not cover any new material. You do realize, however, how similar Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan look when Pollan takes off his glasses.

I think that the movie is perfect for a broad audience and would encourage all to go see it (although it is a hard sell for those non-foodies out there). Also, check out the website, which has many resources and some ideas about how to get involved (including a great book list).

Nicholas Kristof wrote an article in the NY Times on Sunday titled, Lettuce from the Garden, With Worms, inspired by the movie. It is definitely worth reading if you haven't. Kristoff also followed this article up with a post on his blog titled Eating Up Food Inc in which he goes on a fact finding mission about the "fact" mentioned in the movie that the number of FDA food safety inspections had fallen from 50,000 in 1972 to 9,164 in 2006. He finds that while the number of inspections has fallen, these "exact" numbers are not exactly accurate. This small issue, to me, does not discredit the movie in the slightest but does point to how difficult it is to get good, accurate information regarding some of these issues.

There are many great reviews of the movie worth checking out and lots of robust discussion. But my recommendation is to go and see it for yourself. Also, try to bring a friend who hasn't heard of Michael Pollan. While I'm happy I was able to see the movie with my foodie friends, it really is preaching to the converted for us. Proving to us what we already know. I'm hoping to turn at least one new person on to this movie before it leaves the big screen for DVD (and maybe sending the DVD out for the holidays).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Side of Snap Peas

Maureen Dowd wrote a great article in yesterday's NY Times titled Hold the Fries in which she describes the confusing messages sent by the Obamas regarding food. While we can celebrate the work of the First Lady with the organic White House garden and the words (and frequent personal eating habits) of the President in support of healthy lifestyles, the President often uses his time on the television to show Americans he is "just like them" by eating fries and cheeseburgers.

Obama Foodorama has great coverage of the food-life of the Obamas, including an interesting article yesterday regarding the role of the First Lady in the food debate. You can also see the First Lady's comments on eating healthy and locally on the White House website. But with all this great publicity for healthy lifestyles and good food, Dowd challenges us to ask why we are so jazzed to see the President feeding himself, guests, and staff fries and burgers.

The article got me thinking about why the President often has to avoid talking about and eating arugula (or other fresh, organic fruits & vegetables) in public. I love talking (or blogging) about my attempt to change my eating habits by shopping at farmer's markets, supporting CSAs and local farms, eating organic, growing my own food, and cooking and preparing meals from scratch. I happen to love arugula. But, there is an important aspect of the "local/organic/sustainable/etc. food movement" that is highlighted by the President's ambivalence towards his love of healthy food: accessibility.

Raj Patel's book Stuffed and Starved describes the fights over the food system, beginning with the choices made in the fields and ending with the experience of the consumer in the supermarket. The book is fantastic and covers a wide range of issues in an interesting and insightful manner. He successfully portrays many of the dichotomies within the food system, often boiling down to the haves and the have-nots. He raises the question, if access to food is considered a basic human right, why is price an obstacle to eating organically and locally? Why is the schism in eating habits (and subsequent rates of diet related diseases, such as diabetes) between rich and poor so tremendous, and growing every day?

I agree with many food advocates that good (sustainable) food must cost more than the prices we are used to under the current industrial food system. It is the exploitation of natural resources, as well as government subsidies for crops such as soy and corn, that keep our food prices artificially low. Food prices at the supermarket do not reflect the taxes and environmental devastation "paid" to maintain low food cost (not to mention ethical compromises made regarding basic human and workers' rights). It costs more to raise a cow or pig outside of a CAFO like the Salatin's do on Polyface Farm. But it is worth it.

That said, we are still challenged by the fact that many people (or most people) cannot afford to eat along the tenets of Michael Pollan (while I certainly try to) or the Slow Food Movement. Regarding the Slow Food Movement, Patel write, "The most pressing problem for most of us as consumers is, of course, that to be able to go on a culinary odyssey in the first place and, even more, to be truly at liberty to savour food, to have the time to quaff and roll, the majority of people need that passport to all other freedoms- money."

The obstacles for us to reach true global accessibility to sustainable, healthy food can seem insurmountable. But we each have a responsibility to do our part. Because, as Patel writes: "Unless you're a corporate food executive, the food system isn't working for you. Around the world, farmers and farmworkers are dying, with the connivance of elected officials, and at the whim of the market. Through processed food, consumers are engorged and intoxicated. The agribusiness's food and marketing have contributed to record levels of diet-related disease, harming us today and planting a time-bomb in the bodies of children around the world."

Liz of The Jew and The Carrot wrote a great post yesterday as well about this same issue and has some suggestions about how to do your part to make good food accessible to more people. We must each do what we can to support local agriculture and take time to know more about the food we eat. We can each do our part. Including the Obamas, who are navigating the same critical issues as each of us. We each struggle with the question of how to actively support the organic/sustainable food movement while also promoting accessibility to healthy food for all.

While the dialogue is opening up regarding these issues, and I think we are making strides in the right direction, there is much more work to do.

That said, I was able to successfully make my second batch of yogurt last night! It turned out even better than the first.

Posted this to Fight Back Fridays, so make sure to check out the Food Renegade's great blog!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Urban Gardening, Highlighted in NY Times

Take a look: here! The article includes details on some incentive programs and roof-top gardening going on in different cities throughout the country. I think this may inspire me to petition the board at my building to allow me to expand our container garden onto the roof of my apartment building.

More Cheese Making Pictures

It was too much fun not to include some extra pictures of the adventure:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cheese and Pizza: Made at Home

Homemade pizzas with fresh, homemade mozzarella!

Almost two years ago, I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with a deep interest in gardening and homemade food. In the book, Barbara describes her adventure with homemade cheese and the cheese queen. After numerous discussions with friends about buying a cheese making kit from the cheese queen's website went nowhere because of scheduling conflicts, I put the idea aside for awhile. But, two weeks ago, Katherine's mother purchased the Mozzarella making kit and invited me over to try it out!

My mother was in town for the weekend and we headed over to Katherine's family's house to try out the kit and see if we could get some Mozzarella to make our own pizzas for lunch.

We followed the cheese queen's recipe, found here.
It was amazing to see the milk turn into cheese. Above you can see us draining the whey from the curd.

The cheese was a great success! We were able to use it to make pizzas as well!

I am so proud of this cheese making process, I'm posting to Cheeseslave's Real Food Wed.

It has been too long...

It has been far too long since I've posted something on the blog. Sadly, I have been busy with work. I have also been occupied with family moves and visits. But there is good news: expect a post on HOMEMADE cheese later today. I had a couple great adventures over the beautiful weekend that I am looking forward to blogging about.

So, there are new, excited posts coming soon!