Monday, September 02, 2013

food for thought

shark burger #itswhatsfordinner
shark burger with guacamole

the first real readings for our MIT food & culture course include a couple of articles from the new york times (one by michael pollan and one by mark bittman), an older piece (from 1970) by margaret mead and an even older (1942) piece from a wartime book called how to cook a wolf by m.f.k. fisher. they lay out a set of food dilemmas, from wartime shortages to a world where there's enough food for all, but we don't make sure that all have enough food to fad diets and general eating anxiety.  and tho' i look upon myself as a considered cook, conscious of such things as the food miles my produce has traveled and whether it contains gene modified grains, to whether the chicken had a good life before it arrived on my table, these articles left me feeling a bit like i'm not doing nearly enough and perhaps i should just pack it in and stop eating altogether.  but then i remember the perfection of south african avocados and sauvignon blanc and i dismiss that thought. you see, since they come from the same timezone as me, they're ok food miles-wise. (that is a prime example of julie logic, by the way.)

humor aside, we're all engaging some sort of logic that suits our purposes when it comes to food. i deserve this chocolate or this glass of wine because i had a hard day. it's ok that those shark steaks are from a porbeagle shark that's on the vulnerable list, because they were caught by nice fishermen from the faroe islands. and man, are they delicious (especially if you chop them up in the food processor, throw in a few spring onions, some bread crumbs and egg and turn them into shark burgers). i can just do with the ordinary milk because the store is out of organic and i don't want to make another stop. or it's ok that my avocados come from the other side of the world because it's in the same timezone as i am. this is how we shrug off the guilt of eating.

because eating has somehow become a guilty pleasure. there's so much to think about:  are the cows that made my milk or this steak producing too much methane and contributing to climate change? were these chickens that laid these eggs crowded in little wire cages, with no possibility of ever going outside? should i choose danish cucumbers, which are grown in big energy-consuming greenhouses or ones from spain that were grown outside, but had to be brought here in a truck? which is more environmentally sustainable? and without strict labeling laws, how can we ever really know the truth about the food that's available on our supermarket shelves? let's face it, they weren't exactly flashing neon lights about all that horse meat they were mixing into various ground meat products earlier in the year.

these questions are some of reasons we wanted to move to the countryside and have our own animals and our own garden, so that we could have a much better idea of where our food comes from. but even that's not enough. unless i special order, i can't buy chicken feed that doesn't contain GMO soybeans. i've taken to buying the whole grains - wheat, corn, barley and oats and mixing it myself, together with seashells for good eggs and for their digestion in general. we're by no means self-sustaining and have yet to have our own pigs, but we feel we're taking steps in the right direction. i'm content to only eat strawberries during the glorious few weeks when they're in season and can be picked in my own garden. but do i go without bacon just because we haven't managed to pull ourselves together and source a few pigs? i'll admit i haven't gone that far. nor would i do without olive oil just because we can't really grow olives in our climate. we're spoiled for food choice. and it just may be our demise.

the readings for our course have, thus far, raised more questions and concerns than they have answered and i'm neither done thinking, nor writing about this. stay tuned.

* * *

brilliant website design and great stories - narratively.

* * *

amazing photo project - strangers together

* * *

i want all the neon signs.


will said...

The "Big Fish" of the oceans are shrinking in both their physical size and their quantity. Factory fishing ships are are extremely efficient - their over-fishing practices are quite devastating.

Here's just one site listing endangered fish.

Anonymous said...

I think in SA we are incredibly lucky that our food industry is "relatively" unadulterated. Or maybe I'm being totally naive? We have fantastic free-range red meat (lamb, beef etc), excellent wines, fruit & oil oils. As much as I moan about our local grocery shop, a lot of the produce is local. To the point where John plays cricket for the same club as the guy who grew the potatoes I bought last week (his name was stamped on the bag).
Here I can (and do) subscribe to a weekly organic veggie box that comes from no more than 100km away. Gorgeous peas and cabbages, carrots and broccoli. We're so lucky

But we can afford all this. What about those who, for purely economic reasons, cannot? Who eat the fluorescent pink sausages they sell for a few cents each at my local butcher?

Organic and free-range farming are simply not as productive as the more intensive methods. And yet, people must eat. Who am I to dictate where you choose to get your food from? Or whether you are doing 'enough'?

Oh and change of subject, I remember my Mom washing and saving eggshells then grinding them up and mixing them with the chicken food for good strong eggs. Instead of seashells?

julochka said...

@bill, that's a pretty ameri-centric list, but i do like hank shaw.

@tara - i DO use the eggshells and give them back to the chickens, but i think that the seashells, which are a natural product and produced in denmark are just fine as well.

we too have the luxury of organic boxes delivered to the door and you can choose a produced-in-denmark focused one.

you should really be part of our group - i'll invite you on FB and you can read along as you have time and inclination!

Elizabeth said...

thanks for the links to narratively and strangers together, really liked them.

rayfamily said...

The food mile conversation can become very overwhelming, and I think your thought processes are all there. I feel about food somewhat how I feel about the farm.... I want to accomplish everything, yesterday! Brian always reminds me it is a marathon, not a sprin.t

. I think we need to be thoughtful in our decisions, limit our food miles as much as possible, yet not eliminate some of those special items that we so enjoy. I always try to by local or regional fruit (after garden season), but this far North many times it comes from further away. I have to think that the ripple effect is in place and all of the things we do build not only to reduce our footprint, but some little bits rub off on others too.

Cyndy said...

Pollan's quote about "guilt" has been perhaps the thing I've quoted most from these readings in conversations. Wasn't it interesting how different the answers were in the American/French definitions? Although there is much to be concerned about with food miles, carbon footprints, animal abuse, etc., I think there has to balance, as well. We need to pick our battles carefully and then perhaps over all the war will be
won. I, too, am energized by this course ~ and by the blog camp members' submissions and comments, for if nothing else, I realize that none of us are alone in the quest for a better life...and that begins with food...

Laura Doyle said...

I think all the questions/concerns you mentioned (such as 'were these chickens that laid these eggs crowded in little wire cages, with no possibility of ever going outside?'), perfectly sum up our food dilemmas. When I am speaking with in-laws or acquaintances who are mostly oblivious to food things, I find it hard to know where to start if they have questions. There is simply so much to know and so many dilemmas, we can become lost in them. It's almost easy to understand why so many people I encounter prefer to remain in the dark about their food. Being more self-sufficient with small-scale homesteading activities is the popular solution but like you say, we like to cook with olive oil. While I have found articles on making your own, olives certainly don't grow everywhere and yet home cooks everywhere (more or less) rely on it. Even Barabara Kingsolver in her year of local eating made concessions for olive oil and other similar condiments. And let's not forget coffee! Where would be without imported coffee? We have local roasters around here but that's as close as we get to local. Definitely more questions than answers at this point in our study. I dread being the self-appointed doomsdayer that does nothing but wave around red flags of negativity so I hope to find some solutions to our food dilemmas in our study. I suspect there is no one-size-fits-all solution.