Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Because I know you are all so interested in my mediocre book reviews, I'ma do another one, but much shorter than my previous post, because if anyone even bothered to read the whole thing, I'm sure they hated the book by the end of it just because blog posts are not supposed to be long, duh.

But anyways, shortly after finishing In Defense of Food, I dove into The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is actually a prequel, but because I'm nonconformist I does everything howz I wants to. I will say a few things - it's an easier, more engaging read than IDOF. It also makes you feel a lot better about eating anything.

I also appreciated this book because it's written by someone who loves meat. He loves meat even after assisting in the slaughter of said meat. The trend of late has been, if you care about the environment, you'll stop eating meat, and cheese, and eggs, and honey, and ice cream, and everything else that tastes good. Dry oats and grass-flavored hummus for everybody! Instead, Pollan encourages his readers to educate themselves about the meat that they eat - where it comes from, how the animals were raised, how they were slaughtered and butchered, etc, and then to make personal decisions based on that information. In fact, in the third section of the book he actually goes out and hunts for, kills, and assists in the butchering of a wild boar he prepares for a meal. He makes the implication that it may actually be most socially and environmentally responsible to eat wild game that you have hunted, although he is quick to admit that this is not realistic or even possible for everyone in the US to start doing.

Also interesting is his exploration of what he calls "Big Organic"; companies that, while remaining technically 'organic', have fallen into all of the same bad habits as the big corporate farms and packing plants over which they're claiming superiority. So while we may get warm fuzzies from shopping at Whole Foods, in reality the products may bear almost the same carbon footprint while costing twice or three times as much. So, y'know, business corrupts, big business corrupts absolutely. And all that jazz.

I hope this is shorter. Still, probably only two people will read this. And those two people may have already read the book. Or at least seen Food Inc. But I don't write for attention and comments!

Ok, maybe I do. :) Love you guys!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Time hurries on

So it's been a while, eh? I promise that's not because I killed all my plants. They are, generally, in fine health. :) Some are beginning to fruit, and some have already yielded food for me, so I'm feeling pretty good about that. Unfortunately, my camera is in the shop, so I have no pictures to share at the time of this post. I hope to remedy that soon! At that time, I will also share the stati (status, plural, right?) of my dear friends, my plants.

But, I want to talk about one of the books I brought up when I started this phase of my blog. The first one I read was In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. While parts of it were a big arduous and preachy, I appreciated his message a lot, and I'm trying harder to live by it. Here are a few of his points, which, honestly, are from the last chapter, so if you want to read the book but find yourself short on time and have little patience for the ethos of the whole thing, just read the last chapter. It's where the rubber hits the road.

- Don't eat anything your great, great grandmother wouldn't recognize
If a food has been invented in the last 75 years, it probably isn't food, it's a food product. And processed foods, while deLICious at times, just aren't all that good for us, even, and perhaps especially, if they claim that they are good for us. My recent favorite: those halloween pumpkin candies now have a special claim on them saying they're "made with REAL honey." Honey is ingredient number 6 on the ingredient list, right before "artificial flavor."

- Stay to the periphery of the supermarket, and when possible, get out of there entirely
Nearly all of the whole-est foods at a supermarket can be found around the outside, whether it be produce, dairy, meats, or fresh bread. While I do stop to get breakfast cereal and canned tomatoes at this point, I am definitely working hard to confine most of my purchases to 'periphery-fare'. ALSO, this past week I was able to visit my local farmers market in the park down the street, which is what Pollan means by getting out of the supermarket. I looooooove buying things from the farmers market, and I hope that, wherever I end up in life, I will be able to continue to support local farmers in their hard work.

- Add new species to your diet, especially plant species
This is a bit of a challenge for me, because I am a little picky. It's more of a challenge for Tim, because he's really pretty picky. Especially about vegetables. But I've had these turnips in my freezer for a while, and I just haven't been able to figure out quite what to do with them. I've also got a big bag of lentil stew frozen that I made and couldn't eat all that fast, but didn't want to throw away. So I'm waiting for some type of inspiration to take on those two species. I've never eaten rutabaga, or beet, or mustard greens or swiss chard. I have yet to try an heirloom tomato. I've never seasoned anything with summer savory or tarragon or marjoram. I'd say I have lots of frontier to explore yet.

- Eat wild food
Now this is something I can get behind. I've been a bit of a forager for quite a while, because, hey, it's free! Last weekend Tim and I were walking in a state park and passed huge stands of wild blackberry and raspberry, and we're thinking about going back when they're a little riper. When camping with my family, I would harvest wild mint and oregano and add them to our foods, whether it made sense or not. I've eaten game a few times and have rather romanticized visions of returning to the Little House on the Prairie way of life. Of course, this is crazy, but if it's wild, you know it hasn't been given pesticides or antibiotics or growth hormones.

- Pay more, eat less
Now this is something that I have a hard time with. I looooove to save money. When I am old, I will keep a little coupon wallet. BUT. Pollan's point is that, since Americans have come to put so much value on saving money on food, the food itself has lost its value. Other cultures around the world spend, at minimum, 12% of their income on food. Many of them spend much more than that. Many spend all day working in order to procure meals. Americans spend between 6 and 10%, and we're proud of it. But all this saving has meant that food has lost its nutritional and even emotional value for most Americans. So maybe we should pay more, because good food is worth it.

- Eat at a table
This is a challenge for me simply because my dining room table has become a receptacle for all sorts of junk that doesn't go anywhere else in my apartment. Clearing the table is a bit of a pain. But by sitting down at a table, and not on the couch or in a car, I give myself time to enjoy my food and those I eat with. It has helped to have Tim over here quite a bit for dinner, because then I have someone to talk to while I eat. But I still find myself, when I am alone, tending to migrate toward the couch or computer while I eat.

- Cook food, and grow your own
It was nice that he ended with this, because if there are two things I like, they are growing food, and then cooking it. I am pretty good at both, although I must say that living in Chicago instead of Arizona makes gardening a LOT easier. Things just grow here because they want to, whereas in Tucson every day I can hear the plants gasping to themselves, "hang on, just hang on..." until the end of June when they all just give up and surrender their dried out husks of bodies to the withering sun. And I loooooooove cooking, especially when I can use my own home-grown food. It nearly brings tears to my eyes every time I cook something that's mine, that I nurtured from start to finish. Maybe that's a bit over-the-top, but it's true. :)

So, in short (too late), In Defense of Food is a fascinating read. I haven't been able to NOT talk about it with everyone. It's true, just ask people I talk to. I talk about food all the time. And now I talk about REAL food all the time. So if you get the chance, go to your local library or borrow it from a friend or, if you have to, buy this one and get yourself thinking about these things, because they are really important, to us personally, to our society, and to the world we live in.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

For love of dirt

The classroom next to mine is the homeroom of my colleague Mr. D, who's worked at Roseland forever, and is much loved by his former students, although his current ones are not quite ready to remember him fondly quite yet. :) He's a wonderful man, although he has a bit of a rough exterior. The subject we do connect on, though, is gardening. He and I were talking about the lettuce and radishes he has coming up in his yard, and his eyes began to sparkle talking about the wonderful salads they had for months off of last year's harvest. Feeling my face light up as well, I remarked that my spinach were looking ready to put in the ground too, and he advised me to do it soon, which I plan on doing. (Friday, methinks. For some reason I have a hard time gardening on a school day. At least so far. I expect that will change.) It's just so delightful to share a conversation with someone who feels the same way about how dirt smells. And how the green of a brand new plant pushing out of the ground is the most beautiful color in the world. And who appreciates a sunny day not simply for the tanning opportunities or the change from rain, but because of all the photosynthesis it will enable.

Speaking of, one of my favorite things about leaving the house early in the morning in Spring is the fact that, when I leave the house, I smell dirt. Have you ever smelled dirt? Good, rich, dark, garden dirt? It's intoxicating. There are few scents I enjoy more. Of course, the mixing in of manure, fertilizer, compost, plant food, and coffee grounds contaminates the experience somewhat, I'd imagine. I was a little disappointed this morning that the air smelled more like manure than dirt, but I suppose it is max-your-lawn time. But really. Dirt. If you have access to the good stuff, smell it. Or just walk through the garden section at your local big box store. Or bury your nose in a bag of potting soil. Or whatever. But do it, and thank me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Living Color

One of the lovely things about Spring is that there are all sorts of lovely things growing up around my house that I didn't even have to plant. These little purple things are a volunteer tulip-type thing that actually just grew up right out of the lawn, although I'm not sure how you get an accidental bulb flower. But lovely, regardless.

Also purple in the backyard right now are violets. They are EVERYWHERE, literally a weed. I've actually had to dig them out of the plots I want to garden because I know they will crowd out any plants I put in there. Growing up in Tucson, we had a scraggly violet patch that, against all odds, came back year after year with its cheerful little purple blossoms. I love having it back here, and welcome it as a weed to fill in the cracks in the sidewalk!

The next two pictures I consider a study in urban botany. I think the chain link sets off the flowers pretty dramatically! Walking around the neighborhood lately, I've decided that my favorite flowers are daffodils, so I was thrilled last year when these popped up in the spring and flowered! They came back this year, and I am glad they did. Also, obviously, there are some tulips back there too. I really love the color on these ones. I'm not sure who planted these guys, there's only one of each plant, and they're back by the alley, where not many people, aside from myself, can enjoy them. I dunno, whatevs. :) I'm happy about the situation.

Whenever I see tulips, daffodils, and the like, I have to restrain myself from telling the nearest hapless individual about monocots, and how they differ from dicots. (See, it's an issue of numbers of petals and stamens. And leaves. But enough of that.) I don't know why that stuff stuck with me so clearly from grade school, through high school, and into college and beyond. That and categorizing leaves based on shape. What a nerd, sheesh...

I will post more on my own plants soon, but these lovelies have been a part of my joy for the past week, so I thought I'd share :).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

As promised!

I have little spinaches! Everything else is still holding out on me, but I'm not tooooo worried. Outside, there are lilies and tulips popping up through the hodgepodge of last fall's foliage. The grass is greening up, and a tiny purple flower surprised me with its presence in the backyard when I was taking out the garbage today.

This weekend, I'm planning on digging up my garden spots, which is always an adventure. There are 120 years worth of trash buried back there, so digging around involves a lot of sorting. :) I'll take pictures if I find anything fabulous, like a chamber pot or Native American remains.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


We have green! It's not much, but one of my spinach seeds has sprouted. :) Pictures soon, when the light is better! Hooray!

Meanwhile, my reading has fallen to the wayside, since I actually have to work at work again. But Dave, I promise to write about "In Defense of Food" soon.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Morning has broken like the first morning

After not posting a blog entry for over 4 months, I am rejuvenating, revitalizing, reviving, and otherwise starting to blog again. This time, I have a theme, as suggested by a few Facebook friends. And I always do what I'm told on Facebook. :)

I have seeds planted! Yesterday morning, with the sunlight glinting off the piles of melting snow in the backyard and the air shimmering in the heat of about 45 degrees, Tim and I planted 66 starter pots. Gently pressing seeds into the soil and covering them up, we smiled as we listened to the joyful cacophony of raucous bird sex going on in the enormous blue spruce behind my house. It's not quite spring yet, but those boys and girls were not wasting any time.

Because I know you're interested, the seedling count goes like this:

20 Carrots
8 Spinach
6 Beans
4 Sugar Snap Peas
4 Summer Squash
5 Basil
5 Oregano
3 Cilantro
4 Parsley
2 Sage
2 Rosemary
3 Thyme
^ How nerdy am I, to get excited over a Simon and Garfunkel herb garden...

I did garden a little last summer, although my attempts were largely thwarted by an extremely anti-plant Golden Retriever. But the survivors really surprised me with their persistence. I had one cherry tomato plant grow to be about 5 feet tall, and it yielded tomatoes from July through October. My other tomato I believed to have been completely uprooted, but it held on and grew three large, juicy tomatoes for me anyways. My little pepper plant gave me several perfect little bells, and I loved admiring the dainty white flowers that it put out first. The relative success of last summer has inspired me to try again this summer, even though I have to be out of the house in July. My other source of inspiration has been the work of a woman who, though I've never met her, I feel like she and I would be friends. Probably a lot of people feel that way.

I know I'm totally behind, having only read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this past week. For goodness sake, I think my MOM read it over a year ago. But I didn't have a copy, or a library card, or disposable income... But I did finally buy it (with a Barnes and Noble gift card, thank you so much Renee!), along with two Michael Pollan books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I'm sure those two will find their way into conversation here too, but that's for a later time. I was able to blaze through AVM on two train rides downtown and finish it thanks to the ample free time afforded teachers during standardized testing. While reading, I found myself longing to join with Barbara Kingsolver's family in taking pride in growing my own food. I began to wonder how upset my landlords would be if I dug up the lawn in back to make space for more gardening. I did searches for heirloom vegetables and found some neat ones, although I ended up planting pretty standard varieties. I seriously considered making my own cheese. I considered how noisy chickens would be in the city. Then I began wondering if living in the country really could be for me, even though I've always considered myself to be a city girl. As I type this, it makes me blush a little to observe how impressionable I am. Although sometimes I'd like to be, I can't BE Barbara Kingsolver. Nuts. But I am planning on continuing as a customer at the neighborhood farmer's market! And, Lord willing, I will grow some of my own food as well, even if it means knocking on the front door in August and asking my former landlords if I can pick my tomatoes out of their backyard. :)

For now, though, I have my rows of dirt, haphazardly labeled, soaking in the late winter sunlight as best they can. My little biodegradable pots of promise.