"We've become a nation focused on consumption instead of compassion."
Meal preparation has hit a new low this week except for the fact nearly everything is local. Monday night was leftover turkey soup. Not bad.
Thinking ahead I put two delicata squash, a few potatoes and one fat yam on a cookie sheet in the oven. The cute guy turned it on the next night, set the table with candles and fresh off the bus I sat down with him for a romantic one course baked dinner.
Last night it was eggs and rice with backyard serrano peppers before we ran out the door to see Mark Shapiro and tonight we ate grocery store roasted Petaluma chicken at the counter with Acme bread, Clover butter and overcooked broccoli and I ran out the door again. This time to see Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation.
I'd read the book some years ago and remember liking it, being a little belligerent about some of the stories, "I mean how could industry get away with such things?", I would say to whoever would listen, but the details are gone. When I bought tickets for tonight's event it was to see Orville Schell who would be doing the interviewing.
Mr. Schell was well spoken and knowledgeable but Eric Schlosser turned out to be the rock star. He has a rare combination of a grounded, relaxed demeanor paired with a hot passion for the topics he chooses to investigate and write about. And he was generous and humble in his pairing with Orville Schell. I declare myself a groupie.
By coincidence Mr. Schlosser wrote an op ed piece in the New York Times today about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers I've previously blogged about and their effort to procure a penny more a pound from Burger King for the Immokalee tomato pickers. He spoke a lot about the system that employs the workers and the audience wilted in their chairs. He spoke of the work of the CIW and the low cost to Burger King to agree to a wage increase. People clapped. I wanted to jump out of my chair and do cartwheels.
Mostly Eric Schlosser was optimistic about the growing movement of food awareness. He's a local food guy, which surprised me. I'm going to keep an eye on him.
If you would like to sign the petition being generated by Oxfam America on behalf of the CIW to present to the CEO of Burger King and didn't previously do so, here it is again.
"We've become a nation focused on consumption instead of compassion."
A month ago a co-worker told me of a benefit event in Berkeley with Michael Pollan and an author I had never heard of. I waved it off.
But today the same co-worker sent me a link to the talk again, which is happening tomorrow night, and I shot her back a thank you with exclamation points. The unknown author with Mr. Pollan is Mark Schapiro who was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air yesterday about his new book - Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products. Not a come hither title.
What perked my attention to his interview, and I only heard bits and pieces, and the talk tomorrow night, was his explanation of how certain plastics breakdown in our systems.
I recently had a discussion in a fish restaurant about fish eating plastic and we eat the fish and how that can't be good for us. But my no-name friend's point was that the plastic doesn't breakdown, that's why it's out there floating in the ocean. There was a certain logic I wanted to believe and I was hungry; I ordered fish.
The other piece I picked up yesterday from the interview is that the US is accepting products to be sold here that are banned by the European Union. The US does not impose as strict environmental and health restrictions as the EU. In fact the US is referred to as a dumping ground for products that the EU declines.
Bad book title or not, I have last minute tickets and I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
Actually, maybe I'm not.
I won't bore you with details of the chewy organic Dietsel turkey. Suffice it to say there is a picked clean carcass simmering in a soup pot.
The bird did however take much longer to bake than expected. At the appointed dinner hour and without setting the table, we served tasting plates of brussel sprout hash. Which should have been the plan from the beginning since inspite of wrinkled noses and a couple of brussel sprout virgins everyone hungrily agreed to try it.
With a scraped clean plate one of the virgins excused himself for a cigarette
Half an hour later, I set up a buffet of sweet potato galette and extra stuffing straight from the oven and quickly got out of the way. The turkey was taking its perfect slow time.
By the time the beast was finally brown and rested the suggestion of setting the table was as popular as our current administration and we had our third course of mashed potatoes, gravy, more stuffing and turkey on our original tiny plates.
"We should do it this way every year," the cute guy said. There were full mouthed murmurs of agreement.
"Are there more brussel spouts?" the smoker asked.
"On the counter," I replied. I did not raise my fist and shout a sweet yes of success. But I wanted to.
Some weeks ago I went to a talk titled Food, Labor and Justice: Fair Wage Farming and sat by the door just in case. Ten minutes into it I quietly moved to a seat up front, in the middle. And I stayed after the talk was done.
The young man presenting, Lucas Benitez, a farmworker and co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and his translator, a powerhouse in her own right, Melody Gonzales, of the Student/Farmworker Alliance were rock stars except they didn't know it. The key to Lucas's success in securing the first wage increase for tomato pickers in 20 years by taking on Taco Bell, McDonald's and now Burger King is his humbleness . Although his smile and straight talk surely support his efforts.
The much celebrated wage increase that was hard fought and won by the CIW was a penny more per pound to go directly to the farmworkers. The average wage for decades has been .45 cents for a 32 pound bucket of tomatoes or two and a half tons of tomatoes picked in one day to make the current minimum wage. With no benefits or overtime.
I can't remember the last time I had to pick up 32 pounds of anything let alone toss it to somebody on the top of a flat bed truck.
This afternoon I received a link to a Thanksgiving commentary that addresses the Florida farmworker's wages which is worth reading and a link to Oxfam America to support the CIW by signing a petition to be presented to the CEO of Burger King to raise farmworkers wages.
Before heading to the kitchen to continue preparing our holiday meal I considered the men and women that handle our food and I signed the petition for Lucas Benitez, Melody Gonzales, the CIW and all the farmworkers that keep the world fed; one 32 pound bucket at a time.
This is what I notice about preparing to eat a local Thanksgiving meal; it's quieter. The holiday dinner is the food we eat every day. Well, except for the turkey. Okay, and the pumpkin pie.
The food is real food, no sugar added, no labels of nutritious this or that. The food is regular red onions tossed in my purse like loose change at the Tuesday market. It's persimmons and pears to eat when the mashed potatoes are gone and to enjoy as art before then.
The food is potatoes and yams bought with a smile and a few dollar bills. It's a Canvas Ranch pumpkin still sitting on the table, a bunch of celery too beautiful to have ever been removed from it roots. The food is wild leggy parsley, brussel sprouts, walnuts, brown eggs, butter, sage and ranch cured olives in a mason jar.
There is barely any packaging, no advertising, no sale items, specials or add ons. There are no lists of ingredients, no nutrient claims, or warnings. There is only naked food.
And the stories and smiles of all the farmers who grew it.
Tip for Next Year:
Label the winter squash as to which farmer you buy it from.
I ate the sweetest delicata squash of my life today. Plain, baked, no butter, no sugar, nothing added except a touch of sea salt. I even ate the skin and the taste kicked my butt.
The delicatas came from Paradise Valley or the Harry Potter farmers in Pt. Reyes. I can't remember.
The cute guy had some for lunch too. He called me at work. "What did you put on the squash?"
I could hear him considering that. "Wow," he finally said.
(The photos is a palm sized hubbard squash that I also baked and it had no squash to it. It was all skin. Disappointing except that I had loved looking it.)
The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture has done it again. All I do is think of some piece of information I wish I had and presto whammo there it is at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market.
First I wanted to know which vendors were within 100 miles of the market and if they were organic or pesticide free and I wanted to know it without having to take notes I'd have to refer to each week without having to start over. And the CUESA provided identically organized signs at every vendor.
Lately I've been thinking I should make a list of the different market terms and what they mean because it gets confusing but the CUESA beat me to it. They have a glossary of market terms free for the taking at their market table.
It's not like I don't know what organic means or pesticide free or that I think about the difference consistently once I get to a farmers' market. Some days I simply get so excited about a box of pretty apples with a pink cheeked farmer that I forget to ask how the the apples were raised.
And truth be told on those days when I do remember to ask, I still buy from the man or woman that has the nicest smile. The one that handles the produce with a certain respect. I often choose character over certification. My reasoning is if the farmer is happy, likely so are his workers and so is his soil.
Reading the glossary I learned that organic meant no GMO crops and that free-range claims on eggs and beef are not regulated. I didn't know that farmstead cheese meant that the cheese is made by the same people who keep the animals that produce the milk. And I didn't know that the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market prohibits the sale of any products known to contain GMO's.
But now I do. The glossary is good information for shopping anywhere, especially if you don't have the farmer standing right there. If you'd like a copy let me know. I'd be happy to send it to you.
This is what grace was like at our house tonight.
Blessings on you. Blessings on the meal.
Blessing on my favorite Italian farmer with the dry farmed tomatoes who told me how to slow roast them. On the garlic that came from the farmers' market but I can't remember which one but I know is local.
Blessings on Deborah and her beautiful helper at Canvas Ranch for the peppers, on the farmer and his wife at Paradise Valley for the onion that was sprouting on the counter. Blessings on the basil from the backyard and the pesto I made that didn't get freezer burned and the walnuts that were in it from the man in Healdsburg whose wife cracked them in the evening next to the fireplace.
Blessings on the Petaluma Mushroom Farm, on the olive oil woman who refilled my jar and put her label on it perfectly over the other. Blessings on the people at Clover Stornetta for the butter and the bread bakers in Freestone that made the bread.
Blessing on the noodles that were in the pantry from Safeway and blessings on the salt that came from some place faraway and makes everything local taste so, so good.
And blessings on you.
My Dad feeds the wild turkeys. They wait for him at the top of the hill. "Tonight I was late," he told me. "They left." I could see him kicking dirt on the other end of the phone.
Last year on his birthday he was feeding a pair of crows. "They know what time I get to the ranch and when I go home they are already waiting for me to eat the crumbs out of the back of the truck."
Before the crows there was a wild dove.
Dad has a deal with the local bakery. They put their leftover bread in a container by the back door a couple of times a week. He picks it up. "I feed it to the critters," he tells me.
Dad has chickens, geese, a few cows. He used to have a goat and a big old red cat. They all eat bread. Any wild animal within a twenty mile radius has likely ate old bread at Grandma's ranch.
Grandpa did the same thing but the bakery was in town and he'd pick up their old bread on Saturday mornings. Grandma would soak it and feed it to the dogs.
Being the third generation, I buy fresh bread at the farmers' market, cut it into cubes and bake them slowly with olive oil and herbs until they are crunchy like they are old. And then I eat them all before anyone else has a chance.
"How could we live without new books?" I asked the cute guy.
"What about heat."
"Sweaters and socks."
"But it would be cold." I shivered for emphasis.
He just looked at me.
This is how we've spent the last couple of days; playing the how could we live without - fill in the blank game. It's Melinda's fault at Elements In Time. Last Friday she wrote about a group that is reducing ALL of their consumption of resources by 90%. I hate that.
Letting go of bananas and eating seasonally is an easy gig in this little valley of west marin but now, now I'm thinking about each light I turn on, if the computer is unplugged before I go to bed, how many times I flush, if we could make it through the winter without turning on the heater. I didn't expect this save the planet impulse to leave the kitchen but I'm realizing it's got arms. Lots of arms. And they are pointing their fingers at places I don't want to look.
In the kitchen though, there is nothing but thumbs up. Well, except for the kabocha squash, five of them that already began turning bad. I cut off their soft bottoms, baked them and we ate them skin and all. They were ridiculous with nothing but butter and sea salt. I want more.
And there was the Friday night pizza dough that didn't raise. It could have been the new organic yeast but likely I used water that was too hot to start it with. Our local pizza was more like a local big crouton with tomatoes, caramelized onions, peppers and cheese.
Then tonight I pan roasted pumpkin seeds with a new Peruvian pepper called rocoto, from the pepper man with the Hawaiian shirts and three hours later we are still coughing. Those things are weapons. We added six of the pumpkin seeds each to our salad that was made with nearly everything from one of our last Canvas Ranch farm bags; lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, goat cheese, sauteed onions and leeks and wheezed our way through dinner, yelping each time we got a speck of pepper.
We decided a couple of those peppers could help keep us warm all winter, no problem.
Periodically I receive updates from Michael Pollan regarding upcoming events, articles or interviews.
This announcement arrived today:
I've written an op ed piece on the farm bill, "Weed it and Reap,"
which will appear in the New York Times "Week in Review" section
tomorrow (Sunday). We'll post it on the website later, but thought
you'd like a heads up. The bill comes to the Senate floor this week.
There are some important amendments on the floor, as I discuss in the
piece. Please do let your Senators know where you stand.
If you would like to receive announcements from Michael Pollan too, you can subscribe on his website.
And if you live in California and would like to call your senators to speak up on the farm bill, or any issue that lights your hair on fire, their numbers are as follows:
Senator Barbara Boxer's Washington office: 202/224-3553
Senator Dianne Feinstein's Washington office: 202/224-3841
A real person actually answers the phone at the Senators' offices on weekdays and cordially takes a message.
I've discovered the Wednesday food section of the New York Times.
Last week there was a recipe that was brilliant and I came home raving about it until I realized I'd left the paper on the bus. I have no idea what it was for. But it was brilliant!
The week before that there was a review of the movie King Corn, which opens in San Francisco tomorrow; with the directors.
And yesterday there was an article about shrimp with a succinct explanation of why shrimp suck and why some don't suck as much as others. Poor little innocent shrimp.
I can't wait to get next weeks edition.