Coming Home to Eat: Your Local Food Supply

I’ve read quite a few things about the local food movement but hadn’t gotten around to reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat until this week.  This is one of the books that kicked off the “local foods” movement and got people thinking beyond organic.  I mean, organic is great but does it really “save” anything if the organic food is traveling 2000 miles to get to your plate?

Maybe you’ve come across (or remember) that phrase that feminists used in the 1960s to describe their conversation about women, domesticity, and politics:  THE HOME IS POLITICAL.

Well, the same can be said of food.  EVERYTHING YOU PUT IN YOUR MOUTH IS POLITICAL.

I love it when my students tell me that they can’t participate (or write a paper) about a political topic because they aren’t political.  I suppose they mean that they don’t know anything about politics, don’t keep up with politics, and maybe not even vote.

I find this laughable because every time they open their mouths to eat or drink, they are making a political choice.  Our current food system is highly politicized–controlled by a handful of large corporations who have invested heavily in the politicians in office.  They own large parts of the government, continuing to control a food system upon which the majority of the population has become dependent.

But what if you want to break out?  Break away from the industrialized food system?  That, certainly, is a political decision, as well as one based on choices of health, finances, or morals.

Nabhan argues that you can break out–but it isn’t easy.  Packaged, processed foods are so easy and ubiquitous. If you want to do this, you are going to be labeled a weirdo and made to feel bad.  But stick with it.  While you are enjoying good health and more money in your pocket, your name-calling friends will be waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

“What if each of us, day by day, fully fathomed where our food comes from, historically, ecologically, geographically, genetically?  What would it be like if each of us recognized all the other lives connected to our own through the simple act of eating?  What if we understood which other specifies were regenerated, and which were contaminated or destroyed by what we choose to eat, by our care or by our carelessness?  The way we garden, gather, fish, or forage can be a communion, or it can become an ecological calamity.  The more we understand where our food comes from, the greater the change there is that we can save the living riches of the natural world.”  pg. 163.

As a side note:  Nabhan wrote this while living in the southwest and he’d scavenge for wild foods frequently.  In particular, he talks about Mesquite bean flour and prickly pear.  I wish he’d gone into more detail here–descriptions for how and when to harvest and how to process.  He talks about doing it but provides no directions or instructions.  So I’ll be digging deeper into this because we specialize in Mesquite and prickly pear cactus on our farm right now.  Not because we’ve chosen to but because that’s what nature has given us.  If you are processing either of these right now, get in touch–I’d love to know how you are doing this!

Independence Days

One of the things I picked up at Lehman’s is Sharon Astyk’s book, Independence Days:   A guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. 

Turns out, the book is more and less than I imagined.  After a quick flip through and a read of the first few pages, I imagined the book to be about how to preserve food that you’ve grown or acquired locally, mixed in with a healthy dose of food politics.  All good things.

It is this, but it’s more–more in a different sort of way.  More like a “end of the world, major crisis, must learn to weather a nuclear fall-out” kind of more.  I wasn’t really prepared for this sort of crisis-oriented look at food storage, imagining this was more of a “Laura Ingalls on the prairie” kind of food storage book.  Yes, I knew this book dealt with food politics but I didn’t realize it did it from an “end of the world” crisis perspective (emphasis mine).

It’s not that Asyk is an end-of-the-world nutter, she isn’t, but she does believe that a crisis in our food system is impending, and she’ll be prepared for it.  I’m sorry to say that we will not.

The book is well written, an easy read, so I stuck with it.  And I agree with much that Astyk has to say about the food system and how we rely on it in a false cloud of security.  And while I’m a food stocker, always buying more than we’ll eat and having a pantry and freezer full of stuffs, I’m no where near ready for a real crisis, according to Astyk.

To begin with, I only have about 1 lb of oats on hand.  I really need 50 lbs.  I maybe have 5 lbs of rice, if you combined all different kinds I’ve got.  Again, I should have at least 50.  And I’ve got way too much in my freezer.  If the electricity dies for 2 weeks, I’m screwed.  All that meat I’ve stocked up is a goner.  Flour?  I’m low right now–probably only about 15 lbs total, and that includes wheat, rye, etc.  Most of which are small amounts of specialty flours.  I need more like 100 lbs of flour.  Preserved foods not needing electricity? Well, a few cans, jars, etc.  Some home canned but most from the store.

And what about food that doesn’t have to be cooked?  How would I cook all that lovely meat defrosting in my non-electrified freezer?  We have a gas burner top that I can light with matches.  Did that the last time the electricity was out for a whole day.  But beyond that?  All my camping equipment is now at the farm.  I’m strung out now between two home-sites across a 2 hour distance. The food is here–the cooking equipment is there.

What I’ve taken from the book is that there is much more I can do to bring myself to a greater degree of food independence, whether I’m preparing for a short or long-term crisis or not–food independence is something we should all be thinking and doing more about.

Learn more about Sharon Astyk’s books and views on life at her website and blog.

Full Moon Feast

I usually read a lot on our summer vacations but our six-week road trip wasn’t really a vacation in the traditional sense of the word–it was a trip, an adventure.  And I didn’t get much reading done.  There just wasn’t time for it.  Our days were long–driving or touring and at night, we worked furiously to keep up with the online classes we teach.  The few moments of free time were spent with Emma:  swimming, watching her do karaoke, or playing bingo at one of the campgrounds.

The only book I read this summer was Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast.  I picked it up at a little shop in Staunton, Virginia, called Sacred Circle.

The book is part cookbook, part native people’s history, and part local-food sociology.  Divided by the 13 moons that govern our world, Prentice has detailed some aspect of each month based on food, illustrating the connections between our lunar calendar and traditional food ways.

If you’ve been looking to eat more local and seasonal, this is a book you’ll be interested in.  Not that all the “local and traditional” food ways are relevant to your home place but the ideas behind them are.

I’ll be giving several of the included recipes a go soon–

Winter to do List: Earth Oven

I’ve been dreaming about  an earth (or brick) oven similar to this one for a long time.  I have a bread baking book that includes instructions for a clay version, and I’ve been looking at Build your Own Earth Oven on Amazon longingly.

This oven is at Colonial Williamsburg at the military encampment.  It was cold and quiet the day we were there–the only thing cold in Williamsburg.  It was unbearably hot and humid that day, so I’m not surprised that the camp follower didn’t have this oven fired up.  I’m not sure if she (the camp follower–probably a soldier’s wife) or one of the soldier cooks would have been in charge of baking bread in an encampment like this circa 1776 but if there had been a full enlistment of soldiers, a lot of bread would have been coming out of this oven.

I’ve been dreaming a lot about building an oven like this, and it’s moving up on my to-do list.  Maybe late this fall when the weather finally cools off.  Then I could bake bread outside when it turns cold.  Of course, I’m already dreaming of pizzas, casseroles, and all the other yummy things that can be baked in a wood-fired oven.


Colonial Cooking: What’s in your Kitchen?

Because I love to cook, I’ve been keen on all the colonial kitchens we’ve traipsed through over the last few weeks.  The one at the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg was in full gear the day we were there, despite the high 90s heat and even greater humidity.  I sure felt sorry for these cooks working all day around the large fireplace, churning out food that looked iffy, at best.  I suppose this is what folks ate in 1770 Virginia, but I wasn’t ready to plunge in.  Seems to me, they need a new food stylist.

Reproduction food (is that what you call it?) always has this sort of off-plasticy look to it.  Why is that?  It certainly didn’t make me want to jump in and try my hand at any recipes, or receipts, as they would have called them.

But if you are more game than I, check out Colonial Williamsburg’s blog about colonial food or the Taste of History videos.  We had dinner at Chef Walter Stalb’s City Tavern in Boston and the food looked contemporary and tasted delightful.  So perhaps it’s just that the food at living history museums sits around all day and grows pale?

Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms Field Day

Ok, here’s the truth.  The real reason we are on this road trip is because we bought tickets to Field Day at Polyface Farms, the “beyond organic” farm of Joel Salatin in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.

I read a couple of Salatin’s books and have been intrigued with his methods for raising poultry, beef, and hogs, and I wanted to see him in action first hand.

Basically, Salatin captures the sun by growing grass.  This he uses to feed his animals a “salad-bar” diet by pasturing them in mob-groups in small paddocks and moving them daily–sometimes twice daily.  Pigs get to be pigs, enjoying their “piggyness.”

Wouldn’t you want to take one of these baby chicks home?  Emma did.  She named it Bertha and spent over an hour in the brooder house.  I think she’s ready to have chickens now.  Which is good, since we are planning on pasture-grazing a lot of them.

Just like this–a mobile hen house with chickens surrounded by electrified-wire netting.  You just move the hen house every third day and reposition the netting.  Then collect your eggs every day.  Happy chickens, happy breakfast eaters.  Or maybe we’ll get some bunnies, like this one.