Alice Waters knows it. Jamie Oliver knows it. AmeriCorps knows it. Be honest, you know it too. The way we teach our kids about food? It matters. Let us know about your efforts, big or small, for a chance to win a copy of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.
It’s not news anymore, but the story is no less startling for its age. In fact, age is precisely the issue. If we don’t change our food system—and I mean really change our food system, stat—our children will have a shorter life expectancy than we do.
In theory I’d like to offer a recap of how our country’s food-supply system got to the point where shopping at a typical food store is in many ways equivalent to driving through McDonald’s, and driving through McDonald’s is in many ways equivalent to causing the earth to crumble under the very feet of our grandchildren, which might not matter all that much since they wouldn’t stand a chance in the face of rampant drug-resistant bacteria, anyway. You know, in case you’ve been too busy to follow the development of the American food crisis since approximately the beginning of the 1900s.
The problem is, the mere prospect of sitting down to write a couple of paragraphs about this issue consistently fills me with dread and bile and nausea. Sometimes tears. Not very appealing for a food blog, right? I think the general undesirability of mixing dinner with bodily fluids explains why I haven’t made an overt point of this issue all that frequently here in the past. (Occasionally I haven’t been able to help myself. But mostly I’ve shied away.)
I started this site when I was a coordinator for a Community Supported Farm, and a lot of the early posts were about kohlrabi, fresh horseradish and green garlic. It’s no secret that my family and I cherish real, local food and source our meals as much as we can off-the-grid. Still, I feel pretty strongly that the last thing the real-food movement needs is another excuse to take itself too seriously. Like early feminism, the cause would benefit from a little more lipstick and a little less stick-where-the-sun-don’t-shine. So I generally try to keep it light around here, cajoling and offering delicious alternatives rather than hitting you over the head with industrial chickens that can’t walk because they’ve been bred to have giant breasts.
For better or worse, and especially now that I’ve got my own family’s interests to think about, I tend toward chipping away at big problems with a teeny, tiny hammer. Put off by Tyson and Perdue? Buy from a local farm. Maybe eat more beans. Wish people would cook at home more? Write a recipe and cross your fingers that someone will read it. Tired of white cardboard strawberries imported from Mexico? Maybe go so far as to open your garage to your neighbors and a local farm. Want to teach your kids how wonderful food can be? Buy fresh ingredients and cook them together. And try really hard not to feed them school lunch.
I love the way it feels to live a daily life full of small, edible victories. In many ways, our family has already crafted a gastronomic existence to be proud of by simply opting out to a substantial degree. I have to admit that at times, I’ve been a little too satisfied by our own private solution and a little too complacent about taking bigger steps toward lasting, systemic change. Sometimes it’s too easy to pack a healthy brown-bag lunch for school, sign a petition or two, and call it a day.
But for a variety of reasons, I’ve been feeling a recent push toward a little more activism. Don’t worry, there won’t be any toppled-over chickens gracing these pages (well, except these, but they resulted from a different kind of anatomical challenge). Now seems like as good a time as any to take a little step back to re-introduce some basic resources on sustainability, as well as a little step forward to join the busy folks working toward change on a national and even global level. (Also, apparently, a good time for doing a little spastic dance involving stepping forward and back simultaneously.)
Stepping Back: Along with many of the websites on Umami Girl’s Resources Page, especially Civil Eats, Culinate, Food Politics and Slow Food USA, here is the shortest short list imaginable of excellent introductory resources. If you haven’t yet gotten your hands on these, I’d really encourage you to do so.
- If you’re inclined to read a skinny little book, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food (comment below for a chance to win it!) is a solid introduction to the issue, and more bite-sized than The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
- If you’re only inclined to read for 15 minutes, Time Magazine ran a quite good cover story last year.
- If you’d rather watch a movie and can act quickly, PBS is streaming the movie Food, Inc. in its entirety, for free, through tomorrow, right here. I won’t lie, it isn’t easy to watch. But even from the perspective of someone who’s read just about all the recent books on the same or similar subjects, Food, Inc. is really worth the cognitive dissonance.
Stepping Forward: One of the reasons I’ve been feeling motivated this week is the news that AmeriCorps is launching FoodCorps, a farm-to-school program currently being built from the ground up under the auspices of (and, from what I can gather, in the model of) the well-established AmeriCorps organization. To date, all I’ve done is join their mailing list (and, ahem, encourage you to to the same). But in the coming weeks I’ll be learning and sharing more about that initiative, as well as a couple of other efforts related to sustainable food that are currently underway in our new town.
But I need your help here, too, my lovely, astute and engaged readers. I need to hear your ideas, your experiences, and your inspirations about building a better food supply for our children.
- What are you doing (or aspiring to do) to help solve the food crisis? No effort is too small to share!
- Where are you turning for inspiration and information?
- Leave a comment by Monday, May 10 for a chance to win a copy of In Defense of Food. I’ll draw a winner at random.
And to nourish us through the long and winding journey, I’ve brought Little-Girl Salad. It’s a nod to my own childhood, which was never short on fresh foods and time to prepare them with Mom (who got to eat Big-Girl Salad). You’ll notice its similarity to Niçoise salad. This version is a little more froufrou than the original, but it’s still the essence of fresh, healthy simplicity.
Little-Girl Salad (Niçoise Salad)
1 whole fillet wild Alaskan salmon, 2-3 pounds
1 lemon, very thinly sliced
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound haricots verts, trimmed and steamed or boiled until al dente
6 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup kalamata, oil-cured or other black olives
8 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, tarragon, and/or chervil, if desired
Salt and pepper
1. Heat a grill to high heat. Place the salmon fillet on a large, sturdy piece of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the lemon slices over the flesh. Grill the salmon until done to your liking, about 10 minutes for just barely opaque in the center.
2. Rub the asparagus with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill until nicely charred, 2-3 minutes per side. (Flip just once.)
3. Make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, herbs if using, and a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk together to emulsify.
4. To serve the salad family-style on a large platter, remove the lemons from the salmon and line them up with the capers sprinkled on top. Either cut the salmon into portions or flake it with a fork, leaving the skin behind in either case. Arrange the salmon on the platter. Toss the arugula with two tablespoons of the dressing and arrange it on the platter. Continue by tossing the haricots verts and then the asparagus each with one tablespoon of dressing and arranging them on the platter. Add the olives and eggs. Sprinkle it all with a bit of finishing salt (such as Maldon sea salt). Pass the remaining dressing at the table.