In Defense of Food

This week’s small steps: A lunch of spring greens from the year’s first farmers’ market, giving a special book to our contest winner, and finding inspiration in your small steps.

beet greensEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Those are Michael Pollan’s word to live by. We’ve probably all heard them by now—but I’ll never forget how I felt when I first read them in his article Unhappy Meals, published in The New York Times in January, 2007. I’d held a similar food philosophy since childhood, and I’d already been acquainted with Pollan through The Omnivore’s Dilemma the year before. But those words—ancient truths bursting with urgency in the modern moment—those words were different. They were a shiny new beginning and a ticket home, both. An unhappy corporate lawyer sat in my chair that morning and devoured the monstrous article in one sitting. She did not stop to speak with her family until she was through.

They haven’t heard the sound of silence since.

Our local farmers’ market opened for the season last weekend. Every spring, I use this moment to return to Pollan’s words, to try to relive the feeling of digesting them for the first time, to channel my good but sometimes scattered intentions into that place where anything is possible. To borrow a little motivation from the master.

This year, thanks to all of you, my sources of inspiration are multiplying like the rabbits I can’t seem to bring myself to to give Umami Boy the thumbs-up to breed in the backyard. (We’re getting chickens, though, for reals. Wish us luck.) Your comments about small steps toward sustainability are quite the encouraging force.

These are a few of my favorite ideas from your comments. Thanks to everyone for all the great suggestions!

  1. Cooking with your kids is an especially rewarding endeavor. But, like anything else with kids, it can also be both harder than just doing the darn thing yourself and a lot less charming than it looks in commercials. Commenter Anja suggested watching a good cooking show on TV with your children and then trying to replicate the process at home immediately afterward. I love that idea for putting some of the organizational onus on a third party.
  2. Commenter Anna Muggiati holds a cooking playgroup with a few friends and their young children and blogs about it here. It’s not the smallest of small steps, but it’s a great idea and could be a lot of fun.
  3. Lots of you mentioned trying to cook at home more often, and with local ingredients where possible—and sharing stories, information and encouragement with friends. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to read that. These are true small steps, but they add up to a vast, and vastly important, result over time.
  4. A few of you mentioned something that I aspire to get more involved in but haven’t yet done: showing up at school in one capacity or another to share your knowledge and elbow grease with kids. Teach them about worms’ role in composting, help start a garden, or just dip a bell pepper in some hummus together once in a while. It’s the showing up that counts.
  5. Commenter Stephanie stressed having fun and being inclusive in the pursuit of good food. It’s something the sustainability movement has struggled with in the past. Let’s get on that, people!

And, of course, the winner of In Defense of Food, where “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” earned immortality. Congratulations to Anna Muggiati! Your comment number was chosen with the help of I hope you enjoy the book.

beetfore & after

Skillet Greens with Bacon and Feta

-serves 1 or 2-


  • 1 large bunch cooking greens (kale, beet greens, chard, collards, dandelion, mustard, etc.)
  • 2 ounces of the best, thickest center-cut bacon you can find
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock or water (for long-cooking greens only)
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 ounces feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper

1. Wash the greens in several changes of water and dry thoroughly. Strip the greens from their stems and tear into large bite-size pieces. If the stems are tender (yes for beets, chard, dandelion, mustard / no for kale and collards), chop them into 1-inch segments.

2. Start with a skillet that is wide enough to embarrass you at the thought of using it to cook lunch for one. Heat it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Chop the bacon into 1-inch pieces and add to the heated skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is about 2/3 as crisp as you would like it and has given off plenty of fat.

3. If you will be cooking your stems, add them to the skillet now, along with the garlic. If not, just add the garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for two minutes.

4. Add the greens to the skillet and stir (preferably with tongs) to coat all the greens with a bit of bacon fat. For relatively tender greens (all but collards and kale): Cook uncovered until the greens are just shy of desired tenderness. Add the cider vinegar and cook for one minute more. For collards and kale: Cook uncovered for a few minutes, then add the stock or water and cider vinegar. Cover, lower the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook to desired tenderness, probably about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Place the greens in a bowl, crumble the feta cheese overtop, and serve.

  • Chickens!!! Wow!ReplyCancel

  • congrats on the chickens!!!
    we heard recently… hey… at least your father’s day shopping is done… & I know a little girl that will be thrilled to help collect eggs at some point! :o)
    and when you start those cooking playgroups, just lmk… hee hee…
    and any recommendations to try this sans bacon!? I know… I know… how dare I utter those words… but… ya know… what should I substitute?ReplyCancel

  • I’m so envious of your chickens! Looking forward to hearing more about how that goes. I’ve been thinking about it for a few years now, but just can’t seem to bring myself to take that next step… maybe one of these days. For now, I’m lucky to live in No. Cal. where we can get local, organic eggs pretty easily.ReplyCancel

  • Congrats on the chickens! I don’t have any myself, but my neighbor’s chickens do wander through my yard regularly. The plus side is that they like to eat bugs and slugs out of my garden. The minus side is that they REALLY like to eat zucchini out of my garden…ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn,

    I am so happy to be the winner and have the book! I really like Pollan’s work and Food Rules is always a gift I like to give for my friends. My next step is to join a CSA soon, after coming back from vacation. Good luck with your chickens, I can’t wait to read about them : )ReplyCancel

  • […] few weeks ago I shared some of the sources I look to for sustainable food inspiration. But I left out a key element of what brings us here in […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Recipes Spaghetti Squash with Crispy Bacon and Turnip Greens from Cooking by the Seat of my Pants Skillet Greens with Bacon and Feta from Umami Girl Dandelion Greens with Ramps, Bacon and Blue Cheese from Healthy Green […]ReplyCancel

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