Sunday, April 29, 2007

Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge, The Final Day

Baby grape leaves on the vine

I think I am going to write a new diet book; I'll call it Eat Local, Feel Better, Help the Earth, and Lose More than Weight. Too long a title? Yeah, well, maybe.

I don't actually know if I lost weight during my local eating week, but I feel as if I ate this way all the time, I would. Whether this is due to what I was eating this week, or to the pressure of reporting what I was eating to the world, I don't know.

We have been trying to eat as locally as possible for a year or so now, so I didn't expect to have any major revelations during our experiment. And, in fact, the focus of our meals is usually local. What I realized was that the extras usually weren't. My granola, for example- even though I make it myself, from ingredients purchased from the Mennonite store, I felt it had too many non-local ingredients to include it even as an exemption. Tortilla and potato chips come from the grocery store. (There are local chips around, but we don't like them as well.) Same thing with ice cream. Mayonnaise, mustard, catsup. And this is probably why I feel like the week was a slimming one- with the exception of the mustard, all of these foods are calorie dense, and for the most part, highly processed; things I shouldn't be eating anyway.

For our last day on the challenge, I tried something I have been wanting to do for a while- make my own tofu. I'll talk about the process more at another time, but I did it because I realized I had no idea where my tofu as made, how far it travelled, anything. Soybeans do grow in the field down the road from my house, but since they are a commodity, I have no idea if the ones I bought at my local bulk store grew here or in Missouri. We also toasted the end of our week with the MOST local item since the dandelion soup- Chuck's Devil Dog 50-50 Wine. Using our own Concord grapes, Chuck has made wine for the past 4 years. He thinks the 2006 vintage is the best- I think it surpasses Koolaid in sweetness. I generally pass it up.

The Menu:
Breakfast: The last of the cherry zucchini muffins. Thank goodness!
Lunch: Chuck had the last of the chicken corn soup, I had a peanutbutter whoopie pie bought at the Mennonite greenhouse when we purchased some pansies for the garden.
Dinner: Stir fried spinach, green onion and mushroom over brown rice with tofu
Snack: Yes, yogurt. With peaches. And Chuck had Devil Dog Wine.

Local Items:
Muffins already included in weekly total
Whoopie Pie- $0.79
Spinach: $0.50
Onion $0.50
Mushroom $0.50
Yogurt- $0.24
Peaches $0.25
Wine: Priceless. The grapevines came with the house, all we do is pick them and wash them. I guess there is a yeast cost, but it would be in the fractions of a cent.

Tofu: Also Priceless. OK, OK, $0.25 for the soy beans, ($1.00/pound, we used 1/4 pound) $0.10 for the solidifier ($9.95 for a quart bag full, we used 2 teaspoons)
Brown Rice: $0.25 ($0.55/pound)

Total: $7.88. Total for the week- $81.88 with Wednesday's lunch out, $58.25 without the lunch out. I'm pleased that we came in well under the $144.00. We ate pretty much the same way we always eat, I didn't find it too dull. I did find it hard to keep from looking in the freezer or the cupboard for things to toss into the soups or the stir-fries- I'm sort of a seat-of-the-pants cook.

Caveats: I came into this with a lot of preserved food from last summer. It's a lot of work, but worth it. There were days when I came home from work and thought if I never saw another peach or tomato I would die a happy woman, but it sure tastes good now.

Purchasing meat as whole animals does take an outlay of money at the time of purchase, but is very cost effective over all. And I like having everything I need here, so that at anytime I can say let's have "X" and go get it out of the freezer.

On the other hand, I do have to have 2 freezers- one for meat and one for vegetables and fruit. I had the equipment and expertise I needed- I have always canned fruits and dried things. I've made my own yogurt for years, off and on. I like the feeling of self sufficiency I get from knowing how to do stuff like that. It's the same reason I spin yarn and weave. I'm not going to clothe myself with my output, but I could if I had to.

Some might say it was easier because I do live in the country, sort of. I would have thought that, too, except I keep an eye on the local food available where my children live- Kansas City and St. Louis, and let me tell you, KC has WAY more opportunities to eat local than I do. Not only are there a lot of small farmers, but the artisan products in the city are more plentiful, too.

Devil Dog 50-50 label

Chuck enjoying his wine

Friday, April 27, 2007

Day 6 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

It was a tough day today in the real-life arena, and that bled a little bit over into the local eating thing too. Tomorrow is our final day; it will be nice to be released from the obligation to calculate costs, but I have learned a lot this week.

Tonight's dinner contains one of the "local-est" ingredients. Um, maybe I am over exaggerating there, but I bet I'm the only person in the challenge eating this tonight!

Years ago, when I was still in high school, the daughter of an old family friend was getting married. For whatever reason, there was going to be a goat roast to celebrate the wedding. My parents friend felt like it would be cheaper for him to buy the goats young and raise them up for the feast. When we arrived at the wedding there was indeed roast goat, but there were also two pet goats wandering around. When it came time to slaughter, come to find out it was easier to go buy two unknown goats than to slaughter Patsy and Daisy. I have always worried that if we tried raising meat animals we would end up the same way.

The goat we had for dinner tonight was one that didn't get sold at the 4-H auction last year.My friend, who raises meat goats, called to ask if we were interested in buying it.

I have bought goats from Sandy in the past. The first one we bought was very small. We took it with us on our trip home to visit our son in St. Louis and it fit nicely in our larger cooler. My son used to work with a number of recent immigrants from Bosnia, who tantalized him with tales of the deliciousness of roast goat. When I called him to let him know we were bringing a goat, he floored me by asking if I could get the head and bring it too. I was taken aback by the request. Turns out his friend, Patrick, the one getting an MFA in sculpture, had a hankering to make something out of animal bones. With great trepidation I asked Sandy if I could have the head; to my great surprise she said that many of her Muslim customers find the head to be a great delicacy, and of course I could have it. She would even show me how to roast it if I wanted. I passed on that, and called Bart to tell him the head was coming too. "Cool, can you get a bunch of heads?" was his reply. Yeah, like I am going to drive half way across the country with a cooler full of goat heads. "Well, you see, Officer, we are just taking them to my son so his friend can make a sculpture out of them..."

We roasted the little goat in a pan made for cooking a Thanksgiving turkey; stuffed with apples, onions and garlic, it was wonderful. The head went to Patrick's house, where he put it in the freezer section of the refrigerator WITHOUT telling his mother, (who actually owns the refrigerator) first. She was thrilled, as any mother would be.

This goat was a little larger; approximately 40 pounds dressed weight. We told the butcher that we wanted it left whole, thinking of that first tiny goat. We picked it up just before my son's wedding, when I was anxiously filling the freezer with muffins. Just in case I didn't have room for it in my freezer, I had asked a friend if we could keep the goat in her freezer until after the wedding, she agreed, adding "As long as there are no heads involved". I assured her there would be no heads.

Chuck and I went out to pick up the goat, armed with our large cooler. On the way I told him that I thought I might be getting to the point where I could raise my own meat animals without becoming too attached. He snorted.

Wrapped up in plastic, the goat was a little larger than I expected. Chuck went over to pick it up to put it in the cooler, and as he turned to walk towards me, I saw a goatish grin sticking out from the layers of plastic. Not only was there still a head on the goat, but the teeth had cut through the plastic and were grinning at me. At that moment I knew I wasn't yet ready to raise my own.

The goat, roughly the same size as our Labrador Retriever, did not fit in the cooler. When we got home, it didn't fit in the freezer either, but I hated to impose on my friend. We decided to butcher it ourselves. We laid it out on the kitchen table, and managed to cut it into 2 pieces- a front half and 2 back quarters. That did fit in the freezer. However, this past winter we bought a lamb, and when we took it to the butcher, we also took the goat parts and had him cut them into chops and roasts. Tonight we had a small roast, roughly the size of your two fists together.

The Menu:

Breakfast: Why, Yes! It is indeed the zucchini cherry muffin!
Lunch: Chile Relleno Casserole
Dinner: Goat flatbread sandwiches with spinach, green onion and cup cheese. (Cup cheese is apparently a Pennsylvania Dutch treat- it comes in a tub and is supposed to taste like brie. Let me tell you, this is some funky stuff! Ours came from Lancaster.)
Snack: that same yogurt and peaches (I've gotten so it is almost as satisfying as ice cream!)

Local Items:
Eggs: costed them yesterday
Anaheim chilies: costed them yesterday
Cheddar Cheese: costed it yesterday
Green onion: $0.25
goat: $4.00 (The goat cost, all told, $80.00 and weighed 40 pounds, this was about a 2 pound roast)
Cup cheese: $0.34 ($3.38 for the tub- believe me, we didn't use a lot!)
yogurt $0.24
Peaches $0.25

flat bread: costed yesterday

Not local
Spinach: $0.29

Total: $5.13; 74.00 with Wednesday's lunch, $50.37 otherwise

Top picture is The goat . Bottom picture is the cup cheese- See what I mean about it being funky stuff? A really unfortunate color and texture...And you should SMELL it!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 5 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

The list of bloggers participating in the Penny-Wise Challenge is posted over at the Eat Local Challenge blog. I'm anxious to read what others are eating, and how they are doing.

I read this over on Jamie's blog, 10 signs like this "It's all too tempting to say a lot of what we eat is "free"--after all, we produce our own eggs and most of our own vegetables. But we know better than anyone that it's not free! We'll charge ourselves fair market value, i.e., what we'd charge for it at the farmers' market."

I'd like to know how other people have chosen to cost their home grown produce. Personally, I have a garden for 2 reasons; taste and cost. Jamie is making a living from her produce, so that puts her in a different place than I am. I don't grow to sell to others, I garden so that I can afford to eat the way I want to eat. That's the same reason I can and freeze and dry so much during the harvest season. I am most comfortable costing out the price of the seeds and calling it even. I guess that probably doesn't help the person reading who doesn't have a garden, or isn't able to "put by" things for the winter, to get an idea of the costs of eating local. But I am curious as to how others have solved this dilemma.

Today is my Mother's birthday- I made a special dinner in honor of her. (Too bad she lives half way across the country and can't come eat it with me!) When I was growing up, I thought my mother was a wonderful cook. She made several things that were among my favorites, one was chile rellenos. Tonight I made a chile relleno casserole. I was too lazy to go downstairs and get the camera, so once again this is a cell phone picture, sorry for the less than sterling quality*

Also, I forgot to cost out the flatbread when it first appeared on the menu on Monday. Yikes! The cost tonight is the cost of all 8 flatbbreads I made on Sunday, so I won't count them again this week.

Day 5- The Menu
Breakfast: the ubiquitous cherry zucchini muffin (Costed out on Monday)
Lunch: flatbread with cheddar cheese and green onion
Dinner: Relleno casserole with salsa
Snack: yogurt with cherries

yogurt (in flatbread): $0.36
yogurt (snack): $0.24
green onion (4): $1.00
eggs (6): $0.60
Anaheim peppers $0.10 (from our garden)
cherries: $0.50
cheddar cheese: $0.80
salsa: $0.25 (from our garden last year)

flour: $1.10 ($0.55 per pound, used 2 pounds)
rice: $0.55 ($0.55 per pound)

Total: $5.50 for the day, 68.87 if we include yesterday's lunch, 45.24 if we don't.
*What a strange world we live in where I am apologizing for the poor quality of a picture taken with a PHONE for gosh sakes!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day Four Penny-Wise Challenge

I fell off the wagon today for lunch, but it was a planned fall- Administrative Assistants Day, and we went out to lunch. Our AA is the hardest working woman I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and I wouldn't have missed the day for all the local food in Pennsylvania. And I listened to Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma on the way to and from the restaurant, so my mind was still on the challenge, even if my stomach was not. The book has so much food for thought, much of it disturbing. What struck me the most today- a quote from the man who founded Cascadian Farms- I probably don't have it word-for-word, "Eventually everything morphs to the way the world is." Man, how depressing for those of us who want to change the world!
And on to the Challenge.

The Menu:
Breakfast: Cherry Zucchini muffins (Costed out on Day 1)
Lunch: W- went out; C- peanut butter and green onion sandwich. (Yup, that is correct.)
Dinner: Chicken Corn Soup with Chard and Black Eyed Peas.
Snack: Yogurt and peaches

The Local Items:
Green Onion- $0.25
Yogurt: $0.24
Peaches: $0.25
Chicken Corn Soup- $2.66 (See Day 2 for breakdown of costs)

Semi-Local Items:
Peanut Butter: $0.25 ($1.99/pound)

Not At All Local:
Bread: $0.26
My lunch out- $23.63 (Includes tip)

Total: $27.54 with lunch, $3.91 without
Total for the 4 days so far: $63.37 with lunch, $39.74 without.

Interesting note- I read in our local paper that our "showcase restaurant" here in town is getting new management. It will be managed by an off-site company, but the on-site manager-employee says he has a commitment to local food. It will be interesting to see. Two or three years ago I drove my Mennonite neighbor around to every restaurant in town with boxes of produce from her family farm- no one would buy any.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Day 3 Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

Hellebore, or Lenten Rose

I love my garden. It's the best part of living in this house. About 6 years ago we put in a pond, and constructed a man-made creek that falls from a waterfall at the edge of the backyard.
Chuck ran a hose under the creek to pump water from the pond up to the waterfall; with the flip of a switch we can have moving water. When I got home from work tonight, Juniper and I went out to sit in the yard and watch the birds bathe in the creek. The hostas and Solomon's Seal are poking their noses up, the Lilies of the Valley will be blooming soon. Bleeding Hearts bend over the creek, and the Lenten Rose is in full bloom. My favorite? Tonight it was the tiny flower of the wild ginger, unobtrusive and unseen. The picture was taken with my cell phone- sorry it is a little blurry. I didn't crop out my thumb so you could get an idea of scale.)

Eat Local:
One thing I have noticed already, I feel like this is more meat than I usually eat. Ordinarily, I will eat hummus and pita for lunch, or a pita covered with spinach and cheese melted over it. But since the hummus and spinach aren't local, I have skipped them this week.

OK, on with Day 3

The Menu:

Breakfast: Muffin, just like yesterday (And I just realized I included the cost of the whole muffin batch in yesterday's total, so I guess they are free the rest of the week!)
Lunch: pork roast sandwich with jalapeno jack cheese, (Chuck had cheddar), root beer
Dinner: Pasta with beef, onions and mushrooms in a roasted tomato sauce
Snack: Yogurt with cherries

The Local Items:

Pork roast $3.06 (About 1/4 of what was left over from Sunday)
cheese $1.23 ($4.33 for the total chunk of Jack, used about 1/10th of it, $8.00 for the chunk of cheddar, we used about 1/10 of it)
beef- $3.32; ($5.00 for the total, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
Pasta- $0.76 ($1.15 for the total used, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
Mushrooms- $0.33 ($0.50 for two, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
green onion $0.33 ($0.50 for two, we ate about 2/3 the amount prepared)
Roasted tomato sauce-$0.10; made last August and frozen
Yogurt $0.24
Cherries $0.50; (Picked and canned last summer)

Sadly, not local
Hanks Root Beer, $1.00; made in Philadelphia- misses being in my foodshed by about 45 miles. Price is an estimate- I need to go do a price check tomorrow. We do have a local root beer, made by the Appalachian Brewing Company. It's pretty tasty.
Bread $0.52; I'm really bummed about this- I thought it was a local bread made in Lancaster PA. Turns out the bakery is about 45 miles out of my foodshed, but also is a subsidiary of G. W. Weston, which owns the companies that make Thomas Bagels and English muffins, Boboli, and Entenmanns.
Total for the day: $11.39

Monday, April 23, 2007

Day Two- Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge

You know, I think I committed a cardinal sin yesterday, and didn't post the link to get to the Eat Local Challenge. I'll correct that now.

I also forgot to link to an article on that blog by Heather C, Eating the Lawn, who used a different part of the dandelion for part of her first Eat Local day.

Now, on to Day 2.
Since the Attack of the Muffin Woman back in September, I have been trying to keep muffins on hand for us to eat for breakfast. So after dinner last night I whipped up a dozen cherry zucchini muffins for this week. Alas, I burnt the bottoms. But we ate them anyway. I also baked some flatbreads for lunches this week. They turned out great, but sweeter than I would have liked. Everything I did yesterday was just a little bit off- not bad, just not quite as good as I had hoped.

The Menu:
Breakfast: Cherry Zucchini muffin
Lunch: Flatbread with pork roast, green onion, provolone and hot pepper goat cheese
Dinner: Chicken Corn soup with chard and black eyed peas.

The local items:
cherries- $0.50-picked and dried myself-
Zucchini- $0.01- from our garden last year, frozen
honey- $0.84; I used 1.5 cups, $4.50 per quart
Eggs- $0.40
Yogurt- $0.24
pork roast- $3.06 (approximately 1/4 what was left over from last night)
green onion- $0.50, we used 2 at $0.25 each
goat cheese- $2.14; used about 1/4 of the chunk we bought, and it cost $8.55.
I have to figure the soup separately, because it will be 2 meals (And it was REALLY good, BTW)-
Chicken- $1.00 (The chicken cost $4.00, this was 1 cup of chicken, about 1/4 of the total)
Corn- $0.75- I used the frozen kernels of 3 ears, usually $3.00 per dozen ears during the summer here.
Chard- $0.01- from our garden and frozen last fall
Black Eyed Peas- $0.56- canned by a processor about 25 miles from here. I dither about including these in the Local category. Local they may be, but who knows where those peas were grown.
$5.32 total for the soup, $2.66 for the portion we ate tonight

Semi-local ingredients:
Flour $ 0.55, used 4 cups total $0.55 a pound.

Not At All Local:
Chicken Broth $3.00- used 1.5 quarts, $2.00 per quart. This is Industrial Organic, and I guess I need to start making my own broth. (This is figured into the cost of the soup above)
Provolone $1.86, used approximately 1/4 pound, $7.45 a pound.

Day 2 total- $12.76.

Day One, Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge

Ingredients for the Cream of Dandelion Soup

The first day of our week long Challenge is under our belt, and it was harder than I anticipated. Not the food part- we ate just as we eat every Sunday. What was hard is figuring out the costs of things- I know, for example, how much I spent on a pound of oatmeal, but breaking it down to get the cost of 2 cups of oatmeal is trickier. Some foods I had in the house, and don't know how much I spent on them. But I will do the best I can...

There are two of us eating for this challenge.

The Menu-
Sunday, April 22
Brunch- Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes with Apple Slices, Peanut Butter and Maple Syrup
Dinner- Pork Roast, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Cream of Dandelion Soup

Dinner picture from the cell phone

Pancakes on the grill

The costs:

The local ingredients;

3 cups of yogurt (made it myself), $0.72
apple slices- (canned them myself) $0.25
Butter $0.66 ( $5.25/pound, we used about 2 oz through out the day
Pennsylvania Maple Syrup- $17.10 per quart; used approximately 1/2 cup- $2.13
Eggs- $0.20 ($0.10 each)
Pork Roast- just over 4.5 pounds at $4.00 per pound, $18.40 total, we will make 3 meals out of it so tonight's cost is $6.14
Dandelions from the backyard- free, but a lot of work!
leeks from the garden last year- $0.01

The Semi-Local ingredients (These are not grown or produced in our area, but were purchased from local businesses- a farmers market and a natural foods store that sells bulk items- rather than a chain- best I could do)
rolled oats- $0.55 per pound; $0.10
peanut butter- $1.99/pound, we used approximately 1 oz- $0.12
Sweet potatoes- 2 at $0.65 each; $1.30
carrot; $0.05

Grand total, $11.68

Critique- I'm not thinking we'll be having the Cream of Dandelion soup anytime soon, but I am glad I made it. The recipe, from A Veggie Venture called for Dijon mustard- and that was the taste I objected to, not the slight bitterness of the dandelions. But it was fun to make a soup from something that is not only free, but all over the yard. Our yard is chemical free, about the most noxious thing that might be on the dandelions would be dog urine, and I washed them 4 times...If you aren't sure of your dandelion source, don't gather them.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

And now to interrupt our regularly scheduled blog...

A Real World Friend, who blogs under the name of Whozat tagged me on the Thinking Blogger Award. She says this:

"I know Willa in the real world, but I feel like I've gotten to know her a lot better since I've been reading her blogs. Yumminess Ensues features recipes and more, while Plants and Animals... is mostly the "more" but both blogs have some really interesting insights into her strong convictions about eating primarily locally produced foods. This is something that I admit I've not thought much about before. I also admit I'm not ready to actually undertake it at this point, but I'm learning a lot and have been thinking more about these issues lately, thanks to her."

I'm really moved by this, because I find that I examine what I am writing more carefully because there are people out there reading this stuff who know me, and who can call me out if I say something outrageously wrong, supremely self-serving or utterly stupid. I've written for public consumption before, but this feels so diffferent than writing for the newspaper. So I am honored that Whozat reads and returns, but also I am honored that I make her think. That's what I wanted when I started this, to make people think about food and where it comes from, about how we treat this place where we all live, and about the animals who share our space with us.

So, now I have to name 5 blogs that make me think- and I guess I can't point back at hers (Although she does make me think, both in the blogsphere and when we meet in person AND about more than whether or not she will catch me in an exaggeration!) It's tough- there are so many that I enjoy, that make me laugh, or tear up.

OK- here goes-

Cookie Crumb, at I'm Mad and I Eat makes me think- The first thing I think is "Wow, I wish I wrote like her!". The second thing I think is that I would like to have her and Cranky over for dinner- especially if they cook! I dunno, I just think we have a lot in common.

Robbyn, at The Back Forty makes me think- I love how willing she is to experiment with her gardening. I also love that she has a goal- Chuck and I like to dream about homesteading, but never quite get it off the ground. Again, we seem to share something. I love that she "closes" her blog for shabbat.

Sher, at What Did You Eat, makes me long to take pictures like hers. She inspires me to do better with my photography. She has squirrels, and she taught me something about squirrels that I didn't know, and that REALLY made me think!

I wish I had access to Agnostic Mom when my kids were still at home. Especially after we moved here to PA. We homeschooled our kids for various reasons, none of them religious. In St. Louis we had a terrific support group, made up of people with a wide variety of religious beliefs or non-beliefs. When we moved here, we didn't fit the homeschool picture. I could have used Agnostic Mom MANY times on the PA homeschool list-serve! I mean, if you want to think- how's this from her March 25 post: "While most religious people think morality comes from their god and some non-believers think it is purely a social construct, others of us (including myself) believe that humans have an innate moral sense which is a compilation of states that evolved in humans"

Carla at Local Forage always provides me with something to think about. She's so far ahead of me in the ethical eating department that I can't even taste her dust.

A couple of group blogs also always provide me with food for thought, but since they are groups blogs, I don't know the protocol for tagging them. So I'll just mention them- The Ethicurean and the Eat Local Challenge.

Thanks for thinking of me, Whozat. This has been, well, thought provoking. (And wait until I start talking about the local party dinner being REALLY local....)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Lost Posts and a bunch of other stuff

I have written some amazing cogent, coherent, down-right excellent posts for this blog. You have never read them. Written in my head, as I drive to and from work, by the time I got to the computer, they were gone like the memory of a dream.

Recently, I did this with a post that tied together an article I read in Mother Jones Magazine, something I heard while listening to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and something else about marketing to children. Believe me, it was superlative. I was so impressed. Of course, now it's vanished, completely gone. So I will write this post- not the same, but what the heck.

My sisters and I used to play that game, where you listed the people you would most like to have dinner with, and why. Somehow, most of my supper guests were women authors- Alice Walker, Rita Mae Brown, Elizabeth Moon, Sharon McCrumb, Mercedes Lackey . And Barbara Kingsolver. Right now, my top number one choice for dinner would be Barbara Kingsolver.

I've read all of her books, and love them all. In addition, Barbara is leading the life I dream of living- pastoral, bucolic, and it looks like her kids still are young enough to live at home. She has a book coming out in May, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, in which she chronicles a year of local eating.

In the article Seeing Red, in the May-June issue of Mother Jones Magazine, Kingsolver talks about the politics of food and agriculture through the medium of tomatoes. She talks about the growing disconnect between eaters and the producers of the food we eat. She says "When we walked, as a nation, away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry soap commercial."

I've seen that disconnect. When we first moved here to rural PA, and were looking for a house, we rode around the county with the real estate woman. Ant one point she said "I wish the farmers would sell this land fronting the roads so we could develop it. They don't need it anyway." I was sitting in the front seat, and I felt my husband's hand on my shoulder- apparently I was about to fly out of the car in indignation. I remember thinking "Who on earth does she think is going to feed her if the farmers sell the land for new houses?" Sadly, more people here think like the real estate woman than like me, and new houses pop up like mushrooms. Mushrooms, by the way, are among nature's clean-up crew- feasting on the dead and rotting.

Kingsolver goes on to quote Wendell Berry saying "Eaters must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used." And she gives an example of that disconnect through the lens of tomatoes packaged under the name Appalachian Harvest, and marketed to supermarket chains in Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia.

In this example, she tells how collection of approximately 37 farmers in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, working with a nonprofit group called Appalachian Sustainable Development jumped through all the hoops involved in selling produce to chain supermarkets; organic certification, "appropriate" packaging, training. Things were looking good, until midsummer 2005, when they were ready to reap what they had sown, turning the red tomatoes into greenbacks, grocery store buyers backed out. Cheaper organic tomatoes, trucked in from California, went on the grocery store shelves instead of the locally grown. The farmers took a loss, the surplus locally grown tomatoes were donated to the poor, and the supermarkets made money.

Kingsolver says that 81 cents out of every food dollar we spend goes to processors, marketers, transporters, with the remaining 19 cents going to farmers. Corporate farms take most of that, she says, adding "We complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might actually send back more than two dimes per buck to the humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn."

According to the Alabama Farmers Federation, Americans spend about 10.7 percent of their deisposable income on food, compared to the 14.9 percent Australians spend, and the 51 percent spent in India. Like cheap gasoline, we demand cheap food, without thinking of the hidden costs. Perhaps not even realizing there are hidden costs.

Next week Chuck and I are going to be participating in the Penny-wise Eat Local Challenge. This challenge seeks to provide an answer to the complaint that eating local is too expensive for most people.

During this week, we will be eating as much as possible from a "foodshed" defined by a 100 mile radius of our home in South Central Pennsylvania, reporting on the cost of the food. We will be using a budget of $144.00 for the week, with 2 people in our family. We are still under frost here, so much of what we will be eating will come from the things I canned, froze or dehydrated last year. Somethings simply are not grown locally- grain crops come to mind. For those, I have decided I will buy them from locally owned businesses rather than chain grocery stores.

I've always been a big advocate of Voting With My Dollar, or as I read on some website recently, Voting With My Fork. For so many reasons, keeping a supply of fresh, local food available to Americans is very important to me, from food safety issues, to emergency preparedness issues, to simple health reasons. If we continue to demand the cheap food regardless of hidden costs, we may wake up one morning to find we have no local food available. Let me urge you to vote with your dollar, or your fork, as well.
And, if any of you ladies mentioned above would like to drop by for dinner, I usually eat around 7.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hi, I'm Willa

And I'm a bottled water addict.

Sad but true. Now, here's where I try to justify my behavior- "It's my only addiction." "I only drink bottled water away from home." "I recycle all the bottles."

Actually, I do only drink bottled water when I am away from home. Well, OK, when I am away from home, or when I am downstairs and I don't want to go upstairs to refill my glass. And sometimes during the winter the water feed for the refrigerator freezes, so of course I have to drink bottled water then. But I don't really have a bottled water problem. Or do I?

And here's where we do the intervention.

Actually, I really hadn't thought about the issues surrounding bottled water. I hadn't really even realized there were issues surrounding bottled water. But back in February, Organic Bytes, the newsletter from the Organic Consumers Association arrived in my email box, with a headline stating "Ending Bottled water addiction will save money and environment" I followed the link, and discovered this tidbit "Supplying Americans with plastic water bottles for one year consumes more than 47 million gallons of oil, according to the Container Recycling Institute. That's enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Add in the additional amount of oil it takes to ship the bottles thousands of miles from extraction source to recipient, and your drink of H2O could be categorized with the "Hummers" of the world." (Organic Bytes # 103)

Add in the fact that bottled water isn't necessarily healthier, or even as well tested as tap water, and I am ready to wash this monkey off my back.

But how? And I don't mean that in a fluffy sort of way, this is a serious question for me. Here's the problem-
1) I drink a lot of water- I like to be very well hydrated.
2) I don't drink anything BUT water- no juice, teas or soda. When away from the house, there's no stopping by a convenience store and buying anything but water.
3) When in the car I can't drink and drive well, so I can't use a cup for water because it spills down the front of me.

An additional issue is that most tap water around here has too much chlorine in it for my taste. Once it has gone through the filter on the fridge, or the Britta, it's OK, but right from the tap is like drinking a swimming pool.

So- I have to find a bottle-like container that is not plastic that I can refill with filtered tap water at home and take with me. I have unpleasant childhood memories of the smell of canteens, so the stainles steel bottles are all that appealing to me. But I could get two 27 oz. bottles from for around $25.00. The only other thing that comes to mind is the glass bottles that things like Snapple and Lipton Tea come in. But in order to acquire a supply of these- (and I would need several bottles, because I'm lazy) I would either have to find a heavy consumer of these products willing to give me the bottles, or purchase them myself and throw out the stuff inside. I could purchase a LOT of Snapple for $25.00, I guess.

Any suggestions, anyone?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Hey, I'm back!

I was out of town for most of last week, at a conference for work. For the most part, it was a good experience; I learned a great deal and had a pretty good time. I was immersed in a culture I know very little about- the conference was for people who are associated with youth summer camps. The not-for-profit for whom I work has summer camps as a component of the operation, but I am not generally involved with them. Along with the seminars, there was an exhibitors hall, a small city of booths where vendors reeled conference go-ers in with hooks baited with samples of all things camp.

I got some cool swag, including a peacock feather I can balance on my finger, but as I walked through the vendors village, I found I was really discouraged by the state of food in our summer camps. (I guess if I were still involved with schools, I would be equally depressed about the state of food there, too.) Food items were about as real as Saturday morning cartoons, designed to appeal to kids who eat the things advertised on them. Highly processed, brightly colored, they grated on my nerves, already exposed from listening to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma on the way to the conference. I asked a young camp director about the food choices; she replied that most of the food served at her camp was micro-wave ready. A vegetarian who lives on Kraft Mac and Cheese during her summer tenure, she added "It's because of all the food allergies. The food has to be bland or the kids get sick." That didn't make sense to me, but before I could question her further, the currents of people intent on samples of Bugjuice and peanut-less peanut butter swept us apart.
I was left with a sense of despair- how will we ever change the future when the kids are being trained to eat Kid's Food? Somewhere out in blogger-land, I read an excellent series of articles about kids food and kids eating food, unfortunately I can't find the post, nor remember the poster. I DO remember that it reinforced my opinion that feeding kids special kids food creates a generation of picky eaters.

My email brought me a post from Local Forage in which Carla talks about her appearance on a radio show with author Sandor Katz and Taylor Boetticher, the charcutier (translation from the French- Pork Butcher) of The Fatted Calf . A flurry of link-clicking took me to, where I was able to add a whole bunch of books on food and the politics of eating to my wish list. I was surprised to find there were so many that I had never heard of.

On the home front, Chuck took care of my seedlings very well. These are tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Anyone want to guess what I am using as plant markers?