There’s an encouraging, inspirational piece in last Wednesday’s New York Times, “Field Report: Plow Shares,” about an innovative group of landless, wannabe farmers who lend their hands and, often expertise, to help small, local farmers with land. Meet Crop Mob.
The group is based in the Triangle Region of North Carolina where “the sustainable-agriculture program at Central Carolina Community College draws students from across the nation who stay put after graduation,” and, according to Crop Mob, “there is a surge of new sustainable small farms. These farms are growing diversified crops on small acreage, using only low levels of mechanization, and without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers. This is a much more labor intensive way of farming that brings back the need for community participation.” The movement recalls the collective involvement of entire towns in agricultural activities prior to the migration to more mechanized, factory farming processes.
Once they’ve descended on a farm, the Crop Mob of 40 to 50 volunteers can accomplish more in an afternoon than the farmer could in weeks. The day New York Times reporter Christine Muhlke visited the group was working on Bobby Tucker’s Okfuskee Farm in Silk Hope, NC. “In five hours, these pop-up farmers would do more on his fledgling farm than he and his three interns could accomplish in months. ‘It’s immeasurable,’ he said of the gift of same-day infrastructure.” The cost to the farmer? A meal for the Mob.
The group started out as mostly young, twenty-somethings with a desire to pursue a simpler, more community-oriented life. However, it seems that the interest has expanded beyond that one demographic. More people of all ages are pursuing a passion for farming, for “getting their hands dirty.”
This initiative has the potential to give small-scale farms a leg up, a chance to compete. I wonder about the likelihood of this catching on in other areas of the country. That would truly be a movement: sustainable labor helping to meet the goal of sustainable farming.
How about this … how about we delete the word “diet” – as in “I’m on a diet” – from our vocabulary.
The word “diet” implies a temporary state of affairs, something with a beginning, middle, and a usually longed-for end, resulting in comments like “I’ve got to get back on my diet” and “I can’t wait until I get off my diet.” Well, think about that last statement. What happens when you get off your diet? I don’t need to spell it out. You know. So why on earth do we start something, that after much sacrifice, is doomed for failure? It makes no sense. Once you’ve hit your goal, you need to eat pretty much the same way in order to maintain it.
I write this from experience. I’ve been there. It took me way too many years to figure this out. I’m hoping that I can save you some time. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Consider Eat This, Not That: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution by David Zinczenko. I’d heard of Eat This, Not That, and seen Mr. Zinczenko on the Today Show, but did not pick up on the “No-Diet” part of the title. He’s not saying “eat this, not that” for a little while. No. He’s suggesting it on a ongoing basis. Maybe you fall off the wagon once in a while and indulge in the “blooming onion.” But splurging is the exception, not the rule. In general, you stick with the program. You pay attention to what you’re eating. You get back to your normal state of affairs.
I am not advocating Mr. Zinczenko’s method over any other healthy eat plan (the Mediterranean plan or the American Heart Association low fat plan or the Zone) – each person has a different body, metabolism, lifestyle, likes, dislikes. What I am advocating is an approach. Pick something you can stick to. Whatever eating plan you choose, consider it a permanent thing.
Your body will thank you.
Meatless Monday. The concept is simple – one day a week, don’t eat meat. The impact is profound.
This is a movement that is organized and gaining momentum. “Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our goal is to reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”
What is the impact of a reduction in the consumption of meat? From a health perspective, you reduce your risk of heart disease and maintain a healthier weight. As you substitute lentils, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds for meat, your diet becomes more well-rounded and provides an increase in the variety of vitamins and minerals you take in. From an environmental perspective, you “reduce your carbon footprint,” “minimize water usage,” and “help reduce fossil fuel dependence.” As individuals and as a society, these are meaningful changes.
Visit the web site. It contains a wealth of information – dozens of recipes, articles, tips, data, book and film suggestions – everything to help you make Monday (or any other day of the week) meatless.
Recently, Gwyneth Paltrow became a convert. She announced the launch of a Meat Free Monday movement in the U.K in her GOOP newsletter. Sir Paul McCartney, a vegetarian for over 30 years, penned the rationale. He cites a United Nations report issued in 2006, “which stated that the livestock industry as a whole was responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the whole of the transport sector put together.” He then details facts from the report, including the harmful effects of methane and nitrous oxide, two main gases produced by the livestock industry, and the amount of water and land the industry consumes. It is a compelling argument. On a lighter note, the newsletter includes a few recipes from famed London restaurant Mr. Chow and a list of vegetarian cookbooks.
One day a week: of oatmeal with berries, or a whole wheat pita stuffed with a scrambled egg and veggies for breakfast; lentil soup with a crusty roll and a piece of cheese, or pasta with marinara sauce and a green salad for lunch; and a hearty spinach salad with canned tuna and chickpeas, or vegetarian chili for dinner.
Feel better, look better, do better. What a difference a day makes.
There is a saying in Italian, “Meglio spendere soldi dal macellaio che dal farmacista,” which means that it’s better to spend money at the butcher than the pharmacist. In other words, eat well.
The Italian saying is found on front flap of Douglas Gayeton’s fabulous book, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, published late last year. Which also happens to be when I came across it, browsing the bookstore as I have a tendency to do much too often. It’s large, and it stuck out from the shelf, or at least it stuck out to me. If you’ve read other posts on this blog you’ll know that’s probably not all that surprising given my love of food, and Italian food in particular (although I do have a French bistro fetish, but that is another post altogether).
Douglas Gayeton is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and now organic farmer in Petaluma, California, who was sent to Italy by PBS to make a documentary. The film never did get made, but the photos he took were arresting, and PBS posted them on its web site. Gayeton’s genius was the concept of a “flat film” image created by combining multiple photographs captured over a period of time into one photo which portrays a meaningful representation of the event, and then layering each with “handwritten notes, anecdotes, recipes, quotes, and historical facts and that cleverly bring context and color to the subject of each sepia-toned image and draw us deeper into this romantic, rewarding, and progressively rare way of life.” He describes the process, which he discovered one afternoon during a long family lunch, in a short video.
As you page through the book, a narrative unfolds, slowly. Just as it should. Each photo tells a story. You’ll have to turn the book around to read many of the quotes and sayings. You’ll want to meet Marino who makes marble funeral stones with his two sons, Fiziano and Luca, and Guiseppina, the egg lady who knows her chickens (Conosco i miei polli – I know my chickens). You’ll want to learn a few new Italian words, like una scampagnata (an outing) and i funghi (mushrooms) and la moglie (the wife). You’ll want to eat, well. This gem of a book is an homage to a way of life that, even in Italy, is disappearing.
There’s a reason so many of us flock to Italy. Almost anyone I know, after returning from a trip, says it’s the food, it’s the quality of life. It’s about the pleasure of carefully choosing, preparing, and eating real food, and taking the time to appreciate it and those with whom we’re eating. In America, this is known as “Slow Food.”
If we choose, we can incorporate elements of “Slow” into our lives here. We can make an effort to know where our food comes from, and, whenever possible, opt for produce grown close to home or meat from animals raised in humane environments on small, local farms (more on this in an upcoming post). We can cook and teach our children to cook. We can sit down at the table, together, and enjoy a meal (A tavola!). Douglas Gayeton reminds us of this, and that sometimes:
“Il troppo stroppia”
More than enough is too much.
In a post on The Epicurean, titled “Two Web Sites Sharing Big, Bold, Innovative Ideas,” I discussed TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. The TED2010 Conference has just wrapped up in California where it was announced that chef Jamie Oliver is this year’s TEDPrize Winner. As the winner, he receives $100,000 and gets to make “One Wish to Change the World,” which the TED community then works together to support and help make come true. Jamie Oliver’s wish: “I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” TED has already posted the video of Jamie Oliver’s compelling talk in which he “makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food.” Watch it.
This is serious business. The TEDPrize is awarded to an “exceptional individual” who stands out among hundreds of other exceptional individuals and who has a wish that’s “big enough to change the world.” That this year’s prize has gone to an individual who is passionately fighting to bring our attention to what we’re eating and what we’re feeding our children, and who is taking concrete action to change our habits, well it says something. It says we’ve got a problem, and if we don’t do something about it, soon, it will only get much worse. We have an obesity rate and incidence of diabetes at historical highs, both of which have far-reaching consequences. As Jamie Oliver explains in his TED talk: today’s children are destined to have a shorter life span than their parents; the majority of the people in this country will die of diet-related diseases; and the costs of these diseases amount to 10% of America’s annual health care bill ($150 billion), a number which is set to double in ten years. And it’s not just America. Jamie Oliver’s food crusade began in England and he acknowledges that many other countries are not far behind. Cleverly, he suggests that if America takes the lead to address the problem, these other countries will follow.
Let me start by saying that I am most certainly not the world’s greatest cook. My brother is a better cook than me (of which I am both proud and mildly embarrassed). I cook a few things well. And I cook slowly, much to the chagrin of one ex-boyfriend. But when I do cook, I enjoy it (you can’t eat out or take in every night). I love food. I love good food. I’ve gotta cook.
I grew up in a house where cooking was a daily activity, with the exception of Friday, which was “pizza night,” and Monday, which was “stew night.” I still do not consider stew “cooking” or edible, but that’s my issue. Sunday’s roast, however, well that was another story … I loved that.
It never dawned on me that people, a large number of people, simply do not know how to do it. Do not know how to scramble an egg or cook some pasta and top it with some tomato sauce (even out of a jar) or broil a pork chop and steam some carrots. This is in no way meant as a criticism. I find it confounding because to me cooking is a basic life skill that every adult would naturally possess, like knowing how to swim. How could you not?
And that is the question … how can one survive and not know how to cook? Of course the answer is that it’s all too easy in a world full of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s should be the exception not the rule) and prepared food (if you don’t recognize the ingredients, as Michael Pollan says, it’s probably not food).
What I’ve not known how to cook, I know my mother does, or my friend Mary. So I pick up the telephone in some emergency state or another (my sauce isn’t thickening or my pie crust is crumbling, what do I do?) and get an answer. Today, the Internet is almost as good – do you know how many recipes there are out there, for free? What I find hard to grasp is not knowing to even ask the question. For all of the information that’s available, the message doesn’t seem to have gotten through.
Almost as important as the food we eat is manner in which we eat it. I believe something is lacking in our culture in which food has become cheap, fast, disposable. The sensual nature of food, the rituals created around the preparation and eating of food, are disappearing. I find that to be a sad thing.
So here’s something radical. Maybe it’s time to bring back the old high school course, Home Economics, and not just for teenage girls … guys need to eat too. When I attended high school, it was deemed an easy course – one to take to balance the rigors of Algebra and History – but that was because so many of us already knew how to boil and mash the potatoes, cook the broccoli, and bake chocolate chip cookies “from scratch,” not to mention sew a straight seam on a sewing machine and crochet a hat or two. You could get through the class “with your eyes closed.” And not only bring it back, but change the perception of it to something of real value. Teach the basics of nutrition (the fruit and vegetable aisle is a good thing, you’ll like it) and how to read food labels (any bad stuff in the top four, put it back on the shelf). Teach the pleasure of cooking and eating real food. Make it mandatory. That would do it. It wouldn’t solve all of our problems when it comes to food and weight, but it would be a start. As Jamie Oliver said towards the end of his talk:
Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single American child leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their lives … life skills.