Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Apocalypse Now?

I've been reading two interesting, if frightening, books that critique our current system of food production and distribution. In The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler, author of a scathing indictment of suburbia entitled The Geography of Nowhere (which I haven't yet read), asserts that we have already reached peak oil production and that the westernized world, which is overly reliant on cheap oil for everything from manufacturing to agriculture to the millions of Americans living in the aforementioned suburbs, is in for a big shock. All those technologists touting the wonders of hydrogen and other future fuels are simply delusional Pollyannas, says Kunstler, since "no combination of so-called alternative fuels or energy procedures will allow us to maintain daily life in the United States the way we have been accustomed to running it under the regime of oil" (p. 100) It is with a grim sort of glee that Kunstler describes the myriad ways in which declining oil production will cause us to descend into what he has deemed the long emergency - a period of increased localism, especially in regards to food production (remember, the current system of food distribution means most goods travel between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table). Take Kunstler's rants with a grain of salt, however, as he clearly has a beef with suburbia and some of his statements verge on Islamaphobic.

Thomas Pawlick's The End of Food uses a simple question - "Why are the tomatoes you buy in a supermarket like red tennis balls?" - as an entree into a thorough examination of our modern food system. What he finds is shocking: the nutritional content of most fruits and vegetables (not to mention meat) grown on corporate farms has been steadily declining since at least the 1950s. And that's just the beginning. Food additives, antibiotics, factory farms, pollution, loss of biodiversity - Pawlick exposes how the corporate model of agribusiness, with its relentless focus on "efficiency," is costing us all. The solution is to "think locally, fight locally," by planting community gardens, shopping at farmers' markets, and participating in grassroots campaigns, such as efforts to label genetically modified foods.

And just in case Kunstler's long emergency is just around the corner, I've put Robin Robertson's Apocalypse Chow on hold.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Meet Daryl Hannah

You may know her from films like Splash and... well, okay, if you're like me, you're really only familiar with her because of Splash. But did you know that Daryl Hannah is also a vegetarian and environmental activist? Now she can add video blogger to her credentials. What does this have to do with food? Well, in the third episode of her enviroblog, Daryl profiles a funky vegan eatery. I also got a secret thrill from watching her lick her gas cap (no, that's not a sexual innuendo) while discussing the nontoxicity of biodiesel. If I had to criticize her blog at all, I would say that there's not enough supplemental info about the cool things she checks out. Otherwise, it's a well-produced resource for anyone interested in the many facets of environmentalism.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Blue Plate Special

Brandon and I biked to Cherry Deli one sunny evening the other week. They've expanded their vegetarian options, and I had a hard time choosing which sandwich to sample. Luckily, the girl behind the counter recommended the Giddings, an awesome veggie reuben sandwich featuring squash and zucchini. It was a three-napkin sandwich, and I kept wiping at what I imagined was a ring of Russian dressing forming around my mouth after every bite. So good!

So naturally I had to try to recreate this masterpiece at home. I sauteed some zucchini and yellow squash, and added shredded cabbage and avocado (to replace the cheese) in between two slices of marbled rye. I used the russian dressing recipe from Food Network's Vegetarian Reuben, substituting Nayonaise for mayo. I served it with a side of pretty Terra sweet potato chips. Pretty good, but no Cherry Deli sandwich. Plus, Cherry Deli names all of their creations after streets, parks, and other locations in Grand Rapids. What could be cooler than that? For a list of their selections, click here.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Sometimes I am amazed at how much waste two people can generate. I recently threw away an entire head of organic broccoli because I didn't get to it fast enough. It's been so bad lately I've been avoiding feeding my worms because I feel like there's just too much waste food for them to process. And I'm not alone - a study conducted by an anthropologist at the University of Arizona revealed that American households waste on average 14 percent of their food purchases.

To make things worse, food pantries are constantly fighting to get ahold of enough fresh fruits and vegetables for the people they serve. This article appeared in our local paper last week:

Four-year-old Dion Stanton climbed into the back of his family's car, surrounded by cereal, canned goods and juice -- all recently picked up from the Salvation Army's emergency pantry.

His mom, Carolyn Stanton, 24, said she and her son moved to Grand Rapids last week from Detroit and she visited the pantry while getting settled in. She tried to pick out healthy foods for her and her son -- he likes corn and spinach.

But the Salvation Army was out of fresh fruits and vegetables Wednesday, a need many area food pantries expressed.

"If people have excess produce from their gardens your local food pantry would love it," said Terry Cruzan, coordinator for emergency services at the Salvation Army.

Since I don't have my own garden, I'm going gleaning Thursday morning for the Second Harvest Gleaners Food Bank of West Michigan, picking corn out of a local farmer's field. Maybe helping to feed others will make me more mindful of my own waste.

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Pattypan Squash Stuffed with Cajun White Beans

Apologies for not posting these past few weeks. You could chalk it up to:

1) Our library system's Summer Reading Club winding down

2) Graduating (thank the good lord I didn't fail cataloging)

3) Preparing for an interview in the Emerald City

... or a combination of all three.

Regardless, I've still managed to have some exciting culinary experiences these past few weeks. To celebrate my graduation, I had a few people over for a sushi making party. My sushi skills are getting progressively better, though there's no photographic proof. We even made dessert sushi, which was incredibly messy and tasty. Along with crystallized ginger, we also had sliced strawberries, mango and chocolate ganache for filling. Ali, Melissa, and I tried rolling it as directed, but we weren't about to bother with chilling it. As a result, the rolls were pretty apt to fall apart. After a couple tries, we decided to switch to dessert nigiri - perfect!

Food from our CSA is still rolling in; this week we got our first eggplant. I'll be making baba ghanoush tomorrow.

We love action shots!

A couple of weeks ago Melissa and I made some stuffed patty pan squash. The blogger whose recipe I tried said the beans tasted like sausage, and sure enough, they did (at least to me). Patty pan squash, like most summer squashes, has a high water content, and unfortunately this recipe does not reheat well. So just invite a few friends over to eat these with you.

By the way, kudos to Melissa (a pastry chef for the posh Sierra Room) for the beautiful photo of her dessert that appeared on the front page the lifestyle section of our local paper recently. There's no picture appearing with the story online, however, so you'll just have to use your imagination.