Sloppy reporting. June 5, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: advantages of vegetarianism, bad science, Seventh Day Adventists, statistics, studies, vegetarians
1 comment so far
Silence Dogood here. If you’ve ever taken a class in statistics, you know that by shaping the parameters of a study, you can make it say whatever you want. (“Three out of four people have blue eyes,” you can announce, if you find three blue-eyed people and pair them up with a brown-eyed person. No matter that blue eyes are in fact the second-rarest and brown eyes the most common.) Sponsored studies are conducted all the time at the behest of corporations with agendas. They put up the money, and scientists who have kids to send to college and mortgages to pay off find themselves reporting that people who eat three Big Macs a day or Monsanto-engineered foods live longer, healthier lives.
This is our reality, and caveat emptor, buyer beware. Of course it makes me sick. But there should be a barrier between the public and research of this kind, and that barrier is journalism. Journalists understand the nature of statistics better than most. They should be watching for the corporate-funded studies that amazingly happen to support corporate greed. And they should be watching for studies that are inherently flawed, even if the flaws are inadvertent, before trumpeting results that are dubious at best and inaccurate at worst.
What set me off on this tirade was an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Green Is Good: Vegetarians Live Longer, Study Finds.” You might have thought that I, as a vegetarian, would have been thrilled by this article. But I wasn’t, because the results were flawed, and the reporter didn’t pick up on it.
The good folks conducting the research didn’t compare just any vegetarians with omnivores. They looked at the health history of Seventh-Day Adventists versus the general omnivorous public. Yes, Seventh-Day Adventists are vegetarian. But they also don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs.
For the results to be valid, the scientists conducting the study would have to either compare Seventh-Day Adventists to omnivores who also didn’t smoke, drink, or take drugs, or compare vegetarians in the general population to omnivores in the general population, who might or might not indulge in smoking, drinking, or the like. The only appropriate conclusion from this study is “Seventh-Day Adventists Live Longer, Study Finds.” Shame on the reporter for not calling out such an obvious flaw!
Given the prevalence of such sloppy reporting, it’s up to us to keep our eyes wide open when reading the conclusions drawn by statistical research. Who funded the study? Do the conclusions benefit the entity that sponsored it? Is there some inherent logical flaw in the research, something that would throw off the results, even if no one stands to benefit from them? Put on your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap next time you read about a study that “proves” this or that. Maybe it does. But then again, maybe it’s just bad science.
‘Til next time,
I could eat a horse. January 17, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: eating animals, horse meat, vegetarians
Silence Dogood here. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” But most of us assume that refers to the size of the meal we’d like to consume rather than its content. So when I read the headline in today’s Yahoo! News, “Horse meat found in supermarket burgers,” I started shouting for our friend Ben.
“Eeeeewwww!!! Ben, wait ’til you hear this!”
OFB’s response surprised me. “Well, there’s nothing actually wrong with horse meat, is there?” Well, no, actually. The French famously eat horse meat. In this country, it’s used in dog food. Neither the French nor our dogs seem any the worse for the experience.
“It’s because it’s called ‘horse meat’ that people find it repulsive,” Ben continued. “It’s not too appetizing to think of ‘cow meat’ or ‘duck meat’, either.”
This is a point that, as a vegetarian, I’ve thought about a lot. I suspect that other societies are more forthright about what they call their meat, but in the English-speaking world, a sharp linguistic divide separates the live and the cooked. The names of the meats we consume are French in derivation, with their origins in the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The names of the creatures slaughtered for meat are of Anglo-Saxon descent.
Thus we have pigs but eat pork, cows but eat beef, rabbits but eat hare, calves but eat veal, sheep but eat mutton, deer but eat venison. It appears that the need to separate ourselves from our actions didn’t extend to birds and fish, which are typically called the same thing live and cooked, with the possible exception of the euphemism “seafood.” (Another headline in today’s Yahoo! News reported that scientific studies had proved that crabs could actually feel pain. Duh!!! I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to find that out.)
I’ve always been puzzled about why we categorize some animals as appropriate for eating and others as inappropriate. We readily eat cows but not horses (relished in France), wouldn’t consider eating a dog (relished in Korea) or cat (eaten in China), couldn’t imagine slaughtering our pet guinea pigs (a staple food in the Andes) or bunnies (raised for food worldwide). Not to mention the ultimate source of meaty sustenance, people, with their high fat content and abundant muscle and soft, yielding skin, preferred by cannibalistic societies across the globe until global conquest by the Victorians wiped out those foodways.
To take the life of a fellow creature, to try to pretend that it is subhuman and therefore feels no pain as we butcher it or boil it alive or eviscerate and even eat it alive without bothering to kill it first, to separate ourselves from the source of our food, our fellow creatures, is horrific to me. To give the cooked version different names from the live animals that we kill, so we don’t have to think about them as we wolf down our boeuf bourguinon or weinerschnitzel or pate de foie gras, is hypocritical and horrifying, separating us from the acts of murder or actual torture we continually commit or support for our incidental pleasure.
No one needs to kill to enjoy a wide range of delicious and healthful foods. But should you opt for a meat-based diet, please understand what you’re actually eating, and assume responsibility for your fellow creatures dying in agony and unnecessarily for your own indulgent pleasures. Imagine a superior, alien race descending upon Earth and viewing humans as we view, say, bison, a simple source of protein. Imagine being rounded up and slaughtered to provide the aliens with food, despite who and what we are, with every consideration and respect discounted. To be, in short, considered nothing more than a food source. Would you enjoy that?
Please at least think about it.
‘Til next time,
Vegetarians, hooray! No gelatin in Marshmallow Fluff! November 21, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: gelatin, Marshmallow Fluff, marshmallows gelatin, sweet potato casserole, sweet potatoes, thanksgiving, Thanksgiving recipes, vegetarians
1 comment so far
Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you grew up with peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches, and marshmallow cream on your hot fudge sundaes—or, say, marshmallow cream on the revered Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole—and became vegetarian at some point, you were probably horrified to learn that marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, contain gelatin.
Gelatin is made from calves’ feet, which means that Jell-O, marshmallows, and such unlikely products as Goo-Goo Clusters and Altoids are off-limits to vegetarians. Rats!
Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I grew up with Thanksgiving sweet potatoes roasted and served with butter, salt, and black pepper, so we never had to contend with the iconic marshmallow-covered sweet potato casserole. But those peanut butter sandwiches and sundaes were favorite treats, even if we don’t really eat them now. So I was thrilled to read in today’s Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) that Marshmallow Fluff doesn’t contain gelatin. Vegetarians, rejoice! Nobody’s going to say the stuff is good for you. But at least you can enjoy it on Thanksgiving or when you’re craving a peanut butter sandwich or sundae, and not have to worry about gelatin.
‘Til next time,
And here we go again. August 10, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: attacks on vegans, locavores, organic gardening, vegans, vegetarians
Silence Dogood here. I just read a blog post about a farmer and passionate locavore (someone who promotes local, regional, in-season foods). So far, so good, right? But then the guy started attacking vegans for being self-righteous. He pointed out that it takes a lot more fertilizer to grow vegetables than, say, cattle.
Well, of course it does, if you raise your cattle on grass. You put your fields into pasture and let your cattle out in them to wander and graze. The cattle enjoy being out under the blue sky and they enjoy grazing, as they evolved to do, and on the plus side, they give back to the fields as they go along with all-natural fertilizer. As long as you don’t put more cattle on the fields than the ecosystem can support, you have a balanced system, at least until the grass dies back in late autumn. Then it’s time to butcher the cattle or feed them on grain or silage until the following spring.
By contrast, if you’re an organic gardener, as our friend Ben and I are, you don’t really focus on growing plants. You focus on growing soil. The fruits and vegetables you raise are a bonus that you get for creating rich, balanced, wonderful soil. You compost your table scraps, you have an earthworm composter, you’re constantly thinking of ways to enrich and improve the soil in your garden beds. You scour the neighborhood for bags of grass clippings in spring and summer and leaves in fall. You beg your neighbors for their clippings and scraps; you ask your local grocery what they do with their spoiled produce. You shred paper not to conceal your personal data but to feed your worm composter and compost bins.
Yes, this is certainly more work than letting a field go to grass. But that’s not the point. Vegetarians and vegans aren’t trying to save work by not eating meat. They’re trying to save the world by not eating meat. They’re trying to point out that killing our fellow creatures also kills us, because it deadens us to the deaths of others. They’re trying to say that becoming sensitized to what we put in our mouths might make us more compassionate to all life, to each other. It might keep us from starting and perpetuating wars.
There are plenty of other ways to try to save the world, and people who choose to eat meat can do a world of good by taking those paths. I don’t think it’s appropriate or kind to condemn anyone based on their dietary choices. You may eat meat, but teach in a prison. You may eat meat, but visit the dying in hospitals and hospices. You may eat meat, but volunteer at an animal shelter or drive for Meals on Wheels or donate time and money to Habitat for Humanity or the Peace Corps. Who am I to judge you?!
But please, who are you to judge me? Please stop attacking me because I’m a vegan who can’t bear the thought of killing animals just to feed myself when I don’t have to. Let me live with my choice in peace, as I let you live with yours. Let me fertilize my garden, and grow my vegetables, and eat them without being attacked for doing what I see as right. Stop trying to justify your meat-eating by attacking me for not eating meat. If you want to eat meat, eat it. If I refuse to eat meat, so be it. There’s plenty of room in this world for us to coexist.
‘Til next time,
The vegetarian’s dilemma. July 13, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: conformity, happiness, individuality, Match.com, meat eaters, vegans, vegetarians
Silence Dogood here. I just read that a Match.com survey of 4,000 people revealed that 30% of meat-eaters wouldn’t date a vegetarian or vegan, as opposed to just 4% of vegetarians who wouldn’t date a meat-eater. This brought back memories of my mother’s horror when I became a vegetarian: She was sure I’d never get a date again.
I guess I was lucky. I dated a hugely committed vegetarian when I was still a meat-eater, and it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. Everyone since has eaten meat while I was a vegetarian, and they didn’t seem to have a problem with that. My ex-husband, who ate meat while we were married, became a passionate vegetarian after our divorce. And our friend Ben, who eats meat when we dine out, has been very contented with my vegetarian home cooking and has made a real effort to man up to my new vegan cuisine.
The only thing that surprises me is that the percentages on both sides aren’t considerably higher. Bonding over food is one of our strongest ways to connect with others and to assert and reinforce our group identity. And meat is the food of the elite, the strong, the manly. The wealthy can afford to have their personal chefs prepare the seafood-based diets that keep them thin; for the rest of us, a steak is the ultimate luxury, and fried chicken or barbecue or a pepperoni pizza or burger the ultimate comfort food. My mother was right to be worried. Whatever sets you apart from your group isolates you, and we humans are inherently social beings. We want to belong, and if belonging means conforming, most of us try hard to fit in.
Then there are the rest of us, the ones who want to wear clothes that are flattering to us rather than the current styles; the ones who couldn’t care less about celebrities and mindless shopping; the ones who’ve never smoked a cigarette or taken drugs, and who don’t drink beer because we don’t like the taste and aren’t willing to cultivate it just to fit in. The ones who are bored to tears by sports and sitcoms and reality TV and refuse to waste their precious time watching them just to be part of the crowd. The ones who want to make their own decisions rather than being manipulated and told what to do.
Match.com, and my mother, are here to tell us that there’s a high social price for going our own way. But I’m living proof that it ain’t necessarily so. And there’s one thing I can say for sure: Avoiding the pressure to pretend to be someone you’re not makes for a wonderful, enjoyable life.
As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.”
‘Til next time,
A vegan who eats meat. February 19, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: flexitarians, fruitarians, locavores, macrobiotics, omnivores, raw foods, vegans, vegetarians
1 comment so far
“I’m a vegan who eats meat.”
Silence Dogood here. Browsing some cookbook reviews on Amazon yesterday, I came on one that began with the sentence I quote above. What the bleep?! Was the person being sarcastic? Had they given up dairy and eggs, and thus considered themselves to be “vegan” while still chowing down on burgers and steak? Or were they just, like most of us, confused?
I decided to take a stab at clarifying the dietary definitions bombarding us these days, with new ones seemingly cropping up daily. Here’s my list:
Omnivores. Humanity’s natural state—a state we share with bears, dogs, monkeys and apes, pigs, chickens, rats, and many others—in which we’ll eat anything as long as we can get our hands on it and it’s edible.
Locavores. Those who eat foods they can source locally or regionally. Locavores can be omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, or any of the other categories that follow.
Flexitarians. People who are vegetarian, except when they want to eat meat. (“I’m a vegetarian who eats meat.”) In other words, omnivores who eat less meat than other omnivores.
Piscatarians. People who eat fish and seafood but not meat. From the Latin pisces, fish.
Vegetarians. People who don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or derivatives that involve taking life, including meat stocks and broths, gelatin products, products made from animal rennet, fertile eggs, caviar, and etc. Vegetarians will eat dairy and/or infertile hens’ eggs.
Vegans. In addition to the prohibitions followed by vegetarians, vegans don’t eat dairy, eggs, honey, and anything made with yeast. They also won’t wear leather, fur, and, I assume, silk. Needless to say, there is no such thing as “a vegan who eats meat.”
Raw foodists. As the name implies, these folks won’t eat anything that’s been cooked. I assume they’re vegans, but for all I know, they may be wolfing down sashimi, steak tartare and wichitti grubs with the best of them.
Fruitarians. These gentle, super-vegan souls refuse to eat anything that is still growing, including leaves, stems and roots. They’ll only eat seeds, nuts and fruits that would have dropped from the plant anyway. This means that tomatoes, corn, grapes, apples, peanuts and sunflower seeds are fair game, but carrots, onions, potatoes, spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, lettuce and the like are strictly verboten.
Macrobiotics. I’ve saved this one for last because it’s so much more complicated than the others. In some ways, it’s closest to a healthy vegan diet, but it appears to be like that solely for health rather than moral reasons, since, though it bans meat and shellfish, white-fleshed fish is allowed.
A vegan, after all, could subsist on peanut butter and jelly, potato chips, and chocolate, and be perfectly entitled to call themselves vegan, as long as it wasn’t milk chocolate and the chips hadn’t been fried in lard. People who follow macrobiotics are on a different path, one based in pre-industrial Japanese eating habits.
To be macrobiotic, you must embrace a truly health-conscious diet, including whole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables, winter squash, sea vegetables, and traditionally made soy foods like miso and tofu. The emphasis is on eating seasonally and moderately, eating fresh, whole foods, and choosing organic, local food sources.
All this makes sense. Where macrobiotics differs from other diets is its focus on matching food to climate. It divides the world into temperate (four-season) and tropical (two-season) climates, and advises its adherents to eat the foods produced in the climate where they live. Here in our part of scenic PA, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant, bananas, cashews, coconut, pistachios, mangos, figs, citrus, pineapple, artichokes, zucchini, and asparagus, not to mention most herbs and spices, coffee, black and green tea, herb teas, chocolate, and frozen foods, among many others, are banned. Which means that even though your garden here in PA is bursting with asparagus, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, you’re not supposed to eat them. The reverse would be true if you lived in a tropical climate. What you should eat if you’re a native of India, Guatemala or Mississippi who moves to Vermont, I have no idea.
Has this helped, or simply confused the issue even further? If I’m missing any categories, please fill me in!
‘Til next time,
Vegetarians beware! November 26, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: fish oil, hidden fish oil, omega-3s, products with omega-3s, vegetarians
Silence Dogood here, with a warning to all vegetarians: beware omega-3s. Now that the powerful health benefits of omega-3s have been recognized, food manufacturers are putting them in everything. And for most people, that’s a good thing. But not for us.
Just today, I was in my local grocery and saw that there was a sale on Otria dips, which are made with Greek yogurt and are thus a far healthier choice for the dip-addicted our friend Ben than other fatty, calorie-laden options. I was enthusiastically adding them to my shopping bag when I caught sight of the ominous words “With Omega-3s.”
As always, this set off alarms, so I quickly flipped the container and read the ingredients list. Sure enough, the omega-3s came from menhaden fish oil. They almost always do. To add insult to injury, the container had a bold warning: “Contains eggs and milk.” Uh, how about “Contains fish oil”?! Sigh. Guess I’ll be making my own Greek yogurt dips for OFB.
I’ve even found omega-3s from fish oil in milk. It’s amazing what the food industry will add them to. And I’ve yet to see any ingredients list that includes omega-3s from plant sources.
So fellow vegetarians, look sharp: If the label says “omega-3s,” put that package down and walk away. Somewhere, a fish will thank you.
‘Til next time,
A place for fast food. December 19, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: eating, fast food, locavores, omnivores, Utne Reader, vegetarians
1 comment so far
Silence Dogood here. Last night, I rushed home after a busy day of visits and errands. My mission, should I choose to accept it: to make a hot, delicious supper for six people in less than an hour. To say that this was stressful is an understatement, but I was undaunted: I knew I could do it, thanks to modern technology.
Armed with cans of black beans and crushed tomatoes, and several bags of various salad combinations, supper was a snap: Saute several diced onions and green peppers in olive oil with black mustardseed, cumin, oregano, lemon pepper, and Trocomare; toss in a huge can or two of black beans and a big can of crushed tomatoes; add some veggie stock and hot fresh salsa (two of my other favorite grocery convenience foods) and a big splash of lemon juice (I like bottled Key lemon juice); stir, mash, stir, and allow to mellow on low heat. Meanwhile, mix bags of Romaine lettuce and baby greens, add a chopped orange bell pepper, crumbled feta cheese, pepitas, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and scallions. Our friend Carolyn provided salad dressings and hot cornbread, and her brother Rudy brought wine. We brought sour cream and shredded cheese (yet another convenience food) for the soup, and before we knew it, the six of us were sitting down to a delicious dinner.
There are many arguments against prepared foods, and one of them is price. If you’re on a budget like us, spending big bucks for convenience is usually just plain stupid. We have friends who wouldn’t dream of buying canned beans when they could soak a bag of dried beans overnight and cook them for pennies a serving. We have friends we’ve never seen open a bag of prepared salad mix.
I say, keep your eyes open. I patronize a local grocery that often puts greens on sale for 99 cents a package (down from $3.99, and still perfectly fresh). Often, I’ve bought organic baby arugula, baby spinach, and many a salad mix for 99 cents when a head of chemically-grown iceberg lettuce was going for over two dollars. The same store has a “three for $5.99″ section where I’ve bought packages of locally-grown apples, pears, tomatoes, green beans, sweet onions, mushrooms, garlic, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and many another yummy veggie or fruit for a fraction of the price in other stores. They often have big discounts on canned beans, tomato products, and dried pasta, as does another local grocery, so I compare and stock up.
I do consider myself a from-scratch cook. I use basic ingredients, not mixes. I don’t buy fast-food meals from drive-by stores like Mickey D’s or KFC. But I feel no shame about using canned, frozen, and dried whole foods when they’re reasonably priced and save me time.
All this came to mind when I received an e-mail with an attachment for an article called “In Praise of Fast Food” by Rachel Laudan in The Gastronomica Reader, excerpted by The Utne Reader (http://www.utne.com/). Ms. Laudan’s reasons for supporting fast food are different from mine—I suggest you read her article and draw your own conclusions—but the article strongly brought to light the dichotomy between today’s slow-food locavores and the rest of us.
I mention this simply because I often think of the past in terms of creating convenience without guilt. Which is to say, everyone viewed time-saving and shelf life as untarnished positive developments before modern storage, shipping, and globalization made fresh food universally available year-round.
Think back with me to this era of seasonal abundance and seasonal scarcity for a moment. Imagine the thrill of canning or freezing food so it would keep until you needed it! Imagine pickling or preserving food so you could eat it out of season! Imagine making luscious white bread and using white sugar without even a clue about calories or health issues! Imagine buying butter from the store instead of having to churn your own! Imagine the joy of welcoming new developments without ever once thinking, “Is this bad for me?”
To me, this period—roughly from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s—was The Age of Innocence. The age where we could enjoy food without worrying about its consequences on our health, simply because, with the sole exceptions of gout and obesity, no one had a clue that food was other than healthful. If it tasted good, it was good, end of story.
I can see housewives rejoicing over white flour that didn’t quickly go rancid like whole-grain flours (in the pre-refrigeration era), eggs and dairy products delivered fresh to your door or sitting chilled and conveniently packaged in the refrigerated section of the grocery, canned and frozen foods that stayed good practically forever so you could stock your pantry and freezer and just grab what you needed. I can see them celebrating cake mixes, tea bags, bagged bread, sugar and salt that stayed granular rather than clumping, dried herbs and spices. I can see it all.
Ms. Laudan points out in “In Praise of Fast Food” that the glory days of fresh, seasonal, from-scratch eating were only glorious for the wealthy, who could afford to buy all the food that the peasants produced, leaving them to try to get by on scraps and shavings. She didn’t add, but I will, that in bad years, even the wealthy went hungry as a result of crop failures, and everyone else pretty much starved.
And we’re not just talking about the Middle Ages here. Much as I loved Little Women as a girl—it was probably my favorite book—I was shocked and haunted by the March family’s obvious hunger and lack of even common necessities during the brutal winter that opens the book. Pre-convenience foods, the larder often was empty.
To me, eating locally produced produce and foods that support our neighbors and our local economy seems an appropriate and moral thing to do from every perspective. After all, if someone in my area wanted an expert editing job, I’d certainly appreciate it if they came to me rather than outsourcing their work to New York or L.A. In turn, I could put the money they paid me into other local enterprises, and with everyone’s cooperation, our little community might become more self-sustaining.
But I agree with Ms. Laudan that it’s a luxury, just as my being a vegetarian is a luxury, made possible by an abundance of delicious produce, dairy products, and grains provided daily to our grocery stores by modern technology. I can take the moral high road only because my choice is supported by an abundance of resources, from farmers’ markets and organic CSAs to health-food stores and groceries that stock local products.
Were it not for them, I would be forced to resort to the full range of my omnivore inheritance or starve: eating the squirrels in our trees as well as the nuts that fall from them, raising chickens to butcher instead of coddling them through their long lives and gratefully enjoying their eggs, roaming the countryside in search of edible roots, herbs, shoots, berries, mushrooms, and greens to supplement what I could raise at home. Trying to barter eggs, preserves, salsa, or spaghetti sauce for enough of local farmers’ wheat and corn to provide our friend Ben and me with bread and the chickens with feed. Praying that someone nearby would grow dried beans to take the rest of us through the year, and that the dairy farmers could give us milk, butter, and cheese in return for money or barter.
And what if you didn’t live in farm country like we do? What if you didn’t own a grain mill, yogurt-maker, butter churn, or canning equipment? What if you didn’t have the time to use them if you did own them, because you had a family and (at least one) full-time job?
No, you’ll never see me in a Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, Chick-Fil-A, or Taco Bell, or spot our little red VW Golf in the drive-up line. But yes, I am grateful every day for the fresh, pre-bagged, canned, frozen, juiced, and ground products that make it possible to cook delicious, healthy meals every time without spending all day, every day, trying to make it happen.
‘Til next time,
Vital statistics. April 22, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Edible Landscaping, food gardening, fruit gardening, growing edibles, herbs, locavores, potager, vegans, vegetable gardening, vegetarians
Good news for vegetable gardeners! Our friend Ben was paging through this month’s copy of greenPROFIT/GROWERTALKS magazine when my eye was caught by Ellen Wells’s editorial, “Edible Endeavors.” One paragraph provided some amazingly encouraging statistics for all of us who love to grow edibles. I quote:
“This is… what the Garden Writers Association Foundation found in its 2009 Edibles [sic] Gardening Trends Research Report conducted in November: More than 41 million U.S. households (38%) grew a vegetable garden; 19.5 million households (18%) grew an herb garden; 16.5 million households (15%) grew fruits; 7% (7.7 million households) were new to edibles [sic] gardening; about 33% of experienced gardeners grew more edibles in 2009; and 37% of households reported plans to increase their edible gardens in 2010.”
Wow. How exciting! Finally, gardening with edibles has arrived, not just among the cognoscenti but across America. No wonder Michelle Obama is planting an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn and venerable nurseries like White Flower Farm and Logee’s are offering an amazing selection of edibles, from tomatoes to olives to coffee trees and vanilla orchids to passionfruit and citrus. But our friend Ben thinks this trend has taken its own sweet time. After all, the last time growing edibles was trendy was in the Victory Garden era of World War II.
Then, with the boom years of the Fifties, growing your own food fell into disrepute. The idea seemed to be that you should grow ornamentals in your landscape and get your fruits and vegetables from the grocery, that growing your own was somehow shabby, not respectable, even trashy. And unfortunately, this perception endured for decades.
The youthful Ben would wander through my beloved Grandma Simms’s backyard with its vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even a peach tree, as if visiting Paradise, it seemed so exotic. Certainly, no vegetable dared show its head in our home’s Colonial landscape, and when a German family moved into the neighborhood and began growing corn in their front lawn, they became instant outcasts and were the talk of the whole area. Shocking!!!
Fortunately, influential voices were raised in favor of edibles throughout the “all flowers, all the time” era. There was a big revival of interest in growing edibles in the 1970s, fueled by Organic Gardening magazine, by the popularity of Helen and Scott Nearing’s homesteading classic, Living the Good Life, and its sequels, and by the Back to the Land movement.
Ruth Stout’s books on mulch gardening, The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book and How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back, proclaimed that vegetable gardening didn’t even have to be the backbreaking endeavor brought to mind by truck gardens of the era. John and Betsy Jeavons insisted that yes, it did, with the publication of the first edition of How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, introducing Americans to the concepts of double-digging, Biodynamics, and French Intensive gardening. But the complexity and one-upmanship inherent in Jeavons’s sytem was countered by Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution, which introduced readers to the Zen of gardening and reinforced that it didn’t have to be hard.
A generation largely raised on frozen and canned vegetables, TV dinners, and other “convenience foods” had had enough. But they were viewed as Hippies and radicals, an idealistic and foolish fringe. Flower gardening still reigned supreme.
The one “respectable” voice championing food gardening in the ’70s was that of Jim Crockett, whose pioneering PBS gardening show, “The Victory Garden,” took its very name from those vegetable gardens of old. Crockett grew ornamentals, including houseplants and greenhouse plants, as well as edibles, on the show. But his cheerful approach and easy-to-follow month-by-month format won the show and the books spun off from it a legion of admirers, even in the suburbs. The Stepford Wives and their Toro-riding husbands were still in charge of the landscape, but there were definitely cracks in the veneer.
By the ’80s, it looked like corporate culture was going to be the death knell of vegetable gardening. In the era of Yuppies and “upward mobility”—emphasis on mobility, move every two years at your company’s command and to hell with what that does to family stability, children’s sense of security, and sense of place—who’d want to do anything to the faceless, cookie-cutter house and property you’d bought in the new place? Not only would you not be there long enough to enjoy it, but it might reduce the property value when it was time to resell!
Thank God, the ’80s also brought new forces to bear on the fight for edible gardening. Edible landscaping, a concept pioneered by Rosalind Creasy in her books The Complete Guide to Edible Landscaping and Cooking from the Garden, as well as by Robert Kourik and others, showed gardeners that vegetable and fruit growing didn’t have to be an eyesore. Bill Mollison’s Permaculture made its way from Australia to America, reinforcing the idea of planting dual-purpose plants (for example, nut-bearing shade trees) and landscaping for self-sufficiency.
Upscale food-plant-focused seed companies, such as The Cook’s Garden and Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, began offering gourmet varieties that had previously only been available in Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. Composting became a backyard phenomenon. City dwellers began rediscovering the venerable community gardens that had been thriving in their communities for decades. And that enduring blockbuster, Square Foot Gardening, took the fear factor out of vegetable gardening once and for all.
The ’80s also produced the largest rise in awareness of environmental issues, including pollution and what chemical-based farming and gardening were doing to our food and our planet, since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. Buying organic produce began to move into the mainstream, out of the health food stores and into Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and the like. People began making an effort to eat better and use fewer chemicals. Organic finally went mainstream. But food gardening? Not yet.
Then came the ’90s. Now at last was the era in which chefs and their restaurants, like Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, gained national, even celebrity, attention. The organic vegetable gardens backing many such restaurants were prominently featured in the press, along with the small-scale organic farmers who supplied them with produce.
Potagers and kitchen gardens were hot. Vermiculture, earthworm composting, took the gardening world by storm. Farmers’ Markets came into their own, as more people became hooked on the freshness and variety of the produce and the relief of knowing where their food came from. Heirloom vegetables became the hottest trend in food, and companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and organizations like The Seed Savers Exchange thrived. Martha Stewart and her ilk made food gardening trendy, not trashy.
People also became fascinated with the Amish and the Pueblo cultures of the Southwest, where folks grew and preserved their own food and always had. And books like Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower’s Four-Season Harvest and Leandre Poisson’s Solar Gardening assisted gardeners in temperate climates to produce food even when the temperatures plunged outside. During the ’90s, back-to-basics magazines like Backwoods Home, The Mother Earth News, and Back Home were enjoying a renaissance as they helped people learn basic gardening and cooking skills.
The concept of eating seasonally was gaining ground (pardon the pun). And the threat of Y2K was encouraging more people than ever to learn how to grow and preserve their own food. Other ’90s trends: vegetarianism becoming accepted; edible flowers; broccoli and other sprouts; maitake, shiitake, and other “miracle mushrooms” being added to cooking for health; ”spring mix” and mesclun salads; more exotic cuisines (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Cuban, Ethiopian, Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish tapas, sushi, etc.) going mainstream; “spa cuisine.”
Fruit finally came into its own in the 1990s, too. Books like Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits Worthy of Attention, Roger Yepsen’s Apples, and Lewis Hill’s Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden helped make the seemingly arcane prospect of growing your own fruits and berries plausible.
At last, the first decade of the 21st century. The rise of the CSA (consumer-assisted agriculture, aka seasonal subscription farming) is at hand, where people sign up for a season’s worth of produce, paying in advance, and the farmers provide them with an ever-changing assortment of seasonal organic produce. Veganism and raw foods take the stage. Locavores make a determined effort to eat only foods produced within a 100-mile radius. The Slow Food Movement has inspired people to cook from scratch and avoid fast food.
Even mainstream supermarkets are highlighting local produce. With obesity a national scandal and Monsanto a national disgrace, more people are making the effort to avoid “Frankenfoods” and chemicals and invest in fresh, organic foods, fresh air, and health, for us and for our land and the creatures we share it with.
Our friend Ben would like to see edible landscaping come into its own in the new decade awaiting us. Here at Hawk’s Haven, Silence Dogood and I make a conscious effort to plant fruiting ornamentals like elderberries and pawpaws, choose vines like hardy kiwis and grapes to climb our arbors and trellises, choose nuts like hardy pecans and filberts (hazelnuts) when we need new trees and shrubs, plant roses that provide beauty and nutritious, vitamin-C-rich rose hips like Rosa rugosa, and grow cherries instead of flowering cherries, apples instead of crabapples, pears instead of ‘Bradford’ Callery pears, and the like.
We choose herbs for container plantings, grow as many tropical fruits and spices as we can cram in our greenhouse in the winter and on our deck in the summer, and try to grow as much fresh produce as our raised beds and greenhouse can produce. What we’re not able to consume fresh, Silence knows how to preserve for delicious meals in fall, winter, and spring. These days, people don’t even look at us oddly when we say we have a little flock of heritage-breed chickens. They just ask if they can have some eggs.
It looks like almost 40% of Americans are joining us. We hope with all our hearts that soon that number will climb to 100%. Whether you’re growing one potted tomato on a balcony or a potager or a full-scale edible landscape, hooray for you! Go for it and enjoy. We know we do!
(Er, a footnote is needed here. When covering whole decades of garden history, much is bound to be left out, at least when our friend Ben is acting as historian. The revival of herb gardening prompted by the likes of Jim Duke, Varro E. Tyler, Maud Greave, Adelle Simmons, Bertha Reppert, and Rosemary Gladstar, among many others, is just one example. Alan Chadwick’s Biodynamic gardens in California, John Seymour’s homestead arts, and the Foxfire series are others. If you think I’ve left something out that needs to be mentioned, please comment here! It would be great to fill in some of the many blanks.)
To label is human, to shut up, divine. January 28, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: flexitarians, fruitarians, locavores, omnivores, piscatarians, vaguetarians, vegans, vegetarians
Silence Dogood here. I just read a blog post about “vaguetarians,” and of course it set me off. Maybe it’s because I had to work so hard and give up so much to become a vegetarian. But maybe it’s because I just don’t see the point.
We already have vegetarians, folks who don’t eat meat, fish, fertile eggs, gelatin, lard, caviar, etc. Then we have vegans, folks who don’t eat any of the above or any type of dairy product, egg, yeast bread, or honey. At the farthest extreme, there are fruitarians, who only eat fruits, berries, grains, rose hips, and other produce that would naturally fall off the plant, as opposed to killing plants in order to harvest them. (A fruitarian would eat squash or rice, but not lettuce or onions.) There are also locavores, folks who make a great effort to eat food produced locally, usually on small family-owned organic farms. (You can cross over here and be a vegetarian, vegan, or fruitarian locavore, if you enjoy amassing as many labels as possible.)
Then there are the folks who call themselves vegetarians but eat fish. Last time I checked, fish were in fact animals. Why these people would call themselves vegetarians is beyond me. I myself refer to them as “piscatarians” (as in Pisces).
But beyond the piscatarians, there’s a wide world of people screaming to be labeled. “I’m a vegetarian because I eat mostly vegetables.” (This is an actual quote.) “I’m a vegetarian; I only eat chicken and fish, no red meat or pork.” “I’m a vegetarian except when I eat hot dogs and hamburgers.” I’ve heard all these, many times over. This strikes me as akin to saying “I’m a teetotaler, except I drink beer and the occasional Scotch.” And now we have flexitarians, who’re vegetarians except when they’re not, and vaguetarians, who would sorta kinda like to be vegetarian, or at least have other people think of them in those terms, no matter what they’re eating.
By the time we reach this point, I have to ask, why?!! Why seek out a label for yourself when you basically eat anything and/or everything, just at graduated intervals? Why not skip the label and just eat?
Simply have to have that label? Not a problem, we already have one for you. It’s the oldest and most inherent label around, the eating style that enabled us (and monkeys, parrots, pigs, chickens, dogs, bears, and many others) to survive and thrive, wherever we found ourselves. It’s been raised to an art form by celebrity chefs, and celebrated in local cuisines the world over. So if you must have a label, wear it with pride. When someone asks, “Are you a vegetarian/vegan/locavore/whatever?”, smile and say, “No, I’m an omnivore. I enjoy it all.”
‘Til next time,