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Get creative about promoting local food. March 6, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I are enthusiastic about PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and its “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” logo. (Hey, that bumper sticker is on our car—along with “No Farms, No Food”—and if that’s not commitment, what is?!) So when we got an e-mail from them this morning, I checked it out. And had a revelation.

The e-mail was showcasing upcoming Philadelphia events that focused on local foods, wines, and beers, high-end affairs that our friend Ben and I applaud but are about as likely to attend as a wedding at the Vatican. ($170 a couple?! We have heating bills to pay, a stove to fix, squirrel damage to repair…) Nor are these local-food dinners exactly breaking news. (And yes, that’s really good news. The more the merrier!)

So what was the revelation? That OFB and I can’t afford take-out pizza, much less dinner in Philadelphia? That Philadelphia’s caught on to the local food thing? That some enterprising squirrels have been marketing Hawk’s Haven’s organic black walnuts, butternuts, and hickory nuts behind our backs and investing the proceeds in peanut butter stocks? Sorry.

What caught my attention was that the chefs and local food organizations had paired up with local potters as well as local vintners and brewers. Handmade regional ceramics would not only be used to serve these meals, but would be for sale at the events. I thought that this was more than brilliant, and would be a good starting point for other groups who wanted to promote local food, organic food, fresh food, and/or whole food in their areas.

Maybe it’s just because our friend Ben and I love pottery and ceramics of many sorts—from contemporary and historic Pueblo pottery, Pennsylvania redware, Moroccan, Japanese, and artisanal contemporary ceramics, to our very local Willi Singleton masterpieces made from Hawk Mountain clay and fired with cornstalks from area fields—but we see the integral connection between food and the vessels it’s made and served in. The earth that grows the food and the earth that makes the vessels. Local food, local pottery makes perfect sense to us.

We don’t know if buying functional local dishware and serving vessels is as irresistible to everyone as it is to us, but if it makes sense to you, you might consider doing something like this at your next local/organic/etc. food function. It’s not just a way to bring more people in or to raise much-needed money. You’re also giving your local artists exposure along with local farmers, chefs, bakers, brewers, vintners, and etc. You could give woodworkers, beadmakers, fiber artists, and so on space and publicity as well, or people who craft beautiful glassware or are keeping the art of metalworking or basketry or quilting alive.

The point is, combining local foods with local crafts to raise awareness and appreciation of all of them makes so much sense. Someone who might think about going to a local-foods supper but not really commit themselves might think twice if some great crafts were also on offer. And having a selection of those locally made wines, beers, condiments, cheeses, preserves and the like for sale certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.

What about pushing a little bit further out? A brunch with dishes and beverages made from locally grown herbs, where guests could customize their own take-home herb tea blends at the end? A “girls’ night out” featuring local foods and wines, with a local beadmaker and hairdresser doing beaded braids? A local cheese and beer tasting with fondue lessons featuring cheese-and-beer fondue and artisanal breads? Local foods, featuring lamb dishes and sheep cheese, with a crafter of handmade, hand-dyed wool yarns selling yarn, handcrafted wooden needles, and knitted items, and perhaps offering a beginning knitting lesson? The possibilities are endless.

Obviously, you don’t want to lose the local food message. But maybe expanding the focus to other local crafts would help ensure the success of your event. Think about it. And good luck!

               ‘Til next time,



Why go organic? July 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was horrified to see a news item on MSN.com this morning announcing that a massive review of studies in London had found that there was no benefit to organic over chemically-grown produce. Well, that is simply not true.

Sure enough, clicking on the article, our friend Ben found that what the researchers had found was that there was no proven nutritional superiority of organic over chemically-grown produce. Despite rumors and claims circulating in organic circles since the beginning of organic gardening, the researchers’ findings have been proved again and again: the nutritional advantages of organic versus chemically-grown produce are minimal to nil. Nutritional value is the result of any number of complex factors, including whether the varitety being raised is inherently nutritionally superior (such as carrots bred for higher beta-carotene content or tomatoes bred for high lycopene content, or varieties in which higher nutritional levels occur naturally); whether the plants are grown in rich soil, receive adequate water and nutrients throughout their lives, and are not weakened by disease and damage; and whether they’re harvested at the peak of ripeness or picked and consumed before they reach their nutritional peak.

This truth has long been known and acknowledged by the organic gardening community. Nutritional superiority is not what sets organic gardening apart from chemical gardening. That being the case, why would ordinary folks like our friend Ben and Silence Dogood choose to be lifelong organic gardeners, or spend their hard-earned money on organically raised food when chemically raised is almost always cheaper?

Two simple reasons. First, if you had the choice of drinking water that had been used to cool down a nuclear power plant or water from a pure mountain spring, which would you choose? It’s not so much about what’s good about organic food as what’s bad about chemically-grown food. This food is inundated with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. We all know the story of DDT and the devastating damage it did to our planet. But did you know that both chemical fertilizers and herbicides originated as agents of war?

The first herbicide was Agent Orange, and we all know the lingering horror it wreaked on the soldiers and civilians who were exposed to it. It reminds our friend Ben of the early pioneers of radiation, who to a person died of horrific radiation-induced sickness because they didn’t realize that their exciting new discovery could be harmful. Chemical fertilizers were used to make dynamite and bombs during World War I, and it was only by accident that the leftovers were found to increase fertility. Unfortunately, chemical fertilizers artificially goose fertility while killing off the life in the soil that is the true source of sustainable fertility. Back to that in a mo. But first, let me just say that I don’t want to be served up a chemical cocktail—with detriments to my future health that haunt me in my nightmares—every time I eat. I can’t imagine that you do, either.

Okay, back to point #2, the health of the soil. No scientist can argue that chemicals kill soil life and organic practices like applying mulch and compost and using green manures  boost it. As J.I. Rodale, the founder of organic gardening in America, liked to say, the soil is health. Healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people. Healthy soil means a living community of beneficial insects, including earthworms, and microorganisms that support fertility and crop abundance without harming us.

Our friend Ben thinks that’s worth a little nurturing. Why dump more and more chemicals onto our soil every year when we can encourage that very soil to do our growing for us? Plus, chemical fertilizers contain nitrates and nitrites, those very substances that health professionals are constantly warning us about (as in “Don’t eat hot dogs that contain nitrates and nitrites!”) Our water supply is being contaminated by these carcinogens thanks to agricultural runoff. I don’t know about you, but our friend Ben would prefer to avoid cancer, thank you very much. And I’m willing to do my part not to contribute to its rise by adding more chemicals to our water. 

Seeing a headline like this morning’s makes our friend Ben see red. It’s outdated and misleading. There are very, very powerful reasons to garden and eat organically, including the health of our planet and every creature on it, including us. It’s time people laid the issue of nutritional superiority to rest once and for all and focused on organics’ true benefits.

Grub: a recommendation June 17, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As some of you may recall, our friend Ben and I were in Asheville, North Carolina—one of our favorite vacation spots—a while back. While there, we stopped at one of the few surviving independently owned bookstores (i.e., owned by real people and not a corporation), Malaprop’s, one of our “gotta go there” destinations whenever we’re in Asheville.

Malaprop’s actually selects its books based on what the owner, staff, and customers find interesting and worthwhile, as opposed to chain stores, which receive their books preselected by corporate “buyers” because they think they’ll be profitable. As a result, Malaprop’s book selection is interesting rather than predictable. It’s always fun to see what they’ve gotten in, and we’ve found some real treasures there, including Wild Fermentation (see the Wild Fermentation website on the blogroll at right for more on this). You just never know what you’ll find.

Last time we were there, I took the opportunity to stock up on some intriguing cookbooks. As you all know, I love cookbooks, and have a vast collection. I especially enjoy personal and personable cookbooks that tell a story along with the recipes, such as The Tasha Tudor Cookbook, Well Preserved, the original Laurel’s Kitchen, and Wild Fermentation. I love local cookbooks like Miss Daisy Celebrates Tennessee, Sauerkraut Yankees, Heartland Baking, Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, and A Tasting Tour of Washington County. I adore historical cookbooks, and can’t get enough of cookbooks that feature foreign cuisines, be they Caribbean, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, or Thai. I love cookbooks that bring out the sacred aspect of cooking, such as The Spirituality of Bread, Tassajara Cookbook, and Fresh from a Monastery Garden.

And of course, I love those funky old ’70s classics like The Moosewood Cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, The Political Palate, and (again) Laurel’s Kitchen. In fact, my most treasured cookbook, after my grandma’s battered 1943 Joy of Cooking, is a deathless find from a used book store: Vegetarian Gothic, a classic commune-era, peace-and-love cookbook that makes the original Moosewood look mass-produced. I also love their modern descendants, which stress eating seasonally and locally, such as Farmer John’s Cookbook, Learning to Eat Locally, and Simply in Season.

I could go on (and on and on) about the hundred-plus cookbooks I own and love, but hey, maybe I could make an effort and get to the point of this post instead (sigh). Which is, that the last time our friend Ben and I went to Malaprop’s, one of the books I returned with was called Grub

Now, Grub is not a name designed to endear itself to those of us who garden. Nor does it appeal to anyone with the least aesthetic sense—it’s surely one of the ugliest words in the language. What were the authors thinking?! It sounds like one of those disgusting acronyms that was twisted around and around until the words that were abbreviated lined up with an actual word, no matter how stiff and artificial they sound as a result. Ugh!!!!

In this case, however, Grub is not an acronym. The authors defend their choice of title by defining it as follows: “1. Grub is organic and sustainably raised whole and locally grown foods; 2. Grub is produced with fairness from seed to table; 3. Grub is good for our bodies, our communities, and our environment; *Grub should be universal… and it’s delicious.” The subtitle, “Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen,” further define the book while limiting it to city venues, and the authors make quite a big deal of saying that the book is “the complete guide for the young, the hip, the socially tuned in.” Gee, thanks too much, you condescending &*%$##@!!!!s.

But I bought it anyway. Why, you might ask. Three reasons: First, it’s coauthored by Anna Lappe, daughter of Frances Moore Lappe, of Diet for a Small Planet fame. Second, it makes a huge effort to present readers with resources and information that will help them find, cook, and eat organic, local, seasonal foods. And third, it has really wonderful recipes, with festive menus and recommendations for music and wine to enjoy with the meals. It’s a book with heart, a book written in a good cause, a book worth supporting. A book you could learn from, even if you’re not urban, hip, and “socially tuned in.” (Uh huh. I can’t wait ’til the person who wrote that has teenagers.)

I suggest that you, too, give this book a chance, whether you live in the city, the suburbs, or the country like us, whether you’re old, young, or in-between, whether you’re hip or so out of it you’re in. Ignore the hype and read the book. Like Barbara Kingsolver’s marvelous Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, it will inspire you to try to do better: to choose organic produce and dairy products, to pass up the fast food and the Frankenfood aisles, to view food as an opportunity for fellowship and fun as well as for nourishment.

Grub has some wonderful menus and recipes, thanks to its remarkable coauthor and chef Bryant Terry (okay, he’s also a native Tennessean, so no doubt I’m biased, but still, he is great!). From South of the Border to New Orleans, from the Caribbean to the tapas bars of Spain, from Rastafarian Ital grub to recipes for Rap and Hip-Hop stars, this food is good, and it refuses to be confined within limited definitions such as “vegetarian,” “vegan,” and the like. As long as you’re willing to choose organic food, the authors encourage you to eat what you want, be it meat, shellfish, or super-rich chocolate mousse.

Our friend Ben and I applaud this broadmindedness. We believe that people should be encouraged, especially when they’re trying to do something good, not pounded because they’re falling short of sainthood. (Don’t get me started on those bastards who attack recycling and the like. Clearly something died in them in childhood, and the poor things—the zealots, the intolerant—are less than human as a result. Not too bright, either.) So I enthusiastically recommend Grub, whoever you are, whatever you are. Ignore its snooty, excluding marketing spin and buy it. You’ll be glad you did.

And anyway, what are your favorite cookbooks? Please tell. There must be a few I don’t have (yet…)!  

               ‘Til next time,