Monday, September 28, 2009

Interview with the Parents. One Question.

I sent this email to both my parents today and I am posting it and their responses (I am reading a lot about the connection between the environmental movement, technology and agriculture and how these have affected the social movement in regards to food that we see happening now):

Subject: Question

How much did the issues of pesticides and chemicals with farming come up in your life during the 1970s and 80s?

Do you remember being concerned about these things or hearing much about 'organics' or 'organic farming'?

Dad's Answer:

A cogent question.

Once in college, mid-60's, I was vaguely aware or Carson's "Silent Spring." A major breakthrough, however, was the first Earth Day in 1970, from that point on one's consciousness had been raised to all sort of infractions. At that time, I first became aware of the poisoning of our rivers and dangers of agricultural runoff. One of the first rivers to "die" in MN was the Minnesota which ran just outside of Sleepy Eye and was totally killed by farm pesticides, your pharmacist grandfather confirmed this for me. I also remember having a faculty room argument circa 1975 with a math teacher who also farmed concerning this issue. He maintained that the biological make up of the plant mitigated the chemicals (?). Organic farming expanded in response and had previously been reference indirectly by people aware that home grown tasted better than store purchased. Again, the Carson book and social questioning of the late 60's and 70's was huge in raising personal awareness.

The use of farm pesticides ( to increase yield) was deployed hand in hand with the increased use of mechanized farming during the demands of WWI and into the twenties. Yield ran far ahead of consumption during the twenties and threw the agricultural sector into economic chaos before the crash of 1929. Remember, the New Deal (Ag. Adjustment Act) paid farmers to plow up planted fields in 1933 and not to plant in subsequent years do to overproduction - pesticides a major player in increasing yield per acre.

Hope this helps.


Mom's Answer:


Going back even earlier, I grew up with pesticides and chemicals being routinely used in farming and on our lawns. Grandpa Ray sold them at the drugstore and Uncle Ron did crop-dusting around the countryside as a job. I and everyone in our community was exposed to A LOT of these chemicals. I was a child, so I didn't have much of a reference point at that time. However, when I got to college and the whole "back to the land" movement began, there was much discussion about natural foods. We also linked the development of pesticides and other chemicals by big companies like Dow to chemical warfare, like napalm and Agent Orange. I protested with many other Macalester students against Honeywell because Mac had a lot of stock in Honeywell and most of us were not only against the war, but against the specific use of these terrible chemicals that caused deforestation, water pollution, and disease and death to people and animals.

I was highly aware of organic farming in the 70s and shopped at the earliest co-op in Minneapolis (Seward), Boulder, and in Brainerd once I lived there. I also helped start a paper recycling center with my philosophy students at BHS because of our concern about clear-cutting of forests and a paper shortage. All of these issues seemed to be linked in my mind because of the corporate approach to abuse of resources and the growth of agribusiness, etc.

Does that help?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stumptown Arrives in NYC

So happy. So happy. So happy that I might even go out for a coffee after work rather than a beer! Shocking, I know.

Brief synopsis before I direct you to the brief article in the NYT: Stumptown, started in Portland, is a direct trade coffee importer, roaster and distributor. Their dedication to the bean is unparalleled as far as I have found. Direct trade, going beyond what people consider so great called fair trade, means that the people that own this company (yes, the actual owners of Stumptown) travel to South America/Central America/Africa/Indonesia to meet with growers and farmers of coffee beans, negotiate a good price for their worth and continue a relationship with them for years.

Genius subversion of traditionally horrible capitalistic principles. Oh, and guess what, if you're literally in a relationship with someone who is growing beans mostly for you and your company, you're probably going to be able to tell them what you like, tweak the amount of shade the beans get for example or say, you know, please don't put pesticides on the beans.

In the end, this is not an elitist pursuit--it is quite the opposite. Their espresso a their coffee shop in the new (and wonderful, had friends stay there and checked it out) Ace Hotel on 29th Street is 10 cents more than at the Starbucks around the corner.

They roast the beans at a facility in Red Hook (Brooklyn) and my co-worker met with the owner (friends of friends) to hear all about the company and its pursuits. I can tell you, at least second hand and from taste/sensual experience, this stuff is the real deal. These guys are an amazing example of shifting the traditional paradigm in beverages.

NYT Article here.
Stumptown website here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bento Boxes

I always thought the concept of the bento (obento?) box was great, because of its natural portion control and generally speaking healthy items contained within, but when I moved to New York I found that, often, a bento box consisted of rice + greasy teriyaki meat dish + a california roll sometimes + miso soup, etc etc. And they usually weren't that economical in comparison to what I thought was a decent 'deal'--the very common in NYC two rolls of maki + miso for usually around 8 bucks.
Point being, I haven't bentoed it up so much in this city. Well, any city really, but was aware of the potential power of the bento. I unfortunately overlooked home bentoeing! Which is too bad, since my first awareness of the bento was watching The Breakfast Club as a young girl: One of the absolute best scenes in the world, but also super telling because every person in Saturday detention pulls out a befitting lunch to match their personality/high school caste status. The geek has like crustless PB+J, tomato soup. The bag lady has white bread which she sprinkles with pixie stix and crushed Cap'n Crunch cereal (I think also Diet Coke is involved). The jock has a giant bag of potato chips, three sandwiches and like two Cokes. And then we get to the class, preppy homecoming queen Molly Ringwald's character who busts out this totally proper, totally beautiful bento box full of sushis. The rest of the crew then proceeds to ask her what the hell she's eating.

Anyway, the image of that lunch was vivid and, well, who didn't want to be like Molly Ringwald? Too bad I was more into being like her fashion-wise and in the regard of chasing boys who didn't notice me than adopting these interesting eating habits. Sigh.
Thankfully, the New York Times has picked up the ball once again on an interesting trend. Now, as usual also, the New York Times has annoyed me. They wrote an article about the fad of the bento box, but in doing so, assumed that (I guess since we're all foodies these days and don't have jobs?) we all have seven hours a day to make carrot sticks heart-shaped and we know how to make an olive into a flower, blah blah blah.
But let's use this as an opportunity to be inspired by that which was good: The idea of a small plastic box going with us to work or school every day filled with fresh + beautiful + relatively small ingredients.
This is a great idea for schools. This is a great idea for me to bring to work. You get the idea. Please read the full article here.
I'm working on sourcing a really cool and inexpensive bento box to buy. Sayonara.