Tag Archive: food


The Importance of Food

I just finished watching a great TEDTalk featuring Roger Doiron talking about gardening. It was sent to me by a dear friend who was in my Permaculture Design Course this summer, and came at the perfect time as I had just been drawing up plans and ideas for my parents garden that I will get a chance to work on this spring. Doiron Makes the argument that gardening is a subversive act. It is subversive because if people can grow their own food it is putting power back into the people’s hands and taking power away from big corporations. It is putting power back in your hands by giving you more control over your health, diet, and wallet.

Over the past several years food has become an increasingly important subject in my life. I myself am not what I would call a foodie; I will eat just about anything you put in front of me whether it is fast, slow, greasy, fresh, meaty, or vegan, and am probably only a little better than the average American, and far worse then my many foodie friends, when it comes to cooking and kitchen know how. But I do appreciate and highly enjoy good food, which is perhaps why I tend to find myself surrounded by foodie friends.

But beyond that, as I have been wrestling with the ideas of sustainability, community, and social change each strand I follow seems to bring me back to food.

  • If we can grow food sustainably that will be a huge step towards a sustainable earth.
  • In every community I have been in meal times are what literally feed the community.
  • If we want to create social change we first need to make sure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.

Food is a basic necessity of every single individual. Therefore, even if you are a microwave meal or McDonalds kind of person, you must interact with food each and every day. It may in fact be this, that food is a necessity, that is the ingenuity behind huge money making corporations like McDonalds.

And amazingly, it isn’t just the food industry that has found a way to make a profit off of our need for food; For every food calorie we eat it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce that 1 calorie. This is in our highly industrialized food system of course, where petroleum based fertilizers are the norm and gas guzzling machines and trucks are used to process and get our food to us from thousands of miles away.

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) Michelle Obama's White House Garden. Compare this to the image below...

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) If the White House Garden were to be representative of our industrialized agricultural system this is what it would look like. Yes, we are subsidizing a system that is 80% soy, wheat, cotton, and corn and only 20% fruits and vegetables.

It seems that if we change our food system we would inevitably change much more than just our food system; We would effect global economics, global health, global happiness, and global sustainability.

So how can we change the food system to create positive change in all these areas? Doiron thinks the key is in encouraging and inspiring more people to grow their own food. That’s right, it might be as simple as growing your very own kitchen garden. You will eat healthier, feel healthier, save money, and be sticking it to the big bureaucratic corporate machine  all at the same time. And, you will probably be happier as being involved in your food tends to encourage community and connection to other humans and the natural world, which tends to lead to greater overall happiness.

I think this last part about community and overall happiness is why I have found myself continually coming back to food.

For me, being someone who grew up with a phenomenal cook as a mother and a father who refused to go to a fast food joint even on the longest, most remote stretches of highway where nothing else was available, I grew to desire and expect good quality, healthy, fresh meals. Perhaps it was this desire that led me to live in coop in college where home cooked dinners were part of every evening. Also, growing up with no TV dinners and coming from a Jewish family where holidays and celebrations often included large, elaborate, and delicious meals I was conditioned to associate food with good company and a time to connect.

For me, the kitchen always seems to be the center of the house. Whether you are preparing a meal, cleaning up after a meal, or chatting with the those who are cooking and cleaning while you wait for some tasty morsels to come your way, the kitchen is where people gravitate. The kitchen and food is also often where conflict arises; people have different dietary preferences, someone doesn’t clean up their dishes, and oh no! My leftovers that I was going to have for lunch are gone! But working through and resolving these issues provide important real life lessons in conflict resolution, community building, budgeting, cooking, cleanliness and more.

Well, this has been the case for me and the kinds of people I have gravitated to in my life. But this apparently is NOT the norm. In Doiron’s talk on TEDTalks he gave the astonishing statistic that the average american now spends only 31 minutes doing food related activities each day. This means 31 minutes a day cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals! It seems a stretch to me to  even fit just eating 3 meals in that time, let alone preparing and cleaning up.

There is another reality out there where the TV room is the center of the house. In this scenario food is quickly taken from the freezer, microwaved and individuals sit silently eating their food in front of the mind numbing television. No time for family discussions of politics, news or current events, or for sharing of the trials and tribulations of one’s day.

Having grown up in a household and in communities where food and meal times were not undervalued I have been attracted to local food cooperatives and farmers markets to do my shopping; another social and festive way in which to interact with food. This of course got me thinking more on where my food comes from and issues of food justice.

The conclusion I have come to is that we need localized food systems. We need more people involved in their food, growing a more diverse array of food that celebrates and preserves more cultural diversity and holds communities together.

Having come to this conclusion I have decided to join the subversive gardening movement and start growing food in my parents yard this spring. I encourage you to do the same! Having taken a permaculture design course and studied agriculture at Cornell University I am well aware that growing food can be quite complex. But it can also be quite simple and you have to start somewhere. I myself have become a bit intimidated by complexity of academic analysis of growing food and “right” and “wrong” ways to do it but I have decided I have to start somewhere, so why not start with putting a few seeds in the ground? Maybe I will start a trend and before I know it the whole block will be filled with front yard gardens. And then before you know it neighbors will be interacting again we all find yourselves out on a sunny Saturday afternoon eating fresh veggies and pulling weeds. This could indeed be the way to revitalize community…

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The Great Outdoors in NYC

My first very own field guide finally arrived today! It is the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to New England. Now you might wonder why am I getting a field guide when my current location is new york city. (and yes, I realize New York is not included in the new england states but I decided there is probably a fair amount of overlap in the flora and fauna). Well, over the last couple of years my interest in plants and animals has been steadily growing. I always loved the outdoors but it has only been recently that I have wanted to know the plants more intimately by name, medicinal use, nutritional qualities, habitat, ecosystem function and more. And the long and short of it was that it was when I came to NYC to live with my grandparents for a month and help take care of my beloved grandpa post op my curiosity finally drove me to buy a field guide. Even in riverside park there is much to find! And I found myself without a more knowledgeable friend close by wanting desperately to know what this tree was, whether that shroom was poisonous, and what the name of that bird is. And so I ordered what I hope to be the first of many field guides.

I have slowly been gaining knowledge by going on plants walks with those more knowledgeable when I can and taking advantage of other opportunities. This summer’s permaculture course made me feel even more strongly about the importance of knowing plant functions in ecosystems. Then in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I have gone with my parents for many years to do art as a family, a took a new interest in El Charco de Ingenio, their botanical gardens. There I saw a totally different desert ecosystem overflowing with a diversity of cacti. Tapping into a recently evolved “green map” of San Miguel I found out about a one day workshop on tincture and salve making using medicinal plants. And so in one short day I found myself learning how to, and actually making, right there on the spot, herbal tinctures, infusions, teas, vaseline or oil based creams, and beeswax based creams- wow! I didn’t know it was so easy! Here are some basic recipes.

(CAUTION: I am not an expert and each individual herb should be researched and used accordingly. Some are poisonous if ingested or if the wrong part of the herb is used, and these recipes are simple basic recipes of a beginner, so please do your own research before trying anything you plan on taking or giving to someone else.)

Tinctures (alcohol based)

1 part dried herb

4 parts alcohol (vodka or gin or glycerin work)

Leave for two weeks in the sun, agitating or shaking daily

Strain out the organic plant matter and put in a dark container and store in a dark, cool place and it should last over a year! Don’t forget to label it clearly!

20 drops of this concentrated tincture in a glass of hot water can be used to make a tea or taken directly.

40 drops in hot water can be used to soak gauze or other material to make a compress.

Tea or Compress

Most of us know how to make a tea but here are a few words of advice if you are using it for medicinal purposes. The water has to be boiling or just at boiling point. Purely hot water won’t do. Steep it for 5 to 10 minutes, not more as it will get bitter. To use a tea as a compress just soak some gauze in the tea and put it where you need it.

Infusions (oil based)

1 part dried herb

4 parts olive or jojoba oil (other plant or fruit oils can work too)

Add Vitamin E to keep oil from going rancid (This is optional but will help extend the life of your infusion to about 1 year. Otherwise it will last a few months. It works well to just buy a capsule of vitamin E and break it open, adding the content to your infusion.)

Leave in a closed container in the sun for 10 to 14 days, agitating daily

filter out organic matter and put in a dark container in a cool place to store.

Infusions can be massaged into skin or heated to release odors of herbs

Solid Cream (beeswax base)

100 ml of olive oil or other oil

5 grams of herb

5 grams of beeswax

Heat the oil and herb for 1/2 hour in a double boiler

Strain herb out of oil (Optional. Some people leave the herb in)

Add the beeswax while still hot, pour into desired container, and allow to solidify

And done! This can also be used to massage into skin, as lip balm or other topical use. Also, you can play around with the ratio of beeswax to oil  to get different levels of solidity.

Vaseline Based Cream

Double boil vaseline and herb together

Pour into your desired container and let solidify.

Then use as is! No straining, no nothing. This is the lazy man’s version of the above solid cream. Personally, I would prefer to not used a petrol based product and it seems you can get the same consistency by altering the ratios of oil to beeswax with the previous recipe!

I also learned a bit about a few common herbs like arnica (do not ingest this one! It should be used only topically), chamomile, calendula, lavander, and mint but I think I will save that for another post.

Then when I returned to Ithaca, NY Peter and I asked our very knowledgeable friend Micah to take us mushroom hunting. And oh did we find a lot of mushrooms!

(once again, a word of CAUTION: many mushrooms can be deadly! A few are even dangerous to touch, so be very cautious. Go with a knowledgeable guide. This list of “ten commandments” for the mushroom hunter are also a good guide to follow).

But we found maybe 6 or so pounds of black trumpet chanterelles- delicious cooked up with lots of butter and garlic. And we also found some old man in the woods, toothed fungi, and artists fungus and oyster mushrooms. This experience in particular made me really want to know my flora. Imagine being able to eat like a queen and not have to pay a cent!

And so when I arrived in new york my eyes were trained to look around me and notice the flora and fauna. And there are so many fascinating plants in riverside park that I do not know! And birds that also intrigued me. I also found Maitake mushrooms, which, after much debate, I decided not to eat due to the possibility of accumulated toxins and pollution in them. And I also found what I think is an artists fungus and some puff balls! But I am excited now to go out and try and identify the many plants and birds that I have not been able to name with my new field guide. Oh, so many possibilities! What was that fragrant plant whose smell I recognized but name I did not know that was growing by the hudson river? I will hopefully let you know in a few days.

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