Yummy Crunchy Delectable Food: A Post for Blog Action Day 2011

West Show Jersey July 2010 46

I’ve blogged before about ethical issues concerning food, but this Blog Action Day, I’d just like to say a few words about how delightful food is.  There are such a wonderful variety of tastes to choose from:  earthy-sweet carrots, rich cream (or, for me, goat’s milk), nectar-like honey, warming chai.  I’ve gotten to enjoy an even wider range of tastes since I’ve become a fan of tea and, more recently, a student of herbalism.  Any day can be made better by a cup of tung ting, an oolong that tastes like spring, or the oceany gyokuro.  Herbs might taste super-sweet like licorice, refreshing like lemon balm, or harshly bitter like hops, but they’re always interesting.  Herbalist Guido Masé described Rhodiola as that herb that “tastes like roses and then sucks all the water out of your mouth.”  I doubt you could fail to identify the taste of Rhodiola after that description!

Kulikov Bazaar with bagels 1910Food is fun to taste and smell, but it’s also fun to chop and blend and knead – and buy.  When I lived in Philadelphia, my favorite day of the week was Saturday.  My boyfriend and I would walk up to the Headhouse Square farmer’s market.  I’d buy basic veggies from the Amish farmer there, and heirloom tomatoes and other delightful things from the organic farm stand.  Saturday’s market wasn’t as big as Sunday’s, but there was more opportunity to chat with the farmers, and maybe find out what could be done with that strange vegetable I didn’t know the name of.  As a Vermonter, visiting the farmer’s market felt like a little bit of home.  I’d always impulse-buy something that I hadn’t planned on – often kale, which I knew I didn’t like (at the time), but which is so gorgeously richly green I could rarely resist.

We’d tote our goods back home and I would usually spend the day cooking:  Perhaps making a chili-inspired stew with fresh tomatoes and peppers, and maybe some sweet potatoes and kale.  I might make some brown bread or stove-top pizza, too.  Saturdays always seemed so satisfying, and I felt a lift in low-level anxiety that I always had in the city. 

Ferdinand Wagner MarktfrauI think it was because of all of that basic, nourishing sensory stimulation.  This week I read a blog entry over at Three Highlights that said, “Machinating is what we do when we let the mind spin with little more intention, flexibility, or creative openness other than to ‘get things done.’  It’s not the same as thinking. Or musing. Or imagining. Or creating. Or experiencing.”  Since I spent a lot of time on the computer – and was missing my accustomed natural, low-concrete landscape – this was a real danger for me.  But getting and making good food always lifted that cloud and got me back into experiencing and musing and creating.

So, I guess that’s another reason why I like to buy local, from the grower, and to buy whole food that takes a bit of preparation:  I’m getting even more for my money.  I’m not just getting calories, I’m getting nutrients, and tastes, and smells, and textures, and even conversations and friendships.  I’m getting food for the body – and food for the soul.

Saving the Harvest

“Autumn,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

When I moved to Philadelphia, I was psyched about shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I’d heard about the place for years, especially from some friends in L.A.  It sounded like some kind of crunchy paradise, where food was both organic and cheap.  The nearest Trader Joe’s was quite a ways across the city, but my boyfriend and I would zoom over on his motorcycle and then make our way back, with groceries strapped to the bike and my back, him steering and me balancing a full chicobag in each hand.

It was great, until I read the label on a can of beans or something (something not at all exotic) and saw that they were from New Zealand.

I eat organic because it’s healthy – but also because it’s better for the environment (which ends up being healthier as well).  So I felt like the organic-ness of the food was canceled out by the fuel that was expended getting it from New Zealand to Philly.  It was a bummer.

Now that I’m back in Vermont, I try to make organic eating affordable by getting things in their basic form (veggies instead of soup, flour instead of scones), by taking part in a CSA, and by shopping at an awesome local store that sells “discounted gourmet foods.”  This generally means that they’re selling, say, a dented can of coconut water for 75 cents or a case of near-expiration Liberte Greek yogurt for under $5.  (Believe me, I can eat Liberte yogurt fast enough to beat that expiration date!)  I don’t know if you have a store like this near you, but I’m really glad I do.  I also feel good about shopping there because a lot of their food (even though it’s perfectly yummy and healthy) would go into the dumpster if they didn’t exist.

I got to thinking of all this because I heard an interview on Here and Now about all the food that does go into the dumpster.  In that interview, Jeremy Seifert of the documentary Dive! (about dumpster diving) mentioned that 96 billion pounds of food go into dumpsters in the US every year.  That’s 96 billion pounds of food wasted, not to mention the labor of the people who grew and processed that food, the land that food was grown on, any pesticides and fertilizer that went into those crops, and all the fuel and packaging involved in getting that food to the store shelf.  That’s heartbreaking.

Times are hard, but in a land of such abundance, I think the primary solution may be simple:  not to waste what we have.

Tea in NWK

On the way home from Ireland, we had a layover in Newark.  There’s nothing to make you feel human – after seven hours on a plane and the culture shock of going from Shannon to New Jersey – like a good cup of tea.

(The tea is set on the sill to the right.)

Tea on the Burren

One gorgeous day in Doolin, with an unexpected couple of hours to spare, we decided to have tea, at the mouth of a prehistoric souterrain in the burren.  You know you’re really lucky when you have the opportunity to sit out under a clear blue sky, surrounded by stone and wildflowers and ocean, and sip on a cup of tie guan yin while contemplating the stories that might live in that stone.  You know you’re a bit of a dork when you have a travel tea kit all set, just in case.

In previous years, I always had a horrible time finding this spot. This summer, I started to get better at seeing the individual features of the burren, and so, tucked away out of the wind, this became a favorite place to visit.

Bloody Cranesbill, a relative of geraniums, was growing over the entrance to the souterrain.

 The way it was described to me, this man-made underground passage would have been used for storing food (since it stays at a cool, consistent temperature), and possibly for hiding in. I was told that fourteen people had once fit in there during a downpour.  It must have been a tight fit!

A Hart’s Tongue Fern growing just inside the entrance, protected from the wind.

Conversations over Tea and Dogs