Saturday, February 25, 2012

In Which I Am Accepted To Grad School

It is with great pleasure that I can announce my acceptance to Chatham University's Masters of Arts in Food Studies (MAFS) program. Hip hip!

Ever since I visited Chatham last year, their innovative, new MAFS program has been at the tippy top of my list. Schools like Boston University (which I visited in 2010) and New York University have older Food Studies programs, but Chatham is the first school to build their curriculum around the concept of holistic, sustainable food systems, with the goal of unleashing a new generation of holistic, sustainable food system advocates into the world.

Rather than attempting my own clumsy interpretation, I'll just copy Chatham's description of the program right here:

 The Masters of Arts in Food Studies emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table. Graduates gain analytical and experiential knowledge of global and local food systems. Academic courses provide a critical framework, emphasizing the ways people relate to food within a cultural and historical context. Analyses of global, environmental, and gender issues are centralized in the study of the food system as a cultural, economic, and geographic entity. The 388-acre Eden Hall Campus, with its organic gardens, apiaries, orchards, kitchen and root cellar, provides a working environment for engagement with the practice and pedagogy of sustainable agriculture and culinary arts.

In the more immediate future, I'm starting my internship at Clear Spring Creamery next Monday, March 5th. I'm leaving this Thursday, taking some detours to DC and Brightwood Vineyard and Farm (last year's internship - I apparently left my hat, among sundry other items) along the way. So check back soon for exciting dairy adventures! Moo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fast Food Nation: Growing Older, But Still Apt

I just finished reading Eric Schlosser's incredible book, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Originally published in 2001, I find it a little ridiculous that I have only now added it to my repertoire of food- and farming-related literature.

Fast Food Nation is just as relevant today as it was over a decade ago. Just about everything Schlosser relates - apart from certain statistics, which are obviously now a little out of date - still rings true.

In his introduction, Schlosser describes the illusory cheapness of fast food, laying out the spine of his argument:
But the value meals, two-for-one deals, and free refills of soda give a distorted sense of how much fast food actually costs. The real price never appears on the menu.
The discussion of what cheap food actually costs is one upon which I have dwelt in the past. (Heck, the topic came up in my last blog post.)

Schlosser delves into detail, exploring every nuance of the hidden costs of fast food in this fine example of investigative journalism. He journeys from meat packing plants in Iowa to ranches in Colorado, speaks with food scientists and illegal aliens, discusses nutrition and economics and history with folks who represent every link of the vast chain that is the fast food industry. And he goes to great lengths to explain, in excruciating detail, what - and who - those hidden costs are.

Suffice to say, these costs are extensive, not to mention pervasive. From public health to worker safety, from environmental costs to animal treatment, from government corruption to international policy, the costs of fast food extend into our daily lives. But all we can see is the dollar menu.

I wish, more than ten years after the appearance of Fast Food Nation, that the circumstances surrounding its conception and publication were different. I wish our country's food and worker safety policies were improved. I wish that meat packing plants were required to pay for the air pollution and resulting medical expenses. But this book is as applicable today as it was in 2001, which is a real shame.

To close, a few passages from the epilogue, which I found especially astute.
During the past two decades, rhetoric about the "free market" has cloaked changes in the nation's economy that bear little relation to real competition or freedom of choice. From the airline industry to the publishing business, from the railroads to telecommunications, American corporations have worked hard to avoid the rigors of the market by eliminating and absorbing their rivals...
The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power. The great challenge now facing countries throughout the world is how to find a proper balance between the efficiency and the amorality of the market. Over the past twenty years the United States has swung too far in one direction, weakening the regulations that safeguard workers, consumers, and the environment. An economic system promising freedom has too often become a means of denying it, as the narrow dictates of the market gain precedence over more important democratic values.
Today's fast food industry is the culmination of those larger social and economic trends. The low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost - and should. The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Holey Darned Socks, Batman!

Yesterday, I darned my first sock.

I know what you're thinking... isn't this blog about farming and agriculture? Indeed it is. So why am I telling you about my socks, which are clearly in need of replacement?

The lure of self sufficiency is a very strong motivation for me. I normally think of this in terms of growing my own food, and being self sufficient from that perspective. But, while I am no seamstress, I regularly repair rips in my shirts and jeans, sew buttons, stitch hems, put in darts, and do other handy little sewing projects that extend the life of my clothing as much as possible.

One of the problems I see with our conventional food system is how wasteful it is. Alternative food systems such as organic and biodynamic agriculture seek to minimize that waste. The ideal farm is a closed system. For example, vegetable waste and manure become compost, which nourishes future growth. But why seek to minimize waste in your food system if you aren't going to do the same elsewhere?

I've ranted discussed previously the issue of the "hidden costs" of conventional agriculture. The same is true for any purchase one makes. When you purchase a cotton T-shirt, as Annie Leonard (of The Story of Stuff Project) explains, you are also buying into a system that uses toxic pesticides and chemicals to grow, bleach, and dye your shirt; uses fossil-fuel driven machines to card, sort, and weave your shirt; and exploits workers in foreign countries who don't make a living wage to sew your shirt.

So if extending the life of one measly little sock by darning it helps me feel like I'm making a difference, however miniscule, then I'll do it. Gosh darn it.

I'll close with a pertinent quote from Annie Leonard's book The Story of Stuff. (Emphasis mine.)
Cherish the T-shirt you have. Wear it and care for it with the same persevering love you have for an heirloom piece of jewelry. Resist the urge to replace it with the newest color or neckline. I keep my T-shirts until they're too worn to wear even to the gym, and then I turn them into rags... Because even though the price tag said $4.99... that doesn't come close to reflecting all the hidden costs or true value of one plain white cotton T-shirt.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Food Pics: Week of February 5

Irish Soda Bread

Roasted Root Vegetables with Apples, Thyme and Rosemary

Avocado Salad with Pickled Red Onion, Pickled Radishes, Cilantro and Lime

Pan-fried Chicken Breast with White Wine & Tarragon Sauce

Mesclun Salad with Feta and Pomegranate Seeds

Boeuf Bourguignon (Julia Child recipe)

Dark Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Agricultural Generational Gap

My grandfather has been living with us for the last two months. It's been interesting, to say the least. I love him, but we do not see eye to eye on a number of things... and one of those is farming.

For almost the entirety of my farm job last year, Papaw would call me about once a week, and we would have the following conversation:
Him: So.... why are you working on a farm?
Me: Well, you know, sustainable agriculture and learning about issues concerning farmers and public health and stuff....
Him: Oh, okay.
-One week later-
Him: So.... why are you working on a farm?
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a common attitude his generation has towards those who, like me, are approaching farming despite never before having so much as picked an ear of corn - i.e. "Generation Organic".*

Papaw was born in 1931 and has lived his entire life in Milltown, Indiana. Milltown is a very small town in southern Indiana, in a county with so few people that they don't even have a stoplight. He spent his formative years on a farm, where his family grew pretty much all the food they needed to survive. They had four cows, a few pigs, chickens, and produce - a homestead, basically. When they needed a little extra money, they went to town in the family's Model T and sold eggs and cream. After a brief stint in the Navy, Papaw got a job with DuPont in Louisville, where he worked until he retired.

To my grandfather, farming is something he was required to do. Being in a position to purchase food, rather than grow it all himself, was a mark of prosperity. You only farmed if you needed to.

Not to mention, he helped pay for my college education... something he never had. From his perspective, it probably looks like I'm just throwing all that money away. After all, you don't need an education to farm, right?

But here's the thing... you do need an education to farm. My grandfather received his education from his parents and grandparents, and they from theirs. His education was distilled over generations of farmers making mistakes and learning from them to find what worked best. Farming is something that takes observation, skill, perseverance, and the ability to problem solve.

Once the middle of the 20th century hit, agriculture in this country underwent a radical change. Technological advancements enabled fewer people to grow larger amounts of food. The number of farms dropped, while the acreage of those farms went through the roof. Suddenly, you didn't have to farm to make ends meet. You could have a job in the city and shop at the supermarket.

And a generation of children grew up without knowing how to farm, and all that lovely knowledge disappeared.

My grandfather will probably never understand why I feel compelled - yes, compelled - to farm. Part of that is because of his short-term memory loss, which means that he forgets everything I tell him within minutes.

But even if he could remember, I don't know if he would really get it. He has always taken for granted the warmth of the sun on the back of his neck, the heft of a shovel, the feel of Indiana soil crumbling between his fingers.

And I have always taken for granted that, if I need to, I can just run down to the store and pick up a head of lettuce. Understanding - or not, as the case may be - is a two way street.

*I say this because he's not the only member of his generation who has tried to convince me that farming is sheer madness and a waste of time. One of the nicer responses I've received was, "Well.... I guess it's a stable occupation..."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Post Number 100! And a crazy idea...

First of all, happy 100th post to me! Huzzah.

Although I've been more or less absent on here of late (busy taking care of my grandfather, for one thing...), I have been cooking quite a lot.

So here's my thought... I will try to post, more or less regularly, pictures of what tasty tidbits I've concocted in the kitchen. Ideally this will be a weekly occurrence, but frankly I'm not going to tie myself down to that just now.

The idea here is threefold: 1) It will get me to actually post something, even though I'm not currently working on a farm and unfortunately too busy to delve into researching sustainable agriculture-related issues; 2) It will help me practice taking attractive pictures of food; and 3) It will hopefully get me to care more about food presentation. Which, most of the time...... I don't.

So without further ado, here are the pictures for the week of January 30! (And maybe a couple from before that.)

Roast Beef in Red Wine (Julia Child recipe)

White Bean, Potato, Carrot and Kale Soup

German Pancakes with Apples

Roasted Broccolini

Belgian-Braised Beef Stew (Julia Child recipe) (And yes, I know the picture is hideous. But it tasted great!)

Pear and Apple Tart with Walnut Crust (picture taken pre-cooking)

Clockwise from upper left: Roasted Cauliflower, Panzanella Salad (courtesy of my friend Steve), and Orcchiette Pasta with Sundried Tomato Pesto

If anyone every has suggestions for how to make the pictures and/or the food look nicer, do share! I'm always striving to improve.