Monday, June 22, 2009
There has been a distinct shift in how I think about food and cooking and in how I shop over the last few months. After reading books like "Fast Food Nation" and "In Defense of Food", I am now convinced of the importance of the whereabouts of your food before it came inside your kitchen. It is an increasingly active movement for sustainable food, one led by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser and a number of other opponents of modern agricultural practices, a movement to change the way we produce food, shop for food, eat food. Recent movies like King Corn and Food, Inc. are trying to give publicity to the movement though I doubt either of them will have the popularity (and the impact) of The Inconvenient Truth. The idea of sustainable food is very multifaceted. On one hand there are the health issues - the food we eat is rich in calories but poor in nutrition (yes, this is true even for your greens if they came from a large commercial farm). Then there is the rich environmental issue - contemporary agricultural practices are responsible for 22.5% of greenhouse gases (47% of methane, 88% of nitrous oxide and 9% of CO2), a major cause for land loss (due to erosion and loss of fertility), a threat to biodiversity and a serious pollutant (where do you think all the cow poo goes?). In addition, transporting food half the way around the world so that we can have watermelons at Safeway year-round is a huge fuel sink. And finally there is the complex social issue - people need food and will need even more food as the population increases but our centralized scheme of mono-cultures is fragile and bad for us and frequently the ones at the bottom of it, the producers, are the biggest losers of all.
It is a long laundry list and it calls for a major over-haul of the food industry. Certainly this is not going to happen overnight but things are starting to stir. The number of Farmer's Markets in the USA has increased dramatically over the last five years giving a boost to small farms and creating a local demand-supply network. The same is true for Community-sponsored Agriculture. Victory gardens are making a comeback, tomato and squash plants peeking through the fences of many of the houses in my neighborhood. My concerns are that so far these alternative food sources are only accessible to a small fraction of the population (the one that has access to them) and that they mainly address the produce portion of the food-pyramid - sustainable meat production is very rare and supermarkets are still full of processed corn-derivatives.
Baby steps, baby steps. What can I (and you) do? In an effort to increase the quality of my food and reduce its carbon footprint, I have made a commitment to purchase all my produce from the Farmer's Market. I am voting with my wallet. I kind-a have it easy though - there is a fantastic and very reasonably priced farmer's market every weekend three miles from my house and I live in California - the Mecca of produce. Does it make a difference? I tried to explain my war on fast food to my parents and they were very befuddled in a "who cares" way, but I haven't spend a dollar at a fast food restaurant since October and I feel great about it. However, I think this decision to source my produce locally is bigger that just a feel-good feeling - it is a vote for and sponsorship of the Farmer's Market folks, of their effort and commitment and ultimately good for me (I eat a LOT of fruits and veggies). I am kissing my demand for instant gratification good-buy.
But enough of the prelude. This aweeeesome potato salad recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen and uses all Spring products (I get really irked by mixed season recipes... pear-strawberry cobbler, anyone?). I love this salad! And just for the record, the ingredients - potatoes, green beans, scallions and basil - cost me ~$4.50 at the Farmer's Market.
Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans
2 lb new potatoes, quartered
1/2 lb green beans (better go for 1 lb)
2-3 scallions, chopped
1 bunch of basil, just the leaves
1-2 cloves garlic
~1/4 C of olive oil
1/2 C pine nuts, toasted
a splash of mild vinegar
salt & pepper
parmesan for garnish
Wash and cut the potatoes into bite-sized peaces (not too small though, not diced). Place them in a pot, cover with water and boil then until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the beans (ends trimmed and cut into inch-sized peaces) and boil another 2-3 minutes. The beans shouldn't be soft but still a bit crunchy. Drain well and let cool. While this is all happening, make pesto from the basil, garlic and olive oil; add just enough oil to make a paste, not all of it. Stir the pesto, scallions and pine nuts with the beans and potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and vinegar, stir, garnish with parmesan, serve. Awesome. (Hint: make more pesto than you need - you are going to love the pesto-potato combination so much, you'll want more pesto. Or use it on some pasta. Or bread. Or just about anything else.)
The bottom line of this very long post is that there is a bigger picture behind the tasty recipes and pretty pictures, the picture of the vast food industry which we are all supporting with our choices of where we shop and what we buy. Support your local farmers. Vote with your wallet. Know where your food came from, who it came from. Be proactive. Do what you can - your actions matter. And enjoy the potato salad!
PS. For more blogs on sustainable food check this review.