Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Vegetarian Asado

Last week I had a fiesta de despedida (goodbye party) in Ña Justina’s, my neighbor, house. The Señora told me that she wanted to have a dinner for me. I ajahu-ed (bathed), ambochuka-ed (dressed up), and aha-ed (went) over to her house. Her and her daughters had prepared pasta with a red sauce, pasta with a cream sauce, ensalada de arroz (rice salad), and vegetarian empanadas with cabbage, peas, and eggs. We ended the meal with a what they called a tortita (little cake), but was actually a giant frosting-covered lemon cake. It truly was a vegetarian feast!

I appreciated the communal creation of the food, using lettuce from my garden, lemons from my tree, and crema de leche (cream) from my cupboard, to create a delicious meal. That’s something I’ll miss about Paraguay, how it takes a community to create a meal.

This lovely evening exemplies the unparalleled experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Throughout the last two years, I’ve repeatedly had the same experience of people whom I’ve only known for a short period of time, with whom I don’t share the same language or culture, inviting me into their homes and preparing a meal for me. This meal was made even more special because it was entirely vegetarian in a country where every fiesta invovles asado (grilled meat) and little else. It was held by my the first family I had lived with in my community, including the mother who had taught me word after word in Guaraní, the father who had me taught how to pray after meals, and the daughter who had taught me how to prepare empanadas. They threw me a party because even though they don’t know my favorite color or my brother’s name or what I like to do on weekends, they will me and I will miss them and Paraguay.

Typical Paraguayan party food:

The vegetarian feast at my goodbye party:

Monday, May 10, 2010

McDonald's Happy Meals Out of Luck!

Finally!!! Enough with fast-food joints bribing kids to eat their 5000 calory meals with the promise of fun toys.

California County Trims Toys in Meals to Cut Fat

White House Garden Promotes Good Food

I love the Obamas!

Capital Culture: WH Garden Promotes Good Food

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Expanding Access to Food Across Racial Lines

A while ago a friend asked me to respond to this article: Expanding access to food across racial lines

The correlation between low-income levels and unhealthy eating is not a new one, though it is, so far, a largely ignored one. When I interned at A Wider Circle, my job was to research health statistics and trends among low-income populations. You know how difficult that was? The majority of research institutions had published studies examining the associations between race and health, as if being Black or Asian was the sole indicator of healthy eating (watch out Asians, we’re eventually going to overdose on rice and die). A much more important indicator is income. It’s pure economics really: vegetables from the supermarket are expensive, while Happy Meals from McDonald’s and other fast foods are not.

Then again, maybe healthy eating in the U.S. is not wholly dependent on income. One reader, meadowrock, made the following comment:

If people want children to have access to healthy foods why in the world does the food industry add the toxic chemical aspartame to over 6000 foods and beverages in this country. Aspartame has been shown to cause massive weight gain in most people that consume it on a daily basis. It also has been shown to cause leukemia, lymphoma, diabetes, dementia and 90 other diseases. It is added now to almost all chewing gums sold in the U.S. which are of course consumed by children. Look at the kids that chew gum; they are almost always fat. This toxic substance was originally rejected by the FDA as unfit for human consumption seven times until President Reagan fired the FDA director in 1981. Three cheers for stock profits over citizen health.

I have to say that I agree. If we want our families to eat healthier, we can’t expect profit-motivated food retailers to stop selling their most popular items (in other words, I wouldn’t wait around for supermarkets to stop selling Twinkies anytime soon). It is up to us to make changes in our diets. Thich Nhat Hanh says that we should eat less; that way we’ll have more money to buy organic food. While most of us do not have the dietary control of a Buddhist monk, he does make a good point: we waste our money on unhealthy food that we do not need. Changing food habits is hard (take this from a girl with an inexorable sweet tooth), but it is necessary. For those of us who can’t afford buying organic food 100% of the time, growing our own vegetables or participating in community gardening projects is a much cheaper alternative (check out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for some easy tips). Besides, gardening contributes to our developing a better understanding of the life cycle and the ecological system that sustains us and all of life. Let’s not forget that the human society for the most part has always been defined as an agricultural society (that is until the last hundred years or so!).

We can strive to incorporate, at the very least, a few vegetables from our local farmers’ market into our weekly diets. Eating healthy does not have to be expensive and it does not have to be difficult. There are a multitude of books and Internet resources available with easy-to-prepare recipes that are good for your health (check out Simple Food for the good life by Helen Nearing for super straightforward, uncomplicated recipes).

At the same time, it is up to the government to encourage healthy eating by promoting access to low-cost healthful foods among Americans of all races and income-levels. First and foremost they have to put an end to the decades-long practice of collusion between the FDA and the food industry whereby bureaucrats/politicians turn a blind eye to harmful methods of food production, dangerous food additives, and misleading labels because of the political contributions they receive from the meat manufacturers, food retailers, etc. The FDA should be defending Americans’ health, not selling it to the highest buyer.

Another step is reducing the costs of healthful foods for consumers. Broccoli should not cost more than a cheeseburger. Part of this has to do with the government’s policy of farm subsidies, which targets large-scale producers and encourages them to manufacture excessive quantities of foodstuffs. Our support of giant corn and soy farms is the reason that derivatives of these products are found in everything (And I mean everything: corn syrup, candy bars, ketchup, cereals, even lightbulbs!) Our government needs to stop stuffing the pockets of the wealthiest farmers and start subsidizing the average Americans’ food consumption. The government has already made moves in this direction by allowing food stamps to be redeemed at farmers’ markets. But what about those people who don’t qualify for food stamps? The government needs to redirect its food subsidies toward farmers markets, organic produce, and healthful foods. I’m still hoping for the day the sign “two boxes of Entermann’s for the price of one” is replaced by “On Sale: broccoli and kale CHEAP!”

A government policy promoting healthy eating would not be complete without support for local non-profit organizations like A Wider Circle that combat poverty and poor health. AWC provides health and wellness information through workshops on a variety of topics, including stress management, anger management, nutrition, self-esteem, and the mind-body connection; monthly wellness materials; and the Health Professionals Network, which connects health professionals with local schools and shelters where they can give presentations. The more crusaders for good health we have out there, the better.

I would like to formulate a healthy eating petition to send to our President and First Lady and I would love your input.

What do you think should be included?

What are ways that our government can encourage healthy eating?

High Fructose Corn Syrup is Bad for You

Does that really surprise anyone?

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bananas a la Rosario

This is a standard Puerto Rican dish and is very easy to prepare. I named the recipe after my friend Jesus Rosario because he taught me how to make it. This is an especially great recipe for those of you in tropical countries or living near banana plantations. For the rest of you, you can substitute potatoes.

• Green (raw) bananas (can substitute yucca/mandioca or potatoes)
• Bay leaves
• Oregano (fresh or dried)
• Salt
• Pepper
• Olive oil

Use a sharp knife to cut the peel off the bananas. Cut them into large chunks and then boil them until they’re soft like potatoes. Put them in a bowl and toss them with bay leaves, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature. They’re so delicious they’ll have you screaming “Thank you Jesus!”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Panqueques Rancheros

This is a recipe for fruit & nut pancakes. My friend and I were attempting to cook pancakes on my awful, lopsided stove and my horrible pans and could not keep them in one piece. My friend suggested that we cook like scrambled eggs so they wouldn’t stick, but he mistook ranchero to the Spanish word for scrambled (the correct word is revuelto), hence the misnomer “Panqueques Rancheros.”

• 1 ½ cups flour
• 1 tspn salt
• 2 ½ tspns baking powder
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 2 spoons of oil or melted butter
• 1 ½ cups milk
• ¼ - ½ cups sugar
• ½ tspn baking soda
• 1 tspn vinegar
• Bananas or apples
• Nuts: peanuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.

Mix the dry ingredients together (except the baking soda). Add the eggs, butter, and milk. Blend the bananas or apples (or both separately for both apple and banana pancakes!). If you use apples, you can blend them with the milk. If the mixture is too runny with the apples, add another ½ cup of flour. The other option is to finely slice the bananas and dice the apples to avoid runny batter. Whip the batter until it becomes a homogenous mixture. Add the vinegar and baking soda. Cook in a frying pan with a little oil. Bon appetit!

Banana Topping

A common recipe among Peace Corps Volunteers here is banana topping for pancakes and French toast.

• Bananas
• Honey
• Peanuts (optional)

Mush several bananas. Add honey and crushed peanuts. You can serve as is or cook for a few minutes on low heat with a little oil.

Apple Sun Tea

Sun tea is a tea that requires no boiling and can later be served as iced tea. It is a refreshing drink to help you keep cool during the summer heat. This is an especially great recipe if you like to peel apples before eating them.

1. Put tea bags and apple cores and, if you have them, apple peels in a pitcher of water.
2. Leave outside in area that receives lots of sun for 3-4 hours.
3. Serve chilled with ice.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Succinct Argument for Sustainable Agriculture

“sustainable agriculture addresses a number of issues simultaneously: It reduces agricultural runoff, which is the main cause of eutrophication and dead zones in lakes, estuaries, and oceans; it reduces use of energy-intensive nitrogen-based fertilizers; it ameliorates climate change, because organic soil sequesters carbon, whereas industrial farming releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and is the second-greatest cause of climate change after fossil fuel combustion; it improves worker health because of the absence of toxic pesticides; it enables soil to retain more moisture and is thus les reliant on irrigation and outside sources of water; it is more productive than conventional agriculture; it is less susceptible to erosion; and it provides habitat for pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects, which promotes biodiversity. On top of all that, the resulting food commands a premium in the market, making small farms economically more viable.” – Paul Hawkens, Blessed Unrest, p. 178

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Patented Pooja Pasta Sauce

This is a super simple sauce recipe that’s easy to put a spin on. So have fun, experiment!

• 2 tbspns olive oil
• 3-6 cloves garlic (Depends on how much you love garlic. Personally, I hate vampires.)
• 3 tomatoes
• 1 small onion
• 1 red pepper
• Other vegetables: green peppers, mushrooms, etc.
• ½ tspn black pepper
• ½ tspn white pepper
• ¼-½ tspn red crushed pepper
• 1 tspn fresh oregano (or ½ tspn dried)
• 1 tspn fresh basil (or ½ tspn dried)
• ¼ tspn parsley

1. Blend tomatoes
2. Brown garlic and onion in oil
3. Add tomatoes and spices
4. After boils once, add vegetables
5. Cook for 30-45 minutes (the longer the better)

(In reality I inherited this recipe from my mom and made a few improvements, but I couldn’t help the alliteration)

Banana Flower Side Dish Recipe

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Miss Strawberry Season

A short dialogue from Ishmael by Daniel Quinn:

Ishmael: “The can of yams that you buy in the store – how many of you labored to put that can there for you?”

Narrator: “Oh, hundreds, I suppose. Growers, harvesters, truckers, cleaners at the canning plant, people to run the equipment, people to pack the cans in cases, truckers to distribute the cases, people at the store to unpack them, and so on.”

Ishmael: “Forgive me, but you sound like lunatics, Bwana, to do all this work just to ensure that you can never be disappointed over the matter of a yam. Among my people, when we want a yam, we simply go and dig one up – and if there are none to be found, we find something else just as good, and hundreds of people don’t need to labor to put it into our hands.”

When I was growing up, I remember looking forward to late summer. August was strawberry season. My parents would take me and my brother strawberry-picking. Watermelons were available in July; watermelon, the fruit that signaled the beginning of summer. I would dig into a large slice at summer camp, the sweet juice streaming down my cheeks. The best apples grew in fall. We would spend a day apple-picking in September or October. Pumpkins were ready by October, right in time for Halloween. Dad would take us to a local farm where we could pick a pumpkin, which we would later carve into a Jack O’ Lantern. As we searched for the perfect pumpkin, the chilly autumn air would sting our cheeks and force us to burrow our faces inside our windbreakers. We would warm up with a cup of hot apple cider.

Nowadays you can buy strawberries at the supermarket all year-round. The fruit is bigger than when I was a kid, but the taste isn’t. Strawberries don’t really taste like anything anymore. Every time we visited India, I loved eating salad. I couldn’t get enough. One day I understood why: the tomatoes over there didn’t taste like Styrofoam. The cucumbers were crunchy and the carrots were sweet.

What happened to the fruits of my childhood? What happened to strawberry season? Now you can buy fruits and vegetables all year-round; you don’t have to wait for them to come into season in the U.S. We eat salads in January, not cognizant of the fact that lettuce doesn’t grow in January, at least not along the East Coast. We import out-of-season produce from California and from the Southern Hemisphere, not taking into account the hundreds, even thousands, of miles that food has to travel to reach us. The tons of fuel that must be expended to ship produce around the country or around the world or the gallons of water, pesticides, and fertilizers that are needed to sustain large-scale agriculture mean nothing to us. We produce beautiful-looking fruits and vegetables, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) with half the taste and half the nutrients of natural or organic produce.

My diet here is constrained to a large part by the season. During winter and spring, I had more vegetables in my garden than I knew what to do with: lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and parsley. At first, I made salads. Then I grew bored so I started making home-made salad dressings. I still craved more variety so I started experimenting. I made Asian lettuce-leaf wraps, carrots in a sweet sauce, and vegetable pie, to name a few. Because my tomatoes stayed small and green, I made green tomato chutney. During summer here, I get bags of guavas from my neighbors. They don’t want to eat them so they send their kids up into the trees and shake them practically the entire trees’ worth of fruit. I happily collect the yellow, smashed fruits and take them home. I make shakes, I cook them, I eat handfuls of them at a time. I hardly have a chance to grow sick of them before the season is over. Last year, I was drowning in avocados. I made guacamole, I put them in burritos, I even ate them like the Paraguayans with sugar, but there were still more.

The one exception to seasonal produce is the imports from Brazil. The fruits and vegetables from Brazil are always so much bigger and so much more readily-available at the grocery store. Everything is bigger and prettier (In fact, it’s common for the Paraguayans to refer to any bigger variety of fruit as brasileiro and any smaller variety as paraguayo. For example, there are two types of mangos that grow in Paraguay, one of which is more than double the size of the other. Paraguayans predictably call that one Brazilian). It’s hard to ignore the rows of perfect pineapples, bananas, avocados, mangos, etc. Even then, I will buy Paraguayan produce any day over Brazilian produce. Brazil, like the U.S., relies on large-scale, mechanized, input-dependent (fertilizers and pesticides) agriculture. In contrast, the majority of Paraguayan farmers engage in small-scale agriculture with few machines and smaller quantities of chemicals. I say “constrained,” but I shouldn’t. A few weeks ago I caved into the temptation and bought guavas because the guavas in my site weren’t ripe yet. The guavas were pink and perfect, I couldn’t resist. Guess what? They weren’t that sweet. It wasn’t guava season yet. Even the smashed guavas from my neighbors (half of which I have to throw away because of worms) are infinitely sweeter. Why look elsewhere for fruits and vegetables when there are some always available here? Sure, it might not be pumpkin season anymore, but I can make do with a squash instead. There’s always next year’s pumpkins to look forward to.

The tastiest strawberries still only grow in August.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010

One Meal, One Vote

Great article about how our consumption influences the way products (and our food) are made.

I Would Die in It

My brother once suggested a fairly creative icebreaker for a workshop I was conducting: “If you could die by drowning in the drink of your choice, what would that drink be?” I immediately responded “Sin tô!” Sin tô is a Vietnamese smoothie consisting of three ingredients: fruit of your choice, ice, and condensed milk. It’s incredibly easy to make but I’ve found that when I use fresh, seasonal fruit, it’s the tastiest thing in the whole world! Lately I’ve been making guava sin tô with the plumpest, creamiest guavas I’ve ever eaten in my leaf, which luckily for me happen to be located in my backyard. Try it, any fruit plus condensed milk. Sin to (though) it may be, you’ll love it!

Summer Squash Casserole with Nuts

A super yummy recipe found on and perfect as it is summertime and squash season here! (I had to make some changes: I substituted Paraguayan sandwich cheese for cheddar and walnuts that I brought back from the States for pecans)

Summer Squash Casserole With Nuts
Tasty squash casserole. Summer squash mashed and combined with green bell pepper, onion, egg, sugar, cheese, pecans, mayonnaise. Seasoned with salt and pepper. Topped with breadcrumbs and baked until golden. Ingredients - 1 pound Summer Squash, sliced, boiled until tender, drained
1/4 cup Butter
1/4 cup chopped Green Bell Pepper
1 tablespoon White Sugar
1/2 cup chopped Onion
1 Egg
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup Pecans, chopped
1/2 cup Bread Crumbs Preparation:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Add squash and butter to a large mixing bowl and mash.
3. Add green bell pepper, chopped onion, egg, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, cheese and nuts to squash mixture.
4. Spoon into large baking casserole dish.
5. Top with breadcrumbs. Dot with butter.
6. Bake 40 minutes.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Problem with Totalitarian Agriculture

My neighbors don’t eat many fruits or vegetables. They don’t want to, they’d rather eat the meat or vegetables from the dispensas (small stores with basic provisions and three vegetable staples: garlic, tomatoes, and onions, and a fourth, peppers, if we’re lucky) than what grows in their own fields and backyards. Throw away the squash, the bananas, the guavas, the avocados, the mangos, but eat beef and complain about how expensive it is.

As Peace Corps Volunteers living in Paraguay, we complain about Paraguayans’ eating habits all the time. Come to think of it though, Americans aren’t much better. We’ve perfected the art of totalitarian agriculture, or to put it in terms we’ve all heard, large-scale, mechanized, chemical-dependent farming. Modern industrial agriculture is nothing short of a miracle, producing billions of tons of food per year, allowing us to eat fruits and vegetables all year-round. Yet, it has devastated the environment, local economies, and our health. In his book The Story of B, Daniel Quinn says that “Totalitarian agriculture is more than a means of getting what you need to live, it’s the foundation for the most laborious lifestyle ever developed on this planet.” (249) He argues that instead of feeding the world, modern agriculture is the source of famines and countless other plagues that afflict society today (for a background on “totalitarian” agriculture read this).

Modern agriculture was developed as a way of allowing humankind to control its food source, instead of relying on what God/the Creator/Nature (substitute your word of choice) decided to provide us with. Instead of eating the wealth of berries found in our own metaphorical backyards, we’d rather go to the supermarket and buy a $6 box of blackberries. God bless genetic modification!

“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. First of all, there’s the miniscule concern of environmental destruction that those liberal tree huggers go on and on about (forgive the sarcasm). Modern agriculture relies heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In order to maximize yields and hence, profits, farmers can’t risk silly things like insects, weeds, or viruses getting in the way and destroying part of their crops. The problem is that over time these pestilences grow increasingly immune to the chemicals. Accordingly, farmers must apply more and more pesticides to their crops year after year. In fact, many genetically-modified seeds advertised as bug-resistant, only fulfill their promise when pesticides by the same company are applied. Then there’s the issue of chemical fertilizers. Who wants to buy a tiny, ugly organic tomato when a perfectly round, artificially huge one is available? Unlike organic compost/manure that contributes to the overall quality of the soil, chemical fertilizers – as well as intense campaigns of maximum production that doesn’t afford the soil time to rest and replenish it – erode the soil over time. As with pesticides, the farmers become increasingly dependent on the chemicals. The majority of small-scale farmers in the U.S. and in Paraguay have worked themselves into large debts buying expensive chemical inputs.

One fact that we Peace Corps Volunteers like to use when teaching environmental education in the classroom is “Human beings have increased production and the quantity of food on the planet. Nevertheless, the variety of food sources has decreased drastically: 80% of the world’s food comes from fewer than 24 plants and animals.” Human beings used to be able to nourish themselves from thousands of different plant and animal species. Due to the reliance on chemicals and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), all those food choices have disappeared. This is bad. Not because it means that I can’t eat a certain type of lettuce, but because evolution depends on diversity, hence, the term biodiversity. As Quinn puts it, “A thousand designs – one for every locale and situation – always works better than one design for all locales and situations. Birds are more likely to survive in ten thousand nest patterns than in one. Mammals are more likely to survive in ten thousand social patterns than in one.” (218) Modern agriculture is a vicious cycle that compromises the environment and renders invalid the Earth’s ability to aliment us with naturally rich and healthful fruits and vegetables.

The second problem is the damage to local economies. Most people, mistakenly, believe that poor, local farmers receive U.S. farming subsidies. The truth is that the biggest farmers, the ones that have the money to lobby Congress, are the ones that receive help from the government. Forget the image of the small-time American farmer working to make a buck and take in the reality of massive, factory-style farms either producing meat or one of the few crops the U.S. now “grows” (soy, canola, corn, etc.). MNCs dictate the terms of production, in the case of produce by controlling the supply of genetically-modified seeds and in the case of meat by controlling animal specifications (Can you imagine someone saying that a chicken has to be x” by y”?). Only 4 companies control 80% of the meat industry in the U.S. (“Food Inc.”). Meat production has become ever more unsafe for workers because of the risks of animal assembly-lines and unprofitable because of the high costs involved in setting up production facilities that comply with industry standards.

Forget your health in today’s world of modern industrial agriculture. It doesn’t stand a chance! We are no longer conscious of what goes into making our food. Meat in the grocery store doesn’t have bones. Each processed food item in the aisles lists a horde of chemicals. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver observes that so-called “natural” oatmeal lists 20+ ingredients. The all-natural oatmeal that she eats has one ingredient, rolled oats. Looking at my “natural” granola, I realized that it too belonged to the category of foods composed of chemicals that I can’t even pronounce. We produce more corn in the U.S. than anyone could ever possibly want to eat. For that reason the cancer-causing corn syrup is in everything. Candy bars, ketchup, cereal, light bulbs…you get the point.

What can I do?

1. Buy organic and buy from farmers’ markets. It’s not as expensive as you think it is if you cook and buy produce in season. Also consider that we are all spending hundreds of dollars each year subsidizing large corporations and giant farms. Investing in small-time farmers increases our food sustainability by insuring that communities continue to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Paraguay lacks farmer markets. Paraguayan farmers would benefit from selling their produce locally. Even more importantly, they should practice auto-consumo (self-sustenance). As my Paraguayan host dad always told me, “Why should I buy meat every day from the store when eggs and tomatoes from my farm will just as easily fill my stomach?” We always had a salad of lettuce and tomatoes with our meals (My host dad didn’t grow lettuce but his neighbor did. He traded tomatoes for lettuce and other greens).

2. Start a garden. I have the opposite of a “green thumb.” Hardly anything that I plant grows. In view of that, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine how thrilled I was when I had a garden full of vegetables last year. And let me tell you, carrots never tasted so good (and I don’t even like carrots)!

3. Cook. As a former follower of the “Easy Mac” philosophy, I understand that it’s easy to rely on processed foods. In the U.S., more than in Paraguay, we have little time during our days and weeks to cook. Make time! Cook on the weekends and eat the leftovers during the week. Make simple dishes. It doesn’t take as long as you think. To paraphrase George Carlin, “I made instant oatmeal. I then spent the next 45 minutes doing nothing.” Out of fear of sounding too domestic I’d never admit it, but now I am, cooking is a joy, it’s a reward in itself. When I need a day to hide from the world here, I often spend it in my house cooking up a storm. Try it, you might actually like it.

A New Interpretation of the Fall

In Ishmael and The Story of B, Daniel Quinn proposes that the solution to our generation’s cultural collapse lies not within our culture itself, but outside of it. What is our culture? He calls East and West, “modern” society, one culture because of its shared belief in salvation and human conquest: “The world was made for Man, and Man was made to conquer and rule it.” (188) In other words, what we refer to as globalization or “McDonaldization” is not a new phenomenon. Rather, it has its origins in the not-so-recent past, 10,000 years ago, when a single culture decided that its survival hinged on “devouring all cultures on this planet and turning them into a single culture, our own.” (85) At that point in time, the “Great Forgetting” occurred. What did we forget? We forgot that before the advent of this single, all-powerful culture, “before the advent of agriculture and village life, humans had lived in a profoundly different way.” (245)

Humankind dates back millions of years, yet, its history commences just ten thousand years ago. Everything before that receives the label prehistory. What changed between the periods of history and prehistory? Minds. With the emergence of modern – what Quinn refers to as “totalitarian” – agriculture came “a new mind-set, a mind-set that made us out to be as wise as the gods, that made the world out to be a piece of human property, that gave us the power of life and death over the world. They thought this new mindset would be the death of Adam – and events are proving them right.” (97) That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the Fall of humankind. I’d prefer not get into a religious debate about this new interpretation of the Fall. Rather, let us delve into the argument about agriculture.

Quinn discusses how during prehistoric times existed several different styles of agriculture. Totalitarian agriculture differed from these earlier styles by its “subordinate[ion of] all life-forms to the relentless, single-minded production of human food.” (247-248) Biology necessitates competition, but within other species (and ancient humans) that means fighting competing groups or species, not destroying them. Only within the culture of modern humans has competition come to mean elimination of the enemy. Quinn gives the example of farmers killing coyotes to save their chickens. Ancient humans would have hunted the animals that entered their farms, not wiped out the entire population of coyotes in a given area (Reston, VA is a case in point). He posits that “It is the policy of totalitarian agriculture to wipe out unwanted species.” (257) Why adopt such a brutal strategy?

Totalitarian agriculture was not adopted in our culture out of sheer meanness. It was adopted because, by its very nature, it’s more productive than any other style…Many styles of agriculture…produce food surpluses. But, not surprisingly, totalitarian agriculture produces larger surpluses than any other style…You simply can’t outproduce a system designed to convert all the food in the world into human food. (260)

“So?” you might ask, “What’s the big deal?” Population spikes, war, crime, corruption, slavery, revolt, famine and plague, economic chaos, drugs, species extinction, exploitation, poverty, genocide, and finally cultural collapse. From 5000 B.C.E. to 2000 A.D., the population grew from 50 million to 6 billion. During the same period emerged a whole horde of problems that had never before existed on such a large scale in human history. For millions of years the number of humans increased by an infinitesimally small annual growth rate. Since the emergence of modern agriculture, the population has doubled 7 times!

Ever heard of the story of the king and the wise old man? The king decides to grant the old man one boon, to which the latter asks for one thing: a chess board’s worth of grains of rice. On square one the king should place 1 grain of rice; the quantity must then be doubled for each of the 64 squares of the board. That means that on square two he has to place 2 grains, on square three 4 grains, on square four 8 grains, and so on. The power of the square, 264. Try calculating that sum. A calculator can’t do it. Now square our population. It took 2000 years – 5000 and 3000 B.C.E. – for our population to increase from 25 million people to 50 million. It only took 40 years – from 1960 to 2000 – for our population to double from 3 billion to 6 billion people! That’s scary!

Population increases as a result of an increased food supply. That’s a fact. So why do we continue increasing the food supply? Quinn gives the example of a box of 100 mice. Give them enough food to sustain 200 mice and they will reproduce until they have a population of 200 mice (or at the very least a population that fluctuates between 190 and 210 mice). Produce enough food for 6 billion people and the population will stabilize around 6 billion. Why continue to pursue a strategy of totalitarian agriculture that produces food for more and more people year after year when it only results in a population increase year after year? Think about it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welcome to My Blog!

“Eaters must understand, how we eat determines how the world is used.” – Barbara Kingsolver

Eating. It’s such a routine part of our daily lives that we don’t stop to consider its importance. We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want. All we have to do is go to the grocery store to find all the foods of the world at our disposal. Rarely do we stop to consider where those fruits, vegetables, and spices came from. A group of people was once asked what they perceived to be the biggest difference between 1900 and 2000. If a man from the year 1900 time traveled one hundred years into the future, what would most astonish him about today? The usual answers cropped up: cars, computers, television, microwave ovens, the Internet. One person, however, had a different response. He said food. Did you know that black pepper only grows in India? Yet, all over the world, every dining table has a salt-and-pepper shaker. A hundred years ago, having imported produce on the dinner table indicated great wealth. Only the richest families could afford Today, the ordinary middle-class American kitchen contains produce from all four corners of the world.

This blog is about what we eat, the origins of our food, and its impact on our environment and our lives. It’s a place to share recipes and food-inspired musings. While I do not claim to be an expert on sustainable agriculture/living, it’s a topic that has increasingly consumed my time, my thoughts, and my library here in Paraguay. Many of these blogs will be reactions to books I’ve read or documentaries I’ve watched pertaining to food. My aims are to make more accessible the statistics, the information, and most importantly the ramifications discussed by the experts. If you find yourself wondering about the origin of those bananas you bought at the supermarket or the ingredients in your favorite brand of cereal or asking what exactly maltodextrin is, then I’ll know that I’ve put you on the right track. My hope is to create a world of conscientious eaters.