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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Real Water?

I'm watching Frontline: Poisoned Waters on Netflix Watch Instantly. [Nowadays, outside of written material, it's the only contact I have with "The Media." I stopped actively watching television in 2001, following my cancellation to cable services.]  The first 40 minutes have been devoted to large-scale industrial/commercial chicken farming, and the effect the pollution from livestock waste has on Chesapeake Bay. For those of you who don't know where that is, it is the largest estuary in the United States and borders Maryland and Virginia. [Chesapeake Bay Map] There's a lot of industrial waste that comes from as far north as New York and Pennsylvania, and most of it is from livestock. It has poisoned the waters of the bay, hence the chilling title.

The condition of the world's water supply is alarming. Much of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians boils down to a desperate need for water. Most of the water on the earth's surface is locked up - undrinkable - in its oceans.  Even that is becoming alarmingly polluted as evidenced by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the garbage patches that exist in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Thousands of people die each year due to polluted waters - as in the 2008-2009 Zimbabwean cholera outbreak. Oh, but is it more than thousands of people dying?

What's the real cost of the way we're living? As I sat here watching this program, I had the thought that we should be able to go outside and get clean water. For free. We've sacrificed a basic human right - the right to one of our most basic needs - clean drinking water. I can't get clean drinking water without making a purchase, either through fees paid to the city for water treatment for the water that comes from my faucet, or through the fee directly paid to a retailer for the water they have bought from somewhere else.

I think back to the books I read and loved as a child - all penned by Laura Ingalls Wilder - and think of the manner of living in her life. Water was important for those early settlers, but even they were able to collect rainwater for bathing, cleaning, and drinking. Would you want to bathe in rainwater you collected today? Or how about drinking from water that you collect from a river or a stream? No?

Would you go take a sip of the Big Muddy?

I'd pass on that one, too. That's not real water.

There are sustainable solutions for our water problems. Solutions that don't require massive amounts of chemical processing. Mechanical filtration with activated carbon, for instance, goes a long way to solving some of the safety concerns with tainted water. I heard about a man in Africa, he makes ceramic vessels that filter the water, they're dipped in colloidal silver solution which serves as a disinfectant. The water that comes out is 98% free of contaminants.

Better still, isn't it a more valuable solution to stop polluting the water supply?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rosedale Farmer's Market

Every Sunday, rain or shine, from noon until 3PM (at the corner of SW Boulevard and Rainbow) there is the fantastic Rosedale Community Farmer's Market.

Oh, the sights. Oh, the smells! I was immediately attacked by the smell of fresh basil. There are few things in this world better than fresh basil... but wait, there are organic peaches? They're from Georgia, but hey... Oh My Goodness! There's a couple over here, Ariel and Robin - they're making local organic sourdough bread... they don't add yeast, they air-ferment their bread. That was one of the best pieces of toast (with fresh butter) I've tasted in years!

I met the delightful Joe - who appears to be one of the RFM organizers, he immediately frisked me off into the kitchen to taste turnips and peas. They've got cooking demonstrations every week - so that the shoppers at the market can taste some of the best fresh local green cuisine in the world. I've been recruited to be one of the green "chefs" to cook and teach in August. This is one step closer to my dream restaurant.

Channel 5 news was out with their reporter and camera crew. I wonder what they're saying about the Rosedale Farmer's Market? Good things, I hope. These folks are passionate and friendly!

The best part of the Rosedale Farmer's Market, though, were all the people walking around in these bright green and orange t-shirts which say, "Beans and Greens." What's that all about? The Kansas City Star's press release explains it all. You can use your food stamps (now called SNAP - supplemental nutrition food program) to buy produce at select farmer's markets across town. Not only that, but users get a two-fer with their purchase! So, buying fresh organic food doesn't have to cost you - not if you're going to the farmer's markets who will take your Vision Card (Kansas) or Quest Card (Missouri).

Someone somewhere realized what I figured out the first week I worked as a social work intern - there's no way for poor people to live a "healthy" life when what they get from the food bank is not real food! They get food that's highly processed, loaded with sodium, chemical preservatives, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and more additives than silly-putty. A man with chronic high blood pressure is given in his monthly commodity bag: 2 packages hot dogs, 2 lbs. bologna, American cheese food product slices, a dozen cans of canned beans, corn and peas, white hot dog buns, white bread, crispy rice cereal, a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa. *blink* You're kidding, right? That's supposed to be food?

Not to mention, food prices at the market in poor neighborhoods are often higher than in the suburbs, while the quality of the produce and "fresh" foods is much lower. In fact, I used to know a man who delivered food to the supermarkets on the big refrigerated trucks. He told me what I'd wondered for years - they deliberately put the worst, most rotten foods on the trucks going to the worst neighborhoods. He said, "The companies know where that food is going. They know that if we send the wilted lettuce to the 'burbs, the store will reject it and send it back. So we put that stuff on the truck headed for the projects. They never turn back the food there. They take what they get."

It's a good day when I hear that someone, somewhere is paying attention. Poor people don't deserve rotten food. They should have the same freedom you or I have to select fresh, ripe, wholesome foods that are grown by people and not by chemicals. Poor people deserve real food, and they deserve to know that they can grow their own real food. They don't have to swallow the poison we try to feed them - and now local programs are working together to make good nutrition more possible for the most disenfranchised people out there.

So, spread the word: take your food stamps to the farmer's market. Buy real food.

I'm off to roast some turnips and crookneck squash, seasoned with fresh basil and onion.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Real Food?

What's this all about? What do I mean when I say "real food"? Why would I start another blog?

I was at BadSeed Farmer's Market visiting with Paul and Judy Miller of PJ's Emporium Inc. (they grow oyster and shitake mushrooms and raise free-range organic brown eggs), and I was asking about their chickens. I commented, "Oh, so you have real chickens." Judy, understandably, looked confused. I went on to explain that from my point-of-view, commercially-raised chickens are not "real" chickens. Real chickens prance around a farmyard and pick at insects, grains, and foodstuffs from the ground. They cluck. They have (to some extent) personalities.

It's the difference between this:
And this:

Hopefully, you can see what I mean when I say "real chickens."

Human beings cannot survive without eating food. Sadly, we have not yet evolved to be as plants are,  with the ability to photosynthesize and obtain energy directly from the sun. We must eat fruits, plants, and animals. There's no way around that. I tell my students, "If it doesn't look like a fruit, plant, or animal, then it is NOT REAL FOOD."

Real food does not come in a box or a bag or a bottle.

Real food comes from the ground, from a tree, from a living and breathing organism.

Real food does not need to be processed. Real food needs to be prepared. That means you clean it, you cook it, you eat it. Sometimes it means you have to crack a shell or two - like on nuts and eggs. It's not rocket science! Real food is easy. Tasty, too, when you know how to cook.

I stopped for a snack from the gas station, and I was trying to find something that had ingredients that I knew what they were without a lot of thought. I found three things there that qualified: kettle cooked potato chips (potatoes, oil, salt), fresh fruit, and milk. That's all I found. Everything else I looked at was full of mystery ingredients: disodium inosinate, sodium orthophosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), disodium guanylate. Huh? That seems like a lot of sodium - but it's not salt (NaCl). Whatever is in those products is not real food.

Not only is that stuff not real food, I don't know where it comes from or how it's made. The best meals of my life were eaten as I sat at the rickety formica table on my Great-Aunt Olive's farm in southern Indiana - where each vegetable came out of her garden, and the meat came from my Great-Uncle Charles' farm. Yes, I had known Fric and Frac when they were but young calves; I'd even fed them a bottle of milk or two. We had some delicious steaks and pot roasts as a result of those two heifers. I know exactly from where that food came. I know who picked the vegetables. I know who slaughtered the cows. I know how my food was prepared, and who cooked it. It was REAL FOOD.

With many people's minds on the seemingly endless stream of petroleum pouring into the world's waters, people are starting to talk about the environment. Many experts say it is too late.

The use of pesticides and herbicides is rampant in commercial agriculture. We've developed a dependence on monoculture, rather than diversity in our food crops. In fact, it is almost impossible to buy seed corn without having to purchase GM corn that can only be grown in conjunction with the use of pesticides! When you take a look at how pervasive the use of corn is in modern foodstuffs, that should be somewhat alarming. GM corn is not real food.

I am on a mission. I want to eventually wean myself off of any and all processed "food" - which,  frankly, isn't food. Food has flavor that's not added or enhanced by chemicals. Food provides nutrition and not just empty calories. Food has enzymes which help us digest, nourishes us, and (surprisingly) makes us perform better. I want to know where every morsel of food that goes into my body comes from.

I have dreams of an all-organic farm community, where life revolves around the seasons and weather. Where we eat often and well, and delight in sharing the gifts of the earth's bounty with others. I have visions of an organic restaurant/café where the patrons regularly boast, "That's the best food I've ever eaten!" I will simply smile and say, "Of course it is. It's real food."

Some people might call me crazy, impractical, or quixotic. Maybe I am.

But I'm not wrong. Our future as a species hinges on our relationship to food. Until we've mastered that pesky photosynthesis issue - we should focus our energies on eating more real food - putting the power back in our hands, and returning to the origin of all we are.