"Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system."

~Dorothy Day

Jul 31, 2010

Book of Note

I'm currently devouring George Pyle's fiery Raising Less Corn, More Hell: The Case for the Independent Farm and Against Industrial Food. Devouring, not for the pun, but because I really am racing through the text at a speed usually reserved for the confrontation between Dumbledore's Army and Dolores Umbridge.

When I finish I'll post a proper review(ish), but I want to point out something that is truly mind-boggling that Pyle includes. Amartya Sen, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, wrote that,

Starvation is the condition of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough food to eat.

This was at the beginning of his manuscript Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. What he showed, historico-economically, was that in the modern world people go hungry (as in those sad little African children) not because there isn't enough food in the world (or even their own country or region) but because those people lack cash. There's plenty of food--FAR more than enough. Yet people are still starving. For me, this changes everything.

In the meantime, think about this (from Monsanto's home page) in light of what Amartya Sen found:

The world's population is growing. To keep up with population growth, farmers will have to produce more food. America's farmers will meet this challenge.

Jul 5, 2010


A few days ago my friend Mark and I made homemade pasta. We built a mountain of our dry ingredients (flour and salt), formed a well, and put in eggs and water. The goal is to slowly scrape the sides of the well (mixing the wet and dry ingredients), but structural unfitness led to catastrophe as a side of the well split open. Mark and I pretended to be mopping up the Gulf Coast (his counter). Except we were far more effective than BP.

The dough was really sticky (probably too much water), so we added extra flour. Then we had to wait for an hour. After that, the real pasta making began.

There are two stages of "processing." The first is to flatten the dough by rolling it multiple times through the pasta maker. The second stage is sending it through the pasta cutter. We had the option of angel hair or fettucine. We chose the latter because the stickiness of the dough; we would have messed up thousands of strands of angel hair. Below is basically what the pasta maker that we used looks like.

Then we boiled the pasta, added some red sauce, and threw in some meatballs (which didn't have a label but ended up being teriyaki pineapple...).

I took too many pictures and was punished by the camera mysteriously not saving any. I'd do it again, just not at 10 PM.

Jun 9, 2010

Eat Outside the Box

Tuesday was our first CSA (community-supported agriculture) day, courtesy of Eat Outside the Box. My mom went to pick up the produce in Lafayette. It was a very decentralized, informal affair: she parked on the street, walked into a CSA members' backyard, and weighed our share of the produce. She bagged it and drove home. Refreshingly non-corporate. Whole Foods is great; it has lots of organic, free-range food, but it also has a giant brand and suppresses unions. In addition, Whole Foods doesn't offer you the opportunity spend a day working on the farm where your food is grown (like Eat Outside the Box). CSAs encapsulate Dorothy Day's description of anarchism:
"an order made up of associations, guilds, unions, communes, parishes, voluntary associations of men [sic], on regional vs. national lines, where there is a possibility of liberty and responsibility for all men."
Anyhow, our basket came with all of this produce: garlic, lettuce, chard, pea greens, peas, lambsquarters (a spinach-looking green!!!), arugula (and arugula blossoms), Valencia oranges, tangerines, baby carrots, mint, Rainier cherries, and apriums (I think it should be "apria" but Wikipedia doesn't think so).

But not only did we get all of this delicious, fresh, and unique produce, but we got (in an email) five different recipes that incorporate the produce we picked up. My mom has already prepared three of the recipes (a spread, a salad, and the sauteed vegetable recipe below). I grow snowpeas myself, but I never would have thought to consume the blossoms, stalks, and leaves along with the pods. Genius!

Sautéed Snow Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, and Pea Shoots

SELF | July 2008 by Anita Lo

This summer side cooks quickly, so the veggies retain their nutrients.

1 tablespoon canola oil

6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 cup chicken stock (or water)

1/3 cup oyster sauce

3 cups snow peas, strings removed

4 cups sugar snap peas, strings removed

5 cups pea shoots

Heat oil in a large, shallow pan over high heat. Cook garlic 30 seconds, stirring to prevent burning. Combine stock and oyster sauce in a bowl; add to pan. Add peas; cook, turning peas constantly, until bright green and crisp, about 2 minutes. Divide among 8 bowls; top each with a handful of pea shoots.

Thanks to Michael Iafrate of the blog Catholic Anarchy for alerting us to the Dorothy Day quote (this post).

Jun 5, 2010


On Memorial Day we decided to spend our day off gettin closer to the land! We took the truck (ahh manly! we could stack all our boxes of produce in the bed ;) and drove to Brentwood. Walnut Ave is the Las Vegas Strip of "u-pick" fruit. The place was filled with handpainted signs, orchards, and cars everywhere. We went first to pick some peaches, but the cold weather in the preceding weeks had delayed the ripening and the peaches were hard and a bit tart. We did find some apricot trees in the peach orchard though, and they were tasty. That is John and Christy posing with an apricot tree.

Then we jumped back onto Walnut Ave (no walnut orchards though) and followed directions from one of the peach people to a less popular cherry orchard. So we didn't have to share a tree... It was kind of like Disneyland. But we picked a bag full of cherries, and of course made it into a competition. Cherry trees are actually really cool because they start branching out really close to the ground. In order to find big bunches of cherries (they hide really well) I found it useful to slither between some branches so that I was basically inside the tree. Then I would turn around so that I faced out, away from the center of the tree. Then it's often a matter of stretching high enough for my 5'9" frame to reach the hitherto unmolested fruit.

The attendants said the cherries were called "coral" or something to that effect. I can't find information on any cherry with a name that sounds like that. But here's a picture. The cherries are certainly ripe enough to eat when they're still reddish-purple, but the near utter blackness signals complete juicy-ness.

By the way, our first pick-up for the CSA is Tuesday.

May 20, 2010

The Garden

There's another part to our little food experiment. While this actually began last year, we are continuing it this year. The garden began when some cousins gave us some plants for Easter--small tomatoes, herbs, squash, and peppers. I (Ryan) had been wanting to grow some plants for awhile, and I had tried once (probably three years ago) to grow some flowers in a pot, but that venture failed quite quickly. This time, the plants were already germinated, and to let them rot would have been too much of a waste. This is last year's garden, with pumpkins in the foreground.

This year, we have tomatoes, snowpeas, onions, and garlic, among other plants. Here is a picture of some of our herbs: chives at the top, and then from left to right, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, and basil.

There are so many benefits to gardening. A full list is probably impossible. One of them is, quaintly enough, being outside and talking to neighbors. This only happens, of course, because the garden is in the front yard in a patch of dirt next to the driveway that my parents never got around to landscaping.

May 15, 2010

In the beginning...

The Hammill family tries to make it a practice of having "family nights" on Sundays. We play games, read (usually the Bible), and talk about our week. A few weeks ago I (Ryan) got to lead the family night. I designed the curriculum, planned the game, and directed the activities.

A couple days prior, my parents and I watched "Food, Inc" the Oscar-nominated documentary about the food system in the United States. It covered feedlots (CAFOs), fast food, and corporate abuse, among other devastating topics. Letting the credits roll without changing my lifestyle felt uncomfortable.

Fast forward to Sunday night. I had four readings: a section from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Timothy Gardener's essay on modern meatpacking, Wendell Berry's "The Pleasures of Eating," and an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. While all the reading out loud got a bit tedious, Sinclair's description of rat feces being dumped into sausage, Gardener's expose of modern meatpackers' exploitative tactics, Wendell Berry's steps towards action, and Bonhoeffer's call for joyful meals were lost on no one.

After a racing game involving strawberries and sprinting down the narrow hall (with an injury), we sat down to discuss our next steps. The first was to subscribe to a CSA farm--community-supported agriculture. By paying a monthly fee, the consumer receives a box full of produce from the farm. Doing this is intended to move our dietary habits closer to a local farmer who isn't abusing workers, destroying the soil, and sending produce hundreds of miles away to rack up a carbon footprint. The second step was to develop a similar tie to a local meat supplier, in order to dissociate our consumption from the big meatpacking firms. The third step was for John, Christy, and me to begin cooking meals together in order to learn more about what we are eating and appreciate the work that goes into it.

The blog is the fourth step. Originally, it was going to be part of the meatpacking, in order to raise awareness about food justice. But it'd be much better to cover our entire food adventure with it.