New Love

Last week we received the first delivery from our new CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture)–Britt Farms in Mt. Olive, NC. They don’t have a web site, but you can read about them here. We were attracted to this farm by the fact that it’s been family owned for several generations and is less concerned with the niceties of being organic than with getting us some good produce. (And we have no idea what happened to Snow Creek Organics, our CSA from last year.)

And good produce it is. Today we received spinach, radishes (gone), strawberries (nearly gone), two different types of lettuce, asparagus, and delight of delights, O’Henry white sweet potatoes. The radishes and strawberries were revelations. With the bland varieties we get in the store, I’d forgotten that radishes can have a bite and that strawberries can have amazing undertones of lemon and wine. What a great reminder of the glorious variety we can get in our vegetables.

The white sweet potatoes led me to make this interesting and delicious Mexican-inspired soup. I used tomatoes my mom grew and canned, which helps, but a high-quality store-bought version should yield good results.

White Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a first course

1 onion, halved and sliced thin
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 -4 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large white sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 – 2 cups good quality chicken stock
16 oz. high quality canned whole or crushed tomatoes, with juice
1 large dried chipotle pepper
1/2 tsp. coriander
Salt to taste
1/2 lb. elbow macaroni

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, adding a little chicken broth if it begins to brown. Add garlic, celery, and a few tablespoons broth. Saute over medium heat until celery is tender, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except macaroni and stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 15 – 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add macaroni and stir. Increase heat to high and bring to boil again, stirring occasionally. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until macaroni is cooked, about 10 minutes more. Correct seasonings and serve.

Radish Salad

I’m feeling better about Food, Inc. today. Sure, it trod much familiar territory, but walking through the Whole Foods Industrial Complex yesterday, I was struck with the happy thought that the film also featured one of my favorite rants: the high cost of sustainably grown and/or organic food. At one point, the filmmakers follow a working class family through the supermarket, where they have to consider how reasonable it is to buy two pears for 99 cents when they could get an entire hamburger for the same price.

I was faced with the same dilemma in Whole Foods yesterday as I stood in front of a gorgeous display of organic radishes, their round little magenta bottoms delicately nestled in a lush bed of crispy green leaves. Feeling guilty about some recent purchases of factory-farmed meat at ridiculously low prices, I had decided to punish myself by walking over to Whole Foods, loading up on expensive but sustainably farmed meat, and lugging all twenty pounds back home in a single large cloth bag. Maybe if I threw my shoulder out, I reasoned, God would forgive me.

My self-righteously reusable cloth bag bursting with swordfish, a whole chicken, a roast, two pounds of ground chuck, half and half, and a wallet soon to be considerably lighter, I contemplated the radishes, at $2.49 a bunch, wondered if my shoulders could take on an additional half pound of costly produce. I thought of the people who agonized over the pears and about how crazy it was that you could get a hot dog and soda at Costco for the same price as those radishes. What the heck, I thought.

I like to think that I made up for my indulgence just a bit by using every bit of those radishes in the salad I made for supper. Radish greens can be quite good, as long as they are fresh, bright green, and not too large. They also should be thoroughly cleaned, as they tend to collect dirt. This salad is very easy and brings out the best of the greens and the radishes themselves.

Radish Salad

Serves 2

1 bunch radishes
Olive oil (extra virgin)
White balsamic vinegar

Cut radishes from leaves and set aside. Thoroughly clean greens and trim stems. Dry in salad spinner or on towels. Wash radishes and trim ends; dry. Tear greens into bite-sized pieces, if necessary, and place in large salad bowl. Thinly slice radishes and add to greens. Drizzle olive oil (1 – 2 tbsp.) over top, lightly splash with vinegar (1 – 2 tsp.), and salt to taste. Toss until greens are coated and serve immediately.

Food, Inc.

Last night we went to see Robert Kenner’s documentary Food, Inc. at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival here in Durham. I should have loved it. The auditorium at the Carolina Theatre was filled to the brim with liberal locavore-loving foodies just like me, secure in the knowledge that our organic herb gardens were sprouting and our CSA deliveries were scheduled for just a couple of weeks away.

But if you’ve been aware of these issues since the 1980s, when you first read Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet (first published in 1971), and if you grew up on a farm where your grandfather pointed out at every meal that all that you were eating had been grown right there–and more recently, if you read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma–well, you’ve seen Food, Inc. Because the director relies heavily on Schlosser and Pollan’s expertise, large chunks of the film felt like a rehash of these books. We went over the corn thing again (cheap corn makes it cheaper to feed livestock grain instead of grass, leading to factory farms, leading to the need to pump animals full of antibiotics, leading to antibiotic-resistant microbes in the food supply) we spent lots and lots of time with the vocal owner of Polyface Farms, a sustainable operation in Virginia (whom Pollan also interviewed); and we learned, again, that meat packers work in terrible conditions and that chicken farms are dreadful.

It would be wonderful if this film reached a wide audience and brought about more widespread change. For those who haven’t read these materials, the movie will no doubt be eye-opening. And the movie makes specific calls to action in the final sequence that might help us take some practical steps toward making a difference (eat local, reduce meat consumption, and of course, “visit our Web site!”).

They film is optimistic about the future, noting that the actions of consumers can change the market and pointing out that if food conglomerate seem invincible, remember that Big Tobacco, once thought invincible, had been brought down. (Or bought by Nabisco.)

But I was haunted by the thought of Lappe’s book. Her goal was to get Americans to eat in a way that would lead to reduced hunger world wide–largely by drastically reducing meat consumption. Her argument, back in 1971, was based on the idea that our meat production system was terribly inefficient, requiring 21.4 pounds of grain to cattle for every pound of beef we produced. We were misusing agricultural land by deploying it to feed animals rather than people; we should restrict livestock raising to land that couldn’t be used for other agricultural purposes and feed cattle grass instead of grain; and our use of chemical pesticides to produce food in vast quantities was getting into our meat in uncertain and potentially dangerous amounts.

We could change everything, Lappe argued, by eating differently: “The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth . . . . What I will be suggesting in this book is a guideline for eating from the earth that both maximizes the earth’s potential to meet man’s nutritional needs and, at the same time, minimizes the disruption of the earth necessary to sustain him. It’s that simple.”

If only it were.