It's Cold Here

So we got our first real snow today, sort of. In typical Ohio form, the temperature dropped twenty-some degrees from yesterday. There's white on the ground, I can see my breath, and I had to warm up the car this morning. Fun.

Walking to the garage, I looked around our back yard, as I often do. My eyes fell sadly on my empty cold-frame, which for this winter at least is literally framing the cold. That certain person who was responsible for planting back in August had to go and have surgery or something, so now we have no plants for fresh food in the coming long, tediously cold, months. Ergh.

So what's a gimpy winter-gardening wannabe to do? I joined a winter CSA, the only one I could find in the area. I will have to drive to C-bus twice a month to pick up our share of veggies, but the drive will be worth having fresh green stuff for the next several weeks. Plus, I plan on hitting the North Market and Jeni's Ice Cream (like I could pass up that opportunity) to round out my biweekly trek. Not a bad deal at all, really.

We also have a somewhat decrepit greenhouse window hanging off our kitchen. I plan on sprouting some sprouts (Alfalfa, I mean) and trying to grow a few lettuces. The space is there and all, so why the hell not? Besides, I think Hannah's fledgling green bean plant from school would welcome the company.

So what are you doing for fresh food this winter? Have you even thought about it? Or are you going to be one of "those" people who insist on "fresh" tomatoes even in the icy throes of February? If you are, I feel for your taste buds. Perhaps you should have them checked out as they seem to appreciate the taste of styrofoam. Or, you could appreciate this time of year for what it is, bust out the dutch oven, and braise away, coaxing your dinner to new levels of slow-cooked, tasty satisfaction. Mmmm.....



*I know this post is a deviation from things food, but it's here none the less. Read it, don't read it. Just needed to get started again.

Perhaps taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo in the midst of a cataclysmic midterm election was not the best of ideas. I am having a difficult time finding my inner fiction when my thoughts are so overwhelmed with today’s realities. Don’t misunderstand these feelings as a degradation of stories, an unappreciation of novels, a pushing of creativity to the periphery. Quite the contrary. I believe creativity to be absolutely essential to the realities of everyday life. From the most mundane of tasks (How to make a meal out of these leftover scraps?) to the life-changing decisions (Do we leave the city and our jobs behind to start new lives?), the creative thought process is needed to conjure solutions.

I have been sitting here these past few days, and lying awake at night, trying (and I am sure, way too hard) to formulate fantastical ideas in my head. I have been working fictional conversations between dreamed-up characters. Little ideas grow, and then suddenly pop like bubbles and disappear.

It is not so much worry (although I indeed engage in an unhealthy amount of that) than personal and internal calls to action on every front of my life and the lives of all who matter to me that hold my thoughts. It is as if we are being hurtled, ever faster and violently, towards making those big and scary decisions that will have lasting consequences for all of us. Standing on the edge, I have yet to figure out just how exactly to take these first steps. What direction to take? Which path to follow? To what end and for what purpose? And I know I am far from alone in these often frustrating, sometimes annoying, ruminations.

I have always struggled with creative fictional writing. I’ve never really had a problem with reading it. In fact, I used to get in trouble in school for hiding novels behind my textbooks, a fact to which my high school French teacher could readily attest. Subconsciously, I can be as creative as the best; my dreams are the stuff of graphic novels. Translating any of that to a readable work of fiction is another animal (I have tried) entirely.

The writing and reading of fictional works can be many things to many people: catalysts of emotion, sources of entertainment, escapes from the mundane, comforts for pain. I still read fiction for all of these benefits. Writing it, however, seems an insurmountable task at present. Every time I sit down at this laptop, my fingers are overtaken by the desire to write about all that presently concerns me. Trying to write a story right now, to me, is like trying to concentrate on one clean plate amongst a pile of dirty dishes, counters cluttered with scraps and spills, and a grease-spattered stove. I have to clean up the mess to concentrate, to even start, what I want to create.

What do I do with music? How far do I pursue it? When will it stop scaring me? What do I do with food? How far do I pursue it? In what direction do I take it? How do we get where we want to go? How do we reach that end? How do I raise my child? What is really important for her to learn? How do I strengthen my faith? Will we ever get out of Dayton? How do we achieve the level of independence we really want? If we do achieve it, will we really want it? These questions are the big ones for me, for us, and they of course have their own offspring, for nothing is cut and dry and everything is connected.

I will continue to write this month, and will push myself to write every day. I will write about my questions, and when I come up with more questions, I will probably write about those too. I will write about them to find solutions, to see who else has these questions, and to pick the brains of those who have found answers. I have found a little fiction the deeper, narrower spaces, and as time goes by I hope to open up those places into wide creative caverns. In the meantime, I will write what I can and hope for the occasional fictional sprinkling to spice things up.


Growing Liberty

One of the best consequences I have inadvertently discovered in my crazed foray into growing food is the immense gratification I am getting from it. It is absolutely hard work, to which my body will readily attest.

I have come to realize in this day and age that there is so little in our so-called "modern" and "progressive" lives that gives us anything close to true satisfaction. In our not too distant history, no one worked outside the home; the entire family, often extended, was intimately involved in the sustenance of the household. People lived in what they built, they ate what they grew.

I think I make none too broad of an assumption when I say that when questioned, most people would answer that they get little satisfaction from their jobs, that in fact they don't like what they are doing at all. When we are moved away from what we create, when we are isolated from what we produce, finding satisfaction in what we do becomes quite a difficult task.

The distance and dissatisfaction in our work directly parallels the distance and dissatisfaction within our food chain. We are so far removed from where we get nourishment that it has become difficult to find nourishment, much less satisfaction, in what we eat. We have no idea who raised our food, who processed our food, often who even prepared and cooked our food. All labor and connection to what we eat has been taken from us; we have been coaxed into thinking that this is the way it should be.

Being the stubborn, independent, control-freak that I am, I really don't care to be told what to do; I don't want some distant Board of Whomevers telling me they know what is best for me. Who decided that we no longer needed to labor? Why did we stop growing our own food? Who are you to decide what is best for me and my family? What are you trying to hide?

In reality, most corporations, both within the food industry and outside of it, have zero vested interest in your well-being. They are about profit. That's it.

What is so wrong with working hard? Why are we afraid to support ourselves? At the rate we're going, we soon may not have an option. I encourage you to take a step towards independence, to step out of the system. I guarantee you will work harder, but I bet you won't mind.


Fast and Scurrilous

I have nothing against fast food. I have no personal vendetta against fried chicken. I happen to love hamburgers, and God help you if you try to wrest a perfectly salty and fried potato, in any form, from my greasy fingers.

That being said, I hate American fast food. I hate what it has done to our food and our people. I can’t stand the way this country has been misled, damaged, and brainwashed by a system that doesn’t give a crap about anything but the bottom line.

Where did we go so horribly wrong? How have we so badly squandered our many blessings?

Like a younger sibling who has suddenly found himself taller and stronger than his older brothers, we have set out to show ourselves bigger, faster, and wealthier than the entire rest of the world. An endless game, trying to prove we have a bigger pair of brass ones than anyone else. We ran full tilt into expansion, spending and consuming with reckless abandon, believing in ignorance all our resources would continuously and miraculously renew like the widow’s jars of flour and oil.

Oh how very wrong we have been. One has only to drive down the main drag of Anytown, USA to witness the full effects of this irresponsible philosophy in the food world. The food world, full of the same greedy, self-serving, immoral humans as any other industry, jumped on the industrial ship named Progress, pulled up the anchor of common sense, and set sail on the high seas of modernity without a compass to guide the way through the treacherous and murky waters.

Right now, all over the world, people are feeding themselves in a different way. In their everyday lives, they go about the practice of preparing fast and simple meals with meager ingredients and resources out of necessity. Their tools, their products, are the bits and pieces we sneer at, the things at which we turn up our noses in wealthy disdain and fling into our garbage bins. In another part of the world, the heady perfume of fresh bread mingles with the savory scents of bistro delights where diners unashamedly tear into, and eagerly enjoy, a plate of unctuous, fatty delights which would leave an American so guilt ridden as to starve diet for the rest of the week. Even closer to home, just across the border, stalls and stands of quick and tasty bites are being served up to lines of appreciative eaters who know the true value of real, well-prepared food.

So what is the difference between these corners of the world and ours? We are a young, impetuous country. We feel the need to prove ourselves. Look at our efficiency! Gawk at our wealth! Envy our progress! Somehow, after millennia of proof otherwise, we have the audacity to think that our history will be different. We can’t fall. We are predestined to be Super. Well, the jig is up. We are full of crap.

The pride we feel over Efficiency and Progress has led us to the brink of agricultural collapse. The food industry, with our government tightly leashed, has created a system of food production that is impossible to sustain and cannot endure. One has to look no further than the contents of a Not So Happy Meal.

Peel away the garish circus mask from the face of the fast food industry and what lies beneath is an open, festering wound. The damage done to our resources and to ourselves from the continual rape and pillage of our land and our workers threatens to destroy everything in the name of greed and laziness. We have forgotten what it is to work hard, to reap what we sow, the deep feeling of satisfaction we get from a job well done. The kid flipping mystery meat behind the counter is not an eager apprentice learning a valuable craft or trade; he is not carrying on a tradition and a culture; he is a mindless, faceless worker, completely expendable, carryout some mind-numbing task to make the corporate lords richer.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a unique ability in this country to change things. It really boils down to the simple economic lesson of supply and demand. We, as citizens and patrons, demand something different. We stop buying into the industry that is killing us. We support and frequent those businesses that are doing it the right way. We grow our own food. We take enough pride and care in ourselves and our families that we insist on, we demand, something better. We get off our lazy butts and realize that it takes hard work and dedication to bring anything worth anything, to fruition. And we teach our kids to demand the same. We stop expecting someone else to act on our behalf. We strike the word “entitled” from our vocabulary. Supply will only change if we demand it, so start demanding.


But What Can I Do?

There comes a time when books have been read, discussions exhausted, debates laid to rest, blog entries written, and we say to ourselves, "Now what?". We know what we believe, what we want to change, how we want to adjust our lifestyles to our new set of priorities. At this point, as if often the case, we find ourselves in a quandary as to how we take a first step, and in what direction we should walk.

I have realized I am far from the only one who feels this way regarding what action to take in working towards changing our food system from the industrial and unsustainable to the natural and long-lasting. I do not live on a farm. I have a postage stamp of a yard in the middle of the city of Dayton. I am not zoned for livestock, although the idea of chickens in my backyard has crossed my mind several times.

So what can we, as city dwellers, do?

Go into your yard and reassess. Sure, I don't have acreage, but I have a deck, I have parts of my yard that are being used for nothing. I have soil, I have water, I have access to expertise and products needed to grow things.

And so, as a first small step, I will plant my meager garden. Although, I think meager is maybe not a fair description. I like, humble. Humility is a trait all of us should strive for anyway, so why not my garden as well?

I started my foray into growing food last year. I don't have a green thumb (it's more a brownish green...BDU colored, but I'm hoping to change that with more experience), and I haven't done any gardening since I was a kid forced to pull weeds in our childhood backyard garden. Nonetheless, I had an impressive array of herbs, zucchini, peppers, lettuces, and tomatoes. Not too shabby, I'd say.

So this year, I am going bigger and hopefully better. I am tilling up part of the backyard for an additional gardening plot. I will add my granulated organic cow poo, and I will plant. I will apply my homemade compost and I will feed the soil. I will tend my plants, brooding over them and willing them to succeed. I will have my daughter pulling weeds.

I am telling you from personal experience that there is nothing like the satisfaction you get from watching something grow that you planted. There is an almost giddy excitement, a childlike feeling of innocent joy. I felt that again last week when I saw the first delicate sprouts of radishes, lettuce, peas, and broccoli push through the soil in their makeshift egg carton planters in our greenhouse window. I will feel it again when I move them to their permanent spot where they will be joined by the likes of tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, beans, herbs, carrots, maybe some onions, watermelon, strawberries.

The act of planting your own garden may not seem like much in the way of action, but it is a personal and visual witness to all who see it, hear about it, and eat of it, a personal rebellion against a system that has never been tenable. So, go forth, sow and plant!



As I sat down at the dining room table earlier today, I realized that surrounding my lunch was evidence of all that is important to me in my life today( excluding my husband and daughter of course, who are at work and school, respectively). I had a plate of food and a cup of coffee in front of me, a cookbook, two books on sustainable eating and agriculture, the laptop, my phone, and my Bible. How poignant and revealing a display in this microcosm of my total life. So food, caffeine, books on food, connective and informational technology, and The Guide Book for everything; what more do I need?

Next time you take a seat in a often-frequented area of your home ( I realize potty humor will quickly come into play here, but aside from food, my toilet surroundings are much the same as my table), take a look around. You may be surprised at how you have subconsciously prioritized your life!


Tastes Great, Still Filling

In order to satisfy my overly loud and sometimes obnoxious food conscience, we have embarked on our next "phase" in better eating. As a conscientious eater, I have come to the 100% conclusion that the only way that our nation's (and increasingly so the world's) food situation is going to change is for we as consumers to change our demand.

Although humans are classified as omnivores, we in this country exhibit predominantly carnivorous leanings with brief forays into the plant world. Actually, if I want to state may case more precisely, we are a nation of cornivores. No, that was not a typo. The vast amount of "food" products in this country contain some type of corn product, soybean product, or both. This includes beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, any processed food, fast food, much of "finer dining" food....

The thing is, we don't need these foods to survive. We don't need to source our protein from meat, our calcium from milk, our fiber from cereal. All of the nutrients are body needs can be found in the plant world, in vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts.

Now those of you who know me well are aware of my affinity for the pig and for cheese. I am not saying that we all need to become vegans or even vegetarians. I'm just saying this: change your focus. Don't eat meat at every meal. Don't put cheese on everything. Don't eat eggs every morning. Stop eating fast food; it tastes like crap anyway.

Now some of you are going to say to yourselves, "We are just too busy. Produce is too expensive. I don't know how to cook. We can't afford to eat this way."

Here are my solutions. Plan ahead. Reserve a few hours on Sunday afternoon or whenever and pre-chop, pre-prepare, and precook.

The money you are not spending on "meat" goes a long way in the bean and grain aisle. Trust me, you don't want to eat that meat anyway. And here's the thing too: by cutting down on the amount of meat and dairy you consume, you will have more money to buy the currently more expensive, local, sustainable, hormone/antibiotic -free steaks and chops you love.

Saying you don't know how to cook is a pretty crappy excuse. Go to Half-Price Books and purchase a cookbook. Better yet, I know if you are reading this that you have internet access. Use it. Go to sites like epicurious.com, seriouseats.com, etc. and download some recipes. Have a friend that knows their way around a kitchen come over and show you the ropes. You can even watch cooking tutorials on youtube. Seriously.

As for the affordability of changing your eating habits, I offer you these thoughts. How high is your deductible? How much is your copay? If you are diabetic, how expensive is your medicine? Do you know why broccoli seems to cost so much more than Cheetos? Because the stuff used to make Cheetos is subsidized by the federal government.

The average meal travels 1500 miles to get to your plate. What do you think the fuel and environmental costs of this journey are?

So what did I eat today? I had a fruit smoothie for breakfast with a slice of whole grain toast, and coffee roasted by my brother (thanks Denny) with a splash of milk from a local dairy. For lunch I had whole grain naan with chickpeas, greens, barbeque sauce, a little cheese, and caramelized onions. For dinner we are having homemade turkey and barley soup that I made when I had the time and froze. I am sitting here with a full belly and a satiated appetite. I don't feel unsatisfied because I ate no meat. Everything, in fact, was quite tasty.

Imagine how the food industry ( a term I hate because food by its nature should have nothing to do with industry) would be turned on its head if we all stopped eating fast food. If we all started buying a bunch of apples and potatoes and spinach. If we stopped buying Tyson chicken and bought from local farmers instead. ( I have a really great visual right now of Cargill/Mansanto/Nabisco/Perdue/Hormel execs. running up and down the supermarket aisles Home Alone style...."Where is everybody and why aren't they drinking Hi-C?" Awesome.)

What unprecedented change we could bring about with so little effort!