Unlearning Vegetarianism: A Journey To Situational Omnivorousness

Eating is the catalyst and the conduit for so many cultural and social experiences that I hated missing out on as a vegetarian. I was born and raised that way- both of my parents became vegetarian years before I was born and my entire family remains committed vegetarians.  Over the past few years, I have departed from this value system, receiving responses from my sisters and parents ranging from bewilderment to concern.

When I was young, I would say, “When I grow up, I’m going to eat Big Macs and chicken wings!”  (I also, for the record, desperately craved squishy white bread and creamy peanut butter to replace the crumbly whole wheat home baked loaves and oily separated natural peanut butter I was served). Of course once I was autonomous, I was disgusted by the thought of any of it and could not imagine putting those processed dead substances in my body.

When I began actually trying real meat, at first I was frustrated with how little I could handle.  I could taste little bites but was still too weirded out by the texture of flesh in my mouth to eat much of it. Now I am grateful for this sensitivity. I am horrified by the thought of eating unclean, unhealthy animals who were brutalized. However, even ethically raised or harvested animals are still living beings whose lives are being taken and this always has been and will always be a heavy, complicated process – one that I will never engage in casually. So as I have been unlearning my vegetarianism, I have been learning as much as I can about the processes by which animals end up as food- different slaughtering and butchering techniques and traditions, the differences between grass fed and corn fed beef, the ways that unseasonably warm waters on the west coast affect the taste of the oysters, the impact of overfishing and the rising acidity of the ocean on sea species central to sushi production…if I was not eating from the ocean I guarantee I would not be as attuned to the crises playing out there. I feel more plugged into the planet now that I eat (some) meat and seafood.  I pay attention more. I feel the affects of what’s going on in our ecosystems and food production systems more than ever before. I also feel more connected to the people of the past in this place I live- Brooklyn, Long Island, the coast of the Atlantic- a place where the indigenous people, and then all of the colonizers and immigrants following them, ate from the ocean because it’s right here!  (If I were still living in Ohio, I would not be as passionate about learning how to eat from the sea responsibly because the responsible thing to do there would be to not eat from it). Feeling more plugged into the planet through consuming meat feels somewhat ironic for me because I know my mother, who is so disturbed by my digression, is vegetarian precisely because of how plugged into the planet she feels.

A proto-omnivorous moment I had years ago took place in the home of a Palestinian farmer family in a village near Jenin. I had been helping their cooperative sell their fair trade olive oil in the States and was being hosted by this family during my first visit since the collaboration began. It was Id and they had just slaughtered a lamb and grilled it, serving it in small dark juicy chunks accompanied by a mouth-watering array of sauces, dips, spice mixes, pickles, yogurt, bread, and veggies. I ate a small amount (I remember exactly 5 pieces but may have projected that number onto the memory in retrospect). It was a space within which my commitment to vegetarianism did not feel as important as gratefully participating in the intimate, generous experience of this family’s celebration. I had been concerned that my stomach would be upset given that it had never had such things in any substantial quantity. I was totally fine.

Years later, I had the privilege of visiting the tiny magical universe of Sutton Island in the Gulf of Maine. My friends kayaked out to the big rock near the dock in front of our house and harvested some mussels. After they cleaned them on the front porch, we made paella with them, throwing them into the large pot, covering it, and as they were coaxed open by the steam, we smelled their oceanic juices seep out and infuse the rice and vegetables.

I knew that if I were to ever try eating mussels that THIS was the moment- mussels harvested by my friends’ hands in a small and sustainable amount, in the cleanest water I had ever been in. And I asked myself if eating a plastic-wrapped processed soy product could in any way, spiritually or nutritionally, feel better than eating these sea creatures freshly plucked from a rock. The answer was no. Thus began my more deliberate mission to expand my food experience to include animals. These were both experiences in which the values and logic of what was right to eat came into focus as more layered and complex than any YES/NO position on meat could encompass.

I tease my mother by calling her a fundamentalist vegetarian because she believes that everyone should be vegetarian all the time. There are no other points to be considered other than avoiding taking unnecessary life as she sees it. And this is a serious question- is it necessary for us to kill and eat animals? (“Us” being urbanized people living in the year 2013). The answer might, on a certain level, be NO. Not technically. But it all comes down to the interconnectedness of all the systems involved in what we eat- it makes it so that it is very difficult, and possibly not ideal, to maintain a pure and singular set of dietary restrictions if one’s aim is to eat most ethically and healthily, for planet and self. One meal might offer the choice between processed soy product and sustainably farmed fish, in which case the fish might be the most ethical and clean way to eat in that situation. In another context, one might have to choose between factory farm chicken and a vegetable dish containing avocado flown half way around the world with fossil fuel guzzling engines. In that situation, the harm and health dichotomy get complicated.  This might be a pick your battles situation, and one in which there’s no guaranteed clear winning position because either way, you are implicated in a losing food production industry. With an industrialized food system relying on so much fossil fuel, plastic, chemicals, and so on, eating vegetarian is not automatically a less harmful choice. It can be- if whole, local, seasonal, sustainably grown and produced foods are the boundaries around one’s eating decisions. But just going for the non-animal option at a restaurant or the grocery store doesn’t guarantee righteousness unfortunately.

Adding a different dimension of decision-making factors, there are contexts in which one is being offered special dishes prepared lovingly by people who are sharing their knowledge, their heritage or their home.  For me, fully experiencing different cultures and communities requires responding to such welcomeness with openness, curiosity, and gratitude. It is the only way to learn. And show respect. There is no room for rigid restrictions that negate the wisdom of a cuisine being presented.  There are dishes that are so central to cultures, classics enjoyed on sometimes obsessive levels by entire countries and larger geographic areas, that I feel must at least be tried.  Otherwise a significant element of a place that I am in will be missed. And I HATE missing out. (This is admittedly the most questionable of my reasons for abandoning vegetarianism personally.)

So I have developed a situational omnivorousness that I do not claim to be righteous but is at least an attempt to live fully and cultivate a multifaceted relationship to food.  I am sure it will continue to evolve, especially as our planet keeps changing and I learn more.

Let It Pour: Meditations on Liquid Ritual & Culture- Recipe Edition

My dear friend Cyrus, whose combined qualities of humble enthusiasm and the wisdom of a sage, make him an absolute delight to be with, has asked for smoothie support. Smoothie

Since my household begins every morning with a smoothie, I am happy to oblige his request. Giovanna and I share the need for our first food of the day to be fresh and healthful. We love baked goods!….but these need to come later, after our bodies have woken up.

There is one thing to note about this recipe- it is dependent on a Vitamix, or another extremely powerful blender. Our Vitamix, inherited from a fierce woman who passed away two years ago, is our prized possession. We practically worship it around here. Its significance increased even more when Giovanna broke her jaw in a bike accident and pureé was the name of the game for weeks. My advice to all who want to cook decent food on a regular basis- do not skimp on a blender- go for quality. A strong one can do the work of a juicer and a food processor without as much of the hassle and clean up.

Morning Elixer SmoothieCircle

1 or 2 dates (pitted)

1 banana

1 large leaf of kale

1/2 cup of yogurt (plain or maple)

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 teaspoon bee pollen

1 tablespoon flax seed oil

1 apple (cored and cut into pieces)

1 3/4 teaspoon of ginger (peeled and chopped)

3/4 cup carrot or apple juice

a few mint leaves

a few dashes of cinnamon

Put all of it in a blender with a few ice cubes and blend! Add more liquid if you want it smoother. Opt out of the supplements if you don’t have them or don’t want to spend the money.

Enjoy!

Hooked on Aquaponics

Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish these days and he may get mercury poisoning. Teach a man to do aquaponics and he will eat fresh fish and veggies for a damn long time!

I’ve been working on an urban agriculture project in Cincinnati over the past year with three friends. The big idea: to grow fish and vegetables, together. The fish poop provides the nutrients for the plants and the plants filter the water for the fish. It’s a closed loop system, so the water is recirculated over and over again. Welcome to the wonderful world of aquaponics! I’ll walk you through our basic system design.

Our tour starts in the corner of a garage that some generous friends allowed us to use for our fish tank. It was an old dome-lidded water tank that farmers use to haul water out to the pasture. We cut the lid off, patched the leaky spots, and voila! A 600-gallon home for our 300 tilapia. Isn’t that amazing? Tilapia can be grown at about 1/2 pound per gallon of water. Most of them will grow to a pound or so, meaning one fish for every two gallons.

Matt and the 600-gallon tank with biofilter barrel perched (pun intended) above.

Blue tilapia after two months of growth.

From the tank, the water flows out through a pipe, through the back wall of the garage, and into a greenhouse that we built in the back yard. The pipe distributes the water into three vegetable beds. These are basically wood frames that we lined with rubber so that they would hold water. On top of the water-filled beds are sheets of styrofoam insulation that are gridded with holes for our veggies. The vegetables are held in little slotted cups that allow their roots free access to the nutrient-rich water below. Because we aerate the water for our fish, the plant roots are able to thrive in this underwater environment without rotting. In the coming months, we hope to include freshwater prawns beneath the veggies. These creatures like similar water temperatures as tilapia and will act as muck-cleaners for the system, eating algae off the plant roots (which will improve their nutrient uptake) and cleaning up any fish gunk that gets into the growing beds.

Greenhouse with 3 planting beds. Distribution pipe from garage against the far wall.

In the foreground of the above picture, there’s a small experimental wetland that occupies a third of one of our beds. This wetland is multifunctional. It gives us an area to experiment with growing plants in gravel instead of floating rafts. It acts as a supplemental filter because it is full of plants that will remain in place. It looks beautiful. And it allows us to experiment with different crops. In this small 3×5 foot area, we have a papaya tree, passion fruit, irises, canna lilies, turmeric, strawberries, gotu kola, lemongrass, taro root, horsetail, oregano, duckweed, watercress, mint, chives, peace lilies, papyrus, cattails, water hyacinth, water lettuce, water celery, sweet potato, nasturtium, basil and philodendron! Matt and I actually ate the first ripe strawberry three days ago, on the 20th of January!

Mmmm. Strawberries!

After the water passes through the vegetable beds, it collects in a 55-gallon drum and is pumped back into the garage. It passes through a simple filtration system, where bacteria turn the ammonia into nitrates, before landing back in the tank.

So that’s the basic tour. Not so complicated. It’s a really fresh experiment for us and we’ve got a lot of learning to do, but we’re excited about the possibilities of using aquaponic systems to grow healthy food in the urban environment. The beauty is that you don’t have to have soil to make these systems go. You can do it on a contaminated site. You can use old buildings. Abandoned urban industrial sites could be brought back from the brink of decay and turned into lush oases of year-round food production, creating jobs and making healthy foods available to neighborhoods that typically don’t have that “luxury.”

Aquaponics can also be put to tremendous use in other parts of the world, where resources are limited and sunshine is bountiful. From deserts to more lush environments, aquaponics systems can be much more efficient in the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes because there is no need to heat the water. There are possibilities for northern climates with coldwater fish as well, but these fish tend to be less resilient than the tilapia and using cold water is likely to make for a less productive system in general.

Imagine an agricultural renaissance in our urban areas and other typically marginal agricultural lands, our communities bursting to life with elegant food-producing ecosystems on properties that had been left for a slow deterioration! We’ll keep working on things from our end and with any luck, the next aquaponics blog post will be on herb-crusted tilapia filets with boiled taro root and passion fruit marmalade!

Magic Sorbet

Well, folks…the time has come.

The leaves are changing, people are finally making the dreaded switch from iced coffee back to the hot stuff, and style mavens everywhere are heralding the arrival of fashion’s favorite season (who doesn’t love a sweater?). Yup, fall is finally here – and with it comes flu season.

Over the course of my nine years of friendship with Ora, co-Ceci, I’ve had my share of colds, coughs, and flus. And if I ever come over to Ora’s house when I’m sick, I know she’ll make me the best concoction a sick person could ask for – Magic Drink.

Magic Drink is simple and natural: it’s hot water (though I sometimes make it with ginger tea) steeped with tons of fresh ginger, honey, lemon, and cayenne. All of the ingredients either aid the immune system, soothe the throat, or some combination: ginger, along with its many other magical properties, is an anti-microbial; honey eases a sore throat; lemon is packed with vitamin C; and cayenne is nature’s potent Kleenex. And on top of all that, it’s delicious – both warming and nasal-passage-clearing.

So – given my love for Magic Drink, you can imagine my excitement when, paging through my new copy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home one day in September, I came across a recipe for “Influenza Rx Sorbet.” It sounded suspiciously close to Magic Drink, so I looked through the ingredients. Sure enough, this was it – Magic Drink in sorbet form!

I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to try it out. A couple of weeks later, just before Rosh Hashanah, Ora and her sister / my honey Shalva both came down with nasty colds. I tossed together the very easy recipe in about half an hour and froze it overnight. And as “luck” would have it, by the time I brought it over to Ora’s house the next day for Rosh Hashanah dinner, I wasn’t feeling too hot myself.

After services, we came home and flopped onto the couch: three achey, cough-y, runny-nosed people (plus one healthy friend), sorely in need of some Magic Something. When we popped open the sorbet, the verdict was unanimous – “Whoa, this is totally Magic Sorbet!”

And it was exactly what we’d hoped for – the sweet cold felt good on our throats, the citrus was refreshing, and the cayenne definitely cleared our passages, to say the least. As it turns out, Magic Sorbet is a rare treat – a dessert that not only tastes good when you’re sick, but feels good, too.

P.S. Apparently sick bloggers are not good at remembering to take photos, so this post is sadly photo-free. But – if you make this recipe, send us a picture! We’ll post it on The Big Ceci and fawn over your loveliness.

*

Magic Sorbet (adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home)

A note on cayenne – I stupidly assumed that, given the wide audience Jeni was writing this recipe for, she probably hadn’t included enough cayenne to satisfy my heat-loving palate. So I upped the cayenne, from a level 1/8 teaspoon to a heaping 1/8 teaspoon. And though the sorbet was delicious, I think Ora’s declaration of “Mmm…my lips are kind of burning” is probably an indication that Jeni’s original 1/8 teaspoon probably would have been just right.

Ingredients

2 cups fresh orange juice (from 5 to 6 oranges – make sure they’re not over-ripe, unless you like your sorbet very sweet)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger (I might try to replace this with fresh ginger next time)
One 3-ounce packet liquid fruit pectin (use the natural stuff – or make your own!)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 to 4 tablespoons bourbon (optional – I left it out this time, but I will definitely be trying it in the future!)

Instructions

1. Combine orange and lemon juices, sugar, honey, and ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.

2. Add the pectin, cayenne, and bourbon, if using. Pour into a bowl, let cool, and then cover and refrigerate until cold.

3. Freeze in an ice cream machine until it is the consistency of very softly whipped cream. Then pack into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface (this is Jeni’s very good suggestion to keep your sorbet from forming ice crystals!), and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Probiotic Superfoods: How to NOT Destroy All of Society

In my family, we always say that failing to take a full course of antibiotics once you’ve taken the first pill has the potential impact of destroying all of society.  There’s truth in this; taking a partial course of penicillin encourages infectious bacteria to develop resistant strains that will eventually be untreatable, and then we all might get scarlet fever and die.

But there’s an even bigger truth: not taking that first pill, and instead letting our bodies fight infections and develop antibodies, and constantly eating foods that encourage them to do so, actually makes the world a better place.  In addition to potentially creating resistant bacteria strains, antibiotics like penicillin wipe out all the good bacteria in our bodies with the bacterial equivalent of a cropdusting treatment.  And these days, antibiotics are showing up not only in our pharmacies, but sometimes in our milk and meat. So when we buy a corporate-big-farm-produced ice cream cone, we might actually be KILLING EVERYONE IN THE WORLD SLOWLY.

Oh dear.

Of course, the antidote to this glut of antibiotics is the magical, wonderful PRO-biotic.  Probiotics are living microorganisms that make our bodies (aka the “host organism”) better, strengthening our immune system and our digestive system, and keeping all our other systems clean of toxins and functioning well.

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria are the most common types of probiotics, and are in fermented foods with live cultures, like yogurt or (or kefir), miso, and the original probiotic superfood: saurkraut.

Saurkraut (and Kimchi, which has the same deal going for it) is what happens to cabbage (or daikon) when it gets old.  Fresh cabbage is already pre-populated with the bacteria required to lactoferment itself.  And, as all things, it really does get better with age- cabbage in its raw form contains substances called ‘goitrogens’ that can block the production of thyroid hormone, but goitrogens are reduced or eliminated through the fermentation process.

My friend Michaela of the awesome local Crock & Jar is a master-fermenter, and she gives great workshops on how to make your own krauts and fill the world with probiotics.  (She’s giving one tomorrow on Governor’s Island at Cook Out NYC , which is also benefitting Just Foods Farm School).  I got my hands on a few jars of her spicy kraut and pickle kraut, and when I’m not just standing in the kitchen eating them by the forkful, I use them to make probiotic-y awesome meals like these:

Pickle Kraut Tempeh Reuben*

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 slices of Tempeh
  • a few slices of your favorite whole-grain bread (all I had was sourdough, which is also good, but I think the seedier the better)
  • a handful of Crock & Jar Pickle Kraut or your favorite (or your own homemade!) Kraut
  • 1 teaspoon organic ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon ground horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon mayonaise or nayonaise or whatever you use
  • a dash of paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole seed mustard or some toasted crushed mustard seeds
  • a little soy sauce
  • a handful of fresh spinach or collards or other greens- bitter is fine!- steamed, strained, and seasoned (I used kale because I had it in the garden)
  • a few sliced and sauteed mushrooms- creminis or shitakes are the best
  • some cheese if you want it (mine was pepper jack, but you can use anything! really!
  • a little butter or oil
ingredients!

Directions:

  1. Mix the ketchup, mayo, paprika, mustard and horseradish together.  Feel free to mess with the ratios to get it to the perfect zing and zang for your taste.
  2. Splash a little soy sauce in a pan with some oil and fry up your tempeh until it’s a bit browned.
  3. Remove your tempeh and assemble it with all the other ingredients between two slices of bread.  Make sure your cheese is against one slice and your sauce against the other to keep the whole thing messy and delicious.  Throw the greens, shrooms, tempeh, and kraut in the middle.
  4. Heat a little oil or butter in your pan on medium and toss the sandwich on it, pressing it down with the spatula to brown the bread and melt the cheese.  Flip it over to do the same to the other side.
  5. Eat it with some of the delicious local berries from the farmers’ market. Feel healthier immediately.

*Bonus! Tempeh is ALSO a probiotic food, so this recipe gets pro-pro points.

sandwich heaven

I can eat my weight in this stuffSpicy Kraut Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients:

  • A cup or so of day-old rice (see Tony’s Plastic Bag Rice Recipe)
  • A cup or so of Spicy Kraut or Kimchi, roughly chopped
  • Fresh, carefully washed, lettuce leaves – I like green leaf or butter lettuce, but anything will do
  • 1 egg
  • A little soy sauce OR a smear of miso paste mixed with water (full of probiotics!)
  • A few shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • Fresh chopped scallions to taste
  • A little bit of olive or sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Heat a little oil in the pan and throw in the mushrooms, scallions, and miso/soy.  Saute for a minute or so.
  2. Throw the rice in the pan with everything else and mix it around.
  3. Beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of water.  Drizzle it over the rice, stirring it in as you do.
  4. Remove all this from the heat and put it in a glass or ceramic bowl.  Add in the kraut and toss.
  5. Place 2-3 tablespoons of the rice mixture into a leaf of lettuce and roll it up like a burrito.  Eat immediately!

The Power Plate: Perhaps Unexpected Parallels between Julia Child and Native Chefs in Santa Fe

Tonight I had a long conversation with Lois Ellen Frank, a half-Kiowa native and half-Sephardi Jewish chef who grew up in Long Island and is now based in Santa Fe. I was so inspired by her passion and her praxis. She is literally decolonizing her body and her family and healing trauma in native communities through growing and preparing food and teaching how to do it!

In a slightly different vein, last night I watched “Julie and Julia.” And although Julia Child and the woman from Queens who blogged as she cooked her way through Julia’s cookbook were not doing much to connect with communities or confront systems, I got almost as energized and happy watching them as I did talking with Lois tonight. Because when it comes down to it, when I listen to or am around other folks for whom food is a liberating/pleasing/exciting element of their lives, a force that turns them on and takes them places…I don’t feel like such a freak! I feel like there are others like me!

It’s interesting because Julia Child’s passion for quality food and commitment to making it accessible to women “without cooks” and her genuine enthusiasm and appreciation of the delights of picking out a vegetable or a piece of meat or a loaf of bread at the market in Paris, are all not radical tendencies per se, but she lived in a committed, unabashed, joyful and sensual relationship with food, which was not a small task for a woman in the society she lived in.  And becoming the professional and knowledgeable cook that she did was crossing, as Lois said tonight, “culinary gender lines.”  Lois shared with me how she does not get listened to in the kitchen by the team of cooks sometimes until Chef Walter, her partner in crime, repeats her instructions.  And then, crossing the culinary gender line from a different direction, Walter, a Dine (Navajo) man who comes from a very traditional family, was scorned for wanting to cook.

Rejecting government definitions of healthy eating is also an act of rebellion that Julia Child and Lois/Walter have all engaged in.  Julia’s praise for butter and her excessive use of it certainly defied all the formulas for eating that were provided at that time…and while it’s probably not healthy to eat the recipes that she shared all the time, the wisdom of the French way of eating is that you eat the freshest and highest quality local ingredients, you eat smaller amounts, you eat slowly, and you have a little wine. The problem is that when French cuisine gets taken out of the broader culture and planted within U.S. society, you keep the butter and lose the quality of ingredients and philosophy which actually lead to a different digestion process.

And this is exactly what Lois talked to me about tonight.

She is helping build a movement to be healthy and specifically to combat diabetes in native communities by returning to ancestral diets.

Native ancestral diets necessitate the use of foods that have to be worked with and prepared by hand and can’t be mass produced.  So when we eat those foods and buy them from the small communities that produce them, it is a win-win for everyone—you keep these traditions alive and you get healthy.

We all know that there are differences in which foods different groups of people around the world can process. However, the government developed the food pyramid in a way that does not take into account the different nutritional needs of different communities (i.e., natives tend to be lactose intolerant but dairy is one of the main parts of the pyramid).

So Lois and Walter have developed an alternative to the Food Pyramid. They call it the “Power Plate.” There are four elements of the Power Plate: legumes, grains, fruits, and veggies. (According to Lois, native foods used to be 90% plant-based.)

Lois gave her own tribe as an example of how the digestion systems and food ways of a people can be disrupted and cause huge societal damage. The Kiowa were the original peoples of the areas around what is now Yellowstone National Park, extending to Iowa.  They were displaced along with about 50 other tribes and forcibly moved to Oklahoma, where the government gave them seeds and told them to farm. However, they were historically hunter-gatherers, so there was a starvation period during which government rations began (lard, sugar, wheat, etc). Now Lois and others are working to “decolonize our bodies with our diets” as an essential element of healing native communities from trauma and oppression.

Another insightful and impactful element of Lois’s work is her definition of “Native Cuisine.”  She understands that no culture is “pure” and that communities have been influenced by each other’s foods forever…that there has always been “fusion cooking” as a result of cultures interacting. (She points out how archaeologists have found ancient cacao remains in North America, demonstrating how extensive the trade routes of pre-contact natives were: “Our brothers and sisters from down south were coming up here and trading cacao!”)

Lois gives the example of sheep amongst the Navajo. She says that if you tell a Navajo child that sheep aren’t “native” (because they originally were introduced by the Spanish), the child will cry. And the truth is, they ARE native…just beginning in a certain way at a certain point (just like everything else). So Lois and her partners have developed the term “first contact food” to refer to these foods that were almost immediately exchanged (and it truly went both ways—natives dramatically influenced European cuisine, changing it forever. The tomato in Italy is one example of this).

Although it seems totally silly to assert this connection too strongly, there is a parallel between Julia Child’s commitment to making French cooking accessible to housewives without servants/cooks and Lois’s commitment to making organic, sustainably produced foods possible in low income households. One way her team is doing this is by creating recipes and teaching people how to cook these recipes that they have calculated to be as low as $1.27 per person for a meal.  They’ve developed a recipe they call “No Fry Fry Bread”—made out of lentils—and it costs 27 cents a serving. (They have developed language referring to fry bread or Indian tacos as being “sometimes” food—so that while they are not being negative about these foods that are comfortable and familiar, they are facilitating people moving away from eating too much of these foods, which are the result of government food rations.)

Lois’s personal system is dry farming; she grows as much food as she can living in the desert.  And she does things like arranging to buy “seconds” from the farmers’ market: she buys the bruised tomatoes that the farmers can’t sell at market, makes and cans tomato sauce, and barters it for salmon and berries from her friends in the Northwest. Cool! I’m so inspired, and wondering what bartering systems amongst my friends I can set up. My sister Tehila and I had floated the idea of a “market day” once a month where we each bring prepared foods and barter them with each other (pickles, bread, etc). Maybe we can…?

So, although I am so charmed by Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child as fearlessly in love with eating, as well as eternally positive (I love anyone who geeks out about hollandaise sauce as much as she does in that movie)…the truth is that watching Julie and Julia got me all happy and then Lois and her organization, Red Mesa, took me home.

Check out what Lois and Chef Walter do more extensively at their website.

Lois, as well as some other creative and committed women working on different aspects of food production and preparation, is featured in this book: Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat.