ReLocavore: Redefining "local"

Back to Wisconsin, my cheesehead friends


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Everybody in the kitchen!

You know, I may frame this and hang it up in my kitchen.

Women belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen. Everyone belongs in the kitchen. The kitchen has the food.


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This Week in Veg: A lot of Leeks

What’s the term for a group of vegetables? We have a herd of cows, a flock of sheep, a murder of crows… but what do you call a bunch of vegetables? A bunch? 

Either way, we got a lot of leeks this week in the CSA. I tried to chop and freeze them a few years ago, but I just didn’t get back to using them and they got freezer burn. I think I will put them into a quiche. Sound good. Maybe with bacon? 

That's a lot of leeks. A bunch of leeks? A bramble of leeks?

That’s a lot of leeks. A bunch of leeks? A bramble of leeks?


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Blueberry Picking

I traveled to Super Acres Blueberry Farm in Lyme, NH with my colleagues from work to pick blueberries. This was my first you-pick blueberry experience. Blueberries are easy to pick because they grow on 5 to 8 foot tall bushes, meaning you get to spend a lot of time in the shade and pick berries standing up. No bending and straining your back for blueberries.

With our berries, I made blueberry jam (3 lbs, 10 half-pints), blueberry buckle (1.5 lbs) and ate the rest with breakfast. I think we may go back again and pick more for the freezer.

Super Acres farm is also dog-friendly, so I can take the pooch with too!


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Sandor Katz Fermenting Workshop

On Jul 22-23 I participated in a Fermenting workshop with Sandor Katz, the author of The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation. Shelburne Farms, just outside Burlington, Vermont hosted the event. If you’ve been to Shelburne Farms before, we were in the Coach Barn for the event. Over two days we covered the basics of fermenting, lactic-acid fermentation of vegetables, a hands-on exercise making our own ferment, (day 2) dairy fermentation, fermenting grains and legumes, and fermented beverages like kombucha.

In general, I was impressed with Mr. Katz knowledge and experience with fermenting. He clearly has a passion for the art and has experimented with a lot of interesting techniques. Admittedly, that was where my enthusiasm stopped. Sorry to drag work into my blog, but I was criticizing Mr. Katz classroom technique throughout the workshop and found his teaching to be lacking. The entire second day was blocked out into 2-hour chunks with 30, 60, and 30 minute breaks between (8 hour day total). Most of the content was basic lecture with a few quick demonstrations (blueberry soda and yogurt). We had a hands-on activity after lunch on day 1, but day 2 was uninterrupted sitting. To compound the fatigue from sitting, the space had uncomfortable chairs and was not air-conditioned. We were pretty short tempered and sweaty in a 90+ degree room with little moving air. I didn’t get much out of the second day, even when I abandoned my uncomfortable chair to stand in the back of the room and hope to catch a little breeze. I did learn a lot, and the course definitely met my objective of motivating me to make better kraut and kimchee. I think I may even start to make our own yogurt.

I had three major takeaways from the event:

  1. Everything is rotting, being digested and broken down by microbes. Fermenting is just using different techniques to control the process of rotting food by favoring different microbes over others. Malted barley plus water makes sugars that can be digested by yeast to make alcoholic beer, or by other molds to make nasty undrinkable stank.
  2. Fermenting refers to two different processes. Process 1 is where yeast convert sugar to alcohol in the presence of oxygen, then acetobacteria convert alcohol to acetic acid (vinegar), again, still with oxygen. Process 2 is where lactic acid bacteria convert carbohydrates and sugars to lactic acid in the absence of oxygen. The following table may help clarify the difference between the two foods:
    Process 1 Process 2
    Microbe  Yeast  Lactic Acid Bacteria
    Substrate  Sugar  Carbohydrates and Sugar
    Oxygen  Present  Absent
    Byproduct  Alcohol + CO2  Lactic Acid + CO2
    Secondary Process  Acetobacteria convert
    alcohol to vinegar
    Food Characteristics  Alcoholic, Bubbly  Tart, tangy, softer
    Tasty Examples  Beer, Wine  Sauerkraut, Yogurt
  3. Fermentation has become very “faddish” due to confusion and misinformation about the well-supported versus not-so-well supported benefits of fermentation. Fermentation has three well-known and supported benefits: pre-digestion of food,  preservation of unstable foods, and increased diversity of gut flora. With pre-digestion, the bacteria or yeast break down the substances in the food into simpler forms. Complex carbohydrates (e.g. cell walls) become simple carbohydrates (sugars), and complex sugars (disaccharides like sucrose or lactose) become simple sugars (monosaccharides like fructose or glucose). Fermented foods are more stable over time – sauerkraut lasts longer than a plain cabbage, and yogurt lasts longer than milk. Additionally, fermented foods are home to a culture of microbes that have been shown to have benefits for diseases of the gut.The confusion comes from the secondary effects. In the process of fermenting foods, some people argue that the food becomes more nutritious, makes certain nutrients more available for the body to absorb, and may have broader effects on the whole immune system of the body. Some participants at the workshop even argued (from their own personal experience) that fermented foods helped them recover from cancer, HIV, and other serious diseases. While these are nice stories to tell, the research just doesn’t pan out to support these effects. I’m working on a systematic review of the literature and when it gets complete, I’m happy to provide detailed citations. In the few areas where there have been studies, the studies have been small and results are non-conclusive. In the absence of good evidence, it’s fine to eat fermented foods because you like to eat them and drink them, but don’t do it because you think it will be some health panacea. It’s just a fad.

I know them’s fightin’ words, so please give feedback in the comments.

Squeaky Cheese Curds. Mystery Solved!

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Fresh cheese curds are squeaky.

You didn’t know that? Yeah, neither did I, until I had the squeakyness explained…

Thanks to Joe Dobosy and Mich Minoura for explaining squeaky cheese curds, to Hook’s Creamery for jalapino cheese curds, and to Carl Geissbuhler of Brunkow Cheese for explaining why cheese curds are squeaky.

ReLocavore at the Dane County Farmer’s Market

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For your viewing pleasure, I shot and edited some video of the Dane County Farmer’s Market (DCFM) while we were at our vacation in Madison. I wanted to give everybody a sense of what an insanely huge Farmer’s Market goes on every Saturday in Madison.

For size comparison, I’ve taken two Google Map images of the permanent site of the Norwich Farmer’s Market, our regular market here in Vermont, and an image of the DCFM, highlighting in red the streets that are lined with vendors.

Dane County Farmer's Market takes up 8 city blocks around the Capitol Square in Madison.

Dane County Farmer’s Market takes up 8 city blocks around the Capitol Square in Madison.

The Norwich Farmer's Market occupies a permanent space.

The Norwich Farmer’s Market occupies a permanent space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Locavore Survival Guide: What is a locavore?

So I need to address the obvious – What is a locavore? The most boilerplate comes from the very first post of this blog – The dictionary definition, “A person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.” There’s two problems I have with this definition. First, it frames locavore as a “diet” and second, the definition leaves “local” to be defined elsewhere. Please excuse me as I pick at nits.

I don’t like diets – in the modern use of the word as a set of guidelines on choosing food, not in the Anthropological meaning of the word as anything that people eat. Diets come as arbitrary sets of rules or guidelines that ossify eating practices and attempt to define the world into “good” and “bad” foods. Lard? Bad. Broccoli? Good. Locally-raised pig lard? Bad (unless you’re a locavore, then it’s good). Conventionally farmed broccoli from Argentina available in New Hampshire in February? Good (unless you’re a locavore, then it’s bad…) I really do NOT want anyone to think there is some list of goods and bads making up the Locavore diet and that you may only eat things on the good list and nothing off the bad list. Diet also emphasizes choosing foods and avoiding foods – a universe of possibility that neglects what you do with the foods you choose or what happens to the foods you avoid. I want locavore to mean more than just choosing foods that are good and avoiding foods that are bad because locavore is more than just the food – it’s about preserving food, cooking food and enjoying food too…

Second, the dictionary leaves out what “local” means. The dictionary defines “local” as “belonging or relating to a particular area or neighborhood, typically exclusively so.” Local as geography. So each locavore is a pin on a map with a circle around it. I don’t much like that either. We can use other definitions of “local” to broaden our understanding of food. I think of food using a network definition. Imagine a network of food producers, packagers, distributors and consumers. Each person or organization is a node and is linked by the transactions between nodes. We all eat within this type of network-I buy a can of tomatoes sold at the coop, shipped by a grocery wholesaler, packages by a plant, picked by a person, grown by a farmer. Alternatively I go to my pantry and get a jar of home-canned tomatoes that I bought at a farm stand that were picked by the farmer. Local, to me, means both geography AND relationship networks. How can we act to minimize both distance and connections?

So, I’m being pedantic, but I want to explore these ideas more fully in this blog… This is why I started in the first place. To gain a better understanding of how and why I eat locally.

So back to my original question: What is a locavore? The dictionary says, “A person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.” Let’s modify this…

A locavore is person who acquires, preserves, cooks and eats food in order to minimize the distance between the food production and consumption.

What do you think?