Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Simply Amazing

I've been thinking about food a lot lately.

A few months ago, I read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. Now I'm reading Food Matters by Mark Bittman. (Not to be confused with Mark Bittner, the Telegraph Hill parrot guy.) Both are well worth the time and can be eye-opening.

I've been doing a pretty good job of sticking to a New Years resolution of eating more mindfully. I'm trying to eat mostly food I've prepared from something close to scratch so I know what's going into it. I stole my son's new bread machine (Don't worry, Dave, I'll get you another one once you have a real place to live.), and have been making some pretty good whole-grain breads. I try to bear in mind how little food one really needs to stay healthy and active; it's obviously a heck of a lot less than most of us have been eating lately. I try to avoid the industrial, corporate, packaged food-like products that passes for food these days.

I'm not on a diet. I have a new diet. I like to think this is permanent. (Hey, I can dream.) I did something like this a few years ago, so I know it's good. It takes discipline - something that is often in short supply around here - and I'm hopeful that my resolve will be stronger this time.

I think the thing that helped get me started again this time is the story of Scott Cutshall. I won't tell the whole story because he has his own blog: Large Fella on a Bike. He has a bit of an edge, and it's a bit hard to find the meat of his story his vast blog, but it's worth looking for because this guy went from 501 pounds to under 180 in just over three years by totally changing his eating habits and riding his bikes.

In this post, Scott has a YouTube video of his transformation. Check it out. It's a simply amazing example of what the human spirit can accomplish.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First Vulture

I spotted my first turkey vulture of the year as it coasted over the house this afternoon. I wasn't really expecting to see one for another week or two. I'll be keeping my eyes, ears and nose open for more signs of Spring!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monterey Baydreaming

If you live long enough and have a warped sense of memory, things come around. About five years ago now, our wonderful daughter moved to the Monterey, California area to work as a VISTA volunteer in Americorps helping mentally-handicapped adults get their lives together. She is the kind of young person that gives me hope for the future. We loved to visit once or twice a year to visit her and tour the fabulous sights in the Monterey Bay area. We took a kayak out into the bay looking for seals and sea otters, we rode bikes along 17-mile Drive to Carmel, and visited the Monterey waterfront. I promptly read John Steinbeck's Cannery Row about the lives of a collection of colorful depression-era characters in the days when the sardine fishery thrived in Monterey Bay.

From the 1920's to the 1940's, the sardine was the most valuable fish in California and Cannery Row bustled as boats unloaded their catch, and factories on the waterfront processed and canned the silver bounty. Eventually, commercial fishing caused the sardine population to crash and Monterey fell on hard times. In the 1970's a new boom began as new restaurants and shops attracted tourists. Now, all that remains of the sardine industry is a museum and a few remnants of old iron pipes and tanks rusting along the bike path behind the converted factory buildings.

Do Boomers eat sardines? I never did. Something about those little fish complete with skin and bones packed in those little cans always struck me as totally unappetizing. But visiting California made me think I should try some as a way to experience a link to some interesting history. But I never did, until today.

Sometimes, forces converge. Last week, I was listening to Tom Ashbrook on NPR's On Point chat with New York Times food writer Mark Bittman on conscious eating. One remark that caught my attention was the suggestion that we would be easier on the planet if we would try to eat a little further down the food chain. Instead of eating so much meat, we should eat more of the plants we feed to animals. Instead of eating lots of predatory fish like salmon, we should eat more plant-eating fish like sardines.

Then, on Friday night, I listened with great interest to a presentation by Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, the founder of Mitzvah Meat, a group that is trying to bring locally-raised grass-fed kosher meat to the Northeast. Apparently, grass-fed beef has a much higher concentration of the highly-desirable Omega-3 fatty acids than does typical corn-fed beef. In our discussion about Omega-3's, the good doctor also told us that sardines are a great source of this vital fat.

I may be slow, but when I get two signals within days to get off my butt and do something I've been thinking about for years, I take notice. I went to our local supermarket and picked up a few cans of pacific sardines canned in olive oil. I selected the ones that came from Canada rather than the ones packed in Poland, figuring anyplace in Canada was closer to Monterey than Gdansk.

For lunch, I ate a whole can, sandwiching little chunks of the oily fish between saltine crackers. You know, they were pretty good! Plus, I could almost feel the Omega-3's greasing the neurons in my brain. I think I'll try to eat more sardines and less tuna. Eating lower on the food chain is better ecologically and the contaminants in fish - like mercury and PCB's - that we worry about will be less concentrated in plant-eating fish.

It's funny how a simple thing like a few little fish from a can for lunch can connect me to so many thoughts that have been rolling around in my head. Maybe that's what conscious eating is all about.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Revolutionary Acts

I'm such a rebel. You know what I did today? I went to the library. I wanted to read "The Dystopians" by Ben McGrath in the January 26, 2009 edition of The New Yorker. Now, any self-respecting, middle-class, middle-age suburbanite would dive down to the local big-box bookstore and score a personal copy. But, for a number of reasons, I've been trying to use the library more. I won't bore you with all the details about my struggles with clutter, or wanting my to walk on errands rather than drive, and issues like that. No, I want to reflect on community.

One of the things that made America great was our creation and support of public institutions. Things like public schools, public parks, mass transit systems, waterworks and libraries. We are letting all that slip away. We buy our books online, we drive our own cars rather than take the train, we send our kids to private schools, we build playgrounds in every backyard, we even buy individual servings of water in plastic bottles.

The time has come to see that we can't go it alone much longer. We can't continue to pretend to support the public sphere while trying to do everything on our own. We can't pay both taxes and pay for private replacements for things the community used to provide to everyone. We need to pull together again. If we all use and value our public spaces we will value them more and take better care of them. If we spend less selfishly on ourselves, we will have more to contribute to the public good, and we will all be better for it.

Be a revolutionary. Borrow your next book from your library, take your kid to the park and drink a glass of tap water.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

More Reasons To Eat Local

Good grief.

I just heard a piece on the radio about how Chinese honey is finding it's way to U.S. markets via other countries so they can avoid paying an import tariff. And, as so often seems the case lately, the honey is contaminated. Naturally, this honey is so much less expensive than domestic honey, that suppliers can't resist the temptation to use it. But what are the real costs? Once again, we see how we know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Not long ago, a friend told us how Chinese tea producers dry the tea leaves by spreading them out on the ground and backing diesel trucks up so the exhaust dries the leaves. Add this to the growing list of contaminated food and pharmaceutical products coming out of China, and it seems to me we'd be better off getting our food and drugs from closer to home. OK. We won't be growing any tea in New England until global warming really gets going, so for now, we buy organic tea.

Make that VERY close to home. Even careless or greedy domestic processors can mess us up as we see with the latest contaminated peanut butter problem.

I believe in a future where so many of the things we need will come from sources closer to home. Our economic and energy problems may force this on us, but I hope we see the day when we understand that life is better that way.