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The dilemma for cooks


jgm
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As more and more attention is focused on the greenhouse gas problem, and the food shortages problem, not to mention the issues of humane handling of animals, I'm thinking more about what I eat, where it comes from, and how it gets to my kitchen.

When I was in high school, I read each issue of my mother's Time-Life series on Foods of the World -- the food lover's National Geographic -- and was enthralled with all of the strange and exotic foods. Having lived in Western Kansas all of my life, and not having done any traveling to speak of, all of that stuff was a look into a whole 'nother world for me.

Then as my interest in cooking expanded, so did the offerings in the grocery store, and like many of you, I began using fresh vegetables, olive oil, and other things that weren't in my mother's kitchen.

So here we are. All of that food 'importing' is said to be injurious to the planet, and there is renewed interest in eating locally-produced food.

I'd enjoy hearing your comments about the situation. What are the moral issues involved in having the best and freshest of every ingredient, when increasing numbers of people on the planet are hungry? What are the moral issues involved in having the best and freshest ingredients which are being trucked in, when that has a negative impact on the environment, and is part of a lifestyle that appears to be getting us into trouble? Are your buying habits changing any because of these and related issues?

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I think that many of us are considering the issues you bring up here, and handling them in our own ways. I can't see a perfect solution except maybe if you have 10 rural acres in the Napa Valley where you can grow olives, grapes for wine, chickens, pigs and free range bunnies. And lots of vegetables and fruit.

Ain't a happening thing where I live. The last freeze date is May 31st -- I thought that was nuts until I planted out my garden earlier a few years ago and got a snowstorm on May 23rd or thereabouts. The Heartland's food is gorgeous, but it's short season stuff, and my real estate covenant prevents me from having my own hen house, something I long for. I tip my turban to Laura Ingall Wilder's mother, but even she hit the general store when she could. Coffee and tea don't grow in Wisconsin or Nebraska.

To your point about variety (and I still cook often from that Time-Life series!) I'm not giving up on goulash because paprika doesn't grow around here. No curry because I can't grow turmeric -- shut up! ;-) Give up oolong or Arabica.? Never. And I think of how much of the exploration of the world happened because people wanted spices, or chocolate or tomatoes.

It's difficult. I believe in buying locally, planting a garden, doing everything we can to prevent overfishing. But if I didn't have oyster sauce in my fridge right now, my dinner would be sadder.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I have thought about this alot, spurred on also by the scare of quality in imported Chinese foodstuffs (I use the sauces and some of the frozen seafood). I have really tried to adapt the more exotic so to speak recipes to local stuff from my garden or farmers market. I am in a really lush area in terms of local produce (Southern California) so I honor that. I am just trying to be aware of where things come from and trying to educate myself on the local bounty. Right now I am awash in loquats and am using their unique tart and sweet in dishes that may have called for a similar flavor but would have come from afar.

I will still buy spices from other lands, but read recipes with more of an eye to context rather than strict ingredient lists, so I can work up substitutions. Not to say in certain dishes the authentic does not rule. This is a process. I also try to grow some stuff myself. I am really happy that we are talking about this and exchanging ideas.

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Locally I can get meat (Chicken, Beef, Elk, Bison, Pork, Lamb, Turkey) from at least a dozen sources. Between my garden and the farmer's market, I can get lots and lots of vegetables (in season, which for Indiana is May-November - after that it's just squashes) .So I do the best I can. I only buy local meat, I try to just buy vegetables in season, and the rest I have to go down to the grocery store.

It's not perfect, I acknowledge, but it's certainly better than nothing; there are people who buy all their food, including meat and fresh vegetables, at Wal-Mart. Any little bit that I can do to not buy into the mass-food production culture is a personal triumph.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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about 70% of what we eat is locally grown in the Pacific Northwest

we do the best we can .milk..eggs...cheese ..butter ..wine...meat ..fish....and almost all our fruits.....I grow a garden that is almost year around now and pick wild edibles

one main thing we do is really try to minimize the overall quantity of what we eat. putting less on our plates makes a difference I think ...

I do buy imports from all over the US for sure ..I could not live with out my New Mexican red chile! .Carolina rice .... if I did not buy world wide products well I could not drink coffee and that would be horrible to me! not to mention that I love tropical fruits and they obviously do not grow here ...sauces and spices....things I use to enhance my local ingredients and fuse my cooking ...do come from all over the world ...

I dont feel guilty or badly about how I eat or what I buy when I do buy foods that come from elswhere it is exciting to me and I enjoy the fact I can do it at all ..I feel very lucky! ...I think it is good for all of us to look at the larger picture and make some changes based upon what we can do ...not only to make the world better but to make our lives and health better ....but not out of guilt just out of a need to be part of the bigger picture I think

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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I guess that we as consumers now expect to go to the shops and be able to buy what we want when we want it 24/7 but I think that we are paying for that flexibility in pollution. Food that is flown or shipped in needs heavy duty packaging and often requires refrigeration. Freight is cheap because under the Chicago Convention fuel used for both sea and air freight is not taxed. There are some really stupid consumable swaps, eg. the UK imports around 20 tonnes of bottled water from Australia and vice versa!

I know that the issue is complicated and emission trading is bound up with politics and economic interests. Food production is much cheaper in certain countries but I do wonder how much profit actually flows into the local economy of those poorer food producing countries?

I for one would be quite happy to forego exotics and revert to the produce of the seasons, home grown and fresher. I was amazed to discover recently that the UK imports 95% of its fruit and around half its vegetables while much agricultural land here lies fallow under agricultural subsidies. I jokingly asked someone what has happened to the European wheat mountain lately and they replied that it was probably lying at the bottom of the sea of milk. (dumping food makes me very uneasy)

However there are certain products that I couldn't live without (well, I could but I don't really want to, where is the hypocrite emoticon?), tea, coffee, spices, rice etc, but perishables I could work around...and have done in several countries in the past

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I sense in this debate an undercurrent of argument to the effect that we as humans as much as the planet as a whole are the worse off for increasing global trade.

Yet human history surely suggests otherwise, for from well before the days of the Silk Road, people in various cultures around the world have sought things they have heard of that are unavailable within the confines of their own society.

The Italians would never have had pasta had Marco Polo not traveled to China, nor tomatoes had it not been for Columbus bringing some back from the Western Hemisphere. The Silk Road itself was named for the fabric those who traveled it sought from the Far East.

Now, there is admittedly one thing the items I've mentioned above have in common: They could be replicated or produced in places other than those they came from. And there are plenty of foodstuffs that cannot. Tropical fruits and oils, for instance, come from plants that cannot grow in temperate climates; coffee similarly requires high altitudes and mostly warm weather, the latter in shorter supply in northerly or southerly latitudes.

We may be able to alter our diets so that the overwhelming majority of what we consume is produced close by, but I think that we would actually be worse off if we adhered to a strict locavorian vision in the name of saving the environment.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I sense in this debate an undercurrent of argument to the effect that we as humans as much as the planet as a whole are the worse off for increasing global trade.

Yet human history surely suggests otherwise, for from well before the days of the Silk Road, people in various cultures around the world have sought things they have heard of that are unavailable within the confines of their own society.

The Italians would never have had pasta had Marco Polo not traveled to China, nor tomatoes had it not been for Columbus bringing some back from the Western Hemisphere.  The Silk Road itself was named for the fabric those who traveled it sought from the Far East.

Now, there is admittedly one thing the items I've mentioned above have in common:  They could be replicated or produced in places other than those they came from.  And there are plenty of foodstuffs that cannot.  Tropical fruits and oils, for instance, come from plants that cannot grow in temperate climates; coffee similarly requires high altitudes and mostly warm weather, the latter in shorter supply in northerly or southerly latitudes.

We may be able to alter our diets so that the overwhelming majority of what we consume is produced close by, but I think that we would actually be worse off if we adhered to a strict locavorian vision in the name of saving the environment.

...but the international produce we are getting now isn't arriving by camel....and yes we would be worse off, product-wise, however, looking at the recent food riots in Haiti, for example, if subsidised imported grain hadn't supplanted their own crops more cheaply maybe their problem would not have been exacerbated...globalisation has a lot to answer for....and I recently watched a programme on Mexican corn producers really screwed by Nafta...maybe the cross-border illegal immigrant problem wouldn't be so bad if Mexican farmers could grow crops profitably....all so political, no-one wants to lose a voter by abolishing subsidies..

Edited by insomniac (log)
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So here we are.  All of that food 'importing' is said to be injurious to the planet, and there is renewed interest in eating locally-produced food.

The entire debate is a moot point and, as far as I can see, has been cynically manufactured. The amount of greenhouse gas emitted transporting food across the globe pales into insignificance compared to that last mile of getting the food from the shop onto your plate. Driving slightly further away to a farmers market to buy cherries is worse from the environment than carting them all the way from Chile on a giant container ship and both of those pale into insignificance over the relative productivity of the land and the amount of fuel and fertilizer required to produce one unit of finished product.

Fresh, local food tastes better generally and that should be all the justification you need to buy local. Any misplaced and misguided concern over the state of the environment is as likely to do harm as good in this situation. The only thing I would be willing to absolutely condemn as harmful is buying bottled water imported from a distant country or even just buying bottled water full stop.

PS: I am a guy.

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one main thing we do is really try to minimize the overall quantity of what we eat. putting less on our plates makes a difference I think ...

Hummingbirdkiss makes a really good point. What if we all ate only what we needed? I would love to see an analysis of what the environmental impact would be if everyone in the world who is overweight due to overeating (see how I nimbly sidestepped that issue?) stopped overeating.

Going to an even further extreme, what would be the impact if we stopped wasting so much food? One professional society I belong to meets for monthly dinners. The meal is usually a mediocre buffet at a local hotel, and the amount of food that gets thrown out every time is absolutely staggering. Probably about 50 pounds of food each time. (We've recently started hauling as much of it as we can to the homeless shelter, to the consternation of the catering manager.) I know this scenario is repeated millions of times around the globe every day. All the resources used to grow, package, transport, and prepare that food . . .straight into the Dumpster.

I personally find the prospect of eating less and wasting less a lot more feasible than completely giving up my coconut milk and orange juice and all the hundreds of other products that are not produced locally.

How about you?

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Hummingbirdkiss makes a really good point. What if we all ate only what we needed?

They have a term for that: The Calorie Restriction Optimal Nutrition diet

Edited by takadi (log)
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I do what I can to buy local when I can, but (and I cringe as I admit this), I think of it like this some one would purchase the stuff if I didn't and what would happen to all the people that would be out of jobs if we all stopped purchasing those items. I have been making a real effort to do is stop wasting. *that* alone is a big problem, IMO.

I also started a container garden on my porch so that I can grow some of my own veggies and stop purchasing mass produced stuff for the sake of pesticides and other chemicals that is on produced these days.

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Hummingbirdkiss makes a really good point. What if we all ate only what we needed?

They have a term for that: The Calorie Restriction Optimal Nutrition diet

Oh no I would never say that! LOL..way to serious!... and it would not leave room for home made cookies if I believed that! ....just put less on your plate ...and as Dianabanana said waste less!

composting to me is a huge solution for waste ...I am stunned at how much compostables take up in the trash! ..even if you live in an appartment in a city and only have house plants ..you can compost in a bucket and recycle into the houseplants...(I swear this is an option ..does not smell and works for the best free house plant soil you can imagine! I have done it!)

as individuals people can and should consume and waste less food (as well as packaging, plastic wraps, foil, paper plates, bags ect ect ect) this will help the bigger picture...

this I truly believe

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Hummingbirdkiss makes a really good point. What if we all ate only what we needed?

They have a term for that: The Calorie Restriction Optimal Nutrition diet

Oh no I would never say that! LOL..way to serious!... and it would not leave room for home made cookies if I believed that! ....just put less on your plate ...and as Dianabanana said waste less!

composting to me is a huge solution for waste ...I am stunned at how much compostables take up in the trash! ..even if you live in an appartment in a city and only have house plants ..you can compost in a bucket and recycle into the houseplants...(I swear this is an option ..does not smell and works for the best free house plant soil you can imagine! I have done it!)

as individuals people can and should consume and waste less food (as well as packaging, plastic wraps, foil, paper plates, bags ect ect ect) this will help the bigger picture...

this I truly believe

composting is brilliant....we have a house-full and only put out a small bag of rubbish once a week after recycling bottles and paper...

the one thing that does concern me with food flown in from round the world is its nutritional value....I think that most of the goodness has leached out by the time we get to eat the 'old' fruit and veg, even tho it may still look pretty good...

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I know it has little to do with food, but is there a thread for composting? I've always wanted to try my hands at it and make a nice vegetable or herb garden from it, but I don't really know how

Also I think this topic gets into the discussion of "local vs organic". I tend to prefer local first to organic, especially for produce, because I feel there is little significant difference between a conventionally grown vegetable and an organically grown one that requires it to cost several dollars per pound more. And I figure a great deal of that expense comes from fuel used to transport it. I'd rather buy from a local farmer produce that is at peak freshness and didn't travel 1000 miles just to reach the grocery store. Even so, alot of local farmers probably use organic farming methods as well.

Edited by takadi (log)
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I know it has little to do with food, but is there a thread for composting? I've always wanted to try my hands at it and make a nice vegetable or herb garden from it, but I don't really know how

I think composting has everything to do with food! if there isnt a thread there should be one ...I mean you use your left over food to make soil to grow food ...it is totally win win :smile:

I can not find a thread myself except the gardening thread

we should talk about it that is for sure and if we do I am happy to share what I have learned .. ..recently I have learned even more than I thought I knew from another gardener on this board!

it is very easy and there are many tricks to it that keep it safe and clean

PS on this I also buy more "local" than organic because most farmers dont use pesticides that I know of but can not afford or are missing one key factor to being certified as "organic" ...the prices are so high for "organic" food I just can not do it with any regularity

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Just bumped up the gardening thread :)

The only real food product I'm scared not to buy organic are meats. Not really sure I trust eating meat from an animal that was abused, fed dead matter from its own species, and pumped full of chemicals and hormones. I figure that since animals are higher on the food chain, the acquire more of the chemicals in their bodies

Edited by takadi (log)
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