Super Powers

The other day my doorbell rang and it was my next door neighbor, looking panicked. Turns out she had locked herself out of her house and her 12 mo old was inside. I gave her a hug and my phone and she called her husband, but he didn’t pick up. We tried to think of a way in but our condos are really secure! Then I recalled how my cat visits her balcony by jumping from ours and suggested we try that.
mom_superhero
She was too short to get up over the balcony railing, but I could, so much to her terror I climbed over (apparently my kids were so scared they were hiding) and jumped over to her side. Then of COURSE her screen door that she assured me was open wasn’t, and so I ordered her to go to my kitchen and get a big knife, which I used to slice right through that puppy and break into her house. After I met her and my kids in her back patio she was still shaking, but the baby was asleep the whole time and had not a clue.

Aside from my apparently strong potential as a cat burglar, this got me thinking about how much we do for our kids – or even for someone else’s kids. As much as I’m not a kid person, I do feel a responsibility to watch out for the village urchins, and I hope other parents are doing the same for mine.

So here is a question recently raised by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff on the US News site: if we would gladly die for our children, why won’t we perform one of the simplest and most meaningful expression of love in our quiver – namely, cooking for them?

I’m reading Michael Pollan’s excellent (as always) new book, Cooked, and he frequently makes the point that cooking is what separates humankind from the rest of the animals: it is what created culture; it is how we bond as communities and families. If cooking makes us human, why aren’t we making more of a point to…um…do it? If we want to raise little people – not little brats or animals – maybe, just maybe, we’re missing out on one of the core skills that will civilize them (hey, if it worked for cavemen…).

When I posted my rescue story on Facebook, it got a ton of positive responses. But you know, we deserve just as much praise for the formerly everyday act of preparing a homecooked meal. In this day and age it is practically a superpower to be able to actually cook for yourself (instead of just watching it on TV). I fear that many of us avoid cooking because it seems too difficult, glamorous, expensive, or only for pros. Worse, we pass that discomfort and fear on to our children – and Food Inc will be only too happy to pick up the slack.

cooking with kidsBut cooking isn’t only for corporations or chefs. It’s for everyone. It’s worth learning and it’s worth teaching. My son loves cooking as much or more than any other activity. He begs to help his dad every day in the kitchen (we’re fortunate that he has the male role model doing the cooking).

We drive our children all over to myriad classes and events; we pay a small fortune for the privilege of letting others teach them sports or dance or music. And yet we have, right in our kitchens, a learning opportunity that engages their whole body (and all five senses) plus brain: teaching fine motor skills, patience, turn-taking and sharing, counting and fractions, reading, and appreciation of pleasure. And it doesn’t cost any more than we’ve already spent on groceries, plus of course time (that we otherwise might not have spent with the kiddo – well invested, I say).

Most importantly, when we cook, the aromas and the presentation and the flavors carry our love into the eater’s subconscious, whispering how much we deeply care. If children are part of creating that moment, then they learn love of neighbor on a whole new level. We have taken the time, energy, and resources to create something out of nothing, just for them, just to bring them joy and to nourish their needs.  If food is God’s love made edible, I like to think that the homecooked meal is a parent’s love (or partner’s or child’s or friend’s) sent straight into the body of the eater, to be fully absorbed by their very being.

And that, my friends, is truly powerful.cooking-love

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Eggs: A Simple Guide

Last night at our screening of Food, Inc the question was raised about how to choose eggs wisely.

at least I'm not shopping for eggs...

Eggs…why’d it have to be eggs…?

This can be more complicated than Indiana Jones and the Hall of Holy Grails.

So when a friend this morning mentioned she wants to up her egg intake, I offered (at her request!) the following suggestions which I have gleaned from my studies of the food system.

I try to base my opinions on the hardest evidence I can find and not be especially emotional or anthropomorphic. I do subscribe to Slow Food Principles (Good, Clean & Fair) and hold a personal spiritual conviction that we are stewards of the earth and animals, responsible to them – and to our fellow humans – to carefully consider our impact.

That said, this is just from my personal observations and reading, and I haven’t done a ton of specialized research. So if I’m wrong about something, by all means please leave a comment and correct me! We are all here to learn. (But no need to comment about how “eating all eggs is evil” or something because that’s not the purpose of this post. We’re changing the food system from the inside; there’s certainly a place for those who wish to boycott as well, but I’m writing this for the “buycotters” out there.)

So…disclaimers & provisos finished with, let’s move on…

If you want to eat eggs & chicken that were raised the closest way possible to their natural God-given behaviors, here’s what they do: they want to be outside. They scratch the ground. They forage and eat bugs. They take dust baths and flap around a lot. They are social creatures with established networks (yes there is a “pecking order”).

Not your grandma's chicken coop

Not your grandma’s chicken coop

So, battery cages – standard practice in the egg industry – are really against their natural behavior. If eggs are cheap you can bet they’re from cages. Same goes for that $2.99 rotisserie cooking under the heat lamps…sorry to disappoint.

But this post is about eggs, specifically. And the language you see on egg labels is mighty confusing. Here are what a few of the standard terms mean:

What cage free looks like

What cage free looks like

Cage Free: exactly that, but nothing more. Usually means kept in a dark, hot barn, with thousands of hens (one friend called it a “sea of chickens”) crammed in together. They are not in cages but they’re running around in their filth and eating god knows what (but mostly corn). Diseases do spread. Natural behaviors are minimal. Note: Organic chickens can be raised this way. They just have to be eating organic corn/soy.

Free Range or Free Roaming: this is up for debate (and there are no standards universally anyway) but most of the time it does mean some measure of outside time. I understand it to mean a step better than Cage Free. Animal activist websites do claim that Free Range is no different, and it may not be in some (many?) cases.

Fertile: means they were exposed to a rooster, which increases the likelihood of the chickens being actually roaming. Also, boy & girl chickens together is more natural than not. It is very, very difficult if not impossible for a large farm to maintain roosters, so fertile eggs will usually be from a smaller operation (but note that the smallest backyard enthusiasts also usually can’t keep roosters because they are loud, make babies, and can be rather mean – they didn’t start cockfighting because these were cuddly creatures).

[Roosters btw are a whole other issue – male chicks at large operations are gassed to death at one day old, en masse – thousands and thousands per year. They are an unusable byproduct of the egg industry. You can’t guarantee you’re not contributing to that unless you know the farmer and know what they do with their males – most family farms will raise the males for meat, which is preferable IMO.]

unfortunate byproduct of the mass egg industry

unfortunate byproduct of the mass egg industry

Vegetarian: hens are not naturally vegetarian. I think this is used to trick ovo-vegetarians into feeling comfortable because they know the hen hasn’t been eating, say, dead animals (which isn’t very common). But actually what it means is that the hen’s diet was controlled, i.e. she ate corn and/or soy exclusively. This isn’t a natural diet for a hen, and it means she couldn’t have been freely roaming. As mentioned above, if given her choice, she would also be eating seeds, grass, and bugs. So I avoid vegetarian or vegetarian-fed eggs.

pretty eggs

Easter eggs – no dye required!

Brown: Color doesn’t matter. Egg colors just vary based on the type of chicken that laid them. Some lay beautiful pink, purple, orange, and multi-colored eggs. There is no nutritional difference between a brown or a white egg (it’s not like bread…and even then, just brown bread doesn’t mean it’s healthier…but that’s another post).

Now, obviously, if you can keep your own chickens for eggs, more power to you. As long as you commit to it and your hens don’t wind up at the Humane Society because you bit off more than you could chew (a common problem in places I’ve lived such as Berkeley, where it was fashionable to build a coop but somebody forgot to point out there was a learning curve), this is the very best way to get eggs, hands down. And if you have a friend willing to do that work and give/sell you eggs, so much the better!!

But if you can’t raise them and your friends don’t either, then here is my “pecking order” (ha ha) for how to choose eggs wisely:

ce_chickensongrass1. Farmer’s market eggs ($5-7/dozen ouch!) when I’ve talked to the provider and trust her/his methods. Note that not all FM eggs are raised right – I’ve seen eggs at the FM from caged hens or big operations, even just carted over from the supermarket. An alternative would be to seek out a CSA (be it veggie or meat) that includes eggs.

2. Fertile free range or free roaming eggs

3. Organic free range – USDA organic is supposed to carry some modicum of humanity in the animal treatment. And usually anything raised in an organic manner is better for the environment. Also, supposedly organics can’t contain GMO ingredients (although I’ve just been told that non-GMO corn doesn’t exist any longer…so organic corn would be GMO…I have to check on that).

4. Organic cage free from a local store I trust is using my dollar wisely – because I will balance the benefit to my local economy and a well-paid worker, plus the fossil fuels saved by local shopping, against the welfare of the chicken, just like I will also take into account the environmental health of an organic vs. non-organic production method.

If I can’t at least meet #4 I will skip eggs until I can do better. The best part about buying an egg from a chicken that lived well? It tastes soooooooooooooooooooooo good!!!Today chickens are happy

Hope this is helpful, and please do leave a comment – whether you like it or if I’m unknowingly giving bad or wrong advice!

The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers

The Center for Investigative Reporting presents this 8 minute distillation of Michael Pollan’s chapters on meat from the seminal “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. If that tome’s page count seems daunting, or you simply prefer to ingest your information in animated form, chew on this.

The Foodie Bible, Levitical Edition (or, Michael Pollan meets King James)

You have heard it said,

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Here is wisdom,

Let one who hath understanding explain its secrets.

 

Behold the list of ingredients!

Canst thou comprehend it?

If thou know not what thou art consuming,

How shall its purpose in thy body be determined?

 

The parts of your dish shall number four, or six,

or several more if they be but spices,

But lo, you shall know their names,

And shall be able to speak them aloud,

And shall keep them at hand in thy dwelling.

 

Of all the leaves of the plant,

and its stem and its roots in the ground

You shall eat;

But among them you shall not eat that grown in the tampered soil,

for it is unclean;

And you shall not eat of the potato as flakes,

for it is unnatural.

 

And of all the fruits of the trees and shrubs

and which grow on the vine,

you shall eat your fill.

But the forms in which you shall not eat them

are such: as candies, as gummy, as flavoring,

nor even as Jello-O or Kool-Aid.

Eat them whole and clean,

for that is how I the Lord have given them unto you.

 

And you may eat of all that are in the waters,

But anything in the seas or streams

which is not swimming freely,

or of which kind there are not sufficient numbers,

you shall regard as destestable,

and of their flesh you shall not eat.

 

And of the animals from which you eat,

flesh or milk or any other issuance from their bodies,

They shall roam upon the earth,

and feast upon its gifts,

and shall not be prevented from the blessings of this world.

For I, the Lord, hath ordained their natural ways

and thou shalt not prohibit them.

 

Do not break apart your food into its component parts,

Nor concern yourself with its nutritional data.

For it is good and holy

as I, the Lord, hath created it

to nourish you in its perfect state.

 

Thou shalt not eat of the Crisco,

nor of its kindred,

the margarine and the spread.

For they shall cause your days to be short

in the land which I shall give unto you.

 

All things must meet their end,

But the Twinkie, it hath no end.

And so it is an abomination.

 

Eat not from the box that saith “Helper”,

For G-d alone is your Helper.

 

His handiworks far exceed those of humankind,

So feed upon the works of the hand of the Lord,

And lean not upon human creation,

For lo, you are my people

And I have given unto you all that you need.