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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma - Processed Foods

I have been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, and really like it...contrary to what I expected after reading several scathing thoughts about it in Eating Animals.

I like to read books that push me to make necessary changes in my life or help me grow to be more socially and environmentally conscious. Eating Animals was the catalyst for this whole blog thing, but what has The Omnivore's Dilemma (TOD) done for me lately?

A lot. I think the most apparent change is that I am so much more conscious about processed foods and preservatives.

Before reading TOD, I thought fake meat was the answer for anyone who wanted to stop eating meat but wanted to taste meat. I offered substitutes for turkey, and I even wore it for Halloween as my very sassy answer to Lady Gaga's meat dress. I was singing fake-meat's praises at the top of my lungs at the Fake-Meat Karaoke bar.

But what is in these delicious processed goods that I have come to depend on? Usually corn (broken down to molecular levels to create Xanthum gum, etc...) or soy proteins.

"So what?" I asked angrily, defending my humane option. "Who cares?"

As it turns out, I should care a lot. Corn and soy have completely taken over our farms. These crops replace our strawberries with strawberry soda. They replace our egg protein from grazing chickens with livestock fattened on CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). And they replace anything that could be consumed alone with a processed alternative that requires fossil fuels for manufacturing and leaves us with empty calories, less energy and fewer nutrients.

So, big change for me. And I am still working it out. Instead of now getting my protein from soy protein or processed corn, I am looking at healthier options -- for myself and our farmland. I am eating more beans, legumes and whole grains.

Is it easier to pop a Boca burger in the microwave and get fast protein? Maybe. Is it healthier for me? No. Is it healthier for our precious farmland? No. Do I need it to get my protein? No.

So, I think the best approach with fake meat should be the same advice I would offer meat-eaters. Eat mostly vegetables, and only sometimes meat.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Oy, Oyamel!

Alex's parents are in town, so when in Rome... you go out to eat somewhere you normally wouldn't think to go. Roger suggested Oyamel, a Mexican restaurant owned by the famed chef Jose Andres.

I was skeptical, to say the least. Jose Andres owns a lot of the hot spots in town -- places I generally avoid like the plague because of their trendiness. Not that I don't like good food, which most "hot spots" claim to have. I just really dislike crowds and overpriced bad food, both of which are often found in hot spots.

But it turns out that Oyamel was fabulous, and Jose has a vision that goes beyond food.

As I always do before eating at a new restaur
ant, I did some research. What I discovered first was more about Jose than about the food:
  • Jose thinks that meat is overrated, but fruit and vegetables are sexy. (Talk about a vegetarian's wet dream.)

  • Jose uses his skills for good by volunteering, fund-raising, employing graduates of DC Central Kitchen and serving on the board there-

    Through job training, meal distribution, and supporting local food systems, DC Central Kitchen is building long-term solutions to the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

  • Jose works with the Solar for Hope project, a nonprofit that, "brings solar kitchens to Haiti... In a country that has been through a devastating earthquake and suffered severe deforestation, harnessing the power of sun for cooking is a simple way to help ensure that people have hot meals."
After combing through his achievements (and these are extraordinary achievements), I failed to find where he sources the food.
I couldn't find anything. There was no mention of local or sustainable.

As a note, I
always try to find out where the dairy is from before I get to the restaurant for two reasons. First, servers are very busy, and I don't want to ask them to go ask the chef (who is also busy) where the food comes from. Second, I don't want my food to get spit in.

So, I called the restaurant and asked where the dairy comes from. Unable to answer, the hostess said she would check and get back to me when we came in for dinner that evening.

Yeah right, I thought. So, I tweeted at Jose:

@ excited 2 eat at 2nite! I try 2 eat or . What can I eat? Do u get ur fr ?

Jose (or whoever tweets for him) never got back to me. I was sure I would be greeted with the same fate by the hostess.

As soon as we entered the restaurant and gave our name, the hostess explained that none of the dairy is local. But, they do get local pigs and goats from the farmers markets.


But as soon as we sat down, the manager came over to show me which dishes on the menu were vegan. She didn't just show us, but she actually circled all of the vegan dishes. There was not just one, there were seven (ish) vegan options.

And I'm not talking about the kind of vegan crap you get at a steakhouse... No, I am talking about vegan delicacies that would make your head spin: Plantain fritters stuffed with black beans and a chipotle chile and piloncillo sugar sauce; Crispy brussels sprouts in arbol chile sauce with pumpkin seeds, peanuts and lime; and Sautéed seasonal wild mushrooms with garlic and shallots, served with guacamole; just to name a few. A far cry from dry mashed potatoes and overdone asparagus at some overpriced meat factory.

The food was amazing. The chef was a walking mitzvah mobile. But the dairy and most of the meat was not local.

So the big question for this small blog is: Does Oyamel get a Thanks or a Spanks?

Thanks. No, they are not entirely sustainable, local or humane. But they have some options (pig and goat and some vegetables), which means that hopefully one day they will have more.

It seems as though Jose would be just the type of restaurant owner and chef who would take that next step to an entirely sustainable, local and humane menu. In the meantime, we can marvel at the other good work he is doing and eat his delicious vegan options.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

No Impact Family

I am not sure why, but I just saw No Impact Man, the movie about the guy in NYC who went a year without making any environmental impact. This means he -- and his daughter and wife -- only ate locally sourced foods, did not use any fossil-fueled mode of transportation (subway, car, certainly not an airplane), went without electricity, and the perhaps the most reported on less-impact: did not use toilet paper.

My first takeaway was that I could not believe I had not seen the film yet--- or read his blog or book, or watched any of his dozens of interviews on Youtube. For those of you who have not yet seen it, please consider this a ringing endorsement, and watch it on Netflix.

My second takeaway was, "Wow... I am actually doing some of this stuff. Rock on!"

While I don't do nearly enough as No Impact Man, I already do some, and am now inspired to do more. So, what do I do alrea
dy that No Impact Man does?
  • Use Jars, not glasses. We drink out of jars instead of glasses

  • Buy local food. We try to buy locally sourced foods (a big part of this blog) and consider the farmers market the highlight of my week

  • Grow your own food. We are starting to garden and last summer harvested herbs

  • Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We try not to buy anything new--- in fact, we can usually outfit our home by finding stuff in free-boxes on the street

  • Carbon-friendly travel. We ride bikes around town or use DC's exceptional metros or buses. Seldom do we take taxis or drive a car.

  • Don't eat meat. Alex and I are both vegetarians. Meat is one of the greatest contributors to global warming, but I mainly oppose it for ethical reasons.

And what do I want to do?
  • Make our own cleaning supplies. Eco-friendly cleaners exist, and I use them (Mrs. Meyers, Method)... but what about the packaging, and shipping? No Impact Man makes his own household cleaning agents and stores them in his used cleaning bottles. As soon as mine run out, I will do the same!

  • Start to compost. I know I live in a city (and I know I live in a city with rats), but I want to at least explore the option of composting. No Impact Man composted in his apartment, and while he was okay living with flies, his wife was not. There has got to be a way for me to compost outside... Stay tuned!

  • Unsubscribing from catalogs. I try to do this, but not very hard. I call the consumer magazines, but not the non-profits I donate to. I need to of course continue to donate, but request that I be taken off their mailing lists.
There are more, of course, but I think this is a good start! I think the best takeaway from No Impact Man was that if he and his family can do everything to lessen their impact, can 't we all just do something?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wedding plans (and tastings!)

... And yet another excuse for my absence: I got engaged last month and have been busy trying to plan a wedding.

As many of you know, Alex and I try to live our lives with as little impact and waste as possible. I also try to live a humane lifestyle. And we are trying to model the wedding on that set of values.

We found those values in our caterer: Eat and Smile Foods. I said this to Chef Oliver and I will say it to you: I could not have dreamed-up a more perfect caterer for our wedding.

Photo credit: Alexandra Friendly Photography

Eat and Smile Foods, aptly described on their website, is "locally sourced, esquitely made." Unlike most caterers, local ingredients (including dairy and eggs) is the rule, not the exception.

Because Eat and Smile does not advertise, I did not know about them. But Alex sent a link to the Bitten Word, a popular food blog. The authors wrote about their wedding -- including their caterer: Eat and Smile -- and I was hooked.

We immediately set up a tasting with Oliver, and did not need to look further.

Eat and Smile easily creates amazing vegetarian menues with all local ingredients. At the tasting we dined on (everything hand-and-home made): falafels and tangy yogurt, grilled cheese with olive tapenade, mushrooms and bean paste, goat cheese pastries, butternut squash soup with balsamic vinegar and pecans, salad with local cheese from Clear Spring Creamery, fettucini with mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy and red pepper pesto, ratatouille with fall vegetables, and apple pie with Dolcezza ice cream.

Check out our tasting here!

Photo Credit: Alexandra Friendly Photography