28 September 2008

Urbanism, Farming Culture, and Progress

I was cruising through a text for my Environmental History class when I ran across something interesting. The discussion was about the forces that grew with society during the Holocene Age which started about 10,000 years ago. The class deals specifically with humans and their historical impact, even anciently, on the environment (death of the "green" early man myth). This bit was somewhat tangential to the direction of the coursework, but perfect for what we talk about here.

Early Holocene Man

The author, Charles Redman, addresses pre-historic community nutrition as an aspect of early community forces. He observes that - surprisingly to many people - there's a great deal of mixed and negative evidence regarding the benefit to human being when agriculture and sedentary living enter the scene.

Overall, the various studies suggest a decline in the quality of life and possibly even a shortened life expectancy associated with the adoption of agriculture, despite a decline in the physical demands placed on the body (Cohen and Armelagos 1984). This conclusion requires us to reevaluate several generally held propositions about the advantages of agriculture over hunting and gathering. The simplistic notion of unimpeded human progress is ill founded. There was not a progressive increase in life expectancy; the picture was actually more complicated, with individuals in many hunting and gathering groups outliving those in agricultural groups. We have also found that hunter-gatherer groups were often better buffered against episodic food stress and sometimes had a more balanced diet than their farming counterparts. Nevertheless, since the advent of farming, regional and global population has grown dramatically. Moreover, much of this growth has included the repeated adoption of farming by former gathering people to the point where societies that rely on gathering are virtually extinct. This global population growth was accomplished in spite of a general dimunition of both child and adult life expectancies, a questionable advance in human diet, and a quantum increase in contagious diseases. This suggests that the forces, social and otherwise, that encouraged the adoption of agricuture and eventually of urbanism were extremely powerful, being able to override the negative impacts of early farming on those who attempted it. (Charles L. Redman, Human Impact on Ancient Environments (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1999), 179.)

In a nutshell: Keep on eating berries, leaves, bugs, and critters you can catch either by yourself or with friends waving sharp sticks.

Late Holocene Man

25 September 2008

Dining out and preparing for the New Year

My friends can always tell if I've stayed quiet for a while, that I'm probably hiding away somewhere with a box of cookies or scarfing down pizza (my most favorite vice in the world) while home watching every episode of Project Runway. Luckily I have amazing friends that drag me out of my hiding and force me to go out and be social. Hey, if you're going to binge, you might as well do it in the company of friends!

So last weekend I got together with one of my closest friends in the world, Ben, his partner, John, and our mutual friend, Leone, for a dinner. Leone is fashion producer extraordinaire and you can see her work in the pages of Vogue, W, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times Style section.

(little plug for Leone).

We decided to meet at this new restaurant called Delicatessen that Ben and I had passed while walking home through Soho one night. There were tables that extended onto the sidewalk, and cocktailers who patiently waited for their tables spilled out onto the street. I said, "Oooh, that looks trendy and pretentious. Let's eat there soon!" And so we did.

These trendy and pretentious, fly-by-night restaurants don't usually last very long, especially in today's economic environment, but this one actually had really good food. And although the decor and staff all looked like they were trying way too hard, our server was actually delightful and courteous. That's always a nice surprise.

I started with an order of mussels steamed in a rich broth of chorizo and jalapenos - spicy, savory yummyness. I followed it up with a ceasar salad which had chicken and those gorgeous little white anchovies that you get in Spanish tapas bars. I skipped the bread but did wash it all down with 1/2 glass (just 1/2!) of crisp Australian chardonnay. It was all very delicious and really not much of a binge. Okay, the binge came the next day when I decided to eat muffins and pizza at a Board meeting. I'm not perfect.

I did, however, resist the fried treats we passed on our way home at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy. John didn't.

You can get anything deep fried these days.

(Remember these lovelies, Mark???)

Well, I'm glad that's over.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is upon us and I am shopping right now in preparation for a New Year's feast. Let's see what's at the Farmer's Market this week:


Squash in every variety


Cranberry Beans

Husk Tomatoes (These are like candy!!!)

Look at this cauliflower!

Plenty of heirloom tomatoes still...

The last of the plums - get 'em while you can!

First crop apples and pears

Gorgeous and sweet purple eggplants

Peppers in every hue!! Still not too late for that ratatouille...

Sweetest cucumbers, ever.

So what are you cooking for the holidays?
L'Shana Tova!
(Menu coming soon...)

24 September 2008

Food Art

My sister sent this to me this morning and I thought it was so great! I don't know which one I like better - the Edvard Munch watermelon, the Charles Atlas orange, the lecturing tomato, the orange behind bars, the Italian bread pedicure... I just wish I could credit the artists and photographer. It was sent to her by a friend of hers in Denmark and was part of one of those chain/forwarded emails. If anyone knows where it came from, please feel free to send me the url or credit.

(Did anyone else see Jesus in that flour?)





















20 September 2008

They Eat What You Give

Hi there. Most food banks get by on a combination of government purchased or subsidized foods, food purchased with cash donations, and direct food donations from citizens (e.g. "food drives" and weekly drop offs) and businesses.

Every once in awhile, we'll get a special large donation of something wonderful, such as beef, wild game meat, or a freezer full of frozen chickens. The ones in the photo below were distributed within two hours.

Until recently at the Lord's Storehouse, the main Evanston, Wyoming food bank where I volunteer, we've been inundated with desserts; cakes, pies, donuts, etc. that would normally be thrown away. It has been our policy to accept these business donations of items that would otherwise be thrown away in spite of the fact that these are not the best foods to pass on to our clients.

Recently, we've started receiving more vegetables and fruits. Happily our food bank accepts these donations too. Not all food distribution projects do.

If you're inclined to contribute to your local food bank, find out if they will accept fresh vegetables and fruit and, if so, donate some as close to the distribution date as possible. Sadly, we end up having to dispose of a great deal of produce due to antiquity and mishandling, but much of it does make it to the tables of the client store and into the homes of individuals and families in need.

16 September 2008

Lobsters and David Foster Wallace

I was so saddened by the news of David Foster Wallace's apparent suicide last week. I thought he was one of the most brilliant literary journalists of our time. I don't think I ever laughed out loud so hard when I read his 1996 memoir of his first luxury cruise experience, "Shipping Out" that was published in Harper's. It's gut wrenching funny. Harper’s magazine has posted a complete archive of all the writing it published by Wallace. “The Depressed Person,” should also not be missed, as it is bitingly sardonic, but perhaps sadly autobiographical.

While reviewing his body of work today, I also came across this article he wrote in 2004 for Gourmet magazine on the Maine Lobster Festival. I thought it would be appropriate to post here since it is one man's moral dilemma on the tradition of boiling lobsters alive, and the journey on discovering his relationship to his food.

Consider the Lobster