Monday, May 13, 2013

The Future of Food?

Exploring this question was the lofty goal of a symposium I attended at University of Notre Dame hosted by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies (has link to symposium brochure). So with some jeans, high-heeled sneakers and organic instant oatmeal I hit the road.

Aside from being personally horrified out about how we’re producing and consuming food, I wanted to see the Notre Dame campus, where my grandfather was an undergraduate and played baseball until going off to war as a Marine, ultimately in Okinawa.. oh, and there was the convenient stop through my college town of Pittsburgh on the way back. But back to the horrified part.

So the US is growing increasingly urban and suburban and in the DC/Chesapeake area, I’ve seen so many small farms turn into developments. As a matter of fact and as fate would have it, I now live in such a development. So despite efforts from folks in recent years to buy food more locally, it’s increasingly difficult with the production coming primarily from large production farms while smaller ones get less assistance and struggle with challenging logistics, market factors, cicadas, you name it.

It’s all resulted in vegetables that travel way further than most inner city kids ever will, and most certainly not to the inner city kids themselves where there are the ‘food deserts,’ in which urban residents can find convenience stores and fast food restaurants on the blocks that once held grocery stores.

The good news is that there have been some creative and enterprising folks out there coming up with more sustainable and responsible ways of producing food (google vertical farming/growing); and they are ways that can be implemented on various scales and closer to people who need access to the food. Can these solutions compete with big, subsidized agribusiness? And are they possible predictors of how we’ll be making food in the future? First up that day to address it, a terribly amusing cynic.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, an historian of food and apparently everything else, can cruise through history of the universe like the delighted animated characters in a movie whipping around on an oh-so perilous but joyful ride. There was a ‘proliferation of lipids,’ and industrial techniques transforming the North American prairie from a desert to a bread basket. Ultimately we were concluding that genetic modifications are widening the wealth gap which leads to ‘unintended diliterious results and global violence’ as well as a ‘let’s all get to the trough’ cheapening of food mentality which ultimately equates to ‘rubbish for all.’

And before you could say poppycock, he was proclaiming the gloooories of fat with dramatic, leeengthy rolling vowels out of the side of his mouth with the grand British presentation you’d expect from such a professor – only multiplied by a factor of 10. In other words, I bought (one of) his book(s). 

Stick with me! There were many great speakers but I’m growing prolific and you are probably just trying to surf the internet for good recipes, so I will cover two more dudes, briefly, and finish up with some cool links and a Breakfast Sausage recipe that I’m trying out this week while I make plans for Memorial Day weekend entertaining. [Though if you’re interested in more, drop a line because I’ve got more.]

But first! If you don’t already know about Will Allen, his urban farming and Growing Power in Milwaukee then you must click the links and buy his book as well.

The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen

He is a hero. I was thrilled to meet him at this symposium. He took time to talk with any of us who were interested and his story is fascinating. I was born in ’70 and grew up just outside Northwest DC and have really never heard the personal stories about how the area became home to so many freed slaves from the South and that Will Allen and his classmates transferred from from a segregated school to sophomore year at Richard Montgommery High in 1964 when it became integrated.

Here is a terribly blurry picture I took with the flash off. I did not inherit my father’s surgeon hands, but hey, it’s a picture of Will Allen at our meeting.

Will Allen of Growing Power

Another pioneer in urban gardening and farming, and self titled Gangsta Gardner, Ron Finley is revitalizing and providing food for urban areas in LA. And he’s a hoot, so subscribe to his newsletter and also read ‘Drive-Throughs are Killing More People than Drive-Bys.’ 

Check out Bell Aquaculture, a land-based, sustainable fishery. They’re growing perch like those that are indigenous to the Great Lakes in great quantities and in ways that prevent any escape of farmed fish into the wild or for wild fish into the farming system. All of this somehow allows them to raise these fish without any antibiotics. I had some of their perch for lunch that day and it was delicious.. of course I chowed down lunch and didn’t take pictures until I was just about decimating this rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb Pie Remnants

Alright, one last wonderful thing to check out: this beautiful community Prinzessinnengarten that was created on a neglected, bombed out site in Berlin…

… and then go buy yourself about 5 pounds of pork shoulder and trim and cube it up because we’re going to have Breakfast Sausage with biscuits soon. In the meantime and in the interest in having one decent picture, I’ll end with a picture of returning home to our river beach and many blessings.

Evening Sun at Fairview Beach


Breakfast Sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage

I'm going to attempt to grill mine, which is likely to have modest results at best, but breakfast sausage can be used any which way. Just use it as crumbles or form patties or stuff it into sausage casings. My plan is to roll mine into logs in plastic wrap and then freeze them so I can cut disks out of it. I might throw it on the grill semi-frozen to help it keep together. I'll follow up soon!


5 lbs/ 2.25 kilograms boneless pork shoulder, diced
1.5 oz/ 40 grams kosher salt (about 3 Tbsp)
5 Tbsp/ 50 grams ginger, peeled and finely grated (or 1 Tbsp ground dried ginger)
5 Tbsp/ 50 grams fresh sage, finely chopped
1 Tbsp/18 grams garlic, minced
2 tsp/ 6 grams ground black or white pepper
1 cup/ 250 milliliters ice water

20 feet/ 6 meters sheep casings, soaked in tepid water 30 minutes and rinsed (optional)


- combine all ingredients but water and toss to distribute the seasoning; chill until ready to grind
- grind mixture through the small die into a bowl set on ice (keep everything cold - I chill my grinder attachment)
- add the water to the meat mixture in the mixer bowl and mix with paddle attachment until the liquid is incorporated and the mixture has developed a uniform appearance, about 1 minute on medium speed
- saute a small portion of the sausage and taste for seasoning; make adjustments to mix as needed
- stuff sausage into the casings and twist to 4-inch/10 cm links, or shape into patties; refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook; or roll into a log, wrap in plastic and freeze, slice into patties
- gently saute or roast the sausage to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F/ 65 degrees C

This recipe is from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

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