Food

Food for Thought

Day Burtness and Dan Borek hoped to start an organic farm and community-supported agriculture program at St. Olaf College. But Northfield, Minnesota—a small, two-college town 35 miles south of Minneapolis-St. Paul—was already served by multiple CSAs and a food co-op. School officials were supportive but skeptical that a student-run farm would find any real market, even if the two students could come up with the necessary land and capital.

But Burtness and Borek obtained the use of a small piece of campus land and later received funding from the student government association. They also met with Hays Atkins, who runs St. Olaf’s food service for the Bon Appétit company, to discuss the possibility of a student farm that would function as a wholesaler instead of a CSA. In a move that would ensure both the college’s green light and, ultimately, the farm’s success, Atkins promised to purchase every piece of produce the farm could grow.

While Atkins’ commitment to a student-initiated project is surprising and impressive, it fits squarely with the considerable energy St. Olaf, a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has for several years invested in ecological sustainability. The school’s current strategic plan names sustainability as a goal, and a task force—comprised of students, faculty, and staff—supports several projects aimed at both reducing the college’s collective ecological footprint and facilitating education and conversation on the subject. As anyone who has scrutinized environmental impact knows, a primary concern is food—its production, use, and waste disposal.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2006
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Grub for Body and Soul

Every movement needs its revolutionaries and spokespersons, and in the growing crusade for a healthy, ethical, and “fair” food system, Bryant Terry and Anna Lappé happen to be both. Terry is a chef and founder of b-healthy! (Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth)—a nonprofit group in New York that teaches low-income kids not only about nutrition, but also how to prepare healthy food themselves. Lappé is a writer, speaker, and co-founder (with her mother, Frances Moore Lappé) of the Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund. The latter supports grassroots efforts around the world that address the causes of hunger and poverty.

The two packed their passion and experience into Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, a practical book that explains why our food system is the way it is, but also what we can do to change it. And don’t be surprised if, along the way, you pick up a few tips about cooking (pepper grinders are key) and music (Césaria Évora is nice accompaniment to cinnamon-dusted sweet potato fries). Associate editor Molly Marsh spoke recently with the author-activists.

Sojourners: So why the name Grub? What is grub?

Bryant Terry: When Anna and I started working on this project, we had so many people tell us that healthy organic food is for wealthy baby boomers. That’s a common misconception. We wanted people to understand that grub—healthy, local, sustainable food—is food that’s accessible to everyone. It’s something all people have a right to.

Anna Lappé: For us, it’s not just about food that is organic or local. It’s about making the connections between what we eat and whether it’s produced in a sustainable and just way.

Sojourners: How did you meet, and when did the idea for the book emerge?

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Sojourners Magazine May 2006
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The Zambia Experiment

Mutale,

Mutale, a 40-year-old Zambian peasant farmer, was standing in front of his two hectares of maize (corn), smiling broadly. He had just finished explaining to me that despite poor rains, he was able to raise a good crop to feed his family and to sell a bit of surplus for some extra cash to meet household needs. He looked so very different from the other farmers I had spoken to only a few days earlier. They were his neighbors, worked soil similar to his, and had experienced the same dry season. But they were not at all smiling! No good maize harvest for them.

The difference was that Mutale had planted his maize field using an organic agriculture approach, not relying on heavy doses of chemical fertilizer as his neighbors did. The organic agriculture approach - using cattle manure and decayed materials from nitrogen-rich plants such as legumes - was both much less expensive and much more efficient. During a drought season such as those Zambia has experienced periodically in recent years, it is important to keep as much moisture as possible close to the crops planted. But chemical fertilizers don’t store this moisture as does organic matter in the soil. The organic matter retains excess moisture and slowly releases it to the crop in a natural way.

The smile on Mutale’s face taught me one more important reason for the wisdom of Zambia’s rejection of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops coming into our country. There simply are plenty of alternatives to the GMO approach vigorously pushed by the United States. The U.S. government

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Sojourners Magazine April 2005
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Web Exclusive: Wendell Berry interview complete text

Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at his farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Berry is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and essays, including The Unsettling of America, What are People For?, Life is Beautiful, Citizenship Papers, and The Art of the Commonplace. He has farmed in a traditional manner for nearly forty years. Berry spoke with Sojourners about religious practice, Bluegrass country, defending against Wal-Mart, usury, and Jesus. - The Editors

ROSE MARIE BERGER: Tell me about this land, about this bioregion, about the history of your farm.

WENDELL BERRY: We're on the west side of the Kentucky River, in the Kentucky River Valley. Some people call this the Outer Bluegrass; there are other names for it. We have limestone soils. An old ocean or sea laid down these layers of limestone. There are lots of trees here. There are white, chinquapin, red, black, and shumard oaks. Those are the principle ones. And we have two or three kinds of ash, maples, several varieties of hickory, black walnut, sycamore, black locust, honey locust, cedar, basswood, red elm, slippery elm. We used to have chestnuts once. Tanya and I have 125 acres altogether, 75 here and about 50 on Cane Run.

This place where we're sitting today, is the old property known as Lane's Landing. Twelve acres, more or less, the deed says. Tanya and I bought it in 1964 and moved in the next year. So we've been here thirty-nine years.

My mother was raised in Port Royal. And her father's land borders this. My father was born and grew up on a farm just the other side of Lacie. My brother lives there now.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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Heaven in Henry County

Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at

Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at his farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Berry is the author of more than 40 books of fiction, poetry, and essays including The Unsettling of America, What are People For?, Life is a Miracle, Citizenship Papers, and The Art of the Commonplace. He has farmed in a traditional manner for nearly 40 years.

Sojourners: How does your identity as a writer connect to this region and land?

Wendell Berry: I was born here in Henry County. I grew up in these little towns, and in the countryside, on the farms. All my early memories are here. All the voices that surrounded me from the time I became able to hear were from here. This place where we're sitting today is the old property known as Lane's Landing. Twelve acres, more or less, the deed says. My wife, Tanya, and I came back here in 1964 and have lived here for 39 years, raised our children here. How could you draw a line separating this place and my identity? If you've known these places from your early youth, that means that you have a chance to know them in a way that other people never will.

We're on the west side of the Kentucky River, in the Kentucky River Valley. Some people call this the Outer Bluegrass. An old ocean laid down these layers of limestone in the soil. There are lots of trees here. There are white, chinquapin, red, black, and shumard oaks. Those are the principal ones.

Sojourners: What are the models used here in Kentucky to resist the economic pressure from the larger market?

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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What's Eating You?

The Seven Deadly Sins of classic moral theology still today get their fair share of attention from the Sunday pulpit. Bar one, that is. When was the last time you heard a sermon on gluttony and the peril it brings the soul? If we ever did, we'd probably laugh it off as silly, akin to being admonished about cleanliness as a pathway to godliness.

Very few of us truly believe that we overeat. Given the opportunities to consume food in a nation of plenty, we are more likely to have pride in our restraint. In the United States, at least, the results of health research paints a different picture. The vast majority of Americans are carrying around more body fat than a healthy body should. It's not only the amount we eat; it's the kind of food we eat. To keep a nutritious eating regimen in this country means swimming arduously upstream. Recently I drove on the interstate from San Francisco to Los Angeles and practically my only options for a meal on the entire trip were McDonalds, Burger King, and other fatty food distributors.

Given the fact that four-fifths of the world goes to bed hungry each night, gluttony is a sin of social injustice. Hordes of children are more than happy to send their peas and squash to the other side of the world, of course, but the structural mechanisms for a just distribution simply are not in place. Put plainly, there is more than enough food to go around the planet, but too much of it stays on our kitchen tables.

Gluttony also takes a toll on the interior life. When we preoccupy ourselves with food, our capacity to pursue more transcendent values is curtailed. It's sobering how much of our soul force we forfeit anticipating food intake. If you're like me, you can spend an entire day looking forward to a delicious Thai curry for dinner. A glutton is not only susceptible to overconsumption. Delicacy wraps a pretty bow on the same package.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2003
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Save the Chickens

Chickens have evidently found a soft place in the hearts of McDonald's management, who recently announced they will stop buying "debeaked" chickens for use in their McNuggets and other McDelicacies. ("Debeaked" is the technical term for…well, you know.) The fast-food behemoth also insisted on fair coop standards that will give hens at least 72 square inches of space each. They also demanded an end to the practice of withholding food and water to increase egg production. Apparently, the eggs no longer justify the means.

"Big companies are increasingly being held responsible for the practices of their subcontractors—like Nike and other sneaker makers with plants they don't even run in Third World countries," says financial analyst Bruce Raabe. "This should be seen as a company trying to get out ahead of a potential problem and turning it into a potential asset."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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The Joy of Letter Writing

For quite a few winters now, I have watched a great joy of mine turn slowly into sadness: No one writes letters anymore, a fact that is especially noticeable at Christmas card time. Is it that friends—as they have graduated from school, acquired jobs, gotten married or not, added children—are just too busy for such things? Has the art of letter writing been usurped by e-mail? Is it that many people never really liked writing letters in the first place (although everybody likes receiving letters)?

I'm guessing that people who say "I'm too busy to cook" are the same ones who don't make the time for letters either. Many of the reasons for why I cook mirror my motives for writing letters.

Just as hot-out-of-the-oven bread gives wondrous pleasure to anyone lucky enough to be within nose-shot of that kitchen, so finding a plump, hand-lettered envelope after opening the mailbox and rifling through the junk is an equally exquisite pleasure. Like bread, letters are a tactile pleasure unduplicatable by the ring of the telephone or the blinking neon of a computer: Paper comes in all thicknesses; ink has a smell and a way of changing appearance as the mood or speed of the writer changes; even the lowly postage stamp adds a colorful and festive air to a letter.

The act of cooking often is as pleasurable as the eating. Just so, writing a letter can be as cathartic as receiving one. Your life takes on color and shape when its events are spun out onto paper. Patterns emerge. You discover things you didn't know were going on in your head—there they are coming out at the end of the pen. You find you can make others laugh at the crazy things you saw people do that day; things seem to get funnier by the very act of telling.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1997
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Tolerating Food Intolerances

"No thanks, it makes me sick." "Let’s see, if I leave the milk out of these rolls Sheila can eat them." "Will Dad eat birthday cake tonight (and go off his wheat-free diet) because it’s a special occasion?"

In many homes, food allergies have added an extra twist to decisions that go on in the kitchen. While the official number of people with serious allergies is low—2 percent of adults and 8 percent of children—considerably more people have what is known as a "food intolerance." In fact, as many as 25 to 28 percent of us have reactions to certain foods. Does cantaloupe give your stomach a workout? Does chocolate give you a migraine headache? Do strawberries give you a skin rash? Do you avoid shellfish? Then you already know what I’m talking about.

Parents often have to educate themselves quickly on the intricacies of the body’s immune system when a child develops a milk or a peanut allergy. (A certain protein found in peanuts has caused more food allergy deaths, usually by anaphylactic shock, than any other type of allergy, because peanuts often are hidden in baked goods, candy, ethnic food, i.e. as when a Chinese restaurant seals its egg rolls with peanut butter.)

Food allergy symptoms can take the form of hives, headaches, gastrointestinal distress (cramps, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting), asthma, worsening of arthritis or eczema, or oral manifestations where the lips tingle, itch, and swell, or your throat tightens.

Reactions such as these can be caused by a genuine triggering of the immune system by the enemy substance, or it may be merely an inability to metabolize or break down certain foods because of a sensitivity to a naturally occurring chemical contained in that food, i.e. lactose in milk. (It has been estimated that 80 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant, as are many people of Mediterranean or Latin American origin.)

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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Splurge on a Dozen!

Someday when I see the sale card announcing "12 Lemons for a Dollar" at the grocery store, I’m going to buy all 12 instead of just two or three. Then I will fix all the lemon dishes I can think of. Or maybe if it’s summer, I’ll turn them into a big pot of lemonade—as one elderly gentleman told me he was going to do when he saw

me watching him bag up about 24 lemons during a recent lemon sale. Some year, I may even go a step further and plant a lemon tree; our part of Texas is almost far enough south to risk the occasional freezes.

A lemon is such an unlikely food with its pure and sunny color, indestructible wrapper, intensely sour juice, and even more intense, fragrant zest that is full of volatile oils. And lemons are loved and available worldwide. Greek and Lebanese cuisines, for instance, are especially beholden to the spice of the lemon. (Native to Asia, lemons were introduced to the Christian world when the Crusaders discovered them in Palestine.)

So distinct is lemon’s flavor and aroma, and so easily obtained, that makers of everything from furniture polish to candy to powdered drinks use the actual oil, essence, and citric acid of the lemon instead of relying on chemical substitutes, something that cannot be said of most other fruit and flower flavors. Lemon was the first flavor to be used in soda water in the 1840s.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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