Tag Archives: motherhood

To Feed

4 May

A few months back, I had an essay contemplating fertility and motherhood on The Nervous Breakdown. But when I initially conceptualized that essay, it had a much stronger agricultural connection than the final version. In light of recent posts here about parenthood and feeding our children, I thought I’d resurrect some of the scraps of that essay into a short, meditative post on motherhood and feeding.

In describing the sand dunes in the desert in her book, Refuge, Terry Tempest Williams writes “[t]here is musculature in dunes. And they are female. Sensuous curves—the small of a woman’s back. Breasts. Buttocks. Hips and pelvis. They are the natural shape of the earth.”

The earth and the body, shaped by the same forces of biology, and in many ways servicing the same greater purpose. We, the land and the woman, are the providers of food.

*

In order to maintain its fertility—the word fertility itself here is a reminder of the links between land and body. Fertile, noun, meaning: capable of sustaining abundant plant growth; producing or bearing fruit in great quantities; capable of breeding or reproducing. In which of these definitions is the woman, in which is the land?—the soil’s nutrient cycle must be strong, constant.

Soil requires a healthy, vigorous root structure, the silken threads of dangling plants umbilical cords, flowing nutrients to the stalk, above the surface. The methods for transferring food from soil to plant to eater. Soil must be fed to be healthy enough to feed.

Soil must also be maintained. Prone to erosion, the ground itself can be swept away by too much wind, water. A soil particle can become detached, dislodged, can become an individual separate from the entity we call land. The roots and the living elements bind soil particles together into an aggregate. Healthy farming practices that reduce tillage, that use the decay of organisms to create nutrients, that limit water runoff by planting only on strong, aggregate soil, all create the elements of this bond.

And because the soil is strong, the plants have food, we have food.

But, in the name of producing food, we are poisoning the food providers. The land is sick. The women are dying.

*

Between the 1940s and the 1970s, agriculture was revolutionized—that is, agriculture underwent what is now known as “the Green Revolution” which is also known as the widespread decimation of industrial agriculture technology. Words crop up in repetition here: modern, developed, improved, synthetic, science-based.

Mostly these technologies consisted of chemicals, and of mechanisms for distributing chemicals. Pesticides to increase per acre yields. Nitrogen fertilizer to eliminate the need for soil recovery time. Plants genetically altered to grow closer together, grow with less water, grow in spite of the pesticides. What we hoped, what the whole hungry starving unequal world of food hoped, was that all these chemicals would feed more and more and more people, that all these chemicals would stop so many from going hungry. We mixed and we doused and we prayed.

We were wrong.

And we’ve known for some time now that we were wrong. We’ve known that instead of nurturing the soil, that instead of feeding the plants that would become food, chemicals are poisoning the soil, are poisoning our food.

Herbicides, meant to protect plants by eliminating weeds, are gradually destroying plant root structures, causing fungal root diseases, reducing the plants’ abilities to absorb micronutrients from the soil.

All these chemicals, too, are creating monsters. Monster weeds and monster bugs capable of withstanding the poison of the chemical. Evolving past death by chemical. So we mix more and we douse more and we pray more even though it’s not working.

Even though we know these chemicals we thought would protect our food are killing it.

*

Author, researcher, cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber writes, upon holding a vial of her own amniotic fluid, “It contains the sap of apples, the juice of oranges, the tea I drank a few hours earlier, and the milk I poured over my cereal that morning.” The food is the land is the body.

Rivers and creeks pass from the land sprayed, so quietly, with pesticides and planted with fertilizers, into reservoirs into tap water. Pregnant women are routinely advised not to drink the water in high-agricultural use areas. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma occurrence rates are highest over the Midwest and Great Plains, the region of highest use of agricultural pesticides.

Our bodies tell us the story, if we are willing to listen. Pesticide residue is detected in body fat, umbilical cords, placentas, breast milk. Pesticides that crumple our genes to damaged shells of themselves, that erect walls around hormone production systems in our bodies, that smother healthy cells, that nourish and encourage tumor growth.

*

Feed is a verb. To feed. To give food to; supply with nourishment. To serve as food for. To produce food for.

Or perhaps, to feed must mean more than simply to produce a commodity that can be ingested. Perhaps to feed has come too much to mean to become a good, consumed.

Perhaps: To supply with something essential for growth. To nourish. To nurture. To sustain.

Eating Less Meat — Kiddie Style

2 May

The other day via Twitter, my friend Lindsey mentioned that her family is trying to eat less meat overall, but having a tough time coming up with recipes that translate well into toddler food. With a growing-like-a-weed nearly-16-month old on their hands, this is a major issue. Gavin needs his protein! So I’ve come  up with a couple of ideas to get them — and anybody else out there with kiddos trying to go meatless every now and then.

Some of these are ideas for how to construct a meal for both adults and toddlers (as a former nanny, I have some experience with this, because I am lazy and don’t like to cook twice at each meal), and others are more veg-centric (which, since I was a vegetarian nanny, I also have some experience with).

1. Eat with Your Hands

This is “think like a toddler” advice. If you can eat it with your hands, chances are good a toddler can eat it. Obviously, anything really tough or crunchy may not work, depending on where your toddler’s teeth development is, but for the most part, anything you can pick up is toddler-edible.

When brainstorming finger foods, really think like a toddler. What do you eat with a utensil that doesn’t really need one? We sometimes forget that all the pieces of a salad, for example, when not drenched in dressing, are finger foods. And how cute would it be to get your toddler obsessed with eating raw spinach leaves, or dried cranberries?

2. Sandwiches & Fritters

Some ideas for great vegetarian recipes that are less flatware centric include sandwiches and fritters (as long as they are served cool enough to handle!). Sandwiches can get pretty gussied up for dinner, going way beyond grilled cheese (though that is also delicious): Cucumber and cream cheese, roasted red pepper and goat cheese, eggs and bacon and gruyere!

I’ve also lately come across lots of yummy veggie fritter recipes that would work similarly. Try these summer corn cakes, mashed potato cakes (a great one for leftovers), or zucchini fritters. You could easily mix in summer squash, carrots, or cabbages into similar recipes, too. Great pick-it-up food that is primarily vegetable, rather than fried grain.

3. Split Your Meals into their Littlest Selves

Toddlers need to eat a lot — but they tend to prefer to do it in more frequent, smaller meals, than we do. So when thinking about what you want to make for dinner, ask yourself what smaller portions you could dole out over the course of cooking, and then eating, to your toddler.

If you have a meat-based dinner, for example, with two or three sides, the little one can snack on tomatoes and avocado cubes while you’re prepping, and then some shredded chicken and tortillas while Mommy and Daddy enjoy their grown-up Chicken & Guacamole Tostadas (probably with a Dos Equis or two…). Pineapple Chicken Satay for you can become pineapple and sugar snap peas for him, with chicken and dipping sauce at dinner.

This allows the grown-ups to get grown-up meals without having to cook something different for Junior — and has the added perk of keeping him occupied while you are cooking!

4. Substitute

You can also take a lot of the meat-based toddler-friendly recipes you may already have in your repetoire and transform them into veggie options with some simply substitutions. Once allergy concerns have passed, tofu is very kid-friendly, as are lentils, seitan, etc. If you’re not big on meat-substitute products, you can also find grain and veggie substitutes, like eggplant in place of meat in Italian recipes like lasagna, or quinoa in place of ground chicken in nuggets.

My very favorite thing about kids — whenever I’m around them — is that they remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Feeding your young is serious business, but it can also unlock a totally different spirit to our cooking. Enjoy little bites! Eat with your hands! Get messy!

Nothing better than eating with a smile…

What toddler eating advice do you have? Anyone out there raising fully meatless kiddos have some tips I didn’t think of? Leave a comment and share your ideas!

Slow-Cooker Honey Soy Pork Roast

30 Apr

(First, as an aside. I still feel weird calling it a slow cooker, not a crock pot. You can take the girl out of New England…)

Anyway.

Today, I have for you all another delicious, easy, slow-cooker recipe for pork. This may be my first official Pinterest post on We Meat Again, as that is where I found this original recipe for Parmesan Honey Pork Roast, pinned by my dear friend Lindsey, who is the working momma of a growing toddler, and therefore, in need of many quick and easy recipes.

Linds, if you haven’t tried this one yet, you should.

The prep time for this is as simple as mixing up the sauce and tossing it all in the crock pot. 15-20 minutes max, and dinner’s served later that night.

I used a pork tenderloin, about one pound, so I cut back the recipe to scale, and it seemed to work fine. Here are my other suggestions for the recipe:

  • The suggested cook time is 6-7 hours. With the same liquid ratio, at seven hours, my one-pound tenderloin was a bit dry. I might try the shorter end of that time, or keep on warm for the last hour or so. Just make sure to check that the meat is cooked through.
  • This may be the first time I suggest a recipe modification, but … I don’t really get the Parmesan cheese in here. I mean, I love parm, but I felt I could taste it too much in the gravy, and next time, would likely just leave it out and let it become a more tangy, Asian-flavored roast.

  • Speaking of gravy, definitely take the time to make the cooking liquid into a gravy and serve it over mashed potatoes. That was probably my favorite part (though this does need to be done 20 minutes or so before the roast is ready, if you opt for homemade mashers).
  • Also speaking of Asian flavors, I used sesame oil instead of olive oil, and thought that worked really well here.

And there you have it. Another Marissa-tested slow cooker recipe for a yummy-smelling house with little effort. Enjoy!

Ragazza Sottile

9 Mar

First, a shameless plug. I have a new (totally non-food-related) essay up at The Nervous Breakdown on why presidential candidates need to remember what they learned in Comp 101, so if you like logic, you should check it out!

But now on to We*Meat*Again business: My post last week on Comfort & Food (which included my Nona’s ravioli recipe) got a pretty good response, so I thought I’d leave you all this week with another recently trimmed excerpt from the book — a scene of our family eating that ravioli! Mangi, all.

*

These meals were the driving force, the reason, the purpose, the very life blood of my hunched, world weary Italian great-great relatives. As a child, they terrified and mesmerized me, full of big booming voices and the incessant, overlapping chatter of too many people who have shared so much history. We packed in around Nona’s good table, her china cabinet shaking with our laughter. The hutch served as an extra table, because there usually isn’t enough space on the main table for all the dishes—homemade pasta, olives, tomatoes, spinach and ricotta cheese, sausages stuffed to the brim with my Nona’s bare, meaty hands.

At Nona’s table, my mother’s brother Paul would always sit next to me, on my left, because he is left-handed.  Paul is a small, dark brown man, thin and straight, a natural with a short-sleeved, white, collared shirt and a cigarette hanging casually from beneath his small black moustache. He is thirty, unemployed and living at home, and he already has an ulcer. Paul is like all of the Italian men in my family. Small and straight, with gigantic appetites and metabolisms faster than my mother can speak, and all completely dependent on their women.

Even after my vision was corrected and I no longer had to wear my massive glasses, every woman at my family’s holiday tables seemed larger than life to me. My mother, her rich, shiny brown hair tightly curled and pulled away from her face. She wears purple and turquoise eyeliner; that’s how strong her skin is. My Nana, who is German, and married into this family, a small, angry woman, who still insists I sit on her lap every time I see her. My Nona, the modest, white-haired matriarch, hands like a map, greasy with meat and the juices of fresh tomatoes, nodding her head vigorously in the direction of my half-full plate.

“What’s wrong with your lasagna?” she bellows, “You didn’t finish!”

“Oh, I’m just not hungry anymore, Nona,” I reply.

But Nona is stubborn, like all good Italians, and she pretends not to understand the things she doesn’t like to hear. “Don-na be silly, ragazza sottile, skinny girl,” she shakes her head at me, “Pass me your plate, I get you some more.”

*

Readers: I need your input. I’m looking for request for future We*Meat*Again posts, so if there’s an ingredient or technique you’d like profile, a recipe you’d like made-over with healthier options, some whole foods-eating advice or how-to posts, or food news and policies you’d like to see explored creatively or otherwise, leave a comment, tweet at me, drop me an email — let me know any way you can!

 

What It Means to Nourish Another

16 Jan

Today’s We*Meat*Again post is happening elsewhere, folks, as I have a new essay live on the awesome online literary community The Nervous Breakdown. As I’m now a regular contributor at TNB, about once a month, I’ll have an essay to send you all to over there.

I’m really proud to be part of the TNB community, alongside beautiful nonfiction writers like Emily Rapp, Melissa Febos, and my good friend Amy Monticello, and I’m excited about the opportunity that writing monthly essays for the site will afford me to delve deeper into the abstractions of many of the concepts we discuss here on We*Meat*Again.

This month’s essay is called “Waiting,” and it explores, as Amy described it, what it means to nourish another, today. What it means for the female body — or the land — to be fertile, to be planted, to feed.

Hope you enjoy it!

And once you’ve finished reading, make sure to stop by last week’s post and leave a comment to enter for a chance to win a copy of the new, illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, as We*Meat*Again celebrates our 1000th site visit!

Links Roundup & Vindication

2 Dec

A few of this week’s most disturbing food news stories center around issues of food relating to children. Now, I’m not a parent, so I try my best to report on these issues without offering judgment. But this year (on Jan. 14th and then again on Nov. 16th) I became an honorary auntie to a couple of brand new bundles of hope and I already feel a fierce protectiveness towards them. The idea that kiddos in this country might be drinking apple juice laced with inorganic arsenic (a known carcinogen) makes me feel pretty fiesty.

Remember the San Francisco city law mandating nutritional standards for any fast food meals marketed towards children with a toy packaged in? Well, it officially goes into effect this Monday, and McDonald’s has found a way to keep the food, keep the toy, and not suffer a loss at all — just offer the toy as an option for an extra ten cents on the meal. Not really in keeping with the spirit of the law, I think…

We now live in a world where some children are so obese that they are being removed from their parents care on the grounds of neglect. So maybe the food industry system could work a little harder to keep kids healthy, too.

Now for some more hopeful news. The Iowa State (Go Cyclones!) Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture released last week its latest research on the production efficiency of organic versus conventional agriculture and the news is good across the board.

Jocelyn Zuckerman (former Gourmet editor) has a beautiful essay at OnEarth profiling innovative, sustainable farmers in high-density, high-poverty urban areas — in Africa. That’s like the trifecta of inspiration.

And finally, a little note of personal enjoyment. Last week, I made an argument on the blog that I couldn’t make to my composition class, comparing Joe Camel and the Trix Rabbit (among other processed food company icons). This week, I received in the mail a free copy of the newest edition of a composition text I’ve used before, with an anthology of readings included in the text. The readings are organized by subject, and this is one of the ‘controversial issues’ explored:

Welcome to 2011, folks — it’s the new food order. We’ve made it into the rhetoric texts. Happy Weekend, everyone!

Thanksgiving Carnage

28 Nov

Back to regularly-scheduled posting tomorrow, but for now, I thought I’d leave you all with some Thanksgiving aftermath photos.

Every year, we laugh about how long it takes to prepare the meal versus how long it takes to eat it, so this year, I thought I’d pay my respects to the dinner table disrepair…

To the leftovers…

To the dishes left to wash…

To the turkey carcass to be gutted…

And leave you all with a little mini-excerpt from the book, a Thanksgiving carnage prose poem:

On Thanksgiving, after the turkey was carved and gutted, after we’d sliced through one half of the twenty-pound bird my mother insisted on ordering, though there were seven of us for dinner only, my father and grandfather would return to the half-spent carcass and harvest the rest. They would dig their thick hands into the ribcage and pull out shards of meat, darker than a roux, dripping with bone grease, and toss them, by whole handfuls, into my mom’s biggest saucepan, where she would boil it in a stock to freeze as turkey soup for later, for the winter nights.

A Resemblance Argument: Joe Camel vs. the Trix Rabbit

17 Nov

The other day in my composition class, I was trying to explain resemblance arguments to my students.  (A resemblance argument is one in which you compare two like circumstances to suggest that if an action had a specific outcome in one instance/place, it can be expected to follow a similar pattern in your circumstance.) They are all writing subject-specific proposal arguments, and I was trying to demonstrate that a resemblance argument can come from a different subject, if there is a logical connection.

As an example, I explained that a person proposing that Congress regulate the avertisement of junk food to kids could draw a resemblance argument to the regulation of similar advertisements from the tobacco industry. That when such regulation was initially proposed, the tobacco industry was furious, but that once we were honest about the negative consequences of smoking, and once the regulation had been imposed, society came to accept this as the right thing to do. That no one these days would suggest that regulating cigarette marketing to children was a bad idea.

And my students balked. They were livid at the notion that someone would suggest something as ridiculous as a parallel between Tony the Tiger and Joe Camel.

So today, a present a resemblance argument of my own, in true comp-teacher stylings, with visual rhetoric included!

Tobacco Industry Marketing to Children

An advertisement targeted to kids:

Remember that in the early 90s, backwards baseball caps were cool...

Proof the ad was successful at reaching its target audience:

  • Children and adolescents are more than twice as likely to smoke the three most heavily advertised brands (Marlboro, Camel, and Newport.)
  • Youth consumption of Camels increased markedly with the launch of the Joe Camel advertising campaign. Thirteen percent of smokers under age 18 smoked Camels in 1993, compared with two to three percent before the campaign began in 1988.
  • Promotional items, which provide free advertising with no warning labels, often end up in the hands of children. A 1992 Gallup poll found that half of all adolescent smokers and one-quarter of adolescent non-smokers owned at least one tobacco promotional item. A 1993 survey found that almost seventy percent of adolescent smokers, and almost thirty percent of adolescent non-smokers, participated in promotional programs for tobacco products.
  • A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that tobacco advertisements and promotions are as strong or stronger than peer pressure in encouraging young people to smoke.

Health risk of the product being advertised:

Probably doesn’t need to be stated for cigarettes at this point. In general, you know, cancers of the lungs, mouth, throat; emphysema and death, among others.

Industry response to regulation of this advertising:

First, the tobacco companies tried to pre-empt regulation by adopting their own voluntary guidelines for regulation.

When that didn’t stop President Clinton for pushing for the reform, the nation’s five largest tobacco companies filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Greensboro, North Carolina, to block the FDA’s rulemaking procedure.

Result of government outcome:

  • A favorable opinion of the changes by the general public — 83.1 percent of adults surveyed in 1996 (just a year after the legislation passed) believe that images such as Joe Camel should not be in magazines read by kids.
  • Teen smoking began declining in the late 1990s, and has continued to decrease since then (although, recently, the bad-image from these marketing discussions has worn off and rates are beginning to stabilize again).

Food Industry Marketing to Kids

An advertisement targeted to kids:

Visit trixworld.com and see if you can find the "warning" that kids are supposed to spot to acknowledge this is even advertising...


Proof the ad was successful at reaching its target audience:

  • Nearly a third of American youngsters eat fast food on any given day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in six children and teenagers are obese — up three-fold from a generation ago.
  • Dr. Victory Strasburger of AAP:  “Just by banning ads for fast food, one study says we could decrease obesity and overweight by 17 percent.”

Health risk of the product being advertised:

According to the CDC, more than 13,000 cases of Type II diabetes are diagnosed in children under the age of 20 each year.

Industry response to regulation of this advertising:

First, food companies tried to pre-empt regulation by adopting their own voluntary guidelines for regulation.

Now that the FDA has issued a proposed set of voluntary guidelinesto regulate advertising, food companies are increasing their lobbying budget on this issue, including $2.98 million from the Grocery Manufactuer’s Association and and the $2.1 million from the National Restaurant Association. So far. This year.

Result of government intervention:

Unknown.

Mom’s Apple Snacking Cake

8 Nov

Since I haven’t shared a baked-goods recipe with you all for awhile, I decided to devote this week’s recipe post to a sweet snack. And this one comes, not from a magazine or cookbook, but from my very own recipe box!

Well, ok, from my mom’s recipe box, where I coped this down from. Don’t worry, I got her permission to share this one with you. Mom’s Apple Snacking Cake.

In New England, where I grew up, autumn looks like this.

Yeah. And we celebrate fall like nobody’s  business — state fairs, haunted hay rides, pine needle houses (this is where there are so many pine needles in your front yard, that when tasked with helping your father rake the leaves, you have to learn how to separate out the sticky needles, and you and your sisters shape them into the outlines of houses to play in. Multi-room pine needle mansions, complete with pine needle beds to lay on).

One of my family’s most treasured fall rituals is apple picking. Now plenty of people will hit up a U-Pick orchard in fall, but there were seven of us, which meant we left with BUSHELS of apples of five or six varieties, and had to come up with a lot of things to do with them.

(Note: I definitely did not ask my little sister’s permission to use an old photo of her wearing braces in this post. File under hazards of knowing a nonfiction writer. Love you, Caitlin!)

We’d have apple crisp, of course. My parents would invite their friends over for cider-pressing parties. My mother has developed an epic applesauce factory. But my favorite treat was always apple snacking cake.

We call it “snacking cake” because it serves many purposes: you can eat this sweet but fruited cake for breakfast, an after-school snack, or for dessert. Versatile and delicious.

It’s not burdened with the syrupy-sweetness of a caramel apple, but neither is it overly tart. The apples melt away into the cake, leaving it incredibly moist, even after weeks in the refrigerator or freezer. The best part is the secret ingredient — rice krispies! –  leave these little crystallized pockets of chewiness in the cake without adding too much sweetness.

Here’s the recipe…

Mom’s Apple Snacking Cake

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. oil
  • 2 c. rice krispies
  • 2 c. apples, peeled and sliced not too thin
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer. Add sugar and continue to beat until fluffy.
  3. Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, and mix.
  4. Add oil, vanilla and apples, stirring gently.
  5. Fold in rice krispies
  6. Pour batter into a 13 x 9 – inch pan (glass, ceramic or aluminum will do, but I prefer glass) coated with cooking spray.
  7. Bake 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Enjoy with tea, milk or fresh whipped cream. Cake will keep in freezer.

Taking Action for Kids’ Health

17 Oct

Marion Nestle is reporting rumors that after last week’s House hearing on the voluntary food marketing standards, the White House may be caving to industry and dropping the suggested standards. As she notes, the rumor is not yet confirmed, and may well be false. We can only hope.

I’ve covered before the so-called “voluntary regulations” themselves, and have already ranted at you all about why they are crucial and benign. What’s at stake here is a larger issue that I am getting pretty fundamentally sick of.

That even from the White House of the Let’s Move campaign…

From the first White House to put a garden on the grounds

From the White House of the candidate who promised to pursue labeling GMOs

From the White House which has, against political will, stood up for children’s health insurance practices…

And, frankly, in the midst of a growing anti-corporate movement…

I am tired of seeing my government actively put the needs and desires of corporate lobbying powers above those of the people that government has been elected to represent. I know this is the way our electoral system is structured — I know that whatever my vote in the last election may have been, it was corporate money that paid for the campaign. I get it.

But we are talking about a clear-cut case here of universally better for the health of our children versus slightly inconveneint for big business. And when big business gets the government’s vote on that one? Well, that’s what the protestors on Wall Street are pissed off about.

And if this rumor ends up being true, I’m right there with them.

Some of my best friends in the world are parents now, or are about to become them. And I want to join them someday, soon. And I want to know that these beautiful children are being born into a world where people will look out for them, not a world where we allow ourselves to forget what’s really at stake here.

I’ll be following this rumor closely, and whatever I find, I will share with you. And if the White House appears to be backing off the notion of regulating this industry, I’m going to ask for a big push of emails and phone calls from you all. It’s time to stop being complacent about the way of doing business around here.

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