Tag Archives: young people

Becoming Food Advocates: Liz’s Story

6 Jun

A few months back, I asked We*Meat*Again readers to leave me questions they’d like answered about me on the site. Cristina posed this question: I know you don’t like the term, but what made you become a “foodie”? Lots of people like to eat, but what makes you care about the state of food.

Hence was born our very irregular series of posts on the topic of Becoming Food Advocates, wherein I’m gathering stories by readers and friends of the blog to tell us the story of how they began to care about food. Today, we’ll hear from my good friend Liz, who writes the blog Flexitarian Writer, about her story, which began in childhood.

Becoming Food Advocates: Liz’s Story

Food & food traditions are integral to the family I was raised in. I grew up making tamales at Christmas because my parents grew up eating them (they both grew up in central Texas), not to mention the more regularly featured mole, carne asada, and homemade tortillas. The “central” part of Texas is a key detail to why I grew up with strong food traditions—even though they often came into conflict. Central Texas attracted a lot of German settlers and on my dad’s side of the family contains strong German lineage. So, I also grew up eating sauerbraten, red cabbage with apples, noodle kugel, stuffed cabbage leaves, pumpernickel and rye.

That was before our food traditions got weird. In my early elementary years, my mom told my dad that she refused to eat turkey more than once a year because she really didn’t like it. I didn’t like ham. So our Easter meal became based in Middle Eastern cuisine—things that would possibly have been eaten during the “real” Easter—yellow rice, a yogurt-honey-goat dish, bitter greens.

By the time I reached middle school, a typical week of meals (by cuisine) might have looked like:

  • Monday – Mexican (perhaps a carne verde stew or a del mar something or other)
  • Tuesday – Chinese (Americanized, cashew chicken or chicken cabbage peanut; or more traditional – a soup made of cloud ear mushrooms and tofu)
  • Wednesday – Leftovers
  • Thursday – something moderately quick, but newly cooked — chicken paragonia was a popular one, as was stroganoff
  • Friday- something with fish or vegetarian
  • Saturday – tacos
  • Sunday – Indian or leftovers

My family almost always ate dinner together—an opportunity to communicate, an opportunity to bond, an opportunity to fight. There were times I hated this tradition, particularly in high school, after a brief family-dinner hiatus where we all got home at very different times. It seemed like an opportunity to stress—and there were a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which was simply me being a teenager.

In middle and high school, I made dinner a couple of times a week—I grew up helping in the kitchen, did most of the baking by high school, and my dad and I made something of a wall that shut my mom out of the kitchen pretty effectively. She got distracted, let things burn, didn’t cook other things enough. She was better at baking—she taught me to bake and then I took off with it. Sometimes I feel guilt for taking over this aspect of the family kitchen, but my impression was that she never really enjoyed baking or cooking. My dad and I bonded over it.

This bond suffered some when I became more conscious about food. At some point in college, I became hyper-sensitive to the “food as fuel” idea and started carefully trying to monitor the things I was putting in my body so that most of it was fuel. I couldn’t always afford organic on a student budget, but I avoided things with HFCS, with a lot of sodium, and anything with more than one or two ingredients I couldn’t pronounce was definitely out of the question. When I went home, I fought with my parents over food, refused to eat some of the things put before me, questioned their choices in the grocery store.

During my second year of college, I lived with a woman who not only had Celiac’s (the inability to digest gluten), but also lactose intolerance and a couple of other intolerances I can’t remember anymore. The list of things she couldn’t eat seemed too extensive to me, so I was always asking “Can you eat this…?”

Before that, I’d never heard of Celiac’s, didn’t understand how a person could avoid wheat (because it IS in freaking everything, just like corn & soy), but shopping with her and cooking with her opened my eyes to a whole new set of food issues, and also a whole new set of food experiences as far as baking, cooking, and eating are concerned. Now, I have a close friend’s son is allergic to wheat, milk, all nuts including legume-peanuts, soy, rice and possibly eggs. In other words, every major food allergy you can have and a couple that are less common like tomatoes and strawberries and I’m not sure how they eat, or how he’ll survive to adulthood – especially  since my friend is (trying) to raise him vegetarian.

One of the things I noticed as I became more food-aware is the extent to which most people aren’t food aware (and don’t seem to care) and this boggles my mind. A coworker routinely eats chocolate-covered gummy bears, chugs energy drinks, and eats canned soup. Another coworker seems to survive on protein bars, Starbucks, and bananas.

But I think there’s also this sub-culture that cares enough about where their food comes from—how far it travels, how it was produced, if it’s in season, if it contains GMO ingredients, that food activism and awareness has become something these “I don’t care…” folks actively push against — it’s seen as a neo-liberal movement, or elitist, or as something that someone can only care about if they can “afford” good food – and we see this again and again as we point out the racial and socio-economic lines in the “obesity epidemic” – and yet there seems to be so little that we do to combat this in the soup kitchens and other places.

When I volunteered in a soup kitchen in Ames, Iowa, where I attended grad school, I watched one very thin man horde loaves of bread, which he clearly wasn’t eating. I watched as the Head Chefs struggled to prepare nutritious meals when both the pantry and fresh foods were incredibly low and struggled as a Head Chef in the same capacity several times. It sucked when my options were sandwich meats, iceberg lettuce, canned peaches—and I didn’t even necessarily have all those at the same time. And I found it incredibly frustrating that people only really donated to the kitchen’s pantry during the food-drive times of year (and mostly crap-food at that), as though people weren’t always going hungry, as though most of the people making those donations would eat the foods they donated.

When we started gleaning from the farmers market in Ames, that made a huge difference to our produce supplies and our ability to create fun new dishes that the guests enjoyed—but only a few of chefs even pretended to be up to this task. Others just shied away from the produce, because they didn’t know what to do with it or had a strong bias against a particular vegetable or fruit.

I was there often enough that regular guests noticed when I wasn’t there on the days I was supposed to be, that they asked me about other volunteers who had moved or stopped coming. A few gave me hugs. I heard updates on apartment searches and job searches, on getting a forever-failing truck fixed, on a set of estranged children. I witnessed the community that formed within the confines of the church basement turned soup kitchen, was reminded of how much food helps build community – and then saw it repeated as I volunteered on other farms around Ames, at Mustard Seed and Onion Creek.

I grew up in a world where food was integral to our family’s community, as we forged our own traditions from our food habits. But so many of the people I’ve encountered out in the world have shown me that not everyone gets to participate in that community – their diets or incomes or schedules or abilities limit their access. But the possibility for community is always there, and it’s that I try to return to, whenever I cook with friends, whenever I welcome others into my kitchen.

Interested in sharing your story of becoming a food advocate? We’re looking for all variety of stories, from people of all walks of life, whether you consider yourself a casual amateur or a gourmet chef, whether you care about the environment, nutrition, your children’s health and safety or your local butcher. If you’d like to submit your own post, here’s all you need to do:

  1. Write up the short story of your food journey. What inspired you to start thinking about what you ate and why it mattered. What your wake-up call was. What’s changed. What your challenges have been.
  2. Anything goes — nothing is too small or tangental. (But please write something new — don’t just send us a link to an already-published post.)
  3. Email this story to us: marissa@wemeatagain.com. Use the title:BECOMING A FOOD ADVOCATE STORY.
  4. If you have them, also send along 2 (or 3) photos to help illustrate your story.
  5. Include your contact information (name, what you’d like us to call you, blog address — if you have one, etc.)
  6. Be patient. We’ll get back to you ASAP — but publishing on the site may take several weeks.

Of course, if you just want to read more, Y\you can read my story here, or the first Becoming Food Advocates guest post by Steve of Or Until Golden Brown

Hope & Fear in the New Food World

14 Mar

The weather’s turning warm here, warm enough that it’s actually freaking me out a little. Kansan temperatures will get into the 80s this week, and for a child of New England, with its April snow days, a girl of the mountains with snow caps all year round — I can’t help but feel the warmth as a harbinger of the new world, the post-climate change world, in which the havoc we have wrecked is upon us.

But still, there is so much joy in warm weather, in windows open, rolled down, sleeves up, legs bare. As I walked home from school this afternoon, sweating lightly in my short-sleeved dress, I thought about holding on to this dual sense of hope and doom, the equal promise of spring and the fear of global warming. And I thought about food.

I thought of how food offers us both the same reasons to be both hopeful and afraid. Nearly every day, stories pass in front of my eyes that give me cause to shake my head with indignation. Stories about pink slime (demystified well here) and locust-like plagues of corn rootworm from GE seeds. This is the stuff of apocalypse — and that statement grows less hyperbolic each day, in a world where whole countries are relocating to avoid the effects of climate change.

But there is cause for hope, too. There are myriad stories of good news, like the slow and long-overdue phasing-out of the pork gestation crate. But more than tangible, hard news, I see mounting evidence of a sea change in the way people think of food.

I see hope in Seattle, where the city plans to construct a seven-acre public-access food forest.

I see hope in central Iowa, where customers at my old co-op can now buy locally-grown aquaponic tilapia, and the greens fertilized with their waste.

I even see hope in the Twitter debate over banning pink slime from school lunches — where even those from the beef industry are forced to refer to the substance as pink slime, which they would prefer we call “lean finely-texture beef.” Just as with the — in my view — failure of the corn industry’s rebranding campaign of high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar, people are no longer fooled.

We are no longer fooled and we no longer want to be. We know there is much to be afraid of in the world of food – or in this unseasonably warm March weather. But we refuse any longer to turn away from what those dangerous signs are telling us. That is cause for hope — but soon, we must turn it into action.

Don’t Call Us Foodies

22 Feb

I know I’ve dangled this subject multiple times, and thought it was time to finally tackle it: why I (and many, many others) so strongly dislike the term “foodie.”

My good friend Steve wrote me, as a post-script to his “How I Became a Food Advocate” story, this explanation:

I cringe at that term.  It seems so contrived and pretentious.  People who care deeply about music are not called “Musicies” and people who love theatre are not called “theatreies.” I am not a foodie in the sense that I go to restaurants all the time and ooh and aah over the food of this chef or that.  I am a foodie in the sense that I am OBSESSED with food.  I think about food, and my next meal, and the next thing I can cook, and the last thing I cooked, and the next thing I want to eat… ALL THE TIME.  Does that make me a foodie?  I don’t think so because food is not a hobby for me.  Food is life.

I couldn’t agree more.

To my mind, foodie is the way that people who want to dismiss food’s importance use to dismiss the new food consciousness as elitist. These are the people who don’t understand the real and meaningful connection between defending local food markets, supporting artisanal producers and experimental chefs, and food as an issue of labor rights and social justice.

Foodie implies a gourmand, a snob, a high-brow eater who dines only at five-star restaurants and turns up her nose at anything cheap. What that distinction fails to recognize is that there are a great many of us in between, people like Steve and I, who I know grew up eating a lot of that cheap food–Kraft macaroni and cheese and cans of sloppy joe mix, among other delicacies–who ate it for a great portion of our lives, and who have begun to realize that the evils of that food are not limited to a low price tag.

In fact, the evils and dangers of processed food, industrially-produced, premade, water-packed food, lies in what the corporation who made it will do to sell it to you at such a low price tag. What it takes to make food that cheaply is not pretty. It is disgusting.

But foodies don’t turn up our noses at it because we think we’re better than that–we think all human beings are better than that.

And this is the core of why I dislike the term “foodie.” Aside from being intentionally dismissive, from making us sound like elitists, it limits our passions about food to its taste or quality. While I certainly do believe there is a significant difference in taste and quality between fresh, healthy, local food and processed food, my tastebuds are not my only — or even my primary — reason for wanting that fresh food.

My body is my reason: keeping it fit and healthy and fueled. My planet is my reason: supporting its ability to support us, keeping its rivers clean and soil invigorated with nutrients.

My concern for social equality is my reason: supporting everyone’s ability to access organic, healthy, whole foods, and supporting everyone’s ability to cook it. My concern for labor rights and fair trade are my reasons: ensuring that this whole, healthy food comes from a long line of whole, healthy people, who feel respected and are well-paid for the hard, crucial work they are doing.

My imaginary future children are my reason: protecting their future bodies and the future air they will breathe from poisons.

This is why I’m trying out the term “food advocate” (make it happen, people). Because I advocate for food in every way — its growth, production, taste and uses. Food is in every aspect of our life. As Steve said, food is life.

What do you think of the term “foodie”? Love it, hate it, never cared this much to think about it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with your fellow food advocates!

Links Roundup & Food Rules Giveaway Winner!

27 Jan

First, your weekly dose of links from around the world of food…

Gary Hirshberg, CEO of organic pioneers Stonyfield Yogurt, announced this week he will be stepping down from that position to take full part in the new Just Label It! campaign to promote GMO-awareness.

On Mother Jones, Tom Philpott has two great articles detailing some of the momentous GMO-related announcements the USDA tried to sneak in before the new year (along with the earlier-reported cave on antibiotic regulation). One on how Dow Chemical is teaming up with Monsanto here, and another on Monsanto’s new GM-corn here. You can read the original USDA announcements here.

This one’s not current, but I just found it this week, and thought I’d share: Best Colleges Online has a list of the 10 Most Impressive Farm to School programs.

And along those lines, CBS This Morning had a great segment on the notion of “the nanny state” and the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. Watch the whole segment for the amazing Chef Jose Andres and his eloquent, concise explanation of why the answer is yes, yes they should.

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The winner of We*Meat*Again’s first-ever giveaway, for a brand new copy of the illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules!

Our winner is #5: John!

When asked what his favorite food rule is, John wrote:

Buy local, fresh, *often*. Maybe daily.

A problem with buying real food — especially local organic food — can be the price, and the fact that the food goes bad in the fridge after a few days and you end up throwing half of it out. Well. If you can find a convenient place, especially on your way to/from work/school/whatever, just plan for the night’s meal en route and buy what you need for that day, that day. Making daily stops at the local grocer or co-op can be much more cost-effective than trying to work too far ahead, when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies.

Of course, We*Meat*Again LOVES John’s take on the food rules — words for us all to live by! Congratulations, John! I’ll be in touch regarding details of delivery soon.

In all seriousness, though, the giveaway was to celebrate the recent blog milestone of 10,000 site visits. I’m so thrilled and humbled that this little blog is worth that much attention. When I started it last May, I had no idea we’d be here — and I have all you to thank. So thank you for being a part of our We*Meat*Again community, come back often, and as always, let me know what you’re thinking, what you’re wondering, or what you’d like to see more of!

Becoming Food Advocates: Steve’s Story

23 Jan

A few months back, I asked We*Meat*Again readers to leave me questions they’d like answered about me on the site. Cristina posed this question: I know you don’t like the term, but what made you become a “foodie”? Lots of people like to eat, but what makes you care about the state of food.

Little did she (or I) know at the time what would come of the asking.

You can read my answer here. But I was so inspired by the responses to my original post, that I decided to ask some friends to share their stories with me. I sent out a few rounds of emails to people I’ve known in various stages of my life, asking if they would share their “becoming a foodie” story with me. And of the responses I’ve received so far, all have been powerfully moving accounts of wild variation, centering on the theme of food. So I decided to start showcasing some of them here.

One common theme, however, is a near-universal dislike of the term “foodie,” so I’ve decided to try and pioneer the new term “Food Advocate,” since I hope it allows for multiple meanings (some people feel themselves advocates for artisinal food, others for food justice, others for environmentally sustainable food, etc.) without being too unweildy to say or remember either. I’ll explore this in more detail in a future post.

For now, enjoy our first installment in the new “Becoming Food Advocates” Series, from my good friend from New Hampshire, Steve, who writes the blog Or Until Golden Brown. Read, enjoy, and leave us comments sharing which aspects of Steve’s story resonate for you.

Becoming Food Advocates: Steve’s Story

When I was growing up, I fondly remember my mother asking me every year around my birthday what I wanted for my birthday dinner.  And inevitably, I always chose macaroni and cheese with sliced up bits of hotdog throughout.

Kraft macaroni and cheese.  The kind with the powder that you mix with margarine and skim milk and stir into cooked noodles.  And probably generic brand Shaws hotdogs.  Sliced into discs.

This was my idea of gourmet.

It tasted so good.  And it was salty.  And a fun, bright orange color.  And those hotdog slices were meaty and fatty and just so good.  And it was the one night of the year when I didn’t have to eat microwaved frozen vegetables with my dinner.

But of course, it was the 80′s.  Convenience was all the rage.  Butter was out, margarine was in.  Whipped cream?  Out.  Fat-free cool whip?  Yes please.  And anything that could be thrown together out of a box, anything frozen or pre-packaged or canned was very much in.  With my family, anyway.

The idea of mashed potatoes is one perfect example.  On a regular basis, my mother would prepare mashed potatoes for dinner.  But did this involve peeling, boiling, and mashing an actual potato?  Of course not.  It involved measuring out potato flakes and mixing them with boiling milk and then adding…what else?  Margarine.  Are you sensing a theme here?

Only on Thanksgiving would my mother prepare “real” mashed potatoes.  That was the distinction.  Either “mashed potatoes,” which came out of a box, or “real mashed potatoes,” which came from a potato.  Even at the time, I recognized a disconnect between preparation of food and awareness of what that food actually was.

I’m sure there were people in the 80′s who ate organic.  Who had a clue where there food came from.  Who put time and energy into cooking everything from scratch.  Surely, some people already had a finger on the pulse of what I’ve come to think of as post-millennial food awareness.  But they didn’t live in the Gravelle household.  Or probably in Merrimack, New Hampshire, a small suburb boasting King Kone, the local soft ice cream stand, five Dunkin Donuts, and a frequent Meat Bingo at the VFW Hall.

Which is not to say that it was my mom’s fault.  She grew up eating only seven things.  Seven meals.  My grandmother, child of the depression, made exactly seven meals.  One for each night of the week with no variation.  And that’s all my mom knew.  She had never tasted pizza before she met my father.  Had never had any cheese except American slices.  Had never tasted a fresh strawberry.  She was 21 years old.

And so I can’t blame her for not knowing how to cook many things, and for playing it safe.  Frozen spinach would never go bad and have to be thrown out like fresh might.  Canned wax beans can’t develop mold.  And a box of mashed potato flakes is surely more economical than pounds of fresh potatoes.  And she was raising three children!  Who can fault her for wanting to employ cost-saving and time-saving into her cooking?

I don’t remember exactly when it happened that I started to seriously think about food.  How I went from actually thinking of vegetables as being frozen to being aware that they grew out of the ground and could be bought fresh.  I know that college was a big part of my food awareness.  Before leaving home, I had never tasted Thai food.  I didn’t know what sushi was.  I thought that I didn’t like asparagus because I had only tasted it from a can and it was stringy, salty and mushy all at the same time.  It turns out, I love fresh asparagus.

In college, I feel like my friends and I were starting to move from the quick, easy meals of our childhood and into more awareness of food generally.  Trying international cuisine certainly helped.  Sneaking ziploc bags of vegetables from the dining hall salad bar home to make stir-fry helped a lot.  And when I decided early in my sophomore year that I was tired of the Tater Tot Casserole (ground beef, leftover tater tots and lots of cheddar cheese), I had the idea to experiment with vegetarianism.  To see how hard it would be to leave peperoni pizza behind and to give up Chicken Patty Wednesday and to stop eating meatballs with my spaghetti.  And I found very quickly that I started to question all of those paradigms I had as to what food is, why we eat it, and to how it makes us feel.

I wanted to incorporate more color into my diet.  I tried every color of bell pepper for the first time.  My friend Ben taught me to sprinkle salt on my eggplant before cooking to draw out some of the moisture and prevent it from getting stringy.  I tried fresh arugula for the first time and found myself loving it.  And suddenly, I was only visiting the dining hall to pilfer ingredients and I cooked most of my meals at home.  I fell in love with veggie burgers and meat substitutes.  I started cooking with beans and tofu and considering foods I’d never seen before.  I first heard the idea of buying “Local” produce when our local grocery store started a small rack of entirely local foods.  It was the beginning.

For the next few years, I went back to eating meat, first poultry by way of incorporating animal protein back into my diet to help put on muscle mass.  I was living in New Jersey and working out three to five nights a week, and I realized that tofu and beans weren’t enough to get me through a weightlifting plateau.  So I started eating chicken and developed shoulders like mountains.

But just because I started eating meat, I was still primarily vegetarian.  I kept the idea of putting lots of color on the plate.  I kept experimenting with new vegetables and fruits.  I tried my first pomegranate that year when my Iranian roommate brought one home from the market.  I still remember the juice dripping down my arms.  My Texan roommate taught me to cook black-eyed peas and how to drink bourbon.  My Jersey-born roommate got me a job at an Italian restaurant, where I tried Lobster Ravioli and Chicken Piccata and Clams Fra Diavolo and Fried Calamari for the first time.  Moving away from New Hampshire and developing friendships with people from all over the country and of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds opened my eyes to food in a whole new way.  The possibilities of what ingredients were out there and how one could cook them seemed endless.

Around that time, I moved to Philadelphia to become an apprentice at a well-known local theatre, where I met a friend from Georgia, one from Virginia, people from California and Colorado and Montana and Seattle.  From the South, from Spain, from Michigan and Canada.  And the more I cooked, the more I found myself talking about food.  And obsessing about food.  And all of these friends I made started to realize how much I loved food and we all started talking about it.  All the time.  And people shared their family recipes with me.  And their methods for cooking one thing or another.  And I just kept cooking.  I cooked every week and started cooking for my friends.  And I started watching the Food Network on a regular basis and discovering new ingredients and new cooking styles I’d never even heard of.

And all of this food talk and cooking and watching and learning started to mingle with documentaries like Food, Inc. and books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and various shows on NPR about food and food issues.  And the idea of Food Justice started to enter my mind.  And what we eat and how we eat it and things I’d been thinking about for years suddenly combined with the question of where does my food come from?  And I met some friends who advocated passionately for Whole Foods, and I started going to restaurants that promote local food.  And I discovered first hand how much better food tastes when it’s both local and seasonal.  And I just kept cooking.  And started going to farmer’s markets.  And buying local meats and learning about where my cheeses from from.  And tasting.  And eating.  And cooking.  And hosting dinner parties.  And a weekly Brunch Club for my friends.  And then I found myself cooking a huge meal of both vegan and omnivore versions of the same food.  And I cooked all the food for my own wedding’s rehearsal dinner.  I started a food blog to share my food experiments and experiences.  And I just kept cooking.

So where does this leave me?  I feel like a perfect storm has been brewing in America’s social consciousness about food.  Suddenly, it seems like everyone is asking these big questions about food.  Where does it come from?  Why do we eat so much imported produce?  How are the animals we eat being treated?  How does something fresh taste versus something frozen?  How important are questions of ethics to food?  How important is organic?  Who actually produced and food we consumed?  What is in that McDonald’s hamburger, and how different is it from a grass-fed, locally produced burger at a nice restaurant?

And I don’t have all the answers to those questions.  But to me, being a foodie doesn’t mean always making the perfect food choices.  Sometimes, I just want a Cheez-it.  But being a foodie means asking the question.  I’m not going to visit every farm to check out the growing of everything I put into my body.  But I’m going to try to only buy local produce.  And seasonal.  And to support what I see as a better system.  Local farms are like any local business… without the support of local people, they die out.  So even though it may sometimes be more expensive, a potato that came out of the ground today will always tasted better than one that travelled across the country from Idaho in the back of a huge truck.

And I feel fortunate that I am living in a time when food matters.  And when it isn’t enough to open a box, add margarine and milk and call it good.  When we actually care and are starting to demand more knowledge and more participation in our food system and how our daily choices affect the system as a whole.

As for my mom?  She had ovarian cancer in the late 90′s and started eating an entirely organic, vegan diet, blaming preservatives and pre-packaged foods for her cancer.  She went through a number of dietary changes over the years, from developing an allergy to gluten, beef, mushrooms and soy, to finding the Blood Type Diet and following that for a while.  Now she’s eating cultured vegetables and kefir as part of the Body Ecology Diet, and she’s feeling great.

She’s come a long way from the 80′s.  And so have I.  I don’t eat boxed mac n’ cheese anymore, and I only eat hotdogs rarely, but I do make a mean baked mac n’ cheese from scratch, and I make my own sausage with a meat grinder and sausage stuffer.  But now I use local pork and locally sourced natural casings.  And it tastes—and feels—so much better.

Interested in sharing your story of becoming a food advocate? We’re looking for all variety of stories, from people of all walks of life, whether you consider yourself a casual amateur or a gourmet chef, whether you care about the environment, nutrition, your children’s health and safety or your local butcher.  If you’d like to submit your own post, here’s all you need to do:

  1. Write up the short story of your food journey. What inspired you to start thinking about what you ate and why it mattered. What your wake-up call was. What’s changed. What your challenges have been.
  2. Anything goes — nothing is too small or tangental. (But please write something new — don’t just send us a link to an already-published post.)
  3. Email this story to us: marissa@wemeatagain.com. Use the title: BECOMING A FOOD ADVOCATE STORY.
  4. If you have them, also send along 2 (or 3) photos to help illustrate your story.
  5. Include your contact information (name, what you’d like us to call you, blog address — if you have one, etc.)
  6. Be patient. We’ll get back to you ASAP — but publishing on the site may take several weeks.

Of course, if you have any questions — just leave ‘em in the comments section or email us at marissa@wemeatagain.com.

And don’t forget today is your last chance 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 10,000th site visit!

A Twinkie Eulogy

19 Jan

The big news in food this week is that Hostess has (again) filed for bankruptcy. Hostess, the makers of those little sugar bomb cupcakes, the bizarrely pink Sno-Ball, and of course, the Twinkie.

Now, Hostess and their investors suggest that this may not actually mean an end to the production of these baked goods, as they have made it out of bankruptcy once before. But I thought the time seemed apt to take a moment to mourn the passing of the Twinkie. Because think about it — when was the last time you ate a Twinkie (or Sno-Ball or Hostess cupcake)?

All images courtesy of Dwight Eschilman

Ok, so you read food blogs for fun. You aren’t any longer really the Hostess market share. But who do you know who might be? A young child? A teenager with extra cash? A harried mom looking for a quick snack at the 7-11 on her way to soccer practice?

How many of them eat Twinkies?

My point here is that the food movement is the death knell of the Twinkie, and as people who care about good, whole, healthy sustainable foods become more and more the norm in America, the Twinkie starts to become less indulgent treat and more truly horrifying chemical composition. The photos in this post are from a really cool project called “37 or so ingredients” by the photographer Dwight Eschliman to photograph all the ingredients in a Twinkie. As you can see, none are what we would call “real” ingredients.

But I think there’s something more to do here than cheer and declare victory and assume there will be less disgustingly unhealthy snacks for people to grab at convenience stores from here on out. As guest poster Daniel Meyer observed on Mark Bittman’s blog today, the Twinkie has a storied American history. And I think remembering the times we did eat Twinkies is an important part to moving forward into a sustainable food future where we never allow ourselves to go there again.

The last time I ate Hostess treats with any regularity was in high school. Specifically, in the early morning behemouth of a time-waster known at Merrimack High as “cafe study.” For reasons of overflow and understaffing, seniors in my high school were allowed to take up to two study periods a day, and were permitted to have those study halls in the cafeteria, so as not required to be quiet.

What this meant is that for the entire last year of high school, I spent two and a half unobserved hours sitting around in a cafeteria, talking with my friends and eating junk food. We would make daily pilgrimages to the school store or the snack line (which included, in my high school cafeteria, a Taco Bell), where my regular daily purchase was a bag of cool ranch Doritos, a bottle of YooHoo and a cellophane-wrapped package of Hostess cupcakes (eat the bottom first, save the icing crust for last.)

Delicious. But of course, gross.

I recount all this not just as a cautionary tale, or a eww-remember-when memory, but to remember that we didn’t always know better.

We haven’t all been born with a raised food consciousness. A great many people my age (and in generations older and younger) have discovered and developed our food awareness–some very recently. For me, it’s only really been about three and a half years. In the 80s and 90s, we trusted food companies, and convenience was king. As my friend Steve recently reminded me in his (forthcoming) “How I Became a Foodie” essay, anything that could be thrown together out of a package, out of a box, anything frozen or pre-packaged or canned was very much in.

We loved and ate Twinkies because they tasted, in a completely disgusting way, delicious, of course. Their saccarin sweetness appeals to our basest biological desires for food. But we also ate Twinkies because we genuinely didn’t know any better. Because we had no reason to believe a food company might willfully be feeding us something that could hurt us.

We’ve come a long way. babies. And so I give the Twinkie a little middle-finger salute as it goes, hoping I always remember to look back at it, and promise to try my best to think hard about what’s in  my food and where it comes from, from here on out.

Do you harbor any nostalgia for the Twinkie (or some other undead, processed food) from childhood or adulthood? Leave a comment and share your favorite “I can’t believe I ate that!” food memory here!

And 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!

What’s Coming for Food in 2012?

10 Jan

Welcome to 2012, We*Meat*Again! Sorry for my lapse in posting, all. The holiday hiatus was more all-consuming than I thought it would be, and I’ve missed a lot of food news. Rather than try to cover it all, I wanted to catch us up with a post about what I think is coming for the food movement over the course of the next year. There is both good and bad news, and in some ways, the two go hand-in-hand.

Food Consciousness Goes Mainstream

I’ve been engaging in a mini personal research project for my book, investigating how and why the average person has become more food conscious, and the answers I’ve been receiving have been remarkable, compelling, and truly important. What I’m hearing is that people like you and me, people with regular jobs and regular incomes, large or small, are finding the many, many ways in which food affects their lives. Their reasons include health & fitness, parenting, economic limitations, social justice concerns, and community investment.

NPR recently had a great piece echoing this on a larger scale, the notion that we’re interested in local food as a source of authenticity in an increasingly out-of-control world. And to me, that’s a very promising trend.

Government Still Behind the Curve

The end of 2011 was mired, for me, by a decision by the FDA that demonstrate what is still wrong with the government’s positions on food policy, especially in terms of changing large-scale corporate agricultural practices to improve health & safety.

Late in the day on December 22, the FDA quietly issued an announcement that it would abandon its pursuit of (again, voluntary) regulation of the use of antibiotics in livestock. The FDA has been pursuing this mission since the late 1970s, and we’ve covered here on the blog before why this is important for the health of consumers. The fact that the FDA backed off this mission can be seen as nothing other than giving in to very real industry pressure, just at the time when more and more meat is contaminated with diseases that are dangerous to our health, after a year of at least one major meat recall per month.

We have more people becoming aware of the importance of a food revolution — and a government still shying away from doing anything about it. So I think…

2012 is the Year of People Power

TIME magazine’s person of the year was The Protester. We’re angry. We’re exhausted. We’re broke. And we are prepared to do something about it. In 2011, we saw floods of people globally taking to the streets to begin to try. Mark Bittman’s column last week was a wonderful examination of the ways in which food is a part of this larger trend. Perhaps 2012 can be the year we harness the power of the local food movement to protest the government’s failures to act on our behalf.

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.

Eating Well on Wall Street

14 Oct

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the Occupy Wall Street movement (as it has certainly become more than an individual protest now) and I find this pretty rad. I could certainly go on about just how inspiring it is to finally see my generation standing up for something, and to finally see this whole social media experiment working to some positive mobilizing effects, many many people have already written about it and have done so much more articulately than I could.

But I thought I’d use this week’s link roundup post to feature some of the great writing that’s been done connecting the food movement to the Wall Street uprising.

Civil Eats had two great posts today: one on the connection between the anti-corporate sentiments of the protests and the food movement, and another on the push for social equality in food justice alongside corporate accountability.

Similarly, Tom Philpott this week writes about the misperception that agriculture isn’t big business, and takes the Farm Action Bureau to task. It’s heartening to see smart people finally calling out Big Ag as the corporate lobbying powerhouse it is.

I wrote last week that I believe the social justice aspects of the food movement were perfectly compatible with the desire for good, artisanal food, and I see the two pieces coming together in Occupy Wall Street in a way that’s really promising for the future of the movement. The Food Committee has developed a pretty fancy makeshift kitchen in the park, full of donations, many of which are from local and/or socially-conscious businesses.

GOOD magazine has a really cool short piece on the symbolism of protest food, launching from pizza on Wall Street.

Word is, the city of New York plans to remove the protestors this weekend, at the request of the park’s private owners. We’ll see how this plays out, both on and off Wall Street. But if you were waiting to help, to contribute, to participate, now is the time. Get your activist on!

Foodies for Affordability

3 Oct

This past winter, Scott showed me this essay from The Atlantic, a sprawling piece whose central complaint is that foodies, by caring too much about food that tastes good and is artisanal in its production, are not as morally superior as we would like to believe. Myers, a vegan and member of the Green party, suggests that true moral superiority lies only in vegetarianism, a diet whose virtue is its smaller carbon footprint and accessibility.

I didn’t agree with Myers then, and I don’t now, but I don’t want to talk here today about the problems with his assertion in favor of vegetarianism (though I will sometime). Mostly, I want to refute the growing notion that being someone who cares about food that tastes good and is well-made is incongruous with social justice.

*

Recently, I mentioned Slow Food USA’s $5 Challenge. If  you missed the earlier post, the idea behind the $5 challenge was for at-home chefs to host local potlucks featuring a meal that was produced with local, sustainable food for less than $5 per person — less than the cost of the average fast food value meal.

Just the act of organizing such an event is evidence enough to suggest that people can love food and want everyone to be able to afford it. But a recent Bittman column mentions an underlying value to the style of education at play here. By asking people to open their homes and share meals, Slow Food was not simply sponsoring an act of charity, but rather one of sharing domestic knowledge. Some people know how to buy and cook real food — usually by a happy coincidence of birth, culture or household income — and how to do it without breaking the bank. Why not get a bunch of people together and show how its done.

This is a reassertion of a formative American value. Think of times past when this kind of communal domesticity was a necessity — the victory gardens of World War II, the trade and barters of the Depression-era tent cities. In the midst of the United States’ Great Recession, what could be more equal-minded than a return to the exchange of ideas and goods, than placing that exchange not in a public sphere of speculative financial trading, but in the home itself?

We’re not talking about selling $17 loaves of bread at the Orange County Farmer’s Market. We’re talking about people all over the country doing something as simple and as meaningful as opening their homes to their neighbors to share.

And the people doing the sharing are us snotty, elitist foodies.

It seems to me than it’s people who care first and foremost about food’s quality that are responsible for making the larger social connection between quality and sustainability, quality and health, quality and social justice. Without foodies, we might continue to believe the myths that local food is more expensive, or that cooking is for rich people with the time to care, or that poor people don’t have the luxury of real food.

A response to this notion that gourmands can care about both food quality and food equality might ask why we split our energy at all. Why not prioritize access and affordability to real food over anything else? Why worry at all about frivolous expenses like supporting local butcher shops or artisan cheese producers. Let’s get some damn vegetables on everyone’s table, first, whatever it takes. Microbrews later.

Why care about food that takes more time to make and tastes better, too? My answer is because people have to want to eat better to succeed at eating better. Our brains are wired to trick us into eating junk food, and we’re working against decade’s of corporate marketing. Deciding to cook again requires working against urges that have been long embedded in our bodies and our psyches.

And if your only experience with a head of lettuce comes from the wilting basket on the counter at the corner convenience store, and its been sitting there for a week and was shipped halfway across the country (or globe) before that, that lettuce is going to be gross, and you are going to buy the bag of Doritos for a side dish instead.

*

At the beginning of our very first graduate workshop with him, my future thesis advisor Ben Percy passed out little slips of paper with the same Harry Crews’ quote printed on each one. They read:

“You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait till you got time to write a novel or time to write a story or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read — if you wait for the time, you’ll never do it. Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.” 
I’ve kept that piece of paper, in binders and tacked up on office walls and now, next to a bowl of water on my writing desk, as a reminder that, fundamentally, everything in this world worth doing takes hard work to do. Yes, I’m saying that I think even Harry Crews would have felt the way I do about being a foodie (though he surely would have despised the term foodie as much as I do).

I’ve learned that it’s worth it to take that time, but I know that I was lucky to be able to learn that lesson. I know not everyone has the schedule that I do, or the bank account I do, not everyone comes from a family that values food and family dinners the way mine did, that not everyone has a family member whose dietary needs got all of ours in check at a very young age. But we’re talking about a shift in cultural priority, and that kind of shift has to start somewhere.

It starts with me. It starts with each of us not being afraid or ashamed of caring about food, not hiding our dietary desires, and not accepting the elitist labels the corporate world wants to stick on us. Foodies are the people out there who can teach us that this is worth it, but yes, we have to do it against a current social stigma that suggests that having this kind of time is selfish, indulgent, or for rich people. That’s not the truth – that’s industry marketing. Make more time for cooking by watching less TV (and, seriously, I love tv). Cook with your family.

Foodies may have originated as people who just really preferred market bread and raw oysters, but they have evolved. Because people who value quality know that you have to value the person who produces it. They celebrate the farmer and the soil, and above all, they celebrate knowing where your food comes from and what it takes to get it on the table. If we all cared about those things, we’d have a better, smarter food system, and that system would be capable of producing food we could all afford.

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