Friday, October 31, 2014

Wherein I make a meal that reflects Carleton Shade’s talk “Consciousness Shift as Civilization’s Salvation”

A growling Hellhound lies on the crossroads. The obvious path leads toward destruction; ecological and economic collapse, species die-backs… the end-of-the-world. Carleton is looking at the salvation potential of raised consciousness. He says some things have the potential to move us towards greater understanding; real paradigm shifts, and he holds up his hand to count them off on his fingers. Art. Education. Meditation. Psychedelics, and raw, harsh need. Maybe add war, or religion, and natural disasters too. These are the things that move us to action—in part because through them we see ourselves in relation to and as part of a larger interconnected whole. I am wondering can I throw the dog a bone? Is there a way food can help quell the beast?  Destruction still looms but if the barking dog is sated maybe we can focus on a better route, maybe stave off the final plunge.

Knee-jerk reaction has me cooking local/sustainable/organic/seasonal/low-on-the-food-chain foods, though this feel-good approach belies the complexities of our entrenched industrialized food system, global warming, first and third world disparities, vicissitudes of health. You can’t just serve up DIY, farm-to-table fare and think you’ll change the world. We tried that back in the day and what grew from it is a multi-billion dollar organics industry with its own dirty dozen and fleets of fossil-fuel gobbling trucks. Sure its done some good, but has it tipped the scale? The voting with your dollar tact only goes so far.

What if I jumped on the devils back and served up the culprits instead; monocultured commodities and over-fished prey? What if the meal talked back to “the man,” used his product but differently, co-opted corn and soy for something nobler than burgers-n-fries? * What if? This menu would exemplify the impulse to work from the inside out, which has its merits, though change this way is super slow.
*Corn is grown on approx. 80 million of 400 million crop growing acres of North American farmland. 80%+ goes to animal feed, though now there’s increasing demand of corn for Ethanol.  As for soy, the US is one of the top worldwide producers; the bulk of it becomes soybean oil, much of which fries potatoes.

Or why not appeal to the stomach to get the spirit up in arms? A meal of taste-treats tagged with the caveat of near extinction…  “Like this? Well too bad!--the honey bees are dying, the rain forest disappearing, the fish are nearly gone” This menu would be a parochial knuckle slap, effective, but cruel and decadent too.  

As no one culinary approach seems better than the other I decided to plan the menu using all three.

Grilled Banana1 Leaf packets with Malaysian spiced Tilapia2  
Kombu3 braised Kobucha4 squash with sake soy glaze 
Turmeric scented Quinoa5 cakes with sesame and coconut 
Guacamole6 with non-GMO corn chips 
Honey7 cake with ice cream
1: Bananas  are not “going extinct” as some doomsayers predict, but they are vulnerable because of mono-cropping (despite 100's of worldwide varietals—we only market one.) In the 1960’s the main varietal, the Gros Michel, was wiped out by a strain of fungus. Today’s number one varietal, the Cavensish, is also under attack by a fungicide resistant soil-borne fungus. Mono-cropping is a selfish dangerous policy based on profit rather than sustainability. The horror about bananas is revealed in the “Banana Republic” history of Chiquita and the United Fruit Company: colonization, labor and resource exploitation, etc.
2  Talapia is one of the most common farmed fish. Under-regulated farming causes pollution and GMO contamination to “wild” fish populations. 75% of farmed Talapia is raised in China which has been sited for lax controls of bacterial infection in its farmed fish populations.
3 Kombu (kelp.) Seems seaweed is good and healthful and no more endangered than are the seas, although I've heard tale of dangerous mercury levels in some harvests. Post Fukushima there was a lot of fear around Japanese imports.
4 Kabocha—this seasonal, organic winter squash was grown on a nearby farm and the shiso leaf was grown on my windowsill, but is it actually fuel efficient to have a small grower truck the squash to my farmer’s market?
Quinoa is an ancient Peruvian grain—super drought resistant and high in protein, calcium and dietary fiber. Its hypoallergenic and gluten free. Some say that because its become so popular in the US and UK and the prices are so inflated, the indigenous people of the South American highlands who depended on quinoa as a staple can no longer afford to eat it. Others think the popularity is a boon to farmers in that mostly barren part of the world. Labor issues are as sticky ecological woes.
 Avocado and lime. For some reason both of these crops have suffered in the past few years. Is it global warming, or maybe Mexican drug cartels disrupting distribution?
7  Honey. We all know we’re fucked. The bees are endangered from colony collapse caused by the over use of pesticides. Without bees to pollinate, many crops and plant are endangered.  Another ingredient in the honey cake I served was coffee, a crop that has lead to rain forest deforestation and corrupt labor practices.
After the meal a young woman came into the kitchen to thank me. "So delicious and thoughtful,” she said, “its so IMPORTANT to be AWARE of what you eat.  People need to KNOW, We all must ACT.
Her earnestness itched like bad bed bug bites. I’d so love food to be an activists’ tool but my inner cynic worries its crumbs to the wind. Or worse, an inadvertent counter-revolutionary defusing of the drive to create positive change: eat “right” and delude yourself into believing you’re off the hook for sustained political action. 
“Still” I wistfully thought, nestling grapes in a bowl, “ a thoughtful,
carefully shopped meal makes its tiny mark.” 
It's a poetryscience tradition to pass red and green grapes at the point in the evening the speaker finishes presenting and the floor opens to discussion. This time, along with the ubiquitous red and green Thompson’s of 1960-70's UFW's Grape Boycott fame, I served tart black Ribier’s, a translucent green varietal of Concord, and tiny, unbelievably sweet Niagara’s grown by happy farmers. At my presentation before supper I’d catalogued every ingredient’s sorry story, but with these I kept quiet, hoping the glory of their taste would make a better case than mine.


  1. Very nice choice of menu! You raise some excellent points and I am aware that my (any) answer is only partial. Basically, I try to do what I can with my food budget, which means mostly supporting the farmers as directly as I can, sustainable farming practices, farm workers and farmers anywhere in the world that try to do the right thing by Mother Earth. I believe knowledge is important. For example, your note about tilapia, a fish whose popularity baffles me. It is an effort to be applied to multiple fronts, without forgetting the nuances (i.e., unintended consequences sometimes our decisions have). I like the idea of the bowl of grapes at the end. Interesting reading, as always.

    1. thanks Simona for your comment and for sharing the post--I suppose we each do what we can. On a food front supporting sustainable farming, cooking (thereby developing markets for unusual or endangered varietal and breeds, etc.) But it takes more than that... voting, boycotting, doing without certain conveniences, changing habits. Eco consciousness is more pop than looking at economic and labor issues... as I was thinking about the ingredients used in this meal I realized that worker's rights still looms large as an issue needing activist and media attention.