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Photo: Simon Schneider/ Romantischer Rhein Tourismus GmbH via DW.
Residents and visitors alike are encouraged to pick whatever food they like from a public garden in Andernach, Germany.

An idea whose time has come may be growing food on public land and making it free for the picking. I wrote a 2011 post on scavenging, here, and a 2020 post on a homeless teen whose foraging helped her learn to cook, here. In those cases, the taking of food was done on the sly. But what if municipalities actively encouraged people to forage, as landscape director Paul did at my last job did?

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “The city of Andernach, Germany, planted 101 varieties of tomatoes in the town center and told everyone to pluck and take whatever they wanted.

“It was such a hit, the following year the city did the same with beans. The next year, it was onions. After that, the city planted fruit trees, lettuce, zucchini, berries and herbs. All were free to anyone who lived or happened to be in the town of 30,000 people. …

“It’s one of a growing number of places across the globe known as edible cities. In the United States, there are public lands from Seattle to North Carolina where people are welcome to pick and take from fruiting trees and bushes.

“Organizers interviewed for this article said there has never been a problem with people taking more than they need, whether they grab a single pear or a bag full of potatoes and artichokes.

Every year, there is more than enough produce to go around.

“ ‘Many here are very proud when you talk to them about our edible city,’ said Bettina Schneider, 29, city team coordinator for the Edible Cities Network in Andernach.

“When word got out that Andernach’s public gardens and orchards — which started in 2010 — were free for the picking, other cities in Germany and throughout the European Union joined in, she said. Now the Edible Cities Network is funded by the European Commission, the executive body of the E.U.

“The areas that were converted into fruiting gardens and orchards in Andernach were previously overgrown and unkempt, so the gardens were well received, Schneider said, noting that a medieval moat is now covered with peach, almond and pear trees, and vacant spaces near schools have been transformed into community vegetable patches. …

“ ‘Every partner organization in the project receives funding from the E.U. budget to carry out their work,’ [Marisa Pettit, a coordinator for Edible Cities] said. Pettit said that several cities also receive funding for what Edible Cities calls ‘living labs’ — green spaces where residents can hold community events and develop their own plans to help their urban gardens to thrive and produce bountiful harvests.

“Edible Cities is now supporting a community garden in Cuba, while cities in China, Tunisia, Togo and Uruguay are also developing plans for urban food forests, said Ina Säumel, a principal investigator for the Edible Cities Network. …

“Many U.S. cities have similar projects. Detroit has an urban farming movement, Philadelphia has food forests, and there are edible community projects in Atlanta and Los Angeles. All rely on volunteers to do the weeding, pruning and planting.

“Smaller cities such as Bloomington, Ind., and Hyattsville, Md., also have fruit trees and vegetable gardens that can be accessed by anyone.

“At the Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park in Asheville, N.C., founded more than 20 years ago, residents can harvest whatever they like from 40 varieties of fruit and nut trees, said Lynx Bergdahl, a community organizer at Bountiful Cities, the nonprofit that helps manage the food forest.

“ ‘Anyone can get whatever they want, when they want it,’ said Bergdahl, 33. ‘This is about taking away as many barriers as possible to create public food access, whether somebody wants a single apple or an entire basket.’

“In Seattle, the neighborhood of Beacon Hill turned a steep and empty slope next to a public park into a vibrant edible landscape in 2012 through a partnership with the city. The Beacon Food Forest recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a diverse community garden that is open to anyone walking by, said Elise Evans, one of the project’s volunteers. …

“ ‘To create something from a blank hillside was a big deal,’ she said. ‘Our harvest truly offers something for everyone and it’s based on trust. People take what they need and are fed for free, and that’s an empowering feeling.’ “

Do you ever nibble from gardens around your town? Please let me know.

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe.
First-graders line up for lunch at McAuliffe Elementary School in Lowell.

The city of Lowell, Massachusetts, has been a “gateway city” at least since the Industrial Revolution. Located on two rivers that powered the early textile factories, it has attracted waves of immigrant workers looking for a foothold, or gateway, to America. Today its many nationalities continue to generate a multicultural energy.

Peggy Hernandez writes at the Boston Globe, “One day last fall, Umalkheeyr Cabdi Mahamed, 17, rose at 3 a.m. to make breakfast for her US history seminar at Lowell High School. The junior wanted to share canjeero iyo suugo, a spiced chicken stew with sweet thin pancakes, her mother’s favorite dish and a reminder of the home she left behind in Somaliland.

“Umalkheeyr was cooking out of more than goodwill; her dish was being sampled for this year’s edition of Tasting History, the seminar’s cookbook. She and her classmates — English learners and almost all immigrants — ultimately contributed 59 family recipes and stories about their journeys to the cookbook.

“Now in its fourth year, the Tasting History project has accomplished more than envisioned. In December, the 2020-2021 edition earned a Founders Award from The Readable Feast, an annual New England culinary book festival. That win led to a trial collaboration between the students and Lowell Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services.

Once a month, one recipe has been served as a lunchtime entree option to a student body of 14,387. The students are now teaching the adults.

” ‘I want people to know our culture because we have a lot of cultural diversity here in the United States. If you share your food, your culture, your experience, you’ll introduce them to your country,’ says senior Samantha Segura Marroquin of Guatemala, 19, who last year submitted a Christmas tamale recipe. …

“The trial [has] been a success, and the collaboration will continue in the fall. Some dishes were so popular Michael Emmons, the food service’s executive chef, hopes to include them into a regular lunch rotation. Dishes like lok lak, a glossy peppered beef served with salad from Cambodia, and feijoada, an inky black bean and pork stew served with white rice from Brazil.

“Lowell Public Schools is an ideal setting for this partnership. The student body is diverse: Hispanic (37.7 percent), Asian (27.5 percent), White (22.9 percent), Black (7.7 percent) and multi-race (4.1 percent). At least 50 languages are spoken in the high school. The four cookbooks reflect that range: 42 countries and one autonomous region are represented.

“The cookbooks are the brainchild of Jessica Lander, 34, a creative English Language history and civics teacher. … Lander arrived at Lowell High School in 2015 and, two years later, came up with the cookbook project while leading her ‘U.S. History 2 Seminar.’ The course covers the 1870s to the present, encompassing an era when 20 million immigrants arrived in the United States.

“While teaching immigration history, Lander recognized her students are, themselves, experts on being immigrants. She developed the cookbook as a means ‘to honor their stories and show their stories are valuable, just as important’ as those in US history books. ‘I wanted to use food as a story of migration,’ she says.

“Sometimes students have had to call relatives in their native countries for help with recipes. They learn to explain cooking techniques as well as ingredients others might find unfamiliar. Family tales introduce each dish. Edits go 15-20 rounds. Dishes are prepared at home and shared with the class. …

“When Alysia Spooner-Gomez, the district’s food service director, learned about the win last winter, she urged Emmons to tap into the cookbook because, she says, ‘it would be a waste to do nothing.’

“Emmons, known as ‘Chef Mike’ to students and faculty, joined the district last fall after a stint as a sous chef for Google in California. He was eager to pay homage to the students’ recipes. ‘We wanted to be culturally responsive and take a step into another world,’ he says.

“Once a recipe is selected, Emmons adapts it for scale and financial practicality. Then he takes it to Lander’s class for taste tests. The students are quick to tell Emmons if his early versions fail their expectations. ‘Letting the kids have a voice in the meal is the most rewarding part of this project,’ he says

“Spooner-Gomez prepares in-house marketing with fliers about the student and their dish then shares background on the meals with faculty. Lunch, like breakfast, is free of charge in Lowell’s public schools through a federal program for low-income districts.

“Lander’s students are awed by the results. ‘I’m so excited that a lot of people like it,’ says junior Nempisey Pout, 18, who submitted a lok lak recipe. ‘The important thing is that I share my culture and Khmer food with students from other countries.’

More at the Globe, here.

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Photos: Valaurian Waller.
Ederique Goudia is a chef who came through for her community after Hurricane Ida. She is seen here with a statue commemorating child slaves on the Whitney Plantation — the only museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.

Have you been following the efforts of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen as they serve the displaced people of Ukraine? Inspirational. Today I have a related story. It’s also about chefs who help desperate people by giving what they know best.

Xander Peters has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “Ederique Goudia isn’t the type who stops moving. From November through February, her life was like a hurricane’s gust, tossing her about the country between the community that raised her and the place she now calls home.

“In early November, Ms. Goudia and an entourage of chefs made their way from Detroit to her childhood hometown of Wallace, Louisiana, a community of nearly 600 about 50 miles outside New Orleans that had been pummeled by Hurricane Ida’s Category 4 strength last summer. Her foodways colleagues Raphael Wright and Jermond Booze, among a host of others from their home in Detroit, rallied around her and organized a day of service for the community, followed by their group’s inaugural diaspora dinner. …

“The day after they arrived back in Detroit, Ms. Goudia and company made a beeline back to the kitchen, where they began working alongside colleagues to prepare 50 family-sized Thanksgiving meals for their food-insecure community members. The meals were prepared through the food security group Make Food Not Waste, of which Ms. Goudia is the lead chef. 

“Food relief is about more than physical sustenance for Ms. Goudia and the many chefs who volunteer alongside her. It is a rung on the ladder to stability. And it can be the glue that holds communities together. ‘It creates a shared song amongst people, of a reset,’ says Detroit chef Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, founder of ​​BlackMetroEats and one of the volunteers who traveled to Wallace with Ms. Goudia. …

“After Ida hit southeast Louisiana, [friends from the nonprofit Taste the Diaspora] were among the first to ask how her family fared, and they were well aware that it wasn’t feasible to get to Louisiana to help right away, as disaster recovery dragged on for weeks after the storm. They then suggested hosting local pop-up fundraisers. Before long, they had gathered a group of 15 or so members of the Detroit food community interested in traveling to Wallace. …

“[Ms. Goudia] knows small towns like hers don’t often receive disaster relief quickly while efforts concentrate on metro areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge first. Wallace sits in the middle of a petrochemical corridor and has long struggled with environmental justice issues.

“Ida made landfall on Aug. 29. As Ms. Goudia checked on her family, the Detroit food scene leaped into action. … In total they raised $8,500 and they distributed it to Wallace residents through the Descendants Project, an advocacy group for descendants of formerly enslaved people in Louisiana’s river parishes. … 

“By the time Ms. Goudia and her colleagues were ready to head to Wallace themselves, word had spread through the Detroit area. Soon sponsorships began rolling in: The Kresge Foundation, which expands opportunities for low-income individuals nationwide, was the first major group to chip in. Then ProsperUS Detroit, an economic development initiative, pitched in. Turning Tables NOLA caught wind of their efforts soon after and offered to help as well. …

“The Detroit food community’s support for Ms. Goudia and her hometown was, in some ways, as emotionally overwhelming as watching Ida hit her family. At the same time, it wasn’t surprising. It’s what Ms. Goudia has come to know as the heart of Detroit.

“ ‘The hospitality that lives in Detroit, it isn’t a one-off,’ says Ms. Goudia. ‘It isn’t surprising at all, because there is this Southern hospitality that’s here, that’s unmatched.’

“On the day of the Wallace dinner, as always, Ms. Goudia didn’t stop moving. She and her volunteers worked through the afternoon to prepare an evening meal of a beet-based African dish, mirliton dressing, baked spaghetti, cornbread tea cakes, and pralines.

“As he leaned against a picnic table out front, opening cans of corn, Mr. Osei-Bonsu of BlackMetroEats reflected on his and others’ trip down South so far, and what he hoped the meal would mean for the community.

“Healing a community’s emotional wounds through food ‘is definitely something that’s impactful,’ Mr. Osei-Bonsu says. ‘Today will be about so much more than just the consumption of food. It’ll also be a dialogue.’ …

“Ms. Goudia says from her home in Detroit several weeks later [that the point is] to use ‘food in a way that breathes life into people, that gives them what they didn’t think they needed at the time.’ She stops and reflects for a moment. ‘I think we were successful in that. … Everybody that came on the trip is now family. Not only with me, but with the residents of Wallace. I was blessed to be able to provide that for them.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, Detroit-based chef and founder of BlackMetroEats, sets the table for a 100-person Taste the Diaspora community dinner in Wallace, Louisiana, Nov. 21, 2021.

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We do not have a plant-based diet in our house, although I’ve been taking baby steps in that direction as far back as the early 1970s when my little sister (now departed) gave me the Frances Moore Lappé book Diet for a Small Planet. This was when my sister was still in college and studying to be a poet. Long before she went to medical school and became a doctor.

I used to make an eggplant, mozzarella, and brown rice dish from that book. It was yummy but took too long to make. I’m a lazy cook.

Still, I keep being reminded that the effort is important — for example, when Robyn Vinter wrote for the Guardian in October about the environment summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

Vinter reported, “Plant-based dishes will dominate the menu at the Cop26 [Conference of the Parties no. 26] climate conference. … The low-carbon menu includes 95% British food, especially locally sourced Scottish produce, and each menu item has an estimate of its carbon footprint, ‘helping attendees make climate-friendly choices.’

“Delegates will be served dishes such as potato, leek and rosemary chowder, smoked salmon and ‘a spiced mushroom and onion burger served with a vegan tomato mayo, slaw and shoots.’

“Caterers are using sustainable suppliers including Edinburgh’s Mara Seaweed, which is abundant, entirely sustainable and does not require fertilizer, fresh water or soil to grow, and carrots and potatoes from Benzies, which uses wind turbines to power their cool storage, biomass to provide heating and recycles the water used. Hot drinks will be served in reusable cups that can be washed 1,000 times, which organizers say will save 250,000 single-use cups.”

How does the list at the Guardian sound to you?

” Winter squash lasagne (0.7kg CO2 equivalent emissions) – celeriac, glazed root vegetables and winter squash, with a vegan cheddar.
” Organic kale and seasonal vegetable pasta (0.3kg CO2 ee) – spelt fusilli, field mushrooms, kale and seasonal vegetables.
” Braised turkey meatballs (0.9kg CO2 ee) – with organic spelt penne pasta in a tomato ragu.
” Organic spelt wholegrain penne pasta (0.2kg CO2 ee) – with a tomato ragu, kale, pesto and oatmeal crumble.”

Mmmm. Maybe it’s worth the effort.

Meanwhile, at the Harvard Health newsletter, you can read why a plant-based diet is also better for your health. Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN, says, “Plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.

“What is the evidence that plant-based eating patterns are healthy? Much nutrition research has examined plant-based eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and a vegetarian diet. The Mediterranean diet has a foundation of plant-based foods; it also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt a few times a week, with meats and sweets less often.

“The Mediterranean diet has been shown in both large population studies and randomized clinical trials to reduce risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), depression, and in older adults, a decreased risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function. Vegetarian diets have also been shown to support health, including a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and increased longevity. …

“Here are some tips to help you get started on a plant-based diet.

” Eat lots of vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner. Make sure you include plenty of colors in choosing your vegetables. Enjoy vegetables as a snack with hummus, salsa, or guacamole.
” Change the way you think about meat. Have smaller amounts. Use it as a garnish instead of a centerpiece.
” Choose good fats. Fats in olive oil, olives, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados are particularly healthy choices.
” Cook a vegetarian meal at least one night a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
” Include whole grains for breakfast. Start with oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, or barley. Then add some nuts or seeds along with fresh fruit.
” Go for greens. Try a variety of green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and other greens each day. Steam, grill, braise, or stir-fry to preserve their flavor and nutrients.
” Build a meal around a salad. Fill a bowl with salad greens such as romaine, spinach, Bibb, or red leafy greens. Add an assortment of other vegetables along with fresh herbs, beans, peas, or tofu.
” Eat fruit for dessert. A ripe, juicy peach, a refreshing slice of watermelon, or a crisp apple will satisfy your craving for a sweet bite after a meal.”

To read McManus’s meal suggestions and her answers to readers with specific diet problems, click on the Harvard Health newsletter, here. More at the Guardian, here. And don’t forget to investigate Diet for a Small Planet, here.

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Photo: Andrea Pyenson.
In this 2019 photo, a student harvested lettuce at the Rivers School’s Freight Farm.

Are we all too disconnected from the wisdom and skills of our ancestors? At the Rivers School and other Massachusetts schools, students have been getting hands-on insight into growing food — but a bit differently from how our ancestors grew it.

Boston Globe correspondent Andrea Pyenson reported on the hydroponic initiative in a January 2020 article.

“Inside the big white shipping container parked behind a classroom building on the campus of the Rivers School in Weston, it smells like a verdant field on a warm spring day, with a degree of humidity that is completely at odds with the cold, dry air outside. A variety of lettuces, herbs, and a smattering of other vegetables grow on vertical towers in adjustable rows. The sixth-grade students who maintain the school’s Freight Farm cycle through in groups of four to reap the bounty of work they started at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. The first harvest day was in late October.

“ ‘They all love to come in here,’ says Emily Poland, who teaches eighth-grade science and is the farm director at this independent school for grades 6 through 12. The Freight Farm and related projects are built in to the sixth-grade curriculum, incorporating humanities, social justice, and science, among other subjects. Students spend time there once a week planting, cleaning, and harvesting. Farming is a club activity for the school’s high school students, who can go in during their free time.

“Based in Boston, Freight Farms manufactures technologically advanced hydroponic farming systems. In 320-square-foot, climate-controlled shipping containers, users can grow up to 13,000 plants at a time, vertically, without soil. The company was founded in 2010 by Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman. Several area schools, among them Rivers, Boston Latin School, and Worcester State University, are using the farms to grow food for their own communities, for their neighbors, and as educational tools.

“For Poland, managing the farm was a natural extension of her teaching. ‘I like to create curriculum. I care about food. I like to be outside,’ she says. One of the sixth-graders’ annual activities, which combines academics with community service, is cooking a meal for the Natick Open Door at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. These are hosted every week and attended primarily by seniors. Poland explains that planning the meal incorporates math skills because the students have to scale recipes to feed up to 45 people. And naturally they use their own greens in the salads. …

“Boston Latin, a public exam school for grades seven through 12, acquired its farm in 2013 after students in the Youth Climate Action Network won the $75,000 prize in the Global Green Schools Makeover Competition. Farming is a student-run after-school activity here, under the guidance of eighth-grade history and civics teacher Cate Arnold. …

“Addy Krom, a junior, notes of the farm, ‘You can come in, it’s a whole different environment. All the stress from school [goes] away.’ Adds sophomore Azalea Thompson, ‘This makes locally grown food more accessible to the city.’ The students give the food they grow to faculty members, bring some home, and are working to create a CSA. With Arnold’s help they are also trying to reestablish a more consistent connection to a food pantry in Jamaica Plain, where a former Boston Latin parent, recently deceased, used to deliver their greens.

“At Worcester State, Mark Murphy, associate director of dining services, oversees the Freight Farm, which sits outside of Sheehan Hall, the school’s newest dormitory and site of its main cafeteria. Rich Perna, former director of dining, made the decision to purchase the farm five years ago, says Murphy, ‘to bring hyperlocal produce to the campus.’

“Murphy has been responsible for the farm for the last two years. An employee of Chartwells, which has the contract for all of the school’s food services, he grows almost all of the greens for the cafeteria, as well as for alumni catering events. …

“At full capacity, Murphy explains, the farm produces about two acres’ worth of crops. He is constantly looking for different varieties of lettuce that will appeal to the students and is currently ‘trying to figure out a gourmet mix.’ In addition to three varieties of lettuce, he grows kale, rainbow Swiss chard, parsley, and basil. He coordinates with the cafeteria’s cooks, telling them what he is growing so they can plan menus to incorporate the farm’s production. …

“Through a partnership with the Worcester Public Schools and its program that helps young adults with differences transition from school to the workforce Murphy has three part-time helper/trainees. Once a week three students, who have completed high school with a certificate, come (often with a job coach from the program) to seed, plant, harvest, and clean. Murphy is in the process of hiring one of the students, who has aged out of the program. She ‘has a lot of passion for the farm,’ he says.”

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Photo: ICA
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s Watershed building is in East Boston, one of the communities hit hardest by Covid-19. In April, the ICA decided the most important thing it could do would be to provide food to neighbors in need. (Art projects for families get included in the bundles.)

Some artists seem more alert to human needs than the rest of us. That’s something my mother noted after my father had a debilitating stroke in his 40s. The painter friend and the poet friend seemed to more moved by what happened, more empathetic, than many others.

Certainly, in the current pandemic, we’ve seen people in the arts stepping up to offer all kinds of help. Here’s an example.

Grace Griffin reported for the Boston Globe in April, “With its galleries closed to the public, the Institute of Contemporary Art is using its Watershed outpost to feed families in need. … The nonprofit enlisted its catering company, The Catered Affair, to help with a donation drive.

“The ICA also recruited new donors to fund the project. The monthlong drive — launched in partnership with East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, East Boston Social Centers, Maverick Landing Community Services, Eastie Farm, Orient Heights Housing Development, and Crossroads Family Center — distributes family-size boxes filled with fresh produce and dairy products. …

“ ‘We know this is just a drop in the bucket of need,’ said ICA director Jill Medvedow. ‘We are pleased to help in this small way.’ ” More.

Then in late May, Andrea Shea followed up with a story at WBUR radio.

“Now the museum, its catering company and partnering community organizations in East Boston are extending their food distribution program through Sept. 3.

“ ‘What we learned in April … how hard hit East Boston residents are by COVID,’ ICA director Jill Medvedow said Friday.

The struggle to feed families is ongoing, and Medvedow said it highlights life-threatening disparities the largely immigrant East Boston community faces.

“ ‘Not having the nutrition that contributes to one’s health, to one’s ability to take care of your family, to that sense of dignity that everyone deserves,’ Medvedow said. …

” ‘I see this heroism around me,’ Medvedow said, ‘and I feel very lucky to help facilitate this. That’s my role.’

“About four years ago, when Medvedow and her staff embarked on transforming the 15,000 square-foot condemned building into satellite space for the ICA, they were dedicated to building relationships with the people who live there. ‘I never thought then that this would be the way in which we would demonstrate that the arts and the ICA would be a resource in this Boston community,’ she said, ‘But it is.’

“The food boxes also carry on the ICA’s mission to share art. Each one includes a creative project for families isolated at home. Medvedow said the museum is currently in talks with artists about commissioning new activities designed for both solace and stimulation. …

“Initially the effort’s funding was seeded with unsolicited anonymous donations. Now the ICA is funding the food distribution project and welcomes any additional support. …

“By the end of summer the ICA’s Watershed estimates it will provide more than 2,000 boxes of eggs, butter, fresh vegetables and fruit to East Boston families.” More.

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Photo: Slung Low
The Slung Low theater group sorting out food parcels at their headquarters in Leeds, England.

Many companies and nonprofits around the world have been stepping up to meet new needs during the lockdown. This story is about an innovative UK theater delivering food to the hungry.

Ian Youngs reports at the BBC, “When you’re suddenly tasked with co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable local people during a pandemic, the ability to think creatively comes in useful. As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.

“But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.

” ‘Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,’ he says on the phone from Leeds. … Yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs. So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals.

‘The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream. …

“Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.

“They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.

“Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations — from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. …

“Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that — appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up. …

“On top of that, he has launched an open-air art gallery, posting residents’ lockdown pictures on lampposts. And Slung Low has just made a short film — shot before coronavirus rewrote Lane’s job description — which went online on Friday.

” ‘We didn’t know this at the time, but having a short film to release at the moment is much better than having a play,’ he says.

“Except — he will be taking an enforced break from all that frenetic activity for a while. [A Covid-19 test] came back negative, but he has symptoms so is isolating and recovering. Others have stepped in to ensure Slung Low’s work goes on. …

“The connection with the local community is what sets Slung Low apart from other theatre companies and means it can adapt to doing things like delivering food during a crisis, Lane says.

“Other venues have been busy putting their shows online and continuing their education and outreach activities digitally, but Lane thinks they could be doing more with their facilities.

” ‘There are a lot of vans currently sat in the car parks of arts organisations because they couldn’t quite work out the insurance to get them doing food bank work,’ he says. … ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re for at Slung Low. What we’re for is not putting on a show for people to pay for tickets.

” ‘[Putting on a show is] something we do quite a bit, and something that we can be quite good at on a good day. But it’s not what we’re for. And therefore, when you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean we stop.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

Although people in the arts may not be uniquely compassionate, they’re often among the first to demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of others. Still, gold stars for a city council that thought of asking for the theater’s help!

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Photo: Celeste Sloman for the Washington Post
In New York City, where the Covid-19 lockdown is putting many residents in danger of going hungry, immigrants at Migrant Kitchen are feeding multitudes.

I always like stories about how much immigrants benefit America, and this one from the Washington Post is a great example.

Richard Morgan writes, “At 5:30 a.m. in a godforsaken industrial crevice of Queens, Daniel Dorado recently waited in a line of mostly undocumented restaurant workers before the opening of Restaurant Depot, a wholesaler like Costco on steroids available only to the industry. His goal was 2,000 meal containers, and, boom, he was in and out in 12 minutes.

“The containers would soon be packed with sumptuous entrees: citrus garlic salmon with Cuban black beans and coconut herb rice, or moussaka-stuffed zucchini with dirty rice and beans, or mojo chicken with chimichurri and roasted potatoes with grilled shishito peppers. …

“Dorado, an American-born son of a Mexican immigrant, has been running what is probably New York’s largest restaurant-quality active cooking operation during the pandemic lockdown, serving 6,000 meals a day.

“Last year he and two former colleagues from Ilili, a Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant in the Flatiron District, formed the Migrant Kitchen NYC, ostensibly a catering company, which orchestrated an alliance with four other kitchens. …

“As much attention as beleaguered restaurants have gotten in the pandemic’s lockdown, far less attention has been paid to catering companies, which can produce food on a massive scale but not within the limits of a la carte orders available through delivery apps. Enter Migrant Kitchen. They pay wages of $20 to $25 an hour in their kitchen, [Nasser Jaber, a Palestinian immigrant who was an Ilili waiter,] said, and with the four other kitchens pooled 40 largely undocumented workers from Make The Road, a civil rights group — plus workers and volunteers who handle packing and delivery. …

What started out on March 13 with 100 meals to hospitals and shelters quickly grew to 6,000 meals a day to 13 hospitals, four food pantries, three homeless shelters, three senior centers, public housing complexes in the Bronx and Queens, a Queens mosque and dozens of covid-19-infected families. …

“A few days before Ramadan began on April 23, they switched all meals to halal-certified. ‘We don’t just want to give people food,’ Dorado said. ‘We want them to know we took their needs into consideration. We don’t want anyone getting food that they don’t want to eat. It’s for them, not for us.’ For families, Migrant Kitchen also makes grocery bags of staples like eggs and milk, and tucks in chicken tenders or pizza for children. Even diapers. …

“Sam Bloch, [World Central Kitchen’s] director of field operations, laid out Migrant Kitchen’s strength: ‘It’s beautiful, right? How many win-wins can you have? Where the food is coming from, who’s making it, how it’s supporting that individual person, how it’s supporting that [kitchen], and all that built on top of the fact that someone who really needs that plate of food is receiving it.’ …

“Head chef Ryan Graham explained the [Migrant Kitchen] mission: ‘A lot of big-batch cooking … doesn’t monitor seasoning, the flavor, the texture, the veg, the meat, the starch, the digestion, the nutrition.’ By contrast, he noted, he was slow-cooking a sauce that included 20 spices for nine hours. One of his cooks also recommended that a dish’s tomato paste be caramelized. (Bloch called the approach ‘food with dignity.’) …

” ‘I’m trying to keep myself strong. I’m alone but I don’t feel lonely,’ said a 76-year-old Bangladeshi man who lives by himself in the heavy-hit Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. …

“He said he was ashamed to be publicly identified as in need. He hasn’t left his home since the first week of March. His income is $500 a month. Through [social justice group Desis Rising Up and Moving, DRUM, his Migrant Kitchen meals — two a day — come every afternoon, but, in accordance with Ramadan, he waits until sunset and pre-dawn to eat them. ‘It’s a blessing for old people,’ he said. ‘It’s an example for humanity.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Irena Stein Photography/Immigrant Food
Chef Enrique Limardo says the “Columbia Road” bowl at his restaurant, Immigrant Food, combines elements of Salvadoran and Ethiopian cuisine. A special side dish: opportunities to help recent immigrants.

People say, “I’m upset, but I don’t know what to do.” Or, “I don’t have time to do anything extra.”

Look, when you shop, do you have time put a can in the food pantry bin? Do you have time to write a handful of postcards to voters once in a while? There is always time to put a can in a bin; there are always nonprofits that will accept a tiny bit of volunteering. It adds up.

And here’s the biggest benefit: you will feel better. Was it Ann Landers or Dear Abby who was always recommending helping someone worse off as a cure for nonclinical blues? You just need to find a volunteer gig that fits your interests.

This post is mostly about a cool restaurant in Washington, but be sure to note what the owners are trying to do in addition to presenting delicious, creative dishes.

In November, Catherine E. Shoichet reported at CNN about a new restaurant that opened up in the nation’s capital.

“It’s called ‘Immigrant Food,’ ” she wrote, “and it’s just a block from the White House. The fast-casual spot caters to a weekday lunchtime crowd, with bowls blending cuisines from different cultures around the globe — like a dish that combines Vietnamese spicy-rice noodles with pickled bananas in what the restaurant says is an ‘ode both to Central America’s favorite fruit and to German-style pickling.’

“It also gives diners a chance to donate to local immigrant advocacy groups, all under a slogan aiming to bridge the political divide and find common ground: ‘United at the Table.’

“[Co-founder Peter Schechter] wants people to feel at home here, and to hear the story he’s excited to tell. …

“As the child of immigrants from Austria and Germany, Schechter says he felt like he had to respond to the surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric across the United States.

” ‘This isn’t the America I recognize. … Immigrants have been the foundation of growth and vibrancy. This country has been great again and again and again because of immigrants. …

” ‘Immigrants are feeding America,’ he says. ‘All of the industries that make food, whether it is the picking or the shucking or the meatpacking or the slaughterhouses, (or) in restaurants, the servers, the bus boys, this is an industry that is dominated by immigrants.’ …

“At Immigrant Food, menus available by the door describe each of the nine fusion bowls and five vegan drinks on tap. They also encourage visitors to donate to and volunteer with local immigrant advocacy groups.

“Among the suggestions listed on the restaurant’s ‘engagement menu’: teaching English, visiting detention centers, staffing hotlines and helping with mock ICE interviews. …

“There’s also a photo booth featuring a world map. Diners can point to where their families are from, snap a selfie and get a text message with a frame around the image that says, ‘We are all immigrants!’ …

‘People say, “I’m really upset about what’s happening, but I don’t know what to do,” ‘ Schechter says. ‘And so, you come to this restaurant, we will give you stuff to do — concretely and easily.’

“Local immigrant advocacy groups will also be able to use the restaurant’s upstairs space for things like meetings and English classes, free of charge. And on its website, the restaurant will serve up bite-sized breakdowns of immigration policy issues, dubbed ‘The Think Table.’ …

“The location turned out to be a case of serendipity, Schechter says. ‘[But] I really think it goes beyond the political.’ …

As he sips on a drink called ‘Across the Border’ — which blends cacao, dates, peppers, allspice, vanilla and cashew milk — Robert Evans, 72, says he loves the concept but worries the restaurant might end up preaching to the choir rather than crossing political lines.

“But then again, he says, one day someone who works in the White House might stop by. … In Schechter’s view, immigration shouldn’t be a polarizing topic. He points to polls that show most Americans say immigration is a good thing. And he hopes Democrats and Republicans will dine at Immigrant Food together.

” ‘The table, the restaurant, has always been a place where people unite,’ he says.” More.

By the way, if you’re ever in Providence, the immigrant restaurant called Aleppo Sweets is just fantastic. An extra treat for me is running into one of my former ESL (English as a Second Language) students who’s working alongside her family members there.

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Photo: Julia Cumes for the Boston Globe
Mac Hay (left) and Robert Campbell at Mac’s Seafood Market in Wellfleet, Mass. Fish markets are the final link in a blockchain initiative to inform consumers about the food they buy.

Last summer I met a woman running a thriving experimental community garden on an old tennis court in the New York City projects. She told me that she got into growing produce because she found herself overthinking every decision in the grocery store: was that lettuce really organic; were the lettuce pickers paid a living wage; how much fossil fuel was burned transporting the produce to New York?

She may be an extreme example, but I’m hearing that many consumers want to know more about the origins of what they’re eating. They are much less passive about food.

Hiawatha Bray reported at the Boston Globe in October, “A Massachusetts fishing company will soon be able to show diners at a restaurant chain in California exactly where and when the seafood on their plates was harvested, in some cases even showing video of scallops being hauled out of the sea.

“ ‘They can watch it as we catch it,’ said Dan Eilertsen, owner of Nordic Inc., which operates six scallop boats based in New Bedford. ‘The whole story about the product you’re eating will be right in front of you.’

“Nordic Inc. and its distributor, Raw Seafoods Inc. of Fall River, are deploying Food Trust, a system from IBM Corp. that captures detailed information about food production from harvest to table. Now the companies are about to share this information with the consumers who feast on their products — and scallops are just the start.

Food Trust essentially creates a digital tag for each step of the food production process, the data forming a complete biography of every bite we eat, down to each ingredient in a package of processed food. …

It’s already started at French grocery chain Carrefour, which operates stores throughout Europe, China, Africa, and South America. Carrefour customers can use a phone app to find detailed information about two dozen items, including chicken, eggs, oranges, pork, and cheese; Carrefour plans to add about 100 more items by the end of 2019.

“In the United States, early Food Trust adopters are mostly using it internally, to track inventory and monitor freshness. Giant US grocery chains such as Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons have signed on, as have a number of food suppliers such as Swiss-based Nestle, pork producer Smithfield Foods, and distributor Golden State Foods.

“An IBM spokesperson said that Nordic and Raw Seafoods will be among the first US users of Food Trust to deliver food data to consumers. The experiment begins in November, at TAPS Fish House & Brewery, a four-restaurant chain based in Brea, Calif. A special barcode will appear on the menu next to the restaurant’s scallop dishes. Tom Hope, TAPS director of food and beverage, said customers who scan the code with a smartphone will see the day and date of the scallop harvest. …

“It’s all made possible by blockchain, the technology that underlies digital currencies such as Bitcoin. A blockchain is an immense string of data, each digital tag along the food chain, as it were, adding to the string. The information is stored in an encrypted database that is dispersed across hundreds or thousands of computers. A blockchain can be easily updated with new data, and because it’s encrypted and widely distributed, it’s virtually tamperproof.

“Fishing on the open sea is hard, dangerous work, with little time to punch data into computers. Food Trust makes it easy. The name of the person on watch — the captain or the mate — is punched in once, at the start of each shift. After that, the fishermen just start bagging and tagging.

“Every time a bag hits the scales, a computer records the date and time of the catch, the boat’s latitude and longitude, and of course the weight — generally around 50 pounds each bag. There’s no need for a worker to enter data by hand; it’s all collected automatically from the boat’s GPS system, which acts as clock and calendar as well as a navigator. All this information is uploaded to the blockchain via satellite radio. A fisherman slaps a label onto each bag, with a barcode that links it to the recorded data.”

For a lot more detail, please read the Globe article, here. And start asking questions where you buy food.

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Photo: Ryan Lenora Brown/Christian Science Monitor
Ritesh Patel is the third generation of his family to run Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, one of the first establishments to sell the iconic food of Durban, South Africa — “bunny chow.”

Certain foods carry with them the unique history of a time and place. Such is the case with “bunny chow,” beloved in Durban, South Africa. No actual bunnies died for this vegetarian dish, the name of which is a linguistic misunderstanding. It all started with a lunchbox made of bread.

Ryan Lenora Brown writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There are a few must-dos for any first-time visitor to Durban, a city of rolling hills in eastern South Africa. Among them: You must be sure to have a bunny.

“Wait, a what?

“Actually, bunny is short for bunny chow – but don’t be fooled. It’s not a rabbit, or a rabbit’s food. The Durban bunny chow is actually a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with spicy curry, and it’s this city’s star culinary attraction.

” ‘A bunny chow is to Durban what a pizza is to New York,’ says Ritesh Patel, part of the third generation at Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, a takeout joint that is one of Durban’s earliest bunny chow peddlers. …

“There are many legends of the bunny chow’s illustrious beginnings, but they all share a few common features. For one thing, it’s undoubtedly the creation of Durban’s Indian community, most of which arrived here as 19th century indentured laborers, shipped in by the British to work the sugar-cane plantations and railroads.

“It also probably owes its name to the banias, the city’s early Indian shopkeepers. By the early 20th century, several were running lunch counters. And then one day, the legend goes, one of them had a novel idea: hollow out a loaf of bread and fill it with beans curry. Voilà: a kind of low-budget, edible lunch pail for workers at the nearby factories and shops. ..

“Some versions of the lore, however, offer a darker reason. In early 20th-century South Africa, people of different skin colors often couldn’t share the same shops, the same neighborhoods, and certainly not the same restaurants. Enter the bania chow, a takeout meal that black customers could eat on the road.

“Whatever its precise origins, bania chow morphed into bunny chow. Joints selling the curry bread bowls proliferated along the length of the Grey Street Casbah, a multiracial stretch of shops, mosques, and apartment blocks through the center of Durban’s downtown. …

“Like many pockets of multiculturalism in South Africa, the Grey Street Casbah was known for its music (jazz), its gangsters (feared), and its politics (anti-establishment). In the earliest years of Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room, the restaurant shared a road with the offices of a fiery young Indian lawyer who’d gotten into politics after being kicked off the white section of a local train. His name? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. …

“Today, Grey Street is Dr. Yusuf Dadoo Street, renamed for an Indian titan of the anti-apartheid movement. Zulu gospel music jostles for space with calls to prayer from the gold-domed Juma Mosque down the road. Hawkers sell fat green avocados, roasted corn on the cob, and 25 kinds of knockoff brand name shoes, while prospective customers stream by chatting in Zulu, Shona, and Lingala.” Food can surmount cultural differences.

Read more about the history of this signature dish — and its future — at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images
Chef Jay Fai in Thailand wears a wool cap and safety goggles to ward off the heat from the charcoal fires in the alley where she cooks all of her restaurant’s meals. She won a Michelin star for her high-quality food.

Quality can be found anywhere, as this National Public Radio (NPR) story about a chef in a Thailand alley shows.

Michael Sullivan writes, “Bangkok is legendary for its fun and its food. Especially its street food. And one vendor’s is so good, it has earned a Michelin star for the second year running.

“Raan Jay Fai is a small, seven-table joint in Old Bangkok that’d be easy to miss if it weren’t for the line. There’s always a line.

“You can try to make a reservation, but the place — named after its chef/owner, a local legend — is usually booked a month or two out. Signing up for the walk-in list is the best bet for many, especially tourists. But you need to get there early.

” ‘I got here at 7:30 [a.m.],’ says 24-year old Kashmira Velji, from Austin, Texas, who was determined to try Jay Fai after viewing the chef’s star turn on the recent Netflix special Street Food. Never mind that the restaurant doesn’t open for lunch until 2 p.m. …

” ‘I’ve never had anything like this before,’ Velji says between bites. … ‘Our first bites were very intense. We kind of just stayed silent and were in shock at how good it tastes.’

“Suparat Tretachayakorn — a doctor — isn’t shocked at all. He’s a regular. And the crab omelette is one of his go-to dishes. … He and his friends have also ordered Jay Fai’s famous tom yum soup, and half a dozen other dishes. Tom yum is a Thai staple — made with shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, garlic and mushrooms — and it’s found almost everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s always good.

” ‘Actually, I don’t normally order tom yum because I know that I’m going to be disappointed at most places,’ he says. …

“It’s another of her signature dishes. One that’s got the visitor from Austin, Velji, baffled. In a good way.

” ‘It tastes just like the soup, but it’s dry,’ she says. “It’s exactly the same flavors of the tom yum soup, but instead of slurping it, I’m chewing it and I’m still getting all those sour, spicy flavors’ …

“Part of the fun [is] watching the maestro at work. The 74-year-old Jay Fai cooks everything herself — over two blazing charcoal fires, in the alley next to the busy street. …

” ‘It’s faster to cook when using charcoal, to stir-fry vegetables,’ Jay Fai says. … Jay Fai is a perfectionist — so much so that she doesn’t let anyone else on her staff do the cooking. That’s another reason why it takes so long to get your food here — even with reservations.

” ‘They can’t do it. This is very hard to do,’ she says. ‘It’s not that I don’t want them to do it, I do. But even when they watch me, they can’t remember anything.’ …

“About that Michelin star: When she got the first phone call, she kind of blew them off. By accident.

” ‘I was confused,’ she says. ‘They said they wanted to invite me to an event, a gala dinner, and I said, “Oh, my, a gala dinner, no thank you. I don’t want to go. What would I wear?” ‘…

” ‘To be honest, it was the high point of my life. If I die now, if anything happens now, I’m OK with it. I’ll die peacefully.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photos: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
Visitors to the Sidewalk Festival enjoy a µTopian Dinner with Hinterlands performers outside the Mobile Homestead.

Kristina and I were discussing the other day all the different kinds of yoga that are popping up. Suzanne’s friend Liz tried goat yoga. Kristina had heard of knitting yoga and laughter yoga.

Similarly, it seems like I’m constantly hearing about new ways of extending the boundaries of theater. In this story from Hyperallergic, sharing food with audiences in person and through Skype is the focus.

As Sarah Rose Sharp writes, artists are practiced “in finding ways to forge interpersonal connections through gesture, metaphor, and performance — or sometimes just by inviting people to dinner.

“ ‘Food is so interesting, because it evokes memory, and it’s a multi-sensory experience,’ said Liza Beilby, in an interview with Hyperallergic during preparations for one in a series of µTopian Dinners, staged by Detroit-based experimental theater ensemble The Hinterlands and co-produced with Poetic Societies, a performance lab fostering cross-cultural and poetic connections. …

“Since 2017, the group has been staging permutations of the µTopian Dinners as a subset of a larger work, The Enemy of My Enemy, a hybrid, digital-live performance project that simultaneously links performers and audiences in the US and so-called ‘enemy’ nations of China, Russia, and Iran. …

“The Hinterlands views the µTopian Dinner projects as a kind of a laboratory to investigate the cultural values that are reinforced through eating, meals, and cooking. [In August], µTopian Dinners took literally to the streets, as the ensemble presented a four-part performance and rotating series of events, during the homegrown and wildly popular Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts. …

“[The group] — as well as their foreign counterparts tuning in from Moscow, Bejing, and Tehran — operated out of the modular traveling unit from Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which is permanently housed at the [Museum of Contemporary Art], making one of the rare forays into the farther-flung Detroit neighborhoods for which it was expressly designed. …

“Artist and designer Yi Zhou, who runs a studio out of Beijing called Body Memory, met The Hinterlands during her 2016 residency at Popps Packing, and the ensemble has visited her twice over the last two years, touring with their previous show, The Radicalization Process, and other performances.

“ ‘In between the first year that we went and the second year that we went, she and a bunch of friends who are designers and architects started this group called TGIS,’ said Beilby. ‘It’s a Sunday brunch in this little courtyard at the studio of one of the members, and they invite people to come and have brunch, and then there’s a lecture, or talk, or conversation, which are themed.’ During the Sidewalk performance, Hinterlands Skyped into the beginning of the brunch taking place in Bejing. …

“ ‘It’s like translation, in a way. You’re trying to contextualize something for the people where you are, that’s meaningful, and then express something about the people here to another group. … It’s an interesting way to try to bridge two spaces or times or peoples, through sensory experiences that aren’t just talking.’ …

“One could call it a new medium, enabled by the tools of our increasingly interconnected world, or one might consider it the mission of any meal undertaken by people who begin as strangers, and perhaps leave with a better understanding of each other.”

More here.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead traveling unit at the Sidewalk Festival for the Performing Arts in Detroit.

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urban-foraging

Photo: Pop-Up City
Urban foragers don’t like to see the food in parks go to waste.

Do you pick berries along the side of the road? I am drawn to blackberries. Suzanne loves mulberries. When we graze opportunistically like that, I guess we are foragers.

I have written before about both gleaning (usually picking up edible food after the farmer has finished harvesting) and foraging (usually in urban or suburban areas). This story suggests the practice is gaining adherents, in part because city dwellers feel too divorced from nature.

Jenny Cunningham writes at the Guardian, “According to Langdon Cook, there’s one golden rule of foraging: if you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. Cook is a leading figure in America’s growing urban foraging movement – in fact he’s written the book on it. As we make our way along a trail through one of his favourite hunting grounds, Seattle’s Seward Park, he mentions some of the poisonous plants out there, such as hemlock. The famous feller of Socrates looks a lot like carrot tops or flat leaf parsley to the uninitiated.

“There’s still plenty of good eating in the city’s parks and green spaces – researchers once identified 450 edible plants in Seattle. Cook enthusiastically points out some ripe thimbleberry. ‘It has a shelf life of about a nanosecond, so you’ll never see it in a farmers market,’ he says. The soft berry slumps off the plant and into the mouth like it’s already been made into a sweet, tannic jam. So yummy, so organic … and so illegal.

“Despite the popularity of foraging in Seattle and cities far beyond the Pacific north-west, municipal parks are generally off limits to foragers in the US. For city authorities, the risk of destruction to plants and wildlife is too great: what if everyone decided they wanted a piece of the park for lunch? Then there’s the potential for overzealous amateurs to make themselves very unwell. …

“While foraging is an ancient art that has taken place in US cities for as long as they’ve existed, the practice has exploded in popularity in recent years.

“There are some who forage because they struggle to afford food, but that is a small percentage, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Mostly, it seems that urban dwellers – starved of light and spending much of their time in virtual environments – crave a stronger connection to nature. Worried parents want their children to have some life experiences unmediated by glowing screens.

” ‘We are drawn to do what our grandparents did,’ says Cook. ‘It’s that “do it yourself” mentality we see in the renaissance of fermenting, pickling, brewing. Foraging fires up all our synapses.’

“Fired up synapses have collided with strict city codes across the US. … But there is fresh hope for foodies as some cities attempt to embrace their foraging communities. After doing away with its ‘molesting vegetation’ rule last autumn, Minneapolis now allows people to pick certain wild nuts, fruits and berries in most city parks. Cities from Boston to Austin encourage the public to harvest in existing park orchards.”

Read more at the Guardian, here. Do you forage?

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Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.

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