Category Archives: ethics

Ethical Eating (3)- Organics and Mishigash*

*Randomness. Sometimes Yiddish is fun.

This is part 3 of of a three-part series on my views on eating ethically. The first one focuses on why I try to eat locally (and the resources I use to do so). The second one will focus on why I’m not a vegetarian (even though I love veggies), and this third one will be (yep, modified) organics– plus! a bonus, easily vegan-izable winter meal idea; I would have discussed the comments, especially on the second post, but they really discussed themselves. Go check it out.

You may have noticed that this post has taken a little longer to come than the other two. Part of it is that it’s less specific, and thus less inspiring, by nature– but it’s also that my thoughts are more conflicted on organics than on anything else related. You see, at one point I was *very, very* careful about buying everything organic. Then, I met the farmers market… where the milk and dairy products were not organic, for the most part. Hmmmph. I asked the farmers why they weren’t, and, amazingly, they didn’t  beat me up for being so rude! Instead, they patiently explained to me their methods of farming. To be honest, the methods varied.

Some of our local dairy farms were, for all intents and purposes, organic but the certification process was too unwieldy and expensive. Some couldn’t afford to buy supplemental organic feed when their farms didn’t produce enough, and some just felt that non-organic chemicals did the best job and made it possible for them to spray much less, ultimately lowering the toxicity (note: not all organic-approved chemicals are happy and fuzzy.) I thought about that and accepted that they really knew what they were doing, choosing to buy dairy from them rather than organic dairy from the supermarket.

Next came the fruits. When I found the farmers market it was summer. and most of the fruits (though not all) were organic. I was still buying primarily organic fruits and vegetables, but that– that’s easy in summer. When it came to fall, though, I was stumped. Why? Because nobody grows organic tree fruits near DC. They’re nearly, if not totally, impossible to track down from a commercial source (I have to assume that some people have fruit trees in their yards, but that doesn’t help me much, as I don’t know them.) And so, again, a choice– organic tree fruits shipped in from far away, or local in-season fruits from small farms. Again, I asked the farmers. Turns out it’s just not profitable in this region to grow them, and so they can’t afford to– but all of them spray minimally and responsibly, and are happy to discuss their methods. One  farmer even gives paper handouts out so you can go home and learn more about his methods– really cool! Again, thought about it, bought the fruit, haven’t looked back.

There are, however, some things I make a special effort to buy organic, especially when I’m not at the farmer’s market. Corn and wheat products, wherever possible, because I’m concerned about the amount of genetic modification that goes on (besides which I’m willing to bet that topical pesticides are ground into the flour without adequate cleaning at some places) . The standard list of “most risky” foods. Eggs, meats, and dairies when I don’t personally know the producer (if you’ve taken high school biology, you might remember how toxins concentrate as they go up the food chain.)  Berries, tomatoes, and strawberries. Root vegetables that have been marinating in toxins. The list goes on.

Tricksy, huh? So now that you’ve got your stash of organic, locally grown vegetables, what do you do with them in winter? Well, if you’re me, you boil a few potatoes until very soft, then mash them with skim milk, a little butter, a little cream if you’ve got it around, and some sharp or stinky cheese (vegan equivalents are fine, I prefer rice milk, and you can leave out the cheese– it will still taste fabulous so long as you add a little salt).  While the potatoes are boiling, you sautee a lot of garlic and some crushed red pepper in some olive oil, add some greens, and cook until they’re tender, finishing off with some mustard and lemon juice if you’ve got them around. Make a “nest” of the mashed potatoes, and throw the greens in the middle. This is great on its’ own, but if you’ve got some beans lying around, make a bean salad for extra protein.

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Filed under beans, cheese, ethics, greens, Other Interests, vegetarian, veggies

Ethical Eating (2)- Why I’m Not a Vegetarian

This is part 2 of a three-part series on my views on eating ethically. The first one focuses on why I try to eat locally (and the resources I use to do so). This one will focus on why I’m not a vegetarian (even though I love veggies), and the third will be a mish-mash of everything left over, a discussion of any comments I recieve, and a little bit on organics. I may even try to throw in some seasonal vegetarian winter recipes while I’m at it, since winter tends to be the hardest. We’ll see.

I choose not to become vegan for a lot of different reasons. Food, to me, serves three main functions. It sustains health, it serves as a social binder, and it tastes good. The simplest reason for me not to be vegan is that I’m allergic to most processed soy (tofu, soy milk, etc) , and I prefer not to saturate my diet with heavily processed foods (seitan, tofu, tempeh, TVP, etc.). This leaves two good forms of non-animal product protein, nuts and beans, neither of which I like enough to use as staple foods. I also don’t absorb iron well from plant sources (found that one out the hard way, of course), so it would be very difficult for me to stay healthy on a vegan diet. If this were really important to me, I’d find a way to make it work– but it’s not.

Many social and community events are centered around food– in fact, food is often referred to as the glue of communities. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is becoming more and more common, and thus more and more accommodated in these situations, but it is virtually impossible to eat a full, balanced meal– or even a snack– in most (though not all) social situations as a vegan. I would have difficulty staying healthy as a vegan, I enjoy the taste of dairy, and have no wish to make things difficult for the community around me for non-health reasons. I do not wish to opt out.

I also really enjoy the taste of dairy, and have no moral objection to obtaining it from ethical sources. Factory farming, in many cases, is abusive, and this troubles me, but it is increasingly easy to do the research needed to pick cruelty-free sources of dairy products. I have no problem doing that research for any product I bring into my house, and this influences my choices when choosing restaurants as well. As I said before, though, I try not to inflict my choices on other people– in a group, or at someone else’s house, there arevery few products I feel strongly enough to kick up a fuss about by asking for sourcing information.

The question of eating meat was a much bigger struggle for me. For a time, I didn’t like meat much, so I didn’t eat meat, and that was that. That was the time in which I found out about my iron absorption difficulties (seriously, you would not believe how much spinach I was eating at that time. I tried.) When I went back to eating meat again, I loved the taste. I don’t know how much of that was my getting older and how much of it was eating better meat, but I struggled with the idea of eating animals, particularly knowing the environmental impacts. Oddly, learning more about farming was what helped my decision. Small farms seem to be healthier as plant and animal farms. Hens can be the best field-tenders, and manure can be the best fertilizer. Knowing that reassures me that the life cycle is set up a certain way for a reason, and that there’s nothing wrong with accepting my role in the food chain- so long as I don’t abuse the privilege.

I don’t eat meat often, and I appreciate it when I do. I don’t mind the research it takes to find sources that don’t abuse their animals, and I don’t mind paying a premium for it. I do my best to buy the whole animal (chickens rather than chicken breasts, for example), so that I know that all parts are used and animals aren’t being bred unhealthily for profit. Eating meat is, in so many ways, a privilege to be appreciated and not abused– but now that I recognize that and eat responsibly, the little I do doesn’t trouble me.  Really, I have no problem with anyone eating anything so long as they’ve thought about it and accepted it first.

My biggest food-related pet peeve is people who only order meat not on the bone and in shapes that look nothing like the animal they came from, so that they don’t have to think about or accept what they’re eating. What’s yours?

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Filed under ethics, meat, Other Interests, vegetarian

Ethical Eating (1)- Eat Local DC

This is part 1 of what will be a three-part series on my views on eating ethically. This one focuses on why I try to eat locally (and the resources I use to do so), the second one will focus on why I’m not a vegetarian (even though I love veggies), and the third will be a mish-mash of everything left over, a discussion of any comments I recieve, and a little bit on organics. I may even try to throw in some seasonal vegetarian winter recipes while I’m at it, since winter tends to be the hardest. We’ll see.

I eat locally and seasonally as much as possible, for four reasons. In my opinion, it tastes better, it’s healthier, it’s more environmentally friendly, and it’s often cheaper. This makes intuitive sense to me: food grown closer to home has to travel less. This means that it can be picked when ripe (and flavor and nutrient levels are highest), and can be bred for taste rather than easy transport, attractiveness, and ability to adjust to adverse conditions (like fowl bred with giant tasteless breasts to increase their value and sawdusty red delicious apples). Since it has less of a distance to travel, it’s fresher when you get it.

Food grown locally tends to be less- or at least more carefully- processed, so it’s healthier. It’s certainly intuitive to me that milk that goes from cow to bottle– or at least cow to normal pasteurization to bottle to fridge without lying about for months under bright lights is healthier and tastier. Knowing your farmers. or at least knowing about them, means knowing that your food is carefully tended to and healthy pre-harvest. Frequently, local farmers, even those who are not certified organic, use far fewer chemicals and more sustainable practices, than larger farms will. “Common sense farming” is much healthier to sustain than large-scale organic farming, even.

Nature is great at protecting us, too– frequently in season foods have the ability to protect us from the ills associated with the season– citrus during cold season, starchy potatoes when we need more padding and warmth, and water-rich vegetables and fruits during dehydration season. Local honey helps with allergies, too- because it is made with pollen from the plants you’re likely to be allergic to, it allows your immune system to adjust more easily.

Of course, sometimes I make exceptions. I can’t find any local oil, spices, chocolate, coffee, tea, or sugar (though I try to at least go for domestic), some regional specialties just can’t be made here, and sometimes I’m just priced out. For example, I buy fresh, local butter for eating on bread and making special occasion desserts and butter-based sauces, but for most baking I buy commercial products. $5 for 8oz is too much for me to pay for everyday baking butter, as much as I’d love to be able to, and you can’t taste the difference in strongly flavored baked goods– so I substitute organic east-coast butter or butter from the Cabot Cooperative. I usually don’t feel bad about it, either. I also sometimes buy canned or frozen fruit and vegetables, because I don’t yet can, and I can’t freeze or store that much now (that, I do feel guilty about). I’d love to garden, but my apartment has no usable sun and I’m still on the community garden wait list. And the list goes on. I do what I can, though, and the list below includes my favorite sources.

All of these providers are available at the Sunday morning Dupont Circle Freshmarket (open year-round) unless otherwise noted; many of them sell other places as well. The list is *not* exhaustive, especially for fruit and vegetable producers, and I would love to hear of your favorites.

Dairy:

  • South Mountain Creamery: South Mountain Creamery is… well, wonderful. It’s tremendously difficult in this area to source local milk and cream now that Blue Highland Dairy closed, but South Mountain creamery delivers to your doorstep in many areas of DC, MD, and VA- plus they’re only an hour away– and at very reasonable prices. They’re not officially organic, but use good common sense– and they also deliver tons of other amazing stuff.
  • Blue Ridge Dairy: Blue Ridge Dairy makes amazing Italian style cheeses with vegetarian rennet. They’re naturally very low in lactose, and amaaaaaaazing. Especially the low-fat ricotta. They also make really yummy yogurt and butter.
  • Highfield Dairy: The dairy for people who think they don’t like goat cheese. I love their goat cheese, especially the herbed variety, and doesn’t have the bitter taste I normally associate with goat cheese. They also sell really yummy giant pierogi and seasonally flavored ice cream, among other things.
  • Keswick Creamery: Keswick Creamery almost always sells out of their yogurt well before close. They also have the widest selection of cheeses I’ve ever seen out of one producer. They leave out tons of samples so that you can get exactly what you want, and make great cheddar-styles and fetas.

Meats:

  • Cibola Farms: The place to go for buffalo and pork. Their products are nothing short of incredible; they have everything, including jerky, and are happy to tell you how to fix anything you’re unfamiliar with.
  • Eco-Friendly Foods: The place to go for beef and poultry. Bev is a Joel Salatin protoge, and lectures quite a bit. Plus, they just built a processing plant so that they could process their own meat. As local as it gets.

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Endless Summer Harvest: Endless Summer Harvest has a really cool hydroponic greenhouse that allows them to produce lettuces and other green leafys (with the occasional tomato) all year. They’re your go-to girls if you want anything out of season that’s still going to tasted good. As a bonus, they’re probably the friendliest vendors at the Dupont Market (they are at a few others as well)– give them a half a chance and you’ll learn a lot about hydroponic farming. Fascinating. As a bonus, they frequently give you plants with the roots on, so you can extend their shelf life.
  • Country Pleasures Farm: These guys have everything– fruit, vegetables, flowers, personal care products, and preserved produce, and they’re one of the most sustainable urban organic farms out there. Worth looking up just for their story even if you can’t buy from them, but they’re at Dupont every Sunday.
  • Quaker Valley Orchards: This farm grows a huge variety of apples and knows everything there is to know about them– plus pears, berries, and preserves.
  • Next Step Produce: Next Step Produce is very, very local and organic as well. They’re the most likely stop for “odd” fruits like persimmon and kiwi.

Other:

  • Wade’s Mill Farm: Your local source for flours, whole grains, and mixes. Locally grown, locally milled, inexpensive, and mailed straight to your door.
  • Jug Bay Market Garden: My CSA of choice. Scott and Tanya run the “Short, Jewish farm” (at 5’4″, I’m the tallest person on the farm when I go to visit, and my raised-Catholic friend who got an internship there is frequently mistaken for a Jersey Jew– funny.) It’s a lovely and friendly organic farm, and having worked there a day or two, I can vouch for everything being carefully tended (if occasionally cursed at.) CSA pickup is near Eastern Market, on Capitol Hill, and their distribution was plentiful even during last summer’s giant drought. They also sell periodically to Yes! Organic.

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Filed under ethics, meat, Other Interests, Uncategorized, vegetarian