Sunday, November 25, 2007

local food pot-luck

One of the biggest skills I have to develop as an art historian is the power to describe what I see. Countless teachers have instilled in me the importance of being able to 'draw a picture' for someone, to make them see what I'm seeing, and how I'm seeing it. Well, those skills are going to come in handy for tonight's blog entry, because I'm going to try to describe an awesome dinner that Daiku and I went to last night, without any photos! Yes, the dreaded photo-less blog post!

As I'm sure many of you would agree, meeting new and interesting people is one of the coolest fringe benefits of blogging. One fellow Syracuse food blogger that I have had the pleasure of running into a few times over the last couple of times is Jennifer of Cookin' in the 'Cuse. Long before I even started blogging, Daiku and I were familiar with her blog, which we found when trying to answer the question "can you eat locally and seasonally in Syracuse, even in the Winter?" (the answer is yes, by the way)

Last night, we attended our first "local pot-luck" - an monthly event that we finally got to go to for the first time. It was unbelievable to see how much local food can be had, even though we are approaching the dead of winter. We got to meet so many people in addition to Jennifer and her husband- members of the community, both newcomers and old-timers, farmers, bakers, teachers, people involved with the food co-op. And we got to have a long conversation, where I mostly just listened, learning new things and getting new perspectives along the way. As is usually the case when the conversation turns to issues of food and health, food and justice, local, sustainable, organic food, food and community, etc., there were a lot more questions than answers. So I figure I want to keep the conversation going on this blog, especially because so many of us have been thinking of food because of VeganMoFo. What do you, dear awesome readers, think of the following issues?
  • how can we shed local, sustainable food (and the wider issues of environmentalism and social justice) of their "elitist" associations? Why do so many people think that this type of food is rarefied, and the sole occupation of wealthy, liberal people? ("NPR listener issues" in the words of one guest)
  • along those lines, how do we bring this kind of food to a wider audience? Is it possible, for example, to re-train palates trained to love the artificial, salty/sweet/fatty tastes of fast food and junk food?
  • how do we get people to try new ingredients? to connect with where their food comes from?
  • how can we really address the issue of farm subsidies, when so much of our nation's economy is built on them, even if they represent a very skewed view and practice of farming? For example, if all farm subsidies were taken away tomorrow, how many people would be out of jobs? how many communities would suffer? where would our food supply come from?
  • are major supermarkets (Wegmans for us upstate New Yorkers, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, etc. for other places) good, evil, or somewhere in-between? Is there anything to be gained by local foods (or organics, gourmet, specialty foods) becoming "trendy"?
Of course, as a vegan, and someone concerned with local and sustainable food, my takes on many of these questions are colored by my consideration of animal rights and the belief that veganism is a huge step in the right direction. But there are so many other aspects of food that need to be examined, what are your thoughts on any or all of these?

P.S. What local food did we take for the pot-luck? Why, an apple-raspberry crisp made with Jonagold, Empire, and Macintosh apples from Beak and Skiff orchards, and raspberries from Henkel's berry patch (picked in August and frozen).

The dish wass based on this Whole Foods Market recipe for apple-cherry crisp, we replaced the cherries with raspberries (in the past we've also made this with blueberries, with wonderful results) which colored the apples a gorgeous pink color. This recipe has never failed for us, so if you want to make a fruit crisp, using the best local ingredients at your fingertips, give it a try:

Apple-Cherry Crisp


Serves 6–8

  • 6 cups peeled, sliced tart apples such as Granny Smith (2 pounds total or about 5 to 6 apples) we used a variety of tart apples
  • 2 cups pitted cherries (either fresh or 1 bag (10 ounce) frozen) we used frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed apple cider would also work wonderfully here
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest, chopped we used 1/2 fresh orange zest, 1/2 dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

  • Topping
  • 1 cup quick cooking rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour we usually increase the whole wheat flour a bit and decrease the white flour a bit, with perfectly fine results
  • 1/2 cup unbleached white flour
  • 1/3–1/2 cup natural sugar such as maple sugar, Sucanat, or evaporated cane juice we used a mixture of local maple sugar and brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) organic butter, softened good old Earth Balace vegan non-hydrogenated margarine came to the rescue here!

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place apples and cherries in a 7x11-inch baking dish or other pretty dessert dish of similar size. In a small bowl, stir together apple juice concentrate, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon and ginger; pour over the fruit and toss gently to mix. Set aside.

To make topping and bake cobbler: Stir together the oats, pastry and white flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt. Using a pastry blender cut the butter into the flour and oat mixture until completely blended. Evenly spread the topping over the fruit, pressing down slightly with fingers.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until top is golden brown and the fruit is tender and bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes and serve warm.



Celine said...

I say it didn't happen if there are no pictures.

Melisser; the Urban Housewife said...

That crisp sounds awesome!

Unilove said...

" do we get people to try new ingredients? to connect with where their food comes from?"

Here's my suggestion: a lot of shows on etc has contests, and people show up to these events to taste or judge. Shows like Iron Chef America highlights a 'special' ingredient, Throwdown challenges a specialist on their best item against a chef who brings his unique spin, and Foodnetwork $$ Contests, like Best Cakes etc. It involves audiences, and panelists, and food items...

Everyone loves contests, challenges, and food, so give them what they want, and teach them what you want!

Veg*Triathlete said...

Oh, so many points to talk about! I'll keep it brief: Some of the most inspiring movements to me are the groups of parents that are rallying to improve school lunch offerings.


I'd like to see the same kind of effort to improve hospital food. Health and educational institutions should be leading the way, not setting bad examples by serving processed packaged frankenfoods.

Also, have you seen this film?

Anonymous said...

The problem with trying to use a wide reaching medium like the Food Network, is that anything vegan or remotely vegetarian is treated as an oddity. I was watching the "Cupcake Challenge" the other day, and the one baker (she owns a bakery in SF) that was very conscious to use as many local items (to San Fran--not sure where the show was taped, but it did involve a plane) placed last in taste. Maybe she used a bad recipe, maybe she was not very good, maybe it was the stress of the show...who knows. It stood out as a negative among the other contestants, who really didn't care where their eggs, etc came from. Also, with Paula Deen's stick of butter (minimum!) in every recipe, Rachel Ray putting chicken stock in a gumbo she said would be vegetarian (although she did give the option to use veggie broth), and Sandra Lee's show (ugh), a veg*n show or special would be very out of place.
Now, I will go back to watching Paula's fried Thanksgiving that's on the DVR...even deep frying the cranberries. Wow.

bazu said...

Sadly, I tend to agree with Anonymous. The Food Network itself admits that a vast majority of its viewers don't actually cook, they use the shows as entertainment. The Food Network is not about introducing people to new foods or challenging them, it's all about maintaining the status quo, and bolstering the coffers of its sponsors. Let's not forget that Paula Deen, for instance, is a spokesperson for Smithfield, a pork conglomerate that gives any vegan, or supporter of local/humane pork nightmares...

Melody Polakow said...

I share the same questions... I have no idea how to go about "enlightening" the masses... so many people just don't want to hear about anything that is "unpleasant" or something that would require effort on their part.

johanna said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I think part of the reason why local food -- heck, why minimally-processed food in general -- is tarred w/the elitist brush is because of the horrifying lack of affordable fresh produce in many low-income neighborhoods, as shown by all those food-access studies about how there are fewer supermarkets in poorer areas. So vegetables in general may seem like more of a rarity, something that other (more monied) people eat. Add in that many farmer's market items will end up being more expensive than the agribusiness GMO produce on the store shelf. In NYC many farmer's markets take food stamps, which is great, & there is a conscious effort to try to develop markets in low-income neighborhoods. Let's hope these efforts come to fruition.

Re: getting folks to try new things -- I wonder if people's reluctance stems in part from how we (society) end up treating food in this gross reward/sinfulness/treating ourselves sort of way? So people think, oh, I could try something new, but I might not like it, & I had a hard day anyway, so I deserve my "sinful" treat, I deserve to be "bad" by having my old favorites. I dunno. I hate the whole "food as sin" thing anyway.

Mihl said...

"how do we get people to try new ingredients? to connect with where their food comes from?"

Give them samples! I love to share new ingredients with colleagues. Okay, I do it the sneaky way, I let them try my food first and then tell them about the ingredients. That way I was able to share my love for local , organic and vegan food.

Emilie said...

I've been thinking about and talking a lot about this with friends lately. I think farmer's markets have become an especially great way to get middle and upper middle class people in urban neighborhoods connected with the produce that used to be primarily the domain of roadside stands in rural areas or fancy restaurants and gourmet shops. There have to be different ways of presenting local products to a variety of areas in urban areas that are underserved by grocery stores and overlooked by farmers markets.

There are lots of great projects that use reclaimed land in urban areas to grow food and then they do educational work with the neighborhoods around that food and around ideas for preparing it. I also like some of the programs that have been really active in bringing produce in vans, etc. to urban areas that have no other access to it. They are like the produce version of bookmobiles. I have this fantasy of doing something like that and having cooking demos and tastings along with it. If the local governments would subsidize the produce and program, it would all actually be affordable to. I think those are the keys: accessibility and affordability.

There's a whole other set of questions for rural areas too---where people might be growing lots of their own veggies or getting local stuff, but it doesn't make up the majority of their diets... Anyway...thanks for your thoughtful post, it's kept my wheels turning on these issues.

jdbauer said...

Hey! You're making me consider turning vegan. The food looks incredible. My friend and I were just having a conversation about cooking vegan and then I came across this. I'll forward to her for inspiration.

bazu said...

"You're making me consider turning vegan."

That's the biggest compliment- thank you, jdbauer! Feel free to come back and ask any questions you may have as you try your hand at vegan cooking/baking. It really is easy!

aTxVegn said...

Hey, Bazu. These questions go through my mind all the time too. I think that the fact that eating local has become trendy can only be a good thing - at least it getting some attention. Almost my entire Thanksgiving meal came from the farmers market and I thought it was so inexpensive, but maybe that's because I didn't buy a 20 pound turkey. Finally, no, I don't think we'll ever get people to stop eating fast foods and I don't think they will switch to fresh local produce when they can get a 69 cent burger.

Catherine said...

Local eating is super challenging, if you ask me. I do my very best, but I still can't seem to get my percent of locally-grown (or produced) foods above fifty percent! Gack. The most frustrating thing? There are some things that are essential to me (coffee, tea, salt, as examples,) that you just CAN'T get from a local source!

Anyhow, Bazu, thoughtful post.

P.S. I need your spectacular opinion on the great Christmas Cookie Conundrum of 2007 -- head on over to my blog and cast your vote! Thanks!

Liz² said...

I'm not sure if it's just the people I run with, but I've noticed a definite trend towards ethical food among my age group. Which could just be idealism, but I think also we have more access to the information required to really make decisions regarding what we eat, more than the previous generation. Being really into meat... is a strange trait, honestly, though I don't really talk to what you might call "normal people" very often. and burger-smelling cafeterias are still packed whenever I pass them... hmmm.

I think there's a degree of machismo going on. And cultural tradition, and "me-first"ness, that's really hard to battle with lentils. And maybe the best any of us can do to change the state of things is to continue talking to people one on one and making a delicious case for veganism.

I do have to say I feel bad in a lot of my purchasing, which is based more on keeping myself healthy than buying organic or local. :/

I farmer's market whenever I can, and I DEFINITELY support small business 99% of the time over chains. Honestly, I can't figure why they're so popular. We don't have health food chains per se in Canada like Trader Joe's, so I can't really comment on that, but virtually every other major chain has the WORST prices on everything, especially organic produce (which is probably perpetuating the image of super-pricey natural food). My school's co-op is the easiest, most sustainable, and affordable place to get real food, and it's run by students. So.... I guess, look to the kids? :D I have no idea, I just ranted. Great questions, Bazu!

sarah said...

I'm the anonymous from above...I agree that the Food Network focuses more on entertainment (which is why I watch it...definently not because I want to eat any of it...) There's a new channel called Veria that is more veg*n friendly, but even there, they seem patronizing. On one episode of "Living Fresh", they tackled veganism, and all she could come up with to cook for a teenage boy wanting to be a vegan was a tofu scramble. With ALL the yummy vegan books out there, all she could come up with was TOFU? That's what scares people away--hell, it scared me the first year I was a veg. I thought I had to live with nasty fake sandwich meat and plasticky cheeze if I wanted to be a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. My sister HATES the idea of even going veg, even though she sees a lot of the health issues I used to have disappear--but she won't give up her meat, and definently not her cheese. Obviously, the first change that needs to be made is to get some of these nasty "substitutes" off the shelves (and out of people's mouths) and to show that you can eat veggies and beans, etc and be healthy without the use of overly processed crap.
I'm looking into co-ops and farmer's markets around here in Houston. I remember going to one every week when I was younger, but then we just stopped. I do make a point to get as much local food as I can at the supermarket, but you never know. Sorry to go on a's one of those things that you never know how you feel about it until you try and put it into words. :-)
BTW, bazu, I've enjoyed reading your blog since I came across it a few months ago. A little more politics/ethics than I'm used to, but it's all good. ;-)

Lisa J. said...


I'm finally wandering over to your blog... I think we both took a beating from our "friend" Francois over at Suicide Food!! LOL!

Anyway... too many blogs for me to comment on individually, but I'm so glad I found this place. Your Thanksgiving dinner looked amazing - I did not take any photos of my vegan meal as our guests (my in-laws) would have thought I was weird. Yeah, I still kinda care that people don't think I'm nuts!!

On another note, I see that you're living in Syracuse. It sounds like you're not a native? I was born & raised in Rochester, right around the corner. I no longer live there (I'm now in Las Vegas) but I always get a bit sentimental about my home town!

I'll be back to read more!

Unilove said...


To clarify, I was not meaning to endorse Food Network, but to take the concepts of challenges, or competitions, or food ingredient showcases and apply it locally.

Sorry I realize I was not clear, but I wish to be :)

textual bulldog said...

make people garden! i can't believe how much my approach to produce changed once i started to garden. you develop a tolerance for "imperfect" looking fruits and veggies, you gain knowledge about how things grow (what a pepper or brussel sprout or artichoke plant looks like, for example), you learn about seasonality... and so much more! you just generally learn to appreciate food in a way that you never did before, and things like CSA boxes and farmer's markets suddenly become wildly appealing in ways that they weren't necessarily before. or that was my experience, anyway... i think community gardens, gardens at elementary schools, things like that are the best way to get people interested in local food.

Coppe said...

Any cultural revolution starts in the elite. In that respect, I don't think elitist connotations are that bad. They're inevitable, since the people in the elite are often the ones with the time and money to try something new.

Trends tend to spill over to the rest of society from the elite and we have seen substantial growth in the amount of organic & local products in recent years.

It will be slow in coming and it's going to be difficult to get key support from politics and business, but I truly believe that someday, like veganism, it's going to be much, much bigger than it is now.

bazu said...

Unilove, you were clear! I didn't mean my comment directed at you, more at the frustration of the wasted potential that the Food Network represents.

Livin Natural said...

Hopefully non Syracuse residents can respond to this question Bazu...I'll be one soon enough!

• how can we shed local, sustainable food (and the wider issues of environmentalism and social justice) of their "elitist" associations? Why do so many people think that this type of food is rarefied, and the sole occupation of wealthy, liberal people? ("NPR listener issues" in the words of one guest)
This is an issue Kansas City has faced for a long time with it’s markets. I know we created several urban markets in an effort to meet more people. People need to be educated that eating locally above all benefits their health. Ethnic communities are developing diabetes at an alarming weight and obesity in this country is out of control. The more people that see the health benefits and spread the word the more people buy it and drive the cost down. Having markets and reaching more urban folks is a cause I am extremely involved in.
• along those lines, how do we bring this kind of food to a wider audience? Is it possible, for example, to re-train palates trained to love the artificial, salty/sweet/fatty tastes of fast food and junk food?
Absolutely! We assume people like that food but if that is all you can afford how would you know differently. Teaching people to cook with real, living ingredients could be a huge outreach, proving that food made this way is not just better for you but tastes better. You can still have “fun” eating this way.

• how do we get people to try new ingredients? to connect with where their food comes from?
One idea is for farmers to have seconds or “damaged” produce that they could give away for people to try???

• are major supermarkets (Wegmans for us upstate New Yorkers, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, etc. for other places) good, evil, or somewhere in-between? Is there anything to be gained by local foods (or organics, gourmet, specialty foods) becoming "trendy"?

I personally do not think they are evil, in many ways they are doing the best they can trying to please a whole lot of people. Here in Kansas City our whole foods started a very aggressive local food campaign that has been a HUGE success. We had a local food fair, cooking classes, farmers demos, it’s been great for people to see just how many farmers are close to them they can buy from. Maybe some CNY stores could do the same?

Candi said...

Hi Bazu,

Another great post of yours!

Right to your questions: I love how Farmer's Markets are popular now. It's great to see so many different people going there and connecting with the farmers directly. It's usually affordable and the locations of the markets are good.

I love how one of your bloggers mentioned the parents trying to get better foods in schools. This is huge - to start kids early with eating better.

Blogs like yours also help out - look at the blogger who said she wants to try veganism because of you! You inspire so many, and you may not even realize how many are out there reading your words.

I feel torn with so many issues like major supermarkets. I feel like in my ideal world, I'd not go there. I do end up at Whole Foods, and I appreciate their variety. If I could be growing my own produce... I'd be much happier. Little by little, I'll do what I can to be less dependent on places like that. I love supporting small businesses and love being more self sufficient too.

Aaaa, you gave us lots to think about. I will be stirring this around in my mind all night. This is one reason why I love your blog. :)