An Ecological Act and the Role of Chefs

I recently read this article that criticized the role of chefs in the sustainability movement. It essentially says chefs should shut up and cook, not taking into account the role professional cooks play in what goes on the plate. Professional cooks (I am not using the word chef as that is a select few of all of the professional cooks out there), select the purveyors carefully considering cost, quality, and the needs/desires of their guests, as well as the menu they have chosen to offer to those that are entering their restaurants. They do all if these things through a thoughtful process that considers those factors, as well as trends and what they love to do, which is cook and make people happy.

While I would love for all cooks to have beautiful, fresh, local foods to put on every plate that is not always the choice that is made, for a variety of reasons. It is, however, important for professional cooks to not just shut up and cook, but rather to advocate for themselves and their guests to have the very best product available and to me that does mean speaking up for sustainable foods. Especially if we want those beautiful products to be available tomorrow.

Sustainability Class (or what I should have told the students)

Today was my first time teaching a college level class. It may be the last time, I was subbing for one of my favorite instructors, but I hope I get a chance to do it again. Sustainability relating to our food system is a topic I hold dear.

We were finishing up a lecture/discussion about the following words related to a sustainable food system;

  • Sacred
  • Healthful
  • Diverse
  • Seasonal/ temporal
  • Value oriented economics
  • Relational

I want to inspire others to hold these concepts dear too, but at this moment mostly I’d like the opportunity to teach the class again so I can try out the things I wish I’d said.

My favorite is this one;

“My mom had a garden when I was growing up, and it was really hard work”
You’re right it is hard work! Aren’t you glad you appreciate what goes into growing food? I’m sure you are a lot more respectful of food and farmers from having that experience.

Then I wish we could have spent the hour talking about what makes you feel nourished and why. Life is about learning and I relish the opportunity to learn more about sharing my passions and learning new things about them too.

 

Lamb

Until recently I’d never eaten lamb. When I was a child my great uncle raised sheep, he and my great aunt even had one they let in the house like a dog. Her name was Rhody. I always pictured lamb as the tiny, cute babies that were pictured in children’s books and also that there was something called mutton that was greasy and eaten in the middle ages.

Since culinary school I’ve realized there is a lot more to meat than I ever knew before. Lamb is an animal that is less than a year, sometimes as young as 6 months old. Mutton is an adult sheep, and for most people less palatable as it has a stronger taste. There are times when very young lambs are eaten, but tends to be a tradition that stems from having more animals that a farmer can feed and as such is, in an odd way, a bit of a kindness to everyone.

Our modern ways of eating, especially meat, has certainly skewed our view food. Veal is a great example of this bizarre turn of events. In the past, veal was eaten as a means of utilizing extra animals, but as the demand (and the ability to procure resources to make that demand) increased our food system became more industrialized and more removed form the natural cycle of life. Calves are now placed in very restrictive environments to produce veal in a way that turns my stomach. And poultry, well there’s an area that could be talked about for days…

Being a student of butchery, I am fond of all sorts of meat. Being a human on a planet in an ecological crisis, I like to be thoughtful about my meat sources. I’m lucky enough to get beautiful, grass-fed beef from my family, but I often find myself wondering what other meats to serve my family. Pork is a challenge, it is a very versatile animal, but most commercially grown pigs come from less than ideal environments. Once I find a good source for rabbits I’ll be adding those into our diet more often too as they are a great alternative to chicken, so for now we’ll enjoy our lamb.

Braised Lamb

Ingredients

  • 2# lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into rough 1-2″ pieces
  • 1T salt
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp sumac
  • 2 T flour
  • 2 T oil
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1 c red wine
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 onion, julienned
  • carrot, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig thyme

Method

  1. preheat oven to 275 degrees F
  2. season meat with salt, pepper, and sumac, dust with flour
  3. heat an oven proof pan over high heat, add oil, heat until shimmery
  4. add a small about of meat to pan, browning on all sides (if you add too much meat will turn gray instead of caramelizing)
  5. continue browning all of the meat, setting aside each batch as you go
  6. deglaze the pan with a couple tablespoons of water (this brings up the fond, or all the yummy brown bits on the bottom)
  7. allow water to mostly evaporate, repeat three more times
  8. add wine and simmer until the alcohol smells dissipates
  9. add onion and a pinch of salt, sauteeing for 3-5 minutes
  10. add carrots and repeat
  11. add meat, cover and place in oven for 3 hours

Serve with preserved lemon rice pilaf and some greens, rapini would be lovely, oh and have a glass of wine to go with it.

20140308-183456.jpg

Sustainable Farming and Corporate Involvement

I’ve read a couple of articles today about corporations getting involved in helping small farmers and I’m feeling a bit…let’s say, irritated.

There is nothing in those relationships that is truly about helping small farmers. They are about helping the corporations. Helping farmers is potentially a byproduct of that relationship, but in the end the farmers lose and so does the planet. Huge corporations are driven by profitability, that’s it. They want a product, maybe a small farmers produces it so it’s in the corporation’s best interest to help the farmer produce more of it, by any way they can. Period. End of story. They will convince farmers to use more fertilizers, more chemicals, plant less diversity, do less farming and more producing. And in the end create a dependence on those corporations at the expense of the farmers lives.

Or not, I don’t have the answers, but it seems like a slippery slope. Make your own decisions, ponder the idea, it effects us all. Here’s some links for you to mull over:

Modern Farmer

The first issue of Modern Farmer came out recently and there some articles that really caught my attention.

Wild boars, http://modernfarmer.com/2013/04/who-can-stop-these-adorable-pigs/. Apparently we are in big trouble from these animals, they are causing mass destruction of crops in many places and they are difficult to kill. Not only that, but do you recall recent salmonella outbreaks from spinach? They were probably cause not by humans, but from boars.

Climate change and basmati rice, http://modernfarmer.com/2013/04/monsoon-season-finale/. With a change in the timing of monsoons growing basmati is affected and farmers in northern India where it is predominately grown may have to switch to growing corn. This will cause a shortage of basmati and a huge change in diet for the people of this region.

Food System Thoughts

SCA has a strong focus on farm/seed to table and sustainability, which is a large part of what drew me to the program. Living in the PNW it’s easy to take those things for granted. As issues of GMOs, climate change, massive die off of bees, population growth, and so many other things that affect our global food supply become part of how we choose to eat we must keep ourselves aware of what’s happening not just in our neighborhoods, but across the globe. I’ll post my own thoughts from time to time on this subject with links to pertinent info. I hope someone will learn something new and feel compelled to care to take action.