Friday, July 24, 2009


Recently I served for a $45-per-plate event at a local golf club. The function with was with a friendly and excellent cook, who we will call B. It was one of those events where everyone wears pastels and there's a traffic jam around the bar. I thought one guest was going to throw his wine glass upon learning the dinner was buffet style, and he would have to wait in a line.

The real kicker for me was the "wish list" in the ladies restroom. Next to an enormous mirror was a place where members could write such suggestions as, "ball cleaners on the golf carts," and "air fresheners in the restrooms." I took in this list, struggled for a moment with the moral implications of writing something even though I'm not a member, and then scribbled down:

"Host a dinner for the area's homeless and unemployed individuals"

All evening I was worried someone would come up and ask me for a handwriting sample. But, I hoped that at least one member would see the idea, think it came from one of their own, and maybe set up a service committee or something. If confronted, this is the answer I would give for my motivations, ready to pull the "our president loves americorp and service projects" card.

What I would not have said is that I feel elitist functions at elitist clubs reinforce dangerous attitudes the upper class have toward life. Like the fact one man's world was shattering around him because he had to stand in line. I wanted my suggestion to bring someone back to reality. I wanted to break their silence around poverty and unequal distribution of resources.

Don't get me wrong- I'm incredibly thankful for the employment. And I know our golf course guests are a product of a society that values money and conformity more than individuals. I care about them, as people. I care about their contribution to our northern economy. But I also care about those who would like to contribute, those have worked just as hard but have nothing near the privilege of these private members. Why aren't we all working toward a world where everyone could enjoy a $45 dinner, and know what it feels like to serve this meal?

if you see this B, please don't let me go- I'm know I'm not the only server who has this opinion!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

pesticide deaths

One of the most frustrating things about the pesticides conversation is how the lens focuses mostly on the consumer. If it doesn't hurt too many end users too much, then it can stay on the market. The main deviation from this framework comes from environmentalists, who say we must protect the places growing this food, keeping the ecosystems free from poisons. Little regard is given to the workers who endure exposure to pesticides day after day, either from consumers and environmentalists in the US or the companies spraying their fields.

This me-centered approach leads to lists like one developed by the Environmental Working Group, (mentioned in my strawberry post), called the "dirty dozen" and the "clean 15." The fifteen fruits and veggies less likely to have traces of pesticides are considered safer for consumers to eat when not organic. However, does that mean the workers aren't affected by these same chemicals? I doubt the lists would make a difference for them.

I'm grateful for the EWG resource, and I think it's likely their strategy is meeting consumers where they are instead of pushing an activist agenda. It's also important to give options to families who cannot afford an organic-only shopping cart, so they can protect themselves from the highest chance of pesticide exposure. However, it's tragic we don't hear more about how agricultural worker's lives are ruined by pesticide exposure.

What do I mean by "ruined"- have I exaggerated my language with my frustration? Absolutely not. Right now my partner and some other good friends are working in a community where the chemical sprayed on the sugar cane is causing kidney disease. Many of the men in the area are either dead or dying from an entirely preventable situation.

The cane is processed into Nicaraguan rum, called Flor de Caña, which the World Bank has supported with loans despite mounting pressure from families of the deceased. Watch the trailer of The Affected for more details on this breech of justice, and check out their thorough reading/film list under "learn more." One of the most striking quotes on the site, in my opinion, is "the Trade and Environmental Database refers to the use of DBCP as a "circle of poison" in which US-banned pesticides are shipped internationally and sprayed on crops which are then shipped back to the US for consumption."

Creating safer jobs, and educating Nicas and Americans about these issues, are some of the ways I think we can combat these types of abuses. No one is safe, consumers and workers alike, until our food is free from all banned chemicals.

(our friend Darwin at the entrance to his organic coffee cooperative, named "Green Gold," in the Nicaragua cloud forest preserve MiraFlor)

family functions

It's easy to get everyone together when you have a family as small as mine, and when most live in a 50-mile radius. Summer brings many occasions for us to do just that: family reunions, graduations, birthdays.

Already this year we had our annual family reunion in Grandma Mae's big front yard. We also celebrated my cousin's high school graduation. I'm looking forward to watching Tia (center) as she blooms and continues her education at Grand Valley State with big sister Kali (right).

The potluck-style dinners at these events represent for me the quintessential rural American meal. I joked with a friend who joined us for Easter dinner that the most important ingredient up here is marshmallows. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), Easter didn't disappoint. There were marshmallows on the baked sweet potatoes, marshmallows in the fruit salad, and even snickers chunks in the apple/grape/cool whip concoction.

What these diabetes-inducing dishes represent for me is twofold. First, it's a reminder of where I come from and how lucky I am to enjoy these traditions with loved ones. Second, the standard diet of meat, carbs, and sugar, while low in fresh produce, is a motivator for me to think about how healthier options could become available to those closest to me. My dad's salad mix is $5 for a half-pound bag. This price is lower than it should be for the work that goes into growing the lettuce, but it's still unaffordable for so many living here. How can we survive on back-breaking work while still providing a product the average northern Michigan resident can purchase?

This is the issue faced by Growing Power, an incredible organization in urban Milwaukee. I recommend their site to learn about the work they're doing to make fresh fruits and veggies part of the culture there.

Other models exist that could be used to strengthen the food accessibility movement in my home and yours. Let's talk about your ideas. In the meantime, enjoy some images showing why I love this place so much, taken at Tia's open house.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


(a potluck at Blackbird Gardens with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members and their families, circa spring 2007)

Where do we talk about food? Executive boardrooms, and Congress, and hopefully our dinner table. Where do we talk about social justice? In books, and blogs, and hopefully community potlucks.

But if we're talking about food and justice in general, I think it makes sense to have these conversations in a garden. The idea came to me while weeding the cilantro rows with Elena and Ken. With busy hands and relaxed minds, somehow the setting allowed us to dive deep into topics of gender, race, and sexuality.

One downside of working and talking, in any type of work, is that we soon came to the end of the task and needed to trellis tomatoes. However, because garden space is always in flux, it provides an evolving setting through the season for your conversations.

I often attended events hosted by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice when I lived in Ann Arbor. They had "dinner and movie" nights for a variety of topics, from nuclear disarmament to the US tax-payer role in massacres in Latin America to food accessibility. What if the movie and semi-facilitated processing conversation at the end was followed by 10 minutes or so of gardening?

Community members could finish their dialogs while doing something productive. Growing food releases feelings of anxiety about the control corporations and the government have on our lives. Why not give it a try the next time you host company? You might get a lot done in your garden.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


It's about strawberry season in our northern region, which means I'll soon be heading to a u-pick field to load up my freezer, (after eating a few quarts fresh of course). Unfortunately we don't grow strawberries at my dad's farm, so I'll have to find a neighbor who doesn't spray unnatural poisons on their crops.

I'm concerned about this because this is one fresh produce item you do not want to purchase unless it's organic. Strawberries are consistently on "dirty dozen" lists for what never to buy conventionally grown. Even if the grower isn't certified organic, you should at least talk to them about what they used to produce their berries. If they haven't been thinking about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides from large chemical corporations until this point, maybe your questions will spark some dialog on their farm.

There's a website where you can see exactly which toxins most strawberries contain. In fact, you can search "what's on my food" for most basic food ingredients. Plus, they make it easy to take actions and stay informed about this issue. Anyone who eats food should be familiar with this resource!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

movie night

Walloon Lake is my favorite. I know I haven’t seen them all, but I don’t need to in order to know. It’s just how love works.

I’m at one of my best friend’s cottages, facing west so we have the best view of the sun setting amongst Walloon’s points and inlets. Before the color in the sky began reflecting off the lake, we escaped the heat by watching Ratatouille. I subconsciously selected a movie about food; this blog must have been on my mind.

Now, if you haven’t seen it, I promise not to give too much away. But here are some of the social/political themes of this cartoon:
• Anyone can cook. Even bourgeois rats.
• Patriarchy exists in the kitchen, (and quite literally in my case).
• Health inspectors are not always good guys.
• Selling out to frozen dinners, especially corn dogs, embodies evil.
• Give credit where it’s due. It makes for a happier ending.

I would say, despite some great messages and animation, the romance story was a bit lacking. With my recent engagement and love in the air, I found myself thinking the writers could have been a bit more creative with that part. However, the knife-wielding female lead was fantastically admirable, for a cartoon character.

Before this, we had dinner by the water.

on the menu:
pizza from the Walloon General Store (made by my lovely Aunt Linda and cousin, Tia)
salad with more BBG radishes
mom’s homemade rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream

father’s day

I’m so glad to have this summer to work with my dad and Real Food/Blackbird Gardens, but it’s also great when we can relax. After a few long days of making food for other people, Father’s Day gave us the much-needed excuse to slow down.

So we loaded up the canoe, towels, and snacks, and arrived at the state park about an hour and a half after leaving the Petoskey marina. A family walked by with little girls, three and six years old. They helped us finish our strawberries as my dad visited with their mom, who he knew from yoga class.

Swimming ensued, then more relaxing in the sun while perfect billowing and wispy clouds grazed by. Carolyn, my dad’s partner, shared an observation about our day’s activities. She wonders if our society might enjoy slower leisure- like canoeing to a beach to picnic- given the economic downturn.

It has seemed to affect our slower catering schedule. And, time will tell how hard the tourism slump will hit the rest of our little lake-ridden paradise. It’s likely families in Detroit and Chicago suburbs may find it difficult to afford fuel for SUVs and jet-skis. Maybe they can carpool up north and borrow our kayaks and canoes as they practice the future of slow tourism?

on the menu:
a dab of leftover whitefish pâté with crackers and roasted cherry tomatoes
black bean corn chips
white cheddar and gouda cheese
trail mix and toasted sunflower seeds
dirty bastard beers
a bit of sand, sun, and fresh air