It would seem I’m on a bit of a broccoli bender. First came the challenge of concocting a brunch recipe with broccoli that yielded the highly flavorful broccoli breakfast tostadas smeared with an Aleppo pepper white bean spread, roasted broccoli, a dollop of labneh, and a sprinkling of sambal oelek, giving that meal that encompasses two meals a bit of flair. Then came Jeff Friedman’s Pan-Sauteed Broccoli with Walnuts, paired with an homage to our King Arthur visit. Just when you thought the green crown had been deposed, it’s still in charge.
Sometimes the CSA delivery surprises me not with what’s inside but with its arrival. Notoriously, I heed some inner alert to buy vegetables for the crisper the evening before the brown cardboard box greets us with its array of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s happened often enough that I’ve had to get creative about assessing its contents and the newly procured produce to deduce what will go bad quickly. Broccoli usually passes the test, like a small tree uprooted whose crown keeps green. This buys me time and as such has made broccoli an indispensable addition to the regular rotation.
Recently, after attending a Big Traveling Potluck, I found myself happily saddled with a block of Kerrygold Skelling cheese. Tucked in an insulated bag, deep in the confines of my suitcase, it became one of my “food-venirs” to make the journey back up north to San Francisco from San Diego. Like the contents of our CSA box, the unexpected block of cheese was whisked into the fridge where it greeted us each time we opened the door, somewhat bewildered how to use it best. Part of the cheese slid off the block and onto a cheeseboard with a little help of prunes and crackers. Another bit made its way from the block into the mouth with ease and this might have continued if the crisper had not beckoned.
The notion of salads doused in mayonnaise somehow leaves me limp like greens past their prime. One evening I discovered that the drawer I thoughts had held spinach was bare. In its place, the head of broccoli eyed me with promise. Recent broccoli boasts included different techniques- pan-sauteeing and roasted, why not add a raw offering to the mix? Raw broccoli contrary to a misconception I had growing up is not bitter but crunchy and a good foil for other flavors. Punched up with mini cubes of the Skelling cheese, sweetness from fennel, raisins and a bit of maple makes this salad surprising without any mayonnaise marring its flavor. If I’m going to get fixated on an ingredient, and I do all the time, then broccoli’s time has peaked. I can think of worse things to vie for space in the crisper.
BROCCOLI RAISIN SALAD
You’ll find this recipe calls for hemp hearts and avocado. I think this greatly makes up for the lack of mayonnaise as it’s still full of fats, albeit healthy ones. Hemp hearts are fantastic- they’re slightly nutty and a delicious way to also add some omega 6′s to your meal. Hemp hearts are what you find inside hemp seeds. Both are available at grocery stores, but keep in mind that hemp seeds are crunchy as you also eat the outer shell as well as the heart. It’s your call as to which one to use here, but I find the fennel and broccoli provide ample crunch on their own. To store hemp hearts, pour them into a wide mouthed mason jar and freeze until your next use of them. This should keep them fresh for several months. A big thank you to the California Avocado Commission for a bag of San Diego avocados that found their way into this salad and the block of Skelling Kerrygold cheese, both from the Big Traveling Potluck and both of which provided important elements for the salad. It goes without saying that all opinions are my own.
YIELD: 4-6 servings
1 bunch broccoli, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
2 oz. sweet cheddar (I used Kerrygold Skelling)
¼ cup pecans, chopped
¼ cup raisins
2 tablespoons hemp hearts
avocado, cut into slices
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fennel frond, minced
In a large bowl, toss diced broccoli, fennel, cheese, pecans, raisins and hemp hearts. Set aside.
Pull out the avocado pit. Cut each avocado half into slices and set aside.
Whisk together the maple syrup, Dijon mustard, olive oil and garlic. Grind black pepper to taste.
Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.
When plating the salad, spoon out the avocado slices on top of the salad on each serving plate.
May eighth, you come without notice. After three years, you would think I would be mindful of your coming and yet you come and you take. A week ago, I greeted May, all bustle and business until it stopped me and put me in my place- the clock is ticking. You will soon be here again. I do not look forward to your visits or your interruptions, but death does that all the time, doesn’t he?
Dad, you left without notice. After three years, you would think I would be seamless and utterly stitched back together, and yet your anniversary comes and it steals joy away, even if just a little bit, even if just for a day (Write it!). The clock is ticking- how did I never hear its music?
A week ago, I bought myself flowers- blowsy peonies all flush in their fuchsia gall, almost garish in their enthusiasm. Those pom poms perked up a section of the kitchen with their cheers and thrill to be alive. Little did it seem fitting that they too might play the role of teacher. And yet, their cheer changed…
- how the color fades so quickly – how the bloom falls from the stem or how it fights to hold on until it withers in place – how little I understood then about the nature of love and about the truth of life – you, peonies caught me off guard but ready to be reminded of how fleeting the beauty of life is – and how the end is the beginning. Life and death as book ends for a love that will not fade or fall apart.
Jeff Friedman and I don’t argue often, but when it comes to bread, we’ve almost come to blows. Okay, maybe that’s overstating things but he has tried convincing me that New England’s bread economy rivals San Francisco’s. Part of his argument included a visit to King Arthur Flour last time I ventured to New England. Whenever he finally makes it out to San Francisco, I plan on taking him to Bar Tartine for a loaf or even a few slices of Chad Robertson’s legendary Oat Porridge. I’m not convinced the Porridge bread would make the cross-country voyage or that it would make it off of my cutting board where I stealthily sneak pieces to toast with alarming frequency. It’s that good.
On our outing to King Arthur, we surveyed the pastry case with glee. And, while we peered in like hungry wolves, we didn’t buy anything. This is saying a lot. One thing we share in common is a voracious sweet tooth that’s not easily satisfied. So, it should come as no surprise that one of my purchases in their retail store included a bag of Black Cocoa.
I was immediately intrigued by the name and claims on the bag. This may not be the right point of context but imagine tearing the side of the packaging from a newly opened bag of oreo’s. Breathe in the smell and peel off the upper cookie, scraping the white contents with your teeth. Then plunge the scraped cookie into your mouth and chew. This is surprisingly what Black Cocoa smells and tastes like- the oreo cookies of my childhood. This is also to say I haven’t found the right application yet to share a recipe here. It has a tendency of exacerbating the adage “a little bit going a long way” and like a red feather boa can be a bit garish when worn out of context.
As we meandered around the retail store, I found myself transfixed by the walls and shelves filled with any kind of flour combination you can imagine. These bags and boxes taunted me with promises of pancakes! Biscuits! Pizza! I had to continually remind my enthusiasm about the controlled parameters of my red suitcase. We marveled at the demo kitchen set up in the middle of the store and noshed on a sample of warm blueberry muffin, recently pulled from the oven. As we wound our way over to the oils and spices section, I picked up a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon, knowing the price was too good to not find a blouse I’d packed to wrap around it as an invitational into the luggage. Jeff picked one up as well and we moseyed over to the oils, as I exulted on the merits of making space in a spice rack / flavor pantry for toasted walnut oil. It’s a bit of a splurge, but completely worth it’s weight in drizzle.
Jeff left with a jar of Vietnamese Cinnamon and a vessel of Toasted Walnut Oil. In spite of my attempts to curb my zeal, I made off with a bag of Ancient Grain flour blend, cheese powder, black cocoa and Vietnamese cinnamon. In the larger scheme of things, my restraint would be rewarded. Food and poetry flit in and out of our conversation just like talking about bread bakers or a Galway Kinnell poem. In the end, who really knows which coast bakes the best bread? I’m inclined to think the best loaf is the one you break and share, even if that “bread” is time spent trolling a flour store discussing recipe ideas or snippets of literature with a kindred spirit.
JEFF FRIEDMAN’S PAN-SAUTEED BROCCOLI WITH WALNUTS
JEFF’S NOTES: “Originally I made this dish several years ago when poet Ross Gay came to visit. I had purchased some sweet basil oil and wanted to use it on the broccoli… Ross likes all his food hot so we decided to sauté garlic with lots of crushed red pepper and then toss the broccoli with sweet basil oil. The recipe was good, but not anything I wanted to make on a regular basis. I normally roast broccoli because it’s so easy and delicious. Anyway, Annelies came for a visit, and we went shopping at the King Arthur Store in Norwich, Vermont. She recommended that I purchase toasted walnut oil and Vietnamese cinnamon, both of which I now use regularly. (The cinnamon is definitely amazing.) Substituting toasted walnut oil for sweet basil oil and adding sliced almonds transformed the dish. This is simple to make.”
3 large heads of broccoli cut into 2-inch branches
3-4 med-large cloves of garlic
3 tbs of olive oil
1 ½-2 tbs walnut oil
walnut slices (toast in pan)
crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
1.Steam broccoli until it is tender.
2.While the broccoli is steaming, saute garlic in olive oil adding crushed red pepper.
3.When broccoli is ready, put it in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and pinches of crushed red pepper.
4.Toss with sauteed garlic and crushed red pepper.
5.Toss again with walnut oil.
6. Add sliced walnuts and serve.
MY NOTE: I often eat this as is, but sometimes I add parmesan cheese at the end, also very good.. There should be enough left over to heat up in a skillet for a day or two. I think this could also work well pureed into soup.
When researching poetry MFA programs and poets I wanted to study with during my MFA, Jeff Friedman was on my short list. I found myself taken with his ability to weave together midrash poetry or narrative. He ended up being my second mentor in school and one I stay in touch with often. Our shared love for food became evident early on in our mentoring relationship as he would describe new recipes he had devised and then later he developed a food, dreaming class to help his students break out of their writing ruts. Join me “In the Kitchen with Poets” as Jeff Friedman speaks to the intersection of food, poetry and the writing life.
The Food Poet: I know you are a voracious cook. What is your favorite thing to make right now?
Jeff Friedman: My favorite thing to make is this new penne with tomato carrot sauce, my zucchini garam masala soup and my balsamic chicken recipe. These would be my three favorites.
TFP: Mmm. Next time I come to your house, I’d really like to try the Zucchini Garam Masala Soup. Food and poetry have certain commonalities you are teaching in the classroom. How would you describe the poetry of food and your approach to intermingling them in your Eating, Dreaming class?
JF: Food and literature go way back. For example in The Odyssey, almost every place Odysseus goes, there’s some kind of feast or wine. In many of the mythic or epic pieces, there’s usually some feast involved, showing what we eat, how we fight, how we make love.
Of course in the Bible, in the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, you can see how wine and food are laced throughout the different stories. Food is mentioned quite a bit in the Bible: what the Jews should eat and how they should eat. Throughout the story of David or Solomon, they will tell you what he eats. It’s always been a part of our literatures. I don’t think of them as separate.
You look at a great short story like “The Dead” – it shows what they were eating at this dinner they have regularly every year and Gabriel is coming back for the dinner. I’m thinking also of Proust remembering the Madeleines.
People don’t think about it as starting with food as the subject matter, food appears in a lot of literature. The Jews of course see the act of eating as a blessed experience. When you’re teaching writing, often times, the focus is on working on certain things like how to work with an image or write a line, so the exercises tend to be writing-oriented.
In my class, most of the students think, “Food? What kind of subject for writing is that?” They’re kind of put out by it. Giving food as the starting point for the exercises like putting a piece of chocolate in your mouth and thinking of what it reminds you of takes your mind off of writing and leads them directly into the fact that the class is ultimately about the pleasure of the senses and exploring the sensuousness of language and breaking away from an A-Z logic of writing a poem. Concentrating on the food gives an experience to take an unselfconscious approach directly into the language.
TFP: Sounds like a fun class. I wish I could take it.
JF: It was actually really fun. We held different international days, like international salad day, international soup day, etc… I divided everybody into groups and they had to cook. They formed a community very quickly. All the groups tried to come in with something really good and make something everyone would like. They also became better cooks. A poet friend loved the idea and is thinking of teaching something similar.
TFP: How would you describe your cooking style and who has influenced it?
JF: Besides my mother, the person who’s been the biggest influence is my closest friend Charna Meyers. She also did the cover of my last book. She’s a great photographer. In the late 80’s was when I really got into it. I had some health issues in 2001 and took over all the cooking in the house since my wife was so busy. I was still on the clumsy side and started trying things out based on what I liked. I would keep adapting until I liked it, just like with the Balsamic Chicken recipe.
I’m an eccentric cook and like to experiment. A lot of it has to do with my limited diet of avoiding dairy and eating minimal legumes, and my wife is vegetarian. When Ross (Gay) comes over, I cook solely vegetarian. I think I’m a student of it.
To learn to cook Indian food, I went into an Asian store in this little mall and asked how to cook lentils. The female owner cooks a lot and cooks all the time and doesn’t go to the Indian restaurants in town because they are too Americanized. She talked about building layers with mustard seeds and cumin seeds until they pop, then adding oil, onions, and turmeric. I went and talked to her, took copious notes and now I make a few Indian dishes. They tasted good the first time and better the next.
With my friend Charna, we have a treadmill recipe club and talk about what recipes we’ve cooked. She has a bad memory and I tend to remember her recipes and she will call me to get the recipes. I’ve been getting recipes from her and also from cookbooks. We trade and evaluate all the time. Anything I get from her, I change and anything she gets from me, she changes. There’s a woman named Maria in town who worked at a gourmet deli and would also give me advice on cooking. I do a lot of roasting because I like the way vegetables taste roasted.
TFP: If you could have dinner with any chef, who would it be?
JF: I like some of the recipes in Chloe Coscarelli’s book but her bakery goods have won awards. I want to know more about them. I’ve never tasted a good vegan dessert- they’re either too dry or just don’t have a good taste. Supposedly hers are great. I think it’s difficult to limit the ingredients and be able to make cupcakes and brownies that are really tasty. You know I’m a big dessert person… though I’m trying to get a certain amount of sugar out of my diet.
I like Deborah Madison. Her vegetarian cookbook is one I’m using more because I’m trying to cook more vegetarian. Since my wife is vegetarian, I’ve gone to Madison’s book so many times to learn how to cook things so she would be someone I would ask a lot of questions. I would want to sit with Mario Batali and ask him how he makes his amatriciana so good at Lupa. It’s hard to choose just one person, but I’ll go with Mario Batali because I want to learn about that sauce. There are other people I’d like to talk too, but I really like that dish of his.
TFP: If you could make dinner for any poet dead or alive, who would you invite and what would you make for them?
JF: I think I would want to invite Zbigniew Herbert and I would definitiely make him my Curry Zucchini Soup. Louise Fishman, the artist was documenting the creation of the soup and people always really like it. The sure-fire winners are salmon or actually, I would make my broccoli orecchiete, but I can’t make the soup because that’s too green. I would then make a salad with my modified dressing with Boston Red Lettuce and then I would serve my sweet potato soup with roasted pumpkin seeds. I would have to see if he has any health issues.
The Broccoli Orrechiete is essentially a broccoli sauce on orecchiete- it’s kind of spicy and pretty good. The sauce is pureed and folded in. We discovered it in Rome where Colleen (Friedman’s wife) had a grant to go study. When we came back I tried making it- it’s not the same but my sweet potato soup has its own stock- I’m not cheating. I’m getting too obsessive about making my own stock. Soup is really time-consuming. A lot of my friends think I’m crazy. Vegetarian stocks tend to have after-taste and it’s not difficult to make your own stock. It’s got a cleaner taste and holds the flavor nicely.
TFP: You’re reading a book of poetry and stumble upon a poem that inspires you to create a dish. What is the poem and what is the dish?
JF: A lot of times in ancient literature, they had roasted meats in them. I haven’t been inspired too much by literature to cook something, but I became obsessed with shallots. I used to put them in everything I was cooking and then wrote that poem, “Shallot”. A lot of poets have written poems about onions like Naomi Shihab Nye or Szymborska. Wilbur has a famous poem about shallots too. I can’t think of anything I’ve read that’s made me want to cook something.
I wrote a poem about Ross – he was at the house eating all these Athena melons and that inspired me to write a poem. Because I became obsessed with shallots, that inspired me to write a poem about them. When I read essays about cooking, it makes me want to cook but not write about it. Being absorbed in the process of cooking has inspired me to write in a certain way, just as walking so much has created a different kind of movement in my poems. I like the idea of improvising as well as having something written down. There’s a sense of ritual about it like writing a poem. You go to get a cup of coffee and then go to a certain place. Can’t write? So, then you move. Then you settle down. With cooking it’s a matter of how do you line things up.
TFP: When you think of food and poetry, do any specific poems come to mind? What are some of the books you require for your class?
JF: I’ve written a lot of poems about food myself, like those in my book Working in Flour. Neruda has all those wonderful odes- like “Ode to Watermelon,” “Ode to Salt,” “Ode to an Artichoke” and “Ode to French Fries.” “How to Stuff a Pepper” is a good example of a poem that speaks about food and sex. I’m sure if you look in many poems you’ll find food.
I think of Sylvia Plath, Louise Glück. I do different things with my class like having them write a poem that unfolds like an onion and then show them a series of onion poems. An orange is at the center of “The Mercy” by Philip Levine where his grandmother eats an orange for the first time and “A Simple Truth” has a potato at the center of it.
The anthology I use for the food part of the course is Sustenance and Desire, a food lover’s anthology of sensuality and humor.” This anthology also contains Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Lunchtime Poem”. I like Sherman Alexie’s poem “13/16”, Szymborska’s poem “The Onion”, Simic’s “Cabbage”, and Derek Walcott’s “Sunday Lemons,” as well as a wonderful poem called “The Creation Story” by Natasha Sajé.
Another book we use is A Literary Feast with a chapter from a A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and talks about being hungry. It also features Peter Mayle, M.F.K. Fisher, and Virginia Woolf. I have a lot of readings that I have compiled on my own. I’m not just teaching poetry, but also teaching short fiction and personal narrative essays.
TFP: Do you ever find yourself influenced by food when writing poetry? Are there any foods or drinks that are part of your writing process?
JF: I write early in the morning so I’ll have some oatmeal or warmed up soup and then finish it up with a chocolate chip cookie. If I don’t have a chocolate chip cookie or a piece of flourless chocolate cake or brownie in the morning, I can’t sit down to write. That’s really true. I have to have just a nibble to sit down to write. The poem “Working in Flour” comes from a stint of mine in baking.
TFP: Do you find yourself writing mostly in the mornings, days or evenings?
JF: Mornings. Early morning. Although for a while when I write fictional pieces, I switch to afternoons.
TFP: What are you working on right now?
JF: I’m working on a book of fables and mini tales that are somewhere between prose poems and micro stories. Lately, I’ve incorporated biblical themes into some of the pieces.
TFP: What books are keeping you turning the pages right now?
JF: I’m rereading and love this book by Augusto Monterroso called The Black Sheep and Other Fables and Rebecca Solnit’s Walking as I am getting ready to teach a class on walking and writing. It helps me work out problems when I’m walking and things come to me when I’m walking. I like this idea Walter Benjamin has of getting lost when walking. I’m getting ready to read his book, One Way Street and Other Essays.
There’s so much literature on walking – next I intend to read Geoff Nicholson’s History of Walking. It goes along with the way my mind works too. I’m still in the thinking stages of the class so I’m reading, making a list and making things up as it comes together. Bruno Schulz involves stories with walks and also James Joyce in The Dubliners of walks in the city. I just finished rereading Lunch Poems by O’Hara. I’m also rereading Fitzgerald’s magnificent translation of The Odyssey and a book over and over again by Suniti Namjoshi,The Blue Donkey Fables.
ABOUT JEFF FRIEDMAN
Jeff Friedman is the author of five collections of poetry: Working in Flour(Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011) Black Threads (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007), Taking Down the Angel(Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003), Scattering the Ashes (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998) and The Record-Breaking Heat Wave (BkMk Press-University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1986). His next book, “The Pretenders” will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2014. His poems and translations have been published widely in national and international literary journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Antioch Review, Maggid, Ars-Interpres, Cardinal Points, New England Review, Margie, 5 AM, Agni Online, Natural Bridge, Ontario Review, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner and The New Republic. He has won two individual artist grants from the New Hampshire State Arts Council, The Carnegie Mellon University Press Open Competition, The Editor’s Prize from The Missouri Review and the Milton Dorfman Poetry Prize. He has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts the Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo. Since 1994, he has taught at Keene State College, where he and poet William Doreski cofounded the Keene State Writers’ Conference. Jeff Friedman lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire with artist Colleen Randall and their dog.
When April descends, it brings with it National Poetry month. I love the idea of a month entirely dedicated to poetry as it seems we turn to poetry in the best of times and the worst of times. I have a hunch it can belong in the in-between times too. With poetry, we all have to start somewhere.
The unexpected and tragic can happen at any time. Monday brought a bit of unfolding horror as news reports began flooding the internet and snippets of newslike material took over twitter. I poked my head into twitter a few times on Monday and observed the human condition at work as I grieved hearing details of those injured, slain and those at the end of their race forced to stop.
It reminded me why we turn to poetry.
Yesterday a friend posted in the same status update on Facebook that her cousin had taken his life and she took solace in a poem. We need poetry for the unexpected moments that life sometimes lets come our way, for when we feel felled and irrevocably broken. We need its words to help build us up again, to remind us of the possibility of tomorrow or the certainty of yesterday. The spoken music of the line tethers us to something sturdy when we feel weightless.
Another friend on Facebook announced that in the week where all eyes are on Boston because of the bombing, she brought her firstborn son into the world… in Boston. This too could be conveyed in poetry- the grappling with the so very wrong with the so very good at the same time.
The Academy of American Poets instituted their “Poem in Your Pocket Day” , as a way to bring poetry into the everyday. Every April 18, the idea is simple: you carry around a poem in your pocket to share and read to co-workers, friends or family who you encounter on that day. Poetry becomes woven into a simple Thursday, transforming it into a rite of passage.
I would charge that memorizing a poem, letting it come closer than crumpled paper in a pocket, is an act worthy of any bucket list. When the hard time comes, when the unbelievably good times come, the poem is there, just at the cusp of memory to act as balm or exultation.
If you’ve never attempted to commit a poem, dialogue of a play, song lyrics or any words to memory, it can seem awfully daunting. Like most things worth their mettle, the difficulty is hard won in the words being conjured up just when you need them. I think of memorization as an investment that my future self will reap when the time is ripe for the words to flourish from memory.
Below are a few steps to help you start thinking through poetry memorization. Do you have tips to share for memorization or a poem that’s been meaningful to you?
STEP 1: Select Your Poem toMemorize. Are you a fan of music? How about food? It can be difficult to find the right poem you decide to commit to memory until you find it. I find often, I will stumble upon something so beautiful, so hopeful, so heartbreaking or true that I need to have it closer to me than in the book in which I originally discovered it. Be patient. Consider poets’ work you enjoyed in school (or now). Here are a few suggested poems of different lengths:
STEP 2: Get a Memorization Game Plan. Memorizing can be a challenging mental exercise to test your mind’s acuity. Set a poem to a popular music tune or work on hacking it up to memorize line by line. There are different strategies for memorizing a poem. One I like to employ is finding the poem’s inner music and repeating it over and over. You’ll find this practice can be good even when taking jaunts around the neighborhood.
STEP 3: Pick Your People. Is thereanyone you can think of who might appreciate the poem in your pocket? Reading the poem aloud or reciting it with the poem nearby just in case is a good mental exercise and departure from the everyday. Also, sharing it with attribution on social media is another way to send it out into the world.
In a room full of food writers, editors, movers and shakers, I found myself all alone. As applause struck a fevered pitch in the audience, my heart rate began to race. I tried to edge out from my emotions and siphon them into the seat next to me. I tried to make my fingers with their triggered itch behave, but instead I let the pull sweep me into the locus of its energy. I began sinking deeper into a reality I’ve known would be my truth for too long and took up the helm of a voice in the wilderness crying out.
Monday marked several important intersections as IACP invoked trying to answer the question of “The Future of Food” and it also happened to be the day of The Giving Table‘s grassroots effort of bringing together over 200 food bloggers against hunger. How strange to see the overlap on two topics that affect one another. The future of food and hunger wrapped me in a curious cocoon from which I soaked in the five speakers’ comments. One voice in particular rankled me exceedingly.
According to one speaker from a large chemical company that’s gotten into the business of selling seeds, the future of food will be found in genetic engineering. He spoke with the ease of power and the smoothness of molasses letting phrases like “open-pollenating corn” slip out nonchalantly even as his agenda continued to propel his words forth. Their interest in “feeding the world” and “diversifying crops” didn’t speak to the terminator seeds they have engineered that have built planned
obsolescence into something that naturally would grow when nourished. My fingers hit the keypad with fervor trying to capture the comments and put them into the ether of the internet that others not in the room, not applauding could chime in. As luck or shrewd planning would have it, no time was available for Q&A, so any questions to put the propaganda in check could not be asked aloud. I refrained from saying something I might regret to the “former farmer” on best business practices.
A session later and like all the other attendees, I walked with the throng into the lunch line snagging salad greens with tongs and settling into an open seat. Between bitefuls and earfuls from my foodie friend, I caught snippets of story across the table. A chef I respect was speaking to two colleagues and I found a horror growing in my chest as their conversation continued down a treacherous path, citing how brave it was for the chemical company representative to show up and what good work they are
doing. My foodie friend piped up, head nodding that yes, their efforts would be the future of food. I was flabbergasted. Silently, I sat in a strange sense of observation. My thoughts turned back to the future of food session that morning and the comments of another panelist who claimed that the amount of food we are now eating means we have to account for an extra billion people that will need to be fed. Accounting for an extra billion people – GE seeds as the great white hope, together
they sapped any sort of hope I had held onto when I walked into the expansive ballroom that morning. On a day dedicated to fighting hunger now through raising awareness with readers and prompting calls to action, I found my thoughts in a dystopic future of our own making. Bedraggled, I crawled into bed that evening with eyes wide open. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” would now read, “We are the poor, the tired, the ninety-nine percent masses…” with a questionable food future.
Sometimes, if I let myself think about the problems in the world around us, they can easily bog down any sort of small progress with their enormity. This stymies the process from starting. It keeps us mired down in quick solutions instead of considering long-term consequences. On Tuesday morning, the topic of “How California Has Changed Food and Continues To” brought me to a new understanding that what we, as food writers, editors, movers and shakers attempt to do is deeply
entrenched in the future of food. We write, photograph, develop recipes not merely for today but with tomorrow in mind. The grim reality of lack of real food access beyond boxed food and tampering with nature thinking we can outsmart it affects us even if we don’t realize it. When the food writer posits aloud in a room of their colleagues, “How can we be adequately compensated for our hard work?” this is the question asked by our readers. So, in thinking about the future of food collectively, we can make
a difference in how that system gets shaped by asking important questions and calling for greater accountability and provoking our readers to do the same. As Kat Flinn reminded a room full of food writers, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is more than just an adage. “Communitarian food” and the drive back toward local may not save our food systems or eradicate hunger, but applying the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself could ensure they don’t go hungry and that they have access to food that doesn’t play at being real. If this is the future of food, it is one I can easily espouse.
It’s absurd isn’t it? The number confounds with its profundity. It feels so big as to be out of reach.
It requires a groundswell of people involved to make their voices heard, to shout if necessary, to keep eyes open for the invisible hungry in our midst and see how we can be the change in our communities and by urging our senators to hear us and reverse this disturbing trend through legislation and programming. It needs all of us to get involved and share our strengths to end hunger in America.
Food Bloggers Against Hunger
Today’s kind of a special day. My friend Nicole Gulotta, who you may remember a few weeks ago, contributed a guest post for Sesame Crackers with Smoked Salmon and Chive Creme Fraichealong with the food poem that inspired the recipe has done something kind of wonderfully grassroots. It’s even gotten the attention of the New York Times. Over 100 food bloggers today are dedicating their blog post and recipe to talk about hunger and how together we can make a difference and bring hunger to the forefront of peoples’ minds. After all, have you ever gone hungry? Have you ever questioned where and when you would find your next meal? This intrinsic need isn’t something a lot of us have to think about. I hate wasting food and yet find myself guilty time and again. Addressing and curing hunger is not about pointing fingers, but about finding sustainable solutions.
Share our Strength / No Kid Hungry
The past five years, I have volunteered with No Kid Hungry, a national non-profit with the belief that if each of us shares our strength, together we can eradicate hunger among America’s children. Working with them, I have advocated as a sponsor for their Taste of the Nation San Francisco program, helped lead the marketing initiative for Taste of the Nation and finally gotten into the kitchen, teaching cooking classes as part of their Cooking Matters classes, teaching nutrition and cooking to kids in low income communities. Hunger is something I have seen firsthand, working at the Living Room, a homeless street-kid drop-in for three years. It is something I hear about through the hunger cycle of community plays in Cornerstone Theater’s current run of Lunch Lady Courage in L.A.
What Can I Do? This is a question I ask myself often. The enormity of the problem makes me creative to find ways I can help. Here’s the good news, you can dive in and help too.
PARTICIPATE IN YOUR OWN HUNGER CHALLENGE: Subsist on the California daily SNAP budget of $4.72 per person for a week. Write about it. Share your experiences with others. And if you decide to go this route, let me know so I can cheer you on!
The Hunger Challenge Two years ago, the San Francisco Food Bank invited local food bloggers to live for a week on a SNAP budget and blog about their experiences. My husband and I took their hunger challenge, made more challenging in that we were trying to do it gluten-free. If I was to attempt it again, I would also put an added challenge of making it GMO-free. What we found through our experience is that it is doable to live off of $4.72 per person per day on a SNAP budget, but requires a helluva lot of planning, prep and cooking that a mother working two to three jobs to pay rent may not easily be able to master.
I'm Annelies Zijderveld, the food poet. Welcome to this gathering of food, poetry and art for one seriously delicious party. I try not to take myself too seriously, though that is often a losing battle. My voracious appetite for eating and the intertwined twins of reading and writing has led me to work in food marketing for over a decade and gain an MFA in poetry. [Read more...]