A love affair with leafy greens (ii)

In which there is actually a recipe.

Warm greens* salad

*you can use kale, (swiss) chard, collard greens, beet greens, and/or spinach

Ingredients:

+ quinoa or rice or pearl barley or whole grain pasta or a baked or roasted potato or skip this ingredient altogether

+ cooking oil

+ garlic (a clove or two, pressed/crushed/minced)

+ onion (chopped/sliced/whatever– preferably red, but shallots or any cooking onion will do)

+ veggies: any appealing-to-you greens, or combination thereof [kale, beet greens, chard, collard greens, spinach], carrots, parsnips, beets, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli. I shred the greens by hand, shave the carrots and/or parsnips with a peeler for quick cooking, and I usually boil/roast the beets all at once when I first get them so I can add them at the end just to heat them up.

+ optionally: (if you feel fancy) goats cheese (without cheese, this is a vegan dish, by most definitions) &/or frozen or fresh raspberries or blueberries (a handful or two, squished), balsamic vinegar, and olive/sunflower/grapeseed oil for a vinaigrette (1 part vinaigrette to 3 parts oil)

Make:

1. rinse and scrub the quinoa in a fine sieve, put it in a pot with water (2 parts water to 1 part quinoa; add a stock cube if you desire) on high heat, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes/until there’s no excess water. I find 1/4 to 1/3 cup of quinoa is a good single portion. (the veggies also works well with a baked potato, or on their own)

2. while you’re letting the quinoa go, heat up cooking oil in a pan on medium heat, and throw in the garlic, cook for 30 seconds to a min.

3. add the onion and cook for a few minutes

4. add other veggies before the onion gets translucent: carrots, parsnips, pre-cooked beets, whatever (I sometimes add a little water and cover the pan to cook the veggies faster)

5. cook your greens! you can (1) add your greens to the pan with a little water and cover up the pan to steam them for a minute or two, or (2) add your greens to the quinoa while there is still a bit of water in the pot, or (3) stem the greens in a colander over the pot with the cooking quinoa, or (4) pour a little boiling water over the greens in a strainer/colander to cook them instantly

6. mix all the veggies together with the quinoa and serve warm (with goats cheese and/or berry vinaigrette on top)

alternatively, you can roast any good roasting veggies (several whole garlic cloves, onion, carrot, parsnip, beets, cauliflower) tossed with oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish in the oven at 250˚ or so, adding mushrooms and greens towards the end, and mixing the quinoa in at the end. However, this might take a little longer (45 min to an hour)

a lot of beets in this version

a lot of beets in this version – eat them! they’re good for you.

A love affair with leafy greens (i)

In which I wax loquacious on attempts to eat local, be a vegetarian, and discovery of things leafy and green.

It started in September 2010. Having flown across the ocean in an aeroplane to live a privileged student life at a posh old institution of higher learning in Britain and spend lots of time thinking about big problems like degrading ecosystems and unsustainable consumption and collapsing economies – and other things related to too much flying across oceans in aeroplanes and posh old institutions, I thought I’d try to compensate by otherwise being as low impact as possible. One way to do this was to make smart decisions about food, so I became a compulsive label-reader, and quickly realised that ‘low impact’ is really difficult to do: food is mass produced, grows in places it probably isn’t meant to grow (from, say, a climatic, soil chemistry, or pre-existing ecosystems perspective), it is sprayed, spliced, has strange things added to it, is over-packaged, and is flown/shipped/trucked in from thousands of miles away. Food lifecycles are so huge and complex that trying to achieve a perfectly environmentally and socially conscious diet is a decidedly Sisyphean endeavour. It seems you can never win.

So I decided I’d try to do two things in the spirit of a ‘low impact diet’:

(1) Eat as little meat as possible. 

This worked out to me becoming a capital ‘V’ vegetarian, with the notable exception of the occasional fish supper at the local chippy, because I was living in absurd proximity to the Best Fish & Chips in the World*. Outrageous hypocrisy aside, why eat as little meat as possible? It’s all about energy: you can get more energy from eating things lower down the food chain. The logic goes: why eat a cow, which has to be watered and fed grain and sustained for a number of years before I can eat it, when I could just skip all the effort/energy consumed in feeding and watering the cow and eat the grain myself? At the moment, I’m not really capable of providing a more elaborate answer than that, but I hope we can draw this out in future posts. Amy knows worlds more about biology & ecosystems than I and is thus substantially more qualified to talk about this type of thing. Also, she recommended a book to me: Diet for a Small Planet, which I acquired at a lovely bookstore in town (which sadly no longer exists), and expect will be very enlightening.

The other thing I tried to do was:

(2) Eat things that grow in the ground nearby at the time of year when they ought to grow there. 

This is kind of how I justified (*ahem* tried to resolve my own cognitive dissonance regarding) the fish & chips. The fish, you see, were coming in on little boats from the sea, which was literally right there. We’ve already seen that there is doubt about the idea that eating local is be-all-end-all of environmentally conscious diets <link to Amy’s post> and we’ve seen that, at least in Canada, food waste <link> has a much greater environmental impact than food miles. That said, eating local can have social benefits. For example, keeping your neighbours in business is probably good for your community. I also tried to eat seasonally, tried to eat things that could be grown in the climate in which I was living without too much extra energy input. That said, sometimes I just really wanted a glass of orange juice, and god knows oranges do not grow in Scotland. Not yet, at least.

So I went hunting in Tesco (not exactly a saintly food store, but it was in walking distance of my flat). That is when I found kale. Hey look! It grows in England, it’s £1 for a half kilogram bag, and it’s GREEN. That’s important, right? Eat your colours! and all that. Green = vitamin C and iron. Iron is a thing I am concerned about if I’m no longer enjoying the weekly Alberta beef of my upbringing. (I’m not going to lie: it’s good stuff, and my father is a barbequing professional.) But, yes, iron.

I tried kale and I tried cabbage and I after I went a bit overboard one time with brussel sprouts (which aren’t really a green, but look! 1 kg of Scottish brussel sprouts for 50p!!) I tried swiss chard. You can do LOTS of different things with greens. I’m slowly building my repertoire and I intend to share some of my “findings” and am excited to hear about other folks’ adventures in cooking/raw un-cooking with greens.

Greens 

Taste and versatility aside, cooking with greens can be a lovely aesthetic experience. Swiss chard, for example, is a really beautiful thing! It is lovely and leafy and green, and some varieties have the most beautiful rainbow-coloured stems: crimson red and vibrant yellow.

rainbow chard!

rainbow chard!

* The Best Fish & Chips in the World are in the East Neuk of Fife:

+ The Wee Chippy in Anstruther**

+ The Anstruther Fish Bar

+ The Tail End in St Andrews

** ‘EN-ster’ to locals

See my next post for my favourite greens recipe.

The Olympics, Junk Food and Choice.

Last Friday marked the start of the London Olympic Games. They are an event that celebrates sport, competition, perseverance, national pride and dedication to physical health. So what does this have to do with food? Well, for one thing, there is a tonne controversy surrounding the junk-food sponsors of the 2012 Olympics. Two of the Worldwide Olympic Partners are McDonald’s and Coca Cola with sponsorship contracts until 2020. For the London 2012 Olympic Games Cadbury is among the official “supporters” and Heineken UK is one of the many “suppliers and providers” of the games. In the official IOC Marketing: Media Guide London 2012 document, Coca Cola boasts that it is “proud to be the longest continuous sponsor of the Olympic Games, in a partnership that has spanned 84 years.”

The issue, for many, is that McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Cadbury are makers of junk food, food that does not contribute to health. Some assert it is incongruous with the spirit of athleticism for which the Olympics stand. Opponents state that without such popular sponsors, the Olympics could not afford to be held (which may be true) and that it is up to each individual to make their own choices when it comes to food.

There are many great articles outlining the debate, but this one by CBS news, has Dr. Marion Nestle weighing in (love her) and this article by Neville Rigby for the Guardian UK is also definitely worth giving a quick read.

It is on the “individual choice” point that many disagree. I think it is also the most important point that has come from the controversy over the Olympic junk food sponsors and one I think could be paid a lot more attention. Do we really have the ability to choose? Does everyone have the same freedom to choose what they eat?

Last month, Courtney Shea interviewed Nick Saul of The Stop Community Food Centre for The Grid. The interview progressed toward the notion of choice when it comes to food. Shea asked what Saul thought of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sweetened drink ban. Stating that he was totally for it, Saul asserts, We’re not going to change anything by assuming that people can and will change their own habits. We’ve got to lead by regulating this stuff.” When asked if that does not leave much responsibility to the consumer, Saul responds, “There was a great study done in the States that showed that the marketing budget for one sugar cereal was the same as the entire public health budget in the U.S. This is not an even fight.We privatize profit and socialize cost. Look at diet-related illness. That’s our bill as taxpayers..”

I think that Saul is touching on something very important. McDonald’s and Coca Cola are very powerful companies, which is why they can afford to be counted among the biggest sponsors of the Olympics. They are literally everywhere.There are people who live in neighbourhoods that do not have grocery stores, referred to as “food deserts”. What these areas often do have are fast food restaurants and convenience stores. (Sociological Images has an excellent, very concise post about US food deserts, if you are interested.) A lot of money is spent on fast food advertising, branding and availability. Likely much, much more than what governments spent on nutrition education and to ensure access to nutritious food. When you consider this, it becomes harder to accept the idea that consumers can just chose to eat healthy food or, for that matter, chose not to eat junk food.

Is it the responsibility of the Olympics to take a stand? Is the contested illusion of consumer choice really their problem? Probably not.

What about diet-related illness? Nestle and others have made the point that you don’t see cigarette sponsors for the Olympics, presumably for the same health related objection that is currently being made regarding fast food. But the Olympics did accept sponsorship from cigarette companies up until 1984 as far as I can find. The Olympic Marketing Fact File 2012 Addition mentions cigarettes only once. Under the 1964 Tokyo Olympics reads, “The new ‘Olympia’ cigarette brand generates more than US$1 million in revenue for the OCOG.” Right beside this, in brackets, is the line: “The tobacco sponsorship category is later banned.”

For those who believe the decision to eat junk food is one everyone can make freely, surely cigarette smoking did (and still does) boil down to individual choice. The OCOG took a stand then. Why not now?

peanut stew

Giving the peanut stew recipe from the Vegan Stoner a whirl:

1. chop half an onion & cook in pot

2. add a can of stewed tomatoes, a half cup of crunchy peanut butter, & a half can of garbanzo beans [chickpeas]

3. chop a potato & add to pot* with a sprinkling of thyme

4. cover pot and cook on low heat for 20 minutes

5. serve on rice

6. munch

* may want to parboil the potato first, or ensure you cut very small pieces so they cook through

I’ve never bought or cooked with stewed tomatoes before and at first I wasn’t so sure about the peanut butter. I like peanut butter, but I am not much in the habit of cooking with it; my mum is very allergic to nuts, so I never ate them growing up. You can’t miss what you’ve never had, but, oh! I tell you: when I moved out and discovered I could buy and eat all the Nutella I wanted … that was a wonderful and a dangerous day.

I digress.

why this recipe is cool

Like many Vegan Stoner recipes, it calls for a bunch of non-perishable and inexpensive food items. (Dried thyme is an exception to “inexpensive”, and I’m using posh all-natural peanut butter because I got it on the cheap at an army surplus store in Kamloops. I’m not even kidding.)

Food waste is something I’m pretty concerned about, so I try to be mindful of how much fresh stuff I buy, but cooking for one presents some challenges: fresh stuff often comes in rather massive bundles. It’s always a song and dance trying to make sure things get used up before they rot or trying to work out clever things to do with food items that are fast approaching the end of their fridge-lives.

Trying to buy less but shop more often is something I’m working on, but sometimes time is tight because I planned poorly and I just can’t swing a shopping trip. In such cases, how marvelous to be able to put together a whole meal from things in the cupboard.*

making stew!

I prepared all the ingredients and added some extras, seeing the excellent opportunity provided by a stew to deal with some fridgy** items. Some beet greens, some red pepper, an already-opened can of chickpeas. I also added a spoonful of tomato paste because I like tomato-y things.

Easy peasy: set the rice on in one pot, throw the ingredients in the other pot.

the result

A delicious, nutritious, hearty dinner. I’d not hesitate to make this again for myself, or for nut-eating friends 🙂

–x–

*Now that I’ve written this, I see the irony of and the privilege in my enthusiasm over tinned food. I’ve little to complain about in life if I’ve always enjoyed meals made from fresh ingredients, and making things from cans is a novel experience…

**My mother uses this word to describe the way things smell when they’ve been in the fridge too long. Highly accurate, worth bringing into the general lexicon.

hunger: poverty & inequality, not scarcity

“Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day — most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land — can’t afford to buy this food. In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.

– Carl Sagan

[emphasis mine]

(Trying to track down original source)

Soapbox Sunday, anyone?