Deconstructing Dinner: World Food Day Dinner Challenge, Part II
Last week when I wrote about Oxfamâ€™s GROW week and the World Food Day Challenge I signed up for, I promised I would write about the event. Hereâ€™s the somewhat belated post-dinner analysis.Â I had decided to take the challenge while I was visiting friends in northern California. I confess that with the abundance of produce that is grown locally (well, within 100 miles or just over 160 kilometres), I thought the biggest challenge was going to be making a decision about what to buy in the face of such local abundance.Â I was soon freed of such illusory thinking when my friend asked how we should define â€ślocalâ€ť.Â After some discussion, we decided on a radius of about 100 miles.
Setting the limit at about 100 miles meant that, very strictly speaking, not only was wheat outside the limit, riceâ€”even California grown riceâ€”was also just outside the limit.Â Oops! As it happened, my friend did have some California brown rice on hand; however, neither of us are huge fans of brown rice. I didnâ€™t want to risk having food go to waste since neither of us was likely to finish the rice before I returned to Vancouver, and I wasnâ€™t sure whether our two dinner guests were big fans of brown rice. So, with a sigh, I relented and we opted for some locally made onion kulchas (onion stuffed naan bread) in which the only non-local ingredient was likely to be the wheat.Â Well, at least I had much better luck with my ingredients for a starter salad and a fruit salad.
You Canâ€™t â€śBeetâ€ť a Great Salad
Iâ€™m happy to report that I did succeed in creating a beautiful salad (if I do say so myself) entirely from local ingredientsâ€”and featured in the photo for this blog post. The â€śChallenge Saladâ€ť consisted of roasted golden beets, beet greens, lightly steamed kohlrabi, one yellow and one deep red heirloom tomato, a green apple, and some lemon juice.Â I also made a simple fruit salad with apple, strawberry, and melon pieces, and served the fruit salad with plain yoghurt from a local dairy.
Our vegetarian entree was made primarily from local ingredients. My friend roasted a yam, a sweet potato, and some cauliflower (sans oil as we hadnâ€™t thought to get any locally produced olive oil), and from there transformed the veggies into a variation of aloo gobi (usually made with white potatoes and cauliflower). Â He sautĂ©ed some locally grown onions and tomatoes, added the spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt, and a pinch of garam masala) and then added in the roasted veggies. All of the veggies were locally grown, but we hit that 100 mile challenge again when it came to the seasonings for the aloo gobi. Why? Because…
…Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice Donâ€™t Grow in California
Much as I might wish otherwise, turmeric, coriander and cumin donâ€™t grow in Californiaâ€”neither, unfortunately, do sugar beets (or sugar cane) or cardamom. Consequently, the spices in the aloo gobi werenâ€™t local and neither were two of the ingredients in our other dessert on offer (carrot halwa). In case youâ€™re not familiar with it, carrot halwa is a very thick carrot â€śpuddingâ€ť made from carrots, melted butter, whole milk, sugar, cardamom and nuts. Itâ€™s a very time consuming dessert to make at home, so we splurged on this item as a special treat. (A couple of the ingredients were not local, but at least we supported the local economy!)
In the Final Analysis
I had hoped to make all of the meal entirely from local ingredients, but it didnâ€™t quite unfold that way for one reason or another.Â After calculating the percent of local ingredients in each dish and averaging them out over the entire meal, my friend and I succeeded in creating a meal that was comprised of roughly 83% local ingredients. Because I still want to see if I can succeed in creating a meal entirely from local food, Iâ€™m going to challenge myself again, here in Vancouver. Iâ€™m guessing that root vegetables and tubers might feature prominently in my next food challenge dinner.
If the challenge was intended to get people thinking about the proportion of our food that is locally produced or grown, and how much we take for granted in terms of our ready access to non-local food, the challenge succeeded as far as Iâ€™m concerned. Iâ€™m betting that most of our eating habits would change quite drastically if, for some reason, we only had access to food that was grown within 100 miles or 160 kilometres of where we live.
In a Radio Ecoshock talk with the authors of The 100-Mile Diet, taped November 2010 (You can find the transcript here), the point was raised that most cities would go into starvation mode within a week if the food systemâ€™s infrastructureâ€”reliant as it is on oil, long distance transport, and roadsâ€”broke down or collapsed.Â It doesnâ€™t say much about the resilience and sustainability of our global food system if all it takes is the collapse of one two dominoes in the infrastructure to trigger massive food insecurity in cities in developed nations.
It says even less about our food system that in 2005, 50% of the hungry people in the world were families who live on small scale farms. There is really something wrong with our food system when people who live on farms and are surrounded by food are going hungry! (See the Oxfam infographics here, for more information about the food system.) The numbers are telling: Even more telling are the first person narratives of individuals coping with hunger and rising food prices. Click here if you want to put a human face and voice to the numbers.
Talking about Food
Too often, the injustices in our food systemâ€”including many of the reasons why we are seeing such volatile food prices and why nearly a billion people are going hungry even though there is in fact enough food to feed everyone on the planetâ€”have been left unspoken or were shrugged off. It looks as though there is a positive shift, though, and more people are beginning to speak out against the unfair and unsustainable practices that seem to drive the system. David Suzuki, a well known Canadian environmentalist, touched on the food system when he spoke at Occupy Vancouver last weekend. A recent article in the online version of Mother Jones also urged foodies to talk about food policies at the Occupy movements around the world.
We all need to keep talking about the food system and the human factors that contribute to injustices and hungerâ€”and speak out against them. We need to ensure that cities and nations alike are food secure and individuals are not pushed into poverty through astronomical food prices.Â World Food Day may only be one day per year, but the compelling need to grow a new food system that works for everyone, not just the large agribusiness firms, is ongoing.Â So, what can you do to make a difference?
- Check out the Oxfam site for some tips on how to engage your friends and colleagues in a conversation about food.
- Talk to your friends over a treat or meal–made from locally available food, if possible.
- Consider trying to make even 30% of your food purchases local food.Â For the goodies that we canâ€™t bring ourselves to give up, aim to buy fair trade brands whenever possible.
- Oxfamâ€™s GROW week is officially over, but donâ€™t let that stop you from taking the world food challenge!
- If you try the challenge, or have other ideas and suggestions definitely feel free to talk about them and share your food experiences in the comments section. (Remember to type the comment verification code exactly as it appearsâ€”itâ€™s fussy about capitalization.)
Â© Susan Chambers, October 25, 2011