Tag Archives: ethics of food

In Which I Talk At Length Climate Change and (Eventually) what “Eat Less Meat” Looks Like for a Household that is Not At All Vegetarian

Okay, kids. So here’s the thing. I’m freaking the fuck out about climate change. As I said to my lovely wife, this morning, I’m scared as heck about it and, while I’m taking steps to mitigate/reduce our households personal carbon/climate impact (more on that in a minute), I’m also painfully aware of exactly how little that will actually accomplish in the grand scheme of things, and how little the people who can actually effect the kind of nation-scale sweeping changes that will Save Us All are willing to do (because it will piss off their donors and threaten their hold on political power and high salaries, basically).
And I’m freaking out.
My wife said, basically, that she thinks it’s going to go like: The shit is going to get very real, very fast (…more so than it is already?) and then there are going to be some very big changes that happen extremely quickly – like Emergency Measures Act quickly.
And… I don’t want it to go that way.
I want to to be going that way NOW, when there’s still a few years of buffer to make those big energy transitions a little less bumpy.
I want my legislators to actually fucking legislate rather than approving oil pipelines that poison the ground, destroy native territories (acknowledged and unacknowledged, you guys), and put literally everything we rely on for survival at risk.
 
I want to see building codes updated across the country so that every new suburban (or otherwise) housing or industrial development has to basically be wallpaper its roofs with photovoltaic panels, and every new high-rise (apartment, office or mixed use) has to come equipped with a load-bearing green roof planted with wind-pollinated crops – wheat, corn, barley, rye, oats, for sure, but also stuff like super-dwarf chestnut, walnut, and heart-nut trees and hazelnut/filbert bushes. I also want to see requirements for extremely efficent insulation, passive solar heating-and-cooling, and the escape from reliance on Air Condition to keep offices and apartments comfortable during the summers, because that will reduce both HFCs (used in fridges, freezers, and A/C units) and the fuel requirements for heating our homes and workplaces during the six or seven months of the year when we need to have the heat on.
I want to see oil rigs and refineries and nuclear energy phased out and wind farms and solar farms phased in, and phased in QUICKLY.
 
I want to see cities adopting biochar as a way to deal with their carbon-based waste (everything from the plastic that lines tin cans & the paper-and-plastic mix of those damned window-envelopes to polyester rags & mixed fiber clothes, to human and animal poop, to grease-saturated cardboard pizza boxes, to kitchen compost) to produce both (a) enough methane to run its own water treatment plants plus, ideally, enough extra to run every gas grill currently relying on fossil fuels[1], while also (b) sequestering a huge volume of carbon in the resulting charcoal which, (c) happens to also be usable as a hell of a good soil amendment thanks to it being made out of bones and coffee grounds and human piss and kale stems and dry leaves and grass clippings and dog strangling vine and giant hog parsnip and animal poop and a million other things besides just fucking wood chips (which… biochar made only out of wood? Is not the most useful thing on its own, and I gather it can be slightly detrimental in a situation where the soil is already pretty depleted).
 
I want the laws around agriculture in my country to require grass-feeding and grass-finishing for meat animals (like everything from small/”small” stock like turkeys, meat and laying chickens, rabbits, and cavias, to Large Black pasture-finishable pigs, to ostriches and emus, to beef cattle, sheep, goats, bison, and elk) AND for dairy-and-fiber animals (cattle, sheep and goats, but also odd critters like alpacas and llamas), and to more quickly outlaw things like battery cages (Canada is in the process of phasing these out[2]), farrowing crates, and finishing feedlots (CAFOs). I want our cattle farms – beef and dairy – to be contributing to carbon sequestration through “bio-mimicking” (rotational, “adaptive multi-paddock”) grazing[3].
 
I want to see flocks of chickens and turkeys, and even rabbits, in moveable hutches, grazing under the semi-shade of solar arrays (you can do this with sheep, too, but not goats – ’cause they like to climb – and not cattle, just because cattle are HUGE). I want to see dairy and beef cattle, Large Black pigs (and any other pasture-finishable breeds) chowing down on grassland under the graceful, if slightly noisy, dance of enormous wind turbines[4]. I want the transition of farms from single-crop to multi-crop AND (more to the point) to mixed veggies + grains + legumes + orchards + livestock + green energy harvesting, to be government-subsidized for a decade or two while people get the fucking hang of it. And I want a lot of Canadian farms to be OWNED and run by the same people who are doing the farm labour. I want to see Six Nations farmers and Jamaican expat farmers and southern-Scottish-extraction farmers (yes, I mean my relatives here), and Metis farmers. I want to see Japanese, Lebanese, and Somalian born farmers growing hothouse veggies and running mixed orchards. I want it all.
 
I want big companies like Loblaws and Canadian Tire (and whoever owns fucking Loblaws and Canadian Tire) to be FORCED to change up the packaging of their store brands so than random shoppers like me get to choose between the feel-good, actually environmentally ethical option of a 12-pack of TP packaged in flimsy cardboard sleeves (think cracker-box weight), a jar of mayo in a glass bottle, a kilogram of pasta in a non-glossy, biodegradable paper envelope and – tbh, I would legit take this, even if I’d want it to be the extreme minority option and only used for freezer-case items – polylactic acid (fermented cornstarch based) “bio-plastic” bags[5] of frozen veggies and perogies in the freezer case… or taking the petroium-plastic-packaged everything from a non-store brand. Because I think both the grocery stores AND the non-store brands would quickly find out exactly how happy random, distracted, grocery shoppers are to HAVE the option of Actually Not Horrible ready to go at their stressed-out, in-a-rush fingertips, and then everybody would get of the fucking bandwagon because they want our sweet, sweet consumer dollars and brand loyalty.
 
I want an affordable, electro-magnetic, green-energy-run bullet train that can shuttle me my place to Montreal, and then from Montreal to NYC, and then from NYC to DC, in a speedy six hours (with, okay, a one hour layover here and there, maybe, because I’d have to change trains at least once). Because even though it would take twice as long, and have a crappy effect on my back, hips, and knees, it would also take a mere one third of the time that the train currently takes, and I’d still get to see my girlfriend on the quasi-regular while having a lower carbon footprint (AND less exposure to radiation) than flying.
 
I want MASSIVE reforestation projects to happen, with an eye to both re-wilding AND sustainable logging, and I want them to be led and run by indigenous people in their returned-and-acknowledged territories. I want my country to work out something where we are actually paying indigenous people WELL for short-term logging rights in their territories and where we’re required to follow High Sustainability Practices, and hire a lot of indigenous people, when doing that logging. So that Canada, as a nation, can still have a logging industry, but it works very differently, and a whole lot BETTER, than the one we’ve got right now. Ditto any kind of mining.
 
…But you guys? I’m not holding my breath on getting any that stuff.
At least not outside of the “farmers of numerous racial and national backgrounds” part, because we already have at least some of that.
 
As this article from Forbes says, “We know what we have to do to avoid a climate catastrophe: eat a plant-rich diet, change our energy mix, electrify transport, [and] reverse deforestation.” But also: Educate girls, restore indigenous territories and land-stewardship to indigenous people (and follow their fucking lead), and capture refigerants (see above re: stop relying on air conditioning units and start using good insulation and passive solar for heating and cooling).
 
So what can I personally do?
 
As a renter, rather than a landowner? Not tonnes. I can’t switch my furnace from natural gas (fossil fuel) to a pellet-fueled wood stove with catalytic converter and a thermostat-run-hopper to feed it (still burning something carbon-based – pellets made of compressed coffee, sawdust, and other plant-based agricultural waste – but at least it’s renewable, plus the catalytic converter ups the efficiency, and lowers the particulate-based air-quality-destroying pollution of a wood stove by a very substantial margin). I can’t dig a very deep well and get some geothermal heating put in. (I’m not even sure I could do that if I owned the place, tbh). I can’t cover the roof in solar panels or return indigenous territories to their rightful stewards. As a single individual without a tonne of political power, I can’t reverse deforestation – beyond what I’m doing now, which is essentially guerilla orchardry, but which isn’t very effective over the short term – or up the availability of education for girls.
BUT.
I can – provided our income gets significantly better – switch our electricity provider to a company like Bullfrog Power which adds green energy sources to the ones supplying the power grid to offset (and, in theory, eventually replace) the not-so-green stuff that is currently the majority of our energy supply here in Canada.
 
I can continue to not have a car – Which, tbh, is not likely to be how this goes. I feel pretty conflicted about this because, on the one hand? Enormous growth in our household’s carbon footprint if we do this[6]. And I don’t want that. On the other hand? A car would give us some significant freedom of movement, buy my wife an extra 2-3 hours of personal time (time for sleep and time to interact with me and her other partners) every weekday, from November through to April, and the degree to-which that benefits her mental health, her physical health, and her relationships is pretty fucking huge. So she and one of her partners are looking at potentially buying a car together. I have no idea how to off-set this, other than through the whole “have one less kid than you were planning to” thing… given that we’re all child-free, that one’s a given. But this is definitely looking like a thing that will be part of our future, and a shared car is still a car.
 
I can continue to not have an air conditioner – though the fact that I have a chest freezer, even a small one, is also contributing HFCs to my environment. (I have not done the math on the difference in Emissions between keeping a chest freezer full of food that was locally grown and put up in season versus not having a chest freezer and buying fresh produce flown in from Argentina and New Zealand – or even just California and Florida – for six or seven months of the year, but I suspect I’m coming out smelling a little better in this, even with the HFCs taken into account). That being said I can also pay attention to what local, non-frozen veggies are available from hothouse producers here in (or very close to) town during the winter months and continue to rely predominantly on non-frozen veggies like long-keeping winter squash, beets, potatoes, cabbage, rutabaga, and parsnips over the winter, so that the freezer space I am using is being used efficiently.
 
I can Eat Local – whether that’s from the garden or the grocery store or a farm that raises pasture-finished livestock that I stuff into the above-mentioned freezer to use it efficiently. And I can grow/buy/forage fruit and veggies in season and freeze, water-bath-can, dry, and/or pressure-can them so that I don’t have to rely on imported frozen veggies from a grocery store (yep… those bags of kale and squash I was so enjoying this past winter were… mostly not from around here. Dammit), let alone the fresh-and-flown-in versions.
 
I can eat less meat – Yes, even though I don’t want to. And even though, as per the links about farming and carbon sequestration through AMP livestock grazing, a locally and humanely raised Large Black pig is a heck of a lot closer to carbon neutral than industrially raised barley and lentils trucked in from Saskatchewan, let alone almonds from California and quinoa from Bolivia, despite all that, I can still eat less meat.
 
Ugh. Okay. This is going to be a bit of rant, but bear with me.
Most of the times I read about “eat less meat” or “eat a plant based diet” it’s either people who are vegan, and want everybody to eat ZERO animal products (which… if it works for you, go to it, but I’ve been eating vegetarian food for most of this week – not even vegan, just no meat – and I’m hungry to the point of being shaky, even though I know how to combine fats, beans, and grains to get accessible complete proteins, and even though eggs don’t actually take that much thinking, so… given that this is always how vegetarian eating goes for me? Probably not the best plan for my body)… OR they’re writing to an audience of people who are so wealthy they can eat beef – like actual steaks – multiple times per week without having to think about it, because the articles in question literally say things like “Eating steak one less time per week will make a significant difference to your personal carbon footprint”.
Which… You’re not wrong. It definitely would. But I’m already eating close to ZERO beef per month, never mind per week, so what even are you talking about – looking at you, Michael Pollan – when you tell your readers to “eat less meat” because I think I’m already well over your particular bar on that one. /RANT
 
ANYWAY. Either way, the “eat less meat” people don’t seem to be talking about my lived experience or my body’s particular needs, so I get to kind of make my own way about this.
AS SUCH: What does “eat less meat” mean for me and my household:
 
It means getting half a hog all at once from one of those local, humane farmers, so that (a) most of our meat for the next two years will be coming from exactly one death, and (b) most of our meat for the next two years will be coming from within an hour’s drive of our home, and (c) most of our meat for the next two years will have had a decent life where it got be an Actually Piggy Pig and got to eat food that was good for it and didn’t spend any of its life in a shit-choked prison feeling nothing but despair.
On a related note, It means getting a couple of turkeys at Thanks Giving and relying on them for non-pork meat for most of the rest of the year. Those birds don’t get a good life. I’m not under any illusions there. But 2-4 of them in my freezer is slightly less blood and misery on my hands than a dozen+ roasting chickens, so… not less meat, exactly. But fewer lives.
 
It means making good use of those lentils and barley from Saskatchewan, but cooking them in bone stock and frying them in bacon grease, so that we get the flavour from meat[7], and – in the case of the stock, at least – some of that sweet, sweet bio-accessible protein, without relying on it for a substantial part of the meal’s calories.
It means taking a shot at growing grain amaranth in the back yard, and using that – plus those Saskatchewan red lentils and/or some milk (see below) – to provide the protein in a soup or stew, whether or not there’s bone stock and bacon grease involved.
It means buying the free run eggs even though they’re twice the price.
 
It means, since I know damn well I’m not going to stop relying on dairy, finding ways to get my milk (and cheese, and yoghurt, and ice cream, and, and, and…) from local sources, ideally ones that are humane and don’t involve completely screwing over the cows. Right now, that means I’m buying foodland ontario milk in plastic bags. But getting the organic milk in glass bottles – even though that basically means spending 4 times the money[8] – is a possibility. Most likely how this would work is I start switching from getting a gallon at a time to getting a 2L carton of “normal” homo milk at the beginning of the week, and then suplementing it with 1L glass bottles as needed. Not my favourite way to go, but definitely feasible. Once I’m (financially) used to doing it like that, I can (a) track how many glass bottles I’m getting on top of the 2L carton, and (b) start switching over to only getting the 1L bottles. This is sort of how I did it with organic fair trade coffee, so I think it would work with dairy, as well.
It means eating more organ meats and less muscle meats when we are eating meat that doesn’t come from that half a hog. This means a lot of chicken liver pâté (actually liver mousse) and marinated chicken hearts, I suspect.
 
It means making falafel patties and waldorf-esque or nicoise salads for summer dinners, and making hummus and “artichoke asiago” (or, more likely, leafy-greens-and-parmasan) dips to go along with the brie and blue cheese rather than (or in addition to, there-by allowing us to cut down on the serving sizes of) the dry sausage and liver mousse we usually have on our Wine And Cheese date nights. It means having thick-hummus-and-sour-kraut sandwiches as often as we have chicken/pork or cheese sandwiches for lunches. An “eat steak one less time per week” situation where “steak” is pork shoulder and shredded turkey.
It means eat more vegetables, meaning I need to aim for 3-4 servings of veggies per person (about 2C, cooked) per dinner, plus some pasta/whole grains/potatoes/bread… and then worry about Where We’re Getting Our Protein (which might be chickpeas, lentils, a tablespoon of parmasan cheese + 2 tablespoons of diced dry sausage, or a cup or so of shredded frozen turkey split between three+ servings of stew. Not “fewer meals ft meat” but “less meat per meal”.
 
It means, essentially, that my whole grocery bill (as opposed to just the coffee and chocolate parts of it) is going to double (but slowly – for a given value of slowly – as I have the liquid cash to actually do this) in order to lighten the burden my particular household’s food-ways place on our home. Ye gods, I am NOT looking forward to that.
But here we are.
 
Anyway. That’s my long, loooong post about Eating Less Meat and other things I can do to not wreck the planet (as much). Thanks for sticking with me.
 
 
Cheers,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Yes, I’m very aware that this is, in itself, not actually helping anybody’s climate change initiatives.
 
[2] We stopped manufacturing battery cages two years ago, but using them won’t actually be illegal until 2036. Dammit. Go get those free run eggs, folks!
 
[3] Yes, this kind livestock raising DOES result in more methane-due-to-animal-farts. But it also offsets 100% of that methane (apparently) through carbon-sequestration in the grasslands that are regenerated (and the root systems that get super deep because of it) through the frequent movement of the herds from one grazing area to another to another to another. You can find a blog post – with a related podcast – about it here.
 
[4] I live downtown within spitting distance of a highway on-ramp. They’re currently tearing up my nearest major intersection using a giant pneumatic hammer. Don’t @ me about the alleged health detriments of fucking wind turbines, okay?
 
[5] These aren’t ideal. Corn (or similar) used to make this stuff does contribute to the mono-cropping hegemony and, as we’re seeing with the demand for ethanol-based fuel for cars, frequently results in food-production land in The Global South being converted into fuel-production land for export… which leaves already-vulnerable and exploited populations that much worse off and more likely to face famine conditions. So, like… this is preferable to a sea of petrolium-based products, but it’s not ideal and I would rather we were able to come up with something like… I don’t know… Aluminum envelopes for frozen goods or something. I really don’t know what to do about this on an industrial scale.
 
[6] I did the math – some time last Summer, I think – and found out that, while we do have a motorcycle, which does put our footprint (as two adults) above the sustainable line per person… it doesn’t put it over that line by much. We could slide back under by replacing our last three incandescent bulbs with compact florescents, and by turning our heat down by two degrees celcius when the furnace is running. A car – even a hybrid or a fully electric one (and it’s more likely to be the former, tbh) – would squash that possibility entirely.
 
[7] My Traditional Foodways include getting a LOT of a dish’s flavour from ferments, including cured meat (such as bacon and dry sausage) and cheeses, as well as the more obvious wines, beers, ciders, vinegars, and various mustards.
 
[8] Seriously, I could get 3L organic homo milk DELIVERED to my door, in glass bottles… but it would cost me $21. Whereas a gallon of organic milk in a big plastic bag, would run me about $11 and what I’m getting right now is just shy of $6/gallon. That is a HUGE jump in price, and I’m balking at it pretty hard. Am I ready to spend $85+/month on milk alone? Because, right now, that’s more than a week of groceries. O.O

Persephone Shortbread + Thumbprint Honey Cakes

Hey, all!
It’s time for a food post!
Today I made:
 
Persephone Shortbread
2½ C flour (all purpose wheat)
1C vegan margarine
¼ C maple syrup
¼ C pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
 
Blend into a dough
Form into balls and flatten (if you want to decorate them later) or press with a fork
Place on a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 10 minutes at 350F
Allow to cool
 
You can decorate these pretty-much however. But a chocolate ganache (melt chocolate chips & coconut cream together – there are a million recipes on the internet) or a glaze like the one below, would be ideal.
 
Pomogranate Glaze
½ C granulated sugar
3 tbsp coconut cream OR hemp milk (in the latter case, at 1 tsp oil)
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
 
Blend over low heat until the sugar liquefies. Spoon (use a tiny spoon) over cookies and allow to cool in the fridge.
 
~*~
 
Thumbprint Honey Cakes
6C flour (all purpose wheat)
3C butter (salted)
1C honey
 
Bring the butter to room temperature (so that it’s reasonably soft)
Blend honey and butter together using beaters, unless the butter is VERY soft, in which case you can use a fork
Add in flour
Blend with a fork (it will snarl the beaters pretty quickly, so better to use a hand tool that’s easy to clear), and then with your hands, until you have a soft dough
Form into 1” balls and drop onto a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350F
Allow to cool
Try not to eat them all at once. 😉
 
~*~
 
As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a one for fancy shapes when it comes to baked goods. >.> I may or may not do a frosting for the Persephone shortbread (though, if I’ve got red sugar sprinkles, I probably will).
 
The honey cakes recipe is very much my family’s shortbread recipe with honey instead of the more (recently-speaking) traditional icing sugar, in the case of my paternal line and castor/granulated sugar in the case of my mom’s family.
I wanted to give it a try and see what honey would do for the flavor – partly because (even if I can stand by the rest of it just fine) a specific sentence in this utterly ancient post from Rune Soup has bugged me for literally eight years. Are honey cakes actually that bad? Really? – and partly because I’m… weird about food. See below.
 
Flavour-wise, the end result is (surprise) not as hit-you-in-the-face sweet as the shortbread I’m used to, but – maybe because I whipped the butter and honey together first – it’s airy and (maybe not that surprisingly) even a little floral. The honey gives some depth and complexity to the sweetness, too, which I’m enjoying.
 
TBH, I can’t help laughing at myself a little bit. On the one hand, wanting to use frou-frou organic (uh… how do they control for that?) local honey instead of the kind of sugar that my thousand-years-gone pre-Christian ancestors just wouldn’t have had access to. (Yes, yes, I get that the Rich Person’s mediaeval spice chest could have included raw chunks of frighteningly expensive sugar in the 1400s, but you get my drift).
On the other hand… Cocoa, cloves, AND pomegranate molasses? All in one cookie?? (And, yes, maple syrup because (a) it’s vegan, and I wanted a vegan shortbread-type cookie that didn’t taste like margarine, but also because (b) winter contains the seeds of spring, and I’ll be darned if I pass up a food-based metaphor like that).
 
So, like I said, I’m “weird” about food.
On the one hand, I want to cook the way my pre-industrial Scottish ancestors did (uh… except on an electric range, and with central heating and running water…) – because I like fish and game and dairy and lots of greens, and because those things are Good For Me in a food-guide kind of way, and because Ancestor Connection is something that matters to me.
On another hand, I want to have a relationship with the land I’m actually living on – squatter that I am, even if the local folks are nice enough to euphemistically call me a “guest” – which, along with composting and picking up garbage and saying thank you, means eating what grows and thrives here (particularly the naturalized stuff my ancestors brought over that’s – surprise – turned out to be very invasive).
And both of these places produce a lot of berries and bitter greens (yay!), have Actual Winter to contend with, and don’t tend towards fruits loaded with capsaicin (nasturtium leaves, on the other hand…).
BUT
On yet another hand: I drink coffee every damn day, or close to it. Sugar, chocolate & cocoa, earl grey tea, and the various spices found in chai (which… I’m pretty sure the only ingredients in that particular blend that could grow in my neighbourhood are the shredded dandelion and chicory roots) and also pumpkin pie? I use those plenty of those. Salt comes from Windsor, Ontario, and coriander (and bird chilies – entirely thanks to my neighbour) grows in the back yard. But black pepper, tumeric, cumin, and vanilla beans, just for example, really, really don’t.
 
So, on the one hand, I want to get good at making delicious, flavourful food both by using what grows here and by drawing on the foodways of my own ancestors.
Rather like when I started learning how to cook (and enjoy) cabbage, and other long-keeping Product Of Ontario/Quebec produce that was available, raw, in February, I’m now learning how to cook (and, more to the point, BAKE) with more local flavours.
That doesn’t mean I want to give up my fancy imports. I think my wife would go into open revolt if I put a ban on coffee and, frankly, my desk drawer is full of chocolate. I like this stuff. But it’s basically colonization x2 when I’m a white lady in North America buying, say, chocolate, sugar, and tea at prices that are only that cheap/accessible because of colonization and the related sins of poor working conditions, low/no wages, and undervalued currencies.
 
So.
Some of what I do to… reconcile this entirely-self-made dilemma?
I use those not-grown-around-here flavours less often. I sweeten coffee and tea with honey and maple syrup (sometimes) instead of sugar. I use those pomegranate molasses roughly once a year rather than as a routine flavour I reach for. I try not to rely on vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, to say “warm and sweet” or on chilies, ginger, and tumeric to say “flavourful” – even when I have backyard bird chilies & jalapenos available and lots of imported spices,too (I still use them, but they’re not something I rely on).
 
When it comes to savouries, this is pretty easy.
Juniper berries[1] taste like black pepper and xmas trees. Onions, garlic, and mustard seed provide heat or something like it. Cranberries and rhubarb and wine (and beer, and kombucha, and yoghurt, and apples/cider/cider-vinegar, and sorrel, and dill, and sour ruben/kraut, and even dried tomatoes) provide the bright acidity that might otherwise be provided by lemons or limes.
But what I have a hard time with is baking. Fennel seed and anise hyssop can provide a “warm” licorice-y flavour. Maple syrup and maple sugar have some of the same flavour compounds as vanilla, so using it as an alternative sweetener comes with a bit of a flavour bonus. Spicebush – if I can find one in fruit (hahaha…) – allegedly tastes like a mix of black pepper and nutmeg. Fruit – whether that’s pear butter made at Mabon and baked into coffee cake at Imbolg, rhubarb fresh from the garden at Beltane, or Midsummer shortcake heaped with cream and just-off-the-tree service berries – offers all sorts of complexity right along with sweetness and tartness.
 
So it’s not that there aren’t options.
 
But I’m still at the beginning of this particular learning curve, still reaching automatically for the cinnamon and vanilla and black pepper, and it hasn’t become easy yet.
Which, then, brings me to the other thing I do, which is to buy the organic stuff, the fair trade stuff, the “rain forest alliance certified” stuff, when buying the coffee, chocolate, cocoa, and (increasingly, it’s definitely not consistent yet) sugar (I don’t actually know if these folks ship to Canada though, if yes, this is one way to get fair trade sugar at low prices/kg) that I use, particularly when it’s stuff I use every day.
 
So, yes. The cocoa in the Persephone Shortbread is organic & fair trade, and most of the sweet stuff (and the flour, and the fat – butter and margerine respectively – and the salt) comes from Canada. The cloves and the pomegranate molasses aren’t. But this is a better “score” than last year, so I’m going with it.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Get them off a tree, not a creeping-type bush, because Savin Juniper – which is one of the low-growing kinds – is poisonous, whereas Common Juniper is just fine.

The year of the Pig – Part 3: Building a Routine

So, eight million years ago, Calamity Jane (from Apron Stringz) wrote a post about The Incredible Power of Habit. It’s coming to mind frequently these days, as I seem to forever be trying to get myself back into the swing of things.
 
I made bread this morning. After a week or two of seasonally-typical (so 35C+ and very humid) weather, the temperatures dropped back into very-easily-bearable range and it no-longer feels like torture to consider turning on the stove, never mind the oven. But it takes so little time to get out of the habit of doing something. Baking bread is one thing. Cooking dinners is, to some extent, another[1], although you do eventually have to eat, so.
 
In my case, the main difficulty with having ordered the majority of my year’s animal flesh all in one go? Is remembering to thaw it out. Building “Thaw out this Friday’s roast, in a bowl in the fridge, starting on Tuesday” into the routine of my week has so far proven to be a bit difficult. You wouldn’t think it would be. How hard is it to haul a 4lb chunk of shoulder or ham roast out of the deep freeze, chuck it (paper wrapper and all) into a mixing bowl, and set it in the bottom of the fridge where I can forget about it for a few days? And yet I’m still not up to speed on how long it actually takes four pounds of muscle to go from rock-hard-and-iced-over to raw-and-ready-for-the-oven.
 
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house where we routinely let meat thaw at room temperature, in the sink[2] (and also routinely at chicken legs or pork chops rather than shoulder roasts, but that’s a different story), but I forget that something that’s been in a super-cold chest freezer, one that only gets opened about once a week, if that, is going to take considerably longer to thaw out that something that’s been living in the fridge-top freezer, which gets opened any time someone (i.e.: me) wants berries or ice cream or frozen greens… And it’ll take even longer if I do the thawing at 10C rather than 21C (or 35C, if we’re talking right now).
 
All-of-which is just excuses, of course.
Tomorrow starts a new week and, if I make a point of being on the ball about it, I will haul a 4lb roast out of the deep freeze[3], set it in a mixing bowl in the bottom of my fridge, and let it do its thing (conveniently making it a little easier to keep my fridge cool at the same time).
 
Fingers crossed.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I think we ate out about three times in the past ten days, and made nachos for dinner one night – as in: we opened up a bag of tortilla chips and sprinkled sliced tomatoes and cheddar cheese, plus the last jar of my 2014 tomato-peach salsa (just in time to make more for this year – not bad on that timing), and then broiled it for 10 minutes. Not exactly a “meal”, but it worked for what we needed and cost about 1/10th of what it would have run us at a pub (plus we didn’t buy beer or anything, so actually less than that. But whatever.
 
[2] You’ll all note that I did, in fact, manage to survive to adulthood in spite of this mode of opperation.
 
[3] Easier to do, at least, now that I’ve sorted the large cuts from the smaller ones (pork chops and ground), and the meat from the leaf lard & bones. I put everything into cloth bags and loaded it all back into the freezer. It takes up more space that way – which is annoying – but at least I don’t have to dig through layers of body parts trying to find the one I want, while wearing oven mitts against the burning cold.

The year of the Pig – Part 2: A Week of Francis (Summer Solstice Version)

So we’ve been eating Francis for about a month now. I can’t say it’s been wall-to-wall pork (or even wall-to-wall Francis). There have been a few sausages from Seed To Sausage, an a roast chicken in there. But this past week, I cooked a 4lb ham and this is what we’ve gotten out of it, so far:
 
Friday, June 19th: Braised ham (with potatoes, parsnips, and Various Cooking Greens)
Saturday, June 20th: I… think that was red-lentil curry with lots of (slightly woody) rappini, since that particular leafy-green/sprouting-broccoli has started bolting like there’s no tomorrow. It was… not a big hit. I mean, it tasted good, but the texture was a little bit… twiggy. This is why I started uprooting the rappini plants. I think they’ve served their time, and it’s appropriate to put some more heat-loving crops in the place they were previously occupying.
 
Sunday, June 21st: We didn’t eat at home, but I threw together a couscous dish (see below) that we ate later in the week.
 
Monday, June 22nd: Couscous with pork and (frozen) broccoli. This was basically “We have had a hell of a weekend and are stressed all the heck out” food. Not comfort food. Just food that would provide a heap of protein and some carbs (and some veggies) without too much effort or thought process needed.
 
Tuesday, June 23rd: Ham sandwiches on home-made bread (clearly) with red onion & rainbow chard, plus a “kale” salad made with the last of the rappini (which I’ve mostly pulled up in the interests of planting more squash) plus some crumbled walnuts and dried cranberries. Partially, this was because it’s easy to make sandwiches and salad for four (technically salad for five, actually), and partly because we had a power-outage yesterday that lasted 3-4 hours (nothing spoiled – the ice cream even stayed solid), right over the dinner period. I figured that sandwiches were a good bet.
 
I’ve still got a fair bit of pork left over, even after making a couple of sandwiches for my lovely wife to take to work this morning, so I’m thinking we can probably make it stretch quite easily to the next Fabulous Friday Dinner (which might be a shoulder roast, this time ’round) by doing a noodle dish tonight (ham + garlic scapes + cilantro + rainbow chard + some egg-drops, fried up with glass noodles in some sesame oil and soy sauce) and maybe a pork-heavy chili for Thursday (that would also use up some of my last remaining tomato preserves and some of the weird “prickly-mustard” that (a) is also starting to bolt, but (b) seems to do best when cooked low-and-slow in a liquid).
 
So that’s what a week worth of Francis looks like.
Other weeks will look different.
Like maybe we have pork chops one night, and/or bacon one morning, but the rest of the week is pasta with alfredo sauce, salads made with garden greens, nuts & dried fruit, or bean-based dishes that include onions and kale sauteed in bacon grease and grain cooked in bone stock. I’m hoping that, as the garden continues to produce delicious edibles, we’ll spend the summer eating veggie-heavy meals.
Part of this is just: Yum, veggies. Part of it is trying to squeeze the most of our garden plots while they’re still producing lots of food and have the sun and the rain (and the nitrogen-fixing power fo the legumes) help keep them recovering and keeping on.
Part of this is: hydro is expensive. The rates just went up again, and the less often I use the oven the better. If I can get the hang of baking bread only once a week (unlikely) or baking it during the same hours that I’m roasting or braising a large cut of meat, that will help use the energy efficiently.
And, yes, some of it is wanting to make the meat last for as long as possible. I’d really like it if, in spite of not buying much meat to suplement it, our half-a-pig lasted the whole year (so until mid/late May).

Summer Solstice Garden Tour 2015

Hello again!
 
So Summer Solstice has come and gone (and we’re in the long slide towards the dark again, but it’s easy to ignore that when Bountiful Season is basically upon us), and the garden is starting to offer up food that isn’t made entirely of leaves.
This is very exciting, I don’t mind telling you.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to do another Garden Tour post, partially in response to Erica’s (May) photo tour invitation, and partially just because I like showing off. To that end: Onwards!
 
Lots of Pics Behind the Cut

The Year of the Pig – Part 1: The Garden Accompaniment and Some Formal Disclosure

So, in addition to having half a pig – Francis – in the freezer (minus two pounds of bacon – we sent one with our archivist when she moved, as you do), we also have a back yard garden. Which I’ve been yammering about pretty-much endlessly since we put the raised beds together and got the soil trucked in.
See, the other part of this year-long (or however long Francis lasts) adventure in local critter is local veggies. And, yes, we’ve been doing the “eat local, ideally” bit for quite a few years now. I seem to recall blogging about Give Cabbage a Chance back in, what, 2011? And now here I am growing it. Or, rather, growing its relatives: Red Russian Kale, Rappini and, if my guess about the Mystery Greens is correct, either Mustard Greens or Collards (not sure which, don’t entirely care).
In addition to finding out just how much pork my family of rotating adults can eat in one year without getting desperately sick of shoulder roasts, I’m also trying to find out how much food I can produce (and preserve), in my lackadaisical manner, over the course of one growing season.
 
Now, this is not Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the Blogging Version. Although, I kind of hope I wind up with something like that by the end of this. 😉 We’re not growing the vast majority of our (vegetative) food in two cubic yards of trucked-in garden soil. But I do want to see what I can produce in that two cubic yards, both in terms of how long I can stretch the harvest of those cool-weather leafy greens (currently the only harvestable veggies in the garden) and also how much I can produce, primarily through trellising, in the way of winter squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and zucchini (and tomatoes – but that’s a whole other story).
 
I’ve harvested rappini three times, so far, and snipped the greens off some (perennial) Vietnamese garlic maybe twice. This means we’ve had rappini in dinner three times, and Vietnamese garlic in dinner twice. But it also means I have five cups of blanched rappini already frozen for winter use. It doesn’t sound like much. In reality, it’s not much. But it feels like a really good start.
I’m also – because this is the way of things – trying to use up the last of my 2014 preserves. Having spent the winter feeding our Archivist (who has some food allergies), it’s not surprising that what I’ve got lingering just happens to be stuff she can’t eat without getting sick. Now that she’s off and moved, I’m trying to remember to include things like tomato sauce and salsa in our regular meals (her allergy is not to tomatoes, thank goodness, but it’s going to mean some recipe tweaking in a few places).
 
I want to point out – “for the record”, I guess – that I have a fair number of privileges that let me run this kind of experiment. The main one being that I have a tonne of time on my hands. I work casual hours as a model (think 30-40 hrs/month, rather than per week) and otherwise mostly do freelance work from home. A significant part of my “job” is keeping us fed, by hook or by crook, and being able to do so from a pre-paid stockpile of animal protein plus a vegetable garden that’s been set up in good, clean (trucked in) garden-dirt, rather than from dandelion greens and wild grape leaves growing in the lead-contaminated soil of our freeway-adjacent neighbourhood, is kind of a load off my mind. I get that most people – most people who work one or more day-jobs outside their homes, most people who have a bundle of little kids or sick parents or other family members to look after – don’t have that kind of time. And a great many of us, particularly in urban neighbourhoods, don’t have that kind of space, either. It’s all well and good to talk about window-boxes and making sprouts in a jar on your kitchen counter, but there is a massive difference in what you can grow – without a lot of know-how or bags of Miracle Grow – in two cubic yards of soil versus in pots that are small enough to fit on a balcony. Having done both, the difference is already staggering, and I’ve only harvested cooking greens so far.
 
So that’s my bit of personal disclosure, in relation to what I’m hoping to learn/grow/create/discover (how many more inspirational words can I tack onto this plan?) over the course of the coming year: I have tonnes of time on my hands. Let’s see if I can’t parlay that into having tonnes of (almost free[1]) food on my hands thanks to growing a garden and preserving what I grow.
 
And, with any luck, the food that I grow will go very nicely with the food that I bought, in the form of Francis (and also a monthly bunny from our Rabbit Lady), not so long ago.
That’s the third part of this experiment. Can I (continue to) use a set collection of fairly specific ingredients – pork, rabbit, broad beans, snap beans, snap peas, various cooking greens, various summer and winter squash-type-creatures, tomatoes, and various herbs – to keep a couple of adults in meals without us going bonkers due to lack of variety?
Only time will tell (but I’ve been pretty good at it, so far).
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] If, by “almost free”, I recognize that I’ve dropped probably $50 in seed-starts and seeds, and considerably more than that on garden soil. I’m aware that, for the next year or three, I’m probably making up in “free” food what I lost by diverting hundreds of dollars of grocery money to the Dirt Fund. Like I probably harvested $6-$8 worth of rappini today. Bringing the total up to about $20 of “free food” that we’ve eaten or preserved from the garden so far. That is less than 10% of the cost of the soil in my garden beds. But if I can keep harvesting rappini – and kale, and chard, and tomatoes and zucchini and winter squash – from my garden, and pull 50 harvests of about that size? I’ll have “paid off” my garden start-up costs in one season.

The Year of the Pig – Part 0: The Pre-Game Show

So. Tomorrow I go to pick up my (half of a butchered and pre-frozen) pig. It is a Large Black pig farmed by Barb Schaefer of Upper Canada Heritage Meat. There will be 10lbs or so of bacon + however-much guancale (jowl bacon) a single pig cheek will yield (no clue). There will be liver (I will make an attempt at paté). There will be bones and leaf lard. There may or may not be tongue and heart included in the 6-8lbs of ground pork I can expect. There will be roasts and braising cuts. There will not be sausages – I can get those up the street – but there will be hocks, which I’ve never cooked before but which sound like they’ll braise really well.
My Archivist and I will collect it tomorrow morning (that evening, she and my wife have a date, and I am taking my mom out for Mother’s Day cappuccino – I have jewelry to finish before then) and bring it back to the house and put it in the chest freezer.
 
There is still meat in the over-the-fridge freezer, but the chest freezer is mostly empty and ready to recieve our pig.
I am definitely cheating a little by turning down heart, tongue, and kidneys (unless they can be added to the ground). I feel a bit like I should really be going “Tripe! How do I turn TRIPE into something I actually want to put in my mouth?” (This, in spite of the fact that I eat sausages with Natural Hog Casing (read: intestines) multiple times per week. So I’m aware that a lot of this balking is a strictly head-space kind of thing (why it feels weird to prep a heart that still looks like a heart when it came from a pig but not when it came from a steer, I have no idea, other than the bit where said heart could effectively keep my own blood circulating in a pinch…)
 
So I do feel like I’m only getting my feet wet at this point. None the less, I’m glad of it. I’ve been wanting to do this – buy meat in bulk from a local, reputable farmer – for quite a few years now and it’s frankly about fucking time that I went out and did it. I’m looking forward to seeing how far this half-a-pig can stretch (I may make a point of not actually starting to eat it until June, just so I can keep a bit of a month-by-month tally) and to keeping an eye on how much Other Critter we eat – whether that’s sausages from up the street or duck/chicken/beef/fish from elsewhere around town (probably NOT all that local-sustainable-ethical-organic, to be honest) so that I have a better idea of what we go through in a year.
 
Anyway. The adventure begins!
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.