Meatonomics & Sometimes Vegan

When I was a freshman in high school, I read Fast Food Nation in English class and I didn’t eat a hamburger again for years. I went for hotdogs and chicken fingers instead, which aren’t exactly the greatest alternatives, but everything about a burger was wrong to me. I don’t even remember anymore what part of the beef story convinced me to quit burgers cold turkey (hah), but that book certainly did it. I still sort of feel weird when I eat one, even when I make it myself from grassfed beef.

I just finished reading another book that is going to change my diet a lot more than Fast Food Nation ever did, and it’s called Meatonomics. Written by lawyer David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics explores the “rigged economics” of the meat and dairy industries.  It hits hard in all the areas that get to me; sustainability, humane treatment of animals, and corporate control of consumption.

I really enjoyed reading Meatonomics because it is well researched and clearly written. Each chapter has a thesis sentence, subtitles on almost every page, and a bulleted summary of important points at the end. Everything is described in economic terms, which usually means unfathomably large sums of money, but the quantification is powerful. Simon also devotes a significant portion of the book to outlining solutions to the problems he describes, and they’re not absurd. And finally, of course, I learned a ton reading this book. I’m going to recommend it to my vegetarian economics-major sister, to my sometimes-vegan other sister, and to my parents: read it, because our family has fallen for a lot of the problems described in Meatonomics. Continue reading

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An Introduction to Slow/Real/Whole Food (for my little sister)

My little sister, who just completed her first year of college, was forwarded this buzzfeed page containing a list of 8 common ingredients in food that are banned in other places of the world.  She wanted to know if it was “legit”, and my answer was YES YES YES this is a big deal and if you don’t know all about this already you should!

Because most of the blogs I read are written by other like-mindedly green people, they (and subsequently I) tend to write about more nuanced aspects of green living, like for example my last post on how to minimize organic kitchen waste. This post is for those of you, like my sister, who not only don’t have a worm bucket, but don’t know how to navigate a grocery store without inadvertently buying carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Continue reading

Happy CSA Season!

Happy spring everybody! I have been a terrible blogger recently because I have had so much school work, but the semester is winding down and I am ready to get back to it.  There are so many things I want to write to you about!

First of all, in April we started getting weekly baskets of local food from our CSA! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), it is a way for people who love fresh local produce to buy directly from farmers.  It’s sort of an investment in a specific farm or group of farms, and you get a basket every week of what they might otherwise be selling at the farmer’s market.  It’s usually produce, but can also include dairy, eggs, meats, cheeses, grains, flowers, etc.  We’ve signed up for one of the biggest CSAs in the area, so we have gotten a whole variety of local food.  Our CSA suggests recipes for the food in each basket, which I have enjoyed as well.

polenta with mushrooms

One of my favorites so far was polenta made with organic corn meal topped with gruyere, chives, and crimini mushrooms sautéed in white wine, and broiled to melt the cheese.  Here is the recipe, directly from our CSA’s blog.

This week, my box included garlic ramps, a sort of wild leek.  I have never eaten or cooked with ramps before, and they seem to be a local spring delicacy around here, so I am excited to give it a try tonight.  I’m planning spaghetti pan-fried with ramps and basil, a variation on this recipe, served with broccoli.  Ramps also sound like they would be great with mushrooms and in risotto or quiche, so hopefully I will get more next week to experiment with!

To learn more about CSAs or find one near you, check out LocalHarvest.org 

Our First Pittsburgh Sustainability Salon

Two weekends ago, we attended a “sustainability salon” hosted by local green advocate/gardener extraordinare Dr. Maren Cooke.  On her blog, Maren describes sustainability salons as “basically a house party with an environmental theme,” including guest speakers, a potluck meal, interesting conversation, and a little music making.  The theme for this one, the fourteenth, was food: growing, sourcing, local, organic, etc.

I first heard about the sustainability salons through a lab-mate of mine.  I asked for information from Maren’s husband, a professor in the chemistry department here, and he put me in touch.

The salons are held in their house, an interesting and very green building.  Although the front looks like a normal house with an overgrown winterized garden, the main living area is a wide open space constructed from local wood.  The roof of the house is covered in both solar panels and raised-bed vegetable gardens.  We didn’t get to tour the roof because it was snowy, but I hope to see it soon.

Maren’s rooftop garden! Image from marenslist.blogspot.com

Continue reading

Composting at Olde Dartmouth Farm

This morning, Taylor and I visited a farm near my parents’ house in Massachusetts with a huge composting operation.  My father bought some fresh compost recently for his garden and brought us along to take a look at where it came from.  The main operation is a horse farm, run by the wife of the farmer we met with. They board 18 horses and give riding lessons.  The farmer, Tom, cleans out the stables every day and uses the manure to make compost.  He has four huge piles, and all he does is move the decomposing material from site to site every few months, which turns it over and allows it to air out.  The last pile is rich, dark, and earthy smelling.  He sells the compost to local gardeners, farmers, and businesses.

Tom also told us about his other green practices on his land, which he is hoping to improve with grants from the government.  The land is sloped to reclaim all rainwater that falls on it, forcing it into a little pond.  Tom is hoping to build a basin next to the piles of compost to let the water settle and filter before transferring it to the pond, and then he is planning organic gardens for the land around the pond.

He mentioned that he had wanted to install a huge wind turbine to generate power, but his neighbors made so much of a fuss about it being unsightly and the vibrations being disruptive that he gave up.  This is happening all over the area because a few poorly engineered projects have given wind a bad reputation.

Visiting this farm has inspired us to get to work on our own compost. (Worms are next!) It’s comforting to stumble upon green practices and people who really believe sustainability is important. Hopefully we can visit more green or organic farms in the future.