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Why Being a Foodie Isn’t ‘Elitist’

Eric Schlosser, Washington Post
At the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting this year, Bob Stallman, the group’s president, lashed out at “self-appointed food elitists” who are “hell-bent on misleading consumers.” His target was the growing movement that calls for sustainable farming practices and questions the basic tenets of large-scale industrial agriculture in America.

The “elitist” epithet is a familiar line of attack. In the decade since my book “Fast Food Nation” was published, I’ve been called not only an elitist, but also a socialist, a communist and un-American. In 2009, the documentary “Food, Inc.,” directed by Robby Kenner, was described as “elitist foodie propaganda” by a prominent corporate lobbyist. Nutritionist Marion Nestle has been called a “food fascist,” while an attempt was recently made to cancel a university appearance by Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” who was accused of being an “anti-agricultural” elitist by a wealthy donor.

This name-calling is a form of misdirection, an attempt to evade a serious debate about U.S. agricultural policies. And it gets the elitism charge precisely backward. America’s current system of food production — overly centralized and industrialized, overly controlled by a handful of companies, overly reliant on monocultures, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, factory farms, government subsidies and fossil fuels — is profoundly undemocratic. It is one more sign of how the few now rule the many. And it’s inflicting tremendous harm on American farmers, workers and consumers.

During the past 40 years, our food system has changed more than in the previous 40,000 years.
(1 May 2011)

Fava beans: Roasting pods simplifies preparation

Sophie Brickman, San Francisco Chronicle
Fava beans are flooding the markets these days, but we forgive you for not snatching them up by the bagful.

We know. We’ve been there. That moment when you get home with a bag of pods and realize that you’ve committed yourself to peeling, boiling, shocking, peeling again and then actually cooking them, at which point you have a scant one-quarter cup of usable beans and you are so sick of them you’d rather eat a peanut-butter sandwich.

But fear not. We have a recipe that will blow your mind.

… How to prepare: If you’re a traditional fava bean-er and want to go to the blanching method, peel the beans from the pod, cook them for one minute in salted boiling water, shock them in cold water, and then slip the outer skin off.

… But before you go through the trouble (drumroll, please), it’s time for that mind-blowing fava bean recipe. Roasting whole pods renders the beans’ outer skin edible, and if the pods are small enough, the whole pod may be edible. Which goes to say, fava bean preparation just got a whole lot easier.
(24 April 2011)
Fava beans are a valuable crop — easy to grow, good for the soil, full of protein, delicious. The only problem is that preparation can be a hassle. Thanks to food author Sophie Brickman for suggestions on getting around this problem. Historical note: fava beans were a stable of the Ancient Romans and Europeans. They are still popular in Mediterranean lands.

Suggested by Zoe Anderson. -BA

Are mushrooms the new plastic

Big Gav, Peak Energy
Mycellium has almost mystical significance to some greens, but as Eben Bayer of ecovative design notes in this TED Talk, it can also be used to make a biodegradable packaging material called “mycobond” from a variety of different types of waste biomass, thus eliminating the need to make materials like styrofoam from fossil fuel inputs – Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic ? .

Product designer Eben Bayer reveals his recipe for a new, fungus-based packaging material that protects fragile stuff like furniture, plasma screens — and the environment.

Eben Bayer is co-inventor of MycoBond, an organic (really — it’s based on mycelium, a living, growing organism) adhesive that turns agri-waste into a foam-like material for packaging and insulation.

(April 2011)

Organic agriculture: deeply rooted in science and ecology

Eliot Coleman, Grist
Organic farming is often falsely represented as being unscientific. However, despite the popular assumption that it sprang full born from the delusions of 60s hippies, it has a more extensive, and scientifically respectable, provenance. If you look back at the first flush of notoriety in the 1940s, the names most often mentioned, Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale, rather than being the initiators, were actually just popularizers of a groundswell of ideas that had begun to develop some 50 years earlier in the 1890s.

A growing coterie of farmers, landlords, scientists, and rural philosophers in both England and Germany had begun questioning the wisdom of the chemically based agriculture that had grown so prominent from its tiny beginning in the 1840s. Advances in biological sciences during the late 19th century, such as those that explained the workings of nitrogen fixation, mycorrhizal association, and soil microbial life supported their case. Those new sciences set the stage for a deeper understanding of natural processes, and offered inspiration as to how a modern biologically based agriculture might be formulated.
(21 April 2011)
Recommended by Luane Todd who writes:
“This article tucks nicely into the Transition things. We really need to pay attention to Eliot Coleman…he walks the walk. The comments at the end of the article are worth reading.”> . -BA

Radical plots: The politics of gardening

George McKay, Independent
Gardens can captivate, relax and delight. But they have also been the setting for political statements and bloody protests. George McKay argues that we must dig beneath the flowerbeds and see the turf wars instead

… For millions of us, gardening is our regular pleasure. But there is an alternative route, through history and across landscape, away from practice and into ideas, that explores the link between, say, propagation and propaganda, or pomegranate and hand grenade. Just think of the words of the radical gardener-artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, from his contumacious green space called Little Sparta in the Scottish lowlands: “Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.” But how can a garden be an attack, a flower a critique, a trowel an agent of social change?

Notions of utopia, of community, of activism for progressive social change, of peace, of environmentalism, of identity politics, are practically worked through in the garden, in floriculture and through what art historian Paul Gough has called “planting as a form of protest”. But not all – some are sobering, or frightening, for within the territory of the politically “radical” there have been, and continue to be, social experiments that invert our positive expectations of the human exchange that occurs in the green open space of a garden. There are fascist gardens (for the Nazis the land and its planting were pivotal to their ideology): the notorious herb garden at Dachau concentration camp (run on the biodynamic principles of Rudolf Steiner which were favoured by many senior Nazis); the SS “village” at Auschwitz, as recalled by Primo Levi, with its domestic normality of houses, gardens, children and pets – and the garden paths paved with human bones.

There are also contemporary troubles: the British National Party, for example, has a campaign website entitled Land and People (not such a distant echo in its title of the Nazi Blood and Soil doctrine): “Land and People say the choice between allocating land for locals – utilise as allotments – or for ‘development’ – building to house migrants – as they say, a ‘no brainer’… only British Nationalists will put the engine of immigration into reverse and, in so doing, save our countryside.”

The BNP has also argued for the planting of old English varieties of apple trees as part of its campaign to preserve a pure and rustic national culture.

… This isn’t a forced juxtaposition of plant and ideology. Think only of the English radical writer William Cobbett, who declared in 1819 that “if I sowed, planted or dealt in seeds, whatever I did had first in view the destruction of infamous tyrants”. Or the early 20th-century revolutionary playwright Bertolt Brecht, who observed, with startling accusatory power, that “famines do not occur, they are organised by the grain trade”.

… Climate change, peak oil transition, community cohesion, the environment, genetic modification and food policy, diet, health and disability – the garden is the local patch which touches and is touched by all of these kinds of major global concerns, whether it wants that kind of attention or not. In a sparkling collection of autonomous essays from a decade ago called Avant Gardening, Peter Lamborn Wilson comments wryly that “‘cultivate your own garden’ sounds today like hot radical rhetoric. Growing a garden has become – at least potentially – an act of resistance. But it’s not simply a gesture of refusal. It’s a positive act”.

… To “sod it” for the radical gardener is not a cross phrasing of resignation or defeat, but a green action of positive defiance for social change. As the slogan goes: “Resistance is fertile!”

George McKay is Professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Salford. ‘Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism & Rebellion in the Garden’ is published on Friday by France Lincoln (£12.99). To order a copy for the special price of £11.69 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit
(2 May 2011)
From author McKay’s website:
Radical Gardening: where does this book come from?
Introduction to “Radical Gardening”.