Newsletter – 19 September, 2013



The Alleged Farm News – 19 September, 2013

This weeks share: Chinese Cabbage, Cilantro, Edamame, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Hot Peppers, Potatoes, Squash, Tomatoes


 I was out picking the edamame and thinking about the best way to describe how to cook them. Not that it is complicated. You just steam them until they are slightly tender, maybe toss on some salt when they are done. But I was trying to decide roughly how long they need to be steamed, and whether or not I needed to point out that you cook the beans in the pods and then pop them out and, more basically, if I needed to explain what edamame are.  They are not that uncommon, mostly because Japanese restaurants aren’t that uncommon. But you don’t come across them often in a regular grocery store–certainly not fresh–or even at a farmers’ market. I guess they still count as a specialty item, a tasty snack for those in the know. Which suggests both that I ought to explain them and that I ought not. 

Ought for the obvious reason that people unfamiliar with edamame will be puzzled to get a paper sack of slightly hairy pods and wonder if they should eat them or maybe just put them in a warm place and wait for them to hatch. Ought not because doing so insultingly suggests you are not in the know.

Considered rationally, the argument against explaining edamame seems pretty silly. Who would really be hurt to be told something they already know about soybeans? The answer, I fear, is that lots of people would. 

Vegetable Notes: We picked an assortment of hot peppers this week, all of them medium hot. Which is to say, they are distinctly hot, but not as hot as some that we grow or as mild as the ones we handed out last week. Whichever ones you have, they would add some good heat to salsa or fried potatoes or stir fried Chinese cabbage or grilled squash or, well, anything.

Obviously, the tomatoes continue to produce heavily, but production is going to drop off rapidly. With the cold nights (and some cold days) growth has slowed and the diseases are starting to take over. We have a later planting of disease resistant varieties that may keep producing for a few more weeks.  But at some point there is not enough sun or heat left to create a particularly tasty tomato anyway, so having production taper off now is not such a great loss. In other words, enjoy them while they are still abundant and tasty.

Though the summer crops don’t like these cold nights, we have plenty of fall crops that enjoy this weather. They grow better and taste better in the fall. We will do what we can to keep our summer crops going (we put row covers on the peppers and eggplants the other day, and we will probably have to cover the final planting of beans soon). But it is only a matter of time before we get a hard enough frost to finish off most of those crops. We actually had a little frost on Tuesday morning, though it does not seem to have damage anything. It was just a little reminder that winter’s coming. 

I am afraid I may owe an apology for last week’s potatoes. I hope not, but I suspect many of you encountered the same problem we did with the leftover ones we had in the barn. By Thursday afternoon they had started to develop strange bruise-like spots and go bad. For some reason that particular variety seems to have this problem sometimes, which is a shame, because in all other respects it is a fine potato.

As for those edamame, I would think steaming them in their pods for about 4 minutes should do the trick. But just to be sure try one and see if it is tender enough without being remotely mushy.

Food has always been a source of anxiety. For most of human history, that anxiety has centered almost entirely on the question of whether or not there will be enough of it. Most people at most times in our history have regularly faced the possibility or fact of of not having enough to eat, which cannot help but cause consuming anxiety. There’s not much else but food that matter when you are hungry. Even in people who know they have enough to eat, hunger causes the brain to focus intently on food. Researchers had people try to identify the words “rake”, “take” and “cake” flashed on a screen for a a thirtieth of a second. Those who had not eaten for several hours before the test did much better identifying “cake.”  

While that level and form of food fixation might be a little surprising, it can hardly come as a shock that we think and worry about food. Our fundamental needs tend to occupy our thoughts, particularly when unmet. Hold your breath for a minute and try to think about giraffes or Plato rather than your desperate need for oxygen. I do not mean to belittle either giraffes or Plato, but it is perfectly reasonable to ignore them and focus on breathing when your life-sustaining supply of oxygen is running short. It is just so with food too, though I don’t doubt a starving person would happily imagine eating both Plato and the giraffe.

Of course, as complicated social organisms we are able to create food anxiety that has nothing to do with scarcity.  Such manufactured anxiety may not possess quite the same power to absorb our thoughts that real hunger does, but anxiety is anxiety is anxiety. Just because you are worrying about status or moral standing rather than starvation does not make it less worrying. It can easily look silly viewed from the outside, silly in a way that worrying about having enough to eat never can. But to the person immersed, for instance, in a culture that takes the proper use of silverware terribly seriously, it is quite possible to suffer real agony about fish forks. 

I doubt many people in recent years have suffered from that particular anxiety. We have mostly moved beyond such manners. But where people used to worry about using the right fork, now they worry about using the right chicken. We have attached significant prestige to a sort of fussy, geeky obsession with the actual food we eat, rather than how or where or when or with whom we eat it. It has become terribly important to know a great deal about ingredients. You have to recognize the esoteric ones, the fennel pollen and popcorn shoots and botarga, and you have to know the sourcing of everything. Fresh is not good enough. Organic is not good enough. Local is not good enough. Heirloom is not good enough. Artisanal is not good enough. It has to be all those and more. It has to have a story. It has to provide evidence of conscious moral, aesthetic choice–of craft–from conception to consumption. 

To eat anything less is to reveal yourself as a member of that vast undifferentiated, overfed  blob of humanity whose ignorance, indifference and simple lack of good taste makes it a tool of the destructive corporate-political food system. You are what you eat, and so you know what you are when you eat inferior food.

There is nothing wrong with most of the concerns that fuel this food anxiety. We should know something about what we eat, and there are plenty of things in our food we should worry about. Most processed food in this country is made with profit, not your health, in mind, and it is quite possible for profit to be at odds with your health. And it is certainly possible for profit to be at odds with quality. It does not help that we feel entitled to insanely cheap food and are addicted to convenience. Combined with our natural desire for salt, sugar and fat, these make us easy prey for processors armed with carefully engineered brands. It is high time we fight back.

But we need to fight back on behalf of everyone who eats, not make this another opportunity for social distinction. If those with with world and time enough want to seek out small batch, artisanal tonic water and pasture-raised heirloom chickens fed on scraps from four star restaurants, let them. Let’s not, however, turn food itself into a dividing line between in and out, good and bad, knowledgeable and ignorant, cultured and uncultured, rich and poor. The good food snobbery and concomitant anxiety that drives people to absurd lengths only serves to make eating well appear elitist, thus turning off many of the people who would benefit most from a healthy diet and creating a fault line the giant food processors will eagerly exploit. The vast majority of Americans could end up eating worse because the few eat better.

we must commit not just to feeding everyone in this country, though it would be nice if we could at least commit to that, but to feeding everyone well. We don’t need right now to expend huge efforts to make sure 200 people can have sublime chicken. We need to work hard to make sure everyone can have good chicken, raised without massive doses of hormones and antibiotics, given a chance to see the sky, butchered in clean facilities, and sold at a price both the consumer and the farmer can afford. Only when we have freed everyone from real food anxiety should people have the luxury of indulging in worries about the correctness of their poultry’s upbringing.