Thursday, 24 March 2016

Twelve Local Seasons

MacKinnon. JB., Smith. A., 2007. The 100-Mile Diet. Vintage Canada Edition, Toronto, Canada.

This morning I woke up at 4:00 am to start the custard. I wanted to leave enough time in the day to make two complete batches of ice cream in case the first went totally wrong. As the custard was thickening I started the second half of The 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B MacKinnon. This section of the book starts with a trip to the market for a box of 160 ears of corn, which is meant to be a major portion of their winter diet. Alisa then discusses how much time modern people waste. Ancient hunter-gatherers spent 2 days a week looking for food to sustain themselves. This is much less than what the modern person works in a normal work week. On top of the normal work week we also waste time commuting. Furthermore, towards the middle of the book their blog starts to gain popularity and fans try to and get in contact with them. This helps motivate them to stick to their local diet. As thanksgiving approaches James and Alisa decide to spend the holiday apart. Alisa spends thanksgiving at her friend Dave’s house and is oddly taken back by his eldest daughter who reminds her of an ideal version of herself. A person who is able to follow in whichever path they would like. Where as James spent the holiday at his mother’s house in Kamloops in order to support his brother whose life has been drastically altered. During these nine days spent with family he strays from the local diet. When they came home they discovered what was left of their grain was infested with weevils and the potatoes were ruined by blithe. Later that month James drives his brother up to his place and on the way they stop at a walnut farm and winery. When they get home Alisha surprises them with the location of a local wheat producer that they immediately go to see. Within two weeks they have pounds of ground wheat and their meal possibilities broaden. Alisa then takes a work trip to the Pender Islands where she interviews an Indian man who is concerned over the loss of culture he’s seen in his home town over the course of his life. This doesn’t sit well with Alisa. When Alisa gets home she decides to make a soup for James in hope that this gesture of good faith will help to mend their relationship, or at least make a step in the right direction. The soup is a success and represents a turning point in their relationship. The decision to stay together, at least for now. Together they take a trip to meet Sunny and her 7 friends who did a 250-mile diet, but unlike James and Alisa they caught some of their own game. The book ends with their trip to Mexico where everything they buy at venders and markets is grown within 100 miles. A totally different food culture than our industrial world. With the last line in the book Alisa indirectly expresses the impact of what eating local for a year has done for her. She now sees her surroundings as calmer and enjoys the simpler things in life. They’re were several things I liked about the second half of 100-mile diet some of which include Alisa explanation on how modern people waste time, the description of sauerkraut and the theory of the Pirogi party.

   Alisha looks at how much time hunter gatherers spent collecting food and other necessities they needed to live and compared it to how much time the average person spends working in their week. The average hunter gatherer only spends 2 days working, where as the average modern person works a 40-hour week. On top of that every day spends 50 minutes shopping, 10 minutes on religious practices, 2½ hours on television, 8 minutes on volunteering and 25 minutes to commute each way to work. Breaking down how the average person spends their time puts things into perspective, but I also liked their description of sauerkraut.

   The description of the production of sauerkraut was really surprising. My grandma makes sauerkraut all the time and has never described it in such a way. First, buy a massive head of cabbage from someone who looks like German opera singer. Next, slice the cabbage and add 3 tablespoons of salt for every five pounds of leaves and leave the mixture in a cheap Chinese glazed vase with a heavy plate on top to squeeze out the cabbage juice. Leave the cabbage like this for weeks and it will turn into sauerkraut. In the process it will make your house smell like an unflushed urinal. During the process periodically skim off the mold and flies. The description of sauerkraut was surprising but I also liked the theory of the pirogi party.

   The theory of the pirogi party was that getting drunk and cooking with friends made more memories than sitting around and watching movies with the same people. Two of Alisha and James friends came up with the idea after they attended a party where they made dumplings, sang folk songs and took shots to the point of drunken nausea. The theory proves true.

   My experience cooking my own local dish was different. Instead of going to Walmart or wholesale like I normally do before cooking I had to hunt down distributers of local products, which at first was time consuming, but now I know where to find those ingredients. I chose to make blueberry ice cream and I’ve never made ice cream myself before, or custard either, which is a key component of ice cream. To make the custard I separated ten yolks from the whites of ten eggs only breaking two yolks in the process. With the remaining whites and the two broken yolks I made a massive omelet that I could in now way hope to finish. I then added two cups of homo milk and a cup of honey, while stirring on low heat for what felt like an hour before the custard finally thickened. Once the custard was made I put it in the fridge to cool for a few hours while I was in class. When I got home I added the custard to a litre of whipping cream and put it in the freezer. For the blueberry flavouring I cooked a cup and a half of blueberries with some honey for a few minutes until it thickened up and then added it to the ice cream. That was probably a bad call because now all the cream and custard that had previously frozen was completely thawed. Nevertheless, in a few hours the everything froze together and turned out. For a day I felt like Alisa and James.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Grass Farmers

As I scroll through hundreds of pinterest recipes, a recipe for Mexican chicken salad catches my eye. With a salad in one hand and a thick coffee stained book with a used TRU bookstore sticker in the other, I start chapters ten to thirteen of The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Chapter ten starts off with an explanation of the in’s and out’s of local, grass-based, sustainable farming. He then discusses our relationship to grass as compared to the relationship that the owner of Polyface farm has. We don’t really notice grass or particularity care to, where as at the Polyface farm they see themselves as grass farmers above everything else. These farmers see each animal on the farm as a small portion of the larger picture, where grass is the keystone species. They share techniques engineered to allow maximum grass growth and diversity, which is centred around a rotational grazing system. Their grass fed cows have no need for antibiotics, they eat a variety of grasses referred to as the salad bar and live in a clean environment. This is a sharp contrast from the factory farm in earlier chapters. Furthermore, they also raise chickens and use their droppings to add nitrogen to the soil. To do so effectively they move the chicken pen daily, so that the grass is evenly fertilized. Pollan explains that this farm runs on a balance where every animal has a job to do that somehow helps to sustain the farm. The polyface farm is three generations old and was started when the families original land in Venezuela was taken. From the beginning their goal was sustainable, environmentally friendly, healthy and community oriented farming. They achieved this goal as they live basically off the farm only buying odds and ends from grocery stores. The final chapter talks about the processing of the farms chickens, which they do outside in the open air. First the chickens are collected into a crate and moved to a killing cone where they are bled out and then put in scalding water. From here they are plucked of their feathers, their head and feet are cut off, their viscera are removed and finally they are put in a bath of ice water. Pollan ends this section with explaining that our industrial style food system depends on people not understanding how their food is made and buying locally you protest against huge grocery corporations like Walmart. He then proceeds to describe a local dinner he makes for his friends at home in Charlottesville using Polyface chicken, which his guests agreed tasted more chicken-like than store bought breast. There were a lot of things that I liked about these chapters some of which include the grass farmers, the comparison of grain to a industrial commodity and connectedness of Polyface farm.

Grass farmers is a term I've never heard before, but its makes sense and its clever. The way they see it they raise animals, but they see also see themselves as raising grass where grass is the keystone species. They see their animals as being solar powered and grass is mechanism by which they collect this solar energy. This type of farming is also very eco-friendly because they use much less petroleum than conventional animal farming and their animals are healthier so it’s a win win. I liked the section on grass farmers, but I also liked the comparison of grain to a industrial commodity.

Pollan makes the claim that grain is the closest thing in nature to an industrial commodity. To back up this claim he explains that just like an industrial commondity it can be stored, portable and accumulated. Grain can also be traded, used to form wealth and used as a weapon because the stronger the grain storage the stronger the country. I liked the comparison of grain to an industrial commodity, but I also liked the connectedness and balance present in the Polyfarm.

The polyfarm seems to run perfectly well, but only because each animal had a job to do and in some way helps the farm run. For example, the cows trim the grass and fertilize it with their manure. The chickens can then move through the grass because its short enough and they get valuable protein from the worms in the cow poop, while depositing nitrogen into the soil as part of their waste products. The whole operation is based on grass, the grass feeds the animals and the animals then feed the grass with their droppings.

All in all, chapters ten to thirteen in The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan explored the grass farming world in its entirety. Some of the things I liked includes the grass farmers, the comparison of grains to industrial commodities and the balance of polyface farm. The benefits of grass fed meat seems universal and suddenly my factory farmed Mexican chicken salad seems much less appealing. 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Forbidden Plants

Pollan, M. 1997. The Botany of Desire a Plants-eye View of the World. Random House of Canada         Limited, Toronto.

      This portion of The Botany of Desire a Plants-eye View of the World by Michael Pollan discusses humans history with mind altering plants. Plant have many functions some of which include healing, arousal, pain relieve and changing consciousness. Pollan also discusses how there is a much clearer line between food and poison than there is between poison and desire. These desirable plants have allowed shamans to perform rituals, undergo spiritual journeys and treat illness. Although the desirable properties of plants have proved useful to humans this was not their original purpose. Their original purpose was to confuse and disorient animals as a form of defense. Animals through trial and error have figured out which are good to eat and which aren't, and some have formed bodily defenses to such secondary metabolites. For example some animals have digestive systems that can detoxify the substance before it takes its hold on the individual. Pollan then goes into explaining the history of marijuanna and introduces this a plant with his own brief growing history. Marijuanna cultivation started in Afganistan with the Sativa variety, which was a smooth high, but sativa is only able to grow in warmer climates. Indica varieties were next to emerge, they were shorter, able to grow as far north as Alaska and more potent, but had a harsher smoke. The solution was to make hybrids of Indica and Sativa. This combined the best characteristics of each plant, while masking their weaknesses. Finally, with the demonization of marijuanna that started about 20 years ago growers were pushed inside, which allowed them to increase the yield of their plants by tightly controlling the CO2, water, light and temperature to induce more buds in a shorter amount of time. Furthermore, males were of no use to growers because they didn't produce buds and even a few pollen grains from a male would stunt the growth of a female, so they started cloning females to rid of the male variety entirely. All these changes in the cultivation in marijuanna has increased the amount of THC from 2 percent in the first varieties to 20 percent or more in modern day varieties. From here he explains the cultural views of mind altering plants, where theres temptation taboo isn't far behind. Moreover, cultures are typically more acceptant of the drugs that don't reduce your ability to get the days work done as oppose to drugs that alter your consciousness. For example, coffee is more acceptable than LSD. Pollan dives into the medicinal uses of marijuanna and researches what its original purposes or benefits might have been. He found that their are cannabinoid receptors in the uterus, so it might have once been used to dull the pain and memory of childbirth. Furthermore, the drug may work by subtracting the filters that are associated with consciousness, so in essence not altering consciousness, but editing it. Finally, THC production in the plant is thought to have possibly protected the plant from ultraviolet radiation, had antibiotic properties or served as a defense again predators. Pollan ends this section of writing questioning how would our world be different if mind altering drugs weren't as taboo in society. There was many aspects of Pollan's writing that I liked some of which included how he explained the different directionality of defense mechanisms in plants and animals, how different drugs affected different animals and the desire for psychedelics across cultures.

     Pollan explains that while animals were developing ways to avoid predators through locomotion plants were doing so by staying in place. Animals developed things like muscle, bone, and fight or flight hormones, while plants developed complex biochemistry that allowed them to defended themselves while not moving or being affected by the substances they made. Furthermore, some of these plant substances specifically act on animals brains to attract, repel or deter them. In some cases plants have dulled the line between poison and desire because the substances they secrete have mind or body altering properties that an animal might find desirable even if it has adverse affects to their health. Pollan described the different defense techniques in plants and animals, but I also liked how he explained the effects of certain drugs on certain species.

     Not all drugs have the same effect on all species. For example, nicotine has a calming effect on humans, where as in insects causes paralysis and convulsions. Similarily, caffeine acts as a stimulant on humans, where as in insects it scrambles their nervous system making them unable to eat essentially staving them to death. Datura is a hallucingen excreted by plants that causes the predator who eats it to go mad. Flavenoids have the ability to change the flavour of a plant from sour to sweet or sweet to sour. Certain trees produce molecules in their sap than stop caterpillars from turning into butterflies. Finally, photosensatizers in wild parsnips can cause the animal who ingests it to burn easily in the sun and have spontaneous DNA mutations when exposed to UV radiation. Pollan does a great job at explaining the different effects of chemicals across species, but I also liked how he explained the desire of mind or body altering drugs across cultures and age groups.

    When looking across cultures and age groups Pollan found that every culture except for the Eskimo's had historical use of some sort of mind altering drug. Furthermore, it was thought that the reason Eskimo's didn't use any drugs was because they couldn't grow any in their climate. When looking across age groups Pollan found similar results. Even children look to alter their consciousness. This is seen by some of the games they play involving spinning until they feel to dizzy to stand, hyperventilating and seeking sugar rushes.

   This portion of The Botany of Desire a Plants-eye View of the World by Michael Pollan discusses the uses and history of mind altering substances. I liked this piece of writing because he explained the evolutionary differences in defense mechanisms in plants and animals, the effects of certain drugs on certain species and the desire for psychedelics across cultures and age groups.