Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is That Kosh?

 Happy Passover to all of those celebrating the Jewish holiday.  As Dee Dee, from the hit children's television show The Rugrats explains, "Passover is a time for Jewish families to come together and re-tell the history of their people".  A brief and entertaining explanation of the Passover holiday can be provided by "A Rugrats Passover".  For those of you who do not know, Passover has very specific dietary restrictions for its 8 days.  The primary restrictions are of these five grains: Wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt.  Though, there are different types of practicing Jews, and there are different levels strictness.

As I write this post I sit in the kitchen to cook matzo ball soup, one of the traditional Jewish meals made for most holidays.  Personally, I celebrate Jewish holidays by making a certain food items, rather than following the traditional religious rituals that I am not as familiar with.  Though I was raised Jewish, I often don't spend the time on the religious affiliations as I used to when living at home with my family.  Let's just say I rarely paid attention in Hebrew School, but when it came to food I have always been able to remember.  I'm not sure the last time I was able to fast for the full 8 days of Passover because my parents were lenient on me, and as an adult I have not had the budget to throw away perfectly good bread!  So, I try to honor the holiday in the best way I can, by making a big pot of matzo ball soup.

As I was reading up about Passover for this blog post, it came to my attention in an article appropriately named "A Gentile's Guide to Keeping Kosher".  One specific paragraph about matzo read:
Matzo. For reasons that are unknown to most Jews, some people willingly eat matzo at other times of the year. These matzo boxes are labeled “not kosher for Passover” and should not be eaten as a part of observing the holiday. The difference? Rabbinic supervision to ensure that any matzo made for Passover is untainted by any leavening agents. 
As I read this excerpt, I decided to check the matzo meal I had just bought yesterday from Hannaford's to make my matzo balls with. Very small in the corner I read the words Not for Passover Use! 

Here I am, trying to make my small contribution by honoring the holiday, and I already feel like a failure.  Let's just say I was more than disappointed to find out my balls were not even kosher, especially because this was the only matzo meal at the grocery store and it was under the kosher section.  They are really putting it on the consumer to know their stuff.  Unfortunately as a college student I no longer have my mom and dad as a reference for what is and is not kosher to eat for Passover.  HOW WAS I SUPPOSE TO KNOW?

In my case, I just trusted that all matzo meal was going to be kosher, and I was not aware that there was a difference between kosher and kosher for Passover.  I'm sure there are many situations where either people have realized this factor too late, or never even realized at all.  This tiny little difference can mean a whole lot to someone trying to practice their religion.  But who's responsibility is it to make this clear?  Should we trust specific brand's?  Should we put the expectation on the consumer to know what they are buying?  This is very similar to other labeling laws such as GMO laws.  Can we expect the consumer to know everything about what they are buying?  It is not often that I get tricked by labeling, but I now see how easy it is to be slightly misinformed, and the large implications one simple label can have.

NP 3/26

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mocking the Mockumentary: Portlandia and the Locavore

Though Portlandia is not a show amongst the most popular television series, it carries its niche market with its witty, quirky, and seemingly hipster/liberal character.  The show is known for its light mocking of residents of the city of Portland, and other more progressive cities which I believe Burlington, VT to follow similar characteristics (possibly why I am such a fan).  An article in The New Yorker describes it as "a television comedy in which precious concerns spin into giddy lunacy".

The clip above is a wonderful example poking fun at the most extreme locavores supporting the local food movement.  Portlandia creates this scenario where the restaurant guests go through somewhat excessive information gathering to find out where their food is coming from.  They ask if the chicken has friends, and reach the point where they actually go to visit the farm as the waitress holds their table.   While this scenario is not the most realistic example of what types of questions a locavore goes through before ordering, I do believe the dialogue is a quite accurate representation of food movement issues.  These questions bring light to the types of things we often do not think about when ordering or purchasing food.  Some issues it targets: How the farmer treats their animals, the distance the food is coming from, and the relationship between the farm and the restaurant.  The scene also models what type of role an individual can hold in creating change in the food system.  After the waitress leaves the table to get the papers about the chicken, the characters reaffirm that they are doing the right thing by asking these questions.  In many situations asking these questions can feel awkward and obnoxious, but that uncomfortable feeling is shared in this scene for others to relate to. This educational entertainment [Edutainment] models the behavior of asking thoughtful questions about your food, while also being highly entertaining.

It is important to recognize that the audience of this show is compiled of like-minded individuals that relate to the scenarios being mocked.  It is hard to say how much this show is a source of information for people not already part of the local food movement, but for people who do support the movement it seems extremely relatable.  In fact these are things I want to know about my food, but often don't have the guts to ask.  By watching this scene I feel more confident in my individual role as a supporter of food movements.

Entertainment does not often model food system issues, which is what makes Portlandia such a unique show.  This "Food Dialogues" video made by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance argues that food system issues are becoming a larger part of pop culture, though I have yet to see these practices as I watch my daily television.  Perhaps as popularity of the movement grows, so will its presence in media.  My hope is that the mocking can again be reflected into everyday practices beginning with how we think about food.

WP 3/22

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Miles and miles of food miles

There is nothing like a 20 hour car ride up and down Interstate 95 from Vermont to Georgia, to Tennessee and back to Vermont to get you to think about food miles...

Okay, this may not be your first instinctual thought, but after a while on the highway the scenery out the window becomes quite repetitive.  After passing billboards for fast food, food trucks, more billboards, and more trucks transporting food side by side your car for 10 hours, its hard not to think where that truck is headed, where that truck came from, and my specific thoughts; 
Why are there so many trucks hogging up the lanes, and is it so necessary to drive cross country to sell that? 

The definition of a food mile according to the Oxford Dictionary is: 
"a mile over which a food item is transported during the journey from producer to consumer, as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport it."
Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or lack of entertainment, but these trucks really began to rile me up.  While most often I think of the environmental impacts of food miles, this time I took a different perspective of just how inefficient these trucks seem.  I can't imagine it is very cost effective to drive $.75 muffins across the country to sell in a gas station 1500 miles away.  Then stemming from that thought, to think that a large fraction of that money is going to the transportation, another fraction to the producers, and almost none to the farmer that happens to be my neighbor!  For those of you who do not know 1500 miles is the average distance food travels in the U.S.  This appalling fact, along with other valuable insights on the industrial food system came from a video produced by PBS e² series entitled Food Miles. 
This short 25 minute video, though not very in depth, has some great insight into the topic of localization of food and the positives and negatives of industrial food production.  If food mile is a term you are not familiar with, I recommend this video.  It is easy to understand and I felt it was put in non-threatening or urgent terms that are often present in advocacy films.  It is great because it really pinpoints the main issues of the industrial food system, while also recognizing other opinions.  

In the teachers guide to this video episode they provide questions to think about before viewing the video.  The question I encourage people to think about before viewing the video is: 

Think about a typical dinner that you eat. What foods does it include? Do you know where that food comes from (before it ends up in the supermarket)? Where it is grown? Using what methods? Where it is processed, if it is processed?

By thinking about the external costs associated with the food we eat, it may become easier to understand how these issues apply to you or effect you as a consumer on this planet.  A line that stuck out from the video was from Michael Pollan, a famous scholar, author, and advocate of the food movement: "The fact that we are catching salmon in Alaska, filleting it in China, then flying it to New York".  Sounds bonkers! The truth sometimes hurts to find out.

Video Hyperlink:

N/P 3/19

Photo Credit: Susannah Clark Parsons

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Maya & Jerry ! (I wish)

Last Friday, March 1st I had the great opportunity to listen to Jerry Greenfield speak of the greatly known Ben & Jerry's ice cream company.  There were so many reasons that this was an exciting opportunity for me.  One, as a current resident of Vermont Ben & Jerry's gives us great pride in our state, and in many cases is one of the few companies that help make our state recognizable.  Another reason was that Ben & Jerry's as a company holds quite a specific character, including their very liberal and progressive values.  I was very interested in seeing how these views came to be, and whether these views will be upheld. 
Jerry Greenfield (Right) and I (Left)

For those of you who do not know, in 2000 Ben & Jerry's was bought by the giant brand owner Unilever that owns brands from A (Axe body) spray to Z (Zendium Toothpaste).  This change has since made me skeptical about the change, and I was very interested to see how much of their image is put into the action of their mission. 
I was very pleased to see Jerry as the face behind the brand.  He spoke of the 60's, and how in the beginning he and Ben were against businesses until they realized that they could reform business to do good.  Ben & Jerry's is one of the first companies to use the idea of a triple bottom line.  They have an entire tab on their web page about activism which openly represents their views as a brand on political activism, environmental concerns, and views social injustice.  As a top company with such brand recognition, this activism can be quite powerful in supporting certain issues. 
Ben & Jerrys and Political Views
Throughout the lecture, Jerry upheld his view points, and even expanded on his opinion of Unilever.  As one audience member asked how Ben & Jerry's is able to uphold their values, he exclaimed that the board of directors of Ben & Jerry's are people that work for the same values Ben & Jerry's does, and they decide on almost all ventures.  Even though Unilever has one view point on an issue, Ben & Jerry's is able to speak openly about opposing viewpoints.  As Ben & Jerry's continues to grow, my only hope is that they continue to hold the same values, and hold their activism strong.  I am hopeful that they will succeed in this with their new stance on GMO labeling laws in which they hope to source all non-GMO products by the end of the year, as well as their mission to create more fair trade items.  All of these movements are close to my heart, and it makes me happy to see a company as passionate about these issues as I am.  Of course there are always going to be disappointments when big business gets involved.  But there has to be hope that true individual values can be upheld. 

NP 3/12