Our Daily Bread

https://i2.wp.com/media.sundancechannel.com/UPLOADS/films/320x240/o/our_daily_bread.jpgThe most powerful food documentary I’ve watched is Our Daily Bread. It offers simplicity in its delivery. It is an opportunity to witness the systems that produce industrial food, without the burden of processing the data and opinions from experts.

Around five years ago I sat alone, horrified, as I watched the quiet footage progress. No narrative thread emerged, but as time elapsed, the weight on my chest grew heavier.

I was reminded of Our Daily Bread recently; when cleaning out my desk I found the notes I jotted down during the film. Some of these notes don’t make much sense; italicized words are my reactions to what I was watching. For what it’s worth, here’s what stood out to me:

hanging pigs
so much water
milk cows on a moving platform
hogs on a train
gigantic greenhouse
hatchery
chicks on conveyor
sorting chicks
injecting chicks
checking for dead chickens in a warehouse
harvesting potatoes
hazmat gear
greenhouse plants – drenching peppers
trolley system for harvesting
glowing greenhouse complex
sperm collection: teasing steer, only to collect sperm
confined prize steers
machine spraying hay like a water sprinkler
pulling a calf out of cow: cut open, C-section
calf sprayed with blue paint and taken away
spraying crops
hen in tractors
apple harvesting
battery cages and egg harvesting: very loud, stressful environment
busing workers to harvest green onions
hog slaughterhouse
nauseous
scale?
impersonality?
coldness?
juxtaposition
good thing I didn’t eat any meat today

food production footage interspersed with women on smoke and lunch breaks
stationary camera
spraying flowers
tilling under dead stalks
lettuce harvest
machinery causing me to wince
shaking the hell out of olive trees, sucking olives off the ground with a ride-able vacuum
salt mining
fish farming: fish sucked up with a big hose
gestation crates
castrating piglets
big monstrous vacuum sucking up chickens from the warehouse
flashback to when there were chicks blown into crates
crates crammed full and shoved closed
crates aren’t deep enough for chickens to stand up
juxtaposition of these scenes with ads
slaughter of cows: covered in shit, skinned, cut in half
didn’t show the feed lot
nauseous
machines and food

What’s the most influential food documentary you’ve watched?

Part Two: Corn bread

beans and cornbread
Blue corn bread with purple hull peas from last summer’s garden. I cooked the peas in the same manner as the Christmas butter beans.

Might I propose an extra verse to the traditional Irish blessing? May you always have corn bread to sop up your bean juice.

But will it be sweet (Johnnycake) or savory corn bread? In my past life as a married woman, baking corn bread required negotiation. My ex-husband sees corn bread as another vehicle for sugar, but I like it hearty and rustic. (Like my men! Ha! Couldn’t resist.)

Rare Romance, Well-Done Marriage, a story I recently heard on The Moth podcast, explored household disagreements on food preferences. The storyteller, Adam Gopnik, pondered how “food becomes everything else.” Gopnik is insulted when his wife insists that he finish sauteing high-quality tuna until it looks as though it came from a can; her repeated rejection of his sense of taste hurts his ego. But the story sweetly concludes with a compromise: Gopnik will braise everything, which eliminates the rare/well-done divide.

I can relate to Gopnik’s thesis that “mouth tastes become moral tastes.” My college roommate, Nicole, was disgusted by my love of cilantro, celery and fizzy drinks. (She is still disgusted, but I don’t have to defend myself as often since she lives in Austin.) And I confess that since I’ve grown to love fried eggs over easy, I question the tastes of those who require a hard yolk, which is just gross.

What enduring food-related rivalry do you have with your partner/roomie/kid/lunchmate? Miracle Whip or mayonnaise; chocolate or vanilla; crunchy peanut butter or creamy; coffee or tea; white meat or dark; ranch or vinaigrette; white or wheat; medium or rare. What else is there? What am I missing?

blue corn cornbread
Indulgent blue corn bread with candied jalapenos
The blue cornmeal came from Stone Stack Mill via the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. The corn is grown in West Texas and is milled in Hydro, Okla. This batch was made with bacon fat. The candied jalapenos complemented the smokiness from the bacon.

Corn Bread
from the 1975 Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna

1 cup sifted flour
1 cup sifted cornmeal
1 T baking powder
¾ t salt
1 T sugar
1 egg
1 c milk
¼ c bacon drippings

Preheat oven to 400˚. Sift flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt, and if you like, sugar into a bowl; beat egg with milk and oil just to blend. Make a well in dry ingredients, pour in egg mixture, and stir until well blended. Pour into a well-greased 8x8x2 baking pan and bake 20-25 minutes until bread pulls slightly from edges of pan, is lightly browned and springy to the touch. Cut in large squares (or wedges) and serve oven hot with lots of butter. (That’s really what it says! Lots.)

Part One: Beans

Cook and Freeze

I know I’m in good company when I say, if I don’t control myself, I could go crazy buying cookbooks. So, I have a mostly no-purchasing policy. Mostly. I bought two cookbooks for myself in the last year or so, and they were both purchased last month. I borrowed Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn from the library, and after getting it home, reading every word of the introductory chapters, and lusting over the descriptions of cured meat, I knew I had to have it. (Side note: Unfortunately the library’s copy smelled like cigarette smoke, instead of luscious smoked pork.) Expect to see some future posts about my experimentation with charcuterie.
The second cookbook, Cook & Freeze by Dana Jacobi, was mentioned on The Splendid Table. Not long after, I started a new job. It was my first week and I was flipping out about my new schedule and the lack of time to prepare good food. (Case in point: Braum’s and shitty CVS cookies were two of my evening “meals” that week.) My sweet brother reminded me of the handy contraption that lives in the dusty cabinet above the fridge — the slow cooker — which has experienced a rebirth. And Lynne Rossetto Kasper introduced me to Dana Jacobi.
While she was testing recipes for her Mediterranean cookbook, Jacobi stashed some favorites in the freezer. She said what emerged was a revelation that led her to discover which foods tasted good when freshly cooked and defrosted. She experimented with methods and ingredients, which was all extremely helpful when she later she found herself spread thin from caring for her aging parents.
There are several things that I love about Cook & Freeze. This is the type of food I already want to cook, regardless of hectic schedules. Mexican Mushrooms in Won Ton Cups. Cantonese Flank Steak. Mole Chicken Enchiladas. Spiced Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup.
And the recipes call for ingredients I already use, save rice flour, but I am willing to pick that up at a health food store. There are no convenient “mystery foods,” but the convenience is still there.
Each recipe gives instructions for serving now, freezing, and defrosting. She gives helpful tips for substitutions, and makes note of recipes that work well when doubled or halved.
The first chapter, “Everything You Need to Know,” is about preparing, packing, and defrosting for best results.
The final chapter, “Cooking to Fill Your Freezer,” groups recipes that can easily be prepared simultaneously. Can’t wait to do that.
cook and freeze tool
Sophisticated tool: Half of a 2-liter bottle (or something similar) makes a handy stand for filling freezer bags. Genius!
cook and freeze tool
Fold the bag over the stand and fill ‘er up.
cook and freeze
Remove the bag, lay flat, and evenly spread the contents and press out air bubbles, all while taking care not to squish the food out of the bag. After you get the contents smooth and as much air released as possible, seal the bag and lay it on a flat surface in the freezer. Use a cookie sheet or cutting board if you need to. Have you ever had a bag freeze between the slots of a wire rack? That’s a real pain in the ass.
cook & freeze: sweet and tangy bison balls
Label and date everything. With each recipe, Jacobi recommends that ideal storage time. Consider keeping an inventory of your freezer for simplified meal planning.
frozen beans
This flat bag of beefy kidney beans brings me great satisfaction. Doesn’t take much, does it?

Kelvinator

Never mind what it implies about our social life—Matt and I look forward to the Saturday evening radio line up. The Midnight Special at 6pm on KCSC (90.1), followed by The Thistle & Shamrock and Folk Salad on KOSU (91.7). The Midnight Special songs play with a theme. I was cooking and listening this past Saturday, so it was fitting that one theme was kitchen life/food. My ears perked up when I heard the introduction to this song: “Kelvinator” by James Gordon, a Canadian activist singer-songwriter. (Check out “Mr. Developer Man” and “Weapons of Mass Instruction.”)

Also, here’s the full playlist from the September 25 edition of The Midnight Special radio show.

Wineglasses

Check out this segment from The Splendid Table and never again fret over a broken wineglass or postpone celebrations.

Photo by dhamzza

Laughable Labels

Is this the co-opting of “local” or just a really broad interpretation?

local?

My recent encounter in Oklahoma City with this “locally grown” jar of roasted bell peppers from Napa Valley caused me to revisit this fantastic article from last May, which explores the angles and issues with the “local” label. Mezzetta, Frito Lay, and others are making a case for “local” in relation to their processing plant and are clearly leaving the eater out of the equation. What merit does this have? Is this an improvement upon former business practices or is it merely a new marketing strategy for their status quo? When the labels we trust become diluted from government certification or opportunistic marketing gurus, they become, at best, nothing more than a game of semantics and at worst, completely meaningless.

From the article:

…the widening view of what it means to eat locally is similar to the changes the term organic went through as it grew from a countercultural ideal in the 1960s and 1970s to an industry with nearly $25 billion in sales last year. A related debate about how to define sustainable farming is now gathering force in government, agriculture and business.

Some Reading

Here are some food-related articles I’ve recently read. Are there some good ones I’ve missed?

It takes a community to sustain a small farm
“I used to think there were four distinct pieces to a local food system: production, processing, distribution, and retail. Now I realize there is a fifth: community. Without an involved community of customers who believe in what the local farmer, miller, distributor, and grocer is doing, none of them will last very long.”

It’s getting tougher to bring home the bacon
“The government is concerned that bacteria from a smuggled piece of meat will spread through the ecosystem, infecting livestock and hurting agricultural production…”

Why you should go see Fantastic Mr. Fox
I had no idea.

Cultivating Failure
A ferocious critique of edible schoolyards.
“It’s the state’s Department of Education that is to blame for allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools. But although garden-based curricula are advanced as a means of redressing a wide spectrum of poverty’s ills, the animating spirit behind them is impossible to separate from the haute-bourgeois predilections of the Alice Waters fan club…”

And a delightful, smart, animated response to “Cultivating Failure.”