During winter holiday break, I finally had the chance to crack open a book I had been carrying around for months. Although Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest was published 12 years ago, I can’t help but feel that it is an imperative read for passionate (and non-passionate) eaters alike.
Regardless of my passion for Shiva’s written word, my intention is not to write a review on any one of her pieces of work (or to rant about the wrong doings of Cargill or Monsanto); rather, it is to speak to our current climate of food crisis. More specifically, my purpose is to bring attention to the food we eat, and relate it to the recent Occupy movement, which shook city streets across the globe during 2011.
After recent talks in Los Angeles, Joanne Poyourow published an article about an event where she spoke with Shiva herself. In the article, when asked about what she would say to those involved in the Occupy movement, Shiva simply nodded, gently smiled, and commented, “I’d tell them…Occupy your Life.”
Similar to Poyourow, these words from Shiva’s mouth resonated with me. If we should look to the Occupy movement for any lessons, it would be that there are areas within our everyday lives which we can utilize for the fight against political injustice.
After speaking with my friend and YUFP colleague Aaron Manton about these ideas, he connected Shiva’s words to those of Ralph Waldo Emmerson. A transcendentalist, Emmerson spoke about living deliberately, and the concept of being completely invested in everything we do. By being aware of the ramifications and the significance of every aspect of our lives, we can bring food into a broader political context. Similarly, situationists express that politics are not a separate sphere from other aspects of life. With this in mind, we can recognize that the politics of justice is intrinsically related to the food we eat, and that political revolution must take place within the scope of the everyday.
Most politically driven foodies would agree that this is not easy to do. In almost every direction we look, the very companies we wish to fight against market the ‘ethical’ food choices we may be attracted to. The Canadian labelling system (or lack thereof) prevents consumers from making informed choices, and refuses to enforce any element of transparency that would allow consumers to know what really is in their food, and who benefits from its purchase.
However blasphemous this may be, there are solutions. The real solution we need to focus on is training ourselves to be more self-resilient, self-reliant, and sufficiently capable of feeding ourselves apart from a system that insists on harming us. By learning some basic food skills and refraining from purchasing processed and packaged foods, we are limiting the amount of money that will eventually be stuffed into the pockets of that 1%. With this in mind, I share with you a couple of food tips that have helped me in recent years, and I hope you, our faithful readers, will benefit from them. Here are my top five foodie must-haves that every activist should place on their culinary agenda, in an attempt to ‘occupy their lives.’
#5: Make Stock
To be a politically minded cook, the first step is to become more aware of the waste we create in our day-to-day lives. Consumer culture, which many of us fall victim to, influences us to see very valuable things as waste. The reason I list stock as a primary ‘foodie must-have’ is because I feel it is an integral step to utilizing more and reducing waste. It will help you spend less, eat better, and be more conscious of the value of the foods we are privileged to have access to. My advice is to show your food the respect it deserves, and to get as much as possible out of it.
Stock can be used in your kitchen in a variety of ways. It can be a base for homemade soups, or a cooking liquid for grains, legumes, or even pasta. Using stock adds additional flavour and nutritional value to your food, and can be helpful for those who are refraining from salt or other synthetic flavouring agents.
Method for Vegetable Stock:
Throughout the week, keep the ends and bits of vegetables that you don’t include in your everyday meals. Good examples would be onions ends, brussels sprout cores, mushroom stems, woody asparagus stems, and the like. Keep these in a bag in your vegetable drawer, and at the end of the week, place all of it in all in a pot, and cover with water. If you want to make it extra flavourful, add some garlic, pepper, or other herbs like rosemary or thyme to the mix.
Place the pot on high heat to bring to a boil. After it comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer, or a gentle boil. You do not want to break down the vegetables by boiling; but rather extract the flavours, aromas, and nutrients slowly. This will take only 30-40 minutes. After, strain using a fine sieve, and cool. I like to keep old yogurt containers to divide 1L portions of the stock and freeze.
Method for Chicken Stock:
If you eat chicken, and happen to purchase it on the bone, keep the bones in the freezer until you have collected a substantial amount (enough to fill a soup pot half way). I am not encouraging you to buy KFC and keep the bones after you have gnawed off the meat. But if you happen to roast a chicken, keep the carcass and use it for stock. Alternatively, many grocers and butcher shops have a large number of animal bones in their inventory. If you ask at the counter they will often sell chicken, beef, or fish bones for very little. Sometimes they will even give bones away to get them off their hands (much becomes waste…trust me, I worked in a butcher shop!).
Place the chicken bones in a pot and cover with cold water, leaving room to add vegetables later. It is important to use cold water, as it helps to slowly extract impurities (blood and minerals) while the liquid comes to a slow simmer. A murky foam will form on the surface. Skim this off, and then add vegetables, herbs, and pepper. Let simmer on a low temperature for at least an hour. The same general time is needed for making turkey or other poultry stock.
General Stock Tips:
Most people who make stock routinely suggest that you include three main vegetables: carrots, onions, and celery. This blend is called a mirepoix, which is used to make the base flavour for any soup or sauce. If you intend to make soup with your stock, consider adding some or all of these for a better, more well-rounded flavour.
If you want to make fish stock, the general process if similar. Avoid making stock from the bones of greasy fish, like salmon, however; the result will be overwhelming and unappealing. It generally takes around 45 minutes of simmering time to make fish stock.
For beef stock, the simmering process is substantially longer. Since it takes approximately three to four hours to extract the flavour and collagen from beef bones, refrain from adding vegetables until the last hour of simmering. For a robust, flavourful beef stock, roast bones before submersing in water.
#4: Cook Grains and Cereals
A few weeks ago, I was in Loblaws and came across a ready-made ‘lunch kit’ for kids that contained pre-cooked white rice in one plastic compartment and a syrupy-looking ‘vegetable’ sauce in another. To my horror, this product was on the shelf far from any fridge, sitting in a warm isle. I was completely taken aback, not only by the sheer fact this product exists, but also that people actually purchase it.
It is understandable that time is a constant issue for people when it comes to cooking. However, buying such products contributes to own ‘de-skilling’ in food preparation. By purchasing ready-made food products, we are giving companies our hard earned food dollars when we could be using them to purchase whole, unprocessed, and healthier foods. Do not allow these companies to convince you that you do not have the skill to cook your own food; you do.
The pilaf method is one of the most time-effective ways of cooking grains and cereals, not to mention one of the tastiest. My favourite dish these days is quinoa. A few weeks a ago, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that “quinoa is the new rice.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that quinoa isn’t a grain at all. Rather, it is a seed from a plant that is related to both beets and spinach. If you look closely, the seed looks like a small spiral. If left to soak in water at room temperature overnight, it will sprout, making it easier to digest and higher in nutritional worth.
Like actual grains, quinoa is delicious when cooked as a pilaf. The pilaf method involves gently toasting the grain/seed, and then cooking it with some form of liquid. By using the exact measure of liquid to make the grain tender (rather than boiling in a large amount of water and draining it), the nutritional value is retained, as is the flavour. This method also requires limited supervision and provides fail-safe results; pilafs are always fluffy, tender, and delicious.
Recipe: Basic Quinoa Pilaf
1 cup dried quinoa
1 and ¾ cups vegetable stock (If you have handy. Water or orange juice can be used as a replacement.)
1 small onion, diced
1 tbsp. pure olive oil, or vegetable oil
In a medium pot, gently sauté the onion in oil on medium to low heat. When translucent, add and toast the quinoa, stirring occasionally. Toast for about a minute, then add liquid and bring to a boil on high heat. When boiling commences, cover with a lid and turn down to low, cooking for approximately 20 minutes. Lift lid and stir. Check the bottom of the pot to see if any liquid remains. If so, leave to cook for several more minutes. If not, then shut off heat and let rest, covered, for 5-10 minutes. After resting, fluff with a fork and serve. Pilaf goes great with stews and curries.
This method also allows for some creativity. I like to toast spices and herbs while I toast the grain. Try making this recipe with turmeric, coriander, and cumin to make a ‘curried’ version. Another flavourful option is to use juices, such as orange juice or apple cider.
Keep in mind that each grain or cereal requires a different amount of water in order to be cooked to a tender state, so please pay attention to the water-to-dry-ingredient ratio on labels or online. Most long grain white rice is cooked at a ratio of 1:1.5 (one cup rice to one and a half cups of liquid). Brown rice is much more time consuming, and requires much more liquid. However, whole grains are much tastier, and higher in nutritional content.
#3: Salad Dressing
Everyone, I mean everyone, has the time to do this. I cringe when I see bottles of salad dressing made by Kraft (or the like) in people’s fridges. I swear, those companies have brainwashed the entire world into thinking salad dressing is a complicated and un-doable thing, convincing people to pay $5 a pop for a plastic bottle of goo that tastes like…plastic. I swear it has become my life’s goal to convince people otherwise. Making your own dressing is really very easy.
Recipe: Basic Emulsified Dressing
½ cup olive oil, or any other oil you have kicking around
½ tbsp. mustard (can use yellow, Dijon, or grainy… same diff)
1-2 tbsp. vinegar: best to use balsamic, apple cider, or white wine vinegar. Avoid white pickling
vinegar – it is far too acidic
To taste salt/pepper
Place mustard in the bottom of a bowl (any bowl…a cereal bowl will do). I like to put a moist towel under the bowl to prevent it from flying when whisking. Now, slowly whisk the vinegar in. Next, slowly – very slowly – whisk the oil into the mustard/vinegar mixture. You will see the mixture thicken slightly. A secret protein is hidden in mustard that blends the molecules of the vinegar to the oil, binding them together. This creates a smooth, velvety-like dressing without the added stabilizers and other crap the big companies feed you in those plastic bottles. If you want, make a butt-load and keep it in a jar in the fridge.
Note that some vinegars bind better with oil than others due to their acidity levels. Balsamic vinegar holds the best and the longest. It is definitely my favourite.
If you are feeling creative and/or have extra ingredients on hand, this recipe can be modified easily. If you have aging, soft fruit, feel free to use it in the dressing. Often, I peel and seed pears that are not looking so good and puree them with a hand blender. Just put fruit in an old (oh so handy) yogurt container, and blend with a hand mixer. Then, add the ingredients listed above. You can do this with any softer fruit, frozen berries, tomatoes, or avocadoes. Be creative.
#2: Make Bread
At one of the lowest points in my life, I was living on College Street with not a penny to my name and an empty apartment. Jobless, phoneless, and back in the Toronto after a two-year hiatus, I found myself hungry and alone. Luckily, the last tenants left behind some old flour, and I scraped together some change for a package of yeast. I made focaccia.
Because I was in Little Italy, I had a back yard, which was overgrown with mint and basil amongst a meadow of dandelions. Hidden were a couple ripening tomatoes that the last tenant had planted and left, unloved. I plucked a bit of this and a bit of that, and made a gourmet snack for myself that my grandmother would be proud of. I thank her today for teaching me the art (and simple craft) of making my own bread.
Making bread is one of the easiest and surprisingly quick things to make. After getting the feel, it is relatively simple to make without even a recipe. It is also completely and utterly satisfying to know that you can sustain yourself, if need be, for a minimal amount of money.
Recipe: Basil, Mint, and Tomato Focaccia
1 tsp. white sugar or honey
1 package active dry yeast (¼ ounce)
⅓ cup warm water (110 degrees…think slightly warmer than body temp)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
¼ tsp. salt (coarse is best, but table salt works fine)
1 handful basil and mint
1 ripe tomato (preferably scavenged), sliced
Turn on the tap and run the water on warm, holding your hand under it. When it starts to feel slightly hotter than your hand, measure ⅓ of a cup. Feel free to use a thermometer, but I find the bowl and measuring devices often cool down such a small amount of water. It’s better to do it by feel.
Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the water, in a large bowl. Let stand until it begins to foam – about 10 minutes. Now, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in extra water a little at a time, until all of the flour is absorbed.
When the mass starts to look like dough, empty it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for about a minute. Wash and dry the bowl, then oil it lightly. Coat the doughy mass in the oil, and cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 475ºF (245ºC). Flop dough on a lightly floured counter and knead a bit more. It will deflate but that’s okay, it’s supposed to happen. Squish the dough into a flat disc and place on a greasy baking sheet. Olive oil is delicious…just sayin’. Using the tips of your fingers, poke indents all over. Brush a bit more oil over top, sprinkle on some salt, and throw on some of that sliced tomato. Bake in preheated oven for 10-20 minutes, depending on desired crispness. If you like it moist and fluffy, then you’ll have to wait only about 10 minutes. Pull it out and let rest for a few minutes. Rip up the mint and basil by hand and sprinkle on top. Now eat!
#1: Grow Food!
The ultimate way for people to really grasp their self-sufficiency in this consumerist, capitalist society is to learn how to grow food. I know, I know…in the city it is hard, and there really is no time between classes and work to manage…a garden! But by taking the time to at least know how to sprout a seed or plant a tomato plant, you will see some level of financial benefit while also gaining that liberated feeling.
In Toronto, there are plenty of opportunities to purchase or exchange seeds with fellow food lovers. This year, the infamous Seedy Saturday event spread over the course of three days in five different communities, a new precedent in our city. Not only is there the opportunity to obtain interesting seeds, but there is a number of seminars and workshops for both new and experienced gardeners. Visit http://www.tcgn.ca/wiki/wiki.php for the schedule.
In addition, the spread of community garden plots has become a viable way for people without space to get their hands into some soil. Only a few short months ago I witnessed gardeners harvesting corn from the plots of land they occupied between railroads and in ditches. On campus here at York, Maloca Gardens offers space for students to learn from one another and the space needed to cultivate edibles. Get in touch with them; I hear they are a pretty nice group of people: http://malocagarden.wordpress.com/.
Author bio: A child of a prairie agricultural community, Jenelle was raised understanding the importance of food. After 12 years of working in kitchens across Canada and overseas, Jenelle has left the culinary world in the hopes of making positive social change in the realm of food. She currently studies at York University in the Faculties of Environmental Studies and Geography. She hopes to one day work for, or to develop, a food project of her own where she can help people ‘re-skill’ and gain food knowledge. For now she uses the YU Free Press as a soapbox for expressing her concerns.
Photographer bio: Katie Lysakowski was raised in Ontario, but currently lives in Vancouver, where she cooks for a living and for pleasure. Several years ago, she traded in her fancy office clothes and corporate job to chase her dream of being a professional cook. Today, she is a photographer, a wannabe cheese maker, a gardener, a butcher, and has recently taken up an interest in fermenting apples in an attempt to make booze. For explorations of Katie’s food photography, visit http://aquestforculture.blogspot.com/.