Monthly Archives: March 2009

(F)ARMED CONFLICTS.

Eliasson speaks at World Aids Day in 2005. Photo by Eli Spivak.

Eliasson speaks at World Aids Day in 2005. Photo by Eli Spivak.

The room filled up as people came together to hear former Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General for Darfur, Ambassador Jan Eliasson speak last night at the Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. Eliasson’s lecture titled “Armed Conflict: The Cost to Civilians” was both insightful and surprisingly hopeful given the subject. Having just returned from eastern Africa, I could not help but think about how people from these areas are finding food, especially in the wake of President Bashir’s ousting of aid groups from Darfur.

With food prices increasing, and charitable giving decreasing, it’s hard to imagine what can be done to make sure that people have access to food in these situations. Then I learned that some of our elected officials are actually doing something to address the issue, which is good considering that  most of us are too busy trying to figure out how to pay our own bills.

Here in the states, food issues are a daily conversation. Being from California, we were both happy to see that our state’s first lady, Maria Shriver, has taken a cue from Michelle Obama, and will be planting a vegetable garden at the Governor’s residence.

We appreciate the symbolic action, but are also curious as to the future of eating in our country when a report released today, by government investigators, shows that most food manufacturers and distributors can’t trace the suppliers of the ingredients in their products. In addition, another report from the University of California and Columbia University shows that when fast food chains are near schools, children are more likely to be obese.

While these reports may affirm what we already suspected, we were surprised to see that some people have begun to buy their groceries in food auctions, others are taking cues from the 99 Cent Chef, and at least one person is brazenly taking government assistance and writing about it for The Village Voice. And while I found his most recent post “The Upper White Trash” entertaining, I find myself feeling torn between last night’s lecture and his experience.

The circumstances people face are so varied, and so complex, that it’s difficult to sort through everything and reconcile it all.

– Christopher

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From the Garden.

Kerri planting strawberries. Photo by Christopher.

Kerri planting strawberries. Photo by Christopher.

I am attempting a garden again. Of course, with the last effort becoming a mid morning snack for the dogs, I have had to rethink my strategy.  We have two large garden beds that were here when we moved in, but we still haven’t gotten around to building a fence. So, instead, I am patio gardening.

I dragged Christopher to a garden store last weekend and then made a second trip on my own to get what I needed. We now have planters all over, filled with compost and seeds. Christopher pointed out that I did not need to show him the progress of the arugula (which has already sprouted) three times within seventeen hours. But I can’t help it. I am fascinated by watching it all grow. I check on it several times a day.

It is interesting, though, how far removed we are from the foods we eat. Many people, including us, don’t even know which produce is in season in their area, or what their food looks like when it is coming up out of the ground.

Last night we watched a movie called “Our Daily Bread“. There is no narration and no dialogue, but it is beautifully shot and shows the machines and factories that produce our food. While humans are involved in the process, there are few. Which may be why we don’t know what our food looks like.

When my niece Kylie was about three or four she laughed at the idea of eating plants, and was surprised to learn that some of her favorite foods, tomatoes and cucumbers, fit that category. At one point she told me that eating birds was silly, not making the connection between chickens and the chicken on her plate.

I’m not the only one trying my hand at gardening. This week, Michelle Obama began work on an organic garden on the South Lawn of the White House.  The plan is for the items that they grow to become a part of what they eat. This is the first official effort of this kind on Pennsylvania Avenue since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden.

Today there were two articles in the New York Times related to food issues. “Is the Food Revolution in Season” talks about food sustainability and organic farming, as well as the availability and associated costs.  Another article,”Eating Food That’s Better,Whether it is Organic Or Not,” talks about how people seem to believe that eating organic is the equivalent of being healthy, without taking into consideration that junk food can be organic.

I called my grandma today for her strawberry pie recipe. She told me about a patch of strawberries that she and my grandpa had for a few years and she is certain that one year she had almost eighty pounds worth of berries. I don’t expect that I can be quite the gardener that my grandpa was, but I am looking forward to my arugula.

– Kerri

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1,000,000 Readers.

Actually...our blog is now the beast with 2,000,000 eyes, but hey...this poster is rad.

Actually...our blog is now the beast with 2,000,000 eyes, but hey...this poster is rad.

We never thought this day would come. A blog that was started for friends and family has reached a level that we couldn’t have anticipated. This whole project has climbed to a place that we didn’t intend it to, and we want to thank you for including us in the growing conversation about food, economics, and all the strands that are woven between the two.

This past week there was much to consider in the public arena concerning these issues. While Obama is speaking here in California today, there are millions who don’t have the luxury of hearing our president’s call to come together in the trenches to make this nation stronger. These folks are too busy trying to stay afloat. Trying to feed their children, and themselves.

On Saturday, President Obama nominated Margaret Hamburg as the commisioner to the Food and Drug Administration, and in the same day made it illegal to let agribusiness slaughter “downer” cows for human consumption. These are the cows who are too sick to stand or walk, and whose slaughter increases the risk of spreading mad cow disease. Yet, the eating of these animals isn’t the only health risk that consumers should be concerned about.

In his Sunday op-ed piece, Pulitzer prize winning author Nicholas Kristoff discussed the pathogens in pork; the result of pumping pigs full of antibiotics in order to make sure they survive the terrible conditions of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

That same day, Alice Waters, credited as the founder of the slow foods movement, appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss the importance of teaching school children how to grow their own vegetables, and cook the fruits of their labor.

Meanwhile, grocery stores are duking it out with food producers over the prices of products, which is turning out to be a win for grocery stores, who are seeing an increase in the sales of store brand items. However, the amount Americans spend on food, as part of their overall household budget, remains difficult to determine according to an article by Eileen Connelly of the Associated Press. Estimates range from 9.8 percent of the family budget according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to as much as 20 percent. It just depends on where you look. Either way, the article points out that the United States Department of Agriculture predicts another 3.5 percent increase in food costs for this year.

In order to help you cope with this, many daily papers, including the Chicago Sun-Times and the San Diego Union Tribune, have printed articles to make things a little eaiser. For our vegan readers, try this.

Thanks for continuing to read, leave comments, and send us email.

Here’s to you, you’re one in a million!

– Christopher

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Book coming on Hyperion.

hyperion-logo

Earlier this week, we agreed to a book deal with Hyperion.

We’re very excited to be working with Hyperion, and look forward to getting down to the writing right away.

As a result of this growth, our plans and new projects are evolving. We’ll share what we can along the way, but please keep checking back as we continue to move forward. As of now, the book should be out in January 2010. Our editor has given us the go ahead to share this with our readers, and we look forward to hearing from you!

In the interim, if you’re looking for some engaging reading material, there’s a great article in the new issue of Mother Jones magazine. The cover feature “Let’s Grow America: Want to Fix the Country? Fix Food.” has some great articles within it, including one by Paul Roberts titled, “Spoiled: Organic and Local is So 2008” which shows why a migration to fringe food solutions, while good, won’t be the cure all for the problems with the American food system.

There was also an article last week in the New York Times titled “Eating Well on a Downsized Food Budget” that validated much of what we learned while eating on a dollar a day, so check it out, it’s a quick read.

– Christopher


			

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The Conversation Continues.

Less is enough!

Less is enough!

Like many of you, who follow this blog, we too were surprised to see that the spirit of our project has continued to captivate people during this time of economic belt-tightening. Yesterday, a woman named Rebecca Currie appeared in a segment on Good Morning America about her efforts to eat on one dollar a day. The results? Buy what you need. Shop around. Don’t waste.

We discovered the same things in our original exercise back in September. The TV piece was based on an article written by Kristen Mascia of People Magazine, which came out on newsstands Friday, in which Currie claims (as she does on her blog) that we didn’t do a good job of eating well on such a small amount of money. After reading through her blog, it seems like a lot of the same challenges we faced came up for her as well.  And while I was hoping to learn something from her experiment, I am sad to say that I didn’t.

Now, in comparison to the Standard American Diet, both of our experiments were better in some ways, but that’s not saying much. People in our country overeat, they eat far too many animal products, and not enough plants. Additionally, there’s no reason to eat chicken or eggs for protein, when beans and rice are cheaper and meet the same need, without the cholesterol, or the environmental impacts of factory farming. For people who care for animals, there’s also their suffering to consider.

It could be argued that some of what she made was “more balanced” than some of our dishes, but the results were largely the same. Especially when it came to eating fresh foods. We could afford some fresh foods, as shown on the days when we had salads, oranges, and soups made with broccoli and potatoes, but both our’s and Rebecca’s exercises in extreme eating underscored one of our main conclusions: the produce section was largely out of reach for those on a limited budget.

The main difference between our projects, was that we were trying to survive, and she was trying to make a point about healthy eating.

While the b-roll on Good Morning America shows colorful selections of produce, and the photo in People has Currie at a Whole Foods, both images are misleading. Luckily the folks at Good Morning America had the sense to invite a nutritionist on to the show to assess the meals available for a small amount of money, and she made clear that Currie, like us, didn’t get enough to eat, and that adding things like fresh fruit to a morning bowl of oats is what makes a diet more healthful. Again, fresh foods. Particularly fruits and vegetables. Like Currie, we also ate some fruits and vegetables, but not nearly enough. And overall, both of our experiences had us eating very little. Currie states that she set out to challenge our claim that you can’t eat fresh foods on a dollar a day, and at the end it was clear that she proved us right.

We agree with Currie that it is absolutely possible to eat healthful for less, and we know that many Americans are learning the same lesson right now; and not because they’re blogging. We’re thrilled that our little experiment could keep this conversation about the economics of food going for so long.

In closing, we want to congratulate Rebecca for finishing her project, and look forward to chatting with her soon to compare insider notes on the experience!

Warmly,

Christopher

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