Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Fasting

In Isaiah 58:6-9, God tells his people what Godly fasting looks like:

"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed, cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will be turned on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The GOD of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, GOD will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, "Here I Am."

My best friend Bekah started a blog for 21 days about fasting. This is a verse she pulled out about the topic. The verse is personally relevant to the needs of the poor in the world. Fasting is not about yourself. Fasting is for others.

I have thought a lot about the sin of gluttony. Synonyms? Over-consumption. Indulgence. Isn't that the American way...isn't that the American foodie way? To place such high importance on gourmet cooking that one forgets about the millions in the world who are starving. I love the ethical food movement and it cannot be something that is simply nutritional and organic, it needs to benefit the needs of others around the world.

That's why I want to reduce the amount of food I consume. That's why I want to cook for others, not just myself. That's why I want to equip people in low-income neighborhoods with the tools to grow and cook their own food.

Let's be mindful of the ways we can bless others for food. Whether it's giving up something, or giving it forward.

Please check out Bekah's blog : fastingforward.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I am a Hospitalitarian

Sometimes, usually in the breakroom at work or when out to a restaurant with friends/acquaintances, people notice my meatless diet.

"Are you vegetarian?," they ask.

"Nope." And then I trail off a little awkwardly, because my diet is similar to vegetarianism, but there's more to explain. I examine the person's level of interest. Do they want the long or short explanation?

I am a hospitalitarian. I have been for 2 and 1/2 years. Before that, I was a vegetarian for 1 year.

Why did I switch over? Why did I make a name for my diet? Why was I vegetarian at all?

First of all, I became vegetarian, not because I hate eating meat, but because I do not like the American meat industry (I am sure past blogs help clarify my distaste for the agribusiness). I did not want to support the industry nor did I want to cram an overload of harmful foods into my system. I was raised on meat, but I did not like its effects on me.

My junior year of college, I decided to spend a huge part of my summer doing missions work in Kenya. This came with a catch though- I learned through training cross-cultural relations that it is considered VERY RUDE in other cultures to turn down ANY food given to you. I realized that I would have to eat meat in Kenya, and I would have to re-introduce meat into my diet.

After experimenting with dignitarianism and flexitarianism (wiki them) I decided it was best to ONLY eat meat out of hospitality.

This means, when I go to peoples' houses where I am not buying the food (this includes my parents' house), I eat meat, especially when it is served as the main course. This has been a very relational tool. People are centered around food. What's for dinner is very important. Yes, turning down a food that is not of taste preference is acceptable, but think about the time and money that goes into preparing the food. The food is a means of relationship between people. It brings together friends, families and communities.

Honestly, when I became vegetarian, my family was very offended. No longer could I eat my dad's meatball's or italian sausage, his chicken cutlets, london broil, or steak fajitas. Food is my dad's pride. It's understandable that he would be upset when people don't eat it and sits in the fridge for days. I started demanding vegetarian alternatives to my favorite meals, and trying to impose my preferences on my family who already have a vibrant food culture. They felt offended and I felt offended when they didn't meat my ethical demands.

In a foreign culture, this takes new meaning. In Kenya, I ate foods I hardly even eat in America. For example, my first lunch in the Kenyan household hosting me was two fat, juicy hot dogs. I hate hot dogs and have since child hood. But I ate them. In America, I would usually have the option to opt out of hot dogs for a hamburger or chicken at a BBQ. And that's OK. Under hospitalitarianism, it's OK to opt out of foods when you have other other options. But when you have no other option, and your host is serving you food, you should eat those hot dogs.

When I am providing my own food, or am in a restaurant, I do NOT BUY meat. Now that I live on my own, my diet is vegetarian except for when I visit other people. What do I do when people buy me food at a restaurant? Judgment call. I eat the meat if there is no other food available, but I look for vegetarian options (I do not usually even trust meat served in restaurants so it's a rare occassion when I don't opt for vegetarian option).

What about when people come over MY house? What do I do then? What if they usually eat meat? If they are regular carnivores, I will serve them meat. I used to request people to buy the meat if they want it (particularly in college and it was just guy friends demanding meat). Now I am willing to buy free-range/local meat at a nearby merchant, to serve them the food they're going to love.

People think that vegetarians/vegans love animals more than they love people. I think that is not true in many cases. Hospitalitarianism is about people first, and then animals. It's about relationships, while still being conscientous about where food comes from.

It's about setting the tone for the environment you're in and creating a community not centered around individual preferences but around sharing the same food, while developing more meaningful connections with those around you.

Food speaks loudly at the table.

I just put up a definition for hospitalitarian. Please give it a thumbs up. A few friends of mine are helping me to make it a more widespread word.

Monday, September 7, 2009

from fast food espresso to do it yourself

Very recently, I quit my job at Starbucks. I had just approached my 1 year mark there when I decided to throw in my apron. People ask me what caused me to quit and look at me as if something had seriously gone wrong.

Nothing happened-- just that my other job is going full-time, thus making every day a work day for me with no weekend, not even a day off. I admire people who have two jobs, are full time students, and then raise a family on the side while working are various projects, but that is just not me. I only work two jobs, and I find that exhausting enought. I simply am not built for it.

I can't even maintain a blog while working two jobs.

There is both an added benefit and disadvantage to leaving the Starbucks world:
Benefit: I can leave mediocre, burnt tasting, fast food coffee behind, and begin really experiencing rich coffee flavors, and develop the tongue for them again.
Disadvantage: Coffee used to always create a burning hole in my pockets-- because I spent money on finding good coffee. Starbucks freed me (in a sense) from this quest and budget burning because I got a free pound of coffee each week, a good discount on coffee drinks, and free drinks while I was at work. Although I never quite like the taste of Starbucks, it at least fed my addiction. Overtime, I came up with my dream drink, ahem- triple iced grande, skinny, upside down w/ cinnamon dolce powder, caramel macchiato. Say that five times fast. Or the hot version- triple grande, skinny w/ xtra cinnamon dolce powder, xtra foam caramel macchiato.

So, what do I do in the meanwhile? How do I feed my addiction without going into debt? It's fact-- I do not make a lot of money, will be moving to Leesburg, Va soon (away from my parents' house, finally), and cannot afford too many extraneous expenses.

Solution: Make my own espresso.

Before my partner discount expired I went to Starbucks for my last retail purchases- two bottles of syrup (1 SF vanilla and 1 hazlenut), a french press (mmm), and finally an espresso machine.

Espresso machines are normally about the price of my month's rent. I got a smaller mid-grade machine, which was cheaper- a Via Venezia. Original Price: A lot. (I think $279). Janelle's price: roughly $98. It was a combination of my partner discount and good fortune that I was able to get such a good deal. The only espresso machine left in the store supply was this one and it had been a display- take discount off for display, take additional random discount, and then take my partner discount- and I struck gold. I was a very happy girl.

This happened on Thursday. I went away for the weekend. Bought espresso beans on Sunday (from The Coffee Bean in Leesburg, from a cheerful man from Galilee named Adam). The Coffee Bean is delicious,the place is covered in coffee beans (and no blender in sight), plus they roast their own beans.

I spent this morning, setting the machine up, and then I made my first latte. It wasn't bad for the first one, but it begs improvement.

For the syrup I mixed Trader Joe's Blue Agave with cinnamon and just a touch of SF vanilla syrup- It was not a bad blend. I was nervous about steaming the milk without a thermometer in a milk pitcher, but it turned out ok (I need to work on the foam). The espresso came out a tad bit weak, but that was its first cycle ever. I think it should get much better as I get the system down.

I almost made latte art (so un starbucks of me), and that's another goal I have: awesome foam makes good art!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Putting meaning back in food

Remember the old days? Where families worked the land, putting their sweat, blood and tears into the soil, lovingly watering and pruning and turning soil? Remember that they would handpick the fruits and veggies and sold them to others, who then made good, wholesome meals to nourish their family?

Don't remember? That's okay; I don't really either. Like most of this generation, I grew up on processed food. Even when I managed to see "fresh" food, it was generally grown on a giant corporate farm across the country (or in another country) and wasn't touched by human hands until it reached the grocery store. It is usually picked before it's actually ripe and then it ripens as it journeys miles and miles and miles to land on my table.

Knowing that we've lost a fundamental connection to food is hard to accept and fixing, but reading about someone else's battle to promote local eating and struggling to overcome the rules in place that favor giant conglomeration instead of tiny farms is encouraging.

That's why I want to bring your attention to the wonderful blog called Diary of a Young Farmer. I was instantly engrossed in the entries found on Edible Portland, a magazine and Web site based in Portland, Oregon (of course).
Their mission is simple: "Encouraging people to eat more locally grown and locally produced foods. By eating locally, we help sustain the small family farms that grow these foods, we enjoy food that is fresher and healthier for us, and we help reduce the cost on the environment — and in dollars — of transporting foods over long distances."
The Diary of a Young Farmer follows Zoë Bradbury, who grew up on a farm in Oregon but didn't return until she had dipped her toes in 9-5 living. Now she's back, leasing land next to her mom and sister, and starting from scratch a local farm to supply locavore restaurants. What sticks out about her struggle is the emotional connections she has. Her first post is on artichokes. There are memories embedded in artichokes for Zoë, memories of spring and growing up. Her mother gave her artichokes when she moved away (those artichokes were given to her by a friend). Her artichokes have history, Zoë writes. They're of "the same genetic stock that had fed me for 25 years." As she says, "After our five-year stint up north together, me and the chokes have finally come full circle back to home turf. We’re planning on staying awhile."
We can't all go live on a farm, but we can cheer on someone else's struggle. We can find a local farm to connect with, to support and to nourish ourselves with that produce. Search for farm co-ops in your area and you'll be surprised how many pop up. You can grow a plant in your back yard, engaging in the ancient struggle that made food mean more to a person, to have value beyond filling our bellies. Food nourishes us, body, mind and soul. We can't forget that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Welcome our new Contributors

For a little variety and more consistent hunger inducing posts, we are adding new contributors. They each have something special to contribute and most of them know their DC area food very well.

Please welcome them and keep your eye out for their posts.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's twitter time!

Ever since I started working two jobs, I have largely ignored this blog, despite the fact that I am ignoring one of my first loves- food conversation!

To keep the conversation going, I naturally started twittering about food. I decided today to use my twitter for food and food alone. I've been recently twittering my work meals- which, as mundane as it sounds- gets conversation going!

You can follow me at Janelloespo. I'll include the link after I get off from work. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

'Real Food'

5 second rule is one of those blogs that I heartily enjoy reading. Not only does the author, Cheryl Sternman, include delicious foods, but she also offers explanations of unique foods you might not have had the courage to try, beautiful photography and narrative anecdotes about her experiences. One such post begged to be shared and reposted.
Speaking on food activism that goes beyond the "hippie" or "organic" experience to the everyday (and often ignored) battle to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to kids, the author shares her experience at a "Farm to Cafeteria conference."
She sets the scene beautifully and drives home to readers how dire the situation is with her descriptions of attendees:

"Here's a portrait of the people I met: middle school students from New Orleans who convinced their superintendent to change his foodservice contract so they could have fresh, locally grown produce at least twice a month. (They succeeded.) High school students from Vermont who worked to get root vegetable 'seconds' from local farms onto the lunch menus at their schools. (They succeeded.) And a group of committed college and university students across the country who have formed a vast network to bring 'real' food to their cafeterias. (They are currently succeeding, with much more work ahead of them.)"

It personally blows my mind to think about not having eaten fresh fruit or vegetables. I lived off those things as I grew up. We were lucky enough to have a huge garden in the backyard or (when i was living in the city), to be within walking distance of a farmer's market or even (when i as living in Illinois) to live next to independent farmers who were free with giving their food to local kids willing to help them with the crops.
Sternman ends her post with a provocative question that I felt was worth thinking about:
"What, to you, is real food? Not healthy food, not nutritious food, because the conversation has moved past these terms, but real food? How inclusive is the definition? And what does it leave out? Try, if you can, to think past Michael Pollan's 'food your grandparents ate' and probe a little deeper."

My idea of 'real' food is something with an emotional connection. It was actually a trip to Morocco that taught me this. While you can go out and buy organic or healthy food now, for me, its not real until you have an emotional connection with the person who planted that crop or tended to it or picked it or showed that they took special care to prepare it. Moroccan water has bacteria in it (just like most tap water does) and so when we stayed there, the cooks would clean the fresh fruit and vegetables special for us. They had to boil water to kill the bacteria and then let that cool so they wouldn't accidentally cook the produce. There was such care that even though I buy cherries, for example, back in the states, they just aren't the same. I've lost the emotional connection.
There's almost a spirituality with 'real' food. And when I eat what I think of, I'm reminded of the person that that food connects me too: the farmer, the picker, the cook. It doesn't matter, there's something more real about it when there is that connection, that memory to have.
What's you're answer?