Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles

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Learning How to Cook – Some Wise Words

Had to share this post by our friends at Mendocino Organics. When people ask us for recipes we are usually speechless; all of our cooking pretty much follows method number four, based on what is seasonally available and on hand. Thanks, Mark Bittman for validating that we have reached a certain level of culinary genius.

Mendocino Meats

We can’t help it, but we have a thing with Spanish cuisine right now. The climate is similar to our’s, and we both have Spanish blood running through us. Last year, we borrowed and watched all the episodes of Spain…On the Road Again. Who can resist Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Bittman, and Claudia Bassols on an eating road trip through Spain, and a theme song sung by Willie Nelson? Fortunately, there is a companion book to the show, including recipes and cultural notes about the places they visit.

Flipping through the recipes of fried eggplant, cordero lechal, and images of jamon, there’s this great transcript of a conversation between Mark Bittman and Gwyneth Paltrow when they were visiting the Alhambra. There’s a bit of the conversation that is actually really poignant in the current conversation about getting back to eating locally and seasonally, and ultimately about…

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Will work (really hard) for local food

This is not a glory moment. I don’t even want to write, but this is what it’s all about – the guts, too. I am sweaty, windblown, exhausted and my back aches. Before I explain, I need to say a genuine thank you to all of the wonderful people who supported my micro-fundraising campaign to purchase a bike trailer. I raised the full amount, and the only reason I haven’t bought the new trailer, yet is the very next day, someone generously donated one. Of course I would rather use something old than buy something new, but this bike carriage was designed for carrying children, not cargo, so I wasn’t sure it would work. Today, I found out.

I just got the trailer yesterday and didn’t have time to test it on my bike until this morning, before the market. I wasn’t sure exactly how it attached to the bike, but any way I tried, it just didn’t fit. Might be the size of my bike frame, or the tires. I tried to Google it at the last minute before abandoning the issue for the morning, and packing up what I could carry to the market, and walking. The wind was fierce today, blowing strong and knocking down signs and umbrellas and stirring everyone’s nerves. It was also the best market day so far of the season, probably due to it being Memorial Day Weekend. The tourists (and locals alike) really love the Fort Bragg Bakery’s cookies.

After the market, I was generously offered a ride home with four of the heaviest signs that are used to close the street. I came home to rest from the wind, do the farmers’ market accounting and work for a couple hours before dealing with the rest of the signs. My dog was cagey from being in all day, so i decided to walk her and pull the bike trailer by hand to see what we could haul on foot. I was hoping she would actually pull the thing for me, but she was immediately frightened and skeptical of the new bright yellow & red contraption and was trying to run away from it instead. As we started walking through the village, I noticed people looking at me and my trailer and my adorable pitbull like I was either homeless, or with amusement. At some point I will eventually laugh about this.

After picking up and loading the first wooden sign, foodevangelistsI realized I wouldn’t be able to fit many into the trailer, and also realized that my physical therapist nor my masseuse would approve of this endeavor. I was a clunky scene trying to navigate Mendocino’s non ADA approved sidewalks. I stopped to let some tourists pass and my dog licked their hands as if to say, “please adopt me, she’s gone mad.” I picked up two more signs, and then trudged home. My arms began to ache and my lower back was protesting. I am home now, awaiting Gowan’s arrival. We’re going to make dinner and I will bribe her with dessert to help me pick up the last few signs with her truck. I am wondering why sometimes the simplest things can be the most confounding and the most challenging. I don’t want a car, but I am pretty exasperated by the alternatives as well.

Once again I am left feeling that all of my problems would be solved by having a horse.  And ice cream, with fresh peaches.


The domesticity debate: Feminism & going “back” to the kitchen

Between bowls of chicken soup, I read three things today while resting in bed. The first was a book about the iconic artist Frida Kahlo, the second a Time magazine article about Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and her mission to “reboot” feminism, and the third a Mother Jones article titled, “How Michael Pollan Romanticizes Dinner.”  I was trying to rest as my immune system is in overdrive, but all this reading turned me into a bedroom philosopher and got me thinking about my own feministy tendencies. Yes, that is a word; it is my own modification of an -ism that has never quite felt entirely comfortable, but also one I’m unwilling to abandon entirely.

So, I spent the afternoon thinking about what it means to be an ambitious woman in today’s world and also be going “back to the kitchen.” I am not going to make any grandiose statements on the issue, because my head still hurts and I got a little distracted by a visit from Gowan and the famous baby goat, Apple. And, I really wanted to make shortbread cookies tonight. If I write, will someone bake me local cookies? Thanks.

The discussion of domesticity comes down to the fact that a certain number of basic things have to be done to sustain life such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and pets. This is usually called housework, but it is really survival-work. Because what is more fundamental to life than the preparation of food? These tasks have often been considered “women’s work.” Michael Pollan’s newest book, Cooked, explores the history of women in the kitchen and what drove them out – citing feminism and entering the workforce as causes. I am less interested in what specifically drove women out of the kitchen at this point, and more interested in how i’m going to eat in the next week. This is where it gets interesting and particularly unnerving for me. Now, we don’t even have to wonder who’s going to cook. As Pollan says:

 “For the necessary and challenging questions about who should be in the kitchen, posed so sharply by Betty Friedan in the Feminist Mystique, ultimately got answered by the food industry: No one! Let us do it all!”

I have never been more domestic than I have during the past five months. I have also never been less dependent on a globalized corporate industrial food system that has tried to replace food with ingredients that you cannot pronounce. All of the cooking and dishwashing does not make me feel like I am fulfilling some genetic calling; it makes me feel like I am taking responsibility for my life. Ideally, it has made me aware that it is totally unsustainable to live alone as a single woman if we want to transform the broken systems that support life as we know it. We need neighbors to join together in the growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparation of food. We need sister-wives we can call on when we are lonely, hungry or tired so they can bring us foodstuffs and baby goats to cuddle. We need shared resources such as tools, equipment, and skills. We need a community of people with knowledge that spans many generations and geographies to solve all the problems we face. We need the humility to ask for help and the courage to try to do something we’ve never done before. We need to be willing to swing hammers and bake bread, regardless of whether or not we have a Y chromosome.

In short, reconnecting the dots for a sustainable, fulfilling economy will require the whole damn village – men and women alike. No one should be forced to cook, or do anything they don’t want to. If we all do some of the work some of the time, there is enough for everyone. I am not suggesting that these problems are simple to solve. Neither is overturning patriarchy. Oppression, racism, classism and sexism exist, and they are all reflected in a food system that is built on injustice.

Gowan and I decided to take one giant step toward a better food future in our own lives, to show that it is possible. And, that it is fun, and challenging, too. We are both exhausted from working triple time. The “joy” of cooking is real, and it’s also hard work! As Tom Philpott points out in the Mother Jones article:

So even Julia Child, born in 1912, grew up with servants in the kitchen and scant memories of her mother whipping up dinner—although, to the 1960s-era audience of her television show, live-in cooks were likely much less common than they were during Child’s 1920s childhood, because the cost of labor had risen over the decades. But the point stands: People with sufficient means have long been able to opt out of cooking. What I wrote back in 2009 still sums up my thoughts today:

Pollan was right: people do need to revalue the craft of cooking, to embrace it as a quotidian pleasure, not a mere chore. But if we manage convince them of that, we’ll have achieved something new, not returned to a lost past.

There is no going “back.” No going back to the land. No going back to the kitchen. There is no perfect past where gender relations and domestic duties lie in perfect balance. Our relationship with food has been structured by social movements, political will, economic shifts and cultural norms. Now, it is largely being decided by corporations. So, as we move forward into a new food future, I think the biggest battle is getting Betty Crocker out of the kitchen and getting Monsanto out of the White House. In the meantime, let’s make dinner together. (Seriously, if anyone wants to have us over for a local dinner, let us know! We’d love a break.) And we think men in aprons are sexy.


Local wheels for local food

It has been a big, big week for Eat Mendocino.  I baked my very first loaf of bread (after 5 1/2 years of being gluten free and a lifetime of not being a baker) the same day that the owner of the big local grocery store, Harvest Market, contacted us wanting to collaborate to get more local food on the shelves! Then, Gowan’s goat Mandy delivered twins on Mother’s Day. And, the very next day, Gowan adopted a third baby goat, which we snuggled while eating our first 100% local apple pie. She has since been aptly named, “Apple.” It’s a good, full life. *sigh*

Apple, Gowan's new dwarf nigerian baby goatSarah eating sourdough rye bread. Joyful disbelief.Sourdough rye bread for breakfast!Bakemistress Jacquelyn cutting the apple pie!

But, that is not what this blog post is about. This entry is about mobility. It has been a month and a half since I totaled my darling steel tank, Mrs. Butterwheels. I still don’t love talking about it, but it’s essential to understanding how my life is changing in deep and important ways. Time has passed, but I do not like being in cars, to say the least. I try to limit most of my activity within walking radius, and ride the bus or carpool when I really need to. Usually, this works. I have swiftly and resourcefully redesigned my life so that I can do most of my work from my living room, walk or ride the bus when I must get to the doctor or visit just-born baby goats. I’m learning to slow down, in profound ways. I am rethinking how much I really “need” to go somewhere, and am exploring the wonderfully dangerous world of online shopping (my shiny new bread knife arrived today!) There are flaws in all of these systems and choices, but it’s basically working out so far and the local diet has yet to be compromised, thanks to many benevolent agents who have delivered food in clutch situations.

Ironically, the main obstacle in this locavore’s life is my new gig as manager of the Mendocino Farmers’ Market. It is located approximately 7 blocks from my house, and you would think it’s the ideal job for a localized locavore. Yet, the only thing that has forced me behind the wheel of a car is my market manager duties. I have to lug tons of heavy signs around town before market day, and then bring all the gear for my booth every Friday (table, chair, paperwork, schwag, and the machine to accept Food Stamps, etc.). Thankfully I have many wheeled friends who have been helping me thus far, but I’m feeling far from autonomous and my favors are running out.

I have been fretfully wrestling with this conundrum for the past 2 weeks. I need wheels. But, I don’t necessarily need a car. The first thought was a large red wagon, at the suggestion of some of the other market managers. Which might work, but wagons are most efficient when used at the market itself. I need to schlep signs all over town, and then pick them up after a long day at the market. I need to cover ground, and not spend my entire Friday night doing so. The solution became fairly obvious.

As my favorite bumper sticker says, I realized it was time to, “Put the fun between your legs.”

I needed to outfit my bicycle with some kind of cargo cart! After some internet research, I have found the perfect thing: the Croozer Cargo Bike Trailer. It’s probably made in China, but it’s all part of the transitional economy…Croozer Cargo Bike Trailer

My market budget cannot afford this new expense ($200), so I’m inviting you, beloved fans, to help me get back on the “horse” and fuel a pedal powered local food economy. It’s easy, just click here to donate safely and securely via Paypal. Donations of any amount are deeply appreciated, from the bottom of my shaken but mighty little heart.

The market is off to a great start, and I know the season is going to unfold in wonderful and unexpected ways. Sheriff Tom Allman drops by for a visit at the Mendocino Farmers' MarketMy goal is to use it as a platform to get as many people excited about local food as possible! Sheriff Allman dropped by during opening day and purchased an apple tree grafted by the horticulture students at Mendocino High School. He invited Gowan and I to visit the County Jail’s garden, which has introduced locally grown food into the jail kitchen, allowed inmates to get their hands in the dirt, and reduced the annual food costs by $40,000! This is what it’s all really about. Do come by and say hi to me at the Mendocino market every Friday from Noon – 2 pm. You will find Gowan and her lovely produce at the Wednesday market in Fort Bragg from 3-6 pm.

And, if you need to see more baby goat pictures (because who doesn’t?), check out our Facebook page, and our YouTube channel.



Why I want to be a cowgirl when I grow up

I was raised by vegetarian parents and I was never into horses as a little girl.Little Sarah on a pony I have rocked cowgirl boots for years while hugging trees and advocating for Fair Trade coffee, organic farming and sustainable logging. Now, in my late twenties I have become convinced that eating meat and becoming a cowgirl will help save the world. Maybe it was there from the start; don’t I look like a natural on this pony?

I have been wanting to write on this topic for awhile, especially since watching this TED talk by Allan Savory: “How to fight desertification and reverse climate change.” Savory’s story of working for conservation in Africa is a bit heartbreaking, but his findings offer hope for the entire planet. I recommend watching the video, but in short, Savory’s research demonstrates how the rotational grazing of herd animals can help restore the soil’s fertility and rebuild biodiversity in the vast deserts that we have created. This is a profoundly important and optimistic perspective on climate change; the technology is simple and available and the results are miraculous. I used to think I was looking for cowboy, now I’m just looking for a horse.

I decided to blog about this today after listening in on a live conversation as part of International Permaculture Day. Before I get to the meat issue, I want to say that I am a trained permaculturist and I love growing and eating plants and totally agree with Michael Pollan that we should all eat a lot more of them. And, I love my vegetarian parents a lot. I completely understand that some people are simply unwilling to kill another being for food for ethical reasons. However, I have some problems with the black and white discourse about raising and eating meat from an environmental perspective, and I think we should be looking at the issue in a more nuanced way.

Today’s conversation was between Craig Sams (founder of Green and Black’s Organic Chocolate and Chair of the Soil Association) and Satish Kumar (Editor of the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and founder and Director of Shumacher College, International Centre for Ecological Studies and The Small School). Kumar began by explaining the three fundamental principles in his approach to ecological design and permaculture: soil, soul and society. I am totally with them as they discuss the complex beauty of soil science, the need to work from the soul and the importance of coming together as a community to garden and restore the earth.

Soon the conversation turns to the fact that we live in a predominantly meat eating and meat raising society. Kumar asks Sams to describe a sustainable diet from a permaculture worldview. They are both vegetarians, and they believe that reducing the amount of meat we eat as a species is critical to halting climate change. I completely agree that we must stop using 80% of the world’s arable farmland to grow corn and soybeans to feed to animals; the planet simply cannot withstand the strain from industrial agriculture. The masses need an absolute reduction in the amount of meat we consume and an increase in the amount of plant-based foods on our plates.

Sams explains that, “Trees can do a lot more to help the climate than sheep, or goats or cattle.” This is true if we’re talking about the industrial livestock system, but, there are other models where animals are part of a vital ecosystem. Then he goes on to quote Bill Gates’ endorsement of pursuing meat alternatives such as soy. Referencing Bill Gates doesn’t earn him any points here, as the Gates Foundation has championed a “Green Revolution” in Africa which unconscionably follows the same course which tragically failed India. Additionally, we have learned that soy isn’t actually a health food, especially in highly processed faux meat forms.

I’m way more interested in how we’re going to create localized food systems which actually work. Sams mentioned Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement which has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. She is one of my personal heroes and her advocacy is so impressive because her organization mobilized rural women to manage the land with their own hands to ensure access to water and food security in their communities. To me, this is what the permaculture perspective on sustainable food should be based upon. When discussing what we eat, I think it’s most important to consider ecologically responsible management of natural resources over any one dietary preference. This is what Savory has also found in Africa. In the great conservation debate, the people vs. nature battle was being lost until people were taught how to work with nature’s balance to rehabilitate the land so that they could farm it once again.

In the case of animals, I think it’s far more important that we look at the conditions in which livestock are being raised, slaughtered and transported around the world and choose options which feed, rather than destroy, the earth.

The soil is the skin of the earth and we are currently destroying topsoil at a fatal rate. Every farmer’s crop depends on the vitality of the soil, and the most efficient and sustainable way to maintain soil fertility is by integrating livestock into the farm and using their manure to build the soil. Show me an organic farmer who isn’t depending on animal poop to keep the soil rich. Nothing makes more sense than shoveling your own nitrogen right on the farm, rather than using bat guano or bonemeal harvested & processed somewhere far away and delivered by petroleum-fueled trucks.

If you’re ok with eating animals, I don’t think you need to become a vegetarian to save the world. My perspective is that the best thing we can do for the planet is get deeply intimate with all of our food sources. For the omnivores among us, I think the most important issue is to consider how our meat is produced, and get closer to the source. Some people advocate Meatless Mondays to challenge the obsession with meat. I completely appreciate the significance of encouraging people to go without meat one day of the week. Personally, I like to celebrate Meatball Mondays.  I say, eat your meatballs, but know your meatballs. By choosing the meat we eat more carefully, we will automatically reduce our meat consumption and lessen the negative impact on the earth.

In the last 4 months, Gowan and I could tell you where every single thing we ate has come from. This is probably the most impressive part of this endeavor to me. We can argue about the widespread scaleability of our approach when we look at the challenges in the modern food system, but I never said the solution would be easy. The good news is that everyone can participate in some way, starting right now.

Here are a few tips for getting intimate with your food:

  1. Eat out less, and choose restaurants that make an effort to source their ingredients locally and thoughtfully
  2. Shop at the Farmers’ Market. And say hi to Gowan on Wednesdays in Fort Bragg, and me on Fridays in Mendocino!
  3. Choose items that are in season when shopping (bananas are never really in season in North America…)
  4. When you are enjoying your locally sourced food, tell your family and friends where it came from and where you got it. Many people don’t even know that a local option exists.
  5. Arrange a visit a local farm. Most farms are delighted to have customers come visit, and this is by far the most fun way to know your food, and the people who produce it.
  6. If you want to eat meat, consider raising and slaughtering your own, or helping a farmer friend with their animals. I have raised chickens for meat and for eggs and it was an extremely rewarding process to be part of the cycle from raising baby chicks to putting them in the freezer. The closer we get to the food we eat, the more we value it, and the more accountable we are.