Flash in the Pan 

Getting your grub on

Harvest Fest, a celebration of local food, farming and community, is slated for the last weekend in September. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving, but two months early, two days long, and without falsely commemorating a Pilgrim/Indian love fest that never happened.

The event’s keynote speaker, Anna Lappé, hails from a family of food activists. Her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, wrote the classic Diet for a Small Planet, which argued that world hunger is an issue of justice and distribution, not production. Her father Marc was a high-powered campaigner against toxins in food and corporate injustice, as well as a professor of ethics.

Anna’s new book is called Grub: Ideas for an urban organic kitchen, coauthored with chef Bryant Terry. It’s something of a handbook for eating well in an urban environment, with advice on shopping, kitchen arrangement, food storage, recipes and menus, and even soundtracks for cooking. Grub also goes into detail, with numerous citations of scientific studies and relevant factoids, about why a diet of local, seasonal, organic, fair-trade, minimally processed food is better for you, the planet and your fellow beings.

I was happy to find Grub addressing a question that’s nagged me for a while: what’s the big deal with corn syrup? I mean, I enjoy maple syrup, brown-rice syrup, molasses and other plant syrups. Corn is sweet, so why not make syrup out of it?

It turns out that the industry standard high-fructose corn syrup is not made by some old-fashioned stove-top process, but from numerous manipulations in the laboratory. It’s not even made from sweet corn, but a high-starch variety, and the high-fructose product is handled differently than glucose by the human body, particularly the liver, resulting in weight gain, heart disease and ailments like irritable bowel syndrome. Meanwhile, high-fructose corn syrup—six times as sweet as sugar—is nearly unavoidable in most processed food, and thus ubiquitous in the American diet.

Anna, already a best-selling author (Hope’s Edge, coauthored with her mother, was her first book), nonprofit executive (Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund), and in-demand speaker, is a busy lady. When I finally tracked her down by phone she was waiting to give a speech at the Food For Thought Festival in Madison.

I asked her if she had any thoughts on the E. coli spinach scandal that’s recently erupted, killing a Wisconsin woman, landing 60 people in the hospital, and sickening more than 120 in 21 states. Some reports name organic spinach as the culprit.

“I’m afraid that the anti-organic PR machine is going to use this to pump up their mythology that organic foods are more dangerous,” she said. “As I point out in the book, E. coli of this variant was unheard of a few decades ago. We are faced with it only because of the irresponsible and unsafe practices of industrial farming, particularly of feedlot operations. The anti-organic folk like to trot out the fact that organic production uses manure for fertilizer, which to many people sounds gross. What they don’t mention are the strict regulations around the use of manure on organic farms [for example, composting the manure to a high-enough temperature to kill E. coli].”

I also asked Anna if she had any advice for college students, stuck in their dorm rooms with their water boilers and their Top Ramen, who want to eat good grub.

“I can’t say my diet at college was a paragon of Grub-ness either, “ she admitted, “but thankfully there are more and more campuses offering co-eds fresh, local, healthy foods now than in the early 1990s.

“Half of my biggest advice for dorm dwellers is don’t try to go it alone: think about fun and creative ways to get friends on board. You can start buying and cooking clubs, share the burden of making healthy snacks, incorporate some time out on a farm or community garden into your routine. There are lots of things you can do, and certainly don’t beat yourself up for not getting it just how you’d like it all the time!

“And take advantage of UM’s Farm to College program [in which locally grown food is integrated into campus menu options],” she added. “As one Farm-to-College organizer put it: ‘Students shouldn’t be reading The Jungle in English 101 and then eating it for lunch.’”

Anna Lappe will speak at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 29, in UM’s North Underground Lecture Hall. Also that evening, more than 20 Missoula restaurants will feature special menus showcasing local food. On Saturday, the party continues at Caras Park with music by Broken Valley Roadshow, a cooking demonstration by UM Dining Services’ Executive Chef Tom Siegel, kids’ activities, and local food, beer and wine samples. For more information, visit www.umt.edu/csa.

Ask Chef Boy Ari: Roughage Riders of the Purple Cabbage

Q: Dear CBA,
My wife and I just got a basketball-sized head of purple cabbage from a local farm. We like fish tacos and coleslaw, but it would take us three cabbage-laden meals a week to finish all of it before it goes bad. I’m just not prepared for that kind of gastrointestinal assault. Do you have a good sauerkraut recipe, or some other advice for preserving our leafy lode?
—Cabbage Patch Kid

A: Dear Kid,
My ancestors are from Russia, which means three cabbage-laden meals a week would have been nothing. So quit complaining and take it like a man.

Otherwise, your simplest course of action is to do nothing. Cabbage will keep almost as long as a Twinkie, if kept in a cool, dry place. As for sauerkraut…Yeah, I used to make it. I recall putting shredded cabbage and salt in a jar with the lid on loose and waiting a few weeks. But I sense you want more precision than that.

Here’s a recipe I found online, by Mabel Mertz of Southern Alberta:

For 5 lbs shredded cabbage (about 6 quarts, pressed), use 3 tablespoons salt. Shred cabbage finely into a clean 5-gallon bucket and use your hands to mix in the salt. Repeat until the bucket is nearly full. Cover with cloth, plate and clean rock or something heavy. During the curing process, kraut needs daily attention. Remove scum as it forms and wash and scald the cloth often to keep it free from scum and mold. At room temperature, fermentation will be complete in 10 to 12 days. Pack into jars, adding enough juice to fill them. Often there is not enough juice. If this happens, make a weak brine by dissolving 2 tablespoons of salt in a quart of water. Screw the bottle lids on tight and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. After the bottles are cool, be sure they’ve sealed before putting them away.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.

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