Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Feeding Ourselves, Each Other

by Jas Faulkner 

During a conversation about the division between acts that are sacred and profane, the act of feeding oneself and others was something that quite surprisingly had the room divided. The profane folks saw the enterprise as something purely physical, for them it came down to the mundane business of  manufacturing and distributing fuel for the human animal. The profane folks were incredibly prosaic about it.  Food goes in, people stay alive at least and are productive at best. I couldn't help but wonder if their response to Soylent Green would have been a shrug and a mumbled response about it being less messy than composting.

The other side, which in the interest of disclosure, included me, saw things a little differently. The practical aspects are undeniable.  In order for it to really work in the long run, there has to be something deeper at work, an awareness of how truly interconnected we are.  This starts with the people who raise our food and continues through those who carry out its distribution and preparation. Beyond the obvious requirements of healthy soil, safe water, and hard work, the not so obvious components are knowledge, trust, and the recognition that we are nurturing, respecting and supporting each other at every step in the process.

Over the course of the season, I have written about the need to know your food sources and the importance of understanding the nature of how they produce what you put on the table.  Now I would like to talk about the table itself.  I'll offer this precis:  Nothing I'm going to say is particularly new.  The subject has been approached by thinkers and observers as diverse as Thomas Merton, John Robbins, Rose Nader, Ward Goodenough, Francis Moore, Lappe, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Deb Duchon, Tony Campolo, Jane Goodall, Matthew Fox, Michael Pollan, Marion Cunningham...I could go on for at least a page worth of names.  Let's just say I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.

All of those people recognized how important the act of feeding yourself and your family could be. It is fueling the body.  It is also a promise we give to ourselves and each other that we are caring enough to do what is right and what is best when we make choices about food.  Preparation should be a continuing learning experience for both ourselves and if we share a home with someone, the people we live with. Mindfulness about preparation means respecting the sacrifices that go into the ingredients you use. If you eat meat, it is the recognition of the life that was sacrificed to provide that protein. For everything, it is gratitude to the farmers who decide to make a professional  life borne of either family tradition or an innate dedication to the discipline.

As hard as it can be at times, really as hard as it has been for North American families since the post-war boom of the 1940s', we need to extend that to a shared time around the table. If the act of choice and preparation are bound in trust, the culmination of that is the meal itself.  So much of our consumption happens when we are on the run.  Even if we spend quiet time in the early morning making sure we are prepared to meet mealtimes with healthy food throughout the say, there is still the need for the community of the table. Sharing food is a big part of it, but it is also where we share more of ourselves.

The meal together, whether it is in the morning before we go meet the day or as we close ourselves in for the night is the time when we all get to know each other all over again.  As we are touched by the world, we grow and change.  To miss out on that shared time without television, without outside distractions, is to miss out on those developments, small and large that make us who we are at every age.  We are bonded by what we share when we are most vulnerable,and that is when we settle in and open up to those closest to us.

So much of what we do is segregated by age, interests and other ways we identify ourselves that the communal table should be a daily thing instead of a rare, special happenstance. Think of it as voting everyone back on to the island. It's as easy as passing the peas and listening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Winter CSAs: A Little Bit of Fresh Heaven When the Days Get Shorter

by Jas Faulkner 

After today, there will be two more East Nashville Farmers Markets and then the corner of Tenth and Russell becomes a quiet, green square of grass until next Spring.  For some market regulars, Wednesday afternoon at the market is the place to pick up dinner and a few extras for the week.  For others, it is the source of fresh food now and food to can, freeze, dehydrate and fill a root cellar for later.

Here's the thing:  Those farmers?  The ones you pick up a CSA box, bag or basket from?  Many of them are offering CSA subscriptions for the winter months.

Okay, do not flip over to Facebook yet.  Hear me out.   A CSA share does not mean you're destined to get a box full of butternut squash and a couple of collard leaves.*  Here is a list of some of the things you can expect to find in your share: lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, winter squash, turnips, all things good, green and leafy, onions and tatsoi.

Tatsoi?  Really?  You've never heard of tatsoi?

Excuse me for a moment.

I'm back.  This is tatsoi:

It is the mildest, greenest, tastiest leafy vegetable on the planet.  You really want to take the chance that you're going to miss out on this because you might make it to another farmers market the week or two one of the rare actual farmers -as opposed to a reseller- offers up their tatsoi for sale?  Really?

Double checking here.  You're going to miss out on Tatsoi?

John Goodman is disappointed.
So is this rabbit.
Of course you CAN remedy this by talking to your favorite vendor today to see if they're going to offer a winter CSA.  All you have to do is ask.  You might be surprised, not only by the fact that there is a lot of good stuff available in the winter, but that it's as easy to get and reasonably priced.  Do it today!

These crabby woodland creatures missed out on getting winter CSA shares!

Just a quick note:  Next week (10/24) the ENFM will be hosting a Random Acts of Reading bookflash!  Have some books you are getting a little tired of? Want to find something new to read? Check out Random Acts of Reading tomorrow (10/18) for more details!

*Yes, I typed "leafs" and nearly left it that way.  Hockey much, Jas?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Fest: Wednesday! Wednesday! Wednesday! Come Touch a Tractor!

By Jas Faulkner 

Looking for a cheep thrill this Wednesday?  Why not take your offspring to pet a chicken or touch a tractor at East Nashville Farmers Market?

Now in its sixth year, the ENFM Fall Fest is a great way to see what fresh fare is available from the vendors and spend some low-tech, no-pressure time getting your little rock-and-rollers to consider taking a walk on the country side. 

 According to event coordinator and market director Amy Delvin Tavalin, the event, which started out as a part of the much smaller market in the parking lot of The Turnip Truck, had seven vendors, a bluegrass band and a petting zoo.  

"This is the 6th year of the Fall Fest, we've had one every year that the market has been open, but it gets bigger every year!"

With the foliage changing colors and the weather getting milder, this is the perfect time to come see what you've been missing if you have not yet made it to the magic at South Tenth Street every Wednesday afternoon.  Even if you don't have the excuse of a household small fry with a yen for some face time with a John Deere, there are plenty of events and vendors to delight your senses and inspire your inner Emeril. 

Aside form the kid-oriented events: the petting zoo, touch-a-tractor, and pumpkin- and punkin, er, face painting; each vendor is going to decorate their stand, so you might just pick up some ideas for your own fall decor from our talented crowd of farmers and artisans.  Michael Martin of Whole Foods will be on hand with a chef demonstration that is sure to please the pickiest eater. 

Many newcomers to local fare might not realize how much is available in the the fall. While the choices differ from the summer months, there is still a diversity of good for you and good to eat produce to look forward to trying.    According to Amy Delvin Tavalin, "vegetables will be changing in the remaining weeks- cooler weather brings back the leafy greens along with winter squash, pumpkins,sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, turnips,  and beets.Some vendors will have fall herbs, flowers, and seasonal desserts as well! 

For Tavalin, the idea of celebrating Autumn in East Nashville is an easy choice:

There's something about the changing of the seasons that inspires community. We're hoping to have the East Nashville community out to help us celebrate Fall and the changes that it brings. Pumpkins, gourds, leafy greens, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower will be making their way in, and that nip in the air that October brings will invite folks to try hot cider, coffee and pie. 

Do you really want to miss this?  That's what I thought. Come out, sample some good stuff and bring more healthy goodies home.  You'll be glad you did! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hog Killing Time

by Jas Faulkner 

Reminder: Next week the ENFM will feature their annual Fall Festival!  Check here on Monday, October 7th for more information.

Readers outside of the Nashville area probably picture my hometown as a more of an overgrown small town than the cosmopolitan metropolis that it really is.  Like many entertainment industry hubs, the best way to describe the population of Nashville is: "nearly everybody here is from someplace else."  

This demographic shift has contributed to some big changes in Music City's culinary diversity.  Are you a displaced New Yorker looking for a taste of home? There's a restaurant near Vanderbilt called Noshville that offers deli food Big Apple Style. Nolensville Road is a culinary UN, with establishments representing the foodways of nearly every continent. No matter where a Nashvillian may hail from, there is something here that will give them a touch of "back home."   My home city's culinary profile is not just about bringing everything from there to here. Nashville Originals is an organization devoted to promoting local restaurants whose chefs work at the edge of the continually evolving definition of Nashville cuisine.

Another aspect of this change can be found in our recognition of the holiday calendar in terms of the accepted wisdom of when and to a much lesser degree what is eaten at certain times of the year. The ways in which Middle Tennesseans eat, especially during the winter holidays, is getting less distinguishable from the rest of the country. What many transplants don't realize is that divergent regional traditions in the holiday bill of fare were still the norm less than a century ago.

Thanksgiving is a classic example of the way regional differences can affect what's on the menu.  The Thanksgiving pictured by Norman Rockwell is a version that has its roots in the Northeast.  While the custom of having roast turkey, dressing and cranberries is pretty common across the US now, in the first half of the Twentieth Century, Thanksgiving was considerably different for many Tennesseans, especially those who still lived in rural areas.

The cooler weather meant that many families were devoting the time off from school and work to prepare for the winter months. The last of the produce was canned, frozen, and stored in cellars and the next step, slaughtering and parceling the meat usually occurred in November.  Often referred to as "hog killing time," the long Thanksgiving weekend usually entailed families gathering to slaughter livestock and then butcher the carcass.

This was, well, actually it is a communal process.  Once the animal is killed and the meat is cut, much of it is either sent into a deep freeze or a smokehouse.  Meals center around this activity and the recreational/subsistence hunting that takes place once the livestock chores are completed.  If there is deer or turkey meat to be prepared, a similar process ensues.

Because of this, many families might enjoy a pork roast and vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner (midday) or supper that evening.  The next day, the traditional breakfast would consist of tenderloin and biscuits, gravy, grits, fried potatoes and eggs. Tabletop condiments for breakfast usually included molasses, apple butter, butter, and home canned or frozen fruit.  For the rest of the weekend, there might be a cookout, but for the most part, meals were made from leftovers.

Did those 20th Century Tennesseans ever feel their holiday was lacking?  Not really.  It was a time for fun, telling family stories and yes, giving thanks.  According to one person who remembers those Autumn days fondly:

"But then we always did that, give thanks.  Getting up in the morning is as much a reason for knowing there  would be food on the table and a roof over our heads.  We were always thankful for both every day!"