Food moon sets over Vermont
Burlington Free Press
by Melissa Pasanen
September 19, 2006
About 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, a much-needed bottle of olive oil arrived belatedly in the kitchen of Burlington's First Congregational Church, and Jessica Prentice set quickly to work searing 24 pounds of Flack Family Farm chuck roast on top of the huge old stove.
It was the first step in the braise she was preparing for her "Harvest Moon" dinner, a Burlington Book Festival event hosted by City Market to benefit the Committee on Temporary Shelter's "Healthy Meals From Around the World" program.
As Prentice hustled to get the beef ready for its long, slow simmer in Boyden Valley Big Barn Red wine, a handful of volunteers worked with produce from other local farmers: cleaning kale, quartering potatoes, slicing summer squash and shucking corn.
In honor of the last summer corn, Prentice explained, she also had planned a squash, basil and corn frittata.
The professional chef, author and local foods advocate was in Burlington to spread the word about her "Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection," published in January by White River Junction-based Chelsea Green Publishing.
"Right now we're in the 'Corn Moon' or 'Harvest Moon,'" Prentice elaborated. "It was also called the 'Moon When Salmon Return to Earth' in the Pacific Northwest. Next comes the 'Blood Moon' when you would slaughter the hog and hunt to get ready for winter."
"Full Moon Feast" is divided into chapters named for 13 moons throughout the year, ranging from the "Hunger Moon" of deep winter to the early summer "Moon of Making Fat" when pastures bloomed and the milk became richer. It is a thoughtful investigation of how traditional eating patterns were closely -- and necessarily -- tied to the natural cycles of the year, and what could be gained by returning to that practice from nutrition, spiritual and environmental perspectives.
Checking the time, Prentice stopped chatting and noted that she'd better get the beef braising. "Hey, Graham," she called over to a volunteer, "Could you move from squash to onions?"
The tall, bearded University of Vermont student shifted gears and -- after a hunt for the sharpest knife in the room -- started slicing onions. As he worked, Graham Unangst-Rufenacht explained that he'd heard about the opportunity to volunteer through his City Market co-op membership and that, knowing of Prentice by reputation, he had jumped at the chance to cook with her for an afternoon. He is studying plant and soil science as well as religion, he said, so her approach really fit his interests.
"I'd heard great things about the cookbook," he said. "I'm just incredibly interested in food and food systems, and really seeking out the most nutritionally sound and sustainably sound way to eat."
Staying on cycle
Prentice became nationally known through her work with local food and farmers in northern California where she lives, which led her to co-found the "Eat Local Challenge" movement in which participants pledge to eat almost exclusively locally grown foods for a specified period of time. (See box this page for Vermont groups active on this topic.) But her approach goes beyond simply eating locally and seasonally.
"I don't think about seasons and seasonality at the top of my mind," she said as she wrestled all the seared beef into one pan. "I try to get a deeper sense of season. It's not just about eating asparagus in the spring and tomatoes in August. It's much more related to the turning of the year."
In the pre-industrial age, people were much more in tune with each new moon because their survival depended on it, Prentice explained. The moon names she uses in her book are all sourced from traditional cultures and she gives plenty of additional examples: an historical Japanese name for the moon that fell around May was the "Moon When Rice Sprouts;" an old German springtime moon was the "Grazing Moon;" and the East African Maasai had a July moon called "Moon When Women Wrangle and Squabble Because the Cows Give But Little Milk."
"For people in Vermont," she continued as the kitchen filled with the aroma of basil being sliced for the frittata, "200 years ago -- even 100 years ago -- you would have had a much more profound sense of the turning of the year. Now it's like you know winter is here just because you put on your storm windows and your snow tires."
Back then, she said, "There was a time of less and a time of more, of abundance. And so much of your time would have been taken up in planning and storing food for when there was no fresh food." The fact that food was not just a supermarket shelf away, Prentice continued, led to a different attitude toward food.
The beef was ready to go into the oven, and Prentice called upon Unangst-Rufenacht to help her maneuver the huge pan into the oven. They tried it one way, then another, but it was just a smidge too wide and Prentice finally resigned herself to the fact that the meat would have to be braised on top of the stove. She took it all calmly, readjusted and moved on.
"Food is a gift," she said with a smile. "When you understand that it's a gift, everything about how you treat it changes. You can't put animals in factories. You wouldn't spray pesticides on it. You wouldn't ship apples from New Zealand when you can grow them here. You wouldn't put salmon in pens. You wouldn't stop at McDonald's and eat in your car."
Later that evening, after a few dozen diners had relished a platter of local cheeses, the deeply flavored, tender beef served with Flack Family Farm sauerkraut, sauteed kale, the frittata and rosemary-roasted potatoes, followed by fresh raspberries with a maple creme anglaise, Prentice moderated a lively discussion about local foods and the value of a traditional diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods and animal fats.
She bristled a little at a question about the higher cost of local and organic foods, which might put them out of reach for some people. It was a criticism, she said, she'd been responding to throughout her book tour and she had thought a lot about the issue.
Carefully noting that she tries not to judge peoples' priorities, she turned the question around: "Where do we get this idea that food should be cheap, and if it's not cheap, that it's elitist? Why are they picking on local foods? Why aren't $60 or $200 jeans elitist?" She returned to her theme of food as a gift, not just a resource to be taken for granted: "We should really honor and value food -- and we should be willing to pay its true cost."
They recommend enjoying spring’s slow start
By Bill Daley
April 12, 2006
At this time of year, the “Hunger Moon” holds sway, at least climatically.
This term, used by indigenous people, refers to the season when there is little locally grown food to eat, writes Jessica Prentice, a food activist and chef in her new book, “Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection” (Chelsea Green, $25).
More than 150 years of advances in agriculture and shipping has dimmed the Hunger Moon and turned the United States into an envied land of seasonless abundance for all but its poorest citizens.
Increasingly, though, many other likeminded Americans are questioning the price of year-round accessibility to foods from far and wide. The cost is being tallied from a number of angles, including taste or the lack thereof in foods, the impact on the environment of modern agricultural practices and the toll on one’s own health, both physically and spiritually.
“There’s no sense . . . of the year having a time of abundance or scarcity. We only experience the seasons through how they impede our travel,” Prentice said in a telephone interview from her home in Richmond, Calif. Of course, spring in Illinois is not for the dainty.
“I think, just like with any type of seasonal eating, we’re a bit confined because of where we live,” said Mari Coyne, whose job as farm forager is to root out farmers willing to feed Chicago’s growing demand for local products. “Take joy in the slow warm-up,” Coyne advised.
She said that consumers should celebrate produce when it comes into season, such as spring asparagus, baby greens, wild ramps and rhubarb. “The slow start helps to get people excited about what is coming.”
Jim Slama, founder and president of Sustain, a non-profit environmental group that seeks to connect growers and consumers through a program called FamilyFarmed.org, said that potatoes, carrots and turnips are still out there from last season.
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Environment in Focus
Diet for a sustainable planet
The San Francisco Chronicle
The challenge: Eat Locally for a month (you can start now)
Olivia Wu, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
As World Environmental Day opens in San Francisco, with 100 mayors brainstorming about environmental problems worldwide, four Northern California women are viewing the issues through the prism of their own kitchens.
Calling themselves the Locavores, the women -- Lia McKinney, Jessica Prentice, Dede Sampson and Sage Van Wing -- are passionate about eating locally and have devised a way to show others how to do that, too.
With San Francisco as the center, they have drawn a circle with a 100- mile radius from the city, and are urging people to buy, cook and eat from within that "foodshed" -- or their own foodshed, based on where they live -- in a monthlong challenge in August called "Celebrate Your Foodshed: Eat Locally."
Eating within a foodshed, they say, is the best way to support the environment.
"Eating locally solves the major issues facing us," says Bart Anderson of Palo Alto, co-editor of Energy Bulletin, an online news portal (energy bulletin.net).
For the Locavores and others who believe in eating locally, doing so affects the planet's top three problems: the fact that we're on the downhill side of the supply of oil and other fossil fuels, environmental deterioration and economic issues, all of which will be addressed by World Environmental Day meetings this week.
Eating locally is the best way to promote sustainability, say those who are passionate about the practice.
Sustainability in its most general sense means eating in a way that maintains and promotes the health of the planet, the food supply and the people who steward it.
Serving monkfish, which is an endangered species, or snacking on South American cherries in December are not sustainable practices, but eating California-caught Dungeness crab during the November-May season, and buying Central Valley cherries in summer are.
"Our food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our tables," says one of the Locavores, Sage Van Wing, of Point Reyes. The process imperils "our environment, our health, our communities and our taste buds."
Sustainable food comes from sustainable agriculture, which does not rely on heavy use of petroleum on the farm or in distribution. Besides conserving oil, sustainable agriculture reduces carbon emissions, which are linked to global climate change and poor health. Finally, supporting local agriculture sustains the local economy...
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Study Finds More Good Fats in Grass-fed Beef and Dairy
Pasture Production Better for the Environment, Higher in Omega-3 Fatty Acids than Conventional Beef and Milk
Union of Concerned Scientists
March 7, 2006
The Union of Concerned Scientists today released the first comprehensive study that confirms that beef and milk from animals raised entirely on pasture have higher levels than conventionally raised beef and dairy cattle of beneficial fats that may prevent heart disease and strengthen the immune system. The study also shows that grass-fed meat is often leaner than most supermarket beef, and raising cattle on grass can reduce water pollution and the risk of antibiotic-resistant diseases.
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