I remember taking a class about food culture back when I was in college. For any foodie, I thought it would be an easy summer class with a subject I was very much interested in. It was taught by Professor Beth Conklin at Vanderbilt and to be honest, this class changed my life.
At first, I thought maybe the class is about exploring different cuisines. I figured we’d take field trips to ethnic restaurants, talk about iconic dishes of different cultures, and perhaps even hear from a few guest lecturers from around the TN area. What we got, however, was an in-depth look at our food culture, right here, in Middle Tennessee. Without going to far in depth, we explored and learned about the following:
- Where our food comes from: We early on went to Bells Bend Farms (which later became my CSA) to learn about the history of a land that is an agricultural gold mine only 15 miles out of Nashville. Eric Woolridge was introduced to us as a young 24 year old, fresh from college, kid who had to take over this farm to help provide sustainably grown produce to the community. More importantly, Eric told us about the difficulties of farming. How long the days were, the lack of supplies, the inability to purchase necessary equipment to help make the farm efficient, and a transient group of farm help were all concerns of his. I remember asking myself, “should it really be this hard to make fresh food? I mean, food that basically grows without any extra help besides a hand, good soil, and sunlight should be easier, shouldn’t it?”
- Food politics is a very real game: One of the books we read was written by Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan, who is a well recognized author and notable personality on the topic of food politics. In this book, Pollan talks about how government corn subsidies have led producers to sell cheaper and worse foods to the American people. Corn is cheap and a versatile ingredient. You can find it in the feed of McDonald’s Big Mac or as a sweetener in a glass of cola. And because of the massive subsidy, these foods all cost less, even though they are worse for you. A big part of Pollan’s critique is that the government is endorsing the wrong types of food. Instead of healthy, smart options, we rely on cheap, industrial methods to feed Americans.
- Our voice matters: This is certainly not a problem one can fix overnight. However, increasing your awareness is a very real possibility that can create real change. After I took this class, I’ve become someone who knows where every single thing in my fridge comes from. I joined a CSA, I buy meats, dairy, and cheese from people who I know directly and whose farms I have visited. I support businesses that take pride in using local and sustainably raised ingredients. In all of this, I have become part of a great community that values taking a stand and making a difference. I hope through it all, I have inspired more people to do the same. But at the very least, I have changed the way I eat, the way my family eats, and built relationships with those who produce quality foods.
A few weeks ago, there was a great movie out at The Belcourt Theater called, A Place at the Table. The movie documented three families and their struggles with food. It is still hard for me to imagine that hunger is a very real problem in America. I was blessed to be in a family where even though we’ve been through hard times, to always have food on the table. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many families. And worse so, when they do have the little money available to them to spend on food, it is often highly processed, sugar laden, and unhealthy.
Food bloggers from around the country came together, through The Giving Table, to help raise awareness about the issue of hunger in America. If you have seen the movie, it is impossible not to feel pissed off and angry. Something needs to be done. Here in Nashville, local food writer, Jennifer Justus, sent an email out to area bloggers with an idea and a call for help. Our community instantly supported her in helping get the word out. But now, we need your help in order to make a difference. Here’s what you can do!
1. If you are in Nashville, I encourage you to attend a screening of A Place at the Table on Monday, April 29 at 6 pm. The screening will be held at Downtown Presbyterian (154 5th Avenue N, Nashville, TN 37219). Following the screening will be a food advocacy fair where you can find more ways to get involved through Hands on Nashville’s Urban Farm or talk with Community Food Advocates on how to protect the SNAP program.
2. Alert your Congressional leaders. Share our Strength has provided an easy to use form on their website, which you can access, here.
Thank you all for listening and reading. My late grandfather always used to tell me, “We may never be able to move mountains, but all of us can cast a stone into the water to create many ripples.” Let us all cast a stone, for if we work together, we really can create great changes for ourselves, for those in need, and for the future.
Basmati Rice Salad
Rice has always been a staple in my home, ever since I can remember. For the Indian kitchen, it is made everyday. For this recipe, I add a few staple pantry ingredients and a few fresh ingredients to create a healthy and affordable meal.
1 cup long grain (basmati) rice (or any rice you prefer, such as brown rice, short grain rice, or even wild rice)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
.5 cups green peas (fresh or frozen and thawed)
2 cloves cardamom
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 T fresh butter
Wash the rice thoroughly and let drain. Get a pot over medium high heat and add a 1/2 tsp of oil. Add the onions and the carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook until translucent, but not brown. Add the cardamom, cumin, and rice and stir well. Add two cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked through.
Add the fresh peas, lemon juice, cilantro, and butter to the rice and fold everything together. Season with salt and serve warm or at room temperature.