saved down the generations for a reason, or for many, and in the case of vegetables one reason is always ﬂavor. Heirlooms are the tangiest or sweetest tomatoes, the most fragrant melons, the eggplants without a trace of bitterness. Most standard vegetable varieties sold in stores have been bred for uniform appearance, mechanized harvest, convenience of packing (e.g. square tomatoes), and a tolerance for hard travel. None of these can be mistaken, in practice, for actual ﬂavor. Homegrown tomatoes are fa-mously superior to their supermarket counterparts, but the disparity is just as great (in my experience) for melons, potatoes, asparagus, sweet corn, broccoli, carrots, certain onions, and the Japanese edible soybeans called edamame. I have looked for something to cull from my must- grow list on the basis of its being reasonably similar to the supermarket version. I have yet to ﬁnd that vegetable. How did supermarket vegetables lose their palatability, with so many people right there watching? The Case of the Murdered Flavor was a con-tract killing, as it turns out, and long- distance travel lies at the heart of the plot. The odd notion of transporting fragile produce dates back to the early twentieth century when a few entrepreneurs tried shipping lettuce and artichokes, iced down in boxcars, from California eastward over the mountains as a midwinter novelty. Some wealthy folks were charmed by the idea of serving out- of-season (and absurdly expensive) produce items to their dinner guests. It remained little more than an expensive party trick until mid- century, when most fruits and vegetables consumed in North America were still being produced on nearby farms. Then fashion and marketing got involved. The interstate highway sys-tem became a heavily subsidized national priority, long- haul trucks were equipped with refrigeration, and the cost of gasoline was nominal. The state of California aggressively marketed itself as an off- season food pro-ducer, and the American middle class opened its maw. In just a few de-cades the out- of-season vegetable moved from novelty status to such an ordinary item, most North Americans now don’t know what out- of-season means. While marketers worked out the logistics of moving every known veg-etable from every corner of the planet to somewhere else, agribusiness
49 springing forward learned to breed varieties that held up in a boxcar, truck, or ship’s cargo hold. Indestructible vegetables, that is to say: creations that still looked decent after a road trip. Vegetable farmers had little choice but to grow what the market demanded. In the latter half of the twentieth century they gradually dropped from their repertoire thousands of ﬂ avorful varie-ties traditionally grown for the table, concentrating instead on the hand-ful of new varieties purchased by transporters, restaurant chains, and processed-food manufacturers. Modern U.S. consumers now get to taste less than 1 percent of the vegetable varieties that were grown here a cen-tury ago. Those old- timers now lurk only in backyard gardens and on farms that specialize in direct sales—if they survive at all. Many heir-looms have been lost entirely. The same trend holds in other countries, wherever the inﬂ uence of industrial-scale agriculture holds sway. In Peru, the original home of pota-toes, Andean farmers once grew some four thousand potato varieties, each with its own name, ﬂavor, and use, ranging in size from tiny to gigan-tic and covering the color spectrum from indigo- purple to red, orange, yellow, and white. Now, even in the regions of Peru least affected by the modern market, only a few dozen potato varieties are widely grown. Other indigenous crops elsewhere in the world have followed the same path, with the narrowing down of corn and amaranth varieties in Central America, squashes in North America, apples in Europe, and grains in the Middle East. And it’s not just plant varieties but whole species that are being lost. As recently as ten years ago farmers in India still grew count-less indigenous oil crops, including sesame, linseed, and mustards; in 1998 all the small mills that processed these oils were ordered closed, the same year a ban on imported soy oil was lifted. A million villages lost their mills, ten million farmers lost their living, and GM soy found a vast new market. According to Indian crop ecologist Vandana Shiva, humans have eaten some 80,000 plant species in our history. After recent precipitous changes, three-quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the ﬁeld quickly narrowing down to genetically modiﬁed corn, soy, and canola. If woodpeckers and pandas enjoy celebrity status on the endangered-species list (dubious though such fame may be), food crops
are the forgotten commoners. We’re losing them as fast as we’re losing rain forests. An enormous factor in this loss has been the new idea of plant varieties as patentable properties, rather than God’s gifts to human-ity or whatever the arrangement was previously felt to be, for all of prior history. God lost that one in 1970, with the Plant Variety Protection Act. Anything owned by humans, of course, can be taken away from others; the removal of crop control from farmers to agribusiness has been power-The Strange Case of Percy Schmeiser In 1999, a quiet middle- aged farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan, was sued by the largest biotech seed producer in the world. Monsanto Inc. claimed that Percy Schmeiser had damaged them, to the tune of $145,000, by having their patented gene in some of the canola plants on his 1,030 acres. The assertion was not that Percy had actually planted the seed, or even that he obtained the seed illegally. Rather, the argument was that the plants on Percy’s land con-tained genes that belonged to Monsanto. The gene, patented in Canada in the early 1990s, gives genetically modiﬁed (GM) canola plants the fortitude to with-stand spraying by glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup, sold by Monsanto. Canola, a cultivated variety of rapeseed, is one of over three thousand spe-cies in the mustard family. Pollen from mustards is transferred either by insects, or by wind, up to one- third of a mile. Does the patented gene travel in the pollen? Yes. Are the seeds viable? Yes, and can remain dormant up to ten years. If seeds remain in the soil from previous years, it’s illegal to harvest them. Further, if any of the seeds from a ﬁeld contain the patented genes, it is illegal to save them for use. Percy had been saving his canola seeds for ﬁfty years. Monsanto was suing for possession of intellectual property that had drifted onto his plants. The laws protect possession of the gene itself, irrespective of its conveyance. Because of pollen drift and seed contamination, the Monsanto genes are ubiquitous in Canadian canola. Percy lost his court battles: he was found guilty in the Federal Court of Can-ada, the conviction upheld in the court of appeals. The Canadian Supreme Court narrowly upheld the decision (5–4), but with no compensation to Monsanto. This stunning case has drawn substantial attention to the problems associated with letting GM genies out of their bottle. Organic canola farmers in Saskatchewan have now sued Monsanto and another company, Aventis, for making it impossi-
51 springing forward ful and swift. Six companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis, and Dow—now control 98 percent of the world’s seed sales. These companies invest heavily in research whose purpose is to increase food production capacity only in ways that can be controlled strictly. Ter-minator technology is only one (extreme) example. The most common genetic modiﬁ cations now contained in most U.S. corn, soy, cotton, and canola do one of two things: (1) put a bacterial gene into the plant that kills caterpillars, or (2) alter the crop’s physiology so it withstands the her-ble for Canadian farmers to grow organic canola. The National Farmers Union of Canada has called for a moratorium on all GM foods. The issue has spilled over the borders as well. Fifteen countries have banned import of GM canola, and Australia has banned all Canadian canola due to the unavoidable contamination made obvious by Monsanto’s lawsuit. Farmers are concerned about liability, and consumers are concerned about choice. Twenty- four U.S. states have proposed or passed various legislation to block or limit particular GM products, attach re-sponsibility for GM drift to seed producers, defend a farmer’s right to save seeds, and require seed and food product labels to indicate GM ingredients (or allow “GM- free” labeling). The U.S. federal government (corporate- friendly as ever) has stepped in to circumvent these proconsumer measures. In 2006 Congress passed the Na-tional Uniformity for Food Act, which would eliminate more than two hundred state-initiated food safety and labeling laws that differ from federal ones. Thus, the weakest consumer protections would prevail (but they’re uniformly weak!). Here’s a clue about who really beneﬁts from this bill: it’s endorsed by the Ameri-can Frozen Food Institute, ConAgra, Cargill, Dean Foods, Hormel, and the Na-tional Cattlemen’s Beef Association. It’s opposed by the Consumers Union, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety, and thirty-nine state attorney generals. Keeping GM’s “intellectual” paws out of our bodies, and our ﬁelds, is up to consumers who demand full disclosure on what’s in our food. For more information, visit www.biotech- info.net or www.organicconsumers .org. STEVEN L. HOPP
bicide Roundup, so that chemicals can be sprayed over the crop. (The crop stays alive, the weeds die.) If you guessed Monsanto controls sales of both the resistant seed and the Roundup, give yourself a star. If you think you’d never eat such stuff, you’re probably wrong. GM plants are virtually everywhere in the U.S. food chain, but don’t have to be labeled, and aren’t. Industry lobbyists intend to keep it that way. Monsanto sells many package deals of codependent seeds and chemi-cals, including so-called traitor technologies in which a crop’s disease re-sistance relies on many engineered genes resting in its tissues—genes that can only be turned on, as each disease arises, by the right chemical purchased from Monsanto. It’s hardly possible to exaggerate the cynicism of this industry. In inter-nal reports, Monsanto notes “growers who save seed from one year to the next” as signiﬁcant competitors, and allocates a $10 million budget for investigating and prosecuting seed savers. Agribusinesses can patent plant varieties for the purpose of removing them from production (Semi-nis dropped 25 percent of its total product line in one recent year, as a “cost-cutting measure”), leaving farmers with fewer options each year. The same is true for home gardeners, who rarely suspect when placing seed orders from Johnny’s, Territorial, Nichols, Stokes, and dozens of other catalogs that they’re likely buying from Monsanto. In its 2005 an-nual report, Monsanto describes its creation of American Seeds Inc. as a licensing channel that “allows us to marry our technology with the high-touch, local face of regional seed companies.” The marriage got a whop-ping dowry that year when Monsanto acquired Seminis, a company that already controlled about 40 percent of the U.S. vegetable seed market. Garden seed inventories show that while about 5,000 nonhybrid vegeta-ble varieties were available from catalogs in 1981, the number in 1998 was down to 600. Jack Harlan, a twentieth- century plant geneticist and author of the classic Crops and Man, wrote about the loss of genetic diversity in no un-certain terms: “These resources stand between us and catastrophic star-vation on a scale we cannot imagine. . . . The line between abundance and disaster is becoming thinner and thinner.”
53 springing forward The “resources” Harlan refers to are old varieties, heirlooms and land races—the thousands of locally adapted varieties of every crop plant im-portant to humans (mainly but not limited to wheat, rice, corn, and pota-toes), which historically have been cultivated in the region where each crop was domesticated from its wild progenitor. Peru had its multitude of potatoes, Mexico its countless kinds of corn, in the Middle East an inﬁ n-ity of wheats, each subtly different from the others, ﬁnely adapted to its region’s various microclimates, pests and diseases, and the needs of the humans who grew it. These land races contain a broad genetic heritage that prepares them to coevolve with the challenges of their environ-ments. Disease pathogens and their crop hosts, like all other predators and prey, are in a constant evolutionary dance with each other, changing and improving without cease as one evolves a slight edge over its opponent, only to have the opponent respond to this challenge by developing its own edge. Evolutionary ecologists call this the Red Queen principle (named in 1973 by Leigh Van Valen), after the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, who observed to Alice: “In this place it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” Both predator and prey must continu-ally change or go extinct. Thus the rabbit and fox both get faster over the generations, as their most successful offspring pass on more genes for speediness. Humans develop new and stronger medicines against our bacterial predators, while the bacteria continue to evolve antibiotic-resistant strains of themselves. (The people who don’t believe in evolu-tion, incidentally, are just as susceptible as the rest of us to this observable occurrence of evolution. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.) Plant diseases can attack their host plants in slightly new ways each season, encouraged by changes in prevailing conditions of climate. This is where genetic variability becomes important. Genetic engineering can-not predict or address such broad- spectrum challenges. Under highly var-ied environmental conditions, the resilience of open- pollinated land races can be compared approximately with the robust health of a mixed- breed dog versus the ﬁnicky condition of a pooch with a highly inbred pedigree. The mongrel may not perform as predictably under perfectly controlled
conditions, but it has the combined smarts and longevity of all the sires that ever jumped over the fence. Some of its many different genes are likely to come in handy, in a pinch. The loss of that mongrel vigor puts food systems at risk. Crop failure is a possibility all farmers understand, and one reason why the traditional farmstead raised many products, both animal and vegetable, unlike the monocultures now blanketing our continent’s midsection. History has regularly proven it drastically unwise for a population to depend on just a few varieties for the majority of its sustenance. The Irish once depended on a single potato, until the potato famine rewrote history and truncated many family trees. We now depend similarly on a few corn and soybean strains for the majority of calories (both animal and vegetable) eaten by U.S. citizens. Our addiction to just two crops has made us the fattest people who’ve ever lived, dining just a few pathogens away from famine. / Woe is us, we overfed, undernourished U.S. citizens—we are eating poorly for so very many reasons. A proﬁ t- driven, mechanized food indus-try has narrowed down our variety and overproduced corn and soybeans. But we let other vegetables drop from the menu without putting up much of a ﬁght. In our modern Café Dysfunctional, “eat your vegetables” has become a battle cry of mothers against presumed unwilling subjects. In my observed experience, boys in high school cafeterias treat salad exactly as if it were a feminine hygiene product, and almost nobody touches the green beans. Broccoli was famously condemned in the 1990s from the highest ofﬁce in the land. What’s a mother to do? Apparently, she’s to shrug and hand the kids a gigantic cup of carbonated corn syrup. Corn is a vegetable, right? Good, because on average we’re consuming 54.8 gal-lons of soft drinks, per person, per year. Mom is losing, no doubt, because our vegetables have come to lack two features of interest: nutrition and ﬂavor. Storage and transport take predictable tolls on the volatile plant compounds that subtly add up to taste and food value. Breeding to increase shelf life also has tended to decrease palatability. Bizarre as it seems, we’ve accepted a tradeoff that amounts to: “Give me every vegetable in every season, even if it tastes like
55 springing forward a cardboard picture of its former self.” You’d think we cared more about the idea of what we’re eating than about what we’re eating. But then, if you examine the history of women’s footwear, you’d think we cared more about the idea of showing off our feet than about, oh, for example, walk-ing. Humans can be fairly ridiculous animals. I wouldn’t dare predict what will happen next with women’s footwear, but I did learn recently that the last couturier in China who made shoes for bound feet is about to go out of business (his last customers are all in their nineties), and in a similar outburst of good sense, the fashion in veg-etables may come back around to edibility. Heirlooms now sometimes appear by name on restaurant menus, and are becoming an affordable mainstay of farmers’ markets. Flavor in food is a novelty that seems to keep customers coming back. Partly to supply this demand, and partly because some people have cared all along, national and international networks exist solely to allow farmers and gardeners to exchange and save each other’s heirloom seeds. The Seed Savers’ Exchange, headquartered on a farm in Decorah, Iowa, was founded by Diane and Kent Whealy after Diane’s grandfather left her the seeds of a pink tomato that his parents brought from Bavaria in the 1870s. Seeds are living units, not museum pieces; in jars on a shelf their viability declines with age. Diane and Kent thought it seemed wise to move seed collections into real gardens. Their idea has grown into a net-work of 8,000 members who grow, save, and exchange more than 11,000 varieties from their own gardening heritage, forming an extensive living collection. The Seed Savers’ Yearbook makes available to its members the seeds of about twice as many vegetable varieties as are offered by all U.S. and Canadian mail- order seed catalogs combined. Native Seeds/ SEARCH is a similar network focused on Native American crops; the North American Fruit Explorers promotes heirloom fruit and nut tree col-lections. Thanks to these and other devotees, the diversity of food crops is now on the rise in the United States. The world’s largest and best known save- the-endangered-foods orga-nization is Slow Food International. Founded in Italy in 1986, the organi-zation states that its aim is “to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life.” The group has 83,000
members in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, the United States, France, Ja-pan, and Great Britain. The organization promotes gastronomic culture, conserves agricultural biodiversity and cultural identities tied to food pro-duction, and protects traditional foods that are at risk of extinction. Its Ark of Taste initiatives catalog and publicize forgotten foods—a Greek fava bean grown only on the island of Santorini, for instance, or the last indigenous breed of Irish cattle. Less than ten years after its launch, the Italian Ark has swelled to hold some ﬁve hundred products. A commis-sion in the United States now catalogs uniquely American vegetable and animal varieties and products that are in danger of extinction, making the Ark of Taste a worldwide project. You can’t save the whales by eating whales, but paradoxically, you can help save rare, domesticated foods by eating them. They’re kept alive by gardeners who have a taste for them, and farmers who know they’ll be able to sell them. The consumer becomes a link in this conservation chain by seeking out the places where heirloom vegetables are sold, taking them home, whacking them up with knives, and learning to incorporate their exceptional tastes into personal and family expectations. Many foods placed on the Ark of Taste have made dramatic recoveries, thanks to the seed savers and epicurean desperadoes who defy the agents of gene con-trol, tasting the forbidden fruits, and planting more. / If I could only save one of my seed packets from the deluge, the heir-loom vegetable I’d probably grab is ﬁ ve- color silverbeet. It is not silver (silverbeet is Australian for Swiss chard), but has broad stems and leaf ribs vividly colored red, yellow, orange, white, or pink. Each plant has one stem color, but all ﬁve colors persist in a balanced mix in this beloved va-riety. It was the ﬁrst seed variety I learned to save, and if in my dotage I end up in an old- folks’ home where they let me grow one vegetable in the yard, it will be this one. It starts early, produces for months, looks like a bouquet when you cut it, and is happily eaten by my kids. They swear the different colors taste different, and in younger days were known to have blindfolded color- taste contests. (What kids will do, when deprived of ready access to M&Ms.) One of the ﬁrst recipes we invented as a family,
57 springing forward which we call “eggs in a nest,” was inspired by the eggs from Lily’s ﬁ rst ﬂock of hens and ﬁ ve- color chard from the garden. Children are, of course, presumed to hate greens, so assiduously that a cartoon character with spinach- driven strength was invented to inspire them. I suspect it’s about the preparation. Even poor Popeye only gets miserably soppy- looking stuff out of a can. (Maybe sucking it in through his pipe gives it extra ﬂavor.) The rule of greens is that they should be green, cooked with such a light touch that the leaf turns the color of the light that means “go!” and keeps some personality. Overcooking turns it nearly black. To any child who harbors a suspicion of black foods, I would have to say, with the possible exception of licorice, I’m with you. Leafy greens are nature’s spring tonic, coming on strong in local mar-kets in April and May, and then waning quickly when weather gets hot. Chard will actually put up a ﬁ ght against summer temperatures, but let-tuce gives up as early as late May in the south. As all good things must come to an end, the leafy- greens season closes when the plant gets a cue from the thermometer—85 degrees seems to do it for most varieties. Then they go through what amounts to plant puberty: shooting up, trans-forming practically overnight from short and squat to tall and graceful, and of course it is all about sex. The botanical term is bolting. It ends with a cluster of blossoms forming atop the tall stems; for lettuces, these ﬂ ow-ers are tiny yellow versions of their cousin, the dandelion. And like any adolescent, the bolting lettuce plant has volatile chemicals coursing through its body; in the case of lettuce, the plant is manufacturing a burst of sesquiterpene lactones, the compounds that make a broken lettuce stem ooze milky white sap, and which render it suddenly so potently, spit-it- out bitter. When lettuce season is over, it’s over. These compounds are a family trait of the lettuce clan, accounting for the spicy tang of endives, arugula, and radicchio, while the pale icebergs have had most of these chemicals bred out of them (along with most of their nutrients). Once it starts to go tall and leggy, though, even an inno-cent iceberg becomes untouchable. This chemical process is a vestige of a plant’s life in the wild, an adaptation for protecting itself from getting munched at that important moment when sexual reproduction is about to occur.
But on a brisk April day when the tranquils are up and Jack Frost might still come out of retirement on short notice, hot weather is a dream. This is the emerald season of spinach, kale, endive, and baby lettuces. The chard comes up as red and orange as last fall’s leaves went out. We lumber out of hibernation and stuff our mouths with leaves, like deer, or tree sloths. Like the earth- enraptured primates we once were, and could learn to be all over again. In April I’m happiest with mud on the knees of my jeans, sitting down to the year’s most intoxicating lunch: a plate of greens both crisp and still sun- warmed from the garden, with a handful of walnuts and some crumbly goat cheese. This is the opening act of real live food. By the time the lettuce starts to go ﬂowery and embittered, who cares? We’ll have fresh broccoli by then. When you see stuffed bunnies dangling from the crab apple trees, the good- time months have started to roll.
/ Our bodies don’t First, Eat Your Greens by camille I’ve grown up in a world that seems to have a pill for almost everything. College kids pop caffeine pills to stay up all night writing papers, while our parents are at home popping sleeping pills to prevent unwelcome all-nighters. We can take pills for headaches, stomachaches, sinus pressure, and cold symptoms, so we can still go to work sick. If there’s no time to eat right, we have nutrition pills, too. Just pop some vitamins and you’re good to go, right? Both vitamin pills and vegetables are loaded with essential nutrients, but not in the same combinations. Spinach is a good source of both vitamin C and iron. As it happens, vitamin C boosts iron absorption, allowing the body to take in more of it than if the mineral were introduced alone. When I ﬁrst started studying nutrition, I became fascinated with these coinci-dences, realizing of course they’re not coincidences. Human bodies and their complex digestive chemistry evolved over millennia in response to all the different foods—mostly plants—they raised or gathered from the land surrounding them. They may have died young from snakebite or blunt trauma, but they did not have diet- related illnesses like heart disease and Type II diabetes that are prevalent in our society now, even in some young adults and children. aren’t adapted to absorb big loads of nutrients all at once (many supplements surpass RDA values by 200 percent or more), but tiny quantities of them in combinations—exactly as they occur in plants. Eating a wide variety of different plant chemicals is a very good idea, according to research from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences. You have to be a chemist, but color vision helps. By eating plant foods in all dif-ferent colors you’ll get carotenoids to protect body tissues from cancer (yellow, orange, and red veggies); phytosterols to block cholesterol absorp-tion and inhibit tumor growth (green and yellow plants and seeds); and
phenols for age- defying antioxidants (blue and purple fruits). Thousands of the phytochemicals we eat haven’t even been studied or named yet, be-cause there are so many, with such varied roles, ﬁnely tuned as fuel for our living bodies. A head of broccoli contains more than a thousand. Multivitamins are obviously a clunky substitute for the countless subtle combinations of phytochemicals and enzymes that whole foods contain. One way to think of these pills might be as emergency medication for lifestyle- induced malnutrition. I’m coming of age in a society where the majority of adults are medically compromised by that particular disease. Not some, but most; that’s a scary reality for a young person. It’s helpful to have some idea how to take preventive action. My friends sometimes laugh at the weird food combinations that get involved in my everyday quest to squeeze more veggies into a meal, while I’m rushing to class. (Peanut butter and spinach sandwiches?) But we all are interested in staying healthy, how-ever we can. Leafy greens, like all plants, advertise their nutritional value through color: dark green or red leaves with a zesty tang bring more antioxidants to your table. But most any of them will give you folic acid ( folic equals “foli-age”), a crucial nutrient for pregnant women that’s also needed by everyone for producing hemoglobin. From Popeye to Thumper the rabbit, the mes-sage that “you have to ﬁnish your greens” runs deep in kid culture, for good reason. Parents won’t have to work so hard at bribing their kids with des-serts if they don’t serve slimy greens. When fresh and not overcooked, spin-ach, chard, kale, bok choy, and other greens are some of my favorite things. Here are some recipes that bring out the best in dark, leafy greens. These are staple meals for our family in the season when greens are coming up in our garden by the bushel.
61 springing forward y half.) 1⁄2 cup dried tomatoes 1 8 eggs y 1 pound whole-grain lasagna noodles 4 cups chopped spinach 16 ounces tomato sauce EGGS IN A NEST (This recipe makes dinner for a family of four, but can easily be cut in 2 cups uncooked brown rice Cook rice with 4 cups water in a covered pot while other ingredients are being prepared. Olive oil—a few tablespoons 1 medium onion, chopped, and garlic to taste Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil in a wide skillet until lightly golden. Carrots, chopped Add and sauté for a few more minutes, adding just enough water to re-hydrate the tomatoes. really large bunch of chard, coarsely chopped Mix with other vegetables and cover pan for a few minutes. Uncover, stir well, then use the back of a spoon to make depressions in the cooked leaves, circling the pan like numbers on a clock. Break an egg into each depression, being careful to keep yolks whole. Cover pan again and allow eggs to poach for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve over rice. SPINACH LASAGNA Prepare according to package directions. Steam for 2–3 minutes, let excess water drain. 2 cups fresh ricotta 2 cups mozzarella
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole. Cover surface with a layer of noodles, 1⁄2 of the ricotta, 1⁄2 of the spinach, 1⁄3 of the remaining sauce, and 1⁄3 of the mozzarella. Lay down another layer of noodles, the rest of the ricotta, the rest of the spinach, 1⁄3 of the sauce, and 1⁄3 of the mozzarella. Spread a ﬁnal layer of noodles, the remainder of the sauce and mozzarella; bake uncovered at 350° for 40 minutes. Download these and all Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recipes at www.AnimalVegetableMiracle.com GREENS SEA SON MEAL PLAN Sunday ~ Greek roasted chicken and potatoes, chard- leaf dolmades with béchamel sauce Monday ~ Eggs in a Nest Tuesday ~ Chicken salad (from Sunday’s leftover chicken) on a bed of baby greens Wednesday ~ Pasta tossed with salmon, sautéed fresh chard, and dried tomatoes Thursday ~ Dinner salad with boiled eggs, broccoli, nuts, and feta; fresh bread Friday ~ Pizza with chopped sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and cheese Saturday ~ Spinach lasagna
4 • STALKING THE VEGETANNUAL If potatoes can surprise some part of their audience by growing leaves, it may not have occurred to everyone that lettuce has a ﬂower part. It does, they all do. Virtually all nonanimal foods we eat come from ﬂ owering plants. Exceptions are mushrooms, seaweeds, and pine nuts. If other ex-otic edibles exist that you call food, I salute you. Flowering plants, known botanically as angiosperms, evolved from an-cestors similar to our modern- day conifers. The ﬂower is a handy repro-ductive organ that came into its own during the Cretaceous era, right around the time when dinosaurs were for whatever reason getting down-sized. In the millions of years since then, ﬂowering plants have estab-lished themselves as the most conspicuously successful terrestrial life forms ever, having moved into every kind of habitat, in inﬁ nite variations. Flowering plants are key players in all the world’s ecotypes: the deciduous forests, the rain forests, the grasslands. They are the desert cacti and the tundra scrub. They’re small and they’re large, they ﬁ ll swamps and toler-ate drought, they have settled into most every niche in every kind of place. It only stands to reason that we would eat them. Flowering plants come in packages as different as an oak tree and a violet, but they all have a basic life history in common. They sprout and leaf out; they bloom and have sex by somehow rubbing one ﬂ ower’s boy stuff against another’s girl parts. Since they can’t engage in hot pur-suit, they lure a third party, such as bees, into the sexual act—or else
(depending on species) wait for the wind. From that union comes the blessed event, babies made, in the form of seeds cradled inside some form of fruit. Finally, sooner or later—because after that, what’s the point anymore?—they die. Among the plants known as annuals, this life history is accomplished all in a single growing season, commonly starting with spring and ending with frost. The plant waits out the winter in the form of a seed, safely protected from weather, biding its time until conditions are right for starting over again. The vegetables we eat may be leaves, buds, fruits, or seeds, but each comes to us from some point along this same continuum, the code all annual plants must live by. No variations are al-lowed. They can’t set fruit, for example, before they bloom. As obvious as this may seem, it’s easy enough to forget in a supermarket culture where the plant stages constantly present themselves in random order. To recover an intuitive sense of what will be in season throughout the year, picture a season of foods unfolding as if from one single plant. Take a minute to study this creation—an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season a cornucopia of all the different vegetable products we can harvest. We’ll call it a vegetannual. Picture its life pass-ing before your eyes like a time- lapse ﬁ lm: ﬁrst, in the cool early spring, shoots poke up out of the ground. Small leaves appear, then bigger leaves. As the plant grows up into the sunshine and the days grow longer, ﬂ ower buds will appear, followed by small green fruits. Under midsummer’s warm sun, the fruits grow larger, riper, and more colorful. As days shorten into the autumn, these mature into hard- shelled fruits with appreciable seeds inside. Finally, as the days grow cool, the vegetannual may hoard the sugars its leaves have made, pulling them down into a storage unit of some kind: a tuber, bulb, or root. So goes the year. First the leaves: spinach, kale, lettuce, and chard (here, that’s April and May). Then more mature heads of leaves and ﬂ ower heads: cabbage, romaine, broccoli, and cauliﬂower (May–June). Then tender young fruit- set: snow peas, baby squash, cucumbers (June), fol-lowed by green beans, green peppers, and small tomatoes (July). Then more mature, colorfully ripened fruits: beefsteak tomatoes, eggplants, red and yellow peppers (late July–August). Then the large, hard- shelled fruits with developed seeds inside: cantaloupes, honeydews, watermelons,
65 stalking the vegetannual pumpkins, winter squash (August–September). Last come the root crops, and so ends the produce parade. Plainly these don’t all come from the same plant, but each comes from a plant, that’s the point—a plant predestined to begin its life in the spring and die in the fall. (A few, like onions and carrots, are attempting to be biennials, but we’ll ignore that for now.) Each plant part we eat must come in its turn—leaves, buds, ﬂowers, green fruits, ripe fruits, hard fruits—because that is the necessary order of things for an annual plant. For the life of them, they can’t do it differently. Some minor deviations and a bit of overlap are allowed, but in general, picturing an imaginary vegetannual plant is a pretty reliable guide to what will be in season, wherever you live. If you ﬁnd yourself eating a water-melon in April, you can count back three months and imagine a place warm enough in January for this plant to have launched its destiny. Mex-ico maybe, or southern California. Chile is also a possibility. If you’re in-clined to think this way, consider what it took to transport a ﬁ nicky fruit the size of a human toddler to your door, from that locale. Our gardening forebears meant watermelon to be the juicy, barefoot taste of a hot summer’s end, just as a pumpkin is the trademark fruit of late October. Most of us accept the latter, and limit our jack- o’-lantern activities to the proper botanical season. Waiting for a watermelon is harder. It’s tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late- summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it’s actu-ally possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about its being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand. If many of us would view this style of eating as deprivation, that’s only because we’ve grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything, always. This may be the closest thing we have right now to a distinctive national cuisine. Well- heeled North American epi-cures are likely to gather around a table where whole continents collide discreetly on a white tablecloth: New Zealand lamb with Italian porcinis, Peruvian asparagus, and a hearty French Bordeaux. The date on the cal-endar is utterly irrelevant. I’ve enjoyed my share of such meals, but I’m beginning at least to no-
tice when I’m consuming the United Nations of edible plants and ani-mals all in one seating. (Or the WTO, is more like it.) On a winter’s day not long ago I was served a sumptuous meal like this, ﬁ nished off with a dessert of raspberries. Because they only grow in temperate zones, not the tropics, these would have come from somewhere deep in the South-ern Hemisphere. I was amazed that such small, eminently bruisable fruits could survive a zillion- mile trip looking so good (I myself look pretty wrecked after a mere red- eye from California), and I mumbled some re-served awe over that fact. I think my hostess was amused by my country-mouse naïveté. “This is New York,” she assured me. “We can get anything we want, any day of the year.” So it is. And I don’t wish to be ungracious, but we get it at a price. Most of that is not measured in money, but in untallied debts that will be paid by our children in the currency of extinctions, economic unravel-ings, and global climate change. I do know it’s impolite to raise such ob-jections at the dinner table. Seven raspberries are not (I’ll try to explain The Global Equation By purchasing local vegetables instead of South American ones, for exam-ple, aren’t we hurting farmers in developing countries? If you’re picturing Farmer Juan and his family gratefully wiping sweat from their brows when you buy that Ecuadoran banana, picture this instead: the CEO of Dole Inc. in his air-conditioned ofﬁce in Westlake Village, California. He’s worth $1.4 billion; Juan gets about $6 a day. Much money is made in the global reshufﬂ ing of food, but the main beneﬁciaries are processors, brokers, shippers, supermarkets, and oil companies. Developed nations promote domestic overproduction of commodity crops that are sold on the international market at well below market price, undermin-ing the fragile economies of developing countries. Often this has the effect of driving small farmers into urban areas for jobs, decreasing the agricultural out-put of a country, and forcing the population to purchase those same commodi-ties from abroad. Those who do stay in farm work are likely to end up not as farm owners, but as labor on plantations owned by multinationals. They may ﬁ nd themselves working in direct conﬂict with local subsistence. Thus, when Ameri-cans buy soy products from Brazil, for example, we’re likely supporting an inter-
67 stalking the vegetannual someday to my grandkids) the end of the world. I ate them and said “Thank you.” Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people before me have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re al-lowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point this out. The conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners. Our culture is not unacquainted with the idea of food as a spiritually loaded commodity. We’re just particular about which spiritual arguments we’ll accept as valid for declining certain foods. Generally unacceptable reasons: environmental destruction, energy waste, the poisoning of work-ers. Acceptable: it’s prohibited by a holy text. Set down a platter of coun-try ham in front of a rabbi, an imam, and a Buddhist monk, and you may have just conjured three different visions of damnation. Guests with high blood pressure may add a fourth. Is it such a stretch, then, to make moral national company that has burned countless acres of Amazon rain forest to grow soy for export, destroying indigenous populations. Global trade deals ne-gotiated by the World Trade Organization and World Bank allow corporations to shop for food from countries with the poorest environmental, safety, and labor conditions. While passing bargains on to consumers, this pits farmers in one country against those in another, in a downward wage spiral. Product quality is somewhat irrelevant. Most people no longer believe that buying sneakers made in Asian sweat-shops is a kindness to those child laborers. Farming is similar. In every country on earth, the most humane scenario for farmers is likely to be feeding those who live nearby—if international markets would allow them to do it. Food transport has become a bizarre and proﬁtable economic equation that’s no longer really about feeding anyone: in our own nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons. If you care about farmers, let the potatoes stay home. For more information visit: www.viacampesina.org. STEVEN L. HOPP
choices about food based on the global consequences of its production and transport? In a country where 5 percent of the world’s population glugs down a quarter of all the fuel, also belching out that much of the world’s waste and pollution, we’ve apparently made big choices about consumption. They could be up for review. The business of importing foods across great distances is not, by its nature, a boon to Third World farmers, but it’s very good business for oil companies. Transporting a single calorie of a perishable fresh fruit from California to New York takes about 87 calories worth of fuel. That’s as ef-ﬁcient as driving from Philadelphia to Annapolis, and back, in order to walk three miles on a treadmill in a Maryland gym. There may be people who’d do it. Pardon me while I ask someone else to draft my energy budget. In many social circles it’s ordinary for hosts to accommodate vegetar-ian guests, even if they’re carnivores themselves. Maybe the world would likewise become more hospitable to diners who are queasy about fuel-guzzling foods, if that preference had a name. Petrolophobes? Seasonal-tarians? Local eaters, Homeys? Lately I’ve begun seeing the term locavores, and I like it: both scientiﬁcally and socially descriptive, with just the right hint of “Livin’ la vida loca.” Slow Food International has done a good job of putting a smile on this eating style, rather than a pious frown, even while sticking to the quixotic agenda of ﬁ ghting overcentralized agribusiness. The engaging strategy of the Slowies (their logo is a snail) is to celebrate what we have, standing up for the pleasures that seasonal eating can bring. They have their work cut out for them, as the American brain trust seems mostly blank on that sub-ject. Consider the frustration of the man who wrote in this complaint to a food columnist: having studied the new food pyramid brought to us by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines folks (impossible to decipher but bless them, they do keep trying), he had his marching orders for “2 cups of fruit, 21⁄2 cups of vegetables a day.” So he marched down to his grocery and bought (honest to Pete) eighty- three plums, pears, peaches, and apples. Out-raged, he reported that virtually the entire lot was “rotten, mealy, taste-less, juiceless, or hard as a rock and refusing to ripen.” Given the date of the column, this had occurred in February or March.
69 stalking the vegetannual The gentleman lived in Frostburg, Maryland, where they would still have been deeply involved in a thing called winter. I’m sure he didn’t really think tasty tree- ripened plums, peaches, and apples were hanging outside ripe for the picking in the orchards around . . . um, Frost-burg. Probably he didn’t think “orchard” at all—how many of us do, in the same sentence with “fruit”? Our dietary guidelines come to us without a roadmap. Concentrating on local foods means thinking of fruit invariably as the product of an orchard, and a winter squash as the fruit of an early-winter farm. It’s a strategy that will keep grocery money in the neighborhood, where it gets recycled into your own school system and local businesses. The green spaces surrounding your town stay green, and farmers who live nearby get to grow more food next year, for you. But before any of that, it’s a win- win strategy for anyone with taste buds. It begins with rethinking a position that is only superﬁcially about deprivation. Citizens of frosty worlds unite, and think about marching past the off- season fruits: you have nothing to lose but mealy, juiceless, rock- hard and refusing to ripen.
5 • MOLLY MOOCHING April In the year 1901, Sanford Webb ran a dozen head of cattle on his new farm and watched to see where they settled down every night. The place they chose, he reasoned, would be the most sheltered spot in the hollow. That was where he built his house, with clapboard sides, a steep tin roof, and a broad front porch made of river rock. The milled door frames and stair rails he ordered from Sears, Roebuck. He built the house for his new bride, Lizzie, and the children they would raise here—eleven in all— during the half- century to come. In the 1980s those children put the home place up for sale. They weren’t keen to do it, but had established farmsteads of their own by the time their parents passed away. All were elderly now, and none was in a position to move back to the family farm and ﬁx up the home place. They decided to let it go out of the family. Steven walked into this picture, and a deal with fate was sealed. He didn’t know that. He was looking for a bargain ﬁ xer- upper he could af-ford on his modest academic salary, a quiet place to live where he could listen to the birds and maybe grow some watermelons. He was a bache-lor, hardly looking for a new family at that moment, but the surviving Webbs—including the youngest sisters, who lived adjacent, now in their seventies—observed that he needed some looking after. Dinner invita-tions ensued. When Steven eventually brought a wife and kids to the
71 molly mooching farm, we were gathered into that circle. The Webbs unfailingly invite us to their family reunions. Along with the pleasures of friendship and help with anything from binding a quilt to canning, we’ve been granted a full century’s worth of stories attached to this farm. The place is locally famous, it turns out. Sanford Webb was a visionary and a tinkerer who worked as a civil engineer for the railroad but also was the ﬁrst in the neighborhood—or even this end of the state—to innovate such things as household electricity, a grain mill turned by an internal combustion engine, and indoor food refrigeration. The latter he fashioned by allowing a portion of the farm’s cold, rushing creek to run through a metal trough inside the house. (We still use a version of this in our kitchen for no-electricity refrigeration.) Creativity ran in the family. In the up-stairs bedroom the older Webb boys once surprised their mother by smug-gling up, one part at a time, everything necessary to build, crank up, and start a Model- T Ford. These inventive brothers later founded a regional commercial airline, Piedmont Air, and paid their kid sister Neta a dime a day to come down and sweep off the runway before each landing. Sanford was also forward- thinking in the ways of horticulture. He worked on the side as a salesman for Stark’s Nursery at a time when the normal way to acquire fruit trees was to borrow a scion from a friend. Mr. Webb proposed to his neighbors the idea of buying named varieties of fruit trees, already grafted onto root stock, that would bear predictably and true. Stayman’s Winesaps, Gravensteins, and Yellow Transparents began to bloom and bear in our region. For every sixteen trees Mr. Webb sold, he received one to plant himself. The lilacs, mock oranges, and roses of Sharon he brought home for Lizzie still bloom around our house. So does a small, frost- hardy citrus tree called a trifoliate orange, a curiosity that has nearly gone extinct in the era of grocery- store oranges. (We know of only one nursery that still sells them.) The man was passionate about fruit trees. Throughout our hollow, great old pear trees now stand a hundred feet tall, mostly swallowed by a forest so deep they don’t get enough sun to bear fruit. But occasionally when I’m walking up the road I’ll be startled by the drop (and smash) of a ripe pear fallen from a great height. The old apple orchard we’ve cleared and pruned, and it bears for us. We keep the grass mowed between the