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Food For Thought

Photo by Kaliflowa

© Reba Fraher July, 2010





Food Section

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Become a “Locavore”

It is estimated that most meals travel an average of 1500 miles before winding up on the dinner table. That is a vast distance! In older generations everyone ate food cultivated on nearby lands. The location of the farm where a side of beef came from was traceable. People often slaughtered their own animals. This practice is no longer true in today’s harsh world of factory farming.

Eating “locally” means eating food grown within about a hundred mile radius of one’s home. This can become quite challenging with staple products such as wheat, sugar, salt, and more exotic foods like tropical fruit. The simple solution here is to go without, though many people find a brand or producer (outside of the 100 mile radius) that can satisfy their needs.

There are many benefits to consuming a local diet. One is that a nearby famer’s market eliminates the middlemen between farmers and buyers. The result is that approximately 90 percent of the profits from the crops go directly to the farmer. Also, there is less traveling that the food must endure, which minimizes fuel costs as well as providing healthier food. The less time there is between harvesting and eating, the better!

Eating seasonally goes hand-in-hand with eating locally. Farmer’s markets can only sell produce that is in season. The choice of

preparing only what is in season is difficult for any chef; however it provides a great deal of variation in the diet. Humans are able to eat many different foods but our choices often become habitually limited. Too much of a good thing is not healthy. By eating predominantly what is in season, people can get closer to nature as well as rewarding their digestive system with a much-needed variety of nutrients…in well-spaced intervals.

Let’s not forget that food is a wonderful, enjoyable part of life. No one should suffer through every meal, agonizing over nutritional value. Still, it is important to put some thought into home cooked food and to have pride in everything laid out on the dinner table. . Eating should be a social affair to enjoy with family and friends.

Though never easy, the quest to increase our overall health benefits by eating whole foods that are fresh. Exercise and moderation are essential to any diet. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (In Defense of Food). Consciously avoiding processed “edible foodlike substances” (Pollan) can be difficult at first, as those products are designed to be quick and cheap and readily available at every supermarket. Unfortunately, having not personally prepared the food, we have no way of really knowing what is hiding beneath the plastic seal.

So, if you are ready for a drastic, but rewarding change in your eating habits, check out the “buy local” movement. It is something that we should investigate, as it promotes health, education, and responsibility. We will all be living in a better world when we connect with Mother Earth, and become grateful for all that she offers us.


Global Holiday Traditions:
How are Others Celebrating the End of the Year?

When the holiday season draws to a close people often make resolutions. Instead of that I chose to make a promise to think more globally during this New Year. I can’t help but wonder how other people around the world chose to celebrate during the holiday season. In the United States the two big holidays according to the media are Christmas and Hanukah. Contrary to popular belief though, Hanukah is not even a major Jewish holiday. In fact, Yom Kippur is the most holy and important holiday in the Jewish calendar. Perhaps it is Christian guilt about all the presents that made Hanukah so grand here in the U.S. Let’s take a look at some different holiday traditions.

While Christmas is celebrated all over the world traditions are often quite different from place to place. Most people living in Central and South America are Catholics and celebrate Advent, which lasts during the days leading up to Christmas. Poinsettias are the plant that reminds observers most of the holiday rather than pine trees. These beautiful red leaved flowers decorate the houses of everyone in town. Likewise in Brazil the Christmas festivities last for a month, to celebrate Advent, and finally ending on January 6th, known as Three Kings Day. This day commemorates the arrival of the three wise men to the manger of the newborn baby Jesus.

In Africa it is the Christmas Day church service that is the center of the celebrations. This long church service requires attendants to assemble at four am. A gift is often left at the altar for the baby Jesus. Gifts are usually clothes or other practical items. Following the service there is a great feast with dancing and music.

There are many diverse Christmas celebrations in Europe as well. For example, in Austria caroling is a very important social activity during the holiday season. Also, it is not Santa Claus who comes to leave gifts. Instead Saint Nicholas comes to visit on December 6th accompanied by the devil to either reward or punish the town’s children.

Then on Christmas Eve the baby Jesus comes to bring a Christmas tree for each family. In Hungary Christmas is celebrated in much the same way, except that Saint Nicolas also brings an angel with him to help give out gifts. In Latvia Father Christmas comes and leaves a gift every night for 12 nights starting with Christmas Eve.

In France everyone attends a midnight feast on Christmas Eve and receive their gifts then. Under the tree each family erects a nativity scene, called a cresh, with great care. The Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th, much like in Brazil, and it is then that the three wise men are added to the family’s nativity scene.

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. It is a five-day festival welcoming Laksmi, the goddess of wealth. Homes are thoroughly washed inside and out and lamps are lights to attract Laksmi inside. Gifts are often exchanged and there is a great feast. This celebration is as important to the Hindus as Christmas is in the Christian faith. This holiday is often tough to describe though, because there are many sects of the Hindu faith and the holiday is celebrated differently and even on different days by observers across the globe.

Usually on the first day the goddess Laksmi is honored and worshipped. On the second day Kali, goddess of strength, is worshipped. The third day is for reflecting upon the purpose of each day. A lamp is lit to symbolize knowledge. The fourth day is for settling old business accounts and opening new books. Observers are encouraged to let go of jealousy, hate and anger. Finally the fifth day honors Balipratipada, an ancient Indian king, and observers try to see the good in all people, including enemies. This holiday is about forgiveness, cleansing and personal strength.

Yom Kippur is the most holy of Jewish holidays. It is the Day of Atonement, mankind’s last chance to change the judgment of God and consequently their fate due to acts done in the previous year. In ancient times the priests at the Temple of Jerusalem would hold a grand ceremony where a goat would be sacrificed to wash away the sins of the community. (Incidentally this is where the term “scapegoat’ comes from, since the sacrificial goat is driven out of town and to its death in order to save the souls of the townspeople.) This is the “Sabbath of Sabbaths” according to the Bible, meaning that observers are not to lift a finger for work of any kind. Observers are also supposed to abstain from food, drink, sex, washing oneself, dressing in leather or anointing oneself with any kind of deodorant or perfume. People are expected to wear white to symbolize their spiritual purity and to attend temple services from morning until evening. At these services the sins of the community are recited aloud together using the word “we” in order to emphasize the communal responsibility for sins. For example, “We have been greedy.”

On the eve of Yom Kippur it is customary to recite the Kol Nidre to annul all frivolous vows made between oneself and God during the previous year. This was especially important during the Spanish Inquisition when many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. The Kol Nidre would annul such a vow made under duress. This night is also thought to be the best time to seek and to give forgiveness to neighbors and loved ones. It is said that Yom Kippur atones one to God but not to their neighbor, instead a special request is needed for that kind of forgiveness.

One might think of Yom Kippur as a very solemn occasion, but it is actually a very happy holiday. Observers feel a deep sense of peace after the festivities, knowing that they have forgiven and been forgiven. This is a nice way to end the year and look forward to a great new beginning.

In Japan the New Year is known as O-Shogatsu, and is celebrated on the first of January. Families clean their homes from top to bottom and decorate with Kadomatsu made from bamboo, pine branches and white paper. Families spend time together eating Mochi, rice dough with different dipping sauces, and watching TV shows. At midnight everyone watches a gong being pounded on TV 108 times to represent the 108 sins of the previous year.

On New Years morning everyone dresses up in traditional kimonos and goes out to pray for good luck at their family shrine. All around the shrines is a market selling toys, games, food and other souvenirs. In order to make a New Year’s resolution people buy Daruma, paper dolls with large white eyes, at the market and blacken one eye to show their promise. If they accomplish their goal they can blacken the other eye and burn it at the next New Years festival. If a child has been good all year they are rewarded with O-toshidama, envelopes of money, by their parents and relatives.

My own holiday traditions include adorning the traditional Christmas tree and sharing time with close friends and family. The ornaments that decorate our tree have been passed down from generation to generation, with some extra additions along the way, and are greatly treasured. Though presents are exchanged the real focus of my family’s anticipation is the food. Every year the spread is different, representing another corner of the world un-yet explored by our eager palates.

After looking across the globe at how other people are spending their time on the cusp of a new year I realize that though we are all different and practice different customs, there are common threads such as food and family that we all find important. There is also a general sense of cleansing yourself of last year’s sins and building hope for a prosperous new year.


Cows, The Foster Mothers of The Human Race:

The jury is still out on the morality of drinking cow’s milk, but the beverage is still as popular as ever.  So, if you’re going to drink milk, you might as well choose the best product.  The following is a little information to guide the way.

There is a Difference!

Do you think that milk is just milk?
Think again!

  • Average U.S. milk is produced by cows that live on large industrial farms.  These cows are often fed corn, which is not a part of their natural diet.  Their milk typically contains about 3.69% milk fat, 3.21% protein, as well as growth hormones and other chemicals. 
  • Among the many animals used for milking across the world are the camel, donkey, goat, horse, reindeer, sheep, water buffalo, yak, cow, moose, and the American Bison.  The most commonly used milks though are still the cow, goat and sheep. 
  • The ph range of milk is typically between 6.4 and 6.8, which makes it slightly acidic.  Milk may help lower risk of certain cancers, as well as lowering risk of heart disease and obesity rates. 
  • The most popular breed of dairy cows in the U.S. is undoubtedly the Holstein.  Did you know, however, that the second most popular breed is the Jersey cow?  This often-underrated cow actually produces some of the finest milk products in the world. 
  • Jersey cows come from none other than the Island of Jersey, which is only 45 square miles.  Importation of any cows or milk products is strictly banned on the Island to protect the native population from diseases or crossbreeding.  Therefore the breed is extremely pure and each herd is registered and accounted for.  There are about 4,000 adult milking cows on the Island of Jersey today, which amounts to about 16,000 lbs of milk annually. 
  • The cows tend to be fine boned, thinned skinned, small and very docile.  They reach sexual maturity early, and are especially tolerant of hot climates.  It is theorized that Jersey cows originated in the Middle East, and were used in Egypt.
  • Jersey milk is very rich in protein and minerals, but also in color and flavor.  Skim milk produced by a Jersey cow tastes like whole milk from a Holstein.  The milk fat content in Jersey milk is about 5.2%, versus the 3.5% that a Holstein produces.  Jersey milk contains 18% more protein and also has more vitamins A and B, as well as 20% more calcium than Holstein milk. 
  • Jersey cows are often part of smaller herds that have been in families for generations.  The oldest herd in the U.K. belongs to the Queen and resides at Windsor. 
  • With happier, hormone-free, grass-fed cows we will get better, healthier milk.  There are local dairies that are beginning to change their practice of producing milk, starting to place an emphasis on quality again.  We should all be striving for a more wholesome, natural way of living and it starts with caring more about our food and where it comes from. 

My Cooking Bible

While making breakfast this morning, a sudden urge arose to make fresh muffins to compliment my usual serving of eggs. But first the correct consistency of muffins had to be checked, which meant a visit to my old Fanny Farmer Cookbook, the keeper of every answer required in the kitchen.

The pages of my worn copy of Ms. Farmer’s venerable cookbook are splattered with memories from meals past, now aging with whole sections have begun to detach from the peeling spine.  Ancient stings of fabric lacing hang down the creases of the worn pages.  These details conjured the feeling that I was consulting a witch’s spell book for advice, a mysterious tomb whose wear bespoke of the intrigue of innumerable souls before.

Fanny didn’t include the fanciest or most exotic recipes in her book, but all the basics were covered here, an infinitely useful tool for the novice chef and a valued reference for professionals.  Her mission was to guide her readers towards hearty and healthful, home-cooked meals. Due to a stroke she had suffered at age sixteen, Fanny became dedicated to helping other convalescents get better care and healthier meals. 


Despite her affliction, Fanny Farmer was a bright and engaging young woman. At the age of thirty she enrolled in the Boston School of Cooking which was near her home in Medford MA.It was the turn of the century and the Domestic Science Movement was in full swing, prompting this prestigious institute to begin pioneering the strict use of standard measurements in cooking. Prior to this, women often used visual measurements, such as “about the size of a hen’s egg” and a “pinch of salt”.  From my own experience growing up in Vermont, I have seen recipe collections that boggled any modern sense of the word measurement.  It may be said that Fanny Farmer introduced precision to the art of culinary preparation.

Eventually Ms. Farmer became the principal of the Boston School of Cooking; the school’s name was later changed to the Fanny Farmer School of Cooking.  Farmer went on to publish many books and forever remained a vocal public advocate for the better care for convalescents. 

I may have learned to slice an onion from Bobby Flay on the TV cooking network, and Anthony Bourdaine may have enhanced my cooking education with his book “Kitchen Confidential”, but it is always Fanny Farmer to whom I run with all my questions about proper nutrition, and for the preparation of delicious meals for those I serve.

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