Assignments

Migrant Farmers #7

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“The industrial farm is said to have been patterned on the factory production line. In practice, it invariably looks more like a concentration camp”, says Wendell Berry is this book The Pleasures of Eating. Berry lets his readers into a sad reality of the food world. People are being treated unfairly in our country so that we can enjoy a cheap meal. This isn’t decent work; they don’t even make enough money to live above the poverty line. Sometimes children have to join their parents in the field to help pay the bills.

In class we discussed that America is becoming aware of the reality of meat production on our nation. I agree this is a great thing, for us to be aware of, how cruelly these animals are treated, but in class today someone said, “we care more about the chickens in America than we do about the people picking our fruits and vegetables.” This got me thinking.

Why is it that we have so many vegans, vegetarians, and cautious meat eaters, but people have no problem eating vegetables that were picked by exploited migrant farmers? I think the answer is that we are unaware of what is going on, or we want to act like we don’t know so that we can keep our food prices down. We have to be willing to pay more for food to ensure that the workers are paid fair wages.

Another saddening thought is that even when we buy organic food, or local for that matter, there is no way for us to know who is picking that food unless we drive to the farm. Organic means there are not pesticides involved, it doesn’t mean their workers are getting paid good money. It is better in some ways, however, because there is less risk for the people working in the fields, they are not exposed to the harmful of the pesticides.

Mariah made an important point in class as well, “these are hard issues to fix because there is no money in the farming industry.”  She talked about how the only way to make money these days as a farmer is to do mass production, sell cheap so people will buy, and keep costs down. The sad reality is that these workers need the money, and if they won’t work for such little pay then someone else will.

It’s frustrating because there’s so little we can do. It’s important to be aware, and to make others aware, so that when opportunity arises we can ask those hard questions. We have to be willing to pay more for food, but unfortunately this isn’t possible for some, not every one has the means to pay more. We are responsible for the oppression that occurs when we know about and issue and choose not to do something about it.

Momma Likes to Cook #6

n560223968_2167990_5591“What? You cooked?”

I was greatly surprised by the responses I received from my mom during a recent interview about her cooking and eating history. In my eyes my dad had always been the cook in my family, the most amazing ever maybe, but I learned that when my mom and dad were married, my mom was actually the one who did most of the cooking.

I wondered why I never got to eat the amazing dishes we talked about; the buttery cheesy potatoes, the homemade pasta, and fresh bread.

I guess my dad was too busy to cook, either my mom cooked or they went out to eat. The pounds started piling on and one day while I was in kindergarten my heavy set mother was on the phone with her gal pal and eating a sandwich talking about how she felt gross and she was going to start a diet tomorrow.

“No Diane”, her friend sad, “start today, start right now or you never will, throw that sandwich in the garbage.”

That explains why I always grew up eating salads, roasted veggies, “healthy” sandwiches, and other quick fixes that were never buttery, cheesy, or pleasing. My Mom started her weight loss diet that day and has been on the diet ever since.

Everyonce in a while my mom will make some juicy and sweet yet tangy honey mustard barbeque chicken. The steaming brown breast of the chicken swelled with a savory smoked flavor. That was the one meal she said I requested all the time, and still do today.

When my sister and I refused to eat the salad mixed before us, she often let us settle for a box of Hamburger Helper, Rice-A-Roni, or Mac and Cheese. We weren’t hard to please, but easy simple dishes were all she had the time and energy for, so I assumed they were a cop-out for my mom who couldn’t cook. Turns out, she could, she just didn’t being they were too fattening. As a child I was deprived of greasy comforting french fries because she didn’t want them around. French Fries were her favorite ever since she was a little girl, she hasn’t had them since the day she started her diet. She said she would “food relapse”.

I thought I knew all about my mom and her lack of cooking abilities. I was surprised by all the things I still had to learn about my mom.

Japan Town #5

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Unfortunately I don’t know the name of almost anything we ate during our Japan town excursion, but it’s all about the experience, as my dad would say. Some of the food was hard to eat, but I appreciated the exposure to new foods I wouldn’t otherwise have tried.

CAM00088At our first stop, a small Japanese Market, we tasted a variety of dishes, my favorite was the chicken and egg over rice. At first when I was eating it I was unaware that there was egg in the dish. I wondered why the chicken was so smooth and creamy, just melting away. The sweet oriental sauce coated and disguised the egg. I ate everything in that dish to the last grain of rice.

At our next stop, Yakini Q Café, we were served a rare sweet potato latte. The orange drink was sweet and milky. I could really taste the sweet potato, and often got a small chuck of the sweet potatoes that were just blended right in. The drink was a light desert after a Thanksgiving night on a cold November evening.

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Next we stopped at the Benkyodo Company where two brother made fresh mochi every day. I tried the plain mochi with white bean paste. The sugary grains in the white paste cut through the sticky mochi dough. The desert was so fresh and light, I can’t wait to have this one again.

CAM00099Next we went to a little Japanese cart and were served “rice balls”. I was surprised to see that the “balls” were triangular shaped with sake (salmon) in the center and coated with seaweed. The salty fishy taste of the filling snack reminded me on the ocean I ate two of these, but was so full afterwards.

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Next we ate “Japanese pizza”. The overwhelming barbeque sauce coated the variety of fishy tastes. The flavors clashed in a violent battle. Each tried to win me over, but all failed, but the thin flakes danced on top of the dish as it was served.

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The last place we went was called Dosa. This place was my favorite even though we ate Indian food, rather than Japanese. The seasoned potato filled a golden crape. As I tore a piece off the aroma of curry filled the air. The bold spices were balanced out with delicate coconut chutney. The fresh mild sweetness of the chutney made the dish feel light, perfect after a full day of eating.

Overall Japantown opened a new door into the world of food I never new.

Yogurt. Hot Sauce. Tomatoes #4

When I reaCAM00217ched into the checkered back, my heart was pounding even before I knew the fate I would be facing for a weekend dinner. I pondered the possibilities that came with yogurt, tomatoes, and hot sauce. Everyone around seemed to think that was easy, I faked a slight grin but my head was swirling with the possibility of disaster heading my way.

I put it off all weekend, until there was no more time to waste. At 9:30 pm Monday night, I began to cook with a full stomach, knowing darn well I wasn’t about to enjoy what ever I happen to whip up.

I poured a little oil on the pan and whirled it around so the bottom of the pan was coated. The small zucchini was then sliced fairly thin and thrown on the pan to sizzle. I was dreaming about the golden brown edges that would form around the edge, and how I would toast every side to perfection. In reality it just became a mushy mess as it sat in the pan waiting for the bell pepper to join in. The bell pepper was nice and crisp and a fresh burst of mild bitterness dispersed. In reality it was undercooked and just tasked like raw bell pepper, which I happened to enjoy.

Earlier that night, as I was procrastinating, I was complaining about how incapable I was in the kitchen. When I explained that I had to put those three ingredients into a meal I wasn’t surprised to hear once again that it would be easy. At least this time, this generous soul offered me some advice. Yogurt sauce; yogurt, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar. I would have never thought if that on my own but I went with it. The pink silky sauce was beautiful. Before tasting it I took a picture rather pleased that it looked so good. I couldn’t wait to try it, but the second I did I wish I never had.CAM00219

The Greek yogurt tang dominated the first few seconds of flavor as the grittiness of the salt and sugar scraped across my tongue. Seconds later the sauce  burst into flames, it was too spicy. I sprinted over to the sink and washed the dip down the drain with screaming hot water. Sriracha was my favorite food item, I was sure it would mellow out the tart yogurt and create a perfect sweet and sour blend, but it was a beautiful disaster. I tried to revive it, but with no luck.

So some roasted vegetables, or stir-fry, I didn’t even know what to call it, and a failed creamy dip. I’ll stick to eating, and leave the cooking to the capable.

 Charcoal #3

           220px-Charcoal_BriquetteI dragged my feet up the long flight of stairs after a brutal day of work. Tired, I shook my bags off my shoulder and onto the floor. It took only a few seconds for the dense bitter smell to trigger a pounding headache. As my roommate entered the room to greet me, her eyes suddenly bulged out and her happy grin shifted to a worrying look of terror.

Before leaving work just 30 minutes earlier I received a text message from my roommate telling me that she had a surprise dinner for me. I was so excited because usually that meant I had some non-nutritious, comforting, cheesy, and processed goodie waiting for me at home.

After the horror on her face appeared, she sprinted to the oven, throwing open the door, and yelling nonsense I couldn’t understand. A huge gray cloud poured out of the oven stinging my eyes. Then a piercing beeping sound began to contribute to the growing headache that began when I entered my humble apartment.

I reached for the closest thing I could use to fan the screaming fire alarm, it happened to a flimsy paper folder, and as I began waving it vigorously the papers inside flew across the room. My roommate began cackling louder than I had ever heard before. I spun myself around only to lay my tearing eyes on 12 pieces of charcoal lying on a baking sheet.

Charcoal goes in the barbeque not the oven I thought, then I realized that charcoal is the saddest and most crispy Bagel Bite I had ever seen. I hate to admit that our night was ruined, but it was. That was the greatest dinner we could have possibly whipped up at the time, maybe this disaster was really a blessing in disguise. I don’t eat Bagel Bites anymore.

A Mission to Mission #2

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On Friday we took a BART to 24th and Mission to discover a new world of food. We visited many places including Mission Mini’s, Philz Coffee, Wise Sons Delicatessen, and Pig and Pie. My favorite food joint, however, was called Local Mission Eatery.

As I walked in the door the first thing I saw hanging on the wall was home grown herbs, that was about as local as you could get. The atmosphere was homey, the kitchen’s silver appliances were clean and shiny. No one had to wonder how clean the kitchen was because you could see the chefs at work right there before you; there was even a window to look in their spotless walk-in refrigerator. Along the opposite wall was a book shelf pilled with cookbooks available for locals to take home and test out themselves, although the food was so good I’d hesitate to cook for myself if I lived near this gem.

We were served a crunchy yet creamy treat. The unique pumpkin butter used to fry the bread dulled the tartness of the sourdough. The cooked kale fell limp over the creamy ricotta for a savory hint, yet the sweet radish, which lacked a kick, and the whisper of apple added a simple sweetness that made me long for more. The aftertaste of roasted seeds lingered as I left the Local Missions Eatery wondering when I could return again.

Our trip to the Mission district was a pleasant adventure into the food world. These first baby steps were only the beginning of what I feel is going to become a life time of walking and running to new food scenes. It’s fun to discover a new favorite kitchen.

ZIKOMO #1

Making Nsima ns Chinsapo, Malawi, Africa

Making Nsima ns Chinsapo, Malawi, Africa

As I played with Tacondwa in the village of Chinsapo, in Malawi, Africa, her mom invited me to their humble home for lunch. It wasn’t the wonderful taste that keeps the moment so fresh in my mind; in fact, the taste was the worst part of the meal. It is the experience and memories that keep me longing to return to that lunchtime adventure.

Maybe it’s because I discovered a reality much different than my own as I stepped inside Tacondwa’s small village hit. As a sat of her couch stuffed with old straw, and failed miserably to sift an unfamiliar corn flour through a wooden frame with a simple mesh, I discovered that the world was much bigger than what I had previously believed. I wasn’t sure if my heart was breaking or if I was enjoying myself as I choked on the smoke filling the even smaller brick kitchen hut next door. A kitchen that consisted of nothing but a dented metal bowl sitting on top of three uneven rocks with leaves burning underneath. As I sat upon a homemade brick and stirred the nsima, my eyes burning and tearing up from the smoke, I lost my innocence.

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One of Malawi’s poorest family was feeding my fellow full-on-snack Americans and me. The goopy white blob, slapped onto a cracked dirty plate, might have been the most plain tasteless meal I have ever eaten. As I picked off little pieces of the nsima with my fingers, and dipped it in the beans hoping to soak up even a tiny bit of flavor, I repeated “zikomo” to be sure my gratitude was expressed.

I learned the true meaning of generosity as I pretended to like the milky looking mush. To be generous is to give away what little you have with complete joy. I left that day wondering the next time Tacondwa and her family would eat, they had given us the meal that would have eased the hunger pains that keep them up at night in their beautiful home.

13 thoughts on “Assignments

  1. I liked the subtle humor in this comment “the food was so good id hesitate to cook for myself if I lived near.” One of your best descriptions is “cooked kale fell limp over the creamy ricotta.” Not only is it an action, but I can really envision what that looks and even feels like. I like that way you start to connect with the kitchen, which you mention is open and exposed, almost like you feel a part of the cooking.

  2. Your description of the kitchen in Zikomo is very specific, which is great. This line, “I repeated “zikomo” to be sure my gratitude was expressed” is a key part of the heart in this piece. I think you’re starting to really get at a great deeper story.

  3. I really like your introduction in “Charcoal”. The last sentence made me want to read more and made me anxious for what could possibly happen next. I also really liked the description of the grey cloud when you opened the oven. Loved the story!

  4. Regarding: Charcoal
    You do a great job setting scene in the first few sentences. We definitely know how you’re feeling and what you are (or aren’t) probably expecting. The cloud pouring out of the oven was a great description. I like that you incorporate humor. I think most kitchen disasters should.

  5. I thought you used a great variety of verbs and descriptions to describe the kitchen disaster in your apartment. I felt like I was in the kitchen watching the cloud of smoke come from the oven. Also describing the sound of the fire alarm in the kitchen I thought was a great touch to put people in the scene. I think concluded with comparing charcoal to the most crispy bagel bite you had ever seen was a grey way to end and describe the food.

  6. I love your opening line for the post about your mother. What a great hook. And that description of her barbecued chicken, um ya, yum! It actually made me a little bit hungry to read about it. I liked how you revealed this almost secret life your mom had with food before you were around, things that were buttery and cheesy, but you remember salads, and healthy foods. Great job!

  7. Your post on Japantown has some amazing descriptions in it. You really capture the food well.I also love the opening line about not remembering that names of almost any of the foods we ate, because it is so true, I remember the name of like two of the things we ate. I also loved your observation that the rice ball was actually triangular which threw me too. You have a great voice in this piece, and your others. It’s funny and realatable.

  8. I really appreciate your interview with your mom. It shows her struggles and it shows n understanding of her viewpoint on food (and yours). I also liked the “healthy” sandwiches part. It takes me back to when my mom would attempt to making me a healthy sandwich when it really wasn’t.

  9. “Unfortunately I don’t know the name of almost anything we ate during our Japan town excursion, but the experience was amazing”. This line summed up my experience during the trip and made me laugh. I love your voice in your writings because it brings out your personality with it.

  10. Loved your Japan town post! Not only was it written well, but it was formatted great! I loved how you broke down every location and gave honest opinions about each place. You’re enjoyment of the food was easily identified through my reading.

  11. I really enjoyed reading your Chopped experience. It was refreshing to read someone who was being completely honest about cooking not really being in their wheelhouse. Also, great descriptions. I could feel (or taste) everything you described and it made me completely understand your experience.

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