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Posts Tagged ‘organic’

In SE Asia, the best jobs pay $0.40 per hour

I saw parts of an interesting British documentary/reality series this past week on Channel 8.  The BBC series was called Blood, Sweat, and Takeaways, and followed 6 young Brit food consumers (one a picky eater, one a fast food junkie, one a rich gourmet foods enthusiast, etc, etc) as they were taken to Southeast Asia to:

“live and work alongside the millions of people in south east Asia’s food production industries. They must catch, harvest and process food products that we eat every day, seeing behind the scenes of the tuna, prawns, rice and chicken industries for the very first time.”

It was fascinating to see how our ultra-cheap chicken and seafood are caught and processed, and it was equally devastating to see how the people who caught and processed this food lived, how little they were paid, how hard they worked, and how much they sacrificed in order to even procure these “lucky” jobs.  Even the underworld of the sex trade, so rampant in Asia, has many direct connections to the food processing industry.

The series was also incredibly annoying due to these exceptionally obnoxious British 19-22 year-olds constant complaining, whining, and getting grossed out at every other job they were demanded to do.

What I found poignant is that despite their whinging, each were changed, as we saw in the concluding “follow up” portion of the film.  Some were simply more respectful in their eating habits, more open to trying new things, and were adamant about buying fair-trade products.  One girl even went back to try and help some of the women separated from their families, and was writing to newspapers and magazines with pitches on the subject.

The real eye-opener, and the question this documentary raised, is what this says about locally grown food products.  It seems common sense to buy from your local farmer, sign up for the local organic veg box, visit the farmers’ market, etc.  How can supporting and getting involved in your local agriculture be wrong?  In the US and Britain there have been what seem to be nationalist campaigns to buy British meat, or buy American beef (or cheese, or corn, or whatever).

One young man in the series was a young farmer, his family farm going generations back.  A very nice guy, he was one of the few that made the show tolerable.  He and he alone never complained, worked harder than the rest, and was often the only one working when others refused (e.g. gutting fish on top of one of the smelliest sewer-rivers imaginable and picking, packing, and lugging hundreds of kilos of rice).

Before the experience, he had been a staunch “Buy British” supporter.  Being a farmer, this makes perfect sense.  No complaints here.  But upon his return, he had changed his mind and was educating his friends on the matter.  Why?  The food industry in Asia supports millions of people.  Maybe more.  There would be no big Western food companies, whether they be MacDonald’s or Lean Cuisine, without ultra cheap foodstuffs.  Even fancy restaurants are affected.  Not every eatery can afford locally caught fresh fish and shellfish.  I know from experience at having to defrost and clean hundreds of prawns and scallops and mussels every day at a very high-end restaurant in Tel Aviv – one that specialized in seafood.

Now more than ever before we live in a global economy.  Our smallest of choices can and do affect economics in other countries.  Do the workers suffer?  Yes.  Do we want to pay less for our food?  Most of the world doesn’t.  But even for the idealist, does stopping to buy these “sweat shop” foods help anyone?

I don’t know the answers yet, but I will be seriously looking into this.  I think that the best I can personally do right now is to look for “Fair Trade” products.  This ensures good treatment and good pay for the workers.  I like my local organic veg box, for the time being.  And I have ALWAYS wanted to know who harvested the supermarket fruit and veg, where it all came from, what the names of the (potential) migrant workers were, pesticides used, genetic modifications made, how long it all even took to get here, etc, etc.  Maybe it’s time to finally find out.

We owe it to ourselves (if not the world) to know where the nourishment we put into our bodies comes from, and who was involved in bringing it to us.

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I joined an organic CSA farm weekly drop box program!

After a long day on Thursday, this is what I found on my doorstop!  I totally forgot that this was going to be the first week of my organic fruit and veg box.  And it was one of the happiest spontaneous moments of recent memory.  There was so much in it! Tomatoes and cucumbers and winter squash and onions and potatoes and lemons and grapefruits and mint (!) and lettuce and an apple!  And I only paid $25 dollars for it!  Well, I haven’t paid yet…it’s a monthly thing and they only take cash and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to get it to them if I’m not home, but…it’ll get figured out.

I’m only nervous that I’ll not be able to cook and eat it all before the next box comes!

Here’s how it looked when it arrived:

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What I'm eating - Mattias Fish - מטיאס

I’m munching away on some sort of pickled/oiled Dutch red-colored fish with onion slices.  In Hebrew the fish is called מטיאס but I have no idea what it is in English.  Some sort of red herring?  Who knows.  The online translator couldn’t tell me.

Why am I doing this?   I’m starving.  And it was an impulse buy at the the local organic grocery store.  They tell you never to go grocery shopping hungry… Well, there’s a very good reason for that.  I usually don’t, but sometimes (like when you get over 1,000 page views in a day – thank you WordPress.com for featuring my blog!) you’re really inspired to cook something new and crazy and somewhat exotic.

I left the store with four cans of coconut milk – of varying brands, prices, and on a long spectrum of organic to preservative-filled – more organic tamari soy sauce, sesame oil, shredded seaweed, miso paste, Japanese tofu, Thai green curry, 9% fat cottage cheese (for my sister), four more packs of (still on sale!) buckwheat noodles, vacuum packed chestnuts (disaster to have bought a kilo fresh for Thanksgiving and then spending hours and hours peeling them and getting them painfully lodged under nail beds for days), air freshener oil in a bottle with wooden sticks to spread the smelly love, laundry detergent, and these rapidly disappearing oily fish with onions.

$$$ BE PREPARED $$$

Do you see where I’m going here? Yes, I can make a very excellent Japanese soup and some sides here.  I can make something Thai.  I can make my coconut ice cream.  I’ll have some strange condiments for the next few years.  But that’s not food for the week!?!  And I spent well over 250 shekels!  We’re talking $80+ here.  And what have I got? Soup and condiments…

And oily fish.  Yes, I have an interesting palate. I’m telling myself that my body desperately craved the natural and oh-so-fortifying oils inside of this fish, because I’m probably eating a triple serving here because everything else in the house has to be cooked…except for the cottage cheese and that’s for my sister.

Advice to you all – it doesn’t matter how badly you need your soy milk for the bran flakes tomorrow morning, or the special gluten-free hoisin for your special dinner tonight, or if you’re just dying for the vegan coconut milk cookie dough ice cream – NEVER go to the organic store hungry.

They don’t call it “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. And unfortunately for me, my organic grocer is literally around the corner.  I may need to find a better-paying job — because moving isn’t an option!

Thank you, again, to WordPress.com who chose to feature me today.  I feel very honored.  Here is the link to my featured article – all about coconut milk.

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By Irene Sharon Hodes

Originally published in the IsraTimes, December 2008.

Having lived through two, I feel can safely proclaim Israeli winters to be a North American’s dream. For one, we have the privilege of locally grown thick, leafy greens, crisp, colorful fruit, bulbous roots, aromatic herbs, and hearty legumes almost year round. The shuks are cornucopian playgrounds, and the organic scene is alive and kicking. Hardly the fad it once was, not a day goes by when I’m not sent an email about an organic orchard, farm, flock, or other such agricultural community enterprise. But as I considered which mouthwatering vegetable-box service to subscribe to this week, I became aware of another pressing food-related issue.

As we become more and more health and environment conscious, it boggles the mind to think that hunger is still one of the planet’s major long-term concerns. It’s estimated that over one-billion worldwide are chronically undernourished, and that 20 million people die of starvation every year, 75% of which are children. In 2007 there was a 50% rise in child hunger in the USA. And here in Israel, the 2006 statistics show that one in three children are hungry— over 600,000.

Global economic crisis or no, we live in a world we’ve practically conquered; we’ve cured deadly illnesses, sent people to the moon, and communicate face-to-face on tiny pocket-sized machines. And still, people go hungry. It is our responsibility as Jews to leave a portion of what is ours to the poor and to the stranger, as we are commanded to do several times in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I give tzedakah as much as I think I can, but in the face of these staggering statistics, I find myself asking if I’ve done enough, and if we Jews, collectively, are doing enough.

While I know of many Jewish soup kitchens and charities both here and abroad, I wanted to know if a more progressive approach to address the issue of world hunger existed. That’s when I discovered Hazon (http://www.hazon.org/), an organization whose “vision is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community as a step towards a healthier and more sustainable world for all.” Their work includes the first CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture programs) in the American Jewish community and educational work in schools. Delving deeper, I discovered a CSA farm right here in Israel. Or-Gani (http://www.or-gani.org.il/), describe themselves as a socially conscious business that “believes that it has a responsibility to the community it serves.” They use their revenues to support important community programming, and they provide organic produce to Fat Meir (http://www.fatmeir.com/), a kitchen and community center that provides warm meals and lunches to hungry schoolchildren in Bat Yam.

As the joyous Chanukah season descends, sufganiyot flooding out of every bakery, I’ll be thinking of more concrete ways that I can be a part of the solution to this staggering problem. It’s winter. Hard times for some. As it says in Isaiah (32:17), “And the work of tzedakah shall bring peace.” Something in the core of my being knows how true and essential this statement is. As Jews, as human beings, we have a duty to act responsibly towards each other. We have been blessed with so many miracles. I’m hoping we can use Chanukah as inspiration, and bring some comfort to those among us whose very existence is yet very difficult. My organic veg box will taste all the better for it.

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Do butter, whole milk, hard-boiled eggs, and even lard sound like health food to you? Well, think again. Two refreshing new books turn the tables on the calorie-counting, mini-nutrition bar, point-allotted prepackaged-meal world we’ve come to live in. Michael Pollan‘s new book In Defense of Food pinpoints an”American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.” He argues that what we’re eating today isn’t food but, “edible foodlike substances,” and that 30 years of professional nutritional advice has only made us fatter and sicker people. His proposal: eat food, food your grandmother would recognize as food. Pollan teaches us to relearn which foods are healthy, learn to eat moderately, and bring dinner from in front of the TV or the car or wherever we’re always rushing around to, back to the dinner table. The long-term result? A life firmly grounded in easy-going nutrition, and ultimately enriched by pleasurable eating once more. Sounds fabulous to me.

What if I proposed that a lot of what we’ve learned about nutrition in the last generation is either misinformed or completely wrong? That’s exactly what Nina Planck, a champion of “real food,” has done in her book, Real Food: What to Eat and Why. A successful creator and manager of urban green markets, Planck was plucked out of the city by her parents as a toddler, and moved to an organic farm in Virginia, growing up around those who not only found joy in raising food, but could explain why those foods made sense. In her book, Planck, like Pollan, urges her readers to think back to what their grandmothers ate: meats, dairy, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Citing recent and respected studies, she maintains that the only sensible diet happens to be the one we actually crave, traditional, real food. All in all, the book concludes that good nutrition must involve enjoyment of food in all its variety.

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