If the 40 degree morning temperatures and the large V’s of Canada Geese I have seen fly south since the end of August are any indication, winter is once again around the corner. For me winter is uninvited, fairly predictable, and mostly a welcomed “guest” because I am ready for soups and curries, and cozy quiet evenings snuggled on my couch with a book. In the Chinese Medicine world, this time of year is marked by a turn inwards. Yang peaked a number of weeks back and we are now officially in Yin season, with Yang receding back down into the roots. We can no longer reach for the sun for all our nourishment; we have to rely upon the foods that have gathered up the sun/yang energy to sustain us. We go inwards, relying on the stores of summer’s natural vitamin D and the harvests that have been cultivated by the many local farms in our community.
Luckily, fall comes before winter. Fall always brings such a mixed bag for me, the excitement of a new school year, the bounty in the gardens, the relief of hot, humid summer days, and also the loss. The end of casual backyard barbecues with local brews and spirits, and a good corn hole competition, not to mention the local veggies straight from the farm to our plates. My family and I are now thinking about curries and stews – warming foods.
I have relied on the access to healthy foods at our Coop for more than 21 years. I am so proud that one of our Ends commits our cooperative to the mission of providing healthy foods. We all benefit from this commitment and access. I know this access is a privilege; one I never take for granted. As years have unfolded and the seasonal cycles change, so has the kinds of foods my body needs to stay healthy. The foods that kept my microcosm healthy in 1998 are very different than what is healthy for my system today. At the same time, my family’s eating patterns have also shifted significantly during this same time; my college kids even admitting that white refined sugar and mainstream processed foods really do make them feel sick. So, come winter, all I want to do is go deeper into that commitment to eating healthy food. Won’t you join me?
I am sharing a very simple curry recipe that my family regularly enjoys when the seasons turn Yin. It’s dairy and gluten free and can be made vegetarian or with pork, chicken or shrimp. All the ingredients can be found, any day, at the Coop. How blessed are we?
Nadine’s Lentil Curry with rice
2 cans guar-free coconut milk
4 tablespoons red curry paste
1 quart veggie broth
3 medium carrots, chopped in 1 inch pieces
Half a green cabbage, shredded
2 cups broccoli florets
2 medium zucchinis, chopped in 1 inch pieces
1 cup red lentils, rinsed 3 times to remove starches
1 pound of chicken breast (or pork or shrimp) cut into ½ inch strips
and/or 1 pound of drained tofu, cut into ½ inch strips
Combine coconut milk, curry paste and broth in dutch oven and bring to boil, partially covered
Add all vegetables and lentils, and simmer for 25 minutes, covered
Add meat option or tofu, simmer for another 20 minutes until cooked through, covered
Serve over jasmine rice (or short grain brown rice for nutty flavor addition); finish with chopped cilantro, a hot sauce of your choice; a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and toasted curry cashews, and a generous squeeze of lime.
Notes: Add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and one tablespoon sweetener towards the end of cooking (I use granulated date sugar) for more of a Thai curry flavor. And, if too thick, thin it down with more broth and/or more coconut milk. If too thin, add more lentils, a bit at a time. Adjust curry paste to taste.
Nadine Canter Barnicle is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member
Should farmers and farm workers be paid a fair and livable wage for their work? It is important for food to be grown and produced in ways that minimize the impact on our personal health and the health of our environment? What is that worth? The average person in our community would likely answer an emphatic yes to those first two questions, though it can be difficult to draw connections between those issues and the price tags on our food. As a mission-driven natural foods Co-op, these are questions we grapple with daily and it can be difficult to strike a balance between offering foods at an attractive price, while still ensuring good environmental, health, and labor practices.
Understanding the true cost of food is key, though the many hidden costs associated with “cheap food” make it challenging to do so. When one considers the externalized costs of cheap food – those that aren’t immediately reflected on a price tag – it becomes evident that, in many ways, cheap foods are much more expensive in the long run. Their impacts are not always obvious or visible, though we pay for the damage through taxpayer dollars spent on subsidies, environmental cleanup, and rising healthcare costs associated with poor diet, adverse farm labor conditions, and exposure to farm pollution. Unfortunately, the market is heavily tipped in favor of those who produce food unsustainably. Consider the impacts:
agricultural runoff is the #1 pollutant of US rivers and waterways, killing wildlife, reducing biodiversity, and contaminating groundwater.
The EPA estimates that we could save $15 billion in water treatment spending if we eliminated agricultural pollutants
chemical agriculture destroys pollinators and other beneficial insects that are critical to the security of our food supply
chemical agriculture results in superweeds and superbugs, which require ever-larger doses of chemicals to deter
chemical agriculture degrades and strips precious topsoil at an estimated loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil per year
The average food item travels 2,000 miles before arriving on your plate, resulting in significant carbon expenditure
Impacts for farmers and farmworkers:
Farmers and ranchers receive, on average, only 15.6 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend on food. According to USDA, off-farm costs including marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution and retailing account for more than 80 cents of every food dollar spent in the United States.
Farmworkers receive an even smaller share of the retail dollar, usually about one-third of what the farmer receives.
About 75 percent of the workers on U.S. crop farms were born abroad, mostly in Mexico, and exploitative labor practices among the migrant farmworker community are all too common.
Loss of productivity due to obesity-related absenteeism ranges between $3.38 billion ($79 per obese individual) and $6.38 billion ($132 per obese individual)
This video produced by the Sustainable Food Trust does a great job of breaking it down:
“But, organic, fairly-traded, sustainably produced food seems so expensive!”, you might be saying. Consider this: In the US, we spend less than 9% of total household income on food. This figure has dropped significantly over the last half-century, from 40–50% of household expenditure. In short, we spend less of our income on food than any other people at any time in history. We currently spend more per family on alcohol than we do on fruits and vegetables. Food has never been cheaper and more abundant than it is today, and we, as a society have never been more overfed and undernourished. We can no longer afford to eat this way.
So, what’s the alternative?
Small, diversified, organic farms use less fuel and produce fewer greenhouse gases than their conventional monoculture mega-farm counterparts. They raise animals in appropriate scale and rotationally graze animals to avoid over-grazing and to allow the land to naturally recycle animal wastes, which, in turn, helps build and fortify the soil. They rotate crops and employ beneficial insects to minimize issues with pests and avoid pesticides. They use green manures (cover crops) and compost to fortify and build fertile topsoil. Buying meat & produce from local farmers saves 17 times the fuel costs associated with the typical well-traveled meats, fruits, and veggies from afar.
You can also feel confident that the money spent on local food is having a direct positive impact on your local economy, supporting a local farm family, and helping to preserve the agrarian landscape that we treasure so dearly in Vermont. When your recipe calls for foods that are not grown or produced in Vermont, buying foods bearing fair-trade certification guarantees that exploitative labor practices have been avoided and a premium is being paid to the farmer. Of course, the point-of-purchase price of these foods is higher. It simply costs more (up front) to produce food this way, though it’s far more reflective of the real values associated with producing the food item.
When you’re spending your hard-earned food dollars at your neighborhood food co-op, you’re going one step further to ensure that your local farmers are getting a fair shake and that everyone who handles that food throughout the supply chain is paid fairly. Co-ops work with significantly more local farmers and producers than their conventional grocery store counterparts and offer more organic and fair trade certified products as a percentage of total grocery sales. Our Co-op works with over 400 local farmers and producers, generating more than $3.5 million in sales to local farmers and producers every year. $1.3 million of that goes directly to Addison County farmers and producers. We also strive to keep costs as low as possible by taking a lower margin on local products. Here’s a breakdown of where your food dollar goes when you spend it at the Co-op:
Of course, we recognize that there are many people who would love to be able to purchase 100% local, organic, and/or fairly traded food but their budget simply won’t allow it. We acknowledge that affordable access to healthy foods is a challenge. To that end, we have two programs at our Co-op aimed at addressing this issue: Food for All and Co-op Basics. Through our Food For All program shoppers who are currently enrolled in SNAP or WIC, Home Heating Assistance, or clients of our local Food Shelves are eligible to enroll in the program and shop with a 10% discount on all items (excluding alcohol, by law). The Co-op Basics program is for all shoppers and offers everyday staples throughout the store that fit your budget. Just look for the purple tags.