In Defense of Frozen Food

“I can’t eat local–what would I possibly eat in January–turnips?!”

Not necessarily. Because whether you grow your own food or purchase locally grown food, you can PRESERVE some of it for winter! And it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need any special skills or equipment, unless boiling water is beyond your skill-set and a colander isn’t among your kitchen tools. And you know what? Many, many vegetables are BEST preserved by freezing rather than canning. (Think of the difference between frozen green beans and canned–which is most like fresh?)


True, some of the flavor and texture is lost through the freezing process, which is why you will prepare your frozen veggies differently than you would if they were fresh. You might make a Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, like so:

yum! look for the recipe on Sunday...

But you couldn’t replicate that salad in winter by pulling out the frozen tomatoes. You could, however, put them into any number of delicious soups, stews, and sauces. And, as Barbara Kingsolver points out, since they won’t have traveled any distance in the meantime–they’ll still be local.

“But what about VITAMINS? Aren’t fresh vegetables healthier than and preferable to frozen ones?!”

Actually, very few vitamins are lost in the freezing process. Even commercially frozen foods can be nutritionally superior to their fresh (but imported) counterparts, because food is frozen at the peak of freshness. By contrast, fresh vegetables transported long distances lose a marked amount of vitamins over the course of their trip from the field to your plate.

And as to the question of environmental friendliness, I certainly feel better about buying US-grown frozen broccoli in December than buying broccoli that has been shipped FROM CHILE.


To reiterate–you don’t necessarily have to grow your own. In fact, if you can find a local source for vegetables (and no matter where you live, you probably can), you may get a discount for purchasing a large amount in bulk. This helps the farmer and it helps you–if you know how to preserve the food. For example, local farmstands where I live are currently charging about 70 cents per ear of corn. If you buy a bushel (about 40 ears) it costs $10.

So what do you do with those hypothetical ears of corn? This method is the simplest and easiest and applies to many, many different vegetables:

1. Dip prepared (ie, trimmed and cut) vegetables into boiling water for 3 minutes.
2. Immediately dunk into COLD water and rinse to stop the cooking.
3. Pat dry with clean kitchen towels and pack into freezer containers/bags.

I was given a vacuum sealer, but it's in storage in California. That's what I get for moving 5x in 8 years...so these are just plain ol' freezer bags.

*UPDATE*

Ellen asked whether I have a dedicated freezer. I do–it’s one we’re borrowing from church, since they’re not currently using it. If that one wasn’t available, I’d be shopping around for a second-hand freezer, for sure. They’re quite energy-efficient (since they are opened only once in a while). Of course, space for a freezer is not always in great supply, especially if you live in an apartment (which I have done most of my adult life.) So this defense of frozen food may be somewhat unfairly biased toward home-dwellers. However, the basic point–freezing food isn’t hard!–still stands.

*END OF UPDATE*

That’s it! You can readily get more details in this book or elsewhere on the net. (UPDATE: lovely tutorial here.) Or you can ask me! (Not that I’ll know the answer, but I’d be happy to hear about whatever preservation adventures you may be on…)

Oh, and some of my favorite winter recipes take frozen vegetables very well. You can see them here!

And the best part? When you’ve frozen your own veggies in summer and fall (whether home grown or grown locally by someone else), you get a bit of a taste of the warmer months during the colder ones. And that’s fun!

Taking Dominion? Genesis 1:28 and The Community of Creation

God wants YOU to dominate the Earth!


So says author and pastor Mark Chanski in a recent blog interview explaining what he calls “Biblical Dominion,” a concept he takes from Genesis 1:28, which reads:

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Chanski reads this passage as indicating that men and women must be “active,” never “passive”:

“An image bearing man of dominion imitates his God. He subdues (brings into bondage, makes to serve him by force) and rules (governs, reigns, and holds sway over) the spheres (earth, sea, sky) around him. A man of dominion is boldly active.

Sounds kinda, well, dominating. But not necessarily ‘Biblical.’

Here’s why not:

First, (and almost incidentally), Chanski appears to see this text as indicating that “godly” people have to dominate other people and drive themselves to high achievement in every area of life. I simply don’t see that anywhere in this verse, much less in the Bible as a whole. (Blessed are the meek, anyone?)

Second, this verse is ONLY ONE within a big, big Bible. The Bible has a lot of other things to say about the relationship between human beings and God and the rest of creation, and the whole “dominion” idea is a small, small part of that. (For example, God’s answer to Job, where he’s basically goes, “Job, you have no idea what is going on in this complicated, amazing, wonderful world. Don’t try to figure it all out.”)

Third, reading this verse this way–as entailing a total control over the rest of creation on Earth–is A RELATIVELY NEW ONE. In his wonderful book, The Bible and Ecology, super-scholar Richard Bauckham notes that “no one before the early modern period” read Genesis 1:28 that way. Instead, they:

“supposed it to refer to the kinds of use of other creatures and the environment that were normal in their time: farming, hunting, building, mining, and so forth. They did not suppose that Genesis 1 set humanity a task of achieving total control over the Earth. Total control obviously belonged to God alone.” (p. 6)

Bauckham goes on to point out that it was Francis Bacon who “hijacked” the Genesis text to lend authority to the project of scientific and technological exploration (and exploitation)–whose excesses, says Bauckham, “have given us the ecological crisis.”

So yes–reading Genesis 1:28 this way seems rooted in a desire to legitimize CONTROL–and acid rain, peak oil, global warming, polluted water, mistreated livestock, irresponsible use of agricultural chemicals, and MORE are the unfortunate results in the ecological sphere.

Bauckham’s book presents a refreshing alternative, one that’s inspired me to think differently about my relationship to the rest of creation. Throughout the book, he shows how Scripture’s vision of humanity’s position within creation is as a member of a community, occupying a special place as God’s image bearers, but nonetheless in essential solidarity with God’s creation. In navigating the complicated food landscape, I find this concept so helpful–food is such a tangible way in which we’re connected to the Earth. God means for us to live as responsible and loving members of a community of creation, and choosing food well (and enjoying it, as God intends!) can actually be a way of exercising respect and care.

To some, Mark Chanski will seem so extreme as to be irrelevant. But viewing Genesis 1:28 as legitimizing human domination over the rest of creation is destructive even in less extreme forms, too.

In sum:

There’s nothing Biblical about “Biblical Dominion.”

some good biblical manhood in training…cultivating a garden of wildflowers.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

(Psalm 24)

Breastfeeding and Justice

Last week, the popular Christian blogger and writer Rachel Held Evans drew her readers’ attention to mothers living in poverty in places like Bolivia. These women, whom Evans met in person, daily face crucial decisions–educate this child or that one? can we afford books or can we afford food? Evans contrasted these decisions with North American “mommy wars”–debates like breast or bottle (feeding), cloth or disposable (diapers), and Sears or Ezzo (gurus). Such choices, in light of the life and death decisions of mothers in the developing world, may seem unimportant. But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter–they do, and maybe even on a global scale.

nursing Graeme just after his birth

Of course, our ability to make choices about parenting styles is a direct result of our relative economic security and privilege. But that doesn’t mean that this ability is trivial or unimportant in light of extreme suffering. In fact, I think that how we choose to live–including how we spend our money and our time (and eating’s a big part of that)–is organically connected to suffering and justice both here and elsewhere. It’s also connected to how we view ourselves in relationship to the Creator and the rest of creation.

Graeme, 1 week old, in cloth diapers. (& missing a sock. It's so hard to keep socks on babies.)

I am fully aware that there are many women for whom formula feeding is the right choice. I have had a number of friends who were (for various reasons) unable to breastfeed their children, either wholly or in part. These women bottle-fed, or supplemented with bottles, and they deserved exactly NONE of the criticism and judgment that all of them faced from breastfeeding advocates who made them to feel that they were inferior mothers for using formula.

Nonetheless–

1. everyone (even the formula companies) know that ‘breast is best.’

This isn’t debated! It’s even on the formula labels! The composition of  breastmilk is incredibly complex; it contains all kinds of things that science can’t even UNDERSTAND, let alone replicate. It is a wonder of God’s creation.

ALSO? It’s kind to creation. There’s no transporting, no trash, no waste. It’s the original ‘local food’ choice. (Not to mention the choice of those too cheap  thrifty to spend $ on formula if they don’t have to…)

2. NEVERTHELESS, formula companies worm their way into women’s minds…

Used to be, in the ‘progress’-loving Eisenhower years, that people thought of breastmilk as “backward and old-fashioned” and formula as “scientific and progressive.” While that’s faded away, the reach of the formula companies’ ads is still long. I have known many women who, thanks to the long reach of formula marketing, seriously doubted their bodies’ ability to produce enough milk for their babies. 

While this is a ‘lifestyle choice’ for most of us in the West, for women in developing nations, “breast or bottle” is a life-or-death choice. Years ago, Nestle (along with other companies) came under fire from breastfeeding advocates for giving free samples of formula to poor women. But formula must be mixed properly WITH CLEAN WATER, and this was not always available to Nestle’s target consumers. Plus, bottle feeding meant that the mothers’ milk would dry up. And THEN what happened, when the money to by formula dried up?

(I can’t seem to find an owner; I discovered it here–the mother in the picture is reported to have said, “use this picture if you think it will help [raise awareness].”)

Creating dependence on formula among at-risk populations without reliable sources of both clean water and cash is unethical, if not criminal.

designed by Rebecca Clark, http://www.babymilkaction.org

And so…

3. Supporting breastfeeding IS an ethical act.

It’s a responsible way to live as a member of the community of God’s creation. It’s a way of living lightly on the planet while choosing solidarity with the members of our global community who do not have the luxury of choice.

{And if you’re thinking, “hmn, does breastfeeding really even need advocates?”, read this recent piece-on how U.S. hospitals do a “bad job” of encouraging breastfeeding–and think again!}

Some of our ‘mommy choices’ in the West seem trivial in light of the extreme suffering and struggle of mothers elsewhere. But I don’t think they necessarily are trivial–they can have impacts going far beyond our own households. (Imagine if every American chose to borrow or buy used of consuming endless piles of NEW baby stuff?) We who have the luxury of ‘choice’ also have the responsibility to live in such a way so as not to consume so many more times our fair share of global resources.

So by all means, do give aid if you’re able–but consider changing the way YOU live, too. Your choices matter to more than just you.

Sunday Recipe–Eggplant Thai Curry

I made this week’s Sunday Recipe with eggplant, basil, green sweet pepper, green beans and cherry tomatoes from our family’s garden. It went over big with the family, though my 5 year old–who is in a picky stage–denounced it as ‘sour.’ One of the things I like about this dish is that it brings together the foods we have plenty of right now–local–fusing them with flavors and techniques that are, well, global. It’s a dish where meat is more of a flavoring than a center-of-the plate item, and it relies on rice to ‘stretch’ it. Eat it, and savor each bite, allowing its flavors to remind you of the bounty of God’s creation and of people whose lives are flavored differently than yours.

Here’s how to make your own!

First get some of this good stuff–

And set aside.

Process in food processor or blender until smooth:

  • One small onion
  • 3 tsp. Thai chili sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 TB ketchup
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 TB fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • 1.5 TB chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
Set aside.
Meanwhile, brown in large pot/pan:
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3 cups eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 green pepper, diced

Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the meat is well-browned and the pepper is starting to caramelize. Then add the curry mixture and stir until very fragrant. Add:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup green beans, snipped into pea-sized bits
  • salt & freshly ground pepper (preferably white) to taste
Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
(This is a good time to start a pot of rice to go with it.)
Just before serving, stir in:
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, cut into slivers
{There’s no pic of the finished dish because I couldn’t seem to get a good one…maybe next time.}
UPDATE! My dearest friend/sister Sarah made this dish and sent me the picture:
Serve immediately with plain steamed rice.
Eat it with joy!

Is it all just navel gazing? (and sometimes literally?)

I used to be a literal navel gazer.

Well, almost. I didn’t sit around looking at my navel, but I did pinch it. A lot. Because I was checking for pinch-ability. I wanted to be able to pinch nothing.  And so, for years of my life, I arranged my interests and activities around my navel–the over-exercising, the under-eating, the hours in front of the mirror and on the scale. Sad, no? Let me tell you, I have cried actual tears about the years I missed because I was obsessed with the adipose tissue around my navel.

By God’s grace, good things came into my life anyway. And while the story’s too long to tell here, my world expanded beyond my own navel. I forgot to care so very much about things like my tummy, every last crumb of what I ate or didn’t eat and whether or not I had spent enough time exercising at my optimal heart rate. Somewhere in that time, my abdomen expanded quite dramatically behind my navel–twice!–and behold, two new navels! (See above.) 

But there are two other things that are important in my life that are sometimes derided as “navel gazing”: writing (and particularly blogging) and food. I remember hearing a Slate.com book club discussion on Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma in which the critics were complaining that Pollan’s locally grown and gathered meal was a “decadent” use of time; that his approach to food was a “fussy yuppie thing.” Writing that’s of a personal nature is also sometimes dismissed as navel gazing, but that’s often unfair–even in writing about his or her own experiences, a good writer aims to say something that’s beneficial to someone else in some way.

                                                      I have GOT to stop hunching my shoulders like that…

Okay, but food? So many people are talking and writing about–and marketing–the whole local-organic-sustainable-green-artisanal-smallbatch-blahblah that it’s easy to start to think, “I’m so tired of hearing how heirloom-whatevers have more flavor–why not talk about something THAT MATTERS?”

Thing is, it does matter. The choices we make every day–several times a day–regarding food–add up. And not just for you, your family, your food budget, your waistline. Nope. From what you spend to what goes to the farmer, to what goes to the processor, to what goes to packaging, shipping, advertising, and on, and on, multiplied across millions of households, these choices add up to a whole food culture. (Which is why you don’t have to stress if you eat junk food once in a while–we’re talking big picture here.) Why does my grocery store carry a bazillion brands of squishy loaves of white bread and NOT ONE GOOD BAGUETTE? Why do stock watery strawberries from California when there are farms all around growing rich, sweet ones? Why do we feed our schoolchildren crap at school as we spend lots of $$$ on everything else?

Diseases caused by diet are America’s top killers, but we talk about food choices as if they are all about us, us, us. (I’m pretty convinced that obesity is largely a creation of Big Food, the drones of which speak in all seriousness about the “problem” of the “fixed stomach”–they want you to eat MORE and to think that your weight is YOUR problem.) The amount of fossil fuels used to bring us all everything ALWAYS from everywhere is outrageous. Our way of eating–super processed, super packaged, and super shipped–creates problems for people here (not least, small farmers) but creates devastation for people (and, yes, especially farmers) in other places.

For me, spending time growing, preserving, and procuring good food (and writing about it) is anything but a navel-gazing venture. Food touches so much–it connects us to one another and to God’s creation in so many ways. Our choices at home add up, home by home, meal by meal, to a national food culture a GLOBAL food culture. The current one is killing people–not least, children–through equal parts starvation and overfeeding as it slurps oil and belches carbon dioxide.

                                   (sure beats looking at my navel–organic plants and free range kids!)

Okay, that’s really depressing.  But here’s the good news. A better food culture–one that’s better for you, your neighbors, the planet–everyone!–is tasty, too. And fun. And you don’t have to change everything all at once. Even little steps–ONE local meal a week, say–add up significantly. (If everyone in the USA would do that, we’d reduce our national oil consumption by 1.1 BILLION BARRELS that week. Really!) So the next time you hear some folks going on endlessly about the heirloom tomatoes or the artisanal bread, don’t make fun of them. Ask them where they bought it, and if they know where you can get some local ice cream. Support better practices and better taste, bearing in mind the needs of the least of these. 

And experience some revolutionary joy.

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