Iowa currently imports 80% of its food.

– Michael Pollan

Read that again.

I don’t even know how to respond to that. Honestly, I feel pretty much nothing but embarrassment.

That’s a lie; I do know how to respond. I can choose to not buy products that are at the end of the corn pipeline.

No pop, no candy, no Sun Chips.

A few handy facts:

  • Field corn is not sweet corn. Unlike its boil-able or grill-able relative (distant), field corn must be processed using hydrocarbon intensive factories and supply chains before it is fit for consumption. Read: gallons of gas.
  • Field corn is only grown in such massive quantities because the government meagerly covers any losses farmers may incur (in the form of subsidies)
  • Last year, 13.3 million acres of Iowa soil was planted with field corn out of Iowa’s total 36 million acres of area. That’s 37% of Iowa’s total area. (28% was planted with soybeans)

Wait, Why is Field Corn a Bad Thing?

In moderation — I suppose it’s not — but, let’s play pie chart:

Straight from the horse's mouth at iowacorn.org. That's about 2,400 megabushels, btw. Holy crap.

So, 609 million bushels of corn are going to feed cattle, chickens, turkey, and pigs. All of those animals are not ones that would naturally eat corn as a major part of their diet, and they suffer for it. These animals are happily sold to you buy Hy-Vee, Fareway, and Dahl’s.

If you don’t care about that, just know that those pesticides and herbicides get concentrated in the animal along with the unhealthy fat that a diet of pure skittles would produce in you. Yum!

Gasahol! If this is what independence from foreign oil looks like, get me a turban. 1 billion bushels (billion) gets turned into ethanol, a gas guzzling processes in and of itself.

With the government heavily subsidizing corn production, and its obvious connection to ethanol fuel production, you have to wonder how serious our commitment to emission-less vehicles really is. If you’re not scared about emissions, just ask the people who live along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers how their spring went.

The 10% of production (240 million bushels) dedicated to human consumption seems like a pittance, doesn’t it? What makes it even worse is that it’s for garbage like Mountain Dew.

So, while on vacation in Okoboji, and having eaten my fill of Starbursts and Dr. Pepper (because I let up on my rules while being hosted, lest I come across as a total douche bag) I couldn’t help but remind my friends that we were all just eating the corn we could see out the back window of our lakeside villa.

That corn just happened to be harvested with a gas-powered combine, shipped in a gas-powered truck, processed in a gas-fired kettle, shipped to magical place where Dr. Pepper and Starbusts are made (I bet Indiana), More gas, more shipping, more packaging, and finally the gas it took us to go to Walmart and buy it.

Have a great summer!

I moonlight as a high school science and math teacher. I say moonlight because really food dominates pretty much everything I think about. One of the most professionally rewarding things that I get to do as a teacher is facilitate my school’s Food Appreciation Club.

Our food club recently had a meeting that centered around grilling. The students ask for tutorials on certain techniques  and ingredients. My goal is to get kids to experiment and to enjoy cooking real food.

They quickly discover that you can’t readily bake and Oreo, or homebrew Pepsi. Surely, you can make chocolate creme cookies, and brew your own soda, but these things outshine their processed counterparts so heartily that I hope my students leave the Oreos and Pepsis obscured forever.

Our Menu:

  • All Natural Beef (Sirloin, Ribeye’s and Strips: Grass fed, corn finished)
  • Local, Organic Squash (Zucchini and Yellow)
  • Fennel Seed Bread (baked locally)
  • Swiss Chard (from my garden)
  • Peaches du Mizzou

My secret agenda is probably not so secret. I want them to care about where their food comes from. With every item we bought, we asked ourselves, “How far did this have to travel?”

At first the students didn’t seem to really get how much this matters. Like most people, the idea that they can eat anything they want, whenever they want, seemed like it couldn’t be anything but a good thing. It did to me, until last year, too.

What kind of tomato can travel 4,000 miles? Not a ripe one. And, ooh boy, can you tell. And, surely not a variety bred for nutrients and flavor.

How much gas does it take to fly a tomato that far? A lot. Now imagine how many tomatoes are delivered to every grocery store every week. That’s a lot of planes, trucks, and, frankly, crappy tasting tomatoes. It all seems really silly doesn’t it?

My students started to wonder about their favorite foods. Just like anyone in a ethical dilemma, they were fine with things being unethical that they also don’t love to eat, but surely, my molasses spice cookies, those are ok, right?

I helped them track back each ingredient:

Flour? Probably Kansas. Organic? Not likely, but maybe.

Butter? Hopefully from Wisconsin, but who can know.

Sugar? Caribbean? The South? Fair trade? yikes

Spcies? Now that’s interesting, is importing all bad? Especially from countries with repressed economies as it is. Spices get a bye simply because we use so little, and hardly any of the weight transported is costly water-weight (watermelons, your days are numbered.)

Our meal ended in a rainstorm, which is probably fitting for the amount of ethical-eating rhetoric I dropped on them.

Needless to say, I’m intensely proud of these students. They’re hungry for knowledge in a way that my teenage self is embarrassed by. Starting them on the journey to Locavoria is a treat, let me tell you.

In fact, one even has a blog!

If I’m going to make this work, I have to be willing to shun the shininess that is my local supermarket. They make it seem so easy. Walk in, grab some bananas, plop down a few bucks and be on your merry way.

If only even the banana’s story were that simple. You can’t grow a banana tree in Iowa. Trust me, I’ve tried, and that’s coming from a guy that tried to re-seed his lawn with wheat. I just can’t be ok with the fact that every banana that I eat has travelled more than 1,500 miles.

This makes me so crazy, I can't even typeasfioajsodfaisln

The global economy has seemed inevitable, but I have to ask myself: how plugged into it I need to be. When in Iowa, I think answer is pretty darned unplugged.

Here’s how I do it:

  • To stay alive, I’ve got to eat at least 21 meals each week.
  • I shall use the farmer’s market like I use a grocery store. (And posts the stats here.)
  • Simple sugars and the like aren’t really grown around here, so honey it is. Lots of honey.

In the build up to my kick off week (this week!) I went the farmer’s market to scout things out. It’s a wonderland. Tomatoes from greenhouses, early broccoli, cucumbers, cabbages, onions; these are literally the fruits of early summer.

Tomatoes:

I bought a bazillion tomatoes, cut them all into halves, and baked them at 275 degrees for four hours. I now have enough tomato sauce to last at least a month. I’m going to need more tomatoes.

Pickles:

I made pickles out of cucumbers and onions. The recipe is super simple:

  1. Slice the vegetables however you want
  2. Put them in a jar and half cover with vinegar (I’m douchey and use champagne vinegar)
  3. Fill the rest of the way with water.
  4. Add a little more salt than you’re comfortable with. Same with sugar, if you like it sweet.
  5. Chill for however long you can wait (hopefully 6 hours, at least)

I’m also going to make my own sour kraut, which is what they call a “natural pickle.” This is even simpler, and the mechanism exciting, botulism-exciting!

This being the goal, of course.

  1. Slice cabbage thin.
  2. Place in a bowl that contains the cabbage easily.
  3. Cover with water entirely.
  4. Add a few tablespoons of salt. Enough so that you wouldn’t even think of drinking the water. (brine!)
  5. Submerge every last shred of slaw. (or everyone will die, srsly)
  6. Wait a few weeks for the fermentation to lower the pH, kill the bugs, and make the best pickle ever.
  7. Skim the scum off the top (normal, just don’t eat it). If you’re sour kraut doesn’t look scary, you’re not doing it right.
  8. Eat!

Also, at the farmer’s market, I bought local brats from an organic pork farmer.

Meat? Check.

Vegetables? Check.

Fruit? Blueberries and Currants, check!

Grains? Ummm. I’m in trouble as far as bread is concerned. I guess I’m going to have to find a mill somewhere? Yay!

This is going to be awesome.

 

 

Iowa has be best dirt in the world. I know I can’t quantify that, but hey neither can you, so let’s not argue.

This corn is inedible until processed, unlike tomatoes, zucchini, squash, strawberries, peppers, you get the point.

I’m beginning a year of my life where I aim to eat only food produced in Iowa. Mostly because I can’t believe what Monsanto has done to the polyculture that used to be my state.

You probably know Iowa in the form of 4 or 5 boring hours on Interstate 80. Trust me, there’s more. So much more, but it’s being squandered.

This blog will provide recipes, seasonal-eating training, and motivation for taking back the blackest soil on the Earth.

Tonight! Oh, tonight I found local currants at the grocery store. Currants? Exactly. They look like some sort of rejecta bird berries, and I never would have purchaed them and baked them into a scone if I wasn’t buying local (Not too many fruits at this point in the season).

The results were lovely and never would have existed if I were willing to buy the bananas who have a more seasoned passport than I do.

Here we go.