23 October 2011

I'd Like To Be Blogging

... and I have many things to tell you about.  But the paying job calls, and calls again.

17 October 2011

Instead, A Piece of Pie

I missed International Blog Action Day.  It was yesterday.  I've been swamped with work and haven't had time to blog.  I chose the topic of food, and was planning a serious post about food production as big business.

Instead, I give you a piece of pie.  Pumpkin pie, to be specific; pumpkin pie I made last night and ate a slice of for lunch today.  When chatting with other parents in the neighborhood recently, I've been struck by the fact that several have apologized for their pie.  "Well, I made the filling, but I used a crust."

My grandmother taught me how to make a pie crust, probably 40 years ago.  Whenever I'm cutting margarine into flour, or adding ice water a teaspoon at a time, I remember spending time with my grandma when I was a kid.  Summer air, coastal Maine, rhubarb from the garden, the company of a gentle soul.

Plus, I like the fact that making a pie crust takes a few ingredients and turns them quickly into something real.

(Most of my work deals with words.  My words, students' words, scholars words.  Pixels on screens, easily imagined as ephemera, non-real, non-concrete, not significant.  But that's a subject for another day.)

Maybe it's important that I was around seven years old when my grandma taught me to make a pie.  Because making a pie crust isn't difficult.  But it seems that by selling pie crusts in the supermarket, food manufacturers have slipped into the minds of the adults of America the idea that Making Pie Crust Is Hard.

And so people buy pie crusts instead of making their own.  Which means Big Ag makes more money selling a prepared product instead of four everyday ingredients (flour, butter, salt, sugar).  And with that prepared product: more packaging, more processing, more chemicals, more preservatives.

As a representative sample, Pillsbury's pie crust has partially hydrogenated lard, whey, sodium metabisulfite, BHA, BHT and two kinds of food coloring in addition to flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda.  It comes in a disposable tin foil pie pan wrapped in plastic.

There's a lot we can make from actual ingredients that takes, if anything, only a few minutes longer than using a prepared product (though it may take preparation time in advance).  Idea to leave you with for today: think about the prepared foods you buy, and see if there's one item you can, instead, make from scratch.  Any ideas?

05 October 2011

Commuting Costs, Part II

I live in New York City; I work in suburban New Jersey.  The round trip by car is 110 miles. There are many people who think I'm nuts, and people regularly tell me I should move, but I have reasons that seem reasonable to me.

Still: it costs.  The costs are mitigated by the schedule, which allows me to work at home a lot: I'm on campus three or four days a week during the semester, once a week most of the rest of the time.

I wrote last week about the economic costs. I also pay in time.

A round trip in the car takes around 3 1/2 hours; a round trip on the train, five.  Assuming I drive half the time and take the train half the time and average three and a half days a week on campus, I spend almost 15 hours a week in transit. 

It's not all dead time.  In the train, I get around 3 1/2 hours to work (or doze or just stare blindly out the windows), plus a cumulative hour of exercise at the ends of the trip.  In the car, I learn Greek from CDs or catch up on the phone with friends and family (yes, of course: hands free).  But it's not free time, either.

It makes the days long.  Yesterday, I left home at 7 a.m., got home at 4:30.  That's a short day; this morning I left at 8, and I'll get home around 8:30 tonight.

(That's assuming the trains run on time.  Don't ask me about last weekOr the week before that.)

Next week I'll tell you about the psychic costs of commuting.  Or about my apparently reasonable reasons.

04 October 2011

October Unprocessed

I've signed on to the pledge at Andrew Wilder's blog, Eating Rules, to avoid processed foods for the month of October.*

Andrew has some thoughts on how to define "processed" and "unprocessed."  Basically the test is this: could you make the food in your kitchen (even if you don't)?  Then it's okay. 

Sugar, corn syrup, hard liquor: No.  Coffee, chocolate, beer: Yes.  Oils and salt are on the border, and nut butters and bread require a look at the label.

I already eat a diet that's pretty close to the ground, and most of what I eat would be reasonably recognizable to my great-grandmothers, or at least somebody's great-grandmother.  But when I found out about October Unprocessed at the very end of the month last year, it got me thinking.

I don't eat fake meat much, but I use fake dairy products all the time -- soy milk, soy cheese, soy margarine, soy yogurt.  I could make soy milk and soy yogurt at home. but cheese and margarine? No way.

I've already given up margarine, and discovered I don't miss it between the toast and the (home-made!) jam.  Andrew has me thinking about giving up the soy cheese.  I could do it in cooking by using more herbs and spices instead of cheese, and on sandwiches by substituting nut butter or hummus.

I could make tofu at home, but whole beans are probably healthier, and I've been eating them more often, since last October.  Another advantage is I've been using a variety of different beans and legumes, rather than eating tofu several times a week.

I've been thinking for some time about getting a soy milk maker for home use, and then using home-made soy milk to make my own yogurt.  Besides the reduced cost, there's a major advantage there in reduced packaging. 


* I'm not forcing my family to join me, in case anyone is worried about The Offspring having to give up his soy milk or his tofu pups.  (Soy milk because he's allergic to dairy; tofu pups because we're vegetarian.)

03 October 2011

Some Good Stuff My Institution Is Up To

My employer, Monmouth University, has been doing some good work in environmental terms.

The University's Community Garden has donated more than 1000 pounds of fresh produce to social services agencies in the community. Read more in the Asbury Park Press or on Monmouth's web site.

They've already installed a bunch of solar panels and are planning to install more; and they've developed a new interdisciplinary minor in Global Sustainability.

They're letting me teach a 200-level course on environment and literature, and I'm in the process of writing a syllabus for an interdisciplinary 400-level course on environment and literature that also brings in history and archaeology.

All this is great stuff, but I also have a list of things I'd love to see the University taken even more initiative on....

I wish the Student Center would stop selling food in plastic and styrofoam plates and containers.  I've talked to the folks in charge about selling a reusable food container analogous to a reusable coffee cup, or at least switching to paper.  So far, no uptake, but I'll keep trying.

There are a handful of bike racks on campus, but the surrounding community isn't very bike friendly, or for that matter pedestrian friendly; I'd like to see the university work with the town on increasing public transit transit, creating bike lanes, and making sure sidewalks are kept clean and in good repair.

And smoking isn't allowed indoors anywhere, but outdoors it's not really restricted. Limitations on smoking within 25 feet of doors aren't well enforced, and in effect push smokers to well-traveled pathways outside buildings.

All in all, though, I'm proud to be part of an institution that's done so much already in encouraging sustainability and environmental stewardship.