Sustainable Tables

My love of food comes from very small beginnings.  I was born three months premature, weighing in at 2 pounds, 2 ounces.  After spending the first three months of my life in the neonatal ICU, I was finally allowed to go home with my parents--who first had to spend two nights in the hospital with me, taking care of me under the close, watchful eyes of the nurses who had that job.  When I was released, I weighed a little over five pounds and I had to be fed every four hours.  The feeding schedule, I think, has followed me almost twenty-eight years later: I still need to eat something almost every four hours, whether it's a granola bar or an actual full blown meal.

There are, of course, exceptions: If I take a longer bike ride on the weekends, I'll load up on carbs and other good things (like chocolate milk; my kind comes from whole milk--yes!, I know! I still drink whole milk. My friend Elizabeth tells me I should just have my own cow--and Trader Joe's Midnight Moo chocolate syrup) and then I won't be hungry for quite some time after.  When I'm sick, well, nothing ever tastes good (except, perhaps, soup) whenever anyone's sick.

But, generally, food and I are great friends, and I think a lot about food (see below for an earlier consideration). I'm a reformed picky eater, which still amazes my parents, who counts falafel, Indian food, cheesesteaks (I didn't claim it had to be "healthy"), salmon, my friend Kim's bbq chicken (which may or may not land in the space between the sliding glass doors as she perilously carries it in from the outdoor grill) salads, tomatoes, potatoes in many varieties, and really, really good chicken parm among my favorite things ever to eat. Corner readers, I want to know what you think about food; so keep reading and let me know. And if you want a recipe for a good stuffed tomato...

In what ways are we responsible, and in what ways do we have an impact on, sustainable tables for ourselves and others?  The phrase, I think, can be defined in a variety of ways from not just what we put on it (in terms of food) but also our experience of it (like Holly's post about having sit-down dinners with her family, and you, TBAers, sharing your own stories).  Sustainable food, and the experience of it, is now part of our political discourse: one needs to look no further than this New York Times piece about Mrs. Obama's experience at Miriam's Kitchen in Washington, D.C..  The sustainable table is something we can all not only learn about, but something we can impact in our own houses and neighborhoods.

Thinking about what we eat, how we eat it, and why we eat what we eat is fascinating in and of itself.. Consider the explosion of foodie books that as us these same questions, from Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food to his Omnivore's Dilemma to Mark Bittman's Food Matters or even the experience of Fast Food Nation (the book or the film; I've read, not watched).

The basic point behind eating, besides sustaining ourselves, is consumption, and if there's anything we know better (for better or worse) as Americans, it's consumption.  Today, perhaps more than ever, with economy suffering and with so many people finding themselves with less, what we consume and how we consume it seems a new kind of "Keeping up with the Joneses," if we can even manage to catch up at all. Salon.com, among other media outlets, has an interesting article about the increased use of food banks--not just from regulars, but also from the "nouveau needy," people who until this economic recession, never set foot in a food bank.

Consumption of food, depending on a number of factors (geography, level of personal pickiness, the amount of cash in your wallet, among them), varies.  An aspect that really interests me, in part because my class is on sustainability in urban environments, is the potential for urban environments to quite literally go green and grow green.  I confess to not knowing much about it other than some articles I've read, so if any Corner Readers are in the know, I encourage you to share what you know.  In an earlier version of the course I'm teaching now, I once asked my students what would happen if cities turned unused lots--you see them almost every time you turn your head--into gardens or other green spaces.  My students looked at me as if I were crazy. However, I'd like to point to this article to help prove I'm not.  Not only can growing green in unused lots make an eyesore anything but, it brings, literally, freshness to the concrete, and locally grown produce helps not only the farmers who produce it, but the community that consumes it--communities that may rarely see such freshness because it presents itself as an economic prize, rather than a basic right.

While the noise of Mrs.. Obama's trip to Miriam's Kitchen was over the fact that some homeless people pictured were talking on cell phones, I feel the noise should have been about why more people don't have access to fresh food.  But why would we concern ourselves with our own sustainablity when there's the First Lady's sleeveless dresses to worry about?

Now, if you'll excuse me, it is lunchtime...

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