Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snacks - a conversation with Paul

Paul sent me an email following up on his comment about snacks. He had more to say than what he put in his comment, but he didn’t want to offend. I love the feedback. I love it when people challenge my assumptions and make me question my thinking or clarify my writing. So I’m posting Paul’s email and some of my thoughts.

Hey Alan,

thinking a lot about your recent post. I wrote a lot more than the comment I posted, but then thought it over. I don't want to seem like a detractor in the public forum. I want the discussion, because I think a lot of the ideas are important. But I don't want the discussion to be contentious. So this is my compromise.

You probably gather that I am really direct. Please, if you tire of that, let me know and I will back off or tone down.

Snacks are a mixed bag. A good snack is a great way to prevent low blood sugar. A healthy snack can actually serve to keep the calorie load down. Snacks can be very healthy and an important part of a diet. However, snack foods tend to be junk. I understand the desire for chips and crackers, but they are crap whether local or not. I think the idea of sustainable chips or crackers is doomed or flawed from the outset. We crave them in fact because of the very marketing of food products you are responding to in your sustainable farming venture.

Yes! Snacks (as we find them in the grocery store or the media) are JUNK! There is no nutritional value in Cheetos, though I still marvel at the engineering that went into them to get me to crave them. Snacks fill an emotional spot in our diet, not a survival need. That said, here at the Roost we snack a lot. Some of it is chips and crackers, but a large amount of our snacking is carrots, celery, apples, oranges, bananas, nuts, cheese, olives, etc. Part of our challenge it to find sources for or substitutes for those things that are not produced here, or are not in season, and to find seasonal sources for those things that are produced here and learn ways to store/preserve them for later use as snacks.

Another reality here at the Roost is that we start our day early. By 4:30 am the coffee pot is going, and breakfast is usually finished by 5:30. As a result, we are hungry by 9:30 or 10. It’s not lunch time. In fact, we are usually in the middle of school, writing, farm projects, or some other work. Here is where snacks fill an important nutritional niche in our lives. We need quick food that can be grabbed on the go. Crackers and cheese, cruditĂ©, fruit, chips and salsa, lunch meat, these kinds of things fill the gap. Finding or making snack food that is more nutrient dense, less burdened with artificial ingredients, and locally sustainable is our quest for this month.

When I eat crap, I want it to be very clear to myself that that food product is crap--a problem, an unjustifiable indulgence. I can't prove it, but I believe this approach has substantial epidemiological support: think of all the products that have been altered so that they are low fat or low salt. In either case, the end result for the consumer is that the low fat products make the consumer fatter, and the low salt products increase the consumers' salt intake. Is this not precisely because we take problematic food products and adjust them so that we re-categorize? This is now an acceptable choice--it is one of the good guys. So we eat it more regularly, we eat more of it. I think it is fair to interpolate relevant to the question of sustainability. We can produce and consume a certain number of junk products, but aren't we better off if we seriously limit quantity of products that are nutrition poor, made with highly refined ingredients?

That said, popcorn really works for me. If I really want or need a snack-- want the salty and want the crunch--I will pop some corn. But the fact I can't just grab makes me hesitate the perfect amount. Nuts also do it for me. Both are known to have nutritional value. I used to eat a lot more crackers and chips, and I still do once in a while. But I think simply eating less of them is the improvement.

I’d question the nutritional value of popcorn, but it is a great snack. Our problems are the time issue, and finding local sources (though we will be growing popcorn this year, so by fall that shouldn’t be a problem.) Our friends the Adlesbergers pop large quantities and bag it for use later as snacks. Haven’t gotten there yet, but we will be giving that a try.

I asked you some fairly complex questions regarding how you gage sustainability. One comment I want to make to you has to do with how I gage it: if I feel like the approach demands that I deprive myself, I conclude that that is not sustainable. I don't think we should ever deprive ourselves. The good news is that local food tastes better, so it doesn't leave me feeling deprived. There is a paradox though. I could never enjoy half the food products I eat if I didn't have exposure to people very different from myself. That exposure started with travel for me. It continues through education, travel, and technology. All of this becomes paradox because local food only means something to me because of the vocabulary afforded me through very non-local food. It in fact becomes a very important component of my approach to sustainability. I think some of the things you are seeking have to do with that kind of complexity. The resolutions are probably a hodgepodge of finding new products, learning some new cooking approaches, and as you've already indicated--preserving what you need in winter beginning in spring. I am engaging you as a part of my process of adjusting some of my habits. A huge problem for those of us urban dwellers is that we rely on labels, and generally are quite removed from production. Your point of view as a producer can really help me as I try to prioritize my choices. I am still really looking forward to your post regarding the economics we've spoken about.

I agree that sustainability can’t be built on deprivation. Giving up things to “save the world” or even to “save our selves” has never and will never work. Finding better ways to fill those needs, or other was of living that change what our needs/wants are might have a chance.

I think you are right about importing “non-local” food cooking methods, flavor combinations, and even some ingredients. That will give us a much broader pallet from which to create. Yet, the bulk of the ingredients need to be produced locally, or it can’t be sustainable. I’ll get into my version of sustainability/local/ economics/ etc. in the next post.

Thanks for the conversation. Keep pushing the buttons (just not the red one, it makes things explode.)
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