Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Holsteinballs, Chocolate Stout and Other Adventures in Vermont Cuisine!

Pumpkin Lane. What a lovely name for a road! Little did I know when I decided to see where it led, that I would find myself face to face with my dinner choice. Well, OK, not technically this evening's dinner, because clearly the ground beef I'd made into meat balls earlier in the day was not from any of the Holsteins that stopped, stared and then posed for a picture. It was an idyllic farm scene - rolling green hills, cows happily grazing on grass and enjoying the hay that had been put out for them. Across from the field sat a large, white farmhouse. The front lawn was filled with pumpkins of all sizes, green and orange, with a sign that said 'Self Serve'. Adjacent to the driveway was a large sign announcing that this was the 'Snug Valley Farm'.

Hmmm, that's familiar, I thought to myself. Why does that name seem so familiar?

At first I figured it was because I'd been compiling a list of local farms to contact for my research project, but then I realized that, in fact, I'd opened a package of hamburger meat with the Snug Valley label on it earlier in the day to prep for dinner. So there I was, standing face to face with these adorable, curious cows who had stopped grazing on grass to come say hello to me. And it dawned on me that this was probably the closest I'd ever been to seeing my protein dinner choice before it ended up in cellophane. It wasn't a traumatic experience, particularly since I didn't see the cows being slaughtered, but rather saw them enjoying a cow life. And they weren't in one of those horrible CAFOs where most beef cattle spend a good chunk of their life standing around in cramped paddocks, where the ground is a bed of dirt and feces and they are fed diet high in corn and given loads of antibiotics (to treat them for illnesses related directly to their living conditions and diet, ironically).

But this did give me pause for thought about my dinner and its origins. And that, is in fact, precisely what the first few days of my Locav-or-ganic Challenge have given me - more to think about, at every meal. Beyond the obvious questions that you'd expect when taking on a challenge like this, such as 'where am I going to find local meat?' and 'how am I going to survive without chocolate', after only three days I've found myself asking other questions, such as:

'Is eating locally, sustainably raised meat really worse for the environment than eating a diet that is, perhaps, void of meat but full of processed foods and foods that have been shipped from distant fields?'

'How many meals do I really need to eat each day?'

'What is my body telling me about my changing diet, now that I'm eating way more meat and no refined sugars, and minimal gluten?'

Yes, it's most definitely been an interesting few days. My first day, Sunday, I decided to go for a 10k run before eating anything. Or maybe I did have an apple, but not my usual oatmeal breakfast that's for sure! I got through the run, had my almond milk shake (as per my rule, the almond milk was 'stocked food' that I'd brought with me to Vermont). Then, mid-afternoon I decided to dive into making something out of the local ground pork I'd purchased at the co-op the day before. I quickly decided to make burgers - tossed in some onions, spices, an egg and some local, homemade garden ketchup, pattied them up and put them in the oven to bake. About 20 minutes later the fire alarm went off. Oops - so much fat was jumping out of the baking dish I was rather taken aback. I can't recall the last time I'd cooked anything with so many fat drippings. I topped it with some onion and more homemade ketchup, made a nice garden salad with it and then dug in. Wow. The burger was soooo delicious - I think this was partly because the meat was juicy and full of flavor, partly b/c that ketchup I bought as so yum!

In the evening I went to Vermont's state capital, Montpelier, to meet up with a cohort in the local food movement (yes, I need friends!). We enjoyed a pint of local, organic beer at the Langdon St. Cafe, then he needed to grab a bite to eat. I wasn't the least bit hungry and didn't want to burden him with finding a place that served local food in any case, so I watched him eat. Then we went to another bar and I enjoyed a local(ish) chocolate stout. Woohoo ! Myth # 1 debunked - You can 'go local' and still have your chocolate...and in alcoholic form nonetheless!

Yesterday, I headed to Burlington at noon, enjoying a leftover pork burger and salad just before I headed out on my trip. My afternoon was spent meeting folks at UVM - the university has been collaborating with Hardwick's Center for an Agricultural Economy on several local food projects. Two of the staff members took me for a tour of the Intervale - 350 acres of farmland in the city limits (adjacent to the unviersity) that have been preserved in a land trust and that serve to feed residents of the city through various means. There are community garden plots, a number of CSA operations, incubator farms, small scale farms. I even saw pigs on one piece of land!

In the evening I hung out with a self-proclaimed clean energy geek that showed me around town (on bikes of course!), then took me to a pizza place called American Flatbread with a twist - all the doughs are made from organic wheat and the restaurant endeavours to source its ingredients from local and/or organic suppliers. Close enough for me to be acceptable, given the circumstances. We shared the vegetarian special which had a potato leek sauce. Also enjoyed some beer brewed on the premises. Next, my new friend took me to a meeting he was attending of the Burlington Permaculture group. Seriously, I should be living in this city!! To round out the evening, I did some grocery shopping at the City Market, a co-op grocery store with a full line of foods.

Today, as I've already related, I made meatballs, or Holsteinballs, as I've decided to call them after my accidental viewing of the alive version of my meal. Dinner was rice pasta (also from stocked food), which was a last resort after I searched the town high and low for spaghetti squash (this was why I'd ventured down Pumpkin Lane in the first place!), with organic marinara sauce, meatballs and salad. Lunch was a pork burger and salad. Breakfast was a protein shake.

OK, so clearly I'm not a purist, but my diet has changed significantly nonetheless over the past few days and already I've noticed some very interesting things

First, I've been waay less hungry/inclined to eat than usual. I'm not sure why this is - I suspect it's because I've cut sugars and most carbs out of my diet (partly b/c this locav-or-ganic deems that necessary, partly b/c I've been reading up on the GI Diet, Primal Diet, etc.), while at the same time increased my 'happy' meat consumption significantly.

Secondly, I enjoy eating meat. I didn't think I did for a long time, so my dinners were often tofu stir-frys, omelettes and the like. Now that I'm eating more meat, I find myself looking forward to trying new recipes out and so far I've been rewarded with delicious meals!

Thirdly, I'm not sure I'm spending more money, overall, than I would be if I was eating my normal diet. This is partly b/c I am not eating as much for lack of hunger, and partly because I'm not going to grocery stores and picking up items I don't need. However, I have also made the observation that my 1.25 lbs of ground pork cost me $8.00. Not sure how that compares to conventional meat here in the States, but I made four burgers from that meat, and think $2 for one serving of meat is pretty decent. If I were to guess, I'd say the salad and other ingredients for my burger and meal were approximately $2 , so....$4 for a meal does not seem v. expensive to me.

In a nutshell, I am thoroughly enjoying this new locav-or-ganic experience tremendously. I've previously dubbed it a challenge, but the truth is that it is really a remarkable opportunity - an opportunity for me to try new recipes, to meet the people (and cows) who make it possible for me to eat daily, to try new food and drink, to listen more closely to my body and give it things that make it feel good, to visit unique grocery stores and restaurants, and to become more engaged and connected with every meal I prepare. I'm looking forward to more adventures in local food and am SO glad that I am temporarily living in Vermont, which is far ahead of the the rest of the States and Canada with respect to developing its local food systems!


Below are the before and after pictures of my sustainable & local Holsteinballs meal.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You went down Pumpkin Lane in search of spaghetti squash? I get a kick out of that!!

Maybe you should tell us what CAFO stands, for those of us who haven't read Omnivore's Dilemma, or who just aren't up on industrial food terminology.

I don't see / understand your reasoning on giving up carbs. Isn't that what the Atkin's diet was all about, then he died of a heart attack? I'm just saying, I don't want you dying of a heart attack! :o)

-TC

Shannon Courtney - writer, foodie, eater, cook, thinker, idealistic realist. said...

You say pumpkin, I say squash - I had hoped the road would inclusive enough in its root vegetables to, perhaps, sell some squash. Evidently I was wrong.

CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation - here's a link to Wikipedia details regarding factory farming: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_farming

I'm not giving up on carbs, I'm just easing up on them :) As noted, I'm not a purist, nor am I keen on completely eliminating anything, however, I am not sold on the conventional belief that foods high in fat are necessarily the cause of things like heart disease. I think it's more important to look at how the food you are eating was raised and processed. Soooo, I'm eating meat that's been raised without horomones, in wide open pastures and with a diet that is normal to them. They are, therefore, lower in fat than their conventional counterparts that are fattened with corn and other grains.

As for carbs - I'm eating those that have been the least processed and grown organically - vegetables and fruits, including berries.

From a locavore point of view, it's not easy to source grains here in Vermont and from a nutritional point of view, I am not necessarily convinced one way or the other that we NEED grains (wheat, rice, etc.) to be healthy. Since I've only ever gone with the notion that we should eat grains, I figure this is the opportune time to try something different!

From a health perspective, I'm more concerned about developing diabetes, since my father has it (not from having a poor lifestyle through), and I reckon keeping my blood sugar levels at an even keel may be the better place to focus my energy. Blood sugars peak when you introduce sugars and refined grains into your diet. Yet another reason to maybe cut back on the processed, grain-based carbs. Not that I was eating lots of them anyways - never was a fan of store bread and rarely eat pasta. But just so you know, I did buy some organic quinoa yesterday, so am not going carb-free by any means :)

Thanks for your comment! Keep them coming, I feel another 'he said, she said' blog debate coming on!

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