Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tarek's Take on The Omnivore's Dilemma

On occasion, or perhaps more often than that, I throw out reading suggestions to random people that I may or may not know very well. I have a mainstay list of must-reads that I surreptitiously slip into conversation:

'Oh you want to go to the San Fransisco zoo someday eh? That's cool, San Fran is an awesome city! You know, if you enjoy zoos, I'm sure you'd enjoy the book Ishmael. The main character is a gorilla.'

I obviously choose not to mention that the gorilla, Ishmael, communicates through telepathy with the protagonist of the novel, a young male writer who volunteers to be the gorilla's student as he searches for answers about how the world came to be as it is, and what the future might hold.

Right. Well, in any case, as of late most of my book recommendations tend to be food related and typically the first book I recommend to people on the subject is Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. There are many excellent exposes of the food industry in America out on bookshelves, but Pollan's approach offers multiple perspectives from which to view one's dinner - he basically explores four paths by which food reaches the dinner table: industrial (dominant), organic, local or closed-system agriculture, and personal (i.e. hunting/foraging). There are other books I enthusiastically recommend as well, but Pollan is a captive storyteller who has done his research, both secondary and primary, with respect to America's food systems, and The Omnivore's offers an appetizing point of entry into discovering more about how the food that ends up on your dinner plate, got to be there.

All of this is to say that back in October, over post-marathon drinks at Hunter's Ale House in Charlottetown, I *may* have suggested to newly minted friend, Tarek, that he check out both of Pollan's books. Now, I don't ALWAYS throw books suggestions at new people I'm just getting to know - first I suss them out to see if they'll be amenable to reading suggestions. I do this very subtely by saying 'Do you read?' If they indicate that they read (and don't mention 'Playboy' in their response), then I see them as fair game.

But to be honest, I never really expect anyone to take me up. Quite frankly I am always shocked when I learn that people have listened to any sort of advice or suggestions I dole out. And so it was that I found myself mildly shocked when Tarek told me that he'd actually made the effort to visit the library and pick up The Omnivore's Dilemma. I was even more surprised (pleasantly) when he began reading it and asking me questions. Woohoo - someone to have food conversations with and (possibly?) a convert! The shock of all shocks came when I discovered that Tarek had followed through with his promise to write a 'not a book report', which I happily promised to post to my blog. So, for the second time in as many months, let me warmly welcome guest blogger, Tarek Clamp.


This is not a book report. This is not a book review. This IS what I took from Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that was highly, and repeatedly, recommended during the marathon weekend in PEI. A day after coming from home Charlottetown, my stiff legs walked my aching body into the library. I picked up the book and it has kept me company on the bus ride to & from work.

If we are what we eat, chances are we’re probably corn. That was the message I got after Pollan follows the life of a kernel from a farm to how it gets put into a Big Mac, Coca-Cola, a Swanson’s TV dinner, spaghetti sauce off the grocery store shelf, or almost anything you can think, even the Sausage McMuffin I enjoyed a few mornings a week while booting up my computer at work.

How does corn get into this food? Let’s see. Corn is used as feed for the cattle (7lbs of corn turns into a ½ lbs of edible meat). Corn is used to make a sweetener, HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup), the bun, the burger, ketchup, Coca-Coke. Fermented corn is used to make citric acid (in the Spaghetti sauce).

At no point does Pollan’s book ever turn me off from eating what I enjoy, whether it is my Sausage McMuffin, ground beef, that more than likely came from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO, i.e. factory farm), or food from a restaurant. I am more consciously aware of what is very likely in the food I buy but he doesn’t try to gross me out or make me feel guilty about liking it. I began to catch myself looking at the labels to see if there really was corn in the food I buy. Now I know there is a very good chance that there is corn in it and, more importantly, I understand why.

Thanks to Pollan I now want to work on a farm. He romanticized the idea of working on a farm, and I have considered and continue to consider, quitting my office job. I know there’s no money in growing food, but rather, only in ‘adding value i.e. processing food. I’ve looked at internships on Joel Salatin’s farm, Polyface, and there’s a chance I could be there in 2011. I tried to convince my friend Shannon to run a farm with me... or work on a farm with me. It’s probably a good thing that she didn’t say “YES, I FOUND US A PLACE TO WORK” because I don’t know if I’d be ready to go. I’m sure I could kill a chicken. I actually wanted to help butcher the chicken my roommate received for Christmas when I was in Ghana but sadly our watchman got to it before I got home. He (the chicken) did make a good dinner.

Sure, I could do it for a week, a few months, maybe even a year, but at some point I’ll want to travel and then who is going to do my job? If I can’t work on a farm, then I want to buy my food from a place like Polyface Farm. And wouldn’t you know I just moved into a new apartment above a store that supports local agriculture. Soon my brother and I will be getting 25lbs of grass fed beef and each week a box of veggies from a local farm! I can’t wait!

I question how Salatin would kill his cows if he was allowed and how he would, or could he, be more ethical than the commercial butchers, who accept a 5% error ratio. Errors being a cow still alive after a 5” “nail” being shot into the head.

Finally Pollan decides to be hunter/gatherer, not my favourite part of the book. He learns how to hunt mushrooms and wild boar. With a lot of help he manages to make a complete meal from food he foraged, something he knows is not an option for the majority of people. Even he can’t do it, except on special occasions. He philosophizes on the ethics of hunting animals, something I have absolutely no issues with, not that I’ve done it but I would. I grew up in rural area, people hunt. They enjoy it, and if they don’t get anything, they still enjoy it. If they do get a deer, they have meat for a while! I don’t know of anyone who hunts for sport, and that, I would probably have a problem with.

So what did I get from this book? That if you want to be healthy, staying as close to source of your food is the answer. Make your meals from scratch so you know what is in your food. Try to buy locally produced items (veggies, fruit, meat, bread) and get to know where your food comes from. The more you know, the better off you are. Money that stays in the community is better for the community. Not because of this book, I’ve been doing this for a few months now already, but I’ve been buying some of my meat and most of my veggies from local farms (local to me is about 100km away) who set up shop at the Saturday market in Halifax.

And that’s it. For now.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

'I Am Not A Glutton, I Am An Explorer Of Food'

I found myself suffering title-ist block as I sat down to write this blog entry. Clearly this is because my last attempt at post titling ended in me alliterating my way out of thinking up an even mildly witty title. So this time I cheated. I typed 'quotes about food' into Google's search engine and voila, found the perfect quote for this particular post (what is wrong with me? I have an addiction to alliteration!).

So a thank you to the late Erma Bombeck for offering me an escape from 1 of the 7 deadly sins through the use of creative redirection: 'I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food.'

Indeed, I daresay if there were a Food Explorer's Club, I'd be vying for top honours in 'Greatest Number of Enviable Eating Explorations'. All I can say is that I'm holding up my end of the bargain, and thusfar Vermont has been holding up its end by offering endless opportunities to be a mean a gastronomic explorer.

Here then, are accounts of my most recent food explorations, sub-titled by individual conquest.

Burlington Bluebird

Burlington is to Vermont what Charlottetown is to Prince Edward Island. Which is to say, it's the only 'city' in the state. And I use the term city very loosely. I believe the population is approximately 35,000 in the City proper, although I've been told (with great emphasis) that IF you add in the surrounding towns AND the student population of UVM it's more like 70,000. Charlottetown also has a population of approximately 35,000. Notably, Vermont has a total population of 600,000, while PEI's is only 140,000, which seems to suggest that PEI is MORE urban than Vermont. This strikes me as absurdly funny, but I suspect that might be because I am writing this under the influence of many glasses of apple cider.

Right, so my point is that both Charlottetown and Burlington residents enjoy a disproportionate number of great dining choices given their size. Off the top of my head, I would recommend the following restaurants in Charlottetown and area(depending on what one is looking for in terms of food, price, etc.): The Dunes, The Merchantman, The Pilot House, Leo's Thai Kitchen, Cedar's Eatery, Off Broadway, Churchill Arms (for cheap English curry!), and Mavor's . In Burlington, I've enjoyed meals at Penny Cluse, American Flatbread and, most recently, at a place whose name I've yet to learn the origin of (but should).

So last Saturday, after an afternoon of wine sampling at Shelburne Vineyard and an intermission to enjoy some live music at a funky bar called Radio Bean, my friend (we'll call him Phil-up-on-Food or PF for short) suggested we have dinner at Bluebird Tavern. Joe (see Shannon Had a Lot of Lamb blog post) had already recommended the restaurant and I'd been following their menu tweets on Twitter, so enthusiastically agreed. A self-described gastro-pub (basically I think that means they aim to do beer AND food equally well) located on Riverside Avenue, the tavern benefits from its proximity to the Intervale, which is home to several small-scale and incubator farms that serve the local market. The tavern's interior offered a cozy winter cabin feel, which is interesting given that the place used to house a Mexican restaurant. I felt like I should be wearing a parka and long underwear, or at least a wool sweater. Oh well. I ordered a pint of Switchback (thankfully, there are many microbreweries in VT). The menu was full of enticing options, but it quickly became evident that we should enjoy a share dinner. In breaking with tradition, I (kind of) insisted on having the chicken option purely based on the accompaniment, which was foraged wild mushrooms. We had two appetizers to start: kale sauteed in something (memory is failing me) and lamb sausage. What can I say, except that the entire meal was divine. I believe my favorite tastes were those of the foraged mushrooms, which were accented by other tasty morsels (not morels!).

Wednesday, I made a second visit to the Bluebird Tavern with Joe and his wife, Maura. We drank at the bar and sampled off the tavern menu: poutine (Quebec border is about 45 mins north!), butcher's board (meat pates and mustards), and squid (from Rhode Island - not really local, but as local as one could get with seafood in VT). The fare was tasty and the company much enjoyed. While we bevvied a number of people stopped by to say hello to Joe and Maura, which made me think of Ireland and Scotland, where the pub was always 'a third place'...a place for people to come together, say hello, catch up with old friends and, more often than not, make new friends. Maybe, given its unique location in a town and state where 'community' still seems to hold meaning and value, the Bluebird had been able to transplant the tradition of the public house to America. Did I mention I love Vermont?

Jerusalem Art-I-Choke on Soup

On Sunday afternoon I drove to the outskirts of Montpelier to meet up with another new found friend who was testing the soil in the yard of his rental accommodation, which is an impressive schoolhouse-turned-open-concept-house, to see if it was acidic/neutral/alkaline when I arrived. Neutral....just like Switzerland, as Jen Mac would say. He pointed to what looked like some tall weeds in an overgrown area that 'may' have been a garden at one point and said the landlord had told him that those plants were Jerusalem artichokes. He drove a shovel into the soil and moved some of the sod away to find the artichoke. At first neither of us could find the tuber, but eventually landed upon what looked, to me, like a radish. Neither of us was completely sure this was the artichoke in question, but we forged ahead with the artichoke harvest and ended up with about 8 tubers, some larger than others. After a hike that was thwarted by the sound of hunter's shotguns, we decided to make dinner from our foraged food. I checked google images to confirm whether our treasures were, in fact, edible. Well, to be honest, the images didn't exactly match what we'd unearthed, but that didn't stop us from making a Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, which, if I do say so myself, was quite delicious, albeit rather ugly. Best of all, it turns out we didn't mistakenly eat something poisonous. Always a bonus.

No-Economists-Land (aka - A Free Lunch)

In my first year of university, I recall my Microeconomics professor vehemently proclaiming that there is no such thing as a free lunch. He explained that there is always a cost a 'free lunch' because the time taken to eat that free lunch is considered a 'cost'. Well, I've always disagreed with this argument b/c regardless of whether someone else is treating or you are going out on your own nickel, you're still going to be taking time to eat the food, so doesn't that make the issue of 'time' a moot point? Personally, I'm not a fan of classic economic thought, it's rather reductionist and it takes the fun out of things. Except the dude who wrote Freakonomics is still in my good books - he makes economics fun!

In any case, every Thursday there is a community lunch in Hardwick., VT. It's held at one of the churches on Main St., but is not hosted by the church. I believe it was started a couple of years ago by Robin, one of the collective members at Buffalo Mountain Co-op. So I dropped in and found myself at the end of a line of about 20 or 30 people, and there were probably about 50 people already digging into what looked like a hearty, colourful lunch. There was a donation box sitting at one of the tables in a rather understated way. Once I came to the table of food I took a glass plate (yay to no paper plates) and piled some roasted veggies and couscous, then ladled some hearty beef soup into a soup bowl. Apple cake was also on offer, along with apple juice and homemade coleslaw. I sat down with Kate and her two adorable granddaughters, and was introduced to a couple of local folk, including a long-time farmer who raved about how well Quebec treats its farmers and told me neither of his children was interested in taking over the farm (the work's too hard) and another older man who is a blacksmith. And it occurred to me that we are on the brink of losing a generation of very knowledgeable people whose skills we will dearly need as the centralized, oil-dependent systems we depend on become even less stable than they currently are. The era of valuing a certain kind of left-brain thinking over all other kinds of thought and labour is, in my opinion, nearing an end. And when it does, we may or may not be in the position of having a huge gap in essential knowledge around things like how to grow food, how to build homes, how to take care of our health, etc. It would behoove us to be proactive on this front, however, I'm not entirely optimistic that the left-brain thinkers that dominate today are going to have the foresight to avert the loss of traditional knowledge bases.

In any case, I quite enjoyed my community lunch, and didn't meet any economists. I doubt there are any living in Hardwick. And that's probably a good thing. About 120 to 150 people show up for lunch each week and somehow they manage to keep this going, despite the fact that it's free.

Ice Cream from the Dairy-Air of Vermont

OK, so I've been holding out on taking a field trip to Waterbury, VT in hopes that some friend from The Great White North might come to visit me while I'm living here and then we could check out Waterbury together. More specifically, we could check out Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, which is located in Waterbury!!!! Yes, yes, that's right folks, some of the world's best ice cream is made just half an hour from where I am currently residing, making it very local and therefore within the scope of my locav-or-ganic challenge. Oh what a burden this challenge is. Do you know how hard it is to choose between 30 different flavours of wonderfulness? It's nearly impossible.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, it should be noted that I could not hold out any longer and saw now sign of any friends from Canadia dropping in on me. So, I decided I'd go it alone, and set out on Friday afternoon - the sun was shining and my legs were sore for no particular reason. Originally my plan had been to hit up two chocolate shops, an organic bakery AND the ice cream factory in one go. At some point during the first fifteen minutes of my drive, I came to the logical conclusion that this was far too ambitious given my time frame (not to mention, far too indulgent).

Yes, it was indeed a day of strange occurrences - my legs were sore and I'd employed logic to make a decision. That's when I was Friday, the 13th. Strange things were bound to happen. Maybe, I hypothesized, Ben & Jerry's will turn into some sort of Willy Wonka-like movie, where we get to slide down mountains of ice cream, and swim in lakes of hot chocolate sundae sauce. Ooooh, and maybe Ben & Jerry didn't REALLY sell out to Unilever, but are waiting for just the right person to happen upon their factory doors and that person will inherit the dairy-dom. And clearly, that person will be me!!

But I digress.... sometimes I get a little carried away with my food fantasies. Please forgive me.

Before I reached B & J's place, I stopped in at Cold Hollow Cider Mill, which offers visitors the opportunity to see a commercial cider mill in action and, of course, plenty of apple-inspired foods to purchase and enjoy. I bought a half gallon of apple cider. That is what I am polishing off right now. It's delicious.

Ben & Jerry's
ice cream factory is fun! That's really the best adjective I can think of to describe my experience there. They've done a great job of creating a comfortable, colourful and funny (in a v. corny way...or should I say 'milky way'?) experience. The factory tour was $3, and took about half an hour - the first 7 minutes of which were a video about the history of the company (they got started after taking a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making through Penn State!). Then we were taken to a viewing deck above the production floor and the guide went through the ice cream making process with us. Unfortunately, there was no ice cream production going on while I was there. Finally we were led to the tasting room, where we were given generous samples of the taste of the day - a Mint Chocolate ice cream (can't recall the exact title). It was delicious. After that, I checked out the retail store, picked up a pint of Frozen Yogurt (Half Baked) for $4.75 and then proceeded to the scoop shop for a cone of some delicious flavor. Normally, I'd go for something with PB in it, but on this day I decided to try a flavour that I'd never had before: Chocolate Chip Cookie dough. It was delicious. Unfortunately, I had been feeling progressively worse throughout the day and didn't have an appetite, so some of my B&J cone ended up on the I-89. Oh dear. Clearly I will need to pay another visit when I am feeling better, if only to stock up on more pints of ice cream to share with friends back in Kingston!

And that, I believe, is an 'almost' complete recount of my food experiences thus far. I'm still holding out on writing about the various food enterprises in Hardwick, but they will come soon, I promise!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Edible Excursions and Entrepreneurial Escapades

After two weeks of lusty infatuation with the state of Vermont, unlike many men I've dated in the past, it has not lost its appeal. In fact, I've become even more endeared with this wonderful state. Quite possibly this is because I've had such fantastically surreal food experiences and met so many intriguing, warmpeople that I've been able to put the 14 hours of daily darkness and other unenjoyables (which, honestly, I can't think of right now) out of my mind. Well, in any case, I'm happy to report that Vermont and I are still on VERY good terms as the honeymoon period progresses. Clearly, I need to give a blow by blow account of every amazing encounter I've had with Vermont (VT, for short). Food, wine and people feature prominently. Go figure, I have my priorities straight finally!

Last Tuesday I was invited by Tom Stearns, media darling of Hardwick's local food system, an intensely gregarious fellow and owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds, to join him on a monthly 'Business Owners' meeting. Over the past few years a number of young food entrepreneurs in Hardwick and the surrounding area have been meeting on a monthly basis to eat, mingle and talk about current business issues that they are confronting. I had no idea what I was in for. All I knew was that it was a potluck and I was to bring something (quinoa salad was the obvious choice). I met Tom at his office, and we carpooled with four other food entrepreneurs from the Hardwick area. I found msyelf instantly in awe of Hannah and Jonathan, a couple in their early 30's, who had started a non-profit community called Heartbeet. This community is home to over 30 special needs people who live on a 160 acre working farm just outside of Hardwick. The residents spend their days working on the farm, caring for the animals and assisting with planting/harvesting. As Jonathan explained, they have the chance to be the care givers, rather than just being taken care of. Wow. Later I learned that this amazing couple had four young children of their own.

Anyways, the business meeting was brilliant. Each month a different group member hosts the meeting at his/her place of business, and offers of tour of the facilities. This month, the group was treated to tour of two adjacent businesses located in Middlesex - Red Hen Bakery (the state's largest organic bakery) and Nutty Steph's (specializing in granola and delicious chocolate). Let me tell you something - there is NOTHING better than going to a potluck where everyone in attendance is passionate about food and, more importantly, produces it for a living. There were no veggie trays from the Superstore, that's for sure! Suffice to say, we enjoyed a feast of fantastic organic bread, cheese, local beer, local tofu, homemade kimchee, locally handcrafted choclates, etc. After a tour of the bakery and samples at the chocolate shop, the group discussed a number of topics. I was struck by the burden that these small business owners were under to ensure their employees had decent health care. It seems in America that the small businesses are carrying the heaviest burdens of all, which is concerning, since they're also the engine of strong, local economies and social progress.

What became very obvious after a night in the company of about 18 food entrepreneurs, was that there was an amazing sense of camaraderie within this group of mostly 30-somethings (although there was one v. young cheesemaker and one older man with a long and well-established sugaring business) which was truly authentic and very unlike the energy I've encountered when I've attended Chamber of Commerce events in the past. Even more striking to me was that these folks, many of whom were young couples or had young families at home, were the ultimate caretakers. These people are 'raising' their small businesses, dealing with the growing pains, uncertainties and risks inherent in undertaking an entrepreneurial venture, all the while also being very mindful of their responsibilities to provide a living wage and health benefits to their employees and to give back to the communities in which they are operating (more about that below). On top of all this, they are raising children of their own. I know for a fact that I could never do all of these things, and have doubts that I could do even one of these things very well. But here they are, a group of ambitious, socially-minded, innovative people who are working together to create better food, better employment opportunities, better communities and, hopefully, a better future for their children.

Wednesday, I went gleaning. Such a sexy word, gleaning. I like to imagine that the word is a melding of glamourous and cleaning, which conjures up images of waltzing around a grand ballroom in a glitzy, floor-length gown bejeweled with diamonds, occassionally reaching out to feather dust a low-hanging chandelier or the such. Obviously the feather duster and ballgown would be matching in colour. I'm thinking a pastel blue. Oh, if only that were what I did on Wednesday. But no, gleaning is, in fact, a slightly less glamourous activity, albeit much more rewarding than feather dusting a ballroom. Basically gleaning is harvesting after the harvest has been done. Volunteer groups go out into a field or, in my case, an apple orchard, and harvest the 'leftovers' of a farmer's crop. I'd agreed to join Rebecca of Salvation Farms (part of VT Foodbank) and other volunteers in an apple-picking adventure. We spent about three hours picking apples from Chapin Orchards. I'd met the proprietor of Chapin Orchards at the business meeting the previous night. And now here I was at his orchard, helping pick apples that he'd given the Foodbank permission to harvest.I think we picked about 1,500 lbs of apples amongst a group of maybe 6 volunteers. I had to sign a waiver of liability. I joked with Rebecca that apple-picking was clearly a dangerous activity. Well, wouldn't you know, I had at least two apples smack me on the head within the first half hour of picking. At least I didn't have to climb the ladders, I suspect that would have ended badly for all. In the afternoon, Rebecca headed back to Hardwick to glean some squash from Tom Stearn's trial fields (recall, he owns a seed business, so much of what he grows is salvaged and used by others).

Wednesday evening I ventured out to Claire's restaurant, which is located on Main Street, Hardwick. The restaurant was actually closed (will write more about my dining experiences there in another post), but had opened its doors to let one of the servers hold a fundraising activity. This young server, who also worked on one of the local farms, was heading to Africa to teach sustainable agriculture (can't recall the country she was headed to). To raise funds for the plane ticket, she was hosting a dessert buffet and raffling off a number of beautiful items that had been donated by local artisans. The place was packed, the desserts were to die for, and I had a local beer to wash it all down.

Saturday was to be a full on day of food and wine sampling. I headed out of Hardwick mid-morning, ready to hit up the Food & Wellness Expo in Montpelier, which was being hosted by the city's grocery co-op, Hunger Mountain. Upon entering the room full of food vendors handing out samples of everything from caramel made with goat's milk (Fat Toad Farm), to grass-fed beef sausage (Applecheek Farms) to elderberry syrup, to gluten-free chocolate cookies, I realised that everyone loves free food. The place was jam-packed with people elbowing for chocolate yogurt samples and matchstick cuts of walnut bread. I couldn't handle it, there were way too many people vying for space. Plus, there were no alcohol exhibitors and my next visit promised to be much more fruitful in this regard. So off I headed to Burlington to meet up with a friend, and we drove out to Shelburne Vineyard for their Autumn New Wine Festival. Samples of wines, mostly sweet (yay!) were on offer and around the periphery of the sampling room, food purveyors were handing out samples. I saw the young (24!) cheesemaker from teh busines owners meeting sampling her Ploughgate cheese, as well as some of Jasper Hills' artisan cheeses, which had been featured on Martha Stewart Living earlier in the week ( I'll blog about Jasper Hills after I visit their caves), as well as another attendee of the business owners meeting, who was sampling her Laughing Moon truffle chocolates. And yes, I decided to sample one, rationalizing that they were made locally, therefore fit within the constraints of my locav-or-ganic challenge.

Phew. As I am writing this, I realise it's an extremely long post. Apologies, I guess I'm just having too many adventures in food!! I will break now, and write Part Two of my food escapades tomorrow. Stay tuned for Bluebird, community lunch, jerusalem artichoke soup, and a factory tour of Ben & Jerry's!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mary Had a Little Lamb... Shannon Had a Lot of Lamb

I'm on the backside of a week living in my new favorite place on the continent - the state of Vermont. Before I came here the only things I knew about Vermont were as follows: it has decent skiing, it's home to Ben & Jerry's, the fall foilage is amazing and, whatever I might have gleaned from sporadic episodes of Newhart back in the late 80’s. Michael Moore, in his latest film Capitalism: A Love Story, also gave me a bit of Moore-style insight (i.e. slightly sensationalized) into what Vermont might offer by way of political views and values when he referred to it as the gay-loviing state – clearly attempting to articulate and simultaneously criticize what he believes to be the mainstream opinion of the rest of the union. To drive his point home, he also interviewed one of Vermont’s Senators, the only independent (i.e. neither Republican nor Democrat) and a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist,which is different than being a social Democrat (e.g. Clinton).

Well, over the course of the last week, I’ve come to determine that I’m living in a little bubble of wonderful cross-pollination. What I mean by that is that, to my eye, Vermont has taken the best of America (entrepreneurialism, independence, work ethic, etc.), married it with the best of Canada (social programs, community orientation, and acceptance), then added in a dash of Europe (delicious cheese and other gastronomic delights which I will attempt to elaborate on in this post!). And voila – you have it all, in one small, but beautiful piece of earth that hugs the Quebec border in more than just the geographical sense.

And that, I do believe, was a rather drawn-out segue into the subject of this post which, quite clearly, is LAMB. As it turns out, raw milk cheese, gay marriage licenses and quirky inn staff are not the only things to be discovered in ‘The Green State’. One can also find themselves in the throes of ecstasy upon discovering that lamb can be sourced locally in North America (admittedly, for a heartbeat I was disappointed that I could no longer use this as an excuse to take a working holiday trip to New Zealand for lamb sampling purposes).

That’s right, on Thursday of last week, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and was treated to a most delectable local dinner at a restaurant in Burlington, called Penny Cluse. The restaurant, which typically does breakfast and lunch only, hosts a monthly ‘Dinner Series’ meal, which in this, the month of October, featured lamb, lamb and more lamb.

I really had no idea what to expect of the evening when I was invited by one of the UVM folks I’d met during my first visit to the campus. He (Joe) said ‘ What are you doing Thursday night?’

“Well, as it turns out, since I am new to the country, my social calendar is quite open’ I replied.

‘Perhaps you’d be interested in coming to dinner at the restaurant where my wife is the chef. It’s a farm dinner, it’s delicious. Trust me.’

‘Well, when you put it that way, how could I say no?’

I’m pretty sure this a very inaccurate recollection of our conversation, but in any case, I showed up at Penny Cluse on Thursday evening, ready for whatever gluttonous temptations I would face. The place was packed, people were milling about with wine in one hand and a plate of mouth-wateringly attractive nibbles in the other. My new friend, Joe (who looked very hip Canadian in a fashionable lumberjacke-sque buttom-up shirt) ,waved at me to join him at the buffet table, where people were filling up their plates. Oh OK, if I must. Let the indulgence begin!

He pointed at a mound of what appeared to be very pink ground meat. That’s kibbee. Hmm. Interesting. I’d had kibbee before. It’s a Middle Eastern dish and Rana’s mother, who is Syrian, had made it for her daughter’s bridal shower. It, as I recall, was brown in color. Well, as I quickly learned there are two versions of kibbee – the cooked version and the raw version. So, for the first time in my life, I voluntarily ate raw meat. And it was good. And I’ve not gotten ill. The rest of the buffet appetizers were a blur of deliciousness – the standout being crispy fried chicken skins (yes, JUST the skins!), paired with toast and lamb kidney.

Then, as a group of 50, we sat down for the plated meal at long tables. Oh dear. It started with lamb balls in a lemon soup, with vegetables to accompany. The next plate served up a lovely pinwheel of meat, of which the servers were relaying the ingredients. I neglected to take notes. Or maybe it was the two glasses of red wine I’d already downed. In any case, my head’s a bit fuzzy on that second plate.

Next were the main dishes – served up on sharing platters. Roasted leg of lamb, lamb sausage and some sort of spinach and cheese concoction that rather stringy and sharp (in a good way) were delivered to the table. I conversed with my fellow diners while trying to show restraint in my lamb consumption. It dawned on me, as Joe put a fourth glass of wine in front of me, that I might do better to limit my alcohol consumption as well, but I’d been abstaining from it pre-marathon so decided limitations on food and drink should be limited (to one or the other).

Finally, dessert was delivered to the buffet table. What, they expected that us diners could actually stand up and walk ten feet to get sweets?! Yes, that’s right, I had second thoughts about getting up for dessert – proof that anything is possible in this world! Luckily Joe came to the rescue and delivered a generous slice of ginger cake and a big scoop of on-premise Stout ice cream. Phew.

I was happy as a lamb.

I know that someone with the initials TC will likely give me a bit of hassle for eating a dinner which was not entirely local or organic. That being said, I was assured by Joe that Penny Cluse does source a significant amount of its food from local producers. Many of the diners were also farmers. Really, the way I look at it, this dinner was an opportunity to do some participant observation and scout for potential interviewees for my research study. It was therefore necessary.

What I learned from my observation of the evening is this:

1. Lamb is divine (to quote Jen Mac – why would anyone eat cow when there is lamb available?)
2. Eating together is far, far more enjoyable than eating alone
3. We, individually and collectively, need to celebrate food and those that bring it to our table far more than we currently do.

And that is the end of this lamb’s tale.