Tag Archives: books

Midwestern locavore meets reality

As an aspiring foodie, I am satisfying my recent scholarly craving with a few books I received for Christmas from folks who know me well. Last week I devoured Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and have promptly moved on to An Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I was first introduced to these authors in Thailand and since then, these books have been at the top of my must-read list.

Both authors, through very different writing styles, approach similar food themes like eating fresh, local, organic produce while challenging the industrial food system, animal feedlots, and high fructose corn syrup. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an enchanting account of one family’s attempt to live intentionally as locavores for one year, consuming foods they’ve grown themselves or purchased locally within a 100-mile radius. Why? Because of their desire to reduce the amount of fossil fuels they “use” when purchasing produce out of season, which must be shipped from places like California or beyond. Their approach is extreme: they relocate to a family farm in Virginia, grow their own produce, raise their own poultry, and make their own bread. While I certainly don’t have the time, money, or resources to attempt such a lifestyle, I am inspired to incorporate aspects of their year-long experiment into my own life.

Perhaps beginning a locavore project in Michigan during the month of February isn’t the best idea (in Cherokee, “February” translates to “hungry month”) for obvious reasons. According to a Michigan Farm Fresh Produce Availability Calendar, my local food options are apples, mushrooms, onions, and potatoes. Supplementing this produce with other local foods, my diet could also include cheese, greenhouse-grown plants, herbs, honey, jams, jellies, and maple syrup. Hm. This may prove to be hungry month indeed.

And how far should I take the project? Do I also want to consume not just locally-produced foods, but also organic? What about my oatmeal, flour, butter, eggs, and other staples I readily use? Should I ensure that my spices, coffee, and tea (though not produced locally) are Fair Trade, shade-grown, organic, etc? I say yes…then reality hits. I am definitely not in a financial situation to embark on such a time- and money-consuming endeavor. But maybe I could find ways to begin, and become a more active consumer of local produce by thinking twice before grabbing a bunch of bananas that were shipped up to the frozen North from somewhere in the hot South. I mean, they don’t even taste all that delicious to me anyways, after eating fresh ones by the bunch in Thailand for a year.

I think the key to this locavore project, if I decide to give it a go, is flexibility and a healthy dose of perspective. It may not be realistic to eat only locally-grown foods right now but it is quite feasible to fill my cart with bags of Michigan-grown apples instead of pineapples, buy fresh-baked bread at Avalon, and find a local farmer who sells organic, free-range eggs. The healthy dose of perspective will be useful to make sure I am not isolating myself from family and friends who may not buy into this whole locavore mindset. I think there is a fine line between having principles about personal eating habits and having those principles affect relationships with the loved ones in my life. What I do not want from this project is the risk of seeming judgmental or dogmatic in my approach to eating locally.

So no, I will not be turning down delicious home-cooked meals any time soon, even if they include avocados from Mexico.


New space, same idea

There was a lot about my daily life in Thailand that left me healthier and more balanced than when I arrived. Teaching and living in Thailand for a year afforded me the opportunity to unplug from the chaotic life I knew in the States, most recently as a graduate student, and really build a life I always wanted. I began practicing yoga on a regular basis, I ate mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, and I read lots of books. Changes, physical and other, were slow and went largely unnoticed by myself; it wasn’t until I shared company with loved ones again in the States (or when I was lucky enough to have visitors) did these changes really become apparent. I had shed the extra weight that crept on during graduate school as a result of papers, projects, and an absurdly constructed schedule that was always bursting at the seams. My hair and nails were stronger. I spoke slower. And I began to regard elders with more respect. Now I view interactions with my grandmother in an entirely new light.

Two notable, personal discoveries also occurred during my year abroad. Though they are independent of Thailand, they are very much in harmony with the Thai life I was living: 1) Through a New York Times article on consumerism I discovered Tammy Strobel and the minimal living mindset, and 2) I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Both minimalism and the consumption of real food are things Thailand does quite well and I was excited to be a part of it. I arrived with two suitcases (which in retrospect was too much!) and a computer, living with essentially an armful of clothing for a year. I was also consuming fruits, vegetables, and animals that were raised in the fields and farms I passed by every day going to school. The big question I kept asking myself: could I do this after my year in Thailand was over, back in the States? Back in the Midwest?

So here my next chapter begins. I’m moving/returning to Detroit in search of community-based work. Beyond that I have no idea what’s next, and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying. Maybe I’ll get involved in the urban agriculture movement, take a class at Wayne State, or tutor English language learners. I will continue my yoga practice and keep working on my holiday knitting projects, in between the job search, of course. I think I’ll also explore minimalist life in a post-industrial city. What does that look like, and is it compatible with what Detroit has to offer?

Thanks for joining. I’m looking forward to this project and am happy you’re here for it!

Marbles and machetes

These are two words I never thought I’d teach, let alone teach in the same conversation. I should have known better. Today two of my third-graders came up to me proudly wielding foot and a half long machetes, probably returning from completing some manual labor task assigned to them by another teacher. They eagerly waved the knives and asked “A-rai?” (What?). I replied, shaking my head in amusement, “Ma-che-te.” Then one of my students reached into his pocket and pulled out a marble, the question was repeated, and I answered accordingly. We headed towards the staircase leading to the second floor classrooms, and as I watched them scamper up the stairs, machetes still in hand, I laughed to myself, thinking: “Only in Thailand.”

Today was a bit unconventional, and I’m not referring to the machete incident. Instead of teaching typical lessons, I spent most of the day reading English books with my classes. Why this should seem out of the ordinary, seeing I am an English teacher, requires a bit of back story. Several months ago I was informed by my field director of a nonprofit organization called the Darien Book Aid Plan in the States that ships used books to Peace Corps members, schools, and other institutions around the world to support literacy efforts. At the end of March I sent in my request and in April I was informed that it was accepted. They also let me know that shipments take anywhere from four to six months, and sometimes even longer. I did the math and realized that the books could very well arrive after I’ve finished teaching at my schools but luckily that didn’t happen! Yesterday over 50 beginner-level English books, mostly hard-cover, were delivered to my home and today I took half of the delivery to Pla Pak Noi Elementary School. The other half will go to Wang Yang on Monday.

It was so fun watching the students turn through the pages of their “new” books. I read at least one to each class, pantomiming most of the words (Dr. Seuss was the best for this), and the students were excited when I said we would take time each class from now until I leave to read. I was also so excited to receive such a tangible outcome after contacting Darien Book Aid Plan; to think that this box of donated books traveled halfway across the globe and landed in a far corner of Isaan is so gratifying. I couldn’t think of a better going-away present for my students.

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