On the Food Industry and Green Beans

We’ve been getting weekly bags of produce from a local farmer and friend this summer, our second summer in a row participating in Community Supported Agriculture.  CSA’s, as they are usually called, are one spoke in the massive wheel that is the recent alternative food movement.  As Warren Belasco points out well in his book Appetite for Change, alternative food movements are no recent phenomenon (um, communes of the 1970′s anyone?).  It’s important to remember this – that we are not newly discovering that our food system is broken.  Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published 105 years ago, though the concern over food production goes even further back.  There is a reason that drinks such as beer, wine, and tea are so popular throughout the world: safe drinking water has never been easy to come by, and these are all methods of making water potable.

To make a long story somewhat shorter, I took Belasco’s course on meat in US society and that pretty much put me off meat for a while.  I’m not a queasy person, but what I learned was how broken our meat industry is (an industry that is inspected and checked by the very governing body that’s supposed to ensure its success is just one of the many issues I have with the USDA and our meat supply chain – ugh, just that phrase gives me shivers!).  For a while, I effectively became a vegetarian.  However, I love meat and I always have – even when my sister turned vegetarian in 8th grade and defaulted our family into vegetarian meals for five years (my parents and I had meat sides).  A few months after the course was over, a friend invited us over for a roast chicken dinner from her meat CSA, and David and I were hooked.  The chicken was jaw-droppingly good.  No one tasting this could say that chicken tastes like everything.  This chicken tasted like nothing I’d ever had before.

We were hooked.

After a year of our meat CSA a friend of ours started a vegetable CSA on his family’s farm.  We of course jumped right on the bandwagon.  And here is where I need to stop and acknowledge something: we are extremely privileged.  David and I have the time, access, and money to devote to getting our food through CSA’s.  We are lucky.

We are also taking part in what is being called the “locavore” movement – eat as locally as possible.  But I hesitate to become a full-fledged member of any movement: call me critical.  Call me jaded.  Call me independent. I just don’t think that we can solve this problem solely by opting out of it.  For now, that is what I’m doing, but there needs to be more.  I’m a cultural studies person: I think change needs to happen on an individual and community level in addition to a larger governmental and international level.  In addition to better management of farm subsidies and food distribution, we need to listen to the needs of communities and supply what they tell us they need (not what our marketing statistics report, or what our surplus agricultural subsidies can give away).

I think about these things every week my roommate comes home with another car full of produce from the farm.  Ten of us city friends have formed a coop of sorts – our roommate picks up the shares (the farm is near his work), and our apartment turns into a distribution center of produce each week.  It’s a wonderful gift to have almost every surface in the kitchen covered in piles of vegetables. I hope for a future in which everyone will have similar moments of sheer joy in the bounty of a summer harvest.

Green Beans and Garlic

These past couple weeks we’ve been getting a lot of delicious green beans and a few precious stalks of garlic in our farm share.  I’ve been cooking them simply, as the following recipe instructs.

2 cups fresh green beans, washed and sliced (see photograph)
2 medium cloves garlic, sliced (see photograph)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup vermouth (or dry white wine)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

  1. Slice the green beans as shown above: cut off the tips, cut in half, and then slice down the middle.  Chop the garlic.
  2. Heat a saute pan on medium-high heat, and when hot add the olive oil.  Add the beans and cook until they are about halfway done (ca. 5 minutes).  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Turn down the heat and carefully deglaze the pan by pouring in the vermouth and stirring to pick up any bits of garlic from the bottom of the pan.  Place a lid on the pan and steam for a few minutes on low heat.
  4. When the beans are al dente, remove the lid and cook off the vermouth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Guten Appetit!

2 Comments to “On the Food Industry and Green Beans”

  1. Vermouth! I’m going to have to give that a shot.

    I just want to add my most recent experience to the chorus of what happens when I say I study gastronomy. I met a man from Budapest a few weeks ago, and when I told him about my master’s, he said: America. This is the sign of a rich country: They can study food!

    • Funny you mention Vermouth, because this part got cut from the original post: Vermouth is actually a tip from Julia Child. In her Mastering the Art of French Cooking she always calls for Vermouth (sometimes adds the option of dry white wine). Someone once told me it was because white wine varied so much in quality (and still does today), so she always used Vermouth because it was widely available and consistent! I started using it mostly because it’s always stocked on our “bar” but we often don’t have an open bottle of white wine to just splash on foods.

      Molly, I’ve had similar comments as well. Yes, we are truly fortunate to spend our time pondering. My reaction to these comments is thus: how is that different from another academic discipline that allows us the time to sit and analyze things (philosophy? history?)? People often think we only study gourmet foods and fancy lifestyles, but isn’t it true that in reality we’re studying the gritty day-to-day and important regional, national, and global food and social justice issues? We need to work on a way to talk about that so people don’t assume our work is frivolous.

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