Everyday Food


Mike and I took advantage of what we thought was going to be a rainy afternoon to catch a matinee showing of Food, Inc. yesterday. I was prepared for an intense reaction, but what I wasn’t expecting was how angry I would feel by the end of the film. There are so many thoughts still swirling in my head, and I haven’t even begun to process them all.


I thought of my niece, six months old last week and already displaying a hearty appetite. She is just starting to experience food, new flavors and textures, and she is doing it with gusto. I cried along with Barbara Kowalcyk as she spoke of her son Kevin, lost to E. coli at the age of 2, and I share her anger at an industry that has shrugged off her loss. Nobody should have to fear that the food their child eats might kill them.


I thought of my grandmother, the woman who inspires me to this day, and who is directly responsible for my love of cooking. My grandfather died young, and she raised a family of seven largely on her own, serving simple but real food – she calls it “everyday food” – the dishes we all still clamor for today. It pains me that so many families can’t afford to do the same because of how broken our food system has become.

fresh coriander

I thought about the local farms we have visited, the rolling green pastures, the clean air and how happy it made me to watch the animals roaming free. I felt grateful that the chicken we would be eating for dinner was well cared for during its lifetime, and that Mike and I are still in a position to spend a little more on the ethically raised food we know we can trust.


All food should be safe, clean food. People shouldn’t have to choose processed, fat- and sugar-laden junk over a fresh pear at the supermarket because that’s all they can afford to eat. Farmers shouldn’t be bullied by corporations, animals shouldn’t be abused and workers shouldn’t be exploited then tossed aside like so much garbage.

The food system is broken. But I truly believe we have the power to fix it.

Inform yourself. Sign petitions. Shop at your farmers’ market. Support the people, businesses and organizations in your community that are doing things right. Send a message to the government and “Big Ag” that things need to change, that access to affordable, nutritious, real food is our right, and that we won’t accept anything less.

Please see this movie. It is not just a movie for (I hate this word but I’m going to use it) “foodies”, but for ANYONE who buys food and eats it in this country.

Inform yourself.

And then cook up some “everyday food.”

This is a version of a dish my grandma refers to as “calabaza”. Calabaza is a variety of squash, and if you can find it you can certainly use it in this dish, but we always used zucchini – and who doesn’t need another way to use up zucchini this time of year.

Dinner:  July 26, 2009

1 chicken, skin-on, cut into pieces (or use your favorite parts)
kosher or sea salt
olive or canola oil
2-3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 fresh chile pepper, seeds and stem removed, minced
3 medium zucchini or other summer squash, cut into evenly sized chunks
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into evenly sized chunks
dried oregano, Mexican if possible
fresh coriander (optional)
3 ears of corn, kernels removed from cobs

Season the chicken pieces with salt and brown them in hot oil in a large, wide skillet, in batches if necessary. Remove the browned pieces and set aside. Add onion, garlic and chile, season with salt, and cook briefly until the onion begins to soften and the mixture is fragrant, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the zucchini and tomatoes and stir to combine with the onion mixture. Add the oregano and coriander (if using), return the chicken pieces to the pan, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Add the corn and cook uncovered for just a few minutes, until the sauce is slightly reduced. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with rice or warmed tortillas.

11 thoughts on “Everyday Food

  1. Margie says:

    This chicken meal looks delish and reminds me of my own Grandma who makes the same thing. I must agree with you about the state of the food industry. If I am buying something at the grocery, or anywhere for that matter, I would like to know where my food came from. You need licenses to drive a car, buy a gun, etc. but dangit if it makes me mad that I cannot find out where the hell my food is coming from? Ugh.

  2. I was asked today to name my favorite local foods blog and yours was the first to come to mind (other than mine- which is largely on the farming side of local foods). Thank you for all the beauty you bring to the table.

    I will make that chicken tomorrow. I’ll use the chicken that we raised, along with the last of the tomatoes and corn from 2008, the fresh garlic just pulled from my garlic bed, and fresh herbs from my garden.

    Thank you for your support of local farmers. Just today a grateful family pulled into our farm and bought potatoes, beets, onions, garlic, and purple green beans picked fresh while they stood there. They were giddy with the meals they would prepare. Like you, they appreciate the time and care we put into growing organic food.

    However, a couple weeks ago a couple came to our farm to buy our free range, flax fed chicken eggs and when they heard the cost was $2.50 per dozen, they actually laughed at my 9-year daughter and drove away. Eggs were on sale in town for $.88 a dozen. We would lose money at that price.

    Thank you again and my best to you and yours,

  3. amen! have you read Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” or Ritzer’s “The McDonaldization of Society”? page-turning and eye-opening. we read them as part of an undergrad nutrition course curriculum, and i’m all the happier for it. thanks for posting.



  4. SCORE! I just went out to the garden and found a few small, but PERFECT zucchinni for this dish. That means that 100% of the ingredients (except for sea salt and oil olive) comes from our farm on the tallgrass prairie. Excellent!

    I’m thinking of ordering a hand oil press so that I could make my own canola oil for home use. We have some farm scale oil seed presses further north of our farm, but seems a bit too industrial for food use.

  5. Jennifer Hess says:

    Margie – That veil of secrecy is a little scary, isn’t it? Hopefully we can make a change for the better in time.

    Kathy – Thank YOU for doing what you do. I often have a hard time holding my tongue when I hear people complain about prices at the farmers’ markets we frequent. I can only imagine the amount of time and energy that go into farming the old-fashioned way, and I wish more people would realize that those low prices they’re used to paying in the supermarkets are artificially low. Cheaper doesn’t equal better – not by a long shot! And $2.50/dozen for your beautiful eggs sounds like a downright bargain! I look forward to checking out your blog and I do hope you enjoy this dish. :)

    Ben – It was VERY intense. I look forward to picking up the companion book so I can read more about it.

    Heather – “Fast Food Nation” was the first thing I read that made me really begin to change the way I was shopping and eating. Very disturbing stuff. I’ll have to seek out that second book. Thanks for the recommendation!

    maybelles mom – Thank you!

  6. Ops. I planned on trying to get a whole group together to see this movie and plum forgot. Now I really need to find a way to see it after reading your thoughts. I appreciate you sharing your reaction to it and hope it will help my husband understand how passionate I feel about the food industry. Also, I am a fellow foodblogger in RI, it is great to follow you.

  7. kathy k. says:

    There was an interesting story on NPR the other day, talking about the ‘Mediterranean diet’ and how a lot of people in that area are getting fatter – 50 odd years after the study that established their healthy eating habits. Apparently the first thing people do when they become a little bit more prosperous is add meat to their diet. The comment at the end of the story was that basically these days you have to be fairly well off to eat like a peasant.

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