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.
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.
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.
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.