January 23 was the official start of the Lunar New Year: Year of the Dragon: Year 4709 (that’s a lot of years). Apparently, the New Year lasts for 15 days, so the official celebrations recently came to a close. But the party continues. If you feel a dynamic buzz or change in the air in 2012, it could be influenced by the auspicious sign of the Dragon, which symbolizes power, strength and good luck.
On New Year’s, many people do not eat meat (at least in the morning) as a sign of respect for animals, as well as to be more in line with Buddhist practices of purification and karma of not eating any creature that had to be killed. Well, whether you’re a meat eater or not, a break from meat is not only good for your heart but for the environment. Remember my vow on the first new years 2012 to cut down meat drastically? Well, so far so good – I mean, if Dragon year baby President Bill Clinton can vegan, why couldn’t I make my first vegetarian/almost-vegan Chinese New Year dinner (see recipes below)?
Perhaps it’s the Dragon, but I do sense and see real changes in our food system – for the better. There are more mobilized movements to take back our food and more awareness and engagement from “normal” people to take charge of how we eat. In honor of the Chinese auspicious number “8,” let’s celebrate the start of a new year with 8 signs that healthy and conscious eating is neither a trend nor a hobby of elitists.
Sign 1: Food Democracy Gains Momentum: On Day 7 of Dragon New Year, January 31: over 200 people stood in solidarity to Occupy Big Food by getting the Federal District Court in Washington, DC to protect farmers from Monsanto’s GMO seeds. Organizations, such as Food Democracy Now, are helping to give voice back to those who grow and produce our food, a sign perhaps that money can’t stop food democracy forever.
Sign #2: Local Policies Drive Local Change: New York City has always been a city to watch…for its school lunch initiatives. Civil Eats wrote up a great history of its movements, beginning in the 1800s. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put money where his mouth is, supporting initiatives such as GrowNYC and Citywide School Gardens Initiative. Rather than just leaving it up to cash-strapped school districts or individuals, Mayor Bloomberg is making sure that over 55 schools in NYC has the support and policies to make healthy eating, nutrition, and gardening integral to children’s education. Local policies such as these drive real change.
Sign #3: Greater Skepticism of Media: Paula Deen is surprised at the backlash against her timely-I-have-diabetes-I-am-the-face-of-a-diabetes-medication. I supposed there was a time that people were willing to accept what they see on TV. Perhaps she thought that Americans would welcome her bigger-than-life persona and deep fried cheesecakes and think her a heroine for now having “something to share with her friends.” Well, the fact that most folks are seeing through this and not accepting her explanation that diabetes is mainly the result of genetics and age, and not, food. The increased skepticism of what we read in the media is a sure sign that folks are not willing to blindly follow, not when it comes to our health.
Sign #4: Increased Attention to Rights of Food Laborers: Thanks to ground-breaking books, such as Barry Estabrook’s Tomatoland, and organizations, such as Sustainable Table and Student Action for Farmworkers, more people are paying attention to the fact that food doesn’t just grow on trees. Well, sometimes, they do grow on trees, but they still need to be picked and packed by people. And people who often are not compensated or treated justly. Consumers are demanding more and more knowledge that their food is fair trade or that the producers and suppliers of foodstuffs they purchase were fairly treated. It’s not enough to just demand cheap food, but fair food.
Sign #5: Global Mobilization for Change: On any given day, it is simple to participate in global mobilizations for change in our food system. Thanks to major social networking sites, it is easy for individuals to show their support by a simple “click” for food initiatives, projects, or issues they care about. These organizations, such as TakePart, Change.org, and IndieGoGo, unite people from all over the world to come together to push for even the slightest progress. After all, ripples can turn into tsunamis (of the good kind).
Sign #6: Food Bloggers Keep It Real: The tens of thousands of food bloggers out there are not only making food something to savor and salivate over, but something understandable and relateble. Rather than just seeing the “professional” magazines or TV shows, food bloggers show how real people cook, eat, and live. These are also the individuals that are (generally) not paid by anyone, so what they say is truthful and unadulterated. If they like a product, they like it. If they don’t, they don’t. If they decide to go on a diet, they tell you what it’s really like and why. They naturally promote the benefits of homecooking and understanding ingredients. Sites such as FoodBuzz and Foodista, are social sites for food bloggers and food lovers to get the real truth.
Sign #7: Farmers’ Markets Here to Stay: It used to be that a few people would go to farmers’ market. Other people would call these people “hippies.” No longer. Farmers’ markets have, in many communities, the thing to do on a Saturday morning, the time to catch up with neighbors and talk to farmer neighbors. 2011 saw a 17% increase in farmers’ markets – now numbering over 7,000. And now, about 17% stay open through the winter months. Shopping this way not only connects us with each other, but directly to our food. It also helps us be more aware of how our food choices impact our environment. I remember I used to be one of the few carrying my little basket, sometimes getting strange looks, and now if I forget it and I have to use a plastic bag, I get strange looks at the market.
Sign #8: Our Youth are Awesome: Having just celebrated a birthday, I realize I can no longer call myself a “youth.” Each time, however, I think, gosh, is our youth just caught up watching the Kardashians or doing stupid stuff like this “Choking Game” I read about (why, WHY, is choking each other fun? If you want a high, go running around the block with just your socks and shorts in the middle of a Minnesota winter and you’ll get your high alright), I meet youth who just rock. Youth who do great work through the Food Corps, for example. Or, perhaps a little bias but closer to home, youth like our very own Ariel, who is not only the first graduate of Food Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, but now connecting classrooms across the pond, from North Carolina to France. Or the intrepid crew of the Sol Food Mobile Farm, who in June (inshallah) will head out around the country in their veggie-oil run schoolbus to share with communities about gardening, composting, and healthy eating (shameless plug: please support our efforts – we need your help to make all this happen!)
Meeting young people like this make me so incredibly optimistic that food change for good is here to stay.
Well, Year of the Dragon, good signs of what is to come.
8 dried Chinese Black mushrooms
1/2 cup dried lily buds
8 dried bean curd sticks
8 ounces bamboo shoots
6 water chestnuts
2 large carrots, shredded
1 cup Napa cabbage, shredded
2 cups snow peas
1/4 cup lotus seeds
2 inches ginger, chopped
1 clump of sea moss (fat choy)
1 cup reserved mushroom soaking liquid
3 TB Chinese rice wine
3 TB soy sauce
3 tsp sugar
1. Soak dried mushrooms, lily buds, and bean curd sticks in hot water for 30 minutes to soften. Keep the mushroom liquid.
2. Combine the liquid with the rice wine, soy sauce and sugar and set aside.
3. Cut mushroom stems.
4. Heat wok over medium-high/high heat. When hot, add sesame oil (should sizzle when drops of water added).
5. Add ginger for about 30 seconds.
6. Add carrots and stir-fry for 1 minute.
7. Add mushrooms and lily buds for 1 minute.
8. Add water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, snow peas, cabbage, and lotus seeds for 1 minute.
9. Add bean curd for 30 seconds.
10. Add the sauce (add more if necessary) and keep stirring – once it boils, turn heat down a bit and simmer. Season.
1 package round dumpling wrappers
4 Chinese Black mushrooms, pre-soaked, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 medium Napa cabbage, shredded
2 inches ginger, grated
4 green onions, choped
2 TB five spice powder
1 TB cornstarch mixed with water
1. Heat wok over medium-high/high heat. When hot, add sesame oil (should sizzle when drops of water added).
2. Add ginger and stir-fry til fragrant – do not burn.
3. Add mushrooms until they shrink.
4. Add carrots and stirfry.
5. Add five-spice powder and salt to taste
6. Add cabbage and stir-fry until it wilts.
7. Add green onions.
8. Add cornstarch/water mixture until mixture sticks together.
9. Take off heat and let cool.
10. Put 1TB or so of mixture in middle of each wrapper, wet edges, and make dumplings.
11. Heat skillet and add a few TB of oil, add dumplings and fry for about 1 minute or edge gets brown (move around so they don’t stick). You can continue to fry all sides, or remove and steam in bamboo steamers for about 2-3 minutes.
12. Dip with dipping sauces (i.e. soy ginger (soy sauce, minced ginger, pepper, sesame oil), sweet chili, hoisin, and hot chili garlic.
3.5 cups glutinous rice flour
2.5 cups Chinese slab brown sugar
2 cups Coconut cream
1.5 cups water
1. Boil water and add brown sugar until it melts. Remove from heat.
2. Stir in coconut cream (can take cream of can of coconut milk – just don’t shake).
3. When room temperature, add in flour and mix until thick.
4. Pour into molds.
5. Steam for about 1 hour. About 30 minutes in, place date on top.