Browngirl Going Green


Too Much Goin’ On
May 5, 2010, 2:42 am
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Where do I start? My life has been super-hectic with work lately, which is good for my pocketbook but not very good for my blogging and other writing (at least not in the short-term). And the world’s been kind of a schizo place lately, it seems—from the celebration of all things Earth Day and enviro this last month of April, to the devastating and tragically ironic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on the last day of the same month, to the craziness around the new Arizona anti-immigrant law.

On a more personal level, I’ve been trying to keep up with my garden while working tons more hours than I have in a long, long time, and mostly succeeded—me and my husband put a couple hours into taking care of the vegetable beds the other day, and were rewarded with the sight of broccoli heads poking out from between the huge leaves on my broccoli plants. I’ll post some pics later.

In other news, I went to check out some local ‘Bay-friendly’ aka environmentally sustainable gardens as part of the annual East Bay Bay Friendly Garden Tour, which was super-cool. Saw three Oakland gardens not more than a few miles from my home: a lovely terraced mini-forest garden shaded by huge redwoods; a C-shaped garden full of plants and flowers suited for its sunny location; and finally my friend Wally’s garden in deep East Oakland, which he pretty much ‘built’ himself, and includes keyhole veggie beds overflowing with fava beans, lots of drought-tolerant and native plants, and a hammock (aaahhh). Wally’s was the only stop on the garden tour, I’d venture a guess, where we were offered wine AND rum and coke.

Also, ate some of the pork chops from the sustainably and humanely raised pig that we share-bought a few months ago. Every bit of meat we’ve had from this pig has been frickin’ scrumptious—dense, meaty, savory.

I hope to put some more time into the garden and use some of my home-grown vermicompost in the beds soon. Which reminds me of something else I gotta do: feed my worms!



Damn Good Pork
April 2, 2010, 3:34 pm
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Realized today that I never posted anything about how good the pork from the humanely raised pig that we bought (already slaughtered and butchered, of course—we’re not THAT hardcore!) a few months ago tastes. Well, as you can tell from the title of this post, it’s frickin’ delicious.

We’ve only eaten some of the smoked ham and the sausage so far, but the ham was meatier and more dense than ANY ham I’d ever tasted—my husband Henry said it was like a ‘pork steak’, which is a pretty accurate description of its texture and meatiness. The butcher had smoked it to perfection and just two slices were enough for my husband and I to have two meals’ worth of delicious portions. (One of the many positive consequences of buying more sustainably raised—and therefore more expensive—meat is that we tend to eat less of it, which is good for our health, but we enjoy it more).

The sausage was seasoned by the butcher (mild Italian style), and I used it to make a yummy pseudo-bolognese sauce (I didn’t use any veal, which I still have mixed feelings about, although the farmer that we got this pig from also raises open-pastured vea basically a baby calf that’s never weaned from its mother’s milk).

Next up for our sustainably raised porcine culinary explorations: making carnitas, and also homemade chicharrones!



Freedom Food

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, aka The Black Farmer (photo from The Black Farmer web site)

I found these two sites while I was poking around on the Internet, and it made me feel hopeful for the possibilities for the food industry in this country.

The Black Farmer is, indeed, a Black farmer (that is, a farmer of African descent), who lives and farms in the West Country of England. He raises outdoor bred pork for sausages (or ‘bangers’ as British people call them) and other animals for meat. I have to say, just by reading the site and watching the video, those sausages do look damn good. And to know that they are humanely raised, outdoors, and are, as the site states ‘gluten-free’, makes them sound even better.

The Black Farmer claims that his meat products are 100% British Freedom Food, which piqued my curiosity. As you can see on the site, Freedom food is the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ official designation for meat, fish and any other game that has been raised in a humane fashion. The agency has created standards for the welfare of animals that are raised for human consumption, and these standards are posted on web site.

The RSPCA says that the standards, “cover every aspect of the animals’ lives, including feed and water provision, the environment they live in, how they are managed, health care, transport, and humane slaughter/killing. The standards are designed to ensure that all animals reared according to the requirements have everything they need for a good quality of life, whether they are kept on large or small farms, or in indoor or outdoor production systems.”

It doesn’t surprise me that the Brits have something like this in place, and that the RSPCA is a royally recognized charity (on the web site they state, “Her Majesty the Queen recognises the work we do for animals in England and Wales, and that our reputation extends worldwide) is not surprising either. The Royal Family are well-known conservationists and animal lovers, and Prince Phillip is a former President of the Board of Trustees of the World Wildlife Fund.

It would be cool to have a similar designation scheme in the United States—instead of having to rely on vague labeling like ‘hormone-free’ or even ‘free-range’. What do those mean exactly? And what government agency (if any) would define, measure and enforce these standards? Since nothing like this exists now in the US, it’s nice to envision something like Freedom Fund in this country. Has a nice ring to it, too.



First Poem Dedicated to Browngirl Going Green
February 25, 2010, 6:32 am
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I’m so honored that my friend and fellow Pinay writer Jean Vengua was inspired to write a poem for me after reading about my recentsustainably-raised-pig purchase. She posted it on her own blog,Local Nomad. Thanks Jean for the ‘pig-poem’!

For a Brown Girl Going Green
by Jean Vengua

kayumangging babae, the cogon
grass has turned to rye
and wild radish

on your birth day someone
sacrifices a pig
it’s not

the same, yet
it’s always
the same

Oakland, Elkhorn,
Pangasinan, each day
lived,

gleaned, killed, tasted; eating
flesh, stems, leaves
hoping

that this time we
will see
clearly



Pig, Beautiful Pig
February 21, 2010, 3:26 am
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Okay, so we didn’t get the ‘whole’ pig, alive and in its natural form. And yes, it was all cut-up and frozen and plastic-vacuum-bag-sealed. But still, this pig was beautiful to me. Not just because I could envision the many meals that my husband, friends and I will enjoy from the pork, but also because I’m amazed at the sheer bounty that one animal can provide to—in this case—six households! And while of course none of us are living exclusively off pork for the next six months, this is definitely enough protein (not to mention fat) to keep us all satisfactorily fed for a good while.

Pigs occupy special place of honor in Filipino culture, as well as Chinese culture (my husband is Chinese) and in the cuisines and cultures of many people from around the world. One of the few non-negotiables that I required for our wedding reception last year was that we have a whole roasted suckling pig (Filipinos call it lechon, and it’s served with the head and skin and everything), which was the big hit on the menu. Really, Filipinos can’t get married without a lechon. It’s a symbol of abundance and our connection to nature as much as a food source at these special celebrations.

Some dishes I’m planning to make are pork adobo, carnitas (although I’m not sure if I have the right cut of pork—shoulder—but I do have about a 2.5 pound roast), chicharron from the strips of fat that we got, and maybe even some lard. I have no idea how to make the last three dishes, but half the fun of doing things in more sustainable, natural ways is learning new skills. And if I can perfect carnitas (by far my favorite Mexican dish), I’ll be able to satisfy my carnitas-cravings with humanely raised pork instead of going without or shutting off my conscience for a meal of taco-truck tacos.

Here are a few pictures from the delivery this morning. Thanks to all the other buyers who went in on this purchase with me for your patience and cooperation. Thanks to Brian, Rose and their kids at Godfrey Family Farms for raising the pig. Thanks to the pig for giving its life so that we could be nourished so heartily and happily. And last but not least, thanks to the Great Creator for this bounty. AMEN!

PORK MEAT. Lots and lots of pork meat.


These are the folks who went in on the pig purchase with me. Most of them are friends of mine from social justice work, and a couple are from the Bay Area Meat CSA. The farmer, Brian Godfrey, is the tall guy in the baseball cap and light blue shirt. That's me in the middle with the purple hoodie, holding a big bag of pork fat.



The Pig is Coming! And Other News

So we are FINALLY getting our pasture-raised, all-natural-feed pig delivered this Saturday from Godfrey Family Farms. The delay was on the butcher’s end, I guess, since the pig was slaughtered on my birthday (coincidence, but an interesting one) back at the end of December. I organized this purchase, pulling together five other buyers from Oakland and Berkeley via the Bay Area Meat CSA and my personal network of progressive foodie friends, mostly people of color. I’m very excited to cook and taste an animal that I purchased directly from the farmer, whom I will meet on Saturday and whom I’ve spoken to on the phone and communicated with via email. I wrote an earlier post that you can read for more background on our pig. This is all in an effort to eat more sustainably and humanely raised animals, and while I haven’t gone completely 100% sustainable in this regard, I’d say about 90% of the meat I consume now is at least hormone- and antibiotic-free, if not free-range/pasture-raised.

Of course, it’s impossible to know if stores’ labeling practices are completely forthcoming and honest, which is why I’m glad to be meeting the Godfreys on Saturday and taking home some of their pork. I’m hoping to have a little dinner party with a few friends at some point to hopefully turn more people on to buying meat in this way. I have to say, while it was definitely time-consuming and not very convenient, it’s so far been an interesting experiment in farm-to-table shopping, and is something I think more people will need to do more of if we want to have a truly sustainable, green, locavore-based food distribution system.

In other eco-news, through the networking magic of the Internet I’m happy to have connected with another woman of color writer, Dianne Glave, whose blog, entitled Rooted in the Earth is a precursor to her upcoming book, Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage. Obviously, there are lots of connections between what Dianne writes about (much more eloquently than I do, I must add) and what I strive to describe in this blog. I’m excited about Dianne’s book and hope that it signals a wave of environmental non-fiction by people of color in the US that is long overdue.

Lately, I’ve been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is fascinating and offers a lot of information to absorb about what the Earth would be like if human beings disappeared from its face completely. The predictions will no doubt surprise you, and make you realize how much energy we expend everyday to maintain our modern civilization. Mr. Weisman is such a skilled writer that you feel as if you’re seeing the landscapes that he writes about, both ancient and modern, before your very eyes.

There’s some really good environmental/scientific non-fiction out there these days that is both highly educational as well as entertaining—two that I read last year that were among my favorite books of the whole year: Farm City by Oakland-based writer and urban farmer Novella Carpenter, and Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen. I look forward to reading Ms. Glave’s book and adding it to my growing collection.

If you know any other books that you think I or other people who read this blog might like, please share them. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading.



Waiting for Our Pig
January 21, 2010, 10:25 pm
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I’m in the (hopefully) last days of a seemingly endless wait for the delivery of the humanely-raised, pasture-raised whole pig (yes, I said PIG) that I bought with six other Bay Area foodies via the Bay Area Meat CSA, which is essentially a big, complex network of message boards that help folks self-organize a collective purchase of a sustainably-farmed animal. More about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs) in general here, and a good article about Bay Area folks buying meat through CSAs here.

Since I saw the excellent documentary film Food, Inc. several months ago with my partner, Henry, I’ve been trying to only buy and eat meat from sustainably-farmed and humanely-treated animals. (You have to watch the film to get a sense of why it would cause this dramatic behavior-change). This is a lot harder than it sounds, although it’s much easier to do it in the Bay Area–where there are many local farmers that are dedicated to raising and selling these kinds of animals. I’m not going to get into the vegetarian/vegan vs. meat-eater argument here (but I will at a later time), but I will say that I love meat. I also love animals–and I don’t, thusfar, see a contradiction between the two.

So I figure the least I can do is get my meat from places that aren’t torturing the animals or turning them into strangely mutated creatures (like the conventionally raised chickens that can’t walk because their breasts have been made so huge by hormone-laced feed), but instead are treating the animals with respect and giving them fairly good, happy lives.

Ironically–or serendipitously, depending on how you look at it–‘my’ pig, which we’re getting from Godfrey Family Farms in Marysville, Calif., was killed on my birthday (December 30). This made me pause and reflect on the fact that I was soon going to knowingly eat meat from an animal whose life was unnaturally ended on the day of my birth. And while that knowledge isn’t going to stop me from enjoying that meat, I’m sure, it does make me more deeply respect and honor the animals that I eat in general.

My family is from the Philippines, a largely rural country–and they are mostly peasants. I say this with no irony and with the utmost respect. My people (starting with my mother and going back generations upon generations) worked the land, fished and lived off of nature’s bounty. I’m of the first generation in my family removed from this earth-based culture and lifestyle, and I know I can learn a lot from my family about how to live more in touch with nature. I have family members who have killed animals with their own hands (fish and chickens and goats, and probably pigs), but who I think have more respect for nature and a deeper understanding of their relationship to it than many vegetarian, Prius-driving, organic-produce-buying, self-proclaimed environmentalists that I know. Because my family’s relationship to nature is not intellectual or political or based on something they read in a magazine or a book. Their relationship is based in the way they have fed and sheltered themselves and their children–in the way they had to survive.

And so I strive to have a similar relationship with my food as my ancestors have–in a more modern way. And so I wait, guiltlessly, for my pig, and look forward to eating its meat–with gratitude and respect.