Monday, September 19, 2016

Eating Omily: Economies of Community

Welcome back to my continued exploration of the Lexicon of Sustainability! This video comes in under three minutes, but it gets right down the meat of the matter when it comes to sustainable food: our centralized food system was a bad decision, and has long since proven itself unsustainable. We need to swap it out for what we had before: a series of localized food systems. How do we do that?? Well, to start with, watch the video. As they say at the end of each one, "Your words can change the world".

http://www.pbs.org/food/features/lexicon-of-sustainability-economies-of-community/

Economies of Community...it has a beautiful ring to it, doesn't? Isn't that what economies should be? Shouldn't they serve us, and not the other way around? 

Thanks to a whole bushel of short-sighted decisions that took place around the post WWII boom, instead, we have economies of scale: get big, or get out!

Aside from being unsustainable in just about every way, this new system has cost us so much: local and regional recipes, flavors, and foods, a sense of local pride and belonging, job opportunities that pay a living wage, and more. Our centralized food system is a failed experiment. Thankfully, we're figuring that out, and we're figuring out how to fix it.

We're working toward replacing economies of scale with that beautiful phrase: economies of community. How can you help? Like it says in the video, we need motivated consumers to make this shift. We need people who read labels, go out of their way to spend their money on sustainable foods, and use their voices and well as their dollars to make it clear what they want: local, sustainable food systems.

That's it. It's really that simple. Itching to read more? Just search the 'eating omily', and 'sustainability' tags on this blog, or search terms like 'local'. You'll be up to your ears in details! :-D

Monday, September 5, 2016

Eating Omily: White or Wheat, Hybrid or Landrace, and Other Bread Questions

This week's Lexicon of Sustainability video is all about breads, and the grains they come from. Yep, I'm afraid it won't offer much practical info to the gluten-intolerant...but since a whole lot of people eat a whole lot of bread, if you're committed to participating in building a sustainable future, this may still be useful info for you to have. That's entirely up to you...but if you know you shouldn't eat bread, but are sorely tempted to...consider this your temptation trigger warning! ;-)

Do you love bread? A good sandwich...a flaky croissant...golden buttered toast...mmmm...(I warned you!) If you also try to put nutritious foods in your body, you may feel guilty for your bread habits. And when trying to choose which breads to buy, you may feel confused! There are so many words thrown around: 'multi-grain', 'stone-ground', 'wheat', 'wholewheat', 'whole grain'...what do they mean??

Thankfully, the Lexicon of Sustainability is coming to our rescue to answer those questions, and delve even deeper into the world of grains: how has industrial farming changed the game, and how are we changing it back?

Watch the video here!

I love that this video talked a bit about landraces, but I don't think it covered this issue nearly enough. So, here's some info for your edification:

What are landraces? Wikipedia had this handy, simple definition: "landrace is a domesticated, regional ecotype;[1][2] a locally adapted,[3] traditional variety[4] of a domesticated species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species."

As you can see, landraces differ a great deal from the breeds of foods we find in industrial farming: it's easy to point to GMOs as the antithesis of land races, and the monocultures they encourage are indeed very problematic from this standpoint, but the technology itself could theoretically be used to enhance or recreate lost land races. Hybridizing different breeds to create a plant that yields in very consistent ways is just as much a disruption of the magic of landraces as tearing them out and planting GMOs in their place. 

Basically, landraces have adaptive strategies that allow them to survive the conditions they have been grown in for hundreds or thousands of years: drought or mold resistance, quick-growing for a short season...these are just a few examples. It's easy to produce these tendencies through a strong breeding program, weeding out (no pun intended) traits that pop up in the genome that aren't helpful.

This seems like a win-win: the landrace seeds will inevitably produce some plants that won't produce well in the common growing conditions: those recessive genes in the genome will come up. With lots of hybridization, we can take that to a minimum, increasing production.

BUT. You knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you? Sometimes a season, or a few seasons in a row, won't bring the expected challenges: an unexpected flood, a late hard frost, a new pest insect. These are challenges that can easily decimate a crop! But a landrace crop produces lots of slightly different plants every season. Some of those plants will likely have the traits needed to survive the onslaught. This saves some of the harvest, but production for that year will likely still be very low. Where landraces shine are in the next year, and the year after that! Saving those seeds that survived is its own form of breeding: putting traits that saved these plants back into future plants, so that if conditions continue in this way, MORE of the crop will survive next year! If not, those standard traits are still in the genome, and they'll come back out, too.

Because humans have been growing crops all over the world for thousands of years, we have incredibly diverse, and niche-adapted landraces of tons of important crops! It's a really beautiful gift from our ancestors! 

Land races are an insurance policy from Mother Nature that we just can't replicate through human intervention. The very complexity that we try to breed out to make controlling these plants easier is what makes them amazing!

But because we love our food, and our harvesting practices, to be consistent in an industrial settings, landraces are going extinct all the time. We are losing this precious inheritance at an alarming rate! How can you help? If you grow anything at all from seeds, take the time to ask around and get a hold of some seeds that have been saved, and passed down for generations, instead of the typically hybridized ones you'll find in your gardening center. If you get the opportunity to buy foods or products that come from landrace seeds, put your money there! You won't be sorry.

And yes, read labels! Look at ingredients! Bread should only have a few: flour, water, yeast, salt, maybe a little sugar or honey. There may be seeds or dried fruits, or herbs added in, but a short ingredient list that begins with wholegrain or wholewheat flour is the way to go.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Eating Omily: Trash Talk–The Power of Composting

Welcome to Part 3 of my expansion on the Lexicon of Sustainability short video series! These incredible little videos have so much to offer in terms of getting you up to speed on the Food Justice movement in easily digestible little bites! In fact, this 4 minute, 19 second video is one of the longer ones in the series! I'm super excited for you to give it a watch, and then read my additions and comments below, but before you do, I have a few quick notes for you:

This video shares and support my own ethic on meat-eating: that it can be done humanely, and respectfully. If you disagree, there are a few images in this video you probably won't enjoy seeing (raw meat, and a pig's head). Toward the end, the video also addresses the issues of food waste that happens on the plate, and suggests the ethic of, 'take what you want, but eat what you take'. If you have a history of an unhealthy relationship with food, or disordered eating, this portion could be triggering for you. Remember that eating what you don't want, even if you took it, is just as wasteful as throwing it away. Let it inform how much you choose to take next time. Don't be ashamed of a simple mistaken estimate of your appetite...and of course feel free to skip through these portions of the video if you aren't comfortable with them. That said, here's the link!

I love that this is the next topic in the Lexicon of Sustainability because I just had a conversation about it with the husband last night! Why do we compost? Is it really worth the extra effort, and freezer space? (ALL real estate is precious in NYC!) This video explains a lot of the great reasons to do so nicely, but it left out one: when our food waste rots in a landfill, it creates methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas, and in some cases even nitrous oxide (yes, the stuff your dentist gives you; don't go sniffing landfills, it's not worth it), which is 300 times as bad for our atmosphere as CO2! When our food waste rots in a properly-tended compost pile or bin, it DOESN'T release these harmful compounds. Composting DOES produce some carbon dioxide...there's just no getting around it. There's carbon in those food scraps, and as they are broken down by microbes, that carbon combines with oxygen and escapes as gas, but this short-term carbon cycle is a normal part of how the planet functions, and the compost produced helps plants to grow bigger and healthier, allowing them to sequester more carbon dioxide during their lifespan, so it all comes out in the wash. Worth the freezer space and a little time and space on your part? You bet!! 

Now, it's important to note that proper composting is NOT just tossing food scraps in a pile and leaving them. That's essentially just a mini landfill. If you have the space to compost, it's important that you learn how to do it properly, and tend this incredible, living ecosystem you're creating in order to maximize its benefits for Mother Earth. There are lots of resources for learning how to compost out there. Here's one that I found! If you DON'T have the space to compost, don't despair! You may be able to contribute your scraps to a composting program, or even just a green-thumbed neighbor! Ask around, and do some googling! Remember to follow the rules of what can and can't go in the compost contributions. Those rules do differ depending on the specific program. Things that impact those rules include the scope of the composting project, how the composting process is managed, and what happens to the finished compost. Which might just bring us to why I keep mentioning freezer space! No, you cannot compost in your freezer...but if you're collecting scraps to give to a composting program, the freezer is the best place for them, because they won't start to rot and stink! I use a gallon zip-top bag. As soon as its full, I bring it to the Farmers' Market, and drop it off. Easy!

I love the way this video focuses on composting as a way of closing the loop. Nature works in cycles: the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the cycle of the seasons, the phases of the moon...on and on and on! Nature. Is. Cyclical. This simple fact is exactly why 'conventional' farming doesn't work: it's a linear system! Inputs in, crops out, over and over again: it's the definition of unsustainable! Composting is how we close the loop! It's a HUGE part of sustainable food production.

Are you able to participate in closing the loop and building a more sustainable future through composting? Think you'll give it a try?? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Eating Omily: The Lexicon of Sustainability on Organic vs. Local

When you hear talk of sustainable food, or food that's healthier for the planet, what one word springs to mind? Organic? Probably! This can be a deal-breaker for some people. Organic food can feel like a racket: lots of less-than-totally-sustainable things are legally permitted in certified organic foods. Animal husbandry practices are the most egregious offenders. And, of course, there you stand in the grocery store. Organic tomatoes...or conventional ones. There are the price tags. You only have so much money. Who can afford to throw it away when there's a cheaper option RIGHT THERE??

Then there are the organic warriors: organic breakfast cereal, organic bottled water (it's probably a thing), organic fruit snacks, organic pajama pants (they have them at Wal-Mart!). Don't get me wrong: this approach is certainly doing some good for our world, but sustainability is more complicated than a piece of paper.

And this is the topic of the second Lexicon of Sustainability video: "Local vs. Organic". Again, it's only three minutes and sixteen seconds. Take a timeout and watch it!

Believe it or not, a lot of farmers are just like you, organic-avoiders! They aren't keen to pay extra for that certification sticker, and don't have access to the systems and resources that would make doing so make sense for them. So, they don't. And you don't have to either!

And, Organic Warrior? From the bottom of my heart, thank you for what you do!! When you step into a Farmers' Market though, try rephrasing your question! Instead of, "Is this organic?" Try, "do you spray your blueberries? How often, with what, and what for?" Or, "How do you handle pests and weeds on your farm?" Or, "What do your chickens eat?" You'll get a lot more information, and easily find some wonderful foods that meet your standards without the extra cost of maintaining certification thrown in!

Of course, when you're in your grocery store, you don't have the luxury of gaining this info. Which is one reason why Farmers markets are such a better choice when they're available! In which case, buying organic DOES guarantee a base level of earth, and health-protecting practices. Take some time to understand exactly what 'organic' does and doesn't mean, though. And keep in mind that "Certified organic" is not the same as "contains organic ingredients", or "made with organic (one ingredient in a product". And remember, "All Natural" does not have a legal definition. Anyone can slap that on anything. Don't pay extra for it, and don't assume it means anything at all. Read ingredient labels and nutrition information whenever you buy a prepared product, unless doing so triggers disordered thoughts or behaviors for you.

Got questions after watching the video? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Birth of a Doula

Over the weekend, I had the honor of attending my first solo, professional birth as a doula. It was a tough birth for the birthing person, forcing them to confront their beliefs surrounding birth and the medical system, and their own self doubt. In those challenging moments, I was forced to confront those things, too. Was I helping? Was I doing any good at all? Could I really handle this?

Ultimately, nothing prepares you for your first birth, whether you're the birthing person, or a birth worker. You have to trust your instincts, and think on your feet. Inevitably those first few births teach you A LOT. Some of the things I learn include:

Eat whenever you get the chance.

A BIG part of your job will be doula-ing the birthing person's family members. Your extensive knowledge of birth will enable you to ensure them that all is well, even when it seems like things are not. Get all the phone numbers, do all the texting, and enjoy having someone genuinely interested in all you learned in doula training!

Don't. Make. Assumptions. You will pass them along to your client, and your client will think something is wrong if you are mistaken.

Don't let your client see your doubt. They need your calm, confident presence, no matter what.

You will astound yourself with your stamina...but you are a human. Don't wait till you're breaking down to ask for help. There's no shame in calling in your back-up. This is not about you. You need to make sure the person attending your client is alert enough to do the job.

A lot of routine medical interventions are not necessary for most births, and they have side effects, so they should not be used if they are not called for...but they are an absolute God-send when they are called for. Not needing or wanting them does not make your client a better person, or their birth a better birth.

Sometimes the thing your client will need from you is for you to disappear. You may very much want to be involved at this moment, you may feel useless, and want to start pacing, or fidgeting. Again, this is not about you. Sit the feck down and relax. Your client may want you in their line of sight, or they may not. You'll figure it out.

Don't stand in the light the doctor's using to see how things are going during second stage.

The medical care provider(s) may ask you for help: roll that table over here, hold the birthing person's leg, go get more ice chips...make yourself useful! But remember who hired you, and who you are there to serve. Their opinion of you means absolutely nothing as long as you know that what you are doing (perhaps being invisible, which looks pretty useless from the outside) is what your client needs.

You will be overwhelmingly touched by the moment when that brand new person enters the room, and the family through a rather unusual door. You will want to be aaaaalllll up in there! One more time: this is not about you. The client may want to show off baby to you, or express their gratitude, or they may have questions about the immediate newborn procedures, or if they should put the baby on their nipple right away. If they aren't asking for you, stay in the room, take pictures only if they've asked you to, and get out of the way.

You will experience the weirdest blowback after you leave the birth: after hours of attending single-mindedly to the needs of another person, the slightest concern for your needs will move you to tears. Just roll with it. Yay, excessive gratitude!!!

There's more, of course. Every time I reread my notes I consider what I might do differently if I could. But my client, her partner, her father, the midwife...they were all blown away at the level of support I was offering, and the difference my presence was making in their experience of this birth. So, I'm off to a good start. ;-)

 Live Omily,
~em


Monday, July 18, 2016

Levels Levels Everywhere...Finding Your Fit as Teacher and Student

Any teacher, of yoga, aerial arts, or algebra, will tell you that one of the toughest things about the job is when the people in the room span wildly different levels of proficiency in the skill being taught.

How, in a limited amount of time, do you lay a solid foundation greener students can benefit from for a lifetime, offer properly scaffolded skills to students who have been around the block, give suggestions and critiques that each student is at the proper level to absorb and use, AND not leave anybody either struggling out in the cold, bored stiff, or sitting around waiting for you to get to them?

It's a tricky dance no matter what you're teaching, but I'll be zeroing in on teaching aerial arts since that's what I'm spending most of my teaching time doing these days. It's also why all, or open level classes are less than ideal. Of course, they are often necessary if there aren't enough clientele to fill two or three classes for every one open level offering, so don't panic if they're all that's available to you: a skilled teacher can manage the dance. ;-)

And offering leveled classes offers its own challenges, anyway: different teachers will have different opinions about whether a skill is a 'high' level one, or a 'low' level two, and so will different students. And plenty of students don't pay attention to what level a class is when signing up, or will fudge their experience to get into a class they, right or wrong, think is the right level for them.

Some studios get around this by being super rigid: holding back students from leveling up until they demonstrate competency in every singly skill offered in the current level. Students in these scenarios often get to the next level and find many skills there are much easier for them due to differing body types, and learning blind spots. Proponents of this style would point out that that's not the worst thing in the world...and they'd be right!

But what is correct scaffolding for one students is inevitably ass-backward for another, and I think that matters. The saying goes, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, they will spend their whole life thinking they're stupid. The same goes for the expert climber who's fearful of drops who gets judged by their ability to neatly land hipkey drop, and the beautiful mover in the air who gets confused by complex wraps who can't keep four different S-wrap entrances clear in their heads.

No matter how firmly we are disciplined to master every aspect of a skill set, we're going to emerge at the end with strengths and weaknesses that could probably have been recognized mere months into our practice. I'm a fearless dropper, and I build strength easily. I struggle with finding beautiful lines in every movement, keeping my feet pointed and winged out, and with gaining flexibility. There are plenty of moves that, at least for now, are just not for me.

I think it's ok to pick your battles, and stick with the things that make your heart sing, as long as you're operating safely in both a short term and a long term sense (think: not falling today; not developing a receptive motion injury five years from now). This is particularly true for the majority of aerial students who will never pursue a professional career.

So, that said, how do you properly learn, and how do you properly teach in the real world, where there's bound to be some leveling diversity in your classes?

Students: shop around! Do not stay with the first teacher who popped up on google! Find a teacher who recognizes your weaknesses and strengths, most likely because they share them. Make sure this teacher takes the time to teach those mutual weaknesses, instead of just ignoring them. If you can find leveled classes, take them. When you find that you're usually the most skillful student in the room, it's time to level up. This can be scary, and a tough adjustment, especially if you've been putting it off. Leave your ego at the door. Take your sense of humor instead. Also, read this blog post by the incredible Laura Witwer. Actually, read her entire blog. And take her classes. You're welcome.

Teachers: Talk to each student during warm-up to get an idea of where they are in their journey. Divide your students into smaller groups by level. Choose a skill or a sequence that easily breaks down into levels, and give everyone the piece thats right for them. Keep moving from group to group, and keep your eyes open: what aspect of the skill is a particular student struggling with? What spoken cue, or demo could help them with this sticky spot? Is this a strength or flexibility issue? If so, I try to offer a short-term fix to enable them to modify the skill and keep progressing, and a long term conditioning exercise to move them toward being able to do the full skill. Notice when students begin getting frustrated: that's your cue to switch to a new skill. Don't wait for every single person to conquer their piece. Let them chew on it for a while, then move on to something else. Repeated exposure over time will get them there without burning out, physically or mentally.

Also, be aware of your weaknesses as a teacher!! Do you excel at building confidence and breaking down simple skills in numerous different ways? Beginner students may be your bag! Do you get bored by repetition, love learning by doing, exploring new variations, and sharing ideas? You probably are much more comfortable working with experienced students!

I adore teaching brand new students. I love seeing that lightbulb go off when they realize that yes, they CAN do this! I have a wide vocabulary of moves suitable for brand new through level one students, and my years of experience teaching yoga have helped me develop the ability to break down skills in a variety of ways for different kinds of learners who aren't familiar with the basics of aerial movement. I'm not comfortable working with advanced students because I don't feel I have the experience, or the eye for professional-level technique, to help them continue to grow and develop their skills. Once you graduate from my sweet spot, there are a few teachers I'd recommend to you!

Take control of your journey! Challenge yourself! Have fun!! :-D

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, June 20, 2016

Eating Omily: The Definitive Julep Tutorial

Happy Summer Solstice and Strawberry Moon! (A strawberry moon is the first full moon of Summer) I'm celebrating by carting home my annual flat of strawberries for preserving purposes. I'll spend a sticky hour later getting as many as I can manage prepped and frozen or simmered down into a simple strawberry sauce that will keep a week or two in the fridge, or six months in the freezer. It's a great way to keep the summery strawberry flavor going since fresh strawberries will dissolved into a pile of moldy goop in a matter of days! I use it the way I use fresh chopped berries: by stirring it into yogurt, chia pudding, or, (segue alert!) mint juleps!

If you follow me on instagram, you may have already sense this blogpost on the horizon. The mint julep is my favorite cocktail in the warmer months: it's cool and refreshing, and I'm a big fan of the real star of the drink, which, contrary to who got top billing, isn't mint. It's bourbon of course! Simple mint juleps are lovely, but they only get better with the edition of seasonal fruit. Strawberry juleps are what celebrating the return of June tastes like, and later when humid, sticky days are getting me down, I can always chill out and find a smile when I'm sipping on a beautiful blackberry mint julep.

When the choir at my church held a potluck picnic, I signed up to bring strawberry mint juleps for all, and so I could spend some time enjoying the party, I googled around for ideas on how to batch juleps, rather than muddling them all individually. I wasn't very happy with what I found: a lot of people complaining about making even a single julep, first of all, and second of all, lots of recipes for mint simple syrup, resulting in a drink with no fresh mint in it at all. This. Is unacceptable.

I've provided a basic mint julep recipe before, but if there's a significant population out there intimidated at the thought of muddling, something more detailed is clearly needed. So here it is!

Omily's Mint Julep Tutorial!

You'll need: glasses. And the type of glass matters. Traditionally, mint juleps are served in sterling silver cups, but A.) I don't have one of those, and B.) I prefer using clear glass because it's a damn pretty drink. You also have to think about the bottom of your glass.  For example, I love serving cocktails in canning jars, but the bottom of the glass is convex, like an upside bowl, which means that it's easy for the mint to hide in the edges from your muddler. You want a concave, like a right-side-up bowl, shape to the bottom of your glass. You'll also want it to be wide enough for your hand to fit easily inside. You'll be more comfortable if you choke up on your muddler, and if you're hitting your knuckles on the glass with every stroke, you won't make many juleps.

You'll also need: a muddler. Mine is the pestle from a small, marble mortar and pestle I got as a wedding present. It's got some heft to it, which makes muddling easier, and the unpolished marble has enough texture to shred mint, but is smooth enough that the leaves don't get caught and stuck to it. I make lots of juleps all summer long, and I've never felt compelled to by an official 'Muddler'. If you do, consider the traits I've just outlined. A wooden spoon will work in a pinch, but it will take considerable longer to do the job with it.

You also need mint, of course. I like peppermint. Not spearmint, which is milder, or any of the other varietals like chocolate mint, or apple mint. I want a sharp, cool, minty flavor with an herbaceous, green background. Peppermint gives me that.

And Bourbon, of course. Don't go for the fancy stuff. My go-to for cocktails is Heaven Hill. I don't see it in stores a lot, and you may raise an eyebrow at the price. It seems too cheap to be any good, but it's perfect. Ask your liquor store if they can order it in for you. Most can, and will, for free.

The last ingredient is not the least important: Ice. You'll need a lot of ice. When I make two juleps, I use up more than one full ice cube tray. If you're the type to leave the empty tray languishing by the sink for weeks, plan ahead and make sure you have at least one tray full of ice per two drinks.

And optionally, some fresh summer fruit to jazz up the standard recipe. Strawberries and blackberries are my favorites, but don't hesitate to experiment!

Oh yeah, and sugar. You do need sugar. There's no getting around this. You do not need simple syrup. You need sugar. Coarser is better. I like sugar in the raw best, but any old sugar that's not powdered will do the job.

Ready, everyone? Here's the method.

Put your glass or glasses in front of you. I don't make more than two at a time. Have a julep station if you serve these at a party. Don't play bartender.

Put eleven small (or less large) mint leaves in the glass. It's an arbitrary number. I don't know where I got it. I've been counting eleven leaves out for a while now, and it works every time.

Sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over the leaves.

Muddle.

BE PATIENT. This is where my instagram post comes in. Check it out here. It's also a good opportunity to check out my julep glasses of choice! As Alton Brown says, "Lackluster muddling leads to lackluster juleps." Don't make a lackluster julep. :-) Push down hard on sugar over mint, rotating as you go. Lift up, shift the muddler, repeat. It should take about two minutes.

Once the mint is completely shredded into a dark paste, add your fruit if you're going to, and mash it up with the muddler. It will be much easier than muddling the mint. ;-) It's not a good idea to muddle the mint and the fruit together because the fruit juices will dissolve your sharp sugar crystals, which you need to shred the mint.

Now, add the bourbon. I do two shots of bourbon. I said it was refreshing; I didn't say it was weak. I like to take this opportunity to stir the drink, loosening the paste of mint and fruit, and distributing it evenly into the bourbon. Now, add ice. Fill the glass about two thirds or three quarters of the way, then stir again. This will start your cocktail cooling down, and it will melt some of the ice into the drink. You aren't adding any other liquid to this, so that ice melt is important for balancing the flavor. Dip the spoon down to the bottom and bring it back up, to distribute fruit and mint throughout. Top off with more ice, give it a last stir, and it's done!

Almost. If you sip it right now, you might think it's too strong and needs to be cut with seltzer or something. Wait five minutes. Try it again. It will be perfect.

Drink.

Repeat.

Aaaaahhh...

Happy Summer!