Tuesday, May 31, 2022

In My Kitchen and In the World, May 2022

My Kitchen in May: A Serene and Peaceful Retreat

On my refrigerator.

Chopping vegetables: actually a relaxing thing to do.

Eating outside on the new backyard table.

Salmon filets topped with lemon, herbs, and bell pepper; a big vegetable salad; a bottle of wine.
We enjoy cooking in the kitchen and eating in the dining room.

Sometimes we eat meat. This is Australian lamb that Len cooked on the grill outside.

Curried vegetables with the very small amount of leftover lamb.
 At least as far as I know, the Australian workers are not mistreated,
as are American meat workers. So we eat lamb occasionally.
In My Kitchen, May 30, 2022.

The World Is Not a Serene and Peaceful Place.

Flag at half-mast.
Food editor Sam Sifton of the New York Times wrote last week:

“These are the most difficult mornings: the sun rising after senseless acts of violence, shining on beds that weren’t slept in, that won’t be slept in again.  
“There are 19 dead schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas, as of this writing, along with two dead adults and the dead 18-year-old gunman. Several other children were injured, … including a 10-year-old in critical condition. The gunman also shot a 66-year-old woman whom authorities said was his grandmother. She, too, is in critical condition. …

“And I’m here to tell you what to cook right now?

“Food plays a central role in our reaction to tragedy, to death and grieving. It’s why casseroles appear on the doorsteps and countertops of those experiencing it, why we feel the urge to roast chickens or assemble lasagnas when the news is grim. Food is comfort of a sort, and fuel as well, for anger and sorrow alike. We cook to provide for those we love and for ourselves. In the activity itself we strive to find relief, strength, resolve.” (Source: promotional email from NYT cooking)

Sifton's newsletter, written the morning after the Texas massacre, struck a chord with me. I find it impossible to deal with the Republican tolerance for murder in the name of some totally outrageous right-wing theory of personal freedom (without responsibility, obviously). Reactions of Republican politicians seem harder to understand than the behavior of deeply disturbed psychopathic killers.

Our world is full of tragedies. Gun violence is a special US tragedy, a symptom of our national trend away from Democracy and towards a totalitarian state ruled by power hungry would-be oligarchs. Other tragedies, which affect far more innocent victims, are in my mind as well. Contemplating the death and destruction waged by the Russian war against Ukraine, the global power-seeking of Putin and his enablers, and the sheer cruelty of the invading Russian troops is unimaginable. The world is also face-to-face with a growing global famine, which I wrote about last week (blog post here). The human race is also facing environmental destruction, as signaled by terrible droughts on several continents, and other disruptions of normal climate patterns. And frantic parents are desperate for baby formula in the US.

And I’m here to tell you what’s happening in my kitchen?

Obviously, I kept cooking throughout the month, despite all the terrible stories in the newspapers. Maybe cooking does keep you sane, if you can keep from thinking about the victims of starvation. Whatever the case, I kept documenting my more experimental recipes. I try to keep posts not-too-boring, so I don't share photos of ordinary pasta dishes, tuna salads, or other run-of-the-mill foods that I make all the time. 

From an interview with Yotam Ottolenghi who says that it's true that Russians and Ukrainians share many food traditions -- "But reality proves that food, by default, doesn’t create or engender peace. You can’t just solve conflict through food,” he said. “It’s just, unfortunately, in our world, it’s not really working.” ("Yotam Ottolenghi wants to talk to you")

I’m sharing my kitchen observations with like-minded bloggers who write about their kitchens each month at Sherry’s blog here: “In My Kitchen.” This post © 2022 mae sander.

A peaceful scene viewed from our kayak — first trip of the season.
We do appreciate how peaceful are our lives.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Fair Trade Coffee

The selection of coffee at my local bulk food store, "By the Pound," includes several coffees from specific countries that are labeled "Fair Trade." Recently, we've been drinking a dark-roast Fair Trade Sumatra coffee. We also learned about fair trade coffee in Costa Rica a few years ago, and how farmers in a cooperative are creating a better life for themselves by keeping more of the profits from their labor. Having become curious about this, I've been looking up whether this designation is meaningful. Or whether it's just another empty claim like so many food labels!

The Fairtrade Logo
My searches taught me that an organization named Fairtrade International has a wide variety of ways to promote sustainable, ethical, and fair working conditions and prices for producers and processors of coffee as well as other foods, textiles, and other products, particularly in the third world. I do not believe that  this is the only such organization, but it's very large, claiming two million participating farmers in over 100 countries, according to Fairtrade America. Their website highlights the major issues of fairness in the coffee trade.

Coffee is a focus of Fairtrade International because coffee farmers are particularly vulnerable to market fluctuations and abuses by big business. The organization's web page about coffee states: "Worldwide, over 125 million people depend on coffee for their livelihoods, yet many are unable to earn a reliable living from this beloved and valuable crop."

Fairtrade efforts aim to set a minimum price which small-scale farmers receive for the coffee they grow. They try to ensure fair wages for hired labor, and to invest in improvements to their lives and working conditions. "By supporting smallholder farmers to organize themselves into small producer organizations – such as cooperatives and associations – farmers can negotiate better terms of trade and reach wider markets."

Fairtrade International also supports improvement for workers producing and processing other crops, such as chocolate, and they offer various types of certification of small-scale farmers and food producers. They set standards for action by various small-scale enterprises, for employers of individual laborers and contract labor, and for sustainable ways to deal with the climate impact of their production. Outside of farming, there are also specific standards for mining, for textile production, and a few other things. Membership in Fairtrade International includes farmers, shippers, wholesalers, and retailers of various agricultural and manufactured products.

Their statement:

"Companies seeking sustainable supply chains are a critical component of the Fairtrade system – by sourcing Fairtrade products and licensing the FAIRTRADE Marks, they support farmers and workers at Fairtrade producer organizations to take more control over their own futures.

"These businesses also offer shoppers an ever-increasing variety of ethically sourced, independently certified choices, showing trade can be fairer, more sustainable and better for all involved." (source)

There's a lot to learn about  coffee and its production -- my bit of reading about Fairtrade is only a start, and I have not found any independent evaluation of their methods or their interests. A few months ago I read Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of our Favorite Drug by Augustine Sedgewick (published 2020). It documents the spread of coffee drinking and the many issues that arose in its cultivation and distribution, beginning in the 15th century and continuing to the early twenty-first century. While the issues addressed by Fairtrade are different, they are related. (blogged here).

So many issues. So little time!

Blog post © 2022 mae sander … Shared with bloggers at Elizabeth’s weekly blog get-together.

At the Peony Garden

This is a 360º image. Place your cursor on the image and move it around to look at the entire photo.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Graffiti and Real Art

On the University of Michigan campus: a fountain by sculptor Carl Milles.
One of my favorite local art works by a great artist.

NOTE: for a survey of fountains by Milles, see this blog post:

On the street: a graffitied electric box.

As I snapped the picture, this car came by.
More street art?

At a park outside of town, graffiti on the bridge — maybe changed since the last time I was here.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.
Shared with “Sunday Salon” and with Sami’s weekly “Monday Murals.”


Friday, May 27, 2022

In My Garden

On a rainy day in our yard, the birds and animals are very ordinary. A real birder would scoff…

The world’s least interesting bird?

Bad bunnies eat our hostas.

I think this is the cardinal’s nest in the bush by the front door.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A Coming Famine?

“When war is waged, people go hungry”, said António Guterres, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, noting that 60 per cent of the world’s undernourished people live in areas affected by conflict. In 2021, most of the 140 million people suffering acute hunger lived in just 10 countries: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. “When this Council debates conflict, you debate hunger,” he stressed. “And when you fail to reach consensus, hungry people pay a high price.” (UN Press Release, May 19, 2022)

A Ukrainian farmer, from "How Russia’s war in Ukraine upended the breadbasket of Europe"

Food scarcity has been increasing drastically as the war in Ukraine reduces production and distribution of grain and cooking oil from the war-torn region. Russian troops have targeted farms, warehouses, and shipping channels, threatening famine in a number of countries that rely on Ukrainian supplies of grain and oil. Ukrainian farmers who should be planting crops cannot do so as buildings, equipment, and fields have been destroyed by military action. Hunger is a major problem for the Ukrainians, whose homes have been destroyed and whose lives are totally disrupted. Because Ukraine is a major exporter, the war also threatens millions of people in other countries with starvation.

At the economic summit in Davos this week, the European Commission president pointed out that Russia is intentionally destroying Ukrainian ability to supply grain and cooking oil to many countries, which depend on these supplies. Essential shipments of grain from Russia have also been disrupted, further contributing to the looming catastrophe.

Earlier this week, statements by UN representatives and by the head of the European Commission have highlighted the crisis, which has sent prices soaring in many places, and is already causing famine. Some quotes from the last few days:
  • "The head of the United Nations has said there is a looming global food crisis because of the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine." (Sky News)
  • "The world’s food distribution network was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions, and exports from Ukraine, ordinarily among the world’s biggest suppliers, have plummeted because of the war. Russia has seized some the country’s Black Sea ports and blockaded the rest, trapping cargo vessels laden with corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats." (New York Times)
  • "In Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, the number of people facing extreme hunger has more than doubled since last year, from roughly 10 million to more than 23 million today... . Across the three countries, the report notes, one person is likely dying every 48 seconds from acute hunger-related causes stemming from armed conflict, COVID-19, climate change and inflationary pressures worsened by the war in Ukraine." (NPR News)
  • In Iran last week public protests and violence were a reaction when, "prices for cooking oil quadrupled and for chicken and eggs doubled. The price of flat bread increased fivefold this month, and that of baguettes and sandwich rolls as much as tenfold." (New York Times)
  • India, the world's second biggest producer of wheat after China, banned export of grain on May 16. The impact will be widespread: 
    • "In the 12 months to March, India cashed in on soaring global prices, exporting a record 7 million metric tons of the grain. That was up more than 250% on the previous year's volumes. It had also set record export targets for the coming year." (CNN)
    • "Top destinations for Indian exports included Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal and Turkey, and top global buyer Egypt recently agreed to make a first ever purchase of Indian wheat as Cairo tried to replace lost shipments from the Black Sea." (Reuters)
  • "The World Food Programme estimates about 49 million people face emergency levels of hunger. About 811 million go to bed hungry each night. The  number of people on the brink of starvation across Africa’s Sahel region, for example, is at least 10 times higher than in pre-Covid 2019." (The Guardian)
I feel totally helpless as I watch the news of this global disaster. I know how lucky I am to live in a prosperous country that produces its own food. Americans are experiencing price increases in most food products as well as other commodities, but we don't face the same fate as the Africans and other people facing these shortages. 

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.

Monday, May 23, 2022

What is Impossible Meat?

From Burger King's Menu, May 2022: Impossible Whoppers.
I have tried them and they are fine.
"Beyond and Impossible meats are two different brands of plant-based meats that taste exactly like real meat—or close enough. The Impossible Burger even "bleeds" like meat, and is made mostly from soy, coconut oil, sunflower oil and natural flavors. Beyond Meat's key ingredients include water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil and rice protein." (Source: Is Impossible Meat Bad for You?)

Home-made Impossible Meatballs.
Some comments last week asked about what they are.

Last week I wrote about preparing and eating Impossible meatballs. I had found the key ingredient, Impossible Beef, at Trader Joe's -- it's popular so they do not always have it in stock. We've also tried Beyond Burgers; however, after using them for a while, I no longer enjoyed them. So far, I do like Impossible Meat, which I find a very convincing meat substitute, and better than vegetarian patties. While some people find just the idea of such products repellant, I am open to experiments!

A less-meat-like meat substitute: veggie burgers.
Not bad, just not like meat.
I’ve written before about our decision to buy less meat, and how we have switched our diet to a combination of plant-based foods, dairy products, some fish, and occasionally chicken. I’ve described how our reasons originally involved concern for human rights violations and inhumane treatment of workers in slaughter houses and meat-packing plants, which were especially abusive during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. We also considered other reasons to eat less meat, including the negative impact of cattle and hog raising on the global environment, the effect of eating meat on our health, and issues of cruelty to animals throughout the industrial meat-farming and slaughtering process. Switching to imitation meat addresses most of these problems.

One thing we try to give up: Fast Food like In-N-Out Burgers.
Shown here with lemonade to share with Elizabeth's blog party.

There are no perfect decisions! Only compromises. But here are some thoughts about the new very-meat-like meat substitutes, Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat.

Impossible Meat or Beyond Meat and Health

Beyond Burgers on our grill, May, 2020.
We decided to reduce our meat consumption two years ago.

The indisputable fact: Impossible Meat is ultra-processed. I've written about industrial food processing dozens of times, and generally explain why I avoid such products -- ultra-processing implies the use of numerous unfamiliar additives, and such foods couldn't be made in a home kitchen. This is all the more true of the lab-grown meat substitute, though the imitations are slightly lower in calories and much lower in fat content. I choose to eat Impossible meat occasionally, though, because the risk isn't high, and our avoidance of meat for ethical reasons is strong. I would especially be pleased if it was more commonly available at the fast-food places where I go when driving cross country! 

I'm not eating this product often enough to worry about whether it supplies the same nutrients as meat, though it has some of them:  

"Impossible Meats have been fortified with vitamins and minerals and do contain some micronutrients, but the reality is that processed foods are not as nutritious as unprocessed foods." (Source: Is Impossible Meat Bad for You?)

A bit more on the question of eating ultra-processed meat substitutes: 

"Critics of plant-based meat have also pointed out that it tends to be highly processed. No doubt, most plant-based meats are not health foods, due to their high saturated fat and salt (though beef and pork, too, are high in saturated fat). But “processed foods” is a vague and often ill-defined term that encompasses everything from high-fructose corn syrup to whole-grain pasta to yogurt, and has little bearing on foods’ environmental impact. As Vox’s Kelsey Piper has written, the term 'processed food' 'can obscure more than it clarifies' when it comes to the debate over plant-based meat." (Source: Yes, Plant-based meat is better for the planet)

I agree with the following statement from an article in Gizmodo: 

"If you’re wanting a nutritious, heart-healthy meal, you can and should eat vegetables and whole grains and fruits and all the other stuff that everyone knows they should be eating.... The nutritional status of the Impossible Burger doesn’t matter, because, like a regular hamburger, it’s a treat. You shouldn’t eat an Impossible Burger every day, just like you shouldn’t eat a hamburger every day." (source: "Impossible Burgers Aren’t Healthy")

What these products are NOT: a more controversial type of imitation meat is not yet available: this extreme method employs cell cultures to grow meat and seafood in a lab (also to grow dairy products). These products are in development, but none of them is yet on the market, and the USDA is in process of considering how to regulate them to protect consumers and avoid misrepresentation of the product. (Cell-based meat and milk: wonders of modern food technology?)

The Health of the Planet

First, the claims for ecological responsibility: "Impossible Foods claims its soy-based burger uses 87 percent less water, takes 96 percent less land, and has 89 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than a beef burger. Beyond Meat makes similar claims about its pea-based burgers." 

Then some analysis: "But years of research on the environmental impact of food make one thing clear: Plant proteins, even if processed into imitation burgers, have smaller climate, water, and land impacts than conventional meats. Apart from environmental impact, reducing meat production would also reduce animal suffering and the risk of both animal-borne disease and antibiotic resistance. The criticisms against the new wave of meatless meat appear to be more rooted in broad opposition to food technology rather than a true environmental accounting — and they muddy the waters in the search for climate solutions at a time when clarity is sorely needed." 

And a few statistics about meat growing: "Even the lowest-emitting beef from dedicated beef herds (34 kg carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e) and lower-emitting beef from dairy cow herds (15 kg CO2e) came in far above the highest-emitting tofu (4 kg CO2e) and plant-based meat (7 kg)." 

Will highly processed meat substitutes become more common and more acceptable while remaining ecologically responsible? At the moment, Impossible Meat and Beyond Beef are more expensive than ground beef: will the price difference decrease? Can the successes of these small start-up companies be scaled up to feed many more people and actually lead to a reduction in demand for beef? These are ongoing questions and I have not seen credible answers.

Source of quotes for this section: Yes, Plant-based meat is better for the planet.

Ethics: The Welfare of Meat-Packing Workers

Concern about meatpacking workers, especially about the risks that they were forced to take during the pandemic, was our original reason for greatly reducing our meat consumption. The abuses in industrial meat plants, which produce 99% of the country's meat supply, were already outrageous prior to the pandemic. High incidence of injuries and long hours without breaks were consistent, and many of the workers were immigrants (legal or not) or otherwise vulnerable to exploitation. My belief that mistreatment of workers is a central feature of American meat production gives me an incentive to continue avoiding meat. Substitutes like Impossible meat make it easier for me to do so. 

We read in the spring of 2020, as the coronavirus was raging, about how the meatpacking industry giants (virtually the only source of retail meat available) forced workers to stay on the job and risk illness and death for themselves and their families. Abuse of workers is unchanged now, after two years of public awareness of the vast cruelty of the meat industry. A newly published report offers many facts about this:

"How the Trump Administration Helped the Meatpacking
Industry Block Pandemic Worker Protections," May 2020.
An official report on recent Congressional hearings by the
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. (Online version here)

The major finding of this report:

"Last year, the Select Subcommittee found that during the first year of the pandemic, infections and deaths among workers for five of the largest meatpacking companies—Tyson Foods, Inc. (Tyson), JBS USA Holdings, Inc. (JBS), Smithfield Foods (Smithfield), Cargill, Inc. (Cargill), and National Beef Packing Company LLC (National Beef)—were significantly higher than previously estimated, with over 59,000 workers for these companies being infected with the coronavirus and at least 269 dying. Internal meatpacking industry documents reviewed by the Select Subcommittee now illustrate that despite awareness of the high risks of coronavirus spread in their plants, meatpacking companies engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials to insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight, to force workers to continue working in dangerous conditions, and to shield themselves from legal liability for any resulting worker illness or death."

The vile behavior of meatpacking corporations, and the vile corruption of the Trump administration in abetting them, is no surprise, but the facts are still shocking. The report details the existing  abuses of the major suppliers of meat to the country, and how they continue to mistreat workers. And I'm convinced that I want to continue avoiding their products whenever I can.

Blog post © mae sander 2022. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Remembering What We Did Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago this weekend we arrived in Santa Barbara for a month's stay -- a vivid memory. We went to lunch at a little burrito shop in a shopping center, and then bought some groceries for our temporary apartment. A weekly farmers' market was in the parking lot, which we really enjoyed -- especially the piles of ripe apricots. Here's what I wrote back then.


  • You know you are in California when you are smiling at your burrito out in the sunshine.
  • You know you are in California when a farmer at the farmers' market explains that he sells three types of artichokes, and another farmer has two kinds of avocados, some ripe, some hard. And a third farmer says that last year's tomato plants still have some tomatoes on them. 
  • You know you are in California when girls wear short shorts with Uggs. It's hardly worth mentioning the sight of surf boards, but they're here too.
  • You know you are in California when you see flights of pelicans, sea fog, lagoons, tidal sloughs, and rolling waves.
  • You know you are in California when you smell the eucalyptus trees.

Blog post © 2012, 2022, mae sander.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Our Week In Food

Continuing to try Ethiopian recipes.
Above: shiro, recipe by Samin Nosrat (recipe link)
In casserole dish: Chicken in Tej Sauce with Oranges.
From Ethiopia by Yohanis Gebreysus.

Lunch without a recipe:
Fried mushrooms and toasted cheese on English Muffins.

Curried cauliflower with green peas (recipe inspiration)

Outdoor lunch: chips, salsa, salad.

First time grilling in 2022.
Len grilled a sliced eggplant, served with fresh tomatoes and cheese.
Side dish: couscous with parmesan and herbs.

And we are growing herbs for summer meals.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Birding at Magee Marsh


Seeing an owl always makes a birding day into a good birding day.
We spent much of Tuesday at Magee Marsh on the shore of Lake Erie.

There were swallows everywhere.

This woodpecker was looking out of his hole.

The woodpecker soon flew away.

A Yellow Warbler: one of many.
Numerous species of warbler migrate through Magee Marsh each May.

A Tennessee warbler.

A family of Killdeer chicks.

A Baltimore Oriole.

 An Eastern Kingbird.

A Magnolia Warbler.

Other birders at the marsh.

 More birders.

All photos © 2022 mae sander