Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Earth-Bound Cook and the People Who Grow Her Food

Our friends Brent and Serena are coming for Thanksgiving! The entire family is thrilled, although the girls are a little disappointed that their dog Trixie and the baby burro won't be able to make the flight from Mexico.

We spent our spring breaks in 2007 and last year at Brent and Serena's village of Todos Santos ("All Saints") on the west coast of the Baja Peninsula, about fifty miles north of the tourist magnets Los Cabos. If all goes well, we'll return this March. We've fallen in love with Mexico.

A natural spring makes Todos Santos a literal oasis in the middle of the sun-baked yet beautiful Sonoran desert.

In Todos, agriculture not only supports the economy, but meshes with the landscape. Orchards and farm fields pop up between houses as you take the short drive off the single paved road of "downtown" Todos toward the residential neighborhoods to the north. Pepper plants rustle in the sun across the street from the hotel where gringos take yoga lessons. On our last trip, Serena described the scout troups who camped out in the mango orchard we'd pass every day. Rows and rows of tomatoes flourish next to the gravel road that leads to the unswimmable stretch of the coastline we called Killer Beach. I ran this route nearly every day of our trip last spring.

Sometimes the fields I passed when I ran would stretch away from my view, entirely empty of any life but the lush green plants, but occasionally I'd see a worker or two, fiddling with the water lines or doing other farmery work. Once I saw a man spraying the plants from a canister on his back. And sometimes those workers brought the kids, like the two boys who messed around in the back of their dad's pickup. They stopped their play to watch me jog by.

"They have parties in the fields," said Serena, who works in a school for the children of the migrant farmworkers who travel up and down the coast picking crops. She described the relaxed gatherings at twilight, where families bring picnics and the children play in the rows.

I thought again of the fields of Todos and the children who played there when I was reading and cooking from Myra Goodman's new cookbook The Earthbound Cook.

In between her intriguing and delicious recipes, Goodman offers mini-essays on the healthy planet lifestyle. Her "Twelve Reasons to Choose Organic" included this: "Choosing organic protects farmworkers, wildlife, and nearby homes, schools and businesses." She goes on to quote a 2009 study from the Annals of Neurology finding twice as many instances of Parkinson's disease among people who lived near homes sprayed with pesticides compared with those not exposed.

Farms are not operated by robots. They are worked by real people, often parents, whose children may need to come along for the day. It's no secret that the manual labor required to produce and harvest the crops that end up in our grocery stores and on our tables is often performed by vulnerable populations, who may have limited options and resources for child care and health care. According to the Migrant Clinicians Network, pesticide exposure may be one of the highest risk environmental hazards for migrant farm workers and "children especially are at risk." Even if they do not work or play in treated fields, the children of farm workers can be exposed to pesticides from their home, the surrounding environment and even the clothes their parents wear home from work.

I cannot find a more compelling reason for choosing organic produce than to lessen the risk of pesticide poisoning for children.

The other writers for the From Left To Write website are discussing Myra Goodman's book today. You can find their posts here. Emily, from West of the Loop, had this to say: "...the cookbook is all about cooking in a mindful way that is healthy for your family and for our planet — because aren’t those two things inextricably intertwined? For example, eating more vegetarian meals is both good for our bodies – because those meals tend to be lower in fat and higher in nutrients — and good for the environment because eating lower on the food chain consumes fewer resources."

The more I learn about sustainability, the more I see its theme of connection, like the intertwined benefits that Emily describes. And the more I learn, the more I believe a greener, more sustainable lifestyle is one that tries to connect more with the world, one that tries to examine where the products we consume originate, how they are made, and who are the people who benefit or suffer because of our choices.

By the way, I used Goodman's recipes for a beautiful apple pie with sweet crust, a chocolate-pecan cake with milk chocolate ganache icing and a delicious summer squash-tomato stir fry that used up the last of our CSA vegetables and herbs. I'll be trying her cauliflower "couscous" recipe soon.

This post was inspired by Myra Goodman's cookbook, The Earthbound Cook: 250 Recipes for Delicious Food and A Healthy Planet, which I received with no obligation from the publisher.


Michelle said...

Oh wow... I'd never even thought of the children who are playing in the fields there - shame on me for that. This is such a powerful book and so well put together, and yes - a great reason to choose organic!

Emily said...

Oh, thanks for quoting my post. I'm so glad that it resonated with you. You raise so many good points here. It is so often the case that the people most at risk, here the migrant farm workers and their families, are the ones least able to do something about it. It does put the burden on those of us who have the luxury of choosing what food to buy to be more thoughtful in our choices.