Chickpea Curry and the Great Divide

Today at the Newport Beach Farmers Market I bought a bottle of blood orange olive oil, from award -winning Sonoma producer The Olive Press, so fragrant it was if the zest of the orange were on my fingertips. It was $20 and, for its versatility, purity, and aroma – worth every penny. I also came home with some of the finest cheese money can buy,  a Bavarian Algäuer Bergkäse  and Parmigiano Reggiano from Picnic’s Fine Foods. Granted this is for an art and wine event tomorrow night where, as guest chef, I’m creating three memorable appetizers, but being able to buy the best quality food and afford fine dining got me thinking about an article I read on the disparity between what we eat – yes, you too- and what many other Americans eat.

Many of us in the foodie universe are concerned about eating locally, or organically, or sustainably – but what Lisa Miller addresses in her Newsweek article “Divided We Eat”, is being able to afford to feed your family fresh, nutritious food and what the food we eat says about social class in America. Lisa admits to being a food snob with her  breakfast of cappuccino made in an Alessi pot and mixed with organic milk along with Dutch Parano imported cheese on homemade bread with butter. Her food experiences and those of her neighbor, an organic and locavore Michael Pollan disciple, serve as a contrast to the statistics she offers and the story of two families that live within 5 miles of her in Brooklyn. Here are a few excerpts from her article, but I urge you read it in its entirety.

“According to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17 percent of Americans—more than 50 million people—live in households that are “food insecure,” a term that means a family sometimes runs out of money to buy food, or it sometimes runs out of food before it can get more money. Food insecurity is especially high in households headed by a single mother….

Reflected against the obsessive concerns of the foodies in my circle, and the glare of attention given to the plight of the poor and hungry abroad, even a fraction of starving children in America seems too high.

But modern America is a place of extremes, and what you eat for dinner has become the definitive marker of social status; as the distance between rich and poor continues to grow, the freshest, most nutritious foods have become luxury goods that only some can afford.”

This isn’t intended to be a preachy post, I’m sure many of you are aware of food-related issues that are threatening the well-being of America and our health care system. The article goes on to say that Michael Pollan “sees a future where, in an effort to fight diabetes and obesity, health-insurance companies are advocates for small and medium-size farmers. He dreams of a broad food-policy conversation in Washington. ‘The food movement … is still very young’ ”

Ms. Miller also speaks with Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, who “believes that part of the answer lies in working with Big Food. The food industry hasn’t been entirely bad: it developed the technology to bring apples to Wisconsin in the middle of winter, after all. It could surely make sustainably produced fruits and vegetables affordable and available. ‘We need to bring social justice to bigger agriculture as well.’ ”

Which brings me to my next post where I make a heart-healthy dish using lycopene rich canned tomatoes. In the winter, when tomatoes are out of season and I’ve depleted my supply of roasted frozen tomatoes, I buy canned tomatoes. This time I turned to non-organic Hunt’s tomatoes because that’s what’s readily available in supermarkets everywhere. I also wanted to make a dish that was quick and inexpensive, yet nutritious.

But I’ve already gone on too long, please read Ms. Miller’s article if this is a subject you care about and if you’re still with me, thank you for reading :-) I think we in the food community can influence change with the choices we make but also working toward what Joel Berg believes: that besides what locavore activists and city programs are doing to help the poor have better access to fresh food such as food co-ops and community garden associations and incentives to buy at farmers markets,  “the answer lies in seeing food more as a shared resource, like water, than as a consumer product, like shoes”.

Tomorrow, I’ll share the recipe for the aromatic Chickpea Curry and more about an interesting study that reveals canned tomatoes to be more readily absorbed by the body than fresh – I know, I was skeptical, too.

12 Responses to “Chickpea Curry and the Great Divide”

  1. Sommer @ A Spicy Perspective December 6 at 8:16 am #

    Priscilla~ what an incredibly thought provoking article! Where I live, housing costs are high and the food movement is prominent. I’ve noticed a large percentage of people here are food and house poor…meaning they spend every dime on housing and high-quality food. Clothing, vacations and vices are definitely an after thought. I realize, though that this is not the case in most places. Asheville has a very unique culture. Food/health education is a MUST for this generation!

  2. Faith December 6 at 8:54 am #

    This was a really fascinating read from start to end. Wow. It’s so hard to imagine that more than 50 million people here in the U.S. don’t always have food on their table. It’s heart-wrenching really. Thanks for helping to raise awareness, Priscilla.

  3. Velva December 6 at 10:59 am #

    Eating locally, organically and sustainable for many Americans is not an option. We live in a culture that fast or processed foods are less expensive to put on our tables than whole and fresh foods. We don’t spend the time ( in many cases because we don’t have the time) to teach our children to cook, the importance of sharing a meal together, using simple ingredients.
    Ensuring that families that struggle to have access to good food is a right and not a privilege-and educating people about nutrition is so important.

    Love the post. Thanks for sharing with us.


  4. rebecca December 6 at 11:51 am #

    great post and love the discussion i think we can share recipes and make sure we don’t put pressure on readers to have to buy organic yes its the best but like you said canned tomatoes, beans and regular products can still make gourmet meals

  5. Dan @ Casual Kitchen December 6 at 1:38 pm #

    I thought it was a really thought-provoking article too, but what was disturbing to me was the incredible narcissism of the authors describing their food habits. I mean, bragging about how you eat the hippest cheese in New York and insulting your family members about their food choices….that’s just not helping anybody bridge the great food divide.


  6. fooddreamer December 6 at 4:42 pm #

    You know, my husband pointed out this very thing a few years ago when we were talking about joining a CSA. Our quality of food has gone up as our income has gone up, and it’s a sad state of affairs that only the well to do can afford the healthiest foods. Thanks for taking the reins in hand and getting people thinking about it.

  7. Pachecopatty December 7 at 6:26 am #

    Hi Priscilla, I went to an event at The Olive Press this past year. They have a pizza oven in front of their retail shop where they made pizza using the blood orange olive oil that you purchased. It is delicious drizzled on fresh pizza. They were sampling their different flavored oils on fresh baked pizzas, nice way to show them off! I also wanted to mention that I have been receiving a veggie box from Bettys Organics out of Lagunitas in No Ca.
    I also want to say that when I was in college and lived on a limited budget I ate a lot of homemade soup, bread and salads, which are fairly inexpensive to make. Once a month I treated myself to breakfast in an inexpensive restaurant. I think it’s possible to eat well, maybe not gourmet fine foods but healthy on a limited budget, if you learn a few basics about cooking and feeding yourself without wasting money on packaged foods.

  8. Angie's Recipes December 7 at 7:45 am #

    A wonderful post! I have no problem of using canned or frozen food, esp. in winter time, when fresh vegetables or herbs are not available.
    I look forward to your chickpea curry recipe.

    • Priscilla December 7 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks for reading and for your support on this important issue. The food movement is gaining momentum and hopefully education about nutrition will continue to get face time at the federal and state level. I’d like to get more involved in “bringing social justice to big agriculture” to increase availability of more nutritious, fresh fruits and vegetables.

      @Sommer – Asheville is on my list of places to visit, and when I do I may end up wanting to stay :-)

      @Pachecopatty – I’ll definitely try the blood orange olive oil on pizza – still one of my favorite foods. I totally agree with you that people can eat well and healthy on a limited budget. I did it for years myself – during and after college :-) The problem is many people don’t know how or don’t want to take the time to cook.

      @Angie – I’m working on that post right now :-)

  9. Monet December 7 at 10:17 am #

    Wow. Thank you for bringing this article to my attention. I taught in Philly and Baltimore for a while, and I was saddened to see the limited food options my students had due to economics. I can’t wait to peruse this article and share it with my friends. It is so important that we make the food movement accessible to people of all economic backgrounds…not just the wealthy or middle-class. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you have a festive Tuesday!

  10. FOODESSA December 7 at 5:14 pm #

    This was a very interesting read Priscilla and also a very delicate matter which has become a borderline subject for many.

    We all have very personal choices to make and they aren’t always perfect.

    All the very best in making better informed choices for ourselves.

  11. claudia lamascolo December 8 at 10:14 am #

    whata a fantastic recipe great presentation, and post!

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