Wednesday, January 4, 2012


One of the concepts of Permaculture is to integrate animals into an agricultural systems in a natural way. While this is often thought of in terms of the big three - cattle, pigs and chickens - there are many other sources of protein that make sense in certain environments. Sometimes this is referred to as "bushmeat".

In urban contexts, or ones with lots of trees, one type of bushmeat that's making headways is squirrel:

Is squirrel the perfect austerity dish? (BBC)

In England, eating grey squrrels is seen as an environmentally-friendly way to protect the native red squirrel:

Squirrel meat served at Edinborough restaurant. (BBC)

Dinner gets very local for squirrel-eating Seattleite (Seattle Times)

If you don't want to go so far as cooking squirrel, do learn to cook. So much cooking today is devoted to producing elaborate dishes as seen on TV. News flash - people almost never ate that way in the past! These elaborate dishes were reserved for the upper class, many of whom had large staffs of servants to prepare such meals (a la Downton Abbey). Common people ate relatively simple meals - few common ingredients, prepared economically. They did not have the time or facilities to prepare the fancy dishes served at landed estates or restaurants.

When I started cooking, I was easily frustrated because all the recipes in books were the kinds of things you would prepare if you wanted to make an elaborate meal for a crowd for entertaining. Almost nothing was written for simple, basic everyday cooking for one. Nothing was written about simple dishes like meatballs or spaghetti - instead the focus went to elaborate dishes with dozens of often hard-to find ingredients. And most of those ingredients ended up going to waste, because they could not be recombined.

Some of the reason for this was actually was a product of stay-at-home wives of the 1940s-1960s. These women needed things to do all day, and with all the elaborate labor-saving devices available, cooking became easier than ever. Hence the complicated recipes. Most cookbooks at the time were pitched to them, and because it was taken for granted that such women knew how to prepare basic dishes, no cookbooks were written about that. But times have changed. People have forgotten how to cook everyday foods! Unfortunately, the emphasis on elaborate recipes in cookbooks has scared off entire generations from cooking. TV has made it worse - most of the celebrity chefs are professional cooks and restaurant owners, not ordinary folks cooking simple meals for one or two.

Now we need to relearn what we've forgotten - how to create everyday homemade meals from cheap, common, wholesome ingredients that can be combined in multiple ways. In the past, even recipes were not needed - people naturally learned how to do this growing up. Thankfully, there's finally a movement to do this once again. I was inspired in this line of thinking by Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, which I received as a gift (and I think even he's a bit too elaborate). This book looks like another good shift to getting people back in the kitchen:

Why are so many of us intimidated by cooking? It may be that this convenience-food generation never got to see our mothers and grandmothers boiling and roasting meals without a recipe, turning the leftovers into hash or stew. Instead we are guided by cooking shows that celebrate the elaborate preparations and techniques that Ms. Adler calls “high-wire acts.”

“Anybody who grew up with a lot of home cooking around them knows that you can have eggs for dinner or that lentils can become pancakes tomorrow,” she said. “But sometimes we just don’t know that we can do that because they don’t do that on TV.”

One of her most important lessons is that we need to spend less time thinking about food and more time just enjoying it. Her suggestions about how to prepare vegetables contradict much of what we have been taught, or think we have.

For instance, while most of us stock our crispers with fresh vegetables and then spend the rest of the week racing to eat them before they turn brown, Ms. Adler buys up basketfuls of whatever vegetables are in season, and as soon as she gets home she scrubs off the dirt, trims the leaves, chops and peels, and then cooks and prepares all the vegetables at once — washing and separating lettuce leaves; drizzling cauliflower, beets and carrots with olive oil and roasting them in separate pans. Beet greens are sautéed, and chopped stems and leaves are transformed into pesto.

Many people, myself included, have long believed that vegetables are best if they are cooked just before they are served. But cooking vegetables as soon as you buy them essentially turns them into a convenience food, allowing them to keep longer and creating a starting point for a week’s worth of meals.

The comforting lesson from “An Everlasting Meal” is that we already know plenty about feeding ourselves, and we don’t need to complicate things by trying to create something extraordinary every time we cook.

“I feel like people are being hit from all sides by a lot of confusing messages, and they are feeling like eating well is really hard,” Ms. Adler said. “This is not a question of expertise. Other than being an expert eater, which we all are by the time we start cooking, we’re already experts at knowing when things are done or whether they need more seasoning.”
A Recipe for Simplifying Life: Ditch All the Recipes (New York Times)

An Everlasting Meal looks like a good book to get your hands in, if this article is accurate. Squirrel is optional.

ADDENDUM: Al rodente: Could squirrel meat come back into vogue? (Grist)

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