nour·ish·ment - ˈnəriSHmənt/ . noun
the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.
the action of nourishing someone or something.
Many of us have heard the discouraging statistics about American's food quality, the loss of crop diversity, the subsidizing of corn to the detriment of any other produce and the destructive impact of our food industry's "efficiencies." National Geographic reported that 94% of the world's vegetable seeds circa 1903 are now missing from the earth. A recently aired documentary, SEED: The Untold Story, is a richly documented adventure story of world wide seed savers determined to hold and cherish our planet's bio diversity. These seed savers literally comb the earth for food varieties that were once common and are now rare.
Taking this possibly overwhelming issue to the local and more "digestible" level moves me to my food purchasing choices, a consideration of value and the prohibitive cost of some high quality food products. Local Pasadena baker Joseph Abrakjian attempts to balance the reality of his cost of running an ethical business with consumer access. But the question of value continues to dog Joseph, who at times feels personally affronted when a customer questions the $7 dollar price for a loaf of bread. On the other hand, he has been counseled by artisan food making peers that his products are under priced. But, he has said with feeling, "good bread should not be a luxury."
While I always lead with taste and quality of ingredients as a criteria for value, many families on restricted budgets can not. So I conducted a little experiment by purchasing 3 loaves of bread. Rustic Country Pan Loaf at Seed Bakery and two commercially produced loaves, Nature's Harvest Whole Grain and the ubiquitous Wonder Bread, at my local Von's Supermarket. On an ounce by ounce basis, Joseph's bread, while more expensive than two store bought loaves, is actually closer in price than is first understood. Each slice of his Rustic Country weighs more than twice as much as a slice of Wonder Bread or Harvest Whole Grain.
And then there are the ingredient comparisons. There is nothing to be written here other than--wow!
Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.
And then there is taste. While one of my childhood memories includes the deep satisfaction that compressing a slice of Wonder Bread into a tiny, dense ball gave me, this particular delight has worn off. Joseph's Rustic Country has a gorgeous texture and just a slight tang of sour dough. There is no mystery to his ingredients. They are heirloom grains milled by Joseph, water and sea salt.
How can a nation be great if their bread tastes like Kleenex?
And then if we want to go even more deeply into the question of nourishment as value, consider for a moment the story of one of Seed's many food purveyors. Roger Thomas, single dad of four boys and owner of the ten acre Thomas Farms in Twenty-Nine Palms. His Rhode Island Red hens are pasture raised and lay their eggs in a large barn where they are free to come and go as they please.
And there are Seed's nine employees who know the regulars and are clearly pretty happy as there has been little or no turnover since the early days.
And there is the community around Seed, where we receive so much more than simple food nourishment.
And then there is the link between our little weekly action and the world's food supply. Who knew that we could support biodiversity, by investing a bit more on a loaf of bread?
A recipe that connects the dots between good nutrition, delicious taste and very low cost comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day by Leanne Brown. This is a revelatory book that began with the consideration of the daily SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) allowance as one of its "design" challenges along with self-financing its publication through Kickstarter. In her introduction, Leanne writes, "Kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food. This cookbook is a celebration of the many delicious meals available to those on even the most strict of budgets." I would add that all of these recipes are created from wholesome, easily found ingredients and draw their flavor profiles from the cultural richness of our various communities. As proof, try her Roti recipe. In remembering my days as a young, single mother running a non-profit, time was an equally precious resource. This Roti recipe required 10 minutes of active cooking time and yielded 16 delicious rounds of hot, puffed flatbread ready to be filled with scrambled eggs or dipped into soups, curries or stews.
And as usual, some poetic musings, this time on bread and its unenending forms of nourishment.
The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.
Peace goes into the making of a poem as flour goes into the making of bread.
Above, Alex, our favorite preschool gourmet, relishing some of Joesph's Rustic Country Pan Loaf. His pronouncement: This is really yummy.