Thursday, October 15, 2009


So far I haven't minced words about how much I dislike the cafeteria food I'm forced to eat while living on campus at UWSP. That's because, until last night, I was faced with the usual deluge of greasy pizza, butter/cheese-laden pasta and potatoes, and a weekly rotation of dubious main dishes, my favorite of which is the masticated mass of ground chicken formed into a vaguely breast-shaped patty, deep-fried, and then advertised as "breaded chicken breast."

This year was supposed to be different. It was big news when, during the last school year, UWSP announced plans to switch from dining service giant Chartwells to a self-run operation. Until last night, that basically meant the school was buying from Sysco, instead of Chartwells buying from Sysco (effectively cutting out the middle man, although meal plan prices went up considerably this year). When asked about a recent student push for local food, the director of university dining responded with the offensive and patronizing comment, "People don't understand the real impact. To go local, we would be serving no lettuce in the middle of winter." Umm, this is one of the leading natural resources schools in the nation. For the most part, we understand the idea of agricultural seasons. We embrace it; the beauty of eating seasonally is variety. Not to mention the fact that some of the earliest proponents of the Farm-to-School method have been in New England, which, last time I checked, also enjoys winter.

Despite being a truly environmentally forward school, Stevens Point's dining program is, on a whole, lacking. So when I walked into the dining hall and was confronted with what was advertised as "Harvest Dinner," I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

There was still pizza and pasta, like usual, as well as the salad bar and the build-your-own sandwich/wrap station. But the main line was loaded with (oh my God!) local food! Purple potatoes, roasted with lots of black pepper; whitefish from Lake Superior; bison stew (!); wild rice with cranberries; baked acorn squash; and apple crumble. All from Wisconsin. I was beyond excited.

It is my sincere hope that in the not-too-near future this will not be a once-a-year occasion that almost causes me to drop my polycarbonate cafeteria plate in disbelief. My dream is that soon, the oddity will be food from outside Wisconsin. Apples from Oregon? Why? We have orchards practically within walking distance. Masticated chicken patty? Nope...plenty of poultry to be had right here in Portage County. As difficult as it may be for kids to give up lettuce in December, I have faith in UWSP's student body. The least we can do is give it the ol' college try.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I'm going to try something new today. I've not been posting much because, frankly, the most exciting thing that has happened to me in the past few weeks is one homeworkless day...which I spent poking around Facebook. And I've certainly not experienced anything interesting in the culinary world lately (unless you count yesterday's Oktoberfest celebration at the cafeteria, which I don't).

So in lieu of relating my culinary exploits, I'm going to review a book. While Animal, Vegetable, Miracle isn't an overt "foodie" read, it does bring to light many issues related to responsible consumption, an important consideration for the modern eater.

Published in 2007, the book tells the story of author Barbara Kingsolver's move (along with her husband and two daughters) to a small tract of land in Appalachia. Accompanying the move was a family pact to join the locavore movement: that is, the family decided to obtain all of their food from within a 100-mile radius.

Kingsolver is best known for her works of fiction, such as the immensely popular Poisonwood Bible. Few people realize that she is an avid home gardener with a masters degree in evolutionary biology. The combination of skilled writer and environmental scientist makes for a great read, and one without the pretension of similar eco-books. Kingsolver remains grounded, offering environmentally friendly options for people with little time, money, and/or space.

Separated into months (the Kingsolvers' initial locavore commitment was for one year), the book is interspersed with recipes and nutritional information from Kingsolver's oldest daughter, Camille, and insight from Steven Hopp, Kingsolver's husband. Despite the fact that it forces the reader to consider some of the biggest environmental issues of our time, the book is a light read. Comic anecdotes abound...especially entertaining is the chapter describing Kingsolver's difficulty in trying to get turkeys to mate with themselves (a trait corporate farming has bred out of them; if you're buying your turkey from the grocery store, it's been artificially inseminated by human hands).

Don't have time to read the book? Not to worry. The book's website includes recipes, news, and even a new index for the book. If nothing else, check out the brilliant depiction of the "vegetannual," an easy guide for knowing what produce is in season when.