Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Law and Religious Freedom

January 18, 2021

Religious freedom is a complicated thing. Efforts in the United States to redefine the First Amendment unofficially to mean freedom of worship instead of freedom of religion understand this. The practice of one’s faith intersects with many different aspects of larger culture and society, not always in ways either convenient or appreciated by the larger culture that doesn’t share the particular religious beliefs of the adherent.

As such, the temptation to pass laws ostensibly for one reason even when they directly impact religious freedom is ever present. And certainly as a society becomes less religious as a whole, such efforts are likely to increase both in frequency and scope, effectively limiting or curtailing religious freedom without officially declaring aspects of a religion unacceptable.

So it is that in Europe, laws restricting Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter methods have been passed – initially in Belgium last year and now upheld against legal challenges this year. Advocates maintain such restrictions are for the benefit of animals, ensuring they are slaughtered humanely. However ironically, advocates make no attempts to demand changes to how animals are raised and spend their lives, oftentimes in cramped, unsanitary and squalid environments. Critics of these laws interpret them as mainly efforts to eliminate religious practices of Jews and Muslims in Europe, and have little to do with whether kosher or halal slaughter rituals are actually inhumane or cause more stress or pain to animals than modern slaughter techniques.

Opponents to the legislation argue that ritual slaughter techniques are not necessarily less humane, and further protect animals not just at their moment of death but in their lives as well.

Specifically, the Belgian law requires animals to be stunned before being slaughtered, while both Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter requires the animal be fully conscious. Both religious traditions argue that done properly, their ritual slaughter techniques cause no stress or pain to the animal, while modern techniques of stunning can introduce great trauma and pain, briefly normally but for longer timeframes when done improperly. Critics also note the Nazi’s banned kosher slaughter in 1933.

Neither the Nazi law or the current law was religious in nature. The laws simply insisted that humane treatment of animals was the main issue. But without demonstrable research that ritual methodologies are unduly inhumane, that argument seems weak at best. Both Jewish and Muslim scholars insist that care for animals is of paramount importance to their traditions as well.

Such legislation is worth noting as similar techniques abridging religious practice are being rolled out in the US as well, such as efforts to eradicate long-standing religious practices and protections. Again, the legislation is not presented primarily as religious in nature, but rather claims to achieve ends that almost everyone would agree are good, while destroying freedom of religious practice – at least one aspect of it – in the process.

Losing rights and privileges can happen abruptly and brutally. But it can also happen slowly and piecemeal and under the guise of accomplishing important and good things.

Need and Demand

January 15, 2020

This is an inspiring article talking about changes in the way restaurants handle excess food.  Instead of just throwing it away, there are a variety of organizations created to help them repurpose it without excess cost (man hours, etc.) to themselves.

But I found the most interesting – and least explored – aspect of the article occurred in the first two paragraphs.  A baker wanting to donate excess bread to a homeless woman’s shelter or even directly to homeless people in Los Angeles’ Skid Row discovered nobody wanted it.  Which to my mind says that hunger may not be the major issue for some of these people.

I’m all for repurposing food and helping to ensure it doesn’t go to waste.  And I believe there are hungry people who need it.   But what if that’s not the case?  At least not on the scale we imagine it to be?  In a patchwork of city, state, and national programs to assist in providing money for food, and in addition to countless non-profits and churches that also seek to help the hungry, is the nature of the problem changing?  Is hunger less of an issue for some people – like the homeless – than we imagine it to be?  Does this indicate a change in the homeless culture itself?

A local school district is facing financial challenges (of course).  One of the proposed solutions is to scale back the free breakfasts the schools offer to any student who wants one, to just those students who are verified as needing it.  I’m sure the breakfasts were made available to every student in order to eliminate the stigma of a breakfast only available to the verifiably destitute.  When I was growing up it was a stigma to not be fed at school, because the school lunches cost money and my family could only afford to send me with a packed  lunch.  Now the situation seems to be reversed?

I’m curious about why the shelter said no to the bread, and why the homeless themselves weren’t interested.  I’m sure the shelter can only use so much bread on a daily basis, but again, if people are dealing with hunger at the levels often touted in our media, it’s hard to imagine them passing up free food.

Unless they’ve discovered a better option.  In which case, we should be paying attention to that shift to make sure that unused food gets to those who actually need it.

St. Meinrad Mass Bread

November 3, 2018

When we bake bread for use in Holy Communion, this is the recipe we’ve used for nearly two decades.  The recipe comes St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.  I’ve never been there, but I’m grateful for their recipe!

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup regular bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons oil (olive or avocado)
  • 3 Tablespoons dark honey
  • 1 1/2 cups water (slightly warm helps)

Add all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and sift well.

Mix the liquid ingredients in a separate bowl and stir until well mixed.

Add the liquid to the flour and knead until a dough effect is attained (I prefer to do this by hand or with a spoon or you could use a mixer – it doesn’t take long).  Knead only until the dough sticks together, then push it out onto a floured surface.  Knead for a few more moments but not too much – the dough should remain a bit tacky after you shape into into a round loaf.

Cut the round loaf of dough into 12 equal pie-shaped sections.  Roll each section into a ball and with a rolling pin, roll out into a circle 6-7 inches in diameter.  Place on a greased baking sheet, score with a cross, and brush with olive oil.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.  You want them to be just done, not brown and crispy.

 

Sharing Ourselves

August 9, 2018

Last week my family and I launched a new ministry outreach.  Weekly I teach at a women’s residential addiction recovery facility.  I spend an hour a week with ladies in the midst of recovery.  Some of them are still detoxing from their latest binge.  Others are nearly finished with the program, obsessed with finding work or lining up schooling.  Women of all ages and from all walks of life.  We have wonderful times together laughing, talking about God’s Word and work.

But then they graduate from the program and it’s rare that I ever see them again.  I’m part of their program of recovery, and once graduated, they don’t see a purpose in continuing the relationship that was formed (my assumption).  Yet these women are the most vulnerable of the recovery community – especially those with children.  They need every resource they can find, but all too often church and pastors are presumed to be part of the past rather than an integral part of their present and future.

So to try and develop the relationships beyond the one-hour a week classroom environment, we started opening our home up.  Every week, 3-4 of these women sign up (voluntarily, not required) to come to our home Thursday evening for three hours.  There isn’t a program or a plan.  They aren’t required to do or be anything.  They can just come and be themselves.  Not as guests of honor, not as representatives of the recovery center, but just as women coming to a family home for dinner.  They pitch in to prepare, enjoy, and clean up from the meal while interacting not just with me but with my wife and children.

The hope is that relationships will form, and that some of these women will want to come back, and will recognize that recovery is more than a program, but a matter of relationship.  Likewise, the love of Christ is expressed through the Word (and Sacraments) of God delivered by friends, neighbors, people we have relationships with.

Tonight three different women are signed up to come.  It’s impossible to predict personalities and all the issues that a time together could bring, but it continues to show us that opening ourselves to others makes a difference in people’s lives.  Not necessarily immediately or dramatically.  Sometimes slow and subtly.  But relationships are created through these experiences, and only God knows how those relationships will develop and what He will do in and through them.  I believe He will do much more than deliver someone from addiction, but rather will deliver them from sin and death and hopelessness and despair.  And if He can do that through sharing a meal, opening our home, having our kids play Just Dance on the xBox with them or letting them pet our dogs, what a beautiful testimony not to our eloquence or skills but his creativity and power and goodness.

 

Carving

November 13, 2017

Never let it be said that my blogging is anything less than timely or, ultimately, intended as an aid to you, dear reader.  With that in mind, here is a video that shows the basics of how to carve a turkey.  Or a chicken.

It’s not the best video on this topic I’ve seen, but it’s hosted at a site called The Art of Manliness, so I couldn’t resist.   I have to say that teaching myself to carve a turkey/chicken properly several years ago was one of the best personal development investments I’ve ever made.  Definitely the most delicious, and probably the least expensive!

Reformation Day

October 31, 2017

If I am obliged to talk about the Reformation on it’s 500th anniversary, at least I can do it from a somewhat different angle.  Unfortunately, it’s an angle I don’t really care for – beer.  Still, it’s good to remember how impactful Luther was on so many different aspects of our culture today.

Eat & Run

July 21, 2017

I thought this was an interesting article about how recipients of food stamps tend to run out of money for food within a week or two, meaning that for at least half the month, they don’t have any of these funds to purchase food with.  The article purports to explore how and why this is, and emphasizes that because funds are dispersed in a single installment, people have trouble budgeting properly and therefore spend too much immediately and run out of funds.

What it doesn’t explore is what people are buying with this assistance.

For three years, as part of a Christian communal living experiment, my family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis.  My observations are anecdotal rather than deliberate, but have stuck with me all the same.  What we saw the neighborhood children eating constantly was junk food.  Sodas, hot fries, Cheetos.  Constantly.  We never saw them with fresh fruit or vegetables or any other sort of food (unless we shared ours with them).  We know that these children lived in households that depended on food stamps – the vast majority of our neighborhood did.

Certainly the issue of telling people how to spend their assistance is a tricky one at best, but if the issue of running out of money is due not just to budgeting problems but also spending that assistance on low-nutrition snack food instead of food that can actually improve your health and last more than a few minutes, then doesn’t our government (who created and funds the food stamp program using taxpayer dollars) have a duty to at least help people know how to spend their assistance wisely?

When I looked into our state’s web site for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program I didn’t see any information about good ways to spend the assistance wisely.  Perhaps that information is provided in another format beyond the web site, but perhaps it’s not being provided at all.

I’m sure that there is money used to lobby against any type of restriction on how food assistance is spent (beyond current limitations on alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).  I’m sure that companies that manufacture potato chips and soda would take issue with having their products declared off-limits for food stamp monies.  But if the issue is actually how to help people and make sure they’re getting the food they need, does it make sense to ignore the issue completely?

No Microwave

July 15, 2016

We don’t own a microwave, so will somebody else please try this for me and let me know if it really works or not?  It sounds (and I assume smells) amazing!  I gotta believe this would help my dogs fetch better, though I doubt they’re going to return it to me.

Money Where Your Mouth Is

May 11, 2016

This is a fantastic article showcasing what is possible when people care enough to give of themselves to minimize food waste.   I often have people ask me why God would decide that so many people would be born into poverty and starvation.  This is exactly my response – it isn’t that God hasn’t provided more than enough food for everyone.  It’s that through active and passive sinfulness, we waste his bounty.  We take it for granted.  We use it as leverage for personal or communal gains.  We don’t have enough time to be bothered with the details.

I wonder if there isn’t grant money available to pay for some folks who would coordinate with local farmers and groceries to pick up food that would otherwise be destroyed, and convert it to meals ready to eat (not to be confused with the military MRE pouches!).  Lots of places focus on getting the raw materials of food to poor people (often-times heavily processed food rather than real fruits and vegetables).  What if a group of volunteers committed to the next logical step – making the meals?  I know places that do this on a small scale – but wouldn’t it be great to have outposts like that in every neighborhood?  So you could pick up a complete meal and bring it to your neighbor who is sick or homebound?  Literally, is there anyone who couldn’t benefit from a free (or low-priced) meal created from food that otherwise would be destroyed and wasted?  If nothing else it would cut down on people’s food budgets each month.

What an amazing God we have, who provides so abundantly.  Forgive us for being too blind to see all that You have provided!

 

Food Guilt

April 26, 2016

If you haven’t been made to feel guilty enough recently about all your shortcomings in open-mindedness and inclusivity, here’s yet another aspect of your life to repent of – your taste in foods.

According to this article, white Americans are basically racist when it comes to food.  We claim to like a broad variety of cuisines and tastes and influences, but we refuse to pay for them, relegating them to a substandard industry where they are forced to compromise to keep prices low while still making ends meet.  This results in non-authentic cuisine that is not reflective of the rich diversity of the cuisine in its native culture, which further reinforces our cultural stereotypes of the food.  A vicious cycle predicated upon our stupidity as consumers and our racist tendencies as human beings.

All of which is fascinating and, in various ways, I’m sure somewhat true.

However the article seems woefully one-sided in evaluating the nuances involved in this subject.  Primarily, it performs a basic form of racism itself, where it presumes that the guilt and decisions in this arena are completely in the realm of white Americans, and completely ignores the economics and priorities and choices of the people running ethnic restaurants.

The article makes no mention of how pricing of food in countries of origin affects the way restaurant owners price the food when they come to America.  If you come from a culture where the majority of people don’t pay for extremely expensive food, those assumptions about pricing will likely translate to your new culture – at least initially.

There is no mention about how a newly-arrived entrepreneur might need to price things more affordably because they can’t afford to fail.  Finding financial backing to launch a high-end, ritzy Chinese restaurant might be difficult for an emigree – in part because of stereotypes here in America, to be sure, but also perhaps due to a comparative scarcity of capital.  If your goal is to move to a new country and establish yourself with a reliable source of income, how risky do you want to be?  Do you set up shop quickly and sell food as cheaply as you can to build a large customer base?  Or do you hope that your understanding of your new culture is adequate enough to successfully launch a chic, boutique, upscale dining experience?

Who is the restaurant owner trying to cater to as well – Americans or a smaller ethnic population base within the larger culture?  Is the Chinese restaurant owner hoping to lure in other Chinese, or Americans?  How does this affect pricing, as discussed above, based on the pricing of food those other Chinese diners might expect from their own lives in China?

Basically the article ignores completely the role of the ethnic restaurant owner, and focuses solely on the white American consumers as the cause of problems and challenges.  Midway through the article the expert briefly admits that there is a natural, human tendency to like what we know, what is part of the dominant culture in which we are born and raised.  “It’s important to point out that this is all probably part of the natural ethnocentricity of a people.”  In which case, all cultures and all peoples are guilty of liking what they like because they were born and raised with it and because it is what they are most familiar with and because they are less familiar with other types of food and cooking.  And if this is the case, perhaps it isn’t something to feel guilty about, but rather to recognize as inevitable and probably at a base level, good.

The assumption that we all ought to be blank slates open to uniform and wide-ranging shaping and influencing is problematic on so many levels, yet forms the basis for most of our cultural self-critiques these days.  The upshot seems to be that we are bad people as white Americans, yet we are guilty of nothing more than the average Chinese or Indian or French person in this particular respect of food preference.  In this article the assumption is that we ought to be willing to pay more for ethnic food and we’re racist because we won’t.  Perhaps we ought to start questioning why we pay so much for certain kinds of food, and whether that’s really necessary or wise.