Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Aquaponics 2

October 19, 2017

We’ve taken one step forward and two steps back this week in our aquaponics venture.  I procured three large 55-gallon drums for starter tanks.  But I also discovered this week that the most popular and common form of fish for aquaponics – tilapia – is not permitted in the county we live in (gotta loooooovvvveeee California!).

I had suspected this to be the case for a few weeks now after scouring the Internet.  But I held out hope that exceptions might be made if the system was completely self-contained (as opposed to privately stocking tilapia in a pond on your property or something).  I referred to the California game and fish web site to begin with.  I called the contact number listed there.  But the number was actually some sort of nation-wide contact, so they had to transfer me to a California person.  That person had to transfer me to someone else, and that person transferred me to someone else, who gave me the name and number of the person she was transferring me to, and I left a voice mail with this person.  She responded within an hour or so to give me another name and  number where I left a voice mail.  This woman called back in a couple of hours and was extremely pleasant but confirmed there were no exceptions to the tilapia ban.  She e-mailed me a variety of resources that will be very helpful as we progress, and gave me the name of  a guy down in San Diego that I have e-mailed, asking for his next best recommendation for an aquaponics fish.

In the meantime I’ve started researching other options for fish.  Catfish seems to be the next-best option in terms of growing quickly.  But it’s a less popular fish to eat.  We’ll see what the San Diego guy recommends.

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Aquaponics 1

September 26, 2017

We try to eat healthy, and more and more we have developed concerns about the things that are in the food we eat, and most particularly in the meat.  We’ve considered various options for doing some self-sustainable food production.  Gardens were of limited success as people lost interest in them and would forget to water them.  Chickens seemed challenging given that we have two medium-sized dogs.  I suggested raising rabbits for meat but my wife has firmly nixed this idea.

What if we did aquaponics, I suggested.  Aquaponics creates a self-sustaining ecosystem based on fish and plants.  Fish are raised (sometimes for food, which is our intention, and sometimes not to eat) and their water is cleaned and filtered by pumping it through growing beds where the ammonia and nitrogen of the fish waste is filtered out through growing medium, which in turn allows plant roots to access these nutrients.  The only ongoing input into the system is food for the fish and additional water to offset evaporation.  Even with evaporation the total water usage is supposed to be far less than growing a vegetable garden in a piece of land (unless you get a lot of rain and don’t need to water the plants on your own, I suppose).

The family loved the idea.  We like the idea of growing more of our own food and thus ensuring that it is free of pesticides and herbicides and hormones and antibiotics and whatever else gets into our food these days.  We also like the idea of learning together how to build the system.  It could be a business opportunity for the kids as they get older, consulting and building systems for other people as well as potentially – if our system grows large enough – sustaining a business to local restaurants eager for local, healthy fish.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about how to do this.  It isn’t complicated, beyond getting the system created and connected with PVC piping, pumps, drains, etc.  I’ve decided to chronicle our journey in case it’s helpful to others.

Step number one was to ensure that our water was as healthy as possible.  We’re on city water, which provides a certain level of filtering and treatment, but which results in chlorinated and fluoridated water.  While the fluoridation may not be a big deal, the chlorine is.  So last week we had a plumber remove the salt-based water softening system that came with the house when we bought it, and installed a two-stage water filtering system instead.

Just that step alone has taken nearly a year of research!

There are so many options out there!  Some systems – like the one in the house when we bought it – can cost thousands of dollars.  Or you can go online or to Home Depot’s web site and find filtering systems for under $100.  How do you make a decision?

Mainly, it seems to depend on where you’re getting your water – and thus how much sediment filtering you need – and what you specifically hope to filter out of the water.  We examined filtering systems, not water softening systems.  Some options combine the two or allow you to custom-design systems that do both.  We decided we didn’t want the softening, just the filtering.

Because we’re on city water, the particulates and sediment in the water have already been filtered out to certain standards.  Municipal water sources should publish annual water quality reports available online or by direct request from your water supplier.  Had we been on well water, I would have opted for a three-stage filtering system to filter out more of the sediment, but a two stage option seemed to be fine for a city water connection.

I investigated a system that would filter out fluoride as well as chlorine, but it was significantly more expensive.  There’s plenty of debate about the role of fluoride in our drinking water, with very little consensus or evidence to back up the various perspectives.  I decided we could buy a counter-top filter specifically designed to filter fluoride to replace the Britta filter we currently use, which doesn’t filter fluoride.

Finally, I decided on the i-Spring whole home two stage filter, sometimes referred to as Big Blue.  More specifically, it’s model WGB22B.  Rationale:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Reasonably priced filters
  • Large filters that will hopefully last a bit longer than some smaller models (hopefully 6 months considering the size of our household and the hardness of the city water)
  • Filters chlorine
  • 5 micron filtering
  • Good water flow rate (up to 15 gpm)
  • Certified to NSF/ANSI standards
  • Includes a sediment filter as well as a carbon block filter that handles the organic filtering as well as chlorine filtering
  • Good ratings on Amazon

Now that we have this in place, we have improved water which will be healthier for the fish.  Chlorine is an unhealthy thing for them that would need to be removed.  While it can be removed to some degree with time and agitation, we decided we wanted to benefit from chlorine filtering for ourselves, not just for our fish!

The next step will be to purchase the tank that will hold our fish.  I’m planning on either a 55-gallon drum-style, food grade plastic barrel that we might cut in half to create two tanks, or a larger, 275-gallon food grade IBC tank.  I’ll keep you posted as we take our next step!

Community Growths

September 11, 2017

Last night we had a home-schooling mom and her son join us for Happy Hour.  We’ve had one other home-school connection join us months ago, and both times the people joining us weren’t people of faith.  Considering that the vast majority of the other attendees are recent grads from the local Christian liberal arts college, we’re never sure what the topics of conversation will be.  We’re learning, however, not to let that worry us too much.  I attended a Christmas party a few years back that a colleague of mine threw, and I was amazed at the diversity of folks there, from motorcyclists to college professors.  My colleague enjoys that sort of social and intellectual free-for-all, and I’ve tried to adopt a similar attitude.  It isn’t always easy though, probably because (unlike my colleague!) I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to forecast the results in order to ensure that everyone else has a good time.  I need to try and stop doing that.

My wife and I are discovering that as people get to know us (mainly her and our children), they’re curious.  They have no idea what a pastor is or does.  They have no idea how and why we open our homes to people regularly, whether it’s hosting international students or hosting happy hours.  They have a lot of questions and curiosities, particularly as they go through difficult times in their lives.

We also had three third-culture-kids (TCKs) last night, including my wife.  This is an emerging field of study in psychology related to kids born or raised substantially in a culture that is not their parents’ culture of birth, and who are taken out of this other culture at some point when their parents return to their culture of birth.  The parents are going home in this sense, but their kids are not.  The kids have to learn to figure out who they are because they aren’t part of the culture they were born in, even though they feel like they are.  And they aren’t part of their parents’ culture because crucial formative years were spent outside of that culture.  It can leave them feeling a bit lost as to who they are and how to fit in.  I was able to have some fascinating conversation with one of the guys who is a TCK, and of course I’m interested in this topic more and more because my wife is also a TCK and I’m beginning (slowly) to understand how deeply this defines her.

It’s fascinating to watch this time evolve!

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?

Bugs for Lunch

December 26, 2016

Recently having joined the fraternity of people who have eaten bugs, I can tell you that I don’t anticipate these being on the menu regularly in our home any time soon.  Ever, actually.  That doesn’t stop a small group of people out there from continuing to argue that insects are the culinary future.  So much so that someone has given thought to the reality that our current Western utensils are not necessarily the best suited for gorging ourselves on bugs.

Enter the BugBug set of new utensils specifically for eating bugs.  The pincers are intriguing, as are the spear-tipped chopsticks. Although this is just a proto-type set, I don’t anticipate being an early adopter if and when they become available for purchase.  I prefer to continue dining on larger critters!

Native Cuisine

August 16, 2016

This article made me hungry, and happy.   It’s always good to be reminded that we didn’t invent food or flavor or cuisine – it’s part of being human and every group reflects that in some way.  It must be fascinating to recapture some of the native cuisine and approaches to cooking that were once so second nature!  And delicious!

Gleaning Wisdom

August 13, 2016

If we had a youth group at our congregation, I would firmly suggest that they go to work doing something like this.  Helping to minimize food waste and get fresh produce to those who need it most and can afford it least sounds like a perfect community project.  Everybody wins!  It isn’t glamorous or easy, but what a big difference it can potentially make to so many people!

It Is a Big World

May 23, 2016

And oftentimes a beautiful world as well.  It’s easy to forget that after listening to partisan news/Twitterfeeds/Facebook rants/podcasts all day.  Here are two examples of a beautiful world to start the week.

First off, German windows.  I forgot how much these things ROCK.  Being overseas again last summer reminded me of the genius of German engineering.  I’m sure these must each cost roughly the equivalent of a space shuttle, but heck, they are also worth every penny.  German windows are an example of beauty still in this world.

Secondly, pho.  This fantastically delicious soup is yet another proof of a beautiful world and the creativity of people who persevere in spite of incredible adversity.  This is a short article on the history of pho, and as such doesn’t include my first introduction to pho by a pretty girl after a disastrous off-road trip while dealing with an unpleasant head cold.

There you go.  The world isn’t all bad.  We will survive this election cycle.  At least some of you will.

 

 

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.