The Tyranny of the CSA

My Lovely Wife, who is much smarter than I am, signed us up for a CSA half- share. No, we’re not trying to resurrect the Confederacy. “CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

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Basically, we paid $X to the farm (in this case, to the fine folks at Swallowtail Farm) over the summer, and so did a bunch of other people. The farm uses that money as working capital to, well, farm, and when the crops begin to come in (here in North Florida, that’s October-ish) they pull ’em out of the ground and drive ’em to Farmer’s Markets around the area.

As a pre-paid CSA member, every other Wednesday afternoon I walk over to the Union Street Farmer’s Market in downtown Gainesville, check our name off the list and fill up a big burlap sack with that week’s produce.

Everything sounds good so far, right? The good people at Swallowtail pre-sell their product at a fair rate and my family gets healthy, organic, abundant local produce. What could be wrong with that?

I’m glad you asked.

I have never seen so many sweet potatoes in my life. Do you have any idea what “Tat Soi” is? What does one do with a rutabaga? And who names these things?

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In short, the very first week our refrigerator filled up with leafy greens, tubers and other root-like substances neither my wife nor I had any idea how (or when) to cook.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. They’re beautiful. And I’m certain they’re bursting with the promise of health for us and the Sprightly Daughters.

There are peppers. I know what those are. But they’re mostly hot, which means one out of the five of us <waves hand> enjoys eating them.

But eat them we must. After all, we’ve already paid for them, and I feel so very superior every other Wednesday evening as I drive past the oh-so bourgeois supermarkets and convenience stores with my sack of robust, colorful healthiness beside me on the front seat.

After we put the kids to bed I spread the veggies out on the kitchen counter and admire the bounty and beauty of our local harvest. And then I call out to Gillian, “Do you remember what I said this one with the big veiny leaves is called?” Because, you see, if you don’t know what it is how are you going to look up how to store it, much less cook it?

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Yeah, now and then, like the peppers and sweet taters, there’s a bunch of parsley or cilantro that I know how to handle. But at least half of it is a guessing game.

The tat-soi we ended up stir-frying with some peppers and something that was very much like (but not exactly) broccoli, and it was tasty. Most of the root vegetables we chopped up and roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper, because we figured if it works for sweet taters, how far wrong can we go? One of the varieties of what we thought were skinny sweet potatoes ended up being purple potatoes. That was all pretty good.

Some of the more exotic lettuce we just kind of admired until we decided it was ok not to eat it. And then the guilt set in.

Perhaps the bigger problem than our embarrassing lack of familiarity with real food is that we don’t cook all that much. Even with food sitting right there in the fridge. Because, and I am not ashamed to say this, we are busy people. We have three kids who all do stuff and both of us are working professionals with interests outside our work lives. And we’re borderline nazi-esque in the bedtime routines we’ve built for our children.

So do we leave work early to cook dinner? Do we break the rules and let them get to bed an hour or two later than they should? Or do we go out to dinner?

We go out to dinner. Three, four times a week. And sometimes we don’t feel like arguing with the Sprightly Daughters about how they should at least try the green stuff on their plates, so we just let them have cereal for dinner.

I’ve come to terms with that, and have decided that, no, it does not make us bad parents.

I have not come to terms with all that green stuff in the refrigerator yet.

** I am mostly being snarky above, and recognize the first-world-ness of my struggle. Just wanted to be clear about that before the scold-mail starts.

Thank you for reading, as always. If you enjoyed this, don’t be shy about forwarding, Facebooking, Tweeting or otherwise spreading the word.

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Things I’ve Done Since I Last Blogged Here

So, ummm, it’s been a while. Nearly two years, actually. Hope you’ve been well.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • I ran for Alachua County Commission. That was quite the experience. Fourteen months of it. Oh yeah, I lost. Will I do it again? Don’t know. Stay tuned.
  • Found out that Sprightly Daughter Number One has a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome. As a component of that syndrome she has Celiac Disease. Which is sort of a cosmic comeuppance for having written this piece.
  • Lost a close friend to mental illness.
  • Had an uncomfortable medical experience of my own that you don’t even want to know about.
  • Celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.
  • A bunch of other stuff but most relevant to this blog, I ate my way back up to 286 pounds.

    I’ll be back to blogging regularly here, because I’ve proven to myself that writing here helps me lose weight and live healthy.

    I hope you’ll check in. As always, I appreciate you reading.

Baby Steps From Consumption to Production

I’ve seen this meme floating around the internets, and re-posted it on Facebook myself recently:

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We’re not about to turn the backyard here at Skipping Dessert Central into a farm, and I’m not about to turn this blog into a home-ag blog, but this is as true as anything I’ve posted.  While the clear implication in this image regards food production, it applies across the board to better living.

Inspired by this sort of thinking (not the image itself, I saw this after our “Spring planting”) over the course of a weekend in March the Sprightly Daughters and I re-invigorated the backyard garden.

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This year, in addition to God’s own tangerine tree and the resurgent peach tree, we’ve planted, in nine containers, eight tomato plants (three varieties), three eggplants, four bell peppers (red and green) plants, a key lime tree and a Meyer lemon tree.  Whew!

Why containers when I have all that dirt right there in the backyard?  I’m glad you asked.  I am an amateur’s amateur when it comes to growing stuff.  I come from a long line of plant-killers.  Our tangerine tree is my crowning glory, and I worry every single day that something bad will happen to it.  Containers give me control over not only my growing media (the potting soil I buy in bags means I don’t have to worry nearly as much about soil ph, other plants – weeds – or funky bugs that are crawling around looking for homegrown tomatoes to destroy), sun reach and temperature.

Mostly those containers are going to stay right where they are.  But if the weather gets really weird – tropical storms, occasional freezes, etc. – I’ll move them onto the back porch.  If I notice the sun isn’t getting to one of the containers just right, I’ll move it to a better spot.  If I were planting them in the dirt, they’d just be where they were.  Which makes no sense.

The downside is that container gardening is significantly more expensive to get started, as I had to go get the containers and the fancy dirt.  The plants were the cheap part.  So, in an effort to keep overall costs down, in the Fall when the tomatoes and peppers are played out I’m going to do a Fall/Winter planting  Of what?  Don’t know yet. We’ll have to see.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I know this is only a tiny fraction of what my clan will consume.  But we might be able to cover all the tomatoes and bell peppers we need.  And nobody will be forced to pick those tomatoes and peppers.  We might be able to stop buying limes and lemons trucked from Lord-knows-where.  I also believe it’s just good for humans to dig around in the dirt and grow stuff.  If I can do that successfully and consistently, it’s a heck of a gift I can give the Sprightly Daughters.

I’ll leave you with some citrus pics.  This first one is an over-exposed lime flower that will eventually be a lime.  The tree we planted has a couple of limes well on their way to being usable fruit.

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These pretty purplish buds will soon become Meyer lemons.

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And this bee is one of several who were harvesting orange-blossom nectar from the tangerine tree yesterday afternoon.

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As always, thanks for reading, and don’t be shy about sharing.

Slimier Than Pink Slime

Ok, maybe not actually slimier.  But the “food” Melanie Warner writes about in Pandora’s Lunchbox is about as “foody” as pink slime.

I can’t claim to have read it yet, but I can’t wait.  This conversation at the Huffington Post with Warner gives me enough to, umm, chew on, for the time being, however.  The highlights of the article:

  • “Processing” food isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Making food into unrecognizable “food,” is.
  • The FDA is underfunded and not protecting us the way we think it is.
  • Most vitamin additives are created in China.  Out of the best reach the FDA could possible offer.
  • Soybean oil is highly suspect.  Unless, you know, you enjoy a little hexane in your diet.
  • A lot of the dairy products we consume (think Greek yogurt) is fortified with “Milk Protein Concentrate.”  YUM!  Or not.

Sigh.

Why can’t they just put quality food on the shelf?  I know, I know, they do – at the Co-op and at the farmer’s market.  Buy as much food a you can from those sources.

Thanks for reading.  Stay away from the pink slime.

My Doc Rocks.

A couple of weeks ago I had some blood work done at the request of my family physician.  Last week I got a message from the doc asking me to come in for a chat about cholesterol.  This morning I was pretty certain I’d be leaving her office with a prescription for statins of some sort.

Now, this won’t come as a surprise to regular readers, but I regard Big Pharma with about as much skepticism as Big Ag.  Which is to say, I’d rather, where possible, keep them out of my life.  I do have a couple of ongoing prescriptions, and they are absolutely quality-of-life enhancers, but somehow the prospect of taking three prescription drugs every day at 45 years of age seemed … wrong.

I have had, in the past, family physicians whose first response to anything is to write a prescription.  I have many friends and family for whom that is not only an acceptable option, but what they expect from their doc.  Clearly that is not what I expect.

My cholesterol, it turns out, is not so good – not awful, but not where it ought to be (let the record show that my blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure are all “outstanding”).  The “good” is not quite good enough, the “bad” is too high and the other stuff could be lower.

“So we have three options,” she said.  “Drugs will fix the problem, but there are always side effects.  I don’t like side effects, so let’s talk about the other options.”

And that’s why my doc rocks.

The other options are a couple of supplements (fish oil, which I’ve done on and off – mostly off – for years, and red yeast rice) that I promptly picked up at the local health-food store and, you guessed it, losing weight.  She says five or ten pounds will make a big difference.

I did not share with her my goal of losing down to 207 eventually, nor did I tell her about Skipping Dessert … yet.  My plan is to easily breeze past her goal and farther before I go back in three months.  And then I’ll insist that she not only read Skipping Dessert, but that she prescribe readership to all her patients.

It’s all about the blog, friends.

I’m relieved that drugs were not her first stop, and very pleased to have made a good choice in physicians.  And this will help me keep my eyes on the prize moving forward.  I damn sure don’t want to go back in 90 days and tell this person I failed.


Tomorrow – bonus Thursday blogging!  Thanks, as always, for reading.  Remember, you probably have friends who haven’t read Skipping Dessert.  They’re depending on you to introduce them …

Let’s Talk About Gluten

Why not?  Everybody else is!

Seriously, I just did a Google search for “gluten” and got sixty-six million results.  You can’t swing a cat on the internets (or in a bookstore) without rubbing up against some gluten.  

What exactly is the stuff, anyway?  Let’s go to Wikipedia, shall we?

“Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye.”

Hmm.  That’s a broad net.  I eat a lot of foods (actual Pollan-definition foods) “processed from wheat and related grain species.”

What’s the problem with it?  The editors at Slate had the same question.  I’ll condense their answers for you.  Essentially, there appear to be a couple of issues: First, there’s this thing called celiac disease.  About one of every one-hundred Americans has celiac disease.  That means – medically speaking – you probably don’t have celiac disease (Ok, if enough of you read this, yes, you do have it, but not all of  you have it).  It’s an auto-immune disease that does particularly nasty things to you based on your inability to process gluten correctly.

The second thing might be “baker’s asthma” or a wheat allergy.  It’s present in about the same numbers as celiac disease.  Which means you probably aren’t allergic to wheat either.

Now, there’s this book/diet/phenomenon out there called Wheat Belly.  The guy who wrote it is a cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, and he’s sold a bunch of books.  I am neither a cardiologist nor a bestselling author, so please receive my review of his work accordingly.  I read his book, and it turns out Dr. Davis is convinced that whatever ails you is the caused by modern wheat. He makes a convincing argument for a time that modern wheat is a lot different from its more ancient relatives, and I’m sure that’s true.  I’m equally convinced that there are more people for whom wheat is a problem in the 21st century than, say, the 19th.  I am not convinced, however, that everything that’s wrong with me and you – from heart disease to attitude – can be cured by walking away from our favorite grain products.

“But dude,” you say, “I just gave up wheat and I feel so much better!”  I reply that I do not doubt that one bit.  I’ll bet if I cut wheat out of my diet I’d feel better for a while too.  Because when you cut wheat out, you, as a rule, have cut out bread, donuts, beer (yes, beer), rye whiskey (sucker), most cold cereals and a variety of other products that, if consumed in large amounts, will make you feel bad. When you give up something like that you also can’t help but be intentional about your eating, which, as I’ve long preached on this blog, is a very, very good thing.

You’ll lose weight, feel good, etc. Just like you would on any other “diet.”  Same thing happens on a low-fat diet. Atkins, Pritikin, etc.  And then you start to really miss what you’ve taken away.  And then you eat a little of it.  And then you eat a lot of it.  And they you’re worse-off than when you started.

Look, if your actual physician tests you for celiac disease or a wheat allergy and you actually have one, you should give wheat up today. But if you’re on this because Doc Davis sounds convincing (he’s a cardiologist – of course he sounds convincing), I recommend you take a deep breath and step away from the gluten hysteria.

Instead of worrying about whether your vitamin supplement contains wheat starch (yes, if you’re serious about a gluten-free diet, it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass), just (you know what I’m going to say, don’t you?) Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.


Thanks for reading, as always.  On Wednesday, a whole new list of terrifying foods.  

Sometimes, the Burger Just Calls You.

I’ve been out of town for several nights now, and I’m over it. Needed quick, easy comfort food.  That I didn’t have to get out of the car to get.

Enter the Southern California legend, In-N-Out Burger. Even Zagat thinks this chain is awesome.  Yes, this violates the letter of my “no fast food” rule.  But not the spirit.  The (outstanding) burger and fries were fresh, not frozen, as were all the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, etc. on top.

Not something I’m going to do regularly (particularly since we don’t have any of these), but today, it was the right choice.

Thanks for reading.  Monday, we’ll talk about gluten.

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