Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ethical Eating

This morning on Episcopal Cafe I read this little ditty by Ellen Painter Dollar, ”Should Christians Have Second Helpings?”

It begins:

Some years ago, I made a spinach and bacon quiche to serve for New Year’s Day breakfast. It was loaded with butter and cheese (not to mention salty pork fat—yum), and boy, was it good. Some friends were visiting from out of town, and as one contemplated whether to go for seconds, he wondered aloud which is the proper way to approach dietary indulgence as Christians. Should we exercise tight control, understanding that our body is a temple and that one does not smear temples with butter, cheese, and bacon? Or should we go for the gusto, knowing that this earthly life, the one we navigate from within these mortal bodies, is neither the whole story nor even the most important part of the story? If we’re all going to die and be with Jesus anyway, what does a few more grams of fat matter?

What would Jesus do? Well, Jesus was a good Jew and probably wouldn’t have eaten the spinach and BACON quiche in the first place.

The article covers the personal ethics of eating. The message I’m taking away from the article is that we have this lovely thing called free will that lets us choose for ourselves that healthy moderation between the extremes of fast food and militant veganism.

The article does not cover the bigger issue of eating ethically sourced food. Let’s look at that spinach and bacon quiche again. Did that bacon come from a happy pig? Did the milk and cheese come from a happy dairy cow? Are those eggs from pasture-raised chickens? Is that organic spinach? Was it picked by some grossly underpaid migrant worker? Do the respective farms use sustainable methods? Are they responsible employers?

This past Lent I gave up unethical meat. I was mostly vegetarian, which is easy because burritos and Indian food are relatively easy to find. Taqueria Cancun makes a mean vegetarian burrito, and Indian food is quite possibly the best vegetarian food in the world. Every so often, I would splurge on a medium-rare, happy burger of Niman Ranch beef from grass-fed cows. Even after Easter, I bought a Gleason Ranch pasture-raised chicken to make my signature chicken adobo. I still have some organic duck legs in a vat of fat in the fridge. I even discovered Tataki, a sustainable sushi restaurant! That was the first sushi place I’ve been to where I did not share!

All in all, it really wasn’t that difficult to give up unethical meat. The prices of happy meat made the carnivore meals that much more special. Besides, we shouldn’t be eating a lot of meat anyway. A recent UN report says that a global move towards vegan diets can save the planet; one vegan day a week would make a significant dent in the food industry’s impact on climate change. Catholics have been doing pescatarian Fridays for ages (just Fridays during Lent nowadays, but back in the day it used to be all Fridays). The Board of Supervisors in San Francisco unanimously passed a resolution for meatless Mondays in the city, as if they had nothing better to legislate.

Ethical eating encompasses not only responsibility towards our individual health, but also responsibility to our communities and to our planetary home.

That said, last night I made some sweet potato gnocchi with a sinfully delicious sauce of butter, garlic, sage, walnuts, and lemon! Hey, it’s not an everyday thing. My ingredients were also organic and local, or at least supportive of some local business.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Garlic-Sage-Butter Sauce

For the gnocchi:
1 sweet potato, baked and peeled
1 cup chickpea flour (provides protein for a somewhat well-balanced meal)
~1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For the sauce:
6 Tbsp butter (or I guess I could have used olive oil, which is healthier)
6 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried sage
1/4 cup walnut pieces
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Gnocchi: Bake a sweet potato (poke a few holes in it, wrap in foil, bake for 1 hour at 425 degrees Fahrenheit). Peel the skin off, and mash. Add chickpea flour in quarter-cup increments. Sprinkle in the all-purpose flour until it all comes together into a workable dough. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Dust your hands with flour, and dust your work surface with flour. Section the dough into quarters. Roll a section into a log about 1” to 1.5” diameter. Cut the log into ~3/4” sections. Repeat for the rest of the dough. Working in batches, drop the gnocchi into boiling water. When the float, they’re done. Transfer the floaters to a bowl.

Sauce: Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) over a low flame. Add the minced garlic and cook slowly, about 5 minutes. Add the sage and walnuts. When it’s all heated through and aromatic, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Season to taste.

Pour the sauce over the warm gnocchi and enjoy!

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