Cultivate

Part 3 of 4

In this installment, ride along with the founder of a mobile grocery store, bringing fruits and vegetables to people in need of more options than burgers, fries and hot dogs.

My Street Grocery

Amelia Pape Puts Fresh Food on Wheels in Portland, Oregon

We all need food. We get it how and where (and if) we can. But there's great disparity in those hows and wheres and ifs. Too often, good food seems to belong to people living advantaged lifestyles, while the rest are left to forage through a world of fast food and convenience store snacks. This disparity led Amelia Pape to launch My Street Grocery, a grocery store on wheels and a rolling oasis of affordably good food for people trapped in food deserts. In addition to bringing food, Pape brings a friendly face and a place around which authentic community can gather.

Happier Meals

The Surprisingly Low Cost of Eating Healthy

Eating well is often a privilege reserved for people who can "afford" it, with the working class getting placed into a fast-food funnel. The only produce they can get is old, sold by convenience stores at a heavy markup. Meanwhile, chain restaurants in poor neighborhoods offer dubious deals where health suffers in the bargain. But fresh fruits and vegetables actually don't cost more than burgers, fries and sodas. In fact, they're often less expensive, so shopping for good, fresh produce shouldn't be an impossible achievement. Below are some recipes to help you enjoy healthful, affordable food, one meal at a time.

Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad

$2-$3 per serving
Family of Four Total Cost: $8-$12

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10 Piece Chicken Nuggets with Large French Fries

$6 per serving
Family of Four Total Cost: $24

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Smoky Beans & Rice with Sausage

$2-$3 per serving
Family of Four Total Cost: $8-$12

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Cheeseburger with Large Curly Fries

$4 per serving
Family of Four Total Cost: $16

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Happier Recipes

Healthy Meals made with Fresh Ingredients

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Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic quinoa, dry
  • Salt
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped and seeds removed
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 sweet corn on the cob, kernels sliced off cob
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup cilantro and scallions, chopped

Method

  1. Prepare quinoa according to the package instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Place sweet potato cubes in the water and boil until tender, about 15 minutes; drain well.
  3. Toss together potato, cooked quinoa and chopped bell pepper, shallot, avocado and corn; sprinkle with chili powder. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  4. Mix lime juice with olive oil and pour over salad. Toss to combine. Add more salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with cilantro and scallions, and serve at room temperature.
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Smoky Beans & Rice with Sausage

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound smoked kielbasa sausage, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped and seeds discarded
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup brown rice, uncooked
  • 1 (15-ounce) can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat
  2. Cook sausage and onion until onion is translucent.
  3. Add bell pepper, garlic, cumin, rice, beans and 2 cups of water. Stir to combine.
  4. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until rice is tender.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

Vegetable Forecast

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Our ace vegetable meteorologists at Dark Rye have been keeping track of the growing vegetable trends in North America using sophisticated technology. Now we present to you, with the help of Alison Roman, Bon Appétit magazine's senior associate food editor, the most reliable vegetable forecast for late summer and early fall.

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Kale

Greater-than-average amounts of kale continue to sweep into the North American interior, overwhelming farmer's markets and grocery store aisles. We predict this to continue indefinitely as new varieties such as purple kale, baby kale and Red Russian kale get added to the endless kale-storm.

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Kale Flowers

In addition, coastal regions are also beginning to experience a low-pressure system of kale flowers, cute but sturdy little yellow buds that look and taste similar to broccoli rabe.

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Lovage

High pressure coming in from Berkeley combining with strong winds from Santa Monica is immersing California in lovage. This is technically an herb but it tastes like very assertive celery. Lovage's extremely vegetal green flavor makes it ideal in purées, soups or smoothies.

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Sunchokes

As fall approaches, sunchokes threaten to choke out the sun up and down the Eastern Seaboard. A root vegetable, similar in taste to celery root or parsnip, sunchokes taste great cut up and roasted with sweet potatoes, or cut in half and baked with brown butter.

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Fairy Tale Eggplants

Strange currents blowing from Asia are bringing in occasional gusts of very tiny and totally adorable fairytale eggplants. Great halved and seared, they also make a terrific pickle.

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Summer Squash

Bad news for those of you who like summer squash. The seasonal staple, which has been presenting such a strong front across the northern half of the country, appears to be making its annual retreat. Continue to shave or julienne it onto salads until it disappears.

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Neal Pollack is the award-winning author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction. He's contributed to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ, Yoga Journal, Men's Journal, Slate, and Salon, and is a 3-time Jeopardy! champion. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and son.

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Alison Roman is the Senior Associate Food Editor for Bon Appétit magazine where she develops, tests and writes about recipes. After working her way through restaurants and bakeries in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, she switched gears and joined the editorial world. She lives in Brooklyn where she rides her bike around town, mostly eating expensive pizza and drinking Campari.

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by Kent Black

Since she was a little girl, Cissimarie Juan has participated in the annual saguaro fruit harvest of the Tohono O'odham, the Desert People, whose nation straddles the southern Arizona-Mexico border. The harvesting of the saguaro cactus fruit is prelude to one of the most important and sacred rites of the year: the Rainmaking Ceremony.

This year, Juan and 250 members of her people got together on a Friday evening. Some had gathered fruit in previous years; some were novices. More than half were teenagers or younger. "This is something they will always remember," says Juan. She's 25, a former Miss Indian Arizona, but now she directs media outreach for Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA), an organization dedicated to connecting the people to their ancient traditions.

Armed with long poles fashioned from the spines of tall saguaro cacti, the people fan out across the desert looking for the ripe, red fruit of the saguaro. When they discover the fruit, they knock it or pull it off the spiny cactus. The first fruits are opened and laid on the ground with the exposed red pulp and tiny black seeds facing the sky in an offer of exchange. The sky pulls the sweet, smoky syrup to the heavens in trade for the monsoons that will soon come to nourish Tohono Oodham crops.

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Juan says that last year the monsoons began while they were driving home from the harvest. This year, they started a day later. "It's a very powerful connection for the people who participated. The relationships that they formed on their first harvest, they'll have for the rest of their lives."

This ritual has served the people here since before recorded time. And until recently, it was an essential part of the Tohono O'odham identity that was in danger of being lost.

According to Tristan Reader, a nonindigenous cofounder of TOCA, the people made an Eden of their environment by a carefully balanced system of farming, hunting and seasonal gathering.

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TOCA members are passionately dedicated to O'odham himdag - the Desert People's way. "Their agriculture is called ak chin, which means "mouth of the wash," says Reader, who started TOCA 18 years ago with Terrol Johnson, a well-known Tohono O'odham artist. "During the summer monsoon season, the washes would flood and the farmers would channel the water onto these broad flood plains."

The Tohono O'odham produced an extraordinary amount of food in a very short growing season. There were tepary beans, squash and corn. Other seasons provided edibles such as saguaro cactus fruit (it can be made into a sweet syrup as well as a liquor), mesquite pods for flour, wild greens and cholla buds. The Tohono hunters supplied meat from deer, pack rats, wild pigs called javelinas, and sheep.

Even as Europeans settled in increasing numbers in the Southwest, the remoteness of the Tohono O'odham's home kept them relatively isolated. They continued their traditional, self-sufficient way of life.

World War II changed everything.

The Tohono men either went into the Armed Forces or to work on large federal farms. With no one farming or hunting on Tohono O'odham lands, starvation would have been inevitable if the United States government hadn't stepped in. This system, repeated on Native American reservations all over the United States and still in existence today, supplies surplus bulk foods as a form of compensation for depriving indigenous peoples of their traditional means of survival. It was a well-meaning nutritional disaster.

Before 1960, no one had ever developed type 2 diabetes. Now, 50 percent of the nation has the disease, some as young as six years old.

The war proved catastrophic to the Tohono O'odham's way of life, and to their health. The Tohono way of life had made the people lean, strong and healthy. Commodities changed that. Beset by several continuous drought years, traditional farming was abandoned. Ak chin farming declined from 20,000 acres before the war to just two acres in the mid-90s. Obesity became commonplace in the nation. Before 1960, no one had ever developed type 2 diabetes. Now, 50 percent of the nation has the disease, some as young as six years old.

"It went from loss of economic activity to no activity," says Reader. "An entire economic way of life was wiped out almost overnight. And with it went the cultural activities that helped give the people their identity."

To counteract that, TOCA has established several programs, including one that sells traditional school meals. Seventy-six-percent of Tohono O'odham sixth to eighth graders are overweight or obese. All the food served in the cafeteria is precooked and trucked in at a cost of almost $60 million a year. "The kitchens in the cafeterias aren't even used anymore, except to take the wrappings off the servings," Reader says. "We want to help the children develop a taste for their native foods."

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On a recent weekday, a group of volunteers made a large pot of garbanzo bean stew and took it a few blocks from the Desert Rain Café, an indigenous restaurant operated by TOCA, to serve to the kids at Indian Oasis Elementary School. The volunteers asked the students if they would pin a sticker on one of three categories: Tried it. Liked it. Loved it.

The "Loved its" outscored the "Liked its" by about three to one.

Maybe the old ways still have a chance.

Click here to learn more about the tepary bean and to find a recipe for Tepary and Oxtail Stew from Darcy Landis, the Whole Foods Market forager for Arizona and Nevada.

Kent Black is the former founding editor of Outside Magazine's Go. His food writing has appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, Saveur, Afar and GQ. He lives with his wife and daughter in Madrid, New Mexico. Follow him on Twitter at @kentrblack.

Photos: Courtesy of Tohono O'odham Community Action

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