Real name: Elanor Starmer
E-mail me: elan…@gmail.com
Paying job: Agriculture policy/communications consultant, working mostly on the following issues: how concentration in food and agricultural markets affects the food system; how farm policy benefits agribusinesses at the expense of family farmers and rural communities (and could be transformed); and the social/environmental/economic effects of industrial livestock production. If you want to see some of the research my academic alter-ego has done recently, it’s here.
Dream job: Cowgirl policy analyst (analyzing policies that affect small-scale producers while roping cattle on the range. You can do those two things at the same time, can’t you?)
Best meal ever: Dinner at Oleana in Cambridge, MA. Man, that place is good. And until June 2007, it was a block from my house.
Favorite meat: This requires some explanation. See below.
Favorite fruit: Wild New Hampshire blueberries.
Favorite vegetable: Brussels sprouts. I do not kid. They have gotten the short shrift from others on this site, to which I can only say, Bonnie and Marc, come over for dinner sometime and I will show you what there is to love about these chronically underappreciated delights. How can you hate something so cute? They’re like bitty mini-cabbages! But so much better!
Vegetables I eat only to be polite: I really can’t think of a veggie I don’t like… bitter melon?
Favorite dinner growing up: Waffles. We had them every Sunday with my mom’s homemade strawberry jam. We ate them while watching Dad’s Sunday Night Theater of Thrills, which included such highlights as a documentary about people who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel and one about the history of the Burma Shave highway ad campaign. Did I mention my parents are awesome?
Processed crap I can’t manage to live without: Ice cream
Most embarrassing cooking incident: The time I made cornbread for a dinner party and didn’t realize until it was served that I’d put in a cup and a half of salt instead of sugar. Ugh.
Most traumatic food experience: First grade. It’s our first lunch in the big kids’ lunch room; in kindergarten, we’d had to bring lunch and eat it in our classroom. I think that lunch works the way it does at my house, which means that we should bring big bowls of stuff from the salad bar and share it with everyone at the table. I proceed to do so with cottage cheese. My teacher comes by the table and shrieks, “WHO TOOK ALL THIS COTTAGE CHEESE?” I raise my hand timidly. She tells me that I am a wasteful child and I will sit here while everyone else goes out for recess and I will eat all of the cottage cheese until it is gone. I end up crying as I shove cottage cheese into my mouth, alone at the table. Have I ever eaten those dreaded curds since that day? Hell no.
Attitude about sell-by dates: I don’t fear food-borne illness because I ate dirt as a child, which everyone knows makes you strong. Plus, if it’s bad, it usually grows pink mold, which you can see.
Has your cooking ever made anyone sick? I don’t think so…?
Food background: I grew up around folks raising meat and produce in a sustainable way; my next-door neighbor in New Hampshire is an organic farmer with sheep, pigs, chickens, and 5 acres of veggies. But after a traumatic second-grade trip to a butcher shop, I came home and renounced meat. My family has been more or less veggie since that point, though my parents occasionally eat poultry and we all eat fish (you can’t really be from New England and not eat fish).
Once I returned to grad school, my roots caught up with me and I became fascinated by livestock production, particularly the role of livestock in diversified farming systems. I’ve been working on issues of farm policy, CAFOs, and their detrimental impact on the food system and rural communities, and after spending the summer of 2006 interviewing alternative pork producers in the Midwest, I’ve become fascinated with how livestock are raised and processed (to the point where my boyfriend recently questioned accusingly, “Why do you always talk about slaughter when we go to parties?”). I’ve ultimately decided that my choice to limit my meat consumption is based on two main beliefs: 1) the industrial livestock complex is horrendous, so if I were to eat meat it would only be of the sustainably raised sort, and 2) we should eat less meat generally if we want to have a sustainable food system. I do believe that we can transition away from the grain-fed standard we’ve set in this country, but doing so would require that as a culture, we change our meat-consumption habits.