Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

September-October 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


Until I was 12, I pretty much took the food on the table for granted. Well, that's not really true, because sometimes my family was in some tough financial straits, and we had to be frugal and innovative. Actually, it was my mother who was frugal and innovative, and she laid the foundation for much of what I do today, not only in the culinary world, but also in general lifestyle services. That said, I still didn't really understand the Path from field to table.

My Path

When I was 12, my family moved to a small farm in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. At first, I was very unhappy. I was a city boy, having lived previously in the San Francisco Bay area, and in St. Louis. I had no idea how to interact with "country boys." Well, both of my parents had some familiarity with farm living: my father had grown up on a working farm, and my mother had a wide range of largely self-taught domestic skills. Eventually, I became excited by this farm life. We had a fruit and vegetable garden on an acre of land, and grew most of our produce; we also had fruit trees. I learned about canning, freezing, baking and all types of home cooking. We also had a small herd of beef cattle, so I became intimately familiar with the process of calving, nursing, selecting breeding stock, rearing steers for maximum yield, and slaughter. We had a pair of geese (Pierre and Babette) who laid a hatch of eggs each spring (we built a special shed for them to nest in), and reared a family of goslings annually that we slaughtered in the autumn for our own meals or to sell to neighbors. We had three White Pekin ducks, who didn't nest, but who laid eggs regularly that my mother turned into homemade noodles and pasta with my "help" … delicious! I raised rabbits for several years, part of a project that my parents knew would teach me about managing a business, keeping a budget, and maintaining proper records; not only did it accomplish those goals, as I sold many of the young rabbits, but it also taught me about responsibility at a relatively young age, and also provided us with lots of rabbit meat that became delicious meals in my mother's skilled hands.

Returning to the garden and orchard, my father taught me about proper maintenance of fruit trees, strawberry plants, blackberry canes, and every kind of vegetable imaginable. Then my mother took over, guiding me through the stages of pickling and canning, including lots of knifework (when I give public lectures, I often jokingly refer to these experiences as "slavery"). I actually thought it was fun to help; little did I know that I would make a living using these skills that she taught me. Sometimes, as a teen, I thought I was behind the curve in terms of life skills. Only as an adult did I realize how far AHEAD of the curve I really am.

Slow Food

It turns out that many others have realized how important it is to understand the Path of food from field to table. That is a statement I use when I work public booths to promote Slow Food (http://www.slowfood.com/ and http://www.slowfoodusa.org/ and http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/). Slow Food is an international "movement" that promotes the mindful understanding of all things culinary. Slow Food started when founder Carlo Petrini had a visceral level reaction to the opening of a McDonald's restaurant at the Spanish Steps of Rome, and decided to create an antidote to "fast food." (I have my own Spanish Steps story: I was in Rome, and had entered a restaurant near my hotel for breakfast; I spoke broken Italian to the host, and he seated me. I was perusing the menu, and two young Americans approached me, asking in slow, halting English, "Do … you … speak … English?" I replied, "Yes, I'm American." They were relieved, and out came an avalanche of relief involving … not understanding the language, and … not being familiar with the food, and … HORRORS … had I visited the McDonald's at the Spanish Steps? I replied, "No, I haven't, nor do I want to." I was eventually able to disengage these ugly Americans from my table, and proceed with my breakfast.). Visit the Slow Food websites, and consider joining TODAY to fight fast food! You'll become part of a movement that I devote a LOT of my time to, and am proud to do so. Local chapters are called "convivia," which says a lot about the philosophy of the organization.

The Edible Schoolyard

One person who has also devoted a lot of her time to Slow Food is Alice Waters, renowned chef of Chez Panisse, one of my favorite restaurants in the US! Of course, Alice doesn't limit her volunteer work to Slow Food. She has also created The Edible Schoolyard at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in Berkeley, CA (not too far from Chez Panisse). You can learn more about her work by visiting http://www.edibleschoolyard.org/homepage.html , but I'm going to present some of that website's text here to provide you with abundant information.

"The Edible Schoolyard, in collaboration with Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, engages 950 public school students in a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen classroom. Using food as a unifying concept, students learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious seasonal produce. Experiences in the kitchen and garden foster a better understanding of how the natural world sustains us, and promote the environmental and social well being of our school community. Children learn about the connection between what they eat and where it comes from, with the goal of fostering environmental stewardship and revolutionizing the school lunch program. Linking garden and kitchen activities with classroom lessons using ecological principles, students develop a deep understanding and appreciation of how nature sustains life. Since the inception of The Edible Schoolyard, the school garden movement and the demand for fresh, organically produced foods has spread nationally. We are at a threshold of growth in the shift toward sustainable food systems - these resources may guide your involvement."

Now, if that doesn't sound like a recreation of my own teen years on the farm, I don't know what does. Visit the website and the links, and learn. Seeing how this same process has led me to my current Path, I hope others will embrace this project, and related ones, across the country. I know of a group in Chicago doing similar work, Purple Asparagus.

Purple Asparagus

Purple Asparagus was started by my Slow Food friend, Melissa Graham. She embraces the importance of involving the entire family in food appreciation. I copied the following from their website, www.purpleasparagus.com: "Purple Asparagus is an educational organization dedicated to bringing families back to the table. We plan and promote activities that enable the entire family to learn about and enjoy every aspect of local and global food culture. Purple Asparagus celebrates the role family plays in raising, making and sharing food, and teaches children about the importance of food and its traditions." I've seen their presentations at Chicago's Green City Market, and their model is easily imitable by anyone across the country. Spend some time at their website, and see what you can do to increase familial awareness and enjoyment of food in your own community! As a personal note, I KNOW that the family meals that I enjoyed as a child helped build the foundation of my philosophy, and that of GOD-DESS. Dining together is the future!


Recently I represented Slow Food at Evanston's (Illinois) Farmers Market. While I was staffing my promotional table, I noticed some women handing out brochures advertising www.spatulatta.com, and wondered what this was. I had the opportunity to speak with the founder, Gaylon Emerzian. She's a great person, and invited me to share their website with you, my readers. Here's the gist: two delightful girls, Belle and Livvy, do cooking demos on video (check out some videos on the website; you'll need Quicktime), to teach their young peers about culinary technique, measurements, and ethnic ingredients. It's important for children to learn proper technique in the kitchen, and to be apprised of the world of culinary wonders at their disposal. As a purist, I might quibble with some of their ingredients, but I think this is a wonderful way to introduce children not only to important cooking techniques, but also to a wide range of ethnic cuisine. If we are to find commonality in this world, we must embrace all cultures, and spatulatta.com is doing a terrific job. As I write this, I have learned that the young chefs have been invited to do a cooking demo at the Chicago Green City market, a premier opportunity. By the time you read this column, the demo will be over, but be assured that these girls know what they are doing, they are personable, and I totally endorse what they are doing to educate other children, so get your own children online to view their Quicktime videos, and open their minds to a world of flavor.

A Recipe for Children

I've been meaning to write up my "Italian Flag Zucchini Saute" for a while, but haven't gotten around to it. Since my goal in this column is often to teach technique rather than an exact recipe, I'm going to offer this recipe in a somewhat unconventional form. This is one of the first recipes I ever cooked with my mother, and I have tweaked it over the years to its current form. I've now tweaked it again, to emphasize technique and flavor theory for children to understand.

Trim the stem end off the zucchini. Slice in half lengthwise. Slice each half into 1/8" to ¼" half moons; set aside. Slice the onion in half lengthwise; remove skin. Slice each half into 1/8" to ¼" half moons; separate layers and set aside. Bring about a quarter of water to boil in a saucepan; add the tomatoes for 15 to 30 seconds, lift them out using a slotted spoon and plunge them into ice cold water; remove the loosened skins. Quarter the peeled tomatoes lengthwise; chop crosswise into ½" pieces; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in an 8" sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent and slightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the zucchini, salt, pepper and oregano (and garlic, if using, finely minced by keeping the root end of the clove intact while thinly slicing the length of the clove in one direction, rotating 90 degrees and slicing thinly, then cutting across the slices to produce the mince) to the onions and stir to combine; sauté about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar, stir to combine, and cook until the zucchini are tender, about 5 minutes. Serve as a pasta sauce, as a sauce for pan-seared fish (such as salmon) or chicken (including boneless, skinless breasts for a low-fat meal), or pan-fried pork chops, lamb chops or beef steak, or as a topping on a hamburger or hot dog.

Your Role in the Future

I truly believe that the future of our society, even our world, is dependent on our understanding how food grows, and how it gets to our table. This is best taught to our next generation, our children. If you have your own children, teach them. If you have grandchildren, teach them. If you have nieces or nephews, teach them. If you have influence over any other children, either as an educator, or a volunteer, or in a church, teach them. Bring in a professional, such as myself, if you need help, but remember that the future is in YOUR hands.

Please let me know what is happening in your own worlds with regard to educating children about the source and preparation of foods at at 773.508.9208 or email. I'm sure I'll be revisiting this topic in the future, and I would welcome other examples that will inspire. Thank you in advance for your contributions!