For the Love of Soil, “Soul Food,” the Seven Regions of Mexican Cuisine, and more…

fire roasted sweet orange bell pepper

It turns out this post is all about food! I guess that’s not a bad thing. Read on for some “food for thought…”

This Episode of the Mountain & Prarie Podcast with Kate Kavanaugh of Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe is Everything

“The health of the land and human health are inextricably linked…and as we lose 5000 tons per acre of topsoil per year, we also are seeing a decline in human health…how we treat the land can inform the ways we treat our bodies, and recognizing the microbiome of the land is the same as the microbiome inside of me is really important.”

– Kate Kavanaugh

I love Ed Roberson’s Mountain & Prairie podcast, and this episode featuring Kate is outstanding. Kate and her husband founded Western Daughters, a butcher shop that works exclusively with ranchers who practice regenerative agriculture within 150 miles of Denver.

In this episode, Ed and Kate have a passionate and informed discussion about what has also been taking up so much of my mental capacity: sustainable agriculture. A few tidbits of what you’ll get during this episode:

  • Regenerative agriculture 101 – unpacking what that means, why it matters, and where to even begin to restore healthy soil…
  • How Kate and her husband creatively funded their new farm in Upstate New York…look at all these grants and loans the USDA offers!
  • How much more Kate directly pays ranchers than the average grocery store…
  • How Kate has directly financially supported ranchers who want to make the switch to regenerative ag.

Over 40% of the land in the continental U.S. is grassland and it’s in critical condition. Educated, principled Coloradans all along the Front Range – who are perhaps best equipped to fight for nutrient dense soil – adore their beloved mountains, but forget they actually live in the humble grasslands and wetlands that run up into the foothills. I wish more fierce mountain lovers could appreciate the discrete beauty about which this precious land only whispers.

Trees, shrubs and grasses all exchange information with another in a sort of ‘wood wide web.’ One teaspoon of undisrupted forest soil can contain many miles of mycelium. Different tree species are often in contact with one another, even when they regard each other as competitors. When plants and trees are weakened and or are disconnected from their rich and intelligent fungal networks, they lose these conversational skills. Many re-planted forests and farm fields are usually “quiet” because they completely lack this soil richness, which can only come about from age and maturity.

– Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees

On “Soul Food”

In One Straw Revolution, (is this my favorite book?) Masanobu Fukuoka proposes four classifications of diet:

  1. The lax diet – this diet is characterized by indulgence and is erratic – you more or less eat anything, anytime.
  2. The standard nutritional diet, or the scientific diet – you choose what you eat based on all we’ve discovered about nutritional science. You track macros / take supplements / restrict calories. You eat for specific outcome: to enhance performance or longevity, avoid adverse health conditions, lose weight, gain muscle, etc.
  3. The diet of principle – you eat in line with spiritual, ethical or philosophical principles – for example, you don’t eat meat or dairy because you don’t want to harm animals or support factory farming. (Although, IMO, vegetarians are still, though perhaps less directly, harming animals.)
  4. The natural diet, diet of non-discrimination, or Right Diet. Beyond the persona, beyond the ego, with the body or total organism, and making the transpersonal “leap” to local environment and the entire universe, you’re now eating in unification with the “cosmic consciousness.” Here is where there is no knowing, which makes this very challenging to summarize!

“Right Diet” isn’t exactly prescriptive. It’s not based on a specific set of principles. Nor is it really scientific or based on “discriminate” knowledge. And since flavor, and what is or isn’t “acceptable” to eat according one’s personal value system, are completely subjective matters, these don’t define Right Diet, either. According to Fukuoka, Right Diet arises from satisfaction with what is available. It is “useful daily medicine” and unites food and the human spirit.

“When the body is following its own instinct, eating if something tastes good, abstaining if it does not, it is free.”

– Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka and Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food and God, a prominent figure in the field of disordered eating – specifically among women in the modernized West – both propose that in our disconnection with our food, we cut ourselves off from the spiritual and emotional values which “feed” our souls.

“To say that what one eats is merely a matter of preference is deceiving, because an unnatural or exotic diet creates a hardship for the farmer and the fisherman as well. It seems to me that the greater one’s desires, the more one has to work to satisfy them. The foods that are nearby are the best for human beings, and things that he has to struggle to obtain turn out to be the least beneficial of all… if we do have a food crisis, it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature’s productive power, but by the extravagance of human desire.”

– Masanobu Fukuoka

Food is a complicated and charged topic and Fukuoka’s words really just serve me as a way to contemplate my own diet and habits. Do I need the out of season plums flown from Chile? When I am eating, can I locate and savor the innate qualities of that ingredient without adding so many spices and other ingredients? Can I stop reading or scrolling on social media, and just enjoy my meal? What do these ideas stir up for you?

Time to Cook

The idea that “I don’t have time” doesn’t really exist right now, so I’ve been able to dedicate more time to cooking. This has led me to wondering about all sorts of things in the culinary arts and sciences, like, what does “cast iron” even mean? Does adding salt to boiling water really matter? What is the difference really between chopping and crushing garlic? Should you really add garlic last when you’re cooking with it? How does temperature affect flavor?

Via these questions I’ve stumbled into all sorts of cooking references. I’ve discovered that egg yolks are an emulsifier, which has led me to using them to emulsify the coconut oil and (water-based) coffee in our “upgraded coffee” instead of the plastic-packaged and processed sunflower lecithin we’ve been using. I also discovered that the word “dutch” in dutch oven, actually has nothing to do with the dutch, and actually implies “fake” – the dutch oven being a “fake” oven! Here are a few interesting links:

  • All about the science of cast iron cooking + the comments on this article are gold.
  • Does the method of mincing garlic matter? Daniel Gritzer investigates. By the way, this place claims to be the garlic capital of the world. But really, I think it’s how the city markets itself to tourists.
  • Apparently this guy is the god of cooking science and wrote the bible on it.
  • Does it matter if you add salt only once water is boiling? & other salt questions.
  • I’ve been increasingly opposed to Michal’s daily food frying habit. At least we use avocado oil. Read all about “time and temperature, cooking’s primary variables” here.
  • Did you know sautéing is really a catch all term?
  • There’s one obvious difference between a quesadilla (think queso + tortilla) and a taco and I bet if you think about it for 5-10 seconds you’ll be able to come up with the answer…it took me being here a few weeks to notice that people don’t really put cheese in their tacos…..
Michal and I have one pan: a cast iron.

Omg omg omg…this is the best regional foodie food guide I’ve ever read!?

So comprehensive and well researched. Chronologically organized. Infused with the author’s seemingly boundless passion for food and her home. Thank you Angelo Orlanda and Tucson Foodie for this work of art. They even acknowledge the ecoregion that the guide covers can’t be defined by political borders! For the ultimate guide to Sonoran food in southern Arizona, click here!

Looking out into the great expanse of Southern Arizona from “The Dry” climbing area in the Whetstone Mountains.

Many of these places are located in and around Tucson, Arizona, which Michal and I will be passing back through in the Spring! I’m so glad I found this guide now! Better yet, we’ve already been to two of the places this guide mentions – Del Bac, a single malt whiskey distillery – a new friend of ours works there and she treated us to a tasting – and Tumerico.

Eating at Tumerico in Tucson. That’s tamarindo juice in the cup (yessss) and jackfruit _____ (gorditas? but I don’t think that’s the right term?) on the plate. Their menu changes daily.

The Seven Regions of Mexican Cuisine

Michal and I have been on this brand (marca) of butter and yogurt called Flor de Alfalfa. Their productos lácteos artesanales are good quality and have good flavor. I Googled them one day and discovered they are located in the Bajío region of Mexico, and give guided tours (recorridos guiados) of their operation, el rancho La Hondonada.

The Bajío region “is a high-desert farming region made up of parts of the states of Michoacán, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and Querétaro that’s renowned for being Mexico’s breadbasket.” A colonial town Tequisquiapan in Querétaro is the site of Mexico’s national cheese and wine festival and in Michoacán you’ll recognize the name of one its towns: Cotija! I’m adding a visit to this region to my growing list of “Next Time in Mexico…” things to do. I’ll be making sure to go in May, which is when the festival takes place.

Get a quick summary of the seven regions of Mexican cuisine and learn a few things about real Mexican dishes (I mean, way beyond burritos…) here.

What do you think? What did I miss? What should I know? Is there a typo? Broken link? Please tell me in the comments below. I enjoy reading and responding! ??❤️??