My parents have been here for two weeks, romping up into the mountains, across the South Island, and down to the beaches in the Catlins. The following post is contributed by my dad, Judd Anderson. Thanks, Dad!
New Zealand is so much more than you can imagine from the Internet or anywhere else. Some of both the silly, serious, wonderful and inspiring are the following:
A Kiwi is a person (New Zealanders actually like being called one), Kiwi-bird is THE bird, which most Kiwis have not seen, even if you go to Stewart Island where you have the best chance of seeing one. More common and beautiful are the Kea which are like mountain parrots, green with bright orange armpits. They meow like kitties when they fly over. They visit you in the mountain huts, looking for camper food. Most common phrases in NZ are, “No worries” (if you say thank you to the person giving you a latte, this is what they’ll say back); “It’s all good”, which can be substituted for “no worries”; or, less common, but fun is, “She-be-right, mate,” which actually means “It will be all right, dude.” Short e sounds in words such as neck, deck, pest or Czech (someone from the Chech Republic) are pronounced nick, dick, pist and chick. So you can actually have a barbecue on your “dick” or store a kayak on your dick (so says Jacob, one of Christina and Zach’s NZ climbing buddies).
There are no big animals in NZ, so possums, rabbits and everything else small are called pists (pests) cause they have no predators. What’s great about hiking and camping is that you don’t have to worry about bears, wolves or anything else that might scare or eat you or your food. NZ doesn’t even have foxes or coyotes which could do a great job on the overabundance of rabbits and other pists. But they have something called a sandfly which is so small and bites without being felt that only later do you realize the ring of bites on your ankles is from their having had you for dinner. But if you walk they are so slow they can’t keep up. The yellow-eyed penguins are unafraid of you, especially the unfledged whom we walked up to, examined, photographed and watched star-struck for 2 hours near Moereki (barely touched on in the guidebooks) as are the sea lions and fur seals which roll on the beaches like large blubber bags, flipping warm sand onto themselves. The Hector dolphins swim around you off the Catlins (the southern most beaches) ride the waves and play by jumping in the air, right along side the human surfers. Of course the sheep are everywhere, both inside and outside of the fences, on the roads and in towns and are herded by tall manly-men in really short adidas soccer shorts like we used to wear 20 years ago. Even the flag men on the road construction crews have tenaciously held to the 4 inch inseam.
The colors of NZ are really striking. The mountain lakes and rivers (which you often cross on beautiful simple suspension cable bridges that look like Indiana Jones bridges, warn you of the number allowed on at any one time – 1 to 5 and sway and bounce as you walk across with your pack) of both the Mt. Aspiring range (we hiked and camped for 3 days there) and the Mt. Cook National Park (4 days) turn multiple shades of blue/green/slate and often look like aqua milkshakes, thick and creamy. No need for bringing your water on mountain hikes: just dip your water bottle into any stream. When you hit glaciers, eat the snow but stop to listen for avalanches which we heard and saw numerous times on our way to Mueller Hut (dedicated by Sir Edmund Hilary in 2003) in Mt. Cook Park. The sound of an avalanche is, first delayed by many seconds and, second, as loud as a sonic boom.
In two weeks of living and traveling with Christina and Zach we have eaten a breakfast out once, split a breakfast (at the Mountaineer’s Cafe at Mt. Cook), dined at Francesca’s (an elegant place where KCA dishes and preps) and Fleur’s Place in the Catlins. Otherwise, we have always eaten together out of our campervans, up in the mountains, on beaches and have never eaten so well. Food is always better at a campsite, especially when you pick your own mussels from your beach walk (Cathedral Caves Beach), or from an unattended roadside vegetable stand where you find new potatoes, that, when cooked, taste creamy even without any butter.
For all of NZ’s incredible God-given beauty (we still have Fiordland to pry open in the next week), wonderful people (or should I say NO people…hardly anyone lives here) it has been the traveling, tramping, hiking, trekking, exploring and “hanging” with Christina and Zach that have filled us with incomparable joy.
What makes something your favorite?
For me, it is comfortable, delicious, snuggly, perfect. I want to hug it and be best friends with it and I need nothing else. A chubby cat, my Ithaca Rock Climbing Club sweatshirt, a cupcake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine, dad’s coffee, a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, or a good book will do the trick. The sweatshirt is self explainable, but I want to focus on the good book part. My version of a good book is somewhere in the realm of modern fiction: The World According To Garp, Bonfire of the Vanities, or The Art of Fielding. A piece written by an intelligent person that is not flashy or arrogant, but subtly genius, with characters that make perfect sense set in plot that is neither obvious nor contrived (Jodi Picoult, I’m looking at you).
But of course, if I indulged in favorites all the time, I’d wind up obese, covered in cat hair, laying in bed amongst the cupcake crumbs, with permanently stained teeth. You can’t live on favorites alone.
I was for awhile, reading mostly modern fiction. When I am the boss, that’s what I pick and I am totally the boss of my kindle. Since we have been traveling though, I have also taken to raiding the bookshelf wherever we are staying. This provides me with someone else’s selection of books, ones that I would not usually choose myself, and also balances out the cost of buying books. As a result of this practice, I’ve met Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and been inspired by his River Cottage cookbooks, discovered the we decided to be farmers, but have no idea what we are doing genre, and also attempted to broaden my horizons by reading Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. While Portrait of a Lady wasn’t enjoyable through and through and it was often tiresome trying to figure out what James was saying through his flowery language, it worked my brain. I learned a few things about gender roles in the 1800s and by page 400 actually found myself enjoying the story. It was not a favorite, but a really valuable activity. And it makes coming back to your favorite genre all that more enjoyable. I just picked up Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot and by the second page, knew that it is going to be a favorite. It tasted like cupcakes after a week of bran cereal, but I needed that bran cereal.
My suggestion is two fold: go read something that is good for you, then pick up something from your favorite genre. Here are a few that I’ve really enjoyed this year:
The World According to Garp, John Irving
A hilarious and heart wrenching novel. My favorite book ever.
A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain
Disclaimer: Bourdain is a total bro and this is more food porn than literature. He boozes and eats his way around the world and will make you want to do the same. I read this book with a notepad next to me: Spain To Do: San Sebastian tapas bar crawl.
Once Were Warriors, Alan Duff
An iconic New Zealand novel about a Maori family living in government housing. Ficticious, but felt very much like the struggles that my students in the Bronx faced. Interesting to see what those problems look like in another culture.
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbaugh
Set on a college campus in upstate Michigan, Chad Harbaugh’s writing is spot on. His characters became my friends and the book may as well have read itself to me.
Life, on the Line, Grant Achatz
A celeb chef memoir + cancer survival story that is the best of both worlds. Written by chef and investor, both of whom are quite competent writers.
“There’s plenty of good wine, but NO good beer in New Zealand,” I heard from a fellow traveler a few weeks before departing the Uh-merica for the Land of the Rings.
“Uh oh.” I was coming from New York City, which, with apologies to Denver and Austin, was rapidly moving up the charts of beer nerd heaven. Within blocks of my apartment I had beer bars, beer specialty stores (much love, Top Hops), even Chinatown bodegas filling growlers with local brews! “This could be a problem,” I thought. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice glass of wine with food or a movie, but there are some events that just call for beer: sports, mostly. How could I watch Syracuse b-ball with a glass of pinot noir? I’m not one to tempt the wrath of Boeheim.
Luckily, my traveler friend was wrong. There’s plenty of good beer in NZ. There’s also plenty of very bad beer and golly, the good stuff is expensive. So I find myself strategizing more in my purchasing decisions. Maybe back home the question was: good or cheap? Here, it’s: bad and not so cheap, decent and expensive, or excellent and worth its weight in gold? This isn’t a good situation for a broke beer nerd to be in.
But I’ve found options in every category that satisfy my hop withdrawals, or at least some that don’t make me cringe.
Cheap: Ranfurly Draught. $24 NZD/18 pack 440ml cans. 4.0% abv
Brewed in a nearby town of the same name and shipped all over the South Island, Ranfurly has become my go-to cheap beer. The best I can say for it is: it’s better than it looks. Yeah, it’s marketed as a cheap beer: the label screams “GIANT 440 ML CANS!!!11!” But I’m ashamed to say that I had it next to a Budweiser and I preferred the second son to the King of Beers. Rich and creamy with a inoffensive aftertaste, I’ll take it over lighter lagers any (every?) day of the week.
Decent: Mac’s Hop Rocker Pilsner. $26 NZD/12 pack 330ml bottles. 5.0%abv
For a while I was put off by the relatively cheap pricepoint of Mac’s. And the fact that its a hopped pilsner threw me for a loop. But after sampling it at a recent barbecue, I can say that its probably the best value in New Zealand beer. Lightly hopped with the crisp, bright citrus flavors of a pilsner, its a nice medium ground between huge IPAs and traditionally wimpy pilsners.
Gold Standard: 8wired Brewing Company HopWired IPA. $12 NZD/500ml bottle. 7.3%abv
Number 8 wire is the duct tape of New Zealand. Any problem with a car, laundry machine, or health care system can be fixed with “a bit a number eight wire, mate.” And this, if you were wondering, is the provenance of the 8wired Brewing Company’s name. But anyway, I was floored by this beer. I’d put it up against any of the famous US microbrewery IPAs: Dogfish Head, Russian River, Heady Topper, etc. I’m not sure who would come out on top, but I know that HopWired would give them a grudge match. The label mentions “passion fruit, limes, oranges, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes” as flavors. While I won’t go so far as to confirm this from my experience, I can say that its a unique and delicious brew, full of massive hop flavors and a nice malty character. Full disclosure: I’m enjoying a HopWired right now. Life is good.
Don’t believe the beer snobs when the tell you everything sucks, and don’t sleep on the top tier of NZ beers. There are some real treasures here. Cheers, mate.
A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation by The Localizing Food Tour, a group that puts on presentations and hands on workshops for communities to help them create a sustainable, local food supply. It was a super charged, energetic talk on food politics and issues like the upcoming food bill that is to be passed here in NZ, the possibility of a new trade agreement with the States and China, genetically engineered crops, and how these things affect us common folk. Their mission seems to be two fold: to educate people about food politics and to facilitate action in the community.
One would hope that the discussion around food would be about feeding and nurturing people, just as one would assume that decisions about education would be focused on educating students. Ultimately, food politics, like education politics, isn’t about how to support and strengthen people. It is about control and money. Shocker.
Jon Foote, the presenter, spoke about genetical engineered foods and how people’s eating habits have changed from whole, real foods, to packaged, processed foods and the corresponding rise in diseases and learning disabilities. I learned about irradiated fruits and vegetables, a process that keeps perishable foods from rotting and bruising, but kills the nutrients and puts radiation in your food. Irradiated foods do not have to be labeled.
Doesn’t that piss you off? That you make a point of eating healthy food, but you aren’t getting what you pay for? That you are trying to put something good in your body, but really you are consuming radiation, which we all know, treats cancer by killing cells. Killing nutrients. This is a legal practice. Why is this legal? Certainly not to provide healthy food to citizens, but simply to make money.
The solution is to learn about what you are eating, about what is in season and what grows well in your region. Support the community and good, honest people who specialize in growing good food. The presentation ended on a high note, imploring people to think about how you spend your dollar and what you do with your time. They also stressed that communities are stronger than individuals, so support one another and help your neighbors. I like that.
The Localizing Food Tour led a two day workshop developing an action plan to provide a sustainable, healthy food source for the people of Wanaka, just as they had done in Southland, Dunedin, Oamaru, and will do in almost every town in New Zealand over the next year. They emphasized community gardens, edible plants in public spaces, land sharing between farmers who may not use all of their land and those who want to grow food, but have no land. They brought attention to what Wanaka is already doing, to people who are saving seeds that grow well in this region, to the group who is developing a food forest outside of town, and to various community events.
Throughout the presentation, people referred to “what’s happening in America.” They talked about how large corporations, like Monsanto and the corn industry, influence government decisions regarding food and the health of the nation. They spoke about us like a bunch of uneducated fat kids, following a manipulative government that picks on all of the little guys. And for the most part, they were right, but it was uncomfortable to hear people who I respect talking about my country with so little respect.
Zach and I want to change that. We want to be a part of a community like Wanaka, but need to be that positive force in an American community. We’re not done traveling. We may never be done traveling, but that is what we plan to do when we get back.
The plan was to hike to the Liverpool Hut in Mt. Aspiring National Park. It’s a 6 hour hike: 4 hours along the Matukituki valley then 2 hours up the mountain. What was supposed to be an early departure from town turned into a 2pm start time. We packed some booze, the board game Risk, and a delicious dinner. When we crossed paths with the warden of the Mt. Aspiring Hut around 4pm and told him that it was our intention to go for the Liverpool Hut that night, he suggested we reconsider our plan. We still had 5 hours of walking ahead of us and the last two were quite steep. It would be dark when we arrived at the hut.
Our initial reaction was, this guy is like 80 years old and is underestimating our ability. Side note: In the states, the park rangers often overestimate the time and skill level required to complete a hike. On the east coast, we look for descriptions that say strenuous because that is where the interesting hikes begin. In New Zealand though, the time estimates are accurate, and strenuous means you will sweat your ass off.
We continued past the warden in silence, quietly walking and mulling over the plan.
“We could do it. It would be like 9pm when we get there, but we could do it,” Someone said.
There were a bunch of yeah, mmhmm, I think we coulds from the group then a moment of silence. The woods are going to get dark a lot earlier than the valley though. I mean, we have headlamps, but do we really want to be faffing around in the woods at night when we could be playing Risk in the hut?
We called it quits after two hours of walking and started setting up the board game at a communal table in the Mt. Aspiring Hut. Throughout the evening, we ate all of the bacon, drank all of the Jameson, gobbled down massive quantities of chocolate, and played the game of world domination with two Israeli guys who discussed their strategy in Hebrew before moving pieces. By midnight, we were too drunk to care about the pitch black night’s sky, positively littered with stars.
Oh my god, look at the stars!
Mmhmm, I’m going to bed. Where’s the water?
We woke the next day at 10 and set out around 11 for the Liverpool Hut. We left our packs where we had stayed the night before and brought only our lunch and water bottles, which we refilled in the streams that ran off the glaciers above us. The beginning part of the hike was all photo ops and river crossings until we got to the base of the mountain, which seemed to form a 60 degree angle with the valley floor. Hand over foot we climbed, assisted by roots that served as ropes, up the thousand meter ascent. Two steps forward, one step up, stopping frequently to enjoy the views and catch our breath. Boob sweat, back sweat, sunscreen in your eyes, we climbed. No one could be bothered with pictures. An hour and a half later, we spotted the little red Liverpool Hut that we had seen in pictures at the car park. Hut! the first person called, Hut Hut! the second in line shouted back. But still, it wasn’t close. We stopped for lunch on the trail with a great view, but not at the hut where we intended to be. Fuckit, let’s eat.
After lunch we split up. A few of us went on and some started the descent. The hut was on a ridge, 30 minutes from where we first spotted it. It was there for a reason. That ridge had the best view of Mt. Aspiring of anywhere in the valley. It was stunning and only confirmed my suspicion: we will be doing this hike again. I need to stay in that hut and sit on the porch, with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the sun come up over Mt. Aspiring. It was 3pm when we arrived at Liverpool Hut. We stayed for 10 minutes, knowing that we had a 5 hour trek back to the car, an hour drive back to town, and no more food. The walk out was gorgeous, but I had shaky legs and kept thinking about how far we had to go.
As soon as we got cell service, we phoned in an order for burgers for pick up. We took them home, sat on the floor and unwrapped their beautiful, greasy paper before attacking them like a pack of wild dogs. Twas a phenomenal hike, executed in entirely the wrong way.
Today’s headline from the New York Times: “F.D.A. Offers Broad New Rules to Fight Food Contamination.” Usually me and the NYT jive pretty well. We’re not a perfect match, but this time I’m the Red Sox to Stephanie Strom’s (and her editors’) Yankees. These new rules are a huge step back for small farmers and their future in the United States.
Basically, the new regulations will institute several policies designed to prevent pathogens from contaminating food. The rules call for things like installing bathrooms in fields for workers, irrigation requirements, and “ensuring that foods are cooked at temperatures high enough to kill bacteria.” The FDA, long reactionary instead of anticipatory, is trying to get ahead of the eight ball. How could anyone oppose a law that will make people safer and keep them from getting sick? Oh, easily. Here’s how:
I have three major problems with these rules. They’ll put small farmers out of business, destroy the nutritional value of the food they’re meant to protect, or both. These are serious threats to public health and, in fact, make us less safe. Job well done, FDA.
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a small lettuce grower in California. You produce enough to make ends meet and keep food on the table. With a stroke of a pen, now you’ve got to rent and pay maintenance costs on toilets in your fields for your workers. Even if you’ve never had a problem with contamination and you know and trust your workers not to pee on the arugula, you must comply. This could be a crippling blow to you and your farm. At the very least, it will raise your costs and therefore prices. Who will feel the brunt of this? The small guys that can’t take advantage of economies of scale when it comes to renting port-o-johns. This is why lettuce at the farmers’ market is expensive! Frankly, this also screams of collusion between the FDA and larger producers. Land of opportunity, right?
If you’re still with me, I probably don’t have to explain why fewer small local farms is a bad thing. But just in case, the gist of it is: more fruits and veggies produced far away will be consumed, adding food miles by the truckload (pun very much intended) and more food will be treated with irradiation to keep it “fresh” for the journey. I’ll have the uranium on the side, thanks.
On the second point, cooking raw ingredients (like peanuts) to ever-higher temperatures destroys their nutritional value. We’ve been eating raw peanuts for much longer than this has been a problem. Continuing the sports analogy, how have we ever survived an entire baseball game? I know I’ve been to some that felt like they’d kill me, but that didn’t have anything to do with the peanuts.
But what’s most amazing is how obvious this should be. It says it right in the title! “Broad New Rules” just don’t work if we’re going to have many different sizes of farms. The small guys just can’t hang with the big ones when it comes to installing expensive infrastructure.
The FDA should be focused on accountability and transparency in the system for every size producer. Conveniently, a great system exists when you buy your lettuce directly from the gal who grew it. It’s the time-honored tradition of “looking her in the eye.”
Don’t make farmers jump through more hoops. Let consumers decide if they trust the lettuce from their farmer, or the bag that it comes in.
This is the second in a series of posts on politics and food. Please forgive us if it gets a little heavy in here for the next few weeks. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.
Beliefs are based on many different factors. Some we inherit from our parents, some from our teachers and peers, and others from media. But the most lasting and powerful beliefs come from personal experiences. Sometimes the circumstances are right and these things align to make us passionate about something. This is how I became interested in food and farming. I hope that the story of my influences will help you consider why you believe the things that you believe.
It began, as many great things seem to, on the couch. Several years ago I was looking for a way to kill a few hours in front of the television, and popped in a DVD that had been collecting dust for several weeks on my bookshelf. It was a Netflix mail order disc that I’d received by accident and felt compelled to watch before sending it back for something more action-packed. It was a little documentary called Food, Inc., and it made an impression on me.
Still, I didn’t act immediately. Sure, I started “voting with my wallet” and buying more local and organic products. But I didn’t drop everything and become an activist waiving signs and stomping around Washington. My life continued pretty much as it had for the last five years.
A few months later I picked up a copy of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dillemma. At this point I was a vessel primed for Pollan’s preaching, so he converted me to the ways of the green revolution fully. This was no longer just something I thought about; it was part of who I was.
My diet in college consisted of prepackaged foods filled with preservatives and chemicals. Now I was eating better and my body was thanking me for it. I felt better waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. Maybe cutting out drinking thirty beers every other night helped too, but we’ll never know. Anyway, I felt like a million bucks and that was good enough for me. If other people were still eating fast food and guzzling soda that was their problem.
And then Christina came home one day from work (she was teaching fourth grade in the South Bronx) and told me about the breakfast program at her school. The previous year, the school began supplying students with a small breakfast: cereal, milk, sometimes fresh fruit and yogurts. Some of the kids went from eating nothing at all before school, or worse, guzzling an energy drink loaded with caffeine and sugar, to being provided a real, reasonable meal. According to her, productivity skyrocketed. The morning became their most useful time. Behavioral issues disappeared. Students were more focused and had fewer “stomach aches” that were really just hunger pangs. A simple breakfast transformed her classroom and thus the lives and futures of the students in it. Oh, and her principal was considering cutting the breakfast program because it was too expensive.
This sent me into a blind rage. “How could anyone be so short-sighted? What is your principal thinking?! Find the money!” I know the realities of budget management require tough decisions, but Christina’s descriptions of the students before and after the breakfast program were undeniable. Kids need food to learn. Have you ever tried to dig a hole without a shovel? Having the right tools are essential parts of a job, and food is the most basic of our tools.
Now I was ready to act. I couldn’t do much to save the program at her school (which actually received an eleventh-hour stay of execution), but I could take some action in my own eventual backyard. So I’m in New Zealand, learning a trade and traveling the world, with my loyalties to home stronger than ever. I’ll return to the US armed with the skills and knowledge to bring more good food to markets where it’s needed most. Stay tuned for more about that last point, serving the underserved, next time.