Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Meet the Board Nominees! Part 3

Want to Cook Everything Perfectly?

Anyone can do it. I am not talking about sauces, flavor combinations and presentation here, but about cooking your food to the perfect degree of doneness every time. This can be easily achieved by anyone regardless of their cooking skill using a technique called Sous Vide. I have been a Professor at VCU teaching chemistry to pharmacy students for many years. Since I am a chemist, I have a natural interest in cooking because the changes that occur during cooking are in fact Chemistry. This interest has led me to the study of  culinary arts and I have been certified in culinary arts and food handling for about 2 and a half years.  As a teacher at the University of Richmond Culinary arts program, I have integrated Sous Vide cooking into my class on The Science of Cooking For Non Scientists and have found it to be the most interesting techniques I have worked with. 

The technique involves sealing the food to be cooked in a vacuum bag and poaching it in a water bath at a very precise temperature. The vacuum bag is used to protect the food from air which may oxidize and discolor some types of foods. The water bath temperature chosen is the temperature that provides perfect doneness for the food being cooked and this doneness is achieved throughout the entire portion of food, not only in its center. In conventional cooking, since the foods are heated from the outside, one must overheat the outside of the food in order to completely cook the inside. Not overheating the outside of the food is important especially for meats, poultry and fish because the overcooked outside will be tough, less moist  and less flavorful. In addition,  food overcooked on the outside at a high temperature (think outside grill) will contain mutagenic and carcinogenic byproducts of such cooking.

This picture picture shows the cross section of a steak cooked conventionally and having a large temperature gradient along with the steak below it with that has a  small temperature gradient representing a steak cooked Sous Vide.  

The picture on the right shows the finished product of what a steak cooked Sous Vide would actually look like.

For fruits and vegetables, imagine the perfect amount of crispness in each piece of carrot  or apple even if the size of the pieces were not uniform to start with. Since the temperature is being held at exactly the temperature of perfect doneness, it is virtually impossible to overcook your food using Sous Vide. Some foods may become even more moist and flavorful if cooked for several days in the water bath. 

So, How do you get started? The first thing you will need is a Sous Vide cooker. These are available commercially - they can be a little pricey, but they are coming down in price pretty rapidly due to increased demand. Another option is that a Sous Vide Cooker can be put together from common household items that you may already have. You can construct a Sous Vide cooker using an aquarium heater, a crock pot, a probe thermometer and an inexpensive electric on/off controller. The crock pot cycles on and off to maintain the temperature set from the controller and read by the probe thermometer. The aquarium circulator is for keeping the water  in the crock pot moving for convection. Various instructions on how to do this are available online. 

The only other thing you will need is a vacuum seal bag. Again, you can go the expensive way and use a "Food Saver" type vacuum sealer, which you may already possess as a way to keep frozen foods fresher/longer. The inexpensive way is to use Ziploc Vacuum Freezer bags that have an air tight nipple  and come with a plunger to manually suck air out of the bags once sealed.  I have found that these work fine and are a very inexpensive and a suitable alternative for both Sous Vide cooking and vacuum freezer storage. 

As a Co-op member/owner (and Board Nominee) I hope to advocate not only healthy foods, but also high quality delicious and interesting foods such as fresh/local foods cooked by the Sous Vide Technique. Sous Vide cooking could be integrated into the Co-op's prepared foods, and represent a unique offering to the food conscious members of the Co-op community. The Co-op opens up an opportunity for us to come together as a community and share ideas about how to push Richmond's food future forward, and I am glad to be a part of that conversation. 

-Tom Karnes, Co-op Member/Owner

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Meet the Board Nominees! Part 2

Why Co-op?

While I can’t speak for the nearly 300 member/owners who have already joined the Co-op, I can tell you that I see the Co-op as more than just an opportunity to cut down my walk to the grocery store. I see this as an opportunity to support my neighborhood and my city at large. I say Co-op because it’s the Richmond thing to do.

The way I see it, a Co-op is long overdue in Richmond. We’re a city chockfull of eco-friendly people who bike to friends’ houses to enjoy a nice Legend Lager and then recycle the bottle. We grow our own staples and then walk to the grocery store to fill in the gaps. We support the business owners we know, whether that means shopping at Plan 9 on Small Business Saturday (and every other Saturday of the year) or growing hops for Hardywood Brewery. We reuse and recycle by starting companies like Books, Bikes, and Beyond that keep us outfitted in Richmond-appropriate attire while supporting community literacy. We paint murals for change. We grow things together.

I could go on, but I think you get it and you've probably reached the real question: How have we not Co-oped already?

Okay, it’s also an opportunity to potentially cut down my grocery store walk by more than 2 miles. But that’s just a side benefit.

-Kelsey Miller, Co-op Member/Owner (and Scott's Addition resident)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Meet the Board Nominees! Part 1

Greetings Friends and fellow Co-op Member/Owners!

I am thrilled to be nominated for a position on the Board of the Richmond Food Co-op. There are many reasons for my keen investment in working toward the growth and prosperity of our co-op, all of which merge my intellectual and personal commitments. I grew up in Canada with a mother who was a political activist and who fought diligently against the unsustainable practices of the Manitoba hog industry. Through her work, I learned at a very early age that contemporary factory farming is at every turn unethical: Its treatment of animals is abhorrent; its environmental practices wholly unsustainable; and its stressful working conditions produce extraordinarily high rates of family abuse and suicide.  My father was an allergist who specialized in food allergies. From him I learned about the sensitivities that each of us face in relation to the sustenance of our own bodies, and the poisonous effects of mono-cultural production that affect us all today in the wake of globalization. My early childhood, then, was one seeped in food politics. 

My doctoral work in Comparative Literature built from this early interest in food to investigate how global writers use food in their literary works to illuminate myriad forms of oppression: State-sanctioned poverty, domestic abuse, animal welfare, and institutional forms of racism. I have published diverse articles on how literature employs food and eating to upset many of our most deeply held beliefs, including how Western rational thought has enabled our species to act in wholly self-serving ways at the expense of other species and the environment. At the University of Richmond, my course “Food for Thought” brings together literary, environmental, historical, anthropological, and philosophical discourses on food and eating to rethink the very basis our eating practices. If we agree that “you are what you eat,” then we also must consider that in eating we are always in a state of becoming something different. Eating, then, paves the way for new possibilities in the future and new forms of being human. 

For my family, which includes my partner Nathan Snaza and our 16-month old daughter Isadora Singh, having a thriving Co-op is vital to our investment in Gandhian thought and practice. Like Gandhi, we believe that a society that thrives on the subjugation of many for the betterment of some is a sick society. Food is the best way to gauge the health of any community: Only when all community members are well-fed can we begin to build abiding alliances between individuals and families regardless of race, class, sex, or religion. “Well-fed” of course does not mean “full.” It’s not enough to provide cheap fast-food meals for families; we must provide sustainable, healthy, and ecologically responsible food for everyone. My vision for our Co-op is one where we will come together as a diverse collective, learning from our differences but united in our mutual desire to nourish ourselves alongside of—rather than in spite of—others who may be less fortunate.

-Julietta Singh, Co-op Member/Owner and Board Nominee