How We Eat: Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition

What you choose to eat or not eat in this time in history is probably one of the most confusing and baffling parts of life. This is true, especially, if you are interested in good health, animal or environmental welfare, or your pocketbook. If you are at a point in your life where you don't care about aforementioned concepts, by all means, skip to the next blog post. If figuring out the "best" way to eat is a constant internal conversation, stay and have that conversation with us for a bit. Let's talk about Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. Kristl and I have come to this way of eating after struggling through thousands of dollars of mediocre restaurant food, easy convenience food, and home cooked food ranging from the lavish to the very simple. We have been those people who eat out every meal just because there is a restaurant they haven't tried. We have also eaten just potato chips and soda for dinner. Or brownies. And this isn't all like "in the past" either. In December, we definitely existed on nothing but white pizza for three days, and on Easter, we pigged out on candy (and then seriously suffered the consequences. Seriously.) No joke.

Those are the exceptions. Let's talk about the rule. The rule is we want to eat what makes us feel good. We don't particularly care about weight gain or loss, or packing on muscle. We do have some things to take into consideration. I have epilepsy, and my neurologist, who doesn't seem to care about my diet at all, will admit that limiting your sugar consumption is better for your brain. There are numerous studies to back this up. I can tell you, without the help of any studies, that sugar does not make my brain feel good. Sugar also tends to make Kristl's gallbladder issues act up. So, for the sake of feeling good, processed sugar gets the boot.

Ok, back to Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition. What does it mean? Why is it healthy? What can you feed us if we come over for dinner?!

If you think way back before globalization, before industrialization, people ate what was available to them on their farm, in their community, and what was in season. There weren't factories to break down the food into boxes, and then put it in your freezer so you could heat it up in your microwave. People were confronted with the whole cabbage, the whole chicken, whole food. Now, no one is suggesting that we all go back to subsistence farming. However, the closer you are to your producer, the fresher the product is likely to be (not always, but usually.) This is sustainable because you are supporting the local economy with your dollars, and giant trucks are not going as far to bring you delicious food.

Ok, these are our ideal standards:

  • For meat: Locally raised (five state radius), grass-fed, pastured (able to graze on grassland in appropriate weather), never treated with hormones, only given antibiotics in appropriate situations. Limit beef, and try to only cook with meat 3 days a week. Try to eat parts other than muscle.
  • For fish: Salmon should be wild caught from Pacific waters, small fish are almost always better, avoid farmed seafood, especially from Asia. Eat fish 1-2 times a week.
  • For eggs: Locally raised, grass-fed, pastured in season, organic feed otherwise. We eat as many eggs as we want.
  • Limit tofu, but fermented bean stuff, like tempeh is a-ok
  • Limit dried beans, only because they upset Kristl's stomach in large quantities, but see above, we are experimenting with tempeh
  • For dairy: We eat only grass-fed dairy products, and only whole fat (4%). This is a lot of Kerry Gold cheeses and Kalona cottage cheese and sour cream. Also, for butter we usually get Kerry Gold or Organic Valley Cultured. Grass fed is preferred, then organic local, then local, in that order. But we always want to avoid added hormones and antibiotics in our dairy.
  • Eat all the fermented food! This includes pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, etc, etc, etc. If it's cultured, we want it. Good bacteria to the maximum. Anything is easier to digest with fermentation!
  • Consume bone broth daily. We make bone broth from bones left over from other dishes, and vegetable scraps. We do not necessarily consider bone broth a magical cure all, but there are lots of good minerals and collagen inside.
  • Eat 8-9 servings of locally grown vegetables a day. "Locally grown using sustainable practices" trumps "organic" from California/Mexico/Peru. If it is not the growing season, we check out the Environmental Working Group's Pesticide Residue Data (a la Dirty Dozen) and make an informed decision about buying organic. We do eat frozen organic green beans and peas, because they are frozen very fresh, contain no salt, and are a great value from Costco.
  • Eat nuts sparingly. Nuts are a great snack, and we enjoy a mixed nut butter called Nuttzo, but since few nuts are found locally we don't pig out on nuts.
  • Eat fruits sparingly. The sugar from fruit is still sugar, so we snack on vegetables over fruits, but we probably average about 1 fruit a day.
  • Limit natural sugars. We love honey and maple syrup, but they still give Rachel a little bit of brain fuzz, so we use them sparingly
  • Avoid processed goods. If it comes in a bag or a box, isn't in the same shape it was when it came off the plant, has more than five ingredients, contains alcohol, and/or includes preservatives, "natural flavors" or fake colors, you can bet it's not coming home with us.
  • Avoid processed sugar and alcohol. It makes us both sick and sad, but if processed sugar is as addictive as science says it is, then it probably makes a lot of people sick and sad. And Kristl is super allergic to alcohol. Womp.

That's our way of eating. That's the long and short of it. That's what keeps us healthy, makes us happy, and shines a little light on the world around us.

What I always tell people is that if it's not sustainable for you, then it's not going to be sustainable for the planet. If we had jumped in and tried to start eating this way when we started this blog two years ago, we would have started the week with an armful of vegetables and sunshine and ended the week with a bucket of frozen custard and shame.  The vegetables would have rotted, we would have wasted our money. We weren't ready then. Big changes don't necessarily happen overnight, and it often takes more than good intentions to push you in that direction.

The purpose of this post isn't to coerce you into adopting a Sustainable Whole Food Nutrition diet. Although, let me tell you, it is quite tasty. The purpose of this post is to demystify what these Sustainable Queers are doing over here and to inform you.

We'd like some company. We are essentially pinging the depths. We want to know if there's anyone out there who eats like us. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? Do you value local food? Do you geek out over fermented foods and making sustainable choices? Do you cook most of your own meals? Maybe you don't right now, but you could find yourself heading that direction... let us know in the comments.

Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Four - Local Business Edition

We're back and we want to use our last thirty-three favorite things to shout out to some of our favorite local businesses in Chicago. They run the gambit from art to chiropractic to pet supplies. If we need to do something in Chicago (not food this time!) these are the people we typically support.

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Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Three - Local Foods Edition

We love local food. We love the artistry and intention that goes into making products that you cannot find anywhere else in the country. You simply cannot go to the Pacific Northwest or the Piedmont of the South and find products like these. You can find other beautiful, delicious things, but we can claim something special about our region and we should celebrate it. Yeah! Now from the list below, not all of the items are 100% Chicago-sourced (we don't grow chocolate in the Midwest, sadly), but they were put together here in the city, the state, or, at the very least, the region (the furthest away is Ann Arbor, MI). There are a couple reasons why this is important to us here at Sustainably Queer. First, when products are coming from nearby, fewer resources are used to deliver to us. That means there's a lower carbon footprint for those products, and there is a pretty good chance that the products will be more fresh when we receive them especially since, depending on the item, we could go directly to the source. Also, we have the opportunity to get to know the producer. Quite a few of the folks listed below have booths or attend the Good Food Festival in March (at UIC), and we met a number of them this past year. We tasted their products; we shook their hands; we got hooked. When there is good food involved, we are all over it.

Alright, so here are a few of our favorite local products, remember the numbering continues from our previous post about our favorite local sustainable restaurants:

38. Co-Op Hot Sauces - We have been enjoying Co-Op Hot Sauces since Kristl ordered Rachel a four-pack via Groupon Grassroots in 2012. The company was established in 2003 and they use all local peppers to make their sauces. They are part of the team that makes up the cafe Sauce and Bread Kitchen on Ashland Avenue. They make their own sriracha (Chi-racha) which is really delightful.

39. North Shore Distillery - We decided to only officially include this distillery, because this is the only one that we have personally purchased from, but Rachel has enjoyed spirits from Few and Koval as well. Pre-epilepsy diagnosis, Rachel's drink of choice was a gin and tonic, and she very much enjoyed North Shore's Gin No. 6, but you really cannot go wrong with any of these companies if you want to enjoy well crafted spirits from a local distillery.

Kristl poses with Arize Kombucha at The Plant during Open House Chicago

40. Arize Kombucha - We bought three cases of Arize Kombucha for our recent wedding celebration, because Nathan from Arize brings the same artistry and small batch mindset to kombucha brewing that many craft brewers bring to beer. People who had never before tried kombucha were really impressed with its subtle flavors and the fizzy, sour punch it holds. Arize is available from small, local grocers, (even on-tap at True Nature!) listed below.

41. The Brinery – The Brinery is one of those gems we unearthed at the Good Food Festival and have never reburied. They are located just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan and have the best sauerkraut ever. They also make exceptional kimchi. They make all the lacto-fermented foods that we would love to make on our own time (and eventually, hopefully, we will), but for now we are thrilled to have a source that will make legit fermented foods without additives. If you live closer to Ann Arbor, you can get fancier things from The Brinery or you can pay a lot of money to have them shipped, like their obscenely popular fermented sriracha that sells out very quickly: it MUST be worth it. We buy their products from Urban Orchard in Andersonville.

42. Kalona SuperNatural (Whole Fat Products) - If you are going to spend the money to buy high quality products like Kalona and then get the reduced fat version of them, we need to have a talk. Low fat products almost always have added sugar and other stabilizers. Whole fat products are only 4% fat, so it's really not that big of a difference, considering the processing the product goes through to remove 2% fat. Anyways, Iowa is right around the corner and Kalona's butter, cottage cheese, milk, etc, is pretty much always our first choice for dairy.

43. Bee-Bop Honey - We chose to have Bee-Bop supply the favors for our wedding celebration, and we have definitely gotten rave reviews. We did not go into this blind though. Kelly has a couple of hives on the south side of Chicago (which we have visited!) and her bees collect honey from wild flowers and gardens all over her neighborhood. We found Bee-Bop honey at Virtu, a boutique in Wicker Park, just sitting on a shelf, and we loved it. We decided we needed more and went straight to the source through Kelly's Etsy page.

44. Bike-a-Bee - As a disclaimer, we haven't bought this honey, but we have tasted it. It was available for tasting and purchasing at farmers markets last summer, but we were overwhelmed with wedding honey. We did want to include Bike-a-Bee, however, because the concept is so gosh darn clever.  One woman, with some helpers, has fifteen different beehives in different sites that she manages by bike. Brilliant. It's low impact and it's simple.  Let's think of more start-ups like this.

45. Vosges Chocolate - Now we enter the phase of this post where we talk about sweets for a while. Don't be mad. Vosges is a Chicago company, and the creator, Katrina Markoff, has a very ambitious commitment to sustainability. Their website indicates that all of their packaging is 100% post-consumer recycled material, that they have recently started growing their own chocolate in Belize, in order to control the supply chain from start to finish, while upholding fair labor laws. Also, it's delicious chocolate. We highly recommend the blush caramels with Hawaiian red sea salt and li hing powder, but you cannot go wrong, whatever you choose.

46. Katherine Anne Confections - Katherine Anne is an establishment at farmers markets and craft fairs around Chicago, year round. She sells show-stopping caramels, marshmallows, fudge, and other treats. She doesn't use artificial ingredients or anything you wouldn't be able to find on a farm, like the dairy farm she grew up on (with the exception of chocolate, which as we mentioned at the outset, is not local to the Midwest). Her offerings change seasonally, as they should, and they are always a delight.

47. GrownUp KidStuff - These folks are not shy about getting people to taste their menagerie of chocolate sauces, so if you've been to a craft fair, or visited the Galleria in Andersonville on the weekend, it is possible your taste buds are already familiar with their product line. That being said, GrownUp KidStuff is a very simple company selling a very simple product that is very simply delicious. We have only purchased the spicy chocolate hot sauce, which is funny because Kristl doesn't like spicy things, but it was palatable for her, and the person having us taste things suggested that we make a balsamic vinegar reduction with the spicy chocolate sauce and put it over vegetables. That got us to buy it. We only did it once, and we've eaten it over ice cream every other time. Weird, I know.

48. Butter Bella Shortbread Cookies - Ok, so the website for Butter Bella does not give a lot of specific information about the quality of their ingredients, but they do indicate that their cookies are made with "pure" ingredients in small batches for high quality. Now, if my palate can be trusted, these claims can be completely substantiated, because these are the best shortbread cookies I have ever encountered. We love all of the flavors, but the lemon and the mocha are particularly nice. Whole Foods carries them at most locations in the "International Cookies" bins, and they have plastic cartons of larger cookies as well. (This is one of the rare cookies that Kristl has been completely unable to recreate in the kitchen. When we want shortbread cookies, we buy Butter Bella. Done.)

49. C&D Farms - A couple of our friends got together and gifted us very generously with a meat share from C&D Farms for our wedding celebration earlier this year.  C&D Farms specifically raises happy hogs on their own land and then they have very close relationships with other small, intentional livestock producers in the area to bring a truck full of animal products to the city several times a week. Thanks, Jess and Sarah!

50. Mint Creek Farm - Mint Creek is really the Cadillac of local sustainable meat, and while they raise a variety of animals, they are known for their lamb. The farm is known for being biodynamic, which means, they not only use the land, but they intelligently give back to it to improve the soil and water quality around them. Mint Creek Meat is available at most large farmers markets in Chicago and they have CSAs available. We buy from them for special occasions, like last Thanksgiving, we were able to get a fresh, never-frozen turkey from them and it was the best thing on earth. Or at least the best turkey I've consumed. We actually visited the farm during our mini-moon after our legal wedding last year and the animals really seemed happy. They were all on pasture and well cared for.

51. Rishi Tea - Rishi Tea has really become the gold standard of loose leaf tea, at least in this region. If you are going to an independent coffee house in Chicago, and you choose tea, 4 out of 5 times, you are going to be choosing from a selection of Rishi Teas. Rishi's headquarters is in Milwaukee, but they source their teas from organic, fair trade locations in asia or locally, depending on the type of tea. The tea is fantastic and there aren't weird flavors or additives to make it taste fake.

52. Cafe Chicago - Now I know that people have very strong opinions about their coffee, but this group is worth buying a bag just to try. We are not coffee drinkers, but we heard the founder's story at, where else, the Good Food Festival last year and we are determined share the brilliance of the Chicago Coffee Co-op with our readers semi-annually. Café Chicago is a worker-made, worker-run cooperative that roasts, packages, and distributes great tasting, fair trade, organic coffee in the Chicago area. I know True Nature sells their coffee, at least, give it a whirl.

53. Tomato Mountain - We love Tomato Mountain for a couple reasons.  First, they are a beautiful organic farm, they follow sustainable practices, they are a great source of sustainable produce, and they come to markets in Chicago all the time, even the winter.  They are good people and good farmers.  We also like them because they not only grow wonderful fresh produce, but they convert it into delicious cottage goods, like salsas and tomato jams for the winter. (Although, when we buy their tomato jam it rarely makes it through the weekend.) People from many different states have been gifted their Sungold tomato jam courtesy of us truly. They are worth checking out for tomato goods or a CSA from WI. (They deliver their CSA to your door!)

Radical Root Green House

54. Radical Root Organic Farm - I think we have a soft spot for Radical Root in our SQ heart of hearts because we've kind of watched them grow from their farm incubator space, donated to their greenhouse construction, participated in their egg share, and Rachel even spent a day working on their farm. If there's a para-urban farm that we know best, it's Radical Root, and they're just really nice and knowledgeable. If you are looking for farmers in IL, with a CSA including eggs, who also comes to farmer's markets in the city, these are your farmers. If you want a more in-depth write up on Radical Root, check out the Farm Focus we did on them back in May.

55. Peck & Bushel Fruit Company - There's a weird thing about apples. They are absolutely the number one most pesticide ridden fruit out there, but we totally want to go scamper among the trees, biting into apples willy nilly, bringing our children and casting caution to the wind. Well, if you can get your caution back from the wind, there are two orchards within a reasonable driving distance of Chicago that do offer You Pick weekends for organic apples. Peck & Bushel is outside Milwaukee and they have a lot of interesting apple varieties. (Always be sure to call before you go, because sometimes the You Pick days and times do shift, as it is a small operation.) The other organic You Pick is Earth's First Farms in Berrien Center, MI. Their products are more widely available in Chicago at Farmer's Markets and small groceries. The varieties they have for You Pick are a little more traditional, so if that's your bag, you might want to try them instead.

56. Joe's Blueberries - We have been to Joe's Blueberries twice to pick blueberries, and both times we came home with over ten pounds of amazing berries to freeze for the winter. Joe's grows blueberries with no pesticides or chemicals, and the berries are plump, sweet, and abundant. Unfortunately, we've already used up all our blueberries from this past summer, BUT the website has informed us that there are a couple stores in Chicago where they keep frozen blueberries in stock all year 'round. Thank goodness! (They also have gift cards!)

57. Rushing Waters Trout - This is a company that took advantage of the beautiful "rushing waters" in Palmyra, WI to create a semi-natural trout farm. They raise the fish using chemical-free aquaculture practices and then catch, process, smoke, and sell it on site and also, conveniently for us, in Chicago at a number of different locations. The fish is delicious and they also have dips. Yum!

58. Farmed Here - Rachel was lucky enough to visit Farmed Here as part of her Urban Agriculture class, and it is a very interesting company. They started out using the concept of aquaponics to grow primarily basil for markets such as Whole Foods, and now they have expanded to sell microgreens and lettuce mixes. Their business model is solid and their products are beautiful, plus they are one of the players in the game providing undeniably local produce to the Chicago market twelve months a year with no chance of environmental factors to interrupt that.

59. Phoenix Bean - Our last offering on this list that is a food product and not a grocer is Phoenix Bean.  They are a staple at Chicago area farmer's markets and they are not shy about providing samples. There are two very compelling reasons to buy from Phoenix bean over other tofu producers: 1. They are local, their plant is located in Edgewater, and 2. They do not use GMO soy beans to make their products. So, for those of us in Chicago, if we want tofu (and it is really good tofu) or other tofu products, like salads and marinaded tofu, this is your go to place. (Also, we should note that you can buy a limited selection of their products directly from the factory for a lower cost, especially if you only want regular tofu, it's a good deal. Otherwise, farmer's markets are the best place to get the full range of products.)

INTERMISSION: We thought we would be remiss if we did not include in this post a short list of places where we purchase these products. There is no way we can guarantee that they will all be available at every location obviously, but all of these markets are very much connected to the local food scene.

60. Dill Pickle Co-Op - Dill Pickle is, as far as we know (and believe me, we would like to be proven wrong) the only currently open brick and mortar co-op in existence in Chicago. Co-ops are awesome because they are non-profits, run by democratic process, and exist to connect communities to their food and to each other. Dill Pickle was created by Logan Square residents for Logan Square residents, but we have visited a few times, and picked up our fresh, never-frozen Mint Creek turkey there, because they are also a hub for Urban Agriculture businesses to sell their wares in a consistent way.  If you live in or near Logan Square, we highly recommend checking out Dill Pickle.

61. New Leaf Natural Grocery - New Leaf is a tiny baby grocery store (like it's one loop around that's it), but they have a little of everything and it's competitively priced. So, as soon as you know they exist, they are totally there for you in a pinch. Their location is a short walk from our house, so if we realize we have run out of a vital ingredient, one of us can sprint to New Leaf and pick it up. They also offer weekly grocery boxes and home delivery of said boxes, which is probably very convenient for some people. (I, Rachel, like to personally select (pick up and scrutinize) all of my fruits and vegetables, as you might imagine. Kristl, on the other hand, wants to try the weekly grocery box because she's sick of buying groceries 2-3 times a week.)

62. Urban Orchard - Urban Orchard has done some reorganizing since they first opened to really become a very functional and accessible grocery in the heart of Andersonville. They are one of the few stores we've found in the city that sells products from The Brinery and they have gone out of their way to source local, sustainably produced products. They also have a full coffee bar, if that's what you're into.

63. True Nature - This place is our number one source for eggs, meat, and kombucha. More than any other place currently in Edgewater, True Nature strives to provide the products and processes that make it easier to live a sustainable lifestyle in our neighborhood. They were able to stay in business across the street from Dominick's and now they are coming up with ways to stay in business with the challenge of an incoming Whole Foods in Summer 2015. And unless Whole Foods starts sourcing hyper local cheese, meat, honey, eggs, etc, we think True Nature will still survive. (AND they have a green waste composting program, rad!) We buy most of our meat here, as they have an affordable meat co-op with a lot of variety available. As a side note, True Nature is the biggest supplier of Arize Kombucha on the northside. They have a tap, growlers you can fill, and an a assortment of 16 oz bottles available almost all the time. If you want to try Arize one cup at a time, this is the place to give it a whirl.

64. Southport Grocery - Southport Grocery easily could have slid onto our sustainable restaurants list, but they call themselves a grocery first, so here they are on the grocery docket. But hey, if you are looking for a brunch place on Southport, this is really your best option. In terms of grocery items, Southport Grocery really hits it out of the park with beautiful locally sourced cottage goods. I don't know if you would absolutely go here if you were not already planning on eating here or were walking down Southport for something else, but it's good to know it exists, and certainly, if you live in the area and you need some Co-Op Sauce or GrownUp KidStuff for a gift, this grocery is your best friend.

Chicago Market's photo tweet of the day we joined.

65. Chicago Market - We think we've saved the best for last, but part of that is because it doesn't exist yet, at least not as a store where you can buy things. Chicago lacks a large scale co-op where smaller cities in the region, like Champaign-Urbana, Madison, and Milwaukee have large thriving co-ops or even co-ops that have multiple locations (See Outpost in Milwaukee). A community co-op like Dill Pickle is awesome and important, but it doesn't have the member numbers and bargaining power to promote change in the market the way that a larger co-op will. Chicago Market's timeline is to open in fall of 2015, this thing is really happening! We are members, many of our friends are members, and it's something that we hope our readers would consider as well. They also have memberships available for gifts, if you need an awesome gift for a local, foodie friend of yours.

All the small businesses above and many others need places to sell their goods. It's very hard to get started in that, especially if your strength is in growing vegetables, for example, and not business. A market that guarantees a fair price for producers and a good product for consumers is a win-win all around. Rachel spent last summer working at a farmer's market; getting up early, doing lots of heavy lifting, and spending all day selling vegetables for $400-500 profit is a lot of hard work for not much pay-off, and that was in a wealthy suburb. Most urban farms are on the south side of Chicago where vegetables aren't "worth" as much.

It's unlikely that the emergence of Chicago Market will push Whole Foods out of Chicago or that the other small stores we mentioned will be threatened by it.  A co-op holds a different place in ethos of the city's grocery budget, and it's something Chicago has been desperately lacking.  If you have any interest in joining the Chicago Market, you can get more information here, or feel free to ask us questions. The initial investment is high, but they do have a payment plan which makes it really easy. (Ten payments of $25 is really inexpensive way to help an awesome source of local, sustainable food succeed!)

This concludes our post on local goods, please click here for part one of our list on our favorite local charities, here for part two on our favorite sustainable restaurants, and keep an eye here for part four on other local businesses and artists we love that you might want to check out. Huzzah!

Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part Two - Restaurant Edition

It's time for us to continue our list of favorite things and this is a chunk of our very favorite restaurants in Chicago, which are very near and dear to our hearts.  We love food more than pretty much anything else and it's very important to us that our food choices do not have a a negative impact on the world around us. We chose these specific restaurants because they go out of their way to do one or more of the following things:

  • Source local produce, meat, eggs, dairy etc in season
  • Grow their own produce locally or onsite
  • Choose to serve meat that was raised sustainably or at least without added antibiotics/hormones
  • Change their menu to reflect the season and do not exhaust resources to serve dishes out of season
  • Do significant prep work, brewing, or baking on site, little of their food is pre-made or processed
  • Go back to original recipes or sources to provide the most interesting/nourishing meals possible

That being said, here is a short list of our favorite restaurants in Chicago, feast away Chicago friends (Note - the numbering is contiguous from the previous post so that we get to ninety-nine one day!):

Brunch at Gather - these might be Kristl's favorite potatoes

17. Gather - Our favorite restaurant in the city right now. We usually get two appetizers and then share a main. We particularly love their hamburger, arctic char, and crispy breakfast potatoes (only available at brunch on Sundays). Woah. They have precise seasonal menus, source a portion of their food, and the portions are large and affordable.  Lovely atmosphere, but be sure to make a reservation on the weekend! Oh and most days the owner is the host and does the seating, because he cares. (If you see brussels sprouts on the menu, you simply must order them.)

18. Edzo’s - This is an old school burger joint with your choice of sustainably sourced meats to choose from. There are also a dozen different types of fries and daily specials to keep you on your toes. The Lincoln Park location just closed, but the Evanston spot is going strong.

19. Hopleaf - They source some of their produce from urban farms on the south side and change their menu to match the season. They do the same with the beers on tap, if that's what you're in to. The food is delicious and they have a lot of room for gatherings, as long as you check their calendar first, because when it's busy, it's packed.

20. Frontera Fresco - The smallest and least renowned of Rick Bayless's offerings have brought us the most joy. We go to Frontera Fresco in the mall at Old Orchard and get tacos almost every time we are there. It's nice to know that there is some mall food coming from local farms and the meat is relatively well sourced too.

Dukbokki with Bulgogi at Dak

21. Dak - The most meager in terms of sustainability (though they do use antibiotic- and hormone-free meat),  but they have made up for in some sense by being really convenient and delicious for us.  We just wish they would stop using styrofoam for carryout. Sigh. (When we remember, we bring our own containers for leftovers when we eat in.)

22. Nightwood - We heard about Nightwood for their brunches, specifically the donuts, but we've only been there for dinner and drinks.  They made Kristl a truly excellent non-alcoholic cocktail, which is hard to find, though we found that the appetizers far outshone the entrees. Maybe someday we shall return for brunch.

23. Sola - We go to Sola anytime we need a fix of upscale food with Hawaii in mind.  It's not Hawaiian per say, but Chef Carol Wallack's love of Hawaii definitely shines through.  Menus are seasonal, which we love, and often feature a seasonal ingredient. They try to source locally and sustainably as much as possible, and if you are salivating over something on the brunch menu, go early because they will run out (sadly, we speak from personal experience)!

We had to taste a bunch of pies to narrow it down to only two for our wedding reception

24. Hoosier Mama - What is there to say except that these pies will ruin you? We've probably tried twenty flavors and I haven't been upset about any of them. And no, we aren't going bankrupt eating pie, they have a pie flight after 6pm everyday where you can choose 3 pies and get smaller slices of all three to try. Seriously though, they use great ingredients and old recipes. They also sell sandwiches and salads and have a full coffee bar at their Evanston location. (We had two Hoosier Mama pies in the dessert buffet at our wedding!)

25. Bang Bang - Nestled down in Logan Square is another great place to get pie, but to be honest the last time I was there I didn't even think about pie. No. I did, however, have biscuits three different ways. Oh, yes.  Just go there with like three other people, and order all the biscuits, and eat biscuits until you can't move. Don't worry, they only use seasonal fruit and the leaf lard that goes into their baking is rendered specifically for them by one farm. Magic.

26. Honey Butter Fried Chicken - We were recently talking with a fried who had just eaten at HBFC for the first time and we were gushing about how DE-licious it is and he was like yeah, but it's not cheap. It's true, it's not cheap, but that's because Honey Butter is not your corner shop that tastes good only because it's fried and is gonna violate health codes every 6 months or so. This place is legitimately tasty and legitimately sustainable. See their philosophy here. All that being said, I highly recommend "Da Club" sandwich, and the regular old fried chicken with honey butter. Yes.

27. Leghorn Fried Chicken - Not as high-brow as Honey Butter, but these are Amish chickens as well and the other classy thing about Leghorn is that when they sell out, they close up. Boom, done. Check out the menu before you go, because you have to be ready to choose which type of brine you want, which type of meat, any sides, sauces, or toppings.  It can be stressful, but it's so worth it. We're partial to the pickle-brined thigh on a biscuit, Rachel gets it hot, Kristl doesn't, but we're sure you'll love whatever you get!

28. Big Jones - If you want real Southern cooking and not some mockery of it, then you really must go to Big Jones. Big Jones uses heirloom recipes from the deep South to inform all that they do in the kitchen and also how they source their ingredients, all they way down to the grains that they use to make their griddlecakes. One surprising result of this is that their brunch is now gluten free. Naturally, not intentionally, because all the heirloom flours used in southern cooking didn't include gluten to begin with. For dinner, we tend to fill up on starters and share a main, but you do you.

29. Brown Trout - I guess you could just go ahead and say that we are fried chicken fanatics, because fried chicken brought us to Brown Trout too.  We have had other lovely dinners at this in-your-face sustainable restaurant, but the best use of your time and money, in our opinion, is Sunday night fried chicken and blue grass. They cook the chicken sous vide first and then batter and fry it to perfection. So juicy and wonderful. Dark meat highly recommended.

30. Revolution Brewing - Whether or not you enjoy their beer, the pub is worth a visit. They have small rooftop for growing vegetables in the summer and they butcher a pig or two a week from a local farm. The food is really well thought through and very good. And let's be real, who is mad about sustainable pub food? Not us.

31. Sauce and Bread - This small cafe is the child of two companies - Crumb bakery and Co-Op hot sauce - and it is a beautiful baby. Both businesses continue to exist in their own right, but Sauce and Bread is the location where their magic meets.  They have limited hours, but it's wonderful for a low key brunch or an afternoon snack - we actually had our post-wedding brunch there and they were incredibly nice and accommodating.  They also host a supper club that we have every intention of weaseling our way into sometime.

32. Au Cheval - It's the upscale diner of your dreams. There are burgers everywhere. It's impossibly delicious. A single is a double. A double is a triple. They make their own baloney. If you go at a busy time there is often a 2-hour wait, so we suggest going at an off-time. And let's be real, now is a good time. You have no excuses. We dragged ourselves there during one of the many frigid polar vortex days last winter because we figured (correctly) that we wouldn't have to wait.

Pea soup with roasted lemon puree and breaded goat cheese at Kendall this past spring

33. Dining Room at Kendall College - Kendall College is known for culinary arts and hospitality in Chicago and you can take part in this tradition by making a reservation at their dining room and seeing what the students can do.  We recommend going with a partner or a friend for lunch, because we've found that the lunch menus are more interesting and two-top tables tend to get extras. One time we got several extra appetizers thrown our way and we weren't mad about it. Kendall has a commitment to sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, and the price is right too.

34. Cafe Spiaggia (for Restaurant Week) - Restaurant Week is a potentially good thing that can turn out to not be that great of a deal depending on where you go, but we think we've really found a spot that delivers a deal and really excellent food. Go to Cafe Spiaggia. The food is as good as actual Italian food from Italy (which we can say having recently been to Italy), and the Restaurant Week deal is actually a deal. It's classy, it's wonderful, and it's delicious.

35. Pleasant House Bakery - Finally, Pleasant House Bakery is a great place to get British style savory pies. They grow a lot of their own vegetables during the growing season. They make their own sodas, and they have specials on different days of the week. We highly recommend their Tuesday Burger. Yum. They are also selling the pies they make in house under the name Royal Pies around Chicago at local groceries.

Jeni's!

36. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream - This is the only chain on this list, but it's a midwest chain (based in Columbus, OH) that uses local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients whenever possible. Jeni's is amazing. Some of our favorites are the Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Sweet Corn with Black Raspberries, and The Buckeye State. The ice cream sandwiches (many of which are gluten-free) are mind-blowing. We rarely eat ice cream these days, but when we do, it's Jeni's.

37. Ras Dashen - We went to Ras Dashen last night and were delighted to see a notice that they are now using local, antibiotic-, steroid-, and hormone-free chicken from Gunthorp Farms. We love Ethiopian food and we are often hard pressed to choose a favorite.  In general, the cuisine is pretty friendly for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free folks, and the crepe-like injera bread is fermented before it is cooked making it easier to digest and better for your gut flora. Our runner up Ethiopian recommendation would definitely be Lalibela on Ashland, which always has gluten-free injera on tap and is a little cheaper.

So, those are our recommendations at this time, we hope that you give a few of them a try. We hope that you love them as much as we do. We also hope that if you are going to try one out and have a bad experience, that you let us know, because we will probably leave this page up and wouldn't want people to  go on having bad food experiences in Chicago forever. This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are many delicious restaurants in Chicago and a number of them have sustainable practices. Our goal for 2015 is to hit up all the ones we've missed so far!

Please click HERE to explore part one of the Ninety-Nine things we like, and here is the link to part three: local goods we like and where to find them!

A New Direction for Sustainably Queer

Hello Dedicated SQ Readers! Thank you for your patience in the past months as Rachel has been joyfully toiling through her program in Urban Agriculture and Kristl has been setting up her own fabulous acupuncture storefront in Edgewater. Due to this "construction" period, the writing here on SQ has been a little light. You have learned a lot about us, for sure, but there has not been a lot of meat to our posts.

Kristl and Rachel in Florance

Hopefully, as we are swinging into the holiday season and beyond we will be able to change that up for you a little bit. We are looking into a much needed facelift for the blog (because to be honest, we haven't really spent any time on this at all), as well as a few focus topics that are near and dear to our hearts. We will be giving you more cooking posts (because who doesn't love a good cooking post!?) and more posts about green living opportunities and events happening around the city of Chicago. We hope to also have interviews with movers and shakers in the queer, sustainable, and sustainably queer community that you should know (oooooh interviews!). It's going to be cool and hopefully it will be something you will want to share with your friends.

We will, however, be saying adios to our popular feature Nine on the Ninth, love it though you may (insert sad sounds here). We have done ten of those features, and we don't really want to have too much of a good thing. However, as a means of saying goodbye, we will be putting out an homage to Nine on the Ninth (and Oprah) and deliver to you with plenty of time for the holidays a list of Ninety-Nine Things We Like, which are sustainable or queer or, hey, sustainably queer which may also help fill out your shopping list a little bit, or just make your life a little bit easier. So, keep an eye out for that soon. It'll be in digestible chunks, don't worry!

Other than that, Rachel will be writing (unrelated but also awesome) some posts for the Advocates for Urban Agriculture's blog.  AUA is the main organization that works for the rights of farmers, growers, and locally sourced products in Chicago.  It's exciting for her to start to work with these fine folks and do the hard work of making sure that the public at large will make sure they are heard.  We will probably link to Rachel's AUA posts on our Facebook page, for your perusal.  (You may not think that you care about Chicago's weeding ordinance, but if you have a single family home, you very well may, or if you care about the welfare of small farms in the city, their ability to keep up with simple perimeter weeding may impact their ability to stay open or avoid heavy fines.)

That about does it for the planned changes around here. If there's anything specific you'd like us to write about, please let us know. We're definitely open to suggestions!

How We Do Sustainable Living - Year Two

Hello friends and readers! We have just entered the second year of this blog and another year of concentrated sustainable queerness! Last year, shortly after starting our blog, we provided you with an introductory post about why and how we live sustainably and call ourselves Sustainably Queer.  We decided that as a means of looking back and celebrating our one year anniversary, it would be fun to revisit that post.  Please find a revised and annotated version of "How We Do" below! Spoiler alert: there have been some pretty big changes!

Note: This may go without saying, but new actions/changes are listed in bold, things we are no longer doing are crossed out, and notes are in green. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

Projects related to housekeeping:

  • Making orange infused vinegar for cleaning   - We decided that we don't mind the smell of vinegar enough to go through this process regularly, plus the one batch I made last year lasted almost an entire year. We may do this again, but it's not high on the list.
  • Woodworking with reclaimed wood - We took one class from the Rebuilding Exchange, but we haven't continued woodworking. We still have three unfinished table tops chilling in the basement, so hopefully eventually they will become tables, but who knows when.
  • Using rags instead of paper towels - We do this as much as possible, though we still haven't found a good substitute for paper towels for draining bacon (we're going to try some of these options soon).
  • Buying post-consumer recycled paper products and aluminum foil
  • Giving away two items for every one item we bring into the house - This is still the rule, but we've been scaling way back on our buying, so sometimes we give away things even without buying something new. A larger purge is planned for early summer, so we can put stuff away without feeling cluttered about it.
  • Trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible
  • Switched to wind powered electricity (it’s cheaper too!) - Still going strong!
  • Using homemade washable swiffer pads - Love these still!
  • Recycling basically everything we can - We are planning a "How to Effectively Recycle in Chicago" post at some point, there are tricks to it.
  • Leather-working with Chicago School of Shoemaking - You can check out our blog about the experience here. We're currently saving up to take Leatherwork 201, with the end goal being saving up enough to take the Beginning Shoemaking class because, really, what's more awesome and sustainable than being to make your own shoes?!
  • Large-scale refrigerator/freezer organization - Things got real about a week ago when we bought some Fridge Binz. Yes, we try to avoid bringing more plastic into our home, but we also try to avoid wasting food. We weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with the plastic bins for now, with the idea of switching to bamboo or metal sometime in the future, if we find something that fits our needs. 

Projects related to self care:

  • Using baking soda as shampoo - It took her years, but Kristl finally figured out a way to make this work for her hair. She's planning a post on it soon.
  • Making homemade deodorant - Rachel uses this exclusively, Kristl's pits are more delicate, so she's still searching for a recipe that her skin can handle.
  • Making homemade lotion/balm
  • Making homemade facial oil blend
  • Using Chinese medicine/natural healing home remedies instead of Western medicine cures - With the addition of epilepsy to her life, Rachel is now obligated to take a Western medication to control it, but otherwise, we are mostly reliant on acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicine to keep us healthy.
  • Using OraWellness tooth oil instead of toothpaste
  • Receiving acupuncture/chiropractic/massage regularly for health and balance
  • Meditation practice - We both really could stand to meditate more often and for longer, but it's still helpful even in small doses!
  • Using eco-friendly, reusable menstrual products - We're planning a post about menstrual cups and cloth pads/liners in the next few months. 

Projects related to food:

  • Making stock with veggie scraps and chicken bones
  • Saving bacon fat and using it to cook other things (like sweet potatoes, yum!) - This isn't actually a new thing, we just forgot to include it on our initial list.
  • Making staples for the week (baked/boiled eggs, congee, etc) - We still do this, though the staples themselves have changed.  Recently, we've been making a lot of breakfast bars, and soups/stews that are good for eating over 3-4 days. 
  • Making bigger batches of the meals we create so we can freeze portions for when we aren't able to cook - This has saved us on many occasions! We can pull a container out of the freezer and have it for lunch or dinner instead of going out to eat or getting takeout. 
  • Making homemade drink syrups (to flavor carbonated water)
  • Infusing liquors (vanilla vodka and ginger vodka so far) - Rachel has infused vodka with all manner of things, including pineapple, blueberries and a specific spice blend to make it taste like gin.
  • Drinking vinegars, a.k.a. shrubs  - We love a good shrub, but we make so much kombucha now, making drinking vinegar also would be too much
  • Making our own kombucha - So much cheaper than buying it!  
  • Making ricotta, yogurt, mustard, cheez-its, etc from scratch - Again, the actual things we're making from scratch has changed, but we are still committed to buying as few packaged/processed foods as possible.
  • Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating food for long term preservation
  • We bought an upright freezer - We can keep more meat and veggies in the house and put up fruit and veggies from the summer without messing with as much canning. We now have more versatility in how we "preserve" produce.
  • Bringing lunch to work/school
  • Trying to eat locally sourced, humane and organic food as much as possible
  • Signing up for CSA and egg share  - We've changed our approach on this since Rachel is in farm school this year.  We will probably have some access to vegetables that we didn't have before and hopefully we will be able to grow more than we did last year.  The egg share we had last season has been restructured to only be offered to CSA members, so we are no longer getting a carton of eggs a week.  This is kind of a relief, as at one point last summer we had 4 dozen eggs in our fridge.
  • Joined a meat and egg co-op - True Nature Foods has a relationship with a local, pastured farm where the consumer pays $60 a year for membership and is then able to order/purchase a wide variety of meat products and eggs for a reduced price.  This makes eggs cheaper than our egg share and we only have to buy them when we need them. We are doing our best to only eat meat from local, pastured, humane farms.
  • Using all of an item if we buy it, e.g. whole chicken, eating beet greens and broccoli stems
  • Choosing to eat at restaurants that serve sustainably sourced food - This is a huge consideration especially where meat is concerned.  Every choice you make about where to spend your food dollars impacts how safely and sustainably food is produced, in general. Cheaper food is almost always cheap due to government subsidies or externalities (pollution, run-off, inhumane practices, lack of oversight, diminished workers' rights, etc), higher quality food is often more expensive because care was put into it's production and little harm was done to third parties (consumers, workers, animals). Not only do you vote with your money, you also farm with your money, by proxy.
  • Participating in community food events, like the Chicago Food Swap, Soup & Bread, Good Food Festival

Miscellaneous Projects:

  • Not buying cable
  • Homemade gifts - We didn't buy any Christmas presents in 2013.  We either created or re-gifted everything we gave out or we didn't give gifts at all.  It worked out perfectly.
  • Feeding our cat and dog grain free/raw pet food
  • Using community garden plot and backyard to grow food - We just got clearance from our landlord to use some of our backyard space to grow more things.  This is a very exciting development and we are still deciding how to make it functional and beautiful.
  • Reusing jars and bottles for all forms of storage
  • Worm composting - Worms and composting took a little bit of a hiatus over the winter.  They hung out in our basement because the "earthy" smell was a bit much for us in the apartment.  The basement was cold, given our wily winter, but I have seen signs of life, so hopefully worm composting will be back in order soon. 
  • Bugeting via You Need A Budget (YNAB) - With Rachel quitting her full-time job and Kristl going through an office relocation, we knew 2014 was going to be a different picture financially.  We took the pro-active approach and started zero-sum budgeting in December with a program called You Need A Budget.  Things have been going very well so far.  We have been able to save in advance for big bills (like car insurance) and put money away for upcoming big expenses (new car?).  It's pretty awesome. They offer a free trial, so you have no reason to try it out for a bit. Full disclosure, if you sign up using the link above and subscribe after your trial ends, we'll both get one month free - it's a win-win!
  • Tithing/giving to projects and people who are trying to make the world a better place in a sustainable way
  • Kristl is moving her practice to a location with-in walking distance of our house - This exciting for all kinds of reasons, but primarily because she will not need to use the car!

Well, that's about everything, it is a bit overwhelming, but we're managing ok on a day-to-day basis.  As always, feel free to check out anything we link to and ask us more questions about the products/processes.  We are always willing to write posts based on reader interest, so if there are specific topics you want to hear more about, please let us know in the comments below!

Thank you for all your support! Here's to the success of year one, and plenty of sustainable queerness to fill year two and beyond.

Nine on the Ninth - True Confessions

We're doing our Nine on the Ninth a little differently this month. Some readers may think that because we try to live a sustainable lifestyle we eschew anything that doesn't fall under the eco-friendly/sustainable umbrella. That just isn't true. It's about choices and education. We make choices that make the most sense for us in a specific moment - based on knowledge, budget, and need. Those choices are not always the most sustainable or eco-friendly. And, honestly, sometimes we're just lazy. So, without further ado, here are nine ways in which we do not always make sustainable choices. (This was also inspired a bit by the Christian lenten season, because, let's be real, this is confessional.) 1. We do a lot of dishes by hand, even though we have a portable dishwasher. Dishwashers have been shown to use less water and energy than hand washing, but we have a number of items that aren't dishwasher safe and we cook so much that we have to hand wash most of our cooking utensils because we're going to use them again immediately. All this is to say, we often use more water than we should to wash dishes. (Excessive water usage is only going to become a bigger issue as climates around the country continue to change.  We may be blessed to have the Great Lakes, but who knows how long they'll be around.)

2. We both have a soft spot for peanut butter M&Ms and they do occasionally jump into our basket when we're at CVS or Target. (Ditto for Kristl and gummy candy.) Eating candy isn't 100% unsustainable, but supporting multi-national companies that benefit from exploiting workers and the agriculture system in the U.S. is not sustainable.

Kristl loves gummy candy (though, to be honest, the gummy tummy series from Trader Joe's is not her favorite)

3. We tend to buy our clothes at national retailers who likely have terrible practices and exploit the garment industry (Gap used to be notorious for this). Though we would like to buy well-sourced, fair trade, organic clothing, a lot of it is out of our budget and/or doesn't suit our needs. Rachel has a little more luck, since there is more available in her size, but there just isn't much out there for Kristl's plus-size needs.

4. Rachel has a habit of putting hot soups directly into old plastic containers, even though she knows that can cause the chemicals to leach out. (In Rachel's defense, the liquids are rarely boiling and it takes high temperatures to release anything potentially dangerous.) What is more of a concern is buying canned vegetables/beans in cans coated with plastic containing BPA (specifically tomatoes, because of the high acid content).  See this article for some legitimate pros and cons.

5. We use more plastic and paper in the kitchen than we would like - specifically ziploc bags and paper towels. Even if you are buying paper towels and plastic bags made from post-consumer recycled products, the best choice here, for all of us, would be to use rags and reusable containers (like Pyrex glass containers).

Seriously, we weren't kidding about using a few too many Ziploc bags (also, it's hard to resist a Costco deal).

6. We have a car and use it a lot, definitely more than we need to. It's a luxury we aren't completely willing to give up, even though we know it isn't the most environmentally friendly choice. We're hoping to decrease our car use with some upcoming changes, but we're not going to get rid of it. Check out this infographic about how wasteful it is to idle your car (which is sometimes unavoidable in traffic or extreme weather conditions like we get in Chicago).

7. We don't always eat well-sourced food. Sometimes we just want some chicken wings and fries from the local bar, and that's okay.

8. We LOVE a good sample. Whenever we go to Trader Joe's, Costco, or Whole Foods, we gobble up the samples (sometimes more than one per person - shh!), even though they're frequently in non-recyclable plastic cups. Even the ones in paper cups are problematic, as they are likely not made out of recycled material and probably won't get composted. And don't even get me started on toothpicks! The best way to get around this would be to only sample the things that are served in a sustainable way (e.g. chips served with reusable tongs.)

9. *GASP* We have thrown away perfectly good containers because they'd gotten pushed to the back of the fridge for months on end and were filled with some unidentifiable substance and we couldn't stomach the thought of opening them. Real talk, though, if you haven't done this at some point in your life, more power to you. (We had to have a friend of ours who works in a hospital to get rid of some former pumpkin that had transformed into a many-splendored mutant multi-organism that probably is still lurking out there somewhere and will start the zombie apocalypse.  Thanks, Ashleigh!)

So, that's it for now, since we're keeping it to nine.  We aren't perfect, we aren't even trying to be perfect or preachy or bastions of sustainability in our community.  We are simply sharing our struggles and successes when armed with knowledge and faced with a global system that has (d)evolved to the point of self-destruction.  Swimming against the current is super exhausting and sometimes we fall back on our old habits simply because they are the paths of least resistance. Our hope, the only hope out there really, is that small changes can help, and that our stories will inspire you to make small changes too, so we can get the current moving in the right direction!

Sustainably Queer Urban Agriculture: A New Chapter for Rachel

Image We are still doing our best to get back to a regular posting schedule, but sometimes life happens and it's very unpredictable  At the moment, no one is really banging down our door asking for MORE POSTS IMMEDIATELY (although we could probably use some additional external motivation), but we honestly do have a list of possible posts about a yard long.

We're not trying to make excuses over here, but part of the reason our whole life is in flux is that I (Rachel) have recently started an intensive 9-month program in Sustainable Urban Agriculture! It is a program called Windy City Harvest, put on through a partnership between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Daley College of the Chicago City Colleges. The classes themselves take place (for the most part) at the Arturo Velazquez Institute, a.k.a. the West Side Technical Institute. This is the program's 7th year in existence and I am more than thrilled to be a part of it. (A lot of the exciting ventures focusing on local food in Chicago were started by or employ WCH graduates, and the recently opened Eataly enterprise hired 6 graduates at the end of last year!)

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The 9-month program starts with a spring semester with intensive classroom work (learning about stuff like greenhouse propagation, botany, soil science, and systemic environmental issues) and actual farming work in the AVI greenhouse and Rodeo farm near campus. The WCH staff runs 6-7 different farm sites in the city, and part of our job as students is to prepare seedlings for those farms and assist in transplanting. All this is to say, I've already been actively involved in prepping a farm for the growing season, and it is VERY HANDS ON. (Who knew soil blocking would be so labor intensive?!! Who knows what soil blocking is besides other farmer-y types and Kristl who has been helping me study?!)

We finish the spring semester at the end of May and immediately transition into a three-month paid internship at a farm somewhere in the city (or at the Chicago Botanic Garden). This is where the rubber hits the road and you get that serious, full-time, daily experience of being a farmer. Previous sites have included City Farm (from which Rick Bayless gets a lot of his vegetables) and the rooftop garden at Uncommon Ground on Devon.

Hopefully, I will graduate in October with a full growing season of experience, a final project in the form of a full farm plan, the concrete beginnings of a business plan, and a bright, burgeoning love of all things Urban Agriculture (I already have this). So far, Kristl has called me a nerd about 1,000,000 times and has been incredibly supportive of my quest to learn how to grow all the food for the rest of our lives. (Ideally, I would be able to at least significantly reduce our fruit and vegetable budget.)

One of the primary goals of the program is to take folks with unclear career paths or a desire to improve the food system but no related skills (that's me!) and prepare them for full-time work in urban agriculture. So, a big part of the final portion of the program, after the internship, is focused on helping participants explore what that looks like for them. As you may have guessed (since I have a Masters in Education and collaborate on this blog about sustainability), my goal is to educate people about food and how to grow it. I want to find ways to teach people how to grow their own food in whatever spaces they have and become more self-sustaining in an urban environment. (I recently read a statistic that said most major cities would completely run out of food in about three days if they lost access to their usual food supplies. We need to have a back-up plan.)

My career path could take many different forms, from individual gardening consulting, to starting a small education-focused urban farm where adults could take growing workshops. Hopefully, I would be able to take my passion for food out on the streets and give people the power to impact where their next meal is coming from.  I am personally inspired by the common proverb, "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  It seems cliche, but even a good cliche packs a philosophical punch now and then.  What good does it do for my neighbors/friends/community/city for me to know how to farm and grow delicious food when others cannot? In so many economic models, it's not wise business practice to share your secrets and your essential professional knowledge, but there is so much to lose by not sharing that knowledge when it comes to food.  The food system we have now cannot be sustained, and this queer aims to be one of the few with the know-how to pick up the pieces when it does fall apart.

Regardless of how I proceed professionally, all our friends (and readers) are welcome to contact me with questions about WCH and my experiences. If you are already planning to grow your own food and want some (almost!) expert advice, I should be able to provide it, if not for 2014, definitely for 2015 and beyond. I'm just really freaking excited about increasing food literacy and food sovereignty in Chicago, and if that excites you too, let's make a more sustainable city together!

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Read Before You Eat: Sushi

Disclaimer: As you may know, sushi does not literally refer to raw fish.  Sushi refers to a piece of seafood or other item draped across a bed of packed sticky rice dabbed with wasabi. What Americans typically call sushi is actually maki, and that refers to fish and vegetables rolled together with rice in seaweed sheets.  Finally, sashimi (pictured below) is just the fish, and it is usually served with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping.  So, as you go through this post, please note that I am using "sushi" as a blanket term for all three items, but the concern is with the fish being used in these dishes. 

Hi, Rachel here. I'm going to tell you a little story about sushi. When asked to make a list of foods that I love, sushi is squarely in the top ten every time. I had my first sushi when I was a senior in high school.  It was before sushi was really popular, and we didn't have really any sushi options out in the suburbs. My friends and I took the train into the city and went to a sushi place in Lakeview. My mother hates fish, and holds any seafood--raw or otherwise--highly suspect, so I had her whispering in the back of my head that eating raw fish would certainly result in an early demise. Mother-induced anxiety notwithstanding, I tried several different rolls that day, and I was hooked.

Sashimi at Next, one of the few places in the Midwest I feel comfortable eating raw fish.
Sashimi at Next, one of the few places in the Midwest I feel comfortable eating raw fish.

Fitting with my enthusiasm for basically any food I love, I ate sushi everywhere I went: Chicago, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Denver, etc. I even had a make-your-own sushi party for my 24th birthday. I spent a summer in Japan, and of course, I ate fresh, flavorful sushi there. Sushi in Japan is not a daily occurrence, it's more of a special occasion food. One morning, we had the opportunity to visit the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo and eat fresh, never frozen tuna. Talk about an idyllic experience. Another summer, I lived in San Francisco, where there are dozens of sushi restaurants, and ample opportunity for fresh, local sushi.  Tokyo and San Francisco were completely appropriate places to eat sushi, sadly, the Midwest was not.

Gradually, though, and somewhat against my will, I started to learn a series of facts which have made it very difficult for me to eat sushi fish, especially tuna. Tuna (bigeye, blue fin, and yellow fin) is relentlessly over-fished. They are often fished for using giant trolling nets.  The end result being any and all fish swimming among the tuna are trapped and killed as well. This includes everyone's favorite underwater mammal, the dolphin, which are easily the next most intelligent species on the planet after humans. Also, juvenile tuna are caught along with the adults, and they are not big enough to be worth a good market price, but they are not thrown back because the fishing method does not allow that type of discretion. So, future generations of delicious, flavorful tuna are being stunted by these fishing methods. 

Delicious, flavorful, and over-fished though they may be, there are reasons not to eat tuna for your own health. You ever wonder why pregnant ladies are not supposed to eat fish? It's because of mercury, or rather methylmercury, which is the form of mercury found in the ocean. It is absorbed by fish and passed on to humans when we eat the fish. We can all shrug off the effects of mercury on our systems, but you do not have to be completely toxic to have been affected by it. The EPA can back me up on this one. The mercury from industrial pollution gets dumped in the ocean, the little fish absorb it or eat it on the micro-organisms they consume, the bigger fish eat the little fish and all the mercury in the little fish stays in the bigger fish. A giant, cow-sized tuna would have the highest concentration of mercury. Giant, cow-sized tuna are the backbone of the sushi industry. (That and the fake crab sticks in the California rolls.)

Now you are thinking, well, there goes the spicy tuna roll, but everything else should be fine, right? I can still eat sushi minus tuna, right? Umm, well, basically all fish used in sushi are overfished, that's one thing.  Also you should know members of The Unification Church--a.k.a. the Moonies--own basically all the commercial fisheries in the world. This Chicago Tribune article is from 2006, but I have found no newer information to the contrary. While the article is fascinating, and certainly required reading for anyone who eats sushi, the Cliff Notes version goes as follows:  Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah, decided that controlling the world's fish markets would be an extremely profitable way to support his Unification Church. He decided this in the '70s and revealed his master plan to his church in the '80s (1980 to be exact, the transcript of his speech outlining the plan is here), and has been successfully living the dream ever since. For an idea of how ubiquitous Moon's True World Foods is, check out their company website. Regardless of how you may feel about the Unification Church and their practices, a monopoly in any business is dangerous and the danger is increased when it has to do with the food system. (See: anything Monsanto has ever done.)

Ok, so sushi is killing the oceans, potentially dangerous for consumption, and all the fish is owned by one giant corporation. Is it possible to find sushi that is safe, delicious, and sustainable? Yes, of course, you just have to know where to look. First off, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website will give you an idea of what fish are over-fished and which ones are still safe to eat. They also have a handy app for your smart phone. We also like this book, which goes through most seafood you might eat and ranks it accordingly to sustainability. Second, choosing to only eat sustainably caught sushi fish will require you to research your sushi restaurants. Kristl and I recently had local, line caught raw tuna in Hawaii that was as fresh and buttery as tuna ever was, and we were able to eat it without guilt. There are a few sustainable sushi restaurants in San Francisco I unfortunately didn't know about when I was there. If you are ever in San Fran, check out Tataki Sushi Bar. Do some research before you eat sushi, most major cities on the west coast have restaurants trying to provide some sort of sustainable raw fish option. When it comes down to it, though, here in the Midwest, where we are either landlocked or snuggling up to a tuna-free Great Lake, we have limited sushi options.

We both love sushi, and while sometimes the pull is too strong and we give in, we usually stick to a no-sushi diet in Chicago. We will occasionally go out to dinner with folks for sushi, but order only veggie and sustainable fish varieties. You would be surprised how delicious some sweet potato tempura or sauteed eggplant rolls can be, when you are looking for sushi flavor without the fish. For the most part, we are content to forgo sushi while in the Midwest, and eat lots of it when we are in places with sustainable sushi restaurants.

We didn't get into this at all, but there is also a serious problem with fish being mislabeled. You very well may not be eating the fish you think you are.  This NPR report is a great primer on the subject.

Avgolemono: Fast, Delicious, Dinner

Hot, fresh avgolemeno

Hot, fresh avgolemeno

If you are in a hurry and you have eggs, broth, and chicken kickin' around your kitchen, you are a pretty good candidate for Avgolemeno. Avgolemeno is a Greek soup made of lemon, egg, broth, pasta/rice, chicken, and sometimes dill. It is so easy I can't even handle it. We have made it 3 or 4 times and every time it is creamy (without cream!), tangy, and filling. We snagged the recipe from Dinner A Love Story and for the most part didn't mess with it. We did, however, make it more sustainable.

The recipe calls for 4 cups chicken broth. We used our homemade broth, which we mentioned in the Earth Day post. Usually, we have stock on hand. If not, we use Better Than Bullion Organics for our instant broth needs. Better Than Bullion has organic versions of most of its bases, and it is a very tasty stock replacement. In a pinch, you can use water in any recipe that calls for stock.

The other change we made was to substitute sushi rice for orzo. The cooking time is very similar, but we never really have pasta on hand. We do always have rice around. This change also makes this simple soup entirely gluten free. (Do you hear, gluten free friends, this soup is for you!) They call for a 1/4 orzo, but tonight I used 1/2 cup rice to make the soup a little thicker.

Tonight was the first time we used our pastured, organic egg share eggs for this soup. They are smaller eggs because the chickens are still young, so to get proportions right, we ended up adding five eggs instead of three. If you use store bought eggs, or buy local eggs from older chickens, definitely use three. Dill is abundant in the summer and pretty cheap (due to the fact that it is often considered a weed.) We usually think to make this when we have a bit of leftover chicken from an organic rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods. The only thing you probably would not be able to get locally sourced for this soup is the lemon, assuming you're in the Midwest like we are.

The best part, aside from how lovely it tastes, is that it really only takes about 15 minutes. 15 minutes! We are basically lapping Rachel Ray in the race to dinner. Sustainable dinner in less than 20 minutes. Now this would add about a day and a half to cooking time, but I wholeheartedly recommend this with a fresh slice of homemade sourdough (gluten-free friends, you should obviously skip this). Kristl has been whipping up a loaf of bread every other week or so from her homemade sourdough starter, and I know she will be regaling you soon enough with her successes and failures thereof. For now, I will leave you with a picture of her most recent loaf, a part of which nicely accompanied our avgolemeno soup tonight. (Original soup recipe below the gratuitous bread picture.)

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Avgolemono (From Dinner A Love Story)

4 cups chicken broth (or stock)

1/4 cup uncooked orzo (rice)

salt and pepper

3 eggs

3 tablespoons

lemon juice

handful fresh dill (chopped)

shredded rotisserie chicken (optional)

In a large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil.

Add the orzo and cook until tender but still al dente, about 7 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper and reduce heat to low; let simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and lemon juice until smooth. Ladle about 1 cup of the hot broth into the egg-and-lemon mixture, whisking to combine.

Add the mixture back to the simmering saucepan. Stir just until the soup becomes opaque and thickens as the eggs cook, 1 to 2 minutes. Add dill, salt and pepper (to taste) and chicken, if you so desire, and serve.