Tag Archives: food

An Interesting Dive into the Dumpster Life


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Dr. Joseph Hendryx speaks Oct. 3 at Mount Mercy on the politics of dumpster diving.

Lars wrote an interesting article. Dr. Joseph Hendryx, assistant professor of English at Mount Mercy University, covered some highlights of a piece that put the practice of dumpster diving into some new perspective.

People who scour dumpsters often have a system and a reason for what they’re doing. Many dive because they have to, but some are also driven to it by a countercultural rebellion against our consumerist society.

And there is a hierarchy among divers, too—from those who are doing it to survive to those who check through trash looking for  useful items rather than mere sustenance.

But beware the can scroungers, who Lars says will lay waste to a dumpster and make a terrible mess.

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Dr. Joseph Hendryx speaks.

The one article was the jumping off point to a broader exploration of this topic. Dr. Hendryx was the latest speaker in the fall 2019 faculty series at Mount Mercy University. His presentation was called “Eating in the Margins: The Politics and Experience of Dumpster Diving.” He contrasted the experience of Lars with others, including a man who has a “cooking with trash” YouTube channel.

And there is the whole “freeganism” movement that touches on diving with some political and ecological motives.

logoDr. Hendryx’s Oct. 3 presentation was interesting and thought provoking, and it was off the beaten path enough that it took me on routes unexplored and that I did not always understand. Which I like.

One nice note was that the crowd size was a up a bit for this presentation. Dr. Joy Ochs, the series coordinator, estimated that about 55 people attended, which seems about right, to me. It was a bit more than we’ve seen as some other series presentations.

This particular fall series has featured diverse presentations. Food is a provocative and big topic—and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. The next presentation will be “Food and the Making of a People: A Biblical Perspective” by Fr. Tony Adawu on Nov. 5.

Faces from the audience in the Oct. 3 presentation:

 

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Filed under Environment, Food, Mount Mercy, Writing

Celebrating My 61st Birthday


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Aug. 31–Just in time for family birthday party, the Monarch caterpillars have a party, too.

Another year on the globe. Besides mowing the lawn, I’ve also dedicated part of this Labor Day weekend to celebrating my 61st birthday. The actual day was Friday, while a family party was Saturday.

It’s been good. My wife got me a cool GPS bicycle computer and an interesting-looking grammar game. My children got me a copy of the class board game Risk, a hibiscus bush which should have huge, pretty pink flowers next year and a birdhouse for my backyard nature oasis.

Friday featured some breakfast scones that my wife got up and made for me. Lunch was in the school cafeteria at the university where I teach—which does not sound all that special, but I take my lunch most days and consider eating in the cafeteria a special treat. Supper was Thai food at a nearby restaurant we like.

And Saturday’s birthday feast featured the last summer day meal—brats, hot dogs, potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans—and brownies and ice cream for dessert.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It was great to have my youngest son, who is headed overseas for a couple of years for a post-doctorate position at a university in China, home for it, and it was great for my other nearby kids to make it.

Thank you, universe, for another year. I’m not much into resolutions, I don’t typically make them at New Years, but I think birthday resolutions make as much sense as any others, so here are some resolutions or goals for my 61st year on this planet:

  • Vote for a Democrat who wins. That way Tangerine Hitler can fade into the trash heap of history. Really, I know, suddenly this happy birthday post got all political—but the Dunce-in-Chief said today that he’s not heard of a Category 5 hurricane before. Someone please check his meds? And vote him out.
  • Re-watch a substantial part of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I started with season three the day after my birthday. I won’t be able to re-watch much more during the semester, but these are annual goals, right? And that show just so often make me smile, even if it is very ’90s.
  • Learn something new. I just downloaded a new language ap, and plan to work a bit on my rudimentary Spanish. I also may try to learn to count in Hungarian—my father’s family were all Hungarian, and I would like to visit that country. Can’t make that visit a goal yet for this year—it probably will be a retirement trip and I’m not there yet—but I can start learning a bit of the language. And I’ve already visited some Spanish-speaking places—it seems like I would not be hurt at all to improve on language skills.
  • Get some kids to like Tessa Violet. To be fair, not all college students go crazy when I start playing my Tessa tunes in the newspaper office—one editor a few years ago learned to love Tessa when she went through a tough breakup and saw herself in “Sorry I’m Not Sorry.” But I’m always a bit surprised so few of the new generation listen to her I like the idea of her.
  • Learn to appreciate some new cuisine. I like many international foods—Thai, Chinese, Ethiopian. But there’s a lot of the globe that, culinarily speaking, I have not explored. I like to try new foods and want to find the next taste. Any suggestions, readers?

Well, that’s it, for now. I may be getting older, but I enjoyed myself this weekend. But I still want to have more fun. Maybe it’s time for the next episode of Buffy.

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Filed under Flowers, Food, Garden, Grandchildren, holidays

First Fall Series Presentation is a Feast for the Mind


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Dr. Anna Waterman, associate professor of biology, Mount Mercy University, talking about food.

Food changes everything. The way we live, where we live, how we live and the fact that we have “the man” to please and to defy—it all starts with food.

For the first several million years that our species walked on this planet, we foraged and hunted. We gathered the leaves and seeds and roots that we wanted to consume, and killed our fellow creatures and ate them.

It wasn’t an ideal life, but it was a life we were suited to. We already had fire—cooking predates our species and, along with the ability to make and use tools and weapons, is part of the legacy we get from our related hominid ancestors.

Then, about 12,000 years ago, starting in the fertile crescent of the Middle East but also independently developing in South America and China, humans began to fundamentally change the way we had lived.

logoThat fascinating history—how we are creatures of food and how our relationship to food changed everything about our lives—was the topic of Dr. Anna Waterman’s presentation “How the Agricultural Revolution Transformed Human Diet, Culture, and Society” that she gave Aug. 22 at Mount Mercy University. It was the first event in the 2019 Fall Faculty Series.

It is a bit weird to think that for most of the time we homo sapiens have been around, we shared this globe with other kinds of humans—literally other homo species besides ourselves. No more. Our spread worldwide happened before agriculture and “civilization,” and we either out-competed or eliminated our nearest relatives. (Dr. Waterman didn’t go into this point, but we also incorporated some of their DNA into ours—Neanderthal and Devonians, for example, didn’t all die out, some joined our clan).

People some 12,000 years ago began slowly to tend the plants that they like, and in what was wetter grasslands of the Middle East at that time, some of those grasses became selectively bred into cultivated grains. Those grains fueled dramatic changes in our diet—the invention of bread and beer as staples of what we eat and drink.

And with cultivated grains came larger populations, villages, hierarchies—eventually, nation states. Bosses. Work. Specialization. Organized religion. And, as formerly nomadic, now fixed peoples, we started to find that tending animals was more convenient than hunting them—chickens, pigs, cows, goats were bred from wild animals into the domestic creatures we care for and consume today.

Suddenly land wasn’t something you moved over and foraged on, it was property that was owned by some rich people. The concept of “stuff” was invented as we had fixed residences to store valued objects in.

In the blink of an eye, in the grand scheme of things, the globe was transformed. Today, there are still nomadic hunter gatherers in our human family, but they are rare, located in isolated pockets of land that typically are not that good for raising crops.

Where we can farm, we farm. Thus Iowa is carpeted with corn and soybeans from river to river, a dramatic change in the landscape from what it was 200 years ago. Our immigrant ancestors conquered the New World because residents already here did not have immunity to European diseases—caused, partly, by Europeans living in such proximity to their domesticated animal sources of protein.

Family size was dramatically changed. Nomads carry what they can, and usually can’t have more than one “carry” child at a time, so their norm was to breastfeed for three or four years, which was a form of birth control. With grain, you can make soft food that an 18-month-old can slurp down, so you can wean her and make another baby sooner. And if you’re farming, you tend to want more babies because those kids are farm labor.

The vast, varied ways that agriculture has shifted our environment, our social structures and our ways of life were interesting to hear Dr. Waterman speak about. The changes have had plusses and minuses. I’m not against having a computer to type this blog post on, nor being able to microwave my lunch.

But Dr. Waterman played an interesting game. “How many of you,” she noted, “could go out into your back yard and find stuff to eat?”

There are edible plants there, probably. If we were hunter-gatherers, we would know which roots to dig and which leaves to pluck. Today, our lives are divorced from our sources of food.

Not that I want to trade places with my great, great, great nomadic ancestor. They had cookies with this presentation Thursday night—something those ancestors never saw.

And afterwards, pizza with some brews. Beer and bread, man. They changed everything.

There are eight presentations in the fall series this year, come on down. The next presentation on Sept. 4, by Dr. Normal Linda Mattingly, will cover the history of school lunch programs.

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A Better Version of the Ketchup Pizza


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Dinner Tuesday night–quick, easy and tasted good.

It’s amazing to look back at things that I called “food” when I was growing up.

White bread sans crust crushed into a tiny cube (and, of course, I’m sure I was consuming plenty of the bacteria from my fingers). Instant mashed potatoes with cottages cheese mixed in. Dill pickles wrapped in thinly sliced sandwich pieces of corned beef, with horseradish. And the infamous ketchup pizza.

It was an English muffin, topped with ketchup and Velveeta “cheese,” warmed in the oven or toaster oven. It was amazing where that yellow glop would end up in our diets—in an omelet, a grilled cheese sandwich or even as the only cheese in lasagna.

Clearly, my younger years were filled with food sins. Some, I would never repeat. I vow never to again touch a Velveeta lasagna, so help me spoons. On the other hand, some of the treats, don’t seem quite so bad—that combination of horseradish, dill and salty meat still is not a terrible idea.

But, never again for the English muffin pizza.

I’m not too much of a snob to eat Velveeta. It would not be my first choice for a sandwich, but if someone made one for me, I’d eat it. And processed cheese-like substances are still OK on pasta, just not OK in lasagna.

These days, when I want a quick pizza, I’ve discovered a more awesome trick. I use a flour tortilla wrap, put actual pizza sauce on it, and cover it with a little cheddar and a lot of mozzarella. In the one pictured, peperoni, too. I don’t know what that does for the family weight loss challenge, but it’s a good, quick meal when we’re hungry and want to eat in 15 minutes (5 minutes prep, 10 to bake—one reason this is a good pizza option it that it’s also quick).

I like the results. I don’t know if young Joe would have liked them, but young Joe ate bread cubes and instant mashed potatoes. Voluntarily. And I’m pretty sure young Joe would be OK with it—one area of food agreement that both old Joe and young Joe agree on is that pizza in any form is usually a good idea. I just draw the line on this side of Velveeta, now.

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The Variety Of Foods a Single Man Eats


Mount Mercy Healthcare in the UK class ready to board plane in Cedar Rapids. My wife is in the front on the left.

Mount Mercy Healthcare in the UK class ready to board plane in Cedar Rapids. My wife is in the front on the left.

I gave myself an exemption for Tuesdays—the day that I go to work in the morning and do not get home until 10 p.m.—and I ended up breaking the rule Monday because the newspaper production cycle caused me to keep crazy hours, but I’ve been trying, mostly successfully, to avoid eating out while my wife is in England.

She gets home tonight, so my bachelor days are over. I do miss her.

But I think I fed myself fairly well. A package of potato chips, some missing popcorn and the remains of an ice cream container may show I didn’t always feed myself the best foods, but my personal project was to mostly eat up what was leftover in the house and avoid major food purchases.

I bought a pie, but that is for when my wife gets home. I also bought eggs, bread, milk, bananas, beer and apples—but those are all what I consider short-term “consumables,” so not inconsistent with the overall plan.

My daughter Katy made apple turnovers. They were good, and she gave me some to take home, which frosted and then wolfed down that night. Yum.

My daughter Katy made apple turnovers. They were good, and she gave me some to take home, which frosted and then wolfed down that night. Yum.

Anyway, I did have some packaged mac and cheese, as my Facebook family friends thought I would, and I had bought a stack of $5 movies at Wal-Mart, and there were two nights when popcorn served as supper. (I only watched two movies so far—“Midway,” a glorious old war movie I had seen before, and “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.” Oddly enough, I do recommend ALVH, it was a blast.)

What did I fix?

I had a package of eggroll wraps to use up. On one night, I combined those with some leftover little smokies into home-made pizza (the wraps served as the crust). That worked pretty well.

I also had a bag of veggies—carrots, celery, some mushrooms and some squash—to use up. I chopped up some and made faux eggrolls (faux because no cabbage, but still OK). There were too many veggies to fit in the rolls, so I made a stir fry. It turned out very brown, due to soy sauce, but was spicy and tasty.

I also baked a bag of chicken, ate some with the rolls and stir fry and also had chicken with a sweet potato I cut up and boiled on another night.

My best bachelor meal--baked chicken, boiled sweet potato that I have added some spices and butter to but no sugar, garlic bread and peas. It was yummy.

My best bachelor meal–baked chicken, boiled sweet potato that I have added some spices and butter to but no sugar, garlic bread and peas. It was yummy.

One night I went to my daughter’s house and had supper there. And yes, on Monday I did eat out. But otherwise, I did my duty and fed myself OK.

But I’m glad to end by single days. And also glad because—well—pie!

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So What is the Work Fridge Yogurt Etiquette?


The yogurt. Look how it's foil wrapper is beckoning.  "Eat me," it says. I hear you, yogurt, I really do.

The yogurt. Look how it’s foil wrapper is beckoning. “Eat me,” it says. I hear you, yogurt, I really do.

I am facing temptation in a plastic cup with a foil top–there’s a raspberry flavored Yoplait-brand yogurt on the second shelf of the mini-fridge that’s located next to the printer in the hall on the first floor of Warde Hall.

Is it mine? I’m asking about the yogurt, not the refrigerator—in fact the mini-fridge is mine, but that’s beside the point. I think.

The problem is I’m not sure I brought that yogurt last week in my lunch, but I think I did. More days than not, I do bring such a serving of yogurt as part of my lunch. Besides an apple, a Yoplait is the most common ingredient in my lunches. It would have been easy for me to bring that raspberry flavored yogurt, but fail to consume it. Maybe I had a peanut butter sandwich and some chips that day, and simply forgot about the yogurt.

After all, I sometimes find a cup of my coffee the next day abandoned in the common microwave that is also in the hall and also (the microwave and coffee both, in this case) belongs to me. It’s not unusual for me to nuke it and forget it.

Leave a part of my lunch just sitting in the fridge through errant forgetfulness? That sure sounds like something I would do. I am seriously entertaining the notion that it is something I actually did do. But, I’m just not sure.

I’m almost convinced that the yogurt in the fridge is mine. It could be. I’ve been watching it all week, and it hasn’t been moved or touched by anybody else.

So, should I eat it?

Then again, I have a history of embarrassing lunch shenanigans. In my previous job, there was a brand of microwave noodle dish that I frequently brought for lunch, so one day I found one in the work fridge, assumed it was mine, ate it, and thereby deprived a sweet old lady of the lunch that she had brought.

I was mortified.

I don’t want to be stealing Adam’s yogurt. Or Edy’s, or Dave’s, or Dennis’ or Jen’s.

Yet, if I brought it in the first place, eating it would not be stealing at all. It sure looks like my yogurt. And it has been sitting in my fridge for at least a week. I put the fridge in the hall so that my cohorts can also use it—it would be wasteful to have this power-sucking appliance in one office where only one person would have access to it. As mini-fridges go, it’s a bit bigger than most, with a crew and a captain well seasoned. No, no, I mean it’s too big for one man’s office, so I arranged, with the help of the Warde Hall custodians, to have it plugged in next to the printer, and I know much of the food in the fridge is not mine, which is fine—the fridge is in the hall intentionally so that anybody who wants to can use it. But, do they have to tempt me with my favorite flavor of Yoplait?

So this is my problem: Do I eat the yogurt, figuring it was either mine to begin with or it has been officially orphaned by now? Or do I act like an ubernerd and question everyone who works on my floor about the ownership of this microbial bit of spoiling milk? Then again, do I put a Post-It note on the yogurt itself, saying “please eat me if you own me or someone who thinks they might own me but isn’t sure might eat me first?” And what size Post-It note would all those words fit on? Surely one that is way too big for a Yoplait container.

Gosh darn it. I had made up my mind Wednesday. It was late in the day, I was getting hungry, and there were few people around. Time for a little yogurt snack, I’d say.

But I got busy and didn’t eat it. And now I’m all in doubt again. To eat or not to eat, that is the quandary. Whether it is nobler to allow the Yoplait to spoil in order to avoid the possibility that I might be encroaching on another’s dairy product, or whether it’s better to ensure that this food doesn’t go to waste by giving it opportunity to go to my waist.

What will I do? What should I do? And whatever I do, are there raspberries involved?

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Eating Good Food As We Say Farewell, and Hello


Dr. Joe Givvin listens to a speech in his honor.

Dr. Joe Givvin listens to a speech in his honor.

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Kirkwood TV studio.

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Kirkwood TV studio.

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Multicultural Fair food. Yum.

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Dr. Nancy Brauhn. She had 10 reasons to retire–her husband, kids and grandkids.

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MMU retirement reception, with crowd and food table.

Well, it has been a food fiesta for three of the past five days. And today’s event was the emotional highlight, as MMU not only said farewell to two long-serving faculty members, but it was also sweet to see so many familiar faces from past years in Flaherty Community Room.

It’s that end-of-semester season of receptions. It’s sort of a mini-Christmas season, where it seems practically every other day brings some food-filled fete marking some important event or another—except, since it’s not December, the weather is better and the food is, too. Not that I mind Christmas treats, mind you, nor the Christmas season—it’s just that Christmas seems inexorably tied to heavy, sweet foods, while spring receptions favor more savory options.

Food, it seems, is a key part of any celebration. We eat our feelings. I must feel a lot.

Anyway, it began last Thursday at the Multicultural Fair, one of my favorite annual MMU events because it features our international students and others who bring lessons from other cultures—and, more on theme—cultural foods to MMU’s University Center.

In past years, family has shown up and we’ve lingered at the fair. I didn’t have that luxury this busy year, and kind of had to eat and run, but I sure did not mind eating.

Friday was an open house at Kirkwood Community College for its renovated media spaces. Of course, there was good food—sandwiches and wraps and cheesecake. I had to skip Club Friday at MMU to attend the Kirkwood event, so it’s a good thing there was food!

It was nice to see their facilities. Their new newsroom is arranged very much like the MMU Times, with computers on outside walls and a meeting table in the middle. They have more computers—but not a lot more—and a bigger table, but I suppose they need that. We have a bit more cozy things like a couch and a window and a fern with a gnome in it, so I think we win. But, they win too, with not only a nice newsroom, but a very large Mac computer lab and very, very nice broadcast studio plus multiple editing rooms.

I felt like a celebrity at a Hollywood event—Kirkwood even offered a gift bag. I came away with a handy Kirkwood tote, pen, flash drive and legal pad holder. I had to work five years at MMU before I got a now out-of-date “Mount Mercy College” legal pad cover—at Kirkwood, I just had to show up, eat food and take a tour. Winning.

I also ran into Corey and Ryan, two ex-Times editors who had graduated from Kirkwood. Enjoyed the visit with two of my former students.

Anyway, the party season continued at MMU today, with what is, so far, the “big” event. Dr. Nancy Brauhn, a professor in my wife’s department (nursing), and Dr. Joe Givvin, a philosophy professor, are both retiring this year. A reception was held in their honor.

They both have more than 30 years of experienced—in fact, both began teaching at MMU, then MMC, while I was an undergraduate at Marycrest College in Davenport. My, how time flies. It was nice to see them both and to hear them honored—it was a very well done event, I think, including excellent party food and an open bar—yes, your garden correspondent had a few glasses of wine. I don’t think I was weaving too badly on the ride home, however. (Joking—I only had two glasses and I ate a lot, I think I was legally OK to bike.)

Anyway, in addition to the well-earned accolades for Nancy and Joe, the event brought lots of guests to MMU. Their families were very cool to see, for example.

But for me, the thrill was seeing familiar faces that I don’t run into that often. Bob McMaster was there, as was Bob Naujoks. I saw John Rogers and Bulane Daughtery and Will Kirkland and Dale Harrison and Jay Shuldiner. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, and I hope I got all the names correct—but it was grand to see so many familiar faces of those who’ve retired, but who came back for this party.

The food was fine, too, but the fellowship was heartwarming.

As it happens, Audrey had RSVP’d for us, but I forgot that the retirement reception was scheduled this afternoon. A chance encounter with Dr. Christopher Blake in Warde Hall woke me up in time to attend.

And I’m glad I did.

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