Monday, May 25, 2020

Breaking the Bread: A Brief History of Sourdough

Across cultures, we all know bread is a staple. Some sort of starchy, spongey food exists in most cuisines to dip, hold, absorb, bolster or compliment a meal. Save for latin and cuisine in which the primary grain is corn, most bread-like foods include some sort of yeast, and that development has involved both ancient and recent techniques. Bread is one of the biggest commercially produced products with brands and types earning an entire aisle or two in a typical grocery store; however, bread can be made from home, and it has been for years. 

Today, I fed my three-day old yeast starter half a cup of flour and half a cup of water. I had googled a recipe, found a few on a blog and started making my yeast with flour and spring water like most instructions denoted. Today, I realized I didn't really understand what I was doing scientifically, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to explore what other people must have discovered while learning to make bread throughout history. So today, I took a quick look at the process of bread making. 

So the type of bread which hopefully I will see in the next few days if my yeast starter works is sourdough. I like sourdough bread, but some people don't. And there is a process for everyone. Now, how someone came to leave a bowl of flour and water out on the table until it was smelly and bubbling and then made a loaf of bread with that baffles me. But this process creates the "leavening agent" for much of the bread produced in the western world. And the process is also closely related to the fermentation of beer. 

So basically, I am fermenting a bunch of ground up wheat in flour on top of my fridge. I'm not the first to create a Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis (which was named for its discovery in San Francisco) sourdough starter, although maybe the first person didn't have a refrigerator. This strain of sourdough bacteria has been around for thousands of years, dating back to the middle ages in Europe. However it didn't earn true glory until San Francisco adopted "Sourdough Sam" as their mascot for the 49ers. During the Klondike gold rush, sourdough recipes were brought to Alaska and the Canadian border. 

Today, the same strain produces over 3 million tons of sourdough bread yearly. And the historic bacteria is making a shorter and lighter history on top of my refrigerator as I write. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Oregon History and Westward Migration - The Beginnings

green grass field during daytimeWhen I tell people I am from Oregon, there is an assumption that comes along with it. Oregon is the wild west, where even still, you will seldom find a resident who isn't connected somehow to the land, adventuring and camping in the great outdoors, and living a sort of home-spun life. All of these attributes, one could argue, are tied up in the rich history of pioneers who trekked the 2,170 mile trail from eastern settlements to make a new life in the west. The westward expansion of the united states was catalyzed by several movements such as the need for caretakers of Oregon and Californian land, a desire to acquire and trade resources such as fur and spread ideas and religion into the largely unsettled western parts of the U.S.

seal in body of waterThe first group of people to take the year long journey west to Oregon were fur trappers. Their aim was simple and relied on the resource of our furry Oregon friends' ancestors such as beavers and foxes. They sold these furs as a commodity and made a living doing so in the early years of the Oregon Trail. The California Gold Rush was also a great pull in the migration westward.

The fur trappers were followed by missionaries who would be crucial deliverers of information to pioneers taking the journey later by a combination of horse-drawn covered wagons and by foot. Among the most noteworthy missionaries were Marcus and Narcissa Whitman who landed eventually in Walla Walla Valley Washington (now home to the selective accredited liberal arts institution, Whitman College).

So, the Oregon trail brought a disparate group of folks from many different places (often beginning their collective route in Missouri) to the 'Oregon Territory' established by the Oregon and Washington Treaties in the 1800s. From this time on, in Oregon, many settled in Salem which is now our capital. Salem was founded in 1842 after Jason Lee rediscovered this territory which was formerly known as the Calapooya Indian village.

Monday, May 4, 2020

History of Cancelled Events

With Covid-19 ravishing the event calendar to a degree unprecedented all over the world, I paused to consider - has there ever been a time like this before? The short answer is, no. There has never been a time as detrimental to the flow of events in the United States as the 2019 pandemic we are currently facing. Although, we have taken significant changes in course when it comes to terrorism, and natural disaster. How did we see the light at the end of the tunnel, then? Here is the rundown on some of the most significant events cancelled historically in the U.S.A.

If we know one thing about Americans, it is that a large number of us love sports. Whether or not you fit into that category, perhaps these events will ring a bell:

The New York City Marathon has been held annually since 1997. Even the tourist attacks of September 11th, 2001 did not offset the popular race. It has been a force of community and uniting people in the big apple, but that changed for a brief moment in 2012 amidst the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was a moment of contention for city officials and runners alike, most of which had arrived from all over the country to partake in the race already. In the end, the point that city funds should be allocated for disaster relief must take precedent over hosting the race, and the New York City Marathon, for one year, dissolved. It is, of course, back up and running today.

group of people running on street

The next year, in 2013, yet another marathon faced a less difficult decision, but perhaps more significant need to cancel its race. That year, The Boston Marathon was subject to a disheartening terrorist attack. Two brothers placed bombs close to the finish line of the race. Three runners were killed, and 260 people were injured in the incident. Of course, the race came to an immediate halt for the runners still participating and nearing the finish line.

USA flag on street during daytime

Weather and terrorism have caused the largest number of cancelled events in the history of the United States. The pandemic scenario is new, and we are forced to grapple with it.  Tokyo's Olympic Games will be postponed, but the fate of many other events is unknown as the world waits. Fortunately, waiting at home in our Pyjamas while our essential workers fight on the front lines, keeps us safe from harm, even if it means we don't have as many sports to watch.

people walking on road near well-lit buildings

Monday, April 27, 2020

Florida History: Cuban Missile Crisis

During World War Two, the Soviet Union and the United States fought alongside one another to defeat the Axis Powers. However, the cultural and political differences between the two countries escalated after the war. The United States had always been wary of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union's communist culture. Likewise, the USSR grew frustrated at the United States' neglect toward their incorporation within the international community of leaders, as well as their delayed entry into the war which caused the death of thousands of Russians.

After World War Two, the brewing conflict between the two countries came to a peak in what we now regard as the Cold War. Contrary to World War Two, The Cold War wasn't fought by men on battlefields and in trenches. It was built by a network of threats largely created by the emersion of nuclear technology. Florida comes into play due to its proximity to Cuba, where the soviet union was harboring weapons. Cuba and soviet Russia have a complex relationship which was prompted by Fidel Castro's introduction of socialist ideals in Cuba, and followed by Soviet Nikkita Kruschev's "arms race" with the U.S. to develop and test an atomic bomb.

person standing beside of pink convertible car
(photo of Cuba)

The conflict was further escalated when spy photographer Richard Heyser captured an image of a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being constructed in Cuba. The soviets saw the introduction of this missile in Cuba as a way to level the playing field between the two countries, and U.S. contention with Cuba was also at play after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Fortunately, contentions were relieved after the Cold War. Even during the tensions of these times, Cuba and the United States wrote letters to one another. In one final letter, soviets agreed to remove missiles in Cuba id the U.S. did the same in Turkey. The Kennedy administration agreed to this on the terms that they would also not invade cuba. On October 28th, the crisis drew to a close.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Florida History: Everglades

During recent months, I had the privilege of visiting The Everglades National Park in southern Florida. While I've been to over a dozen national parks in the United States, The Everglades area surprised me with its unique diversity. I was interested to learn how awareness about the park has evolved through the years, as nature preservation has not always been a part of the culture in Florida as it is where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest.

white crane standing on body of water during daytime

The Everglades National Park is one of 62 protected National Parks in the United States. It encompasses 2,357 square miles, the largest subtropical region preserved today. It took nearly a decade to claim the land as National Park Territory, part of the reason being the vast array of ecosystems preserved by the singular park which also borders Big Cypress National Preserve, The Biscayne National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park. The Everglades and surrounding areas preserve at least nine different ecosystems, and these serve as the home to the most diverse set of plant and animal species in the United States. There are also numerous invasive species to the Everglades including the Florida Panther. These panthers, now endangered, used to roam throughout the southeaster United States, but they are now restricted to about 5% of their historical breeding grounds. They, along with other invasive species aggressively adapted to the Everglades, and are now considered part of the meticulously monitored network of protected wildlife in the region.

Save the Florida Panther
Historically, it is one of the more heavily studied park. Hurricane Andrew destroyed some of the aspects of the park including the main visitor center in 1992, and UNESCO added it to the List of World Heritage in Danger. It was added again in 2010 due to the decrease in water flow through the canals west of the park, and increasing pollution from boat tourism. Research in and around the park has been a fascination to environmental scientists for decades. Its large network of ecosystems provides a one-stop shop for photographers, scientists and nature-enthusiasts alike. It is one of the only places in the world, for example, that hosts both crocodiles and alligators!

black crocodile near linear leafed plants

Friday, April 24, 2020

History of New Orleans!

Some New Orleans History 

Jambalaya - Creole vs. Cajun

Today, jambalaya is considered a Louisiana classic. Like many popular recipes,
Jambalaya was created long ago out of necessity. From 1762 to 1767, Spain began the slow
process of replacing authorities in what used to be the French territory of “La Louisiane,” and
a lot more than politics was jumbled in the process. Early Spanish settlers had to learn how to
cook with the ingredients and spices found in this new world. It’s likely that this popular
Louisiana classic was born from the Spanish dish paella, a concoction of fish, meat, tomatoes
and rice. Because saffron, a typical ingredient in Spanish Paella, was not readily available in the
new world, it was replaced with tomatoes. Over time, spices from the Carribean turned paella
into the completely unique yet ever evolving dish, jambalaya. 

There are multiple ways to prepare jambalaya, and they correspond to various cultures’ historical
in New Orleans and surrounding areas. “Cajun” jambalaya is often made with a tomato
base, and likewise, more ingredients found in the country. The word “Cajun” has its etymology in
the word “Acadian,” referring typically to Louisiana settlers from Canada and Nova Scotia. Cajun
dishes including crawfish, and etouffee are often heavily spiced and use the “trinity” of cajun
cooking - celery, onions and peppers. The other large cultural complex of Louisiana, “Creole,”
creates jambalaya with more ingredients found in the city such as butter and cream. It is typically
more refined and European; the rest of Creole cuisine follows with a base of French influence, but
the Creole population is composed of both French and Spanish settlers. 


The Lower Ninth Ward - the unspoken history washed away by Hurricane Katrina

(photo by Julia Holden-Hunkins)

If you take a walk through the ninth ward, it would appear similar to the rest of New Orleans at
first glance. Perhaps there is a little more poverty, and if you looked over your shoulder as you’re
driving in from the French Quarter, you might notice a large cluster of interesting buildings with
solar panels atop their roofs. But unless you happened to stumble upon the
Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum,” a building altogether too small to contain such a rich history,
you might not know a quarter of what’s happened in this place. 

The ninth ward is the largest of the seventeen wards of New Orleans. The wards were drawn in 1852
when New Orleans sought to reorganize from three separate municipalities into one
centralized government. It is the easternmost downriver ward and is divided in half; the northern
part is bounded by Lake Pontchartrain, and the southern part is bounded by the Mississippi River
and has been the home for mostly lower to middle-class African American people. While all of
New Orleans suffered the blows of multiple hurricanes, the lower ninth ward was always the most
vulnerable due to its proximity to the levy. Despite government funds being allocated to rebuild
the levy to protect the lower ninth ward in case of a disaster like hurricane Katrina, the levy was
never secured. When it breached, the environmental destruction devastated the lower ninth ward
financially and culturally. Some people who were relocated were never able to return to their
homes. Efforts to rebuild the lower ninth ward for those families are still in effect today. One such
effort was sought out by Brad Pitt in his “Make it Right Campaign,” where he initiated the
construction of 109 energy-efficient homes. 

Since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 The Lower Ninth ward has been a destination visited by U.S.
presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The rich history is rooted in new
beginnings for escaped slaves after embarking on the underground railroad, and it lives on today
in many forms - one of which being the tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians who celebrate their
history in bold colors and elaborately beaded costumes in the Mardi Gras parades. 


  1. Beads, baby! The history of New Orleans Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras (which translates to “Fat Tuesday”) is most popular  in New Orleans which annually hosts the largest celebration of the holiday. However, the very first Mardi Gras celebration took place in Mobile, Alabama, and it’s roots bury deep into the European traditions of carnival dating before the medieval times. The celebration of a carnival is unknown by historians, however, the celebration is born from Christianity. Lent (a sacrificial Christian holiday) is one of the primary forces behind the necessity for carnivals, which are often baudy celebrations including parading, feasting and elements of circus. The idea was to live largely and indulge before giving up on some of the earthly pleasures for the season of Lent. Sometimes masks were introduced to allow people to discard their everyday persona in order to fully partake in the party spirit. During shrovetide, the days toward the end of carnival, people confessed their sins.

person riding on tractor surrounded by peoples

The first recorded celebration of Mardi Gras in Louisiana was in 1699 in what is now the
Plaquemines Parish. Gradually, the festivities migrated and centered around New Orleans and
celebrated in the form of parades, masking, costuming and cross-dressing. In 1856, 21
gentlemen secretly arranged the first Krewe of Mardi Gras (a pinnacle of the celebrations today)
to be observed in an official parade. That first Krewe was named “The Mystick Krewe of Comus
which continues to be seen today. Now alongside Comus, popular krewes include The Krewe of
Thoth, The Krewe of Bacchus (which historically names celebrities as their “kings”), Rex,
Proteus, Orpheus and Zulu. All of these krewes partake in parades from the beginning of January
until the end of February and ride upon floats, some of which have taken all year to design and
build. Typically, float-riders wear masks and throw gifts to viewers such as doubloons (coins with
some significance to their krewe), cups, shirts and other miscellaneous items.  

In 1875, the state of Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday, and the parades were
held in rain or shine save for a few instances during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.
In 1979, the New Orleans police department went on strike leaving The National Guard to prevent
crimes during the holiday. Although it was more sparsely attended than previous years, there were
less regulations on alcohol and drug use deeming 1979’s mardi gras one of the best in the eyes of
bohemian party-goers. National Guard Troops returned to Mardi Gras in 2005 to assist in crowd
control in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This year hosted floats which satirized the U.S.
Army Corps and The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in their failure to secure
the levees in New Orleans. 

Rex’s inaugural parade in 1892 established the city’s celebratory colors: purple, green and gold. There is
no distinct reason why these colors were chosen, although Errol Laborde theorized their significance was
due to heraldry. However, the Rex organization declared that the colors corresponded to justice, power
and faith. These colors continue to decorate floats, beads, and the notorious king cake which is delicately
folded with colored bread, colored sugar and holds a traditional plastic baby inside. 


The Green Revolution 

Beginning in the 1950s, The Green Revolution was considered the third wave of agriculture in The United States. The Green Revolution was endorsed largely by The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and introduced the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, controlled water supply (irrigation), and mechanized farming methods. The method of using “high-yielding varieties'' (HYVs) was also developed during this time. The HYVs were crops where semi-dwarfing genes with a higher potential to absorb nitrogen were bred into the genomes for the rest of that crop, creating a stronger genome and therefore a larger harvest. The goal of these innovations was to increase the yield of crops. Norman Borlaug is deemed the father of this movement and earned a nobel peace prize for his efforts in increasing the yield of crops resulting in saving over a billion people from starvation. Mexico is regarded as the birthplace of The Green Revolution. With U.S. support and the order of Mexican president Manuel Ávila Camacho, Mexico evolved with new knowledge and technology. Mexico's successes began the spread of The Green Revolution into the Philippines, India, Brazil and several less successful attempts to increase crop yields in Africa.

Sparks of Environmental Activism and Government Response
The Green Revolution proved successful in helping aid world hunger, but it did not exist without criticism. Environmental Activists took issue with many aspects of these new agricultural practices and how they may be affecting the environment in a long-term sense. These concerns boiled down to a matter of sustainability. Resources such as synthetic fertilizers and water were mined, and these places could not replenish those resources as fast as they were being taken. Environmentalists were also concerned about the pollution of the soil during this process. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published in 1962 and reflected a conversation about pollution and agricultural chemicals' effects on ecology. Activists also advocated for proper conservation tilling methods including rotating crops in order to avoid topsoil erosion and depletion of nutrient-dense soil. Finally, there were economic concerns about an increasingly centralized agricultural system and its detrimental effects on small family farmers.

Several books and studies were published in favor of the sustainable agriculture movement. Wes Jackson published New Roots for Agriculture which argued that “monoculture farms with annual plants that require a lot of external inputs to grow – like huge fields of corn fertilized by ammonia – should be replaced by "polycultures" of perennial plants where one species would complement another” (Ganzel). U.S. Lawmakers did respond to this widespread concern from environmental activists by funding research initiatives. The goal was to inspire perhaps more eco-friendly practices while responding to hunger and population growth. In 1989, $4.45 million was allocated toward the Low-Impact Sustainable Agricultural (LISA) program with the USDA. This evolved into the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program.
In 1907 Farmers of Forty Centuries was written by Franklin H. King. Here, he discussed the advantages of sustainable agriculture and its necessity to the continuity of farming in the future. However, the term “sustainable agriculture” wasn’t coined until about 1980 by Australian agronomist Gordon McClymont.

Peppers, Preppers and Pandemics - Agricultural Independence within a Globalized Market

There is a lot to dissect when it comes to the topic of sustainability, but one pinpoint discussion is on the topic of “preppers.” Who exactly are they, and what does their mindset reveal about modern-day agriculture? This word, prepper, refers to the type of person who invests much of their time and energy into preparing for natural disasters (or, more severely, some apocalyptic event). Not all preppers have a big garden on their off-grid cabin, but many of them have something in common, and that is a seed of suspicion in the reliability of the structures in place to sustain all of humanity. And considering the contemporary stance of a world living under the shadow of COVID-19 (coronavirus), they may have a point. When grocery stores close down, it is the farmers, gardeners, off-the-gridders, and yes, those forward thinking preppers who continue life soundly while the rest of us struggle to shift.

Before delving into the benefits of preparedness in anticipation of disaster, first there are some benefits of the prepping lifestyle that are alone worth mentioning in the discussion of sustainable agriculture. For many preppers, “organic” (produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents) farming is part of their belief system. Of course, this means relying less on big agricultural giants mass-producing monoculture crops and more on what can grow naturally in the environment readily accessible to them. This ideal is not unique to preppers, but it does carry an interesting preposition about sustainable farming - in the face of disaster, whether it be natural or political, how fragile are the systems that we depend on for a need as basic as food?

Prepping, otherwise regarded as survivalism, is a concept that has been around since the 1930s when suspicions toward government collapse and nuclear warfare appeared in both fiction and nonfiction writings dawning after the cold war. Preppers regard The Great Depression as a prime example of the need for survivalism. Other waves of survivalism occurred during the libertarian movement of the 1960s, the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, after the September 11th, 2001 attacks, and the emergence of swine flu in 2009. The strategies discussed among these years compiled a vast array of survival skills, food preparedness being only one of them. However, our present day situation of the COVID-19 pandemic presents a struggle delicately woven into the food and grocery network. The disease was born in the wet markets in Wuhan, China, and in a chain reaction of precautionary events, people have been forced to rely less on the daily convenience of grocery stores. Along with this, the U.S. and countries around the globe must sacrifice a guaranteed sanitary shopping experience, and the promised longevity of shipping and importing common products and goods.

Although the sustainable agriculture movement has faced many critiques, one of which is its ability to actually feed 7.5 billion people across the globe without mass-producing food with the use of practices introduced by The Green Revolution (and later, the New Green Revolution). But there is now a more interesting debate in play brought about by this disease which threatens the infrastructure of mass-production and retrieval and abundance of goods. Could environmentalists have been right? Perhaps sustainable agriculture is not only necessary for the survival of ecosystems, but also the survival of humanity?