Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Labor Day Eat-In: Picnicking as Art and Advocacy

Slow Food Portland and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) have teamed up to organize a huge communal meal on the lawn of what was once Washington High School this Labor Day, September 7th. It’s a free Time Based Art (TBA:09) event called Planted: A Labor Day Picnic with Slow Food Portland. And everyone’s invited.

So what’s an eat-in? You show up with a meal you prepared with locally grown ingredients to share (plus a lawnchair or blanket or something to sit on). Then you eat! It’s pretty simple. Wood-fired flat bread provided by Tastebud. Attending the eat-in is a great way to lend your support to Slow Food’s Time For Lunch campaign to bring healthier food to the nation’s public school children.

Check out the un-games (cooperative fun with artist Wayne Bund) and the Bread Friend Map while you’re there.

Not only will you enjoy high quality food and entertainment, but you’ll be in good company. Over 250 eat-ins have been scheduled by Slow Food organizers around the country. So go share some food, have some artsy fun, and make a statement this Labor Day.

Location: Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave

Hours: 12:30 pm to 4 pm

Written by betsy, Filed Under Art, Outdoors, Upcoming

Friday, June 12, 2009

Biological Control

I met some entymologists yesterday. Talking about their work as Biological Control, the conversation shifted to pesticide usage. The phrase, "People want quick fixes," clubbed me. There is no such thing as a quick fix when speaking or thinking about life and the complexity of biological organisms. If you are tired, sleep. If you are hungry, eat. Basic needs can have quick fixes (unless you have sleeping or eating disorders. Ok, I realize i better not overlook the severity of those health issues), but when talking about huge infestations of the white fly consuming mono-crops that have been engineered without considering balance or the value of intangibles in the equation, there are no "quick fixes." The parasitic wasp may have worked on the white fly in So. Cal, but again, what scale was tipped?

One of the men said that Fipronil is non-toxic to humans. Kills all insects, but no prob for humans.
"What is it?" I asked. "A chemical pesticide?"
"I don't know the formula...after a short period with these wasps in a closed container with it, they were released and went back to their colony. Within 15 hours the whole colony was dead."
The horror!! A poison indiscriminately killing all insects. No analysis from a holistic perspective about the underlying cause or the repercussions of these sweeping, abusive actions. Killing is the most sacred act. If you are going to take a life, are you willing to acknowledge that you are creating hierarchy? The food chain is a cycle, but humans seem to lack the natural control to know when enough is enough.

OK. On my soap box. I went to this website--
and found:
"In 1996 when fipronil was introduced for commercial use in the U.S., it was praised as a safer insecticide because it appeared to target invertebrates rather than vertebrates.

Fipronil selectively acts on GABA and glutamate receptors. It kills an insect by disrupting its central nervous system. The mechanism for this 'selectivity' is not completely understood.

Newer research now shows that exposure to low concentrations is toxic to vertebrates including mammals and humans. The mechanism is excitotoxic.


Fipronil has been shown to mutate proteins and to kill human liver cells at concentrations of 0.1 nM. Using fipronil's molecular weight = 437.15 g/mol leads to

Calculate fipronil exposure

That is a ~very~ low exposure. Meanwhile, the government allows fipronil residue in foods at levels 220x to 34,000x higher.

The researchers noticed that the dose-response curve was non-monotonic. In other words, the smallest doses were more toxic than larger ones (see hormesis for more about this kind of toxic behavior).

Also, the researchers found that fipronil sulfone, a chemical left over after fipronil breaks down, was more toxic than fipronil itself.

Fipronil sulfone caused cell death at lower doses."

Not very comforting to think that people working in the area of pest control did not know about this data. It is not innocuous or mild. Apparently the mindset, "we are not going back to the middle ages...if we want to have modern medicine and save lives, than chemicals will stay..." was the contained belief system driving this man.

We did discuss the hopeful prospect of people weaving ancient wisdom and global awareness to seek new solutions. Some conversation about permaculture and how it considers the soil web and the delicate balance.

I am happy to see so many gardens everywhere in Portland. Last night walking home I saw 4 heads of lettuce in the front of one yard when I thought, "It is weird that people panic about food when 4 heads of lettuce for one small family brings a lot of greens into that home." At our house, we have so many tomatoes we have to give many away and can a bunch.

I do not believe the poison peddlers and I hope you don't either.

The woman at the next table said she was listening in to our conversation and she believes there is no one solution. We entered a conversation about carbon, chemicals, money,... eventually it spiraled to snails. Yes, she has a lot of them. When she heard I eat them as an alternative to pesticides, she lurched back.

"You're not coming near my yard!" They are her friends.

Perfect. I am biological control for rampant garden mollusk "pests", not a friend killer. As she finished her chicken burrito, she said she eats meat, but cannot kill it herself. I know, it is a teary affair for me sometimes boiling the snails, yet I think it helps me remember how valuable they are...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Snailing expedition~

It is Memorial day today. Putting together a visual proposal for a multi-disciplinary art/sci project to help the oceans. And organizing my house...on May 16 I roamed Alberta St. during their 10th annual Art Hop. All sorts of creative booths and exhibits lining the street. For 5 hours I discussed snails, slugs, agriculture, the environment, art. Ryan of took a fabulous bl/wh polaroid portrait of me. I gave him a snail shell full of tiny succulents. It is starting to heat up here in Portland. I love the sun. And soon under the moon, we will be embarking on a snailing expedition. Bicycling from garden to garden to collect garden mollusks for a future feast. I hope you can join us~

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

slug skins...

Finally getting somewhere with the slugs. Past the puree and disguise method, I tried skinning and scraping out the insides. Marinating in soy and sesame oil. Then grilled at a wonderful good-bye party to "Coraline" crew friend, Jan. He was back to Germany for a bit. He and Suzanne sent me a pic of an Egyptian slug circa 1600.

The slime is quite a challenge. I think it might be useful for some medical or topical purpose. I wonder if it can be sterilized and used as some sort of lubricant. I tried to hold them in my hands after boiling and they just slip right out. They are completely sheathed in slime. I know it isn't appetizing to think of, but those of you who have ever scaled a fish or slaughtered an animal for a meal (that is the only reason!) can attest to the need to adjust to the process. All of us who have been vegetarian for years know that it is hard to deal with the killing.

I got teary over a slug yesterday. It was about 5" long. I found it riding my bike to tango the other night. I could see it from 40 feet away! On the sidewalk of a closed road for paving. I had a container with me. Somehow I knew I'd find one. It laid eggs in its container...I think that made me sad to know it was trying to reproduce. I attributed all the emotions of nesting to this captive. And who am I to know. He/she seemed a bit limp from the labor. Again, I can't quite help how much I felt for that slug.

Back to the slime. Maybe I'll attach scrubbies to the tips of gloves.
Grilled on the bbq was delicious. My friends actually were asking to try the little crispy skins. They were kind of sweet and one of the really charred ones (almost over cooked them) tasted like bacon. It sent me back to bacon days.
tomorrow I'll try some snails and slugs with wakame. The recipe is coming to me. Better sleep on it~

Monday, May 4, 2009

French American School

On Saturday, I watched Pendulum Dance Theatre's anniversary performance, "Nine." ( It was at the French American School where they train, but I admit, their skill and choreography needs to find larger venues too.
I took some aerial acrobat classes last year with Pendulum. I loved climbing the silks and learning to trust myself at a height that is out of my comfort zone. Wrapping teh fabric around yourslef and then saying, "really, I can just let go? Just let go?" and voila, you drop to get caught by the careful weave you wove. All the students and instructors are wonderful, so seeing them perform this Saturday was a great reunion. And now I am working with Suzanne Kenney, artistic director and founder, to realize a performance and exhibit fusing art, science, and activism for the oceans and all life on Earth. It is a big endeavor. I can't get it out of my head, though. So we go for it!

But THE exciting moment for Miss Snail Pail was when we were heading out of the event. I looked on the sidewalk and what should I see, 2 snails!! here in Portland the snails are much less common than slugs (so far). it was exhilarating. next thing I knew, my friend Heidi had handed me a thermos. The slugs were huge. The snails had years on them. Those shells are enormous and timely to make! I couldn't believe how thrilled I was. It was like running to hug an old friend. I know, I am going to eat them, but i can still welcome them for having been gone so long.
Jody Hughes ( and Heidi Sowa joined in the hunt. There is something thrilling about encountering something that cannot be taken for granted, like searching for mushrooms. Not a lot of fun when not finding them. But once you are in the thick of a fungi field, big smiles! same sort of thing with snails and slugs.

Now they are feasting on greens and organic grains. My first 4 found Portland snails (they are pets and breed at times) came from my first day of classes with Pendulum at the French American School. (My first snail, Moody, was a gift.) But since then, have not had such a haul at once. I wonder if the school welcomes them to keep the escargots culture alive, or if the snails sense their native language. it is odd, but again, i may need just to get out to the hills more to find my bounty.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Extreme Cuisine

I did it!! I ate things I never want to eat again (at least this week). I was so excited to participate in the Extreme Cuisine class at the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland. I met with the chef/instructor, Melinda Casady, last week to talk about my attending as Miss Snail Pail with my snails and slugs to add to her huge array of offal and mealworms, kangaroo meat, lamb tongue, pigtails, oxtail, rocky mountain oysters, frog legs, ostrich, crickets, blood sausage, chicken feet...It was A LOT of food from animals that I don't usually eat, so it was a day of expansion and exploration. A day of fun and feasting!

Melinda wants us Americans to remember that if you eat chicken breasts, what about the thighs and the feet? Why do people waste so much of an organism that has died for one small piece of cuisine? And hey, mealworms are great protein! Just avoid the really big ones because they are fed hormones. As I was biting into the mealworm chocolate chirp chip cookies, I was expecting the chocolate chip love I wanted. It was there, but so were the crunchy crispy tubular worms to keep me from binging on sugar. One was great!!

I did love the lamb (pig?) tongue thinly sliced in this amazing warm salad with vinegar, onions, ginger, lemon. And after my third slice of pig testicle, I was nodding my head, "OK," this is definitely food. The kangaroo meat was delicious with that oregano. And the curried ostrich I prepared was tasty. Since I promote foraging for slugs and snails in our yards as a local source of protein, as well as a sustainable way to avoid losing plants to the slimy mollusks, I had to learn more about what people eat around the world. A couple people in the class from Asia said that oxtail, the duck eggs, and balut, were all pretty common fare. Balut being an expensive delicacy. I had to watch, but not able to bite there. Just a personal hang up. The durian and mangosteens are Asian fruit with mixed reputations. Mangosteens remind me of lychees a bit.

The purpose of the class was founded in a real desire to get people to remember that we take animals and food for granted, and perhaps we just don't know how to prepare them. We don't know how to get to the bones.

As a chicken, fish, and garden mollusk eater, with a love of fruits, grains and vegetables, I took huge leaps eating those fatty pigtails and trying to bite into the tough rattlesnake. Oxtail was like good old home cooking from my Hungarian grandmother, and if my Polish grandmother was still alive, I am sure she would have brought in her sausage recipe and whipped up some pickled pigs feet. In her last days, she craved them.

We made so much food, enough for many other culinary students to try, and to bring home for our housemates:
"I've got leftovers, guys. Mealworms," I try to sound tempting.
"I know who loves mealworms, you'll make them real happy," Rebecca says smiling, pointing to the chicken coop, "the girls." The hens do love the grubs.

I ate some more of the unusuals last night and shared some with my hungry little Plum dog. Wow, he couldn't praise the delicious creations enough. That said, he will eat raw lettuce and chunks of carrot too, so perhaps the lesson is enjoy the bounty and don't be too picky. Variety and balance. Tune in to nature. And "Love the slug."

I just got an email today: a new Miss Snail Pail is posted on YouTube.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Snail Caviar

Today my amazing fashion and costume making friend, Paloma ( told me about snail caviar. She said it sells for some outrageous fee, 200 EU's for 125 grams. I know when my snails (and slugs did it too!) started laying eggs, I had lots of babies in 2 weeks. Never really thought of not letting them emerge as mini snails. On a YouTube about it, they say that one snail only lays like 100 eggs in a lifetime. Not true. I think that is to make it seem more precious. Snails can lay 60-120 eggs every few weeks in a Mediterranean climate. And they can live a number of years. Plus being hermaphrodites...well, still, the eggs are tiny. I really need to up my snailing value. I realize when I act like I will do it without charging lots of money, people just can't value the generosity. Come spring, I need to get all of us out there collecting and eating our snails and slugs!!!