Edible Stories

Every ingredient in a recipe has a backstory. — Heather Wolfe

When I teach cooking classes, I invite participants to look at each recipe as an edible story. The class gets curious about each ingredient, including where and how that particular food is grown. This often brings up conversations around sustainability and consideration of personal values related to those issues. Curiosity and awareness allows the class and the rest of us as consumers to make informed, value-based decisions about what we choose to eat.  

Let’s take a look at one ingredient in today’s pesto recipe: almonds. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the almonds eaten in the United States. Almonds are not native to California, a state with both Mediterranean and desert-like climates. In recent decades, drought has been a big concern in California, and climate change is making droughts more severe. It takes one gallon of water to grow a single almond.

Almond farmers also need bees. Without bees to pollinate the trees, almond farmers would have no nuts. Due to a lack of local bees, farmers in California must rent them from commercial beekeepers from all over the U.S. An astounding 70% of all U.S. bee colonies go to California to provide pollination services during February and March. Many of these working bees die or return home sick from parasites, mites, pesticides or malnourishment. 

A diverse diet helps bees, like people, to stay healthy.  Feeding from a monocrop of almond blossoms is not a natural or healthy ecosystem. Glyphosate (Roundup, as one example) is a widely used herbicide in almond orchards. Glyphosate is toxic to bees. Biocides add to a polluted landscape as they seep into groundwater supply. Summary: Almonds are a water-intensive crop grown in a drought-prone area managed with biodiversity-devastating, polluting biocides. Almonds are also dependent on imported, non-native bees. 

I do not mean to pick on almonds. In fact, I really enjoy eating almonds, and my February 2024 column included a recipe with almonds. My point in sharing this backstory of the almond is to spur you towards curiosity so that you can grow in understanding, appreciation and consciousness. You can make choices with an awareness of impact. 

Since I learned the almond’s story, I have been more mindful about my almond intake. I look for organic almonds (by definition, organic food cannot be grown using pesticides). I don’t buy almond milk, and I have planted walnut and hazelnut trees, which are local to my area, on the land I call home. I am making these choices because they are ways to live out my faith values every day — by living simply and loving all of God’s creation.

Every April, Interfaith Power and Light, an advocacy group whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people of faith and conscience to take bold and just action on climate change, hosts Faith Climate Action week. This 10-day period of activity and celebration occurs around Earth Day. This year’s theme is “Common Ground: Cultivating Connections between Food, Faith and Climate Change.” I would add in biodiversity loss and pollution along with climate change. We face a triple planetary crisis, and these interlinked issues also link to our food, such as almonds.

During this Earth Month, I invite you to join me in looking closer at the edible stories of your food choices and how those align with your values. Practice with this pesto recipe and see what you can learn about the other ingredients as you get curious about and connect food with faith and climate change.

What is the edible story of this cilantro pesto? Be curious. — Heather Wolfe

Cilantro  Pesto

  • 2 packed cups washed cilantro
  • ¼ cup almonds or pepitas
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Process until desired consistency is achieved. Serve on top of fish, tacos, eggs, curry or pasta.

Heather Wolfe

Heather Wolfe is deeply rooted in Vermont, USA, is in the Mennonite faith tradition and is part of a family Read More

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