My dear friend John Grogan is in my kitchen today, chatting about eggplant steaks, vegetable chili, and the living and breathing kitchen tool he could never do without.
John Grogan is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Marley & Me, and the best-selling memoir The Longest Trip Home, as well as a series of children’s books. He is a former newspaper columnist, most recently at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and he is the former editor of Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine, where I worked very closely with him.
John and his lovely wife Jenny and three children live and garden organically in the Pennsylvania countryside right near me. They are the only people I know who have had a movie made about them (with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, no less!), but I can assure you, in real life they are much funnier, charming, and smart than their movie versions. I am pleased as punch to have John here today answering my questions.
Why is living organic important to you?
Living organically is my way of feeling connected to the earth and my own humanity. It’s how I feel balanced and at peace with the planet. I can’t solve the world’s problems, can’t even begin to contemplate them all. But on my little corner of Earth, I at least can try to live in a way that treads lightly. I can grow food and flowers and have a nice, soft lawn without chemicals; I can support local farmers whom I know by their first names; I can protect the wetlands that make up about half of my 19 acres, and the stream that runs through it. I can offer a friendly habitat for geese and ducks and heron and trout and fox and (way too many) deer and groundhogs. I take a lot of satisfaction in trying to make my land as self-contained as possible, its own little mini environment. Minimal outputs; minimal inputs.
What was your favorite food growing up?
My mother was a wonderful cook, but two of my favorite dishes of hers came straight from our garden. The first we called “eggplant steaks.” Mom would sauté slabs of eggplant in olive oil then top them with fat slices of just-picked tomatoes and Swiss cheese. She would sprinkle them with fresh herbs and brown them under the broiler. Delicious. The second dish was her rhubarb custard pie. It defined summertime for our whole family.
What’s your go-to comfort food now?
Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips. Also, my nearly famous (with my kids, anyway) chili, which I load up with every vegetable that is in season; I just made a pot last night and added big handfuls of bok choy, arugula, spinach, and diced turnips from my garden.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you just couldn’t live without?
My wife! Seriously. I’m genetically incapable of finding anything without professional spousal assistance. Oh, and the corkscrew.
What magazine, website, book, album or product are you most obsessed with right now?
Hmmm, let’s see. I’m reading (and loving) The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. And I’m totally into the Avett Brothers’ latest release, I and Love and You.
What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
The no-brainer, most important news story of the day, and a powerful example of what can happen when humans allow greed to overshadow good sense, is the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which continues unabated as I write this. If an oil well is in too deep water to realistically react to a crisis at its source, what kind of insanity is it that we still drill them? But drill them we do.
For me, though, the biggest, most significant story to come out in a long time barely caused a blip in public discourse. That was the story reported in the New York Times in May that a new generation of “superweeds” that are resistant to the widely used Roundup herbicide are infesting thousands of acres of farmland. Roundup, generically known as glyphosate, is a key part of the new industrial-/chemical-farming paradigm.
Farmers plant genetically modified corn, soybean, and cotton seed that are impervious to Roundup, then spray the weed killer over their fields, killing the weeds but not the crop. I hate to say I told ya so, but when I was editor of Organic Gardening magazine a decade ago, we were quoting reputable scientists left and right who warned of a new generation of herbicide-resistant superweeds that were all but inevitable as weeds fought to adapt to the new conditions. Monsanto and other chemical-ag giants scoffed. And now the Franken-farming nightmare is on full display in a cornfield near you. Why is no one screaming about this? [Read the story on the New York Times website.]
Where do you get your news?
I read The New York Times on my Kindle every morning and try to scan the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. I confess to being a CNN junkie. And when I’m driving, it’s all NPR all the time.
Always great to hear new perspectives.
Great tips too.
I started screaming about 15 years ago living and organically farming in a nearby community….near an orchard that would use pesticides like crazy. We had a well for all our household water…our farm was down hill from the orchard. While they were spraying they wore gas masks and white one piece outfits. My son was 4 at the time. I was horrified and started attending the council meetings to voice my opinion. After a few years, they finally decided that this residue was leaking into the nearby streams and passed an ordinance that only ‘certain’ pesticides could be used….not good enough for me! Still fighting, to no avail….we just decided to move. Since then they have made the area “protective environmental land”.
Before the farm…I lived right there at the Gulf in a beautiful beach side villa and the thought of this disaster is appalling.
We need everyone to help in any way you can…no matter how little…it will help!!!!
Oh my God, I am a really big fan of John Grogan’s book Marley and me. I am only now stumbled on this interview and was exited. I know he no longer works for you, but if you see him, greet him from me, please. And I’m sorry if my English isn´t very good, but I’m from Germany.