Helen Labun

Commentator

Helen Labun has worked in Vermont nonprofits addressing issues in rural economic development. Today, she is Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, connecting chefs to Vermont farmers in support of the local food economy.

Ways to Connect

Amazon’s planned purchase of high end grocery chain Whole Foods introduces a lot of questions - many of them around technology, delivery, and the future of retail. It’s also a time to consider what, exactly, the Whole Foods value proposition is. After all, we’re told that Whole Foods seeks the finest organic food, but not all their customers have been fully satisfied with what they get in return for their dollars.

I’ll ski over almost anything. I figure I need about a 60:40 snow to mud ratio. Or snow to ice. Snow to puddles gets a little tricky. But I’ll ski around corn stalk stubble when it starts reemerging in fields. I’m working on my ability to jump over obstacles and it’s not graceful - but at least it’s usually forward momentum.

By now, we're well into a holiday-time tradition - the annual bestowing of advice to home cooks who entertain. From November 1st until midnight on the last day of December, the world is flooded with advice - some of it recipe related, like how to roast a perfect turkey or create healthy appetizers, and a lot of it focused on staying in a cheerful mood while cooking for friends and family.

Whenever I go on vacation, my perspective on everyday life shifts... to an angle that lets me believe many implausible, yet optimistic, things. On vacation, I believe that, because I feel how nice it is to be caught up on sleep, I’ll never skip it again. Or now that I don’t have any looming deadlines, I’ll never fall behind on work again. Or because I cleaned the house before I left, now I’m a person who keeps a clean house.

There’s a fancy restaurant in Quebec, which will remain nameless, that recently served me a poorly prepared omelet. And I was okay with it.

At the end of March, Chef Dan Barber from Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City experimented for two weeks with menus composed of food waste. And people are still talking about it.

Labun Jordan: Eat Less

Mar 9, 2015

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee releases a new set of recommended changes to national nutritional policy.

The health conscious mother of my college roommate used to tell her kids that Saltines were “cookies.” The logic went that little kids haven’t actually learned what a cookie is, only that “cookies” are a treat, and a simple rebranding would mean they’d happily eat low cal, low fat crackers for dessert.

When my sister got married, she didn’t choose me as Maid of Honor. She chose her best friend. Tim. Who’s not a maid, he’s a guy. A guy left in charge of the bachelorette party.

Tim’s version of a bachelorette party was not gender-exclusive. Instead of heading off to Vegas, we stayed in Newbury, Vermont, our hometown. And he had a wholesome objective - to introduce wedding guests to Newbury... through a treasure hunt.

The great thing about working in a bookstore is that all day you’re surrounded by books - classic novels, experimental fiction, memoirs by notable people, books explaining the universe, books that won the Pulitzer prize, cookbooks… I’m in it for the cookbooks.
 

As November ends, I’m declaring the end to another season of not learning how to mountain bike. I’ve tried. I’ve tried for three years now, drawn by sunny days to explore beautiful trails in and around Barre’s quarries. Although “Mountain” is an overstatement... I don’t bike down steep trails. Or over rocks. Which can be challenging in a quarry.

Everyone tells me I’ll get the hang of mountain biking once I stop looking at the obstacles I’m trying to avoid, and start looking at where I want to go.

Profound, I think. Then I clip a tree and go down in a heap.

Every fall I get caught up in the romance of heirloom apples. Dozens of varieties fill the bins at my local co-op, all different colors, sizes, textures, and flavors – with written guides that explain each kind. I fill my bags with Lady Apples, because I like the story of Renaissance women who kept the aromatic fruit tucked in their bodices. I add Sheep’s Nose Apples because I like the name Sheep’s Nose - and maybe a giant Wolf River apple for pies.
 

About once a week I launch a cooking project - a search for the best pizza crust, maybe or learning to fry cider doughnuts or setting up a smoker or, recently, with a friend of mine, transforming Japanese beetles into a snack food.
 

Labun Jordan: Faux Food

Jun 19, 2014

This June I rode my bike with a group of friends from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh. We followed first a tow path and then a rail trail, out of downtown D.C., through Maryland and West Virginia, across the Mason Dixon line and the continental divide, then into the industrial landscape of Pittsburgh. The route was lined with carpets of bluebells, thickets of rhododendron, old lock houses, palisades, waterfalls and an alarming amount of fake maple syrup.

We shouldn’t treat our desserts like vegetables – pretty obvious concept when I think about it – but putting it into practice can be difficult. I realized this the other day when I was eating a bland, crumbly cookie from a package that had passed its prime about a week earlier. It wasn’t great, but it was a cookie, and I didn’t see any other cookies around, so it seemed sensible to finish it.
 

The beauty of the Olympics is that it calls so many sports to our attention, and so many of them ones that casual viewers like myself have never tried before. It gives our imaginations room to consider how we might have excelled in one of these contests if only we’d given it a chance. After all, I’m clear that I’ll never amount to anything in baseball, basketball or soccer - I’ve tried those. But I have not yet failed at bobsledding, ice dancing, or luge. Not even once.

My plan for making candy as holiday gifts this year got started at a skiing workshop, where I overheard a conversation between two neighbors about the thank you note one had sent the other after a dinner party. The note writer had illustrated the card herself. When the recipient said it was more than she’d expected, the first woman countered that it was actually very indulgent - because all the time she worked on the card she was daydreaming about how much she’d enjoyed the dinner.

This fall, I helped organize a contest called StoryhackVT. Participants had 24 hours to create a story using at least three different media – which could be text, photos, audio, games, animation – anything as long as there were three and they told one story. This simple set up produced a variety of creative responses. Added together, these responses all reflect a new way of thinking about websites.

Social media is revolutionizing modern communications. And I’m happy for it. Really, I am. But I can’t help noticing that it also has all the hallmarks of an anxiety dream come true. This is a world built on popularity; it tracks your number of friends on a public scorecard. Surely I’m not the only one feeling insecure about this.

I discovered the tourism potential of exercise class this summer, while visiting my sister in New Hampshire. Now, I’m the sort of tourist who works all day at a desk and is desperate to be active while on vacation. My sister lives near both the beach, and walking and hiking trails, so a visit seemed perfect. . . until the cold rain set in. I watched the gray sky glumly from her living room, until she suggested Zumba. It would re-energize us, she said. And, because she worked at the gym Thursday nights, it was free.

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