Wednesday, April 30, 2008

NYC Passes Calorie Count Law, Plus Other News

New York City today passed a health code provision which requires restaurants that have at least 15 establishments nationwide post caloric information on menus and menu boards in the same font and format used to display the name or price of the menu item. Kudos to you, NYC. And thanks again for the trans fat ban.

In other news, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production calls for urgent and major reform of confined animal operations.

“One of the most serious unintended consequences of industrial food animal production is the growing public health threat of these types of facilities,” the report said. “There is increasing urgency to chart a new course” in agriculture, which has been shifting over the last 50 years from family farms to large livestock meat producers.”

Details on study findings here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Say WHAT?!

Among the legendary White House myths such as Al Gore inventing the internet, now we can add a new one: President Bush creating "Buy Local." Or, at least taking ownership of the concept in his speech today on the economy and food and fuel prices. He also tossed off that he proposed this measure to Congress, and they have not responded yet.

Frankly, given my own state's reps and their advocacy of big subsidies for big ag, I wouldn't hold my breath on a huge buy local push. As for Bush putting forth a proposal for us all to buy local, the farm bill as it is proposed offers little support for non-commodity crops like fruits and vegetables, even with the subsidy revisions.

Regardless of what the president says, buying local isn't something we have to wait for Congress to legislate, it is something we as consumers have a right to choose despite the failed farm bill reforms. It is now, and has been for several years now, a consumer-driven grassroots movement.

I have to admit, though, the headline on that one almost got me. The president with the worst environmental record in history, George W. Bush, promoting local food. It was like an April Fool's day post, just nearly a month late.

Putting the comment back into context, however, you can see how little our president understands the farm bill and issues surrounding buying local. In that same response to the question on ethanol and food prices, Bush advocates increasing production of ethanol as a solution to fuel costs, then he tosses out eating local as a solution to food prices. See below:

"Actually, I have a little different take: I thought it was 85 percent of the world's food prices are caused by weather, increased demand and energy prices -- just the cost of growing product -- and that 15 percent has been caused by ethanol, the arrival of ethanol.

By the way, the high price of gasoline is going to spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. And the truth of the matter is it's in our national interests that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us.

In terms of the international situation, we are deeply concerned about food prices here at home and we're deeply concerned about people who don't have food abroad. In other words, scarcity is of concern to us. Last year we were very generous in our food donations, and this year we'll be generous as well. As a matter of fact, we just released about $200 million out of the Emerson Trust as part of a ongoing effort to address scarcity.

One thing I think that would be -- I know would be very creative policy is if we -- is if we would buy food from local farmers as a way to help deal with scarcity, but also as a way to put in place an infrastructure so that nations can be self-sustaining and self-supporting. It's a proposal I put forth that Congress hasn't responded to yet, and I sincerely hope they do."

Um. If more and more farmland gets diverted to commodity crops for ethanol production, how are we going to provide food for the world AND have land left for local farms? If just fifteen percent of the food price issues were caused by using farmland for ethanol, how is using more farmland for ethanol going to be part of the solution? Not to mention the massive input of fossil-fuel based fertilizers that are used to grow that commodity crop conventionally. Or, the fact that current demand for local food may become greater than what can be supplied with only four percent of our nation's farms growing fruits and vegetables.

I'm not going to touch the one on why certain nations may not like us. Or drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

There are more holes in this logic than a block of Swiss cheese. So, it was not April Fool's. Just another fool in April. On the chance that this "new" buying local concept of our president's may sour you on the idea, please just keep buying local, it's your movement. Your choice. Your actions that are real here.

As for President Bush's new "green" image? Nice tie, I mean, nice try.

Monday, April 28, 2008

When Urban and Agriculture Collide

This land all used to be farms, in just a few short years, it is now enveloped by McMansions and strip mall after strip mall. It seems surreal to see the massive subdivision as a backdrop to the horses and other farm animals.

The unstoppable sprawl is now absorbing 15 square miles south, without allowing the town or residents there a voice or choice.

How do you get local food when there are no local farms? What a waste.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sorry, Things Have Gotten Crazy

No posts for a while. I've been a bit overwhelmed at work, home, and well, everything. I am cooking, working on some new recipes for the spring season, and those will be showing up definitely. A few are really good, but need some fine tuning. We had a pretty slow start to the season this year, so far, just some greens and spring onions and herbs are showing up.

I planted about 24 square feet of garden with everything from kale and chard and cole crops to shell peas and beans for the summer. Strawberries, herbs. I have more to plant, still. As for the rest of the gardening, I've been tackling an area about 200 square feet of shade garden that literally has foot high weeds. By the time I am done, there will be nearly 150 new plants in that area, once the weeds are gone. Now, is the rest of my house clean? Uh, no. Is the Victory Garden a victory? Hmmm, right now it's still a battle, no clear victory in sight.

I wish there were about four of me most days. One of me would sleep. One of me is going to sleep now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Are We?

You have to wonder, really, when ag researchers at Kansas State don't know how cattle are raised. Kansas. Case in point, this press release on research by K-State grad student AND former veterinarian on the costs of going "natural" and "organic" in beef production.

The article is discussing, of course, the changes required in feed from conventionally grown grain to organic grain for industrial-farmed cattle in order to meet the standards for "organic" and "natural" beef.

Say what?

There is nothing, nothing, "natural" about ruminants eating grain instead of grass. There is nothing "natural" about thousands of cattle closely confined in muddy pens.

There isn't a label you can stick on that meat that would accurately convey, "Okay, the feed might be kinda natural, which beats all the bizarre additives, except that it's grain, and cows don't eat grain, and other than that, it's totally not natural how the cows are fed or raised in the feedlot."

Now, there's truth in labeling.

What floors me is that the feedlot and grain are accepted as "normal" by a veterinarian and doctoral student in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology who damn well ought to know that ruminants are designed by nature to eat grass. I mean, I learned that on Sesame Street in 1969.

"The reason we're looking at this is because before anyone decides to go all-natural or all-organic, they need to be aware of what it's going to cost them and cost consumers," Wileman said. "We want producers to be knowledgeable about what to expect in terms of performance and economics."

It is true, I admit, that to go to what really constitutes "natural" for cows would mean the end of a billion dollar industrial farming industry. So much for the economics. It might cripple fast food as a "cheap" meal and lose yet more billions in fast food business. We consumers would have to eat a whole lot less beef. A whole lot. I'm good with that.

Maybe, big ag is not good with it, but the least that a researcher, an academic professional, could do is admit that there is a huge lie going on with how cattle are raised, that "conventional" practices are anything but conventional, and that the only remotely "natural" thing here would be the origin of part of the cattle feed. Let's just quit ignoring the man behind the curtain.

Wow, Dorothy, we've sure come a long way from Kansas. Now, where's those friggin' shoes so we can get back?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not Funny One Liner

It amazes me just how close you have to read everything, no matter how busy you get. Sure, this applies to food labels most of all, but it also applies to things like news articles. Just one tiny sentence may sneak in there, and that one line makes all the difference.

Like this article from Reuters on $200 million in U.S. food aid to starving nations. Good thing, definitely. And a bit of a surprise, the Bush administration plans to buy the food from nations nearest the need so that the aid can be maximized for quantity of food over transport costs. Sort of "buying local" on the global scale, right? Then the tiny one-liner:

"U.S. agricultural interests have resisted the idea."

So, we're talking about $200 million for starving people here. Let's put this grievance in perspective. ConAgra made $12 billion (with a b) in net sales last year, and record profits with the high prices of commodities at the moment. Much of the other "agribusiness" companies are in the same "yacht" currently. If the entire $200 million went to ConAgra, that would be less than two percent of net sales for last year. The same $200 million spread among these various companies is basically table scraps from a feast. Bread crumbs.

Table scraps that would save lives. Now, that's just appalling that they would resist a plan that would enable more food for people who need it most.

However, in a surprising ethical turn, W. resisted and is going ahead with the more localized plan. Stunning, but yet, miracles can happen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Grill Once, Enjoy Many Ways

I get a lot of raised eyebrows when people find out that I work full time, blog, raise a child and cook real food. Honestly it is do-able. But you have to not just like leftovers, but love to be creative with them. It helps if your family members pitch in over the weekend, when most of the week's meals are created. This is an example of how one Sunday dinner can be the basis for the rest of the week's meals.

Night one: Steak. This weekend, my husband put three steaks on the grill. Large ones. Of course we didn't eat them all, but that's part of the plan. Several veggie sides. We'll eat those the rest of the week, too.

Night two: I made quick caramelized onions and used those plus Sunday dinner's bread, some of the leftover steak, and white cheddar cheese for an open-face steak sandwich (recipe below). Because the steak was already grilled, dinner just took minutes under the broiler. Slice up a sweet potato for easy oven-baked fries and dinner is done.

Night three: we'll use the caramelized onions, more steak, greens, bleu cheese and dried cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette for a salad meal.

Night four: We'll have a quick meal of grilled cheese with the rest of the caramelized onions, cheddar, apples and stone-ground mustard. Steamed broccoli on the side.

Night five: Grocery store night, CSA pickup, time to restock. Saturday, is time to go to the farmers market and that afternoon the actual cooking starts again.

So, you see how steak, cheese, onions, and bread can be used in four completely different (and very quick) meals over a few week nights. No fast food, no sacrifices.

Quick Caramelized Onions
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

For the salad, I always make my own dressing and have it on hand. It's a lot less expensive than store-bought dressing, and is just as good, if not better.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Farmers Market Fare Blog Carnival

Don't forget to submit your post to farmerfare [at] gmail [dot] com for this week's Farmers Market Fare Carnival. Submissions are due by 2 p.m. Sunday, EST. The post must be non-commercial and contain a recipe or story about local food you prepared/purchased/picked up that week at a farmers market, CSA, garden/community garden or direct from a local food producer. Recipes are great posts, but personal stories are also of interest. Your post must also include a link to the carnival edition here at Eat. Drink. Better.

We’ll post a carnival here each week, with links to you. You can also use as a path to submitting.

Hearing Voices

Remember when they first came out with those "portable" cassette players that could also record? They were about the size of a shoebox and weighed twenty pounds. Portable. What, no, you just know iPod only? Oh, yeah, I'm old.

Anyway, that was my childhood experience where we did all kinds of stupid things like slip the recorder under your grandfather's bed to show him how loud he snores and tape yourself singing "Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin ..." Ah, the early seventies. I was six, I just thought it was a song about ponies. So much for being raised in the height of the drug culture.

The point is, I'd hit that "play" button and this awful screeching would come out of the player. Not the crappy recording, mind you. The screeching was me singing. I was traumatized early to hate my own voice. Every time I have to leave a voice mail, there is a moment of fear after the beep.

So, you can imagine the panic that set in when I was asked to do a podcast on food. My first thought was, can I get a voice double? Then I said, oh well, I'll just pretend the whole friggin' world can't hear it and not listen myself either.

I caved and listened. It was not too awful, and I don't sound too stupid, especially since I am talking about food safety and supply issues, and a bit about my history as a shark wrangler.

Take a listen yourself. If it goes well, I may do more.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Tiny Business Plan Flaw

Thanks to the lovely Rachel for sending me this link from

I post a fair bit about Monsanto and GM crops here, more recently the GM Sugar Beets that are Round Up ready and legalized thanks to a cooperative EPA with regard to allowing 1000 percent increase in the residue of the glyphosate in the beets.

Well, here's an interesting bit of news. It seems that glyphosate relies on rock phosphate for manufacture, as does the fertilizer industry. But rock phosphate is a non-renewable resource that is expected to run out in 40-50 years. The process is also extremely energy-intensive and pollution-intensive for creation, and becoming very expensive for farmers who rely on the herbicide as well as on the fertilizer inputs that the "Round Up-ready" GM crops rely on.

So, you have farmers locked into patented seeds that have to be purchased annually, that require expensive inputs and an expensive fertilizer that is eventually going to run out. Yet, Monsanto continues to crank out new Round Up-ready GM plants like nothing is wrong. Even Chinese manufacturers of the generic glyphosate are getting out of the business.

It's a system doomed to fail, and take a fair bit of the environment along with it from the pollution as well as cross-contamination of non-GM plants and the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds. Of course, Monsanto won't have to pay for the environmental damage. That's for us to take care of.

So, why are we in the U.S. still in the business to the tune of a 700 percent increase in stock value for Monsanto? Why is Monsanto's GM seed business seeking global domination for a short-term gain and risky future?

The only bright spot is that the intensive inputs that fuel these misguided practices of industrial agriculture are on borrowed time, much like our fossil fuel dependency. But then, Monsanto has a few decades to come up with something just as destructive and plenty of capital post-corn ethanol madness. Then again, we could get sane and go back to sustainable methods.

Now, that's just crazy talk.

And Food Justice for All

I might have just stumbled into the local food movement just a few years back, but in the years since, the efforts here on my blog projects and in my daily life have brought me such rich experiences and some amazing sources of inspiration.

Most recently, I got to do an interview with Bryant Terry. He is the co-author of one cookbook, and is working on a second due out soon called Organic Soul. He has appeared on PBS and Sundance Channel and other shows. But what makes Terry inspiring to me is his work on "Food Justice." He's developed several programs that support sustainable, local foods for people who need access to healthy food and nutrition education. His efforts seek to empower people to make better food choices in their communities and to rise up to influence national and state policy.

You should take time to read the interview here and get inspired yourself. Food Justice is something we should all be working toward.

I guess if that is not enough to get you to click the link, the interview includes a damn fine recipe for Sweet Cornmeal-Coconut Butter Drop Biscuits. Man, I love soul food. And there just isn't enough places to get it near me. I am going to have to buy the book.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Carrot Soup with Coriander Two Ways

I love it when kids kind of tangle up a saying, and it comes out better. My kiddo has this little song that she sings at school before she can eat. It's non-denominational, and that's cool. But tonight she wanted me to sing a song before we ate. All I had was the classic, "God is Great," from my own childhood. It was easy enough, I figured. So, she decided to sing it for herself:

"God is great, God is good, let them think about the food. Ah-ment."

Yes, please, let them think about the food, I thought. Let's all think about our food. Ah-ment, Baby Girl. Ah-ment.

This soup recipe was the best of my weekend experiments. I also made a sweet potato bread with whole red wheat and honey. Quite good, but the bread looks as if someone ran over it. The yeast just could not hold up to the density of the dough for two risings. I will keep working on this because it tastes so good.

The other experiments were a marinated broccoli, a green bean and arugula dish from Epicurious, which was really good. And this soup. Which was the best of the dishes. The dish is named because both ground coriander (a spice) and the plant leaves it is sourced from, cilantro (and herb), are used.

Carrot Soup with Coriander Two Ways
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Marinated Broccoli

A Quiet Spring Start

As the first weekend of my favorite local farmers market approached, I was afraid. You see, last year's first market was the very weekend that a late frost hit. The warm days came too early last season and the frost effectively killed all the buds on fruit trees as well as most of what the farmers had put in the ground for the spring and early summer vegetables. Most all of it had to be replanted.

The day of the market was freezing cold. One lone table with a few goods from over winter, and a cold, gray sky to match. Even late in the season, farmers placed one or two tiny, misshapen fruits on the table with a sign, "this year's apple crop." April was a cruel month last year.

This year, there have been no early warm days. Spring has taken its time to get here, and as such there were just a fraction of the normal farms for the start of the season. Most had only herbs to offer, and plants for starting your own garden. Two tables had tomatoes and onions and lettuces. Not local, not this year.

The honey lady ran to meet us. We bought a gallon from her in October and have a quart left we are working on still. "How are the bees?" I asked her. I worry about colony collapse each season. Fine, she said. No worries this year.

I bought a few shade perennials, a hosta, some rosemary and an herb called Stevia, a sweet tasting leaf that I plan on using for an interesting garnish on desserts. All-in-all, it was a very normal start to the season. Chilly, with the sun poking out, a few warm rays, and just like the market itself, a promise of the season to come.

This post is written as part of the Farmers Market Fare, a collection of blog posts on local food from around the web. You can share in the local food fun by submitting your own post for next week. Submissions can be sent to farmerfare [at] gmail [dot] com. Deadline for this week is Sunday, April 13, 2 p.m. EST.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I Think I Must Be Old

I lectured to some journalism students on Thursday. It reminded me how much I enjoy teaching. It also made me feel a bit old. See, the first part of the class some of them were complaining about how their mom didn't "get" the whole green thing.

I was like, hey, I'm your mom's age! I was also having a horrible thought, some day my own daughter could be right there with her friends griping about me. You give your whole soul to your child, and in this totally normal phase, she is going to bitch about you — maybe even justified bitching, I thought. Heh. Oh well, she'll still show up for laundry and good meal. That whole unconditional mom-love thing isn't going away.

And that's when I realized how much I have changed these last 20 years, all the struggles I put behind me. And the most massive changes of all in the few short years since becoming a parent. I also realized how good it is to be right where I am.

Which is not in the kitchen.

What's with the no recipes thing? I know, I know, the farmers market opens tomorrow. I kind of ran out of inspiration waiting out the winter for my local produce. I've got no plans (face it, I have no social life), lots of ideas, fresh produce to buy and a weekend ahead to cook.

If you are game, get your own local on and post on your farmers market trip, CSA bag o' goodies, garden or farm visit from the weekend. Submit the link to Eat. Drink. Better's Farmers Market Fare Carnival. Can't wait to see the posts. And recipes. And photos.

A Wish for the Next Forty Years

Wouldn't it be great if we could have achieved equality in these last forty years? On the anniversary of the death of MLK, the best I can hope for is that we go farther in the next forty years toward a better America for all of us. We can be better. Think unity.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Sounds Like April Fool's, But It Isn't

Research on male chefs and line cooks has shown that "the boys" can't stand the heat in the kitchen and these men studied — all working in Gordon Ramsay's kitchen — have a notably lower sperm count. And, we all thought it was just working for Ramsay that was emasculating.

Ironically, a firefighter answered the call and has developed a heat reflector shield designed for the chef's apron pocket. Ice pack optional accessory.

The world can all breathe easier now that we know Gordon Ramsay can procreate.