Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A month or two ago, I met some folks who created a web marketplace for artisinal foods: Foodoro.com. I don't endorse everything they sell on their site but some things caught my eye…
  • Zukay live fermented salsas and relishes. I met the founder of the company at the Fourfold Path to Healing conference, and I've been eating their salsas. They're great! They have a zing to them that's missing from "garden variety" salsas. It's because they're live. Fermented foods have been a traditional accompanyment to meats, because fermented foods are a boon to digestion. Think of sauerkraut with sausages and pork; cornichons with pâté; kimchi with kalbi; cole slaw with barbeque. The problem is that nowadays, most pickles, relishes, salsas, etc. are not fermented—they are preserved with vinegar, and they are bottled and pasturized, so they don't have the health benefits of their archetypes. Zukay (and a few others) do it right.
  • Tiensvold organic buffalo steaks and ground buffalo. Buffalo is great. I am tempted to order some. The prices are surprisingly low.
  • American Abalone farmed abalone, live or frozen. I am intrigued.
If anyone buys from Foodoro and would like to post follow-up, please feel free to comment here!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Oake Knoll Ayrshires: raw milk

Last Tuesday, I went to the Oake Knoll Ayrshires at Lawton's Family Farm in Foxboro, MA, to get some raw milk. They have 10 or so cows, mostly (all?) Ayrshires. This farm seems to be the source of raw milk nearest to where I live in Cambridge, MA (USA). The drive took me 40 minutes, without traffic. There is no train station nearby. They sell raw milk and raw milk products by appointment. The first time you go in, they "orient" you, showing you around, and making sure that you understand the differences between raw milk and pasteurized milk. When I was there, they had the following products on offer:
  • Raw milk ($5 for a half-gallon).
  • Raw milk cheddar, havarti, and gouda (aged over 60 days, as required by law).
  • Eggs from henhouse hens ($4/dozen). These hens are able to run around and eat bugs and all the things that hens like to do—but they stay in the henhouse, where they have the 14+ hours of light they need for laying. During the summer, there are also eggs from outdoors hens. The outdoors eggs cost a little more.
  • Honey, maple syrup, and maple sugar candies.
  • Natural soaps and lip balm.
  • Ground beef and stewing beef ($6/lb).
They also have some barn cats that can climb up walls like squirrels. Pretty cool. For a friend, I bought one half-gallon of milk. For myself, I bought one half-gallon of milk, some extra-sharp raw milk cheddar, and a dozen eggs. The cheddar is great. I drank about half of my milk. Raw milk tastes okay to me, as opposed to pasteurized milk, which, from what I remember, tastes bad to me. Next time I will try a side-by-side comparison. The farm sells their milk in plastic containers. They said that in order to sell in glass containers, they would have to have sterilization equipment etc., and that this not economically practical, given their small size. I turned the rest of my milk into yogurt. I heated the milk up to 110 degrees, stirred in a few tablespoons of Seven Stars biodynamic yogurt as a starter, put it in two sterilized pint jars, and left them on a warming tray for half a day or so. The yogurt turned out very rich and creamy, mild, and a little more liquid than store-bought yogurt. It thickened up a bit once I put it in the refrigerator. It is delicious.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Michelle Obama Breaks Ground for White House Garden

She's digging up the South Lawn. Story here, including a map. 1100 square feet, including spinach, broccoli, various lettuces, kale and collard greens, assorted herbs and blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, and bees.

Stillman's Farm Meat-Up

Last Saturday, March 14, I attended the latest Stillman's Farm meat-up in Central Square. They appeared in a parking lot with a freezer full of farm-raised, grass-fed meat and naturally-raised poultry, and opened shop for an hour or so. I'd had their lamb several times before, and I was eager to buy some. Their lamb chops are the best I have had in recent memory. (My memory is spotty, but I always remember a good lamb chop.) Their ground lamb is exceptional, and I got some of that, too. Beyond that, I got some pork butt (which is known as "country-style ribs" when you cut it up). This I plan on slow-cooking; maybe I'll braise it in kombucha. I got some ground beef, which is an entirely different animal from the grocery-store variety—literally. For anyone who likes their hamburgers even a little rare, I think MOKO ground beef is a must. And I got some nice-looking T-bone steaks for my friend. I recommend their meat highly. They offer a meat CSA for folks who want a steady source of meat, at a 20% cost savings. I should add that last Thanksgiving, I got a 22-lb. heritage turkey from Stillman's. My mom and I brined it and roasted it to general acclaim. It was moist, tender, and very flavorful; the skin was crisp and delicious. Some of our eaters said it was the best turkey they had ever had. We can take some of the credit for having prepared it well, but Stillman gets the majority of the credit. I don't intend to go back to Butterball. (For some fun stories about turkeys, including stories about their sex lives, check out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.) [Photos: Van O' Meat; Bag O' Meat; and Happy Customer (that's my mom on the left!)]

Friday, March 13, 2009

In Connecticut, Raw Milk Is In Play

In the US and Canada, states and provinces fall into one of a few categories with respect to their stance on raw milk:
  • In many states of the US and all provinces of Canada, raw milk is not allowed to be sold, period. ("Cow-share" arrangements, wherein customers buy some fraction of a cow and hence own that cow's milk, have been judged to be legal in some jurisdictions and illegal in others. To see how this has played out for one organic dairy farmer in Ontario, click here.)
  • In some states, you can purchase raw milk only on the premises of certain specially-licensed farms.
  • In a few states, any store with a license to sell milk can sell raw milk. (The farms that distribute the raw milk are still subject to special licensing and inspection requirements.)
Connecticut is one of a handful of states in that last category. This may change, if some lawmakers get their way (see link). Here's the story, in brief: Last summer, four people in Connecticut got seriously sick from consuming a food product (raw milk) from a single source (one farm). As a result, the state legislature wants to significantly restrict sale and distribution of this food product. Now let's see…when people die from eating tainted ground beef, lots of people every year, are there calls for restriction of the sale and distribution of ground beef? How about spinach? Tomatoes? The situation in Connecticut affected product from one particular farm, and was probably the result of a sanitation problem on that farm, and/or inadequate inspection of that farm. An appropriate response would be to figure out what circumstances led to the bad milk, address these circumstances, document the situation very well for everyone's benefit, fine the farm if appropriate, and get on with it. NOT to pass laws making it harder for people to buy this product. The small-scale production and distribution of raw milk in the US actually makes it much less likely to cause a large-scale public health risk than any industrial food product. Raw milk is bottled on a farm-by-farm basis, and comes from smaller farms; industrial pasteurized milk is mixed in huge tanks, meaning that a taint is likely to affect many, many more people. And industrial ground beef—you don't even want to know. I've stopped eating the stuff myself. For more information about raw milk, including information about raw milk options in your area, visit the realmilk.org website.

Monday, March 9, 2009

H.R. 875 could end organic farming and farmer's markets. H.R. 875 must be stopped.

There's a bill in the House right now that would, among other things, make it potentially illegal to farm organically, and make it impractical to run a farmer's market, by adding unreasonable record-keeping requirements and liability. The bill can be found here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-875 Some commentary: From cryptogon.com From shepardpolitics.blogspot.com From OpEdNews From waronyou.com The last link includes some good ideas for what to do about it at the bottom of the page. Best: call your congressperson. Growing food is truly a revolutionary act, and may soon be an illegal one…
In brief: The bill would create a new "Food Safety Administration", which would have the authority to require registration and inspection of all "food production facilities", impose onerous record-keeping requirements that would seem to apply even to hot dog stands, bake sales, and backyard gardens, dictate how the food must be grown, and potentially assess impossible fines: (3) include, with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations, minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment, and water; … (A) IN GENERAL- Any person that commits an act that violates the food safety law (including a regulation promulgated or order issued under the food safety law) may be assessed a civil penalty by the Administrator of not more than $1,000,000 for each such act.

I just saw the film, Michael Schmidt: Organic Hero or Bioterrorist?

Hi all, About a week ago, I mentioned that I was going to attend a screening of the film, Michael Schmidt: Organic Hero or Bioterrorist? Well, I just did. Here's the deal: Michael Schmidt has been locking horns over raw milk with the Ontario provincial government since 1994. A lot of the story is described here. In Ontario, as in all of Canada and many states of the US, it is illegal to sell raw milk. In certain jurisdictions (Michigan for one), the legislature has gone so far as to make commerce in raw milk a felony. In places where selling raw milk is illegal, some raw milk producers skirt the law by selling partial ownership of cows to their customers, so that the milk they are delivering actually belongs to the recipient and is not being "sold" per se; in trial, courts' findings on the legality of this arrangement have varied. Michael Schmidt, a biodynamic dairy farmer in Ontario, believes that people should be able to choose what kind of food they consume. His opponents, including the Ontario government and the Canadian Dairy Commission, believe that government agencies and monopolistic trade guilds should be able to restrict what kinds of food are available to citizens. Because of his raw milk business, armed police raided his farm and seized much of his property, including filing cabinets, computers, and cheese-making equipment. Given that he did not resist their search and was willing to answer any questions they had, it is pretty clear that the seizure was intended as harassment. Since the raid, Michael Schmidt has been involved in a non-stop legal battle, including a 28-day hunger strike. This is a man who is udderly committed. New chapters of this story will be written in the next few weeks. Click here to see Michael Schmidt's website, or to donate to his legal defense fund.
(Let me take this moment to point out that Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has been championing raw milk issues in the US for some time. I claim that Ron Paul is the only important US politician who appears completely consistent with his stated ideals. Ron Paul, I salute you, as I have many times before, even if I don't agree with you on everything. I wish more Republicans were like you.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Future of Food conference at Boston University, May 8-9

On May 8-9, 2009, Boston University is hosting a conference entitled The Future of Food: Transatlantic Perspectives featuring a rousing roster of speakers, film screenings, meals, and opportunities to meet fascinating people, including Sandor Ellix Katz, international fermentation expert and author of my favorite book, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved! Cost: probably free Conference URL: http://www.bu.edu/euforyou/IHS/upcoming.html#May9 And if that's not fantastic enough: there are rumors that Sandor Ellix Katz will be giving a fermentation workshop during the day on May 9. Here's from the site:
We are organizing this conference in response to the growing concerns of local communities in the United States and Europe over matters of health, the environment, and the economy. The conference takes the growing global food crisis as a starting point and asks key stakeholders to imagine a different future. Our working hypothesis is that the current food crisis is systemic in nature and solutions from the past (more market, more regulation, etc.) will not allow the global food system to evolve in a sustainable way. The situation calls for innovations in infrastructure and re-thinking how food is grown, shipped, and distributed locally, regionally, and globally. How can we foster a global food system that safeguards cultural and biodiversity while providing safe and nourishing food for all citizens?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Schlesinger Library culinary collection

This afternoon, I visited the Schlesinger Library at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for a tour of the culinary collection. The curator of books and printed materials, together with the honorary curator of the culinary collection, provided a captivating, and way too short, taste of some of their 20,000 (!) holdings. Among many other things, they have Julia Child's and M.F.K. Fisher's personal book collections; a book containing the first known mention of serving cranberries ("cramberries") with turkey; a cookbook illustrated by Andy Warhol before he was famous; historically very significant Emancipation-era cookbooks authored by freed Black women; and, some of my favorites, cookbooks from the 1960s, one of which recommends shoplifting ingredients, among other unorthodox techniques. I wish I had taken thorough notes. I plan to go back and spend some more time there. The good news for everyone is that the Schlesinger Library is open to the public. You can just walk in the door. But it is not a lending library. You can't take anything out. In fact, you can't really bring anything in, either. No pens. No sharp objects. No liquids over 3 ozs. It's pretty much like getting on an airplane. I'm exaggerating a little. Unlike at the airport, you can put your banned items in a locker by the front door, for later retrieval. Their policy is entirely understandable, given the circumstances. If you visit, consider bringing a little digital camera, a laptop, and/or a voice recorder. And finally, dessert: A seminar taught by Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, entitled "Reading Historic Cookbooks: A Structured Approach". How incredibly cool is that. It is at exactly the wrong time for me. I could just barely do it. I would suffer greatly. I am very tempted.

Boston Public Market Association

The goal of the Boston Public Market Association is to create an indoor, year-round market for Boston, selling and promoting local, sustainable foods. I've been on the board of directors for most of a year.

We recently got some great press in the Boston Globe:

Hungry for public market, city plans site

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

MOKO (Meat Of Known Origin)

My New Year's resolution this year was to curtail my consumption of MOUO (Meat Of Unknown Origin), for environmental reasons, for ethical/karmic reasons, and for health reasons.

I declared that I would worry only about cows, pigs, and chickens and turkeys, since they represent most of the meat eaten in the US, and they endure most of the suffering. In all likelihood lambs are languishing, ostriches are oppressed, and ducks are done wrong; but these are a drop in the bucket compared to the 9+ billion chickens that are raised each year in the US, most of which spend no time outside of their barely-chicken-sized cages. So I'm spending my money, energy, and thought where it can make the biggest difference.

[Which brings me to one of my pet peeves: anti-foie gras activists. Foie gras is the liver from a duck (or goose) that has been force-fed in a specific way for a few weeks prior to being killed. The ducks raised for foie gras likely live far better lives than most domestic chickens. And these ducks are a minuscule population. Wouldn't an activist's time be better spent addressing the plight of the billions of chickens? For instance, working towards legislation like California's 2008 Proposition 2, which requires that chicken, sow, and calf cages be large enough for the animals to stand up and turn around. Even if it hadn't passed, simply having it on the ballot would have made many people aware of the plight of factory animals. And it passed. I suspect many of the anti-foie gras activists are motivated by undeclared anti-elitism; I would have less of a problem with them if they would admit that this was their motivation. Disclaimer: I myself love eating foie gras. The history of it is actually fascinating.]

I decided that the test for my happiness with a piece of meat would be whether or not I knew the name of the farm it was from.

This is quite a severe test. In the supermarket, for instance, it is not enough for things to be labeled "organic" or "free-range". I've noticed that some Whole Foods stores in different parts of the country have more Meat Of Known Origin than the stores here in Boston. In Portland, Maine, for instance, the steaks were labeled with the names of farms. In San Francisco, I was able to get turkey from a known farm. Boston doesn't do well in this regard. The meat I've been eating recently has come from local farms (Stillman's, Austin Farm, etc.). During the summer, you can find local MOKO at farmer's markets; during the winter, you can get it as part of a meat CSA, you can get it straight from a farm, or you can get it from a market that does explicit sourcing, like Lionette's Market in Boston.

My meat options when dining out are often limited, making me a functional vegetarian at times, or a pescetarian at least. Some higher-end restaurants these days annotate their menus with the origins of their meats. You can always ask the server where the meat is from. If enough people ask often enough, restaurants' purchasing may adapt. I miss some Asian foods, like pho and dim sum. I broke my vows in a Vietnamese restaurant the other week; I had a cold-flu, and took some pho as therapy.

I am prepared to allow myself some other exemptions, besides illness. If someone has slaved over the stove all day to prepare me some Meat Of Unknown Origin, I'll probably eat it. Likewise, if I'm traveling and have no reasonable options, I might declare an exemption, although this hasn't really happened yet. (I keep some buffalo jerky in my backpack.)

What if I'm in Europe? They treat their animals better, sometimes. Does it make sense to worry about MOKO there? If it comes up, I may start asking folks where the meat is from.

What about meat that is not from the US but is sold in US stores? Maybe that could fall into the same category? I saw some nice dry sausages at the store the other day…but I did not buy them. For special occasions, I may make an exception. Etc.

I view all of this as a starting point, and as an exercise in consciousness, rather than as any kind of dogma. Finally, just to make my eating more complicated, around the beginning of February, I started following a Traditions-based diet (based on the work of Sally Fallon and Weston A. Price), which calls for a lot of animal products: specifically meat, animal fat, animal bone broths, organ meats, and so on.

I can't in good faith complain, because I am blessed and lucky in many ways, and have access to an abundance of good food to eat; but it is way harder getting MOKO in 2009 Boston than it should be.