Monday, December 20, 2010

Food Safety Bill Passes Senate (Again). Not A Good Thing.

Last night, the US Senate unexpectedly passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a bill granting the FDA broad new powers to regulate food. It is expected to cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, and require the hiring of thousands of new FDA inspectors (link). The bill now goes back to the House, which is almost certain to pass it, and on to the President, who will sign it.

Aside from its expense, the main problem with the bill is that the FDA's technological vision of "food safety" is at odds with the idea of "real food" (link).

The only reason the bill isn't a COMPLETE disaster is that it contains some exceptions for very small food producers.

Regardless, it is a step in the wrong direction.

Why did this bill pass now, when it seemed like it was stuck in the legislature? Slate speculates:
The best theory I've heard is that key Republicans…decided that it wasn't worth keeping the Senate in session past Christmas to debate it. It's a Christmas miracle, if the key characteristics of Christmas are self-interest and fatigue.
At least as likely an explanation as any other.

It's unlikely to get killed in the House, but if you would like to make your voice heard, please contact your representative.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our Food System Is Broken. Buying Local Food Can Help.

For many of us, the fact that our food system is broken is not news.

The US government subsidizes crops we don't need more of (like "number 2 field corn"), which get processed into foods that are bad for us (high-fructose corn syrup), and are fed to animals who get sick from eating them (cows). Vegetable farmers receive no subsidies.

Government incentives and regulatory agencies encourage centralized, industrialized food production and processing, which lead to food-borne illness and recalls on a massive scale, not to mention the disappearance of local variation. Time was, you could drive across the country and get some local color by visiting family-run roadside eateries; today, most of your options are chain restaurants serving food from Sysco and other foodservice distributors.

We have become so dependent on food from other regions that any sort of crisis—whether it be transportation fuel shortage, water shortage, or natural or man-made disaster—will have its effects magnified, because it will have an impact on the food system nationwide.

How can buying local food help?

First, when we buy food directly from local, small farmers, we cut out the intermediary. The profits all go directly to the farmer, rather than going mostly to the distributor. The farmer is able to stay in business and continue growing food, rather than selling the farm to a real estate developer. Furthermore, we are able to talk to the farmer. What kinds of anti-pest measures were taken? Grass-fed, grain-fed, or a combination? Why? What's good right now? What's coming next week? How's the family? And so on.

Second, when we buy local food, we are creating a more robust, resilient food system. It is to our advantage to have more food produced locally, whatever sort of food is suited to our climate, because in the event of a discontinuity of some sort, it may become more difficult or expensive to transport food thousands of miles. Buying eggs from a national distributor is, in effect, "putting all our eggs in one basket".

Third, local food is likely to be fresher, tastier, and more nutritious.

This isn't the first time anyone has made these arguments, and I hope it won't be the last. And of course there are many more arguments to be made in favor of local food.

We need to keep making these arguments until things are working right.

(This post was submitted as part of Fight Back Friday over at Food Renegade!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


If you drink milk or eat butter, you should be willing to eat veal. Or at the very least you should be okay with the idea that someone, somewhere is eating veal.

Here's why:

Dairy cows, in order to give milk, must have calves. Half the calves are male. Male calves don't have a role to play on a dairy farm. Hence, veal.

Am I saying that we should all go to the big supermarket and buy veal? No. The veal they sell in the supermarket is no better than the beef at the supermarket, and it can be worse, because of the way some calves are treated. What about "organic" veal? Not necessarily any different. A few years ago, two employees of a processor specializing in organic veal were charged with cruelty after "hidden-camera video taken by the Humane Society of the United States showed days-old calves being dragged, kicked and shocked as they were loaded off a truck and taken to slaughter." (link)

So where is the veal that we should be willing to eat?

It is at the small farms. Find a local dairy or beef farm, ask them about veal, and buy some from them. You will be supporting their business. You will also be getting a versatile, tender, and delicious meat for yourself and your family.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Organic Eggs Are Not All Good

Organic, "free-range" eggs from the grocery store are all pretty good, right?


The word "organic" on the package does not guarantee that the hens had humane treatment, space to move around, or access to the outdoors. And it doesn't guarantee that the eggs are healthy for you to eat, especially if you choose to eat your eggs raw. Pretty much all the word "organic" guarantees is that the hens received organic feed.

For the disheartening details, check this excellent report from the Cornucopia Institute, which includes a scorecard naming specific organic brands.

Also check Dr. Mercola's recent posts on the subject of eggs, here and here.

The solution:

Find a local farmer you trust, and buy your eggs from that farmer.

For reasons why, see my earlier post on the subject of Eggs of Known Origin.

This post is linked to from Healthy Home Economist's Monday Mania.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Forbes Magazine Still Doesn't Get It: Monsanto Is Still Evil

At the beginning of 2010, Forbes Magazine named Monsanto "Company of the Year", and wrote a long paean to them. I responded here.

It's worth reading the comments posted to the Forbes website in response to their article, here. I looked through the first page of them: no one supported Monsanto; everyone expressed dismay at Monsanto's business. Among other useful links that came out of the comments: How to Avoid GMO/Monsanto (aimed at folks buying seeds, necessary because Monsanto is buying up as many independent seed companies as they can); Non-GMO Shopping Guide (including a short Tips for Avoiding GMOs and an extensive Guide, also available for iPhone).

I recently learned that Forbes published a "retraction", of sorts. The author who wrote the original article has written a new piece entitled "Forbes Was Wrong On Monsanto. Really Wrong." I saw the title and was filled with hope. Had Forbes come to understand that their endorsement of Monsanto was short-sighted?

No. They're saying that they were wrong because they had predicted great things for Monsanto's stock price, and it had not performed as hoped. They are still defending Monsanto's fundamental strategy.

To me, this is a vivid illustration of the growing divide between those who favor corporate interests, and those who favor the human interests. This divide is MUCH more important than Democrat-versus-Republican or liberal-versus-conservative. I would urge everyone to evaluate life choices, small and large, using this frame of reference, rather than the "political" frames.

Oh, and please cancel your subscription to Forbes.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Voracious Vegan Starts Eating Meat

Tasha, author of the top-ten vegan blog The Voracious Vegan, has started eating meat, and has renamed her blog

This has stirred up quite a controversy.

She posted here, ten days ago, about the medical and spiritual journey that led her back to eating meat, after years as a vegan. (Her story is similar to the story told by Lierre Keith in the excellent book, The Vegetarian Myth.)

Tasha received so many views and comments on her blog that her web server crashed. She also received death threats and other harassment from putative vegans and animal rights activists. She posted here, a few days later, about this fallout.

Many of the constructive comments on the blog post are worth reading. And lots of other folks have blogged insightfully about the situation; you can find trackback links at the bottom of Tasha's posts.

Some of the perspectives represented in the comments include vegans who are having similar health problems; vegans who are doing just fine; pseudo-vegans who secretly eat meat; omnivores who eat only Meat Of Known Origin; and a good number of people who are concerned most of all for Tasha's well-being, and are happy to hear that her health has improved dramatically.

My observation:

Many vegans are motivated by concern for animal welfare. They are horrified by factory animal farming.

Many thoughtful omnivores are also motivated by concern for animal welfare, and are also horrified by factory animal farming.

We all want to see a food system that is healthier and more just for everyone. We all have different ideas about exactly what that looks like, and how to get there. And each of us has ideas that evolve over time.

Fundamentally, our goals and motivations are similar.

I would ask us all to focus on our common ground, where possible, rather than focussing on our differences.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy & Healthy Holidays e-course

Lots of people obsess over calories and fat and vitamins, in the hopes of being healthier.

I say that the biggest step you can take to being healthier is cooking your own food.

To that end, I'd like to recommend the Happy & Healthy Holidays e-course from Jenny at Nourished Kitchen. She has put together a cooking course including 29 videos, 50 menus, and 175 recipes presenting healthy, nourishing, traditional recipes for a variety of autumn and winter holidays: Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas. (And before you complain that Thanksgiving has already come and gone, I will point out that Thanksgiving dishes are delicious and appropriate all winter long…)

You can get the whole e-course series for $89, or individual lessons for $15 each if you don't want the whole thing.

For details, click here.

And if you'd like a free sample lesson, you can get one here.

Signup ends December 1!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wise Traditions 2010 Conference

This year's Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions Conference starts two weeks from today, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

I went to the conference last year in Schaumburg, IL, and it blew me away. Really. It played a very significant role in helping to shape and refine my thoughts about food and health and nutrition.

Check out the list of presentations for this year's conference. Then check out the food menu. I pretty much guarantee that this is the best conference food you will ever find. I can offer a couple of explanations. First of all, a huge amount of the food is donated by sponsors who want to showcase their great natural products. Second of all, traditional food lends itself well to large-scale preparation. Stews, braises, charcuterie, and fermented foods are pretty durable…

If you are coming from far away, it may be a little late to get flights/hotels/etc, although there is a forum on the website for rideshares and roomshares.

You can register for the whole thing, or day-by-day.

-----> To register, click here.  <-----

I'll be there, along with lots of other Real Food Media bloggers. Let me know if you'll be there and would like to meet up and chat over some liverwurst!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Killer Celery (Reason #192 To Eat Real Food)

"4 deaths tied to bacteria at food processing plant" in Texas. What was the food in question? Celery. What was celery doing in a processing plant? Details here.

We've seen the same story before, with eggs, luncheon meats, organic tomatoes, spinach, and so on. It seems like the frequency of these crises is increasing.

Are these foods all inherently risky?

I think that's beside the point.

The problem is that when food is processed on a large scale by people who really don't care, trouble is around the corner. Government oversight is not enough, because (a) the interests of the regulatory agencies are often not aligned with individuals' (in fact, sometimes they are diametrically opposed!); (b) even when their interests are aligned with ours, the agencies are spread too thin to actually do their putative jobs; and (c) they often step in only after the fact, if at all.

Your best defense against getting sick from industrial supply chain food is to avoid it when you can. Rather than buying pre-cut, plastic-wrapped, packaged, processed food from a supermarket, convenience store, or bad restaurant, consider buying whole, unmolested food from a small-scale food producer such as a local farmer. It's not always possible, but it's something to aim for.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fermenting Vegetables

Last weekend, I did a fermentation demo as part of the Urban Homesteaders' League Market Stand at the Union Square farmers' market in Somervile, MA. (Photos.) The Market Stand is a great project that brings together skill-sharing presenters with farmers' market attendees. Among other things, it features a reference library (that UHL mastermind Lisa Gross schleps back and forth to the stand), a swap table (where you can leave things and take them—I left some fermented vegetables!), and a handout containing notes from each of the presenters.

I would encourage anyone who's around Cambridge or Somerville either of the next two weekends to go check it out. And I would encourage folks in other cities to do something similar to the Market Stand! It gets folks thinking about food (and other topics) a little more deeply. They come home from the market not only with a bag of turnips, but with new insights into those turnips.

Below are the notes that I distributed to go with my presentation.


Today, most of the food we consume has been preserved in one way or another. We rely heavily on refrigeration, freezing, and sterilization/canning. These are all modern techniques. Refrigerating and freezing were impractical during harvest season until recently; canning dates back only to the early 1800s.

Vegetable fermenting is an older preserving technique. There is evidence of fermented kimchi, a close relative of sauerkraut, from as long ago as 600-1000 BCE.

Fermentation relies on the action of microbes to change the chemical composition of our food. Lactofermentation of vegetables, in particular, takes place when Lactobacillus and other types of human-friendly bacteria convert naturally-occuring plant sugars into lactic acid. As the acidity rises, the medium become less and less hospitable to other microbes—most notably the human-unfriendly ones.

Fermentation has advantages over other preservation methods.

When you compare it to canning, you find that fermentation creates an ecosystem in a state of stable equilibrium. You don't have to start your fermentation from a completely sterile state; in fact, you can't! Fermentation also preserves, even enhances, enzymes and vitamins that are diminished or destroyed by the heat of canning.

Fermenting vegetables does not require any electricity. It requires only some salt, to give the Lactobacillus a head start over the human-unfriendly bacteria, and an ambient temperature between roughly 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be found by digging down a few feet into the ground, even at the height of summer or in the depths of winter.

Many raw plants contain compounds that our bodies can't process very well. Fermentation helps us here by breaking down these compounds. Fermented cabbage and fermented soybeans are much more digestible than their unfermented counterparts, for instance.

Finally, fermenting vegetables is fun, and provides a great way for you to get back in touch with your food—literally!


Choose freshly-picked vegetables. Prime candidates include cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, and radishes. In my experience, these work excellently (presumably because they tend to host healthy colonies of Lactobacillus). You can ferment just about any other vegetables, too, but I would advise combining them with one of the vegetables I mention above, or with a starter. The easiest starter to use is a portion of fermented vegetables or juice from a previous batch.

I like to combine turnips, beets, and parsnips. Cabbage, onions, and carrots. Or just turnips on their own. Any of these will work.

Wash and/or peel the vegetables. Cut off any parts you're not using.


Weigh the vegetables. For every pound of vegetables, allocate two teaspoons of salt. Alternatively, for every kilogram, use 20 grams of salt. This works out to roughly 2% salt by weight. Use sea salt or Kosher salt that is free of additives.

Slice or shred the vegetables finely, with a knife or a box grater.

Mix the vegetables together with salt. Add herbs and spices as desired. Pack the mixture tightly into Ball jars or other jars with tightly-closing lids, leaving at least an inch of space at the top. Really push down on the mixture until liquid starts to rise over the top. Close the lid. Leave it at cool room temperature. (Root cellar, cool pantry, or bury it!)

Every day or two, open the lid, taste it with a clean fork, push down until liquid rises again, and replace the lid.

When you like the way it tastes, start eating it! The colder you store it, the more slowly it will sour. When it becomes very sour, it can still be used in soups and stews.


Put the vegetables, whole or in pieces, with herbs and spices as desired, into large Ball jars with tightly-closing lids. Using water that is free of chlorine, make a 6% brine by dissolving 60 grams of salt per liter of water, or approximately 4 tablespoons per quart. (The brine should be at room temperature.) Pour the brine into the jars to cover the vegetables, leaving a little space at the top. Close the lid tightly.

Wait a week, or much longer, before opening the lid.

Eat the vegetables!

(For variation 2 in particular, apparatus can be helpful, to keep the vegetables under the liquid and to keep the "bad" microbes at bay. I've had excellent experiences with Pickl-It, for instance.) [UPDATE: see here for some more thoughts about airlock contraptions.]


Alex Lewin is a fermenter, health coach, software engineer, real food activist, and urban biker. He authors a blog called "Feed Me Like You Mean It". He thinks that Ball jars are the ultimate glassware. His heroes include Sandor Katz, Vandana Shiva, Anthony Bourdain, and Kurt Vonnegut.


Real Food Fermentation, by Alex Lewin
Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Ellix Katz

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mechanically-Separated Chicken (Is Not Intrinsically Horrifying)

I feel compelled to comment on the "Mechanically-Separated Chicken" (aka "Chicken Nuggets") story that has been making the rounds (Google search here) (weird and/or cool videos here, here, here). It turns out that the situation was a bit sensationalized. Someone did some fact-checking, rather than simply citing other blogs (ahem), and posted their findings here.

Having said that, I would like to share my own thoughts about the "Chicken Nuggets" story.

The parts of the story that disturbed me were the murky provenance of the chicken bits, the scale on which they are processed and fed to naïve Americans and others, and the "soaked in ammonia" claim. In my mind, commodity ground meats are the ultimate Meat Of Unknown Origin. Not only do you not know where they're from—you have no idea what they are.

The idea of eating entire animals, including bones, is not horrifying to me per se. If you have ever eaten sardines out of a can, you have eaten bones. Eating broken-down bones, not surprisingly, is an excellent way to get minerals. Much of the virtue of stocks and broths, including old favorites like chicken noodle soup, comes from the contribution of boiled bones. Much of the flavor in clam chowder comes from boiled shells. Gelatin comes from bones and hooves. The great traditions of sausage-making and charcuterie use all sorts of animal parts, including blood. Restaurants from Paris to Beijing, some of them quite fancy, feature brains, tongues, intestines, glands, and lots of other organs.

So, for the record:

As long as animals are of known origin, and inedible bits (gall bladders, scent glands, etc.) are removed, I am in favor of grinding up animals and eating them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Google Uses Goats To Mow Its Lawn

Check it out here.

"It costs us about the same as mowing, and goats are a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers."

Anyone out there want to set up a rent-a-goat business? I would consider investing, and I bet others would too. Or maybe you could get an SBA loan.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fermentation Demo, Sat 10/9/2010, 10:45AM, Union Square Farmers' Market

I'll be doing a fermentation demo using whatever autumn vegetables fall readily to hand at the Union Square Farmers' Market this Saturday at 10:45AM.

I'll be doing this as part of the Urban Homesteaders' League UHL Market Stand, which hosts a series of how-to workshops every few Saturdays. Joining the UHL meetup page is the best way to hear about local sustainability events, including a lot of food-related ones. Tremendous stuff.

Map of Union Square:

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fermentation Demo, Wed 9/29/2010, 12PM, Cambridge Center Farmers' Market

I'll be giving a vegetable fermentation demo at the how2heroes table at noon sharp tomorrow at the Cambridge Center Farmers' Market, at 5 Cambridge Center:

I'll be done, packed up, and out of there by 12:45PM at the latest.

My plan is to get some turnips or rutabagas, beets, and parsnips, peel them all, shred them on a box grater, salt them, and start them fermenting. Low-tech. Keepin' it real.

Please come by if you're available.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Spicy Cole Slaw (Cortido) Video

Meant to post this a while ago: a video from the demo I did on August 4 at the Cambridge Center Farmer's Market.

My take on a spicy cole slaw—I called it "Cortido Americano" ("Americano" so that no one could complain that it was inauthentic…).

Baby Carrots

A sophisticated, $25 million ad campaign has been launched promoting baby carrots, by a coalition of carrot farmers. Article here, videos here. For instance:

Watch some of the videos. Slightly surreal.

A good thing, all in all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Very Local Meat

I just came across this excellent article about raising rabbits entitled, amusingly, Backyard Bunnies Are the New Urban Chickens.

Backyard is pretty much as local as it gets.

Raising rabbits is tempting. I've also thought about raising guinea pigs for meat, as 98% (!) of rural households do in the Peruvian Andes (according to this article).

Rabbits and guinea pigs eat scraps, peels, and other by-products of human cuisine. You can use their waste as fertilizer. Their quick reproductive cycles make it easy to get started. And they are silent, unlike chickens.

Comments from any rabbit-raisers out there?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Akimenko Meats, Neighborhood Butcher, Coming To Inman Square, Cambridge

I was very excited when I learned that someone was opening a butcher shop selling Meat Of Known Origin half a mile from my house.

That someone is Vadim Akimenko. His shop will be at 1164 Cambridge Street, and is scheduled to open in November.

I had the pleasure of talking with him a few days ago. I will detail our conversation in a future post. In the meantime, for a little taste of what he's about, here's how he characterized his mission on his kickstarter page:

Akimenko Meats strives to bridge the gap between the city dweller and our local farmers. Our commitment to our neighbors is to bring in local, organic, and sustainable products while supporting the local agricultural community, building customer awareness, ultimately aiding our local economy.

Akimenko Meats will deal primarily with farms in a 250 mile radius and whole animals. To help make Akimenko Meats more sustainable we will offer house made charcuteries and stocks, making use of the whole animal. Our ultimate goal is to make local and sustainable meats available to all walks of life and year round. Akimenko Meats does not believe that eating with an ethical conscience should be a privilege that only the wealthy can afford.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

380,000 Pounds Of "Luncheon Meats" Recalled (Reason #487 To Avoid Meat Of Unknown Origin)

When I was in cooking school, I took a food safety class. At the end of the class, I passed a test, and received a ServSafe food safety certification.

The class was quite fun. Our teacher was hilarious. She gave us clever ways to remember the things we'd need to know for the test. You could get staph infections when the staff didn't wash their hands. And you could get listeria from luncheon meats.

I thought of her when I learned that Zemco Industries is recalling 380,000 pounds of luncheon meats due to concerns about contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. For the whole story, click here. According to the USDA, "Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease"

What can we do to avoid risks like this one, and like the problem with eggs a few days ago?

Simple, really: Know where your food is from. And avoid especially Meat Of Unknown Origin and Eggs Of Unknown Origin.

For more on Meat Of Known Origin, see here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eat Real Eggs (Eggs Of Known Origin)

Salmonella outbreaks, probably affecting 1,300 people, have put eggs in the news recently. 550 million eggs have been recalled from Wright County Egg and from Hillandale Farms in Iowa.

550 million eggs. From two farms.

A large egg is about 2.25 inches long. If you laid 550 million eggs end to end, it would reach more than 3/4 of the way around the earth.

That's a lot of eggs.

Both of these farms are linked to a certain Austin "Jack" DeCoster, a "habitual violator" of environmental regulations, according to the state of Iowa.

What can YOU do to avoid getting sick because of a "business man" like DeCoster, and to increase the safety of our food system?

Here's what you can do: buy eggs from a small farm, at a farmers' market, or at a market selling local food.

Why will that help?

First of all, small, independent farmers are far more likely to raise their chickens under sanitary and humane conditions. The kinds of massive, crowded chicken houses that cause sanitary problems don't even make sense for small farmers.

Second of all, if you buy your eggs from someone who actually played some role in their production, you can ask questions about farming techniques, safety records, and so on. And, more than likely, they're eating the eggs themselves.

Third of all, if for some reason there is a contamination problem on a small farm, it might affect hundreds or perhaps thousands of eggs—not half a billion.

Fourth of all, small farms that are selling under their own names rely on their reputation much more than agribusinesses whose products end up sold under tens or hundreds of brands. So a small farm with repeated problems would not last very long. Furthermore, regulatory agencies tend to deal with small farms more quickly and harshly than they deal with large agribusinesses.

Even at $3, $4, or $5 a dozen, which is what you might pay at a farmers' market in Boston, eggs are still a bargain. Especially when you compare them to the price of going out to eat. Or the cost of going to the hospital with salmonella.

As reported in:

Friday, August 20, 2010

Local Food Matters: A Response to "Math Lessons For Locavores"

Many people have emailed me about a New York Times Op-Ed from August 19, 2010: Math Lessons for Locavores, by Stephen Budiansky. I've started to feel a little silly continually cutting-and-pasting my response, so I decided to blog it!


Budiansky's blog is called, a name which may reflect his wish to be seen as controversial or contrary—and what better liberal sacred cow to assail than local food? Budiansky's main point in his piece is that food miles don't matter, because food transportation is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to food-related energy usage. This is a similar argument to the one that James McWilliams made in his book Just Food; in fact I suspect that Budiansky has read McWilliams book recently.

Budiansky's argument is rich in facts and figures but devoid of footnotes and references. While this may be the nature of an Op-Ed, it does make it hard for a critical reader to explore the facts. Regardless, even if we take all of his facts and figures to be accurate and contextually appropriate, his piece is flawed in may of the same ways as McWilliams' book (ways which I explored here).

Both he and McWilliams neglect or discount the value of a strong local economy.

Buying local helps to build the local economy, and helps to support small businesses.

Why is that important?

Supporting small businesses rather than large corporations is likely to result in a more uniform distribution of wealth—money to the middle-class rather than to the kingpins.

Also, if we keep money in the hands of the middle-class in our local economy, then the place where we live will perhaps be a nicer place to live.

Also, more local food production leaves us better in the face of some sort of infrastructure breakdown that might make food transportation more difficult.

What do I mean by infrastructure breakdown? Fuel shortage…natural disaster…human-made disaster…war…political crisis…strike…

So while transportation fuel is interesting (or maybe not), it is only one piece of the puzzle. That, at least, we can all agree on.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Am Doing A Spicy Cole Slaw Demo Wednesday At 1PM

I'm doing a demo for how2heroes at 1PM on Wednesday at the Cambridge Center Farmer's Market, located at 5 Cambridge Center right next to the Kendall Square T stop.

(Click here for interactive map.)

If you haven't seen the how2heroes website, check it out! It's full of awesome cooking videos.

I'm making a fermented spicy cole slaw that I have dubbed "Cortido Americano". It is a clean, tangy mix of shredded vegetables that is a great accompaniment for meats and fish, and is perfect in sandwiches or wraps.

There will be samples for tasting.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Boston Public Market Promised $10M And Building

The Boston Public Market Association, on whose board I serve, has been promised $10M and a home in an existing building. BPMA will use that money to plan and build a public food market selling local food.

The building will provide more than twenty thousand square feet of space for vendors, and is located in a neighborhood with heavy foot traffic near subway lines, bus lines, and commuter rail lines.

This is a major step forward for the BPMA. Thank you to everyone who emailed the governor on our behalf!

Some details in this Boston Globe story.

Watch this space for more information, coming soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

LAPD Raids Raw Buying Club With Guns Drawn

Click here to see the story in the LA Times.

Not only are there no victims here—it's clear to me that no laws are being broken. [UPDATE: I mean to say that Rawesome is breaking no laws. LAPD is another matter.]

There's good government and there's bad government, just like there's good touching and bad touching.

I'll let you decide which one this is.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No-Buy July: I Will Buy Nothing Unnecessary For A Month

I have decided not to buy anything unnecessary for a month, starting July 15. (Not precisely No-Buy July, but I thought the name was catchy.)

I will opt out of being a "consumer", and attempt simply to be a human being for a while.

I will still buy animal and vegetable products as I see fit, but I will avoid buying prepared foods, and I will avoid going to restaurants when I have a choice (travel may make it difficult).

I will buy things that are truly necessary for health, transportation, business continuity, and the fulfillment of outstanding obligations.

I may attend events.

Beyond that, I'm going to try not to buy things or spend money on anything.

Love to hear any thoughts anyone has about this.

I will give updates if there's interest.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Critique Of The China Study; The Nature Of Scientific Innovation

The China Study, sponsored by Cornell and Oxford Universities and conducted by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, concludes that consuming animal products causes chronic disease, and advocates a plant-based diet. It is often cited by people who favor plant-based diets.

Establishing causal relationships between diet and disease via statistics-based population studies can be difficult. Correlations in data are often mistaken for causation, especially when someone is trying to prove a point. Beyond that, there are always many variables to consider, and it's nearly impossible to control for them all.

Still, scientists and epidemiologists are experts at this sort of thing: it's what they're trained to do. Right?

I just read this excellent critique of The China Study, on Denise Minger's blog. Take a look and see what you think. I find no fault with it.

It is fascinating to me that an amateur (albeit a very smart one) can find fundamental problems with research sponsored and carried out by professionals with years of training and huge budgets.

Is T. Colin Campbell a careless scientist? Unlikely.

Do Cornell, Oxford, and T. Colin Campbell have an agenda that they are advancing, besides improving public health? Campbell may be motivated by financial considerations, but what about the others who reviewed his work?

Is it that the "plant-based diet" has become the flavor-of-the-day, and that scientists who want funding must cleave to this dogma?

The physicist Max Planck once said, "An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning."

What Planck does not mention is that the validity or utility of a new scientific paradigm is not the only deciding factor in its acceptance. A powerful, multi-decade marketing campaign can affect the thinking of an entire generation of up-and-coming scientists and lay-people.

In physics, we have string theory, which is not verifiable and predicts nothing measurable, yet has dominated theoretical physics for decades. Many young physicists are "string theorists", having spent their professional lives working in string theory. They are invested, literally, in its continued popularity.

In nutrition theory, we have low-fat, which was promoted masterfully by Ancel Keys from the 1950s through the 1970s. Health in the US has gone sharply downhill in the forty years since low-fat hit the mainstream. Of course this is merely correlation, not necessarily causality, and of course there are many other variables involved. But modern nutritionists and dietitians are invested in the low-fat paradigm, and are reluctant to consider that it might be wrong.

Could it be that low-fat is grounded in marketing rather than good science?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Make Your Own Deodorant (It's A Deodorant And A Dessert Topping!)

I stopped using mainstream antiperspirant a long time ago, both because it irritated my skin and because I was concerned about the health implications of the aluminum it contained. I tried a variety of "natural" deodorants, like Tom's of Maine, but wasn't able to find one that was completely satisfactory. Some of them irritated my skin, perhaps because of the base—propylene glycol, alcohol, etc. Some didn't work very well. Some of them ("rock" deodorants) left me with further questions about safety. I was never quite satisfied. I was not willing to sacrifice health, so I sacrificed some functionality. I found a great aloe-based deodorant by Alvera that was not quite heavy-duty enough for me. But I didn't mind if I smelled a little sweaty sometimes, so I used it for a while.

Things must be worse for the ladies. Many women shave their armpits, making them more vulnerable to irritation. Also, many women would rather not smell sweaty, or have big sweat stains under their armpits. Not as big a deal for many guys I think.

I'd been thinking about making my own deodorant for a while. A few weeks ago, inspired by some blog posts (here and here) I took the plunge. I haven't looked back.

Here's the recipe I used:
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 4 tbs baking soda
  • 2 tbs cornstarch (or 3 tbs arrowroot—see Addendum 2, below)
  • 8 drops assorted essential oils (including tea tree)
Melt the coconut oil (a hot water bath should do it). Put it all together in a half-pint mason jar. Shake, shake, shake, stir, stir. Put it in the freezer for a while so that it solidifies.

I had a bottle of mixed tea tree-lavender oil sitting around, so that's what I used. Tea tree is a good place to start, because of its natural antimicrobial properties. I may try adding some ginger. Garlic has some great qualities, too…tempting!

If your house is warm and your deodorant is liquid when you want to use it, give it a shake.

To use it, dip your finger in and spread it around in your armpit. You may want to wash your hands afterwards, but you don't have to.

And if you add some lemon oil and a pinch of stevia, you may be able to say, "It's a deodorant…and a dessert topping!"

ADDENDUM (1/2/2011):

I have recently been using a modified version of the recipe. It is basically the same, but uses only 3 tbs baking soda and 1.5 tbs corn starch. It works just as well, and is slightly milder.

ADDENDUM 2 (6/21/2012):

Folks have raised concern over using corn starch, since non-organic corn starch is almost certainly going to be GMO. One way to address this is to use organic corn starch (which cannot be GMO). Another is to substitute arrowroot. Opinions vary about whether or not arrowroot is a one-to-one substitute for cornstarch. In my experience, you may want to use half again as much arrowroot as cornstarch. I have annotated the above recipe to reflect this.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Edible Personal Care Products, Part 1

I believe that anything I routinely put on my skin should be edible. It makes sense. If I'm not willing to eat it, why should I be smearing it all over my body? It all gets absorbed and goes to the same place, right? The skin is the biggest organ, and all of that?

Are your personal care products edible?

Mine are getting there.

In order, roughly, from most delicious to least:
  • Coconut Oil. There was a parody commercial on Saturday Night Live many years ago for a product that was both a floor wax AND a dessert topping. It was very funny. Well, folks, sometimes life imitates art. Coconut oil actually IS both a floor wax (throw in a little lemon oil) and a dessert topping (especially when mixed with, say, honey), not to mention skin moisturizer, hair conditioner, aftershave lotion, massage oil, etc. And it's a wonderful cooking oil, it's great for baking, and it's perfect for seasoning your cast iron cookware, cutting boards, and wood-handled kitchen tools. It also makes a great base for home-made deodorant…
  • Coconut-based deodorant. My home-made deodorant uses a coconut oil base, is completely edible, and works better than anything I've tried recently. My female focus group even liked it. Stay tuned for more details in an upcoming blog post.
  • Jojoba Oil. Another great moisturizing oil. A little thicker than coconut oil. Being a nut oil, jojoba oil is somewhat delicate, so if you don't go use it up pretty quickly, you might want to keep it in the fridge.
  • Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. I use it for washing vegetables and for washing dishes. Beyond that, it's a great hand and body wash, and while I wouldn't enjoy eating a large quantity of it, there is absolutely nothing alarming in the list of ingredients. Add some coconut oil to make a good, but not great, shampoo. (My hair can put up with it for a month or so before my scalp gets flaky and I resort to a store-bought shampoo. I've tried a few Internet formulas, like baking soda and apple cider vinegar, but I've not found one that works perfectly for me. If anyone has an idea, I'd love to hear it!)
  • Tooth Powder. The one I use isn't perfect. It contains a (plant-based) detergent which is probably not great to eat. But here's what it DOESN'T contain: fluoride or saccharine. One of my next projects will probably be to make my own tooth powder. Baking soda, salt, mint oil…not sure what else.
  • Tea Tree Oil.  I really wouldn't enjoy eating a whole lot of this, but if I had intestinal parasites, it might be just the thing. It works great for topical treatment of minor cuts, bites, irritations, pimples, fungal infections, and so on.
Bon appetit! Comments and suggestions are welcome as always.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pickl-It Versus Harsch: May The Best Vat Win



A couple of months ago, I posted a Fermenting And Pickling Resource List. In response to my post, someone mentioned a device called Pickl-It ( I updated my resource list to include Pickl-It. Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by the makers of Pickl-It, who offered to send me a free sample. I accepted their offer. I have been using Pickl-It ever since.

Pickl-It includes a glass jar with a hinged lid and gasket, a hole in the lid, an airlock in the hole, and a glass disc as a weight. Pickl-It also includes a plug for the hole, for when you don't need the airlock.


Harsch is a German company that makes a stoneware pickling crock, also called Gärtopf.

Harsch is a sturdy stoneware thing, glazed, with a heavy lid and a pair of ceramic weights.


Both of these devices serve the same purpose: to create good conditions for lactofermenting vegetables (or other things). Both are sealed vessels with airlocks, so that gases can escape as needed, but nothing can get in. Both use weights to keep fermenting foods submerged.

Pickl-It's airlock is of the type one might use in brewing beer, and its weight is a glass disc. Harsch employs an open mote filled with water around the lip of the lid, and a pair of weights that fit snugly within the crock.

May The Best Vat Win

It is a bit of a David And Goliath story: the young, small upstart, Pickl-It, versus the old, established, giant Harsch.

And the outcome is the same as in that fabled battle: Pickl-It vanquishes its larger foe Harsch!

The Harsch's advantages: It is available in huge sizes, up to at least 50 liter (great if you need to make 75 pounds of sauerkraut!); it looks impressive; its weights fit perfectly; and it's completely low-tech (100% stone). A couple of times I have made 10+ pounds of sauerkraut, and the Harsch worked well. A 2-gallon cookie jar with a strategically-sized dinner plate and some weights worked well before I had the Harsch.

Pickl-It's advantages:
  • Pickl-It's airlock works better. The problem with the Harsch airlock is that in hot weather, the mote evaporates after a few days, leaving you vulnerable to fruit flies and such. If you ever go away for a few days at a time during the summer, this is a real concern. Standing water probably isn't a great idea in warmer climates anyway. Harsch may be better suited to a cellar, when it's warm at least; this makes the "looks impressive" factor less relevant.
  • Pickl-It is easy to clean—you can take it apart and put it in the dishwasher. Harsch is hard to clean, and also somewhat porous, so it seems to absorb salt, yeast and mold, etc.
  • My Pickl-It is a more practical size (1.5-liter) than my Harsch (10-liter). I could have bought a smaller Harsch, or a larger Pickl-It—but nonetheless, Harsch isn't well-suited to the fridge, while Pickl-It is just fine (if you remove the airlock and plug the hole).
  • Pickl-It is clear, so it allows me to see what's going on, which is often useful. Harsch is deep and dark.
  • Pickl-It is way less expensive than Harsch.
I haven't done a side-by-side taste test, pickling the same stuff in both. But I can report that the cucumber pickles I made in Pickl-It were the best I've ever made. I haven't had any problems so far fermenting in Pickl-It, while I've had occasional problems with Harsch due to mold, yeast, and/or slime.

Uses For Pickl-It

I find Pickl-It great for pickling whole vegetables in brine (turnips, radishes, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.), and I might try it for a corned beef or something like that. All of these things can be a little tricky in jars, whether open or sealed, so they benefit greatly from the airlock.

I've not had any problems making cabbage kraut, radish or turnip krauts, mixed krauts, chutneys and other strange fruit things, kimchi, or preserved lemons in sealed mason jars (burping them every once in a while). (But some people have had problems making these.)

Beyond that, you can use Pickl-It for fermenting dairy, grains, and so on. Kathleen, one of the inventors, has a blog full of awesome-sounding Pickl-It recipes (Lacto-fermented Garlic Scape, Mango Kefir Lassi, Fermented Turkish-Fig Coconut Oatmeal Granola, Japanese Miso Garlic, etc.).

My recommendation: If you like to ferment whole vegetables, or if you worry about having problems fermenting, or if you just want to have some fun fermenting, then it's definitely worth getting Pickl-It.

If you are going to do whole vegetables, a larger Pickl-It is the way to go.

Inside sources tell me that in addition to the existing 1.5-liter and 3-liter sizes, there are new 2-, 4-, and 5-liter sizes. 5 liters should be big enough for most non-commercial purposes (unless you're having a really big Oktoberfest party!). Other items joining the Pickl-It line in the near future include smaller airlocks and UV-blocking jar covers. Cool.

Buy Pickl-It here.

For More Information About Fermenting

Here is my Fermenting And Pickling Resource List.


As I said before, I received a free sample Pickl-It from the manufacturer, with no strings attached. I'm not getting any money for recommending it, or any other benefit, except the warm happy feeling I get from helping people ferment things!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon Huge Success!

Last Sunday, I rode in a 65-mile bike-a-thon, to support Bikes Not Bombs. It was a great success, both for me and for the organization.

THANK YOU to everyone who donated and supported me!

I raised $2,205, making me the fourth-biggest fundraiser.

There were over 458 registered riders who together raised over $125,000. That's huge for an organization whose annual budget is something like $1 million.

I tweeted some comments and pictures as I rode. You can see my tweets here (when twitter is working). Click on the image links to see the pictures.

Here's the route we took:

We started and finished at Bikes Not Bombs in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Marker 1 is where I got a puncture. Marker 3 is rest stop number one, near Walden Pond. Marker 5 is rest stop number two, at the Peace Abbey.

I started out riding strong. I stayed with the lead group until I punctured. Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch up with them again.

The puncture was about as painless as it could have been. Someone stopped to help and keep me company...and then before I knew it, a support car stopped, offered me a floor pump, and took away my punctured tube. Not bad.

It was hot and humid, and a thunderstorm seemed imminent the whole time, but didn't come until a few hours later.

Some musings on the puncture:

The night before the event, I had replaced my training tires with some light-weight, smooth-running race tires. I reused an old tube on the front (this was the one that popped), and used a new one on the back. Changing the tires was a pain in the butt. After changing the tires, I rode a few miles to verify the installation.

I learned that when you change the tire, you should change the tube too. It's worth the $4 to not get a flat tire. And you shouldn't mess with your bike the night before the ride anyway. If I had changed the tires a week before, I would have discovered any tube problems on a training ride rather than on the bike-a-thon.

The end!

Small Farms Are More Efficient Per Acre Than Big Farms

People make all sorts of arguments against "local food". A common one is that larger farming operations are "more efficient". Since larger operations are usually farther away from population centers, the implication is that local food is a less efficient use of resources than "distant food".

Next time someone makes that argument, I'll point them to this excerpt from Eat Here by Brian Halweil (bigger excerpt available here):
Perhaps most surprising to people who have only casually followed the debate about small-farm values versus factory-farm “efficiency” is the fact that a large body of evidence shows that small farms are actually more productive than large ones, producing as much as 1,000 per cent more output per unit of area.* How does this jibe with the often-mentioned productivity advantages of large-scale mechanized operations? The answer is simply that those big-farm advantages are always calculated on the basis of how much of one crop the land will yield per acre. The greater productivity of a smaller, more complex farm, however, is calculated on the basis of how much food overall is produced per acre. The smaller farm can grow several crops utilizing different root depths, plant heights, or nutrients on the same piece of land simultaneously. It is this “polyculture” that offers the small farm’s productivity advantage.

*Peter Rosset, “The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture,” Policy Brief No. 4 (Oakland, California: Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, September 1999), pp. 12, 13.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making Kombucha (Including Grow Your Own SCOBY!)

With a little patience, you can make your own kombucha. It's easier than keeping a sourdough culture.

In order to make kombucha, you need a starter (also known as a mother or a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast), you need some black and/or green tea, and you need some sugar.

If you can get a starter from a friend or from craigslist, then follow these straightforward instructions to make your own batch of kombucha. Later, if you want to get fancy, you can try some of these other methods.

If you can't get a starter, but you can buy some raw, plain kombucha at a store, you can probably grow your own starter, and proceed from there. See this excellent series of posts on kombuchafuel. I've meant to run this experiment myself, and I still may try it, but I'm glad that kombuchafuel has done it.

In fact, the kombuchafuel site may answer all of your questions about kombucha, even the ones you didn't know you had. Awesome website!

A few more thoughts:
  • Save the empty bottles from whatever kombucha you buy. You can use them for bottling your own home-made kombucha.
  • If you want to try using things other than black and/or green tea as a base, I'd recommend setting aside some of your original starter, in case things go awry.
  • If you want reproducibility, take notes on amounts of tea, water, and sugar, ambient temperature, etc. Then when you make that "perfect batch", you'll have a better chance of repeating it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Whole Foods Stops Selling Real Kombucha

Citing concerns over its alcohol content, Whole Foods has pulled leading brands of kombucha off the shelves in its stores. Kombucha is generally thought to have less than 0.5% alcohol-by-volume, but since it is a live, raw food that continues to ferment even once it's bottled, I can imagine its alcohol content varying from bottle to bottle. That said, I have never heard of anyone getting drunk from kombucha, and I have known teetotalers and recovering alcoholics who have consumed it without any problems. In my experience, kombucha's acidity is sufficient to prevent anyone from binging on it. For reference, weak American beer starts at 4.0%, so even assuming that kombucha can creep up to 0.75% ABV, say, you'd need to drink more than 5 bottles of it to get the amount of alcohol you get from one bottle of weak beer.

I visited my local Whole Foods to see for myself. There were a couple of brands of "kombucha" still in the cooler, but when I looked more closely, they turned out to be flavored teas with some kombucha added to them, and it was unclear whether or not they were raw. I asked an employee why my favorite brand was no longer on the shelves, and he said something about "labeling problems" that they were working on resolving. I told him that I was going to go to the food co-op around the corner to buy my kombucha.

A few months ago, in a similar move, Whole Foods pulled all raw milk from all its stores, citing safety concerns (see here). They called this move "temporary", but the raw milk never came back.

It's clear to me that Whole Foods no longer have the stomach (as it were) to be on the leading edge of the food movement. They are becoming more and more focused on liability, and less and less on real food.

(But to keep it in perspective, there are still much, much worse companies in the world. Monsanto? BP? ConAgra? Altria?)

For more information about the Whole Foods kombucha situation, see this posting on kombuchafuel.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Urban Homesteaders' League

For the past year or so, the Urban Homesteaders' League and its leader Lisa Gross have been hosting, co-hosting, and publicizing a variety of cool events in the Boston area—things like urban livestock workshops, food foraging, cheesemaking, skill-shares of various sorts, film screenings, and so on. They have a very active meetup group here. If you're interested in hearing about Boston-area sustainability events, their calendar is hard to beat.

From their website:
The Urban Homesteaders’ League ( is a community venture based in Cambridge, MA dedicated to inspiring and empowering individuals and communities to shift from a lifestyle of passive consumption to one of active participation, creation, and connection. We are committed to re-imagining the good life as one that is meaningful, pleasurable, environmentally sustainable, and socially just. We place the home at the center of that pursuit and see it as a site for personal and societal transformation.
Their latest undertaking is The Urban Homesteaders' League Market Stand—so that they can participate in a series of farmers' markets this summer. They're raising money for it through kickstarter here. You can keep up with the latest news about the Market Stand on the UHL blog page, here.

All of this is worth a look for anyone around Boston who's interested in sustainability—or anyone who is interested in building something similar in their own community!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Local Food And The Sweetest Strawberries

A chef friend of mine just emailed me the following note (I've redacted the names of the farms):
i have been thinking lately that the world is on this local kick (from which i benefit of course). however, within the farming community there are great variations in quality. for instance, XXXXXXX and XXXXXXXX produce by far the best stuff. they never water and fertilize and the result is smaller vegetables with way more flavor. i try and use these guys all the time. the strawberries are small and nutty with twice as much sugar. the larger local farms produce stuff that is similar to stuff from texas. isn't it time we start to think about quality and not just "local". XXXXXXX farms already has heirloom cherry tomatoes. that's just wrong.
It got me thinking...

The qualities of our food can be measured in various ways, many of which apply differently to different food types.

We have heard all about "local" vs. "distant", although we don't agree on what they mean. For greens, "local" might be a 50-mile radius, while for meat and dairy and seafood it might be wider. When you are talking about processed foods, like bread, charcuterie, and canned goods, you may want to consider not only the points of origin of the ingredients, but also the point of processing. Local vs. distant has economic implications, as well as implications with respect to the energy used for transportation. And it also affects the next measure:

"Young" vs. "old" matters greatly for some things, and not at all for others. For some things, "young" is crucial; for others, "old" is better (some cheeses, wines, meats, etc.).

Consider the chef's comments above. What he's talking about is, roughly, the spectrum from "wild" to "farmed". The small tasty strawberries, receiving no additional fertilizer or water, are much closer to being wild strawberries. So "wild" might be better for strawberries. On the other hand, for some kinds of fish and shellfish (tilapia, catfish, oysters, mussels), "farmed" can be great. (Click here for more about seafood.)

For things that are farmed, we have the spectrum from "natural inputs" to "unnatural inputs". I'm not going to try to define "natural" right now. "Organic" and "conventional" lie on this continuum.

We have the spectrum from "primeval" to "domesticated". Wild and heritage animals, heirloom vegetables, and so on, move towards one end of the spectrum; hybrid, genetically-modified, and cloned species move towards the other.  Note that careful breeding is sometimes necessary to maintain lines of heritage animals, so it's not fair to say that they aren't selectively bred. And cloned is not necessarily bad; almost all apples and many oranges are cloned.

There are other attributes to consider, like "plentiful" vs. "endangered". And harder-to-measure measures, like "nutrient-dense" vs. "nutrient-deficient".

Sometimes we're hungry, we simply want something to eat, and all of this can be overwhelming.

But for those times when we are thinking about food, for professional reasons, philosophical reasons, or whatever, it can be useful to have frames of reference like these.

And if you want to grow the sweetest strawberries, you now know how.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Greenwashed Meat From "White Marble Farms" (When Is A Farm Not A Farm)

When I eat meat, I want to know where it's from: Meat Of Known Origin. Usually I wind up eating meat from a farmer or a farmers' market, or at an expensive restaurant that can tell me where they get their ingredients.

I'm always on the lookout for less-expensive restaurants serving Meat Of Known Origin.

The other day, I was walking by a place that had just opened near where I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It had been touted as a sustainable sandwich shop. The menu said that their pork was from White Marble Farms.

I asked the guy behind the counter if they got the meat directly from the farmers. He said, "No, but the meat is totally naturally-raised, and we get it from Sysco." "I see," I said.

This aroused my curiosity. For those of you who aren't familiar with Sysco:
Sysco Corporation is the largest foodservice distributor in North America. It distributes frozen foods, various canned and dry foods, fresh and frozen meats, seafood and poultry, imported specialties, and fresh produce. The company also supplies various non-food items, including disposable napkins, plates, and cups; tableware, cookware, restaurant and kitchen equipment, and cleaning supplies. It has its headquarters in the Energy Corridor district of Houston, Texas. [Wikipedia]
Was Sysco selling sustainably-raised meat?

A quick search for "White Marble Farms" on the Internet revealed a San Francisco Chronicle article (which is worth a read). Here's a short quote:
White Marble Farms is a brand of Sysco, North America's largest food services distributor. The pork comes from Cargill Meat Solutions, America's second-largest meat processor. It is bred to ensure tender meat marbled with just enough flavor-boosting fat. But these pigs never see a pasture. They're raised indoors in confinement barns, just the way most commercial pork is produced, except in smaller numbers. Aside from genetics, they're conventional pigs wearing a lip gloss of sustainability.
And their tails are cut off at birth. And they're fed pig blood and fat. In other words, the usual sad story.

Sysco's marketing has fooled even sophisticated restaurant owners who are trying to do the right thing.

Just because something has "farm" in its name doesn't mean it's from a farm.

Know your farmer.

(This post appears as part of Real Food Wednesday.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Raw Milk In Massachusetts: Analysis, June 7 2010

Last month saw a raw milk drink-in on the Boston Common, followed by a Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) hearing about raw milk buying clubs (but it wasn't, really). For a full recap, see here.

Many folks who wanted to attend the hearing were denied access, because the hearing room was inadequate. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has called on Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate what they see as a serious violation of the state's open meetings law. The OCA press release is here. Their letter to Attorney General Coakley is here.

Winton Pitcoff of the Northeast Organic Farming Association sent out an email yesterday detailing some conversations he had had with Soares. These details do not seem to be available on any web page [UPDATE: they're available here], so I excerpt Pitcoff's email at the bottom of this post.

Raw milk in Massachusetts is still very much in the news.

In the meantime, based on what I've seen and read, I may understand more of what has been going on in the statehouse.

I don't think that the MDAR or Commissioner Scott Soares has any beef (so to speak) with raw milk or with raw milk buying clubs. Until January, the MDAR has known about these clubs, and has ignored them. (It is silly to suggest that MDAR might not have known about them.) In my opinion, neglect was absolutely the appropriate policy: the clubs are far outside of the jurisdiction of the MDAR.

In January, faced with formal letters from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), the MDAR felt that it had to do something, in order to keep the peace within the state government. Cease-and-desist letters followed, along with a proposed hearing. The events around the hearing demonstrated to everyone that the MDAR could not adopt new regulations without unleashing a huge public outcry (and due to their mishandling of the situation, they got an outcry anyway).

In conclusion:

It's nice to think that MDAR is an ally of raw milk, in theory at least, and that there might be some level of raw milk access that they are willing to defend. But five months ago, we had many raw milk buying clubs; now, the largest and most visible of these clubs are gone. Access to raw milk has been restricted, and farm revenues diminished. This is a tide that must be reversed.

(Thoughts, comments, disagreements, arguments welcome.)

Excerpt from NOFA's June 6 email:

No Additional Raw Milk Hearings
MDAR says buying clubs still illegal

In response to an inquiry from the NOFA/Massachusetts Raw Milk Network, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Commissioner Scott Soares said that the department will not hold additional hearings on raw milk regulations at this time, and the regulations as they are currently written will stand during what he said he expects to be a lengthy process leading up to any changes. Soares indicated that as a result of internal review and comments that have been collected regarding this issue thus far, adequate examination will exceed the current resources and capacity of the agency. "In the interest of providing sufficient attention to matters associated with raw milk," said Soares, "the agency will indefinitely postpone any further public work around regulatory changes that were proposed in April." (See here for details about that proposal).

In a June 3 phone call with NOFA/Massachusetts Raw Milk Network coordinator Winton Pitcoff, Soares said that discussions will continuewithin the Department about how to best maintain access to safe raw milk in MA, and NOFA/Mass staff and raw milk farmers will have opportunities to participate in those discussions. Any decisions to pursue regulatory changes would be publicly announced and hearings would be held.

"It remains illegal for businesses engaged in milk distribution to operate without a milk dealer license," said Commissioner Soares. Soares said that no buying club has yet applied for a milk dealer license, and that the Department would have to examine how to handle such a request. Soares added that the Department has not pursued further action against any buying clubs and that the Cease and Desist letters sent to clubs earlier this year were meant to alert those groups that they were operating illegally.

Soares said that as the Department continues its examination of the regulations, "everything is on the table. We will consider extended sales and what it would take to make those sales safe." He reiterated MDAR's commitment to on-farm raw milk sales, and said that there have been no discussions to eliminate or further restrict such sales.

Proposed changes to the regulations that do not pertain to buying clubs -- dilution levels of chlorine in water used to sanitize caps, flooring in milking parlors, etc. -- are still being reviewed "in the context of the comments provided" and to confirm alignment with the federal Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, said Soares.

The NOFA/Massachusetts Raw Milk Network has obtained copies of all of the email and written comments submitted to MDAR during the April/May comment period. Approximately 285 comments were submitted, with all but one of them indicating opposition to the proposed additional restrictions on raw milk sales. The lone letter in support of tighter regulations came from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (see NOFA's response to that letter here).

MDAR posted 'FAQ's About Buying Raw Milk in Massachusetts' on its website following the May 10 hearing.

The NOFA/Massachusetts Raw Milk Network remains committed to ensuring access to raw milk for consumers and will continue to work with state agencies and officials toward expanding that access. There is demonstrated demand for raw milk from consumers and farmers have proven they can produce raw milk safely. Massachusetts' 27 licensed raw milk dairies sell more than 80,000 gallons of milk a year to customers around the state and steward more than 3,500 acres of Massachusetts farmland. Sales of raw milk are an invaluable tool for preserving dairy farms, at a time when the dairy industry is in crisis and farms are closing at an alarming rate. Allowing expanded access to raw milk through such avenues as home delivery and farmers market sales will help further strengthen these farms.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon Postponed

Due to the threat of inclement weather, including some tornado alerts (we get lots of interesting weather in Boston, but I've never heard of a tornado), my bike-a-thon has been postponed! The new event date is Sunday, June 20.

A BIG thank-you to all who have donated so far!

I'm a little disappointed that the event had to be rescheduled, since I was psyched for the ride. But I'll be even more psyched in two weeks.

From Bikes Not Bombs' home page:
Bikes Not Bombs promotes bicycle technology as a concrete alternative to war and environmental destruction.
If that sounds to you like a good cause, please check out my previous post, or my pledge page.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Support My Bike-A-Thon!

This coming Sunday, I'll be riding 65 miles to benefit a non-profit called Bikes Not Bombs. I've done this ride twice before, in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 it was 95 degrees out!

Click here to visit my fundraising page.

Here's a picture of me on that very hot day in 2008. Note silly, but appropriate, bike jersey:

Bikes Not Bombs is a great organization. From their website:
Bikes Not Bombs promotes bicycle technology as a concrete alternative to war and environmental destruction.
They collect and refurbish used bikes in the US, they involve and empower lower-income Boston residents throughout the process, they sell some of the bikes here, and they use the money they raise to ship off large numbers of bikes to poorer countries where these bikes can truly change people's lives.

As I mentioned, the event is this coming Sunday, so if you're thinking of pledging some money, now is the time!

Click here to visit my fundraising page.

As I said last year, I can relate this to food if pressed:
  • One of the things they do is support the conversion of bicycles into human-driven milling machines, grinders, and blenders for grains, cacao, etc.
  • More bikes = fewer cars = less pollution, plus less arable land used for ethanol and biodiesel and more used for growing food
  • More bikes = easier to transport water = people can grow food (although transporting water is not necessarily sustainable, sigh...)

Here are some further reasons why you should pledge money to support my ride:
  • Bicycles have a huge amount of leverage in poor countries. A bicycle for a child can mean the difference between school and no school. It can allow a health worker to serve many more villages. It can help someone transport water and goods.
  • Bikes Not Bombs is a small organization, and even a small donation will have a big effect on their work. Your money will make a difference when you give it to BnB. Their total revenues for 2008 were only about $1 million.

Boston Farmers' Market Season Has Begun

Farmers' market season has begun here in Boston!

To find local markets, check the boston localvores. This site has a great interactive Google map, so you can zoom in on the locations you're interested in, and click to get opening times.

There are some other sites that can provide you with further details about markets, such as vendor names, products, and WIC/Senior Coupons. None of these sites is perfect. The Northeast Harvest site has partial, but not complete, vendor and product lists. The Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets site has a little more information but is difficult to use. The MDAR site has the WIC/Senior Coupon information, but has not yet been updated for 2010.

Having said that, allow me to draw your attention to two markets in particular:

The City Hall Plaza Farmers' Market is open Mondays and Wednesdays, 11AM-6PM, from now through November 24. (After November 7, it closes at 5PM.) Here's a map. Here's a vendor list. Here's a product list (note: to get the complete product list, you must scroll to the bottom of the screen and click on the "Change Page" links).

The Boston Public Market at Dewey Square is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30AM-6:30PM, from now through November 23. Map. Vendors. Products.

(Note that both of these markets include vendors selling Meat Of Known Origin.)

Why do I mention these markets in particular?

I mention these markets because they are managed by an organization I'm involved with, the Boston Public Market Association. Our goal is to create an indoor, year-round public market selling food from local farmers and producers. By helping to make our summer farmers' markets successful, you are furthering our ultimate goal of providing year-round, full-time availability of local food to the Boston area.

To learn more, please visit our web site, and email us to join our mailing list.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nourished Kitchen's "How to Cook Real Food" E-Course

Jenny McGruther of Nourished Kitchen, a friend of mine and a fellow Real Food Media blogger, is launching her "How to Cook Real Food" e-course on June 1st, just a few days from now.

It is a thorough course in cooking real food from scratch, including video tutorials, printable materials, charts, and so on.

I thought the course might be of interest to some of my readers.

Click here for full details.

Enrollment closes May 31st. 

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays at Food Renegade.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Boston Raw Milk Rally, Drink-In, and Hearing Wrap-Up

Last week there was a raw milk rally and drink-in on the Boston Common, followed by a public hearing with Commissioner Scott Soares of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR).

Mainstream press covered the events (Boston Globe; Fox News).

I believe the most important testimony in the hearing came from Harvey Schwartz, a Boston-area attorney and raw milk drinker. He urged Commissioner Soares to reconsider the course that the MDAR has charted with respect to raw milk buying clubs. (The MDAR is simultaneously claiming that they are already illegal, and trying to create a regulation making them illegal.)

Schwartz spoke of the legal notion of agency. He stated that the buying club arrangement was a principal/agent relationship. He observed that under Massachusetts state law, you can contract an agent to perform all sorts of transactions for you, including writing checks, executing legal documents, buying cars, buying real estate, making end-of-life decisions, and buying vodka, cigarettes, and prescription drugs. And you can have an agent buy a cow full of milk for you. Or an entire farm, including its contents. So why should it be illegal specifically for an agent to buy you a gallon of milk?

Schwartz's argument convinced me that the legality of buying clubs in Massachusetts will ultimately be confirmed. It may just be a question of finding someone who's willing to challenge the law, and someone who's willing to foot the legal bill. I don't think it will be hard to fill these roles.

For those of you who like to have the whole picture, below is a wrap-up of the event, with lots of context (because I love context).

Selling raw milk is one of the best (and indeed only) ways for a small dairy farm in New England to stay in business. Raw milk drinkers pay $6-$10/gal directly to farmers for raw milk, while processors pay farmers only $1-$2/gal. People have been buying milk on-farm for many years in Massachusetts. They have also formed raw milk associations and buying clubs of various sorts. One motivation has been that most of the people are in the east of the state, while most of the milk is in the west. A milk-drinker who wanted raw milk could give their money to someone who would go to the farm to buy it for them. In some cases, these arrangements were informal, with groups of friends taking turns driving to the farm. In other cases, small businesses were formed to do the errand, generally charging a fee to cover the cost of operations and to support a small staff. These buying clubs extended the reach of raw milk sales considerably, and saved many driving miles, too.

In December, Commissioner Soares sent a letter in support of Eastleigh Farm's bid for a license to sell raw milk in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, citing the above observation about the economics of small dairy in Massachusetts. Soares has historically been a faithful ally to Massachusetts farms; indeed, part of the state purpose of the MDAR (on their website) is "[w]orking to keep Massachusetts agriculture economically and environmentally sound"

In February, the MDAR started sending cease-and-desist orders to some of the more visible Massachusetts buying clubs. The clubs receiving these orders seem to have complied.

It's not clear what prompted these orders, if anything. There was no public health crisis or outbreak. David Gumpert, a leading expert on raw milk policy, shares his thoughts here. Importantly, many of the dairy farms rely on the business provided by buying clubs. The farms are in financial danger without the clubs.

In April, the MDAR published a notice announcing a hearing for public comment on some proposed changes to the regulations governing raw milk in Massachusetts. Among other things, these proposed changes appeared to make it illegal for anyone to distribute raw milk anywhere but on its farm of origin. I wrote about this here. Interestingly, the MDAR claims that even at present, raw milk sales are only legal on-farm; yet if this is indeed the case, then the reg changes should be unnecessary. Boston Localvores address this point in greater depth here.

The MDAR's move caused quite a stir in the raw milk community. A pre-hearing rally was scheduled, and key raw milk activists made plans to fly in from out-of-state.

The MDAR hearing would take place Monday, May 10, at 10AM.

At 5:10PM on Friday, May 7, the MDAR announced that they were withdrawing the proposed changes regarding the distribution of raw milk, and that they would not hear public comment on the withdrawn changes; instead, they would hear comment only on some other, much more technical changes having to do with disinfection procedures for bottle caps, composition of barn floors, and so on.

Reactions to the MDAR's last-minute change were mixed, as I wrote here. NOFA, for instance, saw this as a sign that the people had been heard. David Gumpert saw it as a sign that the people had been denied the chance to be heard, and the government would try to go ahead with its original plans regardless.

The morning of the rally was clear and crisp. Local and national raw milk advocates gathered on the Boston Common, along with a bluegrass band, and most importantly Suzanne, a cow from Eastleigh Farm farmer Doug Stephan's herd. Suzanne was certainly the first cow to have grazed on the Boston Common in a long time. An impromptu press conference was held, we milked Suzanne, and we drank some milk.

We walked the few blocks to the municipal building where the hearing would take place. The room was inadequate for the number of people who wanted to attend the hearing; many were turned away. Beyond that, the room was not configured well. Comments were taken at one end of the long room, and there was no microphone or amplification system, so it was difficult to hear at times.

The MDAR heard perhaps five or so comments on the proposed changes regarding milk caps, barn floors, etc. After that was done, they agreed to hear comments on the withdrawn changes.

The hearing lasted about three and a half hours, which was twice as long as originally planned. Commissioner Soares, his staff, and the public all showed great patience, even during a sometimes emotional hearing.

Many, many people offered their comments, many of them quite insightful. I offer grateful acknowledgment to them all, and I regret that I cannot reproduce the comments here. Anyone who is interested can get a full transcript by calling 617-626-1700 and asking for a transcript of the MDAR public hearing of May 10, 2010, regarding raw milk. If you are curious, I would encourage you to do so.

Commissioner Soares said that the MDAR would review the public comment, and announce its plan of action within the next 30 days. Needless to say, I am curious to see what will happen!