Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interesting article about food detectives, but I found this part scary (emphasis mine):

A few years ago, they received a utility blade that a consumer claimed to have found in a canned tomato product. The case fell to Jim Charboneau, a chemist who has been with the lab for more than 40 years. Through the processor's records, he was able to determine that it had been packed and sealed a year earlier. The blade sported a few stains but still looked new. So Charboneau wanted to see what an identical blade would look like if it sat in a can of tomato sauce for a year and compare it to the sample. He put identical blades in different cans of sauce and sealed them. After a month, he opened one can and found the blade had etching on its surface. After two months, he opened another. That blade had deteriorated more than the first. When he opened another can after three months, he couldn't find a blade. It had been eaten away by the natural acidity of the sauce.

I think I'll pass on the canned food unless there has been a hurricane and I'm stuck without supplies for weeks...or something.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chive-Goat Cheese Drop Biscuits

Chive-Goat Cheese Drop Biscuits
I adapted this recipe to use local goat cheese and chives. Really delicious and easy.
Adapted from Epicurious

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 oz crumbled young local goat cheese, usually called chèvre
8 local chives
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk or 1 cup milk + 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese and chives. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 18 to 20 minutes.

Working on the farm

With Migrant Workers in Short Supply, a Farmer Looks to Machines

NYT Readers respond with a great deal of ignorance, suggesting we substitute criminals and teenagers for immigrants

There was an article in the NYT a few weeks back about the poor job market for teens. But what people don't realize is that the problem with industrial ag jobs is not that they are dirty or menial, it's that they are downright dangerous. The machines can crush you and the pesticides are toxic. Most farm kids I know who come from large farms won't work in their own fields because of this. It's a job with high potential costs.

Small organic farms? Many ag student compete to do "menial" things like pick spinach as interns. The best organic farms turn down interns because they have so many applicants.

Another reason to eat label-free

I think one of the best diet tips I ever heard was that if it has a label, you shouldn't eat much of it. Apples, spinach, and turnips? They don't need labels.

Turns out, in New Zealand, those labels aren't very accurate anyway. Given our government's track record, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that most U.S. labels are inaccurate too.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Since I started working in agriculture, I've met a great deal of farmers. On of the farmers I've worked closely with called farming "nature's gym." He, like many farmers who practice labor-intensive small scale agriculture, was about as fit as many elite athletes I know. This contrasts with the larger farmers I know, who are easier picked out because...well they are much larger.

Underscores the fact that while "saving" labor is economically efficient, there are costs and benefits that aren't often factored in. Most farmers labor much less than their counterparts in the past, but perhaps they pay for it in terms of health problems.

Last week I worked on his farm and while my muscles may be uneven (it's much harder to hoe with my puny left arm), they sure are large. The other farmer, a woman, told me that just like any sport, it's important to have good technique on the farm if you want to prevent injuries.

I say this because I find it interesting that so many people spend hours and hours in smelly boring gyms...when they could get a garden instead. I personally have shied away from gyms after I realized that the cleaning chemicals many gyms use seem to bother my lungs. I've felt much better since I've stopped going.

Small farms should market "exercise agri-tourism" or something. Suburbanites get skinny, farmers get free labor.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Foie Gras

So foie gras is now legal in Chicago again. PETA says:

Foie gras is a diseased, rotting organ of an abused animal with a high price tag slapped onto it. The aldermen -- who voted overwhelmingly for the ban (48 to 1) -- were right the first time in banning this hideously cruel product. With foie gras bans already in effect in more than a dozen countries and a growing of number people learning about the cruelty of foie gras production, this industry's days are numbered.

I have no problem with the part about people learning about the cruelty and thus buying less, effectively killing the industry. I do have a problem with one group imposing its fringe philosophy on another. With their logic, lots of other products would be banned as well. I might not like foie gras, but I'm not going to tell others they can't eat it.

Actually, I had never heard of it before the ban and ordered it after I read about it because I wanted to be rebellious. They say no publicity is bad publicity. I'm sure the ban made many people curious.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Harvest Moon

Much of the eco-crowd likes to trash video games. Occasionally, I do agree. At their worst they can suck people's lives away. But I would like to admit that video games were one of the reasons I got into farming. Harvest Moon, a series of Japanese video games centered on farming, are my favorite video games. I started playing them when the first one came out for the original game boy in America and I still play them, primarily while traveling since otherwise I don't have much free time.

A locavore's dream, the Harvest Moon games are focused on small-scale farming and tight-knit local communities. You get rewards for talking with your neighbors and treating your cows well. Contrast that with popular games like Grand Theft Auto where you get points for running over people and slapping around prostitutes.

While there are lots and lots of differences between Harvest Moon and real farming, I did learn some key things:
1. Repetitive work is not always bad. In fact, it can be quite comforting. Planting seedlings, hoeing, and transplanting leeks....fantastic stress relief.
2. Have picnics on your farm. It connects people to where their food comes from and helps build community ties.
3. If you have a small farm, diversify! It's a lot easier to stay afloat if you rely on multiple sources of income.
4. Don't forget about foraging. In the game, wild foods can be a source of income and sustenance.
5. Plant your crops in a way that makes later chores like weeding less taxing.

However, Harvest Moon is not a how-to-farm game. It's very much simplified. There is no starting seeds inside, nor insect pests, and soil is woefully ignored. I want the next games to reward good crop rotation or something.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Gastrofacist, n. A person who believes that government should micromanage the food supply as per their own personal interests.

A la ethanol and now Gordan Ramsay:

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says British restaurants should be fined if they serve fruit and vegetables which are not in season. He told the BBC that fruit and vegetables should be locally-sourced and only on menus when in season. Mr Ramsay said he had already spoken to Prime Minister Gordon Brown about outlawing out-of-season produce.


Gastrolibertarian, n. A person who believes that government should have a limited role in the food system.

Anthony Bourdain
Taras Grescoe
Joel Salatin
Many in the raw milk crowd

Varying degrees here: Taras believes the government should help manage fisheries, protect endangered species, etc., whereas Salatin is more like a agrarian"gastro-anarchist."

Friday, May 9, 2008

Slimy slow release

Hi Melissa,
I'm visiting your blog from Fanatic Cook. I like what you write about! Nice blog! Re what you said on Bix's blod, just wondering what sorts of foods are included in the "mucilaginous carb" category (hope it's not okra--ick!). Thanks!

I mentioned this with respect to native diets and Why Some Like It Hot, Nabhan's excellent book. In that book he mentions that many native foods, when ingested, do not spike blood all. From a botanical standpoint, many of these are desert plants that have evolved in a way to defend themselves against moisture loss. Most of them are considered mucilaginous, an appetizing (or not) word meaning "Having the nature or properties of mucilage; of a soft, moist, and viscous quality or appearance, slimy."

Slimy? While that might not sound delicious, it keeps these foods slow in your digestive system. This is a boon if you have blood sugar issues, but also for a host of other health problems like IBS. These foods also keep you satiated for longer than average.

Some of the foods he mentions include Southwestern prickly pear and other cacti, Australian bush potato, and mesquite. More common foods that are considered mucilaginous include, yes, okra, but also purslane, seaweed, flax, oats, and cucumbers.

Not So Sweet

Another reason to avoid sugar:

A new option available to farmers this year is Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beet, genetically engineered to survive multiple direct applications of the weed killer, Roundup. At the request of Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the allowable amount of glyphosate residues on sugar beetroots by a whopping 5,000% -- glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Sugar is extracted from the beet's root and the inevitable result is more glyphosate in our sugar. This is not good news for those who want to enjoy their chocolate morsels without the threat of ingesting toxic weed killer.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Native American Diets

Made this food web (not pyramid) for a class. Native Americans, from Hawaii to Alaska, had diverse pre-contact diets, but this shows a lot of common ones, as well as some nutritional principles. Note the absence of certain foods.

No bread, no refined sugar, no dairy, no factory-farmed meats. Anyone can benefit from emulating Native American diets. If there is one thing I learned from studying them, it's that what you eat matters, but what you don't eat matters a lot more. That's why you see people doing well on both low-fat vegan and high-fat paleo.

Recommended reading
Why Some Like It Hot