The Roots of Organic Farming

Visiting the farm at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was a personal high point of this series, though I couldn’t say exactly why. It could well have been because there’s an experimental blueberry plot there, and when I went in the spring, it was raining, and the green leaves were sparkling and the wet berries were offset perfectly, and here was this glistening working farm on an otherwise more-or-less normal college campus, which just happened to be on a hill above the Pacific.

Or it could have been because the Santa Cruz campus has a series of beautiful, renowned, well-run gardens and farms, unlike on any other campus in the country.

Read the rest of this article here.

A Farewell

This is my last regular opinion column on food for The Times. I’m leaving to take a central role in a year-old food company, to do what I’ve been writing about these many years: to make it easier for people to eat more plants. (“Oh,” say my friends, “you move to California and join a start-up.” Yup. Corny as can be.) I see it as putting philosophy into action and will talk about details soon.

Read the rest of this column here.

 

Posted in Food Politics

Serving Up School Lunches of Tomorrow

This is the sixth episode of “California Matters,” a series of videos about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating that I produced in collaboration with the Global Food Initiative at the University of California.

It’s no secret that, although progress has been made, school lunches need help. This is a national project, and an important one. One of the proving grounds is San Francisco, where the school district is joining with researchers from the Department of Agriculture and the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health to evaluate a project designed to increase school lunch participation, improve nutrition, reduce waste and ultimately counter tendencies toward obesity.

I took a look at a pilot project for this program by visiting Roosevelt Middle School and chatting with Zetta Reicker, who’s the director of the school system’s student nutrition services, and Kristine A. Madsen, an associate professor at the school of public health. (I also talked to a few kids, and ate lunch. Which was — for institutional food — better than O.K.)

Read the rest of this column here.

Lunch: September on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past conversations.

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

September is a transitional month, time for heading back to school or maybe easing out of the summer vacation groove and into a routine. After taking it easy in August, I’m back in Berkeley; “California Matters,” my webseries with the University of California, will pick up again this week, and here on #BittmanTopics, we’re talking lunch.

The midday meal is easy to overlook, but with just a little planning, it’s also easy to ace. In recent years, school lunches have received the attention they deserve as an issue that intersects policy issues from public health and government regulations to food justice. Blogs have even cropped up about the desk lunch, parodying those that are sad and glorifying those that aren’t. What’s in your brown bag? How are the students in your life eating at school? Any time-tested tips for streamlining your own weekday lunches? Tales of lingering restaurant meals and brunches also welcome… This month, tag your lunch-related photos, tweets, recipes, and reads with #BittmanTopics and I’ll share my favorites.

The Pleasure of a Steak at Home

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times.

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times.

After staring at the bill for a ridiculously overpriced and not very good rib-eye at a famous steakhouse in Chicago — replete with a sauce so banal it may as well have been ketchup, and served with attitude, too — I remembered I could do better at home. I went to my local butcher (which in my neighborhood just happens to be called the Local Butcher Shop) and paid $60 for a glorious, two-inch thick, fat-laden rib-eye. The plan was to blow the minds of three guests with a piece of meat so good it needed no sauce — and then pair it with sauces that were irresistible on their own.

Sixty dollars may sound like a lot of cash for a piece of meat, but if it’s local and well raised, with better flavor, texture and karma than cheaper commodity beef, it’s worth it for a table of four. While the idea of creating a one-night steakhouse at home may sound self-indulgent, it’s also unreservedly fun, and as you do the work yourself, the final bill is actually pretty tame.

Because I don’t cook 100 steaks a day, I knew I’d have to be careful not to ruin this gorgeous slab. I grilled it, although if I’d cooked it in a pan, my method would have been similar. It’s actually possible to achieve nicely cooked meat, with moderate portions of everything from rare to medium in one steak, using two unusual but easy techniques I’ve refined through years of mistake-making.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

What’s the Buzz About Wild Bees?

Among all the pollinators, honeybees get the most publicity, deservedly, because of the problems around their survival. Claire Kremen’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, looks at diverse pollinators — not just bees, but also birds, moths and many insects — and the issues affecting them as emblematic of the broader problems of the food system. Pollinators are critical to global food production and about 75 percent of crop species depend on them to produce food that is more abundant and nutritious than it would otherwise be.

Monoculture — a single crop in an open field that may measure many hundreds of acres — increasingly depends on importing thousands of hives (by truck, usually) for the pollination of crops, especially in places like California. For example, the state produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, which has concentrated the need for bees way beyond the capacity of native pollinators.

Focusing on a single crop reduces the biodiversity pollinators need to survive, and the timetable they best work on. It’s also a risky endeavor to rely on one species, especially when there are diseases, management problems and the inherent risks of transportation. Yet the large single-crop farms require the large apiaries to get the job done.

Read the rest of this article here.

Preserving: August on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for conversations from past months.

Photographs by Sam Kaplan for the New York Times

Photographs by Sam Kaplan for the New York Times

The peak of summer—for many of us, right now—is when a huge variety of fruits and vegetables are at their very best, and in abundance if you’re eating locally. What to do with bumper crops? Aside from eating salads at breakfast, lunch, and dinner—not a bad idea with ingredients this good—preserving them is a smart solution, especially if you’re a gardener or shop at farmer’s markets or farmstands and like to stock up. This month on #BittmanTopics, let’s talk about how you’re preserving the summer harvest (or what you’re doing instead).

Preserving can be a full-on, old-fashioned affair with canning tongs and Mason jars, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to make any jam, the shortcut way; or, if you prefer savory condiments, try preserved lemons or DIY kimchi (an oldie from long before kimchi was hip). What do you think works best in the freezer? Any dehydrator fans out there? Show me all the ways you hang on to summer.

Posted in Bittman Topics, Produce