Free-Range Almost as Bad as Factory-Farmed?


Check out this James McWillams article called Why Free-Range Meat Isn’t Much Better Than Factory-Farmed. McWilliams says that “when it comes to farming methods and harm, free range is better,” but “better does not mean acceptable.” He goes on to suggest that it is nearly as harmful and morally dubious to kill a factory-farmed animal as it is to kill one that was not raised in confinement (follow his logic from start to finish and see what you think.)

As far as I know, McWilliams is a vegan. If he wants to personally and/or publicly object to raising animals for food that we don’t need, I have no problem with that. I understand and appreciate that a notable contrarian like McWilliams needs to be careful about flat-out telling people what to do, but in a way I’d have a lot more respect for this article if it were called Be A Vegan. By working to discredit free-range farming, he is in practice giving us all an excuse to buy into a system of industrial livestock production that he admits is worse. McWilliams may be right that none of it is perfect, but if it’s truly a more moral and less harmful system that he’s after, wouldn’t his time (and ours) be a lot better spent rallying against what’s worse (and ubiquitous) than picking on what’s better (and small)?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please post them in the comments section below.

(Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via Flickr)

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Crisp Marinated Brussels Sprouts


By Freya Bellin

Boiled Brussels sprouts have a reputation for being mushy, but this recipe succeeds in saving them from that fate. Shocking the sprouts before they have a chance to soften completely helps preserve both the crunch and color of the vegetable. They retain a nice green freshness, and I chose to use red onions in the marinade for the bright color contrast. The dressing is very versatile, and that basic combination could be used on a variety of vegetables or salads. The recipe would also work just as well with roasted Brussels sprouts if you prefer those, although it would be a hot dish rather than this cold one. I didn’t end up using the full amount of dressing that was called for, so you may want to mix it in a few tablespoons at a time to be safe.

When buying Brussels sprouts, keep in mind that you’ll lose the outer layer of leaves of each one, so you may want to get a bit more than what the recipe calls for. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Produce

Spiced Red Lentil Dal

It’s getting cold (at least in New York). This will warm you up.

Posted in Indian

Espresso Black Bean Chili


Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours, largely unattended

This deep, richly flavored chili has enough caffeine to keep you awake—literally. (Bear this in mind when you’re serving it; use decaffeinated espresso if you or your guests are caffeine sensitive or reserve it for lunch or early dinner.) Serve this with rice, a stack of warm tortillas, or tortilla chips, some crumbled queso fresco or sour cream, and parsley or cilantro.

Other beans you can use: Earthy-flavored beans that can stand up to the other flavors—pinto, kidney, or dried soybeans—work best. Recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

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Posted in Recipes, Vegan

Obesity: The New “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”


I love this take on obesity as a threat to national security from David Frum, former special assistant to President George W. Bush: “In 2008, some 634 military personnel were discharged for transgressing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That same year, 4,555 were discharged for failing to meet military weight standards.”

In other words, obesity is a much greater threat to the United States military than homosexuality, so maybe we should put the latter issue to bed and get on to the former. If somebody could convince the war hawks in congress that combatting obesity and improving the American food system actually counts as defense spending, imagine how far we might get:

Don’t ask your fellow soldiers if they supersized their McDonald’s. Don’t tell them if you did.

(Photo Credit: The U.S. Army via Flickr)

Posted in Food Politics

The Minimalist: Shrimp and Cilantro Shu Mai

It’s official: homemade shu mai are way better than the ones you get in the restaurant.

Posted in Chinese

Pasta with Seared Radicchio, Steak, Balsamic


By Freya Bellin

This dish is full of striking flavor combinations. The red onions really absorb the balsamic vinegar and become ultra sweet, which works nicely to offset the bitter radicchio. Plus, the shades of dark purple are really beautiful. The fresh basil comes through surprisingly strongly here too, both in flavor and color. A half cup may seem like a lot, but it’s a great addition.

Notably, this dish is truly a pasta dish and not a steak dish. There’s only a half pound of meat for four servings, but it’s just enough to make it a filling entree. If you like your steak very rare, 2 minutes on each side should be plenty of cooking time. My steak looked quite rare when sliced, but once it was added back to the pot with the other hot ingredients, it seemed to continue cooking a bit too. When the weather gets warm again (or for those of you who are happy to grab a coat and grill outside in the winter), I bet that the vegetables and meat could be grilled rather than seared for an extra smoky element. As mentioned below, it tastes great at room temperature, and while it works for winter, I’ll be happy to make this again come summer picnic season.  Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Posted in Italian, Recipes

Today’s federal programs make you long for the Depression


Check out Daniel Bowman Simon’s fascinating piece about the history of food stamps. The original food stamp program was designed to aid farm recovery: The unemployed would receive $1.50 in stamps for each cash dollar spent, 50 cents of which were specifically designated for purchase of the country’s agricultural surplus. Simon quotes a New York Times article from Sepetember 26, 1939, that lists the available surplus for the month of October:

“The list, effective Oct. 1, includes butter, eggs, raisins, apples, pork lard, dried prunes, onions, except green onions; dry beans, fresh pears, wheat flour and whole wheat flower [sic], and corn meal. Fresh snap beans were designated as surplus for Oct. 1 through Oct. 31.

Raisins, apples, pork lard and snap beans appeared on the list for the first time. Foods which will be removed from the list on Oct 1. include cabbages, fresh peaches, fresh tomatoes, rice, and fresh green peas.”

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Posted in Food Politics

Grilled or Broiled Scallops with Basil Stuffing


Makes: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

One of my all-time favorite recipes. Even though it’s super-easy to split and fill scallops, the results are guaranteed to impress.

Other seafood you can use: shrimp (split lengthwise for stuffing); monkfish cut crosswise into thick medallions. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

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Posted in Recipes, Seafood