A Dangerous Disappearing Act

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by Daniel Meyer

Every Friday I sell pork in the Union Square greenmarket (Manhattan) for Flying Pigs Farm. Flying Pigs, as I have come to learn over the past two years, is an extraordinary farm. Their meat, pasture raised, rare heritage breed pigs, seems second to none, but strangely enough, the pork isn’t nearly the best thing that comes out of their farm. The owners of Flying Pigs, Mike Yezzi and Jen Small, are working tirelessly to prevent the loss of productive farmland to development in their native Washington County, in the whole of New York State, and beyond. The American Farmland Trust, Jen’s employer, notes that a farm is lost to development in New York every three days. Mike and Jen know how urgent their project is, and they are dead set on getting others to realize the same.

To that end they began holding “Farm Camp” up at their farm in Shushan, NY last fall. Farm Camp was a chance, explains its website, to “expose the NYC food professional to a broad range of agriculture issues that affect not just how and what we eat but also the future of our food system and rural landscape.”  The four two-day sessions were incredibly successful according to campers and organizers alike, so much so that they quickly sought to secure funding for another session in the spring. The fifth installment of Farm Camp concluded on Monday; this time I was fortunate enough to attend.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Nothing Cools Like a Cuke

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by Cathy Erway 

(I have cooked cucumbers, and Ms. Erway is right: it’s kind of a mistake. – mb) 

Ever cooked a cucumber? Neither have I. I think it would resist heat, in fact, repelling hot droplets of oil like the incandescent aqua suit of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin. I don’t think it would appreciate this blatant disrespect to its most vital asset, nor would its eater. Because no food is as cool as a cucumber.  

How funny, then, that it only grows in considerable heat? My first cucumbers of the season have finally managed to push from the vine, after waiting out the spring in relative silence. As soon as seventy- and eighty-degree days burst onto the scene, elegant white blossoms appeared on the plants. And now, the stubs of what will be summer’s heatwave helpers.  

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Posted in Produce

Garden Space for Gardeners without Space

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by Peter Rothbart 

[When I heard about the Seattle-based We Patch, I immediately asked executive director Peter Rothbart to write up a summary of its history; it’s a great idea, a super project, and one that I hope goes viral. Peter is also an editor at FOUND Magazine and a killer dodgeball player (he says). - mb] 

One afternoon in the spring of 2009, I was biking down Olive street in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood when I passed a man standing at the edge of a small traffic island, staring intensely at an unkempt strip of soil. Circling to see what had captured his attention, I noticed how he was dressed: a faded t-shirt, dirt-crusted gloves, and a pair of pruning shears hanging from the back pocket of his raggedy work pants. A split second later, I took in the double-wide tire track that had carved a rut across the island, and the scene snapped into focus like an optical illusion in a M.C. Escher print. 

Such traffic islands, which are ubiquitous in Seattle, are often staked out by local gardeners who have nowhere else to plant. The city encourages the practice, offering maintenance tips and a list of recommended plant varieties on its website. Continue reading

Posted in Farming

An Open Letter to An Unnamed Chef

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We – I and eight friends – are at a beach house in southern Florida; half of the group is European, and for a variety of reasons they wanted to come here. I feel like saying “don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts,” even though I’m not.

Mostly we’re cooking – and I’ll write about that – but there was a funky Caribbean restaurant we wanted to check out last night, only it was closed. By the time we discovered this, it was psychologically if not literally too late to cook, so I was assigned the task of figuring out a nearby place to eat. Through the miracle of Chowhound, Yelp, and other you-be-the-judge sites, I picked what appeared to be an eclectic, trendy new place by a known local chef.

Locals will figure out where I went; I’m trying not to damage a perhaps well-deserved reputation on the basis of one visit to an obviously new and still-wrinkly restaurant. But there were some disturbing trends here, and they’re widespread, not only nationally but globally. (Fortunately they’re not nearly universal. But they’re scary.)

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Posted in Behind The Scenes

Why Whole Foods’ Shoppers Are Thin and Albertsons’ Aren’t

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By Tom Laskawy

A recent University of Washington study showed Seattle-area shoppers at Whole Foods are much less likely to be obese, on average, than shoppers at the less expensive chain Albertsons.

I shrugged when I read this. From what I can tell, the study didn’t control for income: it’s well established that Whole Foods shoppers have higher incomes, which has always been correlated with low obesity rates. Indeed, some public health experts will tell you that we don’t have an obesity epidemic so much as we have a poverty epidemic.

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Posted in Food Politics

Risotto as Sauce

By Edward Schneider

Last year some time, Jackie and I had the most wonderful risotto assembly at our friend Angela Hartnett’s London restaurant Murano: a layer of shredded braised oxtail, sauce and all, topped with a delicate leek risotto. Cottage pie meets Milan, with the creamy risotto acting simultaneously as a second sauce and as an integral element of the dish. (With a bit of imagination, you can see an antecedent in the custom of serving osso buco with saffron-scented risotto.)

I thought of this a while ago, when we were just starting to get tired of the leftovers of a braised pork butt we’d been pecking away at for several days. Also in the refrigerator I had some cooked peppers – sweet red peppers and a poblano – julienned and slowly melted in olive oil until the flavor intensified. As I reheated the pork yet again, I used a half cup of this pepper mixture to start a risotto: not the typical elegant kind, but something gutsier – a kind of in-your-face risotto that is becoming a habit in our house. This one was flavored only with that pepper “sofrito,” white wine and chicken stock, with plenty of black pepper. Continue reading

Posted in Italian

The Funny Pages

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Posted in Behind The Scenes

Where Will Big Food Put 1.5 Trillion Calories?

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By Michele Simon

[I met Michele Simon last year, at a panel discussion at NYU – she’s a powerful advocate and speaker, and as you can see here, a terrific thinker. I believe that if you read this piece and its links, plus Tom Laskawy’s, you’ll understand why so many people are critical of Let’s Move and especially the “cooperative” industry response to it.

Ms. Simon is also an author: check out her book, Appetite for Profit, and her site. – mb]

Recently, 16 major packaged food companies “pledged” to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign that they would somehow remove 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. food supply by the end of 2015. As I wrote here, there are many reasons to be skeptical about this announcement. Since my post others have chimed in with their own doubts. For example, see business writer Melanie Warner’s excellent analysis, Food Industry’s Calorie Reduction Pledge: Smart Marketing, but Dumb Nutrition. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics

Politics of the Plate

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By Barry Estabrook

Superherbicides vs. Superweeds

Last week I noted that agribusiness giant Monsanto was scaling back its profit projections in the face of generic competition for its weed killer Roundup. Now, it turns out that the popular herbicide is getting some stiff competition from the weeds themselves.

Monsanto has profited greatly from selling “Roundup Ready” seeds. These varieties have been genetically engineered (GE) to survive being slathered in the company’s pesticide, which kills competing weeds. For years environmentalists have warned that the near-universal use of the herbicide in corn, soybeans, and cotton would eventually give rise to races of superweeds that also could survive Roundup—call them “Roundup Resistant.” Sure enough, that now is happening all over the farm belt. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics