Thursday, January 29, 2009

Local produce and honesty

I haven't been going to my local farm stand much. I've been in and out of town a lot, picking up produce specials at Oliver's and even Raley's once in a while, and eating greens from my garden. But when I went there Sunday for seasonal roots I saw a new feature. EVERYHING is labeled as to origin. In the past I have always found out where things are from by asking - and if the folks don't know they will find out. Everything grown there has been labeled "Imwalle's". But now there's no need to ask where the other stuff is from. Why can't every market do this?

Okay, I lied...

A few weeks ago I told a correspondent that the thought of meat did not nauseate me. I was wrong, at least in some instances. Apparently this bacon and sausage bomb
has been making the rounds of the internet. Wonder why no one sent it to me? Well, here's the truth - if I am going to consume 5000 calories, it is not going to be in the form of bacon and pork sausage. It's called the Bacon Explosion. Think about it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This morning, as I was trying to drag myself out of bed, I listened to the founder of Worth Our Weight helping out with a KRCB fundraiser.

Evelyn Cheatham noted that the first thing she does with the underserved young people who participate in the culinary apprentice program is sit down around the table and eat a decent meal with them. For some this is a first. The drive-up window is often their primary meal source, and some even question the need to sit and eat. But after a few weeks of this, most begin to question fast food without her saying anything critical about it.

So who wants to go there for lunch with me some Friday or Saturday soon?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Things begin to come to light

I was surprised the other morning on my way to Berkeley to hear our local CBS radio affiliate feature a story, with good background info, on the recent findings of Pepsico about the environmental cost of their Tropicana Orange Juice.

Apparently Pepsico's British affiliate assessed the footprint of one of their products, and when the manager who spearheaded this moved to the U.S. he led a plan to have an outside agency do the math on several key Pepsico products.

One half-gallon of Tropicana o.j. is responsible for 3.75 lbs of CO2.

But then there's the interesting part. 60% of that is a result of growing the oranges and making the juice. 58% of that 60% - more than one third of the total CO2- is due to what Pepsico in their press release calls "grove management" - a lovely euphemism for making and spreading the huge amounts of synthetic high nitrogen (from natural gas) fertilizer required for high yield orange mono-cropping.

Whatever Pepsico calls it, the cost of industrial agriculture is beginning to be revealed.

I wonder if the results of this will encourage or discourage other food manufacturers from risking a little transparency?

Back to the KCBS story - they had a UC Davis ag chemistry prof comment on the story. She talked about organic; but she also talked about the wonderful things we can grow in California without big synthetic fertilizer N inputs. Let's hear it for TOMATOES!

Go ahead and eat those Reese's pieces

because Hershey's does not buy peanut butter or paste from the source of the salmonella outbreak.

But as the New York Times says in their headline, this food safety story reminds us how complex the supply system is for prepared foods. Some other confectioner may make the peanut butter cups in your chocolate doodad ice cream - and they may buy from the Georgia firm.

Oh - and how about those dog treats that contain p.b.? I'm aware that even as I buy less and less prepared food for myself, my girls get the kitty equivalent of industrial food.

Habitat loss, climate change, global pandemic and DINNER

Seems like deliciousness may be more of a factor in the global collapse of amphibian populations than was previously thought.

The most interesting fact in this story - frogs' legs on the school lunch menu in France!

I've had them and thought them tasty - but are they a basic food group? or that strongly identified culturally? If New Englanders can get along without cod can't the French get along without amphibian appendages?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Justice at the Table

I heard about this from Christine Sine (

Mustard Seed Associates:

February 7: Justice at the Table Workshop

Come to our second “The Revolution Starts at Home” event, Justice at the Table! We will explore together the intricate connections between our faith and the food we eat. We will challenge ourselves and each other to bring our eating and buying practices more in line with our beliefs and draft a “Justice at the Table Plan” to help us implement the changes we hope to make.

Registration is required. Register online at

Event Details: * Date – February 7th, 2009 * Where – Mustard Seed House, 510 NE 81st Street Seattle, WA 98115 (upper floor, back entrance) * Time – 9am – 3pm * Food – Coffee, Tea, and a vegetarian lunch is included. Please bring any snack with you that you wish to share. * Children – Due to our limited space and small staff, we are unable to offer childcare at this event. You are welcome however to bring children 2 and under with you if you feel they’d do well in a room of chatting adults. * Cost – $40 individual/$35 groups of 2 or more (if cost is prohibitive please contact for scholarship information)

Family Food Mission Plan: Family Food Covenant

Hosted by Mustard Seed Associates and The Mustard Seed House

Facilitated: Ricci Kilmer

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cookery Writing These Days

Earlier this week I was having dinner with Jean, pastor at Thanksgiving Lutheran, and she mentioned that all the food magazines seem to be emphasizing comfort foods these days - a sign of troubled times. You know, things like macaroni and cheese and bread pudding. What I have noticed even more is encouragement to reskill, cooking with basic ingredients at home to save money. These trends seem to be eclipsing the usual January barrage of diet advice.

Reading one such article today which advocated using good quality but moderately priced cheeses in cooking led me to this page:

Good grief! I thought there were three kinds of macaroni and cheese - kraft dinner, Annie's, and the real thing as my mother made it. But here are enough recipes for a different one every week of the year if your arteries can stand it. A foodie global tour!

I have not tested these recipes or vetted them on a sustainability scale. I will say that Tillamook extra sharp is the best value for money in a cheddar-type cheese for cooking, in my opinion, and contains to rBST.

I'm going to get my arteries in training and then try the Caramelized Sweet Potato, Garlic and Rosemary Macaroni and Cheese some rainy winter day when I have someone available to help me eat it!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Climate Change Exhibit at AMNH

While in New York City I took a few hours for a mad dash to the American Museum of Natural History to check out their Climate Change exhibit.
I have to say it was fairly disappointing from a foodie perspective.

But the exhibit is reasonably interactive and quite informative from a fossil fuel, CO2 perspective. I was particularly interested in the part about climate change and the oceans, something I think we don't hear enough about. Sometimes all we hear is how people expect the oceans to provide the solution (we've dumped everything else there, why not more CO2?). But ocean acidification is a major problem which will affect many organisms, particularly the calcifying ones, and thus impact some things we enjoy eating, and others which make up their food or substrate. At one point in the exhibit one finds this statement:
"How the ocean will respond to rising CO2 levels is uncertain."

Scary. We know that as well as rising from ice melt, the oceans are getting warmer, too. Most marine organisms have a pretty narrow range of tolerance in the heat-cold dimension. And water expands as it warms, another contribution to flooding and possibly storm generation and intensification.

It's a terrible thing to think that what we haven't done to the oceans with habitat destruction, overfishing, and agricultural run-offs, we will do with increased greenhouse gases.

Since I mentioned agriculture, back to that topic.
Seemed like every time the exhibit descriptions mentioned climate change's impact on agriculture - drought, flood and warming - the proposed solution was genetically engineered seeds. That's where my real disappointment came from. I suppose I could make a case for genetic engineering of seeds for climates that are changing too rapidly for traditional hybridizing methods to work - but only if the artificially introduced genes are from a closely related plant, and not patented by a corporation or other profit making entity. Even then, the danger of backcrossing is real, and with it the driving out of diversity in traditional seed stock and wild relatives. Seems like we should begin now searching folklore and uncommon seed varieties to develop and disseminate seeds with tolerance for a wider range of climatic conditions.

Finally, one more footnote. Farming in the Andes is going to get more challenging as glaciers, a usual source of summer irrigation water, shrink, and there is less of them to melt. I hope somebody is working on those hundreds of varieties of potatoes, searching for varieties that work well in drought.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Book Reviews

I want to give a thumbs up to one book I read a few weeks ago, and a shaky horizontal thumb to two I am trying to read.

The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts was a very interesting read for me. Some reviewers seemed to find it tedious, but hey, I'm the person who enjoyed the cetology in Moby Dick. Roberts shows how the decimation of fishing stocks is not just a result of 20th century factory fishing, but of the whole progress of how humans have regarded the sea and its creatures. The extent of habitat destruction from trawling over the last couple of centuries is a real eye opener. But this book isn't just a lament. Roberts offers stories of the sea's resiliency and many suggestions for what might be done. Most are international restrictions of one sort or another, not out and out bans, even on trawling. I took this book back to the library, but I am going to buy a copy when the paperback comes out later this month.

Now for the two I'm having a hard time with. It's not a problem with readability, but with scientific inaccuracy and sloppiness as well as a tendency to screediness. (I hope I've just coined a new word there.) I found myself wondering if people write non-fiction books these days as though they were blogging. Is there creeping blogitis?

One of these books is The End of Food by Paul Roberts. There are lots of interesting bits in this book. But once I find an inaccuracy, or flippant disregard for distinctions, I find it hard to trust other statements from the author. There's a bit early in the book, where Roberts refers to the energy inputs needed to produce a pound of cattle (the ratio is roughly 10:1, plants:flesh) and then says it's about the same for hogs and poultry. Now anybody who has read anything about the challenge of feeding lots of meat to all on the planet knows that is not true. Even the author knows it is not true, as he gives the full information elsewhere. But I find myself losing confidence in an author who is flippant, lazy, or dumbing down.

Another is Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds by Claire Hope Cummings. I was looking forward to reading this after hearing the author on the radio one morning. She apparently lives somewhere near here - Napa County, I think they said - and is a journalist and farmer. Again, there are many interesting things here. But she really isn't clear - or couldn't be bothered to take the time to be clear - about the species concept. She refers to species before GM as having "strong biological boundaries". She writes of "natural genes" being "governed by biological rules". Genes introduced in the lab are still genes, seems to me. And I want to know what these rules are. She reports many cases of crosses and backcrosses of GM crops with wild and weedy relatives, across species, but does not explain how this happens. I really don't think she's got much of a concept of genetics in the flowering plants.

So, even though I was fascinated to learn about the seed bank in Iraq that we destroyed, taking with it a whole history of adaptation and cultivation from one of the places where agriculture began; and even though I appreciated being reminded of all the havoc being wreaked in Hawaii from the agrochemical companies operating there; and even though I liked the caricature of James Watson, whom I have never admired - I don't quite trust this book. I would want to call to the attention of anyone reading it that this is for the most part a tertiary account - the author is summarizing or synthesizing the work of historians and sociologists of science and technology. She is clear in the notes and introduction that she has overgeneralized in places, and that her values do come into play. For this honesty we can all be thankful.

I'm going to keep trying with these latter two books until they are due back at the library. Or I may just read the bibliographies and see if there is anything in them on which I want to follow up. Meanwhile, the Roberts book goes on the book list to the right.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Values for Eaters

I picked up this little wallet card when I was at the Food and Faith conference in Iowa a couple of months ago. It's from the Catholic Rural Life Conference. A new year seems a good time to reaffirm these core values.

Human Dignity

Integrity of Creation

Common Good

Universal Desitination of Goods


Option for the Poor


The ten goals on the card are printed so small it's nearly impossible to read them. But you can get an idea here: