Friday, March 27, 2009

Chain, chain, chain; untraceable supply chain

There was an article in Wednesday's NY Times business section heralding a forthcoming report by the inspector general of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Apparently many manufacturers of food products have no idea of their supply chains. This is why folks are still discovering that they may have killed someone with peanut butter in their cookies and candy.

Now I'm no health nut, but this concluding paragraph in the article really made me gasp:
" ' According to an estimate from a manager at a grain storage facility, if grain from one farm were contaminated, millions of bags of flour would be at risk and might have to be removed from retail shelves,' the report stated."

It made me want to contact the folks at King Arthur, or Bob of Red Mill fame, and say, "Do you know where your grain comes from?" I have to trust that they (mostly Bob these days because of shipping) are the exceptions, who do know - who deserve my trust. But after learning that of 40 market items purchased by inspectors only 5 had a fully traceable supply chain, I wonder.

All just another reason to grow your own, or cultivate your own supply chain. But who can afford that? and for everything? It's time for more inspectors, apparently, to step up enforcement of the law requiring manufacturers to know where their raw ingredients come from.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More press and more confusion

seems to be the result of the groundbreaking for the White House vegetable garden.

The article in today's NY Times seems to be a typical mishmash and rehash.
Besides, aren't you tired of Alice Waters? or of Whole Foods being held up as a paragon of a reformed food system?

This shorter piece by Mark Bittman makes more sense

I love the quote from Marion Nestle:

"Organic junk food is still junk food."

It's right up there with a note I made from a recent Pollan interview in Mother Jones:

"If you are willing to make it yourself, have all you want." He was referring specifically to french fries, but think about all the other things it might apply to. If it involves lots of work - and lots of fat - this maxim will save you.

The current Mother Jones issue, by the way has a provocative article, getting beneath the consumer hype of "organic". "Organic and Local is so 2008."

Actually, the most interesting thing I have read lately is a book I finished studying just this week, written before 2008. I think it must have been the author's dissertation - it certainly was written in academese. But it raised all the issues about organic in California - how the movement started, where it went astray, what it is not addressing.

Julie Guthman, Agrarian Dreams: the Paradox of Organic Farming in California
University of California Press, 2004.

"Organic" as a certifiable label really is all about inputs, that is, it is a label geared to the consumer system - growers as consumers as well as shoppers. It does not address processes, nor does it address justice issues. (I think I'll save a little rant about farm workers - and how they are mostly neglected in all this - for Cesar Chavez day.)

What organic means is that farmers are using different inputs than non-organic/conventional growers. No more, no less. Well, except perhaps for European certification schemes.

The organic movement in California was not an attempt to recover a more wholesome agrarian tradition. Most agriculture in California has always been done on a large scale. The organic movement as it arose in the 60s and 70s came from urban idealists, back-to-the-land romanticism.

Conversion to organic in California has been driven by cost (some things are just relatively easy and maybe even cheaper to grow organically, like grapes and tomatoes) and by wholesalers as much as by a vision of sustainability or ecological agriculture.

And most of the organic food available in the supermarket is grown on a large scale. Small scale growers make it through a combination of restaurant contracts and direct marketing, with CSAs probably having the most positive impact on small-medium integrated farming with just labor practices.

Friday, March 20, 2009

So now a generation has an excuse

not to like beets! Because Barack Obama doesn't like beets, and there won't be any in the White House garden. The beets are in at my garden - but only one other gardener has any planted. Why this anti-beet feeling in a culture that likes sweet things?

Was it Bush I who didn't like broccoli? There's some here. But I don't see the promised arugula on the plan. Must one plant it in the fall in the D.C. area?

So the White House vegetable garden seemed inevitable, and now everyone is taking credit for it, especially Alice Waters.

I've just looked over the plan and it makes pretty good sense. I'm happy to see they are confining the mint - but I wonder why not interplant the other herbs, especially the annual and tender perennial ones? and the chives? They all help with pest control or attract beneficials.

Hallelujah for the rhubarb - but I am wondering why so few carrots? - and why next to the dill with which they compete?

I assume the tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos and eggplants will go in after the peas and early lettuces.

And that in time they will realize the berry patch is way too small, and they need an asparagus bed!

If John Jeavons were there they would plant some grains, too. Perhaps grains and favas over next winter? They've got way more than enough land to plant staples, like grains and potatoes. Oh dear - have they shunned potatoes, too, but just not told us? Now is when they should go in...

Follow the link to see the garden plan:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spirituality of Gardening

This looks well worth checking into...

... there may be similar events in other places...

Lots of interest in community gardens up my way - now all we need is sweat and a goat (to eat the blackberry leaves)....

April 25: The Spirituality of Gardening

Come to our third The Revolution Starts At Home event
The Spirituality of Gardening facilitated by Christine Sine

When? April 25, 2009 | 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Where? Mustard Seed House , Seattle

Do you struggle to connect to the story of God through morning devotions and Sunday worship? I believe one reason people are moving away from Christianity at time warp speed is because we have divorced our faith from the glory of God revealed through the natural world. Nothing makes me more aware of this than working in the garden. I read about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but I experience it every time I plant a seed and watch it burst into life. I read about the faithfulness of God to Israel but I experience it every time I watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds I have planted. I read about the miracle of the fish and the loaves but I experience a miracle every time I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest.

In this workshop we will discuss the wonderful ways that God is revealed through the rhythms of planting, growing and harvesting in the garden. Come prepared to get your hands dirty as we will spend some time in the garden or in the greenhouse if the weather is inclement.

Each participant will receive a copy of The Garden Year, a resource that Christine Sine created to help her plan, cultivate and harvest throughout the year.

When? April 25, 2009 | 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Where? Mustard Seed House , Seattle


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Changes in D.C.

Michelle Obama has served lunch at a soup kitchen which serves fresh and local
and is promoting community gardening. Will they really tear up the south lawn as Michael Pollan suggested?

Well, even if they don't, Secretary Vilsack had an asphalt breaking party for Lincoln's birthday and is eyeing the jackhammered driveway as a potential garden now that spring is just around the corner, reported NPR yesterday morning.

Will Vilsack's proposed changes be "radical" though, as NPR suggested? My guess is it will be a little at a time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jane Brody, long time nutritionista at the NY Times, authored an article published yesterday asserting that if you spent just a little more time cooking you could have better nutrition for less money.

The article had a companion piece with a number of recipes.

Now I don't see much to argue with in this article - though of course I would have liked a little more emphasis on the seasonal and local. No, what amazed me was that people would need to be told these things. Do they really need to be told that potatoes, beans and apples are good nutrition for the money? That buying in quantity and then dividing and freezing is a good way to save? That a hearty soup is filling and cheap? how to make tuna salad and baked apples?

I mean - these things all seem so obvious to me! And I was not alive during the last depression.

I was happy to see the revival of salmon croquettes - though I think Nigella Lawson's recipe for salmon cakes is better - a secret vice of mine. But I guess not any longer.