Wednesday, January 30, 2008


As Michael Pollan recommends in his newest book In Defense of Food, "Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." Which brings us to a newly-coined word for those who eat the way Grandma used to: Retrovore

It's a great concept, carrying implications of beyond-organic, beyond-sustainable, beyond-unrefined, beyond chemical-free. It implies eating mostly local seasonal foods and a developing a habit of home preserving. And unlike the term 'locavore' it doesn't reject the inclusion of trade-goods, such as tea, coffee, chocolate, spices, olive oil, citrus. And it's intuitive, with little inherent controversy over nitpicky questions such as 'how local is local?' to ease the way for those who fret over whether or not they can still drink coffee. I don't know whether it will be any more palatable to those who scoff at the idea of locavorism, but I like it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Indiana dairy labelling

Monsanto is at it again. Their rBGH product, Posilac, which artificially increases milk production in dairy cows, has seen declining sales. They think the solution is to prevent consumers from knowing how their milk was produced, and to that end they've been systematically influencing legislators in dairying states to prevent farmers who don't use the hormone from saying so on their labels. Pennsylvania and Ohio are dealing with this issue right now, and this week Indiana joined the fray.

Indiana HB 1300 would ban the use of labeling that "contains compositional claims that cannot be confirmed through laboratory analysis or can only be supported by sworn statements, affidavits, or testimonials." Monsanto's argument is that milk produced using their growth hormone can't be distinguished in a laboratory from milk produced without the hormone, and therefore labelling milk 'hormone-free' is misleading to consumers because it implies there's a difference.

If you are in Indiana want your representatives working for you instead of for Monsanto, contact your representative.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Raw milk in the UK

This from the Telegraph on the rising demand for raw milk in the UK.

Maple syrup production at the Cincinnati Nature Center

The Cincinnati Nature Center will be tapping maples for maple syrup in a few weeks. This is great local-eating family activity. Attendees can help collect buckets from the trees and bring them to the boiling pot to be turned into maple syrup, then afterwards purchase this year's maple syrup. Syrup making demonstrations Wednesday February 16th (great for homeschoolers) and Saturdays February 23rd and March 1st, with a pancake breakfast Saturday March 8th. Free with daily admission or CNC membership. No registration required, just show up.

Victory in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has rescinded the ban on 'anti-rBGH' labelling. This is great news for small dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and represents a significant win for consumers' right to know. However, a similar fight is still going on in Ohio. If you are in Ohio and want to know whether your milk is produced using rBGH, an email or phone call to Governor Ted Strickland and/or Ohio Agriculture Director Boggs would be timely and helpful. It doesn't have to be long or take a lot of time -- just a couple of lines telling Strickland/Boggs that you prefer to know how your milk is produced and don't want Ohio banning rGBH labelling.

To contact Governor Ted Strickland:
Phone: the Governor's Office at (614) 466-3555
FAX: a letter to the Governor at: (614) 466-9354
Email: click here to be taken to the contact form to send an email to the Governor.

To contact Director Boggs:
Phone: (614) 466-2732
Email: Send an email to Director Boggs

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


In a very funny (but woefully ill-informed -- does Stein really think the only things that grow in Iowa are corn, soybeans, and pork?) article, Joel Stein vows to 'give the finger to locavores' by cooking a meal sourced only from things flown in from at least 3000 miles away.

The irony in his piece?

"This, it turned out, was not an easy task. Farmers in Southern California, it seems, can grow anything."
Not long ago, he would have had a hard time even knowing where most of his produce came from. Now when he wants to eat Peruvian asparagus, at least he can. Thank a locavore, Joel.

And why is local eating so popular these days?

We've been hearing a lot over the past few months about the FDA deciding whether or not to approve cloning of food animals, and according to the Washington Post they've decided to approve it. Whether or not they'll require labelling of such animals is not yet decided, but is unlikely as the FDA only requires food labelling when the use of a new biotechnology introduces an allergen.

Which leaves us with a further question: will farmers who choose not to use cloned animals be allowed to label their products as uncloned? It seems a silly question -- shouldn't it be a farmer's right to point this out? Shouldn't it be a consumer's right to know? But in light of Monsanto's campaign to get lawmakers to make such labels illegal (and lawmakers' inability to resist such campaigns), obviously it's not silly at all. The USDA has said it agrees with the FDA that cloned animals pose no safety concerns and that they'll be

"...working closely with stakeholders to ensure a smooth and seamless transition into the marketplace for these products."

For 'stakeholders' read Big Ag. And when it comes to making decisions about our food, money talks and Big Ag generally wins. Your best bet? Buy your meat from a small farmer who is raising his cows the old-fashioned way. If he is using artificial insemination (and even many small farmers do, because keeping a bull is no easy task) ask him whether the semen is from cloned animals.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The downside of success

Now that local eating has become trendy, it's attracting a lot of folks who don't really understand that a farmers' market is as much about forming relationships with the person who produces your food (read: having conversations with them, not simply trading money for food) as it is about actually procuring the edibles. These folks expect the farmers' market to be like the supermarket. They get bent out of shape when the farmer runs out of an item or when a certain item on their shopping list is unavailable. They get impatient when customers and farmers trade recipes or tips. They turn up their noses at funny-shaped carrots or small potatoes or blemished apples. They can't understand why a dozen eggs costs $3 when they're $1.29 down at Wal-Mart. They complain that pastured beef doesn't taste like grain-finished. I guess eventually they'll either learn or they'll move on when the next food trend hits.

I love that so many folks are trying. I hope they won't move on when the next food trend hits -- I hope they'll stay and keep supporting my farmers. But I suspect that means a real shift in stance for some folks, so I think I'm ready to push them a little. Next time someone huffs impatiently behind me while I'm asking one of my farmers how to prepare chive blossoms or telling him how my squash blossom soup turned out, I am going to turn around and clock her explain: Buying food more slowly is not just an annoying but unavoidable side effect of the farmers' market. It's actually one of the reasons we're there.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Putting Food By: Meatloaf

This week I took my last two meatloaves to friends who are laid up, so today I made up another batch. I made one for dinner tonight, took another to a friend as a gift, and put the other four into the freezer.

I generally make five meatloaves from a quadruple recipe, but as I was measuring them out tonight I discovered that I could get almost exactly six 32-ounce loaves from the quadruple recipe, so I decided to try dividing it that way to see whether the smaller loaves were a good size to feed my family. I've been reading Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating, and one of the issues he points out is that American cooks tend to cook for a crowd, planning for seconds and leftovers. He argues this encourages overeating.

USDA steals "Certified Naturally Grown" from small farmers

Walter Jeffries in his excellent blog Sugar Mountain Farm reports that his new label design has been rejected by the USDA for using the term Certified Naturally Grown. Trouble is, that's what his last label design used, also, and that design was approved by the USDA less than one year ago -- which as Walter points out, represents a policy change. And all this despite the fact that the term Certified Naturally Grown was developed by small farmers in reaction to the USDA stealing the term 'organic' -- which had also been developed by small farmers -- and selling it to Big Ag.

There's really no getting around it. The USDA is bought and paid for by Big Ag. Everything they do, they do with the interests of Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, and other major industrial agriculture corporations firmly in mind.

Putting Food By: Spaghetti Sauce

We had baked ziti the other night (still looking for my forever recipe for baked ziti -- this one called for ricotta and was too lasagna-ish) and I made a double recipe of my husband's grandmother's sauce to use in it. I ended up with 11 cups of sauce for the freezer, so today I stuck 3 3-cup packages and a 2-cup package into the freezer.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Local Eating Requires Local Distribution

Eric Hahn recognized a need: local distribution for local foods.

Hahn was a sales representative for a national food distributor working in Northern Michigan, a major cherry growing area. The cherries he delivered to his restaurant and grocery customers were shipped from Washington state, and the chefs and store managers he worked with kept asking for local cherries.

"One of them one day said, 'Run down to Friskes and bring me back a box of cherries. I don't have time to do it.' So I did and sent him an invoice. That was the start of it all."

Hahn tried to work within his company to serve the need and found their distribution system wasn't flexible enough to make sourcing local foods efficient. So he quit his job, traded his Volvo for a van, and invested $5000 in a new venture: disstributing local foods to local restaurants and groceries. This year his revenues his $250,000.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Putting Food By: Chicken Stock

I put 7 packages of chicken stock, 3 cups each, into the freezer today. I've been freezing my chicken necks and carcasses plus a LOT of vegetable trimmings I'd been throwing into the freezer every time I chopped anything. Yesterday I pulled it all out, made stock. Today I packaged all but a few cups up for the freezer. I'm making corn chowder for dinner tonight, so I'm using what was left after my freezer session in that.


1 - 3 chicken carcasses, picked over
chicken necks and hearts
vegetable trimmings: onion, carrot, celery, parsley, garlic, parsley, potatoes. (If you don't have any vegetable trimmings, you can use whole vegetables cut into 3-inch pieces.)
water to cover
1 T allspice berries
1 T peppercorns
2 bay leaves

In a large stockpot, place chicken carcasses and parts along with vegetables. Add water to cover by several inches and bring to a boil. Add spices, lower heat to simmer, and cook several hours, skimming if necessary.

Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight. In the morning, skim off any fat that has risen to the surface. Package and freeze. I freeze in square tupperware, then pop out the frozen squares of stock and vacuum-seal them. Will keep 3 - 6 months, depending on how cold your freezer is.

I've got a turkey carcass in the freezer awaiting similar treatment, along with five pounds of beef bones I picked up last time I bought whole-beef hamburger out at Streits' that needs to be roasted and turned into stock.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Brian Halweil on the word 'Locavore'

Brian Halweil, author of Eat Here, posted on Serious Eats about the implications of the word locavore being chosen as 2007 Word of the Year. From the article:

As food gains prominence in our nation's cultural dialogue, understanding how we eat can shine a light on all those dysfunctional aspects of our food system, from abuse of farmworkers to stubborn subsidies to chemical pollution. Which means that a series of buzzwords like locavore, seemingly trivial on their own, add up to some very different choices at the checkout counter.
He also points out that the New Oxford American Dictionary has been prophetic in the past, choosing phone number in 1927 as well as other words that survived the test of time: fridge, pizza, nonstick, and Big Mac.

Convenient Food

One of the complaints a lot of folks have with trying to eat more local foods is that it's time consuming. People not only want their food cheap, they want to buy it fast and easy. Not just convenience foods -- food obtained conveniently.

We're used to going into the supermarket, finding everything we need (and being irritated if they're out of something), wheeling up one aisle and down the next loading up our carts, stopping at a register (and being irritated if there's a line) and being home putting packages away an hour after we pulled into the supermarket parking lot. And much of the food purchased can be put on the table with minimal effort -- it's already halfway prepared for us.

At the farmers' market, which for most people will be further away than the supermarket, we have to look at all the vendors. Some may have one or two things we want, some others. Sometimes we have to backtrack because the vendor we always buy our eggs from doesn't have them this week and we'd skipped the eggs at a previous stall. Sometimes we have to make a change in plan on the fly -- there's no spinach, but there's kale. Some of the things we were hoping to find may be in short supply or not there at all and we won't get any. We have to pay several different vendors, and sometimes that means waiting while the farmer has a conversation with someone else. Buying from a farmer requires having a conversation ourselves, and that takes time. Sometimes we make more than one trip to the car. And much of the food we bring home still needs at least a bit of thought and work to turn it into an actual meal. It can feel like a time-consuming way to feed ourselves if we've gotten used to doing it the supermarket way and our meal-planning skills are rusty.

A lot of folks say they don't have time to shop this way. But a lot of those same folks probably think nothing of spending three hours at the mall looking for a pair of shoes. I'd much rather shop for food than shoes, so a trip to the farmers' market doesn't seem like time poorly spent to me.

And to each his own. Every one of us has to decide for ourselves what is important to us and what's worth doing. We all have busy lives in our own ways. But when someone tells me they'd love to feed their family like I feed mine but don't have the time to shop for real food, I'll tell them that's because they haven't discovered how much fun shopping for real food can be.

Friday, January 4, 2008

NPR: Shut Up and Eat

NPR guest columnist Amy Stewart is tired of talking about food's provenance. She thinks we should just shut up and eat. Myself, I think that's how we got ourselves where we are in the first place.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Greenup Cafe at Veggie Option

Local food blogger Veggie Option offers this review of Covington's Greenup Cafe, a Jean-Robert de Cavel restaurant that like all of his establishments features locally-sourced foods.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Winter CSAs

From the Ithaca Journal comes this story about Winter CSAs, which are much more difficult to find than summer-month CSAs.

From the article:

A recent wintertime distribution had potatoes, kale, carrots, beets, parsnips, cabbage, leeks, rutabagas and salad mix.

Wintertime distributions generally contain less variety than summertime distributions because they include root vegetables that the farms have stored in humid cellars, in addition to freshly harvested produce. Kale grows outside unprotected in the winter because it can survive freezing temperatures, but other items, such as lettuce varieties, are grown inside a greenhouse in tunnels covered by poly-blend fabric.

Around Cincinnati, Turner Farm offers a winter CSA, but that's the only one I'm aware of. (If anyone knows of others, please speak up!)

Putting Food By: Shrimp Stock

A recipe I used this weekend called for 2 pounds of peeled, uncooked shrimp. I hated to waste the shells, so I made stock. Today I put two packages of 1.5 cups each into the freezer. Not even a little bit local, of course, but it all fits in with trying to develop a habit of preserving what I have.

The lengthening of the days

It's traditional at the Winter Solstice to review the experiences, both successes and failures, of the past year and make plans for the new one. I don't like "Best of the Year" lists, and I long ago realized New Year's Resolutions didn't work for me, so none of those here. I do like making plans, though, and of course any good plan is informed by experience.

So here are my local eating plans as Winter begins and the days start to lengthen again. This post is almost purely personal and may not be of interest to anyone but me, but if you'd like to share your own plans or react to mine, I'd love to hear it all!

I'm planning to plan ahead more. This past year I didn't spend enough time thinking ahead to winter. I was a grasshopper, enjoying the plenty of summer. By the time I started thinking about putting food by, my choices were limited. My freezer therefore besides meat contains little other than the fruits of late summer and autumn -- corn, kale, apples, potatoes, onions -- and my pantry holds only winter squash. This year I need to awaken my inner ant and start thinking about preserving as soon as there's anything to preserve.

Planning ahead represents a mindset change. I have a small pantry and try to not to allow it to get too crowded. So I've tended to buy what I need when I need it. I tend not to, for instance, have lots of dry beans on hand. The supermarket is only 2 miles from my house; they always have dry beans. Why should I store them? But trying to eat more local foods requires me to develop a new and unfamiliar habit. The farmers' market doesn't always have dry beans. I saw some a few times over the summer and neglected to pick them up; now my pantry contains no local dry beans. Trying to eat more local foods means seeing the dry beans (or whatever), realizing this may be a unique opportunity, and at least asking the farmer, "Will you have more of these later, or is this it?"

I think this mindset change -- developing a habit of thinking ahead with regard to food -- is probably the most important thing any of us who want to eat more locally can do. It represents a major change for many of us. It means looking at a picked-clean chicken carcass and thinking, "that'll do for stock." It means seeing celery at the farmers' market and thinking, "Wow, celery. How the heck do you save celery?" It means in many ways remembering the things our grandmother did (and which we often laughed at) and realizing why she did them. Jam, for instance, wasn't developed to provide sweets for breakfast. It was developed as a way to preserve fruit. Grandma spent all summer making jams because she grew up before commercially-produced jams were widely available. No jam-making meant a long winter with no fruit.

I'm planning to visit more of the farms I've been buying from. I'd like to tour them and take photos if possible. I have a hard time with shyness on this one -- unless someone actually offers me a tour, I have a very difficult time asking. I don't want to impose on folks, especially on farmers whom I know to be among those whose work is never done. How do I ask for a piece of someone's time without putting that person in a difficult position?

I'm planning to either find a local source for cow's milk cheese or learn to make my own. Ditto sausage. I've found some great sausages at Hyde Park FM, but I haven't been able to get up the gumption to ask where they source their meats. It seems somehow rude to ask, though of course that's ridiculous. And I haven't been able to find local cow's milk cheese at all. I'm thinking these are two methods of food preservation that would be worth my time learning.

I'm planning to plant more horseradish. My garden is plagued blessed by deer and other hungry wildlife, so there are only a few things I can grow. Horseradish is one. In my experience, deer won't touch it. (The imported cabbage worm, however, will decimate it.) And I like making things with it -- I've found a recipe for Horseradish Jam to use on beef, for instance. But this year I didn't have nearly enough, so I need to plant more horseradish. This year I had four plants. I'm thinking I need an entire 3' x 6' bed.