Monday, February 25, 2008

The good news

I realize I've been posting more bad news than good concerning my search for happy food. So, here's the good news. If you want to eat happy, healthy food, you can eat at....drum roll, please...Chipotle.

They introduced their happy pork (okay, they call it something else, I call it "happy") several years ago, not long after Scott and I started eating at one of their Cincinnati establishments. Much of their chicken and beef is also happy. In fact, I had quite an email conversation today with one of their employees - we wrote back and forth about four times regarding their chicken and beef. Without getting into specifics, I probably won't start eating their chicken or beef any time soon (because I sort of committed myself to their pork years ago and I'm not willing to try anything different) but I'm comfortable saying that Chipotle is making an enthusiastic, good faith effort to make the bulk of their chicken and beef natural and humanely raised and slaughtered. It's not yet all happy meat, but they really are committed to improving the quality of their meat. It just takes a long time for supply to catch up with demand.

Plus...who wouldn't want to eat at the restaurant that sponsors the Argyle Armada? We just finished watching the Tour of California last night and were really impressed by the Slipstream/Chipotle team. Cool guys, hardcore doping restrictions, and best of all, super stylish argyle uni's. Ooh la la. Can't wait for Le Tour. Only four more months.

Another interview with Pollan

I came upon this interesting interview that Newsweek did with Michael Pollan in the wake of the huge beef recall. I've copied and pasted it here because, despite my incessant badgering, I bet most of my loyal readers still have yet to pick up either of Pollan's two most recent books and I think this interview (as predictable as his answers are to those who have read one of his books) will give you some insight into what the heck I've been making such a fuss about.

NEWSWEEK: What are the dangers posed by letting downer cattle enter the food supply?
Michael Pollan:
They are prohibited out of concern for mad cow disease. Cows with BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy], as it is officially known, lose the ability to walk, so as one of the several precautions we took, we decided no downers [should enter] the food supply, and we also changed the feed of the animals and decided no meat could be taken from near the spinal column or brain material. But the other thing to be alert to is that downer cows can be sick for other reasons. Whatever the risk, do you want to be eating meat from sick cows?

What is the economic problem?
The industry is eager to turn all cows into hamburger, basically, and they don't want to exclude anything. I've never witnessed what we saw in that video, but we are dealing with production lines that are incredibly fast. In a modern American slaughter plant, as I understand this one was, they slaughter 400 head an hour. What is that, seven per minute? Anything that slows down production is a problem. If an animal falls, he or she slows down the line. The workers are told to keep that supply coming … Temple Grandin, [who] has written on redesigning slaughterhouses to make them more humane, has written essays on the dehumanization of slaughterhouse workers. You work that long in the presence of death, you get desensitized. You don't see animals; you see production units and quotas.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association says it is rare for slaughterhouse workers to behave like this. The Humane Society, which says it targeted this plant at random, says it's typical. How is a consumer supposed to navigate these opposing viewpoints?
I don't know the answer to that. I find it really hard to believe it's typical. But how much of this behavior is tolerable? There are rules. McDonald's has rules that they tolerate a 5 percent error rate on the use of the captive bolt gun that slaughters the animals. That means 20 animals an hours are subjected to an imperfect kill, which is to say that they are subjected to a terrifying and brutal process. Is that typical? No, it's only 5 percent. But that's a lot when you are talking about this many animals. To see those images and think this is how our lunch is getting produced—if not every day, then sometimes—is very disturbing. It's one of those episodes that peels back the curtain on how our food is prepared.

How can a consumer who wants to continue to eat beef avoid food from factories that break the law?
That's a very good question. I've written a lot on industrial meat production, and it's very interesting to see how people react. Some people react by saying, "That's it, I can't eat meat anymore." Other people look at this and they put it in a box. They don't make the emotional connection between their 99-cent double cheeseburger and this process that we've seen in the video. Still other people decide they want to still eat meat, but they want to eat meat they feel good about. They want alternatives. Luckily for us, there are some really good ones. There is meat produced in small batches, from ranchers that keep their animals not in feedlots standing in their own manure but in pastureland. They are slaughtered in small plants, just a few head a day. It does tend to be more expensive, but you get what you pay for. What it takes to get a 99-cent double cheeseburger are these kinds of shortcuts: downer cattle and 400 head slaughtered an hour. But cheap food has a very high cost.

How does the consumer know he or she is getting small-production beef then?
I think if you find meat at the farmers' market, and it's grass-fed meat, you are going to meet the rancher there and ask him. Ultimately, that's the only real assurance: talk to the person who has raised the meat. I don't know that natural or organic meat necessarily offers you any assurance that the slaughterhouse is humane. I think you really have to look at smaller slaughterhouses.

What else can the consumer do?
Another thing people who are buying hamburger can do is buy hamburger from places that are grinding it themselves. You can go to your butcher or your supermarket and ask whether they are grinding the meat or buying it ground. If you are buying hamburger from someone who is grinding it themselves, it will [probably] come from just one animal, and that will lower the risk considerably.

Does anyone other than USDA officials visit slaughterhouses? Anyone whose opinion you trust?
No. They don't let anyone in. They don't let journalists in. They only let in the USDA. With the exception of one slaughterhouse in Cannon Falls, Minn., which has a glass wall. The glass wall is there to make the statement: "We have nothing to hide. Everything we do we're proud of, and you can come look."

The Secretary of Agriculture says it's extremely unlikely any of the cattle had mad cow disease. Do we have any idea why these were downer cattle?
We don't know why they were downer cows. But they weren't healthy. Which indicates they weren't well taken care of. This kind of meat is really the bottom of the barrel. But that's what hamburger is. They are probably right. Anything to do with BSE is vanishingly small. The whole exercise is really odd. When you think about it, most of the meat has already been eaten. It's fine for them to say that it is low-risk. It probably is low risk. But they had enough concern about downer cows in the food supply to make them illegal.

What would you like to see come out of this?
The best thing they can do is slow down the lines. In Europe they do 100 an hour, not 400. The downside of really fast lines, aside from the fact that you are just pushing meat, is that you are much more likely to get manure in the meat because you are working so quickly. The reason we have E. coli and other diseases is that these animals come in and there is manure caked on their hides, and as they remove the hides, it has to be done really carefully, and there's an increased risk the manure will get on the meat. It's very hard to work fast and well.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Going out to dinner.

Going out to dinner with me may not be for the faint of heart. I believe that last night was the first time I've been out to dinner since I became super-passionate about what I eat. Scott and I were in Denver for a concert (about which I will blog later) and stopped on 16th street for a quick bite to eat. We went to Tokyo Joe's. Tokyo Joe's is a small Colorado-based chain who attempts to be both healthy and respectful toward the environment and the animals they serve. Despite that, the meat options on the menu were not great. Coleman "natural" beef was an option, as were "natural" chicken, conventional pork, and mostly wild fish. Hooray for is tough to screw up. Yes, fish farms screw up the environment, but not on the scale of CAFOs and other industrial meat/poultry producing arrangements. I have little to no respect for "natural" labels on meat - it simply means that the animals were not given growth hormones or routine antibiotics. It tells you nothing about the living conditions of the animals, which are important as much for our health as for their happiness.

We ended up choosing the shrimp spring rolls and a few tuna and salmon sushi rolls, along with some miso soup. Dinner was tasty, but looking back I wish that I had expressed concern/interest about the meat choices to the guys behind the counter. After all, restaurants won't change until they know that consumers demand it. And this was at a restaurant that is, as restaurants go, forward-thinking. Imagine taking me to someplace like Applebee's...a disaster in the making. Yikes.

Along those lines, here is a San Francisco Chronicle article about Michael Pollan and his latest book (In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, which I saw today at Costco for only $13). If you think you might ever go out to a restaurant for a meal with me, you might want to read this article so that you're prepared for the experience. If dinner with me used to be pleasant (and I don't know that it ever was), it may no longer be so.

I love this post.

Wow...for a variety of reasons, I love this post. Read it if you get a chance.

Home Grown Colorado: Restaurant Spotlight: ...and the "Bum Steer" Award Goes to....Elway's

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Paintings on the wall!

A couple of days ago I picked up some open-back frames from Hobby Lobby for the paintings I made for Callie's room. The frames were bright brassy gold when I brought them home, but I quickly painted them Ralph Lauren's "Aged Mint" color. It's a very close color match to Callie's new bed, and I'm planning on using it as an accent around Callie's newly-redecorated room.

I love Hobby Lobby's open-back frames. It's such a great program - the frames are fifty percent off about every other week and come in every imaginable size. You buy a frame for next to nothing (I think the 18x24's in the photo were about $15 each) and take it to the custom framing desk with your artwork. If you already have a mat cut, you can give it to them with your art or they can cut a mat for you for a minimal fee. They put the frame, glass, artwork, backing, and hangers together for free. You just pay for the supplies. And, the best part is they almost always have time to do it while you wait. SO much cheaper and easier than custom framing! The total cost of the frames and framing supplies in the photo below was $32. What a deal. Here's a photo of the paintings above Callie's new bed, and her new roman shade. (I made the roman shade after I screwed up her perfectly good roller shade - ugh.)

As a note...yes, Callie's room is orange. I'm currently seeking a more subdued shade of orange but am learning that there is no such thing as "subdued orange." That's probably why Callie likes it so fits her crazy personality. I think her room looks a bit like it's been colored with an orange highlighter.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Am Beer Man, Hear Me Roar!

This is Scott. I normally don't blog, but today I found out something that affects American beer drinkers......something near to my heart, and my wallet.

For those of you who read this blog on a regular basis, you know that Hillary prefers local food from happy animals, real milk, etc. At the same time, I've been transitioning my beverage of choice from Budweiser to local beers that have fewer transportation costs, less of an impact on the environment, and just plain taste better. The local beers cost more than Bud, but are so good and filling that drinking one local beer gives me the satisfaction of two national brews. The best local breweries that I've found thus far are Bristol Brewing Company right here in Colorado Springs, Breckenridge Brewery, and New Belgium Brewery (Famous for Fat Tire). Here is a link to a New Belgium page that gives a summary of New Belgium's sustainability approach. Why not drink beer from a brewery like this that brews beers that taste so good and are also good for the earth?

So everything was happy and fine, until this morning when I read our local newspaper, The Gazette, and found this article.

The price of my local beer is going to go up about $1 a 6-pack because there is a shortage of hops! What is wrong with this country? Farmers aren't growing hops and barley because it is more lucrative for them to grow corn? Corn is my least favorite plant (we don't say hate in our house) because some idiot from the Nixon Administration thought it would be a good idea to subsidize farmers who grow corn at a loss, so we'd have a surplus of corn. Ever since then Americans have been putting corn in everything from gas and cow feed to almost every "food" that comes in a cardboard box or a plastic bottle.

I don't want to pay $1 more a 6 pack, so please stop buying corn and encouraging our government to pass farm bills that reward corn farmers for over-production. I have the utmost respect for farmers, but we need them to go back to growing carrots, tomatoes, and hops. Jump off the corn ethanol bandwagon and start demanding ethanol made from sugar cane or cellulose. Eat foods that are made the way God intended. It will help your heart, waistline, and our nation's health crisis.

Since I don't blog often, I'll summarize with a conglomerate of issues. I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for in the upcoming election, but if a candidate stands up to corn and pledges to privatize social security, they have my vote. Also, if everyone acted more like my wife (went to a chiropractor, ate right, used proper grammer), the world would be a better place.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Are you convinced yet?

How many more articles like this do we need before people stop buying shrink-wrapped meat from supermarkets/Costco/Sam's Club? I mean, really people. It took me a month of research to find safe, happy, healthy meat for my family and me to eat - a small sacrifice for the peace of mind afforded us each night at dinner. I hope that articles like this have convinced you to look into where you can get good meat, too. For your health, for the environment, and for animals who deserve to be treated...well, like animals. After all, WE are the ones whose demand is causing them to wallow in their own filth. We deserve better. They deserve better. The "bargain" price at your local supermarket chain is NOT worth it. How about this...cut out two trips to your local chain restaurant each month to make up the difference in price between the "bargain" cow you'd get at Kroger/Safeway/King Soopers/Albertsons/Tom Thumb/Piggly Wiggly/Harris Teeter/Fresh Market/Food Lion/Bigg's/Costco/Sam's etc. and the happy, decent quality cow you could get from your local farmer/rancher.

And, by the way, my kids WON'T be eating the lunches that their schools serve until the schools figure out a way to make lunches out of local, clean, sustainably-produced food. And you can bet I'll be lobbying my kids' schools for good food options. It's too bad...I used to look forward to the time I could pay $2.05 per day for the convenience of school lunches instead of making lunch at 11 o'clock every night like I do these days. The way I see it, though, that $2.05 lunch isn't worth it.

Can you tell I'm fired up? I could write SO much more...just read the article below. I'm too angry to keep writing.

USDA recalls 143 million pounds of frozen beef

I'm not creative

But, if I see something I like, I won't hesitate to copy it. Sometimes that means painting furniture, sometimes it's retro-fitting window treatments, and sometimes it's just outright copying somebody else's work. I'm a bit afraid to post about this topic (and share photos) because my cousin, Heather, is a very good artist. Hopefully she won't see my measly work and snicker.

When Scott and I were in Savannah, we stopped into the Savannah College of Art and Design store where students and professors sell their work. Cottage Living magazine said it is a great place to pick up artwork, and I always follow CL's advice. While wandering through the store, I came across this bookcase full of artwork that I loved. I'd be happy buying any of the pieces, if only my bank account would allow it. Instead, I had Scott block for me so that the cashier wouldn't see the atrocity I was about to commit, I turned on my camera, and as slyly as I could, snapped a quick photo of the display without bringing my camera above waist level. After all, I have already found myself quite adept at copying other people's artwork; this time I'd have a photo to work from. Pictured above is the display at the SCAD store. While I adored the pieces with the dogs and cats (especially the Scotty dog on the diving board), I knew my abilities were not going to allow me to recreate any of those pieces. But, the pitcher of flowers? Now that, I could do. I figured I needed some cheap artwork in Callie's room and two pieces like that would fit the bill.

So, this week I started working on them. I think they came out pretty well. And it was really simple to do...especially considering how many different colors of paint we have hanging around our house. Between the tubes of acrylic in my art closet and the cans of latex out in the garage, I can make just about any color I want. Convenient, since I seem to spend much more time mixing paint colors than the average mom. Especially considering that I am NOT an artist. So, here they are. I still need to frame them, which will be another adventure in itself, since I plan to make the frames right here in our garage. Nothing's ever simple with me. For some reason, I always have to do it the hard way.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monster Cookies

This morning the girls and I made our favorite cookies, Monster Cookies. We love the monster cookies at Whole Foods, and while I was trying to duplicate the recipe, my friend Katherine (who gave me the whole wheat bread recipe) gave me her recipe for monster cookies. I don't think it's exactly the same as the ones at Whole Foods, but they're pretty darn good and they come out of the oven perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy inside every time. Can't beat consistency...especially when I'm the one doing the baking. I'm not known for consistently good baking results.

The recipe makes about four dozen cookies. I usually bake two dozen and put the other half of the dough in the fridge for later. Here's the recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

3 large eggs
1 cup maple syrup (Grade B works fine, if you have access to it. Grade A costs a bit more. Whatever you do, don't use fake syrup.)
1 tsp molasses
1 stick butter, softened
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups chopped nuts
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups chocolate chips

Mix until well moistened. Drop by 1/8 cupfuls on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Don't flatten. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until they are light golden brown. Place on cooling rack.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Fresh bread.

This is the third batch of bread I've baked in as many weeks and, I have to tell you, I'm hooked. I started buying freshly ground wheat from our local co-op, Back to the Basics, and it is amazing. To bake a batch of bread takes no more than twenty minutes of hands-on time (including getting out the ingredients and tossing the bowls and utensils into the dishwasher). My KitchenAid mixer kneads the bread for me and my oven proofs it (meaning: it stays at a warm temp with the fan running to help the bread rise). For me, the proofing function of our oven is what makes the whole thing possible. Anyone who's been at my house during the winter knows our heater isn't allowed to come on often and, as a result, our house is a bit chilly. Not a good environment for bread that needs to rise.

This batch of bread is a basic whole wheat recipe with a few other whole grains thrown in haphazardly. I realize that this is not the best way to bake (baking is a science, not an art) but it seems to be working out thus far. Fresh bread is unbeatable, especially when made with freshly ground wheat which is full of vitamins and minerals that are lost when wheat sits around in a paper bag on the grocery store shelf. I have one friend who grinds all of her wheat at home in a Nutrimill, but I'm not ready for that. At least, not yet.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Redecorated guestroom

Inspired by this bargain houndstooth fabric I found online while shopping for upholstery fabric for Callie's room, we repainted and redecorated the guest room. It follows the same very loose "theme," keeping with the mountain lodge inspiration we were trying to work from originally. Maybe now it's closer to a contemporary Canadian/Southwestern/English hunting lodge (seriously - we mixed moose, southwestern furniture, and houndstooth fabric). Anyway, with the view of Pike's Peak out the guest room window, some lodgey feeling seems reasonable in that room. The new coverlet on the bed is made from denim fabric that used to be enormous curtains in our bedroom when we lived in the townhouse in Mason. The pillow shams and moose pillow are all new, coming from Target's Woolrich collection.

The houndstooth fabric that I so dearly love turned into two new roman shades (made by yours truly with the help of an innovative Denver small business called Terrell Designs). The shades include heavy duty pullies and cord locks, as well as internal battens to help the shades keep their shape. I have really never followed directions as closely as I did when making these shades, and it definitely paid off. I'm extremely pleased with how the shades turned out. I also reupholstered the top of my mom's old Lane cedar chest with the houndstooth fabric, and I still have enough fabric left over for pillows or something.

I have to admit, I was a bit uncertain about putting the houndstooth with the denim coverlet, but I figured that I would be more than willing to wear a cute houndstooth jacket with dark denim jeans, so why not put the two together in the room? I think it worked out well, although I'm not exactly a good judge of fashion. The coverlet is large enough for the anticipated queen sized bed that will at some point grace our guest bedroom. But, guests, don't hold your breath. It won't happen in 2008.

What I love most about the new guest room is how often we have guests staying in it! We probably average two days of guests per month, and we really enjoy those visits. So, friends, keep coming! At some point there will even be art on the walls of your keep you entertained when the girls are busy. Click on the photo below for more pictures.
Redecorated guest room


Here's a New York Times article emailed to me by my friend Courtney. It details the food problems that the US Olympic Committee expects to have while feeding our athletes in China during the Olympics this summer. It also explains our solutions. I find it very sad that it is impossible for the athletes to eat local food in China without ingesting dangerous amounts of steroids, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other toxins. I hope that someday soon China will be motivated to change their approach to raising food...their agricultural state is far worse than ours, and I think ours really stinks.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Mamarazzi School

I came across this link on the website of one of my favorite photographers last week. It's a great resource for those of us trying to take better photos of our kiddos. Hopefully I'll get a chance to go to one of her classes...I love her casual style and the way she uses color pop.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

CTS Newsletter

Scott and I regularly receive newsletters from Carmichael Training Systems (home of Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's former coach). After reading the most recent installment, I couldn't help but leave a comment. Here is a link to the short article about cloned meat.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shopping with blinders

This morning I ran across an article that has a great discussion of the USDA Organic label and the politics of the "official" organic system. Basically, the article details the argument that organic going big - like Earthbound Farms, Horizon Organics, Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, and Stonyfield Farms (a few of the big names in organic food production) - is causing the organic movement to be watered down and unable to stick with the original organic ideals of clean, local, sustainable agriculture. In essence, shopping for food labeled with the USDA Organic label is like shopping with blinders on. I have to issue one disclaimer here - these "big" organics are doing more good than harm. They have taken millions of acres of land out of conventional production and tons of chemicals out of the agricultural system. I just think we can do better.

The arguments outlined in the article I read this morning are similar to the discussion in The Omnivore's Dilemma where the author talks about how producers who are serious about producing high quality food scoff at the USDA Organic label and instead say that they prefer to go "beyond organic." But, there's no label for "beyond organic," which is sort of the point. You have to actually know who you're getting your food from to know the quality of it. If this topic is of interest to you, take a look at this article...I think you might enjoy it. Here's my favorite quote from the article: "The most conscious way to buy food is straight from the farmer," he said. "There's a lot of room for growth in this country for that kind of relationship. Even better than organic is local organic, and that's a niche that the big guy just can't get in on."

Just for a little background, so you don't think I'm some kind of organic freak, you should know that I do not now nor have ever in the past bought exclusively organic anything. In fact, I at one time bought into Dinesh D'Souza's argument that organic agriculture is actually worse for the environment than conventional agriculture, because it uses more water and more land to produce less food. While I no longer accept that argument (because of, among other things, the damage that petroleum-based fertilizers and nasty insecticides do to the land and water) I'm not willing to limit myself to officially-labeled organic food. While I'm not interested in eating food treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, at this point I don't have a problem with my rancher using a synthetic de-wormer on my beef. I'm more concerned with how the steer was raised and how the pasture was treated. And, truthfully, just because a company pays the USDA $1000 to be able to label their food organic doesn't make me any more excited about the food. I guess I have a little Libertarian in me...I don't exactly trust the government or any of its entities and I don't need them to tell me what food is best to eat, thank you very much. I'll figure it out for myself.

Speaking of the government, today is Super Tuesday and Colorado is caucusing tonight. I will not be in attendance at our local caucus for two reasons. First, Brynn has her first night of swim lessons tonight through SwimAmerica and I don't want her to miss it. Second, I am not in agreement on many issues with any of the candidates running so I'm throwing up my hands and sighing. I realize that the media is touting this as the biggest primary in the history of our country, and I'm not one to miss out on historic days, but I can't bring myself to vote tonight...leaving me feeling deflated and quite unpatriotic.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Blog-based activism

I began thinking about myself as an activist blogger a few days ago while talking to my friend Courtney. She said that she enjoyed my blog as it used to be - with its clearly defined family focus. She said that it seemed to change from family-focused to activist-focused when I got stopped in the airport this summer by TSA telling me I couldn't take juice boxes through security for the girls to drink on the plane. Ever since then my blog has, apparently, been going downhill.

Thinking about this, I mentioned to one of my classes this week that I seemed to be a budding activist from an early age. I'm not sure why I shared this with my students, and truthfully they didn't seem the least bit interested. Maybe you'll enjoy this story more than they did. I very clearly remember a day in eighth grade when my math class took a field trip on a school day out to the Hacienda Business Park somewhere south of San Ramon, California. I declined to go but did not give my math teacher a specific reason why I did not want to be included in the trip. Inside myself, though, it was very clear why I did not want to go. Even at twelve years old, I believed that business parks located in the suburbs contributed to urban sprawl and, what we were just beginning to learn about in junior high science classes, that the parks contributed to global warming. BART had not yet reached as far as this particular business park so most employees would have had to make the commute there in their cars. In addition, I believed that the business park encouraged the building of new subdivisions of cookie-cutter houses covering the velvety golden northern California hills. I didn't agree with the concept of a business park and so I let the class go without me. Keep in mind that I had the mentality of a proud "fifth generation" Californian. I was a kid who had been raised with the belief that my family was there first and, therefore, what California had to offer should be mine. I thought it was time to close the Golden Gate. I was not interested in seeing the economy or the population of the state grow beyond what it was on the day I was born. Twelve year olds are notoriously self-centered, aren't they?

Looking back, I wish that I had voiced my opinion to my math teacher, Mrs. Buck. At that point in my life I was a very quiet kid, at least at school. I didn't share my opinions unnecessarily and wasn't interested in engaging in any kind of conflict with people I didn't know well. That all changed over the following summer when I became more of the person I am today. I think it would have been an interesting conversation, though, with Mrs. Buck. I still wonder how it would have gone...

So, the point is, hang in there. If my blog has turned more activist than you would like, just know I will continue posting about the girls and our family adventures. But, these ramblings going on in my head need an outlet, and this seems to be the most logical one. At least for the moment.