Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene
Here are a few photos of some of the eggs I picked up at our dairy farm a while back. Some of the eggs were produced by Araucanas, a breed of chicken known for its blue-green eggs. The eggs resembled supermarket eggs, except for...well...almost everything. They were oval and came in a container similar to the eggs at the supermarket. I guess that's where the similarities ended. The yolks were larger and much more orange. The whites were stiffer and held their shape in the pan better than the watery whites I usually end up with from the grocery store.
I've actually been using pastured eggs (or at least free range or cage free eggs) long enough to forget how pathetic industrial eggs are until I was reminded during a recent ski trip. We stayed at a hotel that included the typical continental breakfast with all the high fructose corn syrup, enriched bleached flour, and hydrogenated oil you care to eat. The two redeeming foods at the breakfast were the oatmeal (unsweetened!) and the hard boiled eggs. But, when I peeled and sliced the first egg, I felt deflated. The inside was so...sad. It was clear that the hen who laid the egg had never eaten anything but corn and soybeans, and she probably hadn't ever taken a dust bath or laid around in the sun, either. I wish I had a photo to compare the conventional hard boiled eggs to the pastured eggs. The yolks were buttery yellow, not bright orange like the eggs I've become accustomed to. The real test, though, was my little egg eater, Callie. I tried to stifle my disappointment in hopes that she would eat the first egg I peeled. No luck. She took one bite and spit it out. Apparently pastured eggs taste better, too. She ate one and a half of them this morning.
The problem with pastured eggs? Well, first, they're hard to get. In many cases you've got to get to know a farmer in order to get pastured eggs. But, I know that is changing. Pastured eggs are available at one of the four farmers' markets we have here in the Springs and they are available through some CSAs. I'm guessing that if we can get them at a farmers' market here or through our local CSA, you can probably get them too. It's just not as convenient as running to the grocery store. The other problem? The cost. Well, to me the cost doesn't seem like a problem because I'm willing to pay more for a higher quality product. But, if you're not used to paying more for better food, you'll experience some sticker shock at first. Pastured eggs will run anywhere from $2.50 up to $4 per dozen eggs. We only go through a dozen once every week or two, so paying that much instead of $0.89 for industrial eggs really is not that big of a deal.
I think it's important for us as Americans to reshape our thinking in terms of what we expect to get from cheap food. If you pay a dollar for a fast food cheeseburger, the likelihood that you're going to get a high quality product is pretty slim, right? Well, the same goes for $0.99/pound ground beef and chicken thighs. According to Michael Pollan in his new book, In Defense of Food, Americans spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than people in most other industrialized nations. In countries where people spend a little more, the people eat less (not a bad idea) and they are healthier. For example, Americans spend around 10% of our income on food, but Spanish, Italians, and French spend between 14-17% on their food. All three of those countries have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes than we do. Just like anything else in a budget, it comes down to priorities. Do you really need HBO? The gym membership you rarely use? The magazines you don't have time to read? The newest cell phone? Do you have to eat out three times a week? Can you substitute tap water for soda or juice or beer once in a while? Shifting our priorities makes it less challenging to fit higher quality food into our budgets.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
This crazy architect, Fritz Haeg, just might be onto something. He's going around the country replacing front lawns with edible gardens. Not edible in an unusual I've-never-seen-this-in-a-supermarket way, like Miner's Lettuce and Nasturtium...really edible, like tomatoes and zucchini. I've been a fan of water-wise lawns (ie: Buffalo Grass or Thyme) ever since we moved to Colorado. But, this seems like a better use of space (provided you don't have herds of deer trekking through your yard a few times a day like we do). If there is currently a lawn, there's probably automatic irrigation in place already. I suppose one could use the existing sprinklers or change them out for a more earth-friendly drip system to keep the veggies growing. And, if grass used to be growing there then the soil must be pretty decent. Turn some of the grass under, add manure and compost, and start planting...? There are probably chemicals like synthetic fertilizer and crabgrass killer in the soil, but over time with lots of care the soil will come back and veggies will eventually reach their full potential.
Maybe I'm just having garden envy because our little veggie plot is SO small. Is that why this "attack on the front lawn" idea is so attractive to me? Or is it because it just makes sense? Somewhere back in my ancestral memories I know that my old Sicilian relatives were planting gardens in their tiny yards and growing bright red tomatoes bursting with flavor. And I know for sure that my great grandmother Gelardi had a productive garden in her tiny yard on Pfeiffer Street in the North Beach area of San Francisco. In fact, according to my mom, my great grandmother used to make the milkman park his horse-drawn milk cart in front of her house so that she could collect the horse poop to use in her little city garden (from which she fed her ten children). And on my dad's side, the old estate near Philadelphia from which his great great great grandmother came became a seed farm shortly after being sold by our family. The estate was called "Bloomsdale" and it produced one of the most famous home garden varieties of spinach, Bloomsdale Spinach, which is still sold and grown by gardeners today.
So, maybe it's because of my roots. Maybe it's just common sense. Maybe it's because I'm realizing that we don't throw the football or kick the soccer ball on our lawn as much as I thought we would. Or that we have plenty of lawn up the street at the elementary school for when we need flat open spaces for play. Whatever it is that attracts me to this idea of abandoning the typical American lawn in favor of a garden, it seems like a great idea to me. I thought I was a little nutty when I planted thirteen tomato plants last summer and ended up with most of them mixed among my perennials that surround our hot tub. As it turns out, I might have been on to something good!
Saturday, March 8, 2008
In trying too keep with a very loose theme of "all things orange" for Callie's birthday, I decided to make a carrot cake for her party. Okay, carrot cupcakes. Because, as anyone who's seen me bake can tell you, baking is not my forte. Baking is for people who follow directions. I am not one of them. The cake I made for Scott's thirtieth birthday turned into a big nasty heap when I tried to frost it (I don't think I let it cool long enough, but I haven't tried baking a cake since then). I'll never forget the look on his mom's face as she came downstairs and saw it sitting on my kitchen counter while I tried to fix it. She said something to the effect of, "Why didn't you ask for help?" Good question. She's amazing when it comes to putting together a birthday cake.
Since then, I've gotten smarter and have just gone with cupcakes. That's easy to get away with for a kid's birthday party. Callie's are in the oven right now. The recipe is a little refined for three year olds. (Grapeseed oil? I don't even buy that for myself!) But, the batter tastes good. I'll let you know how they turn out. Here's the recipe, from Simply Recipes. Elise at Simply Recipes adapted this recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups olive oil or grapeseed oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
2 cups of shredded carrots
1 cup of drained crushed pineapple
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 Tbsp sweet butter, room temp
2 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9 inch cake pans.
2 Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in walnuts, coconut, carrots and pineapple.
3 Pour batter into pans. Set on the middle rack of oven and bake for 50 minutes, until edges have pulled away from sides and a fork prong inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a cake rack.
4 To prepare frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly sift in the confectioners sugar and beat until mixture is free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.
5 Once cake is cooled, frost. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts.Simply Recipes http://simplyrecipes.com
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
See the story (and try not to watch the video) here.
Let's hope that the puppy was actually a stuffed animal and the sad barking noises were dubbed in post production.
Democracy Now interview
Monday, March 3, 2008
Toward the end of the article, the author asks the question, "Who pays for this senslessness?" and his answer focuses on farmers. I would say that not only do the small farmers pay for the senselessness of the Farm Bill, we all do. We pay with our declining health. The more commodity crops that are planted, the cheaper they get, hence the relatively low price of highly processed food, which is made mostly from commodity crops (especially corn and soy). The cheaper processed food is, the more likely people are to buy it instead of healthier alternatives, like real food. Plus, if commodity crops are taking up land that could be used to grow fruits and veggies, then there are fewer fruits and veggies on the market and, thus, they cost more. Simple supply and demand, right? That doesn't even take into consideration the impact of animal feed. If the price of corn and soy for animal feed goes up, the price of meat goes up which, in my mind, is a good thing, since we should be eating less meat and cows shouldn't be eating grain at all. Cows are meant to eat grass and I've come to the conclusion that it is inhumane to feed them large quantities of grain for the purpose of fattening them up. But...that's beyond the scope of this article.
March 1, 2008
My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables)
IF you’ve stood in line at a farmers’ market recently, you know that the local food movement is thriving, to the point that small farmers are having a tough time keeping up with the demand.
But consumers who would like to be able to buy local fruits and vegetables not just at farmers’ markets, but also in the produce aisle of their supermarket, will be dismayed to learn that the federal government works deliberately and forcefully to prevent the local food movement from expanding. And the barriers that the United States Department of Agriculture has put in place will be extended when the farm bill that House and Senate negotiators are working on now goes into effect.
As a small organic vegetable producer in southern Minnesota, I know this because my efforts to expand production to meet regional demand have been severely hampered by the Agriculture Department’s commodity farm program. As I’ve looked into the politics behind those restrictions, I’ve come to understand that this is precisely the outcome that the program’s backers in California and Florida have in mind: they want to snuff out the local competition before it even gets started.
Last year, knowing that my own 100 acres wouldn’t be enough to meet demand, I rented 25 acres on two nearby corn farms. I plowed under the alfalfa hay that was established there, and planted watermelons, tomatoes and vegetables for natural-food stores and a community-supported agriculture program.
All went well until early July. That’s when the two landowners discovered that there was a problem with the local office of the Farm Service Administration, the Agriculture Department branch that runs the commodity farm program, and it was going to be expensive to fix.
The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on “corn base” acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.
I’ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. (The penalties apply only to fruits and vegetables — if the farmer decides to grow another commodity crop, or even nothing at all, there’s no problem.)
In my case, that meant I paid my landlords $8,771 — for one season alone! And this was in a year when the high price of grain meant that only one of the government’s three crop-support programs was in effect; the total bill might be much worse in the future.
In addition, the bureaucratic entanglements that these two farmers faced at the Farm Service office were substantial. The federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables.
Why? Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country’s fresh produce markets.
That’s unfortunate, because small producers will have to expand on a significant scale across the nation if local foods are to continue to enter the mainstream as the public demands. My problems are just the tip of the iceberg.
Last year, Midwestern lawmakers proposed an amendment to the farm bill that would provide some farmers, though only those who supply processors, with some relief from the penalties that I’ve faced — for example, a soybean farmer who wanted to grow tomatoes would give up his usual subsidy on those acres but suffer none of the other penalties. However, the Congressional delegations from the big produce states made the death of what is known as Farm Flex their highest farm bill priority, and so it appears to be going nowhere, except perhaps as a tiny pilot program.
Who pays the price for this senselessness? Certainly I do, as a Midwestern vegetable farmer. But anyone trying to do what I do on, say, wheat acreage in the Dakotas, or rice acreage in Arkansas would face the same penalties. Local and regional fruit and vegetable production will languish anywhere that the commodity program has influence.
Ultimately of course, it is the consumer who will pay the greatest price for this — whether it is in the form of higher prices I will have to charge to absorb the government’s fines, or in the form of less access to the kind of fresh, local produce that the country is crying out for.
Farmers need the choice of what to plant on their farms, and consumers need more farms like mine producing high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables to meet increasing demand from local markets — without the federal government actively discouraging them.
Jack Hedin is a farmer.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
I think my favorite thing about this book so far is the way that Pollan proves, over and over again, that we think too much of ourselves. We humans (and especially Westerners) really believe that we can break down real food (the stuff that grows in the ground or the animals we eat) into all of the nutrients that, combined, form that real food...and then create something better. We really believe that spinach is equal to the sum of its parts and that if we break spinach down into its smallest parts, we can use those parts (combined with the best parts of blueberries and flax and maybe beef) to create something better. When did we become so egotistical? How did we come to believe that we are smarter than nature or that we can even totally understand nature? How can we believe that we are smarter than evolution? Smarter than God? (And, by the way, I do believe that God created evolution and uses it to improve our species and all those around us.) The hubris exhibited by the human species in regards to what and how we eat makes me sick. As Pollan mentions in the first section of the book, the fact that we do not know enough to know how to recreate or improve what is provided by nature should be clear from something as sad as the history of baby formula. How long have we been trying to create an alternative to breast milk that is as good for babies as breast milk? How many times have we failed? Maybe a better question is, have we ever NOT failed? Is it even possible to recreate breast milk or will non-nursing moms always be stuck with the next-best thing?
I realize that I'm already jaded and have a really negative view of pharmaceuticals, our government, and our food culture, so reading this book isn't doing much to make me into a happier or less critical person. It's really just confirming and expanding what I've learned in the past year, and especially the past six months, about how screwed up we are politically, medically, and nutritionally. But, I'm optimistic that as I get to the end of the book, Pollan will offer hope for us and encourage me that, even as just one individual consumer, I can make a difference in the direction that our food culture is heading. Yeah, that probably made no sense to you if you haven't read one of his books. So go. Look one up on Amazon, put it on reserve at your library, drive to Barnes and Noble. Do what you have to do.