Local Meat Traveling Far to the Slaughter

Interesting article in yesterday's NYT about the lack of slaughterhouses and the increased demand for local meat. Here are my two favorite excerpts:

"Ms. Zimmerman and her husband, Kevin McCollister, would like to see the rules relaxed on farm slaughter. Their slaughterhouse is an hour and a half away — long enough for the pigs to be stressed and not in optimal shape for processing, Ms. Zimmerman said."

(Adrenaline doesn't taste very good, it turns out.)

"Helping small farmers, said [Agriculture Secretary] Tom Vilsack, will improve struggling rural economies.

But building a regional facility is not always easy. As the locavore movement and self-butchering movements grow, so do cries of 'Not in my backyard.'"


How to You Like Your Meat? Dumb or Healthy?

An op-ed in today's NYT has my blood boiling.

Adam Shriver, a doctoral student at Washington University, suggests the way to solve the problems at factory farms is to genetically engineer livestock not to feel pain. Then we can keep them sequestered in unhygienic conditions and continue feeding them grains which make them sick guilt free!

This is a typical case of fighting fire with fire. We are only now starting to see the problems with previous advancements in food production (which, by the way, were also supposedly going to be problem-free). And instead of going back to ways nature intended, i.e. allowing chickens and cattle to eat grass, we are adding more advancements by doping them with antibiotics and considering altering their genes.

Not sure what it says about me, but I am not an animal activist. Worse, I'll have to admit, I am a speciesist. While I agree that animals should not be needlessly harmed, it is the human dependence on animals for nutrition that moves me. (Vegans, most well-educated medical doctors will say you are not well fed.)

The problem with how we treat our livestock is not just the plight of the suffering animals. Humans are suffering from eating these maltreated animals. Not only has the build up of antibiotics in the food chain been linked to an array of human health problems, but the simple act of feeding animals cheap subsidized grains rather than grass, their natural food preference, has dangerously altered the balance of essential fatty acids in the average American body. (Too much Omega 6, too little Omega 3.)

As a result, Americans have increased inflammation throughout our bodies, raising our risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health problems. The imbalance is also affecting our brains; Omega 6 fatty acids can cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger depressive symptoms.

Making cows too dumb to notice the acidic burn of eating grains instead of grass will not solve any of these problems.

The student concludes with a preposterous theory that knock-out genetic engineering (where a gene is omitted instead of added in) can not cause health problems to eaters. This paragraph showcases a shocking disrespect for the complexity of the genome for a doctoral student.

To be clear, an omission can be just as dangerous as an addition. It can also be just as safe. But like the "innovation" of feeding animals grains instead of grass, it can take half a century to know the effects on humans.

(I am not against innovation, Mr. Shriver, but please don't declare something safe when the truth is we don't know; people have enough trouble trusting science as it is.)

We need creative thinkers to figure out how we can raise enough livestock in a healthy and humane way, not how we can add potential new problems to the mix in attempt to assuage our collective guilt.

photo by Mykhaylo Loyish


Going Hungry on Snow Days and Everyday

One in eight Americans sought emergency food assistance last year, a 46 percent increase from 2006. But in the Big Apple the problem was even worse. Nearly half of the households with children in New York City had trouble affording food in 2009.

The existing national safety net seems to be failing, while city, state and federal budget talks are calling into question the future of not only emergency food assistance, but also broader child nutrition and poverty relief programs, according to the Food Bank for New York City.

Responding to Obama's call to end child hunger by 2015, the Food Bank is holding a policy meeting next week. Details from the press release are below.

What: Ending Child Hunger by 2015 Policy Meeting

When: Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Where: Office of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer

1 Centre Street, 19th Floor (Large Conference Room)

New York, NY

Please contact Frances Edwards, Public Education Associate, with questions or to R.S.V.P. by Feb .12. She may be reached at fedwards@foodbanknyc.org or (212) 566-7855, ext.1571.

photo by Robert Mizerek


Vitamin Hype

Finally! A balanced health article by Tara Parker-Pope.

Eschewing a growing tendency to just pump out the sentiments of a random press release espousing the new health claims of Nutrient X -- with perhaps, if the reader is lucky, a nod to the study's limits buried towards the end -- yesterday's article on the health benefits of Vitamin D let even headline-only readers know that the science is not solid.

In The Miracle of Vitamin D: Sound Science or Hype?, Parker-Pope let's the qualifiers take the lead. Here is my favorite paragraph:

"Although consumers may be tempted to rush out and start taking 2,000 I.U.’s of vitamin D a day, doctors warn against it. Several recent studies of nutrients, including vitamins E and B, selenium and beta carotene, have proved disappointing — even suggesting that high doses do more harm than good, increasing risk for heart problems, diabetes and cancer, depending on the supplement."

photo by Christopher Elwell


Safety in Diversity

A frozen Noah's ark is being created on a 45-acre estate in Newport, RI.

While organizations such as
Slow Food USA and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy are helping to keep rare breeds alive by, well, keeping them alive, Swiss Village Farm Foundation (SVF) is conserving heritage livestock breeds by freezing their semen and embryos. They expect cryopreservation to significantly aid the conservation movement which, considering the decline in our food diversity, brings to mind two sayings: "too little, too late" and "something is better than nothing."

This is not just a matter of preserving gawk-worthy zoo novelties; it is about shoring up the health of our own species. While a diverse diet and disease resistance have long been known to go hand in hand, our modern diets -- despite the fake plethora in the cereal aisle -- are strikingly homogeneous.
According to ecologist Vadana Shiva, humans used to eat over 80,000 different species but today three-quarters of all human food intake comes from just eight plants, mostly genetically-modified corn and soy. Half of the genes in 93% of our dairy cows comes from less than 20 bulls.

The agriculture industry runs on consistency, while our bodies run on variety.

As I have mentioned before, when I compare the menu of the ancients with the menu of modernity, I can’t help but become green with envy. Exacerbating the problem, we are losing varieties within species every year.

Some excerpts from the
NYT article about SVF by Barry Eastabrook:

"As an example of how vulnerable our milk supply is, Dr. Saperstein [SVF's chief scientific adviser and chairman of the Department of Environmental and Population Health at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University] points to a heat wave in California in 2006 in which some 16,500 Holsteins died, despite farmers’ efforts to save them with cooling mists of water and fans. In contrast, the Pineywoods cattle in SVF’s collection were introduced into the forests of the South by Spaniards in the 1500s specifically because they tolerated heat. In all likelihood, the hearty animals would have survived the heat wave.

“'Heritage breeds have not been continuously ‘improved’ by humans,' Mr. Borden [the executive director of SVF] said. 'They have been shaped by natural survival-of-the-fittest forces and can get along without human intervention. Typically, rare varieties exhibit good birthing and mothering abilities. They can thrive on native grasses and other natural forage, and many know how to avoid predators.'”

In the end, the article stresses,

“'We have to eat these animals to save them,' Mr. Borden said. “Ultimately, food is the reason heritage breeds are important.'”

Picture: Digitally generated Ark on Mount Arafat, by Hayk Harutyunyan


Why Popeye Popped Spinach, Not Pills: Vitamins Can Be Bad For You

I have been waiting for a study like this to come out.

A research group in Tel Aviv has finished one of the most comprehensive studies of Vitamin E supplementation, which analyzed all other prominent studies on the subject and considered data from over 300,000 people in the US, Europe and Isreal.

They found that, on average, popping Vitamin E pills may negatively impact quality of life.

From the press release: "To explain the meaning of this parameter," says Dr. Pinchuk, "consider a participant who was healthy during the first 10 out of 20 years of the study, but then suffered a stroke and became dependent on others throughout the following 10 years. The QALY [quality-adjusted-life-years] during the first 10 years of healthy life is 10, but after the stroke the quality of life is only half of what this person had before. Therefore, the second decade is considered the equivalent of merely 5 years of healthy life and in sum a person's QALY is 15...
On average, the quality-adjusted longevity is lower for vitamin-treated people. This says something significant."

Other studies have shown vitamins to be ineffective, or to cause birth defects or asthma, or to put undue strain on the kidneys. I think there will be more studies like this one. The body is not meant to be hit with vitamins, minerals or fatty acids in the concentrated form they are found in pills. Why pop capsules when you are better off with something yummy, like a spinach frittata, spaghetti marinara or toast smeared with nut butter.

Good sources of Vitamin E available at a farmers' market:


Wholegrain foods


picture by Dusan Zidar via Dreamstime


Freedom Trail Fruits

Imagine a pilgrimage of ham hocks, smoked turkey wings and fresh black-eyed peas winding up the country, traveling from the South to the cities of the North as if re-enacting the covert operations of the Freedom Trail.

This is exactly what has been going on for generations, according to the NYT. Southerners have loaded trucks full of special white cornmeal, 'sweet meat' and other Southern specialties and driven them up from Georgia and the Carolinas to homesick city-slickers in Harlem, Brooklyn and neighborhoods in Philly and Chicago. They sell the items out of their trucks, with all the benefits of shopping at a farmers' market:

"Because to some cooks, buying ham hocks from a supermarket or a warehouse store isn’t the same. At the trucks, somebody will ask you where your people are from. They will tell you how long to soak the black-eyed peas and when to start simmering the seasoning meat," Kim Severson writes.

"'You don’t have those conversations when you go and buy your pecans at Costco,' Ms. Ferris said."

This is a story written for cultivores -- us voracious eaters who simply want to know more about our food, its culture and the history of our human passion for it. Who want to use food as a window into the world.

In the article Marci Cohen Ferris, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in the meaning of food in American culture, "points out that in Ralph Ellison’s 'Invisible Man,' the main character buys and eats a baked South Carolina yam on a Harlem street in the 1930s and is 'overcome by an intense feeling of freedom.'"

I feel the same way when I walk around the block tantalized by halvah, chorizo, camembert, miso, egg drop soup, collard greens, ceviche, bacon cheeseburgers, coconut curry and cannoli.

Intertwined is a lovely argument against being 100 percent locavore. Would okra from upstate satisfy the hunger pains of a Georgia-born Bed-Stuyer? Probably. Would it satisfy her homesickness? Not as much as buying from a traveling countryman.

And I would rather not trust my New Year's Hoppin' John recipe to a Yankee. Not only out of concerns for flavor authenticity, but Northerners tend to leave out the good-luck coin! (Whoever gets it in their serving is guaranteed good luck for the rest of the year.)

Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year.
Rice for riches and peas for peace.
- Southern saying on eating a dish of Hoppin' John on New Year's Day.

photo by Artography via Dreamstime


Inside-Out Apple Pie

Here’s an easy and delicious way to have that holiday treat we’re all craving.

Note: Do not sub in a different type of apple. I know, I know; Granny Smiths are not my favorite snacking apple either. But their sturdy texture is crucial in this recipe; other types break down and become pulp under the heat. Also, don’t worry about the puckered mouth you get when you eat a Granny Smith raw. Here, the sourness is first mellowed by the baking and second, necessary as a counterpoint for the sweet filling and sauce. Lastly, you MUST peel the apples. If you skip that step, all the steam will get trapped inside and turn everything to mush. But peeling them gives a firm-tender apple with a savory-sweet filling -- tasting much like right-side-in apple pie. Maybe even better.

Inside-Out Apple Pie

*adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe for Baked Apples

Serves 4

5 Granny Smith apples

4 Tbs butter, softened and divided

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped

3 Tbs rolled oats

1 teaspoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1teaspoon vanilla

table salt (dash or pinch, to taste)

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup juice (apple or orange) or cider

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel, core and cut 1 apple in a ¼ inch dice. Combine diced apple, 3 Tbs butter, sugar, cranberries, pecans, zest, cinnamon, vanilla and salt in medium bowl.

Cut ½ inch slice off the stem top of each apple; reserve. Peel the apples and hollow out a wide middle hole (about an inch from the apple edge) using a melon baller or paring knife, being careful not to pierce the bottom.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet. When butter bubbles die down, place apples into skillet, cut side down. Cook until surface is golden brown, about 90 seconds. Flip apples over and fill with cranberry/oat/nut mixture, packing it down into the hollow and piling it on top of the apple. Place reserved apple caps on top of the filling. Pour maple syrup and juice or cider into the skillet. (If you are using a wide skillet, you may need more of each; you want ¼ to a ½ inch of liquid on the bottom.)

Place skillet in the oven and bake 35 to 45 minutes, basting every 15 minutes. Serve without the caps and generously doused with the syrup sauce.

photo by Nsilcock via Dreamstime


Thou Shalt Not Kill

"I don't eat living things," says a beige-dressed woman at a holiday party.

"Me neither," I agree. "I like them to be killed first."

Beige Woman turns on her heel in a huff and I am left wondering if she meant she is able to
photosynthesize, that she only consumes air, water and sun.

The next time this little fantasy of mine plays itself out, I will be armed with the Natalie Angier's research from today's NYT.

In a nutshell, she says, plants are living creatures, too. Not only do they grow, react and reproduce, but they are complex creatures that have invested much in their own survival.

Humans with chlorophyll-pigmented skin are saints. The rest of us are murderers.

Happy Holidays!

picture by Eti Swinford via Dreamstime


Brussels Sprout Slaw

By popular request, here's my new go-to holiday recipe for brussels sprouts (which, I maintain, are the absolute cutest of the cabbage family. Don't they look like green sleigh bells?) I made it for Thanksgiving but it would make a nice palate-cleansing side dish for any game-heavy meal. I am dreaming of serving it along with some lamb...

The dish also gets a holiday star for its convenience factor. You can prepare the majority of it in advance, it travels well and it doesn't require any space in the oven!

Happy Holidays!

Brussels Sprout Slaw with Maple Pecans
*adapted from Bon Appetit's 11/09 issue
8 servings

cooking spray
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more for seasoning, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (plus more for seasoning)
1/4 cup whole grain Dijon mustard (whole grain is key)
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 pounds of brussels sprouts, trimmed

NUTS: Preheat oven to 325. Spray large sheet of foil with cooking spray and set aside. Whisk maple syrup, salt and pepper in a medium. Add pecans; stir to coat. Spread pecans on cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes before stirring. Bake another 6 minutes, or until glaze is bubbling thickly. IMMEDIATELY transfer nuts to foil or they will harden to the pan. If stored airtight, these can be made a couple days ahead.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add brussels sprouts and cook for about 5 minutes, until "crisp-tender." They should still be a lovely bright green. Drain and rinse with cold water. When cool and relatively dry, slice to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness. Can be made up to 3 days ahead; chill.

DRESSING: Combine mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Can be made up to 3 days ahead; chill.

An hour or so before serving, coat the brussels sprouts with dressing and mix in some pecans. Garnish the serving dish with additional pecans.

picture by "Egis" via Dreamstime