Saturday, March 31, 2012

Killer Food

Reasons to buy your food from a familiar and friendly farmer in your area just keep on coming.

This week scientists confirmed what science already suspected: the cause of the honeybee holocaust is all those plants embedded with a powerful neocortinid pesticide that knocks out their nervous system. Yet this year 100% of America's industrial corn crop--including supermarket and Walmart corn sold on the cob, planted on enough land to fill 80% of California --will contain it. Without bees busy work, crops cannot pollinate and if they can't pollinate they can't fruit. Bees are crucial to our survival. To save them is to save ourselves and the best way to stop the supply of toxic corn is to stop demand for industrially raised corn. So think about only eating corn in its original summer season and only buying it from a local farmer who used heirloom or saved seeds.

This week methyl iodide, the toxic fumigant fast tracks the killing of insects, fungi and bacteria in the soil low growing strawberries are planted in, was abruptly withdrawn by its maker from the market. We owe this victory to ordinary people speaking up, smacking down corrupt regulators. But it could prove to be Pyrrhic, particularly if demand continues apace in all the off seasons for strawberries.

The lethal dangers of methyl iodide's widely sprayed predecessor, methyl bromide, were publicized a few years back, scaring those who bothered to read the news into only buying organic ones. Methyl bromide not only destroys the ozone layer, it's extremely toxic to the farm workers and those who just happen to live near fields sprayed with it. Then there is what it may do to the strawberry and the person who eats it. For these reasons, methyl bromide was banned in 1987 by the international Montreal Protocol. But US corporations found a way to keep on keeping on by consistently filing for annual "exceptions." Eventually, clinging as they do to lickety split convenience, they took up methyl iodide as the new magic bullet. Now they won't have that poison to play with.

Nobody knows for sure what next quick fix commercial growers will find. The old-fashioned ones used by small, local farmers are simple practices like crop rotation and black plastic. Their strawberries may not be picture perfect, but at least they will not poison you.

News is not much cheerier on the protein part of the food pyramid either. Fish farming is proving to be the same hazard to our health and the health of Mother Earth that industrial monoculture farming is. All those fish packed into pens become a toxic waste site that's killing everything else in the sea. And they're being pumped full of antibiotics whose effectiveness is eroding rapidly. Crowding is Nature's no-no. Say no to farmed fish and get what fresh seafood you can from your local marketeer.

People fighting the good fight against the wantonly indiscriminate use of antibiotics in industrial feedlots and the creation of even more resistant human killer super bugs finally got the Federal courts to force the FDA to stop its 40 years of waffling and ban this dangerous practice. But given the money of the meat industry, nobody is betting it will. So if you don't want to promote the creation of more killer bacteria immune to all that pharmacology has to offer, and are not vegetarian, eat locally pasture raised beef, lamb, pork and chicken. The way to change the world is to change yourself.

Tomorrow is April 1 and I wish this ghastly news was only an April Fool's joke. But it isn't. So don't be a fool. You are literally what you eat.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Whole Truth

If anybody still needs more reasons to actually shake the hand that feeds them, which is to say food shop at a local farmers' market, here are a scary trio that came this week. The first is that dogs are dying across this country because their owners loved them enough to feed them packaged chicken treats. Turns out the chicken used to make them came from China seriously embedded with poisonous chemicals.

The second is that our food supply has become increasingly international because we like to eat summer produce all winter and because we think food has to be dirt cheap like what comes from China. And with this increase in imported food, our death and poisoning from it has skyrocketed. Supplies are just too big to trail. The FDA/USDA can't even guarantee all the homegrown commercial stuff. They rely on the suppliers to police themselves.

As it happens, some watchdog groups can guarantee and have for years that pesticides banned in this country are sold to the ones below us and come back in on the fruits and vegetables. That alone should be reason enough to not eat in winter seasonal fruits coming from the summer time of South America. Stick to made in the USA: apples, pears, oranges, grapefruits, even Hawaiian papayas.

But here's the real clincher, reason 3: local Los Angeles ABC news exposed the big lie called Whole Foods. Frankly it isn't hard to see in its smaller stores like the one I visit in San Francisco that it's really just a gussied up sugar shack, putting very slick organic gloss on all the sweets it sells to drink, nosh and gobble. The sweets at least in that store so frustratingly outnumber the fruits and veggies and assortment of beans, I think of it as Unwholesome Foods.

But that's not the worst. ABC news found the biggest whopper in the company's relentless marketing spin is how Whole Foods tosses the word "organic" onto its own in-house label: 365, without actually knowing--or evidently caring-- whether or not the food inside really is. Almost all the bags of frozen "organic" 365 vegetables their investigator found at a local store said in small print on the back: Product of China. Even the special "California Vegetable Medley"! A Whole Foods spokesperson admitted no one in the organization had any way to know whether China monitored or even imposed American standards for organic on produce labeled as such. It just trusted its suppliers. The way shoppers blindly trust Whole Foods.

So those organic frozen vegetables might be just like that killer dog treat chicken. How's that for 21st Century style trust-busting?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The wherein of the green

The greening called St. Patrick's Day marks the last gasp of farmers' market winter greens like kale and collards as well as the first sprout of spring ones like dandelion. So it's an auspicious time to go green in the kitchen and think green and at least see green on the table if not in the wallet since this is also tax time. Greens are the super octane fuel that makes your body run, so indulge in some good-looking food.

Dandelions may be a pain on your lawn but dandelion greens are a traditional spring tonic in Mediterranean countries, welcomed at the table because they can cleanse the body of winter sludge. Farmers sell them bunched in what looks like large sheaves but they do cook down. Chop them up, boil them in heavily salted water for 15 minutes, drain well, dress with fruity olive oil and crystals of sea salt and sit down to some spring cleaning. You can add a twist of lemon if you like.

To give the dandelion greens more tang, you can let them share the pot with a few handfuls of chopped turnip or radish greens.

To make a whole and super healthy meal of them, while boiling the greens, stir up a pot of polenta. Season it with a pinch of chili powder, toss in the last corn kernels from the freezer and a tbsp or two of plain yogurt.
Dish out a bowl of polenta and cover the top with cooked dandelion greens. Bring on the freshly ground pepper, then eat and be well.

If dandelions haven't sprouted yet, there's still kale, collards and chard. Curly kale can be cut up raw as the basis of a salad. You can toss in dried cranberries, currants, roasted pine nuts and lemon peel before dressing it with olive oil and lemon juice. Or for more magnetic color, you can mix it with grated roasted beets and raw carrots before dressing it with olive oil and balsamic or sherry vinegar.

Chard straddles all seasons, almost all cultures too. In end of winter mode, it can be combined Palestinian style in a hauntingly spiced stew with beef, chickpeas and rice. In the lighter spring mode, it's welcomed as a vivid addition to lentil soup. Here's the Palestinian recipe for 4:

1+lb lean stewing beef cut into equal size serving chunks
1 lg yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 tsp allspice (5 berries if you have them)
1 tsp cardamom (5 pods if you have them)
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 c. beef stock
4 c. water
1/2 c medium grain rice, rinsed
2 tsp salt
1 14 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 lg bunch chard, stems removed, washed and chopped into small pieces
5 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil (divided)
juice of one large lemon, freshly squeezed

In a medium or large stockpot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil and brown beef with the onions.
Add beef stock and water and bring to a boil on high heat. Lower heat.
Add spices. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until beef is tender. Skim off any foam or impurities.
Stir in rice, chickpeas and 1 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 10 minutes.
Add chard, stirring as you do. Decrease heat to lowest, cover and cook.
Mash the garlic with 1/2 tsp salt.
In a small saute or frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
Fry salted garlic paste 1 minute to lightly brown. Add to the stew and blend.
Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately.
Garnish with flat bread to soak up the juices.

To lighten this up, consider doing it with spring chicken and chicken broth instead of the beef.

Support your body. Support your local farmers, the hands that feed you. Eat greens.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Here comes Homemade

Even after all these years, people still get effusive about my jam. It's their kids most favorite or they bought special bread for it or they didn't want the jar to empty. Always it's about the fruit, the taste of it, the fact that they can actually taste the fruit, that my jam tastes like genuine fruit: strawberries, apricots, peaches, plums, blueberries, and lately quince. The gratitude is startling--and a bit embarrassing at this point.

I never set out to make jam that was revolutionary, just jam that I could eat. It's just farm fresh fruit with spice and a bare minimum of sugar because my body cannot tolerate the stuff. The first time or two, I followed the directions of the canning jar company and realized there was far more sugar, sometimes three times as much, as fruit boiling in my pot. No wonder it upset my stomach. So I reduced the ratio until it was reversed. And nothing fatal happened. The major difference between my homemade jam and even the most expensive store-bought jar was that mine when opened had a much shorter shelf life--and you could taste the fruit.

That's how I learned that government standards for commercial jam require the fruit to be essentially paralyzed --botoxed, if you will, by sugar--a killer substance as bad for you as bacteria. Jam made to be sold has to be prepared to live forever, like a zombie.

So here's real news: that is starting to change. At a slow, slow, quick quick pace, state after state has been enacting what's colloquially known as "cottage food laws" to allow people like me to sell our homemade jam--and pickles and breads--without special licensing and commercial standardizing at outlets like our local farmers' market. So look out! Here come taste revelations...and revolutions.

The laws are in part a response to the pressures of the depressed economy, for many among those who no longer had an outside job took to working in their kitchens producing food to sell. Kitchen entrepreneurship is running high. And so is the quality of the small batch food for sale.

The newest states in the act are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois and Texas. They joined Michigan, New Mexico and Maine, where the law is not so much about "non-hazardous food products" like bread and jam as it is about at long last freeing its small chicken farmers from the stringent and expensive processing rules meant for massive poultry factory farms. So the family with those chickens pecking around outside the barn can now kill and sell them to you openly without fear of being shut down.

The hero of this particular win-win story is Jeff McCabe, a Democratic Maine state representative who had tuned into all the talk about locally produced foods and spoke up so that, as he put it, more Mainers can buy food from down the road instead of from a giant poultry processor thousands of miles away. It's not just that the money stays home but "farmers have a little more freedom to develop a relationship with their customers."

States where legislation is pending right now--and of course being attacked by Big Ag and big brands--are California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and South Carolina. Hopefully soon, if you want to know what real homemade jam can taste like, you won't have to whip it up yourself or wait for me to gift you.

P.S. These cottage food laws are mostly to enable the sale of jams, preserves, pickles, relishes and breads-- which are all considered "non-hazardous foods." They are not necessarily about raw milk or its cheeses. That's another fight.

And speaking of food fights, sadly, Mainer Jim Gerritsen and his organic farming troops were thrown out of Manhattan court in their attempt to stop Monsanto from suing them when its pesticide-embedded seeds drift on the wind onto their acreage. The judge claimed they had no standing and no merit. Justice is blind.