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New July 2013

Teen killed in New Orleans believed in the power of food justice and gardens

I met George Carter when he was 10 years old, at a banquet where his organization, Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools*, was receiving an award. The “Rethinkers” are young people who came together in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina, to ensure that students’ voices would be heard in the rebuilding of public schools. George joined when he was just 8 years old, following his older sisters and brothers who were leading the Rethink cause. He was the youngest of the group, and hence was dubbed a “Pre-Thinker.” His thoughts helped mold the organization, which took on school administrations by demanding healthier foods for school lunches and safer learning environments. He loved gardens. He believed they could be a calming presence for young students, especially those recovering from the most traumatic storm disaster the U.S. has known. His thought seeds grew into the kinds of ideas and projects that helped earn Rethink an award that night, Oct. 25, 2009. After the banquet, he posed with his friends holding the plaque and then pranced around the room gathering roses from each table’s centerpiece arrangement. He told me that he was going to be a biologist when he grew up. He decorated himself with the roses and asked me to take pictures of him. Today, there’s another picture of him I can’t get out of my head, though. It shows George’s body lying on the ground, partially obscured by a cop car. Police around him are scribbling notes. George was found dead from gunshot wounds yesterday morning. He was 15. His killing was added to an obscene murder count in New Orleans that I find no value in enumerating here. Suffice to say that it is high. Another black life was ended before it could reach its potential. I’m not writing about George to say he was some exceptional young man. Hundreds of black teenagers and young adults have been killed in New Orleans over the years, and all of their lives matter, whether they were drug dealers or burgeoning biologists. Two women were found dead in New Orleans within 24 hours of George’s death, and I’m as saddened by their killings as I am of George’s. Many people were shot and killed in the four years I lived there, some of whom I knew personally, but all of them equally heart-breaking. But I want to tell you about George, because his ideas about the transformative energy of gardens needs to live on. This is George sharing his garden theory, when he was just in fourth grade: To me I think all schools should have gardens because you can use the plants, and plants give you oxygen. I like to go out in the garden because it calms me down. … If you just had a fight, you can just go in the garden, calm down, eat some strawberries, and you’ll feel safe because you’ll be around nature. And nature, it won’t hurt you. “This insight was one of the first that connected the idea of school gardens and fresh food to school to the prevention of school violence,” said Jane Wholey, one of Rethink’s founders. While supplying school students with fresh fruit sounds like common sense, it wasn’t the practice in New Orleans schools (nor in many other schools across America). One of the primary ways that George and the Rethinkers thought they could reform schools was to convince them to provide healthier lunch options. So they did their own study. In 2010, the Rethinkers — aged 10 to 17 — visited various schools across the city, surveying students about their feelings about their school lunches. To little surprise, they found that most kids found their lunch disgusting. Next step: The Rethinkers stepped to Aramark, the company contracted to provide food for the schools’ lunch programs. George was part of a round of negotiations that led to Aramark agreeing to purchase locally grown fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish for school lunches. No more of the canned, processed stuff. Aramark signed and sealed this contract in 2011, during a press conference organized and coordinated by the Rethinkers themselves. It was hosted at the Hollygrove Farmers Market, and for their guests — a packed room — they served strawberries. This was all captured in the HBO documentary, The Great Cafeteria Takeover, which is part of its “The Weight of the Nation” series on obesity. The kids’ logic, as expressed by Rethinker Ashley Triggs in the film: “When people don’t eat, they act out. When they act out, they get in trouble. When they get in trouble, they get suspended, so they need to eat.” Companies like Aramark had gotten away with providing cheap, processed foods to schools for so long because no one had challenged them on it. Its bottom line did not figure in kids acting out and getting suspended. This macroeconomics lesson was explained by George’s older brother Vernard Carter, another Rethink co-founder, in the doc: People are putting money before people’s lives and thinking that as long as they have money they’re OK. That makes me wonder what is going on with the world? Why are people leaning towards more of these beliefs? Why aren’t they leaning more towards humane ideals that keeps the human population flourishing and keeps us going? These were thoughts and values that circulated within the Carter family. They did not arrive at this academically. George’s older brother Victor and sister Victoria were recently the first in their family to go to college. And yet academics have drawn the same conclusions. A study last year from Joan Luby, a researcher from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, found that: The effects of poverty on hippocampal development are mediated through caregiving and stressful life events further underscores the importance of high-quality early childhood caregiving, a task that can be achieved through parenting education and support, as well as through preschool programs that provide high-quality supplementary caregiving and safe haven to vulnerable young children. George didn’t need an empirical study to understand this, though. He was connecting these dots in elementary school. His thoughts on these matters continued to evolve. In 2012, George sat on a panel for a conference called “Root Of It All: The State of Mental Health of New Orleans’ Youth,” which was sponsored in part by the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. MSNBC TV news host Melissa Harris-Perry was one of the keynote speakers. When George spoke, he emphasized the stressful environment of schools in his city. Compounding that were the new mandatory standardized tests, which George and his peers found inflexible if not counterproductive to their educational pursuits. Said George, “If I get stressed I won’t be able to do my work, if I don’t do my work, I’ll probably flunk a class or drop out of school. If I drop out of school I’ll be on the streets. If I’m on the streets I’m gonna be homeless, dead, or in prison.” He told the conference that New Orleans schools needs support teams in the classrooms that can help with tutoring and serving the students “healthy snacks” throughout the day, because — you know, because “when people don’t eat, they act out. …” “Students and teachers should work together to make the environment healthier,” said George, his voice deeper and more confident than when I first met him at the awards banquet. As George aged, his interests expanded from biology and gardens to law and justice. He started an internship this year through his school with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, which provides legal defense for people who’ve been sentenced to death. His first day was Monday. He was killed before he could make it to his second day. As of this writing, the police have no suspects or motives. According to he was found on a “narrow street bordered by a fenced-in field on one side and overgrown trees, weeds, and vegetation on the other.” “I’m afraid to walk down this street,” a woman told the reporter. “The streetlights don’t work, the city don’t cut this. … They could just snatch you and pull you into the bushes.” The city could honor George’s legacy by converting those bushes into a garden, perhaps with strawberries. George Carter’s family is accepting contributions to cover funeral expenses. Rethink is processing these donations and 100 percent of funds received will go to the family. Go here to donate. (*My wife, Thena Robinson Mock, is the former executive director of Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. One of our first dates was at the awards banquet where I met George.)Filed under: Article, Cities, Food, Living

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Pumpkins’ biggest threat isn’t Mischief Night or Billy Corgan

California’s neverending drought spares no plant, animal, or holiday tradition. The record-setting dry spell threatens organic dairy, craft beer, grass-fed beef, almonds, lawns, hay, greens, rice, people who depend on water sources appropriated by bottled water companies. To that list you can now add pumpkins. Less water has meant smaller pumpkins for some farmers, and heat waves ripened many potential jack-o’-lanterns earlier than usual this year. NBC News’ coverage indicates that our yellow-orange carving gourds aren’t super resilient: Most pumpkins are grown on smaller farms. And they don’t go far from the fields. Despite their tough exterior, pumpkins bruise easily and are rarely shipped across state lines. Most are sold locally. Sounds like those early-ripening crops might end up as canned pie filling. What’s more, pumping more groundwater to quench parched pumpkins means higher costs for growers. And we know pricier produce isn’t the only problem caused by slurping more aqua from aquifers. So parents, you may want a stiff beverage on hand while helping your kids carve jack-o-lanterns from red kuri squash this year. Enjoy the ornamental gourd ale.Filed under: Article, Food, Living

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Watch dinosaurs defend the Gates Foundation’s farm policy

Some food activists are extremely worried about all the money the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives to help farmers. These groups, for instance, met recently to oppose the charity. That’s pretty unusual. It’s one thing to protest extractive companies cutting corners to make a profit, and quite another to protest an organization that aims to improve the world. I wanted to know what was going on. I looked closely at the concerns about the Gates Foundation a few months back, in this story. But we know that not everyone likes to read thousands of words on the internet — so we’ve boiled it down to some of the key points in this video. Hope you like it!Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food

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Craft brewers join the fight against natural gas pipelines

On a recent afternoon, visitors packed into Blue Mountain Brewery, one of three craft breweries in Virginia’s idyllic Rockfish Valley. Couples and families spilled out of the restaurant onto patios and into gardens, sipping Full Nelson Pale Ale, Kölsch 151, Original Nitro Porter, and more. Above them, the low-hanging clouds that obscured Afton Mountain’s upper ridges couldn’t mute the bright reds, oranges, and yellows exploding on its slopes. The brewery is just four miles below Rockfish Gap — the mountain pass that marks the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park, the passage of the Appalachian Trail, and the point where Skyline Drive becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway. But there’s a storm brewing in this autumnal paradise, as evidenced by a sign in front of the brewery that’s become quite common in the Blue Ridge Mountains of late: “No pipeline.” Blue Mountain Brewery is part of a Nelson County activist group opposing construction of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 550-mile transmission line to move natural gas extracted from the Marcellus shale formation from Harrison County, W.Va., through Virginia, and into North Carolina, with an additional spur running east to Virginia’s Hampton Roads. Blue Mountain joins others in the craft beer sector nationwide that are speaking out for their most important ingredient: clean water. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Brewers for Clean Water” campaign has lined up 60 breweries, including craft beer heavyweights like Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and New Belgium Brewing Co., to support and lobby on water quality issues. “Great breweries grow up around good water sources,” says Taylor Smack, Blue Mountain’s co-owner and head brewer. “Trace minerals in the water affect the chemistry of the mash, the flavor of the beer, how hops are received, the softness and roundness of the beer. We develop our beers around the water source.” Many breweries are reluctant to get involved in politics for risk of alienating customers, however. That’s the case not just with the NRDC’s campaign, but also with the coastal pipeline proposal that’s won the endorsement of a host of localities and three state governors. Tom DalyTaylor Smack and his wife, Mandi, founded Blue Mountain Brewery in Rockfish Valley in 2007, after stints interning in Charlottesville, attending brewing school in Chicago, and managing Goose Island’s brewpubs. Five years later, they opened an additional production facility just down the road. They expect to brew about 10,000 barrels of beer this year. The story is a familiar one in the brewing world. Craft brewers have staked a growing claim of volume in the industry, from 4.4 percent in 2009 to 7.8 percent in 2013, according to the Brewers Association. There are now more than 60 craft breweries in the Virgina alone, and there are more on the way. Just this month, San Diego’s Stone Brewing Company announced it would build an East Coast facility in Richmond, and the same city’s Green Flash Brewing Company broke ground on a facility in Virginia Beach. Now, Smack worries that all this growth could be compromised, thanks to a natural gas drilling boom and construction of interstate pipelines to move it to East Coast population centers. Smack lays out some of the concerns: “It’s a 42-inch pipeline, which is huge, pressurized to 1,000 PSI,” Smack says. “From a guy that deals with pressure on a daily basis, that’s scary. It runs over sinkholes, over fault lines — we’ve had three earthquakes since we’ve been here.” He’s also upset with the potential for use of eminent domain to force the line through private property against the wishes of landowners. He’s worried that visitors will be put off by damage to the surrounding mountain views. “I understand they’re going to blaze a mohawk, 75 feet wide, right through our viewshed,” Smack says. A pipeline route in New York stateAri MooreBut the politics get complicated. For example, a recent proposal from the Environmental Protection agency has split the industry. The Waters of the United States rule would clarify the Clean Water Act to give the agency regulatory authority over an additional 2 million miles of stream and 20 million acres of wetlands. The Brewers for Clean Water alliance, and many independent brewers, support the proposal. But the Hill reported in September that farmers who grow their ingredients oppose it. If there’s division within the industry over the new water rule, there’s near silence when it comes to the question of natural gas. The Atlantic Coast pipeline proposal, put forward by four energy companies who operate in different territories along the route, is part of a larger effort to develop East Coast infrastructure to move gas out of the Marcellus shale field. Hydraulic fracturing technology, or fracking, has opened the geological feature to mining, growing production from 2 billion cubic feet per day in 2010 to roughly 15 billion cubic feet per day today, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It now accounts for roughly 40 percent of U.S. shale gas production. “The gas is there. What’s not there are pipelines to get it from where it is to where it’s needed,” says Jim Norvelle, communications director for Dominion, one of the four Atlantic Coast pipeline partners. Norvelle dismissed Smack’s concerns about the pipeline’s potential impact on water quality. Crossing running water, he says, “is the most regulated activity that we will have to do on the pipeline. We will have federal, state, and local regulators involved every time we want to cross a river or stream or anytime we come anywhere near a well. It’s not done haphazardly; it is done under great regulatory scrutiny.” A second pipeline through Virginia, called the Mountain Valley Pipeline, has been proposed by a different set of partners for a more southwestern route that also would transport natural gas to North Carolina. It too has met opposition from local residents. The pipeline proposals come at a time when EPA regulations on mercury and greenhouse gas emissions are pushing power companies away from coal-burning plants to those that run on natural gas. Dominion Virginia Power, for example, is shuttering two Virginia plants powered by coal, “so we’ve got to find the megawatts to take their place,” Norvelle says. The so-called “War on Coal” still drives votes in the Appalachian coalfields of southwest Virginia and West Virginia, but the market has dictated the shift to natural gas as much as EPA regulations. Although the debate over fracking continues, natural gas burns cleaner than coal, making it a viable “bridge fuel” to a renewable future in the eyes of many — including President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The specter of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, paired with a series of oil train derailments across the country, has only boosted natural gas’ reputation as the best of all viable alternatives at the moment. Friends of Nelson CountySo while Blue Mountain Brewery is allying itself with anti-pipeline activists, its larger, higher profile neighbor, Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co., has remained on the sidelines. Devil’s Backbone currently brews about four times as much beer as Blue Mountain. And with a developing reputation as the darling of the Great American Beer Festival every year since 2009 — the brewery won five medals this year, including Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year and a gold for German-style Schwarzbier — it’s set to ramp up production even more. Devil’s Backbone founder and CEO Steve Crandal, a self-described “conservative tree-hugger,” has implemented water protection measures on his farm, such as planting trees in riparian zones and adding water troughs to keep his livestock off streams. Additionally, Devil’s Backbone dedicates a dollar per case of its Striped Bass Pale Ale to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Crandall, however, has been more cautious about taking on the Atlantic Coast pipeline. That’s partly due to his feeling that natural gas offers a smaller carbon footprint than many other energy sources, and partly due to the fact it’s used in Devil’s Backbone’s larger production brewery, located to the southwest in Rockbridge County. (Its smaller brewpub in Nelson County uses propane instead.) “We all use steam to boil water for our beer, and we use steam to clean our tanks,” Crandall says. “That’s all done through a gas boiler. You’re either going to use natural gas or you’re going to use propane to do that. Natural gas is a much preferable option to propane. It costs less and has less of a carbon footprint.” Crandall does see a potential 75-foot blaze over the mountains as a “blight on the county,” and says he doesn’t understand why the pipeline can’t run alongside previously used rights of way, such as Interstate 64 or electric transmission lines. “I hate the idea my neighbors are being forced to swallow this project,” says Crandall. “The other side of the equation is, we use a lot of gas — we use it to make our beer.” And from a big-picture energy perspective, Crandall understands the impetus for the Atlantic Coast pipeline. “Gas is not perfect by any means — you’ve got to frack for it, and methane does escape — but it burns cleaner than just about anything else we’ve got,” he says. click to embiggen Atlantic Coast PipelineThe four energy companies collaborating on the Atlantic Coast pipeline are set to make a pre-filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this fall, followed by a formal application next summer. If approved, the pipeline could be up and running by late 2018. Blue Mountain Brewery has jumped into the fight against the current route, agreeing to host meetings of the Friends of Nelson, a local group formed around opposition to the Atlantic Coast pipeline. To the north, in Cooperstown, New York, Brewery Ommegang has likewise taken a vocal stance against fracking. At this point, though, those breweries still tend to be outliers. Karen Hobbs, a senior policy analyst with NRDC who heads up the “Brewers for Clean Water” campaign, says it’s not unimaginable that others may eventually join them, however. “We want to take on issues important to our brewers,” Hobbs says. “We want a true partnership with them so we can engage on issues they’re concerned about that affect their breweries. If one of those is fracking, we’ll have that conversation — but we haven’t had it yet about fracking except with a couple of brewers.”Filed under: Climate & Energy, Food

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Watch Mark Bittman explain the virtues of fast food

When I was 20, my mother bought me a copy of Mark Bittman’s seminal How To Cook Everything as a housewarming gift for my first apartment. She handed it to me with the type of solemnity usually reserved for religious texts. “This,” she declared, “is one of the best cookbooks you will ever own.” It’s travelled with me to five different homes over the past five years. She wasn’t wrong. But there are many people who aren’t as willing as I am to spend entire days in the kitchen undertaking laborious cooking experiments, and reasonably so. Not that Bittman’s original tome has many particularly time-consuming or overly complicated recipes – it’s just, if you’re anything like me, seemingly simple kitchen endeavors can sometimes turn into multi-hour projects. And that can make regularly making meals at home fairly daunting. Bittman’s new cookbook, How To Cook Everything Fast, removes the question “Will I spend two hours on this chicken dish?” from the minds of the kitchen-phobic by explaining how to cut all the dilly-dallying out of meal-making, step-by-step. We sat down with him to talk about how something as basic as kitchen efficiency can be the secret to food system reform. Watch our video above to find out what he had to say!Filed under: Food, Living

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Vegan because plants don’t have feelings? You’re going to need a new reason.

We’ve all been to that dark, dreaded place deep in the corners of our minds before, a place where few care to linger. In the produce aisle, the backyard vegetable garden, reaching for seconds from the salad bowl … do plants know when we’re eating them? Researchers at the University of Missouri think they might have answer. Disclaimer to all our vegetarian/vegan readers: It’s the stuff of your worst nightmares. Here’s how the researchers figured it out. A caterpillar eating leaves sends vibrations throughout a plant. Same goes for a passing breeze, or gust of wind. To determine to what extent plants can sense them, scientists made audio versions of both types of vibrations and tested them on thale cress, a plant related to broccoli, kale, and cabbage. Modern Farmer reports: Turns out, the thale cress actually produces some mustard oils and sends them through the leaves to deter predators (the oils are mildly toxic when ingested). And the study showed that when the plants felt or heard the caterpillar-munching vibrations, they sent out extra mustard oils into the leaves. When they felt or heard other vibrations? Nothing. It’s a far more dynamic defense than scientists had realized: the plant is more aware of its surroundings and able to respond than expected. OK, so unless you’re eating literally off the vine (which should spare you a meltdown at the cutting board), plants probably can’t feel you. But scientists are still unsure what part of the plant allows it to feel or hear the vibrations, or if certain plants experience the sensations more strongly than others. Sorry to be a major buzzkill here folks, but that kale salad had a family, too.Filed under: Food, Living

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Faith and fears in Wendell Berry’s Kentucky

Wendell Berry’s mind is preoccupied with four dead sheep. I join the 80-year-old food movement sage for a drink and a visit in the kitchen of his neat white house on the top of the hill in Henry County. The talk meanders, picks up steam, and tapers off until the hum of the refrigerator fills the air, but the conversation always circles back to those missing animals. Berry has four fewer sheep, but there were only two carcasses. The others disappeared without a trace. It’s coyotes, according to a trapper who knows the beasts and how to get rid of them. Berry has never heard of coyotes doing such a thing — not the stealing of sheep, for which they have an established reputation, but for doing such a clean job of it. No telltale chunks of hide or dried blood. I can tell it rattles around in his thoughts even as we trade stories of hunters being hunted, my home state of Montana, and women who tell dirty jokes. Berry’s mind is one of the most famous and respected in environmentalism. The farming poet has been writing since the ’60s, and has more than 50 books to his name. His timeless tomes show a deep love of nature and rich understanding of the power of community. Described as the “modern-day Thoreau,” Berry holds up the simple, good things in the world while decrying the forces of greed and globalization that sully them. The man knows how to pack a punch in just a few words: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.’’ A Berry sentence — “eating is an agricultural act” — set Michael Pollan off in his own storied explorations. The National Humanities Medal winner has influenced everyone from baby boomer farmers to presidents to our 23-year-old intern who, upon hearing about my trip, exclaimed, “Wendell Berry is my Leonardo DiCaprio!” But Berry is not your typical green celebrity. While he’s attended mountaintop-removal coal mine protests and EPA hearings throughout the years, he’s more comfortable behind a pen than a podium. It’s a move that’s both wise and pragmatic: Berry has a farm to run, after all, and there are simply too many battles for one man to fight. In a quote that could double as farm and life advice, Berry told Mark Bittman: “When you are new at sheep-raising and your ewe has a lamb, your impulse is to stay there and help it nurse and see to it and all. After a while you know that the best thing you can do is walk out of the barn.” A few days after my one-on-one with Berry, I attended the Healthy Foods, Local Farms conference in Louisville, where I met people who traveled long distances to borrow his ear and see him deliver the keynote. One excitable man with a grey ponytail took Greyhounds for days all the way from Phoenix. As I talked to Henry County farmers and a variety of folks who fight for a better food system in red states, I learned it’s hard to overestimate how Berry’s influence helped shape several generations of people. There’s Missouri rancher Terry Spence, who has been raising cattle for 64 years — and battling tooth-and-nail against factory hog farming for the last 20 of them. Spence had been a quiet man who mostly stuck to his farm. But as loopholes for CAFOs snuck into legislation and the lagoons of swine manure began to leak, he found his voice and his cause. Bonnie Cecil loved bringing her first-grade class into nature and onto farms whenever possible. When she won the prestigious Milken Educator Award in 1994, she used the money to buy a small farm in Henry County for field trips and summer camps. The Berrys checked in on her after storms and taught her how to raise sheep. When her favorite ewe had to be put down, Wendell sent her away from the barn. “Bonnie, I told you this was going to break your heart,” he said. The cowboy-hat-wearing Will Harris doesn’t look like your typical environmentalist. He’s the sort of Southern charmer you find yourself punching playfully in the shoulder after knowing for a mere hour. But the burly cattle rancher had a change of heart after seeing the way his calves were packed tight and shipped to the Midwest to meet sorry deaths. And so Harris uprooted his entire beef operation in Georgia and remade it as one that favors crop and animal diversity — and built his own humane slaughtering facilities to boot. Carden Willis’ life has been changed at least twice by Berry’s advice — and in one case, by ignoring it. He wrote two novels by the age most of us are just old enough to buy a legal drink. He saw Berry speak and wrote for advice on how to get published. Berry’s reply: “Don’t try to make it as a writer. That’s no way to support a family.” Willis dropped the books, but he also dabbled in agriculture and wrote again to see if Berry had the same advice for hopeful farmers. Berry did. It was a wise response: The cost of land, the hard work involved, and the unreliable pay make farming a difficult profession to succeed in, let alone raise a family. But this time Willis didn’t take Berry’s advice, and he now runs a CSA from his small farm in Henry County. The farm is named after a Berry novel, A Place on Earth. Willis doesn’t have time to write anymore, but he runs a successful farm with his wife and two small boys. One of his CSA subscribers? Berry himself. Tireless organizer Aloma Dew has been putting on the Healthy Foods, Local Farms conference — often singlehandedly — since 1999. Her husband Lee talks as slow as she moves fast. In the car, he turns with twinkling eyes and a slight smile to observe his audience’s reaction when the threads of his story finally tie into a sharp joke. The pair are retired history professors who joined the Sierra Club to work on water issues. A lot has happened in Louisville in those 15 years. There are now more than 30 farmers markets in the area. Sarah Fritschner is a passionate farm-to-table coordinator who acts as the middleman between local farmers and distributors. A mid-size organic farm drew thousands at its fall harvest festival the weekend I was in town. At one restaurant, portraits of local farmers hang on the wall above plates filled with their own produce. Speakers at the conference expressed disbelief at how far the food scene has come. There is a lot to celebrate, and even the cautious Berry said the experiences, knowledge, and connections of the conference-goers would be “unimaginable 15 years ago.” He noted that the food movement is a journey, not a destination, and that “if we want to keep going on a journey we think is worthwhile, one of the things that is incumbent on us is to remember and keep in mind the things that are good.” Back at the farm, we remember the things that are good, too. As Berry pours my bourbon and water, the mood shifts. When his wife Tanya joins us, I come to the delightful realization that Wendell Berry is a bit of a scamp. “I like her to think that I take her for granted,” he says with his back to the door she just walked in. “That kid is too intelligent to be that good,” he says of a local toddler. After each joke, Berry looks from face to face until he lights upon someone else sharing in his glee. Since Tanya and Bonnie Cecil have had decades of his hijinks, he usually lands on my smiling mug. When he sees me giggling, he throws his head back and laughs even harder. My grin widens, and the soul of the real food movement gives a good-natured wink. As we munch on peanut butter crackers, I marvel at the ways in which I’m different from this man (besides, you know, one of us being a national treasure). Berry refuses to own a computer. He stated his reasons why in an essay in 1987 — the year I was born. He can’t understand why I would live in a city when I could be on my family’s land. I’m young, female, and spend more time than I’d like to admit on the internet. When I go to take a sip of my drink, he asks how old I am. I tell him and both he and Cecil jump. “I could have said you were 17,” he says in either a compliment to my skin-care regime or an insult to my maturity. “Oh, everyone under a certain age looks that old,” Tanya explains. And I suppose if I’m being honest, everyone over a certain age looks 80 to me, too. Despite our gaps, we find common ground in our enjoyment of good bourbon (Woodford Reserve), rural upbringings, and impish tendencies. We’re also tied together by our love of farming communities and our fears for where rural America is headed. As Berry noted in his keynote, “There is a difference between agriculture on the whole in this country and the food movement. The food movement is much more successful.” Our topsoil is still eroding much faster than it can build and washing down to choke the Gulf. In the last eight years, more than a million acres of virgin prairie and grassland were plowed over for corn and soy. From 2007 to 2012, we lost nearly 100,000 farms. Subdivisions pop up on rich farmland in Berry’s Henry County. I saw cookie cutter houses on the edge of bluegrass fields in horse country near Lexington. The abandoned effects of the last housing boom glitter on the mountainside across the river from our ranch in Montana, too. The tension between being hopeful about the food movement and being realistic about its limitations extended to the conference as well. The mood seesawed from the exuberant to a weary recounting of losses — often from the same speaker. Harris, the Southern charmer, said with thunder in his voice that the only thing standing in the way of more local slaughterhouses was hard work and the willingness to see it through. His operation grew from less than $500,000 a year in profits to more than $30 million. But he later noted that for years the farm operated at a loss, and at times he thought that he was going to lose it all. He ended his talk with, “Be careful out there, folks.” A lively farmer panel swung back and forth. A young farmer in the crowd asked about raising chickens for her local co-op. The successful organic farmer on the panel argued to the effect of “if you build it, they will come.” An older and more harried panelist told her she’d be right to be cautious. Berry told the crowd that industrial agriculture, with its reliance on fossil fuels and lack of concern for the future, was a dying system. “It has failed and it doesn’t know it. It’s brain-dead and it’s thrashing around and doing a lot of damage in its death throes,” he said. So we can all go home and wait for its last gasps, right? He then added: “And it may last a long time and do a lot of damage.” Oh. And then there’s the issue of feeling isolated and alienated in red states. When you’re at a conference with like-minded folks, you can forget that not everyone sees our current system as problematic. “Crazy” was a word that kept coming up among sustainable farmers and local food advocates I talked to, as in “my town thinks I’m crazy” or “my parents called me crazy.” How do advocates deal with communities that don’t share their beliefs? Berry’s Christian faith is a big part of his life and work. He believes God created a good and lovable world (including the “biting and dangerous beasts” ), and we fail in our exploitation and corruption of it. And many of the folks I talked to shared his philosophy of being careful stewards and connecting a deeper mystery to their work. “Outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread,” Berry wrote in an essay on the survival of creation. Aloma Dew considers eating good, sustainable food more of a communion than the Welch’s grape juice and white bread at Sunday service. Bonnie Cecil attends the same church as the Willises and Berrys, and described her second life as a small farmer in Henry County as “dropping from the sky into heaven.” Faith and churches can strengthen local food communities and advocates. When the Unitarian Church had a big conference in Louisville, an organizer pushed for sustainable fare on the menu. Now the caterer is building a local food option for future events. But the same institution that can provide meaning and support can be a source of pain, too. When Terry Spence organized against a factory farm that promised jobs, he felt a chill from his congregation. People his family had prayed beside for 32 years started ignoring them at services. They finally left that church for a more supportive one. When environmentalists can feel isolated from their communities, congregations, and even their own families, the food movement can provide support and encouragement. Quite a few people, including Spence, have been coming to the Healthy Foods, Local Farms conference for years. Berry told the conference that when the industrial food system finally reckons with its limitations and breathes its last breath, there needs to be a knowledgeable community pushing the way forward. “That’s why this little nucleus of people is so important,” he said. In Kentucky, I witnessed how a little group of like-minded folks can cross paths and build community that will last generations. The story of Carden Willis’ farm and family sprung from an interaction with Berry, but the people of Healthy Foods, Local Farms helped make it real. Before going against Berry’s advice and getting his own place, Carden Willis ran a CSA. He found the stint because the previous head farmer John Grant had gone off and married a retired teacher turned sheep farmer, Bonnie Cecil. Carden soon met and fell in love with a farm volunteer, Courtney. When they went to look for a place of their own, Grant and Cecil told them about a small farm bordering their land. The bank wouldn’t give the Willises a big enough loan to get the place, so Grant and Cecil went in on the down payment. The Willises filled the place with chickens, organic vegetables, a hyper German shepherd, and two rascally kids, Clark and Campbell. Farm Together Now author Daniel Tucker mentioned his Louisville roots at his speech at the conference. While Tucker spoke, guess who tottered across the stage, finger in nose, to the delight of the crowd? No, Wendell isn’t that much of a jokester: It was Carden Willis’ son, Clark. And who was the influential teacher Tucker credited with teaching him how to read? Why, Bonnie Cecil, of course. Courtney and Campbell Willis. Darby Minow SmithLater at the keynote, Berry spoke for a bit before pushing away his notes with some force. “That’s enough. I’ve made a lot of speeches in my time and I’ve really grown tired of hearing them,” he said. For the next half an hour, he read a short story about a frugal Kentucky family. It had all the classic trappings of a Berry tale: The value of working the land and a loving, nosey community. He spoke of being a good neighbor and avoiding greed. “Some people work hard for what they have,” Berry said, “and other people are glad to take it from them easily.” The last line of the story was the father reacting to his son’s flashy car: “Sweetheart, I told you. And you’re going to learn. Don’t let the sons of bitches get ahold of your money.” Berry walked off stage and the crowd that had come so far gave a standing ovation. The conference drew to a close. And at the farm, our visit comes to its inevitable end, too. Dusk falls and Berry’s day isn’t done. He laces up his work boots, bids us good evening, and walks out of the kitchen. He heads into the falling night to see to his flock, and to worry about the coyotes.Filed under: Food, Living

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Instead of trying to feed the world, we should be ending poverty

Every expert on the global food supply that I’ve talked to has told me that if you want to end hunger, you have to do something about poverty. And yet most news coverage — and certainly nearly all public statements from agribusiness — focuses on technologies to produce more food, rather than on ending destitution. When I spoke with Raj Patel, he made this point eloquently: “If one looks at the reasons people go hungry in the world today, poverty is the primary reason. But when one thinks about this goal of feeding the world, invariably the issue of poverty gets dropped out of that equation — because it’s such a hard problem. Whereas increasing yields is something your favorite tea company will be able to do for you, right here, right now. “It’s interesting to think about: Why is it so hard to imagine ending poverty? It’s an idea that at various points, even in U.S. political history, was a very real goal.” I’ve been wondering this myself. Perhaps it’s a downer to talk about poverty, while it’s exciting to talk about new agricultural technologies. Or perhaps, as Patel suggested, it just seems too hard: We are at a historical moment when changing things with politics feels impossible, but changing things with technology seems eminently achievable. I was surprised and heartened, therefore, when I read the new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute on global hunger. The report is mostly what you’d expect: It says we’re making progress — there are fewer hungry people in the world — but some countries are backsliding. And, it says, we need to be paying more attention to micronutrient deficiencies. Click to embiggen.IFPRIBut here’s the surprising part: When I got down to the recommendations at the end of the report there was absolutely nothing about increasing yields. Instead, the policy prescriptions were exclusively political: Make nutrition a political priority, educate and empower girls, strengthen social safety nets, crack down on corruption, require food companies to provide nutritional information … I’m not laying out all the goals here, but you get the point. IFPRI is not restricting the focus to agriculture. In fact, agriculture gets only passing mention in these recommendations. And that’s surprising, because the institute is part of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, known as CGIAR. CGIAR was born in the Green Revolution with a mandate to develop agricultural innovations that prevent famine. I asked the director general of IFPRI, Shenggen Fan, if there had been some change. “Yes,” he said. “It’s a sea change.” CGIAR, he said, used to be focused on yields, but in 2010, for the first time, it stopped to lay out a strategy. It now has four strategic objectives: reducing poverty, combating hunger, improving nutrition and health, and achieving environmental sustainability. The public debate over hunger is stuck in the past. On one side, you have farmers and agribusiness talking about how they are going to feed the world. On the other side, you have activists protesting that high-tech ag could leave the poor behind. Both are right — yes, agriculture must become more efficient, and yes, new technologies can worsen inequality — but both are tangential to the most pressing causes of hunger and malnutrition. The experts who are truly focused on reducing hunger don’t spend much time on that debate, because they are working on something bigger. If we really want to feed the world, the most direct approaches are political.Filed under: Food, Politics

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U.S. Humanitarian Aid Going to … ISIS!

Not only are foodstuffs, medical supplies—even clinics—going to ISIS, the distribution networks are paying ISIS “taxes” and putting ISIS people on their payrolls.

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We could talk about the environmental impact of toast, or we could not hate life

Today was Alexis Madrigal’s last day with The Atlantic. Today, not coincidentally, was also the day that Alexis Madrigal decided to wage war on toast. As the Prophet Spoke: When you have no bread left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire. The prodigal Madrigal claims: The paper [in the International Journal of Lifecycle Assessment] demonstrates two really interesting things. One, there is a marginal environmental advantage to the wheat bread, but an even bigger boost comes from not toasting it. Apparently, given the relative inefficiency of toasting (which uses electric resistance heating), a major component of the carbon footprint of any given piece of bread is whether you heat it or not. OK, but here’s the thing: No. Already, the year 2014 has been a very bad one for people who enjoy eating food. To wit: Almond milk has been exposed as a huge waste of water and everything else.BUT: That is perfectly fine, because almond milk tastes like liquid dust. What is the absolute surest way to ruin a delicious cup of coffee? Put almond milk in it. Done — it is now horrible. I could not care less about removing almond milk from my life. Avocado cultivation is sapping Chile of its groundwater.BUT: I mean, that’s annoying, but I can probably count the amount of avocados I consume per year on all of my phalanges (INCLUDING TOES, FOR THE RECORD.) If I cut avocados out of my diet, I would be very marginally less happy, but ultimately fine. Limes are now tainted with the blood of Mexican drug cartel victims.BUT: Honestly, just use a lemon. It’s not that different. Stop whining. But toast?? Now you come for toast? To reiterate: No. The extent to which bread is improved upon by being exposed to high heat for several minutes is exponential. Here is the best and quickest test to determine whether a new friend is a sociopath or not: Offer her a slice of plain, soft, cold bread next to a slice of toast. If she goes for the pale, limp wheat product, you must delete her number immediately, and possibly change your own. Alexis, you have done great, great things in your time with The Atlantic. But for the love of gluten: Leave toast alone. Thank you.Filed under: Food, Living

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I Ate Burger King Japan’s Black Cheeseburger—And the McDonald’s One Too

“You may abandon your own body, but you must preserve your honor.” – Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five RingsRead more…

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Save the climate, pay a farmer

If you just pay attention to the headlines — politicians squabble as we speed toward stupidly expensive and painful climate change; pestilence and war spreads! — it’s easy to start feeling depressed. If you want to find stories to lift the apocalyptic mood, you have to be willing to read past those headlines, past the epic battles, until you get to the regular people making one reasonable change at a time. I hear about people making big changes in farming at least once a week. Agriculture is an enormous emitter of greenhouse gases. If farmers have the right incentives, however, they can cut those emissions radically, and even take in more than they produce. Here’s an example: This December, the California Air Resources Board will vote on whether rice farmers can receive credits for practices that cut the methane released by flooded fields. If all goes well, it will be the first cropping practice to enter into California’s official carbon market. There are already protocols for livestock on the carbon markets — like methane digesters for poop gas — but now we are moving into the realm of horticulture, which leads us to that vast carbon sink, the soil. Horticulture is key, because it’s plants that mediate the interaction between earth and sky. There are other practices in the regulatory pipeline that would allow farmers to make a little money by slashing emissions: Nutrient efficiency, so that farmers don’t fertilize too much and release nitrous oxide. Grassland preservation, to reward those who don’t plow up prairie to plant crops Application of compost to rangeland, to kickstart carbon-sucking soil microbes. Robert Parkhurst is the climate markets guy for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has been working hard to get farmers to be part of the solution. For a lot of these approaches, he said, farmers already have the right incentive. Rice farmers cut methane by reducing the amount of time their fields are flooded; that can lead to water savings, and less money and energy spent on running pumps. When farmers are giving their fields precisely the right amount of nutrients at precisely the right time, they save money on fertilizer. But these practices require some trial and error — perhaps a few years of experimentation to really make them work. “It helps so much if you can offer farmers a little money,” Parkhurst said. “You just need that little push to get them over the hump.” There’s work going forward on other crops — almonds, and corn — but rice is the leader, in large part because California rice farmers wanted to be on the cutting edge. “Agriculture is the ground zero of climate change,” he said. “They are right there, feeling the impact, and having to adapt. And the rice growers have stepped up and said they want to be part of the solution.” I’ll be the first to admit that this doesn’t feel completely satisfying: It’s not the Hollywood success story, where the music swells as the critical documents are exposed, and the benchwarmer catches the touchdown pass, and we get to watch the baddies hoisted by their own petard. But there’s something better than a Hollywood success story: a real-life success story. This is the way the world changes — with people fixing the problems within their reach, one by one.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food, Politics

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Is the new Whole Foods rating system creating an inferiority complex for zucchini?

On Wednesday, Whole Foods started issuing ratings for its fruit, veggies, and flowers to measure the quality of farming practices. The rating system is simple: Fresh food is divided up as “good,” “better,” and “best.” It’s like getting gold, red, or green stars from your kindergarten teacher! Except it’s Whole Foods, instead of Mrs. Carter, grading you — and it’s judging greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystem management, and farmworker treatment, instead of coloring book pages. Here is some of what Whole Foods is measuring (click here for the full list): [F]arming practices that evaluate, protect and improve soil health. Examples include composting, rotating crops and using the latest science to measure and enhance nutrients in the soil. [F]arming practices that create better working conditions. Examples include reducing pesticide risks, providing protective equipment and participating in third-party auditing programs to promote safe conditions and fair compensation. [F]arming practices that protect and conserve water. Examples include rainwater collection and drip irrigation. [F]arming practices that protect native species. Examples include planting “bee-friendly” wildflowers, improving conservation areas and taking steps to protect beneficial insects from harmful chemicals. Fruits, flowers, and vegetables that come from overseas also have to comply with the rating system — yes, Whole Foods imports produce from overseas — even when the country’s standards for pesticides and soil composition are different. Retrieving the information to issue the labels is complicated, too, and some farmers have insinuated that the system may be taking things a teeny bit too far. Sellers have to undergo a thorough certification process, answering questions about the minutia of each farms’ practices. Reports the New York Times: “For instance, they want to know about earthworms and how many I have in my soil,” said Mr. Lyman, whose family has grown apples, peaches, pears and various berries on their farm in Middlefield, Conn., since 1741. “I thought, How do I count every earthworm? It’s going to take a while.” So while farmers are counting worms in the dirt to scramble for the coveted “best” title, Whole Foods says that it’s just trying to be more honest. Or, here comes the buzzword, more transparent. Plus, the fancy organic food seller now has to compete with cheaper super-companies like Walmart, McDonald’s, General Mills, and Cargill, who are starting up similar transparency campaigns (*cough* marketing ploys) — like McDonald’s recent social media blitz — in order to appeal to curious consumers such as those meddling kids, millennials. Whether the transparency campaign will make a difference for Whole Food’s sales is still up in the air, but farmers can rest assured that they will be certain to score, at the very least, “good.”Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food

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The American diet, in 3 charts (plus Michelle Obama dancing)

Everyone knows that Americans don’t eat very well, but it’s still kinda staggering to see just HOW bad things have gotten. To wit: The recommended maximum dosage of sugar in the average diet is under 4 tablespoons for every 1,000 calories, whereas we consume a whopping 9.5. Since Americans are also bad at math, I’ll restate: That’s MORE THAN TWICE AS MUCH!!! While lower income individuals and children do particularly poorly, thanks to a rigged food system, no one on that chart is exactly winning. And when it comes to the fat of the land, well, we’re scarfing that, too. The USDA recommends no more than 8.5 grams of added fat for every 1,000 calories, we actually eat 18.5. Meanwhile, vegetables are getting some serious short shrift; on average, an American only manages to cram down half the recommended servings of green and orange veggies every day, with children and lower income people at the bottom of the distribution. I guess we’re not failing at everything: The USDA points out that AT LEAST school-aged children are meeting our goals on dairy … but, well, you know how we feel about cows. With all of this in mind, perhaps it’s time to take some advice from the FLOTUS — more dancing and root vegetables, less of everything else. ( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById(‘wpcom-iframe-form-720b49b7dfe171b89400c256eb4e6c9e-543eeb97e14f0′); var iframe = document.getElementById(‘wpcom-iframe-720b49b7dfe171b89400c256eb4e6c9e-543eeb97e14f0′); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { ‘msg_type': ‘poll_size’, ‘frame_id': ‘wpcom-iframe-720b49b7dfe171b89400c256eb4e6c9e-543eeb97e14f0′ }, window.location.protocol + ‘//’ ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( ‘a’ ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( ‘’ !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( ‘object’ !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case ‘poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && ” === iframe.width ) iframe.width = ‘100%'; if ( iframe && ” === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( ‘function’ === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( ‘message’, funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( ‘function’ === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( ‘onmessage’, funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === ‘complete’) { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( ‘DOMContentLoaded’, func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( ‘onreadystatechange’, func ); } } )(); Filed under: Food, Living

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Stop Hating ‘Modern Family’

The ABC comedy, while still entertaining, stopped being groundbreaking long ago, and serves largely as comedy comfort food. Here’s how to fix it.

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Watch Cascadian Farm’s dramatic effort to save the bees

Cascadian Farm just got reeaal dramatic in its new campaign to save the bees. The organic food company’s ad for the campaign shows a bright yellow plane dropping a million wildflower seeds over a field … and it’s majestic. Children cheer in slow motion and the single, rising crescendo that is Sigur Rós — the official background music for inspiring scenes — plays in the background. The video is part of Cascadian Farm’s Bee Friendlier campaign, aimed at educating the public on colony collapse disorder and donating money to bee research. Bee colonies have been disappearing at an alarming rate, worrying beekeepers, farmers, and, well, anyone who likes to eat. Pesticides have been fingered as a culprit. Critics point out that Cascadian Farm’s parent company, General Mills, is a rampant user of pesticides itself. According to consumer campaign group GMO Inside, General Mills’ “Small Planet Foods” division, which Cascadian Farm falls under, makes up only 3 percent of the company’s total sales. The other 97 percent — or, the non-organic cereals, fruit, ice cream, pasta, pizza, soup, yogurt, veggies, and … well, you get it — likely does more harm than good when it comes to bee-saving. Here’s what Scott Lee, the director of marketing for Cascadian Farm, told the New York Times about the discrepancy: General Mills understands there are varying degrees of beliefs and consumer interests and offers non-G.M.O and organic brands like Cascadian Farm. So from a brand standpoint, ‘Bee Friendlier’ is very much aligned with our beliefs, and General Mills recognizes that. Fighting colony collapse disorder should be in every consumer’s interest. Still, I know what I’m doing tonight: Putting on Glósóli and tossing a handful of black-eyed Susan seeds across the yard. Cute kids are more than welcome to cheer me on.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Living

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What to do with an overload of cauliflower

Winter is coming and we’re serious about keeping farmers market produce on the menu. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks is showing us how to store, prep, and make the most of the bounty, without wasting a scrap. This recipe will teach you the ways. Alexandra StaffordIn a food world where al dente, crisp, and caramelized reign, pasta tossed with long-cooked, falling-to-pieces cauliflower might not ever catch on. Add to it breadcrumbs and cheese, and the monochromatic sight might send a nutritionist on a plate-as-color-wheel rant. But if you can get beyond the texture and the color, this dish, which comes from Pasta: Recipes from The Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, might make you forget crispy edges altogether — or at least make you appreciate the beauty of tender cauliflower melting into a sauce. In the book, this recipe falls in the vegetable-based sauces chapter, which puts the long cooking time into perspective: The cauliflower florets, after a five-minute blanching and 20-minute sauté, become the sauce, the teensy pieces disintegrating altogether, the bigger stalks, which could be spread like butter, remaining intact. During the lengthy cooking, the cauliflower sweetens before meeting a salty anchovy-garlic paste and a heavy pinch of red pepper flakes, a trinity of seasonings rooted in Roman cooking. If you’re worried you’ll crave more contrast in texture, don’t — toasted breadcrumbs sprinkled at the very end provide the nicest crunch. And if you can’t get over the spectrum of pale colors, try a whole-grain pasta: Farro, kamut, buckwheat, and spelt pastas, with their nutty, earthy flavors, pair especially well with the boldness of this sauce. Alexandra StaffordCauliflower, too, cannot only handle assertive flavors, but can also be a bit of a chameleon, capable of dramatic changes in nature depending on its preparation. When roasted at high heat, it becomes crisp and caramelized, a preparation that might lead you to eat a whole head in a single sitting. When boiled and puréed, it becomes velvety smooth, the creamiest cream-less soup imaginable, a boon for vegans and omnivores alike. When poached then roasted whole or cut into slabs and pan-seared like a steak, it becomes meaty, an all-star of Meatless Mondays. Alexandra StaffordBut cauliflower can be prepared simply, too, especially when it’s fresh. I had never boiled cauliflower before making this pasta recipe, always favoring roasting at high heat, guilty of wanting those crispy, caramelized edges. But boiled cauliflower cooked in heavily salted water emerges tasting buttery and creamy on its own. And though it barely needs a drizzle of anything, I’ve been loving dressing the poached florets with a few tablespoons of brown butter, sprinkling them with tarragon, and showering them with crispy breadcrumbs, a preparation for which I have Chez Panisse Vegetables to thank. Crispy and colorful, it’s a dream for gourmands and nutritionists alike. To store your cauliflower: Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, etc.) and comes in a variety of colors including white, gold, pale green, and purple. Look for firm, compact heads with fine-grained curds. If possible, avoid heads with brown spots or any discoloration, but small brown spots are fine — just cut them off. Store cauliflower in the vegetable bin of your fridge for a week or longer. If you can fit it in a bag, do so, otherwise wrap with a tea towel. Cauliflower that has been cut into florets should be used within a day or two. To prep your cauliflower: Remove outer green leaves and stems and, if you are feeling especially nose-to-tailish, reserve these greens and cook (steam, sauté, etc.) them alongside the cauliflower. If the recipe specifies cutting the head into florets, use a paring knife to remove the stems from the center stalk. The stalk can be cut up and cooked as well. To cook your cauliflower: Cauliflower pairs well with assertive flavors: garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, olives, capers, saffron, paprika, curry powder, and turmeric. As noted above, it’s versatile and can be cooked in so many ways. Cauliflower can be eaten raw or briefly blanched and served with aioli or bagna cauda. When shredded, raw cauliflower makes a great slaw. Fresh cauliflower needs little doctoring. It can be blanched in heavily salted water for five minutes and tossed with a little butter or olive oil. Dress this preparation up with brown butter, herbs, and crispy breadcrumbs. Cauliflower can be roasted whole, in slabs or in florets: Whole: After a 20-minute poaching in a flavorful broth, a whole head of cauliflower can be roasted until brown all over, then served with a tangy, whipped goat cheese sauce. Slabs: Cut a head of cauliflower into one-inch thick slices, then pan-sear them and finish them in the oven until tender. Florets: Season with olive oil, salt, and pepper, spread onto sheet pan, and roast at 425 degrees F until tender, about 30 minutes. To dress these florets up, toss them with any number of seasonings before roasting or toss them with herbs and breadcrumbs after roasting. Alexandra StaffordCauliflower can be boiled, mixed with water and sautéed onions, and puréed into the smoothest, creamiest vegan soup. For a richer preparation, simmer the cauliflower in milk with garlic and purée it with butter and herbs. Cauliflower can be simmered with milk or broth or water, puréed until smooth, and used as a filling for ravioli, as a spread for crostini, or as a lightened-up bechamel. Cauliflower’s flavor pairs nicely with fruits such as apple or pears — simmer the florets and the peeled, diced fruit together, then purée them until smooth. Use as a purée or thin into a soup. Alexandra StaffordCauliflower can be added to curries and stews or braised in flavorful broths, like one with wine, olive oil, onions, and olives. Pan-roast or sauté cauliflower florets in a skillet with olive oil until browned and tender. Add pine nuts, breadcrumbs, herbs, and currants for a simple but impressive side dish. Or toss the browned florets with pasta, walnuts, and ricotta salata. Or bake them into a frittata. Cauliflower can be blanched and mixed with flour and eggs and seasonings and fried into fritters or pancakes. It can be baked into pastas and gratins. It, like everything, can be pickled. Alexandra StaffordPasta with Slow-Cooked Cauliflower, Anchovies, and GarlicSee the full recipe (and save it and print it) here. Serves 4 1 whole cauliflower, about 2 pounds before being trimmed 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil 1 to 2 cloves garlic, depending on your preferences 4 to 5 anchovy fillets Minced fresh rosemary to taste, optional (a little goes a long way) 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more or less to taste 1/2 pound pasta, whole-wheat varieties are nice here, and small shapes (orecchiette, elbows, etc.) are nice, too 1/2 cup toasted breadcrumbs 1/2 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano ReggianoFiled under: Article, Food, Living

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Ben & Jerry’s is fighting GMOs with fudge brownie ice cream

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder and the man to thank for satisfying all your late-night sugar cravings, Jerry Greenfield, announced that the company is joining Oregon’s fight to label GMO foods. The company has rebranded the Chocolate Fudge Brownie flavor as “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” in solidarity with the movement. It’s the same old flavor, but now with a pleasant aftertaste of food activism! Mm-mm! If you live in Oregon, take note: Ben & Jerry’s is going to keep Oregon’s five scoop shops stocked with that fudgey, gooey, protest-ridden scrumptiousness until election day. This is the second go-round of Ben & Jerry’s flavor rebranding for the GMO labeling cause. Earlier this year, Vermont passed a law requiring GMO labeling, but it was met with opposition from Big Food manufacturers. To defend the cause, Ben & Jerry’s donated $1 from every purchase of the newly christened “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” made at two Vermont scoop shops in the month of July to the state’s Food Fight Fund. The Oregonian released this video of Jerry’s great unveiling in an Oregon scoop shop: Is GMO labeling the key to solving an industrialized food system? Well, probably not. But when a well-known brand sticks up for consumer rights and food industry transparency, we think it deserves a nod of approval. When voting opens on Nov. 4 in Oregon, we’ll wait and see if the flavor works its sweet, sweet magic on the ballots. That is, if midnight snackers actually read the label on the container before attacking it with a ladle.Filed under: Article, Food, Politics

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$1,320 Meal Wasted on Ungrateful Babies

It’s fun to waste money, but literally burning it loses its thrill after a while. So, the New York Times is innovating: take second graders to one of the most expensive restaurants in Manhattan for a lavish, exorbitant meal they’ll hate.Read more…

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Are All ‘Brain Foods’ B.S.?

It’s rare a week goes by without a new ‘brain food’ making headlines, promising to make us smarter and healthier. Which of these foods have science to back them up, and which are nothing but snake oil?

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