Waiting on Washington: Food

November 3, 2010

It’s come and gone. Election day didn’t bring the end of the world. For us regular ol’ Americans, life goes on about the same.
Washington is bound to be just about the same as it was last week, but that doesn’t have to slow us down. Let’s talk about food. I’ve blogged about food before. We’ve talked about voting with our food dollars, and that’s very important. I don’t want be redundant here, so if you want to read more, visit some of my older posts.
As far as legislation goes, The Farm Bill is set to expire in 2012, and Congress is currently discussing food safety legislation. The Farm Bill largely dictates what farmers grow–currently, the subsidies we dole out ($56 billion for corn over a decade) provide huge incentives to grow “corn and beans.” The current Farm Bill makes processed foods cheap, since they’re loaded with various forms of corn and soy beans, but shouldn’t such a bill make produce cheap? Our USDA food pyramid reads one way, towards produce, but our subsidies read another, towards sugary, fatty, processed foodish stuff. Food safety is a joke, because as we’ve seen recently, not all food is safe. Our eggs make us sick, our celery is tainted, and we get free frogs in our bags of frozen veggies, but the current regulations (or lack of enforcement) are almost begging for such issues. Like most other action in Washington, I don’t expect the end products of either of these to be ideal, but I still think it’s worth our time to call our representatives. We can also act on our own.
Luckily for us, there’s something afoot. It’s called the Food Movement. This movement is already responsible for many changes we’re seeing. Marion Nestle, renowned nutritionist, says the Food Movement that we see sweeping across the country is democracy. I love this! At a time when our democracy seems to represent anything but the voices of the people, our voices are being heard because of what we put in our mouths. I realize it’s a bit dramatic to talk of our democracy as if it’s crumbling–we’re still free, and I am still mostly proud to be American–but it sure is good to see democracy working.
We don’t need a bill to dictate what foods are important for our tables, and we don’t need safety regulations to tell us that foods not processed in massive facilities are probably safer for our families. Because of lobbying efforts from some large companies, our tax dollars are propping up some unsustainable choices, but our dollars are just that: our dollars. Unfortunately, for those without the time or resources to educate themselves about smart, sustainable food choices or without the financial means to do anything about it, they are subject to Washington’s decisions. Democracy may be guiding this Food Movement, but is it true democracy if it doesn’t afford healthy and safe options to all Americans?
40% of children’s calories come from junk food. Yeah, read that again. I trust that parents want bright futures for these children. They don’t dream of their children developing diabetes, or living with health issues exacerbated by obesity. I don’t know how you’d rank affordable access to healthy food with other justice issues: women’s rights, slavery, civil rights, gay rights. Those are big issues. But I think this is another great social justice issue. It’s a great social injustice that there are Americans who cannot make the best food decisions for their families. Even if these individuals knew which food choices were most beneficial to them and to the environment, do they have the financial resources to make those choices? Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that, but I think at least part of the answer involves changing our priorities.

In the 1930s the average American household spent 22% of its income on food.  Now it’s 10%. Food, as you might imagine, is pretty important. We kind of need food to survive. But it only makes up 10% of our budgets! What things have filled in the gaps? Cell phones, cable TV, car payments. There are many more, but the common denominator in these is that they’re unnecessary. I don’t mean to come down on those of us who spend money on these things. Fortunately for many, we can afford these things plus food that’s good for us and the environment. This is where our values come in.
Large companies recognize a desire among Americans for cheap food (especially cheap meat), and in order to make it cheap they’ve got to skimp on doing things the right way. If animals are butchered properly, the bacteria naturally present in their digestive systems should not find it’s way into our peanut butter. Do we understand that we get what we pay for? I recognize that money isn’t growing on trees, but if we value food that’s good for us and good for our environment, then we should expect extra costs.
While I would love to see sweeping changes overnight, I realize that neither Washington nor consumers have that kind of power. But I’m very encouraged by movements I’ve seen. Corporations such as Wal-Mart see that we want locally grown produce, so they’re responding. I’m not Wal-Mart’s biggest fan, but their commitment to green practices continues to grow. And another thing: Wal-Mart has a knack for makin’ stuff cheap. If larger corporations continue to see the movement toward a sustainable food future, we can only hope that this will make healthy decisions possible for more Americans. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that we’re a country of trend-followers. At least with the Food Movement, it’s a trend that benefits our land, our food producers, our animals, and our consumers.
When it comes to food, our grassroots democracy seems to be working, and we owe ourselves a pat on the back. So what can we do now? Celebrate with a home-cooked meal made from local products and some green beer. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing, and let’s each take a step or two more. Lend your informed voice to push for local school lunch reform, shop at your local farmer’s market, join a CSA or a community garden. It’s encouraging to see our progress, but we still have work to do.


Real Milk is Raw

August 27, 2009

We bought our first gallon of raw cow’s milk just over two weeks ago.  I had been calling around the city to find a place to buy it, but most of the farms I called didn’t deliver, so it would have involved driving at least 40 minutes to pick it up (Missouri law allows raw milk sales only when it is either purchased directly from the farm or delivered).  While at the Brookside Farmer’s Market, though, I happened to talk to a woman from whom I had been purchasing peppers, okra, and pecans.  She said her husband delivered raw cow’s and goat’s milk, so I scheduled to pick some up the following Saturday.

Raw milk has multiple benefits over pasteurized milk, so I’d like to outline a few of those benefits.

1.  Raw milk contains beneficial enzymes that are destroyed in the pasteurization process (by the way, you might ask, “but I thought pasteurization was necessary to prevent diseases.  Wasn’t that the genius of Louis Pasteur’s discovery?”  Well, yes, it was.  We know far more about the spread of diseases than we did previously, and contamination with such diseases is preventable through clean practices).  These enzymes assist the body in digesting the milk, so for those who are lactose intolerant, raw milk could be an alternative.

2.  Raw milk contains healthy bacteria that are destroyed in the pasteurization process.  These healthy bacteria populate the human digestive system, so that we have a balance of good and bad bacteria.  A common problem in an age of antibiotics is that our bodies are relatively low in good bacteria, because antibiotics kill all bacteria (not just the bad), so it is essential to our health and ability to fight illness that we have a balance of these bacteria.  Also, as an added bonus, since raw milk still possesses these good bacteria, the milk doesn’t go bad in the way pasteurized milk does.  Sure, it does sour, but it just becomes sour cream, buttermilk, and cream cheese.  Once raw milk goes sour, you could argue that it’s actually better for you, since it contains even more beneficial bacteria.  And you don’t have to throw it out.

3.  Raw milk that comes from pastured, not to be confused with pasteurized, cows is much higher in healthy fats, since the cows are consuming what they are meant to consume–grass.  Cows stomachs do not tolerate the corn that CAFOs have forced them to consume (or the cow lard, or the chicken droppings).  They are animals destined for grazing fields of grass, and when they are able to do this, their flesh and milk (and in turn, butter, cheese, etc.) are actually better for us.  Even full fat milk is more healthful when it comes from pastured cows.  On top of the healthy fats, the milk is also higher in many essential nutrients when the cows are allowed to graze the fields.

4.  Raw milk is just so creamy.  And tasty.

I am making cream cheese with raw milk right now, and I intend to make butter with the next gallon.  Court and I also plan to try the raw goat’s milk, which is another alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.  I encourage you to try it (they also sell half gallons).  If you’d like more information, comment, and I’d be happy to discuss with you.

For more information, visit www.raw-milk-facts.com.

I like the taste of beer.  A lot.  And I really like beer that has a small carbon footprint.  For Kansas Citians, that beer is anything from Boulevard Brewing Company, since it’s just so close (and they have a relatively new, state of the art, energy efficient brewhouse).  But I also like to switch it up occasionally, so it’s nice to know there are eco-friendly beer producers throughout the US.  One of those is Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. 

At Sierra Nevada, they have covered every inch of roof with solar panels.  They also grow their own hops, filter their own water, and pay farmers to grow organic grains.  The only reason their beer isn’t organic is this: beer is about 90% water, and water can’t be certified organic.  Pretty cool.  If you’d like to know more about Sierra Nevada’s environmental stewardship, visit their website.

And visit your local Gomer’s for a nice selection of Sierra Nevada brews.

Kefir Article

March 25, 2009

You’re probably sick of me going on and on about kefir, but here is a fairly concise article on the history and benefits of this tangy, probiotic beverage.  The history involves a fantastic tale of seduction and the benefits include preventative effects against cancer, allergies and high blood pressure.  Now I got your attention.

Kraut and Cider

March 23, 2009

As I mentioned, I made some homemade sauerkraut.  The process is pretty simple.  All you really need is a head of cabbage, some salt, a crock or jar in which it can do its thing and something to weigh it down.  I used the pot of a crock pot, and I placed a small plate over the kraut with a beer growler (filled with water) on top of the plate.  If you’re interested in making it, let me know, and I’ll give you more detailed instructions.  After 5 days I tasted my kraut to see how it was progressing: it was pleasantly crunchy, slightly salty and just a little bit sauer.  I waited another few days, and the flavor was incredible.  Since then, I have consumed a little every few days.  I think it’s supposed to last a few weeks, so I’ll let you know how that goes.  I am amazed that the cabbage maintains it’s crunchiness throughout the process.

One of my goals after making my kraut was to make some homemade reubens.  Since I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I almost never buy meat to cook at home, I tried some veggie reubens.  My first try was a tempeh reuben.  I’d never had tempeh, but it’s another fermented food, so I thought that was, logically, the first place to start.  Well, the tempeh was pretty bland and dry, so the reuben was a bit difficult to eat.  I tried another route.  I bought some soy philly cheese steak-style slices, and I used them instead of tempeh.  Success.  I don’t think I really tasted the soy slices, but that was fine with me, because the kraut is so good.

I also mentioned that I was experimenting with some cider.  Well, it’s actually kefir cider.  The only difference is that instead of allowing outside yeast to inocculate the liquid, I used a couple kefir grains.  After a few days, the cider began to bubble just as beer does when it’s fermenting.  After another couple of days, the fermentation died down, so I let it sit a bit longer to allow everything to settle.  I think, all in all, I waited about a week before I decided to bottle it.  I bought some flip-top bottles for the sake of ease in bottling.

Well, it tastes a little weird.  Court and I both tasted some initially, and it was barely drinkable.  I decided to wait a few days to see if the taste would develop in the bottle–I think it got a little better, but I don’t think Courtney agrees.  I’ll keep you updated.  And I’d love to let you taste some.  I think I’ll try non-kefir cider to see if the odd flavor is just because of the kefir; if it still tastes funky, I’ll assume that I need to let it age a bit.