This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Last weekend I visited my friend Ulla Kjarval and her family's farm Spring Lake Farm (they also have a blog) in Delhi, NY. I met Ulla on Twitter and I've been buying from her farm for my Meatshare meetup group. It was wonderful to get to visit and spend time with them and their wonderful animals.
The animals were hard to spot in the tall grass and their farm really was huge, at over 300 acres. Farmer Ingimundur has been steadily increasing the amount of grass the pigs are eating, so they are mostly grass-fed, which is rare even on similar locavore-catering farms. Because of the amount of grass in their diet, the pork has a delicious savory beefy quality.
Delicious spare ribs
Which is good, because I eat it a lot and so do they. Farmer Ingi says that because of all his contact with paleo/ancestral dieters, he has more fully embraced meat as healthy. He says he has lost considerable weight and has more energy than ever thanks to eating lots of pork belly for breakfast every day. That mirrors the experience Heath from Wooly Pigs, another pig farmer who has gone paleo with amazing results.
One thing I'll miss about NYC is my meatshare group. Small farmers have a lot of trouble marketing their meat and I'm glad we've been able to buy so much from Spring Lake Farm. Both the farm and our group have overcome many challenges and we've learned so much in the process (sometimes the hard way).
That's why next week I'm teaching a workshop in NYC about how to organize your own meatshare. I hope to educate the next generation of bulk meat buyers in NYC.
For the next chapter of my life I'm starting up Chicago Meatshare. And for everyone else I'm still writing that book about meatshare and how to plan one yourself.
Get ready for a foodie fight at the Museum of the City of New York this Friday, March 25th, as an all-star panel of food writers, restaurateurs, and farmers battle over the efficacy of the locavore and sustainability movements. At the table are Peter Hoffman, chef and owner of the farm-to-table, locavore proselytizing, beekeeping Savoy restaurant in SoHo; Gabrielle Langholtz, editor of Edible Manhattan; James E. McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly; David Owen, author of Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability; and Jennifer Small, owner and farmer of the Flying Pigs Farm. The group will debate the environmental and social costs and benefits of revamping the city's food culture in the contemporary age.
All during the panel all I could think about is that I hope these people aren't influencing policy much because most of them don't know that much about economics. At least most of them were willing to admit that, but James E. McWilliams continued to be a weasel. I mentioned him first on my Locavore-Animal Rights Cold War post. Since then, The Atlantic has given him a platform to spew his ill-informed opinions about food (he's a "food historian"). He plays himself as an advocate of low carbon footprint food and says he opposes the locavore movement because it's inefficient in that direction. In the beginning of the panel he says "any imported plant food will have a lower impact than any local animal product." Uh huh. How do you know that? He admitted later in the panel that there is really no way to know the truth of a food's environmental impact. But many economic analyses show that local meat has a lower environmental impact than most imported plant foods, including that done in Meat: A Benign Extravagance.
The truth is that McWilliams doesn't give a damn about environmental impact. All he cares about is that people don't use animals at all. During the panel he said his utopist vision was highly industrialized biotech fruit and vegetable farms.
Any time anyone put forth evidence that local meat was a good food, he had something dumb to say, like that "well if everyone can't do it it's not a good model." That's a weird argument that I've written about before. It's almost like his knowledge of economics comes from Sim City. But at least in Sim City he might have learned that when a resource becomes truly scarce the price increases, thus forestalling his magic fantasy dystopia where everyone is destroying the world to have pastured pork.
Also in his fantasy land is the idea that without CAFOs or farm subsidies our meat would cost $35 a lb. New Zealand got rid of its subsidies and now has pastured meat that's cheap enough to be exported.
Animal rights activists hate the local food movement because it threatens its propaganda. PETA and its ilk rely on videos of animals being beaten in industrial operations and simplified "meat is bad for the environment" stats. The local food movement comes along and let's people see that its animals are treated well. It lets locavores into the slaughter process, showing them that while it's not fun, it's not like in those videos.
Then it comes up to light that animal rights activists aren't angry about meat because it's bad for the environment or because the animals are beaten. They are against animals being used by humans in any way, whether for life-saving medical research or for milk. They don't like having to admit it because it reveals their philosophy for its ultimate anti-humanism. And it reveals that they aren't really interested in the true environmental impact of meat unless it supports their philosophy.
Yes, many things happen, especially when you are so busy that you can barely keep your head above the water.
- I am organizing a meatshare! With a farmer who follows the paleo diet herself from upstate! You can get more info here! Suffice to say, organizing these things has been a great education in the major difficulties of getting quality food from farm to table. But I'm learning more each day and our meat shares keep getting better.
- There is a Mangalitsa cooking demo at the New Amsterdam Market this week!
-Not to be weird or anything, but I'm going to Wise Traditions and The Young Farmer's Conference. Does anyone want to share a ride or a hotel room? Um, I am SO busy organizing meat things that I hath no time to tarry on these matters. Let me know!
Some recipes I want to make
Out of Seattle comes this excellent story about a butcher claiming to sell local organic grassfed meat...but when asked they are unwilling to reveal their sources. Just goes to show that you need to do the research. Apparently marketing genius have realized that food with a story sells...whether the story is true or not.
I think there is lots of room for a trustworthy certification service. I've personally had good experiences with Animal Welfare Approved, which is a group actually devoted to making animal production better instead of eliminating it like other sneaky groups.
Some restaurants have moved away from listing every farm they source from, citing it as trivial and cluttering. But when you are buying your own meat, it's not trivial. Ask "is it possible to visit this farm?" If the answer is no, be suspicious.
Brings me to two new NYC CSAs that are looking for members:
High Point Farms Meat CSA
Grass fed beef, pasture raised pork, free range chicken, free range eggs and local cheese from farms in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York are now available in the City.
High Point Farms, LLC starts a NEW meat, egg or cheese CSA in June to be picked up at Jimmy's 43 in the East Village and at Sweet Pea CSA in Brooklyn Heights. Animals are humanely raised, without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, on intensively managed pastures. All meat is processed USDA and no added nitrates or MSG is used. Many of the Cheeses are from RAW milk.
Farm Fresh Vegetables at a great price
Saturdays at Grace Church
139th and Edgecombe Ave.
Flexible Payment Options Available
Receive a Variety of Great Fresh Foods each Week like salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, zucchini, kale, potatoes, squash, collard greens, basil, cilantro
There will also be the opportunity to order meat from Veritas Farm, which is a great opportunity since it's not sold anywhere else in the NYC metro area. I have personally been to this farm and it's top-notch! All their animals are happily out on pasture all the time- they are shaggy highland cattle, so they can handle it! I blogged about my visit here.
I've been really enjoying the farmer's market lately. Bizarrely enough, some people really want to know what the heck I eat. It's boring to me...but apparently exciting to you?
The above dish was from the Friday farmer's market at Union Square, which isn't always my favorite, but I scored this ground ostrich for pretty cheap and some fresh nettles. Yes, you can eat the stinging nettle and its full of great nutrients. I always collected it in Sweden and despite wearing gloves I got stung regularly. It's not so bad and might even be beneficial for people with inflammatory illnesses. But I didn't get stung this time. They were in a bag and I blanched them in boiling water before quickly putting them in an ice bath. Then I chopped them finely and mixed them with a beaten egg. After coating with some coconut flakes left over from making coconut milk (almond or other nut flour would work too), I fried them in lard. Pretty good nettle fritters. The ostrich I just made into patties in cooked. It was fairly good, but a little gamey and like all farmed poultry, the ostrich had been fed corn. Ruminants >>>> poultry in terms of fatty acid balance.
At the Saturday market I scored tons of asparagus, ramps (a wild leek), a grassfed beef heart, lovely purple potatoes, and tons of bison marrow bones. The beef heart got my "offal killing marinade" overnight. I call it that because it really does kill any off flavors, but maybe the heart didn't need it because it's not that offaly. Either way, it's minced red hot pepper, jalapeno, ginger, and cilantro in lime juice overnight. Then I grilled the heart and salted it....and it was DELICIOUS. I will definitely buy it again. I put the marrow bones on top of the potatoes in the oven and let the fat from the bones coat them in deliciousness as they cooked. Then the killer combo of lemon juice, salt, capers, and black pepper.
Today I got more asparagus and some striped wild sea bass. All of that went in the toaster oven at work with duck fat, salt, and pepper. Sea bass is an incredible fish- 100% silky and 0% weird. I love how quickly and simply it cooked too. I will definitely buy it again.
What's next? Rhubarb and strawberries, the former I try to limit my consumption of because historically it's a medicine and not a food. It was originally imported from Asia to Europe as a laxative, well...at least according to the Linnaeus mueseum in Uppsala, Sweden. Interestingly, Linnaeus suffered from terrible gout, which he was finally able to cure with wild strawberries. But either way, rhubarb is very high in oxalic acid and definitely requires sweet to taste palatable. My paleo rhubarb recipe mixes finally chopped strawberries and rhubarb and lets the mixture sit overnight, then tops it with crushed walnuts/fat/honey mixture. A treat that I shouldn't eat ALL the time like I did when I lived in Sweden, probably because people there ate rhubarb crisp like crazy.
I hate to write too much about food policy, but the truth is that if you are eating paleo, the government is a major threat to the freedom to fill your plate with grassfed local meat. While the government buys loads of the crappiest factory farmed meat and grains devoid of nutrition and feeds them to the nation's unwitting children in public schools, it sees no problem in regulations that disproportionately affect farmers that get no government help whatsoever. The local food movement is small and many farmers already struggle getting their meat to market. What is the government doing to help? Oh, it's making more regulations that are easy for Conagra to comply with, but would probably put your local butcher out of business. Great.
The sad thing is that local small scale meat producers have never been involved in a major impact and if they were the government wouldn't need to spend a year figuring out where the poisoning came from. Direct purchasing is 100% tracable.
What can you do?
The major threats these days are a HACCP proposal, which is a food safety protocol obviously built for Kraft and not for your local farmer, and the Food Safety Modernization Act, a dystopia of paperwork and burdensome rules.
How has local food, particularly meat, impacted your life? What regulatory challenges have you witnessed your local farmers, butchers, and processors dealing with? Why should the government treat small producers differently?
I urge the USDA to consider the impact this HACCP system would have on the growing movement of small butchers, meat farmers, and farmer's markets. Many people now look to this small, but burgeoning, market to purchase specialty meat products valued for their contribution to the local economy, taste, and health properties connected to grass finishing. When I wrote my honors thesis at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on the impact of HACCP on small local food businesses, I couldn't find any studies that analyzed the impact. Despite their small size, they are part of the business landscape and deserve to be informed on the details of this proposal so they may participate in commenting. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that regulations such as this disproportionately impact such businesses. This impact deserves to be further studied as we weigh the costs and benefits of further HACCP implementation. Not doing a full economic impact analysis would be unconscionable.
I would also like to see recognition of the obvious fact that small local food businesses are fundamentally different in their risks and challenges compared to large agribusiness, the source of most large outbreaks this proposal was created to respond to. Such a recognition would allow for specific regulations that are appropriate for small business, further study on less capital intensive HACCP programs, and exemptions that take into account the unique consumer-producer relationship inherent in direct purchasing. Small local food businesses, regardless of their risks, are more traceable and therefore more accountable to the consumer. There is no year long manhunt for the cause of outbreaks when it comes to direct purchasing.
Read up on the Food Safety "Modernization" Act and call your senators. Farm and Ranch Freedom has some great information on how to take action.
We don't want empty farmers markets and boarded up butchers- we want the right to direct purchase food that makes us and the local economy healthy.
While I've enjoyed eating mostly local meat this winter, I'm very excited to see fresh early spring foods at the farmer's market. My new favorite are ramps, which are a tiny wild leek with a tiny season. They can be hard to find, but in Manhattan Union Square Market has then for $3 a bunch. Milder than most other members of the allium family, ramps taste a little to me like a more savory and succulent version of garlic. Ramps are all flavor with none of garlic's harsh tones. The Spotted Pig does an excellent braise of them with rabbit, but they work well with nearly any meat and are simple to cook.
Here I drew on asparagus, another extremely delicious early-spring vegetable that has the magical ability to become crispy and absorb the flavors of the fat it is cooked with. That meat was my farmer friend's homemade pancetta, which was made with the best black peppercorns I have ever tasted. I sauteed the asparagus and pancetta in The Piggery's lard, then added the finely sliced white parts of the ramps. Once the asparagus was browned, I added some local wine for a splash of acidity, but you can add lemon juice or some good vinegar. Then I added the sliced green leaf tops of the ramps with a smattering of herbs grown on my windowsill. When everything looked nice and tender, I put it in a bowl and topped with ghee and sea salt. If you do dairy this would have been excellent with a good shaved cheese.
The whole dish is amazing- brown crispy asparagus flavored with the smoked pancetta, which was also crispy and melted in my mouth. The ramps added a whole new dimension of savory flavor to an already wonderful dish. Go get them before they are gone! It's not like you can buy them imported from Peru in December.
100% Local. 100% Delicious.
BTW if you are looking for paleo-friendly eats in NYC, don't forget to check out my new paleo map. It's in beta, so contact me if you have any additions.
Last night I heard Joel Salatin speak in NYC. I was kind of surprising that he would speak on Easter Sunday. I grew up in Georgia and Easter was a big holiday there, but pretty much everything was open here and lots of people turned out for his lecture.
I only saw the first one, which was about whether or not the local food movement is elitist. Salatin mainly talked about how regulations hinder the development of new local food businesses and make food more expensive. I was familiar with this argument because I did my senior thesis on regulatory obstacles to a healthier local food system and Salatin's book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal was one of my starting points.
You can read his original essay on the subject here. What does this have to do with paleo? Well, the main food regulations affect are animal foods, though produce is becoming more controlled thanks to the spinach, peanut, and tomato food poisoning outbreaks that killed and sickened Americans.
The standard regulatory argument is that risk is risk and every farm should be regulated the same way. I personally disagree with that. Part of the rational behind regulations is that people are victims because they can't make a rational consumption decision due to the structure of our food economy. People wouldn't purchase things made unsafely if they could see the production, but they can't and it's pretty unrealistic to expect most people to closely keep tabs on food factories 1000 miles away. Of course a private certifying agency probably could, but it's equally unrealistic for libertarians to expect the US to drop all food regulations.
Even if you are not libertarian, it's clear that most regulations on food producers are unfair. I went to a big agricultural school sponsored by the government. Much of the technology used on farms is developed by such universities and most of it is geared towards large farms. That's an unfair advantage. So when regulations are written they typical require capital that would be unrealistic for a small farm to own or use. Also, there is rent seeking behavior- manufacturers of this expensive equipment often are the loudest advocates for more regulations. Things are changing- there is a foundation around here that is working on small scale mobile slaughterhouses, but they are facing an uphill battle. The mobile slaughterhouse has to have a separate trailer with an office and bathroom for the USDA inspector. They can't just use the normal bathroom in the farm office, regulations stipulate the inspector has to have their own.
Another subsidy is that large feedlot operations are pretty much allowed to pollute. I don't see why they should be allowed to sully steams they don't own. Small farmers often take great care of their land and the environment in general. Many factory operations also employ illegal workers and the government turns a blind eye, while small farmers struggle with the challenge of having legal workers, which is more than just paying minimum wage, it's often also paying worker's comp and dealing with some draconian state employment laws.
Contrasting with shoppers in the grocery store who really would have a hard time really knowing where their food comes from, people who purchase directly are able to talk to the farmer and often able to visit and work on the farm.
The consequences for all these regulations are stressed farmers who have to haul their cattle hundreds of miles to the nearest USDA slaughterhouse and more expensive meat. One of the reasons poultry tends to be cheaper is that there is an exemption that allows small farmers to slaughter on-farm . Why chickens slaughtered on farm are safe but goat aren't never struck me as logical. The safety of an animal to eat has more to do with the skill of the butcher than the magic of a USDA inspector. I'd certainly rather have animals killed by my own butcher that I know.
Either way, read the book, it's great and will help you understand why small farmers have such a tough time. Salatin also addressed the global agriculture problem. He mentioned how large companies like Monsanto who often claim to be the savior of the third world often don't acknowledge that the green revolution is often the cause of the problems in the first place. He mentioned how the old Thai system was diverse and grew rice alongside fish and vegetables. Replacing this system with rice monoculture created the vitamin deficiencies that the GMO golden rice is supposed to cure.
Another factor is that contrary to popular opinion, small sustainable farmers aren't Luddites. There have been massive increases in the efficiency of many sustainable methods like composting in the past 50 years. Such methods are more sustainable not just from an ecological perspective, but from an economic perspective. In unstable third world countries introducing methods that require imported seeds, pesticides, machines, and oil just isn't appropriate.
Salatin also talked about the choice aspect of the matter. I don't make much money myself, but in the past I had to be on all sorts of expensive medication. Now that I eat a better diet, I don't need those pills and inhalers, which unlike grassfed beef, just masked the symptoms and did nothing to nourish or heal me. Joel Salatin mentioned how tests done at the local ag school showed high levels of CLA, a fat that shows strong anti-cancer properties, and DHA, which is the most prized of the omega-3 fatty acids that promote good health in general.
He said it's a shame that libertarians, free marketers, and conservatives have so often been reactionary against healthy eating, but the tide is turning. I agree. While paleo dieters come in all stripes, a growing segment is people traditionally associated with the right.
Surprisingly enough, many people write to me asking what I eat and where I get it. I think it's boring, but I guess it's useful for many people, especially if you live in NYC. I haven't been good at posting the rest of my week, but here are some things I've been eating!
What delicious foods have you been eating lately? Where are you getting your ingredients?