Monday, December 29, 2014

What's in the News: December 2014

Well, the holiday season is pretty much over, and so is 2014. We're just a couple of bottles of champagne and a half-hearted joke about an unused gym membership away from putting this whole thing behind us, but before we do, let's see what happened in food news this past month that you may have missed:

From CoconutOil.com: Sporadic and anecdotal evidence shows that coconut oil may reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease. The Alzheimer's Association is reluctant to test this, going so far as to imply that coconut oil consumption could actually be bad for you.
-5 points

From Boston Business Journal: New startup CookRadar pairs adventurous foodies with amateur chefs who name their own price for home-cooked meals.
+5 points

From Aljazeera America: Vermont becomes the big player in the GMO labeling issue. If it's law goes into effect in 2016 as planned, it could set a precedent for nationwide labeling.
+5 points

Monday, December 22, 2014

December Recipe Roundup

One thing I love about the holiday season is all the nice, warm comfort food. Here are few favorite recipes I tracked down this month that were delicious:

Pork Tenderloin with Cranberries from Paleo Leap:



This is a great gluten-free option, and with a glaze of cranberries, honey, and cinnamon, it's a perfect cold weather meal.



Easier and more flavorful than your average stir fry, this delivers a hearty, complex bite with just five ingredients.


I talked about these in my Holiday Cookies post a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating now that I've gotten some favorable reviews on them, that these are a little fluffier than most sugar cookies, and are great with or without frosting.


I was shocked at how easy it was to make these guys. If you're short on time, or just don't want to get a lot cookie sheets dirty, no-bake is the way to go. No gluten, no animals products, and very little sugar go into making these a quick and easy treat any day of the year.

What have you eaten this month?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kitchen Sink Cookies: Your Holiday Baking Just Got Easier


The holidays snuck up on me again this year. Three weeks ago, I was feeling great, having gotten a head start on my planning, and now here I am still not done yet.  Christmas is ten days away, there are rumblings at work of a last minute Secret Santa, and one irritating friend has already caught me off guard by giving me a gift before I was ready.

If this sounds like you, fear not! I can't help you with the fact that the Amazon shipping window has closed, but I can remind you that dessert is always a great gift. Whether you've got a office party or cookie swap obligation, or just a family member that's hard to shop for, something hand-made and thoughtful is never a bad way to go. Cookies also make a fantastic last-minute gift for someone you didn't plan on seeing, or item to bring to a party you forgot about.

Last week I posted some of my favorite fancy pants cookie recipes, but it you feel that the time for getting all that has passed, you can still wow your love ones/hated ones/tolerated ones with some seriously good cookies they've ever had without even making a trip to the store.

Every year, the last batch of cookies I make is to use up the orphan ingredients. This works at any season of the year to clean out your cupboard of items you don't know what to do with, and it's equally useful for whipping up a hasty holiday treat.


No two batches are alike.
Directions: (based on the Original Nestle Toll House Cookie Recipe)

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Variation: Use up to 50% nut-based flour without changing the recipe.
  3. In a large bowl, beat 2 sticks butter, 3/4 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until creamy. Variation: Sub coconut oil for butter, almond extract for vanilla, and feel free to cut back on the sugar. In the photo above I COMPLETELY FORGOT the brown sugar, and they ended up tasting a little more like a short bread cookie, but still good.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time (or about 1/4 of a very ripe avocado to make it vegan)
  5. Stir in flour mixture until well blended.
  6. Stir in about half a cup each of chocolate chips, oatmeal, chopped nuts, dried fruit, whatever you've got in the cupboard. Get creative.
  7. Back 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown. If you're using nut flours, they will spread out a little, so take that into account when you're spacing them out on the cookie sheet.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Cookies 2014


How are your holiday preparations coming along? I'm pretty excited that my cookies are all boxed up and ready to go. I thought getting the baking out of the way early was a smart move until I realized how much extra will power it was going to take to not devour every last one before I have a chance to give any away.

As always, these cookies are corn-free and as healthy as they can be while still tasting decadent. Every batch this year was made with a 2:1 ratio of unbleached all purpose flour and cashew meal. The cashew meal gives the cookies a rich, nutty flavor, adds extra oil so the cookies don't get too dry, and of course, cut down on gluten and refined carbs. I did use a lot of butter, but if it makes you feel better, here are some smug charts on how the low-fat movement is making us the unhealthiest we've ever been.

And now the 2014 Official Holiday Cookie List:

1) Ribbon Cookies


These tri-color cookies are always a huge hit, and my personal favorite to make. I will admit there were some questionable ingredients in the food coloring I used, so if you have a corn allergy, I would do some research or get all natural food coloring.

2) Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies


I learned tonight on The West Wing (yes, I am just now watching The West Wing for the first time) that these are apparently called Black Eyed Susans. (Yes, that's the kind of useful knowledge I glean from The West Wing.) Anyway, Hershey doesn't exactly make the most sustainable chocolate, so I sacrificed form for function and used locally produced chocolate bar squares.

3) Macaroons
photo credit: The Yellow House


If you're a Ibsen fan with a dark sense of humor like me, you know it just isn't Christmas without macaroons. This recipe from The Yellow House gives a bright lemony twist to the traditional coconut bite. I subbed maple syrup for the recommended honey and they came out quite nicely.

4) Sugar Cookies


I haven't been totally satisfied with the sugar cookie recipe I've been using for the last few years, so this time around I tried one from Just a Taste. They puff up more than other sugar cookies, giving a little bit more life to your cutout shapes, and the flavor is incredible. I opted not to use the frosting that Kelly recommended, and I don't miss it at all.

5) Almond Joy Truffles


This no-bake option from Real Food Real Deals can be completed in a flash if you have a good food processor, plus they contain no sugar, no flour, and no eggs or dairy! Just don't forget to pit the dates, or you'll be biting down on something and thinking to yourself , "Wow. That's one tough almond." Idiot.

6. Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cookies


Because you've got to have at least once sinfully chocolaty option, I tried out this recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod that combines two of my favorite non-standard baking ingredients: avocados and coconut oil. They taste great, but have some patience when stirring in the chocolate chips. Without eggs as a binding agent, those little guys just don't want to stay mixed in.




What are you baking this holiday season?

Monday, December 1, 2014

What's in the News: November 2014

November is over and there's no more denying that it is officially The Holiday Season, whatever that means. Look for some cookie recipes later in the week, but first, here's what happened in food news during November, and how dire the outlook is:

The Global Green Economy Index ranks the U.S. in 28th place, despite a perception that we're working much harder than that towards sustainable infrastructure.  -10 points

The Washington Post published a piece co-written by Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and others outlining a proposal for a national food policy that would put organizations like the EPA and USDA into a more well thought out fight against everything wrong with our food systems, which might get more done than our current system of similar but discrete agendas undoing each other's work. +10 points

Celebrity Chef Tom Coliccio "comes out" as anti-GMO, and attempts to publicize something called Food Policy Action that he apparently founded in 2012. Why isn't this more public knowledge? Does General Mills own Bravo along with everything else?

Friday, November 28, 2014

5 Places to Shop in Boston for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is a movement organized in response to Black Friday that reminds shoppers not to give all their holiday gift money to big box stores. I was a little disappointed to find out that it's organized by American Express, but that's a conversation for another day. Here's a list of indie shops in Boston (who sell online as well if you're not local) where you can get a present that's a little more personal than a TV.

Penzey's Spices

photo credit: Penzey's Spices


With an online store as well as brick and mortar location in Arlington, Massachusetts and Norwalk, Connecticut, Penzey's is a great place to shop for anyone who love to cook or bake. Pick up one of their pre-arranged gift boxes, or put together your own personalized collection.

Follow the Honey



Harvard Square is a great a place to get almost all of your shopping taken care of, whether you're shopping for toys, books, clothing or jewelry. While you're there, don't forget to venture a little farther down Mount Auburn Street and stop into this little shop for a fantastic assortment of honeys, plus candles, soaps, cookbooks, and more. Plus, you'll be supporting beekeepers that are keeping our pollinator population intact.

Pemberton Farms

photo credit: Pemberton Farms


From unique jellies and small batch liqours to plants and gardening supplies as a reminder of spring, Pemberton Farms in North Cambrdige is your hookup for outside the box yard and kitchen needs. And while you're there, you can even save a trip and pick yourself up a Christmas tree!

Taza Chocolate

photo credit: DigBoston.com


Somerville's very own chocolate factory makes its bars right on the premises with ethically sourced beans and no preservatives or unpronounceable ingredients of any kind. If you've got family visiting for the weekend, take them on a $5 tour, and pick up a hot chocolate set complete with mugs and whisks at the gift shop on your way out.

The Hempest

photo credit: spreedia.com


Hemp is more versatile than people realize for use in textiles, skin care products, and even food. The controversial alternate material is an important plant to have as part of a healthy polyculture. You can find an assortment of great hemp-based gift items online or at The Hempest in Burlington Vermont, or any of their three Massachusetts locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Northampton.

Are you observing Small Business Saturday this weekend? What's on your list?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Top Chef Boston and Cooking in Pop Culture

Contestants pick out produce at Whole Foods Maket in Lynnfield, MA.
photo credit: Eater.com
Reality shows aren't going away any time soon, and neither are the programs in the sub-genre of cooking reality shows. Food and cooking are becoming more and more visible in pop culture, from controversy over the word "foodie," to CSAs and farmers markets gaining popularity, to everyone suddenly brewing their own beer. Does the entertainment media have a responsibility to portray a responsible food system? And if so, how are they doing with that?

Bravo's Top Chef filmed its current season, which is airing now, right here in Boston, and it's gotten some of us locavores raising eyebrows at what the producers have chosen to showcase.

A recent interview with Top Chef judge Gail Simmons focused on Simmons' personal preferences for food that is healthy, seasonal, and ethically sourced. In fact, almost every judge and contestant on the show has, in a private interview, mentioned something to the effect that these issues are important to them in their own cooking, but they rarely come up on the show itself.

The Boston season, like most seasons of Top Chef, features the contractually obligated trip to Whole Foods in nearly every episode, which never bothered me until I thought about all of our great local grocers, butchers, and farms that would have made for way better local color than the strained Revolutionary War references they insist on weaving into every episode.

We can hope that Whole Foods was chosen because of its quality, but this is never really stated, and we're left wondering whether Whole Foods just did a better business deal than Stop and Shop or- gasp- Market Basket. We know that there are a lot of advantages to the way that Whole Foods sources its products, but either this topic never comes up when the cameras are rolling, or it gets edited out in favor of the personal squabbles that give Andy Cohen something to get excited about.

What are your thoughts? Do cooking shows help or hurt the problems with our food system? Or should we look at them in a vacuum, as pure entertainment? And if you're watching Top Chef Boston, who do you hope will win?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blueprint Brands at Local Craft Brewfest

For the last few years, I've been guest blogging for the Boston Local Food Festival and it's sister event, Local Craft Brewfest. Here's my latest article on local Marketing Company Blueprint Brands.

It can be hard to reconcile a love of local, ethically sourced food with a love of booze. Like cell phones and hot showers, alcohol tends to sometimes fall under the category of “I gotta draw the line somewhere.” Luckily, there’s Blueprint Brands, a marketing and sales company that works solely with ”a carefully curated selection of boutique distilleries that are committed to the production of small batch spirits, with a steady focus on well sourced ingredients and hands-on production methods.”

This means that not only can you feel good about the sourcing of the liquor you enjoy, you can get a tastier and all around better quality product as well. No matter what your spirit of choice, you’ve got options. Blueprint Brands represents dozens of distillers of tequila, rum, vodka, you name it. Travelling? From the Blueprint website, click on the state you’ll be visiting and they’ll give you a list of their distillers whose wares are available in that area.

Read the full article at the Boston Local Food Festival website!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October Recipe Roundup

photo credit: Marcus Nilsson


When it comes to solving the day to day omnivore's dilemma, we're bombarded with more choices than ever in the age of the internet. Those of us who like to cook still have hard copies of cookbooks taking up all the shelf space in our kitchen, plus a box of haphazard magazine clippings and hand-written index cards. And that's before we even get to the options provided by the thousands of food blogs out there. The really tricky part is that a lot of these recipes are all slight variations on the same thing, and it can be a lot easier to just order pizza than figure out which of the six different lentil sloppy joe recipes I currently have pending is likely to come out the best. So I've decided to start a monthly roundup of internet recipe successes I've had in order to streamline some of the confusion. I'll even do my best to make them somewhat seasonal. If you've got any requests, let me know in the comments section. Here's what I've found lately:

Curried Delicata Squash and Crunchy Lentil Salad

There are some great squash varieties in season right now that you can sub for the suggested delicata. Anything with a skin that's thin enough to edible works great.

Maple Mustard Pork

This recipe is actually a riff on one I had posted on another website. The author gave it a paleo spin by using nut flour as breading. What a great idea. I'm never buying Panko again!

Cheesy Quinoa Black Bean Stuffed Peppers

Classic, easy, and perfect for having leftovers.

Chocolate Beet Cake

Some friends who were going out of town gave me the spoils of their CSA share. I never know what to do with beets, but apparently they give baked goods that nice moist density I love so much. Between that and the rich flavor, I was able to make this recipe without the frosting and not miss it at all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Blog Action Day 2014: Inequality

It's Blog Action Day again, and this year's theme is Inequality.

There are two kinds of inequality that I'd like to discuss, and I'll leave it to the comments section to decide the correlation between the two.

The first, and no doubt the one that the Blog action Day committee had in mind when they chose the theme, refers to the social and economic equality with which every country in the world still struggles. The income gap is wider than it has ever been, and only continuing to grow. What's noteworthy about this post-industrial inequality is that, in many places, it isn't that poor don't have access to enough food, it's that they don't have access to the right kinds of food. Which brings me to the second kind of inequality: nutritional inequality, and the idea that simply maintaining a minimum number of calories is not what will keep us from starving, or from developing terminal diet-related illnesses.

I made my weekly grocery shopping pilgrimage today, and, as usual, it was a pretty time consuming ordeal. I've been starting out my trips at Whole Foods in search of the best quality produce and meat, and then filling in the non-perishables at Star Market, my rationale being that the middle aisle type products are a lost cause, nutritionally, so I may as well get the cheap ones. It's not an efficient system, and I'm not entirely convinced that it's all that cost effective either, but for now it's what I've got.

While the idea of inequality was on mind, as was my tight budget, I looked at all the different kinds of inequality on display at both stores: fresh vs. packaged, whole vs. processed, organic vs. conventional. And that's before you even get to the simple differences in personal taste that, in my opinion, should be the only thing you really have to worry about at the grocery store: will I like this or not?

The idea that things like price and nutritional content carry too much weight in our omnivore's dilemma is not a new one, but it always bears looking at from different angles, since the problem only seems to be getting worse, not better.

What kinds of inequalities do you notice most when buying food?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's in the News: September 2014

Here's what's happening in food news this month.

USDA Approves New Modified Corn, Soybean Seeds

Enlist is the newest herbicide out from Dow, and of course comes with resistant crops to go with it. It was recently approved by the Department of Agriculture and is now pending a decision from the Environmental Protection agency. Farmers hope it gets onto the market soon, since weeds are growing resistant to the old herbicides. Critics worry about increased chemical herbicides' effect on public health. Sounds like business as usual to me.

General Mills to Buy Annie's for $820 million.

According to a spokesman,

"Annie's will remain dedicated to our mission; to cultivate a healthier and happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet. Authentic roots, great tasting products, high quality organic and natural ingredients, and sustainable business practices will continue to be the cornerstones of the Annie's brand,"

...but really.

And speaking of large cereal conpanies,

Happy 50th Birthday to Pop-Tarts!

It's been a wild ride for America's favorite breakfast pastry ever since Kellogg's scooped Post in 1964 by introducing Pop Tarts before Kellogg's "Country Squares" could hit the market. While the packaging has gone through multiple changes, adding a flammability warning here, taking away a "made with real fruit" label there, consumers' love for them has never abated, and the frosting, somehow, has yet to melt.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Boston's Food Festival Is Better Than Your City's

Earlier this month, Slate's Andrew Simmons published a "food festival takedown" claiming that "These modern-day bacchanals showcase the worst features of American life." Slate went so far as to give the article the provacative click-bait header "Why You Should Never, Ever Go to a Food Festival."

Andrew, I would like to cordially invite you to come to next year's Boston Local Food Festival. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The Slate piece mentions festivals in Los Angeles full of rude people blatantly cutting in line, eating and drinking to excess, and generally looking out for number one at the expense of their fellow attendees. Now, while I'd love to make this about how people on the East coast are inherently better than people on the West coast, I doubt that this is what's really going on.

What is going on at the festivals Simmons experienced is a desperate attempt to get your money's worth. He makes multiple references to how overpriced food festivals are; one example he gives is of an event for which the tickets cost $75. His experience was that many attendees, intoxicated by some sort of frantic extreme coupon-er mindset and possessed by a need to game the system, pushed and shoved their way to as much food as possible, whether they actually enjoyed it or not.

Boston Local Food Festival, by contrast, is a free event whose individual vendors charge for their wares. Like any large event it is, of course, prone to some crowding and short tempers of people in line, which, as my friend Kathryn put it, encourages you to, if anything, eat too little. Unlike the orgy that Simmons describes, the price tag on each individual sampling coupled with the unwieldy lines to get your hands on it, serve as a deterrent to overindulgence, and an encouragement to seriously consider which foods you want to try.

A second feature that sets our experiences of food festivals apart is the alcohol. Simmons sites drunkenness as fueling people's gluttonous, rude, and overall inappropriate, unattractive behavior. Here in Puritan New England, that's not an issue. This year's Boston Local Food Festival took place outside, on public property, and on a Sunday no less! I'm sure there were a college student or two wandering around with flasks in their pockets, but other than that, it was a dry event, with most people too busy keeping their hands on strollers and dog leashes to hold an extra bottle anyway. (Although at Boston Local Food Festival's sister event, Local Craft Brewfest, you do pay in advance for as much beer as you can get your hands on in a limited amount of time, and I've never seen that effect people's politeness, but...maybe I just haven't been looking hard enough.)

Practical considerations aside, Simmons raises some interesting, if less easy to pinpoint, problems with the food festivals he has seen. He says that,

"Some food festivals trumpet sustainability as a pillar of their mission, but...while biodegradable forks made from potato starch are popular, at the end of the day, napkins, plates, and discarded food billow out of garbage cans. Piles of trash sprout wherever attendees feel like starting them. Just because the heritage-breed pigs everyone's tucking into were raised on chestnuts, doesn't mean that the event is somehow expanding the crowd's understanding of food systems."

First of all, let me address the fact that a herd of overly cheerful volunteers were standing by the garbage cans making sure that recyclables and compostables got thrown away in their proper place. I didn't stay until the very end of the festival, but I highly doubt it devolved into the piles-of-trash dystopia Simmons describes. With that out of the way, I guess we really need to talk about how much "good" events like this actually do.

It feels nice to spend an afternoon supporting local farms and keeping your leftovers out of landfills, but as the local, sustainable, organic, other greeen buzzwords movement gets trendier and trendier, its risk of defeating its own purpose grows. Slapping a "no GMOs" bumper sticker on your Prius will not solve all the problems in the world. If you're obnoxious enough about it, it might even send people away from your cause. But I feel pretty confident that this afternoon's festival didn't do anything to make the world a worse place. Not everyone who attended is going to immediately swear off the industrial food system and start growing everything their family eats. But all those plates really did end up in the compost pile, and I have to believe that if the festival hadn't taken place, plenty of those same people would have eaten a fast food lunch whose packaging ended up in a dumpster, so isn't that a small but tangible help right there?

Going further still, at BLFF, I found out about restaurants, publications, and organizations I didn't previously know about. There's no way I'm the only one. Of course one afternoon isn't going to shift Boston's eating habits in a significant way, but everyone who was there came away with a very slightly augmented list of options about where and how to eat. They don't have to take advantage of them every day in order for it to be a step in the right direction.
Was the afternoon a little too crowded? A little too self-righteous? Yes. Of course. But I still found it easy to enjoy myself, and to learn something. So Andrew Simmons, and anyone else who's had a bad experience at a food festival, come out to Boston next September and I'll show you how to do it right.
James picking out some oysters from Chatham, MA
Local chefs compete to make the better fish dish at the Seafood Throwdown

Kathryn and I enjoy some ice from Bart's in Greenfiled, MA
The day was a little nippy for running through the fountain, but it was still fun to watch.
Melissa and Kathryn eating jerk chicken from a local vendor on the grass.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Moving Diet: Outbound


A college town in late August is no place for civilized people to be. For one thing, it's infested with students. The returning kind are bad enough; all they do is crowd your favorite restaurants. But the new ones are even worse. With heavy suitcases and nervous parents in tow, they seem to make a habit of stopping at the most inconvenient point in the middle of the sidewalk. Everyone who has enough money and good sense has fled to the beach, leaving those of us left to fend off the incoming freshman all the more alone.

And then there's the Moving. If you're lucky, the biggest inconvenience you're slapped with is helping a friend, or maybe getting your car towed because you failed to notice that your usual parking spot is a temporary moving truck zone. If your number is up, though, you'll be getting a new roommate, or, worst of all, moving yourself.

I moved into a new apartment a week ago today, and for what seemed like eternity before that, I had been eating in a state of limbo, not wanting to replenish my stock of cooking oil, baking soda, or, as the move got close, even staples like bread and milk. As a result, August saw more than its share of takeout and frozen meals, of lonely peanut butter sandwiches and half-hearted dinners created around unfamiliar grains that had been waiting patiently in the pantry for a year.

A lot more than I'm proud of was wasted, as well. On cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer, I filled a trash bag with orphaned condiments no one remembered buying. Add that to the telltale cardboard boxes and disassembled furniture that accompany every move, and the whole situation was pretty depressing.

I had, of course, meant to time everything perfectly, running out of the last of my perishables on the day I left, going to Target for cute, practical containers to transport some of the keep-worthy dry goods like spices and specialty flours. I was going to be so good at it that people would want to know my secret. I would publish the most helpful and well-written of how-to blog posts, but those kinds of plans never work out, and so you guys get this instead.

The one thing I did right, the one thing that went according to plan, were the cookies. Similar to the last batch of Christmas cookies I make every year, these were a desperate attempt to get rid of that last half cup of dried cranberries and opened bar of dark chocolate. There was nothing that didn't go into them. I won't post a detailed recipe here. Instead, I'll link to Toll House's classic chocolate chip cookie recipe which, in my opinion, should be the jumping off point for any cookie experiment, and I'll mention the two accidents that made this one of the best-received batches of cookies I've ever hoisted off on other people: The first is that I didn't have quite enough butter, so I subbed a little bit a coconut oil. For baking and frying alike, coconut oil seems to really give a dish a richness and subtle extra flavor that pleases a crowd. The second is that, in the interest of consolidating containers, I had already put what was left of the cashew meal into the bag of whole wheat flour. I've been using a mix of whole wheat and nut flours in all my baking for awhile now, and it was long past time that I saved myself a measuring cup and some mental math (not to mention the sifting!). Nut flours give baked goods a more complex, satisfying flavor, not to mention the health benefits of upping the protein while minimizing the processed carbs.

How does your diet suffer when your living situation gets unstable? Have you had better success timing out the pantry than I did? Any favorite recipes that arose from using up the dregs of your stock?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

National Farmers Market Week: Tales from the Farm

In honor of National Farmers Market week, I'm posting this creative nonfiction piece I wrote a few years ago.

The smell of fresh tomatoes hits me like a sudden slap. No matter how much time I spend handling these fruits, their smell never blends in with the world and makes my senses immune to it the way the smell of a close friend's house sometimes will. As I reach into the bed of my beloved little pick-up truck to grab the day's first tray, the smell rushes through my body and I know I'm about to sell a product you simply won't find at the supermarket. I bring the tray out to one of the folding tables and go back to the truck for more.
Cucumbers in a wicker basket, green beans in a wooden box, a bushel of potatoes: half Yukon Gold and half Red Bliss, and a carton of yellow squash so freshly picked their skins are still prickly. Then the paper bags, cash box, and scale. Now I'm ready.
My two tables are set up under a small white tent at the far end of the market. Under the matching white tent to my left, Maura and Rachel from Temple Gardens in Fairfield are taking boxes of corn and Swiss chard and collard greens from their truck. On my right, Mark is attaching a banner to his tent that proclaims Smith's in Montville to be "Connecticut's Oldest Certified Organic Farm". I find a bit of chalk in the cash box, and write on my chalkboard "Stony Lane Farm, Route 1, Durham. All Produce Grown Sustainably", displaying it in front of one of the bushel baskets.
Saturday is my favorite market day. For one thing, it's the biggest and the busiest. The business makes the day go by quickly. The vendors are in good spirits because their sales are up, and the customers are in good spirits because it's Saturday. These are the people who delight in getting up and out by nine o'clock to be sure the get the best produce.  It's refreshing to see, in the heart of the city, people helping each other select the freshest loaf of bread, the juiciest plums, the zucchini of the deepest green. The same regulars come on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they are different people then, and the city is a different city. On weekdays these people are on their lunch breaks or in the midst of tedious errands, in a rush to grab something for that night's dinner before scurrying back to their offices and soccer practices and dentist appointments.

I see Ben bringing the breakfast tray: the other wonderful part of Saturday.  It's nothing special really, just some pastries donated by a local bakery, but they make all the difference to people who have been hard at work since before the sun came up. As far down the line as I am today, I know my chances of there being a chocolate one left by the time Ben gets here are slim, but I cross my fingers anyway.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Grass Fed

A lot of people are surprised to find out that Corn Free July extends down the food chain. Avoiding not only corn syrup and corn starch, but corn fed animals products, seems to give the project increased weight. It's in part the realization of how much mainstream food is off limits, but I think it's equally a question of why this next level is important to me, and what possessed me to take it this far.

The truth is, I don't really see the animal products clause as a different level. The corn that feeds the cow in your burger is the same corn that sweetens your Coke. In terms of its effect on the system, I wouldn't say that one is less harmful than the other. They just take different branches. In the big mess that is industrial agriculture, there isn't much of a difference here.

Last week I talked a little bit about how hard it is to nail down exactly where your food came from and how it was processed, amid all the marketing and catch phrase labels that almost never mean what they want you to think they do.

A fully sustainable ecosystem means taking every piece of the equation into account. Which brings me to what exactly it is that the term "grass-fed" embodies. Certainly for cows it has a tangible purpose. Cows eat grass because cow stomachs are very good at processing grass. Cow stomachs are not, however, particularly good at processing corn and other grains, which is part of the reason that the factory farming system is so unhealthy for the animals it raises.

With other animals that Americans commonly eat, the rules are a little bit different. Corn is perfectly nutritious for a pig, say, or a chicken. For Corn Free July purposes, factory farmed meat of all kinds are off limits, technically because the same type of commodity corn from large, subsidized farms makes up a larger part of their diet than it does for animals raised on smaller farms. What it really comes down to is pasture. Animals raised on pasture, with access to forage and room to move around and find food at their leisure, along with whatever supplemental feed the farmer opts to give them, corn or otherwise, are, in my opinion, healthy food choices.

Which brings us back to that pesky word "sustainable." Along with "organic," "natural," "free-range," and maybe even "non-GMO," "sustainable" has become a catch-all meaning something good that, if pressed, we might not actually be able to define.

In order for something to be literally "sustainable," all it has to do is work on a large scale for a long time. Our current corn-dependent food system is unsustainable because the money and the fossil fuels that prop it up could go away at any moment. But the alternative organic system is unsustainable because it requires all that pasture. There's are good reasons CAFOs came into existence, and one of them is that the demand for meat is greater than the land available for pasture.

So if we're going to create a food system that is truly sustainable, we're going to have to cut way back on our consumption of meat. Which isn't bad news at all, even for meat lovers. A food system based on meat that is guaranteed to be high in quality, even if it's more expensive or less readily available, shouldn't really impact our lives all that much if we know how to use it well, and how to enjoy going without it. Here are a few of my favorite recipes that don't happen to include meat.

Dijon Portobello Steaks from V-Lish
Three Bean Sweet Potato Chili from La Casa de Sweets
Grilled Ale Portobello Mushroom Burger from The Adirondack Chick
Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango from The Veganomicon
Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwich from Just a Taste

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Corn Free July 2014: What Labels Tell Us

I was looking for ricotta cheese because I wanted to make stuffed shells.

I was at Savenor's Market in Cambridge, perusing their eclectic dairy case, trying not to keep the door open for too long as I took out one product after another, carefully reading all the fine print. I settled on a brand I didn't recognize: Mozzarella House from Peabody, Massachusetts.

The label said things like "local" and "organic" and "not treated with rBST,", but nowhere did it actually say "grass-fed," "pasture-raised," or anything specific about the farming practices used. In fact, it was difficult to tell whether the actual milk was local, or just the end product.

When I got home I dug around a little on their website, and was assured that the milk is in fact local, and since there aren't any CAFOs in New England that I know of, I can pretty safely infer that it's grass fed cheese we're dealing with. But why isn't this kind of label a priority? Grass-fed beef is something of a trend right now, and so it's pretty easy to find that out, but when it comes to dairy products, the farming practices don't seem to matter.

This got me thinking about labeling in general, and how it can be difficult to wade through the endless sea of information and zero in on what's important to you. Which got me thinking about the debate over GMO labeling.

I used to be very, very in favor of the mandatory labeling of GMOs, simply because I think that consumers should have as much information as possible. But I'm no longer sure that such a law would actually provide real information, any more than labels like "natural" and "organic" and "made with real fruit juice" do. What exactly does genetic modification mean? Is it the same for every product? Does every genetic modification raise the same amount of concern, or are there gray areas? And what are we really avoiding when we choose to steer clear of GMOs?

In eliminating corn this month, of course I'm not actually condemning the plant itself. My fight is with the ways in which corn has been used to damage our food system. The project is also a way to rethink how I get food and to deconstruct what it means to me. When I'm in the grocery store, I don't blindly grab the first bag that boasts "no HFCS;" I read the full list of ingredients. Similarly, no one with a food allergy is going to eat something labeled "free from allergens" without double checking that statement. And of course, by now we've realized that the term "low fat" is really just code for "high sugar."

How much weight do you give to catch phrase food labeling? What do you look for in a food product? Is more labeling a good idea, or should we do away with it altogether and trust the ingredients and their sources to give us the information that we want?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Vegetable Pasta with Crispy Goat Cheese Medallions


"Don't even say the word 'pasta.' It sounds so hopeless, like surrender: 'Pasta would be easy.' Yes, yes it would. Pasta. It doesn't mean anything. It's just a euphemism people invented when they stopped eating spaghetti."

That's a quote from one of my favorite plays. Anthony Hopkins said the line in the movie, but when I read it, the voice I hear belongs to Dan Derks, who played Hopkins' character on stage when we were in college. It's from a bit of dialogue really just meant to warm the audience up to the beginning of the second act. It's a throwaway scene, and not one terribly essential to the plot, but a really good point nonetheless. Pasta is what you make when you're feeling uninspired or faced with an empty fridge. It's the food equivalent of wearing your oldest, rattiest clothes the day before you can no longer put off doing laundry.

So it's good to have a few variations on pasta in your back pocket for those days when it just can't be avoided. This is one I based on a recipe from Eating Well magazine, and one of which I actually look forward to eating the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces pasta (Something bite-sized like bow-tie or elbow works best.)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or other savory herb.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (Its can be hard to find corn-free breadcrumbs. You maybe have to make your own by putting toast through the food processor. Or, if you have an electric spice grinder, crushed raw lentils make an extra-crispy coating.)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese (As far as I know, all goat cheese is pasture raised. They don't have goat factory farms...do they?)
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite high-heat cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 cups baby spinach
Directions:
  1. Preheat broiler and line a small baking sheet with tin foil.
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, saving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  3. Combine breadcrumbs and oregano. Divide goat cheese into 4 equal portions. Shake each into a disk shape. Coat the cheese disks in bread crumb mixture. Place disks on the baking sheet and set aside.
  4. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook until tomatoes release their juice, about 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in the pasta water, spinach, and pasta until well mixed and spinach has warmed.
  6. Broil the goat cheese rounds, watching closely, until light brown and crispy on top, about 2 minutes. Divide pasta mixture into 4 portions and top each with a goat cheese medallion.
Serves 4.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Corn Free July 2014: Strawberry Chocolate Chip Pancakes


My neighbors went strawberry picking last week and were very generous with their haul, sending me back upstairs with a quart of fresh, local berries, so I celebrated my first day of vacation from work with my favorite breakfast indulgence.



Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour (I used whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips or (read the ingredients list carefully, but milk is usually the only one to avoid with chocolate chips)
  • 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter
  • pure maple syrup


Directions:
  1. Whisk together flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda until well blended.
  2. Gradually stir in milk, a little at a time, until the mixture is just a little bit doughier than cake batter
  3. Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, stir in chocolate chips and then strawberries until just combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the frying pan, making pancakes your desired size.
  5. Flip when the batter starts to bubble, then flip again after about 3 minutes to make sure both sides of golden brown.
  6. Serve hot with maple syrup.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Corn Free July: Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms



Corn Free July 2014 is off to a pretty good start. I was pleasantly surprised by how much corn-free and otherwise unprocessed stuff I already have lying around. The first couple of days are usually a steep learning curve, but this time around I realized that things like bread, cooking oil, and even chicken breast that were already in the kitchen just happen to be Corn Free July approved.

As I was planning out my meals for the week, I came across some handwritten index cards in a recipe box that I seem to have inadvertently stolen from my friend Krisha when we stopped living together. It was such a great found object. No credit for where it came from, just her familiar bubbly printing on a green index card with the bare bones of how to make stuffed portobello mushrooms. Here it is:

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms




Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled & finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 green pepper, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (I used quinoa. Same thing, right?)
  • 4 medium portobello mushrooms



Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, green pepper, & garlic. Saute until crisp-tender. Stir in basil & oregano.
  2. Remove from heat & combine with rice. Salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Remove stems from mushrooms. Place mushroom in lightly oiled casserole dish. Top with rice mixture, packing down slightly. Brush with remaining 1 tsp. olive oil.
  4. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pause

You know what I hate? I hate it when food bloggers try to tell you every little detail about their life. I hate that feeling of "No, I just came here for the banana bread recipe. I don't care that your kid started the first grade."

And I really hate it when food bloggers, or any kind of bloggers, try to explain to their readers why they haven't posted in awhile. I really don't care. Your blog isn't Mad Men. I haven't spent the week dying to know what happens next. Honestly, I didn't even notice that it had been so long.

Of course, some people can pull it off. Some people can write something you don't expect them to write and have it be delightful. They can go off on a tangent about their personal life and you can eat it right up. There are some people who just know how to craft a sentence so bloody well that you would read the transcript of their conversation with a telemarketer and beg for more.

It's a gamble, though. It's a gamble even if you're that good. And I'm not sure that I am.

So with all that out there, let me tell you that it's been a rough couple of weeks.

Among other things, the building I live in might be getting sold this summer. The landlord has put it on the market, which we found out by reading the sign advertising Hammond Residential: Max Dublin, Realtor. Max Dublin seems like a nice enough guy. He has been in contact via e-mail with my upstairs neighbor, Helyne, who has been nice enough to forward their correspondence on to the other ten inhabitants of out little three decker. There was an offer. It feel through. He'll be showing it again this coming week.

Neither our landlord, Terry, nor his wife, Lynn, who likes to remind us whenever we have a complaint and her husband is too drunk or otherwise irresponsible to come to the phone that the building is not in her name and none of this is, strictly speaking, her problem, have said a word to anyone about the impending sale. Which leaves us with the following options:

  1. Do nothing and hope that the house either doesn't sell, or that the new owner will choose to renew our leases without a substantial rent increase
  2. Find a new place to live
What with option 1 being so pathetic and depressing, and option 2 sucking up so much time, the annual 4th of July party just isn't coming together this year, which makes me sad for its own set of reasons. This cookout has always been an important one for me. It kicks off Corn Free July, gets people excited about it, gets me excited about it. (See? I made it relevant!) The grass fed burgers on the grill, the red, white, and blue cheesecake, the conspicuous absence of corn on the cob, it's all become a tradition. But this year it just isn't happening, and so Corn Free July will come in not with a bang but a whimper, though it will be no less important.

There are a lot of things that can be sacrificed when time and resources and focus run low. The fact that I still plan on sticking Corn Free July out reminds me that there is always room for our top priorities in life. Rather than a fad diet that can be forgotten if things get too chaotic to maintain it, my month away from processed foods is something on which I won't compromise. It's too important. We shouldn't eat the way we do. Our farm system shouldn't work the way it does, and neither should the system by which we obtain goods on the other end of the chain. It's not good for our physical health, and it isn't good for our mental health either. Our brains deserve a diet. A cleanse. Some time away from fast food, from stolen lunch breaks and hasty dinners before rushing off to whatever's next. July is going to be a time of change, and no matter what else happens, I'm going to make sure that I'm well nourished.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Corn Free July 2014: Stock Those Shelves

Corn Free July will be here again before we know it, and I want you to participate for one week. That's right. Just one week. You can wait until after July 4th if you want, since that's a big food holiday. There won't be an official start date. But I will be rolling out a one-week menu over the next several posts to make your Corn Free week as easy as possible.

First things first: It's not too soon to start phasing your pantry into Corn Free ready mode. The next time you're low on any of the following items, make the switch:

Cooking Oil: If you normally use regular old vegetable oil, odds are it's made from corn. Andrew Wilder at the blog Eating Rules has devised a great cooking oil comparison chart which lets you know everything from nutritional content to smoke points of various oils.

Baking Powder: This surprisingly has a bit of corn starch in it, but it's easily replaceable in most recipes with a 2:1 ratio of cream of tartar to baking soda.

Confectioners' Sugar: Corn starch is what gives confectioners' sugar its texture. Luckily, there are plenty of starch substitutes out there, such as potato and tapioca, which will easily stand in as a thickener in a recipe that calls for corn starch. Making confectioners' sugar is a little bit trickier. I've found information recommending a mixture of potato starch and regular sugar, but the texture doesn't quite come together the way I wish it would. Let me know if you have any luck with this.

Soy Sauce: I happen to have a bottle of La Choy brand soy sauce in my fridge right now, which sadly contains both corn syrup and caramel color, so I'll need to get a new bottle in the next few weeks. Luckily, Tamari brand is corn free, and only costs about 50 cents more. (Although, whether we should be eating any big name brand of soy sauce is a whole nother conversation.)




Hot Sauce: I'm not a hot sauce fan, because I don't enjoy being in pain, but for all you sick freaks out there, I'm sorry to say you will not be able to bring your beloved Sriracha with you on your corn-free journey. However, Tabasco is just fine, and Frank's red hot sauce? Feel free to put that shit on everything.



Please help make Corn Free July 2014 a success by liking the Facebook page, and by joining the conversation with #CornFreeJuly on Twitter!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What's in the News: May 2014

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May showers bring? The month has been a quite a bit colder and wetter than I was hoping, which might lead to a late harvest. We'll see if the sun sees fit to show its face more in the coming months.

Luckily, such uncertain factors as weather patterns won't matter much if we all starting eating Soylent, a new technology pioneered by Silicon Valley types who just can't bear the thought of having to leave their desks for reasons of mortal weakness like lunch breaks. It's probably not actually made of people. Yet.

Meanwhile, farther up the West coast, acidification of ocean water is having a negative effect on oyster shell formation. The blame for this seems to fall, at least in part, on human-caused climate change. Sigh.

In much better news, farmers in Paraguay have opened the world's first producer-owned Fair Trade certified, organic sugar mill. With new, profitable career opportunities on family farms, the brain drain of Paraguay's younger generation from its rural villages is seeing a reversal.

Oh and, I met Michael Pollan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Michael Pollan in Harvard Square

Of all the email newsletters to sign up for, maybe the least regrettable one in the Boston area is that of Harvard Book Store. The speaker series they host has so far included such high profile speakers as Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, and just last week, Michael Pollan. You can watch the entire video of Pollan's talk here, or read my summary for The Examiner here.

I was pretty excited to get the chance to see him speak again, since the last time I saw him, it was at a much larger venue, but this time around the crowd was to be small enough that he would be answering questions from the audience, and later signing books.

This talk was promoting his latest book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which was published last year, but has finally come out in paperback. Cooked is my personal favorite of Pollan's books, because in addition to saying the things that, for better or for worse, people expect Michael Pollan to say, it's a good story that showcases his unique writing style. Part memoir, part travel writing, and part anthropological history, Cooked would be a good read even you aren't a tree hugger or a foodie.

The political message is there, though. And the political message is that we should all make time to cook. For our physical health, and the health of the social bonds that come from sitting down with other people for a meal. At the time I first read this, I was fully on board, taking the gentle chiding to heart, trying to find ways of taking pleasure in cooking, and of spending less time focused on things like work, and Facebook, and Netflix.

As my friends and I were waiting for the talk to start, though, we purchased books for Mike (may I call you Mike?) to sign after the talk. I already had Cooked, so I picked up a copy of Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. As we went back to our seats and started flipping through our new paperbacks, I couldn't help noticing a subtext in many, if not most, of the rules in the book, which was "step 1: be rich." And not the kind of rich that comes from working 80 hours a week, either. The kind of rich that leaves you plenty of leisure time to plan, shop, and cook. You know, such as being a successful writer living in a hub of accessible healthy food like Berkeley, California.

Some rules, like #4 "Avoid food products that contain high fructose corn syrup," and  #36 "Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk," are easy enough for anyone conscientious to follow, but problems come along with #28 "If you have the space, buy a freezer," and #16 "Buy your snacks at the farmer's market."

We all know that inexpensive food isn't actually inexpensive if you take into account the diabetes medicine we'll be paying for in the long run, but factoids like that don't really help when you're at the checkout of Whole Foods- if you're even lucky enough to have convenient access to such a place.

Mike (yes, I'm going to call you Mike) did a good job of addressing this issue with honesty, answering audience questions along these lines with an "I'm just a writer. I can't fix everything; I can just get you talking about it," stance.

So here I am, talking about it. With Corn Free July 2014 just 41 days in the future, questions of access, time, and budget have been on my mind a lot. What can we do to make healthy, sustainably farmed food the norm instead of a specialty item? Is this goal attainable, and if so, will it bring a whole new set of problems with it that we can't yet foresee? Let me know in the comments section, and in the meantime, enjoy some photos from the event.


I wish I had thought of something to say to him that didn't make me sound like Kathy Bates in Misery.

My friend Jenna hanging out with our new buddy, Mike.

Crossing his name out and adding the signature instead was an interesting touch.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What's in the News: April 2014

Spring is technically here, even if it doesn't feel like it, and for many, thoughts have turned to crops. On a small scale, backyard gardens are being planted, and on a large scale, the issue of how in the heck we're going to provide enough food for billions of people becomes more of a concern than even with the growing season upon us. Here are some links to noteworthy articles you may have missed. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

From Climate Central: New satellite images show that during certain months of the year, the U.S. corn belt is the most productive region in the world. OK, but does it really count if we aren't putting our harvests to good use?

From Vermont Right to Know GMOs: Vermont becomes the second state (I'm proud to say Connecticut was the first) to pass a bill mandating the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms. Now all they need to do is get it signed into law...

From Sustainablog: We may have found a compromise that GMO supporters and opponents can both live with in Open Source Seeds.

From National Geographic: While America has been busy debating the ins and outs of biotech, and trying to squeeze as many ears of corn as possible into a square acre, a team over in England has been finding more farmland by reclaiming World War II era bomb shelters.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Five Ingredient Avocado Chicken Salad



This post originally appeared at FoodRiot.com.

More and more of us are coming out as mayonnaise-phobes these days, and it feels good to know I'm not in as much of a minority as I once thought. It feels even better to know that the things for which I once thought I had to suck it up and use mayonnaise; your chicken salad, you deviled eggs, that kind of thing, have an important ally in the avocado. I've only recently embraced the avocado and its myriad delicious uses, but it seems like I find a new one each week. This time I discovered easy-as-pie-and-almost-as-tasty Avocado Chicken Salad:

Ingredients:

1. The leftover meat from last night's roast chicken, removed from the carcass and cut into small cubes
2. 1-2 avocados, the riper the better
3. A tablespoon on lemon juice
4. 1/2 cup of dried cranberries
5. Your favorite sandwich bread

Directions:

1. Slice up your avocado into a bowl. Remember how?
2. Add your lemon juice, because the oily umami-ness of the avocado will really benefit from a bite of acid. Give everything a good stir. If the avocado is a little firmer than you'd like, and not mixing well, toss everything into a food processor, stand mixer, or whatever you have, and beat for about 30 seconds to get your mixture nice and creamy, adding a little oil if necessary, and scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through.
3. Stick your bread in the toaster so that it will be ready when the chicken salad is.
4. Stir in the dried cranberries and chicken meat by hand until well blended. Give it a taste and add some salt, pepper, and/or your favorite spice or dried herb.
5. Spread it on your toast, try to move past the fact that it's green, and enjoy!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Farmed and Dangerous Recap: Episode 4: Ends Meat

Ending the season on a cliffhanger when you don't know whether the show will get renewed? Not cool, Chipotle. It's like you're admitting that no one really cares whether your plot lines get resolved or not.

By my fourth episode of Farmed and Dangerous, I knew not to expect too much, but the writers really outdid themselves this time in the underwhelming department. The finale (season finale? series finale? even that seems unclear) failed to tie up any loose ends. For instance, that guy who kept spying on Chip and Sofia never really revealed himself, it was just implied that he worked for...whatsisname. Her boyfriend. Or fiance. Or ex-boyfriend. Or whatever he is. I remember at some point he told his enormous-cowboy-hat-wearing father that they were getting married, because it prompted his dad to observe that he was "finally buying the cow," bringing the livestock themed suggestive joke count to somewhere around 10.

I guess they kind of resolved the Petro Pellet arc, saying that it was just a red herring the whole time to distract the media from Oleyum, (Get it?) a new brand of human food made out of oil. But then that led right into more unresolved issues of its own, notably the super weird final shot of the

(season? series?)

in which a random new character is eating Oleyum brand junk food too close to a cell phone and the credits roll just before he (probably) explodes just like the cow in the first episode.

And then there's, of course, the Will They End Up Together plot. It seems as though Sofia is leaning toward accepting Chip's job offer (wait, what? That's going to get complicated, no?) as she not only decided to break up with Zach, (That's his name! Zach!) but also completely changed her style of dress. She's now less Lydia Rodarte Quayle and more Lori Grimes. (Always change your look when you change your boyfriend, ladies. Men who get free thinkers don't buy the cow...or something.)

So that's it for Farmed and Dangerous. For now at least. What do you think? Was it a complete waste of time? Did you actually like it? Did you think it was a step towards starting an important conversation? Will we see more shows like this in the future? Does Chipotle really have good intentions or is it all just more greenwashing to make a buck? And, most importantly, what show should I recap next?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Farmed and Dangerous Recap: Episode 3: Raising the Steaks

What is with the slightly off pop culture references on this show? In episode 3, "Raising the Steaks," (Get it?) Chip tries to tell Sophia that her father has his priorities backwards by saying that he "watches The Matrix and roots for the machines." Is anyone watching The Matrix at all these days? I mean, I love the '90's, but come on.

I should cut poor Chip a break, though. He's not himself today. His mind is on a particularly sad chapter in his Backstory. "Backstory," (as the writers clearly learned just minutes before the actors showed up to rehearse this episode,) explains how characters ended up where they are, and why they behave the way they do. Sometimes, revealing a key detail in one character's Backstory can influence how another character sees him or her. For example, Sophia's hard candy shell starts to crack when she learns that Chip's father tragically died from complications after being attacked by a boar.

And that Chip is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne
photo credit
When Chip's dad was running the show, their family farm was not an organic one, you see, and the animals were pumped full of antibiotics, so that when his wound got infected there was no way to treat it, since the boar germs had become antibiotic resistant. (Wait, can that really happen?) And that's why Chip is now a rogue sustainable farmer who doesn't over-medicate his livestock. Because inheriting a business and then immediately restructuring everything about it while continuing to make a profit is apparently a lot easier than the lady with the chickens from Food, Inc. made it look.

Sophia shows her empathy for Chip's daddy issues by eating a tomato right off the vine, and conceding that it tastes better than the ones from the supermarket.

And then we go to commercial.

Much like those surreal ad spots on AMC that feature actors from Mad Men, commercials on Farmed and Dangerous make viewers think a little harder than usual about the relationship between advertising and entertainment, and where the line is between the two.

At least once during each episode I've seen, there's been a commercial for a Special K bar that's supposed to help you lose weight. Which is something you're supposed to want to do.

And that's where I stop questioning Chipotle's motives and realizing that I know full well what those motives are. They want to set themselves apart from other fast food chains by sourcing healthier and more environmentally responsible ingredients. Everyone's got their thing that sets them apart from the competition. McDonald's has a clown. Wendy's has square hamburgers. Chipotle has the sustainability angle. And if not enough people know that they have the sustainability angle, well, they'll do whatever it takes to get the word out there, even support industrial agriculture.