January 30, 2009

What's in a Name?

Saw a reference to this over at The Ethicurean...

Will Bessie make more milk if you call her by name? British ag specialists say she will.

Dairy farmers who address their cows by name reported 68-gallon (258-liter) higher milk yields over the animals’ 10-month lactation period than those who didn't, according to new research published today in Anthrozoos, a British journal dedicated to the "interactions of animals and people."

The question, of course, would be why? The researchers speculate that it's akin to a rest in a hot bath...

"It was quite a revelation and quite encouraging, actually," says study co-author Catherine Douglas of Newcastle University in northeast England and a former dairy industry advisor. She tells ScientificAmerican.com the reason for the link is unclear, but speculates it may have a soothing effect on cows, which tend to fear people and get nervous when led into the milking parlor.

Now all we need is a study: 100 cows are given nice names (and maybe get some occasional ear scratching) and the other 100 get some Monsanto juice (aka, rGBH), and let's see if the mind is stronger than the engineered hormone.

When they say "Bend it like...

Not to turn this into a soccer blog, but when they say "Bend it like Beckham," this is what they mean...

January 29, 2009

It's a Message, Mr. President

Really, I think it is. It's the food gods saying, (cue James Earl Jones -like voice):

"President Obama, after you deal with this whole economic meltdown -- good luck with that, BTW -- you must turn your attention to the safety and sustainability of the food system. Pick a food czar, if you must, but DO something, soon."

'Cause, you know, like, there's this whole one of the largest food product recalls in history thing. A few people are dead, a bunch more sick, including some pretty young kids...

More than 500 people have gotten sick in the outbreak and at least eight may have died as a result of salmonella infection. More than 400 products have already been recalled. The plant has stopped all production.

And there's more. All those cheap-a@# food products all loaded up with high fructose corn syrup. Well, turns out some of them have just a wee bit o' mercury in them.

Mercury was found in nearly 50 percent of tested samples of commercial
high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), according to a new article published today in the scientific journal, Environmental Health. A separate study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) detected mercury in nearly one-third of 55 popular brandname food and beverage products where HFCS is the first or second highest labeled ingredient—including products by Quaker, Hershey’s, Kraft and Smucker’s.

The ironic thing, of course, is that the high-fructose corn syrup industry, has launched this ad campaign, The Truth about High Fructose Corn Syrup, that says, "HCFS is nutritionally the same as sugar" and "the FDA says HCFS is safe for use in food." Ringing endorsement, indeed!

Of course, the folks behind the campaign rushed out a remarkably brief response to a study that just called into question the safety of their product.

“This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance. Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. (emphasis added) These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances,” stated Audrae Erickson, President, Corn Refiners Association.

For several years? Really? So, up until a few years ago, some little kid whose mom was plugging him with instant oatmeal for breakfast every morning... he's potentially a candidate for a little brain damage down the road. Thems the breaks, I guess. But that same kid today, he's only a candidate for a little bout o' diabetes.

So, yes, President Obama, it's time to get serious about food safety. Oh, and about factory farms, more money for organics and (real) family farms, better nutrition in schools...

January 22, 2009

Traditionalist or Troublemaker?

Well, well, well... LBoN's own most frequent commenter, Farmer Troy, is causing a ruckus at one of the region's most well-known companies, Heinz. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it's all about a pickle!

A group of Heinz fans wants to squash the H.J. Heinz Co.'s plans to take the pickle image off its ketchup labels for the first time in more than a century. ...

Troy Bogdan, a Bridgeville resident in the winter and a northwestern Pennsylvania organic garlic farmer in the summer, was sort of joking when he asked his Facebook-linked friends over the weekend if they should campaign against the move.

With a little encouragement, he went for it. "Personally, I'm kind of a traditionalist, and I like history," said Mr. Bogdan.

Sure, he claims to be a traditionalist. But I just don't know if you can trust these organic farmers. I mean, they eschew chemicals on their farms. What kind of attitude is that?! Rabble rousers, i say.

January 20, 2009

Makes me want to eat a big 'ol plate of carbonara!

American football announcers have a long way to go to catch up to Italian futbol announcers...

January 10, 2009

Resolutions, Resolutions

I've never been one for new year's resolutions, but I have made some food-related resolutions that I really hope I can keep. I'm off to a good start, so far, but it's been like, what, 9 days?

In terms of cooking, there are a number of things I'd like to do, most of which revolves around making more things from scratch. For example...

  • Mayonnaise
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Gnocci
  • Stocks

I've already made my own mayo, following the excellent instructions (and pretty pictures) of Michael Ruhlman, and used it to make lobster rolls with the leftover lobster meat from our New Year's Eve dinner (a post that, sadly, has passed its time, but the results were, after a shaky start trying to humanely end the lives of our lobsters, excellent; what else to expect from wild mushroom linguine with lobster in a saffron cream sauce -- freakin' yum, dude!).

A few days later also used said mayo to make some chicken salad (mayo, apples, golden raisins, cayenne, salt, pepper, lemon juice) sandwiches using the meat leftover from a Sunday Dinner of roasted chicken.

The ricotta is next, I think, hopefully to make some pork & ricotta meatballs.

Also per Mr. Ruhlman, I'd like to do some curing, particularly salmon, which, as he describes it, sounds remarkably easy.

Buy a side of salmon—no, buy a piece of salmon—pack it in an equal mixture of salt and sugar and some citrus zest or fennel, wrap it in foil for 24 hours, rinse it and taste a paper thin slice. A cooking miracle.

There also are specific dishes I'd like to make:

  • shrimp with romesco (from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook)
  • cochinata pibil (an incredible pork dish I had at a Yucatan restaurant in Los Angeles about 2 years ago!)
  • Gnocci (I know, a repeat from above)

And by the end of February I'd like to be composting. We throw away a lot food, most of it food scraps that from what I've read would be perfectly suitable for composting. It would be, IMO, cool, to take a bunch of food scraps, convert them into compost, and use it to fertilize my own garden.

That will be a challenge, though, because I don't want to buy a ready-to-go composting unit, I'd like to make it myself. And, plainly put, I'm not handy in the least. Once a project goes beyond putting some nails or screws in a wall, my involvement can only lead to bad things.

Wish me luck and happy 2009.

January 9, 2009

Two Good Reads

Some good reading for your enjoyment.

First, local organic farmer Don Kretschmann waxes, well, organic about the "booming" local farm economy...

The willingness of the consuming public to pay a fair price for food reflects a fundamental change. They see that this nutritious food is actually a bargain when compared with purchasing cheap food which is deleterious to health, or food which is shipped astronomical distances incurring hidden costs of environmental degradation and energy dependency. (Is there a parallel in the auto industry?)

Although he acknowledges that are serious challenges for family farms...

Several factors can impede this unfolding ag revolution and opportunity. One is the loss of local, small-scale food processing facilities -- slaughterhouses and butchershops, particularly. And the other is the loss of young people to enter the field (no pun intended) who've had the experience of growing up on farms.

I have to wonder if everybody would agree with Mr. Kretschmann about the "booming" business thing. Has this translated into more stability for their farms, particularly those that make their living raising cows, pigs, and chickens for beef, pork, and... uh, chicken? From what I've read and seen, this may not be the case.

I've read posts on message boards about grass-fed operations selling a cow or two 'cause they can't afford to maintain them all, and over at the Ethicurean the other day there was an excellent discussion about how family farmers are struggling to pay for health care, driving some out of business and preventing younger wanna-be farmers from fulfilling that particularly wish.

In other words, I just don't know if the increased demand for more local, and in most cases, more sustainably produced food, is translating into more financially secure family farmers.

Meanwhile, the semi-famous Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson take to the pages of the Gray Lady with a call for a 50-year Farm Bill to, among other things, address the tremendous damage that's been inflicted on the soil.

Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods.

Clearly, our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. The last line is killer.