July 16, 2009

Young Farmers

A great piece today in USA Today about an influx of new, young farmers. It's an interesting read and makes me think there is hope yet for a more regional, sustainable system of agriculture in the United States. I liked this quote in particular, from a 27-year-old farmer in upstate New York:

"The America that I want to live in will support people who are willing to work their asses off, who want to do good things for their community. We're patriots of place. Here I am, I'm planting my trees."

This influx of young farmers is needed. As the writer, Elizabeth Weise, explains, the average age of an American farmer is 57.

Not so interesting, and actually rather infuriating (to the point that I want to personally damage a wall with my head, or at least a fist), are some of the thoughts posted in the "comments" section that follows the article. Usually it's easy enough to laugh off such comments:

"We are moving backwards into a peasant existence where you need to grow your own food to survive. This is progress?"


"I wonder how long it will be before the enviromentalists zero in on these common peole like they have the bigger farmers and put them out of buisness?"

OR, my favorite

This article makes me laugh. Urban liberals / progressives constantly berate and belittle any "gun lovin' redneck" any chance they get, yet it is those exact red-state / red-county rural types who live minimalist, organic lives by hunting and farming their own food. Liberals will read about such a lifestyle in $5 glossy magazines but it is that "good 'ole hillbilly" who is actually living the life.

... but in this case I can't even chuckle. These are people who are mired so deeply in their ideology, misconceptions, and grossly distorted view of reality that they can find fault in young adults who are brave enough -- 'cause I'm sure as hell not -- to jump into one of the most difficult trades that exists based on an honest belief that what they are doing will make things better.

These are not people who are trying to get rich, they aren't trying to fleece anybody, and they are willing to work their "asses off" -- at the great risk of failure and economic ruin -- because that belief is so strong. And these commenters read something like this and respond with misinformed cliches about "urban liberals" or those crazy environmentalists who just hate everything and want to do something bad, although what has never been adequately explained.

Then again, these are probably the same people who still believe there are WMDs in Iraq.

July 13, 2009

Beer Bistro Dinner at Pines Tavern

The Pines Tavern is a neat little place not far from our house. We eat dinner there on occasion, but not necessarily frequently.

Generally speaking, the food produced by the kitchen is high quality. The only problem I have with The Pines -- and why we probably don't eat there more often, despite its close proximity to the Fillippelli household -- is that the food tends to be very heavy. This is particularly true at lunch, where sandwiches, which are typically chock full of great ingredients, are just weighed down by too many of those ingredients.

On the plus side, it has a spectacular back patio. When you're sitting out there, you deservedly feel like your somewhere in the French countryside. not just around the bend from a run-down 7-11 and a slightly less rundown pizza joint.

Where the patio succeeds, the interior leaves something to be desired. The dining rooms are in desperate need of being updated. They are designed more for, well, a geriatric-leaning clientele. The bar area is cozy, great for a cold fall or winter day, but not ideal once the weather warms up.

Back on the plus side, and this is a big plus, the Pines grows a lot of its own produce throughout the spring, summer, and fall in gardens just across the street from the restaurant. It also sources lamb and, I believe, other meat from local farms. So the folks who run this place make a valiant effort to follow the local route, which is why I try not to forget about it.

One regular event that has caught my attention are these enticing-sounding "Beer Bistro" dinners held every month. The dinner is three courses, and features beers from a single brewery, a different one with each course. This month's dinner is being held this week, featuring beers from Pennsylvania-based Victory Brewing. The menu, particularly the ribs and grilled peaches for desert, is calling out my name.

It runs this Wednesday through Friday: $39 if you're getting the beers, $32 without. That's a good deal!

Too Many Drugs, Too Much Safety

I don't know if this has legs, but I'm amazed that it was even introduced in the first place:

The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans. In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease.

The reason: giving antibiotics to healthy animals so that they grow faster can promote antibiotic resistance. As Dr. Kellog Schwab, director of Johns Hopkins' Center for Water and Health explains it:

"This development of drug resistance scares the hell out of me. If we continue on and we lose the ability to fight these microorganisms, a robust, healthy individual has a chance of dying, where before we would be able to prevent that death." Schwab says that if he tried, he could not build a better incubator of resistant pathogens than a factory farm. He, Silbergeld, and others assert that the level of danger has yet to be widely acknowledged. Says Schwab, "It's not appreciated until it's your mother, or your son, or you trying to fight off an infection that will not go away because the last mechanism to fight it has been usurped by someone putting it into a pig or a chicken."

Next, although the article is somewhat hard to follow if you're not familiar with the broader topic of food safety, it still paints a scary picture:

Dick Peixoto planted hedges of fennel and flowering cilantro around his organic vegetable fields in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville to harbor beneficial insects, an alternative to pesticides.

He has since ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers demand sterile buffers around his crops. No vegetation. No water. No wildlife of any kind.

"I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop," he said. "On one field where a deer walked through, didn't eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop."

Basically, you have food safety measures being taken, much of it done in a proprietary fashion, to address problems being created by factory farming operations, not many of the little guys who actually do things like, you know, plant other plants to protect their products from bugs, instead of bombarding it with pesticides. And many of these safety practices are, according to this article, being proposed for use on national level.

July 12, 2009

Watcha Been Doin'?

I don't know. Watching the Tour De France, I guess...

What can I say. I've had ideas, thoughts, urges, inspirations. But nothing's been enough to get me to post anything new. Was a cooking fiend this weekend.

Just tonight made this Batali chicken dish, via Gwyneth Paltrow (via my friend/colleague Brittany) that was really quite delicious. On the side some potatoes, parboiled, tossed with olive oil, crushed fennel seed, sweet paprika, a little cumin, salt, and pepper, and finished on the grill (in a grill pan). A very nice partner for the chicken. Next time, more salt, more fennel, more paprika, cooked over higher heat to make the potatoes crispier (although I wonder if that might dry them out?).

Last night made some fish tacos, on excellent flour tortillas from Reyna's in the Strip, using the blend of fish for the fish tacos at Penn Avenue Fish Company. I purchased said fish from... Penn Avenue Fish Company. Topped with, among other things, purple cabbage from Blackberry Meadows Farm, purchased at Farmers @ Firehouse.

Friday it was finally time to cook the scallops we picked up on the way out of the Outer Banks a few weeks ago. Seared, on top of a pea puree (peas, courtesy of the farm, a little butter, a little more half-half, mint, basil, salt, pepper, a little lemon).

Speaking of tacos, Yo Rita, on the South Side, may be the place to go. Until January 2009, I believe, it was called Iguana Grill. Its food, and apparently whole way of running the operation, has been remade by Kevin Sousa, who from my reading, is as close to a "celebrity chef" as there is in Pittsburgh. Sousa is apparently doing side gigs while he waits to open up his own place, Salt of the Earth. That's the name of his blog, which is fun reading. The tacos sound like my kinda deal. I will go there soon. I hope.

I've also been working on a food-related short story -- a send-up, of sorts, of myself. I hope to publish it on this blog in several parts. I hope it's good. But who knows. I write about cancer research most of the time, and have maybe completed one or two fiction stories in all of my writing years. So it may stink.

There are numerous interesting things happening on the food policy front. I've been unable to keep up with them, except for the fact that the prez appointed a former Monsanto lobbyist to be a key advisor on food safety at the FDA. Not change I can believe in. Although some respected people don't think it's necessarily going to be a disaster. For the best policy updates, I highly recommend The Ethicurean and La Vida Locavore (note to self, that's two additions to blog roll. Get on it!)

Oh, and I got a new digital camera, one that has a setting just for food. Because there are like a million food blogs out there. Mine, no doubt, is the best. Just that nobody knows it yet...