Saturday, October 29, 2011

Do Consumers Trust the Meat Industry?

From Marion Nestle, Food Politics, a recent industry survey reports that consumers don't trust meat industry.
These disconnects, say industry observers, are serious and “feed an overall distrust of commercial ag operations.”  The survey report explains:

There is an inverse relationship between the perception of shared values and priorities for commercial farms. Consumers fear that commercial farms will put profit ahead of principle and therefore cut corners when it comes to other priority issues. As farms continue to change in size and scale we have to overcome that bias by  effectively demonstrating our commitment to the
values and priorities of consumers.

Maybe the message is getting out there?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fresh Chef? Like to Eat? Read this first! - Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman has published a letter that everyone who likes to eat needs to read. Written by one of Bittman's friends -  co-founder ofD’Artagnan and is now a co-owner of Debragga and Spitler, a New York meat wholesaler that’s been doing business since 1924, and a main supplier to many of the city’s best restaurants. In an effort to encourage New York chefs to adapt their menus to clean, naturally-raised meats, it explains in gory detail the good, the bad and the ugly of commodity meat production.
Hormones are given to dairy cows to produce more milk and beef cattle to accelerate weight gain. The goal is obviously to maximize production in the shortest amount of time. Hormones are hell on dairy cows, causing them to lactate practically round the clock, which is abusive, and the quality impact on beef cattle is huge. Forty years ago, Prime grade made up 6 percent of all beef carcasses graded. Today, that percentage is 1.5!

According to the owner of a very large cattle processor who is well respected in the beef industry here in the U.S., the reason for the reduction in cattle quality is directly related to the use of hormones. The cattle grow quicker but they put on more water weight. The amount of time required for the muscle to develop and the fat to intersperse during grain feeding is shortened by 35-50 percent thanks to hormones. The result is cheaper cattle for the most part. But it is absolutely less flavorful. And there is less highly marbled Prime cattle rising to the top, resulting in dramatically higher prices for Prime beef over choice.

Commodity cattle that are fed hormones are moved to a feedlot after as little as 9 months. There, they are given antibiotic-laced feed to keep them healthy while they adjust to a largely grain diet (that’s like you moving from a salad-based diet to an all-cheese diet overnight). These cattle are intensely fed for 75-100 days. Very efficient. Very cheap.

Naturally raised cattle are on pasture for 16-20 months before transferring to a low density feedlot where they are fed a mixed diet (dried grass/grain for 200 days in a naturally raised, clean program; 400 days for a wagyu program). It takes a lot longer to raise clean, healthy cattle, and this is why they cost more. But they taste a lot better and they marble better. Our naturally raised, clean beef program typically grades over 20 percent Prime, and that’s a lot more than commodity at 1.5 percent.

But the impact of hormones in our food system is becoming increasingly controversial. The practice is banned in Europe. The use of hormones in our food supply has been linked to the earlier onset of menstruation in young women in western societies over the last 40 years. (These dates coincide with the introduction of hormones as an additive/growth stimulant in dairy and beef cattle.) The issue with earlier onset of menstruation is that it is associated with a vastly greater incidence of cancer in women, breast and cervical.[4]

And you thought Halloween was scary.

It's a must read for the fresh chef and consumers who like to eat. Which is everybody.




Know Your Stuff: Al Dente

LA Times Test Kitchen has been publishing a very helpful series to define common cooking terms. Today's lesson?

What is "al dente?"

Raise your hand if you know. Otherwise, have a look. Cooking is way more fun when you know your stuff.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Celebrate Food Day with Recipe for Change

Slow Food USA 

As people nationwide celebrate Real Food in the first ever Food Day, a bi-partisan committee in Washington, D.C. is consulting with Big Ag lobbyists on what to trim from the country's budget. Their aim?

Eliminate nutrition programs that help women and children in need. Cut job creation programs that support family farms. Gut environmental rules and regulations that assure a safe food supply.

Well, you get the picture.

Slow Food USA thinks this is a recipe for disaster. Click here to tell the Congressional Super Committee a sustainable recipe for reform. 
Our recipe is simple: To help balance the budget and drive local economies, the Super Committee needs to:

Reform subsidies for commodity crops like corn and soy.

Protect all funding for nutrition assistance programs (food stamps).

Maintain funding for conservation, new farmers, and other programs that support sustainable farming and ranching.

Sign on to our Recipe for Change and tell the Super Committee to balance the budget by protecting working families and farmers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be There: Natural Springs Garden Chili Cook-off & Fall Festival


Reminder: Natural Springs Garden, a small urban farm near Lakeway, is hosting a Chili Cook-off and Festival on Saturday, October 22.

A fun day for the whole family, the festival will raise funds for Natural Springs Garden, promote other local businesses and help Lake Travis Crisis Ministries stock their pantry.

You can never predict weather too far ahead, but if today is a sign, it looks like Saturday will be a great day to enjoy being outdoors.

Be there!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bid for Greenling - Online Charity Auction

One month of Greenling local boxes is just one of the great fresh, natural, organic, local food items donated to the Third Annual Les Dames D'escoffiers - a Foodie Showdown serving up exclusive Food & Wine experiences.

Confituras, Whole Foods, Austin Slow Burn and Austin's Tootie Pies all vie for your attention, affection and bids along with a lot of other great opportunities to please your senses.

Show 'em some love. It's all for a good cause.  Auction proceeds benefit local culinary scholarships and farm-to-plate initiatives.


Recipes for an Inspired Life

tartine gourmande recipes inspired life cookbook gluten free

How exciting to see the new cookbook written and photographed by Beatrice Peltre of La Tartine Gourmande finally in print.

Maybe it's because we share a French heritage. Maybe it's because her food photography is simply gorgeous and her taste in cuisine is so divine. Whatever. I virtually swoon every time I visit her website. Now I can drool all over her book.

The official release date is February 2012. But if you are keen to buy and receive it now, Bea is offering an exclusive presale on a dedicated site to the cookbook.

To buy it now, you can click here.

Fair warning: you will be hungry after you have a look!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Two Plates: One Herbivore. One Omnivore. Spot the difference.


OMG at last world peace is at hand at the dinner table for couples in which one is omnivore and one is herbivore. One night in Manhattan, a food anarchist named Mike Lee got 40 people to perform a daring experiment in food camouflage. Robert Kurlwich reports for NPR.
This was Mike's notion. He knows couples where one person's a vegetarian, the other a meat eater. "It seemed like they could really never share a meal and have the same experience without one person — usually the omnivore — compromising to suit the mutually agreeable meal."

Yeah, well, that's what you get for dating a vegan, I say. But not Mike. He and his foodie friends run a much talked about "underground" dinner club called Studiofeast. Every month or so, they pop up in a new place and do something astonishing with food. Last summer, they created a seven course meal for 20 vegetarians and 20 ominivores. The plates looked the same, but the vegetarians got veggies and the flesh eaters got flesh. And, thanks to the chefs, you could barely tell. That's Mike's way of easing the pain of first (second and third) dates, or maybe he's just into World Peace.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Swiss Chard, Quinoa and Feta

Finally a cool-ish, slightly overcast day. With a little stretch of the imagination, it feels like Fall in Central Texas.  What could be better to usher in autumn than cool-weather Swiss chard, quinoa and Pure Luck feta?


3/4 cup quinoa

1 large bunch Swiss chard, 6 or 8 cups
1 large onion, diced
3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
1/2 cup Pure Luck feta
Freshly ground pepper

1. Rinse, soak, cook quinoa according to package directions. Use lemon juice as part of the liquid.

2. Soak raisins in water to re-hydrate.

3. Strip tough stems out of chard. Rinse well. Slice into ribbons.

4. Sautee' onions in olive oil until they start to caramelize. Add and sautee' garlic.

5. When onions and garlic are tan and very aromatic, add Swiss chard. Sautee' until wilted. Cover with a lid and let steam until tender. (To use the stems, rinse, chop and sautee' in the onions until they are tender before adding the chard leaves.)

6. Add raisins. Stir in quinoa. Season with freshly ground pepper. Garnish with plenty of feta. Serve warm.

You've heard the saying, "crisis is opportunity blowing on a dangerous wind?" We had a feta crisis last week.

Whole Foods ran out of the French sheep milk feta that is our mainstay. Distribution problem. No idea when the next shipment would arrive.

Oh. My. God. Catastrophe!

On the shelf where we usually find our preference, Whole Foods was offering Pure Luck goat feta.


Operated since 1983, this locally-owned farm and dairy has an extraordinary selection of artisanal cheeses.  Award-winning even.

"Okay. I'll try it," I grumbled. (Hey. I like what I like.)

At $19.99 a pound, it's a bit spendy for my budget, but Pure Luck feta is an absolutely lovely goat cheese. A Greek-style cheese, aged, sharp, clean, semi-soft and salty, it made this dish.

Welcome back, Autumn. Thanks Pure Luck. Our luck to discover you!

Bon appetit.

Lakeway Commons FM - Rain Check

Rain check for fans of a Sunday farmer's market in Lakeway.

I was pretty disappointed to be there shortly after 10AM only to find an empty parking lot.  So I checked in with Richie Romero. The market had been called off due to the rain. He promises that in future, the market will go on "rain or shine."

*fingers crossed*

I really want this market  to succeed. So I'm offering some professional advice.

From a marketer's point of view, when you announce your market opening, you gotta be ready for prime time. People move over. Some of us deferred our weekly shopping trips from Saturday to Sunday. And when you've promised something good enough to get us out of our pajamas and down to the mall on a Sunday morning, you better deliver. If you cannot, you need to be Johnny-on-the-spot with an apology.

Wise to remember: just as good news goes viral on the Internet in a flash, so does the bad news.

Today I'll take a rain check.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lakeway Commons FM Debuts on Sunday

Lakeway Farmers Market makes its debut in the parking lot of Lakeway Commons at the corner of RR 620 and Lakeway Boulevard, Sunday, October 9. It has a small, but mighty line-up of vendors including some of our personal favorites - Dad's Premium Granola, Kocurek Charcuterie, The Gardener's Feast and Blanco Valley Farms for starters.

Market opens at 9AM.

Give it some love, people! We need more Sunday markets.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Produce In Season

Photo from Johnson's Backyard Gardens

Lord, will we ever see the end of summer squash? I mean. I love summer squash as much as the next foodie - summer squash ragu, summer squash ratatouille,Ratatouille summer squash gratin, summer squash salad, summer squash soup, stuffed squash, zucchini bread, etc. But there comes a time when one's psyche and one's palette craves a change of pace - cooler weather, cool-weather crops and rain please.

Today my prayers are answered.

Rain in the forecast. Rainbow chard available from Johnson's Backyard Garden!

Here's what's in season and available this weekend: Kale, Onions, Cilantro, Swiss Chard, Baby Bok Choy, Mixed Peppers, Sweet Potatoes, Mixed Summer Squash, Salad Mix or Arugula.

Johnson's Backyard Garden is accepting members for its CSA program.
Here’s a partial list of produce all CSA members can expect to see in their shares soon: kale, collards, potatoes, broccoli, baby bok choy, carrots, chard, salad mix, mustard greens, braising mix, green beans, cilantro, parsley, dill, brocccoli rabe, fennel, cauliflower,  kohlrabi, and spinach.  We also have fall crops of acorn squash, butternut squash, and beets coming in.

Email Brent at if you're interested.

Looking for An Honest Man

If you're wondering what happened to fresh, natural, organic, local food on Austin Fresh, I've been on a quest.

I consider myself only slightly more knowledgeable than the average consumer when it comes to fresh, natural, organic, local, sustainable foods.  I'm Cajun. I've always been a foodie. But I have not always paid that much attention to the sources of my victuals. I trusted my butcher. I trusted my grocer. I trusted the USDA. I enjoyed a wide choice of vegetables year-round. I vaguely knew that there was a benefit to organic food and that the antibiotics and growth hormones in meat and poultry were detrimental to my health. As I got more information from movies like "Food, Inc." and numerous online sources, I began to look at all our food choices more closely.

I did not expect the sham that I found in producing, processing and marketing eggs, meat or vegetables. The depth and breadth of issues with the output from big agriculture has been shattering.

Like anyone who wakes up to one's collusion with corruption, I began to mistrust my own ability to discern quality and value. Food safety has become a paramount concern. Consequently, I've flooded myself (and you) with information about the larger paradigm - what it is as well as what it might take to change it.

From the global to the local, who are some of the most trustworthy local sources for fresh, natural, organic meat, eggs and poultry?

As soon as I get my voice back from laryngitis, I'll start posting a series of podcasts to answer this question.

Like Diogenes, I'm looking for an honest man (and woman.)


In Europe, A Cow Over Hormone-Treated Beef - NPR

[In 2009], the U.S. and the European Union settled one of their longest-running trade disputes: over beef. Under the deal, the EU agreed to quadruple import quotas for hormone-free U.S. beef, but it still won't import hormone-treated American beef, because many Europeans consider it unhealthy.

Farmer Michel Baudot, who raises cattle in France's Burgundy region, says the two cattle industries are run differently: One focuses on profit and the other on quality.

Read "In Europe, A Cow Over Hormone-Treated Beef."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Viva la Difference

Romaine Lettuce Recalled for Listeria Contamination

The difference between an agricultural system that raises food solely for profit and one that supports food quality for health became starkly clear from a statement in the Los Angeles Times about the highly unusual news of twin listeria outbreaks.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee more or less shrugs off public alarm:
The incidents are troubling, but Schaffner said the public needed to be realistic about food safety. "Our expected standards of food safety are so high," he said in an interview with The Times. "But we have to recognize that vegetables that are grown in the field, openly, will from time to time become contaminated with animal waste," which is one of the most common sources of such an outbreak. "Our lettuce, chicken, meat is not 'sterile,' and that is an unwarranted expectation. From time to time, we will find some contaminated food stuff.... The world is not a sterile place. It's actually quite germy."

And if some folks don't think the food safety efforts have been aggressive enough, they should be prepared to reach into their pockets for such a service. "If that's what we want, an excellent food safety public health structure in every state ... you have to pay for it."

Contrast this with the sentiments of a small-town mayor in France's Provence region when he mandates organic food for the school lunch program:
"It's for the children. Nothing is too good for the children."

This scene was noteworthy in a film by Jean-Paul Jaud in Barjac, France, "Nos Enfants Nous Accuseronts" (Our Children Will Accuse Us). It follows an experiment when the town's mayor decides to make the school lunch menu organic, with much of the food grown locally.

He argues that unless we act now to change industrial models of agricultural production that rely on petro-chemical fertilizers and insecticides, our children will be condemned to rapidly deteriorating health in the form of cancers, infertility and other illnesses linked to environmental factors.

Re-titled Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution for English-speaking audiences, the documentary film features interviews with children, parents, teachers, health care workers, journalists, farmers, elected officials, scientists and researchers. It illuminates both the challenges and the rewards of their commitment to clean food - both the abuses of industry as well as the practical solutions at hand. What will it take to save our health?

Consider also the French government's move to promote healthy eating by banning ketchup in school and college cafeterias nationwide except on the days they serve hamburgers and French fries.

“France must be an example to the world in the quality of its food, starting with its children,” said Food and Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire.

Now we know that the European Union is not free of contaminated food based on a deadly strain of e coli isolated to German-grown bean sprouts earlier this year. But the attitude toward protection of the food system - and the priority of public safety over profit - is markedly different.

France, and the European Union, lead the USA by light years in standards that protect the food system.

  • EU banned genetically modified food 12 years ago.

  • In 1989, EU banned on hormone-treated U. S. meat, preventing U. S. meat products from being sold in any European nations. It is considered unhealthy.

  • EU banned the feeding of all antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion purposes in 2006. Keeping antibiotics out of animal feed in the first place is the best way to limit the development of antibiotic resistance and keep antibiotics working in humans.

These are people and a governmental system that is ready to say that clean food is not a luxury but a necessity. And they are doing something about it.

Viva la difference!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mark Bittman on Food Safety

Last year, Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times, broke my heart when he announced that he would no longer contribute to the newspaper as "The Minimalist." Bittman was my best source for good food, simply prepared.

I'm all better now that I see his strong stand for food safety and healthy food simply prepared. Last week in food is a great example
From the “With friends like these, who needs…etc.” department: Here’s a look inside the American Dietetic Association’s nutrition conference/expo, where you’ll hear all about how processed foods are an important source of nutrients. Argh. And: In an attempt to undermine the FDA’s current efforts to rationalize front-of-package labeling, industry groups have devised a new campaign: change “Nutrition Keys” to “Facts Up Front.” And: Julia Moskin on the newly-formed U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, a well-funded Big-Ag group that is – incredibly – trying to position itself as an underdog in the current food climate. (Apparently they don’t like the term “Big-Ag,” but when you have $11 million to spend on public relations, and your members include the American Egg Board, the National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Pork Board, that’s what you are.)

Be There: Are You Ready for Some Chili?

Natural Springs Garden, a small urban farm near Lakeway, is hosting a Chili Cook-off and Festival on Saturday, October 22.

A fun day for the whole family, the festival will raise funds for Natural Springs Garden, promote other local businesses and help Lake Travis Crisis Ministries stock their pantry.

Activities will include:

Chili Cook-Off
Fresh Salsa Competition
Cash Prizes
Sample chili and salsas * Vote for your favorites
Tour a working urban farm
Brownie Walk every hour Sponsored by Love Puppies Brownies
Shop Local Vendor Booths
Rachel's Barnyard Petting Zoo (noon - 4:00)
Horseshoe Tournament
Deep Eddy Vodka
Chicken Bingo


Cord Carpenter

Tombstone Bullies

Jeff Whitehead

Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for children 10 and under. Bring a can of chili, beans or a cornbread mix for the Lake Travis Crisis Ministries Food Pantry and get $1 off admission.

The Ministries have been working in the Lake Travis area for over 20 years, providing food, clothing, financial assistance, whatever is necessary for individuals in need. Its geographical boundaries are limited to the Lake Travis Independent School District; it's heart is not. No one is turned away for food regardless where they live!