Sunday, November 23, 2008

I don't normally review or comment on specific meals. But many of you know we are on our way to California and we plan on eating lots of great road food during our trip. Our first dabbling was at Sweatman's BBQ in Eutawville, SC. Read it and drool!

My God, I didn't want to leave!! First you arrive at a big old wood building in a dusty parking lot on a dark back road in Eutawville, SC. Second, you merge with a large number of large people arriving and then you line up at BUFFET. Yes, a buffet. For those of you expecting white table cloths and sommeliers, forget it. This is like eating at home. The menu is short and scribbled on dry erase black board. But you know what you came for--PORK. There was the hash and rice, pulled pork (white and dark), ribs (slathered in the most wonderful sauce), and skin (a house specialty that they were out of). Then you get a gallon of sweet tea, sampling of BBQ sauces and sit in a room akin to eating out at the local fire hall. And it is quiet--like a pork church. This, folks, is down home. And I am so glad we drove the extra 10 miles or so to get there because it just simply doesn't get any better or more traditional than this. As for the pork, well, let's just say I went back for seconds, finished off Debbie's ribs, and Mathew's pulled pork. All this for a just $9.95 a plate.

Now off to Charleston!


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Head, Tail, the Whole Damn Fish!

It was somewhat ironic that just a few days before election day I watched all nine episodes of Jamie Oliver's Fowl Dinners on Chris Consentino's Offal Good blog. (Chris is chef at Incanto in San Francisco's Noe Valley.)Why Ironic? Well, today--election day--Californian's will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition 2. Prop 2 will provide a modicum of protection for farm animals, including chickens which are often crammed into cages and buildings under inhumane conditions in order to put eggs and meat on our tables. Just watch any number of videos that are out there to find out the real story behind the poultry industry. Prop 2 would give chickens, among other critters, the ability to live humane lives. The thing I liked about Jamie Oliver's Fowl Dinners presentation is that it did not make any pretense about protecting chickens or any other farm animal just for the sake of protecting it. There is no getting around that fact that we eat meat; all we really want is that the animals that work in the service of humans live decent lives before being killed and fricasseed.

Jamie's gastrodocumentary takes us through the lives of egg laying chickens as well as meat birds. Not only does it present video of industrial farming nightmares, but it has a live exhibit and demonstrations for all of his "guests." It is very easy to take the moral high ground in defense of sane farming practices while not experiencing the realities of industrial farming. It is quite another to argue against it without really seeing firsthand the atrocities that occur daily in the world's industrial farms. And that's exactly what happened. The guests at Jamie's dinners were mostly MOR diners that did not take a hard stance one way or the other on the issue of humane farming conditions. However, by the time they left, they understood that inhumane farming is tied directly to "value" pricing and demands by the consumer for ever lower food prices. Someone has to pay for lower food prices, and if it is not the farmer then it is the chicken.

Proposition 2 has been lobbied against very hard by argibusiness. They don't want their pitiful profits to dwindle further by being forced to reduce bird density. And the fact is that the only real incentive to stay in business is profit. And there's nothing wrong with that. If the farmer is forced out of business, then the business goes overseas. And so unless the consumer is willing to pay more for their food--here we go again--to compensate the farmer for some of their lost profit due to raising fewer birds per square foot or producing fewer eggs per day, then they go out of business anyway. Fortunately, we're seeing both retailers and consumers willing to pay more for food in order to allow the changes called for in Prop 2 to happen. But in this economy I wonder how far they can go before the consumer revolts. I mean, Burger King just showed huge profits for a recent quarter--and that tells me more people are eating fast food because it is cheaper.

But this too shall pass, and Prop 2 needs to be about more than just profit. It needs to come from the heart and mind. There is no reason our insatiable appetite for the ever-cheaper whatever should mean any living soul on this planet should suffer for our bellies. We need to readjust our priorities and instead of shelling out over $100 a month for shitty cable viewing, shell out an extra $2 per dozen eggs, or another $1 per pound for chicken meat, to ensure that not only our minds but our wallets ensure a sane farming and food future.

Jamie Oliver's Fowl Dinners were the environmental activists' equivalent of chaining yourself to a bulldozer. He should be commended and hopefully rewarded by the fact that at least one state on this side of the pond "gets it." Hopefully, we all will at some point. Now, Go Vote!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008


As recent as yesterday I had a conversation with someone discussing the vast opportunities that local farmers had in supplying New York City with more locally grown food. At least as of September 13 2008, there doesn't appear to be an abatement of demand or desire for local least on the surface. Problem is that our current food distribution systems doesn't support actually working with local growers and as the costs of even local transportation--say from farm to farmers market--rise, it may become harder for New Yorkers to get local food because it'll be harder for local farmers to stay in business. That is unless we have a revolutionary movement--a modern day Boston tea party--where local communities eschew produce brought in from all over the world in favor of the same crops grown right around the corner.

A recent study by The American Farmland Trust suggests that in the Bay Area of San Francisco/Oakland, California that only 0.5% of the total food consumed is sold direct to consumer (e.g., through a farmers market), but that there is more than enough food grown in the region to supply the Bay Area food needs and then some. SO, if I understand the study correctly, that means that 99.5% (or 5.87 million tons of food) is sold through other channels (probably global supermarket chains mostly). According to the study, however:

β€œIt’s impossible to determine precisely how much locally-grown food [~20 million tons] is consumed in the City of San Francisco, or in fact, how much of what is consumed is produced on local farms and ranches,” The commercial food system in the region, as throughout the United States does not track the origin of what it sells, primarily because consumers do not yet demand to know the origin of the foods they eat.” [from the American Farmland Stories/San-Francisco-Foodshed-Report.asp.

So, if in fact we are to realize all of the benefits of a strong local farm and food economy, then we need a massive shift in how food is transported off of the farm onto the plates of Americans.

In New York's Hudson Valley, we're losing farmland annually. Yet, the demand from food savvy New Yorkers for local food is growing. Everyone, Californians and New Yorkers, and everyone in between, alike need to demand that they know where their food comes from. Even if you don't want to shop at a farmers market, or can't get to one, ask your whomever is in charge of providing you with food to tell you where it came from, who grew it, how they grew, can you meet the farmer. If they don't know, then leave. Go somewhere where they can answer those questions.

By demanding that more local food go into local communities we can shift how food moves from farm to table, save farmland, and get a great meal to boot.

For more information, visit the The American Farmland Trust web site:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture

OK, folks. If you believe in good, safe, clean food and FARMS, the please sign onto the declaration and help secure a future for our farmers.

Thanks, Mike Biltonen

Monday, September 01, 2008

Culinary Equality

I love food. Who doesn't? I love everything (almost) from snails and caviar to a great cheeseburger and french fries (just not the industrial types). Yet as the Slow Food Nation wraps up in San Francisco, I worry about how a food culture that was supposed to celebrate and invite everyone, is becoming increasingly upscaled and out of reach of the people that need good, clean food yet may be able to least afford it. I have always felt that my first highest responsibility to people who have worked for me is to train them to take over my job some day. That is, raise them up, not shut them out. The same should be true of our food economy and culture. Slow Food, farmers markets, u-pick farms, Whole Foods, and co-ops should not be seen as elitist enterprises. But often through various marketing schemes, that's exactly how they look to those on the outside looking in. But neither should these same enterprises stop their marketing approach. They instead should continue to pave the way, ushering in new food devotees and supporting culinary equality.

One of the sad facts about how Americans generally approach food is that they expect it to be cheap. Americans spend less of their income--per capita--on food than practically any other nation on Earth. On the whole, we need to realize that in order to get better food, we need to spend our dollars differently and "invest" more in a food system that encourages small farms, and good, clean, safe food, rather than encourage one that comprises dollar menus and the destruction of the Earth's environment.

Not everyone will be able to shop at Whole Foods, Balducci's, or Dean and DeLuca. This blog isn't about economic equality per se, but rather about a cultural shift in what's really important to our quality of life and how we "invest" our income in the future of this country. But it is also about how the food providers make sure they encourage a shift in buying patterns by making sure the best in good clean food is available to their customers, instead of pandering to the lowest bidder and providing only the cheapest stuff (I hesitate to call it food) they can buy at the terminal markets on any given day. This approach doesn't encourage better eating or spending patterns, it is destructive to the Earth, and it perpetuates a system that has shown itself to be bad for the environment.

We need small farms that produce food that is not only good to eat, but good for you and the Earth. And the only way to grow that kind of system is make sure we have a system of culinary equality (producer driven) with a cultural shift in food values and where a household's food dollar goes (consumer driven).

Not everyone likes or even wants caviar. So if we could just start with making sure everyone has access to food that hasn't had the bejesus sprayed out of it, sucking all the nutritional value with it, that would be a good start. Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Roots! Put out the Welcome mat today!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Eat Lower

With the monumental Slow Food Nation event about ready to kick off, I felt compelled to write about the latest eating craze ready to sweep the land. Now, you all have heard about the Atkins Diet, right? And the South Beach Diet, macrobiotics, veganism, vegetarianism, even the Master Cleanse Lemonade Diet, right? Well, I am here to tell you all to forget about them--they aren't worth anything anyway--and to adopt my own new habit of Eating Lower on the Food Chain. No, don't worry this doesn't mean you'll have to sit down to a plate of fried worms with Andrew Zimern or travel to some far off land with Anthony Bourdain to find out that the Gramercy Tavern was just fine with you the first place. No I am here to tell you to just eat lower on the food processing chain.

Yes, that's right. The closer you can get to your food with the least amount of processing is the best of all worlds. For me, about the most processing I want for my food comes in the form of fresh churned butter (Yum!) or a lightly grilled piece of meat over apple wood charcoal or a fresh vegetable salad with some garlicky olive oil. With the huge craze right now in value added food products like beverages--8 gazillion and counting--or the latest salsa or jam, the fact is that there is very little that's healthy about any of them.

Now I am not here to dis value added--I believe there are some incredible foodies out there creating some great products--just check the label first. Often there is little difference between "artisanal" value added and industrial food products. Artisanal oftens masquerades about in a haze of smoke and mirrors--beware. So, instead of strawberry jam with tons o' sugar, try some strawberry confit or just some "jar jam." Instead of all these crazy spreads--SmartBalance, etc--just try some real butter. Of course, a little exercise always helps when practicing this new diet of mine because butter and steak and, well, all foods have calories. And too many calories leads to too many "lbs" around the middle.

What eating lower on the food chain does is it gets you closer to what real food is supposed to taste like and gives you the opportunity to derive real nutrition from real food (thanks, Nina!). Our bodies did not evolve to digest and deal with all the preservatives and additives that go into today's supermarket food. Most importantly eating lower on the food chain is about getting to know your farmer (the person that grows it) or the actual chicken that laid your breakfast or the steer that gave up that burger grilling outside right now.

Eating lower on the food chain means shortening the distance between you and your food, and knowing your food for what it really is, not for what some food scientist has turned it into. Of course, most foods taste better when combined with other foods--try making salsa without combining anything--just keep it simple (no preservatives or any ingredients that mask the true flavors of the food. The best food is always as nature intended: fresh from the ground, tree, or vine. One of the best meals I ever had was standing over a sink for hours shucking some fresh plucked oysters from Wellfleet Bay on Cape Cod. A knife, some oysters, a little lemon and vinegar....what could be better. I couldn't have gotten much closer that that.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Onward and Upward!!

This is likely to be the first year that I will not be actively involved in a fruit harvest of some sort or another. Why? Well, when I started Blue Marble Farms a few years ago I knew the two biggest obstacles that I had to staying in business were the facts I didn't own a farm (a biggie!) and I was not independently wealthy (REALLY big in light of the fact I didn't own the farm). Everything that Blue Marble Farms did received incredible feedback. Nonetheless, Blue Marble Farms is no more. But I am content. This season I have been doing incredibly important work helping other growers manage their crops (apples, onions, and lettuce) and implement food safety programs. What's food safety? Well, it is about being responsible about growing and processing the food we eat. 99.9% of the time (unofficially) the food we eat is perfectly safe, however it is the other 0.01% of the time that bothers folks--often fatally.

We need safe food. We need clean food. And although my job right now is to help folks get certified and implement globally accepted food safety program, the fact is there is no better food safety program than buying local and knowing your farmers. Know your roots, or course.

My time at Stone Ridge Orchard has ended. I don't regret a second I spent there. I do wish I could have finished out the year. But, alas, the winds of time have pushed me in another direction, to use my talents and expertise differently. I encourage everyone--all of my customers and readers--to buy local and organic (but definitely local) as much as possible. Support those that support you and a healthy environment and safe food supply.

Cheers and stick around for more from organic schmorganic, 'cause there is no doubt this train hasn't reached its destination yet.