Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Industrial Organic

Today started off with berries and cereal again. Milk Thistle Farm local, organic, grass-fed milk and non-local, organic Smart Bran cereal again, but this time local, non-organic blueberries from Fantasy Fruit Farm (Afton, NY). They were kind of an impulse purchase on Saturday when I was at the Union Square Greenmarket -- I was so excited to see blueberries that I just snapped them up without asking about growing practices.

This is a weakness of mine: I am pretty shy about asking farmers about their growing practices face-to-face at the farmers markets. I am always afraid they will get snippy and defensive with me, or that my questions will be taken as some sort of ignorant attack on their livelihoods. It is a fear I am going to have to get over if I want to make more informed choices about my food.

But I also think it is something that farmers should think about. Not everyone is going to want to get into a discussion about growing practices to get the information they need about the food they are buying. Some people don't want to take the time, others may be shy like me. So as a farmer, the more information you can broadcast about your farm, your values, your products, and your growing practices, the better. Put the information on a simple website, on a sign near your market stand, or in brochures on your market table. The transparency and openness will attract customers.

During the day today I had some more leftovers from my cooking class: eggplant dip, roasted tomato and chickpea salad, and ancho-rubbed pork tenderloin. Again, because I did not ask where the cooking school sources its ingredients from, I have no idea about the provenance of any of that food.

Again today I snacked on some local Seckel pears from Truncali Farm, which were not organic, but were at least grown using IPM methods.

In the afternoon I had a coffee and a small piece of a Florentine from Financier Patisserie, neither of which was local or organic. I don't even know if the coffee was Fair Trade! I do know that Financier uses conventional mass-market milk in its coffee drinks, though. So the whole Financier visit was a bit of a bust, food-choice wise.

Dinner was better. I was up at my parents' house in Connecticut, but luckily they have a farmer's market right in town on Saturdays, so dinner included a lot of local ingredients. We started with a salad of local tomatoes and local-made fresh mozzarella, followed by grass-fed steak from Greyledge Farm (Roxbury, CT) and local green beans. I don't know which vendors my mother bought from, though, so I don't know if the vegetables were organic or if the milk used for the mozzarella was from grass-fed cows. For dessert we had locally-baked pumpkin pie that also came from the farmer's market -- I don't know if the pie ingredients were local or organic, either.

The whipped cream we had with the pie brings up an interesting point about "industrial organic" foods. The heavy cream my parents had in the refrigerator was from Horizon Organic, a widely-known national dairy brand that has come under fire in the past for skirting the USDA organic regulations and hiding factory-farmed milk behind an organic label. According to consumer groups and whistleblowers, Horizon, and its related entity Aurora, had been deceiving regulators about their cows' access to pasture, confining them to packed feedlots, as well as using feedlot-born animals that had not been raised organically from birth.

The outcry led to the USDA strengthening and clarifying the standards for organic milk production earlier this year. Horizon has supposedly complied with the new standards, but the whole sordid scandal is a good example of why simply buying foods labeled "organic" is not enough -- the object of this exercise is to know as much as possible about where your food came from and how it was grown, raised, and handled on its way from farm to fork.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mystery Lamb

Fitting to start the blogging on a mixed-bag of a day.

For breakfast I had local, non-organic raspberries and blackberries from Phillips Farm (Milford, NJ).  Although the berries aren't organic, Phillips Farm does use integrated pest management (IPM), crop rotation, and other methods to reduce the need for pesticides to last-resort application only, which makes me feel a bit better. I understand that organic is not always practical in every case, but I do like to know that the farmer is thinking about sustainable ways to tackle the challenges of pests and fungus and fertilization first, rather than just reaching for the nearest chemical.

I ate my breakfast berries with local, organic, grass-fed milk from Milk Thistle Farm (Ghent, NY), and non-local, organic, high-fiber, low sugar Smart Bran cereal from Nature's Path (Blaine, WA).  The cereal came a long way, I know, but I have yet to find a comparable local replacement. See my list of "Non-Local Foods I Eat", link at right.

Later in the day I ate half of a tuna sandwich from 'wichcraft. I don't know what percentage of the sandwich was made from local ingredients, but I do know that 'wichcraft does practice local and/or sustainable ingredient sourcing, because they are refreshingly transparent about their suppliers on their website. For example, my sandwich was made from American Tuna, which, while far from local, is sustainably fished in the Pacific Northwest. I appreciate the pride 'wichcraft takes in using local and/or sustainable ingredients, and I feel good about eating their food, knowing I am supporting a business that shares my values. It helps that the sandwiches are pretty darn good, too!

In the afternoon I had a piece of a burger that I had leftover from a work lunch yesterday. The lunch was at one of my favorite restaurants near my office: Hundred Acres.  Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman are devotees of creating delicious food from local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients at each of their three restaurants, which include Cookshop and Five Points in addition to Hundred Acres. The grass-fed burger is a real winner at Hundred Acres, proof that eating local, sustainable food is hardly a chore.

Before I left work for the day I had a small piece of lamb loin. To be honest, I have no idea where the lamb came from or how it was raised, because I didn't ask when I could have. The lamb was leftover from a cooking class I took on Sunday, and I do regret not asking the instructor where the school sources its ingredients.

I also ate some fruit as snacks during the day: an (unknown varietal) apple from Samascott Orchards (Kinderhook, NY) and a Bosc pear from Truncali Farms (Marlboro, NY).  Neither fruit was organic; Samascott's website just says they try to spray the crops only when necessary, while Truncali is reported to use IPM. The lack of detail about growing practices on Samascott's website makes me uncomfortable and likely to choose fruit from a more informative orchard next time. I feel a bit better about Truncali: although they don't have their own website, they are featured on a website for Northeast Family Farms that use IPM. But in both cases, I am forced to make a choice based on limited information, which makes me less likely to want to buy from those farmers again. Farmers, more information on your websites, please!

Another snack today was beef jerky, which I like to eat after my tennis matches. My favorite jerky is from Slantshack, a local purveyor that uses grass-fed beef from Vermont, and lets customers custom-order jerky with a variety of different rubs and glazes. This jerky is no Slim Jim -- it is very lean, not overly salty or sweet, and the ingredient list has nothing you won't find in your own kitchen.

Finally, for dinner I had a salad that was entirely local and mostly organic. The lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, shallots, and garlic were organically grown by Norwich Meadows Farm (Norwich, NY). The broccoli came from Stokes Farm (Old Tappan, NJ), which uses IPM but is not organic. The dressing was a creamy poppy seed dressing left over from my cooking class, and again, I regretfully did not ask where the ingredients in that dressing came from.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Being a locavore is about food choice. Where it gets challenging is when those choices are constrained or nonexistent.

The food we eat every day comes from one of three categories. There is food we make for ourselves from ingredients that we buy. When it comes to food made by others, sometimes we have a choice in who makes our food and how they make it, and sometimes we don't.

The first category, food we make for ourselves, is often the easiest to alter towards a more local, sustainable diet. The second category, food made by others of our choosing, is not too difficult to localize either, at least in New York City, where there are a lot of restaurants that pride themselves on local, sustainable ingredient sourcing.

The third category is the real beast. Every day we are faced with situations where the food is made by others, and we have no choice over who made it. Sometimes we don't even know who made it, much less where the ingredients came from. Work lunches and dinners out with friends, food at parties and events, or in airports and foreign places all pose a significant challenge to maintaining a local, sustainable diet. I get stumped by this category quite often.

In this blog I am planning to record what I eat each day, and what percentage of it is local, organic, and sustainable. I will also include links to stores, farms, restaurants, purveyors, and web resources that I like or that I discover along the way, as well as links to the odd recipe here and there. Please feel free to ask questions or offer suggestions in the comments section.