Entries tagged with “Food politics”.

One of the things that surprised me the most about the massive salmonella-related peanut recalls earlier this year was how many of the people we think of as “the good guys” got caught in the mess along with everyone else. Small, local companies, trying their best to source high-quality ingredients, wound up using the same nuts as the country’s biggest chains, from a company that reportedly knew it was sending out contaminated goods.

I wrote in the Sunday Seattle Times about how companies get caught in the national food distribution web, and how some locals are trying to disentangle themselves from it as best they can. We looked at why CB’s Nuts will never be another Peanut Corporation of America, and how Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream is making its add-in ingredients by hand, from fresh caramel sauce to cookie dough. 

The full story is online here.

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SweeTango apple

Seattle is one of three test markets in the U.S. for the SweeTango apple, a new cross between a Honeycrisp and a Zestar, hailed as the next big thing in the apple world. Like its parents, the SweeTango was developed at the University of Minnesota. Locally, it’s being grown by Wenatchee-based Stemilt, who also recently bought the rights to grow Pinata apples in the U.S

Stemilt offered to send me some apples to sample before they were available here, and I found them crisp and clean, attractive and crunchy and sweet. The skin was a bit thick, but I loved the texture, though Stemilt says in press materials that it expects an even better texture next season. As the Associated Press reported, the apple’s being seen as a successor to the Honeycrisp. But the way it’s being marketed is quite different: The university licensed the apple to a co-op of growers who control “who can grow SweeTango and where, and how the apple is marketed and shipped.” It’s the same sort of “managed variety” as Pink Lady and Jazz apples, more common overseas than in the U.S., the AP notes. SweeTangos are now on the shelves at QFC (the only place they’re available locally), and, at my neighborhood store, they priced out at $2.99/lb. It’s a dollar more than most other varieties there, though in line with what I usually see at the top end of apple prices.

Minnesota Public Radio noted that some growers find it unfair to restrict who can grow the apple, as the previous varieties developed by the university had been available to any grower who paid a one-time fee. The story continued: (more…)

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I’ve been leaving it to the West Seattle Blog to chronicle the new incarnation of Gabriel Claycamp’s Swinery, but I checked out the website today when I saw the shop was scheduled to open. Check out the bottom of this page — an eye-opener for every restaurateur who’s kept a low profile on serving foie gras, hoping to avoid controversy. Here’s the gauntlet Claycamp throws down: (more…)

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Just about anyone who read Shannon Borg and Lora Lea Misterly’s book, Chefs on the Farm, would have a craving to sign up for a week at the Quillisascut School for the Domestic Arts. It’s a hands-on immersion into cheesemaking, bread baking, and the other fundamentals of turning a farm’s products into food. And, for chefs, it’s a chance to experience every practical step from field to table.

On Sunday, we get a vicarious chance to visit, in the form of an “Urban Picnic” fundraiser featuring foods from a dozen top chefs and restaurants who share the farm’s ethos  – including Lark, Canlis, TASTE, and Top Chef Robin Leventhal, not to mention farm chef Misterly herself. Picnic tickets bankroll the farm scholarships that Seattle’s Chef Collaborative awards each year. Dining on sweet corn ragout and churro lamb and other goodies is an enjoyable way to contribute, and it does go both ways: When I talked to this year’s scholarship recipients, Zephyr Paquette of Elliott Bay Cafe and Zack Chamberlain of TASTE, I realized how much of their experiences at the school cycle back to us all. (more…)

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The new book by James McWilliams, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly, set out to be provocative, and I guess I got provoked. My review of it is in today’s Christian Science Monitor here.

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I have an article in Pacific Northwest magazine in The Seattle Times this week on veal — specifially, a look at the calves raised on Vashon Island’s Sea Breeze Farm. I became interested in the topic after seeing veal on the Sea Breeze tables at the farmers markets — a meat that’s been so closely associated with animal cruelty campaigns that it was hard to find a companion willing to order a piccata or parmigiana in my food critic days.

You can read the full story here. And, just to drum in the reality of farm life, Sea Breeze noted on Twitter that the calf featured in the story is currently being served up on the dinner menu at La Boucherie.

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If you’re wondering about all the people breaking their Whole Foods habit and searching out other markets, the answer is here. The boycott was spurred by an op-ed piece on health care reform in the Wall Street Journal, written by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. The main eyebrow-raisers in the article came here:

While all of us can empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have any more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have an intrinsic right to food, clothing, owning their own homes, a car or a personal computer? Health care is a service which we all need at some point in our lives, but just like food, clothing, and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually-beneficial market exchanges rather than through government mandates.

and then, here:

Most of the diseases which are both killing us and making health care so expensive-heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, which account for about 70% of all health care spending, are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal or no alcohol consumption, and other healthy lifestyle choices.


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The endless cycle of the foie gras wars goes on in Seattle with weekly protests that, as far as I can tell, follow the same pointless cycle as I used to find in my years as a restaurant critic. Mentioning foie gras in a review brought on automatic form letters from protesters saying it was cruel to force-feed ducks to produce the dish, which I answered with my own form reply. No one’s mind was changed, or even challenged.

That’s part of why I tip my hat to Mark Caro, a reporter for The Chicago Tribune, and his new book ”The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight.”

Caro is coming to town July 14 for a Words & Wine event (cost: $45, including the book, wine and nibbles). He knows his subject as intimately as only a guy who’s stuck his hand up a duck’s rib cage to pull out its liver can know it, and I’m looking forward to hearing him talk with Warren Etheredge about the facts, the morality, and the politics of this culinary flashpoint. (The event’s at the Pan-Pacific Hotel, by the way, not Lark or Quinn’s.)

As I wrote  here for the Christian Science Monitor, I admire how thoroughly Caro embraced “the moral whiplash” of his research, uncovering revealing facts on all sides. He avoids delivering absolute conclusions in the end, leaving readers to draw their own.

“I’m trying to tell you what I learned and what I know, but not tell you what you should do with that,” he said in a phone conversation last week.

He does, though, give readers as complete a look as they’re ever likely to get of the foie debate; enough information to draw conclusions, no matter which side readers choose in the end. Caro visited farms in the U.S. and in France for his research, observed the animals from force-feedings through slaughter, spent the time it took to understand the views of protesters and restaurateurs, politicians and veterinarians, and just about everyone else with a duck in this fight.  

Here are some highlights from our conversation: (more…)

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Usually, when I write about Bill Marler, I’m talking about his work as the nation’s go-to lawyer when it comes to  food safety. E. coli in beef? Salmonella in peanut butter? He’s there. But if you’ve heard his name in the last few days, it’s for cleverly — at some personal cost — cutting through rhetoric and restoring Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, to Washington State University’s “common reading” curriculum for incoming freshmen. 

The plug had initially been pulled on the program, in a controversy the Spokesman-Review summarized this way:

A book chosen by a Washington State University committee as appropriate food for thought for all incoming freshmen will not be distributed at summer orientation after a member of the board of regents raised concerns about the work’s focus on problems associated with agribusiness.

WSU’s president said the decision to halt the “common reading” program was related to the university’s financial crisis.”

The college had estimated the book program, which included bringing the author to speak on campus, could cost $40,000+, though that figure has been considerably disputed. (Pollan told The New York Times he could do a videoconference instead.)

Marler, a “Cougar through and through” and past president of the WSU Board of Regents, wrote a few days ago that he had an idea for how to show whether the decision was political or financial:

To show that it was not political, I will pay to get Mr. Pollan to Pullman and find a place for him to speak – I’ll even introduce him.  My hope is that it was not political, because the following quote is what Washington State University – in being a “Coug” – is all about:

“It strikes me that the real value of the university is basically the way it serves the public, researches without fear and favor and being a place where issues can be aired, which are by nature controversial,” said Richard Law, the outgoing director of general education at WSU and a founding member of the common reading committee.

I have my checkbook ready.”

End of story? The university accepted Marler’s offer. The freshmen will read the book, and Pollan is coming. The eminently practical Marion Nestle wrote today that she hoped the program would cost Marler less than $40,000. Marler replied that it wasn’t about the money, it was about some issues being too important to walk away from. He’ll donate anything left over to the next speaker.

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Financially, food has always been my great luxury. My kitchen table came free from a friend and my 15-year-old couch was a gift from my grandmother; I get my clothes at consignment shops and most of my books at libraries… and yet I also jumped last week at the chance to order two jars of wonderful $14 marmalade

I’ve also always known I need to spend less on food, and I certainly know ways to eat frugally and still eat well. So I was glad at the invitation to join United Way of King County’s  ”Hunger Challenge,” asking participants to eat for five days on $7 per day, the maximum food stamp benefit for an individual. The challenge starts April 20, and individuals are encouraged to sign up here and share your experiences on the United Way blog. Several other bloggers will be joining in and sharing stories, including Cook and Eat, Family Friendly Food, Foodista, and GastroGnome.


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