Friday, March 30, 2007

Springtime in Tallahassee

You can't have missed the drifts of oak pollen so thick that you can kick them into little piles. You may even be suffering terrible allergies. The pollen had been annoying me, until one windy day when I looked up and saw the lush upper story of oak-trees in our neighborhood undulating, swaying, thrashing, in gusts and swells of varying strength and direction. With each thrust one way or the other, a translucent, sulphur-colored wave of pollen could be seen making its way from one tree to its neighbors. The air was thick with the co-mingling dust from all of these oaks, the trees themselves yellow-green with their flowers and newly emerging leaves. It was an unbelievably powerful sight; nature's incredible design is blatant and undeniable.

Coincidentally, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was playing on my car radio. I'm not kidding.

What does this tree-orgy have to do with food? Everything. Life comes from food. Life depends on food. Reproduction depends on food. The availability of food depends on how successfully the food itself can reproduce, and ultimately, on how well it can be sustained. The ability to sustain is naturally given to those with the best strength and vitality in a given environment. The strength and vitality comes from recycled life. This windy spring day in Tallahassee demonstrated the power of natural order, reminded me that artificial meddling and control can't match what comes naturally. That is why things that grow in the same region taste right together. That is why foods that are grown naturally, foods produced in the right place, foods that mature naturally, taste better.

It's also why I'm having a hard time establishing an edible garden in my hot, humid, mostly-shady Tallahassee neighborhood. Spring is a deceptive time because all of our plants are growing rapidly, using a tremendous amount of energy in the race for establishment. Everything looks beautiful. By July and August, the tired plants lack the strength and vigor to fight off the pests and diseases that flourish in those wet, hot months. One local farmer told me that August is Tallahassee's winter. Last year, the leaf-hoppers and white-fly sucked my herbs dry (they're already off to another good start this year). Aphids are on my last-of-the-season kale, mustard, and arugula. I'm trying to build better soil and work with our local nature to restore some sort of balance -- it's a steep learning curve, and I am utterly humbled to the farmers and gardeners here who work with nature to produce beautiful, delicious edible treasures. Any advice here? Maybe mixed with a little sympathy?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who Does Your Food Come From?

Last week, I received two quarterly publications that come as part of the Slow Food U.S.A. membership: Slow, the international publication, and The Snail, the U.S. publication. Each presents a sensual combination of literature and photo-journalism. What immediately struck me about the two publications was the absence of food-images. Instead, photographs of people dominate their visual aspect. Indeed, we are what we eat. In addition to asking where our food comes from, we ought to be asking who our food comes from.

If I am bound to the earth by my dependence on it for food, then I am also bound to the farmer who produces the food that nourishes me and my family. I choose to entrust him with the nutritional care of my family. What could be more personal than that? In return, I support the farmer by purchasing from him regularly. I affirm his belief in providing good food for people in an ecologically sustainable way. I further encourage his efforts by actively avoiding, thus not supporting, large-scale, non-sustainable food operations.

In this way, I begin to know my local farmer. When he comes to a small gathering place to sell his produce, I also begin to know the other people who depend on and support him. His table becomes a place where ideas and knowledge are exchanged. A community develops there and the relationships within that community strengthen over time.

The point I'm trying to make is that the food itself is but one form of nourishment that comes from knowing our local farmers. Through knowing them, our food becomes an axis around which we nurture our bodies, minds, spirits, and our gregarious nature.

Van Lewis's Clams:
A man who introduced himself to me simply as "Van," showed up at the Grower's Market last Wednesday with clams from his Alligator Harbor farm. Before I'd had a chance to converse with Van about his farm, my toddler indicated that it was time to go home. I later learned that in addition to being a clam farmer and commercial fisherman, Van Lewis is a Harvard-educated human rights activist and an outspoken political advocate for local fishermen. He is also a member of the Lewis family, locally well-known for activism during the civil-rights movement.

At home with Van's Clams: Clams Moinette
After we tucked our son into bed, Matt and I chatted with a rare, luxurious ease as we prepared a supper with Van's clams. Matt opened a bottle of very fresh Moinette, a beautiful Belgian beer, and poured some into two shapely glasses. As we sipped and talked, I washed the clams, chopped garlic, shallots, and parsley, and steamed the clams.

The clams in their open shells, heaped over a shallow pool of sea-and-allium-infused Moinette, in a blue and white bowl sprinkled with parsley from our garden, the two glasses of good beer, the peaceful quiet of late evening, generated a convivial warmth between two tired souls. We lingered late enough to know that we'd lose precious sleep, and it was
worth it. That evening, we fed our bodies, our spirits, and our family bond.

Clams Moinette:
1# clams
1 1/2 T butter
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
fresh lemon
minced parsley
1/2 C Saison, Wit, Hefeweizen, or other crisp, not-too-malty, not-too-hoppy beer

Swish the clams in a bowl of cold water, allow sand to settle to the bottom, and remove the clams. In a medium sized pot (large enough to hold the clams in a single, close layer), sweat the garlic and shallots in the butter until fragrant but not browned. Add the beer, bring to a boil. Add the clams, return to boil, and cover. After two minutes, uncover, and remove each clam to a serving bowl as it pops open to avoid over-cooking. When all have been removed to their serving bowl, pour the cooking liquid over the clams. Sprinkle very lightly with lemon juice, sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve with an additional bowl for empty shells.

Van Lewis's Quahog Clams are available at
Clamalot/St.Teresa Shellfish/Cicada Market:

(you may want to call ahead to check availability)

1847 Thomasville Road
(850) 222-0025
(850) 697-3857
10:30a-7:00p Tuesday-Saturday

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Got Local Milk?

The same local farm that supplies grass-fed beef steaks to New Leaf Market also supplies pasteurized milk and raw milk! Buy a litre of Kurtz and Sons milk, pick up a copy of Natural Times (March/April 2007) on your way out. Pour yourself a glass, read their story.

I compared Kurtz and Sons milk to the Organic Valley brand milk I had at home -- unfortunately not a controlled experiment, since the O.V. milk was reduced fat and the Kurtz and Sons milk was full-fat.

The Kurtz and Sons milk had a yellowish tinge from the milk-fat, which was also clumped and separated because the milk is non-homogenized. I could not discern a clear difference in flavor between the two milks, except for the more luxurious richness of the Kurtz and Sons -- again, from the milk-fat. I may have imagined (and Matt thought so, independently), that the Kurtz and Sons milk tasted less sweet and faintly of hay.

According to some websites:
Kurtz and Sons Dairy, LLC (Live Oak): Tours of this working dairy farm are scheduled on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. See cows being milked and learn about a dairy cow’s life. Fresh milk is for sale.

Kurtz and Son Dairy
11805 193rd Road
Live Oak, FL 32060

Read about raw milk here, here and here. Read the FDA's stand on raw milk.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that you go out and drink raw milk. Kurtz and Sons raw milk is clearly labeled as required by law, "For Pet Food Only Not For Human Consumption." This is territory that I'm not sure I'll ever venture into, but I thought I'd pass the information along.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Time Magazine, Michael Pollan, Whole Foods, Thoughts on "Local"

This has been a huge week for my brain. Thursday, I received the most recent edition of Slow magazine. I'm only a tiny way into the publication; I will be taking some time to digest its contents. So, today, I'm going to focus on Time Magazine's March 12th cover story "Eating Better than Organic."

For me, the article indirectly raises some concerns. The cover-message, "Forget Organic, Eat Local," immediately urges the reader to consider a new consumer fad or trend -- something transient and easily capitalized on by marketers. Obviously, as Americans scurry to adopt this new policy in their daily lives, there will be a dramatic imbalance of supply and demand, which will ultimately lead to frustration and disappointment, and to the next trend.

It is no longer enough to simply be a consumer, to choose the right thing to buy. There must be some reciprocity between the consumer and the farmer, and the consumer and his local earth. Although I was glad to see an article that reflected a growing interest in something this important, I think greater consideration should have been given to the cover-message, the sticker on the apple.

Clearly, "Forget Organic, Eat Local" is intended to grab attention, but the slogan suggests a shift away from "organic" to "local," and in doing so fragments an important equation. The author did his research, and he did admirable job of highlighting the complexity of the problem (choosing the best alternative for the individual and for the food system/ environment), but he also excused individuals who have made a commitment to preserving and sustaining our food systems as "pessimistic," "lefty," and "frightening."

In an earlier post (comment on "Talk, Slow Food Tallahassee, Talk," I mentioned a recent public conversation between Michael Pollan (Omnivore's Dilemma) and John Mackey (CEO Whole Foods Markets). Pollan claimed that Whole Foods presented the image of an agro-ecologically sensitive store while neglecting to stock local foods from smaller, non-industrialized farms, effectively ignoring the food-quality, ecological, and socio-economic impacts of packaging and shipping foods produced on large, industrialized organic farms. So it is no surprise that after a hard year for Whole Foods (when the rest of the corporate country caught on to the consumer demand for organic foods), when an opportunity to present a reformed face in Time magazine popped up, Mackey was right there making amends with the broader public (it appears that Mackey's correspondence with John Cloud for the Time article happened last fall -- between the time of the Mackey-Pollan letters and their public conversation at U.C. Berkeley).

The high-profile Whole Foods debates bring me back to my concern: How will Tallahassee handle a shift in the demand for locally produced foods? What will we as individuals do (what will I do?) to help bolster the efforts of the few local farmers who have committed themselves to providing Tallahassee with good, clean, and fair foods? On a larger scale, what in our own country will it take to create the paradigm shift needed to sustain our food systems?

Green Living and Energy Expo March 17th

Slow Food Tallahassee will be at the Green Living and Energy Expo this Saturday, March 17th.

"MARK YOUR CALENDAR FOR March 17, 2007 PLEASE VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME OR EFFORT IN SOME WAY! FARMS ARE WELCOME TO COME AND STAND WITH US TO TALK SLOW FOOD AND THEIR FARM. Email or call to get involved. This seems like a very family friendly event. See their site for details via the link below.

Slow Food Tallahassee exhibits at the Big Bend Green Expo

This expo will gather a wide variety of "green" folks under one roof for lots of information sharing, demonstrations, seminars, and more! Visit their website to learn more. Our effort will be one of education about the Slow Food movement and about our local convivia. This is a great opportunity for our members to really relate Slow Food to a larger audience. We will create a display for this event and need your help. Please volunteer today to attend this event and to help prepare our table display. Nothing more "green" than farming and nothing more "living" than eating." -- message from Claire Olson, Leader: Slow Food Tallahassee

See Slow Food Tallahassee's Calendar for more events (past and future).

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Local Beef: Any Way but Ground?

I've started a quest for local beef. My starting points: White Oak Pastures and KBH , both local farmers of all-natural grass-fed cows, supply ground beef to New Leaf Market. Each farm's ground beef tastes distinctly different from the other, but what I've really noticed is how different grass-fed beef tastes from my supermarket's beef. I bought an attractive flat-iron steak from Publix; it was was a pretty cut with fairly good marbling, it looked promising. Indeed, if I'd not experienced grass-fed beef, I would have enjoyed my prize. It was tender, juicy, and had a mild beef flavor...

Mild? A "mild beef flavor" is my best description; it was thin and transparent. Over the few months that I've committed myself to an almost-weekly purchase of local grass-fed beef, I've grown quite accustomed to the assertive, grassy, big-beef flavors of grass-fed beef. I have to admit that when I first tried the grass-fed beef, I was almost put off by the flavor, because it was so different -- big, earthy, almost gamey. It grew on me quickly, though. I was excited by the nuance of flavor that I was suddenly able to discern when I compared the White Oak Pastures and KBH beef -- each unique (I'll probably write about this in a future post). I was stunned by how hard the enlightenment hit me at that moment. This sudden awakening to a lack of flavor in what I had been eating quite happily just months before, shook me more than the evocative, earth-bound flavors of our local grass-fed beef as it left its first indelible impression on me.

I have to go back to the flavorless cut for a minute. It made me think about the cow, the living creature it came from. This was one of those "OH WOW, OH NO" moments that made me wonder if I'd ever be able to turn back: The cow was fed a diet of grain and corn (remember the mild, thin, transparent flavor?) Hormones and antibiotics were administered as a matter of course, to counter the disastrous health effects of the rumen-incompatible feed and cramped living conditions. It was raised in the confinement of a cramped barn packed with cows. You're getting the picture, but please read up with me: I've included some links. We'll make informed decisions about what we eat.

A note on marbling: I still love highly marbled beef -- it is delicious! I was dismayed to read that the marbling is due in large part to grain/corn feeding (which has a terribly deleterious effect on the digestive health of the cow, which necessitates the routine use of antibiotics etc -- please read up on this, -- the professionals explain the complex problem in a way that I cannot). At some future date, I'll foray into the world of Kobe beef, which I absolutely love.

Local Beef: Any way but ground? There are occasional opportunities to purchase whole or half carcasses from local farmers, offered by one group or another of interested individuals who agree to purchase the beast together, butcher it, and divvy it up. Usually the group is small, so that one would need lots of freezer space in order to participate. Anyone who knows us knows that the space in our three refrigerator/freezers is already committed to our favorite food -- beer. There must be another way....

Do you know where one can get smaller cuts of local grass-fed beef (primal cuts would be fine)?

I'm also curious to know how many people are interested in getting whole cuts (rather than ground) -- if more people were interested, it would be easier to commit to the purchase of a quarter, half, or whole cow. Are you interested? Committed? Both? Neither?

Read Up on grass-fed beef (and related links):
Eat Wild (grassfed basics)
Michael Pollan (educator, author of Omnivore's Dilemma)
John Robbins (vegetarian perspective)
Local Sources for Grass-fed Beef (via Slow Food Site)
The Meatrix (Educational and Entertaining online film) (article and great collective foodie blog)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Talk, Slow Food Tallahassee, Talk!

Dear Reader,
Did you know that YOU are Slow Food Tallahassee? This is "Slowfood Tallahassee Talks." That means that you are part of what should be a dynamic conversation about Slow going in Tallahassee. You are inseparable from the earth in your dependence on food for life. You add richness, depth, complexity, color to the the earth that you are so dependent on for life. You are significant part of the equation that Slow Food attempts to address.

I implore you to join the conversation!
Lets search the corners of our foodshed to eek out the precious little details, the "quirky, the rare," that we want to preserve. Lets explore the global and local obstacles to this preservation. Lets talk politics. Lets talk food. There is a side for everyone: this is a complex, multidimensional arena.

What interests you? Get answers to your questions about Slow Food. Help educate others. Share your Slow discoveries, your knowledge. Tell us what whets your appetite. Bring yourself to the table.

Talk, Slow Food Tallahassee, Talk!