Archive for January, 2007

I was reading Michael Pollan’s article in the NYT Magazine today on “nutritionism,” the vaguely shady ideology that effectively medicalizes food, isolating individual nutrients from the food system and convincing people that these nutrients, not a complete diet, are the key to good health. This, as the article explain, is a clever way to tell people how to be healthy, without telling them to avoid certain foods (or food-flavored products, as the case may be).

I’m a pretty big Pollan fan, and reading his article made me remember some digging I’d been doing last week into the American Diabetes Association at work. For some rather lengthy and boring reasons, I was looking up information on their nutrition programs for my boss. You’d think those would be pretty abundant and easy to find. You’d also be wrong. Here’s their events and programs page. As you can see, there are about fifty gazillion fundraisers, some “awareness” campaigns, and some vauge programs for various ethnic groups. Where’s the nutrition? Better yet, where’s the prevention? It looks to me like the bulk of their money is going to “finding a cure.”

an aside: I did take a look at the American Diabetes Association’s 2005 Form 990 (pdf link, and boring to boot), which does include a much more detailed statement of programs, and there are a couple mentions of nutrition education. The fact remains that they’re not advertising any of this on their website. Also, they do admit to a link between nutrition and diabetes on their website. But no programs, no outreach, nothing is available online.

It’s dangerous to get me started on “finding a cure.” Generally I’m set going by the sight of pink teddy bears advertising that some mysterious percentage of their purchase price will somehow “find a cure” for breast cancer. More about that from someone more eloquent here. My problem with this, of course, is that no one seems concerned with the reasons breast cancer (and diabetes) have become such enormous problems in this particular part of the world. The reason behind this indifference to a cause and insistence on a cure seems to lie in the major funders of organizations like the Komen Foundation and the American Diabetes Association. I’ll let you dig up the dirt on Komen yourself, but trust me, it’s there.

Using my razor-sharp analytical skills, I took a quick guess at what I’d find on the American Diabetes Association list of corporate sponsors. And I was pretty much dead on. The list is topped by pharmaceutical giants (not surprising, but not particularly incriminating either), but right below them, we find Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages. And then Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., J.M. Smuckers Company, Unilever USA, Jones Soda Company, Nestlé USA, Inc., Pepsico-Quaker Oats Co… the list goes on.

Kind of funny that all these food companies who push unhealthy corn syrup-laden foods are giving money to the ADA. Even funnier that the ADA is turning a blind eye to the major culprit in the diabetes epidemic – the food industry. The hypocrisy of promoting a Walk for Diabetes sponsored by Equal and Diet Rite is staggering and makes me more than a little bit furious. America is so broken. Now go eat some veggies.

On a totally unrelated note, John, my friend Lauren and I are going in on a big order of Laptop Lunchboxes in the hopes that we will diversify our lunchtime menus and become the envy of all our coworkers. So exciting! Of course, we heard about them here, which means they have to be good.


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which of these is not  like the other?

I’m finding myself in the rather unusual situation of being a temp who loves her job. I’m trying not to get too attached to this, because well, it’s temporary, but this is hard for a few reasons: (1) I’ve been working there for the better part of three years, albeit in a different capacity than I am now. (2) This new market vendor study I’m working on is going to be crazy fun. And (3), I kind of wish I were pursuing a career that related in some way to food systems. I also really want to be a librarian. I was just offered a low-level part time position in my local library. I accepted, of course, so I’ll be working 40 hours a week, split among my three jobs. And it’s becoming clearer every day how torn I am between these two directions. So, yeah, I’m trying to not love my job too much, but I know that’s never going to happen.

Anyway, I bring up my love for my job because I think I need to enforce a little professional distance here on this blog. I’d love to talk all about this market vendor survey that I’ll be spending so much time on, but I have a feeling that might not be a great idea in terms od keeping my job. At the very least, I will be asking permission from my boss and the farmers to publish draft versions of farm case studies here, and I think they’ll probably consent to that: it’s really just good publicity for the farmers, and farmers could use more publicity. Beyond that, though, I don’t think I’ll be writing about my day-to-day activities on this project, and as much as I’d love to, I won’t be writing about how frustrating temping at a huge research university can be. Why? Because I’m classy, that’s why. So while I’d love to go on and on about this preliminary market vendor meeting I had today, and how cool it was, I won’t.

In other news, I’ve been reading  cookbooks like it’s my (fourth) job. I’ve always been a very avid reader, partially enforced by the fact that I majored in English, and was “forced” to read 25+ books every semester. However, now that I’ve graduated, I’m finding it really relaxing to read slowly. For once in my life I can take a month to read a really good book (currently: Rushdie’s Satanic Verses), and not feel guilty about taking my time and enjoying it. However, when I go two weeks without completing a book, I start feeling guilty and antsy – something in me loves the act of closing a book and knowing it’s done. I’ve been taking care of that itch mostly by reading lots of graphic novels (new favorite: The Invisibles, by Grant Morrison), which I can plow through in a day with no problem. Recently, though, I’ve started devouring cookbooks. There’s no plot, so I can put them down whenever I want. They’re practical (moreso now that I have time to cook in the evenings). And I just like them. So I picked up three from the library today: Recipes from America’s Small Farms, Simply in Season, and The Sustainable Kitchen. I’m pretty low on ideas for what to cook in the winter that revolves around Michigan produce. Reviews and recipes to follow! I got a bread baking book too, Bread Alone. That has nothing to do with local food (at least until I find a source for local flour), but it’s fun anyway.

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seeds from Seed Savers

I just got my seeds in the mail yesterday from Seed Savers. You have no idea how excited I am. I’m splitting some of them with my mom, who has a plot in a community garden on the other side of town. Since she has space and I do not, we’ll be starting transplants at her place. Here’s what I have for now:

Spinach – Monnopa

Melon – Collective Farm Woman

Brussels Sprouts – Long Island Improved

Carrots – St Valery

Beans – Tiger’s Eye and Cherokee Trail of Tears

Kale – Lacinato

Squash – Potimarron

Tomatoes – Italian Heirloom and Crncovic Yugoslavian

Eggplant – Listada de Gandia

Sweet Peppers – Chervena Chushka

And that’s all for now. I’ve also ordered seed potatoes (German Butterball), and I’ll be getting seeds for collards and onions elsewhere. I will probably pick up a hot pepper transplant at the market when it opens. We don’t go through many hot peppers, so there’s not much point in paying for lots of seeds. I’m particularly excited about the beans. I’ve never grown beans for drying before, and I’m pretty excited to try them out.

This year’s garden is going to be all about storage. I want to be able to eat tomatoes I picked in the dead of winter next year. All the varieties I’ve chosen (well, most of them) were picked for their storage properties, whether those be cold storage, freezing or canning. I’m also thinking about getting a CSA share at Titus Farms to supplement my garden. They’re not 100% organic, but they’re low- to no-input, very nearby, and the farm is aparenlty in the process of being passed on from Paul and Rose Titus to their daughter, a recent graduate of MSU (just like me). I’ll be meeting Paul and Rose tomorrow. I’m helping to facilitate a meeting of about 10 small farmers from Southern Michigan (including Titus Farm), getting down to the nitty-gritty details of the farmers’ market study I’ll be helping out with. It should be tons of fun. And if I end up getting a CSA share, it will be nice to have more intimate knowledge of the farm I’m supporting.

In other news, I finally got around to baking everyone’s favorite bread. This no-knead business is a miracle, and this is hands down the best loaf I’ve ever pulled out of an oven. The big, irregular holes are all kinds of fun, and the crust is just the right consistency, well worth chewing on, but with no danger of breaking any teeth. I borrowed the overnproof pot from my mom (I heard a rumor that you can get away with just a baking stone, but I don’t have one of those either), and now I think I need to buckle down and buy one. And now, just to whet your appetite, the innards:

no-knead bread crumb

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From now until August (when I’ll probably have to quit since I’ll hopefully have a library job by then, school will be starting, and I’ll be pretty busy getting married) I’ll be working on a SARE grant project, performing case studies of Michigan farmers’ market vendors and thieir market strategies. The plan is to come out with a series of brochures and pamphlets and the like, advertising the economic advantages of selling in farmers’ markets. I’ll be interviewing 20 farmers in Michigan and following up with them weekly to see how their market season is going. It will be so fun I can hardly stand to think about it.

I’m planning an introductory meeting on Monday with about 12 farmers from the lower part of the state. I’ll write later about how that goes, but for now I want to share something that reminded me of why I love farmers so much. I was calling all the market vendors about this meeting, and told one woman where it would be held. It’s going to be in my building on MSU’s campus, on a floor filled with theory-head academics (not stuffy academics, but academics none the less). She said, “Well, I can come, but can I bring my dog?”

Yes. Please, please bring your dog.

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Last Year's Garden

I’ve been drooling over Pocket Farm for the past few days. Somehow it had escaped my notice all this time, but it’s so fantastic! It’s making me twelve kinds of jealous though. I wish very much that I had a 50 acre farm. Sadly, I have only a dinky one-bedroom apartment with no gardening possibilities and the dinkiest little kitchen in the world.

John and I are talking about getting a house some time in the not too distant future. We’d thought we’d have to save up for ages and ages, but my cousin and his fiance (whose finances can’t be much better than ours, if at all) just bought a house in town, and because they’re first time home buyers, they didn’t have to make a down payment. Amazing! This is a revelation to me. I’d assumed we’d be saving for years to make a huge down payment, but if that’s not necessary, we could be house shopping in a matter of months. We’ll have to get our collective money situation in order (we’ve discussed merging our finances, but we haven’t gotten into the nitty-gritty of it all), and learn to save more, but it’s exciting to think that I won’t necessarily be trapped in a little apartment for years and years. I’m mostly itching for kitchen space and a big fat garden. Sometime I’ll post a picture of our kitchen. It’s literally the size of a bathroom. It’s small enough that it’s really impossible for two people to cook at once, which translates to more work for me, since I’m definitely the family cook (I mean no disrespect to John – he takes care of all the cleaning, which I couldn’t care less about). I’d love to have some room to sprawl out and have big food projects.

And then the garden. Can I tell you how much I want a gigantic garden? Last summer we had half a plot ( 10’x20′) in the community garden a ways down the road. The soil is pretty heavy clay, and there’s no shade at all – we’re literally stuck between a construction site where a new middle school is being built, and the Lansing Armory with its mysterious fenced off fields of nothing. It’s a really strange place to have a garden. It was also not terribly productive last year. That’s because it was the first garden I’d ever started all on my own, my transplants were in pretty awful shape (I tried making soil balls wrapped in newsprint to start the seeds in, but the acid in the paper killed half of the transplants), and I didn’t take very good care of things in the second half of the summer, thanks to extra-stressful classes.

This year I’m doubling my plot size and my effort. I’m using compost, starting my seedlings early, and taking extra good care of things in that “boring” stage between transplant and harvest. I just ordered all of my seeds, mostly from Seed Savers, and I’m so excited about them coming that I can hardly contain myself. The next step is to plan how it’s all going to fit in a 20’x20′ plot. Meanwhile, I’ll be daydreaming about canning tomatoes, ignoring the 6-degree weather outside my window.

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Raw Milk


half-gallon from shetler dairy


Kate over at the Accidental Hedonist had a post last week discussing a Salon article about raw milk. It’s pretty basic and introductory, but seems to grasp the complexity of the issue quite well. In a nutshell: no, not all raw milk is safe, but unpasteurized milk from grass-fed cows processed in a sterile environment can be safe, and can have greater nutritional value than industrially-produced pasteurized milk. Thank you.

I don’t drink raw milk. Not because I think it’s unsafe, but because I’m pretty much broke all the time, raw milk is fairly expensive, and my local cow-share program would require that I take a gallon of milk home every week. There’s no way we could go through that much dairy. It also helps that John is in the habit of sterilizing everything he touches with Lysol– I imagine he might be more than a little bit taken aback by the idea of not pasteurizing the milk on his cereal.

To clarify, the sale of raw milk is illegal in Michigan. Like, really illegal. In 1948 we were the first state in the union to outlaw the stuff, and ever since, we’ve been happily flash-heating low quality milk so that it lasts longer on our shelves and we can tell ourselves it’s cleaner. To circumvent this law, crafty folks have started cow-shares, organizing groups of people to buy “shares” in a cow. You see, it’s perfectly legal to drink raw milk from your own cow – you just can’t buy it. So, each week, one member of the cow-share will drive to the farm, pick up gallons and gallons of fresh milk, and transport it to a pickup location. The downside, as I mentioned, is that you have to take a gallon of milk home every week. That’s a lot of milk for two people. Another downside is that the Michigan authorities aren’t too keen on the idea of cow-shares, and just a few months ago a farmer was “busted” (yeah, like in a drug raid) because he didn’t follow regulations to the letter.

So we don’t buy the raw stuff. When I finally collapsed back into the arms of my long lost dairy, John and I drank Horizon Organic milk, until I read it wasn’t, um, organic. Fortunately, about six months ago my parents purchased some property two hours north of us, in Grayling. It’s a pretty little town on the AuSable River, home to Goodale’s Bakery, which happens to sell milk from the Shetler Family Dairy. While it is pasteurized, it’s non-homogenized, hormone and antibiotic free, and from grass-fed cows. It even comes in cute reusable glass bottles. My parents go up there at least every other week, and come back home with delicious quasi-local milk. I make yogurt with it once or twice a week, and some time I’ll make paneer with it, when I get around to it. I’m not one to claim organic food tastes better than conventional (because really, it doesn’t), but this milk tastes better than any national brand junk I’ve had. Ounce-for-ounce, it’s no cheaper than raw milk, but I can buy as little as I want to, I don’t have to come up with a slideshow presentation to convince John of its healthy attributes, and best of all, I don’t have to feel like I’m in league with those nutjobs over at the Weston Price Foundation (shiver).

Someday, though, when I have more money and more people to feed (or more uses for milk during any given week) I imagine I’ll make the switch.

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the lake at Flying J Farm

Otherwise known as “my first post.”

I’m not exactly a foodie. In fact, I’m not at all, mostly because I think the term “foodie” is one of the most pretentious nouns I could possibly use to describe myself. But.

I love food, all kinds of food, and over the past several years I’ve become more and more interested in the ways that food production and consumption affect the environment, the economy, and our health. I started thinking about these things when I, at 17 years old, watched far too many PETA propaganda videos and became an obnoxious self-absorbed vegan. After a short stint at Oberlin College (where I was surrounded by hundreds of self-absorbed vegans), I dropped out and came back home to Lansing where I waitressed for a while. Working in the food service industry taught me a lot about food: I realized I cared less about animal liberation than I did about food waste and overconsumption. Quickly, vegan turned into freegan, which is equally obnoxious, if only for its dizzying inconsistency and longwinded explanations.

The spring after I started waitressing , I took a summer off (off of what? that’s a great question.) and moved back to Ohio, this time to live in a bug-infested trailer on a 250-acre organic farm. That sounds huge, but a good deal of the property was made up of a lake, a pond, and a large stand of sugar maples. Dick, the farmer, grew hard red wheat, corn, and soybeans, and it was my job to run the 2-acre vegetable garden. I discovered muscles in my arms I never knew I had, I learned I could handle being alone in the middle of Ohio with a 50-something evangelical Christian bachelor, and I learned an awful lot about food systems and farming. Oh, and I ate better than I ever had in my life.

I spent the next two years at school, living in a co-op in an attempt to eat according to my newly-strengthened principles on a limited budget. It mostly worked. The poorer I became, however, the less I found myself caring about heirloom tomatoes. I was reinvigorated when I started working at my current job with the Mott Group for Sustainable Agriculture at MSU, and decided to study abroad for a semester in northern India. While there, I had a 6-week internship with a seed bank/community development NGO in the Himalayan foothills that really brought all the knowledge I had about local food into perspective.

Each valley in the Almora district where I was working had a different ecosystem, with surprisingly different crop varieties. After the advent of the Green Revolution, biodiversity in the region plummeted, and women (who provided the bulk of the agricultural labor) lost one of their only sources of income. They could no longer save their own seeds, nor could they sell their unique products for a good price at market. They became dependent on multinational corporations, and most devastatingly, they lost their place in their society as repositories of invaluable agricultural knowledge. Aadhar, the orgnaization I was working for, established the seed bank, and encouraged women to return to the crops that would truly support the community and themselves. I was of limited use to the organization, but they provided me with a phenomenal education of the effects of globalized industrialized monoculture.

While I was in India, I started eating dairy again, because veganism comes off as pretty rude there. I tried going back when I got home, but it made less and less sense to me, and I finally decided I’d stick to ovo-lacto. I’m back to where I was now, working for the Mott Group and struggling to eat well on a limited income. My boyfriend John has become a huge part of my food-education, coming for a very different background than my own. Through him I’m getting a better understanding of how much of the country eats, and we’re gradually shaping each other’s perceptions of health and sustainability as we go. That’s all for now.

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