Entries tagged with “sustainable diet”.


Fresh from the Huffington Post oven…

Top 10 Recent Developments on Factory Farming and Vegetarianism

PhD applications are running my life these past few months, and another two to go – but a quick stop by LtAG to share two recent New York Times articles that corroborate my earlier musings on the importance of ramping up our venison consumption on the East Coast, especially when we can eat it instead of factory-produced meat with its astronomical carbon footprint and barbaric animal treatment standards. 

Christopher Walken will come and get you if you don't hunt for your own food.

Christopher Walken is watching you not hunt for your own food.

One article is called “The Urban Deerslayer”, and deals with a Virginia man’s new entrepreneurial classes called Deer Hunting for Locavores – in which he teaches urban and suburban people committed to eating more responsibly how to hunt for their own food. The classes have been a huge success, as they play into the contemporary trend of being as close as possible to the food cycle that sustains us, while also having the feel-good element of helping to reduce some of the environmental pressure the deer are placing on Eastern forest ecosystems – not to mention combatting the unnerving trend that only about 22% of hunting today is for food.

The other article is an even better idea, in my opinion, than training trendy urbanites to be even more environmentally sensitive than they already are. This concerns a bill that was introduced last winter in Connecticut to allow hunters to cull additional deer if they donate the meat to food pantries struggling to meet their needs. As legislators put it, this proposal addressed three problems at once (and reminded us again that taking responsibility for our ecosystems is emphatically not some hippie cause that doesn’t help people): it combats the deer overpopulation and defoliation due to the destruction of their natural predators, it redresses the dire straits that many food charities are facing as their demand increases and their supply dwindles during the recession, and it helps to reduce the risks of Lyme Disease in the region. 

And it’s not just Connecticut. Ohio has a similar program to enroll hunters – who are often pejoratively treated as backwards or insensitive by urban folks – in the effort to help the poor outlast the economic downturn and help the land recover from its many mismanagements. And my prediction? We’re going to see more and more of these kinds of solutions on the ground, because communities need them, and everyone wins. Forget the dicks-in-hands dithering of Dems and Repubs on Capitol Hill – here we’re bringing together hunters and environmentalists, rugged individuals and community service charities….this is bipartisanship in practice. 

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First of all, full disclaimer that “locowashing” is an awful portmanteau – almost (but not quite) as bad as “he-cession.”

This cracks me up though, it really does. Thanks to the apparent trendiness of bioregional eating, the ad wizards hailing from the four corners of corporate fantasyland have decided that it would be a tremendous idea to “go local” themselves. Unfortunately – there doesn’t appear to be a crystal-clear understanding of what exactly “local” entails…

A few examples, ranging from the mildly bile-inducing to the full-on, gut-bustingly, milk-snortingly hilarious:

The one that started the attention was most likely the Frito-Lay corporation, whose marketing campaign in early 2009 gently nudged attention from the quality of the product itself to the “local people and communities” who grow their potatoes. The logic is sound, I guess, in an infuriating know-it-all 6th-grader kind of way: “Potatoes have to be grown by somebody, don’t they? And those people are growing them somewhere, aren’t they? So the potatoes are local to the place where they’re grown. Right?” My favorite feature of this ad campaign? It would have to be the “Chip Tracker” gadget that let’s you pop in a zip code and learn exactly which ”local community” has painstakingly and lovingly grown your potato chips, hopefully taking long, picturesque siestas and relaxing with big pitchers of iced tea and 2.5 children per farmhouse.  (For the record: mass produced chips are not small-batch delicacies. It’s a neat gimmick to give you the location of where potatoes are sourced, but dollars to donuts the Chip Tracker kicks out the closest farm to your zip code without telling you anything about how millions of bags of chips are actually shipped and stored around the country.)

 

But it’s not just Frito-Lay. Far from it. 

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Cats and kittens, we’ve got a real treat tonight. I sat down yesterday with Jared Koch, nutritionist and author of a dense gem of a book, Clean Plates NYC.

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“Jared’s nutritional advice in Clean Plates has the power to transform your individual health and our collective well-being." --Deepak Chopra, M.D.

I first met Jared at New York’s monthly schmooze-fest for all breeds of vocational environmentalists, “Green Drinks,” where he was giving a brief presentation on his project. And quite a project it is: teaming up with a professional food-critic, Alex van Buren, Jared conducted a phenomenal amount of research deep into the food sourcing, cooking methods, and final products of over 300 restaurants in Manhattan – eating at over 125 of them. All with the objective of compiling a list of New York restaurants, accommodating omnivores and vegans alike, that stand out at the helm of a subcultural shift towards food that is as healthy as it is delicious, as ethically sound as it is aesthetically rich. 

After a brief rundown of the criteria by which foods and restaurants were evaluated, the meat and potatoes (so to speak) of Clean Plates NYC begins with ethos, laying out Jared’s five precepts for finding a unique manner of eating that is suited to the individual rather than to the hippest new diet.

He parses the complex relationship between genetic history, cultural background, day-to-day lifestyle, sex, and age in determining what diet may suit us best as “bio-individuals” – and it turns out that the “ideal diet” is just as in flux as we are. Nonetheless, the other precepts make it clear that the nutritional situation of virtually all of us suffers from excessive processing of foods away from their state as they come from the earth, from a gross imbalance of the plant-animal ratio in our diet, from the presence of hormones, antibiotics, and heavy metallic sterilizers in our food, and from addictions to mood-and-energy-altering substances like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. 

And then come the reviews. And O, the reviews. The rest of the book is composed of nuanced, in-depth, high-quality reviews of the 75 top choices from Jared’s and Alex’s research. Now, I visited two of these places prior to interviewing Jared, and already I’ve had the most interesting tea I’ve ever tasted, one of the best salads I’ve ever had, the third most delicious sandwich I’ve ever had (1st place goes to the Italian ex-pats at Panino Sportivo Roma on 121st and Amsterdam, and 2nd to the sandwich ninjas at our dear City Sub on Bergen near 5th Ave in Brooklyn), and one of the best (organic!) cocktails I’ve ever had (called, no less, the “Slap & Tickle”). These restaurants are the real deal: hedonistic, atmospheric, and power-packed with nutrition. And because the book is pocket-sized, you can stick it in your pants and go on the healthiest damn glutton-crawl this side of the Sardinian countryside. Clearly, the authors are onto something here – something way, way overdue…

So I knew straight away I needed to talk to this guy. Get him to weigh in on all these tricky issues we keep carouselling around at LtAG – local vs. organic? just how much difference can we actually make on the environment with our food consumption choices? how do we get schools involved in re-rooting our agricultural system in real foods that don’t need to be shipped halfway around the world? on a scale of 1 to 100, just how elitist is arugula (okay, I didn’t ask that one)? But the rest – and much more – are answered below the fold.

So here are the steps to take. 1) Click “More” to read this exclusive interview with Mr. Jared Koch; 2) Reflect. Salivate; 3) Buy the book – you won’t regret it if you’re ever planning on being in this beautiful, busy, and surprisingly healthful city of mine.

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Not…that we’ve ever had one of these “daily” tips before. But no matter! Today is Earth Day and it’s a great to start (and realistically, finish) such an initiative.

Tip: For huge water savings over the long term (the next big thing, remember?), a phenomenally easy thing we can do is boil less water while cooking pasta. Some statistics for whcih I did virtually no fact checking suggest that Americans consumed 4.5 billion pounds of dry pasta and 500 million pounds of frozen or fresh pasta in 2000 alone. I personally probably consumed about 300 million of those pounds (I love me some pasta). And on those pasta packages, the recommended amount of water is 6-8 quarts per pound. Meaning….30-40 billion quarts of water used in 2000 to cook pasta in the USA.

 

i miss my italian family

i miss my italian family

Now. I’ve been trying a little experiment in the weeks leading up to Earth Day. Every time I cook pasta (which is, as a bachelor on a budget, frequently), I have been using incrementally less water, to try to find a sweet spot where the water savings are big without yielding sticky or undercooked pasta. And such a sweet spot exists, at about 3-4 quarts of water. Half of the recommended amount. And we’re not talking about sacrificing quality, here – I still end up pouring some down the sink when I drain it, and with just a little bit of oil the pasta doesn’t cling any more than usual.

But the water? A full 50% saved. On a national scale, this little experiment would save 15-20 billion quarts of water annually. And even though we don’t (yet) have to ration water this way, why not volunteer a bit of metaphorical belt-tightening? Doesn’t hurt the food, but it helps the lilies of the field (or something).

See kids? Math is fun! That or guilt inducing. Or fun!

So last week I was all grooving on Michelle Obama’s praise for the USDA’s support of community gardening…and this week, look what happens: ground has been broken on the White House’s own produce garden on the south lawn. 

In my mind the most exciting part of this is not that the Obamas will have even more organic food (arugula included) to shovel down their gullets. The exciting part is that Michelle plans to have area public schoolers invited to serve as gardening manpower. On LtAG we’ve been musing periodically on the value of getting kids especially involved in urban agriculture, not only for the Calvin’s-dad-esque character building but also to plant the seeds (yuk yuk yuk) for further involvement in community greening activities. And here’s the first lady echoing our sentiment, according to the NYT: ”My hope,” Mrs Obama said in an interview in her East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”  Of particular interest to me, an agriculture education partnership between the White House and the public schools means that schools may actually start taking it seriously.

And to those naysayers who maintain that gardening is an elitist pastime, please note the startup cost of this executive garden with 55 kinds of produce: $200. Not even close to prohibitive if you’ve got an entire neighborhood ponying up – and it’ll pay itself back in a season when you’re not buying your tomatoes from California. The remaining question, though, is the time needed to tend a community garden…and that’s a very real concern in a society with ever-decreasing leisure time.

But the moral of this story? The Obamas are reading LtAG. You heard it here first, kids.

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Watch this space.

 

First off, consider this an official challenge to my collegues to come up with a longer post title.

Second, is it just me, or are people spending WAY too much time talking about Michelle Obama’s arms?

michelle-obama-arms

Third, let’s look at what this is actually about: Michelle making it a priority of her agenda to change the way we think about health food. Not a scolding, top-down imperative from the health saints to the McIgnoramuses but rather an embrace of communities’ efforts to produce food or collaborate with producers of food that has the three magic characteristics: nutrition, freshness, locality. I know there are plenty of goofballs ready to leap on Ms. Obama for her supposed elitism, but on this front it’s anything but. Why exactly should healthy food be considered a “luxury,” some plaything of the upper classes? If the answer is “its cost,” then isn’t there something dramatically wrong with the stocks and flows of food production in the country? 

If the answer is “arugula is a pinko anti-american homosexual aphrodesiac,” then I really can’t help you.

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You remember that Applebees Jingle?  It used to get stuck in my head for DAYS.

Urban Farming

Bees!  Their GOLD!

Bees! They're GOLD!

So, LtAG went to this thing.  It was called The Educated Eater, and it was held by the Council for the Environment of New York City.   It was on Saturday, and all the cool urban farmers were there.  It was a veritable who’s who of Green market stalwarts, including the director of the Greenmarket program (Michael Hurwitz), a guy who raises chickens in his backyard in Redhook, someone from Manhattan Borough President Stringer’s office and a Massachusetts native (pictured, graphically, right) who raises Bees on the roofs of New York.

The event was free free form, to put it mildly, with a lot of questions as we gained steam and not a lot of ideas (at least expressed aloud) about a cognizant theme holding us all together.  This hardly mattered, however, as the entire room was packed with people who were already super in the know, to the point that questions from the audience were just as likely to be fielded by the audience as by the panelists.  A tad overwhelming for the overworked/transient young Yipster like myself, but exciting none the less.

My eyes were opened to some easy “snack off the land” opportunities that don’t involve becoming a wholesale Urban farmer but do involve delicious eats and not much work.  Thammuzzy and I spent the entire time there trying to figure out what parts of it scaled to what we were able to accomplish in every day life.  I’m not the kind of dude to throw a beehive on the roof, and there’s no chance I own a building in this incarnation of life, so something like rooftop farming was cool to hear about but theoretical for my position in life. (more…)

Ladies and gentlemen: step right up! Come see this marvel of the modern age! A vegetarian encouraging you – no, pleading with you – to eat venison!

I feel bad for deer. I do. They’ve got the short end of the stick at the moment. By no real fault of their own, they’re suddenly the anti-endangered species that it’s okay, even the cool thing, to want to kill. I know there’s the cute factor, which seems to be the only argument anyone ever tries to make on their behalf, but ask any ecologist and you’ll hear the whole litany of reasons that deer need to be taken down a notch.

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this wolf is sad because she's locally extinct :(

Deer: the adorable forest menace

The backstory: we humans like livestock and pets. We do not like wolves and pumas. We kill wolves and pumas. Deer cease to have natural predators and start eating…well, everything. Deer become overpopulated and start starving to death. They eat the understory and keep entire forests from rejuvenating themselves, they attract ticks and carry lyme disease…yeah: pretty crappy to be a deer these days. 

Anyone who’s followed this blog closely over the last month (anyone? Bueller…? Bueller…?) will know that there is a mild disagreement between my humble self and our illustrious leader, the great and powerful LtAG himself – it’s a difference over the place of meat in the emergence of post-eco-disastrous American society. A difference of degree, really – there can’t be much logical dispute that as a culture we need to consume less meat – and while I personally feel that the costs of producing meat far outweigh the benefits, he’s more of the school that retains meat as the centerpiece (however diminished in scale) of the American diet. No biggie. There are fine arguments to be made either way, and I don’t sweat it too much.

But HERE’S the point, friends and family and awkwardly stalking ex-lovers: many of the most convincing reasons to avoid meat like the plague - immense wastefulness of water, energy, and arable land, unhealthy saturation with chemicals and hormones,  unsafe and polluting production conditions – go out the window when it comes to venison. Read on below…

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