Monday, June 30, 2008

new links

I have added several links to the blog.  On the right you can find them all.  Here is a rundown of some of the new pages:

Slow Food - their blog keeps up to date mostly on NYC related issues: 

Edible Nation - a great site I am only beginning to explore, lots of good carnivorous info:

Green Fork Blog - the title says it all:

Be Well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Salt myths dissolved

Finally, some concrete information on Salt in the Diet.  a massive federal study was published a month ago.  The conclusions?

"Observed associations of lower sodium with higher mortality were modest and mostly not statistically significant. However, these findings also suggest that for the general US adult population, higher sodium is unlikely to be independently associated with higher CVD or all-cause mortality."
So it turns out that a low-sodium diet is not effective in reducing blood pressure, or preventing death from cardiovascular disease.  The study actually found that the groups that consumed the least amount of sodium (the lowest quartile) were at greater risk of death from heart related causes.  

Sandy at Junkfoodscience has a lengthy write-up on the study, if you want to learn more.  Looks like this guy is out of work! 

So what salt should we use?  I apply the same standards to salt as I do to food.  This generally leaves me with 2 options for salt consumption:

Kosher Salt
Sea Salt

Personally, I like sea salt the best.  I cannot stand the iodized stuff, Morton, et al.  I like the greek stuff, the french stuff, and I have heard that Salt Lake salt is just incredible.  But I have never tried it.

Enjoy your salt people!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chicken season

It is a beautiful time for farms and for food.  Tomatoes are almost upon us, strawberries are ripe and sweet, there are terrific cherries, greens, peaches and beets all ready to be eaten, but for me, the best part about early summer is the Chickens.  Those that were chicks in the spring have grown to processing size, and it is time to eat them. 

I bought my first pastured chicken on saturday from Arcadian Pastures at the Grand Army Plaza Green Market.  The market itself was bursting with produce, fish, meats, cheeses, wines, flowers and jams.  

I have been waiting all spring for the broilers to be ready.  I really love chicken.  There was a time when I would cook and eat chicken every other week.  
But I have sworn off factory chicken from my home cooking.  No more perdue, no more tyson, no more over-priced CAFO natural/organics like Murray's or D'Artgnan.  Nope, only pasture for me.  But there is one problem with that - I have to eat seasonally.  This is something I have never done in my life.  

Getting into seasonal eating has been really fun.  I honestly thought it would suck alot, and I felt helpless, not knowing what seasonal was exactly.  So I go to the market each week, and I buy what I can, and I find as I go along that I am learning what seasonal is.  I know that most greens, bok choy, beets, asparagus, snap peas, garlic and scallions are all in season.  By the end of this year I will have a pretty good idea of our local seasonal offerings.  And it is actually really fun.  

Chicken, which was once commonplace on my plate, is now a summer treat.  I can look forward to eating it for much of the summer, but will have to wait it out all winter (when, luckily, pork will be fresh).

So tonight I cooked.  I cooked only what I bought at the market.  It is pictured below.

Recipe below (with sources of ingredients):

Roast Chicken with Basil and Sauteed Bok Choy and Mushrooms

3 lb Chicken  (Pastured, farmer's market)
1/2 lb Bella Mushrooms (FM)
4 medium size bok choy (FM)
5 young scallions (FM)
2 cloves garlic (FM)
Salt and Pepper
Soy Sauce
Olive Oil

The Chicken had plenty of juice in the bag, I saved it.  

Pre-heat oven to 450.
Butter chicken (by hand), rub with butter, salt and pepper.  Halve two small scallion stalks and place them, butter and basil inside the chicken.  A bit of basil can also be rubbed into the skin.
melt a bit more butter in a pan.

Cook at 450 for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 350.  Use brush to rub chicken with butter and pour 1/3rd of chicken juice (or stock, not much, only about 1/2 cup) into pan.
Repeat rub every 15-20 minutes. 
Cook for 45 minutes at 350, then turn back up to 450 for final 15 minutes.

total cook time:  1 1/14 hours.

With about 30 minutes to go for the chicken, heat up oil in saute pan.  Add scallions.  Cook for about 3 minutes, then add garlic, cook for another 3 minutes or so.  Pour in chicken juice, soy sauce, Bok Choy, salt and pepper.  After about 5-7 minutes, add mushrooms.  Cook another 10-15 minutes until chicken is ready.  

Eat it.

Be Well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Refuge Requirements, Bt stacks and above and below ground pest resistence

What the fuck am I talking about?

Well, I just read a Monsanto press release on their new technology, "a new insect-protection and weed control platform in corn".  It is called "SmartStax".  The key to this new bio-engineered corn and soy is the reduction of something called "refuge requirements".  

What are refuge requirements?  I had no clue, so I looked into it a bit, basically, what they are is regulations that require plots without "in-plant protections" to be separated from protected plots, like those of SmartStax.  These stand around 50% in the corn belt of the US, meaning 50% of the fields have pesticide built into their genetic structure (enjoy that coke next time!).

So monsanto wants this percentage reduced to 5% for corn.  Which would mean that 95% of corn production in the corn belt would be deeply genetically modified.

These guys are going to make a killing on this product, while we take one step closer as a country to ecological meltdown and the bankruptcy files on the American Farmer continue to grow.  

Talking to Obama

In response to his interview with the Missoula Independent, I felt the need to write to the man, here is what I wrote to the distinguished Senator of Illinois:

Senator Obama,

I am a long time supporter, and I am deeply excited at the prospect of your presidency. I recognize that you will not wave a magic wand and perform to the expectations of every american, yet I feel the need to write to you about our food and the american farm system. Having just read your interview for the Missoula Independent, I would like to ask some questions and propose to you some ideas.

1. Meat and factory farms.
You mentioned that you are in support of our ranchers and farmers. Yet the industry consistently finds ways to reduce their viability in meat production.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are a scourge to these farmers and ranchers, not to mention to our food quality, to land value, to public health and to the environment. Yet they continue, massively subsidized. For detailed and well researched information, please go to the website for the Union of Concerned Scientists and read their article on CAFO's. Here is the link:

You mentioned that more environmental regulation is required to clean up factory farms, yet, as the article above shows, this is nearly impossible. Additionally, and this is the most vital element I hope you will understand: Small rotating pasture farms that have NONE of the problems of large farms have still to deal with the ALL the strict USDA policies designed for large farms. For example, a small farmer of chickens who processes the birds in an open air facility can be shut down for not having enough windows on the facility. Seriously, this has happened. Of course the USDA regulations have no conception of a slaughterhouse with no walls.
What this means is that factory farms receive both the benefits of subsidies and free run of a market that will not allow (through USDA regulations that make sense for large businesses but close down small ones) small business to operate at a profit. This is the opposite of a free market, and it is anathema to the concept of successful small business.

The bottom line is this: Meat produced on rotating pasture land is antibiotic free, GMO free, 100% ambulatory and healthy meat, that produces no pollution/environmental degredation, instead improving on its environment. Meat produced on factory farms is generally full of chemical feeds and antibiotics, even if organic, and produces so much environmentally destructive waste that it cannot be maintained without heavy subsidies to manage the waste. This is corporate welfare, pure and simple. The hidden costs of CAFO's that the taxpayers assume amount to over $350/year for every taxpayer. (see UCS article)

If you can take a few minutes to look over the UCS paper on the subject I am confident it will open your eyes to this major problem.

Now here is where I ask you to think like a revolutionary:
What needs to happen is quite simple really - and can only be accomplished by a massively powerful and influential leader, who is not cowed by special interests and who has a mandate for change. You are the only man in a generation that will have that power, and I urge you to consider, even if just for a moment, my suggestion:

Return our midwestern corridor to intensively rotated pasture land. Farming beyond the corn belt is not economically or agriculturally viable (growing corn in the corn belt is not either, but that is a different story), so we should return, slowly and carefully our land in the midwest to pasture. This will create a huge number of jobs in the country, that are safer then the terrible CAFO jobs. It will require significantly less natural resources and corn and soy products to feed the animals, who will eat over 70% grass instead of 100% corn/soy/cow brains and spinal cords/antibiotics/whatever else. And it will restore the viability of the small/mid-sized american pasture farmer.

But why should you care? In a conversation with John Bongaarts, Vice President and Distinguished Scholar at the Population Council, he told me that the US is to food what Saudi Arabia is to oil. Global food shortages can be exacerbated or subdued by our international food policies. A fine example is our recent move to ethanol, which has decreased the amount of food bearing acreage in the US, and combined with several other factors to make the international food crisis more devestating.

Imagine this then: What if 70% of the grain acreage earmarked for CAFO's was not needed anymore? What if that 70% of acreage could be returned to human food production? The US could use this valuable and massive acreage for any imaginable purposes, restoring the value of our topsoil, growing varied and healthy crops, supporting destitute countries in the midst of food crisis. Bridging the trade deficit.

2. This leads to your other major point in the article: Obesity. Obesity in america is largely based not on sedentary lifestyle or the consumption of fats, but on the consumption of refined grains and sugar. Yet we subsidize ABOVE ALL OTHERS corn, soy, and wheat - the very grains that become refined carbs/sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, the products that have given americans no end of expensive health care problems, draining our system, and for too long operated at a net loss, destroying small farm after small farm. The vertically integrated model has destroyed farming and families, while it has lined the pockets of a select few. (like Monsanto - who genetically alter 90% of their Soy products)

My solution - kill the subsidies, return our farms to multiple polycultures and animal husbandry. Monocultures have knocked out half of Iowa's beautiful topsoil (as well as illinois and indiana and missouri's) in the last 30 years. Where will this soil be in another 30 years? What then will we do when we cannot grow anything at all?

These are massively important issues which you may have the power to influence and improve. Public Health, current and future food crisis, and economic viability of the american farm are all involved in the equation. But the problem is this: big business will suffer if you consider/implement anything I have suggested. But ordinary americans will have a chance to build their lives in a sustainable, healthy way.

I know who's side you are on, and I believe you will consider carefully what I have written.

For references on these subjects -
and the UCS link above, for just a few. See Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" for some more on corn, and go to
to see a real pasture farm in action.

Thanks for your time, I and so many others are glowing with pride at your accomplishments,

Sincerely, your humble servant,

Lucas Weiss

Politics and food. Obama wants to talk.

Ari Levaux of the Missoula Independent Newspaper has been trying for months to get his questions answered by the political Candidates for President of the US.  Barack Obama was the only candidate to return email responses to the questions.  

His positions were decent, and at times well informed, such as this comment on Biofuels:
"I have been a long-time supporter of home-grown biofuels, but I believe that corn ethanol should be a transitional fuel source as we move towards more advanced cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from agricultural waste products, switchgrass, sustainably harvested forest biomass and other renewable feedstock."

Corn ethanol MUST be transitional at best, it is a crippling practice as we can see with current food shortages globally and increased gas prices locally (remember, 18% of our Oil goes to food production, mostly corn for CAFO's).  

Read more here.

Be Well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

save the (fat) children

well, it turns out Save the Children a bastion of truly effective charitable work has turned some of its attentions (about $60 million worth this year) to Childhood Obesity.  Why is this a problem?  Well, the organization is traditionally focused on global malnutrition and hunger.  But our national self-obsession has taken hold, and this organization cannot escape the dietetic vanity of our nation.  

So $60 million will go to fat kid research in the US instead of combatting disease, malnutrition and massive poverty in the rest of the world.  

here is a long article on the subject from Sandy Szwarc over at Junkfoodscience.

Be Well.

Monday, June 9, 2008

what is the why?

i have been having long, sometimes contentious conversations with a friend of mine about health and nutrition.  She is a Nurse Practitioner here in NYC, and our conversations are stimulating and fruitful, for the most part (it is usually my fault if they go off!).  

The last was especially lively, as we argued the Fat = bad bit like two cats holed up in a 200sf studio apartment.  

My position (shared by a growing group of scientists, MD's and nutritinists) is that Dietary Fats/cholesterol should never have been pilloried.  That they are not the key element in High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and Obesity that the medical/dietetic establishment suggests they are.  Instead our problems are based on refined sugars/carbs.  Consumption of Corn Syrup in this country increased by 400% between 1900 and 1980.  The average person in this country consumed about 1 cup of sugar/year 100 years ago.  We now consume about 1/2 cup per day.

Gary Taubes has written a book entitled Good Calories, Bad Calories that goes into quite a bit of detail on the subject.  

But what really struck me about this whole discussion was that it forced me to think about some core beliefs.  Why do I trash the medical establishment?  The nutrition establishment?  Pretty much all authority and large organization? 

So I found myself writing to my friend, trying to determine the answer to some of these questions.  It is personal, and could be considered poor journalism.  but this is a blog.  Rules, be gone!

Here is what I told her:
I have just been dipping into his book "Good Calories, Bad Calories". It is a massively researched indictment of the "fat is bad" prevailing attitudes. His primary enemy: refined sugars and grains.
here is a quote:
"From the inception of the diet-heart hypothesis in the early 1950s, those who argued that dietary fat caused heart disease accumulated the evidential equivalent of a mythology to support their belief. These myths are still passed on faithfully to the present day."

I am not a lonely zealot that hates the western dietetic and medical establishment. I actually see myself, in contrast, as a member of a small club of folks that must look more closely at everything around them, that take nothing for granted, that trust no large organization, particularly one with complex and large scale vested interests.

Everything I know that is Good and helpful to people fits into two categories:
1. Relies most heavily on personal interactions and partnerships. i.e. - in the medical world: nursing and acupuncture. in the personal/religious world: individual self-cultivation/spirituality (i hate that word, but it is right for the concept) OR
2. Relies on a small group of reasonable people working together. the important part is "small". The moment our standards of excellence fall is the moment our organization gets too big. Perhaps you can illuminate this point: in your experience what hospitals are the most effective? Do the larger hospitals have sufficient autonomy of smaller departments to keep these smaller departments effective, or do they get bogged down in whole building beaurocracy? etc. etc.

I believe in the small, smart, responsive, flexible group. I also believe that as our population and mass-culture take hold, most people are separated from that small group. Their standards fall, their ability to parse opposing arguments is reduced to ambivalence or worse, apathy. I do not believe that the medical establishment has the market cornered on the brightest, best, most remarkably caring people in the world. I believe though it may be better then some professional communities it is prone to stumbles in judgment, standards and ethics, as all others are. I was a teacher for 8 years, and I can tell you that most teachers care deeply about the welfare of their children. The definition of what that welfare is however is a vast and confusing affair. With the confusion comes disparity in the deliverance of education to children. Some in education think that the german model of strict discipline and tacit memorization is of the greatest service to students, others think that a grade-less progressive model of collaboration is best. The definition of standards is muddied by such things.
When you tell me that your professional world is immune to such confusion of values all my skeptical bells start ringing loudly.

I also want you to know, that I cared deeply for the children i saw each day. But I never ceased in my descrying of the educational establishment where I perceived its failings. The reason I say this is that I do not descry you, or your (obviously valuable and caring and vital) work when I descry certain arms of the medical establishment. I believe that a community can be both forward looking and intelligent in one instance and blind and stupid in another. You seem to think I will always throw your baby out with the medical establishment bathwater. This is not the case. What I am trying to do is - find the good stuff, wherever it is, and combine all that i find into a new tapestry, one devoid of lines between communities, but full of lines between good sense and stupidity.

I hope this helps you understand where I come from, when I sound strident and dismissive. I am sorry for the tone at times, I assure you, it is better then it was, and will be better then it is in time.
Be Well.

Comment:  Of course now, in retrospect, so many points I was trying to make are crumbling in my mind.  Large groups can be useful, as can individuals with no major or minor affiliation.  I suppose the point of the above was my effort at continuous evaluation of my values and ethics.  

Friday, June 6, 2008

looking for eco-freindly recipes?

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a food and environment section.  Currently on the website they have some chefs who have given recipes.  In terms of recipes, for those of us that cook at home, more is always better.  So bookmark this one away.

Cook well.

milk for catscans!

Junkfoodscience talks about using Whole Fat Milk to line the intestines of the lower abdomen before a CT scan.  Apparently it works just as well as the nasty tasting, side-effect laden Barium contrast drink.  Read more on the link above.

Be Well.

even wine?

It turns out that the greased wheels of processed food have even effected Wine.
Pierre Jancou an importer of fine "morethenorganic" french wine, has this to say about modern Winemaking:

“[Conventional] wines are dead, unhealthy and tasteless; they smell like wood and marmalade, and their high sulphur levels just destroy your head.  These are wines [that] reflect a generation of humans that has industrialized all farming since the fifties.  We know now that this generation was wrong and that we need to go back to real agriculture, for the sake of our children and for the future of our planet.”

He has a Map of Paris that shows all "morethenorganic" locations.  Read more about his philosophy here.

Drink Well.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

back to the earth

So Karina and I went back to New Hampshire for Memorial Day weekend.  It was a nearly perfect trip but for two snags.  The first was Connecticut, a state I have despised since I was a child when my parents used the threat of sending me to the constitution state as a punishment for poor behavior.  The second was a visit from a NH state policeman, 2 miles from the border of Vermont, and that is the last I will say about that.

Once we escaped CT we sailed smoothly to Brattleboro, VT for dinner.  Brattleboro is the second fair trade town in America.  After a perfectly good dinner on the river at the Riverview Cafe we continued on to Bethlehem, NH and to the home of Tim Wennrich, owner of Meadowstone Farm. After a good quiet night's sleep, and some fantastic fresh eggs, we trekked back over to the farm for some more hard labor.

We buried leaks (they are grown in a trench which is slightly backfilled, which helps them get that bleeching near the base), weeded and planted some basil and eggplant.  Our hosts (the Wennrich Family) were again very good to us.  

The farm is booming, Tim was gathering supplies for his first CSA drop.  The goats had kids, the pigs are out and rooting around and the broiler chicks are getting up to their full size.

Check out the pigs:
Be Well.

Monday, June 2, 2008


so, the last post was a bit...vitriolic.  Forgive me.  Or don't, whatever, it was fun.

in other news, I have finally delved into the farming business.  Although on a radically miniaturized scale.  I have 2 tomato plants, 3 peppers (1 was destroyed when I dropped it's pot on the floor) and a perfectly excitable basil.  They seem to be thriving thus far as i can tell.  But they are still young'uns and need much attention before they yield me some goods.  

What will I do with all the product?  I was thinking maybe of setting up a fire escape farmer's market.  Just lob veggies to my neighbors below.  They could ball up small paper currency and slingshot it up to my 3rd floor window.  Sounds like a plan.

Be Well.