Tuesday, January 29, 2008

EATING LOCALLY : Using Scallops as Currency

January 23, 2008
On Martha’s Vineyard, Using Scallops as Currency

Chilmark, Mass.

FOR year-round residents of this Martha’s Vineyard village, winter is time to relax. In summer, when the island’s population soars from 15,000 to 75,000, locals like Jan Buhrman have to make a year’s living in just a few short months. Ms. Buhrman, who is 50, caters weddings and dinner parties for the seasonal crowd. When winter comes, she tends a local school library, among other jobs, and she cooks.

Even in January, her hours in the kitchen have a purpose. Sitting in the bright oak post-and-beam room built by her husband, Richard Osnoss, a carpenter, Ms. Buhrman explained that she tries to eat only food raised on Martha’s Vineyard and to go down island to the grocery store in Vineyard Haven as little as possible.

Some of her groceries she grows herself. For much of the rest, she trades with her neighbors.

Following Ms. Buhrman for a day or two as she gathers ingredients is a lesson in how to eat locally, even in the coldest days of winter. Because she seems to know everybody on the island who raises, catches or forages for food, it is also a glimpse of an alternative economy of eating, one in which modern capitalism takes a back seat to a looser, island-grown style of bartering.

In summer, for instance, Ms. Buhrman hands out ice from her freezers to help the local fishermen keep their catch cold. In winter, they repay her with fish, oysters and bay scallops.

“It’s just the way we do it here,” she said.

“Swapping and borrowing isn’t institutionalized on the Vineyard,” said Carl Flanders, a fisherman in summer and a carpenter in winter. “If I catch some fish in summer, I’ll sell it to Larsen’s Fish Market but I’ll just give the rest away to friends. I don’t expect anything in return.”

Ms. Buhrman will take those bay scallops and sauté them with lemons she preserved last summer. (She sold the lemons at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, along with popovers, spice rubs and salsas.) Since Ms. Buhrman likes to cook and knows a lot of people who like to farm, she has no trouble getting food. She trades soups and stews for vegetables and lamb from her friends Mitch Posin and Clarissa Allen, who run Allen Farm in Chilmark.

“I live out of Mitch’s root cellar,” Ms. Buhrman said. “Mitch will give me a big batch of cabbage or beets. He has a big abundance of food. I don’t know why he doesn’t run a farm stand in summer.” His beets will find their way into her curried beet soup, simmered with chicken or vegetable stock from her freezer and seasoned with a few spoonfuls of the curry paste she learned to make after a trip in the ’80s to Southeast Asia and India.

Ms. Allen’s 100-acre property has been in her family since 1762. It is one of more than 30 rural farms on Martha’s Vineyard with a combined 8,000 acres of cultivated land.

“Some of the farms are the size of a postage stamp,” said Carlos Montoya Jr., a landscaper. “But there are people in agriculture who have really led the way.”

The concentration of small farms has made the island a model for eating locally in the region. “There is a movement for food on the island and it is just embryonic on Cape Cod,” said Gus Schumacher, former Massachusetts Commissioner of Food and Agriculture, who spends summers on the Cape.

“Unlike Cape Cod, which bought farms and maintained them as costly open space as conservation land, the Vineyard fathers protected their farmers by purchasing the development rights and keeping the farmers on the land, thereby providing food throughout the summer and fall season.”

Across the island, there is a determination to protect the Vineyard’s rural character. Last year, when a 43-acre farm that leased land to the island’s Community Sponsored Agriculture program, hundreds of summer and winter residents banded together to try to prevent it. Moved by the protest, a new buyer came forward who promised to keep the property as working farm.

Ms. Buhrman is a staunch supporter of several groups that back agriculture on the Vineyard, like Slow Food and Island Grown Initiative, a nonprofit group. Last year she taught baking and stock-making at a fundraiser for the Farm Institute, a foundation in Edgartown that teaches young people about where food comes from. In return the institute supplied her with chicken feet for stock and livers for chopped liver.

In addition to the working farms, Martha’s Vineyard has untold numbers of kitchen gardens. In Ms. Buhrman’s, animals grow as well as vegetables.

For the last four years her backyard has been home to a colorful array of chickens that her son Oliver, 17, ordered over the Internet. “By mistake we got one rooster,” she said, watching the birds peck feed from the ground near a portable chicken house. Her younger son, Oren, 10, collects eggs each morning before going to school.

Outside her house live two heritage breed pigs, which she buys every year from S.B.S. Grain Store in Vineyard Haven for $65 each. Most years she sends the pigs off island to a slaughterhouse, but this year, with some workers’ help, she slaughtered them in her backyard and sent some of the pork to a smokehouse in New Hampshire to be made into bacon and hams. She also makes pork sausages, and this year she is making a venison-pork sausage with ground venison given to her by Bobby Brown, a hunter in winter and caretaker in summer.

“I have fatback and the expertise in making sausage, and Bob has meat that needs the fat to make the sausage,” she said. “So we split the final product.”

Ms. Buhrman’s recipe is now also being used for the sausage at Morning Glory Farm, a popular farm stand on the island.

Not far from Ms. Buhrman’s home, her friends Rebecca Miller and Matthew Dix run a year-round vegetable stand at their North Tabor Farm, selling only eggs and honey in winter. The two purchased a six-acre lot from the town of Chilmark at an affordable price.

“We had to submit a business plan giving an idea of how we would use the land as an agricultural base,” said Mrs. Miller, 43. “There were 10 other people who wanted it.” In summer she sells greens, flowers and shiitake mushrooms at her stand as well as to restaurants, supermarkets, and the twice weekly farmers market in nearby West Tisbury. In the off season, she practices hypnotism and, she said, gives “a lot of talks about buying local and supporting local agriculture.”

For Caitlin Jones, who operates the seven-acre Mermaid Farm with her husband, Allen Healy, fall and winter go to saving seeds. At harvest time, she takes the best specimens of her crops and dries them. Later she will sort them into envelopes inside a house she built with a friend, a refurbished barn with a black locust tree serving as a post to hold up the beams in the center.

“I am a collector,” she said one day last fall, showing off the stacks of seeds in one room. “I cannot help it. Your plants will adapt to your bio-region and if you save the best stuff in your microclimate, then they will keep adapting for the Vineyard,” she said. “I am very into the taste of heirloom varieties.”

Experimentally, Ms. Buhrman has made wheels of Camembert-style cheese with raw milk from Mermaid Farm’s small herd of six cows. The leftover whey went into biscuits and ricotta cheese. She liked the results and wants to make more, so she is planning to buy her own cow. Mr. Healy and Ms. Jones offered to keep it at the farm and milk it for her if she pays for feed.

“I get my nourishment from people like Caitlin,” said Ms. Buhrman. “She and other local farmers teach me how to preserve this way of life with its hardships and joys. In the summer I can pay them whatever price they are asking because the taste of their food is so remarkable,” she said.

“You can buy heirloom tomatoes in the winter from God knows where and they don’t taste anything like the ones from Caitlin’s farm on Middle Road in Chilmark.”

The contrast between summer produce at its peak and what is available off season drives Ms. Buhrman to find new ways of putting up summer fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Once, she froze a surplus of broccoli.

“It was awful. Then I tasted Birds Eye and it tasted the same,” she said. “I guess I just don’t like frozen broccoli.”

AG in the CLASSROOM February 9th

The 7th Annual Growing Minds through Massachusetts Agriculture Conference offers educational and networking resources that can facilitate and enhance pre-K through 12th grade classroom teachers alike

visit our Web Site at www.aginclassroom.org. Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom is sponsoring a Statewide Conference for teachers at The Baird Middle School in Ludlow, Massachusetts on Saturday, February 9th from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Titled "Growing Minds Through Massachusetts Agriculture," the conference offers educators throughout the state ideas and resources and many opportunities for sharing and networking, including a poster session, visual reports on mini-grants and vendor exhibits.

From recycling and composting to making cheese and raising plants in the classroom, workshops on soil, energy, animals, Honeybees and Beekeeping, and Overview

The Go Green East Harlem Cookbook by Scott M. Stringer (Editor)

"Drugs and guns are more readily available than fresh fruits and vegetables in some poor urban neighborhoods, and, if you think about it (which, sadly, most of us don’t), lack of access to healthy foods hurts a community just as substance abuse and violence do."

Quote is taken from www.eatingliberally.org

More about the book:

"At first glance, you might not see East Harlem as the place for fresh thinking about healthy urban living-Go Green East Harlem will change your mind." Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer

Good food. Better health. Go Green!

Celebrate great food and healthy eating with the residents of East Harlem. Restaurants, caterers, farmers' markets, members of community groups and a group of darned good cooks, with the help of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, have pooled their resources to come up with scrumptious recipes that can also boast health benefits. From Greenmarket's tangy peach-corn salsa, to Mo-Bay's delicious collard greens, to Rao's famous Lemon Chicken, ending with Debbie Quinones lovely limbel de el Caribe, Go Green East Harlem covers the map when it comes to world cuisine.

The book also features:
* Tips on healthy eating from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan.
* Information on health benefits of certain foods, ways to make takeout food healthier, how to stock a kitchen and how to steer clear of the double threat of obesity and diabetes.
* Color photos by graduates from the International Center for Photography.
* Bilingual: complete English and Spanish versions.

Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler By Mark Bittman


A SEA change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.

It’s meat.

The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally — like oil — meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.

Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country’s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.

The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”

Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people.

Those grain-fed animals, in turn, are contributing to health problems among the world’s wealthier citizens — heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes. The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the “you gotta eat meat” claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren’t harmful, it’s way more than enough.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources .

What can be done? There’s no simple answer. Better waste management, for one. Eliminating subsidies would also help; the United Nations estimates that they account for 31 percent of global farm income. Improved farming practices would help, too. Mark W. Rosegrant, director of environment and production technology at the nonprofit International Food Policy Research Institute, says, “There should be investment in livestock breeding and management, to reduce the footprint needed to produce any given level of meat.”

Then there’s technology. Israel and Korea are among the countries experimenting with using animal waste to generate electricity. Some of the biggest hog operations in the United States are working, with some success, to turn manure into fuel.

Longer term, it no longer seems lunacy to believe in the possibility of “meat without feet” — meat produced in vitro, by growing animal cells in a super-rich nutrient environment before being further manipulated into burgers and steaks.

Another suggestion is a return to grazing beef, a very real alternative as long as you accept the psychologically difficult and politically unpopular notion of eating less of it. That’s because grazing could never produce as many cattle as feedlots do. Still, said Michael Pollan, author of the recent book “In Defense of Food,” “In places where you can’t grow grain, fattening cows on grass is always going to make more sense.”

But pigs and chickens, which convert grain to meat far more efficiently than beef, are increasingly the meats of choice for producers, accounting for 70 percent of total meat production, with industrialized systems producing half that pork and three-quarters of the chicken.

Once, these animals were raised locally (even many New Yorkers remember the pigs of Secaucus), reducing transportation costs and allowing their manure to be spread on nearby fields. Now hog production facilities that resemble prisons more than farms are hundreds of miles from major population centers, and their manure “lagoons” pollute streams and groundwater. (In Iowa alone, hog factories and farms produce more than 50 million tons of excrement annually.)

These problems originated here, but are no longer limited to the United States. While the domestic demand for meat has leveled off, the industrial production of livestock is growing more than twice as fast as land-based methods, according to the United Nations.

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

Real prices of beef, pork and poultry have held steady, perhaps even decreased, for 40 years or more (in part because of grain subsidies), though we’re beginning to see them increase now. But many experts, including Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, say they don’t believe meat prices will rise high enough to affect demand in the United States.

“I just don’t think we can count on market prices to reduce our meat consumption,” he said. “There may be a temporary spike in food prices, but it will almost certainly be reversed and then some. But if all the burden is put on eaters, that’s not a tragic state of affairs.”

If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals.

Mr. Rosegrant of the food policy research institute says he foresees “a stronger public relations campaign in the reduction of meat consumption — one like that around cigarettes — emphasizing personal health, compassion for animals, and doing good for the poor and the planet.”

It wouldn’t surprise Professor Eshel if all of this had a real impact. “The good of people’s bodies and the good of the planet are more or less perfectly aligned,” he said.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, in its detailed 2006 study of the impact of meat consumption on the planet, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” made a similar point: “There are reasons for optimism that the conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled. Both demands are exerted by the same group of people ... the relatively affluent, middle- to high-income class, which is no longer confined to industrialized countries. ... This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases.”

In fact, Americans are already buying more environmentally friendly products, choosing more sustainably produced meat, eggs and dairy. The number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the last 10 years or so, and it has escaped no one’s notice that the organic food market is growing fast. These all represent products that are more expensive but of higher quality.

If those trends continue, meat may become a treat rather than a routine. It won’t be uncommon, but just as surely as the S.U.V. will yield to the hybrid, the half-pound-a-day meat era will end.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal. “Who said people had to eat meat three times a day?” asked Mr. Pollan.

Mark Bittman, who writes the Minimalist column in the Dining In and Dining Out sections, is the author of “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” which was published last year. He is not a vegetarian.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Celebrate the first harvest of 2008 -- maple syrup!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

More books & blogs

WHAT: WHAT TO EAT - A great blog on the science & politics of food.

WHO: Marion Nestle is a multiple award-winning author, educator and policy advisor. She is the author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism .

Ms. Nestle's blog she comments on current events, answers questions, and responds to comments. She also lists her speaking invitations, recent writings, older writings and responses to her work.


"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

That's the advice journalist and author Michael Pollan offers in his new book, In Defense of Food.

"That's it," Pollan says. "That is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy"

The implication of Pollan's advice, however, is that what we're eating now isn't food. "Very often, it isn't," he says. "We are eating a lot of edible food-like substances, which is to say highly processed things that might be called yogurt, might be called cereals, whatever, but in fact are very intricate products of food science that are really imitations of foods."

Pollan acknowledges that distinguishing between food and "food products" takes work. His tip: "Don't eat anything that your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food."

For more information on this important book, visit Michael Pollan's website at http://michaelpollan.com/indefense.php