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Algal Pints

Another reason kelp will win over hipsters’ hearts: craft beer

beer
Valentyn Volkov

Yesterday, I gave you the top reasons why kelp could bump out kale as hipsterdom's star vegetable -- it's environmentally friendly, nutritious, and delicious (maybe?). If seaweed really wants to reign king, what better way to win cool hearts than becoming an ingredient in craft beer? (There's no such thing as Kale Light.)

Turns out, kelp is already a step ahead of me. On July 15, the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., in Belfast, Maine, began pouring the Sea Belt Scotch Ale. Sugar kelp is a main ingredient.

Brewery owner David Carlson had reason to believe his experiment would be a success: What gets kids excited these days like weird ingredients, especially if they're locally sourced? But, as NPR reports, he approached the experiment with reasoned caution:

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Ask Umbra: Are organic cherries worth the extra expense?

UmbraCherries
me and the sysop

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. While I go organic as much as I can, the inability to buy organic cherries is the price I pay for a low-paying job cleaning up our gorgeous environment. Since I cannot bear to live life without a few fresh summer cherries, I buy the regular ones. My mother insists that in this case, using that fruit wash stuff is the way to go. But it's expensive! Does it REALLY do a good job of getting pesticide residues off of the surface of fruit, or does a good spray of plain old water do just as well?

Karen
North Bend, Wash.

A. Dearest Karen,

I wholeheartedly agree: No one should be confined to a life without fresh summer cherries. Or strawberries. Or blueberries. Mmm … Methinks a trip to the farmers market is in order, stat.

As you note, though, even in-season cherries can be pricey, with organics still more so (and that’s not considering the premium you’ll pay for those tasty kings-among-cherries, Rainiers). We here at Grist love organic produce: It’s free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, making it healthier for you and the planet. But if your budget can’t swing it – I’m going to go into some tips on that in a moment, mind you – you can still reduce your pesticide exposure from the conventional variety.

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Nouveau Veg

Five reasons why kelp could be the next kale

Eating kelp sounds gross. But even the mighty kale was once largely regarded as a leathery, bitter garnish. Look how far that leafy green has come now! We're bound to tire of smothering kale in peanut butter and baking it into cookies someday. When that happens, we might turn to the oceans to satisfy our next big veggie craze. In the video above, Bren Smith, the director of Greenwave, explains why he thinks seaweed is poised to invade our plates. Here's a few reasons: 1. It requires no fresh water or land to grow. At the rate we're going, we probably want to be more frugal with both these resources. Smith points out that kelp can be grown in …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Vermont’s dirty secret: Free-ranging cows are crapping in the water supply

cow-poo
Hallie Bateman

Vermont – mention the state, and people picture the soft-focus Holsteins on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cartons and postcard pictures of cows grazing in a hilly, pastoral heaven. And for good reason: As New England’s leading milk producer, the Green Mountain State has a huge cultural and financial investment in dairies.

Amidst all the bovine iconography, however, here’s one image you’ll never see: Bessie pooping in the sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. But increasingly, waste from Vermont's lightly regulated dairy farms is polluting the lake, the nation’s sixth-largest body of fresh water. It’s undermining Vermont’s tourist economy and jeopardizing drinking water supplies for a third of the state’s population.

The damage is obvious in the murky gray-brown stains spreading at river mouths, the slimy masses of weeds choking bays, the rotten stench wafting over the sluggish water in late summer when the blue-green algae blooms.

State officials say the biggest culprit is farm runoff, responsible for 40 percent of the phosphorus pollution in the lake as a whole and up to 70 percent in the worst-polluted sections. The phosphorus feeds out-of-control aquatic weeds and algae; at its worst, the rampant growth can strip the water of oxygen, suffocating all other life and generating toxic cyanobacteria.

As a result, some Vermonters now say that while the dairy industry is sacrosanct in Vermont, it’s time to corral this sacred cow.

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Lay off the almond milk, you ignorant hipsters

almond-milk.jpg
Shutterstock

Almonds are a precious foodstuff: a crunchy jolt of complete protein, healthful fats, vitamins and minerals, and deliciousness. Given their rather intense ecological footprint -- see here -- we should probably consider them a delicacy, a special treat. That's why I think it's deeply weird to pulverize away their crunch, drown them in water, and send them out to the world in a gazillion little cartons. What's the point of almond milk, exactly?

Evidently, I'm out of step with the times on this one. "Plant-based milk" behemoth White Wave reports that its first-quarter sales of almond milk were up 50 percent from the same period in 2013. In an earnings call with investors in May, reported by FoodNavigator, CEO Greg Engles revealed that almond milk now makes up about two-thirds of the plant-based milk market in the United States, easily trumping soy milk (30 percent) and rice and coconut milks (most of the rest).

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California farms are sucking up enough groundwater to put Rhode Island 17 feet under

california-drought-irrigation-pipe.jpg
Eddie J. Rodriquez

California, the producer of nearly half of the nation's fruits, veggies, and nuts, plus export crops -- four-fifths of the world's almonds, for example -- is entering its third driest year on record. Nearly 80 percent of the state is experiencing "extreme" or "exceptional" drought. In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

Here are four key takeaways:

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Is organic food healthier? A new analysis adds … a question mark

produce
Jamie McCaffrey

A new paper on nutrition in organic foods just came out. It’s a meta-analysis -- which means, instead of doing any new measurement or experimentation, it’s simply combining the findings of past studies. According to the report, there are more antioxidants and carbohydrates in organic food, but less protein, pesticide residue, and less cadmium.

So what does all this mean in terms of health?

Protein and carbohydrates:

“Most people in Europe and North America are consuming adequate levels of protein, or even too much,” pointed out Charles Benbrook, one of the co-authors on the study. And the controversy rages over whether it’s good or bad to have more protein or carbs. So this result may be meaningful, but it would mean totally different things to different people.

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Cellar's market

A growing appetite for local food sends us back to our root cellars

root cellar st philips

Tucked in a grassy ridge cutting across the Small Family CSA Farm in La Farge, Wis., is a refrigerator so efficient it requires not a single watt of electricity, yet it can keep some crops chilly for months. It’s not some high-tech, Swedish-designed, solar-powered cooling unit. Just a good old-fashioned root cellar, kept cool through the summer months, and above freezing in the winter, by the soil surrounding it.

Shunning hulking and energy wasting refrigerated cold storage, Jillian and Adam Varney four years ago chose to build this two-room cellar for $10,000. Over time, like solar panels, it will pay for itself in savings – and in revenue for their small, organic farm. The hand-built produce closet, which includes a room kept extra cool with a small air-conditioner, allows them to extend their 220-member community-supported agriculture operation (CSA) into the winter months.

Root cellars are basically any storage area that operates on the earth's natural cooling, humidifying, and insulating properties. To work properly, a root cellar must stay between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and at 85 to 95 percent humidity. The cool temps slow the release of ethylene gas, halting decomposition. High humidity levels prevent evaporation loss, stopping your veggies from shriveling and withering.

Outmoded with the birth of the refrigerator and the 1950s kitchen, root cellars all but went underground, resurfacing briefly in the ’60s and with survivalists. Now, this tiny house movement for foodstuffs is experiencing a slow but certain renaissance as the local food movement gains momentum.

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for whom the label tolls

Can we have our sustainable seafood and eat it too?

fish
Tyler Parker

You know the feeling: You're standing in front of the seafood counter, running down the list of evils you might be supporting when you buy one of those gleaming filets. There’s overfishing, but also pollution from fish farming, not to mention bycatch, marine habitat destruction, illegal fishing … and that's before getting to the problem of seafood fraud, and the fact that 1 in 3 seafood samples in a massive study by Oceana was served under pseudonym.

Programs like Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch and the Safina Center’s Seafood Guide are helpful when it comes to sorting seafood’s angels from its demons, but only if you can be sure the red snapper you’re looking at is actually red snapper (hint: It probably isn't).

Meanwhile, third-party certification outfits -- the ones that slap their seal of approval on seafood that’s harvested responsibly -- are not without their flaws. In fact, the current demand for certified “sustainable” seafood is so high that it’s driving, you guessed it, overfishing. Someone get Poseidon in here because that, my friends, is what the Greeks called a "tragic flaw."

Still, these third-party groups may offer the best hope for ocean-loving fish eaters like myself, so it’s worth paying attention to how they operate. And while these certification programs are very much a work in progress, they’re getting better.

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Food fight

Eden Foods hit by backlash for fighting Obamacare’s contraception mandate

empty Eden cans

We told you recently that Eden Foods, a widely distributed organic brand, has sued the Obama administration over the requirement that companies cover contraception as part of employee health-care plans. As word has spread, outrage has spread.

More than 112,000 people have a signed a petition organized by progressive group CREDO Action:

Tell CEO of Eden Foods, Michael Potter:

"I won’t buy Eden products until you stop playing politics with women’s health and drop your attacks on birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act."

Some are tweeting out Eden-shaming selfies:

Read more: Food, Living, Politics