Food

Me, on film

Food Fight snags documentary honor

For those of you who don’t get quite enough of my writing, you can see me holding forth on the big screen! That is, if the documentary Food Fight finds a distributor. I hope it does; I hear it’s good. (I do get quite enough of my writing, and I’m repelled by the idea of watching a celluloid image of myself talk; so I haven’t been able to watch the review copy I’ve been sent.) Food Fight, directed by Chris Taylor, explores how our food system got so screwed up and what folks are doing to fix it. Interview subjects …

Crunch time for USDA pick

Activists circulate last-minute petition to urge progressive farm-policy chief

The Obama transition team is reportedly going to announce the new USDA chief in the next few days. If the short list of candidates now being circulated is any indication, the president-elect is feeling serious pressure to make an agribiz-friendly choice. But just as pressure can be applied from above, it can also come from below. As I mentioned last week, a group of sustainable-ag activists and writers has sent a letter [PDF] to Obama urging him to make a progressive pick. Initial signees included Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, Anna Lappe, and Alice Waters. (Full disclosure: …

Umbra on store-brand organics

Hey Umbra, What with organic foods being so expensive, I’m often tempted to buy the store-brand organic produce that’s cropping up lately. Are the store brands as good (i.e., pesticide free) as any other brand of organic food? I can’t help but be suspicious. Thanks!Confused in Jersey Dear CJ, Organic is a USDA-certified labeling program. Historically, organically grown food represented an alternative to large-scale, mass-produced, polluting agricultural techniques. Organic was and, to some extent, still is a social and ecological movement; today it is also a major branding tool. And since organically certified fresh and processed foods have been a …

The power of peaceful protest

Review of Fields of Fuel

Back in July, I reviewed a documentary film called Fields of Fuel directed by Josh Tickell. That film recently returned to Seattle after being reedited and renamed, Fuel. I actually think this new iteration is worth seeing with the caveat that you take the conspiracy theories and convoluted defenses of food-based biodiesel with a grain of salt. The billing at Seattle’s Varsity Theater website was: “Fuel exposes shocking connections between the auto industry, the oil industry, and the government, while exploring alternative energies such as solar, wind, electricity, and non-food-based biofuels. Director Josh Tickell and his Veggie Van take us …

Yet more on Obama and USDA

Prez-elect urged to name progressive farm-policy chief

Rather than name a USDA chief, Obama keeps floating trial balloons. The names range from the deplorable, like Big Ag lobbyist Charles Stenholm, to the relatively innocuous, like Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius is a former chair of the Governors Ethanol Council. Predictable, given that she leads a big farm state; inevitable, almost. But still. However, she gets props for saying no to coal-fired power plants. That has little to do with ag, but does show a willingness to take on powerful interests. On Thursday, The Washington Post published a short list of USDA candidates that included Stenholm and Sebelius, …

Meet Shmeat

Test-tube flesh, coming soon to a hot dog near you

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. Lettuce know what food worries keep you up at night. —– Dear Lou, I hear that PETA has come out in favor of the development of test-tube meat. What’s up with that? I like to eat meat, and I try to be conscious about it — but I can’t tell if the prospect of test-tube meat should make me feel relieved or horrified. Lisa Blinding meat with science! Dear Lisa, You heard right. Earlier this year, People for …

Long forgotten, chestnuts are coming back with a vengeance, and make a delicious holiday pudding

  Nuts about chestnuts.   I first learned about chestnuts from “The Christmas Song” (most likely, the Chipmunks’ version), not from tasting one. That happened much later. A couple of years ago, a farmer brought locally grown chestnuts to the back door of the restaurant where I worked. My coworkers and I were excited to see them and, of course, we wanted some. However, we had no idea what to do with them in their raw form — not one of us had ever cooked with them. Chestnuts seemed almost exotic to us — I assumed they must be of …

Tomato concentrate

Time to slice up the tomato industry?

What happens when a few large buyers dominate a market? Anyone who keeps up with my posts — still there, mom? — knows what’s coming next: The buyers gain the power to dictate to dictate terms and conditions to sellers. For farmers, the results of concentrated markets are devastating. As a few giant companies like Smithfield and Tyson came to dominate meat packing, they managed to drive down the farmgate price of chickens, pigs, and beef cows. As a result, hundreds of thousands of farmers were driven out of business. Survivors took on debt and scaled up, in a desperate …

A taste test of seven ‘natural’ frozen dinners

  I have fond memories of microwaveable TV dinners from when I was a child: mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken nuggets, unidentifiable green lumps, mushy brown things. The wonder surrounding them was probably due to the fact that we weren’t usually allowed to eat them. Mama Shep is a great cook, and since we grew up on a vegetable farm, there were plenty of foods available that hadn’t been processed, frozen, and packaged months earlier. So TV dinners were a special treat. Now that I’m responsible for feeding myself, I usually try to actually cook, in the tradition of Mama Shep. …