Mad Flavor in San Francisco: Coffee done right

Finding nirvana in the coffee capital of the United States

In “Mad Flavor,” the author describes his occasional forays from the farm in search of exceptional culinary experiences from small artisanal producers. —– While covering Slow Food Nation recently, I stayed in an unremarkable hotel located in a relatively uninteresting part of San Francisco’s Soma neighborhood. But I was as happy as a clam — ecstatic even — because my hotel stood a block and a half from Blue Bottle, one of my favorite cafes in the world. Why can’t I just declare it my favorite? Because I didn’t have nearly enough time to spend in Four Barrel, a terrific …

Meat of the matter

What’s so eco about all those eco-meat labels?

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices, and other diet-related quandaries. Free range: more sizzle than steak? Hi, Something I’ve been pondering a lot lately is the whole “free-range” meat market. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I have a lot of doubts as to whether meat labeled “all natural” and “free range” is actually those things. On the one hand, I want to support the market for sustainably raised meat, but on the other I want to be sure I’m getting what the label says and not factory-farmed animals. …

The organic times are a changin'

New data show that 2008 organic food sales will reach $32.9 billion

As people from Haiti to Ethiopia are tragically struggling to cope with rising food prices, many are piecing together the reasons behind our recent price spikes. The culprits lie in everything from the switch to growing crops for biofuels to market speculation. The situation is complex and involves multiple factors. But as economists tally up the numbers and politicians scramble for solutions, others are beginning to wonder if this is the end for organic food as we know it. For years, the organic industry has seen sales growth in the double digits, far outpacing any other sector of food products. …

Our daily bread

Two trends for bakeries, one encouraging and one dismal

It’s hard to imagine a vibrant local-food economy without a vibrant bakery scene. The capacity to efficiently turn something as bland as flour into something delicious and substantial seems key. In energy terms, baking several hundred loaves of bread a day in a commercial operation makes more sense than every family cranking out a loaf a day in the home oven — especially if the bakery is centrally located. (Not that I don’t love home-baking.) I’m thinking about the "staff of life" today because two bakery-related news items crossed my desk. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way …

Judging a tomato contest, and celebrating with a fresh, tomato-y gumbo

You say tomato … All my life, I have wanted to be a professional tomato taster. I am happy to report that on August 18, 2008, I had the chance to serve as a judge (unpaid, so, OK, not exactly professional, but still …) in the 24th annual Massachusetts tomato contest, organized by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and held at City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston. I was actually just chilling with friends who were going to serve as judges (How pathetic is that? I am a tomato taster groupie!) when — oh lucky day! …

We're the real cowboys

We need some qualified public leaders

It strikes me that many of the problems we run into on a daily basis are caused by people doing a job for which they are not fully qualified. At the top of the list, I’m afraid we must place those we elect to office and those they appoint to government service positions. We have all run across the bad restaurant meal: a cook who wasn’t so good; an owner who didn’t get fresh ingredients; a wait person who ruined the meal with bad service. How about the salesperson who knows absolutely nothing about what he or she is selling? …

Dispatches From the Fields: Back to the garden

On the transformative potential of community-scale food production

In “Dispatches From the Fields,” Ariane Lotti and Stephanie Ogburn, who are working on small farms in Iowa and Colorado this season, share their thoughts on producing real food in the midst of America’s agro-industrial landscape. —– This spring, someone transformed the vacant lot across the street from my in-town apartment here in Cortez, a town of 8,000 in southwest Colorado. Until the transformation, I had never really noticed the parcel of land. It wasn’t an after-hours hangout, was never vandalized, and was thus invisible to me as I ran, biked, or drove by it nearly every day. That all …

Whole Foods signs deal to pay up for Florida tomatoes

Natural foods giant agrees to penny-per-pound raise for farmworkers

I reported a few days ago that a deal was imminent; now it’s official: Whole Foods has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay an extra penny-per-pound for Florida tomatoes. The raise will go directly into the pockets of some of the lowest-paid workers in the United States. In addition, the press release states, Whole Foods is working with the CIW to create a "domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production." The natural foods giant already has such a program in place for products it buys from developing countries. The …

Bottled water runs dry

BrandWeek: ‘Sales drought’ for big water bottlers

Anyone who’s read Elizabeth Royte‘s Bottlemania will be cheered by this news, from BrandWeek: The market for bottled water may be drying up. Despite massive discounting, brands like Aquafina and Poland Spring are experiencing a sales drought unlike any the category has ever seen. After almost a decade of triple and then double-digit growth, sales volume grew less than 1% for the first half of the year, per Beverage Digest, Bedford Hills, N.Y. The chief culprit: the economy. Shoppers are less interested in paying for a product that they can get for free.

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