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Chef Dan Barber on the farm-to-table movement’s next steps


Chef Dan Barber -- he of the genius cauliflower steaks and the braised short ribs  has a new book out that's poised to reshape our national conversation about food. The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food tells the stories of farmers who aim to change the way we eat and cook, and unearths the research that will keep us from calling them crazy.

Whereas Michael Pollan’s similarly seminal books The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food looked at food -- what we should buy, how we should eat -- from the perspective of the consumer, Barber writes about it from the perspective of the farmer, and the chef, and the tastebud. He went out in search of the best-tasting food, and he found his answer in a new definition of sustainability.

The "third plate" -- the dish that comes after the meat and potatoes of the '60s and the local meat and local potatoes of the '00s -- is a logical and necessary next step in the movement that has us all flocking to farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants, asking questions about where our food comes from and finding creative uses for bumper crops.

James Ransom

Barber's book shows us how selfish we’ve been, expecting the soil to do our bidding without considering what it needs from us, what accommodations will make it happiest and most productive. And it will inspire even the most science-averse readers to take interest in microorganisms and the relationship between, say, nitrogen and carrots. If you care about flavor, and farms, and the future of our food system, read on, then read this book. You'll soon bully your friends into to doing the same.

Read more: Food


Clear eyes, full stomachs, can't lose

Michelle Obama’s food fight with GOP: Schools just want to have funds

school lunch
Meal Makeover Moms

Right now Republicans, Democrats, and the First Lady are slugging it out over a proposal to weaken the healthy-food requirements for school lunch programs. Conservatives in Congress want to make it easier for schools to ignore the healthy-lunch law, liberals -- and Michelle Obama -- don't want to see the law gutted, and some school lunch administrators are saying they just don't have the money to make the law work.

Here’s why I care about school lunches: They are the perfect microcosm for the green case on food. Get them right, and we’d have a model for success in hand (along with a big part of the solution).

The evidence leads me, over and over again, to the following series of conclusions: the overwhelming imperative for cheaper food has made people, rural economies, and the environment sick. The most obvious remedy is to pay farmers a fair price to produce healthier food in a sustainable manner. But higher prices are unfair to people who are struggling to feed themselves, so any good-food fix also has to provide support for the poor.

That’s the genius of school-lunch reform: Because schools have a mandate to feed low-income students, reformers must work holistically, considering economics alongside nutrition.

Read more: Food, Politics


Watch this Austrian farmer’s awesome rant about milk vs. Red Bull

There’s a lot of food hypocrisy in the U.S. “Skip the raw milk,” says the FDA. “But here, eat glow-in-the-dark Cheetos!”

It’s not just stateside, either. Austrian farmer/comedian Petutschnig Hons recently ranted about a customer who was happy to pay for the “piss-colored rainbow” that is Red Bull but found fresh, organic milk too expensive.

Read more: Food, Living


joy buzzer

Put a bee on it: Portland “bee dork” makes hives with pollinators in mind

portland bee geek
Bee Thinking

Matt Reed is driving through Portland, Ore., with 20,000 bees in the back of his truck. This morning, someone tipped him off to a swarm of wild bees and he set off to catch them. He does this a lot this time of year, when wild swarms start to come out in the spring. Tomorrow morning he’ll move them to one of the hives he keeps in a local community garden.

Reed’s hives aren’t the usual stacks of white, blocky drawers, however. He builds “top bar” hives. Pared down, locally sourced-and-built, and often standing on stilts, they’re designed to mimic how bees build hives naturally. They’re in line with Portland’s trademark artisanal-everything lifestyle, but -- or maybe because of that -- beekeepers from New York to Nebraska want them.


There’s trouble brewing for your coffee habit


Coffee lovers beware: Those miracle beans just got all the more precious. Coffee rust, a fungal disease, and Brazil’s epic drought are driving up the cost of that vital morning fix.

As NPR reports, wholesale coffee prices have jumped by more than 60 percent since January, from $1.25 per pound to $1.85. And traders suspect that the worst is still to come. Some predict that during the main harvest next month, prices could shoot up to $3 a pound. The long-term forecast looks even grimmer: Global warming is only making it easier for the fungus to spread, and some studies even suggest that our favorite blends will be wiped out by 2080.

Read more: Food, Living


Get mom to smash your iPhone? Thanks to PETA, there’s an app for that

broken iphone
Molly Steenson

Do you love fart spray and hate the people who work at your grocery store? Well has PETA got the thing for you!

PETA, the animal rights outfit more commonly known as People with Extremely Terrible Advertising campaigns, has entered the world of apps. Its first foray? An app that scans groceries and, when meat is detected, releases a noxious cloud of aerosolized stink juice from a remarkably inconvenient device that looks like the ass of a Pikachu and hangs from your iPad.

Oh hell, here’s something I never thought I’d type, but PETA says it best on its website:

Vegan kids who download the app and insert the dongle into their phones’ headphone jacks will be armed and ready to educate their parents during their next grocery store visit. When they reach the meat department and scan the barcode of a package of chicken parts, PETA’s “Meet Your Meat” slaughterhouse exposé begins playing. Kids can then simply push the “Meat Stinks” button to release a putrid odor -- one that replicates a slaughterhouse’s stench of bodily wastes, blood, and decomposing flesh -- for their parent to experience.

“PETA’s new app will serve as a ‘weapon of mass compassion’ to help vegan kids start a discussion with their parents about why ‘meat stinks,’” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.

Read more: Food, Living


Go ahead: Ignore the “latest studies” and savor that chocolate


How much did the recent findings about the antioxidants in chocolate affect my personal chocolate consumption? Not a jot.

As I write this, I’m eating chocolate ice cream. Or, to be totally accurate, I’m scraping the bottom of this mug for the last drippings. Update: I have just crammed my muzzle inside the mug in an ardent, but ultimately futile, attempt to lick the bottom. I am well qualified to answer any question regarding chocolate.

Last week a paper came out suggesting that the resveratrol in red wine and chocolate, contrary to conventional wisdom, does nothing to make people healthier. The scientists spent nine years watching a group of 783 seniors in the Chianti region of Italy. They looked for traces of resveratrol (and the compounds you get from breaking it down) in the urine of these Italian seniors, and basically waited for nine years to see who died.

268 of the people in study shuffled off in those nine years, but they weren’t the people with the lowest resveratrol levels, or the highest, either. It was an even spread. After going over the data, the scientists concluded that the amount of resveratrol that you’d get from actual food (as opposed to downing massive supplements) had no effect on the likelihood of heart disease, cancer, or coming down with a little case of (ahem) death.

Read more: Food, Living


Oregon county bans GMO crops

Sugar beets

Voters in Jackson County, Oregon, passed a measure Tuesday prohibiting farmers from growing genetically engineered plants. Farmers had spearheaded the initiative, according to the Associated Press:

The effort to ban GMOs in Jackson County started two years ago when organic farmers learned the Swiss company Syngenta was growing sugar beet seed in local fields that was genetically altered to resist the popular weed killer Roundup. They wanted to protect their crops from being cross-pollinated by genetically modified ones.

Though seed companies spent nearly $1 million campaigning against it, the measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin.

Read more: Food, Politics


The bottom line is why Big Food should take a stand on climate

Taking a bite out of earth.

Oxfam has a new report out predicting that climate change will drive up food costs, leading to hunger and suffering. Though that's not exactly news, what’s interesting is that Oxfam has aimed this report at the 10 largest food and beverage companies in the world.

The authors take pains to demonstrate that there's not just a moral obligation for these corporations to act against climate change; it’s also the right -- intelligently selfish -- business decision.

The report finds that the food industry "has a very patchy record, which for some companies verges on downright negligence." It singles out Kellogg and General Mills for special criticism: “Both companies are highly vulnerable to climate impacts but also well positioned to lead the industry towards a more sustainable future.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Here are some of the ridiculous food names babies got last year


The world’s youngest pretentious hipster, Quinoa, may live only on Pinterest, but kids named Kale are all too real. And not just in the Haus of Gwyneth: More than 330 actual human children, ostensibly not all celebrity spawn, were named after the leafy green in 2013. (Teachers of 2020 and beyond, we’re sorry.)

Surprising no one, little Kales are most common in California, where they will grow up to drink green juice and flirt with reality stardom. It’s an overwhelmingly male name, with only five girls to 257 boys. (Perhaps Friseé is more feminine.) But don’t worry -- American girls got their own slew of food names in 2013:

  • Olive: 1,086 girls
  • Pepper: 152
  • Ginger: 92
  • Tea: 44
Read more: Food, Living