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Online marketplace set to launch local food vendors into the mainstream

Fulfilling orders at Bread SRSLY.

When Sadie Scheffer decided to start her own vegan, gluten-free baking company, the logistics were not her top priority. Like many small food companies without retail spaces, she started Bread SRSLY by delivering her breads and muffins on a bike, using a makeshift online ordering system through email and Etsy, and taking cash on delivery. Scheffer’s system worked when she was fielding a few orders at a time, but when it came time to scale up, it was less than ideal.

Enter Good Eggs, a San Francisco-based startup that provides online tools for small and sustainable food producers. Now Scheffer’s orders come through the Good Eggs online platform, and on top of taking orders from house to house, she now also drops off a lot of product at once at community pickup spots arranged by the company. She sells three times as many loaves of bread as she did before Good Eggs. Scheffer admits that she’s had trouble keeping up with orders, but adds: “That's the fun part, the scary part, and the only way I’m going to grow.”

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Top chefs go to ‘food policy boot camp’

Chef Andrea Reusing harvests produce at Blackberry Farm for a collaborative meal at the pilot food policy boot camp. (Photo by Beall + Thomas.)

Were you as disappointed as I was to see the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller flat-out reject his role as an influencer with power to change the food system recently? If so, this might give you hope.

This week, The James Beard Foundation (JBF) -- best known for its annual food industry awards -- sent 15 chefs to food policy boot camp. That’s right, the iconic culinary organization has partnered with Pew Charitable Trusts to actively encourage chefs to push for real, tangible change.

The intent, says JBF Vice President Mitchell Davis, is not to make all chefs advocates. But, he told the blog The Braiser, “increasingly, chefs are interested in these bigger issues, and increasingly they have some input that would help form some larger policy ... that certain set of values, beliefs, experience [that comes from] literally feeding people on the front line.”

The boot camp brought a mix of celebrity chefs -- from Top Chef MastersHugh Acheson and Top Chef’s Mike Isabella, to well-loved regional chefs like Michael Anthony of New York's Gramercy Tavern and Maria Hines from Seattle’s Tilth and Golden Beetle -- to Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm for three days of policy education. The group took a deep dive into antibiotic overuse in animals (and the link to antibiotic superbugs, as it relates to Pew’s Save Antibiotics campaign) and got a primer on the current farm bill.

They also had a chance to strategize more generally about how to work with NGOs and advocates, and how to introduce their (often sizable) social media followings to important, if less sexy, food issues. (The 15 chefs attending reach over 100,000 followers on Twitter alone.) They also cooked what looks like a delicious collaborative dinner together.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Saving surplus: Gleaned foods make it to the grocery shelf

Green garlic pickles, an early experiment for the Gleaning Project.

For farmers all over the country, growing more than they can sell is just a part of doing business. As is routinely tilling surplus produce back into the soil. And because space is limited and time is of the essence, most farmers don't have many other options --- even if it usually means thousands of pounds of uneaten food.

“Nothing is lost when you turn something under; it just goes back into the dirt,” says Andy Griffin, owner of Watsonville, Calif.-based Mariquita Farm. “For us, loss comes when we’ve spent money to pick something, wash it, pack it, refrigerate it, and put it in a box, then [have to] take it out of the box and throw it away.” Of course, one could argue that the water and fertilizer required to grow the food -- as well as the labor -- is indeed lost, even if these are standard costs to farmers.

As much as Griffin says he’d like to see every vegetable he grows find a home, he has to be realistic. “Sometimes you need a bunch of stuff out of the way. Rather than wait and lose the opportunity to put the next crop in, I turn whatever's out there under. There’s a choreography to moving stuff through the fields.”

Yet in this tightly timed dance, local food entrepreneur Larry Bain saw a chance to cut in. Owner of a Bay Area-based grass-fed beef hot dog company called Let’s Be Frank, Bain saw an enormous surplus of organic produce and an eager market looking to buy it, but a scarcity of good distribution options. What would happen, he wondered, if someone were to create minimally processed, shelf-stable products out of this extra produce?

This summer, Bain has teamed up with San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market and several other Bay Area businesses to find out. He'll buy the surplus produce at a reduced price from California farmers like Griffin, in an effort to “capture the food at its very best moment,” preserve it, and sell it under their new label, The Gleaning Project.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Would you eat lab-grown meat?

woman with steakYum?

The Guardian reports on two competing efforts to generate lab-grown meat -- all of the tastiness, none of the nastiness. The intent isn't to make a niche product for vegans, but to formulate something that's indistinguishable from real meat -- and to thereby end meat production as we know it.

Winston Churchill actually predicted the rise of this industry in 1932, saying, "Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium." He was off by a few decades, but scientists and entrepreneurs are working hard to make up for lost time.

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Twitter founders are investing in vegan meat

This actually did not come from a chicken. (Photo courtesy of Beyond Meat.)

Twitter cofounders Evan Williams and Biz Stone have some proven expertise in determining the next big thing. So it's notable that they're investing in a vegan meat company called Beyond Meat, whose products are said to be the most freakily convincing fake meat yet. Sure, maybe you think you don't WANT a better fake meat, but you probably thought you didn't want a social network that let you transmit 140-character bon mots, either.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Morning chance of guilt, followed by afternoon desperation

Photo of disconcerted puppy by Corie Howell.

Did you have your morning cup of coffee today? Probably shouldn't have:

The international trade in Central American coffee has spurred forest clearing that eradicates habitat for the endangered [black-handed spider] monkey and, ultimately, the monkey itself.

The monkey’s woes come despite its protected status. This spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) shelters behind the legal shield of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning it cannot be openly sold, which is meant to keep it from becoming a pet (yes, it’s that cute). But no such protection exists for its habitat, which may ultimately make any other protections moot. Not even the monkey’s amazing gripping tail can help it hang on in the face of forest clearing.

And that’s why this spider monkey is just one of at least 25,000 animals currently threatened around the globe.

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Beer and cheese ‘r’ us: Why fermentation makes us human

Get a recipe for ginger beer. (Photo by Reese Lloyd.)

Editor's note: Finally, Sandor Katz -- the nation's fermentation expert -- has written a bible-sized book about his craft. Beyond sauerkraut, bread, and beer, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World takes readers into the outer realms of the theory and practice behind this edgy, traditional approach to food preservation. What follows is an excerpt from Katz' introduction, but it can also serve as a kind of manifesto for his work. See Katz' recipe for homemade ginger beer and "ginger bug" for more on the how-to side of things.

One word that repeatedly comes to the fore in my exploration and thinking about fermentation is culture. Fermentation relates to culture in many different ways, corresponding with the many layers of meaning embedded in this important word, from its literal and specific meanings in the context of microbiology to its broadest connotations. We call the starters that we add to milk to make yogurt, or to initiate any fermentation, cultures. Simultaneously, culture constitutes the totality of all that humans seek to pass from generation to generation, including language, music, art, literature, scientific knowledge, and belief systems, as well as agriculture and culinary techniques (in both of which fermentation occupies a central role).

Sandor Ellix Katz. (Photo by Sean Minteh.)

In fact, the word culture comes from Latin cultura, a form of colere, “to cultivate.” Our cultivation of the land and its creatures -- plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria -- is essential to culture. Reclaiming our food and our participation in cultivation is a means of cultural revival, taking action to break out of the confining and infantilizing dependency of the role of consumer (user), and taking back our dignity and power by becoming producers and creators.

This is not just about fermentation (even if, as a biological force upon our food, that is inevitable), but about food more broadly. Every living creature on this Earth interacts intimately with its environment via its food. Humans in our developed technological society, however, have largely severed this connection, and with disastrous results. Though affluent people have more food choices than people of the past could ever have dreamed of, and though one person’s labor can produce more food today than ever before, the large-scale, commercial methods and systems that enable these phenomena are destroying our Earth, destroying our health, and depriving us of dignity. With respect to food, the vast majority of people are completely dependent for survival upon a fragile global infrastructure of monocultures, synthetic chemicals, biotechnology, and transportation.

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food

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Jam session: Go unconventional with vanilla-rhubarb preserves [RECIPE]

Editor's note: This recipe provides a nice break from the standard strawberry-rhubarb combination. It's also a great excuse to try canning. If you're new to making and preserving your own jam, Marisa's blog, Food in Jars, is filled with excellent tips.

Photo by Marisa McClellan.

Vanilla-rhubarb jam
Makes four pints

Ingredients

10 cups of chopped rhubarb (approximately 2 1/2 pounds of stalks)
5 cups sugar
1 cup Earl Grey tea (you could just use water; I happened to have some leftover tea around and it added a nice note to the finished product)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 lemon, juiced
Pinch of salt
1 packet liquid pectin

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In Argentina, factory farms replacing grass-fed beef

Estancia Ranch, one of few remaining traditional pasture-based ranches in Argentina. (All photos by Jessica Weiss.)

Buenos Aires, Argentina: It’s no secret the people here love beef.

In 1958, the average Argentine consumed 216 pounds of it per year. (For context: U.S. beef consumption peaked in 1975 at 89 pounds per person.) Argentina was once the world’s fifth largest economy, due largely to the strength of its global dominance in the beef trade. Because of a grand confluence of factors including climate and natural grass diversity, Argentina was long known as a hungry cow’s heaven -- and the arbiter of the world’s best beef.

But today, much of the country’s famous grasslands have been turned over to crops. Beef consumption and exports are way down. And lest you think it’s because overall meat consumption is down, irony would have it that Argentina is now the world’s No. 1 exporter of soymeal, No. 2 of corn, and No. 3 of soybeans, increasingly used as animal feed in China, where meat-eating is through the roof.

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What’s the real difference between cage-free and pastured eggs? [VIDEO]

Editor's note: If you liked the series of photos we featured from the Lexicon of Sustainability this winter, you might enjoy this video -- which is one of three currently running on PBS.org.