The Perennial Plate

If you’re not watching these videos, start now. Thoughful, beautifully shot introductions to places, people, techniques, and foods.

From their site:

The Perennial Plate is a 2013 James Beard Award winning online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating. Chef and activist Daniel Klein and co-producer/Filmmaker Mirra Fine are traveling the world exploring the wonders, complexities and stories behind the ever more connected global food system.

This season, Klein and Fine have been sharing their travels through China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Ethiopia.

Labeling isn’t the only issue in the GMO world

A lot of recent attention has been focused on the state of Washington, where a GMO labeling initiative will be on the ballot. In Hawaii, the fight is over the use of land to grow the modified crops for seed production purposes:

Over the last decade, the state has become a hub for the development of genetically engineered corn and other crops that are sold to farmers around the globe. Monsanto and other seed companies have moved here en masse, and corn now sprouts on thousands of acres where sugar or pineapples once grew. . . .

“It’s a paradise over here that is being ruined by this,” said Michiyo Altomare, who lives in this small town on Kauai that is just across a narrow river from a bluff upon which the seed company Pioneer grows corn.

Ms. Altomare and her husband, Corrado, built their dream house here 30 years ago, hoping to enjoy the winds that waft down from the bluff. But when sugar cane gave way to corn, she said, those winds began carrying fine red soil that coated her counters, forcing the family to shut their windows and install central air-conditioning.

On some occasions, Ms. Altomare smelled pesticides and called the police. Mr. Altomare suffers from high platelet levels that his doctor said could have resulted from chemical exposure. The couple’s grown children, she said, “don’t want to live here.”

“a value that goes far beyond the food itself”

Janet Benton contributed this moving piece to the New York Times’ Modern Love column. An important reminder for parents: The mundane matters—hugely—to children.

Because of my history, I know how much the mundane care of children matters. That is why I stop work when the school day ends and greet my daughter with a hug. I may be tired, stressed out or grumpy; I may bemoan the confinement, the repetition, the career limits. But I do it anyway. I pull away from paid pursuits and open myself to the opportunity to delight in my daughter.

My delight comes freely, inspired by a leggy girl with rich brown eyes who has just come home. But our time together is about more than delight. When I hand her a snack and look into her face, seeking the stories of her day, I intend for her to feel how much she matters. She matters more to me right then than anything I could be doing without her. And we will not have these afternoons forever.

Cooking for Clara

Clara is the daughter of Merrill Stubbs, one of the founders of Food52, and Clara and we are beneficiaries of her mother’s interest in preparing meals the entire family can enjoy. Simple, delicious, and flexible: What more could a parent want from these recipes?

True Cost Accounting in Food and Farming

Glad to learn this December event (in London) may be webcast/broadcast live, and later available via the Sustainable Food Trust’s website. It’s one thing to argue about how consumer prices don’t reflect the actual cost of food production; it’s another thing, a very helpful thing, to be able to put real numbers on those costs instead of noting only categories of consequences.

…and speaking of Civil Eats…

Civil Eats has been one of my go-to sources of information about food since Naomi Starkman and Paula Crossfield started it. With so much spin and so many important details left conveniently unstated in food reporting (and “reporting”), Civil Eats has been a consistently trustworthy source. How many of those do we have nowadays?

As they describe it, Civil Eats has been a “labor of love” for its editorial crew and contributors (an all-star team if ever there was one), and they want to change that. I was happy to contribute to their Kickstarter campaign and although is in its infancy, if you’re reading this I hope you’ll join me and contribute something, too.

If you’re a regular reader of Civil Eats, this should be an easy give. If you’re not a regular reader, then I urge you to spend even an hour reading through their posts and thinking about whether that experience alone is worth the price of a quality magazine. Then donate that.

If Barry Estabrook won’t eat it…

Barry Estabrook, author of the fabulous, frightening Tomatoland and occasional contributor to Civil Eats, shares his thoughts on the five things he won’t eat.

Deadly outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella in spinach and cantaloupes, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” connected to pork and chicken production, potent drugs that are banned in the United States in imported shrimp and catfish: Nothing has the potential to destroy your appetite quite as thoroughly as writing about industrial food production or living with someone who does. Somehow, I have remained omnivorous, more or less. But there are only five things that I absolutely refuse to eat.

How many times have you been told to read the fine print?

Marion Nestle distills the unhappiness over McDonald’s Happy Meal revamp and what some people have called a bait-and-switch. Quoting McDonald’s own advertisement in the wake of a White House conference on marketing food to children, Nestle reminds us that

McDonald’s said it would: “Promote and market only water, milk, and juice as the beverage in Happy Meals on menu boards and in-store and external advertising.”

This was seized upon as a promise not to include sodas in Happy Meals. When it became clear that was not the case, there was a roar of disapproval from those who have been pushing for changes in the promotion and composition of children’s meals.

If you’re cynical about how cozy the Let’s Move campaign has been with supersized food and beverage manufacturers, Nestle’s post won’t surprise you. But as Nestle notes:

Food companies, alas, do not make it easy to applaud them.

Promises are one thing. Now, if they would actually do something to make and market healthier products….

Secretary of Agriculture or Secretary of Defense?

Writing for the Cornucopia Institute’s blog, Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms) describes his dismay during a high-level, invite-only meeting with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

The big surprise occurred a few minutes into the meeting: US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack walked in. He was in Terry McCauliffe love-in mode. And here is what he told us: for the first time–2012– rural America lost population in real numbers–not as a percentage but in real numbers. It’s down to 16 percent of total population.

I’m sitting there thinking he’s going to say that number needs to go up so we have more people to love and steward the landscape. More people to care for earthworms. More people to grow food and fiber.

Are you ready for the shoe to drop? The epiphany? What could the US Secretary of Agriculture, at the highest strategic planning sessions of our land, be challenged by other leaders to change this figure, to get more people in rural America, to encourage farming and help more farms get started? What could be the driving reason to have more farmers? Why does he go to bed at night trying to figure out how to increase farmers? How does the President and other cabinet members view his role as the nation’s farming czar?

What could be the most important contribution that increasing farmers could offer to the nation? Better food? Better soil development? Better care for animals? Better care for plants?

Are you ready? Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military. Say what? You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line–you know all the cliches–the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might. He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.

It would be interesting to review a transcript or recording of all of Vilsack’s comments at the meeting but Salatin seems pretty confident in his characterization and genuinely disappointed.

Wendell Berry: Poet & Prophet

Although he’s not a household name, I don’t think Wendell Berry’s quiet influence can be underestimated, and I’m thrilled that Bill Moyers will be profiling and interviewing Mr. Berry on Moyers & Company.

Wendell Berry: Poet & Prophet from on Vimeo.

Mark your calendar for 4 October, when the full program will be available on PBS and online.

Why the public still distrusts GMOs

Marion Nestle highlights this editorial in Nature Biotechnology about consumers’ continuing negative perception of GM food products.

Corporate control of the food supply, disenfranchisement of smallholder farmers, the potential adverse effects of GM varieties on indigenous flora and fauna, and the ‘contamination’ of crops grown on non-GM or organic farms all play into negative perceptions. And for better or worse, GM food is now inextricably linked in the public consciousness with Monsanto, which has seemingly vied with big tobacco as the poster child for corporate greed and evil.

“…luck is huge in cooking…”

Getting the snailwrangler site launched has been aided greatly by Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. A great example of his wide-ranging conversations is this episode—a food-focused one—with Alex Guarnaschelli. Growing up in Manhattan, across from the Carnegie Deli; the lifelong benefits of visiting museums as a child; her mother’s insistence on testing recipes herself rather than relying on others…this is a fun one.