SNAP Challenge Gourmet: Sneaky Blender Tomato Sauce

A recent report from the USDA makes a number of disconcerting observations about American’s relationship with vegetables. Some of their concerns, I don’t share. I see no problem with pairing heaping portions of dark green, leafy vegetables with generous amounts of fat and proper seasoning with good salt. The broad brush strokes however should be distressing to anyone. When we are talking about the average vegetable intake of the average American, we are talking about ketchup, salsa, nacho toppings, pizza toppings, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce and lettuce and tomato on burgers. For most, the closest they are getting to a dark green vegetable is the pickle.

In order to help remedy that situation (in some small way) while meeting people where they are at, I offer a tomato sauce recipe that can be used on pizza or pasta. It was designed for the North Hartford Community Kitchen as has helped dozens of picky eaters increase their vegetable consumption without complaint or constraint. The recipe is dirt cheap, dirt simple and a dirty trick on those that don’t like squash, arugula, peas, carrots, green beans, lima beans, parsley or whatever else you want to inflict on them.

2 28 oz Can Tomatoes, crushed
10 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Cup Mixed Frozen Vegetable (thawed)
2 Cup Frozen Butternut Squash (thawed)
1 Cup Arugula, rough chop
1 Cup Italian Parsley, rough chop
2 Cup Fresh Basil, rough chop
½ Cup Olive Oil
1 tsp Salt

1. In a pan heat the garlic in the olive oil for 3 minutes without browning.
2. Pour the garlic/oil mixture into a blender or food processor with the tomatoes.
3. Blend for a minute. Add the other ingredients one at a time, blending for 30 seconds each until mixture is smooth.

Downloadable pdf recipe card

Speaking of salsa y ketchup.


Bon Apetit!

Ask a Farmer: Katie Olthoff, Squaw Creek Farm

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Katie and Bart Olthoff have been raising turkeys since 2009 in Squaw Creek Iowa. Bart Olthoff’s family has been farming in that part of Iowa for five generations and he was working for the USDA when they were approached by a local turkey farmer who decided to expand their business by investing in young, local farmers rather than expanding their own operation. Squaw Creek Farm. This is how Katie describes their operation on their website:

Twenty thousand (20,000) male baby turkeys (poults) come to us when they are 1 day old. We unload them into a big, toasty, 90 degree barn called the “brooder.” They live there until they are about 5 weeks old. Inside the barn, there are automated feeders and waterers, which are triggered by the turkeys, so they have unlimited access to these. The temperature in the barn is controlled by a thermostat, and there are vents that open and close automatically to help adjust it if needed. The turkeys are not in cages – instead they are on sawdust bedding from a local sawmill. For the first two weeks, chores take a few hours each morning, because of the supplemental feeders and waterers that we fill by hand. We also chore the poults at night, but this is usually a quick walk through to make sure all equipment is running smoothly and that the turkeys seem comfortable.

Around 5 weeks of age, we move the turkeys to one of our two finisher sites. The finisher sites have two 528 foot buildings, so the turkeys have plenty of room to spread out as they grow. These barns also have automated feeders and waterers and again, the temperature is controlled for the turkeys’ comfort. Our finishers are tunnel ventilated, meaning that there are huge fans at one end that suck air through, creating up to a 10 mph breeze in the barns when necessary. (Most livestock barns have curtains instead and rely on the natural breezes to cool animals.) We also have misters that cool the birds in the summer.

The turkeys stay in the finishers until they are ready for market at 19 1/2 weeks. Until then, my husband chores them twice a day, walking through to check equipment, pick up dead, and look for any signs of distress or disease. At the time they go to market, they average about 41 pounds. These are not your Thanksgiving birds! Our birds are processed for lunch meat and ground meat. In fact, the processing plant we use supplies turkey to all the Subways west of the Mississippi River!

In the meantime, we would have already started a new flock in the brooder. At 5 weeks, they would move to the OTHER finisher site. In between flocks, there is about 4 weeks to clean and disinfect, and that is actually the busiest time for us. So, every 9 weeks, we get a new flock of 20,000, and there is no break in between! We raise almost 6 flocks, or 120,000 turkeys, in one year!

On March 14, Food and Farm Discussion Lab held our first Ask a Farmer Q&A with Katie. The questions came from FAFDL members. The conversation has been condensed, lightly edited and organized for continuity.*

THE BASICS

FAFDL: What do you feed the turkeys?

Katie: Turkeys eat a mixture of corn and soybean meal, with vitamins, fats, bone meal, and bakery meal mixed in. We do not mix feed on site. We have a feed mill nearby (owned by a group of 12 turkey farmers) where our feed is mixed.

In the grocery store there are different size birds. How is that managed on the farm? Is there natural variance in weights or will you feed groups for more or less days to get desired size bird? Do the female turkeys reach laying stage during your operation? If so, are eggs considered a bonus, or a chore to deal with?

Great question. We raise male birds – toms – for further processing. Our birds are over 40 pounds when they go to market. Most whole birds are hens. And I’m not sure how the weight variance happens – I imagine it’s the age they are sent to market. Modern breeding has developed birds that are very similar in size.

The occasional female slips through. There are sometimes eggs at market time. The load out crew (mostly Hispanic) sometimes takes them home to eat. We’ve never eaten one.

Are the males hatched on your farm or delivered from an outside hatchery ?

Our birds come from a hatchery about 5 hours away. Delivered at 1 day old.

Is there any seasonal production differences / demands (Thanksgiving) ? Or do they balance the demand and slaughter over the whole year?

Because our birds are toms for further processing, we have no seasonal variances.  Read More…

Star Wars, Tatooine Fennel and a Parallax View of American Cuisine

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Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 8.41.00 PMPrinciple photography for Star Wars began in the Tunisian desert in March of 1976. Just as location scouts were tasked with finding an other worldly landscape here on Earth to transport us to a galaxy far far away, some clever prop master was given the task with creating prop food for Luke’s Aunt Beru to prepare for lunch. Instead of imagining some out landish vegetable and trying to make a realistic model that could be broken up by hand without giving away the game, they wisely chose bulbs of fennel. As a ten year old kid, growing up in Suburbville, USA it sure looked like a vegetable from Tatooine to me, as I’m sure it did to countless others. Real fennel was far more realistic than what a model maker could have crafted, while completely unfamiliar. I doubt Aunt Beru’s soup seemed quite so intergalactic to French audiences, but it says a lot about the transformation of American cooking in the intervening years that fennel was sufficiently exotic at the time to be cast in the role of representing Tatooine cuisine. In the background, you can also see some root vegetables that looks like salsify, a vegetable that remains largely and sadly unkown, four decades later.

In the US in 1976, fennel might have been on the menus of Chez Panisse or the Four Seasons. It would have been found in recipes on those rare kitchen bookshelves with the odd tome by MLK Fisher, James Beard, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David or Julia Child, but it would have been nearly impossible to find in American supermarkets at the time. Today, fennel is easily found anywhere and shaved fennel salads are a staple of stylish middlebrow restaurants.

If asked what fruits and vegetables today could fill that role today, I can think of a bunch that could pass as delectables from the Degoba system. Looking over the list though, the beauty of fennel was that it was unfamilar and ordinary looking at the same time. And while these earthly delights might seem too exotic for a humble moisture farmer’s lunch on a desert planet, they could still be familiar to viewers of any number of Food Network or Travel Channel shows. Given the role Asian markets play in the decision making that goes into planning today’s blockbusters, I’m not sure how you would cast a fruit or vegetable from another planet there days.

HAPPY STAR WARS DAY!
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Dragon Fruit (Thomas Quine)


Buddha’s Hand (edible eden )
Read More…

SPECIAL MAY DAY EDITION | Volume One: Fast Food

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Daniel X. O’Neil

The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back
Sarah Kendzior | Medium.com

At 24, Patrick is a fast food veteran. Over the past eight years, he has worked at seven different franchises. He started out at America’s Incredible Pizza Company at the NASCAR Speedpark in St. Louis, Missouri, the city where he grew up and still lives. He thought a fast food job would keep him on his feet while he figured out his life. He did not know it would become his life. Now he is captive to the hustle, always moving and going nowhere.

“You pick up something easy to get stable,” he says. “And on your quest to get stable, you end up getting stuck. You either fall or you stay where you are. Or you fall staying where you are.”

How One Protest Turned Into a Fast-Food-Worker Movement
Kristina Bravo | TakePart | 4 April 2014

“So we started talking to workers at fast-food places and asking them if they wanted to organize for higher pay,” New York Communities for Change’s Jonathan Westin said in an emailed statement. “There was not a worker we talked to who wouldn’t sign onto the campaign.”

The movement became known as Fast Food Forward. It held its first citywide protest in 2012, and the movement has since spread across the country. The federal minimum wage still stagnates at $7.25 per hour, a rate that hasn’t budged since 2009. But a lot of progress has been made on the state level. As of Jan. 1, 2014, twenty-one states exceed the federal minimum wage; others are expected to follow suit. Here’s a look back at the American fast-food workers’ fight for livable pay.

Fast-Food CEOs Make 1,200 Times As Much As One of Their Workers—and They Want to Keep It That Way
Zoë Carpenter | The Nation | 24 April 2014

David Novak is the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the parent company that runs Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. Last year, while Yum! Brands and other restaurant companies lobbied against raising the minimum wage, Novak made at least $22 million—more than 1,000 times what the average fast-food worker makes in a year. In return for paying him so much, Yum! got a tax break.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents Yum! and other restaurant companies, is expected to launch a lobbying blitz in Washington next week against a minimum wage increase. For years the restaurant industry has fought to keep the wage floor low, all while rewarding its CEOs with increasingly large pay packages. As a result, the food industry is now the most unequal sector in the American economy. Thanks to a tax loophole that encourages companies to raise “performance pay” for executives, taxpayers are effectively subsidizing the imbalance.

While inequality between low-level workers and CEOs manifests in all areas of the economy, a new report from Demos concludes that the gap within the food industry is exceptional. Between 2009 and 2012 the CEO-to-worker pay ratio in food services and accommodation was about twice as large as most other sectors. In 2012, fast-food CEOs earned 1,200 times as much as the average employee.

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Daniel X. O’Neil
Fast Food Pulls a Fast One
Michael Winship | BillMoyers.com | 29 April 2014

Maybe you’ve even read about the wage theft lawsuits that have been filed against McDonald’s and Taco Bell, or the recent settlements in New York State against McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza that have led to payments to employees of more than $2 million.

But, much in the way that Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century lays out the hard data backing up everything we’ve believed about the reality of vast income inequality in America, a trio of new reports confirms with solid statistics what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — that those in charge are gobbling up the profits voraciously while their workers are forced into public assistance. What’s more, our tax dollars are subsidizing both the fast-food poor who need the help and the fast-food rich who don’t.

First, a recent data brief from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) notes, “Lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession, but 44 percent of employment growth over the past four years. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.” In other words, as The New York Times more succinctly put it, “The poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones.”

Subway leads fast food industry in underpaying workers
Annalyn Kurtz | CNN Money | 1 May 2014

McDonald’s gets a lot of bad press for its low pay. But there’s an even bigger offender when it comes to fast food companies underpaying their employees: Subway.

Individual Subway franchisees have been found in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations spanning from 2000 to 2013, according to a CNNMoney analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Hamburgled: Nine Out Of Ten Fast Food Workers Have Experienced Wage Theft
Alan Pyke | Think Progress | 2 April 2014

A new poll finds that 89 percent of fast food workers nationwide say they experience wage theft. That means that nine out of every ten fast food workers doesn’t get the pay they earned, according Hart Research Associates’ findings. The most common violation, workers report, is off-the-clock work. About a quarter of those surveyed had worked over 40 hours in a week on some occasions, and half of that group said they didn’t get overtime pay for those hours.

The poll coincides with testimonials from two former McDonald’s managers who say these sorts of illegal labor practices were routine in their stores for years.

If Alternative Farming worked, it would just be called “Farming”

First published on Skepteco Feb 8th 2014

by Graham Strouts

Another insightful critique of permaculture, this time from Chris Smaje, which I take the liberty of quoting from at length as Smaje summarizes the issues better than I can:

PDC {Permaculture Design Course} syndrome can involve one or more of the following symptoms:

  • a belief that no till or mulching or forest gardening or polycultures or mob-stocking or chicken tractors or perennial crops or compost teas or various other techniques must invariably be practiced in preference to any alternatives
  • a belief that whatever Bill Mollison or David Holmgren or a handful of other authors have written is above criticism;
  • likewise, a belief that the way things are done by certain famous permaculturists or on certain famous permaculture holdings must always be faithfully reproduced elsewhere
  • a belief that permaculture has cracked the problem of creating a low input – high output farming system
  • a belief, consequently, that anyone who struggles to make a living out of farming must be failing because they are not properly following the correct principles
  • a slightly superior smile at the sight of weeds, hoes, spades, tractors etc
  • a belief that a small garden crammed with edible perennial things is proof positive that permaculture can feed the world
  • a belief that controlled trials and numerical analysis are reductionist and unnecessary
  • a belief that people who question aspects of permaculture principles are simply nay-sayers who sap the movement’s joie de vivre
  • most importantly, a ready admission that permaculture is not a set of approved techniques or received dogma that must always be applied everywhere but a way of thinking, a broad set of handy design principles, before cheerfully reverting to any of the preceding affectations.

  • I’m exaggerating a little of course. And the good news is that the condition is rarely permanent – it usually fades within a few years of taking a permaculture course, faster if the sufferer takes on a farm themselves (the quickest cure recommended by physicians). Perhaps I’m just being over-sensitive to criticism: God knows there are plenty of things I’ve done on my holding that deserve it. And in case it seems like I’m putting myself above those who suffer from this troubling condition, let me tell you that I had a very bad case of PDC syndrome myself for a couple of years. It’s not that I feel I have nothing to learn from recent PDC graduates, but I do weary of the judgmental spirit that too often seems to accompany the process.

    From my perspective as a small-scale agroecologically-oriented commercial grower, I’d offer the following criticism of the package that many PDC graduates seem to emerge with:

  • a tendency to over-emphasise the role of smart design tricks and to under-emphasise the important but unglamorous basics of sound growing/farming skills
  • a tendency to be over-impressed by the media schtick of various global permaculture gurus who very rarely make a living from producing basic food commodities, and a tendency not to notice what many unsung local farmers and growers are achieving as ‘implicit permaculturists’ who simply apply good design in their practice
  • a tendency to a religious mode of thinking, in which the rudiments of scientific rigour are rejected as ‘positivism’ or ‘reductionism’ and replaced by an overwhelming faith in the views of permaculture gurus as per my previous point
  • a metropolitan disdain for farmers past and present, and a conviction that the way they have done things is wrong
  • an insufficiently fine-grained understanding of agro-ecosystems

In truth, I would personally hesitate to say some of those things so baldly without having specific evidence I could point to to back them up; as with Ann Owen’s post discussed last week, Smaje does not mince his words or shy away from direct attack on his prey; nevertheless, I understand everything he is saying and can concur that this is also my experience with that special tribe of permaculture people.

Note Smaje’s accusation towards the end of his list of “a tendency to a religious mode of thinking, in which the rudiments of scientific rigour are rejected as ‘positivism’ or ‘reductionism’ “
This seems odd since elsewhere Smaje continues to accuse me also of “irrationalist faith-based scientism”- which seems to be exactly the kind of response he is complaining of receiving himself from the permaculture world.

Just as Owen completely rolled back on her concurrence with myself and Peter Harper that “Permies dont do numbers” by asserting that “No book learning can compete with a farming family’s generations of experience” -in other words, anecdotes trump data- so Smaje seems unable to see that those he criticizes will tar him with the self-same epithet he throws at me.

Read More…

Pushing Back Against the “Hungry China Is Going to Starve The World”

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Chart via Thomson Reuters

Zhang Hongzhou a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore pushes back against the “A Hungry China is Going to Starve World and Despoil the Planet” narrative.

However the key to whether the global grain market can meet China’s huge demand is the global food producing capacity. China is feeding over 20 per cent of the world population with only eight per cent of the world’s arable land, and six per cent of the world’s water resources. This means the rest of the world, with over 92 per cent of global arable land and 94 per cent of the world water resources, only produced food for less than 80 per cent of the population. In other words, there is huge potential to increase global food production.

As long as China enters the international food market in a gradual and transparent manner, giving the global agricultural sectors sufficient time to respond, China’s food import will not lead to food price spikes. While moderate increase in global food prices is expected, this will not threaten global food security either; instead, it will be conducive to the revitalisation of global agriculture and poverty alleviation.

In doing so, he touches on the land grab claim that I highlighted the other day in a piece in Slate.

Another major evidence to support the China threat theory is its alleged land grabbing in foreign countries, particularly Africa. Indeed, in 2006, China introduced the “agriculture going-out” strategy and since then China has built production bases for cereal, soybeans, rubber and other agricultural products in Russia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, South America and other areas.

However, the scale of China’s land acquisition in Africa is marginal. On the contrary, agricultural aid and assistance has been the main approach of China’s “agriculture going-out” in Africa. What is more, till now, agricultural produce from China’s overseas agricultural investment is mainly sold on the international market instead of being shipped back to China. This not only makes economic sense but also helps harness the potential of global food production.

Read the whole thing at Yale Global.

The Cow Calf Problem

David Rogers piece in today’s Politico on the reasons for the current profitability of cattle ranching is must read for anyone wanting a better understanding of the economics of a central segment of our food system. Clocking in at over 2500 words, it’s a bit of an investment, but well worth the investment.

The basics? Beef prices are up, corn prices are down.

Beef prices are up because we have far few head of cattle than we did even a few years ago.

As of January 2014, the total inventory of cattle and calves in the U.S. had fallen to 87.7 million — the lowest since Harry Truman was president. More important, the number of all cows and heifers that have calved was just 38.3 million, the lowest since 1941 and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

That’s been driven by the ethanol boom, which displaced hay and pasture in the Midwest to make room for more corn and three years of drought in states like Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, exports to Asia have doubled in recent years, creating competition with domestic demand. This is in part driven by demand from China where US beef imports are illegal, but pour in through Vietnam and Hong Kong in a barely secret black market.

With prices high, the industry is trying to respond by increasing herd sizes again. Here’s the catch, cows don’t have litters, they have one calf at a time. Too produce bigger herds, ranchers need to hang on to more cows to have more calves. The project of rebuilding a herd is a multi-year project. The challenge is compounded by the fact that cattle live outdoors in an uncontrolled environment. There’s a lot going on.

Among the many fun facts in the piece: 84 percent of the beef cows in America are still in herds of 500 head or fewer. There are some parts of Ag that Big just won’t go.