Archive for March, 2011


Local is the New Organic Co-Opted Food Term

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

by Gordon Edgar, author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.

I try not to be cranky when working behind the cheese counter but more and more the phrase, “local is the new organic” is pushing my buttons. Increasing corporate hypocrisy and consumer misunderstanding around “buying local” is one of the most frustrating things I run into as a cheese buyer for a cooperative grocery store.  Even though this would seem to be a more accessible and understandable issue than a lot of other food trends, many would-be locavores have just as much misunderstanding about the food system as the average non-rural American.

First off, I generally agree with local food politics as far as it goes.  Issues of equity are not its focus, but I will go along with it on the main point: supporting regional agriculture is crucial to healthy local economies and preserving farmland. There are many reasons that supporting local farmers is an important thing to do. I do it myself on both a professional and personal level. I am overjoyed that this has become an issue that many people who make the food-buying decisions are taking into consideration.

However, the fact that many populated regions of the country (and world) are not conducive to food agriculture for part of their year (even if not perverted by agri-business monoculture) has always left me uncomfortable. As my West Texan sweetie often says, “What was I supposed to eat growing up?  Cotton?”  As a lived-pretty-much-my-whole-life-in-Northern California(n), I try to not be as myopic as many of my people and realize that being a locavore is a lot easier in some places than in others.

That I can live with though.  I understand that supporting local agriculture is a process, and people can do what they can.

What I can’t live with is certain people’s definition of “local”.  Recently, through the wonders of facebook, I saw a cheese buyer at a large, natural foods grocery chain tell people about a new cheese they were carrying. It has always been a French cheese, but the huge French dairy conglomerate that owned the brand had opened a factory in the state where that employee worked. “… (F)eel good because you know you’re supporting local!” that cheesemonger exalted!

Is purchasing a cheese made by a European-owned company from a Texas-based company “buying local” even if the store is right down the street? Most people would say no. But what about if you buy your local, heirloom, family-farmed tomato at a huge grocery chain… are you still buying local?

Of course not.

You may be buying more local than if you were buying a tomato from Chile or Mexico, but really it’s the “buying local” equivalent of supporting artisan food producers by eating the “artisan ciabatta bread” meals at your local Jack in the Box.

I’m a guilt-free kind of shopping person.  I don’t believe — since wealth is not distributed equally and since many forces limit consumer choices — that one’s buying decisions are the greatest indicator of one’s politics. I believe that consumer identity politics being so prevalent on the left is one of the reasons the left alienates so many people, especially working people. But, that doesn’t mean I want to watch corporations drain out the amount of political meaning that those ideas do have.

The flip side of “supporting” local agriculture for locally owned stores like the one I work at is that it should go both ways.  One might not find supporting urban, living wage jobs as compelling as preserving farmland, and that’s understandable, I suppose, since once farmland is gone, it’s pretty much gone for good. But – let’s just say it here – some small, local producers have no intention of staying small or local or supporting local businesses if a large chain suddenly shows interest.

Recently, we were buying about 500 lbs of cheese per week from a local cheese company. Suddenly, they started shorting us product. After a little investigation, I found that they had gotten their cheese in the regional outlets of both a national restaurant and a national grocery chain. Happy to push the “buy local” angle at store buyers and through farmer’s markets, whom did they support when push came to shove? The big national players.

True, the volume that large chains buy can provide more financial security, at least in the short term.  The long term is, of course, less clear. Many folks find that out the hard way after taking out loans to expand operations only to have a big box (or, theoretically, a large eco-friendly-and-made-of-recycled-material box) store come back after a contract expires and offer them less money than the previous year.

But that’s not even the point to me. While some businesses are committed to being part of a local community, working in a local economy and providing living-wage local jobs, it’s hard to tell, — when buying local — whether one is supporting the “new organic” or the “new ”Phillip Morris”.

Reprinted with permission of the author and Fair Food Fight.

Gordon Edgar is the author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, available now.

Garrison Keillor “stunned” by Edward Hoagland’s “best book yet”!

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Beloved radio host Garrison Keillor announced recently that he will be retiring in 2013, and had some outstanding praise for Edward Hoagland’s Sex and the River Styx in an interview with the AARP about his decision.

Calling Sex and the River Styx Hoagland’s “best book yet”, Keillor – owner of independent bookstore Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minnesota and long-time host of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion – praised Hoagland as “the greatest prose stylist of our time”.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, which can be found in full at this link.

AARP: Why would you say we need poetry? Why should we read it?

Keillor: I would never tell you you need poetry, but if we were eating dinner together and you said something disparaging about poetry, I might look you in the eye and recite “A Blessing” by James Wright or “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver or “Since Feeling Is First” by E.E. Cummings, and you would be moved by the straightforward musicality of it. Composers keep trying to set these things to music, and there’s absolutely no need to — true poetry IS music. You would be touched by the music of our ordinary American English.

AARP: Does age give you an advantage in writing it? Finding meaning in it?

Keillor: Good Lord, no. The advantage is with youth, as in most things. They have the energy and bravery and pizzazz, they go slamming around, and we old coots tiptoe along the edge. But we have high hopes. And there are exceptions to the rule. I’m reading Edward Hoagland’s latest book, Sex and the River Styx. He is one of the greatest prose stylists of our time, he is 78, and this is his best book — great God, I am stunned at this accomplishment. And Robert Bly, closing in on 90 and writing beautifully and more humorously than ever. And Donald Hall, likewise. I’m 68, and I am cheering for my elders.

Learn more about Edward Hoagland and Sex and the River Styx in our bookstore now.

Joel Salatin: How to Eat Meat and Respect It, Too

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Yes! Magazine has a terrific interview with Joel Salatin, whose latest book is The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer, in their Spring 2011 issue. The interview focuses on diet, and the controversial question of whether meat eating can be sustainable (see Simon Fairlie’s Meat: A Benign Extravagance for more on this issue).  Here’s a sample of the piece:

Madeline Ostrander: What do you think a sustainable diet should look like?

Joel Salatin: What would a sustainable diet look like? Oh, my!

Ostrander: Because it’s often talked about as a vegetarian diet.

Salatin: No, not at all. I think we need to go back to localized diets, and in North America, yes, we can really grow perennials, so there would be a lot of herbivore—lamb, beef—in a diet. And our fruits and vegetables, which have a high water content, would be grown close to home, preferably in our backyards. In 1945, 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the United States were grown in backyards.

I think a local diet would have an indigenous flair. If you’re along the coast, you’d eat more seafood. If you’re inland, you would eat more herbivore and vegetables. If you’re in Florida, you would eat more citrus. Historically, it’s not about the relationship of meat to vegetables or whatever. It’s more about, what does this area grow well with a minimum of inputs?

Ostrander: Cows have gotten a bad rap lately for their contributions to environmental problems. What’s your response?

Salatin: Don’t blame the cow for the negatives of the industrial food system. All of the data that the anti-meat people use assumes an irrigated, concentrated animal feeding operation. Over 50 percent of the annuals that we grow in American agriculture are to feed cows. Cows aren’t supposed to eat corn. They’re supposed to mow forage. It’s completely inverted from nature’s paradigm. To use that inverted paradigm to demonize grazing, the most efficacious mechanism for planet restoration, is either consciously antagonistic to the truth or is ignorant of the kind of synergistic models that are out here.

Continue reading this article at Yes! Magazine.

Joel Salatin’s books, including The Sheer Ecstasy of Being A Lunatic Farmer, are available now in our bookstore.

Booklist reviews Cooking Close to Home

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Our new seasonal cookbook, Cooking Close to Home by Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz, received the following stellar review in the American Library Association’s Booklist publication this month.

This is the perfect book to have as farmer’s markets start reopening for the season and filling with delicious produce!

Following the course of changing seasons and using locally raised meats and produce have become touchstones for contemporary cuisine. Imrie and Jarmusz emphasize vegetarian dishes, but carnivores have little to complain about since duck, chicken, pork, beef, salmon, and trout all star in multiple places. Seeds, nuts, and cheeses enliven salads and vegetable gratins, and plenty of imaginative and colorful relishes and salsas dress up even the plainest meals. They leap the border to create a classic Quebecois meat pie, tortière, using buffalo, venison, and beef for richer flavor than the customary all-beef version. Imrie and Jarmusz offer a few recipes for preserving the summer’s bounty by pickling pepper, canning corn relish, and even bottling a maple syrup–based barbecue sauce. Full-color photographs make the recipes’ results appear even more attractive. New England and Northeast libraries will find this title particularly useful. -Mark Knoblauch

(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

Cooking Close to Home is available now. Get a sample recipe here!

New Spring Arrivals

Monday, March 28th, 2011

New books are popping up like bright green crocus stalks through the thawing ground these days. We have no less than eight new titles available this week!

Permaculture enthusiasts will delight in the release of Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture, which details this Austrian farmer’s renowned methods for edible landscaping, pond construction, mushroom cultivation, shelter building, and more. Holzer farms steep mountainsides in Austria 1,500 meters above sea level, and his farm is an intricate network of terraces, raised beds, ponds, waterways and tracks, well covered with productive fruit trees and other vegetation. In this book, Holzer shares the skill and knowledge acquired over his lifetime, covering every aspect of his farming methods – not just how to create a holistic system on the farm itself, but how to make a living from it.

For the activists out there, Bruce Levine’s brand new Get Up, Stand Up and environmental hero Diane Wilson’s latest, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, provide inspiration and energy for tackling the important issues that you’re passionate about.
As spring gets underway, organic farmers and gardeners will discover a plethora of helpful information in the first four NOFA Guides:
Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping: Soil Resiliency and Health on the Organic Farm
by Seth Kroeck
Humane and Healthy Poultry Production: A Manual for Organic Growers
by Karma Glos
Whole Farm Planning: Ecological Imperatives, Personal Values and Economics
by Elizabeth Henderson and Karl North;
Compost, Vermicompost, and Compost Tea: Feeding the Soil on the Organic Farm
by Grace Gershuny
And for those intrigued by the natural world, look no further than The Mystery of Metamorphosis by Frank Ryan, which offers some surprising new ideas that are shaking established science.

Anya Kamenetz: Hedging Bets On Going Green

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

I’m obsessed with the apocalypse. I have this in common with Ashton Kutcher, who told Men’s Fitness last year, apparently in all seriousness, that he works out to prepare for the “end of day” (sic). I understand that existential threats are ancient, but it seems to me that there are more of them than ever these days. The baby boomers just had nuclear weapons and only feared them from one country. We have climate change, peak oil, globally overleveraged late-stage capitalism, swine flu, Islamofascist terrorism, the end of the Mayan calendar, “rogue nukes,” and “suitcase nukes.” I’m expecting zombies any day now.

There are just as many existential threats to be faced down in our working lives, albeit at the scale of industry rather than civilization. Once, when I was on a publicity tour for a book I wrote about disruption in higher education, an angry grad student accused me of advocating the demise of his chosen profession: university-level academic. I countered that as a print journalist, I was pretty much in the same boat, and that we’d both better get used to chronic uncertainty. Whatever your job — dotcom entrepreneur, assembly-line worker, mortgage broker, physician — chances are you’ve had to swallow the same message in the past decade.

Continue reading this article at Fast Company.

Anya Kamenetz is the author of DIY U, available now.

Brown Shoots

Friday, March 25th, 2011

by Robert Kuttner, author of A Presidency In Peril and Obama’s Challenge.

As spring dawns, the economy’s green shoots have been trampled once again, first by the economic fallout from Japan’s tsunami, and again by rising worldwide commodity prices.

The disruption of Japan’s production revealed the soft underbelly of globalization – the reliance on vulnerable global supply chains only as strong as their weakest link. Rising food and energy prices produce a toxic stew of inflation and unemployment.

This depressing news, of course, has political as well as economic consequences. Politically, it means that the incumbent party – Obama’s – faces even tougher going in 2012.

Economically, rising inflation makes it that much harder for the Federal Reserve to keep resorting to very low interest rates to levitate a sick economy. At some point, the Fed’s natural inflation-phobia will kick in, even though higher food and energy prices have nothing to do with overheated demand (with unemployment stuck near double digits, demand is still too low, not too high.) But as in the late 1970s, stagnation could turn into stagflation.

And the Republicans in Congress are compounding the crisis of prolonged recession and joblessness by slashing everything in sight — throwing more people out of work.

Faced with the prospect of having to defend the administration’s performance in an economy of still high unemployment, you might think the White House would be doing everything possible to highlight the Republicans’ responsibility for the weak economy – the perverse budget cuts, the unpopular assault on unions, the direct attack on Social Security.

Instead, the president has doubled down on his strategy of “more-bipartisan-than-thou.” As the New York Times‘ Michael Shear wrote in a smart and skeptical piece last week,

“As they prepare to wage political war against President Obama, the potential 2012 Republican candidates are doing everything they can to draw sharp distinctions with him.

But Mr. Obama isn’t cooperating.

Rather than emphasize his differences with potential Oval Office rivals or Republican adversaries on Capitol Hill, the president is taking every opportunity he can to embrace members of the other party as co-conspirators in his efforts to confront the country’s challenges.

According to Mr. Obama, the two parties have cooperated – or are showing signs of being willing to work together – on education reform, tax cuts, energy security, economic growth and potential changes to an entitlement system that has become a drain on the nation’s budget.”

This must be occurring in a parallel universe somewhere. Republican collaboration with Obama is certainly not happening on earth. The president and his political advisers are evidently gambling that as the Republican budgeters and GOP presidential contenders grow more reckless and more extreme, he will just look more reasonable and more presidential.

Doubling down on bipartisanship did not exactly work in 2010, when the Dems lost 63 House seats, their worst off-year performance in modern times. Because of the Republicans’ sheer extremism, it may work to re-elect the president by a narrow margin in 2012 – but not to rekindle the enthusiasm of the groups that elected him in 2008 as a force for believable change.

Presidential elections are won or lost state by state, and you have to wonder how this strategy will rally economically distressed voters to the Democrats in key swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, or even Illinois.

At best, Obama wins narrowly next year, but the Democrats suffer huge losses in the Senate, where the numbers are stacked against them (11 Republicans up, compared to 23 Dems) and gains in the House but not enough to take back control.

There is latent support for a president to lead as the champion of hard-pressed regular people. But Obama keeps passing up the opportunities history deals him.

The Republican assault against public employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere produced the largest gain in the approval ratings for unions in decades. By margins of nearly two to one, the public rejects the conclusion that public workers should take pay or benefit cuts to solve fiscal crises.

You wouldn’t have expected government employees to be the poster children for broad economic distress, but the effort to blame the recession and the budget crisis on nurses, teachers, cops and firefighters backfired. Regular people saw these workers as their neighbors and fellow members of a beleaguered middle class, not as their oppressors.

You might have expected a Democratic president to seize this teachable moment to point out that the collapse of the economy and of government revenues was caused on Wall Street, not in state capitols or at union bargaining tables. But this president was too busy making amends for the hurt feelings of big business, preparing to unveil the next loophole in enforcement of the Dodd-Frank Act, and sending his fundraising associates to Wall Street with wheelbarrows to collect donations for his campaign.

Maybe there is political genius in just giving the Tea Party Republicans enough rope, and waiting for them to hang themselves. But it hardly adds up to a presidential re-election with coattails for the Democrats or a shift in the direction of this nation’s economy and its suffering working people.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

A Presidency In Peril and Obama’s Challenge are both available now in our bookstore.

Big Dreams in a Small Place

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

The following is excerpted from Maggie Kozel’s book, The Color of Atmosphere: One Doctor’s Journey In and Out of Medicine. It appeared originally on the web at Truthout.org.

I remember the exact moment I knew I wanted to be a doctor. I was a sophomore in high school, staring out beyond the rattling windowpane of a cramped, overheated school bus, when my future suddenly reached in through the window and grabbed me.

There was nothing exceptional about the morning until that moment. As usual, I had awakened to kitchen noises, riddled with tension, making their way through my bedroom wall.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Helen. The coffee’s weak.”

The sound of the metal coffeepot striking the stovetop was as effective as an alarm clock. Leaving my huddle of blankets and dog, I dressed for school like I did every weekday, hiking up the blue uniform skirt of Maria Regina High School, picking out socks from the flotsam and jetsam of laundry that seemed to cover every horizontal surface in the house. When the endless arguing that functioned as atmosphere in our home wasn’t too close or vicious to ignore, I grabbed a bowl of cereal. At the last minute, I always ducked into the grimy bathroom to sneak on some makeup before bolting out the back door.

There was usually time for a cigarette at the corner before the bus came. Once the bus hit the highway on its hour-long, nauseating drive toward the Blessed Virgin Mary, I craned and shifted in my seat for a bit of conversation. Then I started my homework. And for long moments I stared out the window, dreaming up a future.

At one time I had considered being a nurse, but that memory doesn’t really distinguish itself from my other dreams to be an actress or a teacher. The closest thing I had to a medical role model was a TV heartthrob, young Dr. Kildare, and in truth I really just wanted to marry him. The only doctor I knew growing up was Dr. Malinski, the town’s scary general practitioner. His tiny waiting room held little but a few plastic chairs, some outdated issues of Life magazine, and the warning smell of antiseptic. A louvered door separated the waiting area from the exam room; confidentiality slipped through those wooden slats as easily as the doctor’s thick Polish accent.

Continue reading this excerpt at Truthout.

Check out The Color of Atmosphere in our bookstore now.

Joan Gussow profile a finalist for James Beard Journalism Award

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

The 2011 James Beard Foundation Award finalists were announced on Monday, and we offer hearty congratulations to Brian Halweil, whose profile essay on Joan Dye Gussow (author of Growing, Older and This Organic Life), published in Edible Manhattan in March 2010, has been selected!

Halweil’s essay was chosen in the Beard Foundation’s Journalism/Profile award category. Called the “Oscars of the food world” by Time magazine, the Beard awards are a tremendous honor and a very big deal! Learn more about the awards.

An excerpt from Halweil’s piece:

Last spring, when hundreds of alums and faculty of the nutrition program of Columbia University Teachers College gathered to commemorate the department’s 100th anniversary, one speaker riveted the audience. Shoulders back, patrician chin jutting forward, Joan Gussow strode toward the stage. A recent octogenarian, she remains in remarkable shape.“Good morning. I don’t come with slides,” the seasoned speaker quipped to immediate laughter. “But I have to say that if anyone told me 35 years ago that I would be speaking after a Manhattan borough president had talked about New York City’s foodshed, I would have thought they were smoking dope.” More laughter and applause. “So this is a thrilling moment for me.”

Thrilling because for the past 40 years – half her life – Gussow, a longtime occupant of the Mary Swartz Rose chair of the college’s Nutrition Program, the oldest in the nation, has been waging a tireless war against the industrialization of the American food system. Long before mad cow, avian flu, E. coli or the “diabesity” epidemic made headlines, Gussow foretold the impacts of the post-modern diet on public health, ecology and culture, “depressing generations of graduate students,” as she now puts it, with the news that “life as they knew it was not sustainable, and destined to come to an end unless we urgently changed our ways.” And along the way she didn’t just lay the foundation for modern-day locavores. She also challenged nutritionists everywhere to look up from their microscopes to see the cafeteria, the factory farm and beyond.

“In many places we have begun serious dialogues about the corporate malnourishment of our children,” she told the crowd last spring. “We have painfully begun to fix school lunch, and we have a family in the White House that is publicly committed to local, organic food and has begun digging up part of our national lawn for a vegetable garden.  It is hard to not yield to a kind of heart-lifting optimism.”

Continue reading this essay at Edible Manhattan.

Joan Dye Gussow’s Growing, Older and This Organic Life are both available now.

Eloquent Musings from a Master

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

The rave reviews continue to pour in for Edward Hoagland’s Sex and the River Styx. Here’s the latest from Kirkus Reviews.

From the acclaimed essayist, novelist and travel writer, more deeply profound essays on the conditions of the natural world.

In this outstanding collection, 78-year-old Hoagland (Early in the Season, 2008, etc.) culls 13 years of magazine writing, published in stalwarts like Harper’s and Outside, for a result that, again, will draw comparisons to Thoreau. Another great naturalist, John Muir, once wrote, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” There might not be a more apropos line to describe this book, which not only finds Hoagland reminiscing on his many widespread adventures exploring the globe in years past, but also on the connectedness between the destruction of the planet, his mortality and aging, failed love relationships and his impassioned, sometimes polemical but always articulate, brilliant thoughts on humans’ abdication of responsibility to protect nature. Citing an unwavering allegiance to what’s alive, Hoagland believes that “heaven is here and the only heaven we have.” The author is less concerned with his own demise than with the larger unraveling of the world, and these glimmering essays avoid nostalgia or self-pity by focusing on his various entanglements, with past lovers and wives, Tibetan yak herders, a Ugandan family and the circus aerialists with whom he worked 60 years ago. Hoagland possesses the rare quality of being both thirsty to absorb knowledge and experiences and also, organically, to want to pass along what he’s discovered. It’s a wonder, too, that these writings, never pedagogical, allow for the world he’s witnessed to stand as the star of the show.

Eloquent musings from a master.

Read the original review at Kirkus.

Edward Hoagland’s Sex and the River Styx is available now in both and paperback formats.


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