Saturday, December 31, 2011

resolution #1 for 2012

Before I got really serious about food, both physically and philosophically, I always made new year's resolutions that would last for about 6 weeks if I was lucky and then fade away, only to resurface again the following year. The "lose weight" and "get more sleep" variety. Last year I made only one new year's resolution, and I stuck to it: to stop eating chicken. More specifically, to stop eating chicken from unknown sources. If I didn't know for sure that the chicken came from a specific farm or a store that only sells chicken up to my standards (Green Circle Farms, Whole Foods, etc.), I wouldn't eat it. We don't cook with CAFO-raised chicken (or any CAFO-raised meat for that matter) at home, but the biggest change was at restaurants. No more chicken nuggets, no more chicken dishes at all, except for a small handful of restaurants who have taken a stand against industrial agriculture.

At first it was brutal. I always wanted the buffalo chicken dip when I'd be out someplace, or a chicken panini or pasta. But the more I got used to it, the more I discovered other menu items I liked, and realized that over the course of the year, it really added up to something. When I think about how much chicken I would have consumed outside of my house the year before, that's a significant number of chickens saved for just one person. I like to think sticking with the resolution made a difference.

Which brings me to my first resolution of 2012. I'm going to expand the chicken resolution to encompass all meats (including beef and pork in all forms). If I don't know where it came from (and consequently how it was raised, what it was fed, and where it was slaughtered and processed), I'm not eating it. I will be eating like a vegetarian (or pescetarian if I know the fish was wild and not farm-raised) at all restaurants and as many occasions as I can outside of the house.

This is going to be brutal at first, I'm sure. Sister loves her bacon and particularly hamburgers and steaks. But real change sometimes comes at a cost. I'm not going to be party anymore to a system that negatively affects so many parts of our lives. Cheap meat has a very high cost: a cost to the environment of which we are to be stewards, a cost to the animals involved, a cost to the workers who are put in danger every day in slaughterhouses across the country that have minimal to no government oversight both in workers' rights and safety, a cost to communities and small farmers when we source everything we buy from somewhere other than home, a cost to the person who gets poisoned from e. coli or salmonella or even staph simply from eating a hamburger at a summer picnic.

There was a time in this country where people did not eat meat at every lunch and dinner. Shocking, I know. Meat was something that cost more and was often reserved for special Sunday dinners and for only one or two meals per week. Now meat is so comparably cheap because of the way it is raised (on a diet it wasn't meant to eat, in a place it wasn't meant to be), that it's ubiquitous. There was also a time in this country where we didn't have 8-year-olds with type 2 diabetes. And we used to call it adult-onset diabetes, because it was only adults that were developing it. Our reliance on industrial agriculture has had an impact on each and every one of us, even if we don't see it on the surface.

I have some other resolutions for this year which are related, which I'll be sharing in the next few days. In the meantime, if you got to the end of this blog post, you might be interested in these resources, which have been responsible for my heightened awareness of the dangers of CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) meat. If nothing else, think about it. I will always believe in a person's right to eat what he/she wants, but everyone who by necessity partakes in our food system should be educated as to what it is we are eating. And at what cost to ourselves, others, and the world around us.


Food, Inc. 
This is the movie that started it all for us. You cannot walk away from this documentary without thinking about where your food comes from.

online articles/resources
Animal Welfare Approved's Food Labeling for Dummies
A great guide to what words mean on the packages you buy, from a regulatory standpoint. Read why 'natural' doesn't mean anything about how your meat was raised, and what terms really mean when it comes to what you're eating.

Animal Welfare Approved's Grass Fed Primer
A guide to the benefits of grass fed beef. This is real grass fed beef, not grass-fed and corn finished, like Giant Eagle's Nature's Basket. (All cows, even those raised in confinement, start their lives eating grass and living mostly on pasture, otherwise they wouldn't survive. After several months (usually being prematurely weaned from their mothers), they are sent to CAFOs where they are fattened quickly on grain (and antibiotics!). However, it is this stage of development that is most critical for nutrition, etc. Which is why all beef is technically grass fed, corn finished, and why grocery stores want you to pay more because they frame their marketing phrases in such a way that it makes you feel like you're getting a healthier product. You're getting the same thing as the cheap stuff, only you're paying more for it.

Mark Bittman's Opinionator Column, NY Times
The link above is to his most recent column regarding antibiotics in meat (and why many of our currently untreatable, antibiotic resistant bacteria thrive because of our lifelong exposure to antibiotics in the food we eat). His columns are always fascinating and backed up by sound evidence.

Fast Food Nation
by Eric Schlosser
This book was the turning point for me in deciding to challenge myself to a meat free 2012. I also made another related resolution because of this book, which I'll talk about later.

Making Supper Safe
By Ben Hewitt
Another interesting book about the health cost of what we're eating.

Righteous Porkchop
By Nicolette Hahn Niman
A look at factory farms and the benefits of eating good, clean meat (from a previous vegetarian)

More this week about my other resolutions. I should also mention for anyone in this area (and western PA in general) that would like info about where we buy our meats, let me know. We buy beef, pork, and lamb in bulk and store meat in our chest freezer and would always be happy to have others buy-in as well!

Monday, December 26, 2011

inside at Christmas

Though this has nothing to do with canning or gardening, it has to do with our home, so I thought I'd share. Our tree was pretty special this year - we got a larger one which takes up a good part of the living room, and got a special geeky tree topper. You can also see the progression of Christmas movies which we were watching while decorating in the background, which is an added bonus.

Let's start with just the lights on the tree. Notice the movie Home Alone in the background, the part with Uncle Frank and Aunt Whatshername on the plane. I think he was telling her to put the spoon in her purse.

Add some bead garland. Fast forward to Kevin singing in the mirror.

By the time we filled it with ornaments, Home Alone was over, and it was on to Elf. It took a long time.

Mark did the honors of the tree topper, which was good because I couldn't reach it, even on the step stool.

Best. Tree. Ever.

Some other special decorations are our stockings, which I made out of felt, as if you cannot tell. And yes, that's a Darth Vader nutcracker under mine. In front of Mark's is a plate from Wendell August Forge.

And this little one, who loves to crouch under the tree.

Perhaps the best Christmas item of all were the slippers my parents got featuring one of my favorite Christmas movies and the cutest reindeer couple of all time, Rudolph and Clarice.

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy new year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

a heritage Thanksgiving

In addition to the usual Thanksgiving festivities with family over the long holiday weekend, we have started a tradition of making a Thanksgiving dinner with friends. This year, we decided to order a heritage breed turkey from a local source. Was it the most expensive turkey I've ever seen? Yes. Was it the most delicious turkey I've ever eaten? Hands down, yes. We named her Eunice, since I've always felt it important to name the animal when you get up close and personal in her business, so to speak.

Our turkey was pastured and was able to run around outside and exercise, hence the higher proportion of dark meat. This is opposed to traditional turkeys which are bred artificially since they can no longer physically mate due to their breast size and inability to walk around their confinement cages. No hormones or antibiotics, no added saline. (Traditional poultry is often injected with saline for flavor, but you also pay for that salt water in your price per pound, making it not as cheap per pound of meat as you might think.)

Mark made the turkey last year, and since he was doing it again this year, I asked him to make Eunice dance.

All gussied up and ready to go.

We use Cooks Illustrated's cranberry molasses glaze preparation instead of the traditional herbs and brown gravy. It is amazing. 

Eunice being admired by Amber.

More gratuitous turkey shots, and Mark wearing my apron.

The glaze and glisten on this turkey was just beautiful. 

All the while Eunice was cooking, we prepared some other dishes. 
Sausage cornbread stuffing. Verdict? Delicious.

Brulee sweet potatoes. So yummy, especially with the earthy taste of fresh sweet potatoes against the sweet crunch of the nut and sugar topping.

Red kuri squash from Clarion River Organics. Hands down the best squash I've ever eaten. (So good we bought 5 for the root cellar when we saw them again.)

Roasted brussels sprouts with shallots and vinaigrette in the foreground and homemade garlic bread knots in the bowl behind.

We also had some great white wine that Anthony picked out, and took our first taste of ice wine at dessert in teeny tiny appertif glasses from Mark's aunt.
Definitely an amazing meal. I'd make any of the dishes again, including dessert, which you can read about on my other blog, once upon a cupcake.

I'm really proud that we were able to use as many local ingredients as possible, and especially that we were able to get a heritage turkey. We could taste the difference 100% and it was yet another affirmation that a local and sustainable diet is worth the time and effort.