What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, June 25, 2010 by Slow Food USA
The third of the Department of Justice/USDA Anti-trust workshops is underway in Madison, WI, as we write this. Last night, as in Ankenny Iowa a few months ago, there was a town hall held the night before the workshop. Here’s a report from the field…-ed.
by Siena Chrisman, WHY Hunger
Appropriately, the evening began with a picnic featuring local cheese and ended with an ice cream social under a yellow moon. In between, dairy farmers, consumer advocates, professors, labor union representatives, faith communities, antihunger advocates, an aspiring cheesemaker, and even a Certified Public Accountant spoke out forcefully about the widespread injustices in the dairy industry.
The main event was a Dairy Town Hall Forum in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored by Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farm Coalition, and Food and Water Watch, and timed to coincide with Friday’s Department of Justice and USDA workshop examining corporate concentration in the dairy industry. The workshop on Friday is part of the ongoing investigation (which I reported on here) by the two departments to determine whether food and agriculture companies have become too concentrated.
The dairy industry is one of the most concentrated in the country, with just one company controlling 40% of the US milk supply. Prices for farmers have fallen so low in the past three years that many dairy farmers were losing as much as $200 per cow every month in 2009. Meanwhile, even though the price farmers were paid for milk fell by almost 50% from 2007 to 2009, the retail price dropped by less than 25%. Someone’s profiting, but it’s not farmers or consumers.
Posted on Wed, June 09, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by Jennifer Casey, Slow Food WiSE Biodiversity Projects
I can just imagine…a warm autumn afternoon, in the not too distant future, sitting around the picnic table with a group of people to taste the Milwaukee apple. I won’t be the only one curious about the character of this apple, for not one of the many chefs, growers, food activists, and just plain eaters that I’ve spoken with in and around Milwaukee, WI have ever sunk their teeth into this rare varietal. Now, after much planning and a bit of planting, if we carefully watch over our tiny bench grafted trees, we’ll soon have our very own nursery to help usher this apple and others back into our regional foodways.
Guided by the work that the RAFT Alliance has been doing nationally, and with the help of local orchards Weston’s Antique Apples and Maple Valley, Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast is joining others across the country to protect apple biodiversity. We “adopted” the Milwaukee, but also planted the Pewaukee, Oneida, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Autumn Beauty apples—our choices of varietals guided by their ties to our region, description, and threatened or endangered status, or simply on the recommendation of one of our local orchard experts. Our chapter also planted a variety of apple that we refer to as the “Stahl-Conrad”—named for the historic homestead in which our nursery sits. The Stahl-Conrad Homestead once was home to a thriving orchard and now only and old, gnarly apple tree, sans fruit, still stands on the three acres that have been preserved. Wishing to cultivate this apple, we collected scions from the tree in very early spring and made our way to a grafting workshop at Weston’s for assistance binding our scions to root stock.
Here’s what Jeff Filipiak, one of Slow Food WiSE’s chapter leaders had to say about our apple planting day: “I’d never worked with tree graftings before, and this was a nice way to appreciate how a slow approach respects the present, past and future. Digging and getting one’s hands in the dirt kept me in the moment, taking the care required for the task. Planting old varieties draws upon the skills of farmers and fruit-growers developed over the course of decades. And planting a tree for food is an act of faith in the future (as Wendell Berry notes) and delayed gratification, since the benefits won’t be seen for years or decades in the future.”
Posted on Tue, June 08, 2010 by Slow Food USA
The oil situation in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening an entire culture on Louisiana’s coastline. Along every step of the food chain—from fisherman to chef to impassioned eaters like me—there is fear of the unknown. Until the oil gusher is stopped, none of us can tell what the future holds.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Slow Food Ark of Taste committee made an emergency boarding of Gulf seafood that seemed the most threatened at that time. Louisiana oysters and wild-caught Gulf shrimp were welcomed onto the Ark of Taste along with the New Orleans poor boy bread that they are so often served on.
Today, countless varieties of Gulf fin fish are hugely threatened, including lynchpins of our local menus like speckled trout and redfish. Our gumbo crab, the Louisiana blue crab, which is found both in the Gulf and in our brackish waterbodies like Lake Pontchartrain, could be wiped out by the intrusion of oil into our estuary marshes.
Since the oil disaster began, I have heard from Slow Food friends across the United States who ask, “How can we help?” The single best way to assist your food friends of the Gulf is to EAT GULF SEAFOOD.
Posted on Thu, June 03, 2010 by Intern
by intern Shauna Nep
You may already be aware that currently, over 70% of USDA’s farm payments go to the wealthiest and largest 10% of the producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice. The smaller farms and the growers of fruits, veggies, and livestock receive little support, if anything.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been helping us understand these government payments and ensuring that their distribution to farmers is transparent by tracking where the billions in farm subsidies go and releasing this info to the public. The EWG database allows you to search for government subsidies by state, county, congressional district, farm, and also by crop.
Unfortunately, the EWG recently announced that they will not be able to update their subsidy database for 2010. This is because the data that revealed who is receiving the billions paid is no longer available. Congress was able to avoid making this data available by changing the law to say that the USDA could decide whether to release the information and the administration chose not to spend the money to do it.
Well, this is bad news. The EWG introduced this database in order to motivate the public to demand a sensible and fair Food and Farm Bill. However without the data from the USDA, the EWG will not be able to tell the public which farmers (and which crops) are receiving large payments, and which are not. This is especially important since these payments are still a large part of the reason that the food system produces more fast food than healthy food.
This just means we will have to pay extra close attention to the Food and Farm Bill happenings with the hope that we will end up with a bill which encourages government support programs that are responsible, fair, and effective.
For the full article at EWG’s site, click here.
[photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, grantmac]
Posted on Wed, June 02, 2010 by Intern
by intern Maia Piccagli
“Eating Alaska” is a quirky documentary that follows the journey that Ellen Frankenstein, a former vegetarian, takes in search of a local, sustainable diet in Alaska.
After 15 omnivorous years married to a commercial fisherman and deer hunter, she sets out from her town of Sitka to explore the ways that sustainable eating in Alaska necessarily looks different from eating sustainably in the lower 48.
In her journey, she raises a number of questions and finds answers to a few:
Posted on Fri, May 28, 2010 by Intern
by intern Christine Binder
The Food Movement, Rising – New York Review of Books
Michael Pollan’s epic essay charting the emergence and character of the food movement.
Oil reaches Louisiana shores (PHOTOS) – Boston Globe
Over one month after the initial explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, crude oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico, and oil slicks have slowly reached as far as 12 miles into Louisiana’s marshes.
Congresscritters Come Out Against GE Alfalfa – La Vida Locavore
Rep. Peter DeFazio and Sen. Pat Leahy are circulating a letter to Tom Vilsack opposing the USDA’s decision regarding GE alfalfa.
Ohio Farmers Unhappy With Attack on Corn Sweetener – Associated Press
Food companies that remove high-fructose corn syrup from their products threaten the jobs of farmers in Ohio, the nation’s No. 7 grower of corn, state agriculture leaders say.
The Slaughterhouse Problem: is a resolution in sight? – Food Politics
After years of hearing sad tales about the slaughterhouse problem, it looks like many people are trying to get it resolved.
A Movable Beast – NY Times
Organic, grass-fed meat is much in demand in Manhattan restaurants, but little of it is local.
Ohio dairy farm worker charged with animal cruelty – Washington Post
An Ohio dairy farm worker has been charged with 12 counts of cruelty to animals after a welfare group released a video it says shows him and others beating cows with crowbars and pitchforks.
In E. Coli Fight, Some Strains Are Largely Ignored – NY Times
As everyone focused on controlling E. coli O157:H7, the six rarer strains of toxic E. coli were largely ignored.
DC rejects soda tax but funds better school food – Grist
The Washington, D.C. city council yesterday agreed to fully fund a recently approved “Healthy Schools” initiative but not with a controversial “soda tax” as had been proposed. Rather, the city will begin imposing a more traditional sales tax of 6 percent on all soft drinks sold in the District.
Michelle Obama applauds food industry group’s pledge to trim calories – Washington Post
In a direct response to Michelle Obama’s declared war on childhood obesity, an alliance of major food manufacturers on Monday pledged to introduce new, more healthful options, cut portion sizes and trim calories in existing products.
Posted on Thu, May 27, 2010 by Slow Food USA
This article was first printed in “Hearsay,” the newsletter of the Harris Center for Conservation Education.
The big and beautiful Red Delicious is the stereotypic but tasteless apple that has come to dominate the supermarket shelf, comprising more than 40 percent of all apples sold in big box chain stores. Add just 10 more varieties that are carried by such stores and that percentage rises to 90. In contrast, it’s not 15, it’s not 150, not 1,500, but something like 15,000 varieties of apple that have been named, grown, and eaten in North America. Clearly, the biodiversity of domestic apples is threatened. Why?
Well, in our 40 years, programs on apples have always been a popular draw at the Harris Center, and that’s no exception in the past few months, when we’ve had visits from Tom Burford (Professor Apple), and Ben Watson, of Renewing America’s Food Traditions, an alliance of nonprofits that promote food traditions and biodiversity. Here’s what they explained.
With today’s mass marketing, a relatively few large nurseries control what gets planted in large commercial orchards. These supply the big box stores, which in turn want volumes of big and pretty apples. Trouble is you can’t tell a book or an apple by its cover! What’s needed here is apple counseling and a drink to the past.
Supporting the growing number of small-scale “micro” cider, restoration, and specialty orchards, including CSAs, may be the answer. Specialty growers, including backyard “citizen pomologists,” are relearning the art of grafting and the science of selecting varieties that please the palate and meet objectives – from getting an early-season “apple fix” to growing late-season storage apples, like the new disease-resistant Gold Rush that taste great well into the winter months. The art of grafting is key, since seeds of any apple are all genetically different and grow into trees that only rarely produce apples with the taste of the parent tree. So, both branches that bear the desired varieties of apples and a good virus-free root stock are required for grafting.
Posted on Wed, May 26, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by Rike Weiss
Tucked away in the foothills of the Ko`olau mountain range on the lush windward side of O`ahu, the apiary and honey house in Wai`ahole Valley were the destination for a Slow Food group of about 15. Not equipped with enough veil beekeeper suits, we did not visit the actual hives, but had the opportunity to observe bees at work in a single frame in the honey house.
Three years ago the Varroa mite that has spread, infested, and killed bee colonies around the world over the past century, arrived on O`ahu and devastated the Wai`ahole colonies. Bee keepers George Hudes and Charlie Reppun almost gave up in despair. We breathed a collective sigh of relief to learn that, thanks to the availability of organic mite control methods, not only are they back in production, but production throughout the state is flourishing. Our food supply, for now, is secured.
While tasting a variety of honeys in an astounding range of colors—from palest straw color to dark auburn—our group heard about the basics of bee keeping. The gestation cycle from egg to full-fledged female worker bee is 21 days, 24 days for males or drones, and 16 days for queens. Once hatched, worker bees fulfill multiple functions: from cleaning and comb building to feeding larvae and serving their queen. After four weeks in the hive, they’re ready to leave and start foraging, collecting pollen and nectar from the abundance of plants in the fertile valley.
As soon as the honey combs are filled, the frames are removed, uncapped (removal of the outer was layers), and placed in a centrifuge for extraction. From there, the honey is transferred to a settling tank, where impurities float to the top. After about 12 hours, the untreated, unfiltered honey is ready for bottling. It was impossible to determine clear favorites among the assortment of honeys for sale. Spring harvests tended to be lighter in color and taste. Many of us left with numerous jars from smoky-tasting ochre colored honey to the late-harvest fall variety.
Posted on Mon, May 24, 2010 by Intern
by intern Shauna Nep
The next Farm Bill isn’t scheduled to move through Congress until 2012, but the House Agriculture Committee has already started gathering input—two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.
Perhaps that’s good, considering how important the bill is. Both directly and indirectly, the Farm Bill impacts who can farm, how they farm, the types of food that can be grown, and the price of certain foods at the grocery store. In general, farm policy is a big part of the reason fast food is cheap and healthy food is harder to find. So what happens with the 2012 Farm Bill is a matter of concern for everyone, not just farmers.
So far, the House Agriculture Committee’s hearings suggest that the top debate for this Farm Bill will be whether government support programs are being used responsibly and effectively. Another issue will be the USDA’s current emphasis on an approach to rural development that’s broader than just making payments to big corn and soy farms.
While we’re piecing out the upcoming issues in this debate, it’s helpful to look at a few windows of opportunity in the upcoming bill:
-Could there be more incentives for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables, and not just commodity crops?
-Could accepting food stamps at farmers’ markets help to combat obesity?
-Should sodas be banned from the food stamp program, similar to the program’s existing bans on tobacco and alcohol?
-Could a “whole-farm revenue” concept for crop insurance replace the present system that encourages production of a single crop, and instead encourage more diverse crops?
-Could an expansion of the green payments program incentivize sustainable farming rather than overproduction?
Fortunately, Congress is talking like it’s open to change for the 2012 Farm Bill. Ag Committee Chairman Colin Peterson says that he is looking to make fundamental changes, and that everything’s “on the table.” USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has emphasized the importance of local food systems.
Posted on Wed, May 19, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
Greetings from Detroit, where I’m attending the 5th Annual Farm to Cafeteria conference.
On Monday, as a lead-up to the conference, I acted as one of the judges for the Healthy Schools Campaign Cooking Up Change contest, in which 3 high school finalist teams, and two college finalist teams competed to create the best (tastiest, most innovative, and in line with school purchasing and IOM nutrition standards) healthy school lunch. Any of you who have been following our Time for Lunch campaign and the battle in Congress right now for more money for school lunch know that making a healthy and delicious school lunch for only $1—what’s left after overhead & payroll—is incredibly hard. The kids were articulate and adorable and cooked up some tasty treats! The highlights for me were a chicken breast crusted with pesto and, yep, corn flakes; a cornbread casserole with beans, cheese, and tomatoes; and the winner, a meal that included a tepary bean quesadilla! You can read an interview with the kids here, and please note that their supremely delicious beans are a Slow Food Ark of Taste product.
I kept hearing about this beautiful movie, “Grown in Detroit,” and the amazing and inspiring school that lies at the heart of the film. Tonight I got to see the movie, as part of a conference-run movie night complete with Applegate Farms hotdogs (delish), popcorn and root beer. I left the theatre with a DVD clutched in my grasp, to show to all of my friends and colleagues, and anyone else who wants to borrow it. Catherine Ferguson Academy, run by Asenath Andrews, the principal we all wish we had, is a public school in Detroit for pregnant teens and their babies. The school has a farm ( a “big garden with animals” says Andrews), one that teaches lessons in life cycles, business, biology and hard work; that provides revenue for the school and its students; and that brings fresh, delicious food into a community that finds these foods in short supply. Food is the palette here for myriad learning opportunities—including, as one girl mentioned at the talk-back after the showing, that by taking care of these farm animals she learned about taking care of her own daughter. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Ms. Andrews, the beautiful and thoughtful girls both in the movie and on the panel tonight, and about this movie, which you can see by going to this web site and paying what you can (how cool is that?), or by organizing a screening in your community.
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.