What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, May 08, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
On April 17, our RAFT partner, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, publicly unveiled a Heritage Chicken Definition.
Generally, we think of heritage as meaning foods that are naturally produced in traditional ways, often tied to a particular geographic region. But ALBC is taking it a step furtherlike they did for heritage turkeysby defining the term in order to create a standard understanding among breeders, producers and consumers of what heritage means for a particular species.
So, whats a heritage chicken? In short, its a standard breed of chicken (as defined by the American Poultry Association)like the Buckeye, the Java or the Jersey Giant that can reproduce naturally, grow slowly, and thrive outdoors. These birds were once raised by small-scale family farmers around the country and bred for hardiness, survivability and flavor. They are now in danger of extinction because of mass-market industrialization.
At the beginning of the twentieth century almost 90% of farms had chickens. By 1992, only 6% of farms had any poultry at all. Today, 90% of the chickens we consume are industrial hybrid varieties (mainly a single variety) that are bred to grow fast on minimal food in a confined environment. These are birds with no disease resistance, having been bred to such extremes that they could never survive outdoors on a farm.
People are starting to wake up to the horrors of industrial meat and poultry production and beginning to demand that the meat they buy is not only better for their own health, but better for the animals health and the health of our environment.
But how do we, as consumers, know what were buying? If I want to eat humanely raised chickens and dont keep chickens myself or buy them directly from a farm or farmers market, I have to rely on the packaging. For now, no one is policing the term heritage chicken but ALBC is working with the Standard Bred Poultry Institute and Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch to educate and advocate for the honest use of the term.
This is a great first step but until there are heritage labeling standards, it will be challenging for us as consumers to be assured of the authenticity of a label. As the market for sustainably raised meat and poultry grows, the food industry has been very quick to co-opt terms like cage-free and natural. Even USDA certified terms like organic and grass-fed dont necessarily mean what you think. American Grassfed Association has their own grass-fed certification and label, in collaboration with the Animal Welfare Institute, because some cattle raised in confinement and fed antibiotics are allowed to be labeled USDA grassfed.
But perhaps Im getting ahead of myself. The first step (and ALBCs forte) is recovering the numbers and productivity of these endangered breedsselecting desirable production characteristics within each breed, and growing a solid group of committed breeders and products to increase breed populations. They have developed a suite of online heritage chicken resources for folks interested in raising these breeds, and they lead breed workshops around the country to train the next generation of breeders and producers.
When it comes time to promote these birds in the marketplace, our goal will be to not only educate chefs and consumers about heritage chickens but get consumers acquainted with the unique characteristics of each individual breed. As Marjorie Bender of ALBC says, we want the meat case in the grocery store to look like the cheese case. It shouldnt just say pork chop or chicken breast, but Red Wattle pork chop and Buckeye chicken breast.
Posted on Thu, April 23, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA Intern Carol Dacey-Charles
As reported in the Washington Post, Mars, Inc. has partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure that its Galaxy line of candy bars sold in England and Ireland will be made from sustainable cocoa by 2010, with a higher aim of its entire line of chocolates to be Rainforest certified by 2020. Apparently pressured by its rival Cadbury, who announced that its Dairy Milk chocolate bar will be Fair Trade Certified by the end of the summer, Mars has made this push toward sustainability in order to compete in the more environmentally conscious British market.
The Rainforest Alliance accepted the Mar’s challenge to bring enough farms up to code so that 100,000 tons of Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa would be available each year by 2020. This will include education and support for thousands of family farmersthe largest growers of cocoa beans whose farms average 4-6 acres each.
This is not Mars first venture into sustainable agriculture partnerships. As reported on their own websiteדIn 2008, Mars Drinks achieved Rainforest Alliance certification for three Flavia coffee offerings; and in that same year, we began the Mars Partnership for African Cocoa Communities of Tomorrow (iMPACT), through which Mars has been working with cocoa farmers alongside the Rainforest Alliance and other experienced development partners to support farm and community development in West Africa.
Posted on Tue, April 21, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
The title of Nicolette Hahn Nimans compelling new book, Righteous Porkchop
, is honest, and indicates one of the books strengthsits exploration of the moral issues behind our broken food system. As a vegetarian rancher she is uniquely poised to be even more righteous than most. Not only has she abstained from eating meat herself since young adulthood, she spends her days sustainably raising cattle for others to eat. Who can top that?
Of course, this wasnt always the case. Not even 10 years ago she was a young single gal in the city, recruited by Bobby Kennedy, Jr. to head up the Waterkeeper Alliances new industrial hog campaign. With a background as a lawyer, she set out to take industrial hog farms (primarily in North Carolina) to task via the legal system for their gross environmental transgressions. She worked crushing hours, giving up her healthy lifestyle and her social life. But along the way, she won several important legal battles and put the issue of industrial hog farming on the map. In addition, in a story line you just cant make up, she met and fell in love with Bill Niman, an older-than-her sustainable cattle rancher and entrepeneur, and her life was changed forever. P.S. he calls her porkchop.
In addition, her work with Waterkeeper led her inside the belly of the beastor inside the poop lagoons of the beasts, anyway—and the book follows her journey. The reader makes discoveries alongside her, experiencing her righteous indignation and disbelief upon seeing those farms, as well as her heartbreak over the treatment of the animals she meets. As she explains, the assembly lines of industrial systems function well for the mass production of inanimate objects. But they are complete failures at respecting the individuality, instincts, and needs of living creatures.
Posted on Mon, April 13, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
I’ll subtitle this post “How to look underneath a news story.” When I read the op-ed in the Times last week claiming that a new study has revealed that free range pigs are more likely than industrially raised pigs to carry dangerous bacteria, I was confused, maybe a little suspicious. Everything I have ever read—including the brand new Righteous Porkchop—has clearly and scientifically laid out how industrial hog farming is some of the dirtiest stuff around. I read through the piece, trying to keep an open mind and trying to make it jibe with what I already know. I struggled.
When I got to the end of the piece, I read the author’s bio, including the title of his upcoming book, “Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. Locavores endangering the future of food? This I gotta see.
First question: who funded this study?
Second question: What does Marion Nestle have to say? I trust her implicitly on questions of food-borne illness; she is a scientist first and foremost, and I look to her to get to the scientific heart of the matter. From Dr. Nestle I learned that the author isn’t quite interpreting the study—funded by the National Pork Board—correctly. She concludes: “My point, as always, is that sponsored studies are invariably designed in ways that produce results favorable to the sponsor. In this case, the sponsor represents industrial pork producers.”
Third step: I checked out the excellent piece over at CivilEats.com, where Paula Crossfield asks “The question is, then, how do we reclaim the media, and disseminate real information to consumers?” and states the importance of our movement gaining strength and articulation from these conversations with our detractors.
[Late addition: Keep peeling away the layers, and let things be complicated. The Atlantic Monthly Food Channel invited McWilliams to explain and retort. Also, check out Kurt Friese’s post on Grist, and the Slow Food Columbus Blog]
Posted on Wed, March 04, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Two articles caught our eye this week, both exploring the potential limitations of organic agriculture.
Posted on Wed, February 11, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA intern Gabrielle Redner
Food labels such as Organic and Free Range are meant to provide us with some sense of security about our food, but sometimes it feels like the more I know about the label, the more I have to question it. When I can’t get to the farmers market, I opt for Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, but normally I don’t buy meat there, even if it is labeled Organic. I just feel better buying from a person who raised the animal until it became the meat in my fridge.
Recently, I had to buy chicken from the supermarket, because I was cooking a kosher meal for a friend. Personally, I saw the purchase as an exception to my usual habits: I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to adhere to religious law. I later learned that some people who purchase kosher meat expect the Kosher Heksher (label) to mean that the animal was raised and killed in ethical conditions. Some people even buy kosher meat because they assume it was produced according not only to Jewish law, but also to Jewish ethics. Buying kosher meat for them is like getting the guarantee I get from the farmer’s market. However, when the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world, AgriProcessors, was Nina Budabin McQuown, contributor to the Jew and the Carrot (a blog that covers the intersection of Judaism and sustainable food issues) put it, “There seems to me to be a pretty enormous disconnect between Jews who think that kashrut is a system of laws designed by god to help our ancestors eat ethically, and Jews who think kashrut is a system of laws designed by God, period.”
Posted on Tue, December 09, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Perhaps you noticed the Onion-esque headline a few months back that PETA had made a public statement lending its support (both philosophical and monetary) to the development of test-tube meat (“shmeat.”). It feels like a strange day when radical animal rights activists are promoting the creation of, er, “life” for the sole purpose of eating, but then again, these are strange days.
While it might be just a publicity stunt, and while it’s quite possible that no mad vegetarian scientist will figure out a way to produce chik’n nuggets in the lab by PETA’s deadline of 2012, it does raise some interesting questions about the origins of our food, and our relationship to food. Grist tackles the subject, in its “Checkout Line” feature where they answer reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. They turn to the offal-enthusiast chef Chris Cosentino (of Incanto in San Francisco), as well as our own SFUSA President Josh Viertel. Click here to read Josh’s comments on the problems involved with distancing ourselves from the origins of our food, as well as his final zinger: “I think the next step is to find a solution that isn’t gross.”
Posted on Tue, December 02, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
The fact that the EU won’t allow in most genetically engineered crops is a fairly good indication that there may be good reason to be skeptical about the healthfulness of genetically modified food in our food supply.
The USDA doesn’t think so. They would like to deregulate the use of genetically engineered corn, specifically “corn genetically engineered (GE) to produce a microbial enzyme that facilitates ethanol production.” Because ethanol as an alternative to oil still seems like a really good idea to them.
If you have a strong feeling either way about this, (i.e.: keep those deregulations coming! or I ain’t scared of no GE corn!) you have a forum to express it, directly to the USDA; they are having an open comment period through January 20th, 2009, and will actually read and register and consider all of your comments.
Make your voice heard by clicking here!
Posted on Fri, September 26, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
You have to wonder how many people would buy a package of ground hamburger meat if it had a nice big label that said: “this meat comes from six different countries! And may contain part of dozens or even hundreds of cows!” Especially at a time when fear is mounting about tainted products, such as food and drugs, from places like China.
On September 30th, here.
For more information and sample letters to sign and send to the USDA during their comment period, go to Food and Water Watch.
Posted on Wed, September 10, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Consumers (ahem, co-producers) are getting wiser about meat.
They are asking questions about where it comes from, how it was raised, and how it was killed. They are demanding grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork. But is the supply always there? Are the channels for getting the product to the consumer always there? How can we help consumers learn more about sustainable meat production and how can we facilitate producers in marketing their product and connecting with consumers?
Directly Following Slow Food USA’s National Congress and dovetailing into Slow Food Nation, two of Slow Food USA’s Regional Governors, Matt Jones from Denver and Larry Martin from Russian River, CA), organized SFUSA’s first ever Meat Working Group to begin to tackle these issues and to see how Slow Food USA’s netowrk can help. They gathered together a stellar crew that included:
Slow Food USA leaders and guests attended to learn about the issues we face with respect to animal welfare, species and breeds, provenance, environmental concerns especially production practices -traditional (feedlot/CAFO) and alternative (small scale, sustainable).
As Matt reported, “What became apparent immediately was the need for consumer education about meat production. What we don’t know can hurt us and, has an enormous impact on not just the food we eat but on the ground upon which it is raised. The issue raised repeatedly by these world-class operators was the economic pressure on them to survive in a market where consumers (co-producers) do not have the ability to make informed purchase decisions. A generic meat case cannot educate eaters about the issues that affect their food. If honorable and respectful farmers and ranchers, who are making a meaningful difference in our food supply system, are forced to compete on a price point basis alone, they cannot be expected to survive.”
As a result, the group has decided to form a Meat Working Group to improve communication about meat issues. They already have several great ideas—stay tuned to the Slow Food USA website and blog for further information about how you can get involved.
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.