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 Mon, April 27, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Terra Madre 2008 delegate Annie Myers
Some projects are inspired by enthusiasm, some by curiosity, or morality, ambition, passion, friendship, or obligation. The inspiration for Radishes and Rubbish was born out of such a combination of these emotions that Carla and I never doubted our ability to draw others into our work. We are both novices and experts, both endlessly enthusiastic and quite stunningly naive. We had no idea what times were in store.
Radishes and Rubbish is (in elevator speak) a series of field trips to food production and processing sites and waste management locations within the New York City region. The Green Grant program of NYUs Sustainability Task Force provides the funding for these trips, during which my friend Carla Fernandez and I offer participants an adventure, education, transportation, and a meal, all for free. The transportation may be by foot, by subway, or by boat, by the occasional rented van, or the rare and appreciated large comfy bus. The meal is always made with ingredients sourced as locally as can be, grown organically if possible, and always made or sold by people or shops that we know and support. The participants are ideally freshmen in college, though they have ranged from librarians to chemistry professors, from film students to food distributors to the curious and unemployed. The destinations are up to us.
Carla and I came at the idea of our trips from slightly different perspectives. I study regional food systems; she studies socially responsible supply chains. She wanted to learn about the large-scale waste management centers where our trash so misleadingly seems to disappear; I wanted to share my friendship with and knowledge of several innovative and small food producers and processors in the region. As students at NYUs Gallatin School, we both proposed parallel field trip projects in April 2008, without knowing of each others propositions. The Green Grant committee told us we would receive funding if we combined forces. And thus Radishes and Rubbish was born.
We have led our fellow students (and students at heart) to one recycling center, one artisan baker, two urban farms, two slaughterhouses, three cheese shops, three farms upstate (of which one composts NYUs organic matter), one importers warehouse, and the second largest wholesale fish market in the world. Weve just finished up the school year with two trips in one weekend: to a commercial rooftop greenhouse on the Upper East Side, and to the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
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, April 08, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
Once raised by small-scale family farmers and bred for hardiness, survivability and FLAVOR, many heritage breeds have been lost to mass-market industrialization. Our RAFT alliance partner, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, is leading the way to bring these rare, diverse breeds back to US farms and tables.
Rare breeds have unique qualities that make them suitable to small farm pastures. That also means they need special (or at least different) treatment in the kitchen. Just like were learning that we cant prepare a grass-fed burger like a grain-fed one, we cant prepare a Pineywoods steak like an Angus, or roast a Buckeye chicken like an industrial one.
How do we learn what to do? Before you start raiding the shelves of used bookstores looking for pre-1950s cookbooks, ALBC is coming to the rescue later this year with a Rare Breeds Recipe Book. They are creating the book by hosting a rare breeds recipe contest.
Are you already familiar with cooking a particular rare breed? From now until September 1, you can submit recipes to ALBC. The first place winner will receive a free registration to their national conference this November in Houston. To learn more about the contest, click here.
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 Wed, January 28, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA Intern Laura Kate Morris
Having recently moved to New York City from the Hudson Valley, Im still in the process of getting my bearings and (more importantly) my groceries. Prior to this I was living on a farm, so sourcing my food was easy; most of it was in the field or a neighbors meat freezer. Now, as the wind sweeps me up and down the streets, I feel slightly daunted.
Ive been dreaming of my next meal a hot, brothy soup with chunks of potato, leeks, and fresh tortellini. The first step should be simple I want a hearty stock that will start with carrots and onions from the Union Square Greenmarket and some beef bones I have yet to acquire. Armed with my trusty (if somewhat out-of-date) copy of The Slow Food Guide to New York City and my naive faith in the availability of anything, anywhere, in New York, I venture out into the cold.
Convinced I will find what Im looking for in Little Italy, I venture out in search of Doms Fine Foods. I find it squeezed between an upscale furniture retailer and a shiny bank. Doms, however, isnt keeping up with the Joneses. Boarded up and chained shut, the name is just visible painted in green and red under layers of grime and graffiti. My next option, Albaneses, is several frigid blocks later. So unobtrusive that I pass it the first time, Moe Albanese’s is a hole-in-the wall with a faded newspaper cutting in the window, proclaiming it the last authentic Italian butcher in Little Italy. It is closed, with no hours posted. After trudging home, a hot cup of coffee, and some Internet research, I give it one more try. I find a nearby gourmet shop with a butchers counter. However, I am told they dont really carry things like that. The butcher suggests I try Whole Foods.
Posted on Fri, January 23, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Cecily Upton (and Jonny Hunter and the Underground Food Collective).
Photos courtesy of Kevin Walsh
To those who think that the collective cinching of belts (and the accompanying groan) happening across America these days might usher more and more folks into the open arms of fast food value menus and away from the perceived expense of good, clean, and fair food, I offer up a series of dinners eaten last week as a counterpoint.
Alongside my good friends and Terra Madre delegates, the Underground Food Collective, I helped organize three Pre-Industrial Pig dinners - celebrations of food (particularly pork) raised with integrity and without shortcuts, and held both in Brooklyn at the homes of friends as well as in Manhattan in partnership with Slow Food NYC at Astor Center.
When we began advertising for the seven-course, family style meals in mid-December, we worried that the impending holidays and the “financial slowdown” would mean we’d be twisting friends’ arms to get anyone to come. Turns out we had nothing to worry about; tickets sold out fast. Now all we needed to do was give folks an experience, and a meal, worth their time and their money.
As the days approached, we borrowed chairs from friends, hung bikes from ceilings to make room, and cooked and cooked and cooked. The meals themselves were delicious, but the real show was the Madison, Wisconsin area cooks and producers who raised and processed the food. As they shared stories, introduced their families to diners, and served the courses themselves, it was clear that their hearts were in each dish. Their dedication to their craft, and more importantly, their lifestyle, impressed the guests even more than their perfectly velvet paté or their succulently sweet pork loin.
Posted on Wed, December 10, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Jerusha Klemperer
I am not a Whopper virgin, but I like to think that I have, “Sex and the City” style, re-virginized myself by abstaining for the past 15 years, although the documentary team behind Burger King’s latest ad campaign might disagree. This technical glitch, along with my status as an American with a TV and the internet, and close access to many of their 11,000 restaurants around the world makes me ineligible for this latest project—Whopper Virgins.
The blogosphere is abuzz about these spots (and the longer “documentary” found online), which feature people in remote Greenland, remote Thailand, and remote Transylvania—people who have never (ohmygoshcanyoubelieveit!) tasted the subtle beauty and strange arrangement of an American fast food burger—being offered Big Macs and Whoppers and then asked to pick which one they prefer. Like any good ad campaign, these spots are in poor taste, pretty misleading, and—in my humble opinion—most likely staged. Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe most things I see on the teevee. Plus, when was the last time you looked to ad campaigns as paragons of cultural sensitivity and good taste?
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.”
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.