What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Wed, March 26, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Last week we began exploring the question of mobile slaughter units, and their ability to provide infrastructure to small and mid-sized meat producers. Examining the history of the first ever facility in the country, we hope to answer the question: is this replicable?
What does it take to be the first at something like this? To give a little history about how the mobile slaughter unit project on Lopez Island started: in 1997 a group of farmers approached the Lopez Community Land Trust to explore the feasibility of having a USDA mobile slaughter unit for San Juan County (Lopez, orcas, San Juan and Shaw Islands).
Thomas Forster, the Executive Director at the time, received several grants to conduct needs assessment. As a result, Holly Freishtat was hired as the Community Food Systems Coordinator. As part of the needs assessment, she surveyed the farmers in the county, organized focus groups to determine the demand for local foods and examined the USDA regulations for meat inspection to find an exemption to become first USDA inspected mobile slaughter facility in the country.
11 years later, Holly, now a Sustainable Food Specialist and a Food and Society Policy Fellow, explained to us what that process looked like, and what questions she needed to ask. When speaking with Holly, we asked her what she learned as a result of this assessment and she said that "the issues this island community is facing, of farmers not having access to local infrastructure, and consumers not having access to the local foods they demand, is no different from what rural and urban communities are facing around the country. I thought they were unique because they were surrounded by water and now I have realized that it is a result of a centralized global food system. We have to build the capacity and infrastructure for our farmers and consumers to have local foods."
The idea of the mobile facility, she explained, was to provide a USDA inspected meat that could be sold in supermarkets and in the restaurants, to keep ranching alive on the island and to bring in new, young farmers (combating the aging farmer problem seen all around the country). This process took many years because there were many hurdles to get over, both logistically and financially. How to convince the USDA that it should have an inspector devoted solely to this unit? How to raise the funds to build it? And, looking forward, what would be needed in order for this to be replicated in other communities?
Amazingly, all of the hurdles were cleared and the unit began operating in 2003 and serves four counties. It is owned by the Lopez Community Land Trust and was built with money raised through private sources and also with some government funding. It is operated by a farmers cooperative which also operates a fixed building for fabricating (for the cutting, packaging, and aging of beef). All meat remains the property of the farmer, and it is the farmer's responsibility to take on the task of selling it. They sell to individuals, butcher shops and restaurants, and the unit has—so far—proven to accomplish exactly what Holly Freishtat had hoped it would do when she did her investigations all those years back. Farmers on the island are making a living raising meat, and people who live on Lopez are enjoying fresh, delicious, sustainable, grass-fed product.
After the needs assessment was completed, Bruce Dunlop was hired as the project manager. Bruce is the manager of the unit, and has now become an expert on mobile slaughter facilities. Since getting the Lopez unit up and running, he has helped to build six others, including one in California and one in South Dakota. One of Freishtat's questions had been: can this be replicated in other communities, and so far, the answer seems to be yes, setting an exciting precedent.
Posted on Thu, March 20, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
A few articles in the month of January on mobile slaughter units around the country caught our attention and got us asking questions. Why is there a need for mobile slaughter facilities? Could the answer lie somewhere in the nation's largest beef recall? Where are their successful mobile slaughter facilities in this country? What did it take to get them up and running?
And some of you might be asking: what in tarnation is a mobile slaughter facility?
Mobile slaughter units are processing facilities (there are poultry ones and also ones for meat) that can travel from farm to farm. Mobile units are cheaper to build than permanent facilities, and allow groups of small farmers to band together to use the facility for small groups of animals. In addition, these units are appealing because they don't live in anyone's backyard (NIMBY syndrome is huge with slaughterhouses).
There is a need for mobile slaughter facilities in this country because everything is being geared more and more towards the large-scale producers—this is both with grains and livestock of course—so that there are very few processing facilities for small farmers, making the market increasingly favorable to large industrial operations and less and less favorable to the little guy. All the little ones are gone, and in their wake? Large facilities that are geared for huge numbers of animals. Also, similarly to all the neighborhood Mom and Pop shops giving way to big box stores, this means you have to travel farther to get to them, sometimes prohibitively so.
In the wake of health scares and disturbing meat recalls, we are seeing an increasing demand for sustainably raised, grass fed meat, but if there isn't an infrastructure to support these small farmers—i.e. if there aren't processing facilities for them to use—then how will the demand ever be met? How will people, on a large scale, ever have a viable alternative to industrially-produced meat? In order to get product to the people, you have to have infrastructure to scale. You need to build the facilities for small and mid-scale farmers to get it to their market share.
The first mobile slaughter facility in the country was started about ten years ago on Lopez Island off the coast of Washington State. Their reasons for building a mobile unit were very particular to their island status: farmers had to go off island to slaughter and then bring the meat back to the island. This wasn't cost-effective, so most people just brought their meat to the mainland and then sold it there. The ironic result was that the island was having a food access issue; the meat was being raised there but not eaten there. Solution? A unit on the island.
(This post is a series of short posts that will explore what it took for Lopez to get this unit rolling, and see how it's working today.)
Posted on Mon, March 10, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
What do you do when your favorite sustainable pork producer packs up shop, feeling that the farmers' market is not profitable enough to be worth the trip? You could cry into your Smithfield Ham, sure, or you could dream up an alternative that works for the farmer and works for the community. That's just what the leadership of Slow Food Pittsburgh did five years ago when they began their "Laptop Butchershop" program.
Susan Barclay and Virginia Phillips wanted to find a way to make quality meat available to their members, and they have succeeded. The project started small, but now they have four pickups a year, and offer beef, poultry, lamb, goat, humanely-raised veal and pork. It's all just a few clicks away; place your order online (hence "laptop"), and then go pickup at the farmers' market (in season) or at a local church (in the off-season). While you're there, you can also take advantage of the local foods such as honey and prepared Lebanese food.
All of the producers are vetted by the Slow Food convivium leadership; they visit each farm (all within an 100-mile radius), and taste the product. And the customers seem to agree that it's delicious, so much so that the only problem the organizers are having is over demand!
Laptop Butchershop Pick-up/Winter Market.
Left to right:
Dave Heilman, Heilman's Hogwash Farm; Henry Nazarian, Najat's Cuisine; Susan Barclay, SFP Co-leader; Terry Seltzer, Sonshine Farm; Pam Bryan, Pucker Brush Farm (seated); Bill Brownlee, Wil-Den Family Farm.
Posted on Wed, February 20, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
"Only in America," points out Slow Food USA staffer Cecily, "is the choice between rent and food turned into an advertising gimmick."
And a question: is just one person meant to eat the two breakfast sandwiches AND the four cinnamon buns? Just checking.
On Sunday, as we all know, the largest beef recall in history. And papers around the country now advising consumers to "Eat local meat." Novel! For a nicely-put Q & A with Michael Pollan via Newsweek.com, click here.
As NYC-based site Gothamist puts it, it is all a moo(t) point–much of the meat had already been eaten. The waste (of recalled meat) is staggering, the videos (and the reality they reflect inside slaughterhouses) are upsetting. Incredulity all around.
Posted on Mon, February 18, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Slow Food Chicago member Anne Marie Klaske of NA-DA FARM (near DeKalb, IL) wrote to us about her family's unexpected encounter with the NAIS system.
An interesting reverberation and consequence that none of us might have anticipated. Please do jump in with your thoughts on this one:
I wanted to share w/SlowFood USA our family's experience lately with NAIS. We are just a small farm, with backyard 'pets' that provide us with our own eggs, and a horse and the kids pony…they aren't looking to go anywhere except to show them at the 4-H Fair. However, 4-H has complied with the NAIS's voluntary request to make it mandatory for all livestock to have a premises I.D. (the start to NAIS). My little 9 year old girl had been preparing to show Lady (her pony) this year at the fair, and because we don't want to participate in NAIS at all- with any form- she is unable to show her. We contacted the local 4-H leader of our county, and to our dismay, she explained they had to participate in the NAIS request because that is where they get a lot of their grant money. We are not only disappointed in the complacency of 4-H, but also how people just don't understand NAIS is a request, at least for now, and the more people who go along with the request the easier it will be for NAIS to be implemented for everyone, even the single Grandma living on her family farm who only owns one goat!
The amount of paperwork, expense, and just plain intrusion into our private homes/farms, is just wrong. Hopefully, as with anything new, people are looking into NAIS, not forgetting to look into the problems with that kind of system, instead of just taking it for the face value of helping: "provides producers and owners like you with a uniform numbering system for their animals to help manage them more closely." Any livestock owner, whether big or small, will tell you they manage their animals just fine now, without the government interfering, and for my daughter showing her pony at the fair, it's just plain unfair.
Posted on Thu, February 14, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
The commercial/consumption aspects of Valentine's Day are not so slow, and yet, and yet…the "holiday" manages to hold its allure. Expressing love, eating chocolate, sharing a meal with loved one(s)–who could have a problem with that? And so, here goes our V-day round-up:
The New York Times ran an interesting article yesterday about the strain that different dietary proclivities can have on a couple. Even better? The lengthy comment debate unfolding on Serious Eats. If food is an aphrodisiac and my food makes you want to puke, what then?
Also fun to check out: the lineup on Evan Kleiman's radio show last Saturday, featuring The Sex Life of Food; Oysters as Aphodisiacs and a Chocolate Tasting. Click here to get to the show and have a listen. The FDA claims that aphrodisiacs are "folklore, " btw. But if the show leaves you in the mood for oysters and you don't believe the FDA, check out the Delaware Bay oyster (among others) on our Ark of Taste.
For some advice on "romantic cocktailing," check out the Wall Street Journal.
For a review of eco-chocolates, go to Grist.
And for those of you not feeling the love today, please consider some hearty winter BBQ and final parting words of wisdom that arrived to one of our staffers via email today:
Nothing says "I don't need a man" like pork belly and vinegary sauce.
Posted on Thu, February 07, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
More in meat news:
We all know the concept of a morality tax: tax cigarettes like crazy and people will stop smoking, raise taxes on gasoline and people will stop guzzling. Results are debatable. Now PETA is calling for a meat tax, which they're calling a "sin tax." Slow Food USA Ark-Presidia Committee member Emil DeFelice makes an argument in the Charleston City Paper that a meat tax misses the point. "All cigarettes are bad," he says, "but not all meat is bad."
How about a tax on industrial meat?
Addition: Here's a link to Dr. Temple Grandin's website, where you can read all about her work designing humane slaughter facilities and developing assessment criteria for animal handling.
(n.b. our post title comes from a quote from National Pork Board spokesperson Cindy Cunningham)
Posted on Thu, January 31, 2008 by Website Administrator
By Jack Everitt, Fork & Bottle
Mark Bittman in Sunday's New York Times has a major article titled, "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler".
In just two online pages, he covers a lot of ground. It is very well written and easy-to-read. Dive in, it is worth your time.
In general, it is about the cost of meat (not just $), and, makes a strong case for cutting down on your consumption of meat.
One sentence quite surprised me, "Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago."
Posted on Wed, January 30, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
We've noticed a trend lately, and one that we're pretty pleased with: food and ag stories are creeping out of the food sections and onto the front page, into the business section, etc. A quick look at the New York Times in recent weeks provides an interesting case study:
Last week we blogged about Marion Burros' tuna sushi/mercury story which was front page (if below the fold). The week before that had an article on the cover of the business section about how our tax dollars are going towards paying industrial meat farmers to deal with their waste lagoons. Then, this past weekend, cookbook author Mark Bittman had a Week in Review story on industrially farmed meat and its rise as a global commodity.
Please let us know if you're seeing the same thing–we'd love more examples.
Posted on Mon, January 28, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Today is the final day to submit your comments to the USDA regarding their proposed label standard for meat as "naturally raised." We've all been marveling for a long time now at the emptiness of a phrase like "natural." When informed shoppers see that on food packaging they know that by this point it pretty much means nothing: a big zero.
The USDA label promises to be similarly hollow, referring only to the animals being hormone and antibiotic free. So, I guess if you think it's "natural" for animals to be industrially farmed, then great! If not, please take the next few hours to register your disapproval.
Please Note: All Comments Must Reference "Docket No. LS-07-16" by writing at the top of the letter or email "Re: Docket No. LS-07-16"
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.