What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, January 21, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
You have read, in this space among many others, of the sinister nature of genetic modification and the patenting of seeds. I have ranted endlessly about the dangers of the food system being in the hands of just a few corporate land barons. No reason to stop now.
For about five years now the USDA and many large corporate interests have been pushing a program called the National Animal Identification System. NAIS is touted as an effective tool in battling the spread of livestock diseases such as cattle tuberculosis and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow. It provides methods for tagging livestock of any kind with RFID, the same sort of microchip that many people have put on their pets in hopes of recovering poor Fido if he ever gets lost. The thinking is that if a side of beef in a Greeley, Colorado meatpacking plant tests positive for mad cow, authorities can quickly and easily identify said cow, trace it back through the system, and discover other animals with which it may have made contact.
Currently, at the federal level, NAIS is a voluntary program overseen by the USDA and administered by the several states with help from organizations like the Future Farmers of America and the Farm Bureau. Farms, feedlots, and confined animal feeding operations apply for and receive a formal numerical designation that is then applied to microchips injected into or ear-tagged onto each animal. According to the USDA, in 2007 the state of Iowa went from 11,000 registered sites to more than 20,000, an increase of over 80 percent. All this despite a lack of any sort of government funding to participants for the program. Farmers must buy in if they choose to participate.
Setting aside for the moment that this system feels like a perfect bureaucratic method for closing the barn doors after the mad cows get out, all this seems fairly innocuous until we look a little deeper. The state of Texas has recently passed legislation requiring NAIS tagging for all dairy cattle. It goes into effect March 31. Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee now require participation for goats and sheep. In Michigan, farmer and now reluctant revolutionary Greg Niewendorp has endured visits from the sheriff reminiscent of scenes from and old Billy Jack movie.
The voluntary system is becoming perversely mandatory in many other states as well. In Colorado, according to Judith McGeary, Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, two families who refused to register their properties were kicked out of the state fair. In Idaho, the state included a NAIS premises registration form in the packets for registering one's brand (which has to be done every 5 years). The form was not clearly marked, and appeared to be simply part of the required brand documents. In Tennessee and North Carolina, where drought has made hay assistance necessary, you can't get any unless you register your property.
This has induced howls of outrage from a growing and vocal group of opponents, notably FarmAndRanchFreedom.org and NoNAIS.org, bringing together an odd-bedfellow mix of left-wing radicals and libertarian property-rights activists. They both feel that while such draconian measures may be necessary for an industrial food system that causes the very illnesses it now seems to need to track down, such procedures are overly-invasive, perhaps even Orwellian, for small family farms. The government is saying NAIS is voluntary while subsidiaries are making it mandatory. One needn't register one's guns, but goats are another matter. Seems we've met Big Brother, and he is us.
Posted on Wed, January 16, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Continuing our winter eats series, we asked a few more Slow Food folks what they eat in January.
Slow Food NYC leader and NY/NJ Regional Governor Ed Yowell had this to say:
A few years ago I began to look forward to the winter disappearance of leafy salad alternatives. It only took dedication to my local, northeast food shed and a little creativity. Some "what and hows" are offered in "The Leafless Season" a piece I wrote back then.
Slow Food USA staff member Cecily Upton shares her passionate winter feelings for pork:
I like pork, a lot. Too much, some might say. For example, my recent birthday party involved friends and family chowing down on 3+ lbs of BBQ at Brooklyn's own Fette Sau. And even though the Year of the Pig is coming to an end, I'm already planning a summer pig roast in my new backyard.
That said, in the winter months, when there are no fresh berries or tomatoes beckoning to me from the Greenmarket, and when I can barely recognize my farmers under their layers of wool, I find solace in pork.
Last night I whipped up an easy dish, perfect for chilly, wet evenings - pork loin with a Curry/Mustard/Honey/Lemon rub/glaze and some sauteed beet greens. The whole meal took about 20 minutes to prepare. The recipe is a riff off of one of Mark Bittman's, my go-to for quick, easy, and delicious.
Mix 2tbsp. curry powder with 2 tbsp. dijon (or other gourmet) mustard. Add 1 tbsp. (or so) honey (mine came from my mom's hives in southern Maine), and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Season the mixture with some fresh cracked pepper and salt and rub generously over 1 lb. of pork loin (though most any cut will do). Broil for 10-15 minutes until center of meat is just pink.
While the meat is broiling, chop up those beet greens you reserved after making borscht the other night. Saute them for 5 or so minutes in olive oil. Season to taste.
Once the meat is finished cooking, remove from oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Remove from your broiling dish, reserving any excess rub (as it is great to use for leftover pork sandwiches). Slice thinly and serve. Dish out your beet greens and serve plain or with a side of garlic aioli.
Posted on Tue, January 15, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Elizabeth Bird and SFUSA staff
After reports last week that it was likely to happen, news reports today announced that the FDA has given yet another indication that food– that is meat and milk–from cloned animals and their offspring is safe for general consumption. This comes four years after the FDA released its original decision on the health and safety of cloned animals for food production. Uneasy with the reliability of the research on which the FDA based its original decision, both concerned consumer groups and scientists rallied on the issue. The FDA responded by issuing a request that producers heed a voluntary moratorium from selling cloned animals for food production purposes. Today's declaration effectively puts an end to the debate and sets the future of cloned food in America.
The decision is a great victory for cloning companies, which generally promote cloned animals for breeding purposes. Cloning proponents seek to upgrade an entire herd's genetics by using multiple copies of a prize-winning animal. Clones themselves, due to the high cost of the cloning procedure, are not likely bound for the slaughterhouse, but the USDA decision will surely affect the possibility that their offspring can be sold for general consumption.
The FDA's decision dismisses both concern from scientific communities regarding the risks of cloned food, but also ignores ethically questionable practices intrinsic to the cloning process. The FDA has also indicated that it will not require food from cloned animals to be labeled, so the public will have no way of knowing whether they are purchasing a cloned product.
Bonnie, over at Ethicurean, makes an excellent point: how much testing could have been done in this short time? And just because the meat had the appropriate nutrients contained within, does that answer all concerns? What if there's something there that scientists havent thought to look for?
If you have concerns about this issue and would like to express them, consider taking a look at The Center for Food Safety. Their "take action" link allows concerned individuals to write directly to their congressperson and senator to express concern over labeling food from cloned animals.
Also: check out this interesting perspective from Wired mag. The author says: "I'm particularly interested in this line of research because it seems to highlight the distinction between people who want just humane food and those who want natural food." Touches on what it means to care about the origins of your food.
Posted on Thu, October 18, 2007 by Jerusha Klemperer
Earlier this week, the USDA announced a Grassfed Marketing Claim Standard, one which they hoped would make things less confusing for consumers and hold producers to a more truthful, higher standard. They hope to eliminate the present issue of producers calling their meat "grassfed" when, in fact, it's finished with grain–an extremely common practice.
Sounds great, right? We looooove standards!
Well, according to our friends at the American Grassfed Association, this standard doesn't go far enough, not by a long shot. They issued a position statement in response which enumerates these shortcomings, including the fact that it's a voluntary standard (no enforcement, no requirements), that it takes no hard line on confinement (many producers allow their animals "access to pasture," which might amount only to an open door), and that it takes no stand on the use of antibiotics and synthetic hormones.
Basically, you can buy grassfed beef and think it means you are eating something very pure and delicious, when in fact, it's still a cow standing flank to flank with its neighbour, and being pumped full of chemicals. Blech! What's a consumer to do?
And to add another odd layer to this all, the Washington Post reports that due to the nationwide drought we're experiencing (officially "exceptional" in the Southeast), there ain't much grass this year for the cows chew on.
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.