Category Archives: Reviews

The Carnivore’s Dilemma

Last Wednesday, my girlfriend and I found ourselves in the front row at The Carnivore’s Dilemma: How to Eat Meat Responsibly, hosted by the Jamaica Plain Forum and Boston Localvores, held at the Unitarian Universalist First Church at 6 Eliot St. in JP. People milled around wearing “Meat of Known Origin” t-shirts featuring smiling cartoon cows, and a raffle was held for a month’s supply of frozen meat (no, I didn’t win, thanks for asking).

The meeting centered around a panel discussion involving three local meat suppliers: Ridge Shinn, a cattle farmer; Kim Denney, owner/operator of Chestnut Farm Meat CSA; and Jamey Lionette, an author and local food activist.

Before those three had their say, though, a 2-minute film was screened, showing the living conditions of chickens, cattle, and pigs who are commercially bred specifically to end up in our McDonald’s hamburgers. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pretty picture. Squeamish fraidy-cat that I am, I had managed in my food/blogging/journalism career to as yet never, ever watch one of these frightful films. I mean, I knew they weren’t treated well. But watching it at the UU church, I was brought practically to tears listening to inverted chickens wail for their lives before being electrocuted into unconsciousness (hopefully, for their sakes), before bleeding to death out of their beaks. (Animal lovers both, Kristie and I reached for each other’s hands at exactly the same moment.)

After the video ended and my stomach calmed, Jamey said something that made me feel better. We don’t need to feel guilty for eating meat, he said. It’s natural. We’re omnivores. It’s not something we should feel bad about. It is something, however, that must be done in the right way.

That right way is easier than you might think, starting with cutting back on our overall meat consumption. You don’t have to get rid of it all (a feat I would personally never attempt to endeavor; we all love our bacon), but a somewhat substantial amount has got to go. Jamey spoke about the “reality of supply and demand”; about how the more beef we eat, the more land we need to feed the cattle (mostly with corn and grain), and therefore the less land we’ll have to actually grow good, real, food meant for people (vegetables! Remember those?).

By purchasing locally grown, 100% grass-fed beef, you can do so much. Ridge referred to the process as being “solar-powered”: because all the cattle eat is grass, no petroleum goes into the production or shipping of grain. “Grain changes everything,” Ridge said. Even when it’s introduced into the cattle’s diet for only their final 30 or 60 days, the acidity can drastically affect the omega-3’s and 6’s in the meat; not to mention the fact that E. coli bacteria love grain (they love it!). There’s no sense in exposing our families and loved ones to meat of substandard nutrition, that may also house life-threatening bacteria.

Yes, I know, locally-grown, organic products often cost more than what’s in mainstream grocery stores (Whole Foods included). Jamey vented his frustration with consumers who are unwilling to pay more for their food, supplying the statistic that Americans spend approximately 11% of our income on what we eat; the lowest our nation has ever seen, and the lowest in the world. Let’s think about priorities, here. I love my cell phone; but I love my community more. I’m not saying we should stop paying our phone bills, but let’s think twice about buying a new item of clothing every week. Food has become a commodity rather an sustenance, as Jamey put it. Food has become a non-priority item for many Americans. According to Ridge, “sustainability is about everybody along the chain making money,” from the farm to the slaughterhouse to your local butcher or farmers market who supplies the local meat you love (I swear, they’re out there.) Wouldn’t it be great if everybody on that chain were all members of your community?

Another thing that makes the food we find in mainstream grocery stores cheaper is that many items are produced with genetically modified organisms, or “GMO’s.” Sounds appetizing, right? Companies that own the patented genetics of your corn use their patents to put small farmers out of business across North America at an alarming rate. If GMO corn pollinates small-farm corn (something that happens all the time and is absolutely unpreventable) and the GMO companies can prove that their genetic material is being grown on Farmer Joe’s property (most likely without his knowledge, much less intent), they sue Joe and his family for all they’re worth. Yes, it’s legal, and yes, most of the time the big companies win. Also, GMO food kills butterflies and other kinds of important Nature. Did we forget to mention that? Good thing we’re eating it, huh?

Long story short…everything’s different about locally-raised meat. Kim names every single one of her cattle, saying that this connection enhances the quality of the animals’ lives. All three of her kids have butchered their dinners, and no doubt have a much different perspective than kids who think beef is born wrapped in cellophane. Demand more local food of a higher quality at your grocery store. Spend more on what fuels your children’s bodies. Grow peppers in your backyard. Join a CSA with friends or family members, and directly support your community members. It’s not hard,  it will change everything, and guess what? It tastes better.

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Subway: Not so fresh after all

In this BNET blog post, Melanie Warner reveals that Subway customers aren’t eating food that’s as fresh as they think it is. From meat packed full of artificial ingredients to bread made with the bleaching chemical azodicarbonamide (most commonly found in foamed plastics), Warner examines Subway’s suspect food practices.

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Tour de Champagne brings diverse crowd of sparkling wine-lovers to Boston

Look for this story in the Feb. 4, 2010 issue of Bay Windows newspaper, New England’s largest LGBT newspaper.

The ballroom of Cambridge’s Charles Hotel is dotted with bright orange napkins from the Veuve Cliquot table on Saturday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. Murmuring, high-heeled conversation fills the room. Tuxedoed men abound, outshone only by haute couture dresses donned by their dates. The Tour de Champagne has arrived, full force, in Boston.

My foremost regret is the fact that my girlfriend has, for the chalice that will belong to her for the duration of the evening, received a champagne flute that we determine is approximately fifty percent larger than the one that has been issued to me. We take no large offense, however, and head for the champagne tasting tables, interspersed with hors d’oeuvres offerings from the finest Boston chefs.

Photo: Tour de Champagne

 

The crowded ballroom leaves little room for navigation, but it can be inferred that the evening’s hosts anticipated this, and therefore, a new champagne station appears seemingly at every turn. While Veuve Cliquot and Taittinger rule the evening, smaller, local restaurants—like Upstairs on the Square, whose Vazart Coquart Reserve Brut Blanc de Blanes Grand Cru from Berkshire Wine, Inc. was my personal favorite—receive the same attention.

During the much-anticipated dessert demonstration, my mind reels with food-based fantasies as former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier denounces the Food Network in his thick French accent, all the while whipping up a light, ephemeral blueberry cake creation—cool, spongy slices of which appear at our table seemingly out of nowhere. The group of people crowding the doors of the small business room in which the demonstration is being held is indicative of how lucky we were to pick this particular room in which to rest our (and by “our” I mean “my”) aching feet.

Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier. Photo: Tour de Champagne

 

The 52-year-old Mesnier—whose enthusiastic, child-like demeanor belies nothing of his age—begins tossing peppermint patties emblazoned with the presidential seal out into the crowd. The game is fun until the chef’s aim improves, and soon audience members are trying to dodge the gold-wrapped candies.

The pastry demonstration, the never-ending bottles of bubbly, and the thick French accents of the champagne table attendants make the experience seem that much more authentic for those who were lucky enough to attend Boston’s leg of the Tour de Champagne.

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NYT: “A ‘Whey’ with Words”

Thought I’d post a quick link to a great article from the New York Times magazine about Vermont’s Lazy Lady Farm, which produces goat cheese. Writer Christine Muhlke profiles farmer Laini Fondiller and her politically motivated goat cheese varieties (Barick Obama, Tomme Delay, and Fil-a-Buster, to name a few). And believe it or not, goat cheese has seasons, just like fruits and vegetables. For us New Englanders, Vermont is pretty local! When the snow clears up, take some time from your New Year’s break and drive to the Green Mountain state for a little shopping.

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A plan for all seasons

A new infographic from GOOD (a multimedia platform “for people who want to live well and do good”) helps readers buy local produce by showing when ten common fruits and vegetables are in season and where, using six states (Washington, Iowa, Connecticut, California, Colorado, and Georgia.) Called “A Plan for All Seasons,” the infographic was produced in collaboration with Whole Foods and designer Always with Honor

The importance of local food shopping cannot be stressed enough; not only does more money go directly to local farmers (who need it now more than ever), but generic produce travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your table. Even if it’s organic, the petroleum used up by its trip almost cancels out the produce’s redeeming qualities.

Another article worth checking out on the GOOD Web site is “The Decade in Food.” The story tracks food trends (good, bad, and dangerous), year by year from 2000 until now. Author Peter Smith touches on everything from “farmwashing”—the new favorite marketing toy of major corporations, making mass-produced products seem wholesome and homegrown—to Denmark’s 2003 ban on trans-fats. I love Smith’s list; it’s a rapid read, and the vast scope of topics covered makes it easy to see how food is connected with government, is connected with corporations, is connected with media, etc.

(P.S. How did we all miss the fact that meat and milk from cloned animals was approved for human consumption last year?)

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Review: “Julie & Julia”

I spent the evening sweating in my perennially overheated fourth floor apartment while knitting some last-minute Christmas gifts, and decided to finally watch Julie & Julia. I’d heard mixed things, and was looking forward to casting my own opinions.

Being in possession of Mastering the Art of French Cooking myself, I fiercely envied Julie Powell her blog idea — cooking her way through 524 classic, time-honored recipes in 365 days — that is, until she reached the aspics chapter (gelatinous meat molds).

It could have been the fact that Meryl Streep (Child) has always struck an uncanny resemblance to one of the most powerful feminine influences in my life, my recently deceased grandmother — especially in the 1940’s garb I find myself drawn to nowadays — but I teared up more than once witnessing the maturation of a woman we should all aspire to be more like, through the eyes of a modern young woman who I found to be much like myself — a poor writer living in what is certainly a far leap from her dream apartment, trying so desperately to feed the people she loves the way women have been feeding each other — and, yes, men and children, too — for centuries.

I couldn’t help but think of my partner when Julia’s husband Paul Child (played by Stanley Tucci) toasted her at their Valentine’s Day party (remember those big, red paper hearts?) “And then I realized…it was Julia. It had always been Julia.” (Cue tears again.)

And Jane Lynch? I never thought I could love that woman in a dress.

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