Friday, January 29, 2010

Truth in Labeling

Louise and I were having an email exchange about how not all organic milk is created equal, when she sent me a link to an article claiming that there was no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic milk, with the note "I'm hoping it isn't true."

I was intrigued, because I've seen studies from Denmark and Great Britain (among other places) that show that organic pasture-fed milk has more fatty acids and is higher in antioxidants, beta carotene,  Vitamin E, and other nutrients than conventional milk. Now, if you're comparing factory-farmed dairy cows that are fed organic grain (and barely pasture-fed) vs. factory-farmed dairy cows that are given conventional grain, then maybe there is little nutritional difference. That's why pasture-feeding is so key to the definition of organic dairy and why organic/family farming organizations like the Cornucopia Institute put up such a fuss when factory-farms claim to be organic yet barely show their cows what a pasture looks like.

Nonetheless, even if the nutritional values of the two were the same, non-organic milk contains antibiotic residues, which scientists believe contribute to antibiotic resistance, a serious health problem in this country. Non-organic cows are also fed synthetic growth hormones, called bovine somatotropin. This bST, as it is sometimes known, and another hormone it produces (an insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1) have been shown to be present in milk. I don't care what the FDA says about "safe levels": Does anyone really want to feed their kids synthetic bovine growth hormones?

I got curious about the website Louise had linked me to, Stop Labeling Lies, so I looked at it in a bit more depth. [Note that I am not going to provide links to any of the sites mentioned below. You can reach them through About Us page on Stop Labeling Lies if you really want to visit them.]

One of its "participating organizations" is the important-sounding Center for Global Food Issues, whose motto is straight out of Monsanto's mission statement: "Growing More Per Acre Leaves More For Nature." They are associated with the conservative think tank, The Hudson Institute, and have stories on their web site like "Greenpeace Opts for Millions of Blind Kids." (Those villains! That's the last time I'll give them money in the street!)

Another is the objective-sounding American Council on Science and Health, which has an article on its web site that says: "The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has now firmly established itself not as an institution for higher learning, devoted to educating students about the science of preventing premature disease and death, but instead as a hotbed of pseudoscience and political agitation..." (Yes, we know all about those Harvard public health Trotskyites.)

Something called the Food Security Network is also a sponsoring org, the link to which leads one to a very bizarre web site whose focus is really hard to suss out. I did appreciate one of their food security stories: "Hormel premium sliced deli meats are now packaged in a clear flexible pouch with an integrated Hefty Slide-Rite closure system, supplied by Pactiv Corp., that helps the meat retain its fresh flavor even after the package has been repeatedly opened and closed." (Well, I feel much safer now.)

Another sponsor: "The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a public interest group dedicated to free enterprise and limited government." It was called by the Wall Street Journal "the best environmental think tank in the country." (And the climate-change-denying WSJ should know!)

Anyway, I'm going out on a limb and guess that Stop Labeling Lies is a front for mega-food-agribusiness companies and their political allies. Labeling lies, indeed.

P.S. If you want to know if the organic milk you drink is truly pasture-fed and meets other high standards for organic dairy, the Cornucopia Institute has a scorecard for all dairy companies that claim to be organic. Interesting reading.

Our brand, Natural By Nature, got 4 out of 5 cows on the Cornucopia Institute's scorecard.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Obsessive Sustainabililty (Plus Beauty Tip)

I've worried a bit about our blog — that we seem too obsessive, too preachy, too extreme in our attempts to recycle, reuse, etc., etc. I've decided that people who are super-sustainability types are probably not just motivated by altruistic desires to save the planet, but perhaps a little guilt (that would be me) or maybe it just plays into their compulsive tendencies (that would be Peter).

Granted, Peter and I are not as extreme as some (we haven't given up on toilet paper after all). But I have a feeling people may roll their eyes at some of the things we do (like make soup stock out of table scraps).

Nevertheless, I've decided that OCSD (obsessive-compulsive sustainability disorder) is OK. In fact, it's more than OK. Because for every compulsively sustainable thing we choose to do now, it might mean that it's one less compulsory sustainable thing our grandchildren will have no choice but to do in the world they are inheriting.

That leads me to my latest OCSD act. Which is also a beauty tip! (I like to leverage my ideas across platforms.)

I read in some beauty magazine years ago something that may be hooey, but I have accepted as true:  moisturizers don't add moisture to one's skin—they only keep in the moisture that's already there. So the article recommended that when you put moisturizer on after a shower, you do so before you've fully dried off, when your skin is still damp. That way, you're keeping more moisture next to your skin.

I've been doing this for years now, and while I can't say that it has kept me looking younger, it has meant that I buy a lot less moisturizer. With this method, you need a spit of lotion to cover your face and neck. So a 4 oz. bottle of Neutrogena lasts me about a year. That means I'm buying less— both saving money and saving the number of bottles I throw out a year.

OK, so here's where I get a bit OCSD. You know when you think the bottle is empty. You push the pump and all that comes out is a sputter of air and lotion vapers? Guess what? You have about two months worth of moisturizer left in there. I kid you not.

I did an experiment with my last bottle of moisturizer. I stored it upside down in my medicine cabinet, and in the morning, I'd take the cap off, and there, coagulated at the neck of the bottle, was a huge glob of moisturizer. So, I'd take the tiny amount I needed, put the cap back on, and store it upside down again. And so it went for about 6 weeks, until there was no longer a critical mass of lotion gathered in the neck.

But wait, there's more!

I found that I could stick my pinky in and get a morning's worth of lotion off the sides of the bottle, as well as wipe down the pump straw where some lotion had also collected. I got about 2 more weeks worth of morning moisturizer doing the scrape method (always storing the bottle upside down).

I saved that bottle from going into the landfill (and having to buy another) for an additional two months. Now, I can't do the carbon imprint calculation on that, but I don't need an algorithm to know that less waste is good.

Try it yourself. It really works (and maybe it's even better for your skin). It will save you money. But most important, it means that landfill we're handing down to our grandchildren will have fewer bottles in it. 

Now, if I were truly OCSD, I'd cut the bottle open and scrape off what's inside. Peter would go that far, but I have my limits.

Meat the Frankenbirds (part 2): A Photo Essay

Text by Graham
Photos by Katharine

Dad seizes a chicken!
The first to meet his handcrafted cone of silence.

Dad puts the chicken in the cone head first.
Then he pulls the head out through the bottom of the cone.

The chicken's legs (and his head at the other end)
are the only parts that stick out of the cone.

Next, we boiled a pot of water to dip the
dead chickens in to loosen their feathers.

After the chickens' feathers were loosened,
we brought them over to a makeshift table to pluck them.

We made sure every feather was off the bird.

Now the chickens were ready to be gutted.

Some of the "delicious" innards. Yum!!!! (he's kidding)

He tried to escape but we put a lid on him.
Chicken foot soup (okay, we just used them to make stock).

After hours of work, Mom prepared the chicken for the grill.
We can't wait for a taste.

A silly image of Katharine enjoying her favorite treat:
Grilled chicken feet.

Beautiful me. Beautiful bird.

Chicken liver pate.
This was so good!

Am I going to be next?

Please note: My mother didn't help with any of this (except for preparing the bird for the grill).
I think she's too chicken to face her chickens.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Love and Imperfection

Christmas was a blessedly quiet event this year. Peter and I gave one another just a few gifts, one of which from Peter to me was Bill Buford's Heat, which he bought for me thinking it was by Bill Bryson (whom I love), and then felt sheepish about giving it to me, only to learn that I had been wanting to read the book. I spent, in fact, two dark and rainy days on the couch inhaling the book (with a few interruptions, like a visit from our youngest granddaughter, on Christmas morning).

Paloma, Christmas 2009 (with her Ebee gifts)

Not sure why I was so interested in the book. It's the tale of Buford (founding editor of Granta and former fiction editor of the New Yorker) going to work in professional kitchens, including Mario Batali's much beloved downtown eatery Babbo (where I sadly have never been; too expensive for us). Which means it's a tale of slave labor, humiliation, inhuman levels of stress, flesh burning, flesh slicing, kitchen rage, and basic insanity. Why anyone would choose to subject themselves to this environment is beyond me. Having experienced restaurant life from the front of the house, as a waitress in and right after college, was enough exposure for me. I will say that I am very impressed how restaurants manage to shield their patrons from the outsize macho culture that exists behind the swinging doors.

In the book, Buford asks Batali what he will learn interning at Babbo, and Batali says: the difference between being a home cook and a professional cook. When you work in a restaurant you have to make each dish exactly the same each night—patrons come back to experience the exact pork shank they had last time, and if they don't get it, they don't come back.

Luckily, we home cooks don't live under such tyranny. There's no such thing (at least in my kitchen) as making the same thing exactly the same way each time. Sometimes the difference makes a dish better. Sometimes not so better. Take my minestrone for example, made with my compost stock. I have to admit it was outstanding. I used the beans we grew in our garden and put up for the winter. They had amazing texture for home frozen vegetables. And the purple cabbage thrown in at the end made for such a beautiful palette.

I made a lot of the minestrone, so I froze the rest, which we just had this past week for dinner. Not so good. The broad beans got sort of mushy and tough at the same time (don't know how I managed that trick). Edible, but they'd never serve it at Babbo.

Then there's latkes—I only make them once a year, for Hanukkah, so I follow a recipe. It's from a guy named David Firestone, featured in Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook, which has really terrific New York "neighborhood" recipes (I make, for instance Curtis Sliwa's Aunt Marie Stacey's chicken soup, the recipe for which is on page 47 of the book). This year I added some celery root to my latkes, inspired by a recent article in the Times. But mostly I just stuck to the recipe. And, as it turned out, they were pretty darn gorgeous and delicious.

But they could have just as easily been a mess. Latkes are scary things—not enough egg, too much matzoh, not enough oil, left in the pan too long... The list of things that could go wrong is terrifyingly long. Which is why I only do them once a year. (That and the oil they cook in stinks up the house for days.)

When things do go wrong in the kitchen, I have to admit that I get depressed. I'm not as hard on myself as a chef is on his line cooks, thank goodness, but Peter does get exasperated with me when I'm moping after a flopped meal. "So what?" he says. He's right, of course. On a rational level.

But maybe cooking isn't a rational act. Maybe because it's an act of love, and love is never rational. You always want to get it right. Like my Christmas paella for our other grandchildren. Now that was a downright righteous act of love!