Lawsuit alleges little truth in Simple Truth chicken

The fabled Disco Kroger these days.

Photo by Flickr user jcburns, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks to Rodale News, I just learned about a lawsuit against grocery chain Kroger over their house-brand, Perdue-raised “Simple Truth” chicken. As P.J. Huffstutter writes for Reuters,

“Looking to profit from growing consumer awareness of, and concern with, the treatment of farm animals raised for meat production, Kroger engaged in a deceptive and misleading marketing scheme to promote its ‘Simple Truth’ store brand chicken as having been sourced from chickens raised ‘cage free in a humane environment’,” according to the complaint.

“In fact, Simple Truth chickens are treated no differently than other mass-produced chickens on the market.”

As Emily Main explains for Rodale,

Cages are commonly used in factory-farm egg production, but rarely for chickens raised for their meat, also called broiler chickens. Broilers are frequently raised in large, enclosed—and, often, windowless—buildings, crammed in so tightly that the animals have little room to move, despite not being confined to cages. In those cases, the ["cage-free"] label has “virtually no relevance to animal welfare,” says The Humane Society of the United States.

Caveat emptor.

Where are the organic eggs?

Organic Eggs

Photo by Flickr user Dave Hunt [davehunt82], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Yesterday my favorite NPR reporter, Dan Charles, took a look at the organic egg industry. More specifically, he provided the answer to a question recently posed in the face of some empty shelves at a Whole Foods: where are the organic eggs? As he describes,

Demand for organic eggs is indeed increasing, but production is also down.

The reason behind that shortfall highlights an increasingly acute problem in the organic industry.

Most chickens eat feed made from ground-up corn and soybeans, but America’s farmers are not growing enough organic corn and soybeans — especially soybeans — to feed the country’s organic animals….

It’s led to the following situation, which on the face of it seems bizarre. The U.S., a soybean superpower, ships conventional soybeans all over the world to feed animals in places like China. Meanwhile, in China, farmers are growing organic soybeans and sending them here.

Those expensive, imported soybeans are one of the reasons some domestic farmers have suspended organic egg production. The full story, which considers why Chinese rather than US farmers are growing organic soybeans for our egg layers, is worth a read (or listen). Find it here.

Locally sourced and produced drinking vinegar now available in Madison

Last month André Darlington of Isthmus wrote about a mini-boom in alternative beverages here in the Madison, Wisconsin area. His piece mentions Wisco Pop‘s successful Kickstarter campaign to begin bottling their all-natural sodas (which I posted about when the campaign was still ongoing). He also notes NessAlla Kombucha‘s continued expansion, including into the Chicago market.

But as a lover of all things tart, tangy, and sour, what most intrigued me was the arrival of a locally made drinking vinegar. As Darlington describes,

Mad Maiden Shrub is the newest beverage to hit the Madison market. Janet Chen started making a “shrub,” or drinking vinegar, focusing on its health aspects. Chen sources apples for her base vinegar from Turkey Ridge Organic Orchard in Gays Mills and buys honey from Gentle Breeze in Mount Horeb.

Shrubs have been linked to the national cocktail boom. A syrupy mixture of macerated fruit and vinegar, shrubs were a kind of precursor to modern-day sodas and were popular in colonial times. Just add spirits and carbonated water, and you had a fine cocktail….

The most famous drinking vinegar in the U.S. is Som, produced by chef Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok restaurant, who was inspired by these Asian digestives. [Check out my earlier post when I tried ginger Som in Portland.]

Chen currently makes a potent honey ginger version.

Yum! I can’t wait to give it a try. For details on where to purchase this delicious sounding treat, check out the full post here. And for a few recipes, head to Mad Maiden Shrub’s website.

Factory farms are crappy. Literally.

Aerial Photo of a Factory Farm

Annotated aerial photo of a factory farm by Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Factory farms are a menace to clean water. So Ted Genoways persuasively argues in a lengthy article posted on Monday. (It’s such a feat of reporting that one can only assume it’s a preview of his forthcoming book, The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food). As he describes early in the piece,

Large [hog] producers … insist that the enormous, concrete-reinforced waste pits under each confinement—many with a capacity of 300,000 gallons—effectively prevent contaminants from leaching into the soil, and that manure is carefully managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources under laws aimed at accounting for all manure at all times. But mounting evidence suggests that an unprecedented boom in Iowa’s hog industry has created a glut of manure, which is applied as fertilizer to millions of acres of cropland and runs off into rivers and streams, creating a growing public health threat. Meanwhile, the number of DNR staff conducting inspections has been cut by 60 percent since 2007.

Between May and July 2013, as downpours sheeted off drought-hardened fields, scientists at the Des Moines Water Works watched manure contamination spike to staggering levels at intake sites on the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. These two major tributaries of the Mississippi are also the usual sources of drinking water for roughly one out of every six Iowans. But at one point last summer, nitrate in the Raccoon reached 240 percent of the level allowed under the Clean Water Act, and the DMWW warned parents not to let children drink from the tap, reminding them of the risk of blue baby syndrome….

Mounting concern about the safety of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has stoked a public outcry. So, to be honest, I was shocked when Brad Freking, the CEO of New Fashion Pork, agreed to allow me to tour one of its facilities. In the changing room, I zipped into some navy coveralls and slid a pair of clear plastic boots over a second set of footies. Emily Erickson turned the handle to the barn entrance, opening the heavy steel door a crack. The sound of squealing hogs spilled into the room. “If you’ve never been inside,” she warned, “it’s a lot of pig, it’s a lot of metal, it’s a lot of noise.” I assured her I was ready, and we headed inside.

Whether you’re an indiscriminate meat eater, a conscientious omnivore, or long-time vegan, the article is a must-read. Genoways not only describes what “a lot of pig” sounds and smells like, but goes on to trace the recent explosion of factory farms in Iowa, including the role of mega-corporations (Cargill, Hormel, Smithfield, Tyson) expanding into emerging markets like China. Genoways then details the destructive impact of these factory farms—which are helped by industry-backed politicians, weak laws, and underfunded enforcement agencies—on Iowa’s water.

Check out the full piece at either Civil Eats or On Earth.

Wild Wisconsin: An impending surge in sour brews

Madison Craft Beer Week 2012, round 1

Anniversary Sour from Red Eye Brewing Company of Wausau (right), on tap at The Malt House during the 2012 Madison Craft Beer Week. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

As I’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, I fell in love with sour beers several years ago. Thankfully, I’m not the only one, as output and sales are growing across the country and here in Wisconsin.

As we get further into 2014, we’ll be seeing the arrival of new sours from Wisconsin’s craft brewers. Last week Isthmus beer columnist Robin Shepard took a look at the exciting happenings at O’so Brewing and reviewed their Winds of Change, a sour APA. And last month, Shepard’s Isthmus colleague Kyle Nabilcy encouraged readers to “savor the sour.” He offers a brief primer on sour beers and their recent history in the US, and then takes a look at Wisconsin’s near future:

Both New Glarus and O’so of Plover have brand-new coolships, and both brewers are, unsurprisingly, planning on expanding their sour programs.

O’so brewmaster Marc Buttera has plans to open a new brewing facility, and the path to that goal is lined with 750mL bottles of wild and sour beer. “I would love nothing more than doing all funky beers,” he says. “That’s actually the direction our brewery is going to take.”

Buttera has teamed up with Levi “Funk Factory” Funk, an aspiring gueuze purveyor, to release four new beers on Jan. 24 at the O’so brewery. Three are sours of limited quantity, hewing to the traditional lambic process “as close as you’re going to get here, in this state.”…

2014 stands to be a strong year for sour beer production in Wisconsin. Beyond the O’so releases, there should be a collaboration on a wild ale from Grumpy Troll and Sweet Mullets, and both lambic-style beers and beers fermented with the wild yeast Brettanomyces from Madison’s own Vintage Brewing.

Head here for Nabilcy’s full piece; also check out Shepard’s Wisconsin craft-beer 2014 preview here.

How the Sabbath gave us the Crock-Pot

vegan cholent

Photo by Flickr user mollyjade, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Over the weekend, NPR ran a story from Deena Prichep on one of the original slow-cooked meals. As she describes,

Cholent is rooted in the Jewish Sabbath, which traditionally prohibits work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Under some interpretations, this includes prohibitions on even turning on the oven or stove. So for those who want to have a hot meal (and many feel a religious imperative to do so), the solution is to set up a stewed dish cooking low and slow on Friday, long before the sunset. Over a day of slow cooking, flavors infuse, beans soften, and tough cuts of meat become tender. By the time synagogue services are complete on Saturday afternoon, the rich, flavorful stew is ready to ladle out.

For the full audio and text versions of the report, including the details of how cholent inspired Irving Naxon to create what would become the Crock-Pot, head here.

The dairy shift: Fewer but bigger farms

breakfast

Photo by Flickr user mhall209, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Abbie Fentress Swanson of Harvest Public Media recently reported on the shrinking number of small dairy farms as consolidation in the industry continues apace. As her piece begins,

Donnie Davidson’s family has been producing bottled milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s. But the 63-year-old farmer decided to sell his herd of 50 milking cows in November after the roof on one of his barns collapsed from last winter’s snow.

Rebuilding the barn would have cost about $20,000. Then there were the costs of renovating a silo and paying for hired help since Davidson’s children won’t be taking over the business. It made financial sense to close the dairy, and grow crops and build a herd of beef cattle instead.

In the past decade, more than half the nation’s dairy farms have gone out of business, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data [PDF]. About 2,500 dairies closed their doors in Missouri. Thousands more have shut down in Iowa, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska and Colorado.

For full text and audio versions of the story, head here.