A 26-part series on genetically modified food was not Nathanael Johnson’s idea. And he didn’t realize it would take six months, either.
Last year, Johnson was hired as the new food writer for Grist, a website for environmental news and opinion. Grist’s editor, Scott Rosenberg, was waiting with an assignment: Dig into the controversy over GMOs.
GMOs “were a unique problem for us,” says Rosenberg. On the one hand, most of Grist’s readers and supporters despise GMOs, seeing them as a tool of corporate agribusiness and chemical-dependent farming.
On the other hand, says Rosenberg, he’d been struck by the passion of people who defended this technology, especially scientists. It convinced him that the issue deserved a fresh look.
“When I met Nathanael, I thought, ‘This is a writer who could do this really well,’ ” recalls Rosenberg.
For the full essay, including links to Johnson’s work, head here.
Why, you ask, does that merit a mention on a blog about eating (and drinking) in the modern world? No reason, honestly, but he’s so dang smart and talented, not to mention out and adorable, that I couldn’t help but find an angle. Thanks to Punch, I’ve got one.
Ari, it seems, is a fan of local beer, craft cocktails, and the neighborly exchanges that take place between customers and their favorite bartenders. As Leslie Pariseau describes,
During the lead up to the 2012 Presidential election, Shapiro found himself on the campaign trail following Mitt Romney from swing state to swing state. “You feel like you see the inside of airplanes and busses and hotel lobbies more than you see any actual place that you’re in,” he says. “One of the photographers for AP had an Instagram feed of hotel carpets, and it was just one swirling pattern after another, which is kind of a metaphor for the way we felt.”
At nearly every stop, Shapiro’s oasis was the hotel bar. At the end of a long day in decidedly unglamorous cities like Cincinnati or Reno, he would find his way into a middling hotel chain bar (think Comfort Inn and Courtyard by Marriott) with nondescript carpet and bad lighting. Surprisingly, almost every time—whether in the belly of the South or the middle of Iowa—he could find a local beer. It gave him a sense of grounding that “was a really refreshing antidote to the sense that every place has become the same.”
Instead of disparaging Anywhere, U.S.A. Shapiro found “that there still exists a local food and drink culture that people are really proud of everywhere—not just in the rarefied niches.”
The article concludes,
“I’m told London is a city that enjoys its drink,” he says optimistically. But Shapiro is baffled at how the English manage to drink as much as he’s told without going bankrupt. He balks at the price tag of a regular cocktail converted into British pounds, and is instead focused on finding his own corner pub. “It seems to me that, in Britain, no matter your age or class or wealth, you have a neighborhood pub—like a communal living room.” A place to revisit, and most definitely a notch up from the anonymous hotel bar.
Head here for the full piece, which also reveals that Shapiro is renowned for his homemade Poire Williams. (I didn’t know what that is either, but it’s an amazing and lovely thing, so check out the article.)
NPR’s Alistair Bland recently posted about ways that some craft brewers are creating decidedly local flavors in their beers:
Last week, Aaron Kleidon went for a walk in the Illinois woods and returned with a bag of lotus seeds. The seeds were bound not for his dinner plate, but for his pint glass.
In a few months, Kleidon will have lotus-flavored beer at the small brewpub , which he owns with two friends in Ava, Ill. The microbrewery specializes in beers with seeds, leaves, roots, fruits and fungi foraged from a nearby wooded property. The brewers have even made a saison from chanterelle mushrooms.
Why, you may ask, would anyone want to add strange seeds and mushrooms to their beer? The answer is to create a taste of place. It’s a concept long recognized by and winemakers, who call it terroir, but is mostly absent from the craft of brewing.
Head here for the full story.
NPR’s Dan Charles has filed a number of thoughtful reports on modern agriculture, including the use of antibiotics in factory farming of livestock. Another one hit the airwaves and web yesterday:
It’s one of the most controversial practices in agriculture: feeding small amounts of antibiotics to animals in order to make them grow faster.
But what if the drugs don’t even work very well?
There’s some good evidence that they don’t, at least in pigs. They used to deliver a boost in growth, but that effect has disappeared in recent years or declined greatly.
The reason for this is interesting and even paradoxical.
Head here for the full audio and text versions of the story.
For a while now, I’ve been wanting to post about farro, one of those “ancient grains” lately gaining in popularity in the US. Fortunately, Laura B. Weiss of NPR recently provided just the article I was looking for. As she describes at the Kitchen Window blog,
I was ready to forget about farro. This was a couple of years ago when I first attempted to cook the savory grain that also boasts an ancient pedigree. I had sampled farro in restaurants where I had enjoyed it transformed into risottos and incorporated into salads. I had come to adore its nutty earthiness and satisfying chew.
But after spending well over an hour simmering a batch of this form of wheat, I wound up tossing the whole mess in the garbage. As it turned out, the type of farro I was using was the whole grain variety. It’s highest in fiber and nutrients like Vitamin B3 and zinc, but whole farro also requires overnight soaking — a step I had neglected to take. That meant that no matter how much time I put in front of the stove, I was likely to wind up with tooth-breaking tough kernels.
What’s a farro fan to do?
Eventually I learned about the semipearled variety — or semiperlato in Italy, where farro has been cultivated for centuries — in which some of the bran has been removed, allowing for speedier cooking. That’s when my love affair with farro took flight.
For the full post, which includes four delicious-looking recipes, head here.
Alistair Bland had a great post at NPR yesterday, highlighting a number of the problematic ways that some marine species are caught. As he notes,
If sustainability is a top priority when you’re shopping at the fish counter, wild-caught seafood can be fraught with ethical complications.
One major reason why: bycatch, or the untargeted marine life captured accidentally by fishermen and, often, discarded dead in heaps. It’s one of the most problematic aspects of industrial fishing.
Tuna fishermen don’t only catch tuna. In fact, they mostly don’t catch tuna — especially when they use long lines rigged with hundreds of baited hooks. A recent commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization found that tuna fishermen hauled in 750,000 tons of tuna and 828,000 tons of non-tuna creatures per year in the mid-2000s. In some regions, a quarter of the total catch is sharks, according to a published in 2007. Many sharks are thrown back dead — including 20,000 tons of blue sharks annually in the North Atlantic, as in the Marine Ecology Progress Series.
For each aquatic animal he discusses, he offers suggestions for good alternatives. For tuna, the alternatives are
Pole-caught tuna, often yellowfin and albacore. As with other species, finding these alternatives may be a matter of chatting it up with those selling the fish.
Check out the full post here. You’ll come away informed and prepared to make better choices at the market and when dining out.
NPR’s Dan Charles recently reported on the phenomenon of Australian grass-fed beef spreading across the US:
So why does the U.S., the world’s biggest beef producer, have to go abroad to find enough of the grass-fed variety?
Curt Lacy, an agricultural economist at the University of Georgia, says some of the reasons are pretty simple. Weather, for instance. In most of the U.S., it freezes. In Australia, it doesn’t. So in Australia, as long as there’s water, there’s grass year-round.
And then there’s the issue of land. “If you’re going to finish animals on grass, it takes more land,” Lacy says. Grassland in Australia is relatively cheap and plentiful, and there’s not much else you can do with a lot of it, apart from grazing animals.
For the full audio and text versions of the interesting story, head here.
About a year ago, I posted about a farming technique known as dry farming. I thought the topic was interesting and unusual enough that it merited a re-post while I was away last week. My timing turned out to be spot-on, since yesterday NPR ran its own piece on the subject.
As Alastair Bland describes,
At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne believes dry farming could be an important agricultural practice in the future, when water will likely be a less abundant resource.
But the taste of her dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes is the main reason chefs, wholesalers and individuals around the country are increasingly calling to place orders…. The idea behind dry farming is that by restricting a plant’s water intake, its fruits wind up with less water content and a greater density of sugar and other flavor compounds.
The main problem?
farming without irrigation has a major drawback: dramatically reduced yields.
Stan Devoto, a farmer in Northern California, says his dry-farmed trees produce 12 to 15 tons of apples per acre per year. Irrigated trees, on the other hand, may bear 40 or 50 tons. And McEnnis says he harvests about 4 tons of tomatoes off his acre of vines each summer and fall, whereas conventional growers may reap 40 tons per acre.
Gregory Warner had a nice piece on NPR yesterday that examined the specialty coffee business from the perspective of some Ethiopian growers. As he described,
coffee aficionados pay top dollar for single-origin roasts.
The professional prospectors working for specialty coffee companies will travel far and wide, Marco Polo-style, to discover that next champion bean.
But to the farmers who hope to be that next great discovery, the emergence of this new coffee aristocracy is less Marco Polo, more Cinderella: How do you get your coffee bean to the ball?
Consider this tale of impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers whose beans once sold for rock bottom prices:
The yellowed highlands around the city of Jimma in Ethiopia are where coffee was discovered in the 8th century. But by the end of the 20th century, its reputation had become as shaky as a car ride on its mountain roads.
For the details on that reputation and how a growers’ cooperative overcame it, head here for both the audio and text versions of the story.
One of the great perks of being a CSA member is encountering produce that you might not otherwise seek out. A month ago we were making rhubarb and strawberry compote for the first time (along with a fantastic beet, rhubarb, and orange salad). This week we’ve been enjoying a slaw made with fennel, kohlrabi, celery and apples, and I’d never before purchased either of the first two ingredients! Except for a few leaves of lettuce, the only things remaining from our latest CSA shares are the garlic scapes. The folks at Vermont Valley Community Farm highly recommended making pesto from them, and after reading T. Susan Chang’s post at NPR yesterday, I’m convinced.
Chang describes scapes for the initiated:
… just when you’re hunting for the first ripe strawberries — something odd happens. The garlic sends up a central stalk, chartreuse and pointy at the end, and it starts growing fast. It’s called a scape. The scape shoots up and then goes serpentine — it begins to curl, forming one loop or maybe even two. There’s a bump toward the end of the scape, and if you leave it alone it will develop into a “bulbil” (which is not a hobbit, but a miniature garlic you could plant if you wanted).
Don’t let things get that far; instead, snap off the scape when it’s done curlicuing. It’s the gardener’s dividend, and it is a rich one. The taste of that green garlic is haunting — biting, fresh, vegetal and verdant. It is to mature garlic what a string quartet is to an orchestra; what a sonnet is to a novel.
Find her full post and three recipes—including one for scape pesto—here.