The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

What’s Organic About Organic? Well, I’ll Tell You July 9, 2010

“The pesticides are made to stay on even in a rainstorm….So how big of a rainstorm are you giving in your kitchen?” – A farmer on pesticide use in apple orchards

Whew, this post is late. Things just got a little out of hand, what with my trip out of town and all that stuff I had to attend to, like watching ten episodes of Lost. (I have a lot of catching up to do.)

Anyhoo, last Thursday – shoot, the Thursday before, actually, I scooted down to the Here Theater to see What’s Organic About Organic? a sort of low-budget Food Inc. The little theater was packed with people, despite it being the fourth showing of a whole week. Apparently there are a lot of very aware and curious people in NYC.

The movie didn’t teach me a lot of things I didn’t already know, since I’m already a voracious reader of blogs on the topic. Still, it’s good for me to watch this stuff, because sometimes I need a boost in my determination to be more aware about what I eat. It’s like going on a diet – you need to keep trying on those skinny jeans in order to remember why you gave up dessert….and hamburgers…and anything not organic…

I did pick up some choice facts about conventional farming (aka, “not organic.”) THey’re a swift kick in the pants to all you Luddites still enjoying McDonald’s. Please enjoy:

  • Farmers and their families on conventional farms frequently suffer from pesticide poisoning
  • Pesticides are the same chemicals used in chemical warfare. They are just watered down to put on our food.
  • Chemicals from those pesticides can get into our water supply
  • The estimated health and environmental costs of our farm chemical usage in the US is estimated at $9 billion
  • Arsenic is often put in chicken feed. The chicken poop is then fed to other animals.
  • Industrialized farming (think large-scale farms with produced shipped hundreds of miles) currently depends on cheap fossil fuel, something that is getting harder and harder to come by.
  • Switching to all organic farming could reduce 25% of our carbon emissions
  • Produce loses 40% of its nutrients within three days of being picked. Unfortunately, most produce doesn’t reach your shopping cart until after that.
  • 70% of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals. (Which makes your next round of needed antibiotics less effective, by the way.)
  • Sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in conventional agriculture

The movie was equal parts hope and frustration. Farmers talked with a fierce pride about sticking to their guns, even as everyone told them they would do better if they used fancy pesticides and GMOs. They tut-tutted other farmers who are deep in debt and battling super weeds and crazy infestations of bugs, even as they douse fields with Roundup. They talked about their hope for the future, about the quality and beauty of their food. But even so, the sheer scale of the problem was sobering. Sadly, one farming cooperative that the movie focused on had shut down by the time the movie was done being produced.

After the lights came up I chatted with a girl my age next to me with masses of long curly hair and fun bracelets that clinked on her wrist. Her name was Rose, and she is even more into food issues than I am. She also already knew about most of what the movie had to say, “I mean, images of CAFOs are burned into my brain,” she said “so…”

While we talked the panelists came up on stage. Restaurants was the topic of the night. I was curious to hear more about sustainable restaurants, but even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have left. Not a person in the theater budged from their seats, eagerly looking up at some of the most well-respected members of the farm-to-table movement.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

My ears perked up at the name Batali. I had just written a post about his wonderful pizzeria, Otto Enoteca, where I enjoyed some of the best pizza I had ever had, and heavenly cheese with truffle honey. Of course if you’ve heard of Mario Batali, you might know he has a small restaurant empire. I was so pleased to know that his restaurants embrace sustainability. They source from local farms, use organic produce, and avoid using fish that are being overfished. In order to convince all of the chefs – chefs always being averse to being told what to do – Elizabeth brought them all in and showed them videos of the impact of food decisions. They were converted. I think I have found my new favorite restaurant.

Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s No. 43

Jimmy’s love of good quality food came through as he talked. Far from being a gimmick, his seasonal variations on his menu evolved slowly as he acquired more and more food from local farms. One day, he said, he woke up and realized his summertime menu is composed almost entirely of food from within a hundred miles, save for the olive oil and lemon. Now he gets CSA deliveries right to his restaurant, which has become a hub of activity has other restaurants stop by to pick up their own produce. His fave farm? The Piggery.

Carlos Suarez, owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant

Love this guy. He worked in finance for a year, but decided it had a lack of value (no, really??), so he quit and started a restaurant, Bobo. I had never heard of this West Village restaurant before, but believe me, it’s on my list. His restaurant doesn’t even serve bottled water.

Ian Marvey, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Added Value

Added Value is an urban farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and from what I can tell it is an amazing venture. Teenagers staff the field and the produce table. The owners of The Good Fork, which sources from Added Value, walk three blocks in the morning from their home to open up the restaurant. The restaurant, in turn, is three blocks from Added Value. The point of Ian telling the audience this is that all that money made from the farm circulates within Red Hook. The implication? Real, local people get the benefit of this agriculture, instead of faceless corporations hundreds of miles away.

Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods

Patrick seems to be more of the pragmatic and sober type, instead of the pie-in-the-sky breed of organic evangelists. He caused a ruckus when he said that Purdue has value in that it “feeds the world.” Boy did that get everyone riled up, especially the farmer in attendance, Marty Mesh. What Patrick was trying to say is that famines used to be a way of life, and the sheer scale of conventional agriculture has made those a thing of the past. That’s a good thing, even if there are a lot of abuses and serious drawback to the system. After getting raked over the coals by other panelists, he reiterated that he dislikes Purdue and Smithfield as much as anyone. They are, after all, the enemies of the movement.

That’s Shelley Rogers by the way, the documentary maker, laughing to the left of Patrick.

Classie Parker, founder of Five Star Community Garden in Harlem

This lady was adorable. Rose and I kept on looking at each other and practically squealing with delight as she held forth about the importance of community and good food, and her jam with Southern Comfort in it. Yum. She’s a main character in the movie as well. “Not enough people are talking about it. Go on Facebook. Go on Twitter,” she exhorted the audience. “I guarantee you it will grow!”

Marty Mesh – Farmer Advocate and Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers

Marty was another main character in the movie, a grower with very strong opinions. (At one point he claimed Swine Flu was caused by conventional pig raising. Urp.) But I loved his idea of installing organic farms in low income areas and homes, a great way to improve nutrition. He got a huge round of applause from the audience when he declared we should “get corporations out of the food system.”

After the panel disbanded, Rose and I exchanged info, promising each other that we would get up to Harlem to see Classie’s Five Star Community Garden, and maybe get our hands a little dirty!

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The Joy of Fresh Strawberries May 22, 2010

Filed under: Food — Alden @ 6:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

You know how when you buy strawberries from the grocery store, they look big, red and juicy on the outside, but when you slice them, they have a white, hard core? It’s because they pick them when they aren’t quite ripe, put them in a truck, and spray them with red food dye while they are shipped across the country.

These are not those strawberries.

I’m back home in Maryland for the weekend for my sister’s graduation from UMBC School of Social Work (Yay Colby!). I arrived after midnight last night, and not having eaten dinner, I went straight to the kitchen for some food.

Mom hovered over me in the kitchen. “We have almond cookies, and cereal, lots of cereal.” I opted for cereal and poured myself some Kashi. Then I saw it. A big basket of small, fresh-picked strawberries.

“Are those from the garden?”

“Yup, I picked them today,” Mom said. She picked a choice few out, sliced them up, and put them on top of my cereal. I was seriously surprised when I took my first bite at the bright pop of flavor on my tongue.

They’re Steve’s, my step-dad’s, strawberries. Here’s a comprehensive list, in his own words, of all his vegetables that he’s growing behind our house:

Garlic (planted in October, it overwinters)

1 lb Chesnook Red

1 lb Siberian Marbled

Peppers

2 Jalapeno (hot)

2 Carmen (sweet; new this year)

2 Golden Bell (sweet)

2 Red Beauty (sweet)

1 Laparie (sweet; new this year)

x Jimmy Nardello (sweet; can’t find any around here, so I ordered a pack of seeds)

Lettuce

Black Seeded Simpson (leaf)

Red Sails (leaf)

Salad Bowl Blend (leaf – a two part arugula mix)

Rouge d’Hiver (sweet red romaine)

Marvel of the Four Seasons (butterhead; new this year)

Buttercrunch (butterhead)

Spinach – Bordeaux (there are two families of spinach – I forget the names, but this is part of the family mom likes)

Tomatos – 6 Brandywine (heirloom; mom won’t let me grow anything else)

Beans – 8 Tavera filet

Peas – Oregon Sugar Pod

Carrots – Scarlet Nantes

I told him that I want some of the garlic when I get back in town this summer. You can stick a head in the oven, roast it, and then spread it on bread for a delicious treat. Yum!

 

There’s a society-upending movement afoot April 7, 2010

Does it have a name? I’m not sure. It’s part Urban Agriculture, part Back to the Land, part Slow Food, part sustainability. It’s all of those things wrapped up in a deep need by modern Americans to fix what has gone wrong with our food system. I would call it a Food Revolution, but Jamie Oliver stole that name for his new show.

Yup, Oliver’s new show is part of the movement too. It follows him as he attempts to repair the way people eat in one the fattest towns in America, located in West Virginia. In the first episode last Friday, he attacked the lunch system in the school by banishing sugury milk and teaching the elementary school students how to use forks and knives. He also tries to get a family to eat better. It’s a sad sight to see, as an obese mother weeps with relief when she finds out that her middle schooler isn’t diabetic. Yet.

The night before I attended a fundraiser for BK Farmyards, a new urban garden networks that wants to transform the way people in Brooklyn shop for and eat food. As I sipped spicy magaritas with my friend Anne, who works at Idealist, we watched films that all seemed to drive home one crucial point: “Agribusiness, you stupid motherf***ers, we are coming for you.”

Ok, the f-bomb wasn’t necessary. It was more peace and love, naturally. But what I saw in those movies energizes me. More than ever I want to dig my hands into the soil, and at the end of a season pull out a carrot. My very own carrot that I grew myself, on my own land.

One quote in particular got me, from the movie Garden Cycles:

I have kids who come to Middlebury College from the lap of luxury, and pay $160 thousand in tuition, and all they want to do is farm.

What this says to me is that more and more people are getting real pleasure and happiness from turning down that desk job and digging in the dirt. Another person in the film commented on the American myth that farming is one of the most undesirable jobs out there. Yeah, it’s undesirable if you are being driven out of business by massive industrial farming companies. But it can bring real satisfaction to bring home the bacon in a more than just a metaphorical sense.

Other tidbits picked up from this adorable little event:

  • Farmers Markets are the fastest growing part of the food economy, and are growing even faster than Wal-Mart
  • Almost half of New York City’s waste is food
  • “Master Composter” is an actual, honest-to-god title, with an education to go with it
  • My next volunteer opportunity should totally be with the Familia Verde in the bronx, who run a community garden in one of the driest food deserts in the nation

There is so much more on this subject. For starters, read a Michael Pollan book. Or read the latest, wide-ranging articles on the subject of real food here, here, and here.