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!


Another reason to not eat sugar March 3, 2010

Filed under: Cool sites,experiment,Food,shoutout — Alden @ 5:26 pm
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I saw someone tweet about a new blog called “A Month without Monsanto.” That’s right, April Davila is trying to go a month consuming food that is “outside the grasp of Monsanto.” Dude, I admire this girl’s courage.

Do you know how hard it is to go a month without eating anything that profits Monsanto? If not, just read, say, two of her posts where she describes her herculean efforts to avoid Monsanto food, and you’ll get the idea. It’s not only fast food that contain GMO’s grown with Roundup. It’s even organic food, which is distributed by subsidiaries of Monsanto. In short, it’s almost impossible to know where that any of our food comes from. And that includes sugar, which is made from Roundup-ready beets and is found in products like Hershey bars.

This poor girl has been confined to eating:

Eggs from free roaming, grass and bug eating chickens
Wild caught fish
Organic dried fruits and nuts (except papaya, mango and melons)
Maple syrup.
Coconut meat/juice.

Really? That’s it? It goes to show how much our food decisions aren’t really our decisions. One of the takeaways from the blog, at least to me, is to hit up the farmers market, where you can look your farmer in the eye say, “So, where do you get your seeds from? Do you use Roundup?”

Just in case you are saying to yourself, “What is Monsanto? Why should I care?” Here are some links to reasons why you would want to avoid Monsanto:

Millions Against Monsanto

Suit Seeks to Bar Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

Ethical Investing on Monsanto

GE Alfalfa Threatens Organics

More US Weeds Found Resisting Monsanto Roundup

Growing Evidence that Chemical Agriculture is Killing US


The a-little-bit-hypocritical Bronx Zoo November 19, 2009

Filed under: Food,green angst — Alden @ 8:34 pm
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This post has been a long time coming. But here it is.

About a month ago Scott (the bf) and I took a day trip to the Bronx Zoo. We loved it. The cute little kids running around in Halloween outfits, the adorable cuddly-looking monkeys, and the informative bird exhibits were all great. I even enjoyed seeing the ornate architecture that spoke of a different era in the late 1800’s, when the zoo was built.

But something bothered me. I wasn’t surprised to see little placards at almost every exhibit which would describe the various ways humans degrade the habitats of animals and put them in danger. What did surprise me, after all this posturing about the dangers of pesticides, is what the zoo serves as food. When we went to grab a bite from the cafe, nothing there was organic. It was all standard, terrible fair: chicken tenders, french fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and Big Gulp-size plastic ups of electric blue frozen drinks. What?

If people judge you by your actions, not by your words, well, I feel safe calling this a Bronx Zoo Fail. They can put up signs all day saying how bad pesticides are, but what kind of message does it send when they serve industrialized fried chicken composed of ill-treated animals and monoculture crops? Crops that discourage biodiversity and use those very pesticides the Bronx Zoo vilifies? It doesn’t say much.

In fact, even though I’m not a vegetarian, it smacks of bad taste to offer kids chicken sandwiches right after they were shuttled through a cute exhibit that does its best to educate kids about how cool live animals are. I wonder if parents, after they’re done pointing out the chickens in the farm exhibit to their toddlers, feel weird about plunking down a plate of tenders in front of them, covered in ketchup?

Of course, Scott and I only went to one little side cafe. Perhaps there are more options elsewhere. And I give the Bronx Zoo props for their eco-friendly composting restrooms at the entrance. But the next step should be to put their words into action, and educate children about the connection between what they eat, and the livelihoods of the animals the zoo works so hard to promote.

So go ahead, pay a visit to the zoo. Learn about the animals with which we share this earth. But bring your own food.


Hippie dating August 11, 2009

Filed under: green angst,Places to go — Alden @ 9:03 pm
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So, I actually did briefly date a hippie between freshman and sophomore year. Wow, what an experience. He worked in body care section of Whole Foods and thought that the trails coming out of jets was a government plot. He made good organic blackberry pancakes and would soothe my hangovers with giant all-natural hangover pills. What a guy.

That was just a lark, though. In reality, I have no interest in dating a hippie. For the most part they have zero ambition beyond “overthrowing capitalism” or something. I, on the other hand, am ambitious and enjoy what capitalism can bring me. You know, when it’s not being evil and all.

So that puts me in a weird position. Where does one find a guy who always buys the expensive drinks and also the organic food for dinner? Beats me.

The point of all this is that I’ve been invited on a date for Wednesday. I’m not particularly excited about it. I met this dude out on Saturday – he’s a friend of a friend. I’m pretty sure he wears product in his hair, and I distinctly remember his white/black pinstripe button down. Yeah. But he was just SO pushy I was like “FINE! Here’s my number!”

He called me up Sunday night to plan our little rendez-vous. I let him suggest a place. “Do you like chocolate?” he asked.

“Sure, chocolate is good.”

“Well there’s this place that revolves completely around chocolate, even the pizza. It’s my favorite restaurant.”

I went along with it, but after I hung up I realized that the thought of a whole dinner doused in chocolate was already making me feel bloated. Then I thought, why not kill two birds with one stone? Try out a good organic restaurant and scope out the open mindedness of this dude. That or scare him away!

The Savoy Restaurant

The Savoy Restaurant

When he calls back today, which he said he would do, I’m gonna ask him to take me to another restaurant. i looked on Greenopia for green restaurants, cut out the vegetarians places (that might be pushing it), and looked for the one with the best rating on Zagat. I came up with Savoy at Prince and Crosby St. It looks like great local organic food. Oh, and it’s expensive, heh.

Here’s the thing, I won’t tell him it’s organic. I want to see his reaction. I figure when he sees that it’s an organic place, he’ll do one of four things:

1. “Wow, you like organic food? Me too! I’m so glad we met.”

2. “I’ve keep hearing about organic food but don’t know much about it. Could you fill me in on why it’s so wonderful?”

3. Silence. Because he’s grateful that I ever said yes to a date in the first place and doesn’t want to f- it up.

4. “Organic food? Seriously? Are you like a tree hugger or something?” At which point I’ll tell him to get the hell out of the restaurant so I can enjoy my food in peace.

Honestly, I hope he does number four, because I really could care less. I just want the food, thanks.