Saturday, January 18, 2014

Out Of The Woods

After a nearly four week visit to Minnesota, we've finally made it back to Brooklyn, leaving my father-in-law behind, in his house in the woods. It gets harder every time, for him and for us, to stay and to go. Winter is a hardship, yet it also puts a hold on nature's aggressive reclamation of his works, and its own. The apparent stasis, only more white or less, is an assurance against his decline, putting mortality on the table just long enough to consider your own strategy for facing it.

I've made a few resolutions, not the New Year's type, but a generally longer lasting set of conditions upon which I live. It's a small list, targeted and specific.
  • Grow and eat my own vegetables whenever possible.
  • Buy vegetables at farmers' markets and our local co-op only.
  • Buy only meat that I can be reasonably assured has been humanely raised and slaughtered.
  • I will not drink any more soda, except the soda in my occasional gin and tonic.
  • Only buy organic potatoes
  • No more canned tomatoes

The first one is obvious, what more can be said. I think everyone who can, ought to. I also want to support our local farmers. As I made my rounds at the Grand Army Plaza market today I found too little produce available, especially organic. We've become so accustomed to all vegetables all the time, and I'm okay with that. So I think that we, including our government, need to encourage local farmers to make whatever investments necessary to get more local produce during the winter. Consider the California drought that has the potential to disrupt our food supply, particularly our winter greens. More investment in hoop houses and storage facilities would go a long way to increasing produce availability, particularly on those farms in the southern area of the local radius.

Meat. This has been on my plate a long time, but I cannot look at another image or read another story of disgusting, inhumane slaughter practices. If you haven't seen Food Inc., find it on Netflix streaming. I love pork, but I can't buy chops from pigs slaughtered by crushing them to death a hundred at a time. The label 'organic' is reasonably well understood in terms of feeding and health, but USDA Organic label says nothing of the way the animal has been slaughtered. Since corporations know how valuable the organic label is to the buyer, they have been working to drive the prices down and they do this by applying practices from non-organic production. My point is that USDA Organic isn't enough, but it's a sign post that can lead you in the right direction at the grocery. When possible I would rather buy meat raised locally, even if not strictly organic, as long as I can be reasonably assured that the animal was treated well in life and in death.  Buying the whole animal is the best way to keep the prices down and nobody I know can store the whole animal so that splitting among 4-6 couples seems to be the best practice. If anyone wants to go in on a whole pig with us, send me an email. 

Soda? Sure -I drink it. We were raised on this stuff. I should be 600 pounds. But I am not, and I want to keep it that way. Bloomberg and I can agree on this: we can cut out soda. 

Organic potatoes? I like to eat these whole, and when I do, they are a nearly perfect food. I grew some potatoes this past year on the farm and learned a good amount of what it takes to produce them. If you buy good quality seed potatoes, your biggest problem is going to be Colorado potato beetles. What do they do? They eat all the leaves, removing the capacity for the plant to grab the sun and turn it into tuber. The number one problem of organically grown potatoes is diminished yield due to these pests. Diminished yield drives up the cost to the buyer. Stores don't like high-priced potatoes, especially conventionally grown, so to keep yield up potato growers use lots and lots of chemicals, some systemic (meaning that the whole plant contains the toxins). Yield drives the cost difference between organic and conventional potatoes. Organic growers have little in their arsenal to fight the tenacious potato beetle, so we accept lower yields and higher prices. I refuse to eat systemically treated potatoes any longer and will buy only organic. This was really hard to accept today at the farmers' market because I also love to buy the different varieties that have become staples at the market, yet only the conventional growers had great variety. I didn't buy there, but found organic Yukon Gold at the co-op and organic purple sweet potatoes for $1.99 per pound. If you haven't had these smaller, sweet, intensely colored, eat the whole thing, sweet potatoes, you're missing out.

I've just used my last can of tomatoes. Canned tomatoes? Yes, now I will only purchase glass or BPA-free aseptic packaging (i.e. Pomi) although I'm sure I'll read something negative about the latter type someday soon. Since I've always been disturbed by the hidden chemistry of packaging and products, glass wins. I'll try not to break any.

Despite my new conditions, I lack an unreasonable rigidity. Notice that I am only talking about buying, not eating. When I am at a friend's house, I will not scour his pantry to ensure I am eating organic potatoes. When I am out at a restaurant I will not require inspection of their meats. These things are what I plan to do at home. While the list is small I feel that if I ensure that these conditions are met, the attitude will spread on to other things, organically.


  1. Frank, we buy our meat from a farmer (1/4 cow, 1/2 pig) who raises his animals humanely on a small farm. (They also make wonderful cheese.) If you'd like that info, let me know. They're about 2.5 hours outside of the city.

  2. I'll go in on a pig with you.

  3. Hi Frank. Muir Glen sells tomatoes in BPA-free cans.

    1. I haven't seen those. I'll look. Although I've often been underwhelmed by the flavor of them since they were bought out. I bought bionaturae in glass and they were pretty tasty!


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