Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Order Your Local Turkey Today!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

@ South Mountain Creamery

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, it’s time to pre-order your local turkey! If you read a lot of food magazines (or blogs) to prepare for your Thanksgiving feast, you’ve probably seen a lot of talk about brining the turkey in recent years. Soaking the bird in a saltwater is supposed to add succulence to the meat. But here’s a secret: turkeys are naturally juicy. Conventional turkeys, like conventional chickens and other animals, are raised in confined quarters where they are stuffed full of grain (often genetically-modified, aka GMO) and antibiotics to grow rapidly. Turkeys who eat a natural diet of bugs, grubs and grasses will naturally produce meat that is juicier and more flavorful. And, birds who roam in fresh air lead happier, healthier lives.

What is a Heritage turkey? Today, 99% of all turkeys raised in the U.S. are the “Broadbreasted White” variety, which have been bred specifically to produce unnaturally large breasts. The breasts are so large, in fact, that these turkeys are unable to reproduce naturally! (Source: Sustainable Table/UN Food and Agriculture Organization)

free-ranging @ Fields of Athenry

free-ranging @ Fields of Athenry

Sustainable turkey farmers raise various traditional species of turkeys, Heritage breeds such as Narrangassett or Bourbon Red, to protect the genetic diversity and provide tastier options for your Thanksgiving table. Heritage birds take longer to reach market size — 24 to 30 weeks compared to 18 for supermarket turkeys — which is one reason why they more expensive. (Source: Heritage Turkey Foundation) The article on Sustainable Table has a more detailed explanation of the difference between heritage, organic and sustainable birds and questions to ask your farmers.

Wondering how to find a local, organic, free-range bird for your holiday meal? Here in the DC Metro area, organic turkeys are harder to find, but several local farmers and butchers provide heritage and/or free-range turkeys. Organic birds will be the most expensive, but they are fed only organic feed, not treated with antibiotics or hormones, and required to have access to the outdoors. Ask your farmer or butcher what their free-range turkeys are fed. Organic grain feed is less important if they are truly free-range, as turkeys prefer to eat bugs and grasses anyway. Where “all-natural” is used below, it means turkeys are not treated or fed with any antibiotics, steroids or hormones.

EcoFriendly Foods (Moneta, VA)
type: all-natural, free-range, Heritage and hybrid breeds, 12-20lbs.
price: n/a
order: order at Arlington Courthouse or Dupont Circle markets, $40 deposit required.

Fields of Athenry (Purcellville, VA)
type: all-natural, free-range, Heritage, 15-35lbs.
price: $7.25/lb.
order: download order form online and send $40 deposit; pick-up at farm only; likely to sell out early.

Let’s Meat on the Avenue (Alexandria, VA)
type: Amish-raised from Pennsylvania and Minnesota; organic from Fauquier County VA; all free-range, all-natural, fresh
price: $3.95/lb. for Amish turkeys
order: call 703-836-6328 or stop by the shop; orders will be accepted until about a week prior to Thanksgiving (or until sold out)

MOM’s Organic Market (VA and MD)
type: all-natural, free-range from Maple Lawn Farm (Fulton, MD) and Eberly’s Organic
price: $1.99/lb. Maple Lawn, $3.49/lb. Eberly Organic
order: call or visit store (locations in Alexandria, College Park, Columbia, Frederick and Rockville)

Smith Meadows Farm (Purcellville, VA)
type: all-natural, free-range turkeys, 10-12lbs. or 13-14lbs., frozen
price: $4.25/lb.
order: Place a $10 deposit at their markets, pick-up on Saturday 11/21 or Sunday 11/22 at the market where you place your order. Orders will be accepted until about mid-November. You can also call 877-955-4389 to place your order by phone.
markets: Arlington Courthouse, Del Ray, Falls Church and Chevy Chase on Saturdays; Takoma Park and Dupont Circle on Sundays

South Mountain Creamery / Hillside Farm (Thurmont, MD)
type: free-range, fresh
price: about $2.50/lb.
order: existing South Mountain delivery customers must reserve a turkey by Saturday, November 7; they will be delivered with your regular delivery the week prior to Thanksgiving.

If you don’t want to cook, The Butcher’s Block in Alexandria will have ready-to-go Thanksgiving meals available; visit the website for details.

To find a local, Heritage turkey in your area, search the listings at Local Harvest — or ask your favorite meat vendor at the farmers market!

Shared with Real Food Wednesday — visit the round-up @ Cheeseslave for more Real Food inspiration.

Dope-Free Dairy

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Part IV in the Sustainable Family Supper series

dairy cow

What’s the matter with rBST? I’ve written before about how my path to natural and organic food began with a look at milk. When I became pregnant with my son, milk took on a renewed significance as I eliminated sodas and caffeinated beverages from my diet. I finally got around to reading up on bovine growth hormones, a.k.a. rBST or rBGH. You probably already know that they are artificial hormones designed to increase estrogen in female cows, thus increasing their milk production. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in 1993, and like with so many other issues, refused to reexamine its safety despite growing consumer pressure and health concerns. The problem, or problems, are that the unnatural increase in production leads cows to develop infections at much greater rates, requiring them to be more heavily treated with antibiotics, which are passed on to milk consumers and flow out into soil and water with the cows’ waste. Then, there are studies linking rBST with increased breast, prostate and colon cancers in humans. The most galling part of the whole situation, in my opinion, is the ridiculous requirement by the FDA that requires dairy producers who label their milk rBST-free to include a disclaimer stating that “there is no difference between milk from cows treated with rBST and those who are not.” Actually, there are scientific studies showing that rBST is harmful and yet the burden is on the good actors to refrain from impugning the “good” name of the producers who continue to use rBST in the face of such studies.

Consumers Fight Back: The good news is that after repeatedly losing attempts in state legislatures to ban the use of rBST-free labels entirely (hello consumers’ right to know what they’re eating!), in the face of growing consumer pressure against the use of artificial hormones, its creator Monsanto actually sold off the product last year. Meanwhile, consumer campaigns targeting major dairy companies and grocers have successfully forced many companies to voluntarily reject the use of milk from cows treated with rBST. You can sign up to receive alerts from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to stay apprised of the latest. Food & Water Watch offers downloadable and mobile (iPhone/Blackberry) lists of rBST-free brands by state. Last month, Dannon and Yoplait joined the roster of major yogurt producers rejecting rBST milk (Stoneyfield has never used it). In the cheese world, Tillamook‘s farmer cooperative led the industry in adopting a rBST-free policy back in 2005. Cabot Creamery is the latest to get on the drug-free dairy bandwagon, announcing that they will finally stop accepting rBST-containing milk as of August 1, 2009. Even *some* Kraft cheese products (2% milk line) are rBST-free.

Next Stop, Schools: So if consumers won’t buy it, where’s rBST-treated cows milk going? Some is still in use commercially, and of course much winds up in schools. Food & Water Watch has a campaign underway, coinciding with this year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, urging Congress to give schools the ability to let schools choose to use rBST-free and/or organic milk. According to Food & Water Watch, one out of five pints of the milk served to public schoolchildren may contain rBST. (Visit their School Milk action center to learn more.)

Better Yet, Drink Organic: If you already drink rBST-free milk, you might also want to consider organic. If you have to choose what to buy organic, organic milk and meat may be more beneficial than organic produce because the pesticides on cows’ feed are concentrated in their digestive system – and nonorganic feed includes genetically-modified (GMO) grain. And make sure that you’re choosing a brand that scores well on the Cornucopia Institute organic dairy study, because while organic certification guarantees that cows are fed GMO- and pesticide-free grain, it does not guarantee that the cows were allowed to graze on grass or treated humanely. Certain big-organic producers (Aurora and Horizon, notably) are only slightly better than conventional feedlot operations. (There’s a reason some store-brand “organic” milk is priced significantly lower – avoid Safeway, Giant, Publix and Costco store brands, which are sourced from Aurora Organics, a company found by the USDA to have “willfully” violated 14 criteria of the federal organic standard. Visit the Organic Consumer Association action page to sign a petition asking these company CEOs to boycott green-washing “organic” suppliers.)

We’re lucky to have a local, though not organic-certified, dairy delivery service, but when I have to buy milk between deliveries or on the road, I try to find Organic Valley. They are a co-operative of farms organized regionally, so the milk you buy may actually be fairly locally-produced, and they provide support to their farmers to make their farms more environmentally-friendly, such as helping their member farms obtain grants to place wind turbines on their farms. I attended a presentation by an Organic Valley farmer at last fall’s Green Festival and fell in love with the adorable pictures of his happy little cows and tale of how they prefer listening to rock music over classical. A recent study found that cows who are called by name (typically signifying a higher level of care) produce more milk, naturally. I may be a little idealistic, but shouldn’t every cow live like that?

What About Raw Milk? I haven’t read enough yet to take an informed opinion on the highly controversial issue of raw milk. Its sale is banned here in Maryland and Virginia (unless in a “cow share” program in VA), so I haven’t had the option of trying it. (At least not since I was a kid with cow-owning friends! Its true nothing else tastes like truly fresh milk.) On the one hand, I’m inclined to trust farmers who are praticing time-tested method,s and raw milk proponents insist that there are a wealth of health benefits to drinking raw. On the other hand, cows are naturally dirty animals! (That’s not a scientific argument, just an observation.) All the more reason to get to know your food’s producers, of course, whatever the product. At any rate, if you want to learn more, CheeseSlave has a great post on the reasons she chooses raw milk and links to more resources.

Save our Soil

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Part III in the Sustainable Family Supper Project

The second villain in the duo of toxic commercial farming practices is fertilizer. I recently heard a radio ad touting the benefits of chemical fertilizer, euphemistically called, “nutrients for life.”

If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, you know that nitrogen fertilizers used today have a rather unsavory history. In a classic example of good intentions gone awry, scientists discovered a way to apply highly concentrated nutrients to crops to increase their yield. Sounds good, right? The problem is that the nutrients run off into streams, rivers and oceans and suffocate aquatic life. It sounds strange, but there is in fact such a thing as too much nutrients. Agricultural run-off from the Midwest is contributing to an ever-growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – nearly the size of Massachusetts in 2008. Chemical fertilizers are also derived from petroleum, keeping much of the world’s food supply inextricably linked to fossil fuels.

Recent studies have shown that organic crops in fact have higher nutrient levels, and are higher in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. This has a great deal to do with the soil in which they are grown, and the fact that it hasn’t been smothered with heavy doses of chemicals. Sustainable farming also utilizes crop rotation practices that rotate planting so that different nutrients are absorbed and replaced each growing season. I mentioned last week that our CSA farm produces exceptionally sweet onions as a result of their attention to the soil. Leafy greens also benefit from well-tended, chemically-unburdened soil. Organically-grown, fresh greens from a local farm have far more flavor then the limp pre-bagged mixes found at the grocery store, so much so that when my husband tasted our first delivery of CSA greens he exclaimed, “Who knew lettuce had flavor?!”

As mentioned last week, the best way to find food grown without toxic fertilizers and other chemicals is to buy organic and support your local, sustainable farmers. Stay tuned for a look at several CSA farms from around the country, and this week’s sustainable supper recipe.

Sustainable Seafood 101

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

If your new year’s resolutions included healthier eating, you’re probably looking to include more fish in your diet. It’s one of my goals, anyway, but a trip to the fish counter is often headache inducing as I try to remember which fish is “safe.” Sustainable seafood guides look at several factors, and unfortunately it’s not as simple as “farmed fish = bad, wild-caught = good.” Wild-caught salmon is good, yes, but some farmed fish also get the green light from the Blue Ocean Institute and other guides. We often hear about the health benefits of fish, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids that are important for brain development and heart health, so it’s important to make smart choices to make sure the health benefits are not out-weighed by the risks.

Health and sustainability issues surrounding seafood tend to fall into two general areas:

  1. over-fishing, ocean health and species survival
  2. health risks from mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

1. Ocean Health: Our oceans are over-fished and too many countries do not adequately regulate fishing practices. Fishing techniques for certain species also endanger other species. We all remember the dolphin-safe tuna campaign of the 80s, and while “dolphin-safe” labels now appear on tuna cans, other dangerous fishing practices are still in use. Blue fin tuna and Chilean sea bass top the list of endangered species to avoid. For more on the problems of over-fishing, see the Environmental Defense Fund on “Fishing Responsibly.”

2. Human Heath Risks: Pollutants in water are ingested and stored in fish. Certain fish retain a higher concentration of mercury and PCBs, chemicals from fertilizers and industrial waste which pose brain development risks, particularly to developing babies and young children, and are linked to cancer. These toxins build up and are stored in fat cells, so choosing less fatty fish and using cooking techniques that reduce the fat (avoid frying, drain fat during cooking) will help reduce your exposure. For more on issues surrounding farmed food, particularly the fish meal feeding that concentrates toxins in certain species, read this informative post on the Green Fork Guide.

Sustainable Fish Resources: The guides produced by the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafod Watch rate fish by their sustainability index, and they offer on-the-go tools that are a lifesaver when your mind goes blank in front of the seafood display at the store. You can download an iPhone application from Seafood Watch or simply text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question for an instant response from the Institute’s “Fish Phone.” “Organic” seafood is going through its own challenges, but you can look for fish with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Using the Environmental Defense Fund‘s lists of most and least-contaminated fish, narrowed to highlight the more commonly found, here are the “top 5″ best and worst to remember:

Top 5 Fish To Look For: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Yellow-Tail Snapper, Tuna – Albacore or canned light, Black Sea Bass, Tilapia – US farmed.

Top 5 Fish To Avoid: Blue fin Tuna, Striped Bass – wild, Salmon – farmed/Atlantic, MackerelSwordfish

We tend to eat a lot of Alaskan salmon, as it happens to be my favorite as well as one of the safest. My husband is a reluctant seafood eater, so finding types he will willingly eat is another challenge. Tilapia was a recent success, though, and this week’s Sustainable Family Supper (below) features this nutrient-rich, easy-to-find and affordable fish.

Sustainable Family Supper, Fish Night

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

In addition to the general guides mentioned above, regional Seafood Watch guides are also available. I know I usually advocate for eating locally and then admit that we often eat wild Alaskan salmon. Unfortunately, our local waterways are so polluted and endangered that local seafood is minimally available. I do buy local Blue crabs, oysters and clams from the Virginia fisherman, Buster’s, who sells at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, but otherwise I tend to pay more attention to overall sustainability of our seafood than miles traveled. (Of course, when I’m back home in the Northwest I buy all the local salmon I can – though sadly it’s tragically endangered there as well.) Up and down the Eastern seaboard, oyster farming programs are being implemented as a tool for recovering our local aquacultures, as shellfish naturally filter the excessive nutrients out of the water. (And, our support for local, organic produce is another step towards improving the health of our Chesapeake Bay.)

Farmed fish such as tilapia are generally rated safest for those of us on the East Coast, where most wild caught fish have high levels of mercury and PCBs. This week’s dinner featured baked tilapia in a balsamic-butter sauce that complemented the mild fish well. I served it with Mediterranean cous cous that includes garbanzo beans for added protein.

Sustainable Family Supper, Fish Night Menu

  • Tilapia in Balsamic-Butter Sauce
  • Mediterranean Cous Cous
  • Sugar Snap Peas

The fast and easy tilapia recipe came from Epicurious, though I used 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and only 1/4 cup of butter, which was plenty for four fish fillets.

Recipe: Mediterranean Cous Cous

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cous cous
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup diced prunes
  • 1 cup garbanzo beans, rinsed

Instructions: Bring water and orange juice to a boil. Add prunes and garbanzo beans and simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in cous cous, cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 15 minutes, until liquid is fully absorbed. Fluff and serve. Makes four servings. Enjoy!

Have a favorite fish recipe? Please share!