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Food

Eat the elderly, and other revolutionary ideas in meat

Meat is about marketing. The cuts of meat served in chain restaurants, and therefore the majority of the country, are based on the high value that our society puts on two contemptible words: tender and lean.

In other contexts I have no problems with these words. But the living conditions that make meat tender and lean and the flavor that results is just wrong.

“Once we start to prioritize flavor we start to prioritize animal welfare…when we prioritize tenderness, we’re actually prioritizing a system that wants younger animals and less movement and more confinement and antibiotics and cheaper feed – things like that,” said Adam Danforth at Tuesday night’s “Meat Matters” event put on by Chefs Collaborative.

The organization has a solid gold mission: seeking to change the eating habits of America by changing the menus of its restaurants. They provide training and scholarships to restauranteurs with sustainable intentions and get them the knowledge and skills they need to be leaders in their communities. I interviewed the Executive Director Sara Brito for Edible Manhattan in advance of the event and she was really excited about the organizations new plan to reach out to consumers in addition to industry folk. The crowd was equally thrilled to taste dishes from meat luminaries like Rick Bayless Bill Telepan and Stephen Stryjewski (who announced that his shrine to meat, Cochon is coming to NASHVILLE yee haw!).

All the chefs served sustainable proteins and had their opinions on the most important way to change how America consumes and thinks about meat. But, Danforth, expert butcher and fresh James Beard Award winning author, had the clearest and most specific vision of the night and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Danforth says that the best way to reach the often competing goals of affordability and sustainability is to eat dual-purpose animals. Basically, we should be raising our dairy cows and goats to also be eaten one day. This not only means letting dairy animals graze and move around (as all livestock should) but also eating older animals. Best practice for livestock right now is to slaughter at between 12 and 36 months. Danforth is talking about eating animals at least 3 years old if not older. He argues that the older muscles have better flavor than the younger more “tender” meat. Currently, Dairy animals, once older than 3 years don’t produce well anymore and are usually sold at auction.

“We’re dealing with an opportunity to purchase cheaper meat that tends to taste better and we can even support the farmer more than giving them what they would get at an auction,” said Danforth.

It’s such an elegant and simple solution. Use a resource we already have to turn an industry causing massive environmental and spiritual harm on its head.

But as Danforth was explaining all the wonderful cuts he could derive from the 4-year-old dairy goat on his table, partly due to the animals age, I kept thinking about that bitch, marketing. What do you call it? We cannot use any of the words for older meat that are already in the lexicon, or the idea will have no cache and could suffer from preexisting prejudices.

Live-aged? Mature? Do we come up with a whole new word like mutton or veal? Or do we not mention it at all? Cuts that take some stewing and chewing work would simply be more flavorful than one would expect from a younger animal, so age might not even need be mentioned. But the quicker cooking cuts would warrant a bit of explanation.

“Deliciousness is what sells. The foundation of deliciousness is flavor and when we prioritize flavor we actually have a whole ethical movement that can support that,” said Danforth.

But the smart way is probably to start with the men and women cooking on Tuesday night.

When Rick Bayless makes you a taco, you eat it. And when the meat is exquisite, you buy it. Starting in New York, Chicago and San Francisco might be a quick way to gain the hearts and minds of elite diners, but it’s unfortunately the slow way to Costco. And that’s where a true and lasting shift in our meat consumption will come from. It won’t be done until I can pick up a 25 lb. bag of live-aged goat burgers at my local Wal-Mart.

Until then Mindful Meats and Vermont Chevon are two companies to watch and support.

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Food

The first podcast from Food52 is deliciously unexpected

Yesterday came the first official episode of Food52’s first podcast “Burnt Toast,” and i must say that I have never been happier to hear the word “ass.” I learned about the podcast on Instagram and downloaded it immediately as I really feel like there is a dearth of good food podcasts out there. But I was very, very skeptical.

My skepticism comes not from Food52’s content, but it’s appearance. The photography on the main site and especially its retail outfit, formerly “Provisions,” now just the Food52 shop, is just too precious. Forks are placed just so, lighting is uniform. A few years ago it was porn to me, but now it feels like 1980s porn; it’s unrealistic and lacks visual interest. It just does not seem to be of or produced by, well, humans. Humans who, if they are really cooking everyday, have multiple different stains on their yoga pants and have counters that are rarely pristine and gleaming.

But wait! To my surprise and audible glee, within the first 15 seconds was uttered the word “ass!” This is not going to be a cookie cutter, perfectly styled, painfully chic foodie parade of self-congratulatory shlock. It’s actually gonna be fun.

The podcast follows a traditional format: sweet opening music underneath an audio collage of random weird foods. The two main hosts, Food52 founder Amanda Hesser and managing editor Kenzi Wilbur are joined by a guest. This time it’s Allison Robicelli of Robicelli’s bakery in Brooklyn. The three women are fabulous and it definitely helps that they seem to be friends, since the interview format can sometimes be a bit starched. The descriptive line they repeatedly employ is that the podcast will contain “what doesn’t make it on the website,” and the topic of the day was “weird food.”

The women start by sharing a peanut butter and kimchi sandwich, representing the sanest peanut butter combo sandwich suggested by Food52 readers. In discussing the sandwich they mocked “artisan $12-dollar Brooklyn peanut butter,” which was more than welcome. The conversation is dusted with little cooking tips, like Robicelli’s instruction to fry all peanut butter sandwiches to get the peanut butter “all melty”.

The triad did not buy into the unanimity of what constitutes “weird food”- a refreshing take for a mass market site. There was dissension about offal, jello, duck tongue, brains, strawberry and black olive ice cream and raw oysters. No one item seemed weird to everyone, which belies the common feeling of consensus in food media on what is weird or uncommon. We are in New York, look harder.

Also delightfully, Robicelli brought up pregnancy, which is a fascinating addition to the discussion of “weird food” preferences. She said some clichéd pregnant craving flavor combos really work – like pickles and ice cream…. briny and sweet? It could work at 3 am.

In another delightful twist, the conversation rambled past Amanda Hesser’s college dorm go-to and referenced an old ad for General Foods Viennese Chocolate Cafe. Then they cut the ad audio in, adding context and bringing everyone along with the joke – which really demonstrates a value add in a very common podcast format.

Later they diss meat from a can, which having eaten quite a bit of mortadella from a can in my college years, I resented  – but it really proved the theory that one man’s trash is another’s treasure – confirmed later by all three professing their love of raw or drastically undercooked pasta.

“I like idiosyncratic food,” said Robicelli, referring to the glorious corners of an overcooked lasagna. She said that such things would never show up on Food52, but it would be so welcome! (Prompting me to seriously consider pitching the girls a blog called “Just Burn it!”)

“I wish somebody could figure out how to deliver a pizza that’s just burnt cheese stuck to the box.” said Robicelli.

The whole thing had the pace and direction of a jack russel terrier puppy, and it was just as fun. Amid the recalling of sweet and disgusting childhood memories, the group touched on a couple of excellent themes, such as: there is no such thing as a universally weird food. Also, in the most sincere part of the discussion, Robicelli lamented that it is really hard to get press unless you’re doing something outlandish. So weird is required and often forced. In fact, it was the reason that the Nutellasagna was invented.

If the listener leaves a podcast wanting to know the speakers better, then I deem it a success. And not only do I want to open a bottle of wine with Amanda and Kenzi, I’m excited to hear what they have to say about food. But I can’t help but wish that the Food52 main site had a little more of the unrehearsed reality that Burnt Toast brings to the table.

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Food

Spicing up Edible BK

I had an exciting first this month that I hope will turn into old news very soon. I have long admired Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn for their delicious photos and earnest commitment to making a paper magazine that is easily available and often free.  I am thrilled to start a relationship with them.

Equally thrilling was my introduction to the two characters at the center of this story about the “Masters of Social Gastronomy” lecture series.  Sarah and Soma, the organizers and speakers, had infectious enthusiasm about the topic of spice. Read about their February 25th lecture “Burning down the Mouth; Sriracha, Ghost Peppers and the History of Heat,” here. 

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Write

Meet Emma

Hello!

I am a writer and food industry nerd  living in New York City.

I am an adventurous home cook with a reductionist view of modern food. I cook tongue more than steak, liver more than tongue. I never met a root vegetable I didn’t like.

I nerd out on nutrition, evolutionary biology, meat, food policy,  urban agriculture,  natural remedies and many more things.  To find out what I’ve been writing lately, you’ve come to the right place.

To find out what’s going on in my kitchen, check out my instagram feed (@emmarosecosgrove).

To find out about my experience and resume, click here.

 

 

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Food, Travel, Write

Nostalgia – remembering bylines past

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In honor of the nice, juicy three-day weekend full of reading and because I am sure you have all been wondering about the Lebanese food system lately (keeps you up at night, right?); I thought I would post a report that I penned (with help from many friends) in 2011 for Executive Magazine.

The Lebanese food system is a mashup of tradition and Western influence (which could probably be said about most aspects of Lebanese culture). Traditional Lebanese food is never tired, balked at or even really fusion-ized in any major way by the Lebanese. The reason might be because it’s so undeniably good. It might also be because many treasured dishes are laborious and time consuming. But the lamb, traditional cheese and yoghurts, gorgeous salads and the best fruit I’ve ever tasted present a stark contrast to the large indigenous poultry industry, with it’s extremely modern factories, and big box grocery stores filled with imported products.

Lebanon does have its food heroes like Kamal Mouzzawak – runner of the Souk El-Tayeb market in downtown Beirut (the only of its kind if you can believe it). Kamal and those doing similar work strive to make sure the Lebanese don’t forget how rich their culinary and agricultural history and reality are. Lebanon hasn’t gone the way the US and UK have – now forced to “reclaim” a food history largely out of taste and almost forgotten. I hope it never gets there. It is really a wonder to see how much a perfect traditional dish is prized. How lines form for the best version of OLD dishes not new (I’m lookin’ at you Cronut.)

My report was not comprehensive by any means. But it was the result of long car rides up into the mountains on both ends of the country where I lived for two years. I met professors and farmers, executives and laborers and many, many chickens. The report was enhanced greatly by the photography of Sam Tarling, the research and wonkery of Sami Halabi and the editing of Spencer Osberg. Click below to read the full report in Issuu or go to the web version for individual story headlines.

knowyourfood

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Food, Travel

A Quaint Correlation

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This past week, my father and stepmother went to the wedding of a beloved nephew. Lucy, said stepmother, is adorable, English and thin without (much) effort. She may lament her wide, womanly hips, but she is slight, and beautiful and is likely to remain so for the rest of her days – smash cut to a family affair.

The wedding was in Topsham, which wikipedia tells me is “a suburb of Exeter in the county of DevonEngland, on the east side of the River Exe.” I pored over the wedding photos for the usual reasons but something wasn’t right.

I stared at the photos for quite a while, not able to figure what was throwing me. The photos looked somewhat canned to me – too perfect, too precious. And then it hit me. There was no obesity. None. Whatsoever. Now this is not to say that the wedding party was made up of crossfit competitors or yoga instructors – this is England after all.

Muscled? No.

Pale? Yes.

But, flabby? Not one.

When my father told me about the town where they had stayed for the week of the wedding, he remarked on the quaintness, the simplicity. There was a butcher, a green grocer, a baker and a fisherman.

These small, family businesses were the main source of food for the whole town. Sure, they could find a big box store by getting on the motorway and I’m sure the nearest gas station was full of the usual junk. But the junk does not live with the food. It is not in the same category and does not belong under the same roof.

I think there is something to this. There is something to growing up having to go to a candy store for candy and a fruit stand for fruit. Separate means unequal and in this case, to the benefit of a community.

I know I am basing this (thin) hypothesis on a tiny slice of this one wedding, and a mere sliver of this town. But it does bring new virtue to the shopping ways of old and call into question the power of association in the world of food.

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Food

Obama on Food *

One hurricane, an election and a new year later, I am still trying to figure out the answer to my own question. Here is part one of my quest to answer the question: If food were the only topic I cared to base my vote on, who would I choose? Read the full questioning post here.

The problem with this question is its inherent vastness. There are few issues that do not, in some way, make their way back to the food supply or onto family farms. And the ones with the most direct links are fraught with conundrum. Is blanket support for agriculture good for food as a whole in an age where corn and soy dominate and genetically modified organisms are ubiquitous? Are more stringent food safety regulations a good thing when they represent an unfunded mandate and therefore a considerable burden on small producers? After hours of listening and reading, I’m not promising any answers. But I now have a lot more questions.

The Farmer vote – a finicky barometer at best

Though it’s just one farmer’s account, Matt Russell, owner of Coyote Run Farm in Lacona County, Iowa, says that voting based on what’s best for both his small, and his parents’ large agricultural operation is what brought him to vote for President Obama twice.

“If you are like us, you haven’t been in love with every single food and agriculture decision from this administration, but the good stuff will all go away if Obama loses this election and historically speaking there’s a bunch of good stuff,” wrote Russell and his partner Patrick Standley in an email to customers before Obama’s reelection – as reported by AgWeek.

“When we started our farm in 2005, our county Farm Service Agency office wasn’t interested in our fruit and vegetable production,” said Russell. “For the last three years, we have had tremendous support from our county office for our farming enterprises.”

Despite Obama’s support for the farm bill and the Republicans’ implication in suppressing it, the Democrats did not bring it forward in the campaign, even in states where it would play.

University of Iowa professor and Iowa political expert Steffen Schmidt (not to be confused with Msnbc’s Steve Schmidttold Harvest Public Media* that silence on major farming issues may be in the numbers – that there simply are not enough farmers anymore to warrant direct campaigning.

The farmer vote is also pretty unpredictable as farmers are a diverse group and don’t always vote on professional issues as a pre-election New York Times piece elaborated.

And now that the election and inauguration are in the past, the farm bill is still a prisoner of other legislation – with the old deal extended for nine more months in conjunction with the January 1 fiscal cliff deal. So the farm bill, which provides not just subsidies, but also conservation programs and stabilizing measures for dairy farmers, will never succeed or die on its own merit. This dynamic is not just to the detriment of heartland farmers, but also of their own doing as laid out by Tom Laskawy’s January 11 article for Grist.org.

The disunity of farmers when it comes to national elections, and the disability of the farm bill to come to the fore of debate both seem to support the original consensus void hypothesis – one that food writer and sustainable food patriarch Michael Pollan articulated in  Andrea Seabrook’s wonderful new podcast Decode DC.

In Seabrook’s “Voter Guide” podcast, Pollan said,

“What happens in America is when the two political parties agree on anything, politics vanishes. It’s very hard to have a political debate when the Republicans and the Democrats are on the same side.”

Familiar no?

Apart from watching the preferences of interested parties, one of the only direct addresses to food policy in the entire campaign was a question and answer administered by United Fresh, a produce industry trade organization.

In this Q&A, published in it’s likely quote-approved entirety here, Obama stayed very safe, but touted his marked achievements:

“I am also expanding regional food markets and have bolstered the number of farmers markets by 53 percent since 2008. Under my leadership, agriculture has been one of the fastest-growing parts of our economy, creating one out of every 12 American jobs.” – Obama

This statement is supported by a recent move by the USDA to offer a new scheme of loans targeting small farmers dedicated to selling there wares locally – a good idea to be sure. But no proactivity in the realm of artisanal and heirloom can make up for inaction and stalemate on the ordinary.

*Part 2 of this series was aborted in service of other, more frivolous topics. 7-23-13

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