Organic agriculture, James Beard Awards, sourdough, and a new “examiner”

What a week!

On Monday, May 4, sustainable foodies triumphed at the 2009 James Beard Awards. Among the winners of these Oscars of the gourmet world are Michael Pollan (for his “eaters’ manifesto” In Defense of Food) and Dan Barber (for his chefing, which gives a whole new meaning to local ingredients).

Then organic farming got a $50 million boost as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (a.k.a. EQIP). The USDA will use these funds to support certified organic producers and those transitioning to organic practices.

Next came a more personally positive story when a Hopkins writing classmate published a wonderful tale of fermentation and family in the Post.

In another YaD-level bit of news, this blog writer got set up as the DC farmers market examiner for (you guessed it) examiner.com–not the newspaper, but an online publication with all kinds of useful, insider information… and completely useless procrastination reading (you’ll have to be the judge of where my info falls) . More on my farmers market scooping soon.

More great news

It’s official: the NY Times reports that this spring will see Michelle Obama digging in the dirt and Barack, Sasha, and Malia pulling weeds in a White House garden. White House exec chef Cristeta Comerford, pastry chef Bill Yosses, and assistant chef Sam Kass are already planning meals around the bounty. Check out the story!

First chef

Obama’s in. Great. Awesome. All our shoe leather, prayers, conversations, and campaign contributions did their thing. We know that we’ll have some health care reform, new respect from abroad, some economic repair, the possibility of ending our endless wars, and the comfort of knowing that the guy in the White House actually believes climate change was caused by human beings. But one major detail of the incoming administration remains undecided–who will do the cooking.

After Clinton brought the healthy and contemporary cooking of Walter Scheib (who’s got a book about his adventures and 12-year-old Chelsea’s favorite meals) and Dubya brought in female and Phillipines-born Cristeta Comerford, where can the Obamas go? How might they surprise and delight us with an executive chef selection?

Fox’s Obama Chic series had some thoughts on it (at least Fox doesn’t have the Obamas doing anything as sinister as “scheming” about the chef as said they were with decor)  and the Huffington Post has made its guesses.

These aren’t the only news sources speculating, and I’m far from the only blogger giving this careful consideration. Just look at this blog. But I figured I’d post what I’d found so far for my readers.

While speculations fly, we have one clue from an insider: As Sheib told the Balto Sun, “I doubt there is going be a movement to replace the first minority chef with an old white guy.”

Consider the Life

David Foster Wallace, one of my favorite writers, has gone the way of so many geniuses. That is, into the compost at an early age.

He died at just 46 last Friday, leaving us with so much great work that we can chew on it and teach it and share it for generations, yet he had more great work–we are all sure–left undone.

A writer of both fiction and nonfiction, Foster Wallace has a renowned book of essays named for one on food–Consider the Lobster. I have to admit that I didn’t track down this essay until today. And it’s a damn shame, because it turns out DFW was not only a fiction writer of Melvillian proportions, but also a great philosopher on the matter of eating animals. He mulls over Maine lobsters, those poor-man’s-food-turned-delicacy that troll the seas “with thick antennae awhip,” in a refreshing way. It’s worth a read. Do it for David.

Hey – Whatever You’re Into

This 9/11 anniversary week saw some twisted food stories. Samak Sundaravej, prime minister of Thailand, was ousted for accepting payment for his cooking show. The poor guy just gets off on being on camera kvetching about food. Give him a break! Although the consequences aren’t too grave (he may be appointed as his own successor), I’ll bet Rachael Ray just made a note to herself in a super cute digital recorder about this. “If that bid for Congress comes through, sweetie, the next yum-o tour of the French countryside better be pro bono!”

More locally, KFC moved its ancient, hand-written recipe with those 11 herbs and spices to allow for a security upgrade to the recipe’s regular digs. I’d love to get an interview with ex-NYC police detective Bo Dietl, the guy who signed up to personally escort the recipe. Being handcuffed to a  68-year-old piece of paper describing how to make America’s favorite sold-by-the-bucket greasy chicken… You have to go in for a special degree of crime-fighting kink if that’s your thing.

Down in the Salsa, Two Chunks to the Left

ChilesIt seems that investigators looking at the salmonella outbreak had jumped into the right party dip, but landed a few centimeters off. While the first supposed culprit was Mexican tomatoes, the discovery of a contaminated jalapeno pepper has them looking at a slicker, spicier suspect. I’m not clear on how one contaminated veggie can change the course of a whole investigation (isn’t it possible that this contamination happens all the time with all different kinds of produce, but people don’t report the salmonella, or attribute it to raw eggs or something?), but I figure they know what they’re doing.

I know I don’t need to say it again, but I will: Eat local, people. You don’t have to be a fancy USDA investigator to figure out that the chain of farm –> farmer’s market –> your table offers fewer chances for screw-ups than big farm –> sorting station –> truck/train trip –> distribution center –> supermarket –> your table.

Don’t give Murphy’s Law any more opportunities to take effect.

Splenda Nation

To avoid dependence on fossil fuels, we drill more. Or we grow bio fuels and buy away our guilt with carbon offsets. To get ourselves off sugar, we create miraculous substances like NutraSweet and Splenda. The same goes for fat, the frantic reworking of which gave us such joys as transfats and CoolWhip.

But where is all this innovation getting us? If you ask me, I’ll tell you exactly where: adrift in polluted waters, with the engine out of fuel and all of us too sick and fat to swim to shore.

My solution? So glad you asked that, too!

I say take a step back (as many are doing) rather than rushing forward. All of the new-fangled solutions aren’t getting us off oil or making the world a more peaceful place. Many folks have actually started to listen to rather dismiss the flower-hugging messages: drive more fuel-efficient cars, walk, bike, and take public transport, and live close to work to begin with! Continue reading

What’s up with those tomatoes?

You’ve probably heard the news by now: tomatoes are making people sick. Over 160 cases of salmonella poisoning in 14 states may be linked to contaminated ‘maters. Cherry and grape tomatoes and the ones on the vine are likely safe, and of course the ones from your farmers’ market or greenhouse are, too. But beware the others (I’m guessing this means the convenient mid-sized Romas and those beefsteak slicing tomatoes for your weekend barbecue), lest you join the queasy group or the two dozen people who’ve been hospitalized.

From what I’m hearing and reading, the problem came from the handling of these tomatoes. Salmonella comes from people who have eaten food contaminated with animal feces (ick, I know) or who came in contact with the feces and still have traces on their hands. Even thorough washing may not take care of the problem, as the bacteria are pretty tenacious and could have gotten into the tomato flesh. Continue reading