It Pays To Know Your Farmer

If you’ve been reading here for any amount of time at all, you know that I’m a huge advocate of knowing where your food comes from.  From time to time I think about all the years I shopped at the grocery store, not knowing where what I was buying came from or how it got there (and, in some instances, what was in it), and I’m simply appalled.

We’ve gone to great lengths over the last couple of years to right what I feel was an egregious error, at least on my part – I am, after all, the person who feeds my family.  We’ve visited the farms where our cows, hogs, chickens and (more recently) goats are raised, and have gotten as up-close and personal with the animals as is practical.  We recently joined a CSA co-op that requires we work on the farm for a certain amount of hours.  We talk to the farmers at the markets we attend about how they raise their fruits and vegetables and where their farms are located.  The legitimate small farmers will not only tell you exactly where their farm is, but give you map coordinates to the very field a particular vegetable was grown in, then invite you to stop by and visit.

We’re also concerned about how the animals that provide our food are treated and have been to each and every farm where they are raised – multiple times.  We ask questions about the pasture they roam on and any supplemental feed they receive.  We’ve been to the hen house where the chicken who lay our eggs live, and have watched them run about the farm, and have even seen our Thanksgiving turkey out in the field, getting fattened for our celebratory meal.  In fact, we’ve become reasonably good friends with the farmers that raise our beef, pork, chicken and eggs.  They are marvelous people.

(Interestingly, while I was composing this post, we received this email from our beef farmer, Jon Berger of Green Vista Farm in Wooster, Ohio:

“When you get a chance let me know how the last beef is. You guys know how to cook it and will be objective but I want to always be aware if we have given them adequate finish. The modern beef industry considers fat as the primary quality indicator, which under a grass fed program is not a bad thing even though it will kill you with commodity beef. With corn being their main energy source, fat is not as relatively expensive to produce on a carcass as it is with a grass fed animal. Nevertheless I want to know the parameters under which I need to work with our type of beef and still have a high quality product. Thanks a bunch.”

Indeed, it pays to know your farmer.)

We also care, very much so, how the animals we eat spend the last moments of their lives – how they’re treated at the abattoir, and how they’re killed.  How they’re processed, too, of course.  And if we’ve become reasonably good friends with our farmers, we’ve become even better friends with our butchers.

The Perkins family, who own and operate Whitefeather Meats in Creston, Ohio are some of the friendliest – and most knowledgeable – people we’ve ever met.  They know their business inside and out (and are very generous in sharing their knowledge), so when they invited us to come watch, and allow me to document, the butchering of our most recent side of beef, we jumped at the opportunity.  Not only did we get the opportunity to watch, and give our feedback on, the cutting of the cow we’ve affectionately named “Patty” but were given a tour of their entire facility, from the hanging rooms to the kill floor.  And when we expressed an interest in watching the actual slaughter process, they didn’t hesitate to extend us an invitation – so we’ll be going back soon for that.

It’s taken me three weeks to process half the photos I took that day – I simply have not had the time – and there are quite a few.  Since I’d like feedback from the Perkins as well (and want to send them the photos for their own use), this will be a series of posts, most likely over the next couple of weeks, in which I’ll show and explain how this

Sides of Beef

becomes this

Ground Beef

And everything in between.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

A McLoad of McCrap

*stands on soapbox*

This post is probably NOT going to be popular.

There.  I said it.

I was going to write about whether or not you should eat CAFO liver in response to a question I received in the comments of last week’s Fight Back Friday post (the short answer?  “Yes.”  I’ll give you details soon, Jason, I promise).  However, something came up that made me decide to delay my planned FBF post.

Briefly, it was McDonald’s.

A couple of weeks ago, I was perusing Facebook, as I am wont to do 437 times a day occasionally, when I came across a link to an article proclaiming, “McNuggets Branded ‘Healthy!’  Weight Watchers Makes Deal With McDonald’s!”

“Oh, for crying out loud,” I thought. (Actually, it was something slightly more obscene edgy, but we’ll go with the G-rated version for now.)  I clicked the link and was taken to an article informing us that McDonald’s has made a deal with Weight Watchers to market some of their meals, complete with the Weight Watchers logo and points value on the menu.

This news did not surprise me; from 1978 to 1999, Weight Watchers was owned by the H.J. Heinz Company (yes, the ketchup and pickle people), and while they were purchased in a leveraged buyout and have been a publicly held company since 2001, Heinz still manufactures all the processed “foods” marketed under the Weight Watchers brand.

If you Google “Weight Watchers Makes Deal with McDonalds” you get a slew of articles with headlines like “Shock as Weight Watchers OKs McDonald’s Food” (Fox News), “McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets branded ‘healthy’ by Weight Watchers” (The Telegraph), “Weight Watchers Teams Up With McDonald’s, Angering Nutritionists” (Huffington Post), “Anger over Weight Watchers’ endorsement of McDonald’s” (The Guardian) and “[McDonald’s] sees a fat profit in dieting” (Sydney Morning Herald).

So far Weight Watchers has approved three meals – the Chicken McNugget meal, the Filet-O-Fish meal, and the Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap meal.

Wait – you’ve never heard of the Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap meal?  Neither have I – that’s because McDonald’s appears to only sell this particular item in Australia and New Zealand (and Tasmania, perhaps?  I don’t know; I can’t find anything online).  Every article will tell you that this partnership between Weight Watchers and McDonald’s is only in New Zealand, with plans to expand into Australia “within the next few months.”

That doesn’t matter – lots and lots of people here in the States and Canada have just got their knickers in one helluva twist over this.  They’re carrying on about it all over Facebook and Twitter and writing angry, scathing blog posts about it.  I find all of this really amusing, because each and every article I mentioned above was written in early March 2010.

This news is two years old.  And no matter how much I search, I can find nothing – NOTHING – else about it.  I even asked Australian/New Zealand readers of my FB page (and I do have some) to tell me if this is still an issue there, and I’ve been met with a great big load of…silence.  The whole matter seems to have died peacefully in its sleep.

But even if it didn’t, and tomorrow you could walk into any McDonald’s in North America – hell, any McDonald’s in the world – and see the Weight Watchers points for each item on the menu, so what?  You still don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to.  And I’ve got news for you:  you can find out the Weight Watchers points for ANY dish at ANY restaurant.  The Blooming Onion appetizer at Outback Steakhouse?  56 points – without the dip.  The Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken at Cheesecake Factory is 29 points.  The Sweet Potato Casserole at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is 15 points.

Just like with Paula Deen’s diabetes diagnosis, everyone is getting all bent out of shape over nothing.  I don’t think there’s a single person on the planet who truly thinks McDonalds food is healthy, and if some person on Weight Watchers wants to eat there once in awhile and still stay within their “points” – or every meal, every day – who cares?  It’s their choice, just like it’s my choice never to step foot in the place again.

But if you really, really must make an issue out of this, at least make sure you’re getting all riled up over something that’s actually current.  ‘Mkay?

*puts away soapbox*

Have a lovely weekend, y’all.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

Oh, and what the heck – the Spin Cycle again, too.

Taking It All With A Grain Of…Grain

This is a followup to Tuesday’s post about the invitation I received to interview Dr. Stork about the importance of hearthealthywholegrains in our diet, especially as an “easy fix” for weight loss, all courtesy of General Mills.  The overwhelming consensus in the comments section is that, while it would have been extremely entertaining if I’d accepted, I most likely would not have been allowed to ask my questions.  Frankly, I agree.

So we’ll talk about them here.  Or rather, we’ll talk about the fact that grains, even “whole” grains, ain’t all they’re, um, cracked up to be.

Recently, the marvelously foul-mouthed intelligent and entertaining Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal dismantled the eyerolling OpEd piece by Melody Cherny in Food Safety News titled Don’t Eat Like A Caveman.  In his post, he makes use of some graphical charts to illustrate the commonly held disbelief that whole grains are nutritionally superior to other foods in terms of B vitamins, minerals and fiber.  I’d asked for, and received permission from Richard, to use these charts, but decided instead to take it just a little bit further.

I’ve claimed here previously that there isn’t anything, be it nutrient or fiber, found in grains that can’t be found in greater quantities in other, more nutrient-dense, foods.  So, let’s start with fiber, shall we?  We’ll ignore for the time-being that the phytates found in grains, particularly whole grains, bind to their nutrients and prevent your body from absorbing them; we’ll also ignore that the government-issued Recommended Daily Allowances are only high enough to prevent diseases of malnutrition, such as rickets and scurvy, and are woefully short in terms of optimal nutrition.

A serving of whole wheat bread is about 1 ounce, or one slice, and contains 70 calories, 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of protein, 13 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of fiber.  It contains 2% of the RDA of vitamin E, 4% vitamin B6, 2% calcium, 4% folate, 9% copper, 5% iron, 8% magnesium, 37% manganese, 8% niacin, 3% pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), 9% phosphorus, 5% riboflavin, 19% selenium, 9% thiamin, and 7% zinc.*

In comparison, a serving of raspberries is roughly 2 ounces, or 1/2 cup, and contains 30 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein, 7 grams of carbohydrate and 4 grams of fiber.  As for the micronutrients, that half-cup of raspberries contains 1% of the RDA of vitamin A, 3% vitamin B6, 21% vitamin C, 2% vitamin E, 1% calcium, 4% folate, 5% copper, 2% iron, 3% magnesium, 35% manganese, 4% niacin, 3% pantothenic acid, 1% phosphorus, 5% riboflavin, 1% selenium, 2% thiamin, and 4% zinc.

The RDA content of micronutrients for both of these foods, per serving, are very similar, but look at the macronutrient content – you can eat 2 servings of raspberries, an entire cup, and double your micronutrient intake as well as your fiber intake (8 grams), while consuming roughly the same amount of carbohydrates and fewer calories than that one slice of bread.

But those whole grains are an “easy fix” for better weight loss – so says Dr. Stork.

In her silly opinion piece, Ms. Cherny states, “…I do not agree that people should exclude whole grains…from their diet. Nor do I agree that people will become healthier by consuming large amounts of meats, seafood and eggs.”  Fine, then we won’t deal with “large amounts” – we’ll talk about reasonable amounts.

It’s generally accepted that a serving of meat is 4 ounces.  So, let’s start with salmon, since it contains a healthy portion of what many Americans lack in their diet – omega 3 fatty acids.  Which, of course, there are none in those supposedly “heart healthy” whole grains.  Four ounces of salmon has 164 calories, 7 grams of fat (2 of which are the all-important omega 3s), 0 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of fiber, and 24 grams of protein.  As for micronutrients, that same 4 ounces contains 5% of the RDA of vitamin A, 47% B6, 195% of B12, 1% of vitamin C, 5% vitamin E, 4% calcium, 3% folate, 6% copper, 3% iron, 11% magnesium, 1% manganese, 58% niacin, 18% pantothenic acid, 42% phosphorus, 14% riboflavin, 74% selenium, 12% thiamine and 6% zinc.

Now let’s see what happens if you eat 4 ounces of what my friend Mr. Nikoley refers to as “nature’s multivitamin” – liver.  (Don’t go “blech” at me; properly cooked it is delicious, something both Beloved and – more importantly – The Young One will attest to.)  Four ounces of beef liver has 162 calories, 4 grams of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of fiber and 23 grams of protein.  It contains 1,708% of the RDA of vitamin A, 82% vitamin B6, 3,260% vitamin B12, 33% vitamin C, 9% vitamin D, 5% vitamin E, 1% calcium, 70% folate, 420% copper, 43% iron, 7% magnesium, 17% manganese, 103% niacin, 172% pantothenic acid, 51% phosphorus, 286% riboflavin, 85% selenium, 27% thiamine and 55% zinc.

Can we say, “Wow”?

Wow.

For those of you who prefer a visual representation, here’s a chart, showing the nutritional data for 4 ounces each of whole wheat bread, raspberries, salmon and beef liver:

4 ounces
Whole Wheat Bread Raspberries Salmon Beef Liver
Calories

279

56

167

162

Fat

5

0

7

4

Carbs

52

13

0

7

Fiber

8

8

0

0

Protein

11

1

24

23

RDA of Vitamins & Minerals
A

0%

1%

5%

1708%

B6

16%

5%

47%

82%

B12

0%

0%

195%

3260%

C

0%

38%

1%

33%

D

0%

0%

0%

9%

E

6%

3%

5%

5%

Calcium

8%

2%

4%

1%

Folate

14%

7%

3%

70%

Copper

0%

9%

6%

420%

Iron

21%

4%

3%

43%

Magnesium

30%

6%

11%

7%

Manganese

146%

64%

1%

17%

Niacin

31%

7%

58%

103%

Pantothenic Acid

13%

5%

18%

172%

Phosphorus

37%

2%

42%

51%

Potassium

286mg

172mg

474mg

365mg

Riboflavin

21%

9%

14%

286%

Selenium

75%

1%

74%

85%

Thiamin

36%

3%

12%

27%

Zinc

27%

7%

6%

55%

Look at that – the only nutrients the whole wheat bread are appreciably higher in is magnesium and manganese, and you can fix that by adding an ounce of almonds to your meal of raspberries and liver.  Plus, the four ounces of bread – just four slices! – is more calorically dense, with far more carbohydrates, than 4 ounces of any of the other foods listed.

But adding more whole grains to your diet is an “easy fix” for better weight loss.

Uh-huh.

Bite me, Dr. Stork.

* All nutritional information comes from the FitDay database.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

 

Killjoy

For the past 12 years or so I’ve been the proud owner of the 1975 Joy of Cooking, purchased at the original (and huge) Half Price Books in Dallas.  It is largely regarded as the best edition, and with good reason – it was the last book authored by Marion Rombauer Becker, who had collaborated on every edition with her mother, Irma S. Rombauer, since the first edition published in 1931 and was an accumulation of all the knowledge and experience gained by Mrs. Becker over the course of her life. 

Joy had been revised roughly every 10 years since being originally published in 1931, but the 1975 edition remained unchanged for 22 years.  In 1997, a new “publisher-driven” edition was published, removing much of the content that had made Joy so useful (and so popular).  A 75th anniversary edition was released in 2006, returning to the original format and restoring much of the original content, including the very useful Know Your Ingredients section.

I asked for, and received, the 75th anniversary edition for my birthday.  My request was mostly due to curiosity – the new book is noticeably larger than my worn, old copy (it contains 500 new recipes and many “best of” recipes from previous editions).  It also has a brand-new section on nutrition, and it was this to which I initially, and eagerly, turned.

I should have known better.

At first I was really encouraged, despite repeating the tired (and inaccurate) old saws about life-expectancy in ancient times, which was followed by this:

Today the average American reaches a ripe old age of seventy-seven years.  That’s more than long enough to develop a litany of diseases associated with getting older.  It turns out, though, that most of these diseases aren’t the inevitable consequences of aging.  Instead, many are rooted in poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy habits.

Well, alrighty then.

It got irritating again in a big hurry, though, when it advocated Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate (precursor to the USDA’s new Choose My Plate) as a guide to good nutrition, with its admonitions to eat more whole grains and little red meat, but redeemed itself by saying, “You shouldn’t eat by the book, or by the plate or pie chart, for that matter.  Slavishly following any healthy eating guide takes all the fun out of eating.”  Then I began reading the section of fats – and damn near kissed the book.

No matter what our national fat phobia suggests, the human body needs fats and cholesterol.  Fats are a prime source of energy.  Certain kinds of fats protect the heart.  Cholesterol helps make the “skin” around cells and the bile acids needed to digest food.  It also provides the raw material for making vitamin D and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.  Body fat provides an essential energy storage depot, cushions and insulates organs and tissues, and regulates body temperature.

Then…yeah, it went there.

There are four main types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats.  Understanding good and bad fats is actually simple:  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.  Saturated and trans fats are solid rather than liquid.

*sigh*  Apparently sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats such as corn and soybean oil are perfectly fine; since they’re liquid at room temperature they can’t be a source of trans fats (you do hear the sarcasm there, yes?).  It gets even better and lumps saturated fats together with trans fats and dutifully warns us to keep our consumption of saturated fats to 8% of our total caloric intake while avoiding trans fats all together (at least we can agree on something).  The section on carbohydrates was about what I expected – eat lots of whole grains (good carbohydrates) while avoiding refined grains and sugar (bad carbohydrates), along with how things like beans and peanut butter are acceptable sources of “complete proteins,” yadda yadda yadda, world without end, Amen.

Ah, well – I won’t be tossing the book out because of any of this; the recipes from previous editions, along with the revised and updated sections of Know Your Ingredients and Cooking Methods and Techniques, make it worth owning.  It’s also fascinating from the perspective of how things have changed in the last 30 years – my 1975 edition, for instance, has a small but detailed section on cooking brains, while the 2006 edition simply states, “We do not recommend eating the brains of cows, sheep or pigs, nor any part of the spinal column, because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) known as Mad Cow Disease.”  One thing of the first things I did was look up goat recipes; both say essentially the same thing – cook it like lamb – but the 2006 edition not only tells you where you can find it commercially, but also contains several recipes for wild goat in the surprisingly comprehensive game section.

I guess what all of this leads up to is this:  I understand this book is six years old, but Mr. Becker (the original author’s grandson), please stick to what you know – cooking – and leave the dissemination of bad nutritional advice to the experts…the government.

 

A Little Food For Thought

I’ve been cooking for a long time, y’all.

I’ve no formal training, of course, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know my way around a kitchen or a few things about the best way to prepare different types of food.  Some things are just basics, like how to boil an egg, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people have no idea how to perform this simple task.

For those of you who may need a hand, you start with room temperature eggs.  Place them in a pot large enough to hold them (preferably in a single layer) and cover the eggs with cool water.  Bring the water to a boil, then remove the eggs from the heat and cover.  Allow the eggs to sit for 10 minutes, then run cold water over them until they are cool enough to handle.  For best results, peel the eggs before placing them in the refrigerator.  Cooking hard-boiled eggs in this manner will guarantee they don’t form a green ring around the yolk and peel easily.

IF your eggs are not fresh.  Did I forget to mention that?

Really fresh eggs will not peel easily, no matter what method you use to hard-boil them.  Allowing eggs to sit in the refrigerator for at least a week will cause the membrane to shrink away from the shell, making peeling them after they’ve been boiled much easier.

At least for battery produced eggs – when I still shopped at what my brother (who has also jumped on the paleo/real food bandwagon) now refers to as the “gross-ery store,” the method I describe above produced beautiful hard-boiled eggs that peeled like a dream if I let them sit in the fridge for a week to 10 days.

The same cannot be said for the eggs I get directly from our farmer.

We drive out to the farm and pick our eggs up every Saturday morning (during the warm months, we just meet him at the farmer’s market).  I can guarantee you that the eggs we purchase are no more than two or three days old – most of the time, they were gathered the day before.  They’re only washed if there’s dirt or manure on them – all eggshells are porous, and have a naturally occurring protective film over them when they’re laid.

Battery eggs are all washed, removing that protective film along with the filth from the horrible conditions in which they were laid (remember the recent Sparboe Farms scandal?) and allowing pathogens such as salmonella to enter the egg through the porous shell.  They’re then candled, packaged, and sent to distribution centers where they sit for who knows how long before finding their way to grocery store shelves (or your local McDonalds).  No wonder they peel so easily when they’ve been hard-boiled.

Keeping in mind that fresh eggs don’t peel easily, when I decided to make deviled eggs for our party this last week I kept two dozen eggs in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.  Yes, three.  And this is what happened.

I’ve decided that ragged deviled eggs are an acceptable trade-off for peace of mind.

How old are the eggs you’re eating, and where did they come from?

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday