Archive for May, 2011

In case you haven’t heard, the Seattle City Council has ratified the Seattle Farm Bill Principles, a set of broad priority recommendations for the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill as a means of reforming the food system. I just added my name as a supporter and hope you will too (link to do so is here).

Why does it matter what one city thinks of the Farm Bill? Federal food policy affects us locally, of course. It affects the cost of food, which foods are subsidized, how much money goes to those in need of assistance with food costs. It affects our health, how our city and state function, our agricultural system, all aspects of our food system.

But the cool thing about Seattle stepping up and putting the Farm Bill Principles document out there is that it can inspire other cities, states, and communities–urban, rural or suburban–to get on board and voice their support too. It has to start somewhere, and it started here. Frankly, Seattle has a bit of a reputation for not putting its neck out and doing something risky and potentially-confrontational. That reputation makes me extra proud that Seattle has the guts to take leadership on this.

It has a lot to do with our thriving food movement, and with leaders who walk their talk, like long-time food-movement supporter City Councilmember Richard Conlin. We have nice coalitions in Seattle of farmers, food justice activists, cooks, chefs, farmers market coordinators, health advocates, and so forth.

I like the principles overall. They’re a bit vague, which makes sense in that they focus on the goals and outcomes changes to the Farm Bill would produce, although I would really love specific language about things like trading in some of the subsidies for corn, and instead subsidizing or supporting healthy meat, eggs, dairy and vegetables from sustainable farms. The detrimental effects of corn on this country’s health can’t be stated strongly enough. It’s true that it’s the basis of livelihood for many large-scale farmers in the U.S., but tobacco is also an important source of income for some farmers, and we’ve learned not to shy away from talking about its detrimental effects. Corn costs us money down the line in health care and environmental consequences.

Anyway, who knows? Perhaps this year we’ll see a countrywide coalition of communities throwing their support behind the farm bill principles, or building on these principles and adding additional goals.

The Seattle Farm Bill Principles, pasted from the website, are here:


  1. Health-centered Food System

    The driving principle of the Farm Bill must be the relationship of food and ecologically sound agriculture to public health. Food that promotes health includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, and lean protein. Improving the health of the nation’s residents must be a priority in developing policies, programs, and funding.

  2. Sustainable Agricultural Practices

    Promote farming systems and agricultural techniques that prioritize the protection of the environment so that the soil, air, and water will be able to continue producing food long into the future. Integral to both domestic and global agricultural policies should be agricultural techniques and farming practices that enhance environmental quality, build soil and soil fertility, protect natural resources and ecosystem diversity, improve food safety, and increase the quality of life of communities, farmers and farm workers.

  3. Community and Regional Prosperity and Resilience

    Enhance food security by strengthening the viability of small and mid-scale farms, and increasing appropriately scaled processing facilities, distribution networks, and direct marketing. Develop strategies that foster resiliency, local innovation, interdependence, and community development in both rural and urban economies. Opportunities that create fair wage jobs are key to a strong economy.

  4. Equitable Access to Healthy Food

    Identify opportunities and reduce barriers by developing policies and programs that increase the availability of and improve the proximity of healthy, affordable, and culturally-relevant food to urban, suburban, and rural populations. Protect the nation’s core programs that fight food insecurity and hunger while promoting vibrant, sustainable agriculture.

  5. Social Justice and Equity

    The policies reflected in the Farm Bill impact the lives and livelihoods of many people, both in the U.S. as well as abroad. Develop policies, programs, and strategies that support social justice, worker’s rights, equal opportunity, and promote community self-reliance.

  6. Systems Approach to Policymaking

    It is essential to reduce compartmentalization of policies and programs, and to approach policy decisions by assessing their impact on all aspects of the food system including production, processing, distribution, marketing, consumption, and waste management. Consider the interrelated effects of policies and align expected outcomes to meet the goal of a comprehensive health-focused food system.

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The situation

When planning for a recent Jewish community bonfire and barbecue, the organizers had a dilemma: We wanted to serve meat at the  barbecue, and wanted it to be kosher so it was accessible to members of our community who keep kosher. But we also wanted it to be sustainable meat: local, pasture-raised, small-farm-sourced, never sent to a (grain-intensive) feedlot. While I’m not religious, I see a lot of value in making sure sustainability is accessible—culturally, financially, etc. This isn’t always easy. But how hard could it be to find kosher, sustainable meat from Washington, or at least from the West Coast?

It turns out it’s impossible. For now, at least.

There are four sources of small-farm, pasture-raised kosher meat in the U.S. and they’re all on the East Coast. Producing kosher meat is difficult, involving, among other things, employing a shochet, a religious slaughterer who has gone through extensive training and is a devout Jew. There is also more demand for kosher food on the East Coast. Due to low availability of kosher products, on the West Coast we’re a little more used to settling for what kosher products we can get.

Why grass-fed/pasture-raised meat? Cows and chickens raised on pasture and not sent to a feedlot are just more environmentally-friendly, but also yield delicious meat higher in good-quality fats and important fat-soluble vitamins it’s hard to get elsewhere. It’s also a great way to support small farmers, and not just large producers.

We used some meat from one of the East Coast sources for the event so people could taste it, but obviously it’s not sustainable to fly meat in from the East Coast every time we want it, or even more than once or twice. Other options abound for Jews who keep kosher, of course. Some people follow vegetarian diets and eat plenty of eggs and milk from local farm animals raised on pasture. Scaly fish is kosher and we live in a great region for fish. We’re also lucky to live in an area where a wide range of vegetables and fruit can be grown. But people choose to eat meat for many reasons, and there’s no reason people should have to choose between keeping kosher, eating sustainably, and eating meat.

What can we do?

 Some people and organizations, like the UW’s Hillel/JConnect program are trying to make kosher sustainable meat happen in the Northwest, or to connect with others trying to make this happen. They may even bring a shechter in to produce and freeze a supply of kosher sustainable meat, working with local, small farms which raise animals on pasture.

But they need support and help to make this happen. This means other people and organizations to figure out how to do this, what the logistics will be, and how to make it happen. They also need to know that there’s interest.

Specifically, they need help:

–      Getting the word out to people who keep kosher

–      Helping with logistics (finding a shechter, figuring out meat storage, etc)

–      Connecting with farms

–      Showing interest in purchasing sustainable kosher meat if it becomes available

For interest or more information, contact Josh Furman at JoshF (at) hilleluw (dot) org or 206.527.1887 x221 

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Here’s a neuroscience film I made, for fun and for a science communications class. I used footage from the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market, since I was meeting up with my parents there. Since farmers market produce features heavily, I’m calling it an excuse to post the film here. I’m going for, uh, charmingly amateur. Enjoy!

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If you’re near the UW campus in Seattle, don’t miss Robert Gottlieb’s talk tonight. He’s one of two authors of Food Justice. CAGJ (Community Alliance for Global Justice) is organizing the event. The event is  from 7-8:30 at UW Architecture Hall 147, Grant Lane and Stevens Way, Seattle, WA.

I haven’t read the book yet. I’m drawn to it, though, because it highlights the justice and access parts of the food movement, looking at the food movement though a lens of social justice. He talks about global, systemic problems like obesity, and seems like he’s not afraid to hold fast food chains and beverage companies accountable.

Check it out tonight if you’re around!

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I’m at this marvelous conference for the next few days, discussing food policy issues, both local and national. This includes topics like farm-to-cafeteria work, food access and hunger issues, and even local and national visions from the food movement about changing the Farm Bill. Seattle is a bit of a leader on this topic; check out the Seattle Farm Bill Principles here. Other cities are considering supporting these principles or developing similar ones.

If you have particular food policy questions, local or national, of interest you’d like me to bring up or find out about here, send me a message. If you’re here too, drop a note and say hi.

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I’m all for making things from scratch, and I think it would be fun someday to make my own Thai curry pastes. But I have to say, there’s something wonderful about having pre-made curry paste on hand. Curry paste + coconut milk + seasonal vegetables + meat = one of my favorite formulas for a fast and flavorful meal.

There are actually a few Northwest companies making their own really tasty curry pastes. Thai Curry Simple right by the International District light rail/bus tunnel stop sells their own pastes, although they contain soy sauce, which isn’t gluten-free, so I can’t eat them. I’ve been buying Thai & True, a Portland-based company’s paste at Whole Foods and other stores. It has good flavor and simple ingredients. (Note, I’m not endorsing any of these products. I don’t do endorsements; I just eat stuff.)

Last week, I found myself with panang curry paste on hand, some fresh asparagus, spring carrots, and shiitakes from the farmers market, and a lamb shoulder chop. Less than fifteen minutes later, I had dinner. If you’re short on time, and heavy on asparagus, try this recipe out. You can substitute in other vegetables, of course. This can be served over rice or just eaten with a spoon. I did the latter.


Panang Curry with Lamb, Asparagus, Shiitake and Carrot 

serves 2

– 1 tablespoon (more or less to taste) panang curry paste

– 1/2 can coconut milk

– 1 lamb shoulder steak (or 2 if you’re both really hungry)

– a handful fresh shiitake mushrooms

– 1/8 – 1/4 lb fresh asparagus

– small bunch small spring carrots

– 2-4 kaffir lime leaves (buy in an Asian market and keep in your freezer)

– coconut oil

– fish sauce

1. Prepare vegetables: Remove hard parts from asparagus and cut into bite-sized pieces. Slice mushrooms, discarding harder parts of stems. Cut carrots into small pieces. Cut lime leaves into thin strips with a sharp knife or scissors.

2. Prepare meat: Cut lamb shoulder meat off the bone, salvaging as much meat as possible. You can save the bone in the freezer for stock. Keep fat on the meat except the very outer-most layer of the outer fat, which is a bit too tough to chew.

3. Heat oil. Add carrots to pan and stir a few minutes, letting the edges brown slightly. Add mushrooms, a bit more coconut oil, and a dash of fish sauce. Cook until mushrooms brown and release out some of their oil.

4. Add curry paste to the oil. Let it bubble and cook. Stir it gently to spread it out.

5. Add meat and lime leaves to the oil/curry mixture. Let  meat brown on all sides. Add the asparagus shortly after.

6. Add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Let the curry simmer for just a few minutes; you don’t want to overcook the lamb. While it’s simmering, taste it for saltiness and adjust fish sauce as desired.

7. Serve immediately, as-is or over rice.

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Have you heard of Soda Free Sundays yet? It’s a community-wide challenge to skip soda and other sugar-loaded beverages one day per week, now through early June. I quite literally can’t remember the last time I drank soda, but I took the pledge anyway and am passing the message on. Whether you drink soda or not, I hope you’ll sign on and spread the word.

Why pledge to go soda-free once a week if I’m already soda-free? There are a few reasons.

1. Heightened awareness.

I generally notice the extensive presence of soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks, but somehow signing on to Soda Free Sundays made these drinks stand out in my visual field more than ever. I notice ironic or ironically-placed beverage advertising, like this sign over a small grocery in Seattle:

We should notice this stuff. Soda vending machines with giant Coke ads. Energy drinks next to school supplies. Soda at youth athletic events. None of this is coincidental. If you haven’t read Mike Jacobson’s article on Coke’s 125th anniversary yet, you should. He quotes from from Coca-Cola’s chilling ten-year vision statement: “We are creating new strategies that are winning over a massive new generation of teens to drive growth of Trademark Coca-Cola.” Soda is a significant contributor to obesity and diabetes, and adolescents drink a lot of soda. Is this really something Coke should brag about?

2. Reinforcing and spreading the message.

It’s one thing to say “I don’t want to drink sodas because they’re bad for me,” and quite another to look at sugar-loaded beverages as a community problem, a public health problem, rather than just an individual issue. Think about cigarettes and tobacco companies a second. There was a stretch of time between the realization that cigarettes are unsafe and the point by which society began limiting tobacco companies’ power and advertising abilities. Individual decisions are important, but signing on to a larger effort means signing on to the goal that we should reduce detrimental beverages as a society, and that we would like to start looking at the beverage industry the same way we look at tobacco companies.

3. An excuse to make up tasty and/or bizarre carbonated beverages.

Who needs a can of soda? Here’s the fun part. Once you discover that you can add carbonated water/seltzer to virtually any other beverage or flavor, the ideas start popping up. Here are a few:

Strawberry-rhubarb soda

Hands down, this was my favorite, and it was seasonal and so easy. In a pot, place (per serving) half a stalk of chopped rhubarb and a handful of frozen or ripe berries. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down slightly, and cook for 10-15 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a glass. Cool, via refrigerator or freezer. Pour in carbonated water and stir. A great color and delicious.

Vanilla sort-of egg cream

Being originally from New York, I understand the recipe I’m about to give is blasphemous. A drink called an “egg cream” as we know it has neither egg nor cream. It is traditionally made from syrup (chocolate or vanilla, and most of which contains high fructose corn syrup these days), milk, and seltzer. No egg, no cream.

So… I broke most of those rules. (Note: this one includes raw egg.) I beat the yolk of a clean, farm-fresh pasture egg in the bottom of a glass with a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Then I added a quarter cup of half-and-half (Organic Valley is selling pasture-sourced half-and-half!). Finally, I added seltzer and stirred. It was incredibly delicious.

Weird mixtures

I also tried, for the hell of it, a soda made from the juice of half a blood orange, a teaspoon of rosewater, and a handful of basil. It was unusual, but I liked it.

Make up your own! Try lemon and/or lime beverages, ripe fruit as it comes into season (or you take from your freezer), cucumber, and spices.

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