Over the past several months, I’ve been taking a deep dive into cheese, with the result that I know feel that I know less than I ever did. I have, however, had a great deal of fun becoming so ignorant.
I stumbled across the phenomenon that I documented in a Gourmet News story called “Incubating Greatness in Shared Kitchen Spaces,” and it turned out to be a very fulfilling adventure. It started when I called some folks who’d become finalists for sofi Awards, the Specialty Food Association’s award for product innovation, and Kendra Coggin, the maker of Pernicious Pickling Company’s Pickled Carrots: Ginger & Spice, told me that she was making her pickled products in an incubator kitchen in Costa Mesa, California. Then I talked to Laurie Pauker of Laurie & Sons, who went on to win a sofi Award for her Dangerously Delicious Black Licorice Chocolate Toffee, and she told me that she also was working in an incubator kitchen. And then, at the Summer Fancy Food Show this year, I met the folks from Pipsnacks, whose Kettle Pipcorn won a sofi Award in the sweet snack category, and was told that their company had started in an incubator kitchen, moved into a second incubator as it grew, and was just about to move into its own space. By then it was more than clear that something very interesting is going on.
These kitchen incubators are structured to fill the gap between a cottage industry food producer and a business that’s ready to expand into regional sales — a gap that’s caused by the capital requirements of setting up in business to sell food to strangers. As you can read in the article, some of them are publicly funded, some are privately-owned, and they offer a range of facilities and services from simple rentals of processing kitchen space to one-stop-shops offering an array of educational and consulting services along with physical space.
While sales of organic foods are booming in this country, the number of acres actually devoted to producing that food is going down. What’s happening is that the American demand for organic food is driving us to import more, and we haven’t made it worthwhile for enough American farmers to turn to organic production. On the other hand, American farmers are exporting organic apples, lettuce, grapes, spinach and strawberries — just not enough to balance out all of the organic food we’re now importing. You can read more about this in an article I wrote for Gourmet News that you can find here.
This is very serious, and although it applies only to organic agricultural production, it’s an important symptom of what’s really happening to our American food system. In the United States, we’re used to thinking of ourselves as the nation that feeds the world, but we’re rapidly losing farms and farmers along with the wealth of agricultural knowledge that’s inside their heads. The average age of the American farmer is climbing towards 60, and as these farmers age out of farming, many of them have no succession plans for their land and operations. If this doesn’t change, it’s going to threaten our food supply and it’s going to result in the abandonment of this land or its redevelopment for other uses that will rob us of the important wildlife habitat that our farms provide as well as the other benefits that come from healthy land.
It appears that if you’re buying the cheapest olive oil you can get at your discount supermarket, you’re probably not getting extra virgin olive oil, regardless of what it says on the label. The olive oil experts say that it’s just not possible these days to make a quality extra virgin olive oil that’ll sell for $6 or $7 for a liter. What’s most likely really in that bottle is a blend of extra virgin olive oil with lower grade oils or refined oils. It’s all actually olive oil, since it’s easy to detect if the olive oil was blended with other vegetable oils, but it’s not likely to offer the health benefits that consumers are expecting when they decide to give olive oil a try. You can read more about all of this in an article I wrote for Gourmet News with Gaea North America CEO David Neuman, Extra Virgin Alliance Co-Founder Alexandra Devarenne and Maria Reyes, who’s a director, vendor management at KeHE Distributors.
I have several autumn sage, Salvi greggii, bushes in my back yard. I love them for their bright scarlet flowers that attract hummingbirds and hummingbird moths and because they’re very drought-tolerant. When they do get water, they bloom profusely a few days later throughout the late spring, summer and fall.
They have scratchy stems that leave long bleeding claw marks along my forearms whenever I weed under them, but the aromatic scent that the foliage leaves on my skin is more than worth any pain from the scratches.
Over the past few months of listening to farmers from coast to coast, it has become increasingly clear to me that our noble-hearted attempt to try to make sure that everyone in our country has enough nutritious food to eat has gone heartbreakingly awry. Rising childhood obesity rates and the news that we are raising a generation of children whose lives may be shorter than our own coupled with frightening statistics about the number of children in this country who are living with food insecurity makes it clear that we are failing at the most basic level.
At the other end of our food supply chain, the country that we like to think of as a food pantry for the world is now importing more and more of our food and the low prices that farmers receive for their crops has driven many, many of them out of business. It’s really saddening to take a look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics on the financial well-being of our nation’s farmers — and if there’s one area where there’s wealth in this country’s agriculture system, it’s in the statistics by which we measure it — and realize how very precarious it is to be a farmer in this country in this day and age.
As a country, we have demonstrated a profound lack of respect for the people who produce our food. We haven’t even respected them enough to pay them properly for the food they grow for us, and we’ve encouraged them to run their operations in a way that has proven to be vastly more beneficial for other areas of our economy than it ever was for our agriculture. The only solution in sight for any or all of this: we just have to reverse course on our decades-long effort to drive food prices through the floor. It’s been ruinous for farmers, and it hasn’t even solved the problem of giving our children enough good food to eat.
Read more here in a story I wrote after hearing Joel Salatin speak this year at the Natural Products Expo East.
There are many species of tarantulas across the desert southwest, and I made the acquaintance of this one on the Rim Trail at Grand Canyon. This one’s probably a male and, since they’re usually nocturnal predators, it may have been venturing away from its burrow in search of a female. Male tarantulas mature when they’re 10 or 12 years old and usually don’t survive long after they mate. Sometimes they get eaten by the females; sometimes they’re killed by other predators; sometimes they just die of exposure.
Like many others interested in food, I have been following with interest the political conflict over whether food manufacturers should be required to label their products if they include genetically engineered ingredients. The outpost position is that perhaps manufacturers should be required to label their products if genetically modified organisms have been used at any stage of processing, including if the product contains meat from animals that were fed genetically modified corn, even if the end products themselves contain no trace of altered DNA. At the other end of the spectrum are the folks who think we should continue today’s voluntary practice of labeling products as GMO free. And of course, there are the folks who say this is all a tempest in a teapot.
In the mix, there are people who have contributed thoughtful comments to the discussion from their various points of view. You can read here what I have written for Gourmet News about Gary Hirshberg’s opinion that a possible link between glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, and cancer coupled with scientific data that shows that glyphosate has been found in water and soil samples in regions where it has been sprayed heavily ought to be enough to convince us that it’s time to require GMO labeling. Hirshberg is the former president and current chairman of Stonyfield Organic and the founder and chairman of the advocacy organization Just Label It!
To those who fear that the use of genetically engineered crops presents a danger to the safety of our nation’s food supply, Dr. Gregory Jaffe, Director of the Project on Biotechnology for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, had good news. You can read more about that here.