Monthly Archives: November 2015

Autumn Sage

Autumn Sage

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.

The Price of Cheap Food

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.

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Tarantula

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. DSC_1186 (2)

The GMO Labeling Controversy

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.

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Discovering a World of Cheese

I’ve had the amazing experience this summer of spending a great deal of time learning about cheese and the people who make it, starting with a visit to northern California to learn how they were coping through the historic drought that has significantly affected the entire state’s water supply over the past few years. Unlike most other natural disasters, drought is a slow motion catastrophe: it’s not one dry winter or summer that’s necessarily disastrous — it’s the cumulative effects of too little water falling down onto a thirsty land. This year, California was a very thirsty land, but I found farmers there dealing with it with courage, conscientiousness and a deep sense of responsibility to their community. The story of that trip is documented in the fall edition of The Cheese Guide from Gourmet News, and you can see it here.

DSC_0309In addition, I had the pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with some of the folks I met in California at this year’s annual meeting of the American Cheese Society — an event that the organization calls Cheese Camp, which is just about as good a two-word description of the mood of the three-day event as you’re ever going to get. In addition to celebrating the best of this year’s American artisanal cheeses, the very best of which turned out to be a Canadian cheese called Celtic Blue Reserve from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Ontario, Canada, the event is an education in the art and craft of both contemporary American Originals cheeses and traditional Old World varieties, an update on regulatory issues affecting cheesemakers and a chance to meet some very special cheesemakers and cheesemongers.

DSC_0288And there was cheese everywhere, whole roomfuls of it. Cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner and after dinner. Cheeses I already knew and cheeses that were entirely new to me. Cheeses made by people I knew and cheeses made by people I still look forward to meeting. I loved every minute of it!