It’s a Sunday afternoon in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota and we’re sitting down to an outdoor supper. A breeze lifts up our paper plates and placemats and everyone dives at the table to hold them down. A man wandering past waves at someone a few seats over. “We haven’t met,” he says, “but I recognize you. How are you?”
Imagine a daycare center serving your child doughnuts or Pop Tarts and then demanding proof of your child’s medical “disability” when you ask to send healthier food from home. As bizarre as that scenario may sound, it’s one that parents around the country may face if they send their children to daycare centers participating in the federal Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP).
There are two stories about the artisan cheesemaker’s life: The fantasy, filled with bleating goats, calm country days, homemade wine, and an enviable supply of chèvre, and the reality, which looks more like a scientific laboratory with a lot of dishes to wash. As most cheesemakers will tell you, their craft is an incredible alchemy of grass, sunshine, and milk, but it’s no tres leches cakewalk.
If you think the “natural” label means that a food product contains no artificial ingredients, pesticides, antibiotics, or GMOs, you’re mistaken—but you’re not alone. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 59% of consumers seek out the natural label, despite the fact that it has little or no meaning in the marketplace and no federal or third-party standards or verification.
Here’s what caught our eyes in food news in the past week:
1. Group Pressures Foster Farms to Address Antibiotics (Los Angeles Times)
Back in November, 2010, only a few months after starting The Lunch Tray, I wrote about running my children’s elementary school Election Day bake sale. In that post I expressed a little bit of ambivalence about selling sweets to raise money — ambivalence that would evolve over the next four years into outright activism against junk food in schools — but at the time I was clearly charmed by the old-timey, innocent feel of the event. I wrote:
. . . . the bake sale I’m running today couldn’t be more Norman Rockwell: there are flags and buntings everywhere, kids clamoring to take a turn behind the cash box, and almost all the goods are homemade.
A visitor who swings by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) on a Wednesday afternoon will see rows opened boxes lined up across the barn floor. Farm crew members between the ages of 15 and 18 are distributing the week’s harvest evenly between the boxes. Some sort tomatoes while others weigh and bag green beans over a small table. On the wall behind them is a whiteboard with a chart. Stephanie Bartlett, a 15-year-old with a chestnut brown ponytail, tallies 464 pounds of cucumbers and 448 pounds of squash.
Oysters are big business. That might not be immediately apparent on a visit to Hog Island Oyster Company in Northern California’s bucolic Tomales Bay, where the place still has a seafood shack sensibility. The farm was started more than 30 years ago by two marine biologists who borrowed $500 from parents and a boat from neighbors and began cultivating briny bivalves in five-acres of intertidal waters.
As a small seafood business and sustainable farm, Hog Island has weathered its share of hardships, including significant oyster seed shortages and the threat of species extinction, courtesy of environmental challenges.
It has stayed afloat, though. In fact, three decades on, Hog Island has quite the cult following around the country and it has earned respect as a leader in the shellfish industry. These days, founders John Finger and Terry Sawyer preside over a $12 million operation that employs almost 200, farms 160 acres, and harvests over 3.5 million oysters, clams, and mussels every year.
In 2007, Greg Roden and Brian Greene met in Buenos Aires, Argentina at a poker game and batted around the idea of a new type of food television show. Seven years later, that idea is coming to life as a 13-episode series examining our food system called Food Forward, premiering on PBS stations across the country and streaming on PBS.org beginning this week.
In the summer of 1970, a group of friends followed an old stagecoach road into the woods of California’s Gold Country. They were hunting for mining relics and pioneer oddities hidden in the forest, but what they found was even more rare: antique fruit trees.
There, perched 5,000 feet in the Sierras, was a thriving fruit orchard, branches heavy with rare varieties of apples, plums, cherries, and pears. Without pruning or pesticides, the trees had been alive since the Gold Rush—a far cry from the commercial fruit trees of today, which last fewer than 35 years.