On an evening out recently, my friend asked our waitress if the restaurant’s beef was corn-fed or grass-fed.  With a minor degree of smug, I nodded at his question.  It showed that we know the facts and we know what to ask for.  Our work was done.

“It’s corn-fed and grass-finished,” she said.

To quote a different, but famous animal from our culture, Miss Piggy: “Humph!”  This meal was going to need a new vocabulary.

According to Michael Pollan in the movie, Food Inc., when we stop feeding cows corn–the common, cheap food of concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs)–the e-coli bacteria in their stomachs is reduced by 80% in about three weeks.  This doesn’t say anything about unnaturally fattening the cows with corn in record time before the transition, but perhaps there is a noble goal here of trying to avoid lethal bacteria.  That’s my best guess for “grass-finished.”  Our server wasn’t quite sure why she’d been instructed to answer in this way.

Continued below

Out on the Range and not in the CAFO

On the Range and Not in the CAFO

This food conversation between three people all well-intentioned, but not fully agreeing in the nuance, got me thinking about the upcoming tables in Copenhagen.  As we invent new phrases in this little corner of the world, what will be the common language of food sustainability there?  May it not be a Tower of Babel.

One international group, The Global Crop Diversity Trust out of Rome, Italy, has issued a document entitled, “Food Security and Climate Change:  A Call for Commitment and Preparation.”  At the time of this post, it is supported by the signatures of 68 international dignitaries.  It may not seem like a large number, but collectively, this circle of experts holds much of the world’s knowledge for the future of sustainable food.  Please take a look at their Climate Change Statement here.  Let’s hope the conference leads to a larger table of communal understanding.

E-Z Cookin' in the Heatwave

E-Z Cookin' in the Heatwave

In Michael Pollan’s essay, “Out of the Kitchen, On to the Couch,” (NY Times, 8/2/09), he wrote that Americans today spend an average of 27 minutes a day on food preparation.  That’s less than half the time it takes to watch a typical food competition show on the Food Network.  The popularity of the Food Network says that we’re still interested in cooking and food.  Yet as a society, we’ve decided that we’re too busy to cook.

The essay got me thinking about the ardent home cooks in my life.  Someone at the top of the list is my friend Alex Mandl (left) and his partner, Matthew Murphy.  When we get together, 9 out of 10 times Alex cooks.  (I promise we’re friends for a multitude of reasons.)  Alex is a mix of various paths:  A Harvard MBA, he’s also a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.  He works full-time, but manages to cook at home an average of five nights a week.  He’s been vegetarian since he was a teenager and a member of the Park Slope Co-op for years.  At our latest dinner, I talked with him as he made our meal.

What do you say to people who don’t have time to cook?

“I don’t mean to be a smart ass, but do you have time to go to the doctor?  I’d much rather invest 45 minutes on a Wednesday night to do something that is enjoyable and productive, rather than 45 minutes checking my email, staying later at the office, or watching TV.  I never believe that cooking is wasted time.”

Why do you prefer to cook?

“It gives me more control over the quality of ingredients and nutrition.  I eat a lot less oil, salt and fat. When I go out, I can’t control that.  I like simple, whole foods.  As close to their natural state as possible.  I like working with the food before I cook it and while I’m cooking it.  I like the way it tastes and the way it reacts in my body – it gives me cleaner, simpler energy.  I really feel the difference when I don’t eat food that is full of fresh energy.”

What’s your cooking philosophy?

“I’m simplistic.  Look around my kitchen – I have a total of two different pots and I don’t use a lot of gadgets.  For me, I don’t want to have to be super fancy.  People think that if you cook it has to be this big production with a fancy name.  For my pesto, I see what I have and I throw it in.  I had basil, oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper.  I just keep blending it and seeing how it tastes.  After awhile, you get good at experiments.”

Why do you think the food movement is growing in the United States?

“People are over-processed and over-marketed.  You are what you eat and I don’t want to be something that sat on the shelf for the last couple of years.”