Archive for the ‘The Food That Feeds Us’ Category

Posted on April 26, 2011 - by

Cooking with Your Hands

Photo: Vincent Ma/Creative Commons

I am an impatient cook. I would rather be enjoying my dinner than preparing it, so my kitchen often resembles the inside of a nearly empty salad bowl, with bits of lettuce and carrot and stray droplets of dressing strewn about here and there. This is the result of my haphazard knife technique, which tends to launch choppings of my vegetable victims far from the cutting board where they belong.

I envy cooks whose respect for the raw materials of their craft manifests itself in a physical tenderness in the kitchen. They caress their ingredients, hand-washing each leaf of lettuce separately and drying them carefully with a soft towel, or arranging perfectly even apple slices in a slowly expanding spiral for an elegant tarte tatin.

Most of us don’t have time to massage our fruits and vegetables every night before dinner, but acquainting your hands with the texture, weight, and give of raw (and sometimes cooked) ingredients will help you learn to judge freshness, ripeness, and doneness as much by touch as by appearance. Just as it often happens with people, getting up close and personal with your produce can also lead you to discover and appreciate certain inherent qualities that you may never have noticed before. These are qualities you’ll want to bring out in a finished dish.

The portobello mushroom illustrates this principle perfectly. It may look stumpy and unappetizing at first, but try closing your eyes and tenderly rinsing one under a gentle stream of cool water. The smooth, fleshy curve of the cap, its subtle give into your fingertips, the soft crevasses of the gills underneath: fungus has never felt so sexy.

We hear so much about how no one has time to cook anymore, how after a long day at the office, people just want to come home and relax over a meal they didn’t have to prepare themselves. I often feel this way myself. But on those nights I do cook something from scratch, I realize that there is plenty of relaxation to be found in the act of preparation itself: the unctuous ooze of a healthy drizzle of olive oil, the firm, audible twists of a pepper grinder, the tantalizing aroma slowly emanating from roasting garlic and crackling pork. I’m learning to let these triggers loosen my shoulders and focus my mind, temporarily letting go of the many mental “notes to self” that clutter my head at other times. It feels good, and it tastes even better.

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Posted on November 8, 2010 - by

Sustainable Seafood: What to Enjoy and What to Avoid

Seafood is a staple of many a person’s diet, but for those who are environmentally conscious, it can be very difficult to sort out what is OK to eat and what should be avoided. Seafood comes from all over the world and is grown, caught, processed, and transported in a wide variety of conditions. Finding sustainable seafood is confusing, especially because what sustainability actually is is often misunderstood.

To clear up: sustainable seafood is either fished or farmed in a way that does not harm the surrounding ecosystem and does not decimate a species’ population. Fish that reproduce slowly, like an orange roughy, are vulnerable to over-fishing, but small breeds that reproduce quickly like anchovies are sustainable. Check these seafood do’s and don’ts to figure out which seafood is sustainable, and which is not.


Alaskan salmon and halibut: Buying American is almost always the way to go, as US fishing standards are much higher than  those in other countries. Alaskan fish are considered healthy species with thriving populations, and so are sustainable. Plus, they’re pretty tasty too.

Oysters and mussels: For shellfish, oysters and mussels are considered the most sustainable. They are plentiful, and so fishing will not decimate their populations; often grown locally, and so reduce the energy costs associated with freezing and shipping; and as a small shellfish, contain less mercury than bigger fish. In that way, they are better for your health as well.

Sardines, anchovies, and other small fish: Small fish populations have little concern of over-fishing — there’s just too darn  many of them. Though you can’t make a meal out of them, as a nice accompaniment to a salad or other dish, small fish like sardines and anchovies are a worry-free addition.

Atlantic lobster: Many a New Englander’s favorite seafood is actually sustainable when bought locally. Atlantic lobster populations are doing fine, and when bought locally don’t leave a carbon footprint. That said, don’t buy Central American lobster: they’re fished in subpar conditions, and the environmental cost of bringing them up north is just too much.


Tuna: Tuna is a favorite of people all over the world, and that is why it is being over-fished. Some species of tuna are doing OK, like some albacore, but in general, it’d be best if people stopped fishing and eating tuna altogether to allow the species to  recover.

It is estimated that 90% of the sea’s large predators are being over-fished — they just don’t re-populate as quickly as small fish. Plus, most tuna, even dolphin-free brands, are not caught using environmentally-friendly practices. And more so, tuna contains high amounts of mercury, which causes health problems for people the world over. Say no to tuna.

Shrimp: Imported shrimp are grown in Asia and Central America and grown in their own raw sewage. Sound appetizing? Worse, this waste is allowed to pollute the sea as the shrimp are held in open pools or mesh cages. Even US-farmed shrimp are caught using trawl nets, which hurt sea turtle populations. It’s just not worth it for such a small fish.

Tilapia: Tilapia is native to Africa’s Nile River and so is extremely rare in the wild. Imported tilapia is farmed in Asia, where fish are given hormones to induce sex changes so they turn into bigger, more lucrative males. They are also treated with pesticides and other chemicals, which are absorbed by humans when eaten. Plus, a lot of energy is used to freeze and transport the fish to your local grocery store. Local tilapia is not perfect either, as it still may contain antibiotics and pesticides.

Edward Stern is a guest blogger for An Apple a Day and a writer on online nursing classes for the Guide to Health Education.

Photos by boboD90 and Mitchell Goldstein, respectively (via Flikr Creative Commons).


Posted on January 6, 2010 - by

The Food That Feeds Us: Fresh Flours

Note from the FRESH Team: This is one of many posts from farmers and food producers around the US who are working hard to change our food system.  We want to share their stories with the FRESH community in hopes of connecting us all a little more and strengthening our collective voice.  This is NOT meant to be an exhaustive resource.  We welcome you to send us your story to share with the FRESH community as well.  Please email Lisa Madison at for more information.”

Name: Fresh Flours FRESHFlours
Location: Winchester, VA
Specialty: Baked Goods, Soups, Seasonal Dishes
Buy Local Virginia:
Eat Well Guide:
How to buy our food: Front Royal Farmers Market,, Facebook, Blue Ridge Meats of Front Royal, or email
Contact: Carrie England

I have my grandmother to thank for my passion for gardening and cooking, which always went hand-n-hand. Every time I pick a vine ripened tomato I think of her teaching me about companion planting. “This plant brings in the good bugs” pointing at the marigold flower. Then picking as if it was a prize unto its own, so I could smell it. In her garden you could always find praying mantis and lady bugs. She never used any pesticides and composting was just what she was taught.
Vu Manh Thang – I Am Superman

So as a child the love started on a humid Tennessee spring morning, picking fresh strawberries at an Aunt’s farm. Then it would come time to turn these delicious red ripe sweet berries into anything strawberry. Be it cakes, hand churned ice cream or homemade jam. Throughout that year I would spend time at family farms in Kentucky & Tennessee sharing laughter has we labored in the fields. Gardening had become rooted in my soul (it might have been that it tasted sooo good that the final product had a bit to do with it too).

Using simple sustainable practices taught to me by grandmother is one of the ways I honor the earth, my grandmother and the next generation at the same time.

It was only natural that I combine these two passions to start Fresh Flours. Not being able to produce all the fruits and vegetables to be used in the business, I rely on local farms and producers whose conservation practices lessen our impact on the environment and provide me with quality products. It only makes since to use the freshest, local ingredients and know whom I’m getting them from and the way they have been grown.

Carrie England


Posted on January 6, 2010 - by

The Food That Feeds Us: Seasons Eatings Farm

Note from the FRESH Team: This is the first of many posts from farmers and food producers around the US who are working hard to change our food system.  We want to share their stories with the FRESH community in hopes of connecting us all a little more and strengthening our collective voice.  This is NOT meant to be an exhaustive resource.  We welcome you to send us your story to share with the FRESH community as well.  Please email Lisa Madison at for more information.”
Farm Name: Seasons Eatings Farm
Location: Talmadge, ME 04492
Specialty: Four season growing, cold weather greens
How to buy our food: Direct from the farm, area restaurants
Contact: Robin Follette

Seasons Eatings is a four season vegetable farm located in northeastern Maine. We are strong believers in community, small business, local economy, sustainable agriculture and fresh, healthy, locally produced food. Get to know your farmer! Ask questions and learn about the food that nourishes you.

I didn’t always want to be a farmer. I used to get up in the morning, shower, dress in heels and suits, drop Kristin off at day care or school and head to the office. I worked all day then picked Kristin up at day care. We’d either stop at the store for supper from a box or meet Steve at a restaurant. We’d take Kristin home, give her a bath and put her to bed. Repeat five times a week. When Kristin was six Steve was offered a job as a forester for a company 100 miles away. I was ready to escape but could we live without my very nice salary? We ran the numbers. Clothes, gas, take out lunch, poor supper habits, day care…. I’d been working for a net pay of $50 a week. Surely I could earn $50 a week staying home. We packed up and moved to rural Washington county. We had a garden and small greenhouse. My mother taught me how to put food up when I was a kid. I was saving almost $50 a week on the grocery bill.

Taylor was born when Kristin was nine. I wanted to work at home instead of finding a sitter for two kids. Steve’s dad gave Kristin a pony for Christmas when she was ten. We had only two-thirds of an acre of land so we boarded him for a year. When we took in a rescued quarter horse we knew we needed to move. Boarding two horses was expensive. I bought six barred rock chicks and we started looking for land. My life as a farmer was beginning.

We bought a small farmhouse on 45 acres of land when we were in our early 30‘s. I’d traded heels and suits for jeans and boots and loved it! Growing fresh, healthy food for my community and area restaurants is my passion. We’ve raised pigs, cattle, goats, laying and meat chickens, broad breasted white and bronze and Bourbon Red turkeys, and ducks. Almost all have been rare or heritage breeds. I enjoyed the animals but my heart is in the garden. We phased out livestock, kept some of the poultry and made room and time for me to be in the garden.

My market garden varies between one and two acres depending on what I want to do each year. My growing season starts in January when onions and leeks are seeded into flats and continues through seedling sales in the spring, the usual vegetables from spring to fall, and ends in mid December when the sun is too low and the days too cold for growth in the high tunnels. I harvest greens in the high tunnels all winter. Kristin’s 25 now, Taylor’s 16 and Steve’s still a forester. And here I am, a grown woman playing in the soil for a living. Life’s good!

Robin Follette