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Archive for November, 2010

*UPDATE: It passed around 11:45 this morning. We’re all screwed.*

So supposedly they are going to vote on S. 510 this morning… I have been in a state of high nervous tension for the past week, wondering what’s going to happen. If this bill passes, it is going to completely change my plans to farm, because, well, good luck trying to start and run a small farm with the FDA breathing down your neck and forcing you to fill out mountains of paperwork with unheard of fees and possible jail time in store if you don’t comply.

There are many crazy opinions swirling around the blogosphere or whatever it’s called, and on both sides. Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser’s delusional op-ed in the New York Times, for one. The one where they first pretend the FDA currently has no power (not true) and where they then go on to assume the FDA will use its new tyrannical powers for the good of all, and not to shut down small producers (which they do on a regular basis with the powers they already have).

Then you have this intriguing and I think completely paranoid exaggeration of the bill:
Truth is Reason: Senate Bill 510 May Be the Most Dangerous Bill in the History of the US I mean, I do think it is one of the more dangerous bills ever to be passed. It basically turns farmers into terrorists. But the idea that it outlaws backyard gardening is a little extreme, and I’ve seen no evidence to that effect. At least so far, the FDA hasn’t started going after people that just produce for themselves. It’s only when you want to sell it someone else and compete with the big industries that Michael Pollan is convinced they are going to start policing.

Food Freedom: S.510 Summaries from Around the Web

And here’s some fun quotes from the FDA, just in case you think they are all fluffy pink bunnies who want to protect you and care about your rights: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund: FDA Status

Really, it comes down to whether or not you trust the FDA. I don’t. Not after watching the videos of them raiding a food club at gunpoint. Not after hearing the stories of raids on farmer after farmer after farmer. Not after being fearful of them sending police after little ole me. No sirree. Someone in one of the comments on one of the above blogs said, why should I trust a food grower? Well, the answer is you don’t have to, if you want to rely on the FDA to do it for you. But if you know the grower, if you’ve been to their house, and eaten at their table, and speak with them on a regular basis and know their kids- well. Why trust your neighbors at all? Sure, just turn over all your rights to government agencies. That always turns out well.

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And now… our Thanksgiving dinner, in photos! My cousin and I spent most of the afternoon cooking- she did the rolls and cupcakes for dessert, I did stuffing, squash, and mashed potatoes.

First, we made rolls from a recipe in Food Network magazine.

Ingredients…

Our lunch:

Homemade mac and cheese with local cheese and raw milk. Yay!

Potatoes from Colchester:


ooooo.

aaaaa.

Delicatta squash:

Apple stuffing with scallions and fresh bread from Against the Grain bakery (apples from Lockbriar farm, scallions from Colchester, and homemade chicken stock):

Stuffing before being baked, with plenty of raw butter on the top:

Devil’s food and pumpkin cupcakes with chocolate ganache topping:

Rolls, before baking:

A full plate:

Stuffed delicatta squash, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, mashed carnival squash, and of course, a roll! The rolls were amazing- they tasted kind of like really good soft pretzel dough. They will definitely be making another appearance at dinner.


Yum.

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So before Thanksgiving got started I did a lot of baking. This is because I go to four Thanksgiving- that’s right, four. And because these are all packed one after another, I find that at least getting all the baking done the night before leads to smoother sailing on the day of.

Because it is Thanksgiving, I make everything with pumpkin. And the secret to making things with pumpkin taste really amazing is to actually use pumpkin. By which I mean a real, live, pumpkin, not the stuff that comes in a can (cause who can be sure what that stuff is).

It is easy to prepare pumpkin for baking. You simply cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, then you can either bake, boil, or microwave the halves. I typically bake them at around 425 for about 30 minutes, or until the flesh is very soft. You can also boil them in some water, or put them in a microwaveable dish with some water and microwave in bursts until soft. Once the pumpkin has cooled off somewhat, you can scoop out the flesh (or peel off the skin), and put it in a food processor until you get most of the lumps out. You can also mash the pumpkin with a fork.

I also make my own vanilla. It is easy enough to find vanilla beans (I get them at the Renaissance Festival, at the herbalist), and then you just need a bottle and some vodka. When the bottle is filled for the first time, you need to leave it for several weeks to steep, but once it’s all ready you can just top it off every time you use it. Every so often you should exchange the vanilla beans for new ones to make it stronger. This is basically what the vanilla you buy in the store is made from- plus loads of bizarre artificial ingredients. That’s why when you leave it too long it gets all alcoholic.

And with homemade vanilla, eggs from pastured chickens, and delicious raw butter you get…

Cookies! This is the first time I’ve made cookies with eggs and real butter in years and years. I’m not sure that I actually like them. Maybe it’s just because I’m so used to the vegan version, but I feel like these are a lot sweeter and, well, boring. They taste like all the other cookies. I’ll have to experiment- maybe using eggs but margarine, or egg replacer but butter. We’ll have to see.

Finally, a new recipe from my new favorite recipe book: the Joy of Cooking!

Which makes…

pumpkin bread! I ran out of cinnamon about half way through the process, thanks to the pumpkin cupcakes I had made earlier, and had to run next door to the neighbors’. That’s what makes it so nice, living where I live. It’s guaranteed that even at 9:45 at night, I can call up my neighbors and run next door with a spoon for a teaspoon of cinnamon.

I love baking, and I love when the whole house smells like cinnamon and pumpkin… and getting to eat lots of delicious pumpkin treats!

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All this talk of going underground just makes me want to farm even more. Why do I want to farm? Why do I want to commit my life to a load of hard work and sunburns and probably being in debt for the rest of my life in order to get a little spit of land?

Somebody’s got to do it. Somebody has to figure out how we’re all going to continue to eat. And somebody needs to take the risks, take the steps, to figure out how we are all going to survive this mess. I mean it. It’s not just about happy red tomatoes. This is life or death stuff we’re talking about. The food system we have in this country (and throughout much of the world) is completely unsustainable, and when it comes crashing to the ground, we need to have alternatives in place, and we need people with the knowledge of how to actually grow food without massive petroleum based inputs and trucks and irradiation and the rest of it.

The FDA has declared that it has no interest in those alternatives. Fine. If the FDA wants to declare war on small farmers, and on fresh, unadulterated foods, a war they will get. I’ve always been one of those people who likes to do things just because it will annoy the hell out of others anyway. That’s why I spent half of college with pink or blue hair. That’s half the reason I went vegetarian in the first place. If I can do something that people are going to question, that is probably what I am going to do, because people need to ask questions. People need to learn that things aren’t always what they seem. This is such an obvious statement, but it needs to be said, because there are millions of people out there who eat fast food on a daily basis without thinking twice about it. And it is obvious that they are not asking questions.

I want to farm not just because I have my idyllic visions of sitting on the front porch with friends eating loads of fresh food and playing music, and not just because I love food and growing things, but because I am so tired of doing work for organizations that don’t share the same values that get me out of bed in the morning. I am really tired of pussy footing around the idea that we need alternative forms of farming simply because oil is going to run out and if we don’t transition things are going to get really ugly. I am really really tired of people claiming that these alternative forms of ag based on ecosystems don’t work, and that they can’t feed people. I want to prove them wrong.

Of course, this is all difficult when land prices are something around $6000 an acre. If I could figure out a way to squat a big enough piece of land to farm, I’d be on it in about a minute. The problem is that if you then want to turn around and get your produce to people, they are going to ask questions about where you are farming… and then in come the regulators. And the expenses. And the fact that to afford to be a farmer, you or your spouse or whoever needs to have an off-farm job or a trust fund.

AGHGGGGGGGGGGH. Does anyone have at least a lot they’d be happy to pay me to transform into a homestead? I come pretty cheap. I just need enough money to house me and the kittens and my library, and keep buying my raw milk and grass fed beef.

And on that note, let’s look at exciting pictures of cupcakes:

These are my famed pumpkin cupcakes, adapted from a recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I say adapted because I no longer make them vegan, of course. Raw milk and butter all the way. I’ll have more photos and stories about my baking efforts tomorrow.

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My friend Liz was on the Food Network apparently two years ago, talking about raw milk. She and I are going to be interviewed next week for a podcast about raw milk as well… and how ridiculous it is that it’s illegal for me to choose what I drink!


Real Milk Freedom Fighters on Food Network
http://mediaservices.myspace.com/services/media/embed.aspx/m=61252748,t=1,mt=video
Visionary Trainers | Myspace Video

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I was originally going to write a post on all the reasons it is hard to get started in farming if you are a new, young, and relatively poor farmer (or wannabe farmer). This was going to include a bulleted list of all the reasons, mostly economic or regulatory, especially in light of this new stupid food bill that is supposed to give the FDA more power to protect consumers from unsafe foods, but is actually going to result in the FDA persecuting more small farmers, amendment or no amendment, because that’s what the FDA does. If they wanted to go after big processors for violations they already have the power to do so. They just choose not to.

Anyway, in reading all this debate about the food safety modernization act (S. 510), I had a sudden vision of what the future of farming could look like. I should add that I was also reading The Complete Patient when this came to me.

If the Food Safety bill passes into law, it would potentially be possible for the FDA to make pasteurization law throughout the entire country, which would overturn the right of states to decide whether products (and not just milk) can be sold raw or not. Other products that have been under attack lately include raw cheese, almonds, and apple cider. Vegetables are probably next.

But how can you outlaw raw vegetables, you might be asking. Easy. Make irradiation required for “safe” food. Irradiation is the process by which produce is subjected to radiation in order to supposedly kill pathogens. It also kills the produce. When you go outside and pick a pepper and eat it, the pepper is literally still alive. Its cells are still functioning. As long as that pepper is still green (or red or whatever), it is still “alive.” This is how it is able to provide you with nutrition. This is why cooking vegetables reduces the available nutrition (it kills the pepper). Irradiation does the same thing… and adds radiation, just for the fun of it! Because we should all be eating things that have been subjected to radiation.

So raw vegetables might become illegal, as well as making raw milk and raw dairy products illegal nationwide. They could declare all raw juices illegal. They could declare freshly baked bread illegal, for all we know. The fact is, this bill gives the FDA such broad, undefined, sweeping powers that we have no idea what they’ll decide to do next.

Every time I think of this I get an image in my head of people farming underground, trying to escape the notice of the FDA, and distributing non-irradiated green peppers on the black market, meeting in back alleys and exchanging produce boxes of squash. Making surreptitious phone calls with code words and arranging to exchange a few ungassed tomatoes (if you buy a tomato in the grocery store, it was picked green and gassed to make it turn red) for a round of raw cheese.

I imagine people gardening under cover of darkness, in unused lots and abandoned corners of fields, trying to get by without being caught by regulators and suffering impossible fees or even jail time for failing to fill out paperwork (oh yeah- the House version of S. 510 includes ten years jail time for failing to properly file paperwork). I imagine people smuggling garden tools under jackets, hiding produce in secret compartments in the backs of their cars in case they get pulled over. And then I think, wow, this sounds a lot like the war on drugs. And then I think, oh right, this is happening now! Plenty of people are out there smuggling raw dairy and cider and other products, and jumping every time a police officer drives by their house in case they are about to be subjected to one of the raids that have been increasing drastically in the last four years.

This all may sound ridiculous, but it is happening, more and more every day. There was a farmer just a few years ago (two I think) who was interrogated into unconsciousness by a group of police, state, and federal agents for delivering raw milk to a group of eaters. There’s the now well publicized raid on Rawesome in California, where federal agents, guns drawn, lined volunteers up against the wall and frisked them. The more regulations the FDA enacts, the more we are going to be forced to go underground with our food production and distribution.

Unless, of course, we are all perfectly happy to eat Franken-foods made from GMOs and radiation and god only knows what else.

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I’ve now been blogging here for over a year! My anniversary was officially November 11, but I completely forgot until I remembered that I posted about Thanksgiving last year right after starting.

So one year, 252 posts. Now if only I could find someone who would transfer the whole mess to a wordpress.org site… I’d even pay…

At any rate, happy birthday to my blog!

Oh, and in case you were curious, they didn’t pass S. 510 yet. It got deferred until after Thanksgiving. Check out the updates on Grist:
Grist: Food Safety Bill Stalled

If you’re looking for an anti-food modernization bill outlook, check out this on the Farm-to-Consumer legal defense fund page: Stop S.510 They actually go into the detail of what’s in the bill, instead of talking a lot of vague rubbish like so many of the other news sites. Also, to clarify, what they voted on Thursday was to limit the debate on the bill. The actual vote will be next Monday!

And one more: the guy that taught me to make sauerkraut, Professor Bill Schindler! And so many other amazing foods, including yogurt. He speaks on foraging on NPR:
NPR Weekend Edition with Bonny Wolf: Try Foraging for Your Thanksgiving Meal

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