Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Free Range" or Pasture Raised

Okay for definition sake, Free Range means provided access to the outside. Organic means fed a certified organic diet, no antibiotics, no chemicals, no hormones, no genetically modified organisms (although this one is being worked on since the food or substance in question is molecularly the same thing). And Pasture Raised means 100% access to grass and field. Now, just nutritionally speaking and not considering the quality of life issues...As far as I see it a chicken is supposed to peck, to eat bugs, grubs, seeds, grass, and the occasional pepples ('cause they have gizzards). Wikipedia says-Chickens are omnivores. In the wild, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds, insects and even larger animals such as lizards or young mice.

So what this means is a chicken raised on a vegatarian diet of corn and soy is not eating what a chicken should eat, and probably not carrying the same nutrients and minerals that a chicken should have. This just seems logical to me. But in the grocery store my options are Organic Chicken, Organic Free Range Chicken, Free Range Chicken, and conventional Chicken. (Note I capitalised Organic, and Free Range, these are definable USDA standards, conventional is just everything else that is not certified one of these things). Not a Pature Raised Chicken to pick from (o.k., pun kinda intended). Instead to find such a thing as a chicken raised the way a chicken oughta be, as deemed by Nature herself, I had to do an online search. After several hours and 4 emails, I heard from a rancher out in Tres Pinos (way out past Hollister, about 50 miles away). He told me he would be at the Saratoga Farmer's Market on saturdays. Hooray! A trip over the hill (28 miles away), which included a nice breakfast at Hobee's, and we had 2 fresh, local, pasture raised chickens! And the price was $20 for each chicken weighing over 4 pounds each, in fact almost 5 pounds. That works out to around $4.50 a pound. Totally worth it in my book. And low and behold, the chicken actually tasted like chicken! Even more so than I'm accustomed to. Plus I can only logically assume that we are getting more chicken from our chicken since it lived more of a chiken-ish life than our previous chickens ever did(or ever will. poor chickies).

For those who would like a little more reseach then my opinion and assumptions...

From Wikipedia

The USDA requires that chickens raised for their meat have access to the outdoors in order to receive the free-range certification. Free-range chicken eggs, however, have no legal definition in the United States. Likewise, free-range egg producers have no common standard on what the term means. Many egg farmers sell their eggs as free range merely because their cages are two or three inches above average size, or because there is a window in the shed.

From Petaluma Poultry, producers of Rosie Organic Free Range Chicken

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Petaluma Poultry define "natural" chicken?Natural chickens are found in many stores across the country and meet the broadly-defined USDA guidelines for using the word "natural" on their label. These guidelines state that any product may be labeled natural if it does not contain any artificial flavoring, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives or any other synthetic ingredients, and the product is minimally processed.The USDA natural claim represents little more than a minimal standard. Specifically, it does not address growing methods and in particular, the use of antibiotics or growth enhancers for livestock and poultry. And, even with a USDA natural label, it is legally possible to offer naturally grown livestock or chickens that have been fed antibiotics. In fact, any conventionally grown chicken can qualify for this natural claim as stated in the USDA guidelines.

Petaluma Poultry defines a "natural" chicken as one that is raised without antibiotics for its entire life, fed a vegetarian diet without the use of animal fat or animal by-products, raised in a stress-free environment and treated in a humane manner at all times.

Certified organic chicken takes the raising of chickens to a new level and creates an entirely new category of products for the consumer. "Certified organic" chickens are different from "natural" chickens because they are fed a certified organic diet, raised without antibiotics and use a third party certifier to verify the manner in which they are raised. ROSIE offers the consumer another choice responding to the growing awareness and demand for organic products.-

-Who raises ROCKY Chickens and how are they raised?

ROCKY Chickens are raised solely by Petaluma Poultry on various local ranches throughout Sonoma and Marin Counties. All ranches are located within 30 miles of our own processing plant on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, California.They are raised on a soft bed of rice hulls, approximately 6 to 8 inches thick. All of our chickens are given approximately one square foot per bird in which to roam freely in the poultry house, and the outdoor pen space is 50% to 100% the size of the inside houses. This represents up to double the growing space given conventional chickens.-

-What does free range mean? What is the difference between free range chickens and conventional chickens?

Petaluma’s birds get approximately one square foot per bird, about 25% more space per bird than those raised in conventional poultry operations. Depending upon the farm, the pens outside are 50% to 100% of the size of the inside houses.
Beginning at approximately four weeks of age, when the birds are fully feathered and able to withstand both exposure to the sun and cooler outside temperatures, the birds are allowed to roam outside of the house beginning about mid-morning, and are then ushered back inside the house around 5 pm. They are locked inside the house at night to protect them from predators. There are multiple outside access doors on the sides of the house for the chickens to use the outdoor pen during the day.

What types of feed are chickens fed and what is a vegetable diet?

We strongly believe that the flavor of the chickens comes from the feed that they eat.All ROCKY chickens are fed the same feed made from high quality, nutritionally balanced feed ingredients. The feed is composed of approximately 70% corn and corn gluten meal and 15-18% soybean meal, with the balance of the diet made up of salt, vitamins, and minerals. The diet is called a vegetable diet because the protein and energy sources; corn and soybean meal, are all vegetable in origin. NO animal by-products or animal fat are used in the ROCKY chicken feed.-

-Why do some chickens have yellow colored skin and some have white skin?

The yellow pigmentation in the skin of chickens is derived from xanthophyll, which naturally occurs in yellow corn. Chickens fed a high level of corn and corn gluten meal will have a naturally yellow colored skin. Chickens fed grains such as wheat, oats or barley that do not contain xanthophyll will not have yellow skin.We at Petaluma Poultry spend extra money feeding our ROCKY chickens corn and corn gluten meal to get the yellow color of which we are so proud.

(Wikipedia has this to say about the yellow color---genetic research has suggested that the bird likely descended from both Red and the Grey Junglefowl (G. sonneratii). Although hybrids of both wild types usually tend toward sterility, recent genetic work has revealed that the genotype for yellow skin present in the domestic fowl is not present in what is otherwise its closest kin, the Red Junglefowl. It is deemed most likely, then, that the yellow skin trait in domestic birds originated in the Grey Junglefowl.*Resource*-Eriksson J, Larson G, Gunnarsson U, Bed'hom B, Tixier-Boichard M, et al. (2008) Identification of the Yellow Skin Gene Reveals a Hybrid Origin of the Domestic Chicken. PLoS Genet January 23, 2008 )

Why do we not use antibiotics in our poultry?

We believe that the long term use of antibiotics represent a biological and environmental threat. The long term usage of a particular antibiotic in food animals may allow the development of genetically specific resistant bacteria. If these resistant bacteria from the food supply are passed into a bacteria that infects humans, usage of this particular antibiotic against cross resistant bacteria may become ineffective and could lead to prolonged sickness, slower recovery, and possible death.Increased use of antibiotics in food animals has caused an increase in the overall resistance to antibiotics both in animals and human beings. It now takes a larger dosage of antibiotics to produce the same effect as a smaller dosage administered 20 years ago. This growing resistance is passed on to the succeeding generations, and thus becomes a self perpetuating cycle.Secondly, and most importantly, chickens do not need antibiotics to grow and be healthy. We want our chickens to develop their own resistance to disease by raising them in a natural environment using better methods of poultry husbandry.We at Petaluma Poultry, where we can control all aspects of poultry husbandry, feel that we are well suited to raise chickens without the use of antibiotics.By more rigidly watching every aspect of our breeding stock, vaccination programs, ranch clean up and sanitation programs, as well as reducing stocking density (fewer chickens per square feet of living space), minimal stress, and having a nutritionally well-balanced feeding program, we are able to raise high quality chickens without the use of antibiotics.

back to me again...

This just illustrates to me that we aren't supposed to know about natural systems, we aren't supposed to question why a vegetarian diet to a known omnivore, we aren't even supposed to wonder why a safe shed enclosure with access to the outside isn't providing chickens with grass, bugs, or seeds. If they can claim a certain diet, they must be able to enforce a certain diet. And they are "proud" of themselves! Is it just me that thinks this is stinking of more than chicken sh*t?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicken Poop Cows, are they still mad?

I've been reading up on our local food systems in this country. It seems that we are all victims of a bad food bully...the USDA. They are the ones responsible for mad cow disease, they are the ones responsible for deciding what we should eat, and they are the ones responsible for making it almost impossible to get meat that was raised in a local and sustainable way. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan, Mad Sheep by Linda Faillace, and Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin I've gotten a nice little gist of what is ailing this country from the start. It seems that as a whole we, the eater, are not allowed to judge what is safe and healthy to eat. Instead the USDA, with all the beauracracy that goes along with any government agency as well as the funding and pressure that comes from special interest groups, is deciding what meat and dairy is allowed to be on our table. The USDA is putting intense pressure on small local farmers to get out of the business. When it was discovered and officailly recognised that Mad Cow disease is caused by feeding herbivores meat and bone from other herbivores, the USDA, after several years of continuing to feed the meat to the meat (especially since it could now be bought so cheaply from England where they figured out that this was causing the very deadly and expensive mad cow outbreak over there) asked farmer's to stop feeding the cows to the cows and instead suggested that cows be fed chicken poop and chicken bits. Make sense? Not to mention that cows fed chicken and chicken poop tend to smell like chicken poop. But there is also some discussion that maybe Mad Cow is caused by excessive use of heavy metals like aluminum and pesticides like fly killer. How can we know for sure when the majority of cattle today are standing in a pile of their own poop, eating whatever is cheapest, and being shot up with whatever is suggested to keep them on their feet until we can push them into the slaughter house that has the most processing ability (not the cleanest).
Now what about the little guy? The farmer down the road with 10- 15 cows that you would like to get a roast from when he does his slaughtering? We look at his cows happily munching away at some fresh grass, her little calf next to her side chasing after a butterfly, and we think how idyllic. That is how a cow should live it's life. In harmony and bliss. Plus there is no stink, it just smells like grass. The cows have been moved to this pasture after one day on the other pasture, where there are now chicken shelters dotted over the field, pecking at the manure to get to the grubs and worms and distributing the excellent fertilizer over the grassy ground. These chickens are also pretty damn happy as far as chicken joy goes. Bugs, grass, poop, fresh air, space to peck and scratch. It don't get much better! And the blessing for us as eaters? These animals are healthy. They don't get antibiotics, cause they aren't sick, they don't get hormones or steroids, cause the farmer knows these things make the meat tasteless and nutritionless. The farmer is actually out for our best interest. He wants to take care of me, just like he does his own family. If I'm happy as a customer, then I will tell people and increase his business, he'll make more money and can support more cows. It's like a perfect system, the one that most of civilization is based upon. Supply and demand. Fair trade. Taking care of the community that takes care of you.
So why is that not happening? Why is it a search to find a chicken that was raised on grass, not corn? Because the USDA, and behind them, backing them, are big business. The corn industry, the cattle industry, the poultry industry. These groups spend millions of dollars each year just to woo the beauracrats and congresspeople into passing more and more regulations and policies that make it impossible for the local farmer to survive. The easiest example is that in order to slaughter your own beef you must take it to a liscensed slaughter house. To be a liscensed slaughter house you must have among other obvious things, a bathroom for the sole use of the USDA inspector. You must have foot operated hand washing stations, you must have handicap accessability, you must have a two lane road to access the facility, these things all add up to no less then $500,000 to build a structure that can meet all these requirements. And then once you've raised that money, you find you cannot build it on your farm, no, that is zoned agricultural land and a slaughterhouse is a processing facility. Never mind that you have 5 employees and you only kill about 100 beef a year. That you use every last bit of that cow for meat, fertilizer, leather, and tallow. Nope, you are a hazard to your own health and the community's. Though a 100 miles away at the industrial processing facility, they are killing 1000 beef a day, tossing the remains in a trailer truck, and rinsing all that gore down to a pond that leaches out right next to the local river. The stench from this facility is smelled for miles and the bacterias are into the millions. Yet they are liscensed and considered officailly safe. They have mulitple violations daily from the questionably legal workers and the procedure following charts that are filled out months in advance. But they have a private bathroom for the USDA inspector, not to mention a rec room for him to hang out in. Is this a safe system, does it make you think twice about that unbelievably cheap T-bone at Safeway? Wonder just what are you eating? Chicken poop?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why local?

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of Think Local First, an alliance of local businesses trying to get the word out there that supporting local business is good for the whole community.
For example
Supporting Local Business, Keeping an Independent Community

Did You Know...
For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 continues to circulate within the community vs. $13 from a non-local business. And if the business is selling locally produced items even more money, if not all, stays right here!

This is from their web site.....
New Study Shows 10% Shift to Indies Makes Significant Economic Impact
Sep 25, 2008
On September 23, Local First of Grand Rapids, Michigan, unveiled the results of the new economic study "Local Works: Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy." The study revealed that a modest change in consumer behavior -- a mere 10 percent shift in market share to independent businesses from chain stores -- would result in 1,600 new jobs, $53 million in wages, and a $137 million economic impact to the area. "Local Works" was funded by the Steelcase Foundation and conducted by Civic Economics.
"We are looking forward to sharing the results with local policy makers and our local community," said Elissa Sangalli Hillary, Local First executive director. "So often, individuals feel overwhelmed and unable to make a difference. The study shows that by choosing to support locally owned businesses, individuals can help to create and retain jobs in [their] community."
For the study, Civic Economics analyzed the performance and economic impact of independent businesses in Kent County, Michigan, and identified opportunities for economic enhancement based on that analysis. Data was collected and analyzed for businesses in four lines of goods: pharmacies, grocery stores, full-service restaurants, and banks.
Hillary noted that "Local Works" confirmed the results of similar studies across the country, including Civic Economics studies conducted in Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. She added, however, that, while these earlier studies generated great momentum for independent businesses, some policymakers have dismissed them unfairly based on the theory that Austin, Chicago, and San Francisco are somehow atypical communities. No one will be able to dismiss "Local Works" on that premise, she said.
According to the study, "the 1,600 additional jobs created by a 10 percent shift in market share from chains to locals "would have been enough to increase employment by one-half of one percent in 2007. Output for the county could be increased by $137 million as well, and this benefit would be spread among many industries, not only the retail sector."
Additionally, "Local Works" concludes: "The magnitude of these impacts is such that, under ordinary circumstances, economic development organizations and public agencies would rally to the cause, actively recruiting and incentivizing any firm promising such an impact. As it happens, consumers can themselves create these impacts with only a modest shift in their habits and behavior." --David Grogan
More news from Bookselling This Week:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rainbow Rice!

This one worked moderately well at getting my picky eater to consume a bit of food at dinner. The green beans, yellow, orange, and red peppers, purple and blue (used a drop of plant based blue food dye) eggplants are from our CSA and the brown basmati rice is organic, though I don't know where from. I also added cut up leftover chicken from a previous meal, though sadly it is only a free range organic chicken and not a local pasture raised one*. The prep wasn't too hard, I blanched the green beans before dicing, diced up everything else and, in order of yellow to blue, stir fried everything with a bit of garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and salt. The rice was steamed with homemade stock, which I make using any left over vegetable pieces, meat bones, and herbs. (Whenever we have meat I freeze any bones or pieces that we don't give the dog and every other week or so I get out my huge pot, chuck in everything and let it simmer all day. Viola! Oh, and I add a tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar to get more minerals out of the bones.) I'd say she ate about 1 1/2 cups of the stuff, and I felt elated!
*I'll go into the pastured chicken vs. free range organic chickens in another post soon. I want to do a bit more research first to give solutions instead of frustration.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What is it about refined flour?

Why does a croissant hit the crave button so much louder than my sourdough flax bread from the CSA? Why does cake make me grab and bran muffins make me think twice? Why are my ethics and need for healthy foods so easily subverted by sugar? Why doesn't knowing better make more of a difference?

Questions I'm working on...

And while I'm at it...Why do people think that because I've got chef in my repertoire that I know how to get kids to eat? My 3 1/2 year old can pass for not yet 2, she is so little. She loves ladybugs and likes pasta and cheese, so I made her ravioli that I used marinara and shitake mushrooms (both of which she likes) to decorate to look like ladybugs. She refused to eat, and not for sympathy to the "bugs". She wouldn't even take a bite of her brother's ravioli that was dry. Of which there was plenty 'cause he wouldn't eat more than 1/2 of one ravioli! Arggghhhh! I wish I knew the trick, other than mac n cheese or fish sticks! It seems if it's from a box and not really food, they'll eat it all. What kind of survival of the species instinct is this! They are begining to refuse anything I offer them on a spoon. My daugter had to be coerced this morning with bribes of blueberry smoothie to taste the honey on my tea spoon. What, do they think I'd make them taste something awful? "Here Emerald, try this liverwurst and marzipan frosting I made..." What to do....?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kinda important too

please follow the link 'cause I haven't figured out how download the video directly

its a fun little commercial for americans.

Got S.O.L.E.?

I've created this blog as a means to discuss, rant, consider, and express my concerns about what and how we eat. To me as a mom, wife, human, and chef, food is one of the most essential things I do that I direct control over. Though the more I'm aware of eating, the more I realize how much of my ability to decide what I'm going to eat has been stolen from me without my knowledge. I'm finding the need to be hyper vigilant when I get food. I can never make assumptions, but must do research and often extensive detective work just to find the answers to the basic questions I want to, and should, know about my meal. These questions are:
What is this?
Where did it come from?
Is it healthy?
What is it made/grown with/from?
What is the cost?

In terms of "What is this?" too often I grab a box of something that has a picture of food on it, but upon further examination I find that it is many other things as well, many of them things I have no idea what they are. A simple thing like rice has other things like maltodextrin, lecithin, modified food starch, soybean oil with TBHQ added, monosodium glutamate, disodium guanylate, & disodium insoinate (which are labeled as flavor enhancers). I can take the time and look these up, but I'm pretty sure most of these aren't that healthy and some may be downright scary. The fact is that I don't know, and shouldn't I? If I'm going to put this into my body, and my breast milk?
"Where did it come from?" In the case of this rice, the package says "Distributed from New Orleans". But where did the rice come from? Or the disodium quanylate? I don't know and doubt even with calling the company or even going to the distributing warehouse that I would not be able or allowed to find out specifics. In this age of global intermixing of products, and all the news about the milk from China, I'd like to know where my food lived out its days. Not to mention the possibility that eating food from my own eco-system helps my body to deal with and adjust to the elements of that eco-system.
"Is it healthy?" Probably the most loaded question of all. With scientists, nutritionists, doctors, herbalists, and folk wisdom all having their own say, I have come to the conclusion that nothing is "safe" to eat and everything could possibly cause some kind of harm. Water can be contaminated from toxic runoff from the beef ranch upstream, therefore just about everything else can be contaminated as well, not to mention the unhappy hormone, antibiotic, and chemical laden cows themselves. And not overlooking the toxic chemical and BPA filled containers that the food comes in. Just makes me freaked out to think of the depths this question can take me.
"What is it made from or grown with?" Though this harkens back to the first question I feel it should be asked also. Lets go back to the rice, what container was used to cook the parboiled rice? Was it aluminum? I have concerns about cooking with aluminum. Was the water fluoridated? Did the person who put it into its container have the flu? A cut on the hand? Will I only find the answer to that question too late? Was it grown in a field next to an over concentrated feedlot? Was it grown in a field next to a busy freeway? Did the seeds occur in a natural process of evolution or a laboratory? Was it watered from a stagnant pond, a fresh spring, or snow melt from two states away?
"What is the cost?" By this question I do not only mean the price on the label. Cost involves how and who brought it to this point. The toll on the eco systems, environment, farmers, workers, producers, packagers, shippers, fuel ( and oh how we are learning about the huge depths that simple word goes. Think polar bears, soldiers, families, politics, financial institutions, etc...), suppliers, vendors, grocers, advertisers, my time, my kids time, and last but by far not least, our health after consuming the product. Is this food food worth the cost?

So getting back to the point, I'm striving(and struggling)to keep what we consume good for us. Sustainable for our health, our community, our environment, our future, our planet. Organic and not riddled with chemicals, enhancers, laboratory science, and/or politics. Local support for local support. We couldn't thrive without keeping our community together. I love our village and want to keep it. And ever being mindful of my place in ecology. Ecology is the scientific study of the distribution and abundance of life and the interactions between organisms and their natural environment. I think we play a very central role in our ecology and cannot fully know the impact we will make over the course of time. Not only to our surroundings, but to ourselves. We must take the interactions of all things we do very seriously. To quote a t-shirt "Karma is as Karma does".

So keep checking in with me and maybe together we can find a way to eat and be merry!