Brown’s Edible Examiner (Volume XXI)

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This may be a little late for Mother’s Day 2013, but these are good tips for any special occasion.

A More Sustainable Mother’s Day

Danielle Nierenberg and Quinn Korreck

Here are seven tips to make it a point to create a better, more sustainable celebration:

  1. Buy local.  Consider cooking at home instead of going out and try to buy local ingredients.  Local Harvest has a search feature that allows consumers to find area farmers markets and farms in their communities.
  2. Dine responsibly.  If you prefer to go out, do some research beforehand and find restaurants that follow best practices for sustainability.  The Green Restaurant Association has a search feature that allows diners to locate the most environmentally friendly places to eat.  And make sure to take home and eat the leftovers.
  3. Learn something new.  Understanding why it’s important to eat locally or to support sustainable operations is as vital as the actions themselves.  There are great books and documentaries, which will also provide lots of quality conversation topics for dinner.
  4. Make a donation.  Instead of buying another gift that Mom doesn’t need, why not find an organization that supports a food- and agriculture-related issue and make a donation in her name, i.e. Oxfam America has a gift section where you can donate a vegetable garden for a family in need.
  5. Help out in the community.  Share a meal with those less fortunate on Mother’s Day by lending a helping hand at a food bank or a soup kitchen.  Food Pantries has a website to locate food pantries and soup kitchens in your area.
  6. Buy Fair Trade.  Common Mother’s Day gifts include chocolate, fresh fruit, coffee, or flowers—all items that can be purchased from fair trade producers.
  7. Plant a garden.  Planting a vegetable garden at home is not only a fun Mother’s Day activity, but is also an excellent way to make sure that Mom has fresh produce available for the rest of the summer.


Flight Plan: Food & Drink Destinations Worth the Trip

Here are a few Food Festivals Tasting Table recommends as “worth the trip”:

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Thursday, 5/30 to Sunday, 6/2

Now in its third year, this festival has hit its stride.  This year, the founders are abandoning large, stadium-style demos in favor of smaller, hands-on classes and lectures (day passes start at $185).  Learn about real Cajun food with Donald Link, frying techniques with the Lee Bros., and classic cocktails with Neal Bodenheimer.

Charleston Grub Crawl

Saturday, 6/22

Bon Appétit is bringing its popular roving eat-and-walk event ($149) to Charleston this year.  Spend the day walking the city’s cobblestoned streets, with pit stops at its best restaurants and bars, including Xiao Bao Biscuit, Hominy Grill and Husk.

Seattle Street Food Fest

Saturday, 8/10

Seattle’s first street-food festival will take place this year, and it promises to bring together food trucks, carts and nightly pop-ups with local culinary talent, including Joshua Henderson of Skillet, and Ethan Stowell.

West Coast Pig Pickin’

Sunday, 8/18

The South comes to California this summer, in a collaboration between the Southern Foodways Alliance and Napa’s Whetstone Winery.  The afternoon ($125) will include on-site wine tastings paired with ‘cue from Rodney Scott of Scott’s Barbecue and Samuel Jones of Skylight Inn.  Local chefs Daniel Patterson, Christopher Kostow and Stephen Barbour will prepare sides for the feasts.


Food-Safety Inspections to Dwindle Thanks to Sequester

The sequester will delay the US FDA implementation of the 2-year-old Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and result in fewer food-safety inspections, the agency’s top ranking official told the editorial board of USA TODAY.  Thanks to the loss of $209 million in funds due to the $85 billion in government spending cuts, FDA will conduct 2,100 fewer inspections, representing an 18% decline from last year.  A representative of Consumers Union expressed concern that sequestration will lead to more outbreaks of foodborne illness.  The FSMA was crafted to prevent bacteria-ridden incidents, but FDA needs adequate resources to implement the law.


Food Stamp Programs Likely To Be Affected By Cuts

Mary Clare Jalonick

The government’s food stamp program, which helps feed 1 in every 7 Americans, was one of the few programs exempted from this year’s automatic spending cuts.  But now it is likely to get trimmed.  Unresolved is by how much.  The Democratic chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee is only willing to take roughly one-half of 1 percent, or about $400 million annually, off the top as the panel prepares to move a massive farm bill through committee next week.  Her Republican counterpart in the House, also preparing to consider a farm bill next week, would give the program a makeover and cut it by five times that amount.  Neither committee has released its version of the bill, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says he plans to propose a cut of about $2 billion a year.  The House bill would also propose changes in the structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), something Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other Senate Democrats have adamantly opposed.  Both committees proposed slightly small changes to the program in bills they pushed in the last Congress, but the House leadership has committed to moving a bill, meaning the two sides will have to somehow resolve their differences over food stamps.  It won’t be easy, but finding the right amount of food stamp cuts will be the only way farm-state lawmakers can get the five-year farm bill passed.  The bill, which also sets policy for farm subsidies and other rural development programs, has historically included food stamps and domestic food aid to gain support of urban lawmakers who may not otherwise vote for the bill.  The debate over food stamps doesn’t always fall along party lines—the top republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, has said he won’t support major cuts to food stamps because it is a popular program in his state.  Food companies and states, both of which benefit from the program, are also expected to fight changes.  On the House side, conservatives are expected to offer amendments to convert the program to block grants to the states, a move that could freeze spending and cut the benefit to many who now receive it.  The debate on the floor is expected to be “lively”.


CDC Says Food Allergies Increasing In Children

The prevalence of food allergies increased in children under age 18 years from 3.4% in 1997 to 5.1% in 2011, according to a new report from CDC released today.  Skin allergies rose from 7.4% to 12.5% in the same time period; however, they decreased with age.  The prevalence of respiratory allergies remained constant, at 17%, between 1997 and 2011, although it remained the most common type of allergy affecting children.  Interestingly, the prevalence of respiratory allergies increased with age.  In March 2013, the University of Manchester kicked off the world’s biggest study on food allergies that will have far-reaching consequences for consumers and food producers.  The evidence base and tools that result from the study will support more transparent precautionary “may contain” labeling of allergens in foods which will make life easier for allergy sufferers as they try to avoid problem foods.  The research project, which is expected to take three years to complete, also will work with groups of babies and groups of children who have been followed from birth in a number of countries to look at allergy and give advice on diet in pregnancy and early life.


Whole Foods Error: Grocer Mixes Up Chicken And Vegan Salad Labels

Amy McKeever

Whole Foods announced on May 9 that some cold food bars mixed up the labels for chicken salad and vegan salad.  Labels on a chicken salad and those on a vegan version of the salad were reversed at some of its cold food bars in the Northeast.  The Mislabeled salads—a curried chicken salad and vegan curried “chick’n” salad—were sold in 15 stores in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, Whole foods said.  In some locations the salads were sold in the cold food bars where customers can scoop food into containers, which are then weighed at the register.  In other locations, the salads were displayed in the prepared food sections behind glass.  The salads were sold on Tuesday (5/7) and Wednesday (5/8).  The FDA noted the vegan salad contains soy, and the curried chicken salad contains egg.  People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to soy or eggs run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they eat the salads.  The mislabeled salads came from a company-owned commissary.  The mix-up was discovered by an employee in the prepared food section at one of its stores.  Whole Foods is issuing a recall in line with guidelines set by the FDA and plans to post signs in stores alerting customers.  To date, no illnesses have been reported.


Honey Bees Are Dying Putting America At Risk Of A Food Disaster

Todd Woody

Bee Deaths May Have Reached A Crisis Point For Crops

Dan Charles

Forget the plight of the polar bear for a moment and consider the coming collapse of the $30 billion honeybee economy in the US.  Since 2006 honey bees responsible for pollinating more than 100 crops—from apples to zucchini—have been dying by the tens of millions.  As a new report form the USDA details, scientists are still struggling to pinpoint the cause of so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and time is running out.  Farmers who grow crops like almonds, blueberries and apples rely on commercial beekeepers to make sure their crops get pollinated.  But the number of honeybees has now dwindled to the point where there may not be enough to pollinate those crops.  In recent years, agricultural pesticides have become a leading suspect in bee deaths.  Attention has focused on a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids.  Last month the European Commission imposed a two-year ban on neonicotinoids as global concern grows over the bee population crash.  But scientists increasingly believe several interacting factors—from disease-carrying parasites to poor nutrition to pesticides—are responsible for the mass die-off.  And as agriculture becomes ever more industrial and natural habitats that formerly bordered farmland are destroyed, bees are being starved of the food they need to help produce food for humans.  So how to save the bees?  One answer: Breed better bees.  The report recommends stepping up efforts to identify genetic traits in particular bees that make them resistant to suspected causes of CCD.  The report also suggests importing Russian honey bees and other “Old World” bees to diversify bee breeding stock and build up CCD resistance.  Scientists already have begun to stockpile bee semen and germplasm in case the worst comes to pass.


Farm to Paper – Tasting Table

For as much mention as there is about local food in mainstream food publications, little of it goes into depth on the actual process of creation—farming.  With the inaugural issue of Modern Farmer, that’s about to change.  Headed up by an alum of the New York Times Magazine and Monocle, the quarterly publication aims to cover issues surrounding the origins of food, whether raised in rural or urban settings, on family or industrial farms.  This is not an empty mission held afloat by bucolic photo spreads.  To provide substantive commentary, the team has enlisted some major journalistic talent, writers with credits at the Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones and the San Francisco Chronicle, to name a few, who tackle topics like a rampant wild board epidemic, organic farming in the highly polluted city of Shanghai, the state of American slaughterhouses, and planting a four-season vegetable farm in your backyard.  Modern Farmer is available now at newsstands and specialty food stores.


Antioxidants are beneficial, but consumers should know the myths about them

Linda Davidson

Grocery shelves are full of products with labels bragging that they contain antioxidants and implying that you’re just a few bites (and a few bucks) away from better health.  But it’s not that simple.  To help distinguish the myths from the truth, here’s a close look at the latest on antioxidants:

Myth:Antioxidants are all vitamins.

Truth: There are thousands of antioxidants, but relatively few of them are vitamins.  Some are minerals and others are enzymes, which are protein molecules that facilitate chemical reactions necessary for cells to function properly.

Myth: All antioxidants are created equal.

Truth: Different antioxidants fight different free radicals, and they work well together.  Even though scientists have yet to pinpoint all the ways the compounds protect against disease, many observational studies suggest that people who consume a greater amount of antioxidant-rich foods have a lower risk of certain diseases than people who don’t.

Myth: Be sure to eat pomegranates, berries and other “super fruits.”

Truth: All fruits are “super.”  Each type of fruit or vegetable has a unique combination of healthful compounds, including antioxidants.

Myth: You should amp up your intake with supplements.

Truth: Focus on food instead.  Overall, clinical trials that have examined the disease-fighting capability of specific antioxidant nutrients in supplement form haven’t shown very promising results.

Myth: If some antioxidants are good, more are better.

Truth: Too much can be problematic, so beware of multi- and single-antioxidant capsules labeled “megadoses,” which contain more than the recommended daily values for antioxidants.  For example, consuming extremely large amounts of carrots or other vegetables rich in beta-carotene can result in orange-tinted skin.

Myth: Packaged food with labels that promise antioxidant benefits will boost your health.

Truth: Antioxidant claims on packaged food don’t always mean a health benefit.  Some food manufacturers add an antioxidant, such as Vitamin C or E, and then label the product as containing antioxidants, presumably in hopes of boosting sales.


Is It OK to Leave Butter on the Kitchen Counter?

Sarah Perry

Is leaving butter out on the counter a common practice?  And how long does room-temp butter last before it goes rancid?  Keeping butter out seems to be pretty widespread.  A very old method of preserving milk fat, butter existed long before refrigeration.  Besides, butter right out of the fridge is un-spreadable—there’s nothing more frustrating than a stack of hot toast and a solid stick of butter.  A lot of Chowhounds use a covered butter dish for kitchen-counter storage.  Some like to use a butter bell, a ceramic storage container shaped like an inverted goblet with the open end neatly sealed in a crock of water.  You need to change the water every couple of days.  As the water evaporates, it cools the butter, keeping it fresh and spreadable.  According to Land O’Lakes, butter should stay fresh for two weeks, though that depends on a few variables.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that salted butter lasts longer.  High-fat butters melt too easily to leave at room temperatures.  Keep high-butterfat brands in the fridge, but leave ordinary butter on the kitchen counter.


How Long Can You Store Rendered Fat?

Sarah Perry

More Chowhounds are rendering their own fat at homes these days.  But how long does it last?  How can you best keep it fresh, and how will you know if it’s rancid?  Commercially rendered animal fat tends to keep forever.  Unfortunately, home-rendered fat doesn’t last as long, as tiny amounts of impurities in the fat can cause rancidity.  Since the bits of meat and impurities tend to settle to the bottom, sprinkling a layer of salt at the bottom of your storage jar before pouring in the fat will keep those bits from spoiling the whole batch.  Or let the fat settle, spoon off the snow-white fat from the top, and toss the bits at the bottom.  For long-term storage, the freezer is best.  Fat can get freezer burn, but it won’t get rancid.  Since fat doesn’t freeze as hard as water, you can freeze it in bags and chip off bits as needed.  As for recognizing when it’s rancid, you’ll know from the taste—it’ll make your tongue tingle form the acidity not to mention the bad taste.


Why Britain Has Gone Mad About Baking

Amy Guttman

Over the past three years, cake clubs have been growing in popularity in the UK.  The concept is similar to a book club—except with cake.  Often there’s a theme: new recipes only, international or other mandates.  Members rendezvous regularly at local tea shops and cafes, where they show off their homemade cakes before digging in.  The clubs are just one manifestation of a baking madness that’s sweeping England. Last summer’s London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee inspired Brits to bake for street festivals and village fairs to commemorate both events.  And the financial crisis has encouraged the nation to stay at home, finding low-cost leisure activities—including watching cooking shows on TV.  “The Great British Bake Off,” which premiered in 2010 and tests home bakers on every aspect of baking skill, is also credited for the revival.  Baking is so hip these days that, when 31-year-old Chris Holmes decided to quit his job to become a full-time baker, he wrote his resignation letter in icing on a cake—an image that quickly went viral.


Food School: MTV Jumps on the Food Reality TV Train

Hillary Dixler

MTV is joining the food reality fray with a new show called Food School.  The casting notice explains that they are looking for “amateur chefs, bakers and cooking enthusiasts of all kinds (who are at least 18 years old), with the biggest personalities and a fierce appetite for competition.”  The contestants will live together in a house “and be schooled in the most intensive and practical culinary training, with mentorship by legendary food masters.  Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern offered some thoughts on the new show via Twitter: “Will do for culinary arts what Teen Moms did for parenting!”


Alton Brown Is Going on Tour and There Will Be Ponchos

Hillary Dixler

TV personality Alton Brown is going on tour, and he’s bringing ponchos.  His live show will feature cooking, live music and “bizarre and potentially messy experiments.”  Brown has not yet announced the name for the tour; he is deciding between “The Inevitable Edible Tour” or “The Edible Inevitable Tour.”  According to the official website, Brown will be heading to cities across the US, including San Diego, CA, Mesa, AZ, Detroit, MI, and Tampa, FL.  He’ll also be heading to New England in the second leg of the tour.  Since Brown tweeted a link to the site at 10:54 am EST today, the site has been crashing due to the number of visitors.