Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spanish Marinated Zucchini, The Perfect Small Plate


Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food can take the most maligned of summer vegetables, say, for instance, the zucchini, and turn it into something extraordinary, a treat that you would happily set in front of the most hoity-toity of guests. Though we don't have many of those, fortunately, I'll still be setting this out as a tapa on the table this summer.

Spanish Marinated Zucchini

The Moors ruled the Iberian peninsula for 700 years, and their legacy includes dishes like this. The Spanish word escabeche refers to foods cooked and marinated in vinegar; the word itself derives from the Arabic al-sikbaj, a sweet and sour meat dish. But even without the interesting culinary history, escabeches are delicious.

Start with relatively thick slices of zucchini or any summer squash, about half-inch, so they don't get too soft. I like to split long squash lengthwise, then slice. Cook them in fairly hot extra virgin olive oil until they're lightly browned, about 5 minutes. While the squash cook, toast a couple of tablespoons of cumin seeds in a dry skillet for a few minutes, until they're aromatic and just starting to brown.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked squash to a bowl; you want some of the oil but not all of it. Add some chopped garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary, and a good sprinkling of Katz Trio red wine vinegar [or any good quality red wine vinegar]. Toss with flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Grilling Grass-fed Burgers


When I wanted to get some advice about grilling the best grassfed burgers at home, I turned to my friend Lynne Curry, who literally wrote the book on cooking with grassfed beef. (Her book, Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut, has just been rereleased should you want a copy.) Fortunately she had just written a post about burgers on her Forage blog, and I asked if I could share it with all of you.

At last, it’s grilling season!

(I know you have already cleaned the old ashes/ grate of your grill, filled the propane tank and checked the lines if you use gas or purchased plenty of hardwood charcoal—right?)

In celebration, I’ve compiled everything I know about grilling grassfed burgers. For a quick primer, check out my previous posts on perfect grassfed burgers:

5 Quick Facts for Perfect Grassfed Burgers at Home, Part 1
5 Quick Facts for Perfect Grassfed Burgers at Home, Part 2

Here’s what’s included in this post:

What's Different About Grass-Fed Burgers

By now, you’ve certainly encountered grassfed ground beef wherever you shop. And maybe you’ve even made the switch because of the reasons I touched on in Part 1—namely the traceability and quality of grassfed beef.

Caramelized onions…heavenly!

You feel good about buying grassfed beef for your backyard barbecue, but how confident do you feel about grilling it? I’m here to help.

Most important to me is that the beef I buy comes from animals raised for their whole lives on pasture. And it supports family farms, not factory farms.

Maybe for you it’s the composition of good fats and the overall nutritional profile of grassfed over conventional beef. Whatever your reasons, grassfed beef is a completely different animal when it comes to grilling.

Here’s why.

The Lean Factor

Every cut of grass-fed beef is more susceptible to overcooking simply because it is extra-lean. Ground beef from pasture-raised animals is typically 85 percent to 90 percent lean, far less fatty than the 70 percent lean meat many burger connoisseurs recommend.

A burger that fits the bun is essential.

Less fat means that there’s less insulation to protect the proteins and baste the meat internally. So how do you grill a juicy grassfed burger?

Some home cooks blend egg, milk and bread crumbs into their ground grass-fed beef as insurance against dryness. Shredded or diced cheese, sautéed vegetables and minced pancetta are other mix-ins that can help protect the burgers from heat and keep them juicy.

Since I prefer my hamburgers to be 100 percent grass-fed beef, I do nothing but season them well with kosher salt just before cooking.

And I cook them over high heat, but more on that in a moment.

How To Form Hamburger Patties

Many recipes caution that over-handling ground beef will make hamburgers tough. This warning can cause cooks to barely form patties at all, resulting in scraggly, lumpy burgers that don’t fit the buns.

Grilled to perfection.

The truth is that the grinding process forces beef through a die cutter and minces every strand of connective tissue, making the meat tender enough to eat raw à la steak tartare.

The key is to handle the ground beef just enough to shape it without compressing it like a meatball, and without melting the fat with the heat of your hands. If you prefer, you can use a jar lid or one of the burger molds on the market.

I like to form the patties a few hours before cooking (but I do not salt them until I’m ready to cook because the salt will draw out the moisture.).

My ideal hamburger is 1/3 pound of meat (about 5 ounces) shaped into a uniform disk about 1 inch thick. I make it wide enough to fit within the bun, roughly 5 inches.

Now, the one sure way to make your burger dry is by pressing on them with a spatula while grilling and squeezing out all the juices. But again, I get ahead of myself.

Over-Handling Versus Under-Handling

Keeping that fat intact is key to a tender and juicy burger. So if you handle the ground beef for too long and it starts sticking to your hands, then your burger will be compromised.

I’ve realized that shaping hamburgers is a lot like making pie dough. People have been warned for so long about not overhandling the dough that they tend to underhandle it. So they end up with dry, raggy-edged pie crust.

Same is true with the burgers. Try this:
  1. Shape nicely uniform discs of ground beef while keeping contact to a minimum. I use a scale to portion the ground beef. But if you have a one-pound package of ground beef, it’s easy to eyeball it into thirds for 1/3-pound burgers, or fourths for 1/4-pound burgers.
  2. Then take each piece in your hands and press it while spinning it around like you’re making mini-pizza about 5 inches wide and 1 inch thick (okay, a very thick mini-pizza).
  3. Put it on a plate and use your thumb to make an indentation in the center so that when the patty expands during grilling, it won’t blow up into a burger ball. I have witnessed too many burger balls at backyard barbecues, and it’s a sad sight.
Now, how long did that take? If it was less than one minute, you’re safe from over-handling but still have an actual hamburger patty, not a blob of ground beef.

And now that you have your burger patties ready to go on the grill, here's how to cook them to perfection (plus toppings that will put them…well…over the top)!

All photos courtesy Lynne Curry.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Season NW: Summer's Upon Us—Berries & Veg Aplenty


"Strawberries strawberries strawberries!" are the words spilling out of Josh Alsberg's mouth when I ask what's going to be appearing on his shelves at Rubinette Produce and on farmers' market tables. First are the June-bearing—"Hoods! Seascapes! Albions! Shuksans!" he chants—followed by the ever-bearing varieties with two harvests, one in early summer and one in the fall. To say this guy is excited this time of year is indeed an understatement; he virtually vibrates with anticipation of the fruit and vegetables that are about to cascade in from local farms.

Hood strawberries.

When I asked about the cherries I was seeing at local supermarkets, he scoffs and spits out "California" as if he just bit down on the pit in an unripe specimen. He emphasizes that unlike the last two years, the harvest this year is trending back in the normal direction because of the wet, cool spring we've had.

Cherries lookin' good!

Like a good farmer, Alsberg doesn't tempt fate, so he hedges his bet when saying that, assuming rain doesn't come at the wrong time and ruin the crop, it looks like the supply of cherries this year will be robust. Look for Northwest varieties from local farms to start appearing in the next couple of weeks and for them to be in good supply—Alsberg stops to knock on a wood crate—through August.

Blueberries and raspberries.

Cane berries—starting with raspberries, followed by marionberries, loganberries, tayberries (a blackberry-raspberry cross), boysenberries, silvanberries (or sylvan blackberry)—will start trickling in now but really get going at the end of June and early July. In mid-July look for gooseberries, jostaberries and currants, along with blackberries (thorned first, then thornless) going strong through August.

Peeeeeaches!

As cherries bow out, peaches—be still my heart!—will roll in sometime in mid to late July, with August being their time to shine. Also in August are the sun-loving melons, grapes, figs, plums and prunes that will keep picnickers and preserves busy. When I ask if that'll be all in the fruit category, Alsberg declares, "I'm never done talking about fruit!"

Tomatoes? Yes, please.

But when I force him to look at other seasonal crops, he somewhat reluctantly turns his attention to tomatoes, corn and cucumbers, with the first sweet red globes of the earliest-ripening varieties appearing at the end of June (thanks largely to hoop houses) with local sweet corn starting in July and cukes of the lemon and Persian persuasion getting started at the end of June.

Multicolored cauliflower.

Leafy greens that are so fresh they practically leap into your basket are happening now, with Little Gems at the top of my personal list, but look for spinach, pea tendrils, fava greens and fava beans now, with string and pole beans following close on their heels. Spring onions are plentiful now, too, with new crop potatoes trickling in and the denser brassicas—cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower—scheduled for the end of June through the summer.

Before you lock in any of those dates, though, be like a good farmer and accept that the weather is going to do what it wants to do. So hope for the best and maybe knock on some nearby wood.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Need a Vacation? Take Your Mouth to Portugal


I love to travel, but sometimes it's just not possible to jump on a plane and leave the world behind for a week or three. That's when I start planning for a foreign vacation right in my own back yard, with rosé chilling in a tub in the dappled sunlight beneath our oak tree and myriad plates of tapas like this one from contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food.

Portuguese Marinated Carrots

These are often served with drinks as a petisco, the Portuguese version of a tapa. Cut three or four carrots into roughly half inch slices (I split them lengthwise, then slice crosswise) and cook them in well-salted boiling water for about 10 minutes. You want them just barely tender, not soft.

While the carrots cook, make the marinade by stirring together a tablespoon of honey or sugar with a couple of tablespoons of Katz Sparkling Wine vinegar [regular white wine vinegar works, too], then adding four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Toast a couple of tablespoons of cumin seeds in a dry skillet for a few minutes until they're aromatic and just starting to brown.

Drain the carrots and add them to the dressing along with the cumin and a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic. Chop a nice handful of cilantro and add it; add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If you can, let this sit for an hour or more. It's not traditional, but I like a little red pepper heat, and if you like things hot, add something spicy, like a pinch of cayenne. (In a few weeks I'll have some of Necton's new flor de sal with piri piri chile at my Activspace store, and it's really good sprinkled over the carrots.)

Serve these with good olives and a nice drizzle of extra virgin. If it's sunny, open a cold bottle of vinho verde and pretend you're in the Algarve.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

When In Doubt, Spritz!


My husband loves gadgets. I tend to think it's a guy thing, like when our neighbor, when faced with a chore, chimes gaily, "Every project has a tool budget!" as he runs off to the hardware store. I suppose women do the same thing, as when my mother would invariably need a new pair of shoes or earrings or a fresh lipstick to dress up for an evening out.

Cassis spritzer.

When a package appeared on the front porch addressed to Dave, I texted him at work and let him know whatever he'd ordered had arrived. He texted back, "It must be the soda streamer!" My first thought, after an involuntary rolling of my eyes, was, "The what?" and wondered where this tall, heavy implement might be going to live in our already crowded kitchen.

All it took to bring me around, though, was when he got home and mixed an Americano, a light little fizz monster that has become one of my favorite summer cocktails with it's ruby red sparkle and sweet-bitter tang. Considering what commercial soda costs—not to mention the salt and other additives it can contain—it seems like a no-brainer to fill up a bottle with tap water and in a few seconds get a perfectly decent bottle of fizziness.

Rhubarb soda.

Got kids? Make homemade fruit sodas with whatever's in season at the farmer's market. Need a refresher-to-go for a summer afternoon picnic or backyard barbecue? Whip up some lightly alcoholic spritzers that won't fill you up like beer or put you to sleep before dessert (or make driving home dicey).

I've been using my homemade cassis and elderflower syrup to make a few simple spritzes (elderflower spritzer, top photo), which are simple to assemble on demand or would make a beautifully elegant pitcher with slices of lemon or mint sprigs.

Cassis Spritzer

Four ice cubes
1 1/2 oz. cassis (homemade or commercial)
Soda
1/2" wide strip of lemon zest

Place ice cubes in glass. Add cassis and fill with soda. Stir briefly with bar spoon to combine. Holding zest skin-side down over glass, squeeze gently to release oils and drop into glass.

* * *

Elderflower Spritzer

4 ice cubes
1 oz. gin
1 oz. elderflower syrup (homemade or commercial)
Soda
Wedge of lemon
2 mint leaves

Place ice cubes in glass. Add gin and elderflower syrup and fill with sodz. Squeeze lemon wedge and drop into glass. Crush mint leaves with your fingers and drop into glass. Stir briefly with bar spoon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Meat of the Matter: Upending the Status Quo


This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

"The first thing to note about Ben Meyer is not his polite Midwestern manners, his oh-so-Portland uniform of stocking cap, flannel shirt and scruffy beard or that he's opened two restaurants in what were then—and still are, to some extent —underserved areas of the city. It's not even that he's been interviewed by the likes of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal wanting to hear about the local pasture-raised beef and pork he features on his menus. The key to Meyer is that this evangelist for whole animal butchery, whose walk-in is chock-full of large cuts of dry-aged beef, spent 10 years as a vegan."

Planning a day's work.

Since the time I wrote those words three years ago for the Oregonian, the scruffy beard has come and gone (and come and gone again), the stocking cap and flannel shirt can vary with the season and his two restaurants are still putting out luscious plates of grass-fed meat and farm-raised vegetables. And this former vegan-turned-omnivore is still intent on upending a system he sees as intrinsically unhealthy for his family, his community and the environment.

"I always say that Old Salt and Grain & Gristle are a food system," Meyer said. "We buy raw ingredients from people and we turn them into all the products that we use, [like] grains that are custom-milled to turn into the breads and contract tomatoes where I give the seed to the farmer and they grow it out for us."

But in his latest venture he's diving deeper into the stream that our food travels in getting from the field to our plates. With partners Jimmy Serlin and Ryan Ramage, his Revel Meat Company is attempting to bring local meat back to local tables, in the process revitalizing a nearly extinct local meat processing industry that enables small farmers to bring their animals to a market hungry for the kind of meat they raise.

Bringing local meat to market.

In the spirit of upending the status quo they tossed around the idea of calling their venture Revolution Meat, or saluting the history of Marks by calling it High Mark Meat, but then Serlin suggested Revel Meat for what he thought of as a gustatory celebration of the best the region had to offer. The name stuck.

An unusual part of this new venture is that Meyer isn't just branding all the meat they process under the Revel Meat banner, regardless of the source. According to a 2015 article, discussing the practice of "localwashing," many large processors, like Carlton Farms in Oregon, buy animals from Canada or elsewhere, bring them to their facility for slaughter and processing, then brand the products with their name. Meyer's plan for Revel Meat is to have the name of the ranch or farm that raised the animals follow the product, whether it ends up as hamburger or sausage or charcuterie, all the way to the consumer.

"My whole goal with all food is getting rid of the smoke and mirrors,"  he said. "We want to make sure that if somebody’s buying it, they know who they’re buying it from, the name of the ranch and where it is. We’re not going to co-brand it; it’s not just going be Revel Meat pork, it’s going to be Payne Family Farms pork delivered by Revel Meat."

Jimmy Serlin, a happy man.

Since Meyer and Serlin are both chefs, they are intimately connected to Portland's restaurant community and have already begun wholesaling their meat products like sausages to some of the city's restaurants. But entering the wholesale business has meant adding layers of complexity to an already complicated process.

In the normal course of running his restaurants, Meyer said, he would talk to his ranchers a week ahead for pork and two weeks or more for beef so that the animals would be in the pipeline to go to the processor. They would then hang for two to three weeks, after which he would butcher and process them for his menus.

With wholesaling, not only does he need to have pork in hand to make the sausage in time to get it to restaurant chefs for their menu, he said, "I now have to plan weeks out to make sure that we have pigs lined up to get them killed, cleaned, hung up, turned into sausage, packaged, labeled and then driven up to the city. It’s just a whole other layer back."

As if that wasn't enough, the partners are adding animal husbandry into the mix, raising their own animals on two parcels of land near the facility. It means working not weeks or months, but years out, he said, with animals on the ground that are slated to come through their process two years from now.

Helping local ranchers thrive.

But even with intimidatingly steep learning curves on multiple fronts, this former vegan never wants to forget that he is responsible for taking the life of a living creature.

"My biggest fear is that you would become callous and not care," Meyer said. It's why he chose to take on the challenge of revitalizing a medium-sized, locally owned slaughterhouse that would serve small farmers and ranchers, rather than scaling up to operate at the same volumes as larger processors.

"You can imagine the level of care when you’re killing 340 head an hour on five different lines," he said. "That’s stunning an animal every 3.2 seconds or something. That is factory work where the cog happens to be a living creature. That is the most mortifying part to me."

"No matter how much love or care you put into the raising of an animal, if that’s how it finishes its life, you’ve broken that covenant with the animal," he added. "That covenant is the most important thing for us. If you break your part of the covenant, then we’re asking that species, this pig or that beef or these sheep or goats, to keep their end without us keeping ours. It’s not fair."

Read the other posts in this series, Rejuvenating Local Processing and Transitioning a Family Business.

Photos by Rich Crowder.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Travels with Chili: The Beach at Bandon & Points South


Known as Oregon's banana belt, our southern coast is almost always guaranteed to have consistently better weather and warmer temperatures than anyplace else on the coast. Dominated by sand dunes and cranberry bogs, with forested hills and craggy, wave-sculpted rock outcroppings, the region is bounded on the north by Reedsport and Brookings on the south. In between are small towns historically dominated by fishing, agriculture and timber, now joined by a tourism boom that has brought new energy, as well as lots of retirees looking for a quiet retreat from busier burgs.

The view out our front window.

A group of friends was planning a weekend trip to Bandon and invited me to come along, so I jumped in Chili and hit the highway. I've always thought of it as a loooooong way to go, and though it would be too much of a schlep for a day trip from Portland, a weekend is the perfect amount of time for the leisurely four-and-a-half hour drive. Zooming down I-5 to the turnoff for Highway 38 takes you to Reedsport along the Umpqua River through the tiny towns of Elkton, Green Acres and Scottsburg that sit along the southern border of the Siuslaw National Forest.

An elk. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

I'd highly recommend a stop at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area just before you get to Reedsport. A heard of more than 100 Roosevelt elk call it home, and they're often circulating in the green grasslands surrounding the interpretive center. Even arriving in calving season, as we did, when the elk tend to be a bit shy of gawkers, we were able to see plenty of these magnificent ungulates. (Hints: Bring binoculars, though you should always have a pair in your car anyway. Also, it's a perfect pit stop with super clean vault toilets.)

Another stop to make in the spring is at the O.H. Hinsdale Rhododendron Garden, just down the highway from the elk viewing station. Late spring is the time to see it in all its glory, and it has special open days from mid-April to mid-May with volunteers dispensing secret rhodie knowledge. These events also feature plant sales, so plant nerds should make plans to drop in.

Some of the "needles" at Bandon.

An additional hour in the car was required to get to Bandon, but it went quickly once I spotted the crashing waves of the Pacific out the passenger window. Prices of house rentals on the south coast are a revelation for those of us used to the sky-high rents charged on the north coast. (Our three-bedroom-plus, very comfortable house that slept eight and overlooked the beach was just over $200 per night. Just sayin'.)

Of course, after several hours on the road the group was ready for some libations and a bite to eat, so we hied ourselves down to Foley's Irish Pub in Bandon's historic town center, making sure to rub the Blarney Stone posted just outside the door. Then it was back to "our" beach for a long walk, where towering needles of rock—collectively called the Bandon Needles—marched from the cliffsides down into the surf.

At Face Rock Creamery.

Other attractions are the Bandon farmers' market on Fridays and Saturdays from May through December, with local vendors sharing coastal produce, crafts and food. The Bandon Fish Market is just down the street with a bounty of just-pulled-from-the-sea fish and shellfish. Find local cheese from local cows at Face Rock Creamery, which revitalized the old Bandon cheese factory after Tillamook bought it, closed it down and moved production to its plant in Boardman.

Fabulous fish'n'chips!

A friend of mine, Dianne Hosford, moved to Port Orford and bought a local landmark called The Crazy Norwegian's Fish & Chips, so I felt obligated—to be honest I was thrilled—to make the half hour drive south to visit her and, yes, sample her menu. Local seafood dominates, as it should, and she buys her produce from area farmers when its in season as well as making all of her desserts in-house. This is old-school café fare that is all too rare these days and makes me pine for places like it closer to home.

Dramatic headlands.

After stuffing myself on fish, oysters, coleslaw and pie (I am a professional, after all), I was relieved when Dianne offered to take me on a walk around Port Orford Heads state park on the north end of town. Wrapped around the Port Orford Lifeboat Station, built in 1934 by the Coast Guard to provide lifesaving service to the southern portion of the Oregon Coast, the stately brick station building has been transformed into a museum.

A steep stairway descends precipitously from the station down to the rocky launch area, which is open to the public part of the year, but we chose to take the trail around the headland with its dramatic views of Port Orford to the south and Cape Blanco to the north. Wild irises and wildflowers were in bloom, and we ducked in and out of the treed green slopes as the ever-present wind whipped the waves far below us.

Redfish in Port Orford.

A post-hike cocktail seemed in order, and Dianne shuttled me to Redfish, a stunningly classy place you'd expect to find in an urban setting rather than a tiny coastal burg, though not many of those would have its spectacular floor-to-ceiling view over the rocky southern coastline. Its sister establishment next door, the Hawthorne Gallery, was closed by the time we wandered over, but peering through the windows I could see that my next trip down I'd have make a point of stopping in there, too.

Packed with beach fires at sunset, long walks at low tide and time for beach reading, this quick taste of the south coast had me pining to do another road trip in the near future. If you have suggestions for more places to visit, please leave them in the comments below!

For other road trip suggestions, check out these previous Travels With Chili.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Salad Smackdown: Cauliflower and Grain FTW!


It's like I was walking up a steep trail in the woods and suddenly came across a pristine pool underneath a sparkling waterfall. Hot and sweaty from the exertion, what could I do but dive in?

Some recipes are like that, in that they provide an jumping-off place for an unexpected and often refreshing experience. Jim Dixon's cauliflower with Meyer lemon relish, which chef Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame) based on an Italian gremolata, was like that for me. I'd made it several times to raves here at our house, as well as when I took it as a side dish to friend's homes.

The lemon relish.

Its lemony tingle is fantastic with Meyer lemons when they're in season, but regular lemons serve almost as well. And preserved lemon, minced into tiny shards, takes it to another level with their zesty, salty tang. It was the preserved lemon version that first had me pondering adding grain to the mix, so the next time I added frikeh, the smoky, parched wheat from Ayers Creek Farm that had been cooked to toothy perfection.

Dave was smoking a ten-pound behemoth of a brisket for Memorial Day, so I thought that the cauliflower with frikeh would add an additional smoky note to the ensemble (which included my mother's potato salad and grilled asparagus). There happened to be chive blossoms going nuts in the garden, so a few of those were plucked and sprinkled about.

While I feel like this particular recipe has come to a nice resting point, I'd love to hear if you discover a sparkling pool hidden in its depths.

Grain and Cauliflower Salad with Lemon Relish

8 oz. uncooked grain (frikeh, farro or barley come to mind)
1 head cauliflower, leaves trimmed but stalk left intact
1/2 to 3/4 preserved lemon, minced
1 shallot, minced (about 3 Tbsp.)
1/4 c. chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste
Chive blossoms to garnish (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add the grain and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes until al dente (or to your liking) but definitely don't let it get mushy. Drain in a colander and run cold water through it to stop the cooking and cool it quickly.

Drop a whole head of cauliflower into a pot of salted boiling water. Pull it out after 3 minutes and let it cool. Make the relish by putting the minced lemon into a large salad bowl and combining with the shallot, parsley, chives, vinegar and olive oil. Let this sit for a few minutes while you chop the cauliflower into small florets (use the core, too, just chop it into smaller pieces). Toss the cauliflower and the grain with the relish, adding salt to taste. Garnish with chive blossoms, if using. Serve cold or at room temperature.

See the rest of the Salad Smackdown series—winners all!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Meat of the Matter: Transitioning a Family Business


This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

Floyd Marks opened Marks Meats on South Mulino Road in Canby, Oregon, in 1963. His daughter, Kris, who was a very young child at the time, still remembers the opening party in the brand new slaughterhouse. The band was set up on a platform over the drain where the animals were hung to bleed out, with the dance floor in the middle of the room. Originally solely a slaughterhouse, Floyd designed the compact footprint of the facility to maximize efficiency and, as the business expanded, to accommodate an on-site processing facility to make sausages, bacon and smoked meats.

Floyd and Martha Marks (c. 1975).

In the mid-1970s, when their mother decided it was time to retire from the business, Kris and her sister Judy were asked to step in, Judy working with the animals on the kill floor and Kris managing the new processing side. By this time Kris had married her husband, Joe Akin, and they were the parents of two young children. As a teenager, Joe had applied for a job at the plant and, like Jimmy Serlin would many years later, he found his calling working there.

When their father was ready to retire, the business was turned over to Judy and Kris. When I expressed surprise that a slaughterhouse might be run by two young women, she reminded me that in many old farm families it was not unusual for the women to do the butchering.

* * *

Dealing with the animals that you raise
and the vegetables that you raise and
processing them all the way through,
it wasn't something foreign to us.

* * *

"If you grew up on a farm, you also did that as part of it," she said. "Dealing with the animals that you raise and the vegetables that you raise and processing them all the way through, it wasn't something that was foreign to us."

Judy eventually left the business, and Joe took over running the kill floor while Kris worked on the processing side and took care of the immense amount of record-keeping required for the facility's Federal Grant of Inspection from the USDA. The grant allowed the business to slaughter and butcher animals, and involved a difficult and costly approval process, one that guarantees that procedures are in place to ensure that the meat it sells is safe and inspected before, during and after slaughter.

Processing room at Marks Meats (c. 1975).

Around ten years ago it became difficult for Kris and Joe to find trained, competent help in the slaughterhouse, so Kris stepped onto the floor to work alongside her husband. While he did the stunning—essentially rendering the animals brain-dead—at the height of their production they managed a schedule that rotated through 30 beef in a day, and other days processed 24 to 30 pigs or 75 or 80 lambs, a crushing amount of output for a small facility.

Approaching retirement age, they both knew that this kind of heavy production schedule was unsustainable, so Kris began to put the word out that Marks was looking for a buyer. An attractive prospect, the business drew several inquiries because of its up-to-date plant and that all-important grant of inspection, not to mention its accessibility to both area farms and a Portland customer base. But none had quite the right combination of factors required for a transition of ownership that would take several years to complete.

Enter Jimmy and the young crew of food revolutionaries from Let Um Eat who had bought a farm down the road and, driving by one day, saw a sign outside advertising a sale on steaks.

The young people were just customers at first, but the sudden departure of an employee left Kris short-handed, so she asked if they knew of anyone who might be be interested in helping out.

"Then Jimmy showed up because he was interested in learning what we did," Kris said, though it was obvious from the get-go that he had no idea what an immensely physical job it was. "It’s like working out at the gym for eight to ten hours. He was on the kill floor, doing skinning and pushing and pulling and different movements that you don’t normally do."

For Jimmy’s part, he said, ”I didn’t realize how excited I was about it till I started.” When his own father passed away a few weeks into his stint at Marks, a particularly heartfelt conversation with Kris and Joe about her father and the beginnings of Marks cemented his decision. "It became clear that it was something I’d wanted to do for awhile [but] I never really thought about it," he said. "Being there, I think it keeps me in line with with what my old man did."

* * *

We’d been doing this for a long time and
physically we needed to have younger people do it
in order to keep the business running.

* * *

Kris remembers that fairly soon after he started, Jimmy said he was looking for something more permanent than simply being an employee.

"He wanted to know more about the business and possibly join us in some capacity," she said. "And we were wanting to get out. We’d been doing this for a long time and physically we needed to have younger people do it in order to keep the business running."

The key phrase Jimmy got from his conversation with Kris? "If you’re interested, let’s talk."

Marks Meats (c. 1975).

At that point, as far as he was concerned, the decision was made. "How can we can we all talk about Let Um Eat and the collective and not take the opportunity to take over one of the most crucial pieces to the small farm and sustainable food movement?" he remembers thinking.

The other members of the collective, however, were not on board with making that kind of long-term commitment. Or as Jimmy said, "They were like, haha, we have a thousand other things going on."

Knowing he couldn't do it alone, however, meant that he needed to find partners who could bring additional skill sets to the table. He approached Ben Meyer, who was already working with local ranchers and farmers on a whole animal program for his Portland restaurants Old Salt Marketplace and Grain & Gristle. Bringing butchery, merchandising, retailing and processing expertise, Meyer was the perfect fit. To complete the team, Meyer brought in cattle rancher Ryan Ramage of Ramage Farm in Oregon City.

Meyer had already identified that it was critical to keep Oregon's surviving small processors alive, as well as the need to add more. Crucial to this was figuring out the stumbling blocks faced by existing processors, which had been steadily closing since the '70s. "Every one we lose is another opportunity for a small rancher to process," he said. So when Jimmy presented him with the opportunity to buy Marks, he recalled, "I immediately said we need to at least talk about it."

* * *

[Handling the physical aspect of the work] is the
most important part, because if they can’t do that,
the rest of the business isn’t going to work.

* * *

Meyer began working alongside Jimmy on the kill floor soon after that, with Kris teaching them the arcane, detailed and exhausting work that goes into processing in a USDA facility. Also involved were endless conversations about how to transition to new owners from a second generation, family-owned and run business.

Marks Meats (c. 1975).

Kris said that the last eight to ten months have been spent seeing if Ben and Jimmy could learn how to handle the work.

"It’s the most important part, because if they can’t do that, the rest of the business isn’t going to work," she said, emphasizing that the learning curve is a steep one. "You need to get up from kindergarten to college really fast. If you’re going into this business from an apprenticeship level up to a journeyman, it can take up to ten years. So doing it in this [short] length of time, it’s difficult."

Other complicating factors are that Marks is a corporation, with a USDA grant of inspection involved. Being the shrewd businesswoman she is, the key to a successful transition, Kris said, is that "you’ve got to make it work for a business, because you can’t make it work for everybody if it doesn’t make business sense."

When I asked what the hardest part of the process has been for Kris personally, she paused. "Probably the letting go and letting somebody else do something for me," she said. In the past, she said, "If it didn’t get done, I had to do it and make sure it got done."

Read the first post in the series, Rejuvenating Local Processing. The final post in the series focuses on the future of small processors, titled Upending the Status Quo, with an interview with Revel Meat co-owner Ben Meyer.

Photos courtesy Kris Akin.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rhubarb and Carrot Olive Oil Cake


Like contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food, I grew up eating stewed rhubarb in the spring, and was even known to gnaw on a raw stalk once in awhile. In adulthood, chewing on the raw product has gone by the wayside, but having as much as I can is still a priority at this time of the year.

Every year when I see the first rhubarb at the farmers market I'm reminded again that I didn't plant some in my own garden. The one year I did remember, I was too late; I planted the crown in the fall and never saw it again (early spring is the time…I could've looked it up). Rhubarb is my favorite pie filling, and I grew up eating bowls of it simply stewed with sugar. These days I mostly roast it with olive oil, usually with either honey or cane syrup.

But I'm occasionally inspired to do more. After making Nigella Lawson's Venetian carrot cake and liking the unusual, not-too-sweet and very Italian dessert, I thought it would be a good vehicle for eating more rhubarb.

Grate a medium-sized carrot and put the results on a paper towel to soak up some of the liquid. Cut 6 to 7 stalks of rhubarb into half inch pieces (about 2 cups or so). I mixed together a half cup each of cane syrup and extra virgin olive oil (sorry Nigella, but if you don't use extra virgin olive oil you might as well use plain vegetable oil), then added 3 eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla, a shot of bourbon, and the zest and juice from a smallish lemon.

I stirred in about 2 cups of almond flour and added the grated carrot and sliced rhubarb. Parchment paper got cut into a circle to fit a 7-inch cast iron skillet (a cake pan or pie tin would be fine), and I drizzled a little more extra virgin over it to grease the pan. I poured in the thick batter, added a generous sprinkle of blanched, slivered almonds to the top, and baked it at 350° F for about 45 minutes. Nigella calls for a topping of mascarpone with powdered sugar and rum (or bourbon, for my version), but I like a little whipped cream with cane syrup and whiskey.

Rhubarb is also awesome in other desserts, made into syrup or mixed in a cocktail…check out these other fantastic rhubarb recipes!

Monday, May 08, 2017

"Watch Anchovies Fly!"



"Looks so good and smells even better!"

This could have been uttered at many moments during my marriage, and this video, courtesy my friend Holly Heyser, of her mate, Hank Shaw, a prolific author, blogger, hunter, forager and cook, is a testament to the patience (and sense of humor) it takes to live with a cook. Thanks, Holly!

More Hanksperiments.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Meat of the Matter: Rejuvenating Local Processing


This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

The first time in his life that Jimmy Serlin walked onto a kill floor was just about a year ago. It was lamb day at Marks Meats in Canby, and 60 sheep were scheduled for slaughter and processing. Intense, smelly, dangerous work, with trolleys weighing 15 pounds hanging 20 feet over his head, it could have been disastrous.

Instead, the words he used to describe it were more like those of someone falling in love.

“I was just instantly enamored,” he said, and remembered thinking, “This is what I want to do.”

Left to right: Ben Meyer, Ryan Ramage and Jimmy Serlin of Revel Meats.

That feeling didn’t diminish even though he recalls going home at the end of the week so tired and sore he walked in the house and flopped down on his bed. When his roommate came in and asked him how it had gone, he said, “I can’t lift my arms off the bed.”

It’s tempting to paint the picture as one of the prodigal son finding his calling, since his father had owned a wholesale meat packing business in Manhattan supplying area restaurants. Young Jimmy often skipped school to go to work with his dad, helping load the trucks for tips, but he found himself more drawn to the restaurants those trucks were heading to.

Revel Meat Co. USDA stamp.

So, starting as a dishwasher at 13, he began cooking on the line soon after, eventually ending up at culinary school where he became fascinated with butchery. Stints in far-flung restaurants in New York, Vermont, Colorado and California, many with his culinary school buddy Karl Holl, cemented those nascent skills. Working for well-known restaurateur Staffan Terje at Perbacco in San Francisco, a high-rolling customer named Frank offered the pair a chance to come to Oregon and work on a start-up producing naturally raised geese for foie gras.

That, of course, went the way of many high-concept start-ups, leaving Karl and Jimmy and a few friends they’d moved with to Oregon sitting on a farm they’d leased near Salem and needing to pay the rent. But being a flexible and talented group, they decided to start a pop-up restaurant and catering business called Let Um Eat, with the lofty goal of “uniting the seeders, feeders and eaters of the food revolution.”

A move to a permanent location, a farm on Milk Creek near Canby, proved to be pivotal in a way the group couldn’t have foreseen. They’d often stop down the road to buy steaks at a small meat processor, where Jimmy boasted to its owner, Kris Akin, about the Let Um Eat collective. “She, of course, looked us up on the internet and said, ‘What the hell is Let Um Eat? You guys sound like weirdos,’” he said.

Weirdos or not, Akin saw the value in the local network they had created, especially since she needed help finding qualified employees to process the animals into sausages and cuts of meat. And because she and her husband Joe were looking to turn the business over to new owners so they could retire.

The Processing Bottleneck

It’s probably a good point to “pivot,” as the au courant phrase has it, to discuss some of the history of meat processing in Oregon.

Tools of the trade.

According to Akin, in the mid-20th Century there were more than 1,000 small meat processors operating in Oregon, with one in almost every small town. They served as slaughterhouses and processing plants for local farmers and ranchers, and most were regulated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) meat inspection program established in 1957. By 1967 the Wholesome Meat Act passed by Congress gave the USDA the responsibility of ensuring that animals were slaughtered humanely and that states maintained meat and poultry inspection programs at least equal to the federal program.

[Historical factoid: The Wholesome Meat Act, a reform pushed by consumer activist Ralph Nader in the 1960s, was known as “The Jungle, Part 2,” after Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle,” about the deplorable conditions in meat processing plants in turn of the century Chicago, resulted in the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1906.]

Discussing cuts.

At that point Oregon turned over its meat inspection program to the USDA, which meant that small processors had to upgrade to meet federal standards—an extremely expensive proposition for marginally profitable businesses—or become “custom exempt,” meaning that they could only slaughter and process livestock for the exclusive use of the farmer and agree to inspection by both ODA and USDA once or twice a year.

Without access to funds to invest in updating equipment, hire skilled workers or do the marketing to find producers, not to mention consumers to buy their products, small facilities suffered. The implementation in 1996 of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system—establishing new requirements to improve food safety—and the simultaneous consolidation in the grocery industry were an “inflection point,” according to Lauren Gwin of Oregon State University’s Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network.

“People blame regulations, and that shift was really hard for small plants,” she said. “But there were larger changes in the meat industry at the same time that were putting pressure on those small plants. The consolidation in the industry, including the shift to boxed meat, really changed things for the smaller plants.”

This shift from small grocers to large supermarkets, which closed butcher departments and switched to boxes of pre-cut meat from large processors, caused many of the state’s small slaughterhouses to shutter. From 2000 to 2015, mobile and custom-exempt facilities in Oregon dropped more than 30 percent, from 93 to 63, and the number of USDA-inspected slaughterhouses fell 25 percent, from 16 to 12.

Another consequence of the loss of these small processors is that farmers and ranchers have been forced to transport their animals longer and longer distances to get them slaughtered and processed, a costly and environmentally questionable practice. An article in the Eugene Register-Guard, titled “A Meaty Bottleneck,” quotes a 2005 study by Ecotrust concluding that “42 percent [of growers] said they would consider raising more animals if they had improved access to meat-processing facilities.”

Because pasture-raised and grass-fed meat from small farms is in increasingly high demand from consumers who want to know where their food comes from, including how it was raised, slaughtered and processed, it’s critical to the health and vibrancy of Oregon’s food system that small processors survive to serve them.

Read the next post in the series, an interview with Kris Akin, owner of Mark’s Meats, about the challenges of passing on a family business. The third post focus on the future of small processors in an interview with Ben Meyer, titled Upending the Status Quo.

All photos by Rich Crowder.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Good Farmers Have Happy Animals


It's always good for me to stop staring at the computer and head out into the real world, and for me the best place to go is to a farm, especially if it's that time of year when lambs and pigs and goats are popping out babies right and left. Michael and Linda Guebert of Terra Farma had been posting some adorable pictures of their latest litter of piglets on Instagram, and since I'd been talking with Mike about arranging a visit when the winter rains abated and their pastures dried out, I asked if they might have some time for a viewing.

Cinnamon and her piglets.

Yesterday was the appointed day for that long-awaited visit, and with the morning promising (mostly) blue skies and reasonable temperatures—woohoo!—I jumped in Chili and drove out to the farm. Even if you don't have a farm to visit, I can testify that the drive to Corbett via the Old Columbia River Highway is spectacular this time of year, lushly green from all the rains and with the Sandy River running thick with runoff from the many streams that feed into it.

Primarily a livestock-based operation, Linda and Mike raise pigs, chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl and rabbits for meat, and milk three cows and several goats twice a day. They also have laying hens, and sell raw milk and eggs out of a refrigerator on their porch to a regular clientele who come to the farm. Located on 10 acres of hilly terrain above Smith Creek, the couple run the farm on a rotational grazing system, moving the groups of animals to fresh pasture in a series of paddocks so that the health of the pastures is maintained and, hopefully, improved.

Scooter.

When I pulled up, Linda took me to the barn to meet their resident goat, Scooter, paralyzed as a kid when she got tangled in some of the electrified netting they use as movable fencing. Even though she can't stand or move her back legs much, she gets around the farm quite ably—it actually reminded me of Wyeth's "Christina's World"—though Linda mentioned they're looking for a set of wheels so she can be more comfortable and mobile. (If you know of anyone with a cart, give me a shout!)

Also in the barn was a set of several-week-old goat triplets staring down at us from their perch on bales of hay about eight feet off the ground. After a meet-and-greet, we went out to meet the new piglets and their mama, a sow named Cinnamon, who was busy showing them how to properly root in the grass.

Perching triplets.

The wonderful part about visiting farms and talking with farmers who care about their animals the way that Mike and Linda do, is seeing them pointing out the individual characteristics of each animal, laughing at their behaviors, telling stories and being genuinely engaged with them. It's heartening in a time when agriculture seems to be turning more and more toward an industrial model, when a living being—the animals and often the humans who work there—seem to be treated as no more important than a widget.

Thanks, Mike and Linda, for caring and for sharing your farm with me!

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Tamale Pie My Mother Would Recognize


Before Blue Apron and Purple Carrot, there was Hamburger Helper and Swanson's frozen dinners. Before that, in the days of yore when I was growing up, when my father didn't have time to hunt down a brontosaurus, my mother made do with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup and an arsenal of Lipton's dehydrated products. Spanish rice, tuna casserole and pot roast were her go-to dinners, egged on by the women's magazines of the day like the Ladies Home Journal that—shades of Betty Draper—gave busy homemakers tips on "quick dinners your family will love!"

Tamale pie was one of those dinner solutions, though in the days when most Americans considered spaghetti sauce "spicy food," its call for the addition of chili powder was a bridge too far for many. But my dad loved him some zing, so my mom would occasionally pep up her dinner rotation with chili powder-inflected goulash or tacos with hot sauce.

I'd been looking for a tamale pie recipe for those times when I'm feeling a bit of nostalgia for the casserole dinners of my childhood, and my friend Lizzy shared one recently that brought back a flood of cornmeal-scented, cheesy memories. Updated with a few adaptations using local cornmeal and grassfed beef, locally grown and roasted tomatoes and some tangy cheddar from Face Rock Creamery in Bandon, it fit the bill perfectly. I hope it will for you, too!

Tamale Pie

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion
2 poblano peppers, chopped in 1/4” dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey)
2 c. roasted tomatoes
2 c. corn kernels
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 tsp. ancho chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. grated cheddar or jack cheese
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. (If using cast iron skillet, you can bake the casserole in it, as well.) When it shimmers, add ground meat and sauté until the meat is browned. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and pepper and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin and stir briefly, then add tomatoes, corn kernels and broth. Bring to a simmer. Salt to taste.

While meat mixture simmers, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Slowly add cornmeal, stirring vigorously to prevent lumping. (Mixture will be quite thick.) Add 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Stir cornmeal mixture into other ingredients. Put mixture into casserole (if you are using a cast iron skillet, you can bake the casserole in this). Sprinkle cheese over the top and bake about 30 minutes.

Here's another version of tamale pie with a cornbread topping.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A User's Guide to Good Eggs


Eggs are getting a lot of press these days, from the ballyhoo over big corporations announcing they'll only use cage-free eggs to debates over the credibility of the dizzying plethora of labels stuck all over the cartons in supermarket egg cases. So when I read this deep dive into the subject by my friend, writer Lynne Curry, I knew you'd be as intrigued as I was.

The other day I met a woman in the grocery store where we stood side by side scanning the overflowing options of the yogurt aisle. I felt almost dizzy trying to find organic yogurt.

When I reached for a quart of grassfed Stonyfield, she laughed. “That’s what I was looking for!” And then we chatted briefly about the ridiculously high sugar content in flavored yogurt for our kids.

She’s another shopper like me, I thought as I watched her walk toward the egg section. No supermarket stalker, I looked on with curiosity because I’ve been researching and writing about organic egg production here and here.

Again, she mulled over the offerings and surveyed the cartons bearing labels from cage free to organic to free range. When she picked up a carton of cage-free eggs, my heart sank a little.

Nope, I realized, she doesn’t know either. And so I committed to finishing this egg post to share what I know about finding, buying and eating good eggs.

Why Eggs Matter Now

Maybe you’ve noticed that the egg industry is undergoing a quiet revolution. We’re eating more eggs now than in the past 30 years—263 eggs per person in 2014, according to The Washington Post.

The story I’ve been following involves major policy changes and the 200-plus big businesses that have committed to transition to cage-free eggs by 2025. While Big Ag policy stuff is a big yawn most of the time, this change is already sweeping the country and changing the egg market for the better.

The shift to cage-free and the popularity of organics are two reasons why there are more choices on the market than ever—which makes buying eggs so confusing.

But here’s the uplifting takeaway: change is coming from the bottom, not the top. Consumer buying habits and concerns about the treatment of animals are the main driving force behind changes in egg production methods that affect the hens, the lands, the farmers and local economies as well.

It’s you. It’s me. It’s all of us shifting eggs away from the grip of factory farming because we want better lives for animals, better foods for our families and more corporate responsibility (read: honesty).

All Fresh Eggs Are Not Alike

You probably already know this if you have been lucky enough to taste a local egg. It’s hard to go back to store bought. But this winter, despite foraging far and wide, there were no local eggs to be found.

So, I had to make choices from the egg section at the grocery store.

Buying eggs is about the chicken and the egg. The difference of each type of egg carton—from cage-free to organic to pastured—is an indication of the chicken’s lifestyle, the nutrition and the flavors of each egg.

(There has been little research on the effects of pasture on egg flavors and the one study I found claimed there was no difference. C’mon! We’re just going to have to chalk up the question of egg taste to subjectivity and personal preference.)

But unfortunately, it’s not the whole story, and you have to dig deeper to get a truly good egg.

What about all of those labels festooning the cartons?

They are more confusing than helpful, in most cases. While there are a lot of egg label guides, I find most of them a little hard to decode, so I recommend downloading Animal Welfare Institute’s pocket guide. Or to find out how the organic eggs you already buy rate, scan this scorecard from the watchdog food group Cornucopia Institute.

Don't Be Fooled By Cage-Free Eggs

Here’s the deal: all eggs are going cage free. This means that millions of laying hens will no longer be confined to battery cages the size of an 8 1/2 by 11-inch sheet of paper.

While it’s a major step in the right direction for animal welfare, it’s a little more complicated than that, as this Mother Jones article reports. In short, these debeaked chickens are still confined to multistory laying facilities called aviaries where the conditions are crowded, air quality is questionable and the pecking order causes higher mortality rates.

Cage-free is not a compassionate eater’s dream, in other words. Cage free also has no bearing on the nutrition, quality and taste of the egg for you.

Why not?

The chicken feed is the same as for caged hens. Plus, while they can at least flap their wings and lay down, they do not get outdoors where they exercise and get sunlight while ranging for insects and other tasty items that diversify their nutritional intake.

Other Egg Labels and Seals 

Organic is pretty much about the feed, that’s it. So while organic eggs will be antibiotic and GMO-free, they will not necessarily come from hens who had any genuine access to the outdoors. In fact, the biggest producers of organic eggs operate giant multi-story hen houses called aviaries and they dominate the organic egg industry.

Chances are high that the organic eggs you buy come from an industrial egg producer. (This January, I reported how the organic rules were all set to change to disallow aviaries with no true outdoor access from qualifying as organic eggs. But that all went away.)

Free-range sounds good, but it doesn’t mean anything at all without any other verification to back it up. It is simply an alluring marketing claim that producers can slap on an egg carton at will.

Same goes for pasture raised, an unregulated term, so be on alert for false advertising.

Here are all the other labels that do not have any bearing on chickens’ quality of life or the nutritional quality or flavor of their eggs:
  • farm fresh
  • natural/all-natural
  • free roaming
  • sustainably farmed
  • vegetarian fed
  • hormone free
Stand-alone labels like these are just there to fool you. So just go ahead and ignore all of these meaningless claims from now on, okay?

Animal Welfare Certifications

These seals—or stamps of approval—on egg cartons do mean something. Called third-party certifications, they verify that the marketing claims are true. So, for example, if the label says pasture-raised or free-range and its paired with the logo from Animal Welfare Approved, this is the gold standard.

You can trust that an independent auditor made sure that the hens truly do live on pasture except for when their health or safety is at risk.

Certified Human (less stringent than AWA) and American Humane (less stringent yet) are two more third-party certifiers for eggs.

Yes, it is mind boggling. And yet necessary in a world where we have commoditized living creatures for profit.

But here’s where anyone can make a real difference…

(Read the rest of the article here and find out why pasture-raised eggs are nutritionally better, the four best types of eggs to buy and where to buy them!)

Small photos of egg cartons, cracked eggs and farm stand by Lynne Curry.