Thursday, December 13, 2018

An Unexpected Accolade

My friends and family know better than to go to a farmers' market or food event with me, because I'll end up seeing people I know and chatting about "the latest this or did you hear that" until they want to pull their hair out and run screaming from the scene. Just the other day a friend and I were wandering through the Eat Oregon Now event, a pre-Christmas show of local producers and makers showcasing their food and food-related wares.

I got in a conversation with Lyf Gildersleeve about his essay on seafood trade wars and we got talking about the farm bill that was about to be voted on—my friend had wisely wandered off by this point—when he pulled out a little booklet from Earl Blumenauer. Titled "The Fight for Food: Why You Deserve a Better Farm Bill," it distills the complexities of this massive piece of legislation down into bite-sized pieces easily digestible for we normal folk.

It begins: "The Farm Bill is a law that helps determine: what we eat; how and where it's grown; and how we take care of the land it's grown in" with the purpose "to provide adequate food for the country, ensure fair prices for farmers and consumers, and protect the land." It then segues into a description of how it got from this original simple premise to "become distorted and distracted…giving too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food in the wrong places." (You can get your own copy for a donation of $3.)

My point? In the back of the booklet is a collection of publications where you can learn more, listing books by acclaimed authors Dan Barber, Michael Pollan, Anna Lappé and Mark Bittman, along with websites like Civil Eats, Slow Food, the Food & Environment Reporting Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog.

The last item on the list? Good Stuff NW, the very blog you are reading right now. To say I was blown away to have it included on this list of some of the most important food folks in the country is the understatement of the decade. Holy moly!

What can I say but thanks, Earl, I'm honored. And here's to carrying on the fight for good food!

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Party Favor: Quick White Bean Spread

Part of the reason for starting this effort twelve years ago was to have a place I could use to remember recipes I've made over the years. It's obviously grown beyond simply being a personal reference library, but it's still super useful when I need to quickly access my mom's grilled shrimp appetizer or that hot crab dip that never quite got copied into my card file.

One recipe that I keep going to the search bar to look for—that's what that little window on the left above the masthead is for—is an incredibly simple white bean spread that I came across eons ago from a source that's been lost to the mists of time. The problem is, I've never written it up here, but I keep thinking I have, so round and round I go in the little gerbil wheel of my brain. (Sorry, is that TMI…?)

It's handy for impromptu moments when the neighbors drop by for a glass of wine or friends ask you to bring an appetizer and you're running behind, since it whizzes up in the food processor in about five minutes. All you need to have on hand is a can of cannelini beans, capers and a clove of garlic and you're set—the raves that ensue will be crazily out of proportion to the work involved, but no one needs to know that besides you.

Herewith is the official, posted recipe so I never have to dash around the kitchen rummaging through files to find that recipe card ever again:

Tuscan-style White Bean Spread with Capers

1 15-oz. can cannelini beans, drained (or use 2 c. cooked white beans)
1 medium clove garlic
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. capers
1-2 Tbsp. parsley, minced (optional)

Put beans, garlic, salt, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil in food processor and process until smooth. Using a spatula, scoop bean purée into medium-sized bowl and add capers and parsley. Stir to combine and adjust salt. Serve with bread or crackers.

Makes about two cups. (Can be doubled.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Guest Essay: Seafood Trade Wars

Lyf Gildersleeve, owner of Flying Fish Company, a sustainable seafood retailer in Providore Fine Foods, is a second-generation fishmonger and a vocal advocate for national fisheries policy. This is a guest post he wrote for the Marine Fish Conservation Network, a coalition of fishermen, conservationists, scientists and citizens around a mission to conserve and revitalize wild ocean fisheries.

In a time when government deregulation is rampant and environmental protections are getting tossed out the window, the U.S. has a seafood trade deficit that could be improving—that is, if American consumers are willing learn about where their food is coming from, and if consumers are willing to pay a fair price for seafood harvested and produced in the U.S.

Most of Oregon's fish are exported rather than consumed domestically.

Currently we import over 90 percent of the seafood we consume in America. More than 50 percent of those imports are farm-raised in unsustainable environmental conditions. Only two percent of these imports get tested for toxic residuals. That means that in 2015, 5.4 billion pounds of seafood entered our distribution channels without being tested for toxic chemicals. Most of the imported produce and seafood rejected in these random border inspections was cited for the appearance of potentially dangerous adulteration, including the presence of pathogens, illegal pesticides, chemicals and other sanitary violations. In addition, foreign seafood was more likely to be mislabeled and/or have slave labor involved at some point in the process of catching, harvesting, and growing it.

Along our own coastlines, fishermen are coming back to port hauling boatloads of seafood. Much of this seafood is getting purchased by foreign buyers and shipped overseas to consumers in Asia, while Americans are happy to import and consume cheap foreign seafood. This equation isn’t helping our coastal communities or the national economy.

Oregon albacore is exported for processing then shipped back to U.S.

Some of the seafood being landed by domestic fishermen is frozen after harvest, then shipped to China to be defrosted, filleted, packaged, frozen again, then shipped back to the U.S. to be sold to domestic consumers. This processing in China is cheaper than processing in the U.S. because of lower labor costs, with no import taxes on the products coming back in to the U.S.—until now. And, of course, the real cost of these products doesn’t include the carbon footprint of shipping products halfway around the world and back.

There are mixed opinions about the effects of the Trump administration’s trade wars with China. Recently there was a 25 percent tax slapped on seafood exports and a 10 percent tax on imported seafood products from China. Some seafood industries, including those in Alaska and Maine, have been negatively affected by import taxes. The export taxes have increased the cost to foreign buyers, which has decreased sales significantly due to higher costs with the new taxes.

Oregon anchovies are mostly exported but may be under threat from overfishing.

Some organizations state that the trade wars will lower seafood consumption in the United States because it will ultimately make those cheap sources of seafood more expensive. In my opinion, the price of cheap, imported seafood does need to increase. If the price of imported seafood and domestic seafood was more comparable, then consumers would take a harder look at their purchasing decisions. I believe that we all want to make good choices for the ocean, though sometimes we simply can’t afford expensive seafood.

In the seafood sector, cheap, imported products coming from overseas without import taxes are competing with our domestically caught seafood, which is far superior in quality and nutrition. Domestic seafood products also help financially support our domestic coastal communities and working waterfronts. Due to low wages nationally, some people have little choice but to purchase cheap food, which is why there's so much artificially low-priced imported seafood.

Oregon Dungeness, pink shrimp and albacore are MSC certified as sustainable.

In order to lower their costs and keep profits high, producers cut corners: slave labor, illegal ingredients, antibiotics, hormones, etc., are all consequences of these cost-cutting efforts. All these have negative effects on the environment, our health and that of our communities. It’s similar to U.S. agricultural policy, where our government has subsidies to help farmers who grow genetically modified corn, soy and wheat. These subsidies keep prices low for the consumer, creating an artificial price tag that makes certified organic food seem expensive. [Organic crops are not subsidized like conventional agriculture. - KB] This is the same equation in domestic versus foreign seafood—one is artificially priced lower.

It follows that subsidies make the price tag lower on the face of it, but we are still paying for them on the back end through our taxes. This artificial pricing doesn’t accurately reflect the actual cost of those goods when consumers buy them. When consumers see the price tag on local, organic, or farmers’ market items, they think it’s expensive; however, the real costs of commodity food would be more if the subsidies were not in place and the environmental impacts were included in the cost of the goods.

We have a choice every day to either make this world a better or a worse place in which to live. Some products are produced in sustainable ways for the environment and for our bodies, and some products are produced in ways that harm our bodies and the environment, the people, and the communities in which we live. I encourage you to be mindful of the food choices you make at the grocery store, restaurant and throughout your daily actions.

As a collective community I believe these choices will lead to consumers recognizing the value and nutrition of domestically produced fish. The new demand will absorb the excess production that once went to foreign buyers.

Eat domestic, support your local fishermen, and feed your body good food!

Read more about Oregon's sustainable fisheries and their importance to the state's economy.

Praising the Braise: Grass-fed Short Ribs Long on Flavor

I was in my usual zoned-out state at the grocery store the other day picking up a few necessities—coffee, pasta, milk—and trying to decide what to make for dinner. Walking past the butcher case, I saw chuck roast for $6.99 per pound from Oregon Country Beef, a co-op of ranchers that, despite the name, sources its beef from well beyond Oregon's borders, including ranches in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California.

Oregon Country Beef cattle finished in a feedlot.

According to the company, the co-op's cattle start their lives on pasture and are raised on rangeland for most of their first 14 to 18 months,* then are shipped to a feedlot for "finishing" on a diet of non-GMO wheat, barley and potatoes (photo, left), a four-month process that fattens cattle to increase their weight before slaughter.

Carman Ranch cattle live their lives on pasture.

Then I saw there was a special on—be still my heart—short ribs for just a buck more per pound. Even better, they were from Carman Ranch, a grass-based ranch in Oregon's Wallowa County where Cory Carman raises cattle on the land that's been in her family for more than 100 years. Her cattle spend their entire lives right up to the point of slaughter on its broad pastures at the base of the Wallowa Mountains (photo, right), and the regenerative practices she champions sequesters carbon in the soil and produces more nutrient-dense, leaner meat.

While I commend the fact that the chuck roast came from cattle raised on non-GMO feed, those short ribs were singing their green-green-grass-of-home song. I brought four pounds home, sautéed a base of vegetables—call it mirepoix (French), sofrito (Spanish), soffritto (Italian) or even włoszczyzna (Polish)—then added roasted tomatoes and red wine along with the short ribs. Ninety minutes later this ultimate comfort food dinner was meltingly tender, and looked (and tasted) stunning served alongside my friend Kathryn's saffron rice.

Red Wine and Tomato-Braised Short Ribs

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped in 1/2" dice
3 stalks celery, cut diagonally into 1/4" slices
3 medium carrots, halved and cut in 1/2" slices
3 large cloves garlic, minced
4 c. roasted tomatoes
2 c. robust red wine
4 lbs. short ribs
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, stemmed and minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt to taste

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in large braising pot or Dutch oven. When it shimmers, add onions and sauté until translucent, then add celery, carrots and garlic and sauté until tender. Add tomatoes and red wine and bring to a simmer. Add short ribs and herbs, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 90 minutes to two hours until meat is very tender and almost falling off the bones. Add salt to taste and serve over saffron rice or with boiled or mashed potatoes.

* Conventionally raised cattle—those that are born and live on pasture for their first few months and are then moved to feedlots where they're typically fed a diet of GMO corn and soy laced with antibiotics and sometimes growth hormones—are generally slaughtered at one year to 18 months old, depending on their weight.

Photo of Oregon Country Beef cattle at a feedlot from Newport Avenue Market in Bend. Photo of Carman Ranch cattle from its website.