Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Spring of Thinking About Food

As you've no doubt noted over the past few months, we fortuitously chose an excellent time to read Nicolette Hahn Niman's Righteous Porkchop book. Along with our community-wide book discussion, there have been a lot of related issues in the news, including the "Ag Gag" legislation recently passed in Iowa and signed into law by Governor Branstad; and the controversial "pink slime" issue, which has now resulted in several plant closures and the losse of jobs.

It's often difficult to know who to believe in discussions about these contentious issues: both sides have their experts, and to the lay person, who depends upon the experts, everyone sounds equally credible. When issues are important to you, how do you educate yourself to make the right decisions? How do you decide who is credible to you and who isn't? Did you find Niman to be a credible reporter as you read her book? Did you attend our panel discussion last month to hear opposing local viewpoints? What did you think? If you enjoyed Niman's perspective, did the panelists give you pause to reconsider?

All of the metro area libraries (and our partner, Barnes & Noble!) have collections of books and resources to help guide you, on this an other food-related issues, as you work to make the best and healthiest decisions for yourselves and your families. There is a lot of information, and it can be confusing. Your librarians can help guide you to reliable information so you can make educated decisions. And we hope our community discussion this spring has been useful as well.

Please join us on Friday, May 11 at 7 p.m. when Niman will talk about her book at The Hotel at Kirkwood. The presentation is free and open to all. Bring your questions and let's find out all we can from her so we can continue to make good and wise food choices, not only for ourselves, but for our environment and for the animals we are eating.

We will look forward to seeing you on Friday! Thanks for participating in our community discussion.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


So I have a confession. My favorite stage of my garden is now. Sure, I love the stage where I have the fresh vegetables to eat, but right now it is just so pretty. There is a nice layer of green popping up all over and nothing has gotten out of control yet or gotten unruly. Everything looks so healthy and green and managed. Looking at my garden right now, you can't yet tell that I'm an amateur gardener. That a certain percentage of my plants will not make it, that I almost certainly planted things incorrectly. That at some point I'll forget to water on a 100 degree day or will over water right before a huge rain storm. At some point, a portion of my plants will get big and unruly and another portion will just look sad. Some will bear fruit that I don't know when to harvest and I will inevitable waste that food. But not today. Today they look just right. It's the picture of such hope. The start of something wonderful. I think it is great that we joined a CSA this year. Let them worry about making sure things are grown properly and harvested at the right time while I keep my plot of joy in my backyard without the pressure of success. Although, between you and me, I'll probably pretend that those vegetables are fresh from my own garden as I eat them. In my mind I'll try to claim a little vicarious accomplishment.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Meet the Author

The time is fast approaching -- soon we will have the opportunity to meet the author of the Linn Area Reads 2012 selection, Righteous Porkchop. Nicolette Hahn Niman will be speaking this Friday, May 11th at 7 pm at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. Don't forget to come out to hear her speak and have her sign your copy of Righteous Porkchop. I am very excited to have the chance to meet the woman who wrote the book that prompted all the great discussions and happenings that have been going on this year with Linn Area Reads. I hope to see a lot of you there! Let's also not forget that Hahn Niman is visiting as part of Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Library Author Series. Out Loud! is already off to a great start with fantastic, engaging presentations by Robin Hemley, Kevin Brockmeier, and Marc Brown. Make sure you check out the rest of the Out Loud! schedule as well. It's a good one!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Win a Pig!

While not quite as cute as the pigs on the pig cam, this little piggy will be a lot easier to take care of!  And you, my dear blog readers, can sign up to have a chance to win him!

R.P., short for Righteous Porkchop, is about 3" tall, and made of yarn, including a cute, curly yarn tail.  He'd look great on your desk at work!

If you'd like a chance to win him, leave a comment here on the blog.*  I'll randomly choose a winner next Saturday--so come back to this blog then to see if you've won.

*it's easy to leave a comment.  Just click on the "comment" link at the bottom of this post, and leave your name.  Feel free to share any comments about the book, too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Follow-up comments on our 4/14 panel discussion

I wanted to make a few comments about our great panel discussion on April 14, Beyond Factory Farming, moderated by Lyle Muller from the Gazette.

Panelists were Jason Grimm, Food System Planner for Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development; Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, a Drake law student focusing on agricultural law; and Jason Russell, a Prairieburg hog farmer and speaker with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

The panelists did a wonderful job, and I'd like to send a shout out to each of them for their excellent comments. I appreciated that they had all taken time to read Righteous Porkchop, our book selection, and could comment directly about things Hahn Niman says in the book. They were all well-prepared and responded intelligently both to questions from Muller and from the audience.

Because I came expecting to oppose Jason Russell, I would like especially note that he did a fabulous job. He was articulate about his own farming operation and operating a confinement facility. And he made a few comments that stuck with me: their hogs don't get antibiotics throughout their lives, basically only when they are young -- sounded sort of like human infant vaccinations -- and then if they are ill or have problems. They don't have manure lagoons. You would never apply manure to saturated soil or in the rain, that would be crazy. They try to keep their manure cleaned up and protected from the weather so it can be as dry as possible when applied. Manure is like gold; they do not have to purchase any fertilizers because they use their manure -- appropriately -- on their crop fields. He says his facility does not have odor problems -- and there were neighbors of his in the audience who corroborated this. He talked about sows and their propensity for either cannibalizing their piglets or simply crushing them by lying on them, and that the sows are crated to protect the piglets.

There were lots of good audience questions, no heckling, and Muller had to call it quits while many hands were still raised. The panelists did not come off as being on opposing sides of an argument at all; they agreed on lots of things. Overall, I left the program glad for a little balance and realizing that, as with most issues, it's good to remember there is a lot of gray area and industrial farming is not as black-and-white as Niman paints it.

I am looking forward now to meeting Niman and to hearing what she has to say when she visits on May 11! We hope many of you will join us at The Hotel @ Kirkwood, 7 p.m. on 5/11, to hear her. It will be an interesting night.

And, not to suggest Niman's not enough of a draw -- but if you come, you'll be entered in a drawing for one of two color Nook ereaders AND you'll have a chance that evening to win one of three $50 Barnes & Noble gift cards! Meet famous author, win prizes, pay nothing. What's not to like?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Farm to Market Vendor Fair--Many Thanks!

The Linn Area Reads "Farm to Market" Vendor Fair was held on Sunday, April 22. We had a wonderful group of people from around the area sharing their expertise on local farms and sustainable agriculture. I want to mention them here so you can find out more information about these vendors. The Iowa Valley Food Coop: Launched in 2011 after two years of planning, the IVFC is a web-based cooperative where consumers can order products directly from area farmers and other local businesses. Products include vegetables, berries, apples, eggs, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, baked goods, homemade soaps, rugs, baby clothes, and much more. Members pay a one-time refundable market share fee of $25 and an annual fee of $10 to help defray administrative costs. For more information on the IVFC, visit Rehberg's Pork: In the market for pork products? Check out the selection of high quality pork products from Rehberg's Pork. Dedicated to supplying only the highest quality pork, the Rehberg's use no antibiotics, no hormones, non-GMO grain, and no MSGs. They are located in Walker, Iowa, a short drive north of Cedar Rapids. Learn more at Bass Family Farms: Located on Highway 30 near Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Bass Family Farms provide a variety of options for the savvy shopper and health food junkie. With a nursery and greenhouse, boutique selling gifts and decor (including some amazing soy candles), a market, and a CSA, this farm has something for everyone. You can even follow the farm on Twitter (@BassFarms) or read up on happenings on Chris' Blog. Bass Farms is committed to an herbicide and pesticide free relationship with the land. Learn more at We also had information on a few other local options: Local Harvest CSA: Locally grown vegetables, bread, eggs, lamb, chicken and turkey are distributed through Local Harvest CSA, with location drop sites in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, North Liberty and Solon. Learn more at or contact Susan at 319-929-5032. Heartland Emu Marketing Cooperative: Who knew how lean Emu meat is? The American Heart Association now recommends emu as a heart-healthy meat, a great alternative to other red meats. It's 95% fat free and high in iron and B12. Heartland Emu Marketing Coop offers a variety of emu options. Find out more at Morgan Creek Farms: Located on Highway 30 West of Cedar Rapids (10501 16th Avenue SW), Morgan Creek Farms offer a variety of vegetables grown on their 37 acres. They also have a greenhouse for year-round production. Learn more about Morgan Creek Farms by calling (319) 396-3629. Thank you to those who attended and our wonderful participants for providing us with information about what we can find in our own back yard. If you know of more local businesses or farms we should know about, please let us know in the comments below!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fish Tale

So I'm heading to the grocery store with my list and my canvas bags, and as I am rolling into the parking lot, a story on the radio catches my attention.

It was about fish farming, and the guest, an expert on the fishing industry, pointed out that people should realize that most fish are not sustainably harvested.  He gave the example of tilapia--the the fish are often farmed in large-scale fish farms that pollute the waters.

This caught my attention, because there on my shopping list was the item "frozen tilapia."

We've started to have fish about once a week at our house, and we love the mild, tender white fish.  I coat it in honey-mustard dip, roll it in seasoned bread crumbs, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

But as I turned off the car and went into the grocery store, I wondered if there were a more sustainable fish I could buy.

It turns out that tilapia can be a good choice, according to the well-known Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch , but only if it is farmed in the US.  The frozen tilapia I had found at the Hy-Vee was from China--a type of fish to avoid (there, it is not farmed in a sustainable way).

Another good choice, though, was catfish a type of fish available all over the far-from-the-ocean midwest!  And it was on sale at Hy-Vee.  We tried some catfish this week--it was mild and very tender, similar to the tilapia.  I cooked it the same way as I did the tilapia, but next time, I'm going to slice it into thinner filets.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Farm to Market

So dear Mother Nature has decided to remind me that March really was too early for some of my planting. It fooled me there for a while, but the last couple weeks have put me back in my place! Parts of the garden are looking great - the parts that should have been planted in March. The other sections...well, I'll be replanting those once it warms up again. Oops! I have started to harvest the first round of some of the early veggies and every year I'm reminded how rewarding and delicious it is to grow your own food. I'm sure I'm not the only one with fresh veggies on the mind and it is a great time to plan out your garden or join a CSA. If you're still looking for some help deciding what fresh food option is best for you or want to learn more about local CSAs, please come to the Farm to Market Vendor Fair this Sunday, April 22nd at the Cedar Rapids Public Library/Westdale Mall. Stop by between 1 pm and 5 pm to gather some information about fresh, local foods. Plus, Sunday is Earth Day! Great timing to think about how your food is grown and where it comes from! We hope to see a lot of you there!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


A friend who has been following our Linn Area Reads blog sent me a link to what may be the cutest thing I've seen in a very long time: PigCam. PigCam is a live video feed from a pig farrowing nest at the Waddingham Farm in Iowa. (It reminds me of the Decorah Eagle Cam that has people around the world talking.) You can watch the piglets sleep, eat and play anytime you like from the comfort of your computer.

Watch live video from boojix on

You can also check out the farm at

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dashing off a few notes

Can't believe how jam-packed our family's schedule is this weekend! I just have a moment to dash off a few thoughts:

1) I'm eager to hear how yesterday's panel discussion went. If you were there, we'd love to hear from you in the comments on this blog. I'm sure it was a fascinating--and, in keeping with Amber's post from the other day, respectful--conversation.

2) Out Loud! kicks off this coming Saturday with Robin Hemley. Join us at 1 p.m. at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center. Then Kevin Brockmeier on April 27, Marc Brown (at Linn-Mar) on May 3, and, of course, Linn Area Reads author Nicolette Hahn Niman on Friday, May 11. 

3) I must have this project on my brain more than I even realize. Opened the Gazette this morning to read my book review (I admit it: I'm a big vanity reader), and discovered that I apparently suggested a story narrowly avoided being "cutesy and meat." Um, meant "meta."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Everything but the Squeal

Our family always has ham for Easter dinner.  And every year, I throw away the ham bone.  "Don't tell my dad," I say to my family.  My dad always made split pea soup with the ham bone, but I look at that thing with all the fat on it and say "no way."

But this year, my older son really wanted to make soup with the ham bone.  And my squeamishness was beginning to be at war with my desire to be thrifty. So this is how I did it.

First, I made broth with the ham bone.  After our Easter dinner guests left, I cut the remaining ham off the bone for leftovers.  The bone went into my stock pot with enough water to cover it.  Then I cooked it for about 45 minutes.

The broth went into the fridge, and I skimmed off the fat (plenty of it!) the next day.

Then I made the soup with the broth.

It was very good!

Here's my recipe, adapted from Good Housekeeping's Cookbook, with some of the special touches of the Moosewood Cookbook's vegetarian version (my favorite!) added.

Split Pea Soup with Ham broth
1 16-oz package split peas
1 bay leaf
4-5 c. ham bone broth (it is salty; use less if you prefer less salty soup)
2-3 c. water, to make 7 c. total liquid
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
2 large celery stalks, thinly sliced

Put all in a stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.
Then add:
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
a few drops of toasted sesame oil
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 c. ham pieces, left over from the ham bone

Cook for 15-30 minutes.
Before serving, add 2-4 T. chopped parsley.

Serve with a hearty bread, like no-knead bread or faster no-knead bread.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CSAs for Healthy Choices

Did you see the great article in the Gazette this past Sunday about our community reads project? You can read it by clicking here: Linn Area Reads Focuses on "Factory Farms." We are very excited about this weekend's panel discussion and hope you all will come to hear all sides of this compelling story.

Have you and your family ever considered joining a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a  relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a
weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season.

We have a lot of local options and this is a great way to get fresh foods and for the opportunity to try new things you might not otherwise purchase!

Check out the 2012 guide to CSAs in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area, Local Food Connections, and ratings of CSAs based on the amount of organic food they offer.

It's not hard to eat healthy and locally -- just explore a few of these fun resources and in no time, you'll be discovering a whole new world of tasty foods, without even visiting your local supermarket.

Have fun!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beyond Factory Farms: A Panel Discussion

The Metro Library Network and Linn Area Reads committee invite you to join us this Saturday at 2:00 pm at the Marion Public Library for "Beyond Factory Farms: A Panel Discussion." The panel discussion is a part of the Linn Area Reads programming surrounding this years book selection: "Righteous Porkchop" by Nicolette Hahn Niman.

We will hear from three panelists with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. The discussion will be led by Gazette Editor Lyle Muller. This is his third year moderating a panel for Linn Area Reads and he is always a wonderful leader.

The panelists are volunteering their time for this discussion because they feel it's important to talk about the themes in this book . We have asked them to participate because we value their insight and experience and look forward to hearing from them. 

The object of this panel is not to debate the subject at hand, nor is it to provide anyone an opportunity to heckle or be confrontational of anyone else. We hope to have a wide variety of perspectives and opinions within the audience and to facilitate a fair discussion of the topic. This is an educational opportunity and should be seen as such. We in no way want to create an environment where a person is attacked for their perspective.

I think it's very important to mention this before our event on Saturday. As we have seen throughout the past several weeks, this book is a good instigator for some very emotional discussions. That's one of the reasons the committee selected it. I just ask that people remember to be respectful of each other during this event.

Hope to see many of you there!

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's in the Feathers

I stumbled across this article today entitled Arsenic in Our Chicken? After questioning whether the pink slime in hamburger meat is hysteria or serious cause for concern, now we have this to consider with chicken. The article does let us know that they haven't found anything that seems to be a health concern (insert sigh of relief), but it does make you wonder what we are feeding our poultry. (I now can picture a chicken sipping on a triple shot latte...) I think it's great that this information is available to the public so that we have a better understanding of what we are consuming. Many of us may continue to purchase this chicken, but at least we'll understand what we are buying and an educated consumer is never a bad thing.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Not Meat

This entry isn't about meat.  But it is about food, and knowing where it comes from.

Because it's gardening time!

We have a fairly small yard and lots of shade, so putting a vegetable garden is a bit of a challenge. We don't grow too much, but we still enjoy it.

I put my spinach and lettuce in a week early this year because of the nice weather.

Those cages over the lettuce sprouts keep the bunnies from eating it.

I also started my basil and zinnias.

Most of the time they're inside, under a grow light, from the end of March, when I plant them, until Mother's Day when I set them out.  But I put them in the sun if we have warm weather.

I also have some perennial edibles in my yard.

Well, the parsley's a biennial . . . but I don't think my chives--supposed to be behind that little sign on the right--survived our wimpy winter.

I also have raspberries, given to me by a friend.  They are rather invasive, so if you have a friend with raspberries, you might be able to get some shoots.

My family loves what we grow--salad stuff, raspberries, fresh tomatoes, and basil for pesto.

My younger son, though, thinks we need to grow pumpkins!
Since we don't have nearly enough room--or sun--for pumpkins, we've decided to rent a garden plot from the city of Cedar Rapids in Ellis Park this year.  I've never done it--have any of you done this, blog readers?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thank you!

I want to thank all of the great people that came to the book discussions of Righteous Porkchop. I was able to attend the final discussion and realized that I missed some great ideas the previous 3 weeks.

Two students from Kirkwood's Humane Officer program came that night. They hadn't had a chance to read the book (Molly gave them a copy), but their contributions were invaluable. I came away knowing that Hahn Niman's message wasn't an isolated instance. Our two students had the same information--cutting the beaks off of poultry, the overflowing of poultry cages, the gestational sow cages and more.

The rest of our group were wonderful, also. Several of us are already vegan or vegetarian. Several more of us are searching for alternate sources of fresh meat. And one of us (after reading the last chapters of the book) can't eat seafood.

This was a great discussion group. Most of us will be at the panel discussion (April 14 at 2:00 p. m. at the Marion Public Library), at the vendor fair (April 22 from 1 to 5 at Westdale Mall )and at the presentation by Hahn Niman (on May 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Hotel at Kirkwood). Hope to see you there.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

FDA on livestock antibiotics

A Facebook friend just sent me this article this afternoon. More good news from the industrial farming front! Check it out!

In addition...

Just came across this in my Shelf Awareness email, a new release by Tyler Cowen called An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies. Check it out! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If you liked Righteous Porkchop, you'll like ...

We hope you have been enjoying Righteous Porkchop. If so, you'll be glad (though likely not surprised) to know Hahn Niman isn't the only one writing on this topic. Here are a few other books you may enjoying exploring:

Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair 

Get educated. And let us help. Join us this month for two great programs: a panel discussion at the Marion Public Library, moderated by Lyle Muller from The Gazette, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 14; and a Farm to Market Vendor Fair at the Cedar Rapids Public Library at Westdale Mall from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, April 22. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Access for Everyone

While there may be disagreements on how we raise our food, most of us can agree that we want our children to be healthy and eat well. But it's not easy if you have a limited budget. Not everyone can raise a garden and grow the food they need to feed their family. And the truth is that there is a large section of the population that cannot afford to purchase fresh food.

The Woman, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program is a federal initiative aimed at boosting health among those who are most vulnerable to malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, cancers, and other health issues by working to supply low income women and children with fresh food they otherwise cannot access. WIC farmers market program provided more than two million Americans with benefits in 2010.

The problem? The 2012 appropriations bill cut its funding by 3o percent. That means more than 300,000 families saw a decrease in their WIC benefits. 

More than 23 million American's don't live near a supermarket. They live in what is now referred to as food deserts, areas where a person has to travel more than a mile to reach a grocery store or market. What they do have easy access to is fast food and convenience stores, which are full of processed foods.

Most farmers markets in America are held in affluent neighborhoods, don't accept food stamps, and can be really intimidating for someone who has no experience with the items on sale. (What exactly do you do with kohlrabi, for example?)

Something to keep in mind: between 1995 and 2010, US farmers received $261.9 billion in subsidies from the government. Ten percent of those subsidies went to 74% of the farmers in this country. The rest of that money went to industrial-scale corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat and rice farmers.

The healthy food movement is an important one and cannot be limited only to those who have a higher income to access it. All children in this country should be given the opportunity to eat well and be healthy. What can we do in our own communities to create more access for those in need? It's something we should be thinking about.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Farmers Have Nothing to Hide?

Did you see the opinion piece in last Friday's Gazette written by Ron Birkenholz, the Communications Director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association? Here's a link:

Birkenholz says Iowa farmers have nothing to hide. He's writing with regard to the recently passed Ag Protection Act legislation signed into law by Governor Branstad on March 2. 

I had some problems with his piece, which says "Hog farms are business enterprises run by experienced farmers who have a passion for raising food animals. Swine production practices are based on that experience, as well as years of proven scientific research on how best to properly care for and maintain the health, safety and comfort of the livestock." 

After what we've all been learning about practices on hog farms in the past month or two, this is a little difficult to stomach. Really? " Scientific research on how best to properly care for and maintain the health, safety, and comfort of the livestock?" 

As it happens, the Iowa Pork Producers will be part of our panel discussion on April 14 -- 2:00 at the Marion Library. The discussion will be moderated by Lyle Muller of the the Gazette. Don't you wonder what they will have to say for themselves in that forum? 

The discussion will be free! We hope to see many of there to hear both sides of this compelling story about the food we eat. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pink slime hysteria?

So was the pink slime news just hysteria, or should consumers be concerned that this ingredient has been in our ground beef for the last 20 years?

The Gazette thinks it's hysteria. 

Which burger was made with lean, finely-textured beef? Hard to tell from looking at it, it's true.  And apparently it's "safe."

But the whole pink slime issue has caused people to think a bit more carefully about where their food comes from.  And that is good.

Oh, and by the way, did you hear that Twitter is going to cut the length of tweets from 140 to 133 characters, saving the company $1.7 billion a year?

April Fools!

(One advantage to being late with my usual Saturday post.)

Oh, the burger on the right is made with pink slime.

The battle over "pink slime"

It's been interesting to keep an eye on developments regarding so-called "pink slime"--also known as (as Wikipedia explains) boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) or lean finely textured beef (LFTB)--over the last week. 

First, Hy-Vee decided not to carry the product anymore. After customer complaints, Hy-Vee reversed course, promising to offer products both with and without the additive. Meanwhile, a coalition of governors--including our own Terry Branstad--have gotten behind the product. They have good reason to: jobs in the food industry are being lost as a result of the "pink slime" controversy, and that's troubling.

This is potentially a good lesson in the power of words to frame debates. When I first heard about "pink slime," I assumed it must be bad. With a name like that, how could it be good? But there's an argument on the other side that is summed up succinctly in the Des Moines Register article linked to above: "Dude, it's beef."

Reminds me of a similar (though reverse) lesson learned by folks who wanted to sell the Chinese gooseberry in an international market. The name that sticks to something often determines how it is received by the public.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Grillin' Time

It's been such nice weather lately, that we already have grilling season in full swing at our house. I love grilling season, but I will admit that it's probably because I take a break from the cooking and my husband does the work. And, let's face it, grill clean-up is usually simpler than kitchen cooking clean-up. Plus, I really love grilled food.

Sometimes people ask me what I eat off the grill since I'm a vegetarian. Grilled veggies are some of my favorites. If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, there's a decent chance I'd choose grilled asparagus. My husband has mastered the grilled portabella (which I've heard referred to as "the vegetarian steak") and there are always peppers, onions, and potatoes alongside everything we grill. So I am well taken care of at dinner time.

We have experimented with grilled pizza, which is a favorite for some folks. I don't think we've quite perfected that on our grill yet, but the trials and errors are definitely enjoyable nonetheless.

If you are grilling out and the veggies aren't enough because you want a "meat substitute" (and the portabella isn't filling that void for you), there are some great veggie burgers out there. Typically, I'm not a fan of "fake meat." I always say, "I don't want to eat meat and I don't want to eat anything that pretends to be meat." I know I'm in the minority there. Vegetarian meat substitutes are extremely popular and a wonderful option. Some are just too close to real meat in texture that I have a hard time remembering that they are not really meat. I wish I could get past it because I feel like that's a world of wonderful options as well.

There is a type of veggie burger that I love though. And that is a black bean burger. I've always bought frozen black bean burgers in the past, but today I stumbled across this recipe and now I can't wait to try it! If it's as good as I think it's going to be, I'll be making up a huge batch of these and stocking my freezer for the grilling days to come.

Also, the new addiction at our house is kale chips! I heard about these quite some time ago and can not figure out why I waited so long to give them a try. They are simple to make, healthy, and a great much better for me than those potato chips I love so much. It's not uncommon for us to eat a whole bundle of kale (or two...or three) in one evening now that I make these. I'm late to jump on this bandwagon, but I'm glad I didn't miss it completely!

What is on your grill?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How we raise our food

I have a little boy at home who has never spent time at a farm. We talk a lot at home about where our food comes from because he has no frame of reference for this, other than the weekly trip to the supermarket. In the summer months, we visit the Farmers' Market in downtown Cedar Rapids. He loves exploring the groupsthat set up in the park and seeing all of the vendors. It also offers us an opportunity to check out the fresh produce that's available and purchase some garden-fresh items.

I think it's really important to have conversations with our kids about our food. The US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance has set up a site called which offers opportunities for people to ask questions about how our food is grown and raised. This is the first site I have seen where an organization like this is actively seeking the questions and comments of the public and starting the conversation about where our food comes from.

Check out the site and take a look at what farmers and ranchers are saying. Ask your questions. Begin that dialogue. And then share with us what you think!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Under a month to the first Out Loud! event of 2012

Coming up on May 11, Linn Area Reads and Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Author Series will present Nicolette Hahn Niman at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center. We certainly hope folks reading this blog will join us for that event.

Hahn Niman's event is the fourth of eight Out Loud! events this year. We kick off in April with nonfiction and fiction writer Robin Hemley (April 21) and fiction writer Kevin Brockmeier (April 21), and we have Marc Brown, creator of "Arthur," on May 3.

After Ms. Hahn Niman, we have four more great events, including A. David Lewis (comics), Wendy Delsol (teen paranormal romance), James Rollins (thiller), and Sam Kean (science).

The full schedule is available here:

We hope you'll join us...and if you do, you might consider eating at The Class Act, the restaurant at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center. It's a part of the school's acclaimed hospitality program. 

As it says on the restaurant's menu page, it features "the area's highest quality seasonal ingredients," which is, of course, in keeping with the themes of this year's Linn Area Reads program. And the Out Loud! Author Series team can confirm that the food is excellent at The Class Act.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Picture book from Pork Producers

Coe College had a health fair last week, and one of the participants was the Iowa Pork Producers!  Did they know I was coming?

I decided not to engage the representative, who looked like someone's grandma, in conversation, but I did pick up a copy of "a storybook from the National Pork Board," called Welcome to Our Farm.

It's written for pre-school and first-grade kids.  There are even "Notes to the Educator" in the back--with suggestions for vocabulary words (farmer, farm, crops, pig, snout) and art projects (make a pig snout out of a paper cup).

The pictures--photographs--showed a confinement farm.

 No pigs in sight at this farm.
 Here they are, inside a big building with nothing to do except bite each others' tails.  It looks fairly clean here, though.
 "These piglets are drinking milk from their mother" who is held in a pen that leaves her no room to turn around.
The pigs cower in fear from the caretaker, outfitted in a coverall and white gloves.

The Pork Producers have an online version of the book at, too.  Basically the same story.

I was so glad to read the news that Pat posted yesterday about the changes coming to the pork industry. For those of you who read the Gazette article--did you see the quotes from Paul Willis (who was in our book)?  Nieman Farms were mentioned, too!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Large Companies Switching to Open Pig Pens

According to an article in the Friday, March 23, 2012 Gazette, several large companies are moving toward eliminating gestation pens. Pork suppliers to McDonald's Corporation are required to switch to open pens. Smithfield Foods has a plan in place to eliminate all gestation pens by 2017.

This is good news and bad news for consumers. The good news is that pregnant sows will no longer be confined to narrow cages where they have no room to move. Open pens mean that they will be able to move freely. The bad news is that open feedlot farming means fewer pigs and costs may be higher.

This is the first step toward returning to humane, sustainable hog farming. Hopefully, confinement barns are next.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

There's pig in what?!

I came across this handout on the Iowa Pork Producers website while doing some other research. It is a list of all of things that pig and pig by-products are in. I'm a bit grossed out and yet a bit morbidly intrigued by it as well. What do you think?

Area Farmers Markets

Farmers Market season is just about here! Summers in Iowa rock for finding fabulous local foods. I think many people consider that only vegetarians shop at farmers markets, but the markets also have local meats, eggs, cheeses, baked goods, and, of course great local crafts and neat things like cleaning supplies and things for your pets. And  FLOWERS!

The Cedar Rapids Downtown Markets are the 1st and 3rd Saturdays in June, July, August and September. You can visit the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance website for details.

Cedar Rapids also hosts its regular City Farmers Markets at Noelridge, Green Square Park, and in the parking lot on the corner of 8th Ave and 2nd St SE from May through October; check on the schedule at the City's website.

The Uptown Marion Market happens on the 2nd Saturday of each month, June through August, in City Square Park -- coincidentally, just across the street from the library! This is one of the best little markets in the area; if you like the CR Downtown Markets, but just feel a little overwhelmed, stop at the Uptown Marion Markets for a more accessible experience. You can learn details at the Uptown Marion website.

The weekly farmers market in Marion has been dislocated for this season; the City expects to make a final decision on the 2012 location on Monday, March 26 -- I'll post a comment once I learn where it is for sure. Here is information from last year: we expect details on dates and times are still correct, though the location is not.

Hiawatha's famers market happens on Sundays from 11:00-2:00 late April through October. Check out their photos and learn more at the city's website.

For reasons to shop at your local farmers markets, and some great web links, visit the Iowa Farmers Market Association. If you want to explore other markets in metro area communities, just do a Google search for the name of your town and farmers market. (You may need to add in the word "Iowa" to narrow things down appropriately.)

All of us with Linn Area Reads hope you will support your farmers markets this coming spring, summer, and fall, and that you will enjoy experimenting with some of the wonderful local foods we have available to us during this season of plenty!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

That pork chop may be righteous, but...

Working on a freelance gig this week for which I compile news stories for a high school audience, I happened upon the results of a Harvard School of Public Health study. Here's the little write-up I put together. (Spoiler: It isn't great news for red meat lovers.)

The Harvard School of Public Health thinks you might want to put down that burger. According to a new study, eating just three ounces of red meat each day increased the chance that a study participant would die by 13 percent. The study involved more than 110,000 adults, whose eating habits were followed for more than 20 years. Want to reduce your risk by 19 percent? Replace that burger or pork chop with a serving of nuts. That may sound nutty to many fans of red meat, but the researchers suggest that a change in eating habits would have a significant impact on public health.

Sources: The Slatest, CNN, Los Angeles Times

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pulled Pork

In honor of the pig chapters of our book, here is my recipe for pulled pork.  Last time I made it, I used a pork shoulder from Forest Hill Farm.  No more store-bought pork for us--their heritage pork is great.  It has less gristle, more darker meat, and overall better flavor.

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork
1 5-pound (or less) boneless pork butt or shoulder
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. onion powder
2 tsp. salt
11/2  tsp. garlic powder

Rinse pork, pat dry.
Mix spices in a bowl and rub into pork.  Marinate overnight.

Cook in slow-cooker/crock pot on low for about 10 hours.
Put on cutting board, shred with 2 forks after removing fat.

Serve with buns and BBQ sauce.

Broth can be used for soup!

Homegrown goodness

Thanks to this beautiful weather mid-March, I've already been able to get out to play in the dirt a bit this year - and it feels great! Plotting my garden each year is always fun -- and stressful. I have limited space and those seed catalogs just make everything look so good!

Even though I have a small garden of my own, I am looking more seriously at joining a CSA this year as well. I try to grow so many different things in such a small space that I can't grow much of any one thing. I'm going to try something different this year - grow a few of our favorites here at home and then join a CSA for a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.

I've also talked to a neighbor that is renting a large garden plot. What a great idea! I know myself enough to know that if it isn't right here at my house, I could end up neglecting it more than I should. (Sometimes I manage to even neglect my poor little garden that is right in front of my face.) Still, this idea seems so fabulous to me that I wish I was a more reasonable "plant parent."

No matter what options you are considering, more information is never a bad thing. Don't forget that tomorrow is the 3rd Annual Linn County Local Farmer and CSA Fair at Prairiewoods from 2 pm - 5 pm. Stop by and learn more about your local food options.

Free-Range Pigs: Doing their piggy thing

I read an article written in 1999 in the magazine "the Art of Eating" written by Edward Behr, issue #51.

Harking back to my tasteful blog last week, Behr states, "Even the taste of pork has changed in the last ten years because almost all pigs have been bred to be lean. Rubbery is the best word to describe the pork; the flavor is bland, so the texture stands out. Occasionally in the supermarket, you can still find some marbled, more tender, and tasty pork, but most is as lean and characterless as factory-chicken breast. The lean meat is almost impossible to cook without making it dry and tough, and, no matter what, the new pork will never taste very good because it isn’t marbled with fat."

In addition to tasting better, he explains that "free-range pig farming" means that pigs are fed no animal byproducts, and receive no massive amounts of antibiotics. Each hog can be monitored for health and treated when a condition arises. There is no need to inject every animal with an unneeded drug.

Behr's article focuses on Paul and Phyliss Willis' farm--the Willis Free-Range Pig Farm. They have worked to keep the family farm viable and raise their animals according to guidelines endorsed by the Animal Welfare Institute. "The AWI, a pragmatic group, worked with farmers to produce a list of simple criteria, largely to do with space and bedding, that are kind to pigs and represent good husbandry. . . The AWI rules are so far from fanatic that there is not even a requirement that animals have access to pasture. But large-scale factory farming is expressly prohibited: “Each farm shall be a family farm, that is, an individual or family member must do all of the following: (a) own the hogs; (b) depend on the farm for [his or her] livelihood; (c) provide the major part of the daily labor to physically manage the hogs and the rest of the farm operation.”

Pretty simple, isn't it? Treat your livestock humanely, let them follow their instincts, and reap the benefits of healthy, nutritious, good-tasting meat.

Oh, by the way, the United Kingdom banned raising hogs in close confinement. Should the United States do any less?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Follow-up Information from March 8 Book Discussion

At the first book discussion last week at Barnes & Noble, two topics from the news came up, and participants who hadn't heard about these things wanted a little more information.

The first was pink slime hamburger meat, currently being discussed with regard to school lunches. I found this blog post that talks about the issue AND provides valuable links to additional information:

The other topic we discussed briefly was an article a couple of participants had read online about a school child's home packed lunch (turkey & cheese sandwich, banana, chips, apple juice) being confiscated, and the child being given a school lunch (chicken nuggets) instead, because some monitor deemed her lunch was not nutritionally sound. Here is that article, from the Carolina Journal.

I hope this additional information will be useful to the great ladies at last week's discussion!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Other Side of the Story

Hello everyone! So as I read Righteous Porkchop, I can't help but wonder - honestly, how do the farmers on industrial farms defend what they are doing? Is there any argument besides economics? Is economics sufficient?

Hence, this afternoon I tried something a little different with my Google searches, and here's a little of what I found. I hope you'll take some time to read these pieces. They are interesting, and, if not necessarily convincing, at least show another perspective.

First off is farmer Blake Hurst, who wrote in The American (Thursday, July 30, 2009) an article in response to Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma which he called "The Omnivore's Delusion: Against the Agri-Intellectuals." He makes an interestingly powerful case, the basic premise of which is that "farming has always been messy and painful, and bloody and dirty. It still is. This is something the critics of industrial farming never seem to understand." Check out his arguments and let us know what you think.

Next, this article which appeared in Foreign Policy in June of 2010: "Attention Whole Food Shoppers." Writer Robert Paarlberg suggests that we "stop obsessing about arugula. Your 'sustainable' mantra -- organic, local, and slow -- is no recipe for saving the world's hungry millions." This very interesting article about solving global hunger will give you pause about what's right and what's wrong. (Anna Lappe directly refutes Paarlberg in Zester on July 21, 2010 in her article "Debunking Myths About Agriculture.")

More on global hunger from Jay Rayner, a British writer writing in The Guardian in September 2010. Rayner's article, "Big Agriculture is the Only Option to Stop the World Going Hungry," warns that if we are to survive the coming food security storm, we will have to embrace unashamedly industrial methods of farming. We need to abandon the mythologies around agriculture, which take the wholesome marketing of high-end food brands at face value – farmer in smock, ear of corn, happy pig – and recognise that farming really is an industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale, but which can still be managed sustainably." 

We hope you might enjoy a look at the other side of the fence. We'd welcome your thoughts. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Food Dialogues

There is a website from the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance called Food Dialogues. According to the website, "U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is a newly formed alliance consisting of a wide range of prominent farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners. This marks the first time agricultural groups at the national, regional and state levels have collaborated to lead the dialogue and answer Americans’ questions about how we raise our food – while being stewards of the environment, responsibly caring for our animals and maintaining strong businesses and communities."

There are a lot of interesting discussions taking place on this website, as well as videos and opportunities for both sides of the table to join in on the discussion. It's a fascinating website, and I highly recommend taking a look at it! Just click on the link below!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Letting you peek inside my fridge

I've tackled a number of unique writing assignments over the years, but one of my favorite is a series of columns I wrote for Edible Iowa River Valley. The folks at the magazine asked me to investigate the refrigerators of various local people -- Z102.9's Schulte & Swann, Corridor Media Group's John Lohman, pianist Dan Knight, and more -- in order to discover what local foods might be in the icebox. I also loved to find the quirky foods that made each person and each refrigerator unique (in fact, that was always more interesting to me!).

To kick the series off, I detailed the contents of my own fridge, in a piece that made it clear that I had a long way to go if I was going to become a local food aficionado. Upon reflection, I don't think I've made much progress. Here's a link to that first column.  

(By the by, my editor introduced an error into this piece -- no, really! -- and it renders the first sentence of the fourth paragraph nonsensical. Do me a favor: Ignore the word "when" when you get there.)

First Farm

Does this look familiar?

I'm visiting my brother and sister-in-law and 1 1/2-year-old nephew this weekend, and he had the set.  I remember my kids had it, too.  I didn't have one, but I did have little toy chickens and horses and cows.

So, blog-readers?  What is your first farm memory?  Did you have farm toys?  Did you visit farms as a kid?  Maybe you grew up on one!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Good talk.

I was happy to see a nice group turn out for our LAR discussion at Barnes & Noble last night. (Thank you, Jo, for guiding us along and having questions prepared that helped us all reflect a little on what we're reading.) Next week I hope to see even more people come join in. I really do enjoy hearing different voices on this subject.

Last night, when talking about the pig population in Iowa (there's a lot of them, folks!), one participant commented, "And when was the last time you saw one?" That simple question got me thinking. The farm animals here in Iowa do seem to be in hiding. (Or perhaps I'm just not looking in the right places.) I grew up in New York state. When I tell people this, I'm yet to have anyone say, "Oh man. You must have seen farm animals all the time." But I did. Granted, I grew up in upstate New York - a far cry from the hustle of NYC - but, believe it or not, I saw farm animals on a regular basis. Not hogs, perhaps, but real, live farm animals eating grass and laying in the sun, nonetheless.

When I moved to Iowa, I had visions of farms everywhere. Yes, that's an ignorant view of the state. I know that now. (Cedar Rapids is much more "city" than my little hometown.) But last night I got to thinking, is it really that bizarre that I expected to see more farm animals here than I did back in NY? When I drive across Iowa, I do smell more animals after all.

When I take my husband and son (both raised/being raised in Iowa) back to visit my family, what do you think is one of the highlights? A trip to a farm to pet the horses and cows or to pick a piece of swiss chard fresh from the plant and feed it to the chickens. It's almost like my son's favorite part of NY looks like a scene from my younger self's vision of Iowa.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Straight from Nicolette and Bill Niman

Here is "The Niman top Ten List for Affordable Sustainable Eating" extracted from a blog discussion that took place in July 2009. The complete blog is a wonderful read. Here is the link to the blog.

(Some of which are easier to do than others but all of which are worth consideration...)

(*But first, we should note that we think cost to the consumer is a very important question. In fact, it's one of the most important barriers to changing the practices of the current industrialized meat and dairy industries. It is true that meat and dairy from pasture-based, natural farms often costs more money.

The reasons for this are complex and are closely related to government policies (at federal, state and local levels) that encourage industrial production. But that does not help the consumer who's trying to carefully watch his or her budget and eat healthy foods. With that said, here are our suggestions on how to do that.)

1. Reduce consumption of meat, dairy and fish products. Most Americans eat far more meat and dairy than is nutritionally warranted and this is the most expensive part of the American diet. We refer to this as "moving meat OFF the center of the plate." By cutting down on the number of times you eat meat, dairy and fish AND by reducing portion sizes of those foods, you can keep buying naturally raised meat and dairy without breaking the bank.

2. Shop and eat in harmony with the seasons. For every food that is naturally raised, (and wild game, seafood and fish), there is a "season of plenty." During that season of plenty, the foods are available at a lower cost and it's a great time to get bargains on healthful, delicious foods. Various websites now offer guidance on what's in season when. A walk through a farmers market also tells you what's in season.

3. Plant a garden. If you have a yard, terrace, or even a window sill, you can grow your own organic vegetables, herbs and fruits cheaper than you can buy them. It's also a great way to get fresh air and exercise.

4. Keep a flock of laying hens. At the dawn of the 20th century, even cities had loads of chickens. "A 1906 census showed that in urban areas there was one chicken for every two people" (Righteous Porkchop, p. 40). More and more cities are again allowing people to keep chickens -- a great way to get cheap, organic eggs and chicken meat.

5. Cook more. Food that is prepared at home from raw ingredients is cheaper than prepared foods (and better tasting and more nutritious!)

6. Shift budgeting priorities. Americans spend a smaller percentage of their budgets on food than any other developed country. In France, for example, people spend about 14% of their income on food. In the US, we spend about 9%.

7. Buy cheaper cuts of meat. The so-called "middle meats" (e.g. pork loin, beef tenderloin) are the most commonly available in supermarkets, but are not the tastiest and are the most expensive. By learning about the lesser known cuts (e.g. beef tri-tip, pork shanks) and how to prepare them, you can save a lot of money on your meat.

8. Buy whole chickens (instead of parts). Roast the whole bird or cut it into parts at home. You'll save money and get better quality meat. Use what's left to make stock for soup and sauces.

9. Buy foods during low demand periods. For example, at Christmas, prime rib and tenderloin are in high demand while the New York strip steak is in relatively low demand, so this it's a good time to buy it if you're looking to save money. Another good example is pork spare ribs and babyback ribs -- they are in high demand in the summer grilling season and are much cheaper outside of that time period.

10. Eat organ meats. Liver, hearts and kidneys are highly nutrious and can be purchased at a relatively low cost. Even a very tight budget can afford these from naturally raised animals. Learn how to cook them and you'll have great, nutritious food.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We're #1!

As I read Hahn Niman's chapter on exploring industrial pork production in North Carolina, I'm reminded of my days working at CMF&Z, a local advertising agency with a lot of agricultural accounts. In those days (the '80s and '90s), Iowa was the undisputed King of Pork Producers. But I remember hearing that North Carolina was on the road to overtake us, because they had confinement farming, and Iowa did not. I believe there was controversy in Iowa about whether these farms should be allowed, family farms saying that they would not be able to compete; economics obviously won out, though I didn't closely follow the issue at the time, as we obviously have confinement farms now. In fact, for the first time (and shame on me for not noticing it long ago), when I traveled rural Iowa this past summer, I was suddenly struck by seeing no hogs.

I remember well growing up and traveling with my family that all the farms along our routes had hogs in fenced areas outside of barns. My aunt and uncle raised hogs and I remember visiting. Now, you do not see hogs. None. And yet -- so far as I know -- Iowa still ranks #1 in hog production.

Tonight, I did a little checking to see if that was so. Indeed, in fact, there is barely a close competitor. North Carolina is still 2nd, but there really isn't any contest. Check out these numbers, from the 2011 State of the Pork Industry Report, published by National Hog Farmer:
Iowa and North Carolina alone contain 43.1% of the United States hog inventory.
Hogs & Pigs, Breeding, Market, & Total Inventory, 12/1/2010:
Iowa - total hogs 18,900,000
North Carolina (our closest competitor) - total hogs 8,800,000

We have 18.9 million hogs in this state, and, unless you have explored the barns at the State Fair recently, when is the last time you saw one? Isn't that a little scary? (By the way, the human population of Iowa is 3,062,309.)

Guess what else we're #1 in? Egg production. And once again, no close competitors. According to economic data from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, as of 2010 Iowa had 52,537,000 laying hens; our closest competitor is Ohio, with 28,050,000 laying hens.

And, I have to ask, when's the last time you saw a chicken? Admittedly, there is a local food movement afoot with some Iowa communities now allowing city folks to have chickens; bravo! So maybe your next-door-neighbor has a few laying hens. But chances are, you haven't seen a chicken for a good long time. Where are those 52.5 million hens laying their eggs? Confined in tiny battery cages with wire mesh floors and with their beaks clipped off to keep them from pecking their cage-mates, since they are all compacted so closely together: each hen has no more space than a sheet of paper.

We're #1, we're #1! Go Iowa.

Do your eggs come from THESE Iowa hens? 
Or these?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Influencers

When it comes to changing the standards that are established in any industry, you have to consider who the big players are and who really wields influence. When it comes to pork production, a company like McDonald's can be a force to be reckoned with.

In February, McDonald's announced that they will begin working with pork suppliers to phase out "gestational crates," the tiny stalls where pregnant sows are stalled. These crates have been targeted by animal rights activists as inhumane, and a number of states have restricted or banned their use.

These crates are approximately two feet by seven feet, too small for a pregnant sow to turn around in. This can cause several health issues for the pregnant sow over the course of a four month pregnancy.

McDonald's purchases one percent of the pork produced in the US, but other fast food chains have historically followed their lead when it comes to these types of changes.

This is just one step on a road to a larger solution, but it is important that the companies and organizations who have the power to influence the use of inhumane practices use that power to change things. Social media and the increase in citizen journalism has made it possible for customers to have a more direct link to businesses and that has led to some important changes. Companies have responded to what their customers are saying. And that means each of us has a little more power than we used to.

Individually we can't do much, but working together much can be accomplished.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'll have the lab-grown burger with fries, please.

Came across news of some Dutch scientists who are using stem cells to create lab-grown meat. In fact, it seems they are hopeful that they might serve up an artificial hamburger--prepared by a celebrity chef and eaten by a celebrity taster--as early as this fall. Word is, however, that the meat itself is likely to be bland, so that chef will have some work to do to make it palatable.

Is this a long-term solution to the ever-growing worldwide need for food? Will the stem cell controversy that adheres to conversations about human research be in play when the stem cells in question come from cows? Will there be an ethical showdown between those who want more humane treatment of animals (which might, arguably, include increasing reliance on lab-grown meat) and those who are opposed to this sort of science?

A link to a BBC article on the new meat.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


I find it interesting that Nicolette Hahn Niman is a vegetarian.

And she's not trying to convert us to vegetarianism.  In fact, she admits that she once used vegetarianism as an excuse not to be concerned about the meat industry:
Frankly, I found those stories so depressing, I intentionally avoided them. (Anyway, why did I need to read that stuff--wasn't I doing my part by abstaining from meat?)
 But she decides to get involved anyway.

Many people take up vegetarianism not to protest the meat industry, but for health reasons.  For example, I read this article in the Gazette about a Cedar Rapids woman who found out she had high risk cholesterol levels and completely re-vamped her whole family's lifestyle.  She, her husband and--get this--two small kids!--are now all vegans!

From talking with nutritionists about this topic (I wrote a short article about it for the Gazette a while back), I learned that getting the nutrition one needs from a vegan--that is, all plant-based, no dairy, no eggs--diet is a lot of work.  I admire this person for doing it for her whole family.

Blog readers--what do you think about becoming a vegetarian?  Have you ever tried it?  Are you interested?  Are you already a non-meat-eater--or even a vegan?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Local Food Co-op Makes Healthy Choices Fun, Useful

The cart is open! On the first of each month, Iowa Valley Food Co-op opens its member carts. Members have about two weeks to browse the selections, all foods and hand made goods from area producers, and fill their carts. On a pre-announced date, the carts close, you have purchased what's in your cart at that time, and all you have to do is go to the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Cedar Rapids to collect your stuff. It's a great system, and the Co-op's website is a joy to explore because of the variety of things available each month. A membership is only $25 the first year, and $10/year thereafter; my gosh! It just doesn't get any better than that! I'd encourage you all to explore the Iowa Valley Food Co-op website, and then, if you're not already a member, take Amanda's challenge to try something new this month -- and join! There's still time to get in on the March order. This isn't just for vegetarians: there's a wide selection of meats, candies, desserts, coffee, pet supplies, household cleaning products, granola: worth a look. Have fun!

Book is so timely

Hahn Niman's book is so timely for us here in Iowa Right Now because of the legislation that has now passed both houses and is heading for the Governor's office for his expected signature. There was another good article in today's Gazette.

Just for fun, try something new

My father stopped eating turkey. Not for any moral reason, just because, he said, "It didn't taste like the turkey my family had on the farm." And I thought that he was just a bit crazy. Of course turkey tasted just the same. Turkey is turkey, for goodness sake!

Ah, the arrogance (or stupidity) of youth. This past November my husband found a wonderful local farm, The Long Shot Farm, selling heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving. And I discovered that free-range turkey does not taste just like grocery store turkey. (My apologies, Dad!)

Since November we have been getting our eggs from the Long Shot Farm, also. They are local, the eggs taste great and are a delight for the eyes. One dozen eggs and three or four different colors. Wonderful!

So, go a little crazy. Find a local farm or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and try something different. It's not always a moral issue. It can be one that is just fun and educational.

Let the Discussions Begin!

I hope many of you got to your local library last night and got your copy of Righteous Porkchop to dive into! Now's when the fun begins. Open that book and start reading because next Thursday our collaborative book discussions at Barnes & Noble begin. For the rest of the month, every Thursday evening at 6:30 pm you should swing by Barnes & Noble Cedar Rapids to join the discussion. The more people that come, the more views we will be fortunate enough to hear, and the more food for thought we will carry away with us. I am really looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

I challenge all of you to allow March to be a month to question and challenge something in your life - whether it be the choices you make about the food you consume, how you can help preserve this great Earth, or how you can improve the lives of those around you. Sometimes it's worth really looking at the way we are living our lives to make sure we are choosing the options that we really want to be choosing.

Let's make March a month of reading to broaden our perspective! Hopefully you'll start with Righteous Porkchop, but why stop there?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Ag Gag" Legislation Passes Both Houses

Have you been following the "ag gag" legislation working its way through the Iowa House and Senate? There was a good guest editorial in today's Gazette about the bill, followed by an article saying it passed both houses and is now headed to Governor Branstad, who is expected to sign it. This is really relevant for our discussions and I'd love to know what you think! The legislators in both houses passed the bill with some watered down wording, and of course Big Ag is vitally important to Iowa's economic interests, but is it okay to restrict this sort of whistle-blowing? Check out information on the bill at the GAP (Government Accountability Project) website, as well.


This is an interesting video with a haunting version of the Coldplay song "The Scientist" by Willie Nelson. It's intriguing to see how a company like Chipotle uses this to promote their products.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Linn County Local Farmer and CSA Fair

Over the past twenty years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become an increasingly popular way for consumers to purchase local, seasonal food directly from the person who grows it. A person can become a member of a CSA and in return receive a box or share of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. The box can include vegetables or other farm products.

CSA's are sprouting up all over Linn County. On Sunday, March 18, the 3rd Annual Linn County  Local Farmer and CSA Fair will be held at Prairiewoods from 2 pm to 5 pm. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet local farmers, food growers and CSA farmers. Learn more about CSA shares, locally-produced meats and locally-grown vegetables. The event is free and all are welcome.

Linn Area Reads will also be hosting a fair on April 22 at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. Farm to Market will be held from 1 - 5 pm and include information on local farmers and food growers. We hope you will take some time to come to one or both of these events and learn more about what is available here in Linn County.

Monday, February 27, 2012

"I see the world from both sides now..."

I hope you all have hurried to your libraries or Barnes and Noble to snatch up your copy of this year's Linn Area Reads selection! I always enjoy books that are thought provoking, but I also enjoy books that force me to look at both sides of an issue. Righteous Porkchop happens to be one of those books.

One of the most compelling issues of the book is how to mass produce meat by sustainable means. As Nicolette points out in her book, there are many issues that arise with the current practices of the mass production of meat. Pollution, both by air and water, illnesses among the animals, and cruelty to animals are serious issues that have to be addressed.

However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the world's population currently stands at roughly 6.997 billion people. That's a lot of mouths to feed! The United States exports billions of dollars of food annually, and according to the Iowa Pork Producers website, the United States exported 2.255 million metric tons of pork in 2011. So the question becomes, how do you keep up the production of food to feed close to 7 billion people? Let alone, how do you do it in an environmentally and socially responsible way? Is there even a way to mass produce meat in a way that makes it healthy and affordable for all?

I understand that there are two sides to every issue, and that sometimes the answers are not always there. I'm curious to know as you all continue to read this book, what you might see as answers to the questions I have posted above.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Off my feed...for awhile

My parents like to tell the story of my decision to give up chicken.

Sometime in the '80s, I saw a report on a television newsmagazine (20/20? 60 Minutes?) about the production of chicken. It was fairly vivid, and wholly disgusting. It put me off chicken for quite awhile. 

And then I started eating it again.

Okay, it's not much of a story. It only makes a decent family story because...well, I don't really know why. But it always strikes us as funny.

At any rate, Righteous Porkchop may well have the same sort of impact as that report did back in the day. And it might be equally temporary. 

But it also might not be. 

See, I was just a kid in the '80s, and what I remember most about the story I saw is that it grossed me out. I don't remember that I had any particular concerns about the ethics of the production of chicken, however. 

Indeed, it would be fair to say that the ethics of food production has never been at the forefront of my mind--not even during my college days as a philosophy major. 

What has crept into my consciousness of late, however, is the awareness that the issue is of increasing importance to an increasing number of people. For that reason, I'm pleased that the Linn Area Reads program has taken up the topic. 

Will Righteous Porkchop put me (or you) off my feed? Maybe. It will certainly provide plenty of food for thought--for me and for the community.

Happy Eggs

My older son thinks the eggs we get from Forest Hill Farm taste better than regular eggs.

"They're more creamy," he says.

Well, I heard a story on Splendid Table once, in which the host described an egg taste test that pitted locally-produced eggs from happy chickens
against your standard eggs from battery hens.

The results were split.  Only about half of the tasters thought some of the eggs tasted creamier and "eggier"--those were the eggs from pasture-raised hens.

But it was pretty hard to tell which eggs were from happy hens.  This surprised me.

That doesn't mean that it's not worth eating locally-produced eggs from happy hens.  While they may not really taste any better in a careful test, they are fresher, they promote better treatment of animals, and the profits go directly to the farmer.  And besides, those eggs also contain more Omega 3.

Plus, I love the color of my farm-fresh eggs!  The fresh yolks are round, firm, and deep gold.  My mother always said that food should be visually pleasing--and farm fresh eggs please my eyes.