Monday, December 21, 2009

Mid Winter Festival

The Winter Solstice has been a celebrated day throughout most of human history and prehistory. It is on this day that the last festival or feast was commonly held before the coming of the wintry months or the times of famine. The solstice was extremely important due to the fact that in early times survival was not certain in the months ahead. Many communities would slaughter much of their livestock, so they would not have to be fed during the lean months of winter. Hence meat was uncommonly plentiful and so was alcoholic beverages due to their coincidental fermentation near this date. Therefore with the uncertainty of life, large amounts of meat and great quantities of alcohol, a party seemed quite appropriate.

Although life is a bit more certain and meat and alcohol is always plentiful, we still celebrate this ancient tradition, through a dozen or more religious celebrations.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I have a confession to make, I am a virtual farmer. I have 4 pink pigs that get truffles. I wanted bacon but I got truffles instead. I also have reindeer that my virtual farmer self brushes for fur. I'm not exactly sure how internet people use shedded reindeer fur, but that's none of my concern for its only the points and the gold coins that truly matter in this back to the land game.

Farmville is an internet game that one can play that is associated with Facebook. In this unrealistic game, farmers get paid in gold coins, which I know many farmers in the real world wished would happen especially with the price of gold right now. No farm animal dies, personally a problem for me... because I know that even my virtual self would love to eat some virtual pork and beef every now and then. And the fact that there are no seasons so one can harvest pumpkins, corn, wheat and strawberries all at the same time. Additionally I have date and fig trees growing right along with my apple trees while a reindeer stands next to them. I know that video games are not supposed to be real but this does stretch ones imagination.

So in the end why am I playing this game along with thousands of others? Well I could give a long convoluted answer about how we all wish we could be closer to the land and need even a virtual sense of our food. However that would belie the point that people want something mindless to take up some of those stand still minutes that are spaced throughout our day when nothing is happening. Life is much simpler in the unreal virtual world where one plants crops and harvests them without weeding or working 4 hours to a day later. Yet, in the end the whole virtual farm world is just a bit tasteless.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Frontera, Inspection, and a Waste of Good Food

Just this past week inspectors from the Illinois Department of Agriculture raided Rick Bayless's restaurants Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and Xoco. The raid was prompted after the blog Food Chain did a story about two dads who were running an underground charcutiers (or pork butcher), E & P Meats. The story stated that both E & P Meats and Rick Bayless received their pork from the same farm, Maple Creek Farms, in Penwaukee, Wisconsin.

The agents seized 80 pounds of bacon and an unknown amount of headcheese. The agents stated that the items had been inspected and certified by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture but not by Illinois, therefore making it illegal to serve in a restaurant. The food will be destroyed wasting a large amount of delicious food.

I understand that this action was done for the health of the people in Chicago, but lets be serious food from that farm is probably healthier than any thing from a CAFO or a large slaughter house. Lets be serious all of the major outbreaks in the US have not come from small farms. They come from these large corporate farms and USDA certified slaughter houses. The inspection of our food in this country is a joke.
It is my sentiment that this is just another attack on small family farms. Farms that should, in my humble opinion, receive the blessing of the USDA instead of their animosity. I for one do not buy meat at the grocery store because I do not believe that it has been produced in an ethical, humane, environmental, or healthy way. I now only purchase my meat from local farmers who I have met at the farmers' markets.

In summation, I support Rick Bayless and his tireless support of local farms and his desire to purchase products for his restaurants that have come from people and faces that he knows. And I want to say to the inspectors go find a real problem and deal with that.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Petri Pork: One More Step to Ruining Our Food

Well some more Frankenstienish food direct from the lab is coming soon or maybe not. Scientists in Holland have made a soggy flavorless meat like substance from stem cells of muscle tissue from a pig. They initially extracted cells from a pig called myoblasts and then put them into a solution. These cells are hardwired by their DNA to replicate and become muscle tissue.

The scientist claim that cultured pork or meat could save millions of tons in greenhouse gases. However, this will only work if people are willing to eat this type of meat. The Dutch scientists in charge of this experiment are hoping that their work will lead to a larger production of food and help to feed multitudes of people in the coming years. Since you could take muscle cells from one healthy specimen and then multiply them indefinitely in the lab.

This experiment was built off of a similar experiment that scientists in the United States did when they tried to grow fish fillets in a lab from stem cells from a gold fish (can any one say yummm!). Scientists are trying to find a way to toughen up the soggy pork since they believe its limp form is due from not exercising.

“We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there. This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it.”

The Dutch scientists have received generous funding from a sausage manufacturer and from the Dutch government. Reaction world wide has been mixed from various agencies. PETA has endorsed the experiments whereas farmers are feeling slightly skeptical about it. As for myself and others I have talked about we are just feeling a bit queasy and noxious about the idea.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Tonight for dinner I made grill cheese sandwiches and sweet potato chips. The sweetness of the sweet potato and the saltiness of the chip combined to make a great side dish. However, while eating them I began to wonder about the history of the sweet potato. Over Thanksgiving I learned that it was not a relative of a yam, which intrigued me and helped to lead to this post.

The sweet potato is a relative of the morning glory family, Convolvulacea, and has many different varieties. This plant has its beginnings in prehistoric South America and comes in a range of skin and flesh colors. Furthermore, there are two distinct groupings of sweet potato varieties, "soft" and "firm". It is the ones in the "soft" category that have caused the confusion with yams.

During the time of slavery in the south, sweet potatoes were brought from South America and used as a staple food source for slaves. Slaves seeing and cooking with the "soft" variety of sweet potatoes believed them to be nyami, an edible starchy root that is grown throughout Africa. The name was changed to yam and stuck.

However, the nyami and the sweet potato are quite different botanically speaking. For one the nyami is a monocot group, which means that they only have one seed-leaf or cotyledon. Whereas the sweet potato is a dicot or a plant that has two seed-leaves or cotyledons. The sweet potato is originally from Peru and Ecuador and the nyami is originally from West Africa and Asia. Lastly, the sweet potato has half the growing season as the nyami.

In the grocery store most of the "yams" that you will see for sale are actually a "soft" variety of sweet potato. All true yams or nyami must be grown in a warmer climate such as the carribean due to the exceptionally long growing season. So we don't actually see them for sale very often here in the United States and can only usually be found in an international market.

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labils with the term yam to be accompanied by the term sweet potato.





Scientific Name

Ipomoea batatas

Dioscorea Species


Plant family

Morningglory (Convolvulaceae)

Yam (Dioscoreaceae)


Plant group




Chromosome number

2n=90 (hexaploid)



Flower character





Tropical America (Peru, Ecuador)

West Africa, Asia


Historical beginning


50,000 BC


Edible storage organ

Storage root




4 to 10

1 to 5



Smooth, with thin skin

Rough, scaly



Short, blocky, tapered ends

Long, cylindrical, some with "toes"


Dry matter

22 to 28%

20 to 35%


Mouth feel








Beta carotene (Vit. A)

High (orange vars.)*

Very low



Transplants/vine cuttings

Tuber pieces


Growing season

90 to 150 days (120= Jewel)

180 to 360 days




At senescence



(Cured at 80 to 86oF) 55 to 60oF

54 to 61oF


Climatic requirements

Tropical and temperate




Grown in USA

Imported from Caribbean