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Solar Crêpes Blog

Category : sustainability

In recent months there has been an explosion of symposia, t.v. series, documentaries, and films about sustainable food.  All of them share the same important themes:

  • Sustainably grown food can drastically improve the health of individuals, the planet, and the local economy.
  • WE NEED YOU!!  In order for sustainable food systems to survive and thrive they need support from the local community.
  • “Democracy is NOT a spectator sport!” Tell the judiciary and local and federal leaders that regulations should protect local food systems — THE LITTLE GUY — NOT — the big companies that pay for elections and bias regulations.

The Future of Food

In May, Georgetown University and Washington Post Live co-hosted a symposium called “The Future of Food” which brought lawmakers, chefs, farmers, researchers, policy makers, nutritionists, and activists together.  The symposium was a series of small panel discussions that covered a wide range of topics pertaining to food.  The discussion was lively, thought provoking, and at sometimes, pointed.  The highlight of the event was the keynote address given by HRH The Prince of Wales.  The Prince has been an outspoken advocate for organic farming for over 20 years — before “sustainability” was synonymous with “chic”.  His remarks highlighted the symbiotic relationship between sustainable farming and climate change.  Visit the “Future of Food” website to watch video highlights of the conference.

Harmony

Inspired by HRH The Prince of Wales, HARMONY captures him on film in a way we’ve never seen him before, an authentic leader on critical global issues…Harmony looks at the root causes of the global problems we face and offers solutions. HARMONY paints a picture of an awareness that is arising in people around the globe across boundaries of geography, race religion and socio-economic status. At a moment when we hear daily about challenges on an unprecedented planetary scale, Harmony proposes a way forward and provides the audience with a new perspective on the need to change our relationship with the planet. Harmony is a global call to action.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

Jamie Oliver, that crazy British chef, is my idol!  And, the producer of American Idol, Ryan Seacrest, apparently agrees.

Recognizing Jamie’s star power and the need to shine a star’s light on the alarming state of the food system in America’s schools, Seacrest has produced two seasons of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC.  In 2010 he took on Huntington, West Virginia, and in this past season, the Los Angeles United School District.  Over seven years ago, Jamie’s School Lunches aired on TLC, chronicling his quest to improve the British school lunch program.  If you think that it’s outrageous that more money is spent on food to feed prison inmates than is spent on American children, this program is for you!  Jamie’s believes that the answer to the skyrocketing cost of healthcare from obesity-related illnesses cannot be found in the halls of Congress; rather we need look no further than our own kitchens. Check out Jamie’s inspiring TED lecture.

Farmageddon

I saw the movie a few weeks ago for a private screening for chefs with the film’s director, Kristin Canty, a mom and first-time film maker, whose struggle to provide raw milk for her son — the only thing keeping his debilitating asthma at bay — inspired her to create a film.  Farmageddon highlights the government’s harassment of farmer/producers and consumers of raw milk.  It is difficult to understand why a substance with so many healing properties has been deemed unfit for human consumption.  I must admit that I am having a hard time convincing my own husband of the health benefits of raw milk, but regardless of your personal preferences, it’s hard to understand how it’s legal for the government to prevent a group of four families who co-own a cow from drinking its milk in whatever form they choose.  Afterall, it’s not illegal to smoke or drink alcohol when your pregnant, why can’t you drink cow’s milk raw if you wish?  The scenes of the government seizing property, animals and destroying livelihoods was something that I though only happened during the collectivization of farms in the Soviet Union.

Click here if you’re interested in hosting a viewing of the Farmageddon.  What a great way to get involved!

American Meat

This new documentary just premiered in Staunton and Waynesboro, Virginia in honor of Polyface Farm’s Family Field day.  Joel Salatin and his famed Polyface farm are featured in the documentary that examines the feasability of feeding the world from small pasture farms and debunks the myth that this time-honored method of farming cannot be financially successful.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t wait to!

The People Who Feed Us

Staci Strauss and Craig McCord (Slow Films Woodstock) apply the skills they acquired in the television commercial business to tell the stories of the great work being done by farmers, ranchers, bee-keepers, chefs, butchers, food writers, chocolatiers, cookbook authors, wine makers, distillers, seed-savers, cheese makers, fishers, foragers, and, well . . . you get the picture. They live in Woodstock, New York.


On the road again…and hungry

Every other year my husband and I drive from Virginia to Minneapolis for the holidays with our little dog, “Niesha”.  It’s always a fun trip, visiting family in several cities along the way, and fraught with danger and excitement – Will the weather hold?  Will we get sick of listening to our iPod “Christmas” playlist?  And my biggest concern – what will we eat on the three day journey?  So we pack up the family sleigh with glitter bespangled packages, the puppy nestled all snug in her crate, David in his sweatshirt and I in my cap, and food… lots and lots of food.

As we drive through beautiful West Virginia, we see familiar symbols emanating from hamlets and valleys and soaring into the sky on poles hundreds of feet off the ground, letting us know that “civilization” is not far away – the arches, the crown, the bell, the way, etc. – but all I see are mirages or mere suggestions of real food dotted throughout the interstate food dessert.  Indeed in every state we drove through – Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota – we were greeted by the same symbols.  It doesn’t make a difference what state you’re in, if you’re road tripping in America, the same “friends” follow you.

So, I want to pose some questions out into the void and offer some of my own suggestions.

When I was a kid we had the good fortune to travel throughout the U.S. and I remember how exciting it was to try restaurants and foods that were unfamiliar to me and that did not exist in our home town – so I ask what has happened to regional diversity?  Do we really need the bell, the crown, the way, and the arches, everywhere we go?  Are we that insecure?  Do we not have any creativity? Shouldn’t communities promote their local fare as a way of supporting their citizens and showing pride in their region?

Just because I’m a chef doesn’t mean that I don’t love a good burger and fries.   I’d just rather eat it at a local, quirky mom and pop with 50 year old family recipes.  There’s a name for a system where there’s so much streamlining that diversity gives way to uniformity and every store looks the same no matter where you go – it’s called communism – I know, I traveled throughout the Soviet Union before it fell to the mom and pops.

Here’s my suggestion:
Every so often, choose slow food and scenery over fast food and flight.

When traveling to Ohio a few times a year, we avoid the dreaded Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Breezewood Gateway area and instead travel on I-68 through the lovely hills of West Virginia.  There’s less traffic, beautiful scenery, and it only adds 30 minutes to our drive.  Over the years we’ve explored the various exits and now eat at some great local restaurants that are delicious and regionally diverse.  For those of you in love with your iPhones, get some info on local food options where you’re traveling and check them out instead of just getting off at the rest stop.

Another suggestion – brown bag it.    Or in our case, green cooler it.  I’m pretty conscious of the food that my family eats and try to pack yummy, snacks, sandwiches, fruit, waters, etc.,  for our road trips.  We’ll try having a picnic off of an exit or just snack in the car.  It takes some extra planning, but when you don’t have time to explore and you’re in a food dessert, you’ll be glad you did.  Traveling is hard enough and is made even worse when you feel disgusting after eating fast food.

After Christmas, on the way back to Virginia I did not take my own advice and did not pack the cooler.  Three hours into the trip, I got really hungry right in the middle of Wisconsin.  If you’ve ever driven through Wisconsin you’ve seen the ubiquitous signs for “cheese chalets” and “cheese factories” .  So after watching David scarf down a sandwich full of anemic tomatoes, from “the way”, I suggested we stop at the next cheese chalet we came across.

The next chalet was located in a town called Mauston about 2 miles off the interstate.  I’m so glad that we stopped.  I’m no longer a cheese curd virgin – I can cross that off my bucket list!   They were delicious and I loved the squeaky sound they made on my teeth – a great snack!  The ladies behind the counter had so much pride in their product, their cheese maker, and their local farmers.

The Carr Valley Cheese Company is over 100 years old and is family owned.   While I was there, several locals stopped in wanting to buy gifts for relatives or just buy some curds for a snack.  Everyone was so warm, friendly, and familiar with one another – true small town hospitality.  I was really sorry that I couldn’t stay to watch the video about the cheese making process.

So the next time you’re traveling, spend 20 minutes on the road less traveled by, have a cultural, and unique gastronomical experience.  You’ll be glad you did.

By Debbie Schmidt, RD 

What’s a PLU code?  These are the price-look-up codes found on small round stickers on the produce (ie bananas have a PLU code of 4011), or printed on the bag of the produce (broccoli crowns 4549). 

While the codes provide the digits that make grocery store check-out much easier, they do more than get you the price:  they reveal how the food was grown—conventionally, with pesticides and chemical fertilizers;  genetically modified; or organic, which signifies it was made without pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or irradiation.  

How will the code help you?

It depends on how many digits.  If four, it is conventionally grown.  If five digits, it is either genetically modified or organic.  It depends on the FIRST digit.

 Use a banana as an example:

4011CONVENTIONALLY grown produce will always be a 4-digit number, like 4011 for bananas.  Remember, this signifies conventional farming with added chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These can be toxic to children and anyone who consumes them on a regular basis so clearly these are a concern. 

Are you familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) guide that lists the top 12 dirtiest foods?  I was surprised at the number one dirtiest food.  Check out the list at  http://www.foodnews.org/  or a summary blog  

Dirty foods may be used in baby foods, as part of frozen dinners, soups, restaurant fare, etc which means foods may be contaminated with unacceptable pesticides/carcinogens.

For example, the EWG found that of the baby foods tested, 53% were found to be contaminated with at least one pesticide.  The worst baby foods? Plums and peaches.  And what was found in the baby food?  According to the EWG’s press release, Iprodione (Rovral), classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, was found more often than any other pesticide with eight detections, followed by thiabendazole with seven detections, botran with six, and permethrin with five.” Plums and peaches contained Rovral.  For more info go tohttp://www.ewg.org/node/7582

 84011—that same number with an “8” in front would be from GE or GMO seed and is GENETICALLY modified. A GMO banana would have the “8” before the 4011 as would any produce.  Since this is not a mandatory labeling system, rarely are GMO foods identified.

94011—If you are looking for ORGANICALLY grown produce, the important number is a 9 that precedes the four digits.   When possible, but especially if you are choosing between a dirty dozen contender and an organic one, select the organic food.  Reports suggest you will obtain one-third fewer pesticides than conventional.  There are additional benefits listed below.  In most cases, cost is justified, but when it comes to the clean 15 (the cleanest produce by EWG), I would stick with conventionally grown.

 Organics’ benefits:

1.   Organic milk has significantly higher quantities of vitamin E – a key component that contributes to the shelf-life of milk – than its conventional equivalent, say Danish researchers, who suggest that this is due to the difference in the feed of the animal. 2004

2.  Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops..  International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2003

3.  More vitamin E, vitamin A, and carotene in eggs. Mother Earth News reports (8/05): “Tests of eggs from four free-range flocks found that, compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for eggs from confinement production systems, the eggs from chickens raised on free range were much more nutritious – up to twice as rich in vitamin E, up to six times richer in beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) and four times richer in essential omega-3 fatty acids. And, the free-range eggs averaged only half as much cholesterol as the USDA data indicates for confinement-system eggs.”

4. More lycopene in organic ketchup.Testing 13 commercial ketchup sources – organic and different colored varieties – scientists at the US department of agriculture found that the organic versions excelled, with one brand containing 183 micrograms of lycopene per gram of ketchup, about five times as much per weight as a tomato, reports the New Scientist. 2005

5.   There are more antioxidants in organic apples than conventionally grown apples  (http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Organic-apples-beat-conventionals-on-antioxidants).

If you grew up in the 80’s wearing your collar up, white socks with penny loafers, and your J.C. Penney’s flight jacket, you’ll love our video parody of Top Gun, called “Top Cart”, which we think is pretty hilarious AND informative.  It’s all part of our Kickstarter campaign for our solar panels.  Please check it out and feel free to post your comments on our Kickstarter profile and be a part of putting the area’s first solar-powered food cart on the street!

And if you like this video, there’s more to come, this is just the first installment of the “Top Cart” series — stay tuned!