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Mariel Sullivan

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Donuts And Apple Cider: An Autumn Marriage Made By Autos And Automation

Via D. Sharon Pruitt Pink Sherbet/Getty Images

 

On donuts and cider…

When baker Julie Richardson was growing up in Vermont, Autumn Saturdays had a particular rhythm. First, soccer practice. And then, to the apple orchard for some cider and donuts.

“I would sit there and watch that machine — watch the doughnuts plop into the hot oil, go down the conveyor belt and plop out the other end,” she says.

For many New Englanders — and for people across the country who grew up near apple orchards — it’s just not Fall without cider and donuts. It’s a combination that makes culinary sense: When cider is used to make the dough, Richardson notes, the acidity helps yield a tender crumb. And a cold, crisp glass of cider helps wash down the deliciously oily donuts, hot from the fryer — the autumnal version of milk and cookies.

Read on at The Salt.

The Notorious Seafood Mogul Known as the “Codfather” Just Got Nearly 4 Years in Prison

Via John Sladewski/AP

 

An update on the Codfather…

Criminals don’t come more colorful than Carlos Rafael, once the most powerful fisherman in the nation’s most valuable seafood port. Rafael, who was the subject of a FERN story published earlier this year with Mother Jones, was known widely as the Codfather. He conquered the fishing industry in New Bedford, Mass., through a combination of guile and rule-bending; he famously described himself as a pirate, and told regulators it was their job to catch him. On Monday, the law finally caught up to the Codfather: A federal judge sentenced Rafael to 46 months in prison for masterminding one of the biggest fisheries frauds in American history.

Read on at Mother Jones.

One Man’s Quest To Feed A Hungry, Isolated California County

Via Lisa Morehouse

 

On food deserts…

Across the United States, more than one out of every 10 people is “food insecure,” which means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In Trinity County, a sparsely populated area in northwestern California, that number is closer to one in five.

Jeff England, director of the Trinity County Food Bank, is trying to change that.

The sun has barely come up in the tiny town of Douglas City, Calif. England and two other men are almost done packing a couple of trucks with food.

“We’re loaded to the gills,” he says, pointing to produce like cabbage, white onions and sweet potatoes, along with packaged and canned foods.

Read on at The Salt.

Visiting Scholar Massimo Bottura Promotes Social Justice with Food

 

By Fabio Parasecoli, Associate Professor and the Coordinator of Food Studies

As food becomes more visible and central in contemporary culture, media, and politics, chefs are increasingly expected to participate in current debates on important issues ranging from health to justice and the environment. In particular, those who enjoy global visibility and celebrity appeal at times may assume a leading role in introducing changes in the way we produce, consume, and even think about food. While some culinary stars are not especially comfortable in such position, which comes with high expectations, others have embraced it fully. While they work in their restaurants, they also write, speak, and launch initiatives that are meant to make people think and, hopefully, modify their behaviors. That’s the case with the Italian chef Massimo Bottura.

Massimo opened Osteria Francescana in 1995 in his hometown of Modena, Italy. Over the past decade, he has become the leader of the contemporary Italian kitchen. In June 2016, Osteria Francescana was awarded the No. 1 position on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Bottura is trying to introduce not only novelties in terms of materials, methods, and dishes, but also new concepts and guiding principles that are meant to foster long-lasting paradigm shifts in various aspects of the food system, moving it toward social justice, food security, and environmental sustainability.

During the 2015 Milan Expo, which focused on food and nutrition, Bottura focused on using the produce and ingredients from the mega-event that would go to waste to create a new model of providing nourishment to the needy. The result was the Refettorio Ambrosiano, an abandoned theater next to a church in a working-class neighborhood in Milan. In this space, Bottura invited some of the most famous chefs from around the world to get creative and find ways to provide tasty food by taking advantage of what would be otherwise thrown away. Immigrants from other countries, refugees, as well as Italians, some of them homeless, are invited to enjoy a welcoming atmosphere where their needs are met with dignity and respect. In the Refettorio famous chefs (mostly unknown to the guests) prepare delicious dishes, while volunteers serve food to the guests like in a restaurant, avoiding some of the dynamics of soup kitchens and the social stigma that comes with it. By launching Refettorio, Bottura underlined the problem of food waste and the contributions chefs can provide by collaborating with food security experts, designers, and architects, so that nutritious and flavorful meals are made available to the needy while creating a sense of community and participation.

 

 

The experience was so positive that Bottura launched a Refettorio in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics, making use of the food that was bought for the athletes and never used, and later one in London. To manage and coordinate such initiatives, together with his wife Lara Gilmore, Massimo Bottura founded Food for Soul, a non-profit organization that aims to empower communities to fight food waste through social inclusion. Its goal is to encourage public, private and non-profit organizations to create and sustain community kitchens around the world. Each project aims to bring a sense of dignity back to the table by promoting the values of art and beauty, encouraging solidarity within local communities and recovering food, places and people.

When we, as a Food Studies program, started collaborating with the Institute of Culinary Education to organize the conference Zero Waste Food, which took place on April 28 and 29, 2017, we immediately decided to reach out to Massimo as a possible keynote speaker – an invitation which he accepted. At the same time, we organized the first US screening of the film Theater of Life, by Peter Svatek, which later became available on Netflix. In Theater of Life, food is not only a pleasure to covet, but also sustenance and consolation. As awesome as they may be, the featured chefs are not the only stars; the less glamorous aspects of food, its distribution, and its preparation take center stage together with the guests. Food’s power to bring people together and provide some comfort, as temporary and not devoid of contradictions as it may be, is highlighted.

Thanks to a grant from the Tishman Environment and Design Center, we were able to hire a graduate student, Cecilia Depman, to collaborate on a research project aiming at evaluating the opportunities to open a Refettorio in NYC. Led by Food for Soul leaders Massimo Bottura, Lara Gilmore, and Cristina Reni, the exploration focused on building a coalition of stakeholders interested in community empowerment through food. The participants researched the emergency food environment in the Bronx by visiting soup kitchens and understanding successful models for service.

 

 

Many organizations and passionate individuals are committed to improving the health and nutrition of Bronx residents through improved access to food.  In New York, food insecurity is a problem increasingly being solved through repurposed food waste. Organizations such as City Harvest have established networks that redirect unused food to emergency food providers such as soup kitchens and food pantries around the city.

Food for Soul is interested in finding untapped potential in community spaces and otherwise wasted food to feed communities. A restaurant style soup kitchen model has a unique capacity not only to unite individuals around a communal table, but to establish an inclusive space for community and culture to flourish. The research that took place in the Bronx last semester helped to plant the seeds for a project such as this; one which would build upon the existing landscape of healthy food initiatives, and reimagine the role of unused food and space in the health, spirit, and well-being of a community.

Special thanks to the Tishman Environment and Design Center.

What is Polish cuisine?

What is Polish cuisine? One year ago I traveled to Poland for my first exploration of its food and culinary traditions. I was both surprised and intrigued by the vitality of the whole sector, the quality of ingredients, the works of producers, and the creativity of chefs. I was so captivated by what I saw that I kept going back, most recently in a culinary trip to Warsaw and the Western cities of Poznań and Wrocław organized by the Polish Cultural Institute in NYC and Polish Plate.

A few visits later, and with a better (although not extensive enough) knowledge of the culinary scene in the country, I realized how unusually urgent the question about what is Polish cuisine seems to have become. I have had the opportunity to sit on panels, participate in public and private debates, and serve as a judge in competitions focusing on specialties ranging from nalewki (the local spirits made by steeping fruits, wild berries, and other ingredients in alcohol) to czernina (a soup that features duck blood) and stuffed goose. The conversations often veered towards the very nature Polish cuisine and what makes it unique and distinctive.

It is ingredients? Dishes? Specific habits and traditions? Or it is rather a question of who produces and prepares what is eaten? Is it necessary to dig back into the near and remote past to identify specific customs and flavors profiles, or should one stick to contemporary practices? The answers to these questions run the gamut from the desire to find essential (and unchanging) characteristics to a more nuanced appreciation for the recent resurgence of food in Poland in terms of quality, visibility, and relevance in public discourse.

As a scholar in food studies, participating in these conversations has prompted other, maybe more reflexive (more “meta,” as we like to say when we use jargon), questions: why are all sorts of stakeholders in the food system discussing what is Polish food? Why now? What are the motivations and the goals of such discussions? Are these topics of interest to large segments of Poles, or are they rather the exclusive domain of producers and other actors on the culinary scene, from chefs to media and tourist operators?

There is definitely a widespread interest about reconnecting (“rediscovering” is often the preferred expression) with local and traditional ingredients and dishes that are at times perceived as threatened by globalization and the growing popularity of foreign foods, at times experienced as unfortunately left aside because considered too rustic, or backward, or plain. Sitting in fine-dining restaurants such as Dom Wódki Elixir in Warsaw, Toga and A Nóż Widelec in Poznań, or Jadka in Wrocław you have the impression that traditional elements are already successfully integrated in modern, current culinary styles that can definitely hold their own on the international stage. Enterprises such as Pszczelarium and Nalewki Staropolskie (arguably the most recognizable nalewka production in Poland) in Warsaw, or Folwark Wąsowo and the carp ponds of Stawy Milickie in Lower Silesia, all appear to seamlessly connect past and present, merging old techniques and know-how with modern distribution and marketing savvy.

It is not easy to pinpoint the origins of this renewed interest in defining Polish food and in appreciating local and traditional ingredients and dishes. In part, Poland is reflecting a global trend among the rising middle-classes in post-industrial societies, for whom food has emerged as an important area in the formation, negotiation, and performance of individual and collective identities. As Poland transitions out of its post-communist phase and into a more mature – although not less troubled – political landscape, and consumerism in embraced as the standard lifestyle, food plays an increasingly relevant role in defining the cultural outlook, social status, and political worldviews of citizens from all walks of life.

This growing importance and visibility of food manifests itself in the success of culinary shows and media, also among the large majority of Poles that otherwise may go to restaurants only rarely and think twice before purchasing an expensive product. Among the middle-class, especially in urban environments and the younger generations, such relevance reveals the characteristics of what we could call “global foodie cosmopolitanism,” which expresses itself – in Warsaw as in Brooklyn, Rio de Janeiro or Bangalore – through specific sensory aesthetics in terms of flavors, dish presentation, environments (bar, restaurants, cafes), packaging, performance of preparation, service, and consumption. Heavily tinged in hipster undertones, this cosmopolitanism also supports the appreciation for local and traditional culinary elements that are globally hailed as a form of resistance to globalization, transnational corporations, and environmental disaster.

At the same time, Poland is inevitably dealing with the complexities deriving the presence along its history of various communities in the territory that now falls under Poland: Germans, Ukrainians, and Lithuanians just to mention a few. Such intricate past – which will come to the forefront in 2018 on the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of the formation of contemporary Poland as an independent nation-state – is also heightened by the presence of different religions (Catholic, Protestants, Jews) at different points in time. Moreover, some culinary traditions, while felt as quintessentially Polish, are similar to those in neighboring countries. As a consequence of all this, should we speak of Polish cuisine, or rather of the cuisines (in the plural) in Poland? And how would these two different approaches to thinking about Polish food fly in the present cultural and political climate?

 

More Healthful Kids Meals? Panera CEO Dishes Out A Challenge

Via Charles Krupa/AP

 

On an initiative bringing more nutritious options to kids menus…

Chicken nuggets. French fries. Pizza. Repeat.

This repertoire of kids menu items may seem familiar to many families, but one fast-casual chain aims to put a lot more options in front of its young customers.

Beginning this month, there’s a kid-sized version of almost everything on Panera’s regular menu. The portion shrinks, as does the price. “Kids now have the choice of 250 different combinations,” Panera CEO Ron Shaich told NPR.

So, how about a Greek salad with greens and quinoa? Squash soup or a whole-grain flatbread with turkey and cranberries? Maybe these could expand kids’ palates.

Read on at The Salt.

‘They’re Scared’: Immigration Fears Exacerbate Migrant Farmworker Shortage

Via Melissa Block/NPR

 

On some of the threats facing migrant workers…

On a recent, perfect morning at Johnson Farms in northern Michigan, workers climb wooden ladders high up into the trees, picking bags strapped across their bodies. The branches are heavy with fruit that glows in the morning sun. Their fingers are a blur, nimbly plucking fruit and filling bushel bags: about 50 pounds per load. It’s hard, sweaty work.

Apple season was just getting underway on Old Mission Peninsula, a finger of land poking into Lake Michigan, dotted with lush farms.

The pickers range in age from 21 to 65, and all of them are Mexican. As in the rest of the country, growers in heavily agricultural northern Michigan rely overwhelmingly on migrant laborers to work the fields and orchards.

Read on at The Salt.

How A Venezuelan Chef Is Teaching Women To Make Chocolate And Money

Via Cacao de Origen

 

How one woman is fighting back against instability in Venezuela…

Even when things aren’t going your way, there’s chocolate: a universal balm if ever there was one. While cacao beans –– the precursor of a chocolate bar –– grow in many places, one country where you can find superb specimens is Venezuela.

Unfortunately, for well over a decade, the country has been in a downward spiral. One woman is working tirelessly to circumvent this new normal. Maria Fernanda Di Giacobbe is a Venezuelan chocolatier who has dedicated her life to proving that her country’s cacao can propel an entire industry, even when the world around it is floundering.

Read on at The Salt.

Arkansas Defies Monsanto, Moves To Ban Rogue Weedkiller

Via Dan Charles/NPR

 

Another Monsanto product is causing widespread damage…

Arkansas is on the verge of banning the use, during the growing season, of a Monsanto-backed weedkiller that has been blamed for damaging millions of acres of crops in neighboring farms this year.

The weedkiller is called dicamba. It can be sprayed on soybeans and cotton that have been genetically modified to tolerate it. But not all farmers plant those new seeds. And across the Midwest, farmers that don’t use the herbicide are blaming their dicamba-spraying neighbors for widespread damage to their crops — and increasingly, to wild vegetation.

The issue has driven a wedge through farming communities in the Midwest, straining friendships and turning neighbors into adversaries.

Read on at The Salt.

Is Fondant Free Speech? Chefs Show Support For Gay Marriage As Court Case Looms

Via Kelly Jo Smart/NPR

 

On Chefs for Equality…

Bedecked in fondant and flowers, modern wedding cakes are the centerpiece of the marriage feast — an edible form of art. But are they also an expression of free speech?

That is the question the Supreme Court will consider this fall when it hears the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple because he said it would violate his religious beliefs.

“You’d think cake would be apolitical, and yet here we are,” muses baker Catherine George of Catherine George Cakes.

She was among the Washington, D.C.-area pastry chefs who crafted 18 elaborate tiered wedding cakes to show their support for marriage equality. Their creations were on display Tuesday night at the sixth annual Chefs for Equality in D.C., a fundraiser hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. Some 140 chefs, pastry chefs and mixologists participated in this year’s event. The theme: “Who Can Resist?”

Read on at The Salt.