Rex the Rabbit (Cacciatore)

This week I once again found myself with that restless urge to cook up something new. Rummaging around in my freezer, I pulled out a package from my Lefever Holbrook Ranch meat delivery: “rabbit ‘Rex’ 2.5 lbs.” Poor old Rex!–I may have scratched his ears back in September when I visited Paulette and her kids on the ranch. Rex wasn’t his name, of course–it was his breed, developed in France in the early 20th century. And now that I think about it, the rabbit I met in Goldendale did have a Gallic air about him, holding me with his dark gaze as I stroked his plush velvet coat.

The whole rabbit family on Paulette’s ranch is pretty cosmopolitan; here’s Madison with one of the babies (“kits”), whose mother was a New Zealand (in spite of its name, first bred in Mexico, also around the early 20th century) and whose father was our friend Rex. (You’d recognize a New Zealand–a big fluffy albino white rabbit with ears that blush pink.) Since rabbits raised for meat are often harvested at two months old, and I got my order from the ranch at the end of November, I’m now thinking that my Rex was actually Rex fils, one of these September kits.

With Rex now defrosting on my kitchen counter, I feel an unexpected pang. I know the usual things about him that I want to know about the food that I eat: where he came from, who raised him, how he was raised. But this time I know him.

Why am I a carnivore? Like you, I’ve read any number of articles about the need to eat lower on the food chain–much less meat and more fruits, grains, and vegetables. For one thing, it’s easier on the environment; it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and methane gas from farm animals accounts for around 15% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Also, we’d show some shred of solidarity with the other seven billion of us on the planet–we can’t all eat this way, so maybe none of us should. And then of course it’s easier on the animals!

But eating meat runs deep. When I was growing up in South Texas, we had meat at almost every meal. Ham and bacon. Plenty of beef–pot roast, steaks, hamburger in all of its chameleon forms. Chicken, the noble yard bird!–I remember helping my grandmother slaughter and clean them for Sunday supper.

We got some of this meat by hunting. I went a few times, but my father and brothers went every year. My dad had an old Scout (precursor to the now ubiquitous SUV!) welded and bolted into a hunting machine–braces for standing up to scan across the mesquite brush for quarry, gun racks, a ball-mount tow-hitch to pull his beat-up old jeep behind them. In early fall, before the break of day, they would load up the bird dogs and head out to their lease to hunt quail and white-wing dove. In November, they went off for long weekends to the hunting camp, getting up early every day to hike out to their stand and sit silently for hours watching for a deer to emerge from the dawn shadows and mist.

If they got their shot, on the way back home they would stop at Gafford’s grocery store to leave the dressed animal in a rented freezer locker. It was a tradition in our family that my dad would share his deer with a Mexican woman who worked with him, and then a few days before Christmas, she and her family would bring us venison tamales!–Dozens and dozens of them. To this day, when I am home for the holidays we have chili and tamales for our Christmas Eve meal.

So eating meat, for many of us, is part of who we are, where we came from, how we savor the earth’s bounty together. Do we need to become vegetarians or even vegans? I can imagine getting there (or at least getting close) some day, but for now I just try to choose and prepare my food as thoughtfully as I can.

So, I’m still a carnivore, though I hope a more minimal and mindful one. And today I braised poor Rex alla Cacciatora (hunter style). He was delicious!

Rabbit Stew (recipe from the New York Times, January 4th, 2012)

  • 1 whole rabbit (2 1/2 to 3 lbs.)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • flour, for dusting
  • 2 cups onions, finely diced
  • 2 cups leeks, finely diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften drained and finely chopped (save the liquid to add to the sauce)
  • 8 oz. cremini or portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced (I used portobellos)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
  1. 1. Cut up the rabbit; the directions were complicated, but basically you want more or less the same pieces you’d get with a chicken–a breast (you can split it into two pieces), two front legs, a back, and two back legs (possibly split into two pieces each–thigh and drumstick, more or less).
  2. Heat 1/4 inch olive oil in a Dutch oven or deep, wide heavy skillet over medium heat. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour. Lightly brown the rabbit for about 3 minutes o both sides, working in batches. Drain on kitchen towels, then transfer to a baking dish in one layer. Heat over to 375 degrees.
  3. Pour off the used oil, wipe out the pan and add 2 tablespoons fresh oil. Heat to medium-high, add the onions and cook till soft, about 5 minutes. Add the leek, garlic, rosemary and mushrooms. Season generously with salt and pepper; add red pepper flakes to taste. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes and wine, and let the mixture reduce for 1 minute. Add the broth and mushroom liquid, bring to a simmer, taste and adjust the seasoning (but remember that the red pepper flakes will get hotter).
  5. Ladle the mixture evenly over the rabbit. Cover the dish, and bake for 1 hour. Let it rest 10 minutes before serving.

I ate my first serving on a bed of fettucini. Tomorrow I might serve it on rice. Or potatoes? Or just a big slice of beautiful rustic bread.

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Cooking Anne Hilton’s Christmas chapbook

My friend Anne made a chapbook of vegetarian recipes for her mother’s Christmas present this year, and I was lucky enough to get a copy too! Entirely handcrafted, “from paper cutting and ink mixing to typesetting and the actual printing,” this little chapbook took me back to my first glimpse, in some dimly remembered college course, of the complicated construction of early letterpress books. Preparing the paper and ink, assembling the type into forms for each page and color, making each impression– every single stage calls for huge care and precision.. And no trivial task, either, to get from a flat sheet of paper to a folded booklet! (Try it! Using these pictures as a guide, take a sheet of printer paper, mark off one side into eight sections, and fold yourself a copy of Anne’s book.)  Anne tells me that the whole project took more than 100 hours of work.

The project also weaves together threads of the story of Anne and her mother; Anne explains that “while I was living in Korea, my mother sent me a book of vegetarian recipes for Christmas one year that she had written by hand. I still have and use that book, so I wanted to return the favor.” What could make a better gift?  The Korean character on the over of the chapbook means “good fortune, luck, or happiness;” Through her craftsmanship, I think Anne has made a little bit of all three–certainly luck for me!

Turning through the booklet, I noticed a recipe for “seitan” and green bean curry. Seitan?–Never heard of it. (At what point will I stop running into new ingredients?) Seitan, it turns out, is seasoned wheat protein–essentially, a very dense reduction of wheat gluten. (Not for everybody, obviously.) Look for it in the same case as tofu. Some people consider it “meat-like;” I bought a version called “chicken-style.” (I used to scoff at vegetarians who ate “pretend meat”–think veggie-burgers–but the more I learn about the costs of diets like my own Texas-size carnivore fare, the more inclined I am to explore alternatives. If a plant food can satisfy a meat craving, so much the better!)

This recipe came from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, one of numerous excellent cookbooks put out by the famous Moosewood Collective in Ithaca, NY. I went ahead and bought the book, but you can also find the recipe online (for instance in Google Books).

Here’s your list of ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped (~2 cups)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh chile, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)
  • 4 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (~3 to 3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 pound seitan, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • toasted unsalted cashew nuts

This dish is essentially a stir-fry; you want to have all these ingredients ready to go, so that you can work rapidly. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok and add the onions and garlic. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes before adding the chile or cayenne, garam masala, and cumin. Stirring, sauté for another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the green beans, then the seitan, and mix well. Stir in the tomatoes, coconut milk, and water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes, until the beans are firm-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve topped with toasted cashews for a nice contrast in texture. It came out very nicely! Instead of rice, I cooked farro to go with the curry. Farro (also called emmer) is also a new food for me, although I gather that it is an ancient grain, even collected in the wild by pre-agrarian people as long as 17,000 years ago. My farro, though, was grown by Lentz Spelt Farms from Foundation Seed in arid eastern Washington, in Marlin over by Moses Lake.

This is not a demanding dish to prepare! But as I cooked, I thought about Anne’s mother writing down recipes for her to cook in Korea, and about eighteen hippies in Ithaca, NY forming a collective back in 1973 in to celebrate vegetarian fare, and about Washington farmers carrying forward the life of an ancient grain, and about Anne spending 100 hours crafting her chapbook. And as I serve dinner, I break into a grin: “we made this!”

(By the way, Anne also has a food blog!–be sure to visit her!)

Tilth’s demo garden: Life in the sustainable garden

Standing in a garden on a warm sunny day, watching cream-colored butterflies flutter among the tidy plots of vegetables, listening to the buzz and whir of hover-flies and bees, I wasn’t really thinking of Tennyson’s “nature red in tooth and claw.” But I was touring Seattle Tilth’s demonstration garden, and tour leader Amy Ockerlander was just then telling us about watching a centipede cut up a cabbage worm and eat it. How can you raise the odds that you’ll have a hungry centipede patrolling your garden patch? We were there to see how Tilth harnesses natural processes to grow healthy vegetables in sustainable ways.

Big message number one was start with mulch. (That’s Amy by the huge pile of it.) Especially in a climate like ours, where it rains all winter long and then in summer (usually!) rains hardly at all, mulch soaks up moisture, keeps nutrients from being washed away, and suppresses weeds that fight your veg for nutrients. Plus it provides a happy home for critters like centipedes, spiders, and other helpful killers. You can also protect your soil by putting down a layer of feed bags (especially effective over the winter here to keep soil dry-ish). This is Seattle, so of course we go for coffee-bean bags!

Mulch was only one “layer” strategy we talked about. Those cream-colored butterflies?–As they flutter prettily from plant to plant they are laying hundreds of dot-sized eggs on your cabbage-family plants that hatch into voracious bright green cabbage worms. One way to mess them up is to put in a physical barrier–cover the plants with row cover, a light cloth sheet that keeps the butterflies from sticking their eggs to the leaves.

In following the “layer” strategy, you don’t always have to put the layer on top. In “hugelkultur,” the raised garden bed starts with a layer of rotting wood (chips, twigs, sticks, branches . . .) at the bottom. Then you mound the soil on top. Think of the wood as a “nurse log” for your plant, sponging up water and nutrients that otherwise would leach away.

To thrive, your garden also needs pollinator insects like mason bees. The Tilth gardeners have constructed mason bee “blocks,” little bee condominiums, under the eaves of the building, so that the bees can over-winter and re-populate year after year. And to attract pollinators, the garden has flowering ornamentals planted among the vegetables.

Some plants naturally thrive when planted together, like the “three sisters” in Mexican farming: corn, squash, and beans. (Normally, the corn would be close to eight feet tall!–but here in Seattle, it’s lucky to hit five feet.) The corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb up, and the squash shades the roots of the other “sisters.”

Big message number two was keep your resources where you use them. They use a rain garden to manage the rainfall runoff from the building–about 20,000 gallons of it in a typical year! (This is water that isn‘t going into the sewer system, to be processed and then bought back from the city to water the garden. That’s a long round trip to water that veg patch over there!) Pipes capture the water and feed it to a narrow trickle of rock-lined stream bed that delivers it to a  bowl-shaped depression about five feet across. The thick plantings hold it there until it soaks out to the surrounding area. They also use compost “digesters” to break down plant trimmings into nutrients that leak out of the bottom into the surrounding soil to be taken up by the next-door-neighbor plants.

Amy described the whole sustainable gardening endeavor as “bringing life into the garden.” I loved to hear how cleverly these master gardeners wove together and managed the thrust of life in soil, plants, insects, light, and water to make a healthy, bountiful harvest. But for me, it is also a sustaining pleasure to see the order and grace of their well-tended garden–to sit on a lovely trellis bench and gaze at the garden, to admire a fragrant stand of basil corralled by an artful soldiering of bamboo stakes, to imagine beans scrambling up the string trellis behind the lettuces in their hoop pergolas. I love these minutely tended plots that speak so eloquently about the diligence and hopes of the people who built them!

Down on the (campus!) farm

On-campus at the University of Washington, on a meandering quarter-acre around the Botany Greenhouse, UW students have labored for over seven years to build out a working farm, complete with “beds in buckets,” cold-frames, irrigation system, two bee hives, and four plump chickens with their own custom chicken-tractor. And last but not least, a functioning clay-and-straw pizza oven! (More on that later.)

UW Farm signLast week, Beth Wheat, newly minted UW PhD in Biology (now a postdoc in the Program on the Environment) and the Educational Coordinator for UW Farm, capped off the Seattle Arts & Lectures series “Following Wendell: the culture and politics of sustenance” by giving us a talk and a tour of the operation.

Beth set the stage by pointing out that less than 2% of our population now farms, and the average age of the American farmer is 57. Even here in Washington (an agricultural state, actually, if you leave out Seattle and Boeing), students were showing up in ecology classes with no idea what a growing vegetable looked like–they couldn’t match a carrot with a carrot top. Hence the motivating idea for UW Farm: actively educate citizens for a more sustainable future by teaching students how to grow food.

cold framesSo they started digging away, preparing all the beds and buckets by hand, adding structures like the cold frames shown here, trying out new ideas about growing food. They now layer crimson clover under chard, to fix nitrogen. They consider the salad-making possibilities of their “weeds.”

planting beds in medianThey also really ran with the concept of the parking-strip garden! Here, between a sidewalk and a bike path, they have a series of beds, borders, buckets, and teepees growing everything from herbs to beans.

student Michelle giving us the tour

Helping out with our tour were student farmers Michelle Venetucci Harvey and Julia Reed (Michelle shown here). Both are also active volunteers with the farm–two of the 150 students typically involved at a given time! The farm has a Compost Crew,  it has a Chicken Crew, it has the Dirty Dozen (now 40 students) who meet on Monday mornings at 7:30 (when I was in college, I didn’t know there was a Monday morning at 7:30) to plan the entire operation of the farm for the week. And, for recruiting, rewarding themselves, and educating the public, they have Pizza Bakes once a month!

pizza ovenNo way were we going to miss out on fresh-baked pizza. So everybody got a ball of dough and  rolled out an individual pie, which we dressed up with herbs and veggies from the farm. individual pizza on pizza shovel Here’s mine, fresh out of the oven!

Did I mention the salad ? As you can see, there was plenty!salad greens in a wheelbarrow

And the Prosecco went very well with both!

After years of operating slightly off the administration’s radar, UW Farm is now writing a business plan and working to become as sustainable organizationally as it is agriculturally. They’ve scored an additional (and larger) farm site at the off-campus UW Center for Urban Horticulture, and our remodeled student union building (now about half-finished) will incorporate a demonstration garden of several four-foot-by-ten-foot raised beds. Next up, they need funding to hire some actual paid staff; it’s hard to keep going when your  workforce turns over practically every quarter!

Read more about this fantastic operation here (oh, and don’t overlook the donation button!):  http://students.washington.edu/uwfarm/

Going bananas

This morning I had to face up to the fact that I had ignored my small bunch of bananas about three days too long. Yellow well on the way to brown! So I decided that today was the day to launch my Mindful Munching Campaign. Rule Number One: Do not throw out usable food.

As it happens, just last week I got the Grand Central Baking Book (check it out in What I’m reading).  Page 32:  Banana Nut Bread. Miraculously, I had all the ingredients on hand. (Even buttermilk!–which is going to happen maybe twice a year.)

What I didn’t have was any idea what I was doing. The recipe calls for “banana puree.” So, I’ve got four bad bananas in front of me–how do I convert them to “puree?” Easily, it turns out, once I remembered that I had an appliance with a “puree” setting. So into the blender with them.

Then, the recipe asks me to use a “standard mixer” to combine ingredients. Got one right here?–Actually, yes. I dragged out the KitchenAid mixer that I have used oh three times since I bought it. Great!–It appears to have done the job. At this point, every surface in my kitchen is dusted with flour and spackled with globs of errant batter, but I successfully manage to get two pans of banana nut bread dough into the oven. I was so sure that I would fail that I didn’t take any “process” photos, but the end result was beautiful! And GAAAA it tastes so good!
But will my next batch have to be plantain nut bread? Last January 10th, Mike Peed wrote a New Yorker piece (“We Have No Bananas”) with the discouraging subtitle “Can scientists defeat a devastating blight?” The species of banana that most of us eat is the Cavendish, a cheap, sturdy, nutritious variety that Americans consume at the rate of almost 8 billion pounds per year. Growers embraced the Cavendish, and over the years created a global monoculture–all Cavendishes, all the time.

Enter Tropical Race Four, a nasty fungus that lives in the soil and entirely rots out Cavendish banana plants. According to Peed, since the late 80’s It has spread across Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, and most recently, Australia. We live in a flat world; inevitably, Latin America will be next.

The problem is being attacked by traditional breeding as well as genetic engineering (with all of its attendant health and environmental concerns). But nobody appears to be seriously proposing to challenge the underlying problem: if you plant just one species everywhere, you are asking for it. As James Dale, a professor at Queensland University of Technology, says in Peed’s article, “when you see the narrowing of genetic culture, that’s when you know things are going to die.”

Can we change the complex business model underlying the production and marketing of our foods, so that we can diversify the monocultures that threaten the continuing health of our food sources? I have no idea. What do you think?

Can that be right?

Tonight I made one of my favorite cheap-and-easy dinners–fettucini with an uncooked sauce made of chunky peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, and chives. Mix it up, dump the hot pasta on top and toss. Add a salad of lettuce leaves with vinaigrette. Eat!

Earlier today in a New York Times op-ed piece, I had stumbled upon a startling comparison of the amount of money people in various countries spend on food consumed at home. Americans invest a total of 6.8% of their household spending on this kind of food. Compare this to the figure for Algeria, where they spend 43.8%! Or Morocco, 40.3%; Egypt, 38.3%; Tunisia, 35.8%.

So I went off to the Web to see what I could find out about spending on food in countries that look more like the US. According to Eurostat, in the European Union as a whole, people spend about about 12.7% of their household income on food and non-alcoholic beverages.  But it varied widely from country to country; in Romania the figure was 44.2 %, compared to 9.3% for Luxembourg. So, the richer you are, the smaller the share of your income that you spend on food. But even among the world’s richest countries, nobody spends as little as Americans do.

A few days ago, also in the New York Times, Mark Bittman described our American diet as “unhealthful and unsafe.” You get what you pay for? Well, yes, but that’s not close to all of it.

When I was growing up in a small town in Texas, my family ate well, but plainly, and the atmospherics were that paying too much attention to what was on your plate was . . . unseemly. Effete. More or less in the same category as not knowing how to change a tire. My mother was quick to adopt innovations like canned ham and Potato Buds. We were sturdy people, by God, and we would eat sturdy food, without fuss.

Lately, like many others, I have been discovering the pleasures of the garden, the kitchen, and the table. As I think more about food, I want to prepare it with fresher ingredients, fewer additives, and more humanely produced animal products. I want to buy my food from local producers down the road or across the way. Inevitably, these choices are driving up my food bill. But never, ever will the percentage of money I spend on food reach the stratospheric levels of around 40% of all my expenditures.

Food is the great irreducible. You can put off expenditures on clothes; you can do without a car; you can move in with family or friends. But if you don’t eat, you won’t live. And the picture is fast coming into focus that more and more people around the world are struggling to put food on their tables.

I don’t know how to resolve these conflicts. I can eat lower on the food chain, and be healthier for it. I can seek out organizations devoted to building global food security when I decide how to allocate my giving. But it looks like we are going to have to attack this problem on a much larger, more coordinated scale, and soon. Look for future updates as I dig into what is being done, close to home as well as globally.

(The 2/5/11 New York Times article I began with, “The Kindling of Change” by Charles Blow, pulled together a number of  statistics suggesting the roots of the protests spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. Mark Bittman’s article, “A Food Manifesto for the Future,” appeared Wednesday 2/2 as a kickoff piece for his new column. You can find him at nytimes.com/opinionator.)

Eggs

The other morning for breakfast I had a poached egg on a toasted, buttered English muffin. Simple—just kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper on top. I love the way the yolk slowly flows into the muffin’s buttery honeycomb of air-bubbles. Perfect.

It was a lazy morning, and as I assembled my ingredients, I found myself reading the labeling on my new carton of eggs:  “Naturally Preferred, cage free, grain fed.” And from inside the carton:  “Naturally Preferred eggs are the product of our cage-free operation and vegetarian feed based on grains and soy beans. The hens live in open ‘community houses’ where they have feed, water, nests, roosting poles and plenty of area to exercise. Hen’s diet consists of grain-protein seed and vegetable derivatives, with no animal or fish/shellfish by-products. There are no antibiotics or hormones added.” So far so good, I’m thinking.

These eggs, it said, are distributed by Inter-American Products, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202. There’s also a reference to a Texas license number.  Ohio? Texas? I’m in Washington State! So, I decided to try to map out the trip that my egg took from the hen to the muffin.

The website of the distributor of Naturally Preferred eggs is also listed on the carton (www.interamericanproducts.com) so I clicked around on the site.  The company is a division of the Kroger Company (which makes sense, because a few years ago Kroger acquired QFC, where I bought my eggs). It a nation-wide corporation that specializes in producing “house brand” grocery products for food retailers and wholesalers–“quality corporate brands, start to finish, coast to coast.”

There is a surprising amount of information about the sources of the products the company sells (classified into bakery, dairy, and grocery), including an interactive map showing the locations and names of their 36 plants. There are two in the Northwest: Swan Island Dairy in Portland, OR and Clackamas Bakery in Clackamas, OR. But no mention of eggs.

The site also offers an email link for customer comments, so I emailed them asking where their hens live and where the eggs are sorted and shipped.  I got an auto-reply from Kroger.com saying that I could expect a reply within two business days. It has been a week now and no reply, so I’ll email them a link to this posting to remind them to get back to me.

I also asked the manager of the QFC store where I bought the eggs. He said he didn’t know where the eggs came from exactly, but gave me a reasonable explanation of the overall operation. For the house brands of eggs (there are several, targeting different markets—like “organics consumers,” which would be me), he believes that Kroger constantly looks for the best sources (for price, quality, market-defined characteristics) and at any time might be sourcing eggs from a shifting subset of providers. He took my name and phone number and said he’d see if he could find out more, but so far he hasn’t called me back.

So at this point, I’m asking myself a couple of questions. Where are these eggs actually from? And why didn’t I buy eggs from “cage-free” hens that live right here in Washington?  I still don’t know where these eggs came from, but I do know (already knew) that the same grocery store where I bought them also carries similar locally-produced eggs. This time, without any thought, I just picked up a different brand in a carton carrying the same keywords that I select for.

But now that I have gotten pretty deeply into this question of eggs, I’m asking myself why I select for those keywords.  What is it about cage-free, grain-fed hens that I think will produce a better egg? And what difference does it make where the hen is laying that egg?

The first question is easier to answer. I’ve read reports over the last few years about conditions on chicken farms, and I don’t need to pause too long to conclude that birds that have had their beaks cut off or that can’t stand up or turn around in their cages are not happy birds. Chickens aren’t philosophy majors, but no creature needs to be tortured so that I can eat an egg (or a chicken leg, for that matter).  But even if you take a completely eater-centric view, surely there is enough evidence that stress makes organisms produce toxins—and toxins don’t sound particularly healthy or appetizing. Along the same lines, given the press around mad-cow disease over the last decade or so, I’m not really interested in eating a product from a chicken that was fed ground up animal parts.

So now I have an egg from a happy, well-fed hen. Why do I care where it came from? Yes, I buy locally grown food and artisanal food products—but I also eat bananas. I drink tea.  Why not eat Cincinnati eggs? Really, the reason probably has as much to do with people as it does with products. Yes, I believe that organically, locally grown foods taste better. But I also admire the people who produce them. I want them to thrive! I want to go see their operation, watch them work, and learn from them. Their knowledge and passion and skill teach me to delight in what I eat.

There’s another issue lurking in all this, and it is price. On the day I talked to the QFC manager about his eggs, I also checked prices. A carton of the local Washington organic eggs costs $5.29; the house (non-organic) QFC brand was $2.99—on sale for $.099! For a person on a budget feeding a family, surely that is a no-brainer.  Around the same time, I ran into an article in my local paper that mentioned that there are seven egg producers in Washington (larger commercial operations, I’m assuming, outside of small farms that sell at farmers’ markets and so on), and together they have about 6.5 million hens. But only about 5% of them are considered cage-free. Surely this is true in part because cage-free hen operations are much more expensive to run. I have no answers on the question of price; it’s an issue that I suspect I will return to often. Can’t we find ways for everybody to eat well at an affordable cost?

If I ever hear from Inter-American Products or the QFC manager, I’ll update this article. On the other issues, I welcome your thoughts!