Nina Budabin McQuown

Nina Budabin McQuown is only recently beginning to understand the appeal of plants you can't eat. A graduate of Beloit College and a student in Hunter College's MFA program in Poetry, she works in New York City as a freelance writer and in her free time likes to eat wild greens out of Prospect Park and can her fruits and veggies. Nina has interned on a sustainable CSA in the Hudson Valley and tapped and boiled for an organic maple syrup producer in Vermont. She's worked in the Union Square and Williamsburg green markets and is a member of her community garden and food coop.

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Raising a Good Loaf

Tassajara Bread

Remember back in the day when you told someone you ate mostly vegetables and organic food and they told you they only ate food that tasted good? You’d ask them what wasn’t good about the organic food they’d tasted, and usually they’d describe some sort of hard, seedy, lumpy thing. They’d use the word “brick”.  They’d mime chewing like a mouth on novacain. I’m sorry to tell you, but they’d probably been eating bread at my house.

Here’s what happened: I decided maybe seven years ago that I was going to learn how to make bread, except I didn’t really understand why you would spend all that time shoving it around on a table and punching it  if you didn’t have to. Luckily, there was the Cuban bread recipe in a copy of the New York Times cookbook. That no-knead, no-nonsense bread was an excellent gateway drug, but it was also kind of flat; and when you make it with whole wheat or spelt, it ends up looking sort of like a large, good-smelling cow pie.

Good News and Bad News from the Fed

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The Fed is sending mixed messages to small farms these days. Taken separately, HR 2749 and new promises from the new Anti-trust arm of the Justice Department show two very different agricultural agendas, but both are big news, with enormous potential to either weaken or strengthen the position of small farmers nationwide.

The good news first: The Justice Department will be scrutinizing agricultural monopolies as one of its goals under Obama.  According to NPR, the Department plans to part from the usual reactionary protocol to investigate perceived monopolies instead of waiting for accusations. First on the list are seed companies,  whom the justice department believes may be interfering in competition in the corn and soy markets. This doesn’t come as a surprise to JCarrot readers, but it appears, from Phil Weiser’s speech to the Organization for Competative markets ( read the full text of his speech here), that the Justice Department’s intention is to keep companies like Monsanto from interfering with start-ups in the genetically-engineered seed business, not necesarily to keep them from persecuting farmers who don’t want to plant their seeds.

Unboxed: Garlic

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Plastic tables at the farmer’s market are straining under their bounty, colors are popping from veggies of every stripe and new garlic is out of the ground, drying on racks and tarps and hanging in braids in barns around the country, the smell of fresh heads mixing with the with last year’s pungent hay.

Food Inc. On the Colbert Report

Food Inc, is about to open nationally in theaters. The film is by Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, which paved the way for Supersize Me, The Omnivores Dilemma, maybe even the whole mainstreaming of the Good Food Movement.

Schlosser appeared on the Colbert Report on Wednesday to talk up his new movie. You can watch the full episode here. The interview starts around 13:45, but watch out for the incessant car commercials every time you scroll forward or backward.

Keep Your Laws Off My Body?

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Ever since the right to privacy went down on sheepskin, there’s been a cornucopia of confusion about whether or not American law should regulate personal choices, and what those “personal choices” are. As law makers get more and more worked up over “the epidemic of obesity”, and their constituents’ new interest in food, they look to legislate people’s eating habits from both the consumer (taxes on soft drinks, calorie counts in fast food) and the producer ends. As I listen to pizza makers bemoan the loss of transfats, community activists struggle to increase access to fruits and vegetables in poor neighborhoods, and local curb-sitters mark the price of a smoke in NYC, I get to wondering where all of this interest in our personal  habits comes from, and whether the government really has the right to legislate it in the first place.

I asked my brother, the recent law school grad (though not yet lawyer) to dispel some of the mists of obscurity surrounding civil rights in general. What follows is a highly simplified version of his explanation, as filtered through my not-too-legal mind.

Shoppers Meet Actual Cow, Terror Ensues

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Just a strange little pick me up for all you Jew and the Carrot readers out there. This Huffington Post story about a “bull” wandering into an Irish supermarket demonstrates irony just delightfully, yes? My favorite part is how they keep referring to it as a bull though it is, at best, about six months old and totally freaked out. Well, enjoy.

Nutritional Assistance, the Food Movement, and You (and me, and the Farmer’s Market)

On Monday morning, NPR aired a segment on the Supplimental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps). Starting from a photograph of a store accepting SNAP from a listener in middle-class Teaneck, NJ.  What’s the world coming to, the segment suggests, when middle class neighborhoods need government assistance to buy food?

I grew up in a generally middle class neighborhood in the North West Bronx, and all of the bodegas (that’s a corner store, for you non-New Yorkers) accepted food stamps and EBT cards. According to the radio program, for stores, it’s pretty easy to apply. Despite the fact that there must have been enough demand to necessitate our more-ample-than-usual selection of markets to accept all this government scrip, we made free and easy fun of government food hand outs. I remember “government cheese” being synonymous with anything processed, cheap and nasty. It was synonymous with lunch room food, another domain of the USDA’s nutrition programs, and with being poor, a category that many of my elementary school friends were a part of, though at the time it seemed they weren’t aware.

Outside the Halls of Government, a Garden Party, and You’re Invited

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Eat The View‘s white house garden broke ground a couple of weeks back, and it’s by no means the only government lawn to go over to edibles. The City Hall in Baltimore, Maryland will give over everything but the tulips to a wide variety of vegetables, including two plots meant to demonstrate backyard growing to feed a family of four. Volunteers will hang around the gardens at lunch time to answer questions about gardening and the chef at a nearby soup kitchen is ecstatic at the prospect of thousands of dollars worth of produce in her kitchen from City Hall’s dirt.

Baltimore insists that it isn’t copying the fed. The article linked above quotes the city’s Mayor Dixon saying, “This was being planned before the White House…We are not copying!” But others are unabashedly hopping on the demonstration garden bandwagon. Among the confirmed government

The Belly of the Beast

Lamb belly, from the very cool blog Chadzilla

Three weeks ago, the lamb stand I work for got a new product. Eugene, the usually tactiturn farmer (except on his blog), was telling everyone who’d listen that lamb belly was the new pork belly; Frank Bruni or Mark Bittman, or some big shot at the New York Times, had said so. Good news for us. We were selling lamb bacon.

Sunflower Seeds, Purim and Passing

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My father’s all-purpose costume for Halloween and Purim turned him into a five-foot-eight sunflower, a three part transformation that made an American Jew into an American seed into a symbol of Jewish passing in ancient Persia.

Essentially, he would put on a green turtleneck and his green courduroy pants, dot his face with my mother’s eyebrow pencil and strap on the piece-de-resistance, a coronet of petals cut from yellow construction paper and tied with a ribbon. Thus attired, he and five to eight additional Budabin McQuowns (there were really a lot of kids in my family) would venture off to synagogue for the annual Purim party. I can’t remember everyone else’s costumes, but I was mostly Hamman, my brother Nick was mostly Vashti, and my brother Mike was mostly Esther, or sometimes King Ahasuerus (when given the opportunity to cross-dress, my family never demures). My mother came at least once as “Barefoot and Pregnant” which was both a quick costume and a clever nod to the swarm she had in tow.

How Green was Your Pasture? Cornucopia Helps Consumers Choose The Organic-est Milk

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A couple weeks ago I posted on the wild and crazy happenings in US dairy of late. Since then I happened on the web site of the Cornucopia Insitute (CI), a group that defines itself as a consumer watchdog group for organic food products. In 2006 they published a paper (get the PDF here) about the organic integrity of milk.

The Cornucopia Institute points out that organic consumers assume, much of the time, that the milk they’re drinking is humanely raised, more nutritious and that the profits of its sale go more directly to the farmers who produce it. As the Institute shows, this is not the case for some of the nation’s most common dairy products, including Horizon Organics (owned by conventional giant Dean), Silk (owned by the same) and Aurora (which supplies supermarket organic brands like Safeway and Costco). These large “organic” producers are using factory farm practices and monopolizing principles to overpower smaller competitors and con organic consumers into paying more for less.

Community Cannery to Open in New York State

Canning equipment at the Hanover County Community Cannery

You know how it is in late August, when your vines are loaded down with ripe fruit, but you’ve got a deadline in the morning, or a pile of sweaty summer laundry, or a kid with a dentist appointment, or all three. You’re thinking, I’ve got four burners, two three-gallon pots, a couple of dozen quart jars and not a minute to spare. You feel guilty letting all that good produce go to waste, but you know it’s nothing to how you’re going to feel in January when you’re pouring off another can of pureed tomatoes trucked three thousand miles from California, thinking, I could be eating my own right now.

That’s the situation Peter Pehrson of Schoharie, NY was in last season, with more tomatoes than time. “I said to myself, there must be others in my situation. Turns out there are, and they range from home gardeners to commercial apple producers” he said.

Out of that realization comes the Schoharie Community Cannery, where local growers of any size, from backyard gardeners to commercial farms, will be able to use communal canning equipment to process their vegetables, fruits and perhaps eventually their poultry products as well.

Dairy Down Low: Across State Lines and in my Kitchen

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It’s been a crazy few weeks for milk in the US. Earlier this month, dairy prices officially tanked, collapsing over $5 between last February and this one. It’s the worst drop in prices since the Great Depression, when the government asked dairy farmers to pour off millions of gallons of milk. The drastic losses have prompted 35 senators to send  a letter to Vilsack and the new administration asking the government to support the dairy industry.

In somewhat more unconventional milk news, the first pharmaceutical goats were approved by the FDA (big surprise there) as was the drug that they produce in their milk. The goats produce ATryn,  a drug approved to prevent blood clots.  ATryn is a human protein, and the gene for its production is implanted in the goat embryo, while the protein itself is extracted from the milk.

Questioning kashrut: is there a difference between religious ethics and moral ethics?

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When it comes to food, I’ve acted the part of intercessor more than once in my life. I’ve given propagandistic explanations of what CAFO’s are. I’ve pressured room mates and lovers, gently but manipulatively, to give up corn syrup and non-organic produce. I’ve been even more sneaky and covert. When my little sister, who will eat only four things, revealed that she was under the misapprehension that kosher meat was ethically raised, I didn’t disabuse her.

The kosher food industry has been playing its undeserved part as moral intercessor for a while now. An article like this one in Food Quality, shows that non-Jews invest our religious standards for food as a moral litmus that corresponds to their ethics. This revelation makes me feel proud, but also somewhat angry. The world thinks so highly of us that they’re willing to trust our standards, but Agriprocessors showed that the laws of kashrut have nothing to do with the laws of the rest of the world.