Sustainable Aquaculture Video and Book Recommendations

Despite the fact that many species of fish are endangered and over-fished, seafood has been gaining attention as a potential solution to feed a growing population. Coming up on the blog I have an interview with a local fishmonger and fellow gastronomy student who knows a thing or two about responsible aquaculture. Until then, here a few video and book recommendations to tie you over…

Sustainable Aquaculture Video Recommendations:

To learn more about the pros and cons of farmed fish, check out this entertaining TED talk from witty Chef Dan Barber.

Since moving to Boston, I have had the pleasure of seeing Chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver speak twice at various events. In the TED talk below, hear his take on the sustainable seafood movement.

Sustainable Aquaculture Book Recommendations:

sustainable aquaculture book & video recommendations

In Four Fish, author Paul Greenberg focuses on America’s four favorite fish (salmon, seabass, cod, and tuna) to explain how aquaculture morphed into it’s current state, and offers suggestions to set us on a more sustainable path.

Sustainable Aquaculture Video & Book Recommendations

The Perfect Protein, by Andy Sharpless, is a relatively new release (May 2013) that explores the role of seafood in feeding our growing population. With a foreword written by former President Bill Clinton, this pick has been getting lots of buzz.

Sustainable Aquaculture Video & Book recommendations

If you enjoyed Barton Seaver’s TED talk above, then check out his first cookbook, For Cod and Country.

Check back soon for the interview!

– Kelly

 

Gastronomy Course Spotlight: US Food Policy and Culture

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US Food Policy and Culture has been my absolute favorite course in the Gastronomy program, and I’m a little afraid that it can’t be topped. Topics that we covered in class included the Farm Bill, the National School Lunch Program, organics, GMOs, obesity, hunger, local foods, and so much more, all with a focus on U.S. Food Policy. I have always had an interest in these topics, but it was very valuable to learn the intricacies of how various branches of the government regulate them, as well as the role that private intuitions or non profit organizations play. As a Dietitian with a strong interest in US Food Policy, I was also extremely pleased that this course introduced me to a multitude of organizations working to make good food available to all.

Ellen MesserEllen Messer taught the course, and is the same instructor that I took Food Policy and Food Systems with last semester. It was structured similarly to her previous course, with biweekly short assignments, a commodity paper midterm, and a final. Dr. Messer’s passion for eliminating hunger came across in this course as well, but it hit much closer to home as we focused on the US rather than looking at food issues internationally.

I am a huge Marion Nestle fan, so I was excited that her Food Politics book was a major contributor to the course, in addition to a chapter from What to Eat. Another great resource was Dan Imhoff’s Food Fight, a great introduction to the Farm Bill. For those of you that would like to learn more about US Food Policy, I highly recommend starting with Marion Nestle’s book. But all of the books I read for the course were excellent, and you should read them all if you get the chance. Not pictured is The End of Food, by Paul Roberts, a book that was also recommended in Ellen Messer’s international course last semester.

Image via Tufts

– Kelly

Top 10 Things You Need to Know about the Farm Bill

  1. What is the Farm Bill? Simply put, the Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that determines which foods will be plentiful and inexpensive. It gets reworked about every 4-7 years, the last one being passed in 2008. We were due for a new Farm Bill in 2012, but as people following the issue already know, the 2008 bill was left to expire.
  2. Where does Farm Bill money go? Contrary to popular belief, most of the Farm Bill money (73%) goes to nutrition programs, not subsidies for commodity crops (which only gets 14%). Additionally,  7% goes to crop insurance, 6% goes to conservation programs, while less than 1% supports exports and renewable energy investments and research.
  3. How does the Farm Bill help Americans? Most Farm Bill money goes to nutrition programs, the most notable program being SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). With more Americans than ever before (about 45 million, half of which are children) relying on nutrition assistance programs, any spending cut to this area would be devastating, causing hunger and public health problems across the country. At only about $1.50 per meal, SNAP benefits are meager enough already.
  4. Does the Farm Bill help family farmers? While many family farmer do rely on subsidies to stay afloat, 60% of farmers don’t get subsidies. Additionally, the richest 10% of subsidy recipients get almost 75% of the payments. So while many family farmers do rely on these payments, loopholes that allow large agribusinesses to collect the majority of the payments need to be closed.
  5. Who gets subsidies? Almost 70% of commodity subsidies go to just 5 crops: corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, and cotton. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are considered “specialty crops” and are largely ignored by Farm Bill policies. Commodity subsidies keep the building blocks of junk food (high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil) cheap, which in turn, keeps junk food cheap.
  6. What’s the deal with biofuels? Currently, 40% of our corn crop is being diverted away from food for human consumption to be used for biofuels (corn ethanol). Biofuels are meant to displace oil, so this could be good, right? Wrong. Currently,  ethanol output is displacing only 8% of gasoline. The same amount of gas could be displaced if we increased fleet wide fuel economy by just 1.1 MPG across the board! And if that weren’t enough, it takes at least 2/3 gallon of oil (gasoline) to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. That is ridiculous!
  7. Does the Farm Bill align with U.S. Dietary Guidelines? If Americans increased their fruit and vegetable consumption to meet the USDA dietary recommendations, the US would need an additional 13 million acres of these crops! That’s more than 3 times what we currently devote to fruit and vegetable production. Without research devoted to more efficient produce farming, or economic incentives such as subsidies, there is little motivation for farmers to grow fruits and vegetables. It simply isn’t profitable.
  8. Does the Farm Bill promote sustainable land use? Some of the biggest conservation programs for land and wildlife are actually funded through the Farm Bill, but conservation programs get only a small percentage of the budget. The financial risks of farming are so high, that farmers plant “fencerow to fencerow” regardless of what is needed, because it is the only way for them to stay afloat. More money should be put into conservation policies to help reward farmers that are good stewards of the land. Right now there is no incentive for them to farm sustainably, except for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is severely underfunded (3/4 applications get rejected due to lack of funds).
  9. What issues should an ideal Farm Bill address? An ideal Farm Bill should better align crop subsidies with nutrition guidelines, and make all farmers meet certain conservation guidelines before being eligible to receive support. This means no more money for large CAFOs or soil degrading mono-croppers. An ideal Farm Bill should also incentivize sustainable methods such as pasture based agriculture and crop rotation, as well as devote more research to organics and produce production.
  10. What’s next for the Farm Bill? The January fiscal cliff bill included a 9 month extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. This bill extends direct payments to farmers (unless a new Farm Bill is passed before October), protects against a spike in milk prices (the “dairy cliff”), and makes no major changes to SNAP. Unfortunately, the extension didn’t extend funding for organics, clean water initiatives, beginning farmer programs, or disaster assistance. However, the Farm Bill is facing budget cuts across the board in the aftermath of the sequestration. It is still unclear how the money will get allocated. Things are changing quickly, so now is the time to let your voice be heard.

Statistics mentioned above are sourced from Food Fight 2012: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, the video displayed below, as well as this article.

For those of you that would like to learn more:

  • To learn more about what the Farm Bill is and what programs it supports (or doesn’t), I highly recommend this 14 minute TEDxTalk from Ken Cook (President and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group) called “Turning the Farm Bill into a Food Bill”.
  • For a shorter video introduction, check out this 4 minute video slideshow from Food Fight 2012. While not as informative as the TEDxTalk, it is still a good place to start.
  • As far as reading materials go, I cannot recommend this book enough. In Food Fight 2012: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, author Daniel Imhoff breaks down the complexities of the bill in an easy to understand manner. The book is filled with colorful graphics and charts to help illustrate the various aspects of the bill. And best of all, Imhoff highlights the loopholes and problems of the Farm Bill, and offers sensible solutions and policy changes to improve it. This book is indispensable to anyone looking to learn more about the Farm Bill and make a difference in U.S. Food Policy.
  • For more information on how you can get involved in improving the next Farm Bill, see this page. Because the Farm Bill extensions expire in October, NOW is the time to get involved!

– Kelly

Behind the Scenes: New England Maple Syrup Production

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Maple syrup is an iconic product of New England foodways, so I was especially excited to go on the BU sustainability field trip to Mass Audubon Ipswich River Nature Reserve last weekend. This FREE field trip was open to all BU students and included a guided tour of the maple sugaring process, followed by a pancake breakfast on the property. The tour was entirely outdoors, so we did some hiking through the snow as our guide showed us how to get from sap to syrup. Ever wonder how maple syrup is made? It’s a fairly straightforward process, but extremely labor intensive.

Maple Forest

How Maple Syrup is Made:

The first step is to tap the tree, which simply means drilling a hole and attaching a spout for the sap to drip and collect into a bucket. The number of taps in a tree depends upon its size, and even the oldest, largest trees at Ipswich River Reserve do not have more than 4 taps, so as not to compromise the tree or sap production. Trees have to have reached a certain size before they can be tapped (about 10 inches in diameter) and are often at least 40 years old. The metal buckets that collect the sap are emptied about every 6-8 hours, depending on weather conditions.

Maple Tree Tap

The sap itself looks and tastes like water (yes, we tasted it!), and is only about 1% sugar. It takes about 86 gallons of sap (at a 1% sugar concentration) to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. No wonder it is so expensive! But how does the sap get turned into delicious maple syrup? All you need is heat.

Heating up the maple sap in the sugar shack

After the buckets of sap are collected, they are brought to the “sugar shack” to be heated up. As you can probably tell, the sugar shack is a steamy little cabin that houses the machinery. The sap is simply poured into a tank where it is heated up to just above boiling, so that the water evaporates out. Nothing is added to the sap. It is simply a matter of evaporation. Once the liquid reaches the desired temperature, you have maple syrup! No additives needed.

Maple Syrup: How its made!

After leaving the sugar shack, we were greeted with a sample cup of freshly made maple syrup. Things got even sweeter as we went into the barn for all you care to eat pancake breakfast. It was the perfect way to warm up and refuel after a chilly hike through the maple forest on a cold February day. Before leaving, I was sure to purchase my own bottle of locally produced maple syrup from the gift shop. After learning about how much work it is to produce, I have a much greater appreciation for it!

Flapjack Fling

Different Grades of Maple Syrup:

You may be wondering what the difference is between the different grades of maple syrup. The lighter syrups (Grade A: light and medium amber) are made earlier in the season, and the darker syrups (dark amber and Grade B) are made later in the season. The difference is simply due to the temperature outside. Before my field trip, I always assumed that Grade A was superior. After all, that is how it works at school, as well as in the grading of other food products, such as eggs. But in the world of maple syrup, that is not always the case. Grade B maple syrup has a more distinctively “maple” flavor, and is often called cooking syrup for this reason. So the grading scale is purely a matter of taste preference.

Maple Grading Regulations

For those of you that would like to learn more:

– Kelly

BU Sustainablility Cranberry Bog and Apple Field Trip

Today marks the first day of autumn, and I was lucky enough to spend my first autumn in New England on a field trip to a local cranberry bog and apple orchard! After browsing the BU events calendar online, I discovered this awesome (and FREE) field trip arranged by the Sustainability Coordinator of BU Dining.  Being a lover of local food and guided tours, this excursion sounded right up my alley! My roommate joined me, as she has a strong affinity for cranberries and has always wanted to visit a cranberry bog.

This FREE field trip included:

  • Pumpkin Muffins and Coffee at the George Sherman Union
  • A tour of the various cranberry bogs at A.D. Makepeace
  • A yummy box lunch from BU
  • A trip to Keith’s Farm to pick our own apples

And now for the tour…

The cranberry bog tour was even more impressive than I imagined! A.D. Makepeace is the largest cranberry bog in the world and has about 2000 acres of bogs on their land. Our chartered bus drove us to 4 different bogs on the property, including the world’s largest cranberry bog (which is 75 acres large). We got to see both dry harvest and wet harvest. The wet harvest looked just like an Ocean Spray commercial! (Not too surprising though since A.D. Makepeace is an Ocean Spray grower)

Dry harvest

Wet harvest

After the tour, we wandered around the gift shop and ate our boxed lunches at picnic tables on the property. Then we got back on the bus and went to Keith’s Farm. Nothing says fall in New England like apple picking!

My roommate and I brought home 10 apples from Keith’s Farm. At the market at AD Makepeace, I also picked up a ½ pound of fresh cranberries and a ½ pound of apple juice sweetened dried cranberries. I see lots of cranberry and apple flavored meals in my future! These recipes are catching my eye:

BU students can be notified of future sustainability events like this one here. BU Dining makes an effort to embrace the sustainable food movement by putting on educational events such as this field trip, as well as making a commitment to incorporate more sustainable food products and practices. Below are some highlights of the BU Dining sustainability initiative:

  • 28% of BU food purchases are sourced locally (within 250 miles)
  • Monday menus (“Make a Difference Monday”) are based around local, sustainable, and organic foods
  • Dining menus incorporate fair trade coffee, cage free eggs, and sustainable seafood
  • In 2011, the GSU diverted 73% of waste from the landfill by recycling and composting
  • A farmers market is held on campus Thursdays during September and October

-Kelly