On the West coast, we have legislators looking to ban new fast food outlets in a neighborhood where junk food is often the only option. On the East coast, a federal judge just struck down a law that required fast food restaurants to include calorie counts on their menus.

But neither of these efforts to discourage junk food consumption would solve the problem of what people are supposed to eat, instead. Are we also going to pass laws requiring that for every KFC, there has to be a Jamba Juice? Are city agencies going to give grants to mom-and-pop health food shops or crunchy granola cafes that would bring healthier choices to underserved communities?

Residents of South L.A. have the highest concentration of fast food joints in the city, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times, and far fewer grocery stores than other L.A. neighborhoods. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents South L.A. and proposed the two-year moratorium on new fast food outlets, told the Times, “"The people don't want them, but when they don't have any other options, they may gravitate to what's there."

Not surprisingly, South L.A. has the highest rate of diabetes in the county, and obesity levels are greater, too. Residents have become addicted to the cheapness and convenience of junk food in a community where you need a car to drive to other neighborhoods if you’re looking for more wholesome options.

And that’s a missed opportunity for entrepreneurs as well as folks seeking healthier foods. According to the Times, a 2005 market study found that South L.A. “loses more than $400 million annually in general merchandise, grocery and restaurant sales to outside areas.”

So, evidently, there’s the potential for a win-win situation here, whereby businesses could grow their own bottom lines while helping folks fight their ever-expanding waistlines. If it takes an ordinance against fast food joints to get this better-food-chain-train in motion, then so be it.

Of course, the restaurant industry in L.A. objects to this proposal as strenuously as the New York restaurateurs opposed the requirement to post calories. And let’s not forget the Big Food-financed, oxymoronic Center for Consumer Freedom, which is always happy to fight for Your Right Not to Know. From the Chicago Tribune:

…Justin Wilson of the Center for Consumer Freedom, which gets money from the food industry, said consumers aren't crying out for menu calorie counts.

"There's a lot of consumers who want to have a meal and not worry about taking out a calculator," he said. "We're a little concerned we're creating a warning-label society."

Yes, and they’re even more concerned that when you provide consumers with more facts about the foods they’re about to choose, they start to make healthier choices, as the success of New England supermarket chain Hannaford’s “Guiding Stars” program proves.

The FDA, recognizing the need for better consumer information, held a preliminary hearing on Monday to consider whether it should establish some kind of national ratings system that would simplify choices for consumers. As it stands now, food manufacturers in the U.S. and abroad are devising their own standards, which are inconsistent and may leave shoppers befuddled.

That’s why Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is hoping to push legislation that would require the FDA to establish a single system. Harkin released a statement that read, in part:

"The proliferation of different nutrition symbols on food packaging, well-intended as it may be, is likely to further confuse, rather than assist, American consumers who are trying to make good nutrition choices for themselves and their families. FDA should take meaningful steps to establish some consistency to these many different systems of nutrition symbols."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has also filed a petition asking for a national front-label symbol system. Referring to Britain’s “traffic light” system, which ranks foods by their fat, salt, and sugar content and gives them green, yellow or red lights, CSPI’s executive director, Michael Jacobson, said:

"You could send a child to the store with 20 bucks and say, 'Johnny, you can buy whatever you want as long as it has a green dot — and you can get one red-dot food.”

The anti-regulation “Nanny state” naysayers insist that it’s unfair to force food manufacturers to provide consumers with so much guidance. After all, isn’t it pretty obvious that some foods are healthier than others?

Well, actually, no, sometimes it’s not. Brian Lehrer, who hosts a call-in show on WNYC, our local NPR station, did a segment on this subject today with Marion Nestle and Diane Brady, who writes for Business Week, and a woman called in to tell the story of how virtuous she felt about her menu choice till she read the fine print:

Caller: “I was sitting there eating a buffalo chicken salad thinking I had selected the most appropriate thing on the menu and kind of looking at the people at the table next to me thinking, oh, how unhealthy, they’re having a burger, and the menu happened to have calorie counts and fat content and I looked down and I realized that I was about thirty percent higher in fat content in my meal than the person sitting next to me…”

Another caller said she always reads the labels when she shops:

Caller: “It always really interests me when you find a brand in the grocery store that’s organic and you think it’s going to be very healthy and then you look and the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup…

Brian Lehrer: “…but it’s organic high fructose corn syrup! Marion Nestle, is there such a thing as organic high fructose corn syrup?

Marion Nestle: “oh, of course there is…and most people think it doesn’t have any calories! I mean, that’s another reason why calorie labeling is so important, because there’s now very, very good research that indicates that if people think that something’s healthy, they underestimate the number of calories that it has by a very, very large fraction—and this is just human nature.”

This is the challenge we face today, in a nutshell; how do we get people to literally stop drinking the KoolAid, even if it’s sweetened with organic high fructose corn syrup?


It’s a gray and gloomy day in Manhattan. We’re reducing other regions to rubble so we won’t have to clean up any more rubble here, supposedly. Matt and I think about our friend Mike who had just started a new job on 9/11 at Marsh and McLennan, the offices where the first plane hit. Mike was a peaceful and deeply spiritual man who would have been horrified by our invasion of Iraq.

But millions of Americans bought into the notion that attacking Iraq was a logical response to the destruction of the Twin Towers. Support for the war has been especially strong in the proverbial heartland, and our rural communities have born a disproportionate cost, sending their children off to die for this neo-con con job.

So I was heartened to find out about a new organization called Farms Not Arms, which has also helped launch a group called the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. From the Farms Not Arms website:

We come from different political, religious and social backgrounds but share a common concern that this great country of ours, founded by small farmers and craftsmen, return to the spirit and ideals on which we were founded.

We strive for a world that reduces the risk of war by eliminating its causes poverty, injustice and religious intolerance. We call for all countries to stop misappropriating their resources on war and to focus rather on fighting hunger, disease and protecting our environment and our farmland.

On a day when it’s hard to feel good about the way things are going, it’s nice to know that there’s a crop of peaceniks growing in the midst of all those acres of corn and soy. Whatever the differences between us rural and urban types, we can agree on at least two things: we all want to give peas, and peace, a chance.

Lessons from Bush's Bio

Reading Bush's biography Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush is a truly enlightening experience.

Now we have known that the President has a penchant for nicknames.

Nickname for Alberto Gonzalez: "Fredo"
I think because Bush thought his name was Alfredo.

Nickname for Karl Rove: "Turd Blossom"
Because of his Turd Blossom hip-hop move

Nickname for Vladimir Putin: "Pootie-Poot" Because after you say this about someone: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul," not using a nickname just makes no sense.

And now, thanks to Dead Certain, we know that Bush has a nickname for Dick Cheney. Referring to the decision to "mission accomplish" Iraq, Bush says: "This group-think of 'we all sat around and decided' -- there's only one person that can decide, and that's the president."

So, now we can add Bush's nickname for Dick Cheney: "the president."


Just when you think globalization’s gobbled up every last morsel of Made-in-the-USA goodness and led us down the low road to China, along comes Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guided Tour of America to prove that where there’s pie, there’s hope.

And there’s an awful lot of pie out there, as the folks from Sustainable Table discovered on a five week-long ethicurean odyssey that took their bio-fueled tour bus from West Hollywood to the Hudson River Valley, making truly local stops along the way and holding pie contests from coast to coast.

Sustainable Table set out to show that even though the average American pantry’s been hijacked and held hostage by industrial agriculture and its partner in crime, Big Food, we still know how to whip up a sweet or savory pie using fresh, seasonal, locally grown ingredients.

Our nation dropped the ball and put a massive dent in our civic psyche when we started bowling alone, but the Eat Well road trip proves definitively—and deliciously—that a humble crumble has the power to bring us back together, sharing new recipes and old, rare heirloom and garden variety produce, fresh from the earth we’ve been treating like dirt in recent decades.

Millions of movie goers this summer watched the sour, spindly food critic Anton Ego catapulted back to his happy childhood by a bite of Remy the rat’s Ratatouille, reminding us that wholesome, homemade food contains the one ingredient that money can’t buy: love.

I’m not saying that all you need is pie, but it’s a tasty place to start, as Sustainable Table’s founder and director Diane Hatz discovered along the way. Hatz, the indefatigable idealist who dreamed up the Eat Well road trip, was already overwhelmed by the response the Eat Well road trip was receiving in its first week as it stopped at local farms, markets, and restaurants to rally the foot soldiers in the real food revolution:

As we explained that we were traveling across the whole country to show people that sustainable food is here to stay, that this is now more than a movement, it’s a way of life for many people, they started thanking us. When we mentioned that we were on the road to promote sustainable, local food and to support small family farmers, more people thanked us. And I mean sincerely, from the bottom of their hearts thanked us...

…That sense of gratitude and thanks has been everywhere we’ve gone…In West Hollywood, I was hugged by quite a few who think that what we’re doing is so important not just to the food movement, but for everyone in this country. We all need to know that we can eat healthier, and that even though there might be problems with our food system, there are a lot of people out here under the radar who are doing amazing, dare I say revolutionary, things.

Of course, Hatz herself would have to be high on that list, having played a key role in producing the Meatrix movies, the Eat Well Guide, and the GRACE Factory Farm Project--three influential campaigns that have raised awareness of the flaws in our food chain while promoting sustainable solutions.

We joined the Eat Well road trip for the final leg of their tour last Friday, setting out from midtown Manhattan in the morning and taking a tour of several Hudson Valley farms and a vineyard on the way to a big blow-out barbeque in upstate New York where a few hundred urban and rural foodies, farmers and regular folks feasted on the finest foods our local producers and purveyors have to offer. This is how you sell sustainability; as our friend Andrew noted, savoring the exceptionally delectable pasture-raised heritage pork, “It just tastes better!”

Having followed this transcontinental pie pilgrimage for the past month via Sustainable Table’s website, I got a bit of a thrill when I actually boarded their rock-star-style bio-fueled bus. With everyone from Barbara Kingsolver to the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick hopping on to the eat local bandwagon, it’s clear that ‘good food’ movement movers and shakers like the folks at Sustainable Table are changing the way we think about food in this country. Under the radar? For now, maybe, but as I sat on the tour bus and talked turkey (free range, naturally) with Hatz and her crew, I had a sense of history in the making. And Hatz does, too. From her own on-the-road blog of August 8th:

I remember the 80’s being a decade of greed and wanting only for oneself; the 90’s perhaps a decade of confusion and despair to some degree, but I’m here to tell you that the start of the 21st century is a decade of hope…

…Perhaps this era will be one of reconnection and community. Maybe what we at Sustainable Table picked up on - our belief that local sustainable food is about community, that eating and sharing pie is simply a metaphor for that connection people are now seeking – perhaps people are feeling that everywhere. All I can say is that I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve gone so far.

Is a more humane and sustainable food chain just pie in the sky? Joe Hill, the legendary union activist who coined that phrase back in 1911, wouldn’t think so. Hill, a member of lefty labor union Industrial Workers of the World, had tremendous faith in the power of grassroots activism to foster social change. And so do I. To paraphrase Morrissey, Pie Lovers of the World, Unite and Bake Over!

Katie Halper at the Yearly KOS

Katie brings it home at the Yearly KOS.

Lee Camp at the Yearly KOS

Lee Camp running wild in the windy city.

Harry Terjanian at the Yearly KOS

Harry being 'the man' in Chicago.

Baratunde Thurston @ The Yearly KOS

Mr. Thurston brings down the house.


(We’re posting this from on board Sustainable Table’s bio-fueled bus where we've joined them for the final leg of their Eat Well road trip today, winding up a cross-country trek that’s celebrated our nation's most sustainable farms and restaurants, along with America’s best homemade pies. We’ll be visiting some Hudson Valley farms, orchards and a vineyard on the way to the Harvest Barbeque this evening at Gigi Market in Red Hook, where the road tour’s final pie contest will take place. We’ll have a hard time topping the pies served up in Michigan, though, according to Sustainable Table founder Diane Hatz, who blogged that “Ypsilanti just might win for best event of the tour!”)

Guest blogger Heidi Kumao, an artist and educator at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design, covered Sustainable Table’s stop in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Michigan for Eating Liberally, and got to taste the pies Diane raved about. Heidi’s no stranger to fabulous pastries; she and her husband Michael created a 6,000 Volt Wedding Cake to commemorate their electrifying union. Here is Heidi's post:

The Sustainable Table gang rolled through Ann Arbor, Michigan last Saturday, Sept. 1 and I shadowed them for the whole day, taking in all kinds of tasty, edifying tidbits about local food and farming along the way. Sustainable Table was ably hosted by Slow Food Huron Valley and Project Growing Hope, a local organization "dedicated to helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening." Based in Washtenaw County, Michigan, they work with neighborhoods, schools, community groups, and families to develop and sustain gardens.

Over the course of the day, the tour wound its way from our famous local deli, Zingermans, to the Ann Arbor People's Food Coop (hosts of a recent talk by Anna Lappe) and on to Ypsilanti (gotta love that name!) to the Ypsi Food Coop and a Project Growing Hope community garden. The day had a grand finale at the Ypsilanti Ladies Literary Club where the "Pie Lovers Unite" extravaganza took place.

Having the Sustainable Table folks visit our area helped introduce me to the many groups that care about local farms and food. I learned a little more about how Food Coops work (guided by their membership!) and the fact that some food coops (not ours!) actually carry COKE--because that's what their members want!

The Ypsi Coop was really impressive on a number of fronts. Adam Chase, their Educational Coordinator, provided a delightful overview with tons of interesting information: the bakery's wood-fired oven uses only old wood palettes for its fuel, thus never sacrificing a tree for the yummy bread. This Coop has 4 solar panels on its roof, generating a small (it's a start!) portion of their electricity. It sells herbs and greens grown by kids at the Growing Hope Gardens as well as eggs raised by a local small farmer in the city (yes, chickens in the city!). Google Peter Thomason's battle to have chickens in the city, the Michigan "Right to Farm Act" and the IRS definition of "farmer."

We visited West Middle School where Project Growing Hope has a community garden and I learned that there are 27 community or school gardens in Washtenaw County!

The day ended with a grand pie celebration, inspired by Sustainable Table's Pie Tasting Tour and creatively organized by Kim Bayer and Slow Food Huron Valley. Diane from Sustainable Table complimented the organizers and said that the Ypsi event might be one of the best events on the tour so far!

People were invited to bring pies for the pie contest and to share recipes. There were 4 judges and many willing tasters (me included!).

Below: the judging table. There were approximately 32 entries.

The pies were all placed on a giant dining room table (see below) and everyone feasted! Everyone helped themselves to seconds and even thirds, and there were STILL leftovers!

At the end of the night, the judges awarded prizes for different top pies: most local, best savory, best taste, most creative. Each winner received an apple basket filled with local ingredients to make an apple pie: local apples, local flour, local sugar, etc. Below, Kim Bayer and the prize baskets.

Overall, a terrific day!

Freedom Censorship

Laughing Liberally's Lee Camp talks Thailand, censorship and what kids are seeing on YouTube these days.

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