On a cold, early winter evening, I peeked in the coop to check on the chickens. As usual, five of them were snuggled up next to each other on the roost, a tree branch my boyfriend, Jared, had affixed to the wall of the coop. But one, the jet-black Ameraucana we named Thing (because of the silly fuzzy feathers on her face), had been left out. She was huddled alone in the corner on the coop floor, below the other chickens: the spot reserved for the last in the pecking order.
Perhaps you’ve had your fill of news stories detailing the recent revolt against “lean finely textured beef” — now known to the world as pink slime (bad band name). With retailers — including major grocers like Safeway and Giant — public schools, and even sodium-swollen McDonald’s swearing off the stuff, sludge manufacturer Beef Products, Inc. plans to close three of its four enormous plants.
A picky (read neurotic) eater who shuns all but the very occasional organic ground beef bite, I wasn’t a blink surprised to read about pink slime’s secret history (lean beef “trimmings” and other parts washed in a disinfecting solution of water and ammonia and liquefied by centrifuge) nor its sneaky function (to bulk up ground beef on the cheap).
But I have been intrigued and engaged by the larger country-wide conversation this controversy’s spurring. Parents up in arms. Nutritionists making their pro/con cases. Smart, nuanced blog entries reminding us to consider the obvious evils of other popular/processed American meat products, like the common cold cut, for instance.
Sponsored post – Looking for ways to feel better physically and mentally? Believe there’s more to health and happiness than popping prescriptions and devouring pints of ice cream? The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine Health and Wellness Conference at the Baltimore Hilton Saturday, April 14, provides workshops on a wide range of topics that all address a common theme: multiple factors, from the food we eat to the stress in our lives to the way we recharge our bodies’ batteries, affects our overall well-being.
Andrew Weil, M.D., pictured above and author of the bestseller Spontaneous Happiness, will deliver the keynote address. Dr. Weil’s philosophy, as represented in his book, combines Eastern and Western practices to create a model for living that incorporates walking, breathing, community interaction, nutrition, and supplements to, as he says, “achieve balance and serenity.”
Time was, the hardest thing about a Thanksgiving turkey was cooking it. Buying one was easy: you just grab a shrinkwrapped Butterball from the frozen meat section in your supermarket and bring it home to your refrigerator. Lately, however, public interest in the ethics and health-consequences of conventional livestock breeding and raising has complicated the former no-brainer. We now find ourselves lost in a wilderness of pleasant sounding but poorly defined certifications. Here’s a compass for the food-conscious:
A heritage turkey can be any of several domestic breeds that retain many characteristics of wild turkeys (e.g. the ability to breed naturally, a long life span and slow development) that conventional supermarket varieties lack. Heritage breeds are typically pasture-raised, and can cost as much as five dollars per pound.
A bird may be of any breed to qualify as organic—and the one you buy in the supermarket may very well be of the modern, unviably top-heavy variety. The designation guarantees that the turkey was raised on an organic diet without hormones or antibiotics and was grazed in areas free of herbicides and pesticides.
Despite our traditional associations with the term, a free range turkey did not necessarily while away the hours in an idyllic paradise. According to the USDA, a bird qualifies as “free range” if the producers “demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” On some farms, “access” can mean as little as opening a door to an overpopulated coop that the oblivious birds never venture through. If humane treatment is important to you, you may want to look for language like “pasture raised.” Or better yet, ask your farmer point blank about her methods.
But what about taste? Well, it depends. Heritage turkeys, like their wild cousins, don’t sport “super-sized” chests, and therefore carry a higher percentage of dark meat, which some people prefer, but many don’t. Heritage breeds are also naturally a bit chewier than conventional turkeys. Altering your roasting protocol (to include a day of preparatory brining) will help compensate.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture compiled a list of the state’s turkey farms with contact information and notes on varieties available, making it easier to eat local this Thanksgiving.
Yesterday I told a friend who grew up in Silver Spring that I was considering stopping by the new MOM’s (My Organic Market) in Timonium, at the intersection of York and Ridgely Roads (near the Old Navy). “There’s a MOM’s in Baltimore?!” she yelped. Well, there is now — and any grocery store that gets people that excited is definitely worth a visit.
It’s easy to see why MOM’s might inspire loyalty in folks. The store’s dominant eco/green bent is no passing fad; the small mid-Atlantic chain has been an early adopter of energy-saving bulbs, wind-power energy offsets, and other energy-saving initiatives. All produce is organic, and they don’t sell bottled water at all — this fact is mentioned on one of the helpful little signs that dot the store, explaining some of its virtuous choices. It’s enough to make you feel like a better person just from a half-hour of grocery shopping.
So how does MOM’s measure up against everyone’s favorite virtuous food clearinghouse, Whole Foods? At 11,000 square feet, the Timonium MOM’s is less than half the size of Baltimore’s Whole Foods stores (both the Harbor East and the Mt. Washington branches are around 25,000 square feet), and has a cozier, less-swanky feel. (“It feels like a big co-op,” one of my shopping partners noted.) The produce section is certainly smaller; all of MOM’s produce is organic, which is either a plus or a minus, depending on how much you care about that sort of thing.
But by my thoroughly unscientific reckoning, MOM’s appears to have a more extensive bulk section than Whole Foods, with a significant bulk spice collection (beet powder! broccoli seed!) as well as bulk loose-leaf tea options. The store has a good selection of prepared foods from Zias, many of them vegan. There’s also gluten-free and raw-food sections, if you’re one of those “special diet” types. On the whole, prices were slightly cheaper than Whole Foods, though not remarkably so. They stocked my favorite tofu (made by Twin Oaks Cooperative Foods). Their bread is super fresh.
All in all, it’s a cozy place with a real commitment to the whole local/sustainable/green ethos. It’s got that new-grocery store smell (in a good way), and all sorts of weird supplements, and a huge tea selection, and employees were almost manicly helpful. Worth a visit for sure.