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Putting Meat Back in Its Place

Mark Bittman, New York Times
LET’S suppose you’ve decided to eat less meat, or are considering it. And let’s ignore your reasons for doing so. They may be economic, ethical, altruistic, nutritional or even irrational. The arguments for eating less meat are myriad and well-publicized, but at the moment they’re irrelevant, because what I want to address here is (almost) purely pragmatic: How do you do it?

I’m not talking about eating no meat; I’m talking about cutting back, which in some ways is harder than quitting. Vegetarian recipes and traditions are everywhere. But in the American style of eating – with meat usually at the center of the plate – it can be difficult to eat two ounces of beef and call it dinner.

Cutting back on meat is not an isolated process. Unlike, say, taking up meditation or exercise, it usually has consequences for others.

The keys are to keep at least some of your decisions personal so they affect no one but yourself and, when they do affect others, minimize the pain and don’t preach. (No one likes a proselytizer.)

On the other hand, don’t apologize; by serving your friends or family less meat you’re certainly doing them no harm, and may be doing them good – as long as what you serve is delicious, and that’s easy enough.
(11 June 2008)
Recommended by Tom Philpott who writes in Gristmill:
I’m no vegan. I believe that the only truly sustainable agriculture involves raising crops along with animals. I also adore the globe’s cooking traditions, most of which involve integrating meat and/or dairy products with vegetables, grains, and spices.

And yet, I’m appalled by this fact, from the USDA:

In 2005, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) amounted to 200 pounds per person, 22 pounds above the level in 1970.

Two hundred pounds per year works out to more than half a pound per person every day. That’s got to be out of balance — for our bodies and the planet alike. I can’t see how such ravenous consumption can be sustained without the many environmental, social, and public-health ills I try to keep up with in my “Meat Wagon” series of posts.

Urban folks find farming a tough row to hoe

Sara Jean Green, Seattle Times
A new farming venture aimed at providing organic produce to residents of Seattle’s Central Area and other urban neighborhoods needs help saving its first crop.

The Rev. Robert Jeffrey Sr. is a self-described city boy who admits he had some romantic ideas about farming – that is, until he got his hands dirty and realized how many things can go wrong when launching a small agribusiness.

Earlier this year, Jeffrey helped develop a vision: start a farm and bring affordable, organic produce to the poorest families in Seattle’s urban core. If it worked, he figured, it wouldn’t just help people’s bodies; it just might give young people in his often-violent community a chance to grow a little themselves. He teamed up with a lifelong farmer, hired a crew of workers, and found land near Duvall, where they planted peas, turnips and greens. But as summer approaches, instead of finding a bountiful harvest, Jeffrey and his crew have discovered that farming is no picnic.

They had to lay off eight workers. Because of poorly prepared soil, thousands of young plants had to be uprooted from the Duvall pasture and hauled to a field in a Kent industrial park. If they aren’t replanted soon, the plants will die. And then last week, the farm’s pickup broke down.

Despite the setbacks, Jeffrey and his team still expect to bring their harvest to market – even if money is running dangerously short.
(13 June 2008)

Brooklyn’s hopeful gardeners

Emily Gertz, Gristmill
Low-income nabes lead the way in urban farming

The Garden of Hope — the new community green space I covered this week on Grist — is just one facet of Brooklyn’s community gardening scene.

While writing this story I spoke with Susan Fields of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s GreenBridge program, which reaches out to neighborhoods all over Brooklyn to encourage and to support many levels of gardening — from the “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” contest all the way to the Urban Composting Project. “There’s a growing focus on urban food production,” she told me.

In the Red Hook waterfront neighborhood, for instance, the group Added Value transformed a broken-down playground into a vibrant, 2.75-acre farm that today trains children and teenagers to grow food from seed and sell it at a twice-weekly local farmers market. Over in East New York, a neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn where most of the residents live below the poverty line, East New York Farms grows thousands of pounds of produce a year, hosts a CSA, and supports the development of the East New York Farmers’ Market, which features produce from 23 local gardens and three regional farmers. Both gardens teach youth about ethical business, teamwork, and civic values — as well as agriculture.

And not far from the Garden of Hope, Bed-Stuy residents grow fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs in the 0.8-acre Hattie Carthan Community Garden, where regular events include cooking demonstrations, nutrition classes, and food security discussions. The garden was a stop on a recent United Nations sustainable food tour.

These urban farms strike me as responses to at least a couple anxieties of our era: Wondering where the food we eat comes from, and worrying about whether it’s safe (see Tom Philpott’s coverage of this week’s salmonella-in-tomatos scare).

It’s not coincidental that urban ag efforts often take off in some of Brooklyn’s historically least-privileged neighborhoods, Fields told me. “There’s also a growing awareness of the health crises that are concentrated in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn around obesity, asthma, and other food related problems,” she said. “They need to have access to fresh food, to healthy food … And when that’s not available for purchase … a lot of these community gardens, in the spirit of community gardening, are taking this problem in their own hands.”
(13 June 2008)