Tag Archives: Michael Pollan

Life as hog slayer comes with highs and lows

I had a genuine farm to fork experience this weekend. Butchering among other things is called farm to fork, so I’m told, which is a pretty way to talk about some not-so-pretty things.

The not-so-pretty part is what I signed on for. I felt I owed it to the animals I choose to consume each week. I got plenty of not-so-pretty. I also got a lot more.

Last weekend we arranged to kill and butcher two hogs that had been raised as a 4-H project. The young man had invested a year of his life in raising two animals from the time they were piglets. It had become a family affair, with his stepdad bringing scraps from his restaurant home each night and his mom having to help corral them when the broke out of the pen.  When we arrived they admitted it was time to evict the noisy, stinky guys. For us it was time to fill the freezer.

My daughter’s boyfriend is a hunter. He fishes and crabs regularly. He is comfortable with skinning animals and values the meat such efforts provide. But he still takes no joy in the work of killing.

I don’t hunt. About the worst of anything I’ve killed are my brain cells from 20 years of drinking. We divided labor. He’d do the killing and skinning. I’d focus on the butchering. I helped him with the skinning. He helped me with the butchering. We both spent back breaking hours at the tasks at hand.

We had one goal. To kill the animals as efficiently and quickly as possible. We watched plenty of youtube videos and did everything we could to prepare. I read and read and tried to get myself ready for each step. We knew they would squeal and their bodies would react violently to the violence being done to them. We knew cutting a jugular is simply not an easy thing to do.

In all of the above we were right. There isn’t a single thing I’d call good about the process of taking another sentient being. I’m glad I didn’t have to do it. I gladly walked away and could care less about turning in my man card at the door.

That’s the real unpleasant bit about our weekend. The necessary part if, like us, we aren’t going to be vegetarians. It may be small consolation but if I can make a small stand and not eat meat I know where it comes from and had a small hand in its procurement, I feel more responsible and ethical than grabbing a slab of meat in Safeway that comes from an industrialized animal killing machine.

It’s also stressful. We both lost sleep that weekend, worrying about the logistics and the meat and the tasks at hand and wanting to do it well to produce the desired result: Consumable, healthy food. The worst would be to take the pigs lives and see the meat spoil.

Along with that unpleasantness came a lot of pleasant benefits. The young man earned money for his labor and developed a healthy respect for the animals he raises and the eventual lifestyle he wants to have. I learned how to break down a pig, to cut and wrap and use as much of the animal as I can in productive ways. My daughters have freezers of meat at a great cost savings. We have a Thanksgiving smoking party planned for all the bacon I have curing my refrigerator:

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Simply put, I like doing what I can rather than relying on experts to do it. It’s a sentiment wonderfully expressed in Michael Pollan’s Cooked. It is what drove me to sign on for the not-so-pleasant part.

When we made a batch of carnitas to share among family at the end of the long day of butchering, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the time. My butchering partner said it best when he said we made some family memories that weekend. Both pleasant and unpleasant memories oddly mixed in a satisfying whole.

The sheer effort involved in protecting the meat, preserving it properly, cutting it for use, freezing makes it far more valuable, and in a strange way, something I want to enjoy more, which for me means eat less. Because I don’t want to kill a pig every day of the week, I want this meat to last. It has more value to me now.

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And the work continues. We have some curing experiments on tap to make bacon and hams and even a prosciutto, things I’ve wanted to do forever and yet seemed far beyond my ability to do. I’ve closed the gap on what’s involved to make the food I eat, just as I did with bread and chocolate and pasta and a host of other things I used to buy but now make.

Health is a spiritual exercise. Slowing down to do the work of eating brings balance to my life that leads to spiritual comfort. I can’t explain it or even rationalize. I have no need to promote it or evangelize it. I just do it and in the doing I feel righter.

I think of those pigs from time to time and what I feel is clearly remorse. I wish I didn’t have to have played a part in their demise, yet knowing I play a part when I make a purchase at Safeway, this remorse is a livable one.

A weekend of butchering is exhausting hard, emotional work. Perhaps God knew what she was doing when she said, “on the seventh day you shall rest.”

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Sugar is sugar is sugar so eat it with purpose

This is the first of a three-part series for our Wheat and Chaff category, which focuses on the misinformation that makes basic life decisions so very difficult. We will take a slew of topics over time — most with a high degree of debate and misinformation — and try to provide the brass tacks of unbiased information. Don’t follow the fadish misinformation of the Internet. Find facts that can empower you to your healthiest, best life. Tune in later for Part 2: the many faces of real sugars, and Part 3: sugar substitutes.

***

I was about forty pounds into dropping a full C-note of fat when a little satan with a red pitch fork popped onto my shoulder and whispered, “Honey!”

One word. Healthy images of bees in the hive and Winnie The Pooh and Honey Combs Cereal popped into my head.

OK, I know, nothing healthy (or honey for that matter) about Honey Combs cereal, but it had worked for me before so the association was strong.

As a kid in Southern California in the 1970s I had to weather my mother’s health craze first hand. I was not at all happy when suddenly the only snack that didn’t grow somewhere was toffee peanuts. Breakfast tasted like tree bark and milk. I adored Crunch Berries and suddenly they were off limits. I channeled my misery into a crafty scheme and even enlisted the credibility of my older brother, the future preacher. We convinced my mom to allow Honey Combs Cereal because they were made with honey, not sugar.

Way back then something inside me said honey must be OK.

So forty years later, about 40 pounds into my lifestyle change and feeling pretty good, I wondered if I could use honey to make some healthy items taste better. I asked a former Australian Olympic runner who still had about 7% body fat nearing the age of 50.

“Well, it’s just a pretty sugar, mate,” he said, “but it’s still sugar.”

He shrugged. Message delivered, no honey.

The Bride likes sugar in the coffee and honey in the oatmeal and brown sugar over sugar becomes it seems healthier and agave over all of them because she likes fads.

But I go back to the basics time and again, as expressed by authoritynutrition.com

“Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.”

Sugar is sugar is sugar and the human body simply can’t consume it in the quantities we Americans have come to consider normal.

So before we tunnel deep into the morass of sugar options and marketing, let’s focus on the 30,000-foot view. If you follow just these rules, you don’t have to go any further. Pass Go and collect $200, not to mention welcome the healthy, sustainable weight loss that will result.

The Effin Artist Three-Rule
Sugar Testament

  1. Choose the sugar you eat every time: If I’m going to eat sugar, I want to choose it. Limiting sugar is one of the most difficult battles for healthy eating. Processed foods have the stuff stuffed in everywhere. Simple things like ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, fruit juices and many more are loaded with sugar. By making these things yourself, you control the sugar. Most every homemade recipe for these ingredients are still wonderful even when you cut the sugar in half. It’s a powerful way to control your sugar. The same goes for sweets. We all love sweets. We all should enjoy them – in moderation – even when losing weight. And you can if you vigilantly root out the sugar you don’t choose. Michael Pollan’s little, useful book, Food Rules, makes this clear in rule #39: “Eat all the junk food you want so long as you cook it yourself… If you made all the French fries you ate, you would eat them less often.” Same goes for cookies and ice cream and chips. So choose the sugar you eat and you’ve won much of the battle.
  2. Eat the real thing. If I’m going to eat sugar, I’m going to eat the food, not the chemistry experiment. Substitute “sugars” are… dangerous really when you get right down to it, so much so this will have a whole separate W&C post (part 3). For now, let’s keep it simple. Eat natural, minimally processed sugars when you choose to eat sugar. Don’t eat controversial, potentially disease-causing substitutes when you don’t can choose real food.
  3. Finally, except in rare circumstances don’t be extreme. I believe the most important part of dieting is to not diet. Make wholesale permanent changes to your life that change your thinking, and over time you will find the weight you want. Your brain is the most powerful dieting tool you’ll ever have. If you deprive yourself with extreme changes, your brain will hammer home that this is deprivation. Once turned loose the pendulum will swing radically the other way. Sugar is a drug and our brain reacts to it as such. Train your brain to embrace a small measure of sugar in your diet – chosen, purposeful sugar—and your brain will file it in the proper category somewhere down the list of what’s really important.

This works for me and it worked when I dropped 100 pounds. It works now that I’ve kept (most of it) off. It makes my decisions simple and if you are convinced then I would write no more on this subject.

But, as I said, The Bride has other needs and wants. Unlike me she wants to add sugar to coffee so wants to cut the calories if she can. She wants the healthiest sugar and the healthiest substitutes if necessary. More people are like her than me. For that reason, the beat goes on to parts 2 and 3. Stay tuned.

More importantly, as with all W&C posts, your insight is welcomed and encouraged. Post your reply below and join the conversation!

News from The Test Kitchen: Juiced up

In today’s age of debating everything, I mean everything, I found a topic that while it can still stir the pot really doesn’t have fierce opposition.

The statement: I need to eat more vegetables.

Nobody in the right mind would really argue this as vegetables have no down side. The totally bankrupt idea of the government’s food pyramid agrees few people in our country eat enough vegetables. Vegetarians are with me, without a doubt, “Can I get an Amen, Sister?!” Fadish Paleo-ites still value whole vegetables with all their carnivorous chowing down. Moms love this as “Eat your vegetables!” (did you ever notice how Mom didn’t eat a lot of vegetables and she never told Dad to eat his even though he mostly ignored them?) remains standard dinner conversation.

We all agree we need to eat more vegetables.

So the simple deduction is we must not like vegetables very much if we have such a universal under-consumption of them.

Not so fast (stay with me my veggie friends). What we really don’t like is the godawful way a lot vegetables are prepared, relegated for decades to the corners (side dish) of our plates, served in routinely bland after-thought methods, and often terribly over-cooked into some type of disgusting mash.

Also, compared to addictive, processed food, loaded with sugars, additives and salt that send our brain centers zipping around like a tweaker looking for the next high, veggies are too tame to garner much attention.

Thankfully, I’m rethinking this. I go back to the simple philosophy of Michael Pollan, who urged people to move proteins to the side dish and plant-based foods to the main course.

Suddenly vegetables never looked (smelled, tasted, made you feel) so good.

Even so, with vegetables crowding out our plates on most meals, I knew I could benefit from more vegetables in my diet. I studied up on the benefits of massive-nutrition levels from large quantities of vegetable consumption (Do I hear a Wheat and Chaff coming soon Joel Furhman? Can I get an Amen Brother?!) and wanted more.

The next logical step was juicing, which brings us (“at long last you wordy SOB,” you think to yourself) this week’s test kitchen: Juicing.

Doesn’t quite have the drumroll-effect of “CRONUTS!” does it? I know… but it sure does have a far better health effect.

So let’s first dispense with the problems of juicing that in my reading and experimenting I discovered are all-too-often whitewashed while proponents (I’m looking at you my veggie friends… fess up…) rush to sing about the merits. If juicing was so easy… say it with me now… “Everybody would do it!” (thank you Jimmy Dugan).

The problems:

  • Juicing is messy to make
  • Veggie juices don’t always taste too great, certainly compared to fruit juices and smoothies
  • Clean up is a pain in the arse
  • It’s expensive

True or false?

Sadly, true. All true, as we discovered in the Test Kitchen.

BUT…

Each is manageable and I’m here to tell you how. Can I get an Amen?

Amen! (Sometimes a preacher has to help out his own cause especially when 800 words in to a 400-word blog no readers are left to shout with me… sigh). The pitfalls are real, but with some planning they are manageable and worth it. Consuming these glasses of nutrition-loaded health bombs are very, very worth it and virtually immediately noticeable from a health perspective.

In the Test Kitchen this week we started with a basic idea of juicing the shit out of a bunch of stuff and seeing how it would taste.  So I took some beets, some carrots, some celery, some kale and tossed in some grapefruits and apples and even a whole fresh pineapple for flavor (and for the fun of breaking that bad boy down) and made a concoction.

It was… earthy. The Bride smelled it and tasted it and said (with 60% approval and 40% nose curling distaste) “It smells like a garden.” Translation: Dirt.

I realized the beets were both very, very strong and not so very clean. So for all future recipes be careful with the beets — they make a lot of juice, whereas kale, while strong, makes next to nothing — and go ahead and peel them, because their skin adds a lot of dirt.

The good news is my concoction worked. We used it in smoothies with plain yogurt and protein powder to make the healthiest, lowest-sugar content smoothies I’ve ever made and they tasted good. Not great, but good. We used all the juice.

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So the next step, now that I discovered both how the juicer would work and what to expect was to look for some actual recipes.

Frankly, I was disappointed. I read through a book on juicing and the recipes mostly took a couple of vegetables, tossed them in and said, “drink this and like it.” I felt the same rising anger I once did as a kid stuck alone at the dinner table unable to get up until I ate my vegetables. Surely if you’re producing a book on the merit of juicing it’s not too much to ask to put some thought and care into the actual taste of the drinks?

Unfortunately online really wasn’t much better. After a couple of hours I thought to myself, “ATTENTION MUST BE PAID!”

I resolved to craft some specific, planned, tried and tested, tasty juice recipes.

Then I stumbled on a “copycat” version of V-8.

I love V-8. I’m constantly thinking (bop to the head) “I should have had a V-8!”

So another trip to the store for another (expensive, more on that soon) grocery purchase and I was back in the test kitchen making my copycat V-8 juice from what appeared to be a very specific, very thought-out recipe.

It looked a little pale to me as I served it to my taste-testing Bride. She winced as she drank it.

“My god that’s spicy,” she said.

I took a drink and suddenly felt triggered for a Bloody Mary with a Mimosa chaser. Can I hear a “Grey Goose!?” Uh… no. Those days are gone. Sigh.

Vegetable juices should not make me want to relapse.

I blame myself because I have never… not once… found a copycat recipe that actually taste’s like the original dating back to the days when copycats swore they could bake like Mrs. Fields.

I ended up going back to the store for more tomatoes and ended up with a HUGE pitcher of still very strong (it’s the onion… way too much onion) and now only marginally tasty.

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So, the test kitchen continued (and I’m still slamming those virgin Bloody Mary’s like a frat boy with Jaigermeister on Friday night, because I’ll be damned if all that produce is going to waste).

Let’s talk briefly about the mess.

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Juice flies everywhere! I even got some on a cabinet about two feet above my head. Don’t ask me how. I figured out that like Jimmy Dugan who perhaps chastised too vehemently, I perhaps, shoved the veggies through the grinder too aggressively, causing the juice to spray too powerfully into a mess on my counter.

Over time I got a feel for it and it’s not too bad. It’s messy, make no mistake, but it’s not mopping the ceiling messy.

The cleanup of the machine itself take a few minutes. It’s not bad on a Sunday when I make juice for the week, but this whole idea of getting up and bada bing fresh juice and off to work is poppycock. I can’t see anyone wanting to mess with this when in a hurry and before their morning coffee:

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But in the scheme of things, the parts come apart pretty easily, they clean up quick enough and it’s really not out of the ordinary of a typical kitchen mess. So don’t let the mess scare you off, just plan when you want to make your juice.

As for the expense… vegetables cost more than processed shit. It’s just the way it is in our industrialized food economy that is bent on making you fat and killing you. If you want to fight back, stay healthy and eat right, it’s going to cost more. So I’m tackling this two ways:

I’ll buy into a CSA that will bring me a box of local produce regularly that I can budget into my monthly expense. I love the farmers market and will still go, but knowing a box of stuff picked for me will expand both my cooking and my juicing experiments, pump those vegetables into my system and support local farmers.

Also, I’m adding even more to my garden this year. If I can offset the costs with my very inexpensively grown produce and even learn to can these juices for winter then my produce bill will decline dramatically over time. It’s not unlike my steer “Dinner” who cost a bundle up front but has been so wonderful to both eat and to see the impact on my food budget over time that I’ll never go without a wonderfully locally raised steer in my freezer, God Willing.

And FINALLY, (hey.. that Amen was uncalled for buster!) let’s deal with the most important part of this whole exercise: taste. This stuff should (and soon will) taste EFFin DELICIOUS. IT should not and will not be for long “Ok.” The ingredients are fresh and pure and the healthiest things on the planet you can eat. They are colorful and exotic. It’s everything a true culinary artist should enjoy playing with.

So… once my first shipment of CSA produce arrives I’m going to do another Test Kitchen dedicated to recipes. And I have a simple plan you can do yourself right now if you are motivated: Mix all the various juices separately and then slowly combine in various amounts and combinations to find the most flavorful balance. Then add in the spices and flavors — a dash of this, a splash of that — until Effin Artistry of Juice results.

Sounds fun huh?

At long last, EFFin ARTIST is… out!

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