Entries Tagged as 'Iowa'

My Take on the Ped Mall “Problem”

Since the City Council recently took up consideration of an ordinance regarding what the press has called “growing complaints about inappropriate behavior downtown” by people who are very broadly referred-to as “homeless,” a number of people have been asking my opinion on the matter.  This is likely because of my dual role as a downtown business owner and executive chef at Iowa City’s only homeless shelter.

At Shelter House, my task has been to build what I call a “micro-apprenticeship” program.  Since part of our mission is to feed the clients that Shelter House serves, we have the opportunity to use those meals as teachable moments, and give a few of the clients the opportunity to learn the rudimentary skills necessary to gain entry-level employment in the foodservice industry.

Because of this work, I’ve come to know well several of the people who are “in the trenches” in the fight to end homelessness, as well as quite a few homeless men, women, and children.  I’ve come to learn many of the facts behind homelessness in Iowa City and beyond.  I’ve come to understand a few of the factors that drive it, and a few of the factors that can help to end it.

There are many misinformed people who believe that the ten or twenty “homeless” citizens that frequently loiter on the Ped Mall are just lazy bums.  It’s an easy conclusion to come to if you are the tireless self-employed shopkeeper working 90 hours a week to keep your business afloat in tenuous times while a vagrant snoozes on a bench outside your window.  But when you look past the symptoms and focus on causes, the solutions become more complicated than passing rules that ban sleeping in flower beds or pushing shopping carts past the splash pad.  Those are mere Band-Aid solutions, and treating a symptom that way may hide it, but it won’t cure it. [Read more →]

In Defense of Iowa’s Food

Yes, meatloaf, casseroles, and other comfort meals can be found in church basements across all of Iowa’s 99 counties, but this is a state that knows its food and wine.


When I read Stephen Bloom’s screed against our mutually-adopted home state I was, like many Iowans (including his boss at the University of Iowa), insulted. I could not figure out which aspect bothered me more. My world revolves around food, and Bloom seems to have gleaned his information about what we eat in Iowa from a high school production of The Music Man.

Comfort food reigns supreme. Meatloaf and pork chops are king. Casseroles (canned tuna or Tatertots) and Jell-O molds (cottage cheese with canned pears or pineapple) are what to bring to wedding receptions and funerals. Everyone loves Red Waldorf cake. Deer (killed with a rifle is good, with bow-and-arrow better) and handpicked morels are delicacies families cherish.

I do not mean to claim that these dishes cannot be found in Lutheran church basements in all 99 counties, even if he is wrong about cottage cheese being in Jell-O molds (the cottage cheese is served on the canned pears, or more often on cling peaches), and even if, as a restaurant professional for 32 years, I’ve never heard of “Red Waldorf cake” nor has my fifth-generation Iowan wife. We think he must mean red velvet cake, which is common, though not nearly as common as the magnificent pies that are baked here. All this food can indeed be “comforting,” but as in so many other parts of his diatribe, Bloom chooses a couple small examples of something he’s seen here and concludes that it must be so for everyone across state.

Read the rest in The Atlantic

Gagging on the Ag Gag Bill: Industrial lobbying and corporate overreach at its finest

Industrial agriculture, like most powerful business interests, has a very effective lobbying organization not only in DC, but also in state capitols around the country.  Over the last few years they’ve been stung by surreptitious video recordings taken on a few farms showing examples of egregious animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental degradation.  See examples here, here, and here.

Needless to say, it makes them look bad, which of course they don’t like.  Now let me state right from the start here that I and the organization I represent, Slow Food USA, are not at all anti-farmer, and firmly believe that a vast majority of America’s farmers are honest, hardworking, industrious and well-meaning keepers of their land and heritage.  That said, there are exceptions, and like in any industry, a few bad apples can make the whole bunch look bad.

But instead of working hard to stop those few bad actors, Big Ag’s response is to try to criminalize the whistleblowers.  And their first attempts, in four states (Florida, Minnesota, Iowa and most recently New York) are so far reaching as to beg obvious 1st amendment questions to say the least. [Read more →]

Lambapalooza: Roasting a local lamb over an all-found-objects homemade spit.


There is nothing more flavorful and succulent than a spit-roasted lamb


About 2 months ago Kim and I set out to accomplish a long-held goal: to build a roasting spit in our backyard and spend no money doing it.  The inauguration of our successful endeavor occurred Memorial Day weekend.  Here’s how we did it.

Building the spit:

A spit is little more than a stone-lined hole in the ground.  Some dig straight down (as for a Luau or a New England Clambake, some are dug into the hillside.  We chose the latter because our backyard is a long gentle slope.  If yours isn’t, you may have some extra digging to do and/or you may need to bring in some fill dirt.  In any case, what’s desired here is a strong earthen support for the bricks that make up the back of the spit.  This back wall helps direct the heat, making the roasting process more even and efficient. [Read more →]

Eaters Unite! Food in support of labor, labor in support of food

Food and politics often come together in peculiar ways.  It’s not that their coming together at all is unusual – far from it.  Civilization and politics are both a direct result of agriculture.  But these days food’s impact on political discourse can lead to some odd sights, such as free pizza being delivered to protesters in Madison, paid for by sympathetic activists in Egypt.

In a story first broken by Meredith Shiner at Politico, Madison landmark Ian’s Pizza got a call from a person in Egypt ordering pizza for the protesters in the capitol building around the corner.  Ian’s put out a tweet about it, and since then according to the article the little pizza place has delivered over 300 pies and given away over 1000 slices thanks to the support of people in 48 countries (last count) and all 50 states.  So shines a good deed in a weary world.

All this was begun by a single concerned Egyptian, who had just played a part in toppling a decades-old regime via protests that centered on – among other things – food prices.  Similar complaints led to similar results in Tunisia, and are now boiling over in Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya.  Here in the US the protests are about labor rights, but they too are beginning to spread, notably to Indiana where a (now former) Assistant AG called for the use of deadly force against the protesters.  There have been similar protests – though admittedly not as big yet – here in my home state of Iowa and in other states. [Read more →]

Seeds to Plant or Seeds to Patent?

In the rolling hills just north of Decorah sits an Iowa Treasure. It comes to mind around this time each year because it is time for our annual shopping spree – time to buy the seeds. My wife, Kim, and I may pour over a dozen catalogs, but we always end up buying from The Seed Savers Exchange (SSE).

Founded by Diane and Kent Whealy in 1975, SSE has grown to receive international acclaim for their tireless efforts to preserve heirloom seed varieties. Heirloom seeds are simply those that have been passed down unadulterated, through generations, like heirloom jewelry. SSE is dedicated to saving these varieties because the world’s botanical diversity is under constant assault form all quarters. Genetically modified crops are spreading worldwide; pests and diseases are evolving rapidly to attack the dwindling varieties of plants; multinational corporations are moving to have Utility Patents on particular varieties.

The United States Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision authored by (former Monsanto attorney) Justice Clarence Thomas, has declared that it is legal to claim utility patents on plants. The December 10, 2001 ruling states that the Plant Patent Act of 1930 and the Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970 are so broad that they can cover any type of plant that is “new, distinct, uniform, and stable.” No exclusivity is granted to genetically modified plants. In fact, companies such as the plaintiff in this case, Pioneer Hy-Bred, can claim utility patent on any seed it breeds, making it illegal not just for you to propagate and sell that seed, but even for a farmer to save seeds of patented plants from the previous season to plant next season.

via Read the rest at Huffington Post.

Press Release: New Group to Focus on Iowa’s Food and Farms

December 7, 2010
Angie Tagtow, Co-Convener, 515-367-5200, angie.tagtow@mac.com
Susan Roberts, Co-Convener, (515) 965-3895, susan@susan-roberts.net
New Group to Focus on Iowa’s Food and Farms
IOWA–The Iowa Food Systems Council is an emerging non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and recommend policy, program and research initiatives for a food system which supports healthier Iowans, families, farms and communities.
Launched in November 2010, the 17-member Board of Directors represent production, processing, distribution, retail, and waste management arenas. The Board also includes Directors with expertise in public health, nutrition, food access, consumption, economics, natural resources, and education. Several state government agencies hold ex-officio positions on the Board.
Iowa Food Systems Council President Linda Gobberdiel’s goal is to engage representatives from all food system sectors and develop new relationships to enhance food systems within the state that support the essential role of food in health in our communities, the economy, and the environment. “We can and will work to take the necessary actions in food policy, research, and programming to develop and sustain an effective food system for now and future generations,” said Gobberdiel. [Read more →]

Coping with Tomato Overload

September. This is a special time of year, just right for the Queen of the Garden, the tomato.

So enraptured have we become over this cousin to deadly nightshade that we have cultivated no fewer than 2,700 varieties of tomato, in a rainbow of colors and a seemingly endless assortment of sizes and shapes. Volumes of history have been written about it, Louis Armstrong sang about mispronouncing it, and everyone seems to know that people used to think it was poisonous (some actually are, and the leaves and stalks of most are toxic).

The tomato has been prized for its versatility, cherished for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, and utilized as a projectile in Vaudeville. Those aerodynamic qualities are still exploited in Buol, Spain, where the last Wednesday in August becomes an orgy of tomato wallowing, ostensibly in honor of the town’s patron saint, San Luis Bertran. Since the fight is usually a “boys vs. girls” affair, it rapidly becomes something of a wet T-shirt contest.

In this country we have come to be a bit more respectful of the tomato, but we do have our moments of degradation. Chief among these is the curious American obsession with eating out of season. This has resulted in those flavorless, mealy pink baseballs that are shipped green from Mexico, force-ripened with ethylene gas in train cars en route to Chicago, then passed off as tomatoes at your local grocery store in February. The tomato is one of those vegetables that, like asparagus, are best eaten during a particular season, and the season is upon us.

Read the whole story at Huffington Post.

Austrian Wine 101: Part 1 of 3

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three part series on the wines of Austria.

One side of my family is Scots, and although they do make some truly fine libations, they know next to nothing about wine. The other side though, my father’s side, emigrated from in and around what now is Austria, not unlike a large percentage of Iowans'; ancestors, and there, they know wine.

Now most Americans, if they know of Austrian wine at all, they know Eiswein. Eiswein is a delightful concoction, screechingly sweet, that is the result of allowing the grapes to first dry up (“raisinate”), and then to freeze on the vine. This concentrates the sugars, resulting in a strong but very sweet wine. Tasty as a cordial, but not well suited to accompany Austria’s hearty fare.

The winegrowing regions of Austria all are on the eastern slopes, where the Alps recede into Slovakia and Hungary (fine winemakers in their own rights). They are Lower Austria, called this despite being north of the other regions; Vienna, where some vineyards overlook the skyline of this ancient yet cosmopolitan city; and Burgenland, home of the massive yet shallow Lake Neusiedl.

Read the whole story at the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Eggs Got You Scared? Here’s the Scoop

What annoys me about the coverage of the current egg recall is that it almost always says, “traced to an Iowa farm.” But, proud as I am of my home state, it’s not misguided regionalism that makes me take offense at this statement. It’s the use of the word “farm.”

Wright County Egg and the rest of serial offender Austin “Jack” DeCoster’s operations are not farms, but factories. They’re the textbook example of everything that’s unhealthy and unsustainable about the industrial model that has hijacked American agriculture.

via Nourish Network Eggs Got You Scared? Here’s the Scoop.