Entries Tagged as 'Iowa'

Summertime is Pork Chop Time

Forget dog days, here come the pig days of summer – a time when your fancies turn to thoughts of thick, succulent Iowa chops sizzling and spattering over hardwood coals, surrounded by best-on-the-planet sweet corn, roasted fingerling potatoes and a frosty mug of the finest local brew.

At least, if you’re not thinking that way you might want to reconsider.  We are approaching the heart of the season here in Iowa, a time when there are more delicious things to eat rolling off farms around eastern Iowa than any other time of the year.  Besides sweet corn and the first potatoes, you’ll find soon hearty greens, cucumbers, zucchini, some berries, and the initial hopeful appearances of the tomatoes (more on them next time).  So this is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a meal that is all local.

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Of Laws & Sausages: Infusion Bill Dies in Secret

As you may have heard, I started a campaign last fall that I called “Raise the Bar.” It was an effort to lift state restrictions on infusing alcohol in restaurants and bars. Our own Sen. Joe Bolkcom crafted the idea into bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate nearly unanimously, 48-2. Recently, behind closed doors in the Iowa House State Government Committee, the bill was quietly euthanized. No explanation given, no word on who killed the bill or why.

A little background: What we (I received considerable support from the Iowa Restaurant Association and fellow restaurant and bar owners statewide) were trying to do was make it legal for bartenders to do what you are perfectly allowed to do at home — infuse flavors like vanilla or raspberry into spirits like vodka or whiskey. Perfectly legal in dozens of other states. There is no fermentation or distillation of any sort involved in the process; it is merely a way for creative bartenders to bring you some interesting new flavors in your libations. The laws preventing it not only ban “adulteration” of liquor but also their storage in any container besides the original bottle. This all dates back to pre-prohibition laws that were aimed at the less-than-scrupulous tavern owners of the day who would drink the good stuff and replace it with rotgut or homemade bathtub gin.

That was 100 years ago. Carrie Nation is dead. And if you can trust me, as your chef, to put raspberries in your vinaigrette, you can trust me to put raspberries in your vodka. But some Iowa House members don’t see it that way, and we’ll never get to know which ones.

Only one group formally opposed the bill: the beer distributors’ lobby. They contended that it amounted to a “crack” in Iowa’s sacred “Three Tier System,” which governs all alcohol sales, distribution and production in the state. The supposition being that the proposal would make bars — who are part of the retail tier in this system — into producers like breweries and distilleries (a separate tier). Not so, since as I said there would be no distillation or fermentation, nor any off-premise sales of the concoctions, but that’s what they thought.

To her credit, Rep. Vicki Lensing had crafted an amendment to allay those concerns and some others, but she was never granted to the opportunity to introduce the language, and not even she knows exactly why. The committee was convened by Rep. Stewart Iverson, R-Clarion, who promptly dismissed all observers. An hour later, when observers were allowed back in, the infusion bill had been removed from the agenda, effectively killing it for the year.

They say there are two things you don’t want people to know how you make ’em: laws and sausages. Despite their loud advocacy for lifting restrictions on small businesses, too many representatives are protecting the status quo. I would name them but no one knows who they are.

This is not the end, mind you. We will bring the issue back up in the next session, and Iverson is not running for re-election this year, so there is hope that we may be able to at least get it out of committee. The only item to get out of that committee, by the way? A proposal to increase transparency government (but only local and county, not state). You can’t make this stuff up.

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 →]

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.

You Say Tomato, I Say Slavery

You would never participate in slavery, right?

I know, it seems like a bizarre question in this day and age–of course no sane, civilized member of a modern society would take part in the indentured servitude of others. Lincoln ended all that 150 years ago, didn’t he? And of course you and I would never have anything to do with slavery in 2010.

The dirty little secret though is that millions of Americans are contributing to it each week and they don’t even know it. When you buy tomatoes at the local Publix, Ahold, Kroger, or Walmart, you become the last link in a chain that is attached to shackles in south Florida. We all know Walmart especially is well known for their tireless efforts to force suppliers to keep costs down for everything they buy. One of the results of this kind of business practice is that the wage that pickers are paid for those tomatoes has not gone up for more than 30 years. That wage is $0.45 per bucket of picked green tomatoes, or $0.0145 per pound. And that’s for the ones who actually do get paid.
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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.

My First Hate Mail

My First Hate Mail - I'm so proud

Boy, you really know you’ve arrived in the writing biz when you start drawing the whacko element out of the woodwork.  I got my first hate mail! So exciting. This unstable fellow sent this note from the QC, according to the postmark, with no name or return address. How did he know I was French-Dutch? (Especially when I’m not?). It’s all in response to this OpEd I wrote in our local paper a couple weeks back.

Just for fun, I thought I might address the guy as if I took him seriously, so…

Dear Sir,

I am in receipt of your letter postmarked 19 April, and while I agree that cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, sweet corn, watermelons, popcorn, corn and soy beans are all food, the sad fact is that most of those on your list are no longer grown in Iowa.  Cattle and hogs are, but almost entirely in CAFOs (though some good farmers are going back to grass and pasture here and there).  Corn and soy of course are, but that’s not food, that’s feed and fuel.  The rest on your list aren’t grown in Iowa outside gardens and hobby farms.

As to the rest of your points, I am not “French-Dutch,” but rather was born in Chicago to American parent with Scots and Austrian ancestry, and raised in the Heartland, and have lived in Iowa for 23 years.  Not sure what made you think this was not the case.

And I did not tell you how to farm, I stated what I believe would produce better food and a healthier community, as well as turn our farmers back into farmers (rather than sharecroppers, as Big Ag has forced them to become).

You failed to list any of your perceived “Misstatements  in [my] opinion,” and so I am unable to address any of those.

I have not bought a farm because I do not have the money, and because the farming world today is the only business where you buy at retail, sell at wholesale and pay freight both ways.  Just one of a thousand reasons why the current system is wholly unsustainable, and why I wrote the opinion I did.

And yes, I am so damn smart.

Kind Regards,

Mr. Friese

Biography of a Pork Chop: David Kirby’s Animal Factory, and the Not-So-Hidden Costs of Cheap Food

Here in Iowa we have an event called RAGBRAI – The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa – the oldest, largest and longest non-competitive ride in the world. Simply put, roughly 15,000 of us dip our back tires in the Missouri River one July Sunday Morning, then pedaling past the cities, fields and farms we dip our front tires in the Mississippi River 6 days later, having ridden an average of 465 miles.

When the ride started 38 years ago, riders rolled past countless fields dotted with little lean-to style huts – shelters for the hogs that have been raised here since the European settlers came in the early 1800s. Since then, though, the huts have all but disappeared, replaced by long, narrow steel buildings with pairs of 6-foot exhaust fans on each end and large lagoons outside.

Now these are not lagoons like we used to see on Gilligan’s Island. These would be more properly referred to as cesspools. They are 1-acre and larger lakes of effluent from the Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, that have nearly taken over the entire livestock world. The methane and ammonia fumes are gagging at the best of times. When you’re pumping 70 miles on two wheels and need the extra oxygen, they can be asphyxiating.

This of course is a relatively minuscule side-effect of these industrial methods, and in his new book Animal Factory, author and investigative journalist David Kirby details the devastating impact these methods have had, and evidently will continue to have unless some drastic changes are made. Rightfully ranking with books like Upton Sinclair’s muckraking exposé of turn of the 19th century meatpackers, The Jungle, and Eric Schlosser’s more recent look at our Fast Food Nation, Animal Factory reads like a suspense thriller.

via Civil Eats » Blog Archive » Biography of a Pork Chop: David Kirby’s Animal Factory, and the Not-So-Hidden Costs of Cheap Food.

Table Wine: Open your palate to Fireside

The Fireside Winery in Marengo is one of the newest wineries in the state, but it quickly has become one of the most popular. In just four short years, William and Rona Wyant have built one of the most popular spots on the wine trails.

Located just a quick drive north of the Williamsburg outlet mall, the beautiful facility stands on former corn and soybean fields just south of Marengo. Here they grow native and hybrid grapes for a variety of tastes.

Read the whole article, and a salsa recipe, at the Press-Citizen