Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fair Food Network

The Fair Food Network (FFN), an Ann Arbor nonprofit, is enabling many people of limited means to accept this frequently offered advice:

  • You should eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • You should choose local produce.
  • You should support smaller farms by shopping at farmers’ markets.

Good advice – but families on a limited budget are often discouraged by the extra time and expense to buy, prepare, and eat fruit and vegetables, especially from farmers’ markets. Families receiving government assistance via SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, now provided through an EBT debit card) have often found the difficulties overwhelming. Most farmers’ markets in the past didn’t even accept SNAP’s EBT cards.

FFN has developed a program called Double Up Food Bucks which doubles SNAP users' food dollars, helping them bring home more fruits and vegetables, while supporting Michigan farmers. The program began in 2009 at five Detroit markets. In 2014, SNAP users supplemented by FFN funding spent over $1.8 million dollars in combined SNAP and Double up sales, and will spend even more this year.

To learn about the program I interviewed Emilie Engelhard, FFN Communications Director, at the FFN offices in downtown Ann Arbor. Its success, she says, shows that large number of SNAP users really want to put more fruit and vegetables on their family menus. And many would like to support local farmers. A win-win-win situation!

How does it work? Let’s say you have a SNAP EBT card. If you want to shop at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Emilie explained, you CAN use your card to purchase fruit and vegetables, thanks to the leadership of the MI farmers Market Association. Your SNAP-paid produce purchases up to $20 can be matched in tokens – the Double-up Food Bucks – available at the Farmers Market office. Each token is worth $2. You can use them for more Michigan-grown fruit or vegetables immediately, or keep them for another day. And they are also at many other farmers’ markets in Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, area.

The FFN program is also expanding to some supermarkets in Michigan that have agreed to be part of the healthy foods effort. Even the Whole Foods in downtown Detroit is developing such a partnership. One important feature of the FFN programs is that they exist on a large scale, with many markets and many participants throughout Michigan and in several other states. Much of the infrastructure for the programs is thus shared widely for greater economy of the efforts of the Ann Arbor staff.

I asked Emilie whose money is providing the extra fresh produce dollar for each SNAP dollar spent? She replied that Double Up Food Bucks and other incentive programs have historically been supported by private donations, including incentive funds, program administration, evaluations, etc. Recently, government support for SNAP produce buying also has increased. The 2014 Farm Bill, allocated with bi-partisan support, included a new federal program to encourage purchase of fruit and vegetables by SNAP users. This new $100 million program, titled the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program (FINI), has provided grants to a number of organizations.

A FINI grant for $5.1 million, awarded to FFN in March of 2015, will allow substantial expansion of Double Up Food Bucks -- already the largest in the country for encouraging SNAP use for fruits and vegetables. Because FINI requires matching funds, philanthropic and other dollars will also be needed to continue providing support for FFN programs.

Under the FINI grant, FFN has several new projects in development. One plan is to explore how to expand SNAP access beyond the Michigan growing season. By December, as anyone knows, not much local produce except potatoes, squash, and apples is available in stores, and most farmers’ markets are closed or nearly closed. FFN is looking into ways to to expand the program in Michigan to more farmers markets, help markets adopt mobile technology, and increase program use in up to 50 grocery and small food stores.

Everyone used to know why advice that SNAP users should eat more fruit and vegetables wasn’t practical advice. Fruit and vegetables, though healthy, cost more per calorie than processed food or meat. They spoil easily and often require preparation. Quality varies, especially at small stores. Shopping at a farmers’ market requires transportation, time, and extra money. But FFN has made great progress and continues to work to overcome these obstacles for many SNAP participants.

To learn more about FFN, check their website, -- and don’t miss their links to stories from NPR, the New York Times, and other important sources, .

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook comprehensively documents everything he could find about the pig as an intelligent and likable creature, about raising pigs in the US (and a bit about Denmark), about corruption or laxity in US regulation of the meat industry, about overuse of antibiotics in factory farming, about humane vs. cruel treatment of the animals, and more. 

The good parts of the book described happy farmers raising pigs in a way that the author believes to be sustainable and responsible. There aren't many of them! I think I'm buying meat raised with some of the good practices as applied to the pork sold at Whole Foods where I shop. Whole Foods says they allow no antibiotics, hormones, or animal byproducts in feed, and require humane practices with regard to bedding for animals and prohibition of crates. It's worth the extra money.

The parts of the book about evil practices in industrial agriculture were hard to read: I had to force myself to keep learning about cruelty to animals, cruelty to slaughter-house workers, dangerous bacteria emerging as a result of irresponsible practices, and environmental damage caused by industrial pig farms. That is: unimaginable damage to the environment, to neighboring farms and residents, and to the downstream users of polluted rivers.

Industrial agriculture is a constant topic for journalists and food writers, so there's nothing totally surprising -- except that I always find it so easy to put it out of mind when I'm done. Antibiotics are used to stimulate animal growth and to treat the illnesses caused by irresponsible treatment of animals. Excesses of antibiotics encourage lethal strains of resistant organisms to flourish. Some people contract infections. Some die. It's horrible, and Estabrook describes it all.

Today I read an article that's about beef, not pork, but that documents the current situation, in agreement with Estabrook. Consumer Reports' laboratories tested "300 samples (458 pounds) of raw ground beef — 181 samples of conventionally raised beef and 119 samples produced using more sustainable processes, like antibiotic-free, organic, and grass-fed — from supermarkets, big-box, and 'natural' food stores in 26 metropolitan areas across the country." 

Test results showed fecal bacteria in all samples -- so my decision about buying at Whole Foods doesn't solve every problem. However, the Consumer Reports tests found:
While there was little difference between conventional and sustainable beef when it came to the presence of enterococcus, salmonella, or C. perfringens, the other two pathogens in the tests were much more frequently found in conventionally raised beef. Tests found S. aureus twice as frequently in conventional beef samples, and E. coli showed up in only around 40% of sustainable beef, compared to around 60% for conventional. 
Many bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, but there is a growing concern about drug-resistant superbugs. A number of samples in the CR tests turned up the presence of bacteria that is resistant to multiple drugs, and there was a noteworthy difference between conventional and sustainably sourced beef.
As well documented in Pig Tales,  the situation calls for better inspections and more controls:
Consumer Reports is calling on the FDA and the USDA to ban the daily use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals; ensure that meaningful labels are not undermined by labels like “natural” which have nothing to do with how animals are raised or what they ate; beef up (pun intended) USDA inspection practices, including having an inspector at every slaughter and processing plant; and ban the sale of beef containing disease-causing, antibiotic-resistant salmonella; and prohibit the presence of chicken waste in cattle feed.
 Source: "Tests Find Drug-Resistant Bacteria In 18% Of Conventionally Raised Ground Beef" --August 24, 2015.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Menus, Restaurant Guides, Chefs, and More

"Dining Out: Menus, Chefs, Restaurants, Hotels & Guidebooks” opened last Thursday at the Hatcher Graduate Library, University of Michigan.
Alabama (The Jefferson Davis Hotel) to Wyoming (Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone Park) -- there's a menu from every state.
Display cases and hanging panels with menus and other material.
Besides display cases with menus from every state, the exhibit's hanging panels feature distinguished chefs and their restaurants, collections of menus and memorabilia from Ann Arbor restaurants, and documents from the California food revolution, especially Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant and its chef Jeremiah Tower. Also there are menus from famous New York restaurants, menus from railroad dining cars and ocean liners, books about menu design, and many other fascinating themes.

The panel titled “Around America,” suggests the types of eating places represented in the collection: “Restaurants, diners, drive-ins, carts, lunch rooms, coffee houses, tea rooms, delicatessens, cafes, soda fountains, bistros, cafeterias, trattorias, fast-food, fast-casual, chains, clambakes, barbecues, department stores, dormitories, hospitals, prisons, spas, bars, taverns, saloons, and more.” 

A Michelin Man from the guidebook panel: "Dining Out and Sleeping In"
Material from "Conserving Catalan Cuisine."
Exhibit organizer is Jan Longone, adjunct curator of culinary history at the library. Documents on display include many that she had donated from her extensive collections, now in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive (JBLCA). Two display panels based on her donations are titled "Conserving Catalan Cuisine." These describe Jan and her husband Dan's experiences at El Motel Hotel and Restaurant in Figueres, Spain, and particularly photos and other items from the restaurant's 50th anniversary gala in 2011. Jan and Dan enjoyed "local, traditional, and seasonal foods" prepared from game, fresh fish, wild mushrooms and more by three generations of a family of restaurateurs. Salvator Dali, a patron of the restaurant, designed several of the menus on display.

Panoramic view of the display case at the beginning of the exhibit.
“Dining Out: Menus, Chefs, Restaurants, Hotels & Guidebooks,” runs from August 20 through December 17, 2015, at the Clark Library on the second floor of Hatcher Graduate library. A related lecture by Jan Longone takes place on November 12.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ann Arbor Farmers' Market

I managed to get to the Farmers' Market before 8 AM when shadows were still long and crowds not yet dense.
I've written about it many times before. Two weeks ago in Kona, Hawaii, I was seeing rambutans,
pineapples, super sweet ripe mangos, and local coffee -- it's different here, but it's always wonderful.  
The farmers had been up for ages: the person who sold me eggplants and
onions mentioned that sunrise at 6 AM had changed her sad mood to a happy one.

Maple sugar candy is one of the most marvelous things to buy at the Farmers' Market.
Back home by 9, I peeled and chopped most of my peck of peaches and made them into peach sauce.
The cantaloupe on the shelf is another market purchase. We had delicious tomato and lettuce
salad for lunch as well, and will be grilling corn and peppers this evening.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hawaii Photos

puu-oo 2

We're back home now... it's not as colorful here as it is in Hawaii. For Len's wildlife photos see his Flickr Set here. Above: the Red-Billed Leiothrix, which we saw on a hike on the Pu'u O'o trail.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Last few days in Hawaii

Old Hawaii? No, just a sepia photo at the Kona Brewing Company.
We ate there yesterday after spending a long morning on the beach with a rope swing.
Waiting for our table.

Sliders and beer at Kona Brewing Co.

Ohelo berries, at the Pu'u O'o Trail.

Starting our hike at the Pu'u O'o trail.
Fish sandwich at Annie's Burgers... with purple potato salad.
Annie's burger.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Merriman's Restaurant, Waimea Hawaii

The open kitchen at Merriman's was an innovation, though now open kitchens are seen frequently.
As we do just about every trip to Kona, we ate dinner tonight at Merriman's Restaurant in Waimea, around an hour's drive from where we're staying. The owner, Peter Merriman, founded the restaurant in 1988. He was one of several innovators who developed the Pacific Rim style of cuisine and various other innovations that have now become almost standard. Fortunately the restaurant has stayed true to its origins and is still wonderful, despite many imitators.

Merriman encouraged a number of farmers in the area to grow excellent produce and special meat for his restaurant. The results of his efforts and those of his cohort are still available in the restaurant as well as at farmers' markets and even supermarkets throughout the island. He worked with small-scale fishermen and created a number of dishes to use the local fish in the most delicious possible ways. He was an early promotor of small-scale local produce along with Alice Waters and several others in Hawaii and California. I've written about this restaurant before, and still love to eat there.

Dinner begins with in-house bread and butter from a local dairy.

Among the six of us, we tried several fish dishes. The special (top) included local farm-raised prawns, polenta, and broccoli. Manchong (lower left) and ahi tuna (right) were also on the menu.
My dessert: lilikoi mousse with macadamia nut shortbread.
Of course we don't spend all day eating -- though we did have lunch at the most highly recommended hamburger place
in Hilo. We spent the afternoon at the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden, which is in a beautiful seaside setting.
Light and shadow in the garden today were stunning.
The waves were very high and breaking up on the rocky shore.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Kona Farmers' Market

First thing this morning, we went to the Kona Farmers' Market.
We bought tomatoes and basil from Malamala Farms, shown above.

Rambutan, a type of lichee... we tasted it at the market and bought some for lunch, as well as several other fruits.

We also bought Kona coffee: light and dark roast, from a farm
that's located uphill from where we have been.
100% Kona coffee is quite wonderful. Unfortunately blends are often labeled quite deceptively... you have to read carefully!
By around 9:30 we were heading for Two Step the great snorkel place near the Honaunau National Park.
Left to right in the water: Alice, Evelyn, Miriam, and Len.
You can see the national park from the snorkel beach. 

Two Step beach viewed from the National Park (a couple of days ago).

After snorkeling at the beach, we came back to eat our farmers' market purchases.

Tomato and basil salad, an incredibly ripe mango, other fruit, and bread from the artisan bakery.