NYT writer: seasonality? bah humbug!


A ridiculous and myopic piece from a writer in the NYT this week is attached to this post at bottom. Her argument is that seasonal and local are out of touch and at odds with good eating and for her Manhattan restaurant. Notwithstanding the lack of awareness of the value in supporting farmers in order to increase production in one’s region, the use of terms like “forces of snobbery” without backing it up with evidence of it instead show that she is herself employing that very idea. Farmers markets and the producers in them have made her “brand” even possible which she ignores in this piece.

Add to that her lack of awareness about the extension of seasonality of producer through innovative farming techniques by small-scaled producers and supportive agricultural advocates indicates that her ignorance is massive. On top of those now extended seasons, our past generations canned and stored food throughout the non-growing season to keep it available and those techniques are not only still available to us but better and easier than ever to employ; instead she believes we should instead wait for our food to come via truck from far away simply because that is the modern world and a “beautiful thing.” As for the ‘post-seasonal”world she likes to live in, how about talking about the chemicals and processes needed to pick food thousands of miles away to have on shelves in the Midwest?

I’d like to see swift rebuke from the community to this person, and some education offered to her to teach her how items like regionally produced winter tomatoes are largely available in every area, how citrus can be and is grown outside of Florida and California, how garlic, grapes, oils and more are possible in many other areas too and how farmers markets are the main engine behind increasing production and access to healthy and tasty food that is competitively priced and often incentivized. THAT work is creating the “demand”that she asks for and relies on for her own location-based business. Lastly, let me also offer my opinion that the NYT has recently become the paper of hysterical food nonsense which does not do The Gray Lady credit.  How about cutting down on the hyperbole about local food and instead report on the actual data of our field made up of small businesses and public policy all designed to increase healthy living for all.

Amanda Cohen, the Dirt Candy chef and owner, satisfies a craving and proves that even tomatoes don’t have to be eaten in season to taste good.

NOLa ‘food port’ Roux Carré opened Nov. 27 

I’m a big fan of the entity that operates this project in Central City. What is interesting on a sytem level is that, just like another neighborhood in town, there are actually two different projects focused on food access there. (In the other neighborhood you can view St. Roch Market and Mardi Gras Zone to see what I mean. And compare the NOLA Food Coop for good measure, as all three are within 8-9 blocks of each other.)

On OCH, the Roux Carre project shares the street with another project that I wrote of recently, the Dryades Public Market. On paper, it might seem that these two have a lot in common, but in reality I think how they were formed, and by whom and what items they sell are quite different. I plan on spending some time there this month to check them both out and will post some pictures.

And how do you like the term “food port”?

Caribbean, Latin and Southern-inspired food court on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard

Each vendor has a 175-square-foot “pod” to set up its operation, and a retractable window opens into the space from where they can sell their food. A large, industrial-size communal kitchen includes ovens, a flat grill, stoves and prep space and storage.

By getting low-cost and low-overhead entry, aspiring restaurant owners are able to build a following for their food while receiving training in food service, retailing, accounting and payroll. There is no limit to how long a vendor may stay at the location, although Cassidy suspects most want to take off on their own eventually.

“It’s really an incubator for these small businesses,” Cassidy says. “They’re all really good cooks; we want them to learn how to really run a restaurant, so, if they want, they can leave here and do that.”

Source: Central City ‘food port’ Roux Carré opens Nov. 27 | Blog of New Orleans | Gambit – New Orleans News and Entertainment

Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras, today and tomorrow

My work week will be suspended around lunch today and not revive until mid-morning on Wednesday. This is because Carnival is upon us.. Carnival is the proper name of the event that we celebrate with parades and king cake from January 6th til the day before Ash Wednesday, with Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) as the last day of the celebration. Since most of the parades fall on the five days before Mardi Gras Day, the media has come to call it Mardi Gras week and then simply Mardi Gras and the whole world followed suit. Most of us have grudgingly done the same, except for our elders and some traditionalists, who will still correct you if you call it Mardi Gras.

I have yet to meet anyone from “away” (who hasn’t come for it all) who understands Carnival correctly; I assume that this means it happily remains the most local of celebrations and so unless you participate in it, it cannot be described (sound familiar market peops?) Add to that the majority of people heard and saw it first on MTV and other party channels in the 1980s and somehow believe that our event is about showing off anatomy for Made in China beads and drinking bad beer on Bourbon.  Not that those events are frowned upon, because we believe that blowing off a little steam and having some fun is as American as the Pledge of Allegiance but that ain’t it for most of us.

Local Carnival is made up of family and friends sitting on parade routes, cooking, laughing, dancing and catching “throws” that are now often handmade by the person tossing it to you or as often, plush toys for kids.  Many of the viewers have gathered at the same spot for decades and have bbq, red beans or hot gumbo for their guests and even access to a clean bathroom nearby! King cake slices will also be available and eaten in great numbers across the city and parish but then disappear ’til next January. I literally just saw someone leave the pastry shop near my house with a dozen king cakes; he said he was heading up to the parade route with them.

The change in that tradition has meant a wide set of flavors and healthy choices are now available for king cakes and not just the old style of brioche and colored sugar frosting:


Whole wheat, cream cheese-filled, fruit-filled and even a French version, the galette de rois which is a lovely version as well and is now widely available:

galette des rois

In the days and weeks before Mardi Gras, every thrift store and fabric store is full of locals buying items for what they will wear on Fat Tuesday. Glitter, satire, puns, adult jokes, cute group costumes, gorgeous creations and even store-bought costumes will be seen on the streets from Bywater to St. Charles tomorrow. The day is spent either on St. Charles seeing the last parades, and/or bicycling or walking through the downtown neighborhoods with one of the dozen walking parades or just meeting up with friends and dancing in the streets with a cocktail in hand. The gay section of the Quarter has a extraordinary costume contest on Fat Tuesday which has become one of the biggest events of the day and is held outside near the oldest openly gay bar in the U.S., Lafitte’s In Exile, on the street sometimes called the “Velvet Line” for the number of gay-owned businesses and LGBTQ residents in that section of Saint Ann.

The walking clubs abound, but the father of them all is Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club and the mother of them all is the Society of Saint Ann. Pete is the great clarinetist of New Orleans jazz and still participates although no longer able to walk the route. His group plays and wends its way through the streets, bestowing beads on women and children. Saint Ann starts in the Bywater and parades through the Marigny and into the Quarter, ending at the Mississippi River where the ashes and remembrances of those who passed away will be honored by casting them into the river. It’s an extremely moving experience to participate in; this year, I expect that our beloved Allen Toussaint will be remembered along with those lost friends of those in Saint Ann.

Today is Lundi Gras (Fat Monday, also known to the pious as Shrove Monday) and is the day when Rex and Zulu meet up at the river and hold a day-long free celebration. Both of those krewes parade tomorrow, with Rex closing out the float parades for 2016 by early afternoon.

I am also going to Lundi Gras brunch which has become a thing in the last few years: my pick has been Meauxbar, which is in the Quarter and has a special 35.00 menu for this weekend (along with bottomless cocktails for 18.00!). Meauxbar is a fav of mine for many reasons, not least of which is that the chef worked with us at the farmers market and is a fierce proponent of cooking seasonally from regionally purchased items directly from producers. Typical of Kristen, she is also gifting her king cake recipe to those who come by. Lucky for you, they also posted it online and so I include it here:12631295_970613296364643_297111238567362598_n


One of my favorite rites of the season happens today when Rex, upon meeting with the mayor of New Orleans, issues this decree:

‘I do hereby ordain decree the following,’ Rex says, ‘that during the great celebration all commercial endeavors be suspended. That the children of the realm be freed from their studies and be permitted to participate in the pageantry. And to the city’s political leaders,

‘That the mayor and City Council cease and desist from governance.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu consults with council members and other advisers to decide whether to give in to the king of Carnival’s demands. Finally, the mayor says:

‘We will fulfill the will of the people and turn over the key to the city to you, so that tomorrow in New Orleans will be a day of abandon,’ Landrieu said. ‘Happy Mardi Gras.

How wonderful to see how public spectacle is respected each year and made into tradition with this decree and response from government!

All of this ends abruptly at midnight tomorrow, when the police close the streets, but most locals will have been home for hours by then, with costumes off and maybe some porch time with neighbors for the rest of the day. Wednesday the churches will be full and the Lenten tradition of giving up meat or sugar or alcohol will begin for most New Orleanians, Catholic or not. Some funny folks will tell you that they are going up king cake which is funny the first time you hear it every year, but for those who use it after that, we all groan and make them stop.

The good news is that the abstinence usually helps the farmers market attendance in the days and weeks after the celebration!

So, from my French Quarter office which will be dark ’til Wednesday-Happy Carnival/Mardi Gras everyone.


Marché international de Rungis

Here’s a sneak peek inside Paris’ massive market with 450 types of cheese and more.

You’ll also notice a box of carrots, scrubbed clean, but then sprinkled with a fine dusting of dirt for aesthetic reasons — to reflect the increased demand for organic products. “Parisians buy with their eyes,” one vendor explains.

You can find everything at Rungis, even exotic foodstuffs like ostrich, zebra and crocodile. Interestingly, you’ll never see prices displayed at Rungis as they’re negotiated based on the buyer-seller relationship.

Traceability is really important — you know exactly where your products are coming from — and trailblazing initiatives include an impressive recycling program which provides energy and heating for Orly airport.

Beyond the magnificent goods, you’ll marvel at the work culture. Just under 12,000 people work at Rungis and it’s a jovial, jolly place. Folks love what they do, and you can see merchants socializing over coffee or verres de vin (glasses of wine) in the early morning hours. In fact, the café Saint-Aubert outside the poultry pavilion sells the most cups of coffee in France: 3,000 a day.

Source: Marché international de Rungis

What Data Can Do to Fight Poverty – The New York Times

I wonder if this research can is useful for food assistance incentive strategies: If allowing shoppers to use their incentive for any item at a market (rather than a hard commitment to just F&V) would ultimately create a more active (regular) marketgoer? And what about the search for food system leaders?

IF social scientists and policy makers have learned anything about how to help the world’s poorest people, it’s not to trust our intuitions or anecdotal evidence about what kinds of antipoverty programs are effective. Rigorous randomized evaluations of policies, however, can show us what works and what doesn’t.

Public primary school students were given the chance to deposit money weekly into a lockbox, and they were informed that their accumulated savings would be returned to them at a school-supplies fair at the beginning of the next trimester. Schools were randomly assigned to one of three groups. In the first group, students were offered a “hard” commitment: Their accumulated savings would be returned in the form of a voucher that had to be spent on school supplies. In the second group, students got a “soft” commitment: Their savings would be returned in cash, and could be spent as they wished. The third group of schools continued as normal, serving as a comparison group whose savings and spending money were also observed…. Students who got their savings back in cash saved more, and when the program was combined with parental involvement (which was also randomized), the students also bought more school supplies and achieved higher test scores.

The researchers randomly assigned some rural communities to receive advertisements for the jobs that announced opportunities for career advancement, whereas in other areas, the advertisements were silent on this issue. Contrary to expectation, the researchers reported in a working paper released last year, those recruited with “career” advertisements were more qualified and scored higher on exams during training, and also exhibited the same degree of emphasis on community service. The “go-getters” also outperformed the “do-gooders” on the job, seeing the same number of patients in their health clinics while conducting 29 percent more home visits and twice as many community health meetings.

These two insights — committing to cash savings, recruiting “go-getters” for community service jobs — are just the tip of the iceberg. We have found that pairing experts in behavioral science with “on the ground” teams of researchers and field workers has yielded many good ideas about how to address the problems of poverty. Hope and rhetoric are great for motivation, but not for figuring out what to do. There you need data.


Source: What Data Can Do to Fight Poverty – The New York Times

In the U.S. Suburbs, More Americans Need Food Assistance 

The same outreach lessons that our anti-hunger partners must learn to reach their target population in the suburbs can be very helpful for market organizers. And of course, for our goal in reaching more of that 99.97% who are not yet buying regional food regularly, organizers need to better understand those areas that are not yet replete with markets, including suburbs.

Nationally, according to a September report from the advocacy group Fairshare, hunger increased more rapidly in suburbs than in cities during the Great Recession. Between 2006 and 2013, large cities saw the number of students eligible for free or subsidized lunch rise by 5 percent. In the suburbs, that number grew by 11 percent.

The shifting demographics of many of those zip codes also needs to be considered when opening new markets. Some suburban census tracts are seeing high increases in newly arrived residents and as a result, becoming more racially diverse.

The more than 6,500 suburban communities and 22,000 census tracts in the 50 largest metropolitan areas are divided into four types based on their racial composition and urbanization, and data for the period 1980-2010 are used to examine racial change and to evaluate the stability of different types of communities. By 2010, just 39% of suburban residents in these metropolitan areas lived in “traditional” suburbs-predominantly white communities or developing exurban areas. This is much lower than in 2000 when 51% of suburban residents lived in these types of suburbs. At the same time, the percentage of suburban residents living in racially diverse suburbs increased from 38% to 44%, and another 17% lived in predominantly nonwhite suburbs by 2010.

Transportation is the primary challenge of getting food—and anything else—to the poor in the suburbs. “No one walks in Rockland County,” Serratore said. In any case, the distances are too far. More than 4,000 patrons of People to People, for example, come from Haverstraw, a faded industrial town on the Hudson, nine miles north of the pantry. “Rent comes first,” explained Charleen Borchers, a Rockland resident who works at McDonald’s. “Car insurance comes second. Then, at the bottom of the list, is food.” Some don’t have cars, so they come in taxi cabs. What might seem an indulgence to an urbanite is a necessity in the suburbs, even if it cuts into the money saved by getting free groceries. Others carpool with family or neighbors, or take the bus.

Source: In the U.S. Suburbs, More Americans Need Food Assistance – CityLab