Politics

How do you fight a MONSTER?

Twelve years ago, Matt Nadeau started brewing beer in his basement in northern Vermont. With a great deal of hard work, and apparently, some damn fine brewing intuition, Matt and his wife Renee built their brand, Rock Art Brewing, into a regional favorite. Fast-forward to early '09, Matt and Renee are running a thriving business, crafting award-winning beer, and employing seven people in the Morrisville, VT area.

Amongst Rock Art's most popular beers is the Vermonster, a hefty American barleywine created to celebrate RA's 10th anniversary, made with a pound of dried hops in every barrel, and sporting a healthy 10% abv. On September 14th, Matt received an email from a lawyer for Hansen Natural Brands — owners of MONSTER energy drink — commanding him to cease and desist all promotion, marketing and sale of the Vermonster, under threat of litigation.

Matt and Renee hold the Vermont rights to the name Vermonster, so where's the problem? Unfortunately, given the structure of the US legal system, it's in the courts, and it's big. Though several lawyers and other council have told Matt that there is no infringement issue, and that Hansen's claim that the beer will "dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen's MONSTER marks" is ludicrous, they have almost to a man advised him to give in. You see, even if Matt were to fight this in court and win, it is within Hansen's rights and ability to appeal almost ad nauseum, and once Rock Art finally throws in the towel, Hansen wins by default. At an estimated $65,000 per court appearance, the Nadeaus can hardly afford one trial, much less a half dozen.

So what's Matt gonna do? Well, with true New England grit, American pride, and that "Live Free or Die" spirit (yes, I know that's New Hampshire, just go with it), Matt is fighting it. In the man's own words, "It's principles at stake, it's liberty at stake, it's justice that's at stake, and I'm being told it's for sale. I don't buy it." Though his campaign is in its nascency, the story has gotten a good amount of media attention, with the source list growing every day. Many stores have boycotted the MONSTER brand, and with more attention, no doubt many more will follow suit.

So if you are a believer in the little guy (or, at least, a supporter of good beer over bubbly neon crap) and want to help Matt and Renee out, what can you do? First, watch the video at the top of this page, and send it to like-minded friends. Secondly, vote with your dollars; though I assume most of you aren't big fans of the energy drinks, if you are looking for a boost, go for, like, Red Bull, or something, not MONSTER. Lastly, use the powers of the interwebs to spread the word: Follow them @RockArtBrewery on Twitter and RT their messages, friend "Rock Art Brewery" on Facebook, and send letters of support to rockart@pwshift.com.

We lose more and more of our freedom to corporate interests every year, and in the face of such immense power and capital, who's to say how we can resist? Methinks Matt expresses it succinctly at the end of the video: "We run the show people, we run it all. We just need to talk and communicate and work together." That's an empowering message we could all stand to heed just about now.


The Politics of Food: Foie Gras




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Some how the enlarged liver of water fowl has become a flashpoint in the animal rights movement.

To some extent, I understand their concern. To some extent, I don't.

I don't mean to be obtuse. Foie gras is an interesting topic. For anyone who doesn't know, foie gras is the fattened liver of ducks and geese. People either love it or loathe it -- if they even know what it is. Those who love it do so because it is a wondrously rich and delicious delicacy. Those who don't, don't because making foie gras requires the birds to be force-fed more food then they normally eat so that their fatty livers grow even fatter.

But in the larger scheme of things, why does anyone really care? As Mark Caro rightly points out in his book, "The Foie Gras Wars," foie gras is nothing more than the liver of unnaturally obese ducks that a limited number of wealthy people plunk down $20 to eat at expensive restaurants. Surely there are more important issues for people to worry about. But it is foie gras' relative obscurity and exclusivity that makes it such a perfect target for animal rights activists and sympathizers, Caro argues.

As he notes in his book, "foie gras (a) has a funny French name, (b) is enjoyed by the relatively affluent, (c) remains unknown to your average Tyson chicken eater, (d) is liver, and (e) is made from ducks. We like ducks."

This fondness of ducks, and concern that they're subjected to torture, is the reason protesters harass restaurateurs, demanding that all foie gras is pulled from the menu. However, the picketing and protesting can have the opposite effect. Damien Brassel, chef and owner of New York's Knife + Fork restaurant, responded to protesters by adding it to his tasting menu, according to the Village Voice. Other restaurants in New York, D.C. and elsewhere have done the same.

While researching this topic, I spoke to a local chef who's worked with foie gras for years. Like the fur protests of the 1990s, the chef said the foie gras protests are a passing fad and would not consider pulling the controversial dish from the menu.

Now, I like foie gras. Of course I also like beef, pork and chicken. But the main difference between foie gras and the Holy Trinity of American meat is scale. Given the enormous amounts of beef, pork and chicken we eat, the industries that provide those products to us are understandably large. And large companies have lobbyists, legislative clout and well-funded marketing departments (Beef, it's what's for dinner; Pork, the other white meat; The incredible, edible egg; etc. and so forth.) 

In contrast, the small amount of foie gras produced in the U.S. comes from two farms: Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York and Sonoma Valley in California.

So despite the various problems and abuses in the beef, pork and poultry industries over the years, not too many people are chucking bricks through restaurant windows because there's a burger on the menu.

To understand why someone would vandalize a restaurant and threaten its staff over a duck, it helps to understand how foie gras is produced. Foie gras is made by artificially engorging ducks or geese a few days before slaughter (a process known as gavage or noodling). The forced-feedings cause the birds' livers to increase in size because that's where they store fat. Gavage may be considered a grotesque process by some, but consider that the birds naturally do this to a lesser extent every year to prepare for migration.

For the daily feedings, a worker holds a bird (typically a duck in the U.S.) between his legs and slides a metal or rubber tube down the bird's throat. The bird is then force-fed about 10 ounces of grain. This can be a rough way of feeding an animal, but ducks and geese swallow their food whole. So as long as the worker is careful, the process shouldn't cause the animal much discomfort, and certainly no injury.

But are the workers always careful? I'm sure not. Judging by the videos and accusations made by the Humane Society and PETA, gavage is a highly cruel process suffered by filthy, injured animals forced to live in wretched conditions.  The problem with these videos, it seems to me, is they highlight the worst cases not the typical cases. As such, they distort the issue. Rather than discuss the issues involved with producing foie gras, animal rights groups dredge up imagery and anecdotes about farms with the very worst animal husbandry practices. The way in which these operations treat their livestock has nothing to do with foie gras, it has to do with the way they treat their animals. And whether we're talking about ducks or cattle, abuse is abuse.

For her The Village Voice article, writer Sarah DiGregorio visited Hudson Valley Farms to witness first-hand their production practices. Although Hudson Valley is a favorite target for protesters, DiGregorio found no signs of abuse, even going so far as to personally inspect the esophagi of freshly slaughtered ducks. Caro took similar tours, including of Hudson Valley, while working on "The Foie Gras Wars" and found no signs of torture or abuse either.

During the feedings, DiGregorio said the ducks didn't seem to enjoy being held between the worker's legs and force-fed, but the animals did not appear to be tortured. Once the 10 to 15 second feeding was over, the birds calmly walked off.

That's an important point. Hudson Valley doesn't raise its birds in cages. The animals are raised in sanitary environments and allowed to wander around in large, open areas. Farms in Canada and Europe have been known to raise their birds in cages. As a consumer, you have the ability to decide whether this is important to you. If it is, then make sure you're buying foie gras from farms that raise their birds in cage-free environments. If you don't care, that's fine too. At least you know there's a difference.

Like veal, foie gras is not an easy issue. Everything we eat, whether it walked the earth or grew from it, has political, moral and nutritional implications. And as we must eat to live, we should be aware of the consequences, and not merely cherry pick the issues we decide to fight for or against.

If you choose not to eat foie gras, fine. If you choose not to eat veal, fine. But I will. And I will do so being well aware of what I'm eating and secure in the knowledge that people like Forrest Pritchard at Smith Meadows Farm, and the folks at New York's Hudson Valley Farm, are producing these products in a sustainable, conscientious and humane way.



Foie Gras Three Ways

(Makes a lot of foie gras)

For these dishes, I went online and ordered 2 pounds of Hudson Valley foie gras from D'Artagnan. That much will easily feed 10 people a reasonable amount of foie gras. Remember it's all fat. Really, really delicious fat. But don't eat it regularly or your cardiologist will tell you to lay off it for good.

As for the recipes, they include two American techniques (grilling and searing) and one French technique (cru au sel: raw with salt). To be fair, the use of two American techniques and one French is a misrepresenation of foie gras cooking techniques. The grilling and searing techniques represent most, if not all, of the American approaches to preparing foie gras. Cru au sel is but one of a great many ways the French have come up with to prepare foie gras. In fact, I had to cajole the chef who worked with me on these recipes (who's training is classic French cuisine) to allow me to try the grilling technique (this is a grilling column). Fortunately, it worked out (to my relief and the chef's surprise).


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Grilled Foie Gras with Gastrique of Porter
(for two)


2 4 oz. pieces of foie gras
2 tbs. of honey
2 tbs. of balsamic
1/2 cup of porter (I used Flying Dog's Road Dog porter)
Kosher salt

Typically, foie gras will come in two lobes, with one lobe larger than the other. The larger lobe has more veins than the smaller. If you cut your pieces from the smaller lobe, you are less likely to encounter veins. Use a hot, thin-bladed knife to cut on the bias through the lobe of foie gras in order to render the two 4 ounce pieces. Also, make sure to work with cold, not frozen, foie gras. As foie gras warms, it will begin to melt like butter.

Once your pieces are cut for grilling, get your grill as hot as possible. When it's ready to go, salt one side of the foie gras and place it on the grill for 30 to 45 seconds. If you want a cross hatch, turn the foie gras 90 degrees. If not, allow to grill another 30 seconds or so. Turn the foie gras and grill for another 30 seconds or so. Remove from heat and set aside.


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In a medium, non-reactive pan -- on the stove or grill -- combine the honey, balsamic vinegar and cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to caramelize. The consistency should be syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the porter; reduce by half. This should take about 5 minutes. When the sauce has thickened, place the foie gras in the pan and allow it to finish cooking, about 2 minutes.

Remove the foie gras from the pan, and sauce it lightly. Serve it with the remainder of the beer.


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Seared Foie Gras with Peaches
(for two)

2 4 oz. pieces of foie gras
1 peach, peeled, halved and sliced (or cut into a fan)
1/2 cup of dessert wine, such as Sauternes or Beaumes de Venise
1/2 cup of veal stock
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
Himalayan Pink Salt or other finishing salt

To begin, heat a high-quality aluminum pan (do not use Teflon) over high heat. Season one side of the foie gras with Kosher salt.

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When the pan is very hot, place the foie gras in it, seasoned side down. Because the foie gras will begin to melt immediately, you do not need additional fat in the pan. Also, it will smoke ... a lot. After 45 seconds or so, a crust will have formed on the bottom. Turn and cook the foie gras for another 45 seconds or so. Remove the foie gras from the pan.

Turning down the heat to medium, place the peach into the same pan, which is now coated in rendered foie gras.  Sear for 30 to 45 seconds and remove from the pan.

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Add the wine to the pan and cook off the alcohol, about three minutes. Add the veal stock, stir and allow to reduce by about half. This should take 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and return the foie gras and peach to the pan. Warm the foie gras and peach, while gently basting, for about a minute.

Plate the foie gras and peach, and sauce lightly. Finish with the cracked black pepper and pink salt.

Cru au Sel
(for 8-10)

In this simple, classic French preparation, the foie gras is cured rather than cooked.

1 lobe (approximately 1 lb.) of foie gras, cleaned of all veins
5-6 cups of Kosher salt
Approximately 1 tbs. finishing salt (such as the pink salt)
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
Crackers (or toasted brioche or baguette)
1 container of Membrillo (quince paste)

Allow the foie gras to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. Disturbing the liver as little as possible, gently work through the underside of the lobe, identifying the veins and any bloody bits, with the tips of your fingers or the tip of a boning knife. Return the lobe to its original shape as best as possible.

Place 1-2 cups of salt into the bottom of a container big enough to hold the lobe of foie gras. Roll the cleaned lobe of foie gras in cheesecloth to keep its bits together (if any pieces came off during cleaning, these can be added back to the middle of the lobe and secured with the cheesecloth). Gently form the lobe into a loose log shape, tightly closing the ends of the cheesecloth, and place seam-side down into a container. Do not place it seam-side up, or too much salt will enter the interior of the log. Pour the remaining 3-4 cups of salt over the top of the lobe, and allow to cure for two hours.

After curing, remove the lobe and rinse in cold water, removing all salt. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil down on a flat surface, then cover with an equal size sheet of plastic wrap. Lay the foie gras on top, roll up, and twist tightly to form a perfect cylinder. Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours, or until ready to serve. Before serving, remove the log from the fridge for 15-20 minutes, slice into disks with a hot knife, and serve simply with a sweet jam or membrillo, finishing salt, pepper, and toasted brioche or baguette.

Additional photos of the foie gras, including the preparation, can be seen here.


The politics of food: Veal

I'm passionate about food, but I know it's just food. Once past the palate, it's all more or less the same. It's just fuel to keep us going until the next meal.

Nevertheless, food is political. Since Jesus broke bread with his apostles, food has always been more than mere sustenance. Food shows status and the lack of it. It's a statement about political leanings and personal choices. Food can bring people together and drive them to war.

Vegetarians swear off meat because they believe we no longer need to consume animals. Animal rights protesters picket restaurants to protest the use of certain ingredients. In the past few years, some of these groups have gone so far as to vandalize restaurants, intimidate staff and harass customers because they disagree deeply with the products on the menu.

Atop many activists' lists are surely veal and foie gras.

Few products seem to stoke people's anger more than the enlarged liver of water fowl and the meat of baby cows. And I think this anger is too often based on ignorance and agendas.

(Let me get this out of the way: I like veal and foie gras. I like them a lot. It was my interest in these products, as well as the controversy surrounding them, that led me to learn more about them and how they are produced.)

Most people, I believe, know little about veal and foie gras production. Most people are probably unaware that veal is a byproduct of the dairy industry. Therefore, the more cheese we eat, the more veal dairy farms will produce. And I do not believe most people know much about the process the French call gavage. It is central to foie gras production, so whether you plan to eat foie gras or protest it, you should be familiar with the forced feeding technique.

During my next two posts, I will explore these two products and provide recipes. In the end, you may be no more inclined to eat veal or foie gras than before. That's fine. At least you will know more about these products and why you may or may not want them on your plate.

When produced properly, veal and foie gras are fantastic products. When produced under poor conditions, they are every bit the epitome of suffering and animal cruelty that organizations like the Humane Society, Society for the Protection of Animals and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claim they are.

Of course, every meat product we eat has or has had problems. Unfortunately, there is not a segment of the American agricultural industry that been free of abuses and abusers. Upton Sinclair might have exposed some of these issues a century ago, but as Robert Kenner showed in his film Food Inc., there are still plenty of problems today.Is the solution to stop eating meat? Some would say so. But given the numerous problems with the industrial production and importation of fruits and vegetables, maybe we should give up those foods as well.

That doesn't leave us with much, though.

Fortunately, we seem to be more aware of these issues today and interested in alternatives. That has given rise to farmers markets, Whole Foods, Yes Organic Markets, as well as organic and free-range options at traditional grocery stores like Harris Teeter and even Wal-Mart.

Despite becoming more educated about the food we eat, veal and foie gras remain taboo. They shouldn't be. The production of veal and foie gras can be every bit as humane as pasture-raised beef and free-range chicken.

Veal touches a nerve for two reasons: the way in which the calves are raised, and the age at which they're sent to slaughter.

Traditionally, veal calves are male dairy cows, which don't develop as much muscle (meat) as beef cattle. And because male dairy cows don't produce milk, only a small number are raised to adulthood for breeding purposes. The rest are used for veal (if they weren't used for veal, they would probably end up as dog food).

The common way dairy farms raise veal calves in a hutch, or box, which restricts their movement, thereby keeping the meat as soft as possible. When a calf reaches about 250 to 300 pounds, it's sent to slaughter. Understandably, this method bothers a lot of people (by the way, this is very similar to the way most industrial chicken farms raise their birds).

Forrest Pritchard doesn't raise his calves in a box. He also doesn't raise dairy cows. On his Smith Meadows Farm near Berryville, Va., Forrest raises beef cattle on pasture land. A few of the calves are regularly pulled from the herd at four to five months for veal.

Forrest said he does this to give his customers the option of purchasing veal. It also doesn't cost him any extra money. The traditional method of raising calves for veal requires building hutches, having a building to house the hutches, hand feeding the calves powdered milk and grain, and cleaning up after them.

Forrest simply allows the calves to remain with the herd until they naturally wean from their mothers. Although this is a cheaper, more humane way of raising the veal calves, Forrest notes that most dairy farms don't have pastures. Therefore, dairy farms might see the hutch method as their best alternative.

As for slaughtering a cow at four months, keep in mind that many livestock animals are slaughtered at that point or earlier. Pigs, lamb and turkeys are slaughtered at about four to six months. Chickens go to slaughter at around 8 weeks.

Despite raising veal calves in a humane way, Forrest says he still faces complaints and criticism for selling veal. Some of these folks change their mind after learning more about Smith Meadows Farm and Forrest's sustainable approach to agriculture. Some don't.

Admittedly, I've never been very comfortable with the hutch method, though I've eaten a fair amount of veal. However, with the rise of free-range veal, I see few reasons to go back to the traditional product. But there are differences.

Image003 Free-range veal tastes different, looks different and is not nearly as tender as box-raised veal. Just as grass-fed beef has a richer, purple color than regular beef, Forrest's pasture raised, grass-fed veal has more color to it than pale pink grain-fed veal. His free-range veal is also lean, and has more omega 3 fatty acids and healthy cholesterol than hutch-raised veal. As for the flavor, it tastes a bit more like beef than traditional veal.

Because Forrest's approach to farming emphasizes allowing the animals to develop naturally, he has "zero interest" in foie gras. Smith Meadows Farm recently began raising ducks, and Forrest will sell duck livers, but foie gras is out of the question because it requires the liver to be artificially enlarged.

I'll get into that in my next post.

Image057 For this meal, I picked up a couple veal porterhouses from Forrest (actually, I picked them up from his wife Nancy at the Del Ray Farmer's Market) and a bottle of Ozzy from Baltimore's stellar brewpub, The Brewer's Art. The sustainable agricultural and local craft beer movements really go hand-in-hand. Both emphasize small-scale, high-quality production to create artisanal products for a local market. The Brewer's Art's Ozzy is a faintly sweet, Belgian style ale that comes in at about 7.25 percent ABV. A 22 ounce bomber of Ozzy can be found at a few D.C. area stores that have decent craft beer selections. But if you've never had it from the tap, it's well worth the drive to Baltimore.

Grilled veal porterhouses with tomato and basil salad
(Makes two servings)

Image043 2 pasture-raised, grass-fed veal porterhouses
1 pint of green zebra tomatoes, quartered
1/2 pint sun gold, or similar orange or yellow tomatoes, halved
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch of fresh basil, left whole
1 lemon, halved
6 oz. of goat's milk feta
2 oz. of canola oil
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper

To get started, pull the porterhouses out of the refrigerator 30 minutes ahead of time, lightly coat both sides with canola oil and season generously with salt and black pepper. Keep them on the counter while you start your grill.

While you're waiting for the veal and grill to warm up, prep the salad by combining the tomatoes and feta. I went with goat's milk feta because it is a little less salty than sheep's milk feta and worked a lot better in this salad.

Image015 When the grill is hot, make sure you are set up for off-heat grilling by having a hot spot (directly over the coals or a couple burners on high) and a cool spot (an area without coals or a couple gas burners off or very low). Place the veal chops on the hottest part of the grill and close the lid, allowing the meat to sear for two minutes. Open the lid and give the chops a quarter turn to create hash marks. Close the lid and allow the meat to sear another two to three minutes. When a brown crust has formed on the meat, flip it and sear for another three minutes with the lid closed. After three minutes, move the veal to the cooler part of the grill to finish cooking with the lid closed (five minutes more for rare to medium rare, and seven minutes for medium).

This is a bit longer than I would normally cook veal chops, but because the meat is denser they require a longer cook time.Image032 Once the veal steaks are cooked to your liking, remove them from the grill and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes. While the veal is resting, place half of the lemon face-down on the grill. The heat will caramelize the lemon, reducing its citrus bite and increasing its sweetness.

Also, finish the salad by gently adding in the basil leaves, seasoning with salt and black pepper, and dressing with the olive oil, balsamic and the juice from the other lemon half. By the time you're done with the salad, the lemon will be grilled and the veal will be ready.

Drizzle the hot lemon juice over the veal porterhouses and enjoy.


On Legislating Food

It's rare that I mention politics here but since this is food related, I guess I can make an exception.

As you may have already heard, Montgomery County is trying to ban trans fats from restaurants and government institutions like schools. While I personally try to avoid trans fats in my sons and my own diets, I see this a just another attempt of the the government trying to control what food I'm allowed to eat.

We already have plenty of laws like this. The state of Maryland already makes it nearly impossible to obtain wine due to the antiquated wine and beer laws that masquerade as a protection for my health. They'll even go to extreme lengths to protect that system, including endangering local Maryland wine producers from Maryland.

We're also not far away form the FDA banning raw milk from being sold and consumed nationally, and once again, this is more of our elected government attempting to protect me and you from ourselves. In fact, in the state of Maryland, it's already illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption. Certain Maryland officials have even compared it to selling illegal drugs. And if we're not careful, the FDA will ban all cheeses made from raw milk, regardless of how long they're aged.

The worst thing is that the Maryland state Senate is wasting their time. In a few years, trans fats will be extremely rare. National restaurant chains are running from trans fats like the plague because NOBODY WANTS TO EAT THEM! And all you see in the supermarket snack food isle nowadays is "NO TRANS FATS" in big bold letters on packaging with exclamation points on both sides.  The tide is turning and it's mostly because people are getting educated that trans fats are bad for them.

I will say that I'm fine with banning trans fats in schools mainly because kids don't have a choice where they eat. They have to eat what's served to them in the cafeteria, so yes, by all means, don't serve that crap to the kids. You and I, on the other hand, have a choice to eat what we want. If we want to eat French fries and a Big Mac for every meal despite the nutritional data that's plainly visible at the restaurant, then we know what we're doing to ourselves.

I'm curious what other people think about this...