Stone Cold Delicious

by Caroline Carney

The frozen tundra of a New England winter is upon us. I imagine those of you who hail from the temperate West Coast are in a particular state of despair after these past few months of face-chapping winds, snow, and drab-looking fruits. Although many of us admire the locavore movement, it is a difficult badge to wear during a New England winter. It means forgoing freshly-made pesto, avocados, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, citrus … I should stop there before I hyperventilate. It’s a hard way to eat, but certainly worth the effort. How can we possibly be inspired this deficit of options?

Historically, New Englanders have always been culinarily challenged in the winter months, forced to be creative with what the cold earth offers up. Cooks must know what local foods are at their peak, or at close. The foods that do survive are those hearty, rugged compatriots who have always been there for us: tubers, brawny leafy greens, sturdy root vegetables, members of the strongly-scented allium family, and those thick-skinned, nearly invincible gourds. Winter is also an opportune time to experiment with local seafood offerings. These same old winter foods can provide inspiration that will make for a happy and healthy winter season.

Know Your Roots

First stop on our journey is the root cellar—an age-old construction that expands the produce selection this time of year. Farmers pile up the late season harvest to ensure it will last all winter long. Chris Kurth, owner of Siena Farm in Sudbury, chuckled when I asked what produce he currently has. I didn’t think this was a laughing matter, so I pressed him for a thorough list. He said that what little he does have is coming from his root cellar: cabbage, watermelon radishes, parsnips, and kale.

Usually underground, root cellars harness the naturally cold temperature to keep produce firm and fresh. The vegetables live in the root cellar, breathing in oxygen and exhaling out carbon dioxide and water. The root cellar has a natural level of humidity that helps the vegetables retain their moisture and crispness. You cannot get the same results with a refrigerator, which removes humidity from the air. Root cellars also protect vegetables from sunlight, which can cause spoilage and nutrient loss.

Squash the Winter Blues

Shopping for squash can be a blast: so many colors, shapes, and flavors without the pressure to cook them this week. Winter squash actually sweetens off the vine, so a couple months in your living room as an edible decoration will only improve the flavor. A grocery shopper can find not only the standard butternut, pumpkin, and acorn varietals, but also the more obscure buttercup and hubbard. Now is not the time to shy away from new gourds—buttercup and hubbard are in season and packed with amazing nutrients.

The winter varieties of squash are extremely rich in vitamin A and are a good source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium. They also have more fiber than summer squash—the strings and squash seeds are high in insoluble fiber and the flesh contains soluble fiber. Pumpkin seeds aren’t the only ones for eating. Never toss the seeds; roast them and then snack on them or add them to a salad, all the while knowing that they are providing lots of iron, potassium, zinc, and B vitamins. Winter squash can be stored for several months in a cool, dark place—how I imagine many of your apartments feel right now. So, pick a few varieties of winter squash. When you’re feeling the yen for sweet, satisfying squash, roast one up (do not boil squash because this will destroy the precious vitamin C and other nutrients). Try out the recipe at the bottom of the article for a comforting winter meal.

Ripe and Ready

There are few things more disappointing than a strawberry in the middle of winter: after being shipped across the country it is pallid, and lacks that syrupy sweetness of summer. Strawberries, grapes, apricots, blueberries, peaches, and raspberries do not improve in sweetness or flavor after being picked. They merely soften on their slippery slope to decay. These fruits start to produce polygalacturonase—pectin’s arch enemy. This troublesome enzyme attacks the pectin that holds the fruit cells in place.

In the wintertime, it’s best to choose local fruits that ripen after the harvest. Apples and pears do get sweeter after the harvest. As they ripen off the tree, apples and pears convert their starch reserves into sugar. A period of cold storage before final ripeness actually improves the texture of the flesh. Many Massachusetts farms take advantage of this by storing these fruits in cold cellars. Apples lack polygalacturonase, so they remain crisp up until they start to rot. Nevertheless, apples and pears do emit ethylene, a gas that acts as fruit’s internal “ripener”, after they’re picked. Ethylene encourages decay in many vegetables, so it is best to store fruit in a separate drawer in your refrigerator, or a sealed plastic bag. Take a break from apple pie and try poached pears with a dark chocolate sauce. They are simple and quick to make and will satisfy the tastes of the most avid chocolate fiend.

Bivalve-a-go-go

Plump and succulent, the oyster is a perfect companion during the sluggish winter months. It is a tragic misconception that oysters are only a summertime indulgence: they can be even more delectable in the winter. Oysters spawn during the warmer months, which causes their flesh to become soft and milky and depletes the glycogen stores that give them their flavor. And fortunately for us, the cold winter waters of Massachusetts are ideal for producing bivalves that are flavorful, lean, and crisp. The higher the level of salt in the water, the more amino-acids the oyster’s cells need to contain to balance the saltiness outside the cells. Winter oysters in New England have a high amount of these amino-acids, which lends them a savory quality. Duxbury, WiAnno, Martha’s Vineyard, Cotuit, Wellfleet are all Massachusetts towns that boast excellent oyster beds. So make this February oyster month.

Oysters provide lean protein, are rich in zinc, and contain many other minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, iodine, magnesium and selenium. Although oyster lovers prefer these briny morsels raw, cold, and washed down with a glass of Sancerre, pan-seared oysters can be a real treat for bivalve neophytes.

There is widespread concern about the overfishing of many local fish (cod, halibut, haddock) as well as the unsustainable nature of many farm-raised fish (salmon, ranched bluefin and farmed freshwater eels). However, the Massachusetts bivalve population is doing just fine. Farm-raised clams, oysters, scallops and mussels, are sustainable because they do not require wild-caught seafood to feed them. These bivalves are filter feeders, meaning they extract organic matter from the water. As the bivalves gobble up phytoplankton, algae and other particles, they filter the water thereby benefiting estuaries and bays.

Go forth and cook with your head held high as you roast, sauté, boil, poach, and bake with winter foods. If you cave and throw in a little lemon zest or spinach, I won’t think any less of you because I might just be doing the same thing.

RECIPES

Barley and Winter Squash Risotto

A stunning display of winter’s bounty. The orange of the squash, the purple kale, and the glimmers of yellow zest will brighten the dinner table. You can substitute any type of squash for hubbard. Use whatever your farmer has in stock.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 cups lightly pearled barley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ pounds Hubbard squash, quartered
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Grated zest of 4 lemons
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (fat free works just fine)
  • 1 bunch purple kale, roughly chopped
  • Handful of toasted pine nuts

Directions:

*Preheat oven to 375 °F

The Barley

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, shallots, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt and sauté for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the barley to the saucepan and stir until it is thoroughly combined with the onions, shallots, and garlic.
  3. Add the white wine, bring mixture to a simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. In 1-cup increments, add about 6 cups of stock. Allow the barley to absorb most of the stock in between each addition and stir regularly. This slow process is key to risotto — the stirring removes the softened endosperm from the surface of the grain so it dissolves in the liquid and the incremental addition of liquid to an uncovered pan means that much the liquid evaporates, resulting in a flavor-intense sauce. It should take about 40 minutes. When the barley is tender remove the pot from heat.

The Squash

  1. While the barley does its thing, turn your attention to the squash. Place the squash on a cookie sheet. Slather the quarters with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of ground pepper.
  2. Put the squash into the preheated oven and roast for about 35 minutes or until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork. Don’t overcook— a mushy squash has no place in risotto. Once it is done, remove the peel and cut into ½-inch cubes.

The Kale

  1. Bring a pot filled with 5 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the chopped kale. Boil for about 6 minutes. Pull a piece of kale out to test it for doneness. It should be a little firmer than sautéed spinach.

The Finished Product

  1. Combine the barley, squash, and kale in a large bowl. Stir in the lemon zest, Parmesan, and greek yogurt. Garnish with pine nuts and a dusting of extra Parmesan before serving.

Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as a side.

Pan-seared Oysters with a Chickpea Nutmeg Crust

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 dozen plump, meaty oysters (WiAnno work well and can be found at Whole Foods for 99¢ each)
  • 1 chickpea flour (you can use regular flour, but the chickpea adds a nutty flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain salt
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • a few grinds of pepper
  • a squeeze of lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Shuck the oysters, being careful to not mangle the flesh. Shucking takes some practice, so ask around and see if someone will teach you.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, nutmeg, and pepper in a bowl. Cover the oysters with the flour mixture to create a uniform coating on each bivalve.
  3. Over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick sauté pan. Once the pan is sizzling, drop a few oysters in at a time. Do not crowd the pan. Each oyster will release some liquid and if there are too many in the pan at once, the liquid will interfere with the crisping process.
  4. Once the crust is golden, remove the oyster from the pan. Add oysters as cooked ones come out. If charred residue builds up in the pan, carefully wipe it out with a paper towel and add more butter and olive oil, reheat, and add breaded oysters.
  5. Eat immediately with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Poached Pears with Dark Chocolate Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup white wine (such as a Gewurztraminer)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Zest and juice of half an orange
  • 4 pears (Anjou, Bartlett, or Bosc on the firm side)
  • My Richest Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows)

Directions:

  1. Bring the water and wine to a boil in a large saucepan.
  2. While waiting for this, peel, quarter and remove the center seed part of the pears.
  3. Turn the boiling liquid down to a simmer and add the orange zest, juice, and pears.
  4. Cook the pears for 20-40 minutes. The cook time will depend on the level of ripeness of the pears- the riper they are the more quickly they will poach in the liquid. The pears are done when they are tender, but not soft.
  5. Remove the pears with a spoon when done and serve warm or chilled with some of the poaching liquid and a drizzle of dark chocolate sauce.

*Poached pears can be kept for a day in the refrigerator, submerged in their liquid.

Serves 4.

My Richest Chocolate Sauce

Makes about 1 and 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half

Directions:

  1. In the top of a double boiler (or in a bowl set over simmering water) combine the chocolate, butter, and agave nectar. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Eating Seasonally: Resources for Your Winter Menus

by Kelly A. Dumke

The temperature has dropped, the snow has started to fall, and the crowds have bundled up.  Winter is definitely here.  Although the shock of the cold may still tickle our noses, farmers and growers have long-been prepared for the changing seasons.  As with any season, produce selection varies and availability changes.  Find out what’s available, how much, where to go, and some tips on eating seasonally this winter.

CSAs

CSAs, in the winter?

Yes, indeed!  Community Supported Agricultures (CSAs) still exist during the cold winter months.  Rather than showcase only fresh fruits and vegetables, winter CSAs often distribute preserved goods or hardy, stored produce.  Many CSAs stash these foods in sustainable and economical root cellars during normal harvest months (September-November) to make them available in the winter. Root cellars are underground storage spaces dug into a hillside or below the frost line.  The cellars naturally maintain an optimal temperature (32-40 degrees F) and humidity (90%) that can keep hardy vegetables fresh from mid-October until spring.  Dark greens and root vegetables are available freshly harvested in winter months from CSAs, and canned tomatoes and fruits may be available from earlier harvests.

Where and what you will find:

Winter produce includes potatoes, cabbage, carrots, squash, onions, leeks, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, celeriac, kale, collards, and other hardy produce varieties.  Some reasonable CSAs that may still be available or that you can get a head start on for next season:

*Brookfield Farm Winter Share: Brookfield Farm promotes environmental sustainability, uses no pesticides or herbicides, and views the farm as a living system and maintains a strict composting and crop rotation pattern.  The Farm is owned by the non-profit Biodynamic Farmland Conservation Trust, which promotes farmer training and education.

Price: Brookfield Farm’s winter share costs about $125.  Included in this price are 30 pounds of seasonal produce each month from December through March.

Distribution:  Boston-area distribution centers include Arlington, Cambridge, Lexington, Jamaica Plain, and Newton.  Produce is usually self-serve from a root cellar and available once a week.

Website/Contact: http://www.brookfieldfarm.org/WinterShare.html

*Drumlin Farms: Drumlin Farms offers a winter share with a unique twist: you have to work for it!  A small, 8-hour fieldwork component is required for all CSA members (otherwise, an additional fee is charged).  During mid-October, members of the Drumlin Farms Winter CSA help harvest and store produce that they will consume during the winter months including garlic, potatoes, and squash.  This is a fun opportunity for all the green thumbs out there and a great way to learn more about farming.

Price: Drumlin Farms offers half shares for $200 and full shares for $400.

Distribution: Drumlin Farms requires members to pick-up produce at the farm location at Lincoln Road, which is accessible via the MBTA commuter rail.

Website/Contact: http://www.massaudubon.org/PDF/sanctuaries/drumlin/DFCSAWinter2006-7.pdf

*New Entry Sustainable Farmer Project: This CSA is right in our own Tufts backyard. The New Entry Sustainable Farmer Projects, a partnership between Tufts University and Community Teamwork Inc., teaches new farmers sustainable growing practices and promotes sustainable farm development.  The project supports an alliance of the program’s newly graduated farmers called World PEAS Cooperative.  Through this cooperative CSA has been developed with produce coming from the local farmers at independent sites or the training locations.  Winter shares are available through the program’s “Extended Season Share.”

Price: For about 2-3 months of produce, the price for an Extended Season Share is $120.

Distribution: Boston locations, including a Chinatown distribution center on the Tufts campus are all available.

Website/Contact:  http://nesfp.nutrition.tufts.edu/worldpeas/index.html

Markets and Local Produce

Beyond the CSA:

CSAs are not the only way to get fresh winter produce and support local farmers.  Several food distributors around the Boston area specialize in seasonal produce from local farms.  In addition, simply learning about the produce and ingredients that are available in winter can help you avoid high prices at your own local supermarket.

Local Markets:

Russo and Sons: Located in Watertown, MA, this family-run grocery store maintains close relationships with local growers and promotes seasonal produce.  The store offers fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables from nearby New England farms, meats, artisan cheeses, homemade pastries, flowers, and other local specialty products.  Prices are also reasonable to benefit both consumers and growers.

Check out the Russo and Sons website for produce available this week.

Website: http://www.russos.com/index.html

Johnny D’s Fruit and Produce: With friendly owners greeting any and all customers, Johnny D’s Fruit and Produce provides more than a fresh daily selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables.  The family-owned shop is located in Brighton off Washington Street.  Although the shop does not specialize in organic produce, it does support local farmers and seasonal eating.  The small but organized store lines its shelves with a budget-friendly seasonal showcase of winter produce.   Check out the website for the daily produce selection.

Website: http://home.comcast.net/~johnnydsfruitnproduce/site/?/blog/

Web Resources:

National Resources Defense Council (NRDC): Deemed one of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups, the United States National Resource Defense Council, is an environmental action organization dedicated to promoting wildlife, sustainability, environmental protection, and healthy lifestyles. NRDC advocates choosing seasonal produce that is harvested locally.  The website is easily designed to allow visitors to select their location and season to find a list of local produce and seasonal ingredients.

Website:  http://www.nrdc.org/health/foodmiles/default.asp

As you try to stay warm this winter, remember these tips for buying locally, eating seasonally, and perhaps getting a jumpstart of next year’s CSAs.

Restaurant Review: RedBones

by Amy Scheuerman

RedBones

55 Chester St.

Somerville, MA

(617) 628-2200

www.redbones.com

Type of Food: BBQ

Price Range:  $ $

Vegetarian Friendly:

Beer or Wine List:

Atmosphere:

Walking into Redbones is like stepping into the South for the evening.  Non-alcoholic drinks are served in mason jars, there’s no dress code, and the place feels lively.  Upstairs is brightly lit and is a great place for families and old friends to catch up.  There’s a full service bar hidden on the back wall for folks either waiting for a table or just interested in grabbing a drink and a bite.

Downstairs feels like an entirely different restaurant that happens to have the same menu.  The room is big and dark with a smoky charm to it.  The walls are splashed with murals and the music is mostly indie bands.  If you want a drink or dinner with friends, the quirky downstairs room is the place to go.

Service:

The table service is efficient and humorous.  One waitress will memorize your order if you have the same meal twice in a row.  There’s also a friendly waiter who will cheerfully make fun of your group for as long as he takes care of you.  The staff is happy to bring extra sauces, napkins, or drinks when requested.  I highly recommend sitting at the counter. Not only can you watch the cooks serve up ridiculously large amounts of meat to the masses, but they frequently throw in a free appetizer for no reason.

Bar service is a little slower, although you can hardly blame the staff for that.  With 28 beers rotating on tap and 38 more bottled brews, 8 margaritas, 12 specialty cocktails, and a couple of coffee drinks, the bartenders have their hands full.  Every person I’ve talked to across the bar has been knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  In fact, part of the slowdown is a result of the enormous drink menu and the time the bartenders are willing to spend helping each customer choose the perfect drink.  So relax and enjoy the southern hospitality.

Taste and Presentation:

Here’s my only problem with RedBones: the food is good. Not amazing, just solidly good.  The entrees tend to be heavy on the meat and low on variety.  The sauces are cloying and dull.  All the BBQ tastes of tomato and is overly sweet.  Over several visits my group tried the pulled pork, both the Memphis and Arkansas ribs, the pulled chicken, and the baby back ribs.  They all taste exactly the same.  Vegetarians beware: the grilled veggie burger is duller than a doorknob and your other entrée options are few and far between.

Two entrees that redeem the menu are the sausage dinner with dirty rice and beans and the fried catfish sandwich.  The latter can also be had in the form of an appetizer called catfingers: little bits of catfish fried to delicious happiness, served with squeezed lemon and tartar sauce.

The side dishes and appetizers allow for a nice variety, are frequently vegetarian friendly, and if you mix and match you can create a satisfying meal from that section of the menu alone.  They include potlikkers (a lightly seasoned broth of greens), hush puppies, nachos, chicken or buffalo wings, chili, sausage, fried oysters, succotash (a stew with lima bean, tomatoes, and corn), dirty rice, any number of potatoes, mac n’ cheese, candied yams, slaw, and beans.

Presentation is not a high priority for the RedBones crew.  The restaurant is BBQ, and, as most people know, this involves a slab of meat on a plate.  I admire the lack of presentation; there are no silly sprigs of parsley to distract from the main course.  However, it might be nice to see a vibrant side of greens or some colorful slaw with brightly purple cabbage and flaming orange carrots.

Final Thoughts:

RedBones is a fun restaurant with friendly service, an amazing beer selection, and no pretension.  As a transplanted southerner I was skeptical about the ability of a Boston restaurant to provide a real, down home barbeque experience.  RedBones, although not truly a taste of the south, is the best BBQ joint I’ve found in Boston and has by far the best atmosphere.

Get in early!  There’s no waiting area and you’re liable to feel a little crushed against the door if there’s a wait.  The downstairs bar is a good place to wait for a table when it’s busy, but on Fridays and Saturdays even that can be crowded and difficult to navigate.

Score Key:

Price Range:

$    Average entrée is $10, Highest price is <$18

$$    Average entrée is $15, Highest price is <$25

$$$    Average entrée is $20, Highest price is <$30

$$$$    Average entrée is $25, Highest price is <$40

$$$$$    Average entrée is $30, Highest price is whatever you can dream of

Vegetarian Friendly:

NONE: Pack a lunch

A few token items available

Great selection

A vegetarian paradise

Beer or Wine List:

Mass breweries and wineries only

Standard beer or wine list with a few local twists

A selection large and interesting enough to keep the connoisseur busy

Off the chart amazing; a large selection of both local and international options

Move Aside Formula, Here Come the Fruit and Veg: Changes to the WIC Food Package

by Sarah Olliges

“WIC- Isn’t that the program that gives away infant formula?” say the woman at the coffee counter, when I ask if she knows the program.  Well, not exactly.  They actually provide vouchers for a variety of foods, as well as nutrition education and health care referrals.  WIC (or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) also covers 50 percent of all US infants!  This is a program that has the potential to make a big difference in the lives of its clients.  Started in the 1972, this program has recently undergone a revision in the types of foods that it offers the clients.  The food package (i.e., the group of food items clients receive) has been revised to include more whole grains, less fat, and more fruits and vegetables.  According to Elaine Mazgelis, RD, Nutritionist and Breastfeeding Coordinator at the Cambridge/Somerville WIC office, the client response to the packages has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

The WIC Program

WIC was created by Congress to improve the health of women, infants and children at the urging of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, chaired by Tufts’ own Jean Mayer.  At the time, doctors testified that malnutrition, including anemia, was a problem among low income pregnant women.  A system of food “prescriptions” was adopted, to be distributed based on need.  WIC is run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented at the state level.  All funding comes from the federal level, where Congress budgets a certain amount each year.  There is an established ranking system, to prioritize aid to those that need it the most.  In theory, all that are eligible and apply may not receive aid if there is not enough funding.  However, in practice, in the past decade, there has been adequate funding and eligible people are not turned away.  Currently only 57% of those eligible participate.  If participation increased, then prioritization would once again become important.  Participants must be under 185% of the poverty line, be a pregnant or breastfeeding woman or an infant or child under age 5, and have a nutritional risk.   Most participants (67% in 2006) are at or below the poverty line and ¾ are infants or children.

WIC may be best known for providing free infant formula to mothers, but it also provides supplemental foods, nutrition education, and referrals to health services.  The food package was originally intended to supplement the client’s normal diet and provide specific nutrients that are often deficient in low income children and whose deficiency negatively affects the physical growth and cognitive development of those children (iron, protein, calcium, Vitamin C).  Each food in the package was chosen to fill a specific void.  In 2004 the USDA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the current WIC package and to suggest revisions to reflect current nutrition science, the USDA’s dietary guidelines, suitability of foods for low-income participants with limited cooking facilities, and cultural food preferences.

IOM Review and New Packages

The IOM had quite a task.  Not only did the USDA want a new and improved food package, they also wanted the new packages to be cost-neutral:  they couldn’t cost anymore that the current packages.  The new food packages, presented in the IOM document WIC Food Packages: Time for a Change, reflect current nutrition science by removing many of the high fat, high calorie items and replacing them with lower fat items.  A major shift in the packages was to include a voucher for fruit and vegetables.  These vouchers are provided at a dollar value, and can be used to purchase fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables.  The IOM also took into account racial and ethnic diversity in the WIC population and recommended certain substitutions be allowed such as tortillas, beans, and soymilk.  Overall, the new food package decreases saturated fat, sugar in the form of fruit juice, and increases the consumption of whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains.  The new packages also attempt to encourage breastfeeding by providing some formula for partially breastfed babies and special foods to exclusively breastfed babies (after 6 months) and their mothers.  The USDA made some small changes to the packages recommended by the IOM, and the new packages were implemented in October of 2009.  The changes made by, category of participant, can be seen in the accompanying table A Comparison of the Old and New WIC Benefit.

How have things changed

Ms. Mazgelis of the Cambridge/Somerville WIC office reports that the changeover to the new food packages has been “relatively seamless”.  She says the participants are pleased with the new fruit and vegetable vouchers, though some ask if they can trade the vouchers for more milk (the new package reduced the amount of milk given).  Others report that the baby food provided to breastfed babies after 6 months is “just too much”.

The biggest challenge for participants has been the switch from whole milk to 1 or 2%.  Many WIC recipients are not used to the taste and are struggling to get used to the different milk.

Other issues with the new WIC package include educating groceries and other food outlets about the new foods and the vouchers, which is done in part by WIC staff visiting a store when there is a complaint.  Stores and participants are provided with an approved list of foods -which, incidentally, does not include white potatoes.  One thing that has been hard for both the grocery managers and participants to find is the one pound loaf of whole wheat bread, which is an uncommon loaf size.  Still, at least in the Cambridge and Somerville area, the transition seems to be going smoothly.

Although the transition seems to be going well in Somerville and Cambridge, the new package has brought up some questions and concerns nationwide, in particular the fruit and vegetable vouchers.  In many places there are “WIC only” stores, which only carry items on the approved WIC lists (different in each state).  Questions have arisen about whether these stores will be able to stock fruits and vegetables.  It is also unknown whether these vouchers will be able to be used at Farmer’s Markets.  WIC already has a Farmer’s Market Voucher program in some locations, and it is unclear yet whether participants will be able to take vouchers to the markets as well.

Still, all in all, these changes seem to be a positive step forward for WIC.  As long as folks can get used to the taste of low fat milk!

A Comparison of the Old and New WIC Benefit

Package Old Benefit New Benefit
1- Infants 0-3 months Formula provided if not breastfeeding Expands category to include infants up to 6 months to reflect the age when other foods should be introduced

Provides some formula for partially breastfeeding infants

2- Infants 4-11 Months These infants eligible for formula, juice, and infant cereal Age range changed to 6-11 months, eliminates juice, lowers formula amount and adds baby food fruits and vegetables

Provides more baby foods including baby food meat to infants that have been fully breastfed

3- Women, Infants, and Children with medical nutritional needs Provides medical foods if needed Provides medical foods in addition to foods in other packages
4-  Children Age 1 up to 5th birthday Includes Milk, Cheese, Eggs, Dried Beans or Peanut Butter, Fruit Juice, and Dried Cereal $6/ month cash voucher for Fruits and vegetables

Reduces milk, cheese, egg, and juice allotment

Requires whole grain cereals

Provides whole grain allotment (corn tortillas, wheat bread, oatmeal, etc)

Allows canned beans to be substituted for dried

5- Pregnant and Partially Breastfeeding women (up to 1 year) Same and Category 4 $10 / month cash voucher for Fruits and vegetables

Other adjustments same as Category 4

6- Postpartum Women up to 6 months (non-breastfeeding) Same and Category 4 $10 / month cash voucher for Fruits and vegetables

Other adjustments same as Category 4

7-  Exclusively Breastfeeding Women Same as category 4 and includes canned fish $10/month Cash Voucher for fruits and vegetables

All adjustments in Category 4; also increases fish amount

** New package allows for the substitution of lactose-free milk or soy milk and tofu for the milk and cheese prescription.  The soy products must have a medical documented need before they can be prescribed.

Zoom In: Isolating Science in the Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk Debate

by Marina Komarovsky

5-year-old daughter:   Can we buy orange juice, is it healthy?

Mother:   No, the orange juice is pasteurized.

5-year-old daughter:   What’s “pasteurized?”

Mother:   It means that they heat it and kill all the vitamins.

5-year-old daughter:   [pointing at a Tropicana juice box] What’s that?

Mother:   That is an orange with a straw in it to make you think that it’s fresh, but actually it’s pasteurized.

This conversation took place in the checkout line, no joke.

While pushing a toddler to renounce pasteurization may be a bit over the top, it has indeed been shown that heating foods causes denaturation, or breakdown, of their biological components. In other words, vitamins and proteins change shape and may no longer be active. There is less beneficial Vitamin C in pasteurized orange juice, for instance, than in fresh-squeezed orange juice because heating during processing causes a higher rate of breakdown over time. Researchers at Ohio State University noted that pasteurized orange juice lost nearly 20 percent of its vitamin C content, in comparison with less than 10 percent for unpasteurized orange juice, after ten days of refrigerated storage.

But what about milk? Conventionally processed milk undergoes one of several treatments. To comply with standards set by the Food and Drug Administration’s Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, milk must either be heated to 161°F for 15 seconds or to 145°F for 30 minutes, slightly reducing temperature but greatly increasing heating time. The first method, termed HTST (high temperature short time pasteurization), is most common. An alternative method which allows milk to be stored without refrigeration before it is opened involves an “ultra high temperature” of 280°F for just 1-2 seconds. While this is rare in the U.S., you may have seen unrefrigerated 32 oz. cardboard boxes of milk on the shelves in Europe or Latin America.

Like orange juice, milk does contain vitamin C, which may be partially deactivated by pasteurization. However we don’t really view milk as a major vitamin C contributor in our diets. Instead, we go to citrus fruits, kiwi, leafy greens, sweet potatoes … if we don’t get vitamin C from milk, no big deal. When milk fat is removed or reduced, there is a requirement in the U.S. that milk be fortified with Vitamins A and D. These vitamins are actually added before pasteurization and susceptible to its potentially adverse effects. While vitamin A may be damaged by pasteurization, vitamin D – the one that is hard to come by especially in the winter months – seems to be relatively stable.

But vitamins are not the only nutritional components that are affected. One of the principal values of milk is protein. Milk is a particularly important protein source for those who do not have high quantities of meat in their diets, such as vegetarians and young children. In a recent study in France, scientists compared the absorption and retention of protein from raw, pasteurized, and “ultra high temperature” treated milk. The amino acids that compose proteins are made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. In order to conduct this study, researchers replaced the nitrogen in the milk to be used with the 15N isotope, a heavier version of the element.

Because the goal was to “follow” the very proteins contained in the milk through digestion, absorption, and excretion, using 15N would allow the milk proteins to be distinguished from those already present in the body. Twenty-five study participants were randomly assigned to consume the three different types of milk. Results showed that while the 15N was equally absorbed and incorporated in all three groups, 26% of nitrogen from milk that underwent ultra high temperature treatment was lost to urea, as compared to a lower 18% nitrogen lost in normally pasteurized milk as well as raw milk, eight hours after consumption. This study suggests that with respect to protein benefit, ultra high temperature treatment may be too much, while normal pasteurization may actually be okay.

Of course, there are issues with other components of milk. Raw milk advocates point out that beneficial bacteria are killed by pasteurization, that useful enzymes are inactivated, and that the size of fat globules is reduced, affecting fat uptake and metabolism. While much of the evidence zooms in to the molecular level, epidemiological research has also yielded interesting results. In a multi-center study of nearly 15,000 children in Europe, it was found that those who consumed raw versus pasteurized milk were 25% less likely to experience asthma and were at reduced risk for allergies. However it remains unclear whether this effect was produced by the beneficial compounds in raw milk or whether it was alternately a manifestation of the hygiene hypothesis, the proposal that the necessity to fight off potentially harmful bacteria (as in raw milk) trains the immune system.

As usual, the research agenda is influenced by public health concerns, corporate politics, and economics, but more research on different milk processing methods would be useful. It would help both policymakers and consumers to effectively weigh the risks and benefits of less processed options and to create solutions to optimize safety and nutrition.

Raw Milk: Freedom or Food Safety? Ideology vs Science

by Ashley Colpaart, RD LD

Controversy over the ability to purchase and consume raw milk (milk in its natural, unpasteurized state) has been an emerging policy debate in the US. Proponents believe citizens have a right to consume milk in its raw form and claim it provides an “undamaged” nutrient profile and supreme taste. Conversely, public health officials and regulators emphasize the threat of raw milk contamination by exposure of foodborne bacteria on the basis of public health safety. As emerging leaders in the policy world, it is important for Friedman students to understand the politics, principles, and emotions behind the issue, along with the gold standard of consensus science. Are there nutritional differences between raw and unpasteurized milk? What is the current state and federal regulation and political climate surrounding unpasteurized milk? What are the limitations in research and what effect do standard and alternative farming systems have on milk safety? It is my hope that by answering these questions students will be better equip to formulate sound policy.

Nutritional profiles

Pasteurization heats milk for various times and temperatures in order to kill microorganisms that transmit disease. (For more information see Marina Komarovsky’s article: Zoom In: Isolating Science in the Raw vs. Pasteurized Milk Debate).  Pasteurization does not sterilize milk, but aims to make the milk safer to drink; however, it is not a foolproof process. For example, in 1985 an outbreak of Salmonella from treated milk in the Midwest sickened nearly 200,000 people and led to 18 deaths. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has recorded 155 outbreaks from pasteurized dairy products between 1990 and 2006.

Raw milk advocates claim that it has nutritional superiority over pasteurized milk, including increased levels of beneficial bacteria and enzymes; vitamins and minerals; and protein and fat. The differences have been translated into speculative health claims: protection against allergies, decreased risk of autism, reduction in dental caries, enhanced fertility, and arthritis protection. As Marina concluded in her article: further research is needed to establish correlations between the consumption of raw milk and these health claims.

Advocates also argue that raw milk is superior in taste, texture, and quality, a difference that may be attributed to the effects that pasteurization (and homogenization) has on milk. Milk processors homogenize milk by forcing it at high pressure through tiny holes in order break up large fat globules and to create a standard consistency.  Raw milk is not pasteurized and rarely homogenized. A major force in raw milk advocacy is the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit that began in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, who studied isolated non-industrialized peoples, established parameters of human health and determined optimum characteristics of human diets. The foundation has a goal of establishing universal access to clean, certified raw milk.

Public health

Agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other worldwide regulatory agencies declare that pathogens in raw milk make it unsafe to consume. Raw milk may contain harmful bacteria, such as those that cause fever, dysentery, salmonellosis and tuberculosis, thus leading to serious illness, hospitalization, or death. This stance is to be expected by agencies that are charged with protecting public health; however, the adamant stance does not seem to be in line with the associated today’s risk.  Certainly the unsanitary milk production practice of the mid-1800’s led to raw milk contaminated with tuberculosis bacilli, killing thousands. Pasteurization was far reaching solution by killing all bacteria, but it could be argued that through education of proper production methods, raw milk could be produced safely.

Figures from the CDC show more than 1,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized and at least two were killed by illnesses related to unpasteurized milk or cheese from 1998 to 2005. In 2007, the CDC reported 205 illnesses and 12 hospitalizations in which the vehicle was raw or unpasteurized milk; the majority occurred in private homes. By summing the cases caused by raw milk and dividing by the total number of cases, the author found raw milk to be the culprit in 1.56% of the all the confirmed foodborne disease etiology cases. A limitation to surveillance data is that many cases of foodborne illnesses are never reported;8 nonetheless, when compared to other foodborne disease outbreaks, raw milk’s contribution remains dwarfed.

The Weston A. Price Foundation heads a “real milk campaign” aimed at clearing the bad name of raw milk. They accuse the CDC and FDA of misuse, manipulation, and suppression of data to frighten the public. While consumption of raw milk remains a preventable cause of foodborne disease outbreaks, actual cases of illness from other foods like produce, poultry, beef, eggs and seafood are significantly higher. (See Table A) Furthermore, within the “dairy” category of breakouts, milk composes 30%; and within that, products identified as unpasteurized accounts for another 30%.2

*Table A. CSPI Outbreak Alert 2008 Current regulation

Since 1987, interstate sales of raw milk have been banned at the federal level. As of 2009, at least 29 states permitted some form of raw-milk sales to the public, including sales at dairies, farmers’ markets, or through purchase of “cow shares,” but only 13 permit retail sales. According to WAP a cow share is when consumers pay a farmer a fee for boarding their cow, (or share of a cow), caring for the cow and milking the cow. The cow share owner then obtains (but does not purchase) the milk from his own cow. Certain states also allow the public sale of raw milk, but only as pet food. In-state raw milk sales are limited to about a dozen states, with most states limiting raw milk sales to direct farmer-to-consumer transactions and requiring licensing. Many only allow the sale if the consumer goes to the farm to pick it up, limiting distribution.

An increasing number of lawsuits against farmers and confiscations of milk and equipment is fueling what has been tagged the “food freedom movement” composed of farmers who practice the back-to-the-land method of pasture raised milk cows. Religious folks have also taken refuge in this movement committing that grazing is the more natural component for cow: they are herbivores and that’s the way God designed them to be. Heeding the call of a growing attention to raw milk, Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen is appointing a raw milk working group to consider legal and regulatory perspectives pertaining to the sale of unpasteurized milk directly to consumers, and consider what conditions would be required to protect public health. The group is charged with:

  • Reviewing the department’s statutory mission
  • Examining current laws regulating dairy farms, milk and other dairy products, retail food sales, dairy product labeling, and the prohibition on selling raw milk to consumers
  • Examining the current system of enforcing dairy regulations and consider public health needs
  • Evaluating other states’ raw milk regulations
  • Analyzing ways that Wisconsin might allow sale of raw milk

Farming systems & consumer freedom

Historically the dairy industry has seen drastic changes. According to the US Department of Agriculture, between 1970 and 2006, the number of farms with dairy cows fell an astounding 88 percent, from 648,000 to 75,000. The invention of pasteurization led to quality control, uniformity, safety, and an increased shelf life of milk. This gave way to major growth and consolidation, as the number of small farms died out and large industrial dairy farms increased herd sizes and milk production. Dairy production also looks very different.

Nowadays, cows are largely fed corn instead of grazing on grass; are given artificial hormones and antibiotics to increase production; and are packed tightly into Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, which contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other environmental hazards. One gallon of milk purchased from the grocery store can have milk from thousands of cows and most milk you find in the grocer’s dairy section are now processed by 7 prominent multinational dairy corporations. This increased consolidation and market dominance translates to increased political clout, well-funded favorable research, and intense marketing claims with little patience for competition. As Marion Nestle pointed out in her book Food Politics, the ‘3-a-day of dairy’ recommendation by the Dietary Guidelines was heavily influenced by the dairy industry.

Differences in conventional and alternative farming methods are contributing to change in consumer behavior. An increased interest in supporting family farms and ecologically sound farming practices is giving rise to smaller farms that provide value-added niche products. According to the Associated Press, raw milk has become one of those niches, and the federal government, in response, has begun cracking down and conducting raids across the country. FDA asserts that raw milk is “inherently dangerous and should not be consumed,” but to raw milk advocates, this appears to serve as a smoke screen for legislation that helps centralize the dairy industry and eliminate competition from small independent farmers. While this issue is cast as a safety problem, many proponents of raw milk believe it is actually a political issue, defending that safety problems are dealt with by educational campaigns. The question is: Can farmers who produce raw milk safely?

Recommendation

It is unsubstantiated that the dangers of raw milk are so strong that the government should prohibit its being sold or given away. Furthermore, the focus of government should be on education for the farmer and the consumer, rather than fierce regulation. Seemingly, the big risk to failed regulation is the fueling of a black market and the possible creation of a bigger health problem. Consumers are demanding, and will continue to demand, raw milk. Rather than arguing for a blanket avoidance of raw milk, dairy producers supplying raw milk must be well informed on the risks and liabilities associated with the milk they sell. While no farm should be exempt from food safety procedures, a “one-size-fits-all” approach in agriculture is unreasonable and acts monopolistic by restricting entry of smaller firms into the marketplace. Working within the existing framework, regulators, farmers, and consumers can bridge a path between food safety, freedom to farm, and educated consumer choice.

All Great Gardens Start as a Tiny Idea

by Amy Scheuerman

For me it all started on a cold January night with a bottle of red wine, a crackling fire, and my boyfriend. Oh, and a seed catalog. You see, this conception was not of a human but, rather, of a garden.

I’ve always loved growing things, and last winter I finally moved into a house with a real yard that I could dig up and cultivate. However, you can still garden in the Boston area even if you aren’t lucky enough to have a yard. Community gardens abound.  Somerville alone has eight, but they tend to fill up fast, so contact them as soon as possible.  You can get more information from the City of Somerville, the Somerville Community Growing Center, or Groundworks Somerville.

Another option is sharing a plot with a friend who has a yard.  Most gardens grow plenty of food, so sharing is a very real option that can keep you from being overwhelmed with squash or cucumbers.

But before you can start turning the earth you need a plan.  What to plant?  Where to plant it?  When to plant it?  These are all things that require research. 

This month we’ll tackle what to plant.

To seek out what I should plant, I went online to the Seed Savers Exchange and ordered their 2010 Seed Catalogue.  Sure, I could have found the information online, but there’s something far more appealing about holding the physical catalog flipping through the pages, and seeing those beautiful photographs that inspires me in a way the internet cannot.  I didn’t look for anything in particular, I just started on page one and moved forward, making a list of every plant that seemed good.  And so many seemed good!  How could I choose between arugula, mezuna, deer tongue lettuce, Boston bib, mascara, and romaine?  I wanted them all, but in the end I managed to narrow it down:

Leafy greens always taste better straight from the garden.  With this in mind, I picked out several varieties including deer tongue lettuce, red kale, and Swiss chard.  The lettuce is bright green with a crisp texture and a bit of bite to the flavor, which I thought would be nice for salads.  The kale and chard are hearty and can last into the colder months when most of the garden will be long gone.

Bush beans are low maintenance because you don’t have to stake them the way you do pole beans.  This combined with the ease of harvest led me to choose some standard green bush beans as well as the intriguingly named purple dragon beans.  I also decided to include some early red radishes because they’ll remind me of why I’m doing so much work when everything else is still months or weeks away from fruition.

Next I went with cucumbers and tomatoes.  I love pickles and tomato sauce and there’s something incredibly satisfying about knowing that the foods in your pantry are of your own creation.  For $2.50 per seed packet and a fair amount of labor I could have enough preserved pickles and sauce to last me all winter.  I chose the French pickling cucumbers because they can be eaten raw in a salad or pickled whole in brine.  I then picked one of each of my three favorite types of tomatoes: one cherry tomato, the yellow pear; one plum tomato, the Russian plum known for growing in the cold and blooming early in the season; and one slicing tomato, the red brandywine.  Between the three I’ll be able to satisfy any tomato craving that hits.

Finally, I picked out herbs.  Fresh herbs elevate any home-cooked meal from basic to fantastic and require minimal effort to grow.  I generally grow mine in pots near the kitchen door so they are easy to harvest when I feel that my dinner requires a little something extra.  This also keeps the over eager herbs from taking over the entire garden and choking out my vegetables.  My basic herb collection includes: purple sage, Greek oregano, Genovese basil, old fashion thyme, feathery dill, garlic chives (these are absolutely delicious in any dish you would put standard chives in), French tarragon, and cilantro.

These were my personal choices, but there are many, many others.  If you’re interested in starting your own garden this year, check out these websites for inspiration.  There’s nothing like picking out heirloom vegetables for your summer garden to help beat the winter blues!

Heirloom seed sites: