Welcome to Bare Bones
Each month, award-winning food author Beth Dooley and her son Kip will bring you 4 simple things to enrich your life:
Dish - no frills, low-fi, down home cooking you could pull off tonight
Simmer - a story about the science and sweat in our food
Shout-out - good-doing, big-hearted people worth celebrating (and funding!)
Longshot - ambitious, expansive, prophetic visions for what could be – often from the pen of a guest author.
Feeling no pain up on Madeline Island / Alli O’Connell
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Bare Bones is about getting the most out of simple everyday ingredients, about finding more in what we already have. This requires that we pay attention to the essential qualities of staple foods. Pausing to consider the color, flavor, texture, and composition of an ingredient tells us what we need to know about how we might use it.
Take butter: rich, creamy, a little bit sweet, made mostly of fat, the rest of it water and a little bit of protein called milk solids. What happens when we break butter down?
Drop a stick in a warm pan and watch it dissolve. The water evaporates, the milk solids sink, and those creamy, sweet fats rise to the top. The solids, closest to the flame, then brown and caramelize, and the sweetness of the milk fats, no longer diluted by water, intensify.
Remove it from the heat and whisk it in a cup, and you get a dark, nutty, slightly sweet sauce, beurre noisette, or brown butter. The French, as always, have the better name, hazelnut butter, which describes how in dressings, dips, sautées and desserts, the sauce recalls both the round shape and earthy flavor of the hazelnut tree’s little gem.
Like most staples, buerre noisette was created by peasants and cooks, the poor and stretched thin, as they found a way to make more with what little they had. Toss it over green beans, use it in a vinaigrette, or try it out in your favorite baked good – and give thanks for the people who created this timeless staple.
Brown butter and jalapeño cornbread / Mette Nielsen
Pastors of Pasture
In recent years, veganism has come to represent a sort of panacea for a wide range of problems. The internet is awash in stories of how celebrities and thought leaders have left behind burgers and omelettes as a way to reduce animal suffering, global warming, and their own cholesterol; but rarely do we hear stories of the opposite transition. Kristin Tombers and Audrey Arner are part of a cadre of butchers and ranchers who believe that eating meat and dairy from ethically-raised and free-pastured animals is an equally valid response.
Tombers owns and operates Clancey’s Meats in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis, which stocks its cases with locally-raised beef and pork, milk and eggs, rabbit and duck. She never dreamed of becoming a butcher, she says, but after years of working in PR by day and political activism by night, she followed her mother’s advice to find work that aligned more closely with her values. “When I realized the multiple benefits to the quality of our food, our water and land, our economy, I decided to learn the trade and open a shop of my own.”
From clanceysmeats.com / William Evans
The vegan ethos rightly takes aim at industrial agriculture’s torture of animals. But free-pastured animals are treated quite differently from those held in factory farms. Grazing in open fields, these animals produce fertilizer and turn over soil with their hooves. A natural environment reduces the need for antibiotics, and the meat, milk and eggs these animals produce are high in essential nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene.
The vegan movement has certainly dented factory farm profits, but it doesn’t much help local farmers or rural economies. Many tofu and faux-meat products are made with imported or high-carbon footprint soybeans, corn and wheat. And in northern regions, farmers often rely on meat sales in the winter for a steady income through the barren months. And yes, pasture-raised meat is typically more expensive on the consumer end, but that’s because it requires more labor. High-minded city dwellers would do well to remember that rural economies need jobs, too – not to mention access to affordable, nutritious food.
Rancher Audrey Arner of Moonstone Farm raises the kind of meat you’ll find at your local Clancey’s. Just outside the town of Montevideo in the Minnesota River Valley, Arner and her husband Richard Handeen steward 240 acres of lush prairies bordered by woodland. Like Tombers, Arner never had grand plans for a career in ethical meat. “Of course, many of our vegetarian and vegan friends found it odd when we decided to buy a large reproductive herd of herbivores some 30 or so years ago,” she says. There were economic risks involved, too. “Back then there were no companies selling grass fed meat and so we had to do a lot of consumer education...This is not the kind of farming the federal farm program supports.”
Audrey and Richard of Moonstone Farm / moonstonefarm.net
Federal stimulus money typically goes to commodity farmers in the form of price supports and crop-loss insurance for growing corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton. Farmers who raise vegetables and pastured animals cannot access such funds. The irony, of course, is that growing commodities requires toxic amounts of chemical inputs that destroy the land and pollute nearby waters. Farms like Moonstone, on the other hand, use practices that retain topsoil, capture water, sequester carbon, and protect pollinators and songbirds.
Happy cows, happy planet / moonstonefarm.net
Arner says the risks and challenges of this kind of farming are worth it. Sustainable ranching has kept their lifestyle balanced and their land beautiful. “We don’t farm with headlights, worrying about getting crops in, and we don’t go to Arizona or to the lake [for vacation]. Instead, we created a beautiful area with a pond and a beach. People come to join us and they like staying here. It’s sustenance in a different way.”
Visitors to Arner’s ranch might not even realize it's a ranch upon arrival. With 240 acres for 90 cattle, the livestock have plenty of room to roam and graze. “We don’t see or smell them,” she says. “They move to a fresh salad bar every day.”
NATIFS, Minneapolis, Minn.
The term “American food” has never been a source of pride for American gourmands. Hamburgers and apple pie – tasty as they may be from time to time – are not exactly the pinnacle of cuisine. In the heart of South Minneapolis, a Native American chef is driving a movement to reclaim and elevate the genius of America’s indigenous foodways. “You can stop any place in the U.S. and eat McDonalds or fried chicken,” says Sean Sherman, cofounder of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS). “Why not stop and experience real food cooked by people who live there?” (Full disclosure: Beth co-authored Sherman’s award-winning book, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen).
Sean Sherman with a ladleful of indigenous beans and corn / Beth Dooley
Sherman and his partner Dana Thompson recently opened The Indigenous Food Lab, a nonprofit restaurant with a research and training center, in the Midtown Global market. The restaurant serves pre-colonial, indigenous foods, and the lab develops and offers training in native foodways. Sherman and Thompson hope that the lab will become a hub and a model for others looking to revive nutritious, indigenous food for Native American tribes across North America.
The Midtown Global Market is a cornerstone of the neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered by police on Memorial Day this year. The rioting that followed peaceful protests damaged grocery stores and restaurants, and the coronavirus pandemic had already limited food access for local residents. Through July and August, Sherman and Thompson’s staff and a team of volunteers are cooking over 1,000-2,000 meals each week for local residents. Using fresh produce and indigenous recipes, they’ve delivered meals of roasted vegetables, wild rice, bison and duck to protesters, people living on the street, and people unable to safely leave their homes. This is food you won’t find at free distribution centers, which offer packaged mac-and-cheese, sugary cereal, and canned vegetables – the kind of low-nutrient government-issued commodities Sherman had to eat growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Sherman and Thompson’s team are delivering hearty, nutritious meals to our community in a time of profound need, while building the foundation for a North American food system that generates wealth and improves health in tribal communities. We can’t think of a better group to feature in our inaugural Bare Bones newsletter.
It’s time to address a broken food system – not just our own grocery bill.
by Steve Young-Burns
Steve Young-Burns is the warehouse manager of The Good Acre, a non-profit food hub in Falcon Heights, Minn., that works with BIPoC farmers to help grow the market for their crops.
I work for a small, nonprofit food hub, and local food people are tripping over themselves trying to figure out how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. In Zoom meetings we make plans for short term solutions to deal with the immediate needs of our farmers who have food in the fields, but no markets to sell them to: restaurants are shuttered, farmers markets are at half capacity, and cafeterias are closed. But what this virus has done is provide insights into the enormous issues with our food system that requires a bigger, bolder response. We are now paying a penalty for discarding a food system of regional and local processors in favor of a system with fewer, larger companies producing most of our food, all in the name of cheap food.
You want the cheapest pork possible? Concentrate as many animals in as little space as possible, push as much processing through as few plants as possible, and pay workers so poorly that they can't support their own families. Speed up the production lines, limit oversight and don't let the inspectors look too closely at worker safety and animal welfare. Make healthcare coverage for employees so expensive that when people get sick, they can't even afford the copay.
Beware though, the system we have now is fragile – a few weeks of disruption, and the cracks start to show. Sioux Falls gets sick, and Smithfield shuts down. COVID skips a few counties, then Worthington gets sick, another plant shuts down, and hog producers are stuck holding 20,000 pigs above capacity. Plant employees can’t afford to take time off, and they get sick from working shoulder to shoulder. The line stops, the animals can’t get processed, and the crisis takes on a new, economic dimension that may linger long after we’ve buried family and friends who died from coronavirus.
Rather than concentrating production in contained animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and a few massive plants, why not rebuild a system with local processing in every county? Why not offer jobs that pay employees enough so they can take sick time if they need to, and can choose to eat fast food when they want – not just because it's all they can afford?
Why not pay up front to create healthy communities? We surely end up paying for their poor health later. If we don’t, we’ll find that the people who can’t quite keep their heads above water are forced to live in tents on Hiawatha Avenue and seek care in free clinics – or worse, not get care at all.
How do we redirect and create healthy communities, instead of leaving people to tent encampments by the light rail? Could this pandemic be the crucible that resets how we think about what goes into our grocery bill? Perhaps we’ll now realize that our grocery bills represent the costs and benefits of what we purchase at the market, that there’s a collective set of costs and benefits within food, too -- in short, it’s a shared grocery bill.
What if we valued a more nimble, local food economy, instead of one that puts so little value on the people it employs and feeds? If this doesn’t resonate for you, consider the recent story about the Daybreak Foods egg producer whose hens were euthanized when the foodservice market for eggs – driven by restaurants, cafes and other food vendors – was disrupted by the pandemic. Are we proud that he and his wife got nothing for their work? You can argue that “them’s the breaks”, or you can point at the inequity of a system that devalues the land, the animals, and the humans that make it run. A strong local food economy would be able to step more easily around this kind of disruption, and would provide a better safety net to catch the casualties when things fall apart.
Instead of using the register receipt as the primary way to evaluate the week's grocery bill, what if we considered the welfare of everyone who helped get those groceries to the shelf, the living conditions of the meat animals we consume, and the impact on the environment?
The payoff is pretty easy to calculate. Either we build a robust, local food economy that nurtures everyone, or we pay to take care of them later when they slip and there’s no social safety net.
Did the farm families make enough to pay their bills? How many hands helped move things from farm to grocery shelf? Was every single person along the way able to make an honest living from doing that work? Did everyone have healthcare and a safe workplace, a full tummy and a good place to sleep?
Couldn’t we put our souls and smarts into food that made us healthier, our soil and water cleaner, and reduced the need for government, nonprofits, food banks and community clinics to pick up the pieces when things fall apart?
Learn about the Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund here, and The Good Acre here.
That’s it for the inaugural issue of Bare Bones! Send ideas, questions, and inquiries to email@example.com. If you dig what we’re cooking, go tell all your friends!