Friday, July 31, 2009

Healthy Home Tips from EWG

Lots of great things enter my inbox from people I don't know personally. New blog posts, funny articles, calls to action. The following tip sheet from the Environmental Working Group is too good not to share: Healthy Home Tips.

Enjoy and keep healthy!

Say No to Factory Farms

Food and Water Watch are continuing their quest to keep us safe. They're organizing a campaign to end factory farming, industrialized husbandry, a practice that is neither good for our bodies or our environments.

From a recent email:

"Factory farms have already forced out many small producers by lowering the price that farmers are paid for chickens and pigs. The tough economic times are hitting everyone hard and many farmers are losing their contracts. The USDA has bought up surplus pork, chicken and eggs for nutrition and school lunch programs to absorb some of the over-supply, but still, the agency continues to back loans for new factory farms."

Tell the USDA that we want to stop factory farming by clicking here

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Little Locavores

This post was originally published on Being Savvy, Caitlin Giles excellent blog for Chicago parents. I'm reposting it as part of Real Food Wednesday.

My proudest moment as a chef/mom/food educator was relayed to me second hand. While perusing the produce aisles of the supermarket in late February, my mother asked my 4-year old son if he wanted strawberries. Declining, he said to my mother quizzically and yet emphatically, “Grandma, we can’t buy strawberries now, they’re not in season.”

When too many kids are eating far less than the recommended daily allotment of fruits or vegetables, why worry about whether the fruits and vegetables that they do eat are in season or worse locally grown? If you’re living or working in one the country’s food deserts, where the closest thing that you’ve got to a grocery store is a bodega that stocks more varieties of Cheetos than fruits, this is not likely to be your main concern.

How about the rest of us? Is it really that much of a struggle to pass by the California-grown strawberries in June or the Mexican-raised tomatoes in August? Locally grown, seasonal produce is all around us. Even Wal-Mart has even begun to source locally or at least regionally. But before I get into the where, I want to talk about the why. Here are my top three reasons for introducing locally-grown, seasonal foods into your child’s diet.

It tastes better. I started eating locally not for ideological reasons, but because it tastes better. If you’ve ever eaten a pea off of the vine or sweet baby greens picked in the morning and served on the table in the evening, you know what I mean. And strawberries, sweet Illinois strawberries. The white-hearted California berries bred for shipping have nothing on our tiny, ruby-like orbs that soar with flavor. If you want your child to have a lasting love for fruits and vegetables, give him ones that are full of flavor. Seriously, who could love starchy peas or wilted salad greens?

It’s better for the environment. A small caveat on this statement, even taking into account food miles (i.e. the distance your food travels from farm to fork), just because food is grown within a certain distance from your home does not intrinsically make it better for the environment. However, most local farmers who sell to consumers are small family farmers that tend their soil in a responsible manner often using organic methods even when they are not USDA certified as such (the little “o” versus the big “O”). How do you know the difference? The best way is to talk with the farmer and ask about their pest management systems and how they fertilize their soil. If, however, you don’t have the time or the inclination to do so, at the end of this post, I list markets and retailers that focus on locally grown, seasonal and sustainable produce that do the vetting for you.

It can forge a lasting connection between your child and the earth. I believe that connecting your child with the people who grow the food and the growing cycle creates a deeper respect for the food that they eat and for the earth. It was recently reported that America throws out 30% of the food raised in this country, a despicable fact given the rise in malnutrition and hunger on the planet. I have found that children who understand where their food comes from are less likely to waste it. My son knows that his apples come from Farmer Pete and his carrots from Miss Beth. He says “cheese please” to the cheese guys and knows that the good milk comes from the market in glass bottles. And the growing cycle, well, suffice to say, he’s pretty excited when June’s strawberries arrive.

Locally-grown, seasonal and sustainable produce is available from May through October at the City of Chicago’s farmers markets and year round at Green City Market (check the website for days and times), Green Grocer Chicago and Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks. Many of the Whole Foods in Chicago carry locally-produced items as well.

A final note, I’m actually not throwing my mother under the bus. My son and she were in Florida at the time of their conversation in the produce section where the strawberries in question were in fact in season.

School's In; rBGH is out

There's exciting news in Evanston for those who care about our childrens' health. Evanston School District 65 is exercising its right to buy rBGH-free milk.

Developed by Monsanto, rBGH or recombinant bovine growth hormone artificially increases milk production by 10-15%. Despite concerns over the risks to both humans and animals, the FDA continues to assert its safety. Many large corporations, including Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Chipotle refuse to purchase milk from cows given rBGH and the Chicago Public Schools has gone with a supplier whose milk is rBGH-free.

With the help of Food and Water Watch, Evanston has given rBGH milk the heave-ho announcing that it will serve rBGH-free milk in its cafeterias starting this autumn.

To learn more about the risks associated with rBGH milk, visit Sustainable Table or The Center for Food Safety's website. For more about the campaign, check out this Local Beet article by one othe Food & Water Watch's Field Organizer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Corks & Crayons

Join us for Purple Asparagus' annual benefit Corks & Crayons, August 30, at Uncommon Ground on Devon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Purple Asparagus at Evanston Farmers' Market

Come visit Purple Asparagus at the Evanston Farmers' Market from 8:30am-12:00pm where we'll be making Peach Salsa with Tortilla Spikes. Thanks to Nell Funk and Mary McMahon of Now We're Cookin', we'll be part of the Evanston Market's Kids Day.

Check out my recent blog post on The Local Beet about the Geneva Green Market.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Sustainable Cook

Looking at the date of my last post here, I'm quite embarrassed. Three months, no posts. Yikes.

For those of you who "follow" me in other contexts, you know that I've been actively blogging as The Sustainable Cook, on The Local Beet, a website dedicated to a practical approach to local eating. Others of you may have seen some of the great press we've gotten recently, particularly in Daily Candy and on NBC related to these columns. As a result, I've decided to change the title of this blog to The Sustainable Cook.

I can't think of a better post to commerorate this change than to detail the classes I'm going to be offering under my alter identity. You can book these classes in your home or at a common facility. For more information, just call 773-991-290 or email me at

A Sustainable Evening

Enjoy an evening with a few good friends over a spectacular multi-course meal of sustainably-sourced ingredients. Chef Melissa Graham will prepare an elegant, sustainable meal and show you and your guests how to green up your act in the kitchen and ultimately become a more sustainable consumer. With her emphasis of organic and local products grown by family farmers, you can trust the food will be as good for the earth as it is delicious. Wine pairing is available.
$100.00 per person (6 person minimum, 10 person maximum)

Sustainable Eating 101

Get a ‘green’ education right in the comfort of your own home. Chef Melissa Graham will help you understand the concept of sustainability and how that relates to you and your guests. This demonstration and discussion class will help you be a more sustainable cook and consumer. You will also learn how to make dishes that are as good for the earth as they are delicious.

$25.00 per person (10 person minimum)

Cooking That's Kind to the Earth and Kind to Your Wallet

In these challenging economic times, many people are left wondering whether they can eat in a way that’s good for the earth without breaking the bank. In this demonstration class, Chef Melissa Graham will explain how, with careful shopping, smart cooking and some good old fashioned frugality, environmental and fiscal sustainability can happily coexist in your kitchen.

Chef Melissa will explain where to find savings in the grocery aisles and demonstrate how to reduce waste through recycling, composting and a judicious use of leftovers. Finally, you'll learn how to make a dish that is as good for the earth as it is for your wallet.

$25.00 per person (10 person minimum)

A Well-Stocked Sustainable Kitchen

Learn how to make delicious and nutritious earth-friendly dishes on a moment's notice by creating a well-stocked kitchen of sustainable ingredients. Chef Melissa will offer specific tips and great short cuts to making a fabulous meal for your family and friends.

$25.00 per person (10 person minimum)

To Market, To Market

Learn how to navigate a farmers market in a visit to Chicago's only all-sustainable market, Green City Market with Chef Melissa Graham, the Market's membership chair. Learn what's in season and experience the bounty of some of the Midwest's greatest farmers while getting tips on how to be a more sustainable cook and consumer.

$20.00 per person (15 person maximum)

Sustainable Family Traditions

In this class, perfect for a mom's group or a parents association, you'll learn how eating sustainably will help get families back to the table, connecting with one another and the earth. Chef Melissa Graham, head spear of Purple Asparagus, will demonstrate how with projects, activities and trips to the farmers market you can help your children understand where their food comes from, get them in tune with the rhythm of the seasons and create a sense of community and respect for the farmer and producers who raise our food.

$15.00 per person (10 person minimum)