27 August 2010

Current Events: The Chicken or the Egg?

By now, you have probably heard about the egg-recall across the country. It’s not anything new—recalling mass produced grocery products. In fact after the e-coli/spinach fiasco a few years back, is anyone really that surprised to hear the words are now replaced with salmonella and eggs? We hear about the dangers of salmonella in un-cooked meat, so it makes sense for eggs, a product from the same animal to have the same concern.

And why has this happened this time? Some of the blame goes straight to the U.S. Government, arguing USDA and FDA should maintain better control over food regulation. In fact, the idea that the FDA has complete control is not necessarily the case. The processes are often monitored only at certain stages, and not throughout, therefore some conditions and critical consequences can easily be over-looked. So, the solution, of course, is to tighten regulations and increase the presence of the supervision.

Another reason is the corporate control, the mere fact that so many of these brands are controlled by the same company. Think back to the days of Trust-Bustin’ Teddy Roosevelt, we can easily think that we have over-come the monopolization of the large corporations. However, in some ways we are back where we started, with lessons learned—now corporations know to better conceal their seemingly never-ending reaches. Different brand names create an illusion of variety and competition, but often they are all supplied by the same mega-farms. Therefore when an outbreak occurs, it is harder to locate the potentially bad items and the recall becomes a much bigger problem.

So now what? Well, this is where the green, sustainable, local, farmers’ market movements of today can come into play. By shortening the chain, creating more transparency, understanding the food and making education decisions, we can take back some the control in our hands as consumers. When an event like this recall occurs, we are reminded of the lack of understanding and the complete separation we have from our food and the producers. Taking that back—when we are able to—is an important step to take to consider both our consumer rights and health.

Further Information: See the recalled egg companies on The Washington Post: Egg Recall. Learn more about the science behind the outbreak, check out CNN’s article: What? Chicken butt. Why there's Salmonella in your eggs.


Eckholm, Erik. “Egg Industry Faces New Scrutiny After Outbreak.” The New York Times. 23 August 2010.

Layton, Lyndsey. “As egg producers consolidate, problems of just one company can be far-reaching.” The Washington Post. 24 August 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/23/AR2010082305118.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2010082305302

Waldrop, Chris. “Expert: Egg recall shows FDA needs more power.” Interview: Director of the Food Policy Institute, Consumer Federation of America. The Associated Press. 23 August 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2010/08/23/VI2010082304261.html?sid=ST2010082305302

26 August 2010

Concert Review: Matisyahu

As I walked through the doors of the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. on August 25 to see the Matisyahu show, I could tell this was not the average rock concert. The crowd was a mix of the hard-core and hipster regulars, Jewish guys wearing their Yarmulkes, and families. Yes, folks, this is the kind of concert you can bring Mom and Dad to—not only that, parents can bring their kids too. And sure enough, at one point, I find myself next to a kid, whose age I can only guess is about 10, as he rocks out singing along to the hit “One Day”.

Going to a Matisyahu concert is a little bit like, I would imagine, going to a really kick-ass synagogue. Hailing from New York, the Hasidic Jewish man turned reggae-hip-hop musician brings a new energy to both his music and his religion. All of Matisyahu’s songs are based around his religion as he takes influence from the culture, his upbringing, ancient Bible verses, and current events. His message is one of pride, struggle, and peace, relating to not only those who practice Judaism, but to the masses, providing a popular venue, mixing modern rock, reggae, hip-hop, in a jam-band style performance.

Matisyahu brings an unsuspecting presence to the stage, walking on wearing an all-white outfit that can only be described as something a house-painter would wear, a traditional scarf, and tops this off with a white Yankees hat and Converse chucks. He moves with an energy that seems to come from within and brings the crowd on a journey through his music—and the crowd is eager to go wherever he feels.

The show is a bit more, well, Jewish than I suspected—which seems redundant to say as Matisyahu’s niche is a Jewish musician. The show kicks off with an emotional sentiment, Matisyahu singing in a spiritual, almost chant-like manner, leading into an energetic beat. There was much more of his slower, improvisational singing and chanting than he has on his albums, though he intermittently interjected these bouts with some fast-paced rapping and beat boxing. To the ecstasy of the crowd, he also rocked the hits from his 2006 Youth album, including my personal favorite “Time Of Your Song”. Towards the end of the show, he brought out his popular songs from his newest Light album.

Matisyahu talents range from what a friend of mine calls “his Jewish singing voice” to “traditional Jamaican Bob Marley style reggae.” He also rocks the hip-hop beats, rapping with speed that can rival anyone, and at times he whips out a sick beat box. Matisyahu has an uncanny ability to change the mood between and within his songs from a slow and contemplative to a lively and up-beat jam. At times the change is swift and other times he creates quite a build-up, creating a layers of progression and resulting in a full-on dance party. He moves with lightness across the stage, sometimes swaying on his toes and sometimes breaking out in a full-on jig around the stage.

Though a bit out of place, and a little lost at times—especially during the times when biblical versus were chanted—the night was a success and one thing his for sure, Matisyahu is an extremely talented guy. I strongly recommend checking him out if you either have not heard of him or appreciated his jam-packed songs—visit his website where you can stream his music and learn more.

Get a taste of Matisyahu’s Dance Moves on stage!

20 August 2010

The Convenience Factor

One of the hesitations towards moving to “green,” as they say, or living in a more sustainable manner, is the loss of convenience. Often making the move to the sustainable choice means a little more thought and effort on the individual’s part. This may mean walking a few extra blocks, spending a longer commute on public transit, walking out the recycling or actually considering the ingredients at the grocery store.

I think about this loss of convenience pretty much every time I take out the recycling. My apartment actually has single-stream recycling—which means I don’t even need to separate it! And therefore makes it by far one of the easiest things to do in terms of the small steps to more sustainable life-style. I’m not going to lie though, there is an extra step take in the process. Taking out the trash, for example, only requires I walk down the hall to throw it out, but with the recycling I have to take the elevator down to the basement to drop it off. Okay, I know down the elevator is not that much further than down the hall—not complaining here at all… it really is just an extra step in the process. However, it still always dawns on me—the fact that it really does take a little bit more time and I wonder if I were not so worried about it, would I even bother? And for that matter, how many others even bother?

On Saturday, I woke up and decided I wanted to have a small dinner party. After walking to the store and buying ingredients, I spent about three hours cooking. Now, this was exactly what I wanted to do with my gray Saturday afternoon but I realize that cooking from scratch takes a great deal more time than say, ordering out, throwing some frozen treats in the oven, or whatever easier way you choose to go about it. Granted, I was in the mood for cooking, and hence the dinner party—didn’t want to make all that food for just me ☺. I can tell you that the meal I made, although the bread ended a little burned was received very well by my friends and at least they were a little impressed that I had spent extra the time to cook for them!

My point is, it is great to take the extra step: to recycle, to cook from scratch, to live consciously and sustainably… all the things that I do strive to do. However, I get it—it’s not always the easy way out and for those that can make the change, need to let go of that “convenient factor” in the day-to-day activities. What about those people who want the dinner with out the prep-time? What about those who don’t have any prep-time to spare? Of course, not everyone has the option, and those that do can make a choice and losing the convenience of all the modern technology we have today is a hard one to take.

So, if you are able and ready to do so—taking the extra step away from convenience can be rewarding. And who knows, maybe on that trip to the basement recycle bins; something great will happen (something like my recycling not ending in a landfill!)

12 August 2010

Current Events: School Food, Healthy Kids, and What is Being Done Now!

It’s not quite breaking news, nor a done deal, but changes are certainly happening on the U.S. political front concerning school lunches. Last week, on August 5, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to combat the problems of childhood malnutrition and obesity in this country. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act proposes an increase funding to schools by $4.5 billion that will not only go towards increasing the number of students with access to school food, but it will also better the nutritious quality of the food.

The Bill increases access to healthy food by implementing new standards in eligibility for free lunch programs as well as better food in both after school and summer sessions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will enforce regulations for nutrition and health standards concerning the food offered.

One of the controversies with this bill is –Surprise! - Corporate involvement in school food programs. Offering the high sugar sodas and snacks to students is a large addition to the schools revenue. However, schools have found that eliminating the availability of the unhealthy snack food and drink leads to an increase in school lunch buyers. This leads to healthier eating habits and has shown an increase in revenue.

As one of the biggest barriers to providing fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch food is the demand for a more funding to cover the costs; with an increase in the budget, there is an opportunity here to gain greater access to less processed and more local food. Accompanying a bill such as this also should come with recognizing the need for programs that can increase health awareness, which could include education programs, school gardens, and exercise routines. Pairing this Bill with other action movements, such as Michelle Obama’s campaign is a huge step in the direction towards combating this national epidemic of not only obesity but also the increase in early on-set diseases such as diabetes in children.

The fight is not over yet; now the Bill will go to the House for vote. President Obama must sign the legislation before September 30, when the bill will expire. It is not expected to go to vote in the House until after the August recess, possibly not until September.

So keep an eye out for the vote and for the kids!


Black, Jane. “Ky. Schools' Healthy Example Could Shape a National Policy.” The Washington Post. 29 June 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/06/28/AR2009062802929.html?sid=ST2009062803185

Legislative Bulletin. “The Lincoln Substitute Amendment to S. 3307, Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.” Democratic Policy Committee. 5 Aug 2010. http://dpc.senate.gov/dpcdoc.cfm?doc_name=lb-111-2-134

Lowrey, Annie. “Senate Unanimously Passes Sweeping Child Nutrition Bill.” The Washington Independent. 5 Aug 2010. http://washingtonindependent.com/93897/senate-unanimously-passes-sweeping-child-nutrition-bill

06 August 2010

Eating out...Reasoning the Restaurant Experience

I think the main draw to eating out for me is the company with which I go. While I do enjoy the solo-dining experience on occasion, I am more likely to go out for a meal with another. It seems to be one of the occasions when I have the acceptable undivided attention of the other person and no excuse or distraction from the conversation—except the food, of course!

Growing up, going to restaurants was a special occasion kind of event for my family. My parents are great cooks and love to do it, so it was always a kind of thing that we only would splurge for the really excellent restaurants, specialty, exotic food, or those nights we were especially lazy. Now that I am on my own, I eat out a lot more. Partly because I don’t always have the best place for entertaining, partly because I don’t yet have my parents’ cooking skills, and mostly because I always seem to be especially lazy…

Last week, I was on vacation and therefore eating out a lot—mostly for necessity’s sake. As I walked away from a recent meal with good friends in a sub-par location, I asked myself: do we care more about the company or the food? Like anything, it really does depend on the situation—and the expectations of the place, for that matter. If I am going out to order something specific, accompanied by a friend or not, I want that meal to be at least decent. If my aim is to spend time with a person, I tend not to worry about the quality of the restaurant as much.

The meal that brought these thoughts to mind took place on Saturday when I went out to brunch with some old friends at a restaurant that I thought looked rather nice. A few hours later, we had played many rounds of cards as we waited for the waitress to take our order, we finally received our food after we watched it waiting on the bar getting cold, there was excessive amounts of cheese smothering the under-seasoned potatoes and my omelet was stuffed with under-cooked vegetables (at least the eggs were cooked through!), the juice was too sweet, the toast too buttery and our waters finally showed up with the check. Does this sound like complaining? Needless to say, it was a pretty shit meal with pretty shit service. But you know, I didn’t mind it. I enjoyed the company of my friends and even though I lost at cards, we had good conversation and few laughs. It was the kind of brunch my hung-over body and fried brain called for at that moment.

So maybe sometimes we do want the classic dining experience with the bells and whistles to enhance the hopefully tasty food. But sometimes, spending that extra dollar in a restaurant is really just an excuse to spend time with others and possibly to drink more… without feeling the guilt of a morning bar trip!

03 August 2010

School Lunch Revolution

A chat with Chef Allison Sosna, Part II

“Sourcing local food just makes so much sense,” Allison Sosna explains, there is no reason not to do it—it’s there, fresh, and available. Working at local, sustainable mission-driven restaurants in the city, she realized that sustainable food didn’t have to be something for only people who can afford to eat out, it can be something for everyone. Fresh Start Catering, an enterprise of D.C. Central Kitchen, not only provides students at D.C. Charter Schools with good food, this is coupled with other initiatives such as starting school gardens and education programs to further the children’s knowledge on the subject. And during the winter? “A lot of sweet potatoes,” Allison says with a grin. Preparing produce to store is another tactic, “every big batch of tomatoes we get in is cooked into sauce” because it keeps for longer.

This journey is not without its challenges; one of the biggest hindrances’ is the cost involved with bringing this food to schools. Mitigation solutions are there, Allison explains, through a change in federal policy and subsidies when it comes to public schools. The other roadblock faced is the bureaucracy involved with the day-to-day decisions in the schools. To make these life-changing decisions for the children, all parties and powers need to be on board, which is a challenge when finances are such a delicate aspect of the schools’ livelihood.

Doing this on a small-scale, Allison explains, is incredible because you can see the changes, “the attendance rates are rising because kids are served breakfast and their attention is better in class.” She can walk around and talk to the students during their meal times, get feedback on the food they serve, and see first-hand the difference she makes in their days by providing a substantial meal. “The salad bar is the greatest,” she says, “the kids’ can’t have seconds, but they can go to the salad bar if they are still hungry and so they eat so many more vegetables that way.”

Not alone in her efforts, the hype is growing; thanks to the Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign and other internationally known chef’s jumping on board to change the way we eat. The country may just be beginning to realize the health, obesity, and environmental problems it faces with the current food system. However, the door has been thrown wide open for innovative solutions to change it. Making changes in the schools, Allison says proves that “we can do this at a small scale level—we are doing it on the small-scale,” we just need to bring it nation-wide and show the rest of the country they can do it too.

01 August 2010

A Chef’s Road to Sustainability

A chat with Chef Allison Sosna, Part I

The energy exuding from Allison Sosna as she launches into her story is palpable. I met her years ago as a fellow rower at American University, where she was studying and working part-time in the kitchen of a local restaurant. Four years later, I sat down with her to find out what that restaurant gig had turned into.

Allison’s life with food really began when she moved to Italy to study. “That was the game-changer,” she said, realizing then that her passion for food was something could not ignore. Returning to the United States, Allison knew she wanted to make this newfound passion her life.

Working her way through the kitchens of bars to the high quality fine dining in Washington D.C., Allison gained valuable skills not working with food but working with a plethora of people behind the scenes in the restaurant business. After working for a few years, she knew she needed the formal training; so she went back to school and graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school. But Allison knew that she wanted to bring her passion to something beyond the restaurant scene. She wanted to be a part of revolutionizing the food system—bringing together her passion of food with doing good for the people who consume it.

Finding an incredible opportunity at D.C. Central Kitchen, Allison quickly began to climb the ladder, bring the non-profit organization with her. Managing and cooking with ex-convicts to bring opportunity to the citizens of Washington, Allison found that her passion persevered through the challenges. She says, “it’s totally athletic” to survive in the business you have to have the ability to thrive through stress, long hours, and high-pressure situations.

Allison continues her work with the Kitchen, and now is the Executive Chef for Fresh Start Catering, working in the kitchens of D.C. Charter Schools, sourcing locally and sustainably grown food and bringing to the children. According to her, that is exactly the move that needs to be made, the kids are where it’s at and bringing real food to them will really make a difference to teach them the life lessons they need. “Kids do so much of their eating at school, we need to be teaching them the right things about food.”

To be continued…