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mercredi 29 septembre 2010

Day 32: Thinking outside the lunchbox: Bringing "bio" to schools

The French association Bio Consom'acteurs has published "La Bio en Restauration Collective", a handy and informative pamphlet which can be used as a guide for anyone who wants to introduce organic foods into their children's school cafeteria.

The guide, which can be downloaded here was put together by a committee of chefs, nutritionists, doctors, and environmental activists. The authors advocate the use of organic cafeteria food as a political movement which respects the environment, biodiversity, local development, and our children's health.

Bio Consom'acteurs proposes a list of 7 guidelines to aid its readers in introducing organic ingredients into school lunch programs. First, all interested parties should come together and form a group that shares the same concerns, interests, and goals. After this group is formed, they must get in contact with the various organic food producers and retailers in their vicinity. The guide advises being realistic about what is locally and seasonally available when putting together a meal plan and make requests of local producers of organic products.

The third step demands a similar evaluation of the capacity and needs of the school
being served. Is the cafeteria food mostly made on-site, or is it brought in? What is the school's budget for cafeteria food? How many children eat at the cafeteria? These questions can be answered before and during the organic integration process.

Next, the changes made to the school's menu must be done in a way that adapts to the rythm of the cafeteria, the needs and habits of the students, and the fact that a radical change in cooking and eating is underway. While adapting, the 5th guideline advises that consom'acteurs take into account the specificities of organic foods, the fact that whole grain rice, for example, may take longer to cook, or that dry goods may be a more readily available, and cost-effective option.

The 6th guideline offers tips for staying within budget when taking on this project. Some ideas include ways to cut down on waste and planning for economic and nourishing meals.

Finally, the group advises generating a certain amount of attention and valorization around the arrival of organic foods. The guide suggests setting up "discovery" tables that feature new organic products, as well as seasonal (and educational) events that celebrate the harvest and get kids excited about tasting new foods.

All interested moms, dads, teachers, students, and lunch dudes and ladies who want to integrate organic foods into school lunches should check out this helpful handbook. It also offers many links to sites which instruct in learning methods of organic cooking and offer information on other associations who work with cafeterias.

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vendredi 24 septembre 2010

Day 28: Interview: chefs Eric Fraudeau and TERResA

This week, I visited chefs Eric Fraudeau and Terresa at Eric's Paris-based cooking school, Cook'n with Class. Eric founded the school after a career as a chef in cities such as Montreal, New York and Paris. Cook'n with Class offers English language cooking classes that provide students with the opportunity to have hands-on experience with French cuisine. Their weekly line-up includes baking classes, as well as both morning and evening cooking classes.

I was lucky enough to attend Eric's weekly “Cheese and Wine” event, which is open to visitors staying in holiday rentals offered through Eric's wife's company Feels Like Home in Paris. This particular class offers insight into appropriately pairing cheese and wine, but also functions as a platform for Eric to encourage exploration of the palate and appreciation of French (non-pasteurized) cheese. “The more you pasteurize, the more you lose the flavor!” Eric asserts.

Eric is a creative and intuitive chef, and the same can be said of his entrepreneurial side, which explains his recent decision to add an organic, local cooking class to the school's schedule. “I can sense... a lot of vegetarian people asking for a vegetarian class” Eric explained. This rise in vegetarian interest inspired Eric to think larger and ask himself if the school shouldn't just be offering vegetarian classes “but also organic and bio for everything” from the lentils to the vegetables to the vin de table.

Enter chef Terresa, from La Cucina di Terresa a woman who is uncompromisingly passionate and undeniably knowledgeable about everything organic- from shopping to cooking to ethical eating. Terresa also boasts a lengthy and impressive cooking career, which includes working in several San Francisco establishments, as well as cooking in both Italy and France.

Terresa offers private and group cooking classes in France, keeps up an absolutely enjoyable blog (complete with recipes!) and is the newest chef on Cook'n with Class' chopping block, where she will teach the Saturday morning organic class which takes students to the market and then instructs them in what to do with the treasures they find there.

The Saturday morning courses will partially take place at the open-air market in the Batignolles neighborhood of the 17th arrondissement, where students will visit Terresa's favorite vendors. These ocal producers are frequented by Terresa because, as she explains “all of the products they are selling will be theirs.” This is important to Terresa because she favors supporting local production.

My interview with Terresa was instructive and insightful, as well as disillusioning (did you know that Portabella mushrooms are not really real things? “Portabella is a fabricated mushroom... it really was a wonderful invention, if you wish” she explained) and most of all delightful. I can promise that this blog will not let her out of our site for any long period of time. I 'm eager to follow up on all the bonnes addresses that she shared with me (stay tuned for follow-ups!) and I encourage any one who reads this to visit, and frequent, her blog and site.

Terresa also talked to me about her reasons for choosing local farmers. While they don't necessarily produce certified organic goods, Terresa maintains that they are just as worthy of our patronage because their farms are “polycultural” which she described as an important distinction describing that, “monoculture is what the Agro industry does, in other words it takes 1500 meters and grows wheat on it, or corn, or beets [which is] destroying any sort of idea of ecosystem and you're also inviting the absolute necessity of huge amounts of pesticide, because there's no symbiosis going on...there's no balance there”
Terresa prefers polycultural farming because “when you have a farm that's truly polyculture...then you have different insects, you have the different plants that all create a community.”

Eating locally is an important option to explore when being an ethical food shopper, but it is also a choice, Terresa points out that “when you say eat locally there are two different things, I mean eating seasonally and locally- number one you should first only eat seasonally, then you're in the local also – then you have to define what for you is local. How far you're going to go with local? If you're going to be super-strict and say I'm only going to eat what's in the Ile-de-France...then of course you're really restricting yourself.”

Terresa is not an advocate of limiting yourself when it comes to the cuisine. She promotes setting guidelines that are comfortable and sufficiently varied for individual shoppers. However, this chef does not waver when it comes to the need for consumers to consciously examine their relationship with food. In order to start this process of self-examination Terresa says, “You have to fall in love...because when you fall in love you always find time for something...you have to go back to raw material. In other words, no more boxes that you go buy in the store.”

And what about the added expense of thinking outside the box? Terresa has a compelling response, “you have to accept that maybe you're going to have to spend more money” and this, Terresa argues, shouldn't comes as a shock “Why should food be cheap?” she asks, adding “Why should a Gucci bag be expensive and the stuff we put into our body be inexpensive? You have to change that mentality.”

Terresa is a realist, and doesn't hesitate to add that she also thinks people everywhere should also earn a living wage which would make this lifestyle a more realizable option for everyone, but when it comes down to it this change is based on passion. “It truly has to become a very integrated and...passionate part of your life. You can no longer look at food as just this thing that suddenly you've got to put in your body so that you can then go on and do the next thing.”

I neared the end of our interview I was eagerly thinking of the next things I would put in my body. So I asked Terresa what was in season. Here's her list of what we should go out and buy right now: Tomatoes (“shortly green tomatoes, mmm!”), figs, pears, zucchinis (“the little ones with the flowers”), fennel, broccoli, potatoes, and shell beans (cook them for “22 minutes to a half an hour....oh you just eat them, they are so good!”).

What a wealth of choices in a time of year that is so often seen as dismal. Once again, Terresa sees the best of each season saying, “Autumn and even Winter, in a strange way... are two of the most diverse seasons for vegetables, particularly, and to some extent, fruits. It sounds funny but it's actually true.”

Of course, we can all be students of Terresa's school of thought and, like any good teacher, she encourages and challenges students. Terresa explained that in France markets aren't really for farmers, but for any vegetable vendor and that, “there really isn't a farmer's market. Someone should create a real farmer's market.”

Sounds like a good idea, I'd certainly shop there- and I don't think I'd be alone!

Fruits photo courtesy of Stacey Pedersen Photography

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lundi 20 septembre 2010

Day 24: Why Buy Dry?

One of the most common arguments that people use against buying organic and local foods is the added expense that comes with the lifestyle. It is true that buying organic can often be more expensive, but that is definitely not always the case. However, there are many cases in which ethical shopping can be affordable and even cost-effective. One of the more interesting possibilities offered by many organic food markets is the option buying bulk dry goods.

For under an Euro each, I can usually get a week's supply of rice and granola from biocoop. I've also started buying dried beans in anticipation of soup and chili season. While dried beans are a bit more of a time commitment than their canned confrères- they need to be soaked overnight and then pre-cooked before use- I found out that they have many benefits. Along with being less expensive and easy to store, dried foods also have certain health benefits, such as reducing the amount of sodium in your diet, which is found in most processed and canned foods. Most people have a sodium intake which is high above the recommended daily allowance. Cutting sodium out of your diet can significantly reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Along with dried beans and grains, dried fruit also offers several health benefits. While they can be pricier (I recently bought delicious dried cranberries from biocoop for 31 euro/kilo- expensive, but worth it), dried fruits provide essential nutrients for all, but especially for vegetarians who can benefit from the iron found in dried apricots, raisins, and other fruits.

Vegetarians who are worried about their iron intake, or the possibility of becoming anemic, should try to integrate dried fruits as a daily snack or even a staple of their diet.

The vegetarian resource group's site offers a handy grid of vegetarian sources of iron, including lentils, black beans and sesame seeds (all available in bulk at biocoop).

So this is my challenge to those who think they can't foot the organic food bill: buy bulk, buy dry and I'm sure you'll see the difference in your food stores and savings!

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mardi 14 septembre 2010

Day 18: The Confédération Paysanne

Since September 8th, the French farmers' union, the Confédération Paysanne, has been occupying the Maison du Lait in Paris. The union's demands are simple- they are calling for inclusion in the discussions and accords that govern and regulate their production of milk.

The Confédération Paysanne, which calls itself as the second largest agricultural union in France, is speaking out against its exclusion from meetings that take place at the Maison du Lait amongst France's other agricultural unions who are described in the Confédération's tract (which can be downloaded here) as protecting "private industry, cooperatives and producers [who] sign the accords on the price of milk which are catastrophic for cattle farmers".

Their tract justifies the union's actions, pointing out that farmers are increasingly suffering from the effects of agricultural legislation put in the place by the powers that be, who "aim to index prices on a global level which allows the creation and reenforcement of an unstable circle of prices paid to producers while support for farmers diminishes".

The decisions of the unions who are represented at Maison du Lait meetings have direct results on the farmers who aren't invited to the table. It is for this very reason that the Confédération has spent the last week occupying the space, asking for transparent negotiations of these important issues as well as an end to the political evolution of agricultural which is destroying the chances of survival for France's cattle farmers.

In a press release issued on September 8, a spokesperson for the group explained that the Confédération is simply asking for the right to take part in discussions regarding their profession as well as their ability to earn legitimate revenue from the work they do. And they're not leaving until they get it.

If you're in Paris, you can go visit them at the Maison du Lait:

42 rue Chateaudun à Paris 9è.

(M° St-Lazare ou Chaussée d'Antin)

Or you can send words of encouragement and outrage to this address:


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samedi 11 septembre 2010

Day 15: “Bio” Babies: A GMO-Free Formula

While researching different sources of information regarding GMOs, I found this amazing guide that was put together by Greenpeace France.

The guide attributes a color to the major brands and vendors in the country, with green indicating vendors that guarantee a GMO-free policy, orange indicating vendors that have begun to implement programs to eliminate GMOs from their products and red indicating that the vendor makes no guarantee that GMOs are not used in their products.

It is not surprising that all the major chain markets find themselves almost exclusively in the red. Carrefour, Champion, Monoprix, Leader Price et al stock many products that are produced with genetically modified foods; including their beef, poultry, milk, canned goods, breads and pastries. However, what shocked me above all was that none of these brands offer GMO-free baby foods.

According to the Greenpeace guide, major French baby food manufacturers- such as Blédi, Candia, and Mon Potager- as well as the places that sell these products -including Carrefour, Casino, Champion and Leader Price- are promoting the use and sale of genetically modified ingredients in foods destined for their youngest consumers.

Only brands bearing the official “Agriculture Biologique” label can be trusted as GMO-free. It important to note that this green “AB” label is the only absolute guarantee of non-GMO contaminated products. Other labels, such as the Label Rouge, AOC and IGP. Are considered vague by Greenpeace because these labels don't indicate a systematic exclusion of genetically modified products.

It is imperative that parents keep their baby's best nutritional interests in mind because the multinational companies that manufacture their food definitely won't do it for them. This reality was illustrated nine years ago in India, where Greenpeace found that the popular Isomil baby formula contained GMOs. Isomil's manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, used crops from seeds issued by Monsanto in the production of the baby formula.

While it is illegal to use GMOs in India without prior approval from a designated committee, Abbott Laboratories made no attempt to seek a permit for their importation and use of GMOs in their Isomil products.

The lack of consideration for living organisms, from the ingredients used in their products to the human beings that consume them is frightening and shameful and can be condemned by simply refusing to buy these poor-quality and potentially dangerous products. Parents can look for the friendly green label when baby food shopping, or pick up fresh fruit and veg and DIY.

Wholesome Baby Food is one of many websites that provides resources for parents who want to mash and purée their own peas and potatoes. They also give advice on how to store and conserve your homemade baby food.

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mercredi 8 septembre 2010

Day 12: The Faucheurs Volontaires

The French anti-GMO activist group, the Faucheurs Volontaires, was in the news recently after they stealthily scythed genetically modified grapevines in the Colmar region of France this Summer. The Faucheurs targeted the Colmar vineyard in response to the use of chemicals in order to treat presence of the grapevine fanleaf virus that was attacking the grapes.

In reaction to the event, environmental activist and Vice-President of the Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development for the European Parliment, José Bové commented, “the grapevine fanleaf virus is an agronomical problem...which can be addressed by innovative solutions arrived at through participatory research which the farmers can benefit from... [the research] should be oriented towards the multiple alternatives and the many possibilities that need to be further pursued, notably the alternatives that are the result of the know-how of the farmers themselves.”

The government, however, “firmly” condemned the act in a press release issued on August 16 saying that they “insist upon the necessity of scientists to be able to work in serenity, especially given that the modes of testing the GMOs were the product of a large consensus.” The authors of the press release, which included the Minister of Research and Higher Education Valérie Pécresse and the Minister of Food, Nutrition, and Fishing Bruno Le Maire vowed to “continue to support research in biotechnology, which is indispensable for the future of agriculture”.

Les Faucheurs Volontaires must be used to these mixed reactions and accept them along with the legal fees and punishments that come along with their special brand of agricultural activism. Fines and prison sentences are often the aftermath of their protests, which have taken place in French regions such as Nonette, Avelin and Poinville.

The price of their actions pales in comparison to the cost to the environment and our health that results in the use of GMOs and the Faucheurs are dedicated to eradicating the use of chemicals in France's vineyards. The website Amis de la Terre sums up the groups mission statement and justifications for civil disobedience explaining “what the Faucheurs denounce is the out in the open experimentation on crops which lead to the irreversible contamination of vegetable species. They stand up for humanity's heritage. What they denounce is the patenting of living organisms which places farmers from both the North and South under the domination of biotechnology companies which, rather than reducing hunger in the world, risks to increase it.”

Given the group's charter, it's no surprise that their enemy number one is the American biotechnology giant, Monsanto. In his 2005 article Monsanto, Dr. Raoul Marc Jenner calls Monsanto a “transnational company which, from agent orange to “Terminator” seeding, not to mention the production of PCB, pesticides and highly toxic herbicides, along with carcinogenic growth hormones and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), has sought out higher profits through the manufacturing the most noxious products.” Jenner cites Aldous Huxley and George Orwell's theory that total control of our food chain is the ultimate objective of international agricultural companies and notes its validity and eventuality writing, “the manufacturing of GMOs and patenting living organisms are the technical means [to this end]. The European Union and the World Trade Organization provide the legal framework.”

The Faucheurs Volontaires represent a movement to stop the control and inotoxication of our food chain and, regardless of fines, prison time and governmental condemnation, we all reap the benefits of their actions and their activism. This was recognized by the courts in Orléans and later in Versailles which acknowledged in 2005 that the Faucheurs' scything of a crop of Monsanto's transgenic corn was an act that was motivated by a “necessary state” of concern for the detrimental affects of GMOs.

If you live in France, you can support the Faucheurs Volontaires by buying their wine (see biocoop entry, Day 4) you can also support by donating money in order to defray legal fees, or you can sign this petition.

The least you can do is buy some organic booze and raise your glass to some of France's favorite saboteurs: the Faucheurs.

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dimanche 5 septembre 2010

Marché of the Month: Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

The Marché des Enfants Rouges may not offer an extensive choice of fresh fruit and vegetables, but I don't think that's the point. In reality, it is unlikely that anything you buy there ever even had a chance of making it past your mouth and into your shopping bag.

The aisles of the intimate marketplace are packed with specialty vendors who provide their shoppers with various seating arrangements. This cosy and inviting arrangement results in the irresistable temptation to sit down and enjoy your recent purchase before it hits your panier.

Cheese, wine, meat, fish and vegetable vendors mix nicely with a selection of “order at the bar” restaurants that represent a vast mélange of international cuisine; Japanese, Lebanese, Italian and Moroccan restaurants complement the French bakery that serves crêpes and sandwiches and the standard selection of baked goods. The line that grew steadily in size when we arrived at around 11h30 confirmed this boulangerie as a neighborhood favorite.

Vegetarians are taken care of chez les enfants rouges, with several vendors including veggie options as a part of their menu- this is welcome news as it can be a rarity in France, even at happy hippy farmers' markets.

The market, which reopened in November of 2000, takes its name from the red-clad children, or enfants, who resided in the orphanage that occupied the space before the market was originally established in the year 1615. While the market's roots are undeniably French (King Henri IV wanted to call the square where the market resides Place de France and subsequently name all surrounding streets after French regions), an international influence on the market can be felt, and not just in regards to the sushi and semoule being served.

Much of the produce, which was not always clearly marked regarding its origins, came from outside the hexagon. While Spanish-origin fruits and vegetables were less prominent than they seem to be in corporate markets, the presence of many non-local items - bell peppers imported from Italy, for example-was a bit of a disappointment.

On our Sunday trip to the Marché des Enfants Rouges we wandered around snacking on our chickpea-based Southern specialty socca (2 euro a serving) and found some French nectarines (6.90 euro/kilo), along with a mixture of local salads (18.00 euro/kilo) and a beautiful eggplant (5.90 euro/ kilo)- a long cry from what I rescued a week ago from Carrefour- to take home with us for dinner tonight. While not uniformly local, or even organic, the market's vendors are independent and also friendly, knowledgeable and seem to be genuinely invested in preparing and selling good food, which makes the Marché des Enfants Rouges an undeniably pleasurable and mouth-watering weekend outing.

Marché des Enfant Rouges

39, rue de Bretagne 75003
m° Filles du Calvaire, St-Sébastien Froissart


Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 8h-13h & 16h-19h30

Friday, Saturday: 8h30-13h & 16h-20h

Sunday: 8h30-14h

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jeudi 2 septembre 2010

Day 6: What About Kitty?

As this experiment reaches its “week” point, I find myself facing a bit of an obstacle. Most of my fundamental needs, namely food and booze, have been fun and surprisingly easy to satisfy. I haven't once missed the longer hours or convenient proximity of Carrefour throughout this week and have managed to be a healthier, happier, and creative person since swearing off the mega-chain.

However, this second Carrefour-severed week brings with it a new problem which concerns a certain apartment-bound cat who needs to have his litter box changed. Jack Meower, the cat in question, is not at all exigent when it comes to what brand of litter we put in his box and ever since Carrefour got rid of it's (pretty great) vegetable-based kitty litter-which looked not unlike what we used to feed to goats at petting zoos- we've just bought whatever they had on hand and Jack was pleased as can be. Now I find myself in a quandary and don't know where to turn.

The Leader Price across the street carries a similar veggie-based product at a lower cost. I am tempted to continue buying from them, because I like this product and the price is right, but am not comfortable with replacing Carrefour with another chain store. While it's considered to be the “poor man's” grocery store, Leader Price is owned by the French Groupe Casino which controls other mega markets such as Monoprix and Franprix and Naturalia.

While Carrefour is larger than the Groupe Casino markets, being the only chain that even approaches WalMart as a potential concurrent in the market, Monoprix et al are no better. Recent employee strikes at Leader Price stores in Bretagne and the Loire-Atlantique confirm that the chain espouses an all too common disregard for their employees livelihood.

So what do I do about the litter box? The website The Greenists suggest I make my own kitty litter. They even offer a great recipe for how to do so. This is a stupendous idea, and if I had no excuse not to DIY I would, but I don't think my 38m2 Parisian apartment can house the manufacturing set up required by this project. If I had a back yard, I would totally do this though.

Lifehacker.com recommends making your own litter as well, but also offers alternative ideas. The most intriguing of which, for someone in a living situation similar to mine, was suggested by a reader, Brian Roberts, who pointed out that "The easiest and most inexpensive thing we have found is to simply purchase bedding intended for horses...We were at Tractor Supply one day and found a bag of pine horse bedding, which turned out to be identical to the stuff marketed for cats. It was much cheaper, at about $10 for a 50 lb bag. Cheap, economical, and can be found at just about any equine supply store." This sounds like a brilliant idea! Now I just need to find an equine store somewhere in Paris.....

No matter what solution I settle on, this research has yielded unexpected findings on the health dangers of certain types of kitty litter. An article by Jasmin Malil Chua on PlanetGreen.com points out that litter that uses clumping clay technology is a double no-no. She writes, “Not only is clay strip-mined (bad for the planet), but the clay sediment is also permeated with carcinogenic silica dust that can coat little kitty lungs (bad for the cat)”. It gets worse, she adds, “the sodium bentonite that acts as the clumping agent can poison your cat through chronic ingestion through their fastidious need to groom. Because sodium bentonite acts like expanding cement-it's also used as a grouting, sealing, and plugging material-it can swell up to 15 to18 times their dry size and clog up your cat's insides”. No good.

So what is an urban pet owner supposed to do? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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mercredi 1 septembre 2010

Day 5: Pizza Party!

Every Wednesday morning my dude gets up early to make fresh pizza dough because every Wednesday night is pizza night!

Tonight we made Spinach and Pine Nut pizza with mozzarella and parmesean cheese...all organic... with a salad of feuilles de chênes, parsley, black radish and a shallot vinagrette.

We drank biocoop's (see previous entry) vin du mois, a Domaine Bassac Merlot, and watched vampire movies along with it.

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