Sustainable Meats

The Straight Poop on New Year's Resolutions to Eat Better

I'm often asked what foods one should avoid, whether carbs are evil, and people sometimes assume I eat gluten free (who knows where that came from?!) The simple truth is no true food is really evil and much of the "healthy" advice out there is pure poop. As many of us are thinking about resolutions, it's a good time to separate wheat from chaff. And poop. Speaking of poop, I have decided to make poop the theme of this year's "resolve to eat better" post. More on that in a minute. First, let's review what makes a resolution or any goal succeed or fail. Here's a mnemonic device to help you remember: SMART. How to make your goals and resolutions SMART:

  • S - Specific. Instead of "eat better" try a specific goal: "One meal a week will be whole grain based." It's not so hard. Make whole grain waffles one Sunday (you can freeze and toast for breakfasts later), a pumpkin brown rice risotto for dinner. Bake whole grain muffins on a weekend for grab and go breakfasts.
  • M - Measurable. "Eating better" isn't going to be something you can measure accurately. Make it something you can measure. For example, "eat one meatless meal per week." Easy, especially with the slew of good vegetarian cookbooks out.
  • A - Achievable. This is about setting yourself up to succeed. I could set a goal to exercise 6 days a week. If I were my husband, I might succeed. I am not. I would be more likely to achieve my goal if I said "I will walk three days per week." I could aim for 4-5 but set my lower limit of sloth at three.
  • R - Reasonable. If you grew up like most of us with meat-centric meals, it would be unreasonable to quit carnivorous ways cold turkey, so to speak. How about resolving to buy only pastured, grass-fed beef? Or cage free eggs? Sustainable seafood?
  • T - Time-bound. Goals that are time-bound are more likely to be met. Let's say you have a goal to "exercise more" - sounds nice, right? But isn't it more likely to be achieved if you say "I will walk at least 20 minutes each walk." Or "we will try one new veggie recipe each week."

The Straight Poop

First the bad news. Much of the advice flying around the internet is poop. "Avoid gluten and lose weight" a favorite canard. When people have gluten sensitivity or are Celiacs, of course they must avoid gluten. The rest of us really are better off with whole grains in our diets, and yes, that includes gluten. Those who have experienced weight loss eating gluten-free most likely have done so because they've largely eliminated processed crap from their diet. Do that and you're ahead of the game either way. In fact, most people find that eating whole grains help them maintain more steady blood sugar, a feeling of fullness and an enjoyment in the eating itself from added flavors and textures. All these benefits will help in anyone hoping to lose weight. This is why I don't like the "low carb" craze. It works for some (more for men than women) but I've seen precious few who can maintain it and if you're eliminating foods that could be helpful, which you could enjoy in healthy ways, you're depriving yourself of healthy and sensual dining experiences. Why?

Another pet peeve is the "juicing to remove toxins" craze. Now, fresh pressed juices from organic fruit and vegetables is good, don't get me wrong. Is it a cure for a season of overindulgence? No. Is it a replacement for well-balanced food? No. Read this excellent article  Why Juice 'Cleanses' Don't Deliver - Eat + Run ( debunking the juice cleanse. Movement. Another word for poop, of course, but also a concept to strive for. Incorporate movement into your SMART goals. Move to music, walk through the city (see my friend Marc Hurwitz' AMC urban hikes, for some group walks).

Some of us have suffered losses in 2012 or setbacks in our work, stumbled in relationships. "Move through it, learn from it, get over it" is my motto. Obviously, grief takes time and is never a straight line. All of life's losses have something to teach us and movement can help us avoid getting stuck in a bad place. "Get over it", is not to be flip, but to remind myself to laugh. Spend time with a toddler or a baby and have some belly laughs. Watch how they laugh from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes. Go see a funny comedian or watch a favorite funny movie. So get up and MOVE your body.

  • Try standing instead of sitting at the computer. Try doing it one or two days a week to start. Sitting for long stretches, more than six hours a day, can make someone at least 18% more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease and obesity than those sitting less than three hours a day. (read more.)
  • Even getting up every 20 minutes or so can be beneficial. Make scheduled breaks for a walk to get a glass of water versus a break for social networking - seated, online - will be an improvement.

Moving toxins through our system. 

We'd like to eat bad food, drink like fish, and then do something simple like drink a smoothie and believe that will undo the harms. Me too! But it just isn't so. I'm not advocating a monastic lifestyle. Not the girl with the pound of foie in the fridge. Eating all sorts of things and drinking in moderation is okay in my book. Okay, as long as it doesn't become our norm and as long as we keep to the routine of moving, moving. I've over-indulged this holiday season but am trying to walk as often as I can. (doesn't sound like a specific, measurable goal does it? hm...) One of the best ways to move toxins -- or to be more accurate, waste -- through our system is to eat sufficient fiber. Fiber is what "grabs" waste and forms poop which we eliminate. Much good fiber comes from vegetables and grains. More of these are not only more satisfying to cook to eat, to chew, to enjoy; they are also far better at helping your process of elimination.


Another thing which can help is adding probiotic foods or supplements to your diet. Since much of our diet is further in time or geography from its source, we lose some nutrition even if we eat as locally as possible. Especially during the winter months in the Northeast. We also tend to eat less fermented foods here than in other countries. Fermented foods are a rich source of probiotics which are the good bacteria that support gut health. I've been adding Kombucha to my diet, thanks to my sister-in-law's recommendation. I love it and definitely feel it's helping keep the gut happy.  

gut health
gut health

And by "gut" I mean the poop shoot. This is a good scholarly paper on the emerging medical wisdom of the need to address gut health.

← Poop shoot!

Our intestines are where many things - good things -  happen. Absorption of nutrition we take in, regulation of immune function, etc. At the very least, it seems safe to say that eating a highly processed, low fiber diet, leading a sedentary lifestyle both contribute to less than healthy outcomes.

In the end

Here are a few SMART things you can do to improve your eating, your wellness, your enjoyment of life in 2013. These will also improve your "process of elimination" better than any products you might buy, and support all those good things that happen in your poop shoot. 1. Incorporate a whole grain based meal one day per week.

  • Culinate has a great grains guide. Their list includes TWENTY. Pick one for each month and find a recipe that intrigues you, try it out!
  • Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals (link takes you to Mussels with Farro post and includes links to book, site) is inspirational. A beautiful cookbook bringing the sexy to whole grains.
  • Grain Mains is another great book for "grainiacs" - including this new staple of my pantry: Whole Grain Waffles. (favorite whole grain sourcing info included in that post.)

2. Make a movement goal. 

  • Try yoga in the privacy of your own home with a DVD like Rodney Yee's Yoga for Beginners. Just 20 minutes in the morning or afternoon or evening is all it takes.
  • Walk more. Try a goal of parking further from the grocery store. Taking two flights of stairs instead of an elevator you normally take for four. In just a week or so you will see improvement. Who can't do two flights of stairs? Okay, start with one.

3. Make it a goal to improve the quality and decrease the quantity of meats you consume.

  • Even if you cannot do it with every meat purchase, make a goal to do it some percentage of the time. Or choose some items that you'll buy organic and give yourself wiggle room on others. For example, these items carry the highest pesticide load: The Dirty Dozen.
  • Grass-fed meats have a lower carbon foot print and better nutritional profile. Choose pastured meats from local farms instead of "cheap" meats that contain antibiotics you don't need. Cows are ruminants and their stomachs are not designed to eat grains. Prophylactic antibiotics are used to keep them from getting sick on the unnatural, rapid-fattening diets they are fed. Don't get me started on horrible feed ingredients that sometimes include downer cows, and more.
  • Eat one meatless meal per week. Meatlovers' Meatless Celebrations is a great book for eating well, even at holiday and special meals. Recipes will satisfy carnivores and vegetarians alike. This is not about "giving up" it's about "adding to" your culinary repertoire.

[Shameless self-promotion warning]

4. Take a class with me to gain more kitchen confidence. Learn to shop, cook, eat, better with a trusted friend by your side in the comfort of your own kitchen.

  • Learn how to avoid marketing influences that lead you away from whole foods, true foods and toward processed. Take me shopping with you and we'll explore how to read labels and choose foods wisely. Which foods are more or less sustainable? Which veggies are loaded with pesticides?
  • Explore adding joy and chew and flavor to your diet through whole grains. We'll cook delicious whole grains you will be excited to incorporate into your regular rotation.
  • Tailor a class or a series to you and yours: cooking with kids; exploring flavors of North Africa; Japanese food you can make at home.
  • To learn more about the kinds of things I can teach you, click on over here.

If you'd like to customize a session, please call! Thanks for sharing this info with your foodie friends.

Go Here, Eat This: Russell House Tavern (and a send off for Jen!)

When people think of Russell House Tavern, they often think of charcuterie, meat, sausages, and pork. All these are rendered beautifully but don't overlook the expert kitchen offerings in other areas: Russell House Tavern

One of the things Chef Michael Scelfo and staff do so well is to source locally raised and grown foods, whether it's Brambly Farms pigs, or local herbs and fruit, you will have a sense of the place and the season on your plate at Russell House Tavern. The fish (above) was amazing, striper if memory serves. The salads were so artfully composed it called to mind the phrase "we eat first with our eyes" and we really did enjoy feasting on these beautiful dishes.

Russell House Tavern Tartare

Steak tartare can be like Russian Roulette if you talk to food safety experts, they'd probably advise against it. Here is an example of the benefits of local, sustainable meats. I would never eat steak tartar if it were food service beef. No accountability or traceability to safe, humane, clean slaughterhouses, no true food safety. In the hands of a thoughtful chef, I'm secure in the knowledge that my risk is well within limits I'm comfortable with.

As our friend Jen leaves us for the wilds of Milwaukee, becoming the publisher of Edible Milwaukee as she turns a tender 29 (is this a record?) - we will celebrate her incredible accomplishment and devotion to local sustainable foods and chefs like Michael Scelfo with a farewell dinner tonight. I don't relish the thought of saying good bye to her, but I'm glad to be celebrating her in such a perfect spot, and happy for the food-minded folks in Milwaukee.

Abundance of many things to look forward to tonight, and gratitude.


What's a Hungarian Pig doing on Beacon Hill?

Having never met my Hungarian grandmother, I'm always curious about that part of my own heritage, especially if it has to do with food. The Mangalitsa shares two traits with my paternal grandmother: both are/were Hungarian imports, and both have/had thick, curly hair. Thankfully, the similarities in our bloodlines end there. tan Photo of Tan - click photo to go to Pete & Jen's

The more I learn about Mangalitsa (Hungarians call it Mangalica), the more I discover that its story shares some common threads with other heritage breed pigs. The breed nearly disappeared due to the geopolitical hardships in Eastern Europe. It was resurrected by two entrepreneurs who understood its promise and appreciated its unique features. The breed was brought to the US by a hi tech guy turned entrepreneur/farmer, Heath Putnam. By throwing down a princely sum, Putnam imported a herd of the once-royal swine to the US just prior to the ban currently in place. Carefully controlling the breeding, Putnman has created a Mangalitsa Monopoly that some chefs grumble about but which does ensure the endurance of the breed. Given the problems other heritage breeds have had when registries disappear or farmers retire or die, it's easy to make an argument for more, rather than less, control. Whatever your feelings are about the "preciousness" of this pork marketing scheme, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person who's tried it and hasn't loved it.

When I began the Pig Tales book project, I was originally focused on heritage breeds, American heritage breeds. Then I learned about the Mangalitsa. I tasted it and immediately understood why chefs swoon over it. I get Putnam's faith, his vision, his dreams for this breed. He was certain the pork he tasted in Austria, the pork that won him over immediately, would also win the hearts, palates (and wallets) of chefs and gourmands in the US. And it has.

A Wooly Pig comes to Beacon Hill

Thanks to Chef Jason Bond at Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro, the Hungarian Mangalitsa has made it all the way to Boston. As of this writing, the dinner featuring this special hog still has a handful of seats left. Call BHHB to reserve your seat now.

Prior to Chef Bond's efforts, the only place a curious diner could try this unique pork would have been in a restaurant or two in NYC (April Bloomfield's The Spotted Pig) or at the Herb Farm restaurant outside Seattle, or Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Bond brought two Mangalitsas to New England, raised them at Pete & Jen's farm in Concord. Named Black and Tan, I have enjoyed the gift of some leaf lard from Tan and a taste of the rich meat. Leaf lard is the special fat that grows around the pig's kidneys and rendered it yields fat that is coveted by cooks and especially, bakers. See: For the Love of Lard: Mangalitsa Leaf Lard for Perfect Pies.

It's an odd thing to see a pig with a long, curly coat. In fact, the Mangalitsa was almost unheard of not too long ago, but now the "wooly pigs" are enjoying their moment in the sun. Well, enjoy, may be too strong a way to put it. No doubt that these unique pigs are in the center of a couple of culinary trends. One is the growing interest in heritage foods and the "eat it to save it" ethos. Another is the farm-to-table movement, and our renewed interest in tracing our food to its source, knowing how it's raised, and meeting our farmers and producers. A return to old food ways, to traditional farming methods both have come to be seen as more sustainable and certainly healthier for the environment, the animals and those consume them.

Meet Your Meal

I stopped by to see Chef Bond as he was prepping the newly arrived Black. He explained that this pig was much smaller than his brother (fed the same, raised the same and sharing the same parents). Black, it seems, just wasn't as assertive at meal time. Poor Black got edged out by Tan one too many times. As a result, Bond has much less fat work with but will surely rise to the challenge.

loin Loin (R), kidneys (L)







This photo (above) shows the loin and the fat which, if you can believe it, was thicker on Tan. Notice this pork is not white. The commercial pork that comes from industrial factory operations ("other white meat") was bred for speedy fattening, docile handling and lean meat. CAFO/commercial pork is trouble to cook because of the absence of intramuscular fat. It bears little resemblance to the meat of its predecessors. Most commercial pork comes from pigs whose lives have nothing in common with the fresh pasture, foraging life, and gentle hands-on care that Black and Tan enjoyed.

rib_stripping_tool Rib stripping tool

I'd never seen this cool little gadget. I suppose Jason learned of it at the Mosefund Pigstock three day butchering seminar. Mosefund Mangalitsa brings the leading Mangalitsa producers together with chefs and food professionals to learn from the team trained by master butchers. They are expert at preparations of all sorts, as well as the full utilzation of the animal, aided by European seam-butchering techniques.








the_smaller_black "Smaller" Black

Yes, Tan had more fat than this. For those of you recoiling at the sight of this fat or worried about the quantity, you should know that lard from pigs like this, raised on healthy organic diets including foraged foods is much closer in profile to healthy fats like olive oil. We tend to associate "lard" with the age-old tub o' Crisco. The two could not be more DIS-similar.






Heavenly Fat, Leaf lard from around the kidneys. Really, rendered down (see step by step photos in the Loving Lard post, link above), it is an unexpected delight.









armpit Trapezoidal "Meat Pocket" often slit open and stuffed

Butchering Techniques

chef bondChef Jason Bond

At the ALBC conference in Raleigh, I learned about European butchering techniques that run along the seam of a muscle (hence the name "seam butchery") rather than cutting across it as we do in North America. This is one of the unique cuts that result from the seam butchering technique. Two others mentioned in the lecture I saw were called Pluma and Presa - I believe it was a Spanish chart. These are said to be two of the tastiest cuts and two which Americans typically cut through and trim off.

To have a chef that cares so deeply about how food is sourced, raised, produced and who is able to do this type of skilled butchering, it's not as common as one might think. When that chef thinks, studies, and cares about all these issues from farm-to-table and also prepares such understated yet elegant food with these rare ingredients, we are fortunate indeed.

The topics of slaughter and butchering are both going to be explored more in Pig Tales:a Love Story and perhaps here. Please drop a comment if you have any recommendations on these below.



More about Mangalitsas