tainted spinach not organic

this tidbit got a bit buried when i mentioned it a few posts back, but apparently the bagged spinach contaminated with e. coli was not organic at all, and has so far been traced solely to conventional spinach. perhaps CNN was just confused when they included photos of Earthbound Organics spinach on the article i linked to, given that it was the same company's conventional line, Natural Selections, responsible for the outbreak.

one company, different but related products, understandable enough... but it strikes me as somewhat irresponsible, given the differences in farming methods for organics (even those produced at a large scale in a plant, as they are at Earthbound Organics) versus conventional produce. seems to me that a reader not paying close attention might mistakenly assume that organic spinach was the culprit, and infer some extra danger from organic products, when by and large, conventional food tends to cause far more health problems.


seasonal food and cooking tips for the harvest

seasonal food tips: grapes are coming into season in California, as are apples. and of course, it's coming up on squash season in new england.

cooking tip: in one of my favorite, recently acquired cookbooks, Sonoma county chef Michael Chiarello recommends making polenta with milk and a dash of nutmeg (from the Tra Vigne Cookbook). i finally cheated on Marcella Hazan's insistence that polenta cook for 40 minutes, stirring rapidly most of the time, and let it go for more like 20-30 minutes, using 1 cup of coursely ground corn meal to 3 cups liquid (i used 1 cup of raw skim milk and 2 cups water). more milk would probably make it even creamier. it came out a little thicker for eating soft, but was still delicious with crumbled blue cheese, and it fried up perfectly in the pan, cut into either triangular cutlets or narrow, crispy polenta fingers.

sustainability vs. availability

having lived in places like San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass., i guess i've gotten a bit spoiled by the easy, affordable availability of fresh, organic produce. in Cambridge, there was a weekly seasonal farmer's market right in Central Sq., with stalls from both certified organic farms, and farms using organic and sustainable practices, but not yet certified (or uncertified due to the high costs of the recent FDA organic guidelines). there were also multiple local grocery stores and CSAs offering organic produce at more reasonable prices than the upmarket chains like Whole Foods.

so i guess i forget sometimes that the rest of the country isn't entirely up to speed with this plan -- even supposedly progressive, metropolitan areas like Chicago and L.A. all the news hype about fresh fruits and vegetables just seems undercut by the reality of what food is available to whom. i've temporarily moved down to Long Beach, CA, just south of LA, and stopped in at Wild Oats to stock up on some bulk goods and local produce. the prices make Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco look reasonable -- a worker-owned cooperative that has a local reputation for being on the pricey side, despite a great selection of actual local, sustainable products. and of course, of the organic fruits and vegetables available at Wild Oats, only a minority were actually local (those these were brightly marked and proudly displayed, as if a few local products makes you a sustainable grocer).

unfortunately, most of us in the States appear to be presented with a few non-options when it comes to sustainable food. we can buy overpriced, industrial organic products from large plants in central California (like Earthbound Organics, whose conventional line of spinach, Natural Selections, has drawn national attention for an ongoing spate of e. coli outbreaks), or we can save money but sacrifice flavor and nutrition with the rather wan selection available at most conventional supermarkets. not really an appetizing situation at all.

CSAs and farmer's markets probably offer the best solution where available -- but even farmer's markets may not offer organic food. i'll be checking out Long Beach's downtown farmer's market this afternoon, but from the roster of farms on their website, it's not clear if any use organic or sustainable practices.