Maternity Slow Down

  • January 11, 2013 12:50 pm

As of mid-December I’m home getting to know my newborn and working, writing, and posting less (or not at all). I should be back up and running at some point in February. If you send me a question for a Q&A in the interim, I will file it for then.

Happy 2013!

Q&A: Eco-Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?

  • September 26, 2012 9:20 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I just had a question regarding meat. Everyone always stresses how sustainable becoming a vegetarian is. I obviously understand the animal rights aspect to becoming a vegetarian, I was just wondering if you could explain more of the environmental benefits of not eating meat to me? Thanks.

-Terry

Answer:

Terry,

Thanks for your question. Yes, there are many environmental benefits to giving up or at least limiting meat consumption. It decreases water use, methane production, the impact of growing animal feed, and much more. It’s not an easy thing to answer quickly, but I’ll try to outline the basics below. I urge you to do some reading on your own, too. The production of animals into meat is an amazing system to learn about, with many shocking twists, turns, and revelations.

If you’re into stats and numbers, this site compares water usage for various items. It says that it takes approximately 15415 litre/kg of water to produce beef and only 257 litre/kg of water for potatoes. I don’t know anyone who only eats potatoes, but there is also quite a difference between chicken and beef.

Then there’s methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Cattle emit 80 million tons of methane annually, according to the EPA. And I haven’t even gotten to feed. Most animals are fed a grim mix of genetically modified soy and corn (neither are great for the environment as they require tremendous amounts of chemical sprays to grow), antibiotics (which create drug-resistant superbugs), and hormones.

All of this said, I am not personally a vegetarian for many, many reasons. Though I eat very little meat compared to most meat eaters I know. I have devoted a tremendous amount of research and thought to this decision and I only ever eat local, pastured, well-raised meat. I go into great detail on how and why to source this kind of meat in two of my books. I wrote  The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat with my butcher. I had interviewed him and his wife previously for  The Conscious Kitchen, which has a chapter concisely detailing meat labels, how shop, and other educational resources.

Keep in mind that becoming a vegetarian doesn’t immediately mean your environmental impact is nil. Many vegetarians continue to eat conventionally raised dairy and eggs–the eco-impact of these is far greater than their local, pastured counterparts. And if all of the soy you switch to eating is conventionally raised and coming from, say, China, that has its own not insignificant footprint. There have also been interesting studies done on the safety of soy-based diets. So all of this is worth considering as you weigh the pros and cons of giving up or eating less meat.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra

The Conscious Kitchen Now Available On Kindle!

  • September 5, 2012 12:29 pm

Good news!  The Conscious Kitchen is now available on your Kindle. Was excited to run across this today.

Q&A: Killing Bugs?

  • July 18, 2012 8:48 am

The Question:

Hi! I am reading your blog, and I also love the eco life! I also try to teach my kids respect for all living creatures. However, yesterday when a big spider stumbled across the kitchen floor I calmly took a piece of kleenex and promptly squished it! But, when I am standing there, satisfied with dead spider in hand, I suddenly see the question in my three year old boys look, and feel ashamed! How do I explain this? I am not that afraid of spiders, I just killed it because it was there! How do you deal with these sorts of things? Do you also squish spiders in front of your kids, and do you own a fly swatter and swat flies and wasps? And how do you explain this to your kids?

Jenny

The Answer:

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for writing. And good timing; I’m spending a lot of time in the buggy country this month to escape the heat of my urban hometown. When we’re in New York City and we find a bug–that isn’t a roach!–we tend to release it out the window. Not exactly sure a bug prefers being flung out of an urban window versus smushed, but my animal-loving 6-year-old daughter prefers it. That said, she also likes to capture fireflies and has killed more than a few of these beloved bugs herself, unwittingly.

Here’s the thing: We eat meat but we also have a family cat we refer to as her sister. I wrote a book with my butcher. During that research process I went to more than a few slaughters of local animals and toured a local slaughterhouse. This is complicated stuff. Is a spider more important than my cat? Is the cat more important than the pig or the steer I watched be slaughtered? You feel bad about that spider, but how about a mosquito? Or a tick embedded in your son? Or a water bug scuttling across your bathroom floor?

I was chatting about your question–and my above questions–with my lovely intern Kelley and she wrote me a very thoughtful email I want to share with you:

“This question made me think about my environmental ethics class I took last
semester.  In one unit we talked about what things in nature get
respect, so what has value in nature.

And there are these different ethical theories to it:
Biocentrism (or taylorism)–ALL things in nature have value, whether a
dolphin, ant, or flower. Killing either would be wrong.

Strong Anthropocentrism–Only humans matter, and we should not be
concerned about harming the environment or animals

Weak Anthropocentrism–Humans still matter the most but some things in
nature count too. So killing an ant wouldn’t be wrong, but killing a
whale would not.

I wrote a paper on it somewhere on which theory was the most
justifiable. But this just reminded me of what you said about your
book on butchering. How people are very concerned about slaughtering
pigs, and cows, but people never think twice about squashing a bug.”

So this is a long-winded answer from me and Kelley that isn’t really an answer. Most humans, devout vegans aside, do some sliding scale of animal killing. I certainly have done my fair share and I have mixed feelings about all of it–minus what I somehow believe can bring me and mine “harm” like those mosquitoes and ticks. My daughter is basically a vegetarian who devours bacon, and claims she wants to protect all animals, but also likes to pull worms apart and poke jelly fish with sticks. It’s complicated. If the look in your kid’s eyes gives you pause, take that pause and think about how you feel about what you’re doing, and the message it gets across. It may not change how you react, but it’s certainly a good thing to think about.

Hope this helps in some way.

Best,

Alexandra

What You Don’t Know: Top 10 Ways To Have A Conscious Thanksgiving

  • November 14, 2011 12:46 pm

Thinking about Thanksgiving. If you’re on Twitter and available 11/15 at 10 p.m. EST, join me, Jessica Applestone of Fleisher’s and The Holistic Moms Network for a holiday meal Twitter party. Follow @alexandrazissu and @fleishers and the hashtag #HolisticMoms.

1. Know where your turkey is from — local/pastured is great.
2. Choose fresh food over canned to minimize exposure to the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA.

3. Shopping at your farmers’ market will help you with #1 and #2, support local farmers, minimize packaging waste, and will make everything taste fantastic.

4. Ditch your non-stick cookware! Choose cast iron, enamel covered cast iron, and stainless steel instead.

5. Don’t forget your beverages — filtered tap water and sustainably produced wine are two fantastic options.

6. Reduce waste by serving on reusable–not disposable–plates and drink out of reusable glasses. Use silverware, not plastic.

7. Make stock with vegetable scraps and turkey bones. Recycle and compost what you can.

8. Store leftovers in glass, not plastic.

9. Clean with natural cleaning products.

10. Enjoy!

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat In Whole Living Magazine

  • October 17, 2011 9:27 am

Thanks Whole Living for including some easy advice from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat on how to buy the best meat for the environment and your health in their November issue!

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Times Three

  • October 16, 2011 9:59 am

Hi there!  Glenny here with another post from my kitchen.

As I mentioned before, I plan on visiting Fleisher’s new shop in Park Slope as often as possible.  I certainly do not eat too much meat, but am very happy to indulge in the very good, well-raised stuff when I can.  This past week I stopped by for a whole chicken.  Roasting a chicken is extremely easy, and a great way to make a few meals in one evening.  You’re saving energy by only using your oven once, and you’re exercising some creativity in the kitchen – what to do with the leftovers?  Here is what I did, complete with a basic recipe for your autumnal roast chicken:

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

3-4 lb whole chicken

4 apples, quartered and deseeded (I used Golden Delicious, but almost all will do)

1 apple, chopped into 1 inch cubes

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons chopped sage

2 tablespoons thyme

1 cup white wine (I used a full bodied chardonnay, but a pick your favorite – you’ll be drinking the rest!)

salt and pepper

Prep your chicken.  Season with salt and pepper and put in a roasting pan.  Spread quartered apples around the outside and sprinkle them with half of your herbs.  Mix the chopped apples with a little butter, salt and pepper and stuff in the cavity of the chicken.  Mix the remaining herbs and butter together and spread it both under and on top of the chicken skin.  Pour the wine around the bird, over your apples.

In a 425F oven, cook for 30 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 375F.  Continue cooking for about 40 minutes more or until a thermometer reads 160F and the juices run clear (opposed to red).  Let it sit for about 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with the roasted apples and their juices.

Delicious!  After enjoying this one evening, I still had a lot of chicken left and wasn’t too interested in having the same meal two nights in a row.  So, for lunch the next day it was roasted chicken sandwiches with feta, olives, and market tomatoes.  Followed by a wonderful soup for dinner.  I simply sauteed garlic, onions, carrots and butternut squash in a deep sauce pan.  Added chicken stock, tomatoes, kale, a few cups of farro and the leftover chicken.  Drizzled with homemade pesto, it celebrates lots of flavors; perfect for an October evening.  And the best news?  I’ll be eating that soup for days – this chicken has provided for many many meals.  Easy.

Farro soup, day two.

Fleisher’s Brooklyn Outpost Is Open!

  • October 9, 2011 11:20 am

Another weekend post from Glenny:

This past week Fleisher’s, of Hudson Valley butcher fame, opened their Park Slope outpost!  Bravo Jessica and Josh!  The neighborhood was hungry for well-raised high-quality meat, and I for one will be frequenting the shop.  The space is polished and inviting, bustling with Brooklynites excited about what’s for dinner.  The cases are bright and filled with various cuts of chicken, pork, lamb, and beef.  The smiling employees will be happy to instruct you on any chop, loin, rack or shoulder that is new to you.  And don’t forget to pick up some local cheeses, crackers, and jams to round out your meal.

When I stopped by the shop, I was heading to my family home in the Catskills, so I was interested in buying some lamb for the grill.  I figured it would pair nicely with the eggplant and sunchokes I found at my Greenmarket the morning before.  Besides, it might be getting colder, but I’m reluctant to ditch the grill yet.  Josh suggested the loin and rib chops.  Experiment with seasonings: parsley, garlic, cumin, lemon zest, rosemary, mint, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  On a hot grill, they only need to cook 5 to 6 minutes per side.  They were beautifully pinkish on the inside, full of deep lamb flavor.  I preferred the loin chops, which were a bit meatier and had a stronger, more serious gamy and grassy taste.

Lamb from Fleisher's. Gorgeous, no?

Not much is better than being able to escape the city for a few days, and I must admit, the highlights of the excursion were definitely the meal times.  Even if you don’t have access to a grill, I highly recommend paying Josh, Jess, and their fabulous crew a visit – you’ll leave with a bag full of something delicious (and sustainable) and will definitely learn a thing or two in the meantime.

What You Don’t Know: Ground Meat

  • September 27, 2011 10:00 am

Another day, another ground meat recall. Ever wonder what the ^%$ is going on? What is it about ground meat that leads to the worst case scenarios?

I got an answer–and an education–when reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat.

Here are two excerpts from the book to help educate anyone else who might be interested in this monumental waste of flesh.

“Don’t be fooled by meat labeled ‘freshly ground’ at the supermarket. Usually that’s a giant 20-pound chub (or tube) of coarse pre-ground beef they then regrind. That stuff is a gamble. There’s no telling what’s in it–bone chips and shit , at least. And it could also be made from a thousand different animals from ten different countries. Try tracing that.”

“…It doesn’t matter that there are USDA inspectors in every slaughterhouse. They’re not catching the outbreaks and it’s only getting worse. Contamination can come from anything–from feces on a hide to dirty hands to stomach bile that wasn’t properly washed off a carcass.  It takes time to slaughter and clean right. The giant operations rush to slaughter up to twenty-five thousand steers a day. When you see enormous numbers like 143 million pounds of beef recalled, it’s because that’s the “stop number”: that’s how much they grind before they clean or that’s how many pounds ago they tested for pathogens.”

All the more reason to know and trust your butcher or to grind your own meat.

What You Don’t Know: Fat

  • September 7, 2011 10:32 am

When you’re cooking with meat, do you try to use every last morsel?  If the answer is no, you’ll be surprised by the rewards.  I try to waste nothing, whether I’m cooking with vegetables, fruits, grains, or meat.  I should say especially meat. I never forget that something has died for my dinner. Every last bit of that needs to be used. When I discovered, while reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well Raised-Meat, how many ways fat could be used, I was delighted to also discover how easy it is to render, store, and eat.  Basically I’m talking about potatoes roasted in bacon fat. If you haven’t tried it, do.

Here’s an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat on many other kinds of fats and how to best use them. Do you use any of these? How? Let me know in comments.

Part of the nose-to-tail butchering is coming up with uses for fat, which makes us roughly 15 percent of an animal’s body weight.  Over the years we have gotten pretty creative – we have made beef tallow citronella candles (short-lived – they smelled like a barbecue gone horribly wrong) as well as lovely smelling tallow-based soaps.  But mostly we just make our fat into chunks of tallow, blocks of lard, and tubs of duck fat for our customers to (hopefully) cook with.  Here’s the skinny on what’s what in the world of fats:

Caul Fat is the fatty lining of a pig’s stomach, which looks like a sheet of diaphanous webbing.  It is used to wrap lean meats while roasting; this technique is called barding, and it imparts moisture into the meat as the fat melts.

Duck Fat Is there anything better than duck fat?  Use it to panfry potatoes, like they do in French bistros, or confit a couple of duck legs.  Duck (and goose, too) fat is great, but often hard to come by.

Lard, or rendered pork fat, is nearly 100 percent fat, as opposed to butter, which is about 80 percent fat and 20 percent water.  Though animal fats have gotten a bad reputation as heart-stoppers and artery-cloggers, lard is still well loved among bakers and intrepid cooks who prize its ability to produce flaky crusts and silky sauces.  Lard has a high smoke point, making it exceptional for frying things like chicken.  It’s also healthier than manufactured hydrogenated  fats like most vegetable shortenings.

Leaf Lard is the dry, hard, crumbly fat cap that surrounds the kidney of the pig.  This fat contains the fewest impurities, making it the gold standard for baking.  Mix this with butter (a 1:1 butter-to-fat ratio is good) for the best pie crusts you have ever made.

Tallow is rendered beef, veal, or lamb fat.  It is used mainly commercially to make animal feed, soap, and cosmetics, or for cooking.  McDonald’s managed to piss off a lot of vegetarians a while back by cooking their fries in tallow without informing the public – no wonder they were so addictive after a long night of drinking.  We use lamb fat in our chicken sausages to get that rich, decadent taste that you just can’t get from plain old chicken.  And we also know hunters who add lamb fat to their venison burgers for a more fatty, luscious taste.

HOW TO RENDER FAT

It’s simple to make high-quality lard or tallow that can be used for baking, cooking, or soap making.  Fats should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will last for three months or can be frozen for a  year.  We like to cut our lard into manageable 1/2-pound chunks and freeze it – it defrosts quickly, and does not have to be defrosted in the refrigerator.

-Buy pork fat, beef suet, or lamb fat from your butcher shop or farmer.  Make sure the fat is fresh, clean smelling, and not slimy.  Whatever you render, count on getting a 75 percent return.

-Cut the fat into 1-inch squares and then finely dice it (we run ours through the meat grinder).

-Place the diced fat into a heavy-bottomed pan set over low heat.  Melt the fat, without stirring, until it is literally a pool of oil.  Alternatively, you can melt the fat in a Crock-Pot.

-Let the fat cool until it is still in liquid form but not hot.

-Strain the fat through a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer.