Oh God, you are too good to me.
I’m eating lunch as I write this; pasta salad, a bacon and tomato sandwich. No lettuce; as James Beard said, “You could add lettuce; but why would you?”
The tomato on my sandwich is so fabulous it doesn’t even need salt — and all tomatoes need salt in my opinion. But this one is juicy and sweet, chock full of that great red flavor of my favorite food.
This particular tomato is a bit darker in color than others I’ve picked and eaten so far; a different breed from a different plant. Tomato varieties vary greatly from each other, and to me the best tasting ones are more juice, less meat. Tomato-lovers can easily tell the difference.
My friend Bob in New Jersey has been bragging about how good his local tomatoes are (though he has to buy them, the poor man); we have a friendly rivalry going about New Jersey vs. Indiana tomatoes. The Garden State does grow tomatoes on a commercial scale; there’s a reason Campbell’s Soup is headquartered in the state. So I hope the Jersey tomatoes are as excellent as he says, because then I’ll know he’s getting some good eating.
However, the largest tomato canning company in America is headquartered 90 minutes from my house, in Elwood, Indiana, a family-owned outfit called (appropriately and lovingly) Red Gold. Because that’s what they sell, red things good as gold.
Tomatoes are very nearly the best food you can eat; chock full of vitamin C and antioxidants, nutritionists say. People who eat a steady diet of tomatoes get a lot fewer cancers. But me, I just eat ’em ’cause they taste so good!
And this one from my garden is a gem, perfectly formed, free of all blemishes, ready for the grocery store or my stomach!
But there’s a story behind today’s bacon, too; I bought it from Jessica Smith, one of the owners of This Old Farm in Darlington, Indiana, an innovative farm-to-market operation that’s winning all kinds of grants and recognition. I bought the bacon at the farmers’ market in West Lafayette. It’s more expensive than the commercial bacon at the grocery, but I know the hogs weren’t tortured on their way to my sandwich.
This bacon looks different, it behaves different when you cook it up in the pan; there’s less fat, so that changes your cooking technique slightly, as the bacon is done faster. Less fat makes home-grown bacon a better buy pound-for-pound because you get more meat. The lean-to-fat ratio is also far greater with beef I’ve bought from This Old Farm. The taste isn’t greatly different, but you can tell on sight that this isn’t what you’re used to.
Commercial beef and pork producers artificially speed up the growth rate of their animals; they fatten them up faster so they are ready for market quicker. CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) pen them in concentration camps so they never see the light of day, never eat their natural diet; factory farms inject their prisoners with growth hormones to cut costs and move the animals to market faster. And of course, with the animals crammed in barns where they can barely move, the owners inject them with antibiotics so that if one animal gets infected, the others don’t come down with it and the whole herd gets sick.
Are these hormones and antibiotics good for the humans who eat commercial meat? Last week the USDA told Congress there’s a big problem in our food supply. The Des Moines Register reported:
Antibiotics in Livestock Affect Humans, USDA Testifies
July 16th, 2010
Des Moines Register
By PHILIP BRASHER
There is a clear link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and drug resistance in humans, President Barack Obama’s administration says, a position sharply at odds with agribusiness interests.
In testimony to a House committee on Wednesday, even the Agriculture Department, which livestock producers have traditionally relied on to advocate for their interests, backed the idea of a link between animal use of antibiotics and human health.
The Agriculture Department “believes that it is likely that the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antimicrobial resistance among humans and in animals themselves,” said John Clifford, the USDA chief veterinarian.
The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates antibiotics in animals and humans, has recently proposed to end the use of many drugs as growth promoters in hogs and other livestock. Only antibiotics such as ionophores that have no human use would be permitted to speed animals’ growth. The FDA has set a schedule for phasing out the drugs’ use or proposed specific restrictions.
Officials said the ban is needed to ensure that the [antibiotic] drugs remain useful in human medicine.
Now the thing about gardening, family farming and rural life in general, is this: it’s slow. Not much changes from one day to the next. Maybe that green tomato you’ve had your eye on is a little bigger, or maybe it’s not; it’ll “get here” when it’s good and ready. You can’t speed it up, you can’t slow it down, Mother Nature’s in charge.
Of course this doesn’t sit well with agribusiness, which is always looking for efficiencies to maximize profits, but a piggy gets born or a tomato turns red when it’s good and ready.
There’s one other big advantage to this bacon I’m eating; I know where it came from. It didn’t pass through a hundred different hands like that Big Mac with makeup and lipstick that looks glamorous on TV. If God forbid that burger makes you sick, the USDA has no way to know where it came from, which is why more people will get sick until a food detective finally figures out “it was the Big Mac.” Meanwhile a dozen kids and senior citizens are dead. THAT’s the kind of self-regulation/no regulation that agribusiness lobbies for. If you really knew what you were eating you wouldn’t eat it, so they have to keep you in the dark and put lipstick on it.
We can expect more and more emergency food recalls as time goes on, because in the minimally-regulated world of agribusiness, someone’s always going to be looking to cut another corner and make another buck. Remember that peanut warehouse down in Georgia, where they knew their nuts were contaminated, but resold them anyway? The food business is cutthroat (because so much food is sold, there’s so much money to be made), so what did they care if the throat that got cut was yours?
But this bacon now disappearing from my plate? It came from a hog raised at Skillington Farms (Stan and Laura) in Lebanon, Indiana, which was processed at This Old Farm’s facility in Colfax, where the owner loaded it into her van and sold it to me in West Lafayette, where I drove it home to Kentland. Their names (all two of them) are right there on the package.
As a customer they’ve treated me with respect, they’ve met me with accountability.
Well, in the time it took to compose this I’ve eaten two bacon and tomato sandwiches and eaten two bowlfuls of pasta salad; and I promised you something about dill, which I’ve got growing right outside my back door. The plants are three feet tall and flowering now — but I don’t want flowers, I want leaves, so last night I cut off all the flowers. (Believe me, the plants will make more.) I’ve also deflowered my chives and some of my oregano. I’ve got far more of these herbs than I can use.
My pasta salad is very simple; you don’t need to buy an overpriced box of mix. I use half a pound of rotini, a quarter pound of cooked ham or pepperoni, a medium cucumber peeled and sliced, and 4-5 medium tomatoes, skinned. (A bell pepper is optional; mine are growing but I decided to leave them on the vine this time.) Then dump on 6 ounces of whatever salad dressing you like, then chill overnight. I decided on dill vinegrette, as follows.
Josh’s Dill Vinegrette
3/4 C of your best oil
1/4 C white vinegar*
1 T chopped fresh dill (1 t dried)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 t salt
3/4 t dry mustard
3/4 t paprika
Whisk or shake together in a cruet.
* Flavored vinegars (red, cider, balsamic) overwhelm the dill, so don’t use them.
Kraft and Wishbone would go out of business if people knew how much better homemade vinegrettes are; cheaper, fresher, no preservatives.
And when you grow your own herbs you feel like the master of the universe. Ah, dill!++