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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

all beans are not created equal

As a child, i hated beans. They were dry, tasteless and well, like most of the manufactured food of the time, pretty damn useless in terms of nutrition or any kind of culinary value. When i decided to become vegetarian at age 17, i learned that i needed to develop some taste for beans thus had to start learning how to prepare them. But still, the beans were awful. Old, dusty, dry things that i now realize were poor varieties, badly grown and probably years old.  And i remember people telling me, "if you do not put meat in your beans, it wont have any flavor". Yeah, ok, whatever, to that response as i already figured out that fresh herbs, spices and vegetables, along with oils and acids and salts produced very flavorful beans. However, i was not aware of the lack of quality of the beans themselves were.

Nowadays, things are different. Rancho Gordo Farms,, supplies chefs in the bay area with the highest quality, heirloom varieties of beans, available. Gone is the dust and the dryness and in comes the freshly dried, gourgeous vivid colored beans, booming with flavor and all kinds of delightful textures. Yes, they are more expensive than what you find in bulk bins in local places like Rainbow and Berkeley bowl and hte few other remaining places in the US where you can still get actual, REAL food, and also in horrible places like Whole Foods. Unfortunately, things are set up in ways that make no practical sense whatsoever. So in order to have our food grown without toxic pesticides and dangerous fertilizers, and in order to have our farmers paid and treated well and in order for those distributing the food to also be paid well, we have to pay absurd amounts for it. With Mr Hope and Change Presidente installing yet another Monsanto dude in charge of food and health safety, we know this situation will only get worse in the coming years.  It is a serious problem as these high prices for real food, make it an elite product that few can consume. Thus people are forced to eat low quality, factory farmed food (highly subsidized to keep the prices absurdly low) in order to be able to pay other bills.  Not everyone can prioritize food as an important expense.

How is this solved? Beyond a massive upheavel based on simple common sense and demanding leadership that supports small businesses instead of corporattions, there is no chance of this situation changing. Unless suddenly people realize that they must vote every time they spend money. Every time we purchase food, we vote. When we buy that cheap bag of crappy beans at safeway, we vote that says, "give me this shit, i am someone that accepts mediocrity and craves it and yearns for more of it, bring it on and forcefeed it down my throat some more. i loe your miller light, your pepsi, your disney films, your illusion of change... and i deserve nothing more as i simply do as i am told and stopped thinking on my own shortly after my public education began". Or we can support our local farms, our suppliers of heirloom dried goods, our local makers of artisan foods and vote each time that says, "thank you for keeping some sense of old world artistry and craftsmanship alive. We need this if we want any kind of respectable future for humanity, my tasted buds and my spirit deserve quality".

ok, i have not ranted on this blog in a while and somehow my support and admiration for this amazing bean company led to this. How can you eat or talk about food and not give though to the importance of those who grow our food and the extreme importance of how our food got from that farm to our kitchens.

Check out the various varieties of beans from Rancho Gordo! Your tastebuds will really appreciate the extra expense way more than you can imagine!


  1. I wrote a similar rant as part of a conversation on the Presidio boards recently. Here's the excerpt:

    [begin quote] The other huge transition I think we need to make is to recognize that our experiment with industrializing food production -- in particular, the use of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides -- is failing. As we strip mine the nutrients in the soil and kill off the ecosystem of microbes that restores them, the output from industrial farms is declining; in the meantime, organic farming has become more and more productive as we've learned to manage beneficial insects, irrigate efficiently, provide trace nutrients that promote microbes that can contribute to soil regeneration, and so on; at this point, a well-managed organic farm can produce just as much of many crops, on a per-acre basis, as an industrial farm. Furthermore, polyculture farms need work year-round -- so they encourage the use of tenant labor, rather than migrant labor. The families that work my CSA farm even get medical benefits.

  2. Additionally, centralized processing of food means that when cow waste washes over a barrier into an irrigation ditch at a single farm in Salinas, the contamination spreads at least nationwide, and is expensive to trace and fix; if there was a contamination problem at my CSA farm, we'd know immediately where the problems was, we'd be able to inform all customers fast, and relatively few people would get hurt. Centralization also means means that bad weather in one town can hammer the food supply for a continent. Narrowing down to only a few preferred strains of a given plant renders us vulnerable to pests and crop diseases (e.g. bananas are in danger of going extinct, if we can't find some different genetic stock and produce a strain that resists Panama Disease). We also have a problem, in this country, where we deeply subsidize "staples" like corn and wheat, to the point that we vastly overproduce them. The extra has to go somewhere -- so it goes into cows (leading to a whole 'nother complex of problems, including antibiotic-treated cows serving as petri dishes for resistant bacteria), into HFCS and corn oil, into soft drinks... We ought to repurpose something like 25% of our corn-growing land to grow fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Cheap food has had huge benefits, but also huge costs, and now that we have problems worldwide with un- and under-employment, it's time that we make the choice to invest a larger percentage of world GDP in the food production system again. Yes, it means that for the average family, food will end up consuming a larger percentage of their budget. But because this would support having a larger percentage of the population employed, it would raise average and median income; on balance, you'd expect little net loss (and possibly even a gain) in total income outside the food budget. And, as a side benefit, our food system would be more secure, more nourishing, and less likely to accidentally kill us all. [end quote]

  3. I agree with you that having everyone shopping at places resembling Whole Paycheck (which has encouraged the creation of monoculture "organic" farms, which are still a problem, even if slightly better than fully industrial farms) is not a worthy "goal" for our food system. My local permanent farmer's market, Milk Pail Market, is maybe somewhat closer, in terms of relying almost entirely on local sourcing for its produce. But I think you do need to have supermarkets that are large enough to provide "one stop shopping". Busy parents are not going to spend hours every day thinking about food; we really need to set policy such that the easy, "default" choices, are choices that are healthy for both our bodies and our environment. And at least seeing that people are willing to spend a bit more, for a step up in quality, encourages people to enter the market and compete ON QUALITY rather than pursuing the race to the bottom.

    And as disappointing as I've found some of Obama's behavior (as documented in my LJ), he at least has taken small steps in the right direction, and Michelle has been trying to serve as a good example -- e.g. setting up a small farm on the White House lawn and using the ingredients at state dinners. I don't know if you heard, but the chemical industry went absolutely NUTS over her decision to not use their products in her garden.

    Sorry for the multiple comments -- the system wouldn't let me leave this as just one.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Auros,
    how can you fall for the Michele white house lawn crap! Yeah, she puts in an organic garden and acts like it is a huge deal. Then her husband installs a Monsanto lawyer as food and health czar?

    Who cares about that tiny garden when Monsonto is running the real show! Simply distractions to keep you/us from getting angry and actually demanding real change.

    Obama's "small steps" as you put it are a slap in the face.

  6. Well, in contrast, you can look at his EPA chief, who is doing her best to deal with a backlog of Bush admin problems, and to add CO2 to the list of regulated pollutants, in the face of Congressional opposition. I think Obama has not fought the good fight as much as he could have; I just think you're mistaken to think that he is the same kind of outright backer of corporate interests that Bush was. I suppose it's unlikely I could convince you, but I assure you, I am paying attention to the big picture and keeping up with a wide variety of news.

    PS: There's some Chinese spam, just above your comment.

  7. i know you are paying close attention, Auros. But for some reason you still have respect for the democratic party and i cannot possibly comprehend that in the least bit. :)
    it is a one party system and they have so little difference from the republican side of the party that is can only be seen as a total joke. sorry!

  8. If you think it's a one party system, you are NOT paying attention. The Democratic Party has its share of problems, from simple selfishness and stupidity (see: Eliot Spitzer, who squandered his immense potential to do good for the sake of a few hours of kinky sex), to, yes, some share of truly bad apples who are willing to do the bidding of large corporations in exchange for campaign money (see: Joe Lieberman, Max Baucus, etc). The Democratic Party also has many party officers -- from low-level people like me, up to people like Secretary of State Debra Bowen -- who are working hard to try to fix our politics.

    The Republican Party, on the other hand, has gone completely insane; it doesn't just stand for crony-capitalist corruption of democracy -- it stands for McCarthyism, and a fascistic elevation of private interests over public ones.

    Yes, the Democratic Party has become such a wide tent that it ranges from social-democrats (like Bernie Sanders of Vermont, or Dennis Kucinich) all the way over to people who would have fit in with the Eisenhower or Anderson Republicans. But the modern Republican Party no longer has room even for a Goldwater (who despied the religious right). Their leadership is a mix of those who actually want to re-make the country into a fascist theocracy; and those who are such hypocrites and mammonites that they are willing to try to ride the wave of inchoate rage stirred up by the theocrats, even if it means sacrificing the nation's future, or the world's.

  9. You can criticize the Dems all you like, IF you're going to do something about it. Lord knows I do -- from time to time, I even get to criticize them in person. But if you're going to sit on the sidelines carping, without doing anything to either make a third party seriously viable (which, frankly, seems impossible without first getting enough power within a major party to get laws passed to alter our election processes -- I'm in favor of proportional representation, myself, and there's a small but vocal contingent in the CA Dem party, based mostly in SF and San Mateo County, that holds that position), or to drag the remaining non-crazy party back towards the path of reality-based governance (e.g. at the very least, participate in Democratic primaries), then your criticism is going to register as more annoying than helpful.

    Democracy is NOT a spectator sport!

    And as for respecting the Democratic Party -- it's not like the Obama administration has been without meaningful achievments: the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the expansion of S-CHIP, and so on. We will likely, this year, get universal healthcare structured along similar lines to what the Swiss have; I'd prefer a version with a public option, or a single-payer system (both because I think they'd be more workable for the average person, and because I think they'd cost less), but even the Senate bill is estimated to save 150,000 lives over the coming decade, while improving the budget outlook by about $100B. We ARE still the party of Civil Rights, Social Security, and Medicare; in California, we're the party that built, under the leadership of Pat Brown and Clark Kerr, the best public university system in the world.

  10. You can continue to pretend there's no difference between the parties, and nothing to be done. The Republicans and their corporate pay-masters will thank you for it.

    Or you can start trying to distinguish between the good and the bad in the Democratic Party, making some allowances for where good people have had to make hard choices about whether it's better to compromise principles to retain the power to make better policies than those of the folks who would otherwise replace them, and trying to help local Democratic pols who have their hearts in the right place to advance to positions of leadership.

  11. yeah, with a fine comb, i find differences between the parties. But when i toss away that comb i find this insane war started by full support of both parties with the exception of a few "fringe" members such as Kucinich, When it comes to the failed economy, once again, i see the problem supported by and caused by the one party system. Bush tried to bail out his banker friends and failed miserably so Obama did it for him. Same bailout plan, from both parties. And it obviously failed for us but put a lot of money in their pals pockets. And ironically, it gave Limbaugh and the republican spokespeople something to blame Obama for even though it was Bush's plan. There are so many reasons i refer to this as the bush-obama war and teh bush-obama economy as i cant see much change in policies in these 2 very important current problems.

    as for health care, i cant imagine we will end up with anything remotely close to the Swiss system. At best, we are going to end up with mandatory insurance for all of us, no health care reform, just a way for the one party to ensure its insurance companies reap higher profits than ever before. How individuals who are currently shut out of the system (i am one of them) will end up will be interesting.

    I know there are excellent people who are seriously trying to do some amazing work in the democratic wing of the one party and you are obviously one of them and i applaud you and respect you for it.

    Yes democracy is not a spectator sport but i am not sure how i am supposed to believe the democratic wing of the party is going to actually change anything. Their track record during the past decade is atrocious to put it lightly, simply doing mostly what the other wing of the party tells them to do with the exception of Sanders, Kucinich and Lee. I am waiting anxiously for you and others to prove me wrong. As for me, i prefer to develop and show others there are alternative ways of living, outside of the mainstream.
    personally, i think the only way we are going to change things politically is if we change things economically. But the one party system made that almost impossible as they worked to develop every neighborhood to be one giant strip mall hosting the exact same corporations from mall to mall from town to town.

    And since this is a food blog, let us bring it back on topin, I do not see the democratic wing of the party doing a damn thing about the food problem!!! Once again, they are doing what the republican wing of the party did, hire a monsanto lawyer to be a cabinet member in charge of food safety. As you and i have talked numerous times about the problem of food in our country, surely you have noticed, neither side of the party is helping this problem in the least bit.

    as for compromising principles? NO THANKS! that is something i will never do nor respect anyone who does.