Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, November 4, 2013

Soulless Food

One of the books I am reading right now is “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball.  It chronicles the author's journey towards building a diversified farm that produces everything a person could need: beef, chicken, eggs, veg, fruit, wheat, etc. The story is also about the beginnings of Kimball’s relationship with her husband.  As well, she writes enticingly about food, right up the alley of a foodie like me.

Although I am only half finished with the book, I want to share something I read that was interesting and troubling at the same time. Cows.  And milk.  Kimball writes about the differences between farm fresh and commercial milk.  I am not personally familiar with the differences, but I have experience with other food/farm products, so I believe her.

My love affair with farm fresh began over a decade ago.  Thanks to a farming friend in North Dakota, I was able to experience farm fresh eggs.  For those who don’t know . . . you cannot know until you see, taste, and smell the difference.  Chickens that eat the things chickens are meant to eat (bugs and gravel, not soybean meal) produce such a superlatively superior egg to anything you’ll get in the grocery store.  Far, far better than the free range, organic eggs that come from the grocery store. These eggs are a different color: they are a vibrant, golden yellow.  These eggs are odorless; nothing “eggy” at all about them.  These eggs taste better than anything you will ever buy from the typical store.

During the summers, I am able to eat farm fresh beef and pork, purchased from my local farmers’ market.  Once again, this so far surpasses the most expensive, grass-fed, non-hormone, organic meats that comes from the grocery store.  No comparison.

I’ve strayed from my original thoughts.  Cows.  And milk.  From “The Dirty Life:”

“Another difference comes from the breed of the cow.  The milk you get at the store almost certainly came from a Holstein.  These are big cows, and in commercial dairies they are bred and fed to maximize production.  But as a general rule, as the volume of milk goes up, the amount of fat and solids in the milk goes down.  There’s an old farmer’s joke about the Jersey dairyman who keeps a Holstein in the barn in case the well runs dry, so he’ll have something with which to wash the dishes.  Jersey milk is richer by far than Holstein milk, with a higher fat content and also a higher percentage of milk solids. Moreover, because the Jersey cow does not completely metabolize the beta carotene in grass, the cream is tinted a pretty, warm, pale yellow.  When you make butter from such cream, especially in spring, the color becomes vibrant.”

Right.  Just like the eggs!  I want milk from a Jersey cow!

Kimball goes on to write about the importance of a cow’s diet in determining the taste and quality of the milk she produces.  Of course!  This was not something I fully appreciated until I spent a few years in England.  It was then that I learned that the reason Cornish clotted cream tastes the way it does is not only because of the type of cow, but also the special diet they are eating, as well as the fact that the grasses growing in Cornwall (and Devonshire) are a result of the microclimate that exists in that patch of the world . . . that cream can never be replicated by cows anywhere else. I rebel against the “homogenize-the-world mochaccino land!”

I love learning details like this. At the same time, I find it troubling.  I feel that our food has lost some of its “soul” with the way things are grown or raised nowadays. All right, a glass of milk will taste the same in Chicago as it does in Orlando as it does in Tempe as it does in  . . .  Sure, there’s comfort in that.  I guess that is why McDonald’s does so well. However, I will make the bold statement that I’d rather do without than settle for less.  I’d rather have a craving left unsatisfied for Cornish clotted cream than have the process standardized so that some version of it could be made with California, Wisconsin, or Vermont cows.

I know the difference between mashed potatoes made with skim milk versus mashed potatoes made with whole milk. I imagine there must be a similar difference when using milk and butter from a cow whose milk has a higher amount of fat and solids than the stuff we get at the store. The foodie in me cares about this.

Certainly, I am troubled that cow's feed is engineered towards the quantity of milk produced, at the expense of quality of milk: what the cows eat impacts us! My concern about this stems from the seemingly universal increase in food sensitivities and allergies. We struggle with those in this family.  But this post is going on longer than I’d intended, so I will address food quality and safety issues another day!

PS: I have no idea what kind of cows these are. Yes, I took the photo.  But I'm clueless. I know they are not Holsteins!

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