Archive for the ‘Clean Food’ Category

Locally-raised, Grass Fed Beef

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Big things usually start small.  The local food movement started small among those reacting against the industrialization of our food supply, and its impact our health, food quality, and the environment, but it is growing rapidly.  The number of Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) has grown dramatically, allowing consumers to buy a portion of the produce from local farmers, guaranteeing top quality in-season produce for themselves, and a better return for farmers. 

The environmental benefits of local food have received a lot of attention, with people looking at “food miles” and the impact of food distribution on climate change.  The difference in local food is not just where it is raised, but how it is raised, and the resulting quality of the product.  Local food is often higher in quality than food passing through the national food distribution system, provided an added benefit, and probably the most important one to many consumers. 

Beef in your grocery store is often transported across the country, and even if the price is high the quality might not match.  The vast majority of beef in grocery stores today is raised on corn, and lots of it.  In his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“, Michael Pollan describes how most cattle in the US are raised, completing their lives being fed vast quantities of corn in feedlot CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations with thousands of animals crowded together.  The animals in feedlots are given hormones and antibiotics, encouraging the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that contribute to human illness.  Their meat is fatty, and probably loaded with the wrong kind of fats, those that lead to heart disease.  Finally, the transport of the cattle and meat across the country and through the industrialized food system put an additional strain on the environment.

Locally produced grass fed meat is better for the environment and for our health, as reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists.   Cows evolved to graze on grasses, not in crowded pens eating corns.  Cows raised grazing on grass are healthier, with no need of constant antibiotic protection, and they are leaner.  The beef from these cattle is also higher in the omega-3 fatty acids widely believed to protect against heart disease.

Local Meats - Grassfed cattle on Palomar Mountain

Local Meats - Grassfed cattle on Palomar Mountain

Photo from The La Jolla Butcher Shop/ Home Grown Meats.
The problems with our existing meat supply and how it is produced and transported are opportunities for those who can provide locally raised, grass fed beef or other local meat products.   Butcher shops across the country once did exactly that, only to see their ranks dwindle in the face of the industrialized food system.  With the local food movement though, butcher shops providing locally raised meat may see a resurgence.
Homegrown Meats and The La Jolla Butcher Shop has just opened in August 2008 in San Diego, focusing on providing locally grown meats.  Their grass fed beef is from cattle that graze on a ranch on Palomar Mountain, a short drive away from San Diego.  These cattle never see a feedlot and receive no antibiotics or hormones, raised on organic grass instead.  The partners who have opened the butcher shop have been friends with the ranchers for years, and when the ranchers were ready to expand, the time seemed right to open the store.  The ranchers and store owners are working together, guaranteeing the store owners a steady supply of high quality local meat, and ensuring the ranchers a good return and a steady price for their hard work. 
It doesn’t hurt that the local grass fed beef is high quality, probably the best you can find.  It’s a little different from the fatty corn-fed beef people are used to, but the difference is a good one.  “I did it because I love it,” said one of the partners in the butcher shop, Peter Morris, when I spoke with him recently.  ”But then you read and you see that this stuff is more natural, and also healthier, and it’s a real win-win.”
I’ve tried the grass fed beef from the shop and I thought it was great.  As with many green products, the key to the success of local foods is not just about their environmental or health benefits.  For many people the most important selling point will be their quality.  If these products taste better, as well as being healthier and good for the environment, then this will be a key to their success. 
“So far we’re doing well,” said Morris.  “Business has been getting better and better, and fun along the way.”  If all goes well, they might be part of a return of butcher shops and high-quality, locally raised grass fed beef that tastes great, is healthier, and better for the environment. 

Eating at Pizza Fusion

Friday, August 8th, 2008

For our health and the planet’s health, we need to eat better food.  Eating organic food helps the planet by restoring nutrients to soil, fighting climate change, and avoiding contamination of food and water with chemicals.  There is also evidence that organic food has higher levels of important nutrients than conventionally grown food.  For organic food to go mainstream though, it helps for it to be available in tasty and nutritious foods that people are used to, that are easy for them to choose.  Pizza Fusion is one restaurant that is helping to make this happen:

I went to eat at Pizza Fusion tonight, just opened last week here in San Diego in the Hillcrest area.  I liked it.  A lot.  We ordered the Seattle pizza, with tomato, onion, basil, garlic, multigrain crust and other organic ingredients.  I’m no restaurant critic, but I’ve had a pizza or two, and the pizza we had was great, crisp and tasty.   There are also organic salads and drinks, including beer and wine. 

The food is only one aspect of the impact a restaurant has on the environment.  There is also the restaurant itself.  The location we visited had tables made of wood salvaged from an old barn, recycled glass countertop, daylighting and compact fluorescent bulbs.  In addition to stressing energy efficiency in the restaurant, they are also using the Prius for their delivery vehicles, and offsetting remaining energy use by purchasing RECs (renewable energy certificates), helping to increase use of renewable energy elsewhere. 

We had a good time chatting with franchisee Mike Walker, and some of the employees.  People seem excited about working there, and I’m excited about the restaurant too.  Pizza Fusion reports that over 75 businesses are in the works across the country, with interest growing in franchises.  I think there is a bright green future for these green pizza entrepreneurs, and for others with the same commitment to building restaurants that are as good for the planet while serving great food.

“Stirring it Up” by Green Entrepreneur Gary Hirshberg

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

For decades Gary Hirshberg has been a true leader of the green business world, producing top notch yogurt that is tasty, healthy for consumers, and good for the environment.  As the Ce-YO of the organic yogurt producer Stonyfield Farm, he has proven that making money and doing the right thing can and do go hand in hand.  For any of the doubters still remaining out there, questioning whether green business works, all they have to do is see what Gary and other’s have done.  The proof is in the yogurt.  The Stonyfield website tells the story of their sustainability efforts: (

Gary Hirshberg chronicles his journey and the lessons he learned in his book “Stirring It Up”:

This book is a great read on many levels.  First off, it’s just plain well written, engaging, and a good read.  Second, Gary does not just tell us what the problem us, but shows many examples, himself included, of how entrepreneurs can successfully build businesses that do the right thing for the planet. 

Finally, the lessons he describes are valuable for present and future eco-entrepreneurs. 

For example, Gary emphasizes quality as the key feature of their yogurt.  By never sacrificing quality, and being committed to the environment as well, they created a loyal base of customers who spread the word about their product and kept coming back for more.  He describes this as “the handshake”, reaching out to each consumer and forming a unique link that stays with them, connecting them to the brand.  Having a brand they can believe in helps, one that allows consumers to feel as though they are also part of the story, helping to make the change.  By focusing on their product, and how it is made, Stonyfield does not have to spend the massive sums on advertising that many food products do, decreasing their costs so they can continue to produce a great product rather than cutting corners to spend more on ads.

Which isn’t to say that Stonyfield doesn’t promote themselves - they just find clever and relatively low cost ways to do it, reaching out to their consumers through avenues other than expensive media ads.  Their lids always tell a story, and when money was precious they grabbed attention by bringing camel manure to disc jockeys or by pumping tires to help people save fuel. 

The efforts at Stonyfield, and at the other companies profiled, include waste reduction, using renewable energy, cutting carbon emissions, energy efficiency, using organic material, and many other ways to go green.  Their promotional efforts extend beyond the yogurt they sell to promoting a greener way of doing business and living.

The bottom line is that Gary and the other green entrepreneurs in Stirring It Up have built a variety of businesses in many fields while helping the planet.  And if they have done it, you can too. 

Local Food Grows With the Price of Diesel

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The soaring price of oil has rippled through the economy, raising the cost of transportation for consumers and businesses.  While this has hurt many businesses, it has actually helped others, often in surprising ways.  The high price of gas has hammered sales of trucks and SUVs, but sales of fuel efficient small cars are soaring.  People are staying closer to home to go shopping, hurting sales at some stores that require a long drive, but benefiting others in local neighborhoods.  Another place where the high price of oil has hit home is in food distribution costs. 

The rising price of diesel is causing some stores to rethink their food distribution, working to source food locally rather than trucking it across the country.  Mega retailer Wal-Mart is one of them, announcing it will increase its sales of locally grown produce (July 1, 2008):

Not everyone is thrilled.  The goals of Wal-Mart are probably not exactly the same as the local food movement, in general.  While the local food movement has been focussed on small local farmers, Wal-Mart does things big, and will be buying huge quantities of food, generally from large farms.  While the local food movement is focussed on buying food that travels as little as possible, Wal-Mart is seeking food grown in the same state or the same region. 

Check out tree-hugger for both sides of the argument:

The bottom line though is that Wal-Mart is influential, and where they go others follow.  By buying food closer to their stores, they are cutting food miles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and saving money at the same time.  And by doing it on a large scale, they may stimulate the support for local food produced for others as well, including those who want small scale, sustainably farmed, food that is grown within 100 miles of home. 

The high price of oil once again is a problem for some, but an opportunity for others.  Entrepreneurs who get involved in the production, packaging, and distribution of locally grown food may find themselves on the winning side.

The Ongoing Food Knowledge Gap

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Consumers often feel a great deal of anxiety about their food, uncertain what is in it or on it, as described in 75 Green Businesses.  Continued food safety problems suggest there is indeed some reason to be concerned, including the most recent outbreak of salmonella linked to tomatoes, with more than 160 people affected as of June 12.  This is not the first time.  In looking for information, I found another incident involving serious illness from salmonella in tomatoes from 1990.  Still, the FDA remains woefully understaffed, unable to effectively screen the vast amounts of food moving through the US to market.

What is the solution?  More effective government testing of our food is one answer.  The administration has asked for more money for food safety testing by the FDA, which would help if approved.  Meanwhile, there still seems to be an ongoing opportunity for consumers to take matters into their own hands to see for themselves what is in the food they are eating.  Knowledge is power, and if food testing can be performed cheaply enough, and provide reliable protection, then providing kits for consumers to test food themselves may continue to be an opportunity with lots of room to grow.