Why are there still so many antibiotics in America’s meat?

It’s the stench, a pungent mix of ammonia and wet earth, that gives it away. This neat row of brick buildings in the Dutch village of Bergeijk is a massive chicken farm. Inside the six barns are 175,000 birds, hidden from the neighbors’ view and without any access to the outdoors or even natural light. To see them, visitors must slip into sterile blue jumpsuits and plastic booties, a low-tech but effective type of biosecurity that stops people from sneaking in any dangerous bacteria—or taking anything out.

Precautions are especially important now, but not because the flock of birds looks sick or particularly unhappy. New government rules have forced farmers like Kees Koolen to cut their use of antibiotics, which for decades has served as a cheap and easy way to keep birds healthy and plump for their short, 6-week lives. Koolen, a 55-year-old with a round face, ruddy cheeks, and pale blue eyes, has been raising meat birds, or “broilers,” for 30 years, and he wasn’t keen on the idea of giving up his wonder drugs. But in just 3 years, Koolen has successfully cut the antibiotics used on his farm by 55% without making any substantial changes to production.

The Netherlands—arguably America’s agricultural twin—has drastically reduced its use of antiobiotics in meat, and Dutch citizens are already reaping the health benefits. So what is the U.S. waiting for? In my latest story for Prevention Magazine, I explore how the Netherlands is getting antibiotics off its farms and what the United States needs to do to follow suit. Take a look and let me know what you think.

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What i love: tarte tatin

Image courtesy of The Washington Post

When the Washington Post asked me to contribute to their Valentine’s Day roundup: What We Love, I didn’t have to think long about my answer. Obviously, it was tarte tatin.

At age 13 my mother took me to La Brasserie, a restaurant housed in a townhouse on Capitol Hill. The whole meal seemed impossibly elegant.  But the real wizardry came when the waiter arrived with my tarte Tatin. The caramelized upside-down apple dessert was the size of a large dinner plate.

To this day I make no apologies for eating all of the buttery pastry and soft, sweet apples, and scraping up the burnt sugar still stuck to the plate. I was already in middle school, that swamp of romantic notions and raging hormones, so tarte Tatin was not my first love. But it was one of my most enduring.

I must admit it was years before the idea of actually making a tarte Tatin crossed my mind. So revered was the dish to me that it seemed arrogant to think that I could make one, the equivalent of setting out to paint a Picasso or, in my case, to become the next M.F.K. Fisher.

But it turns out to be easy. Even better, you can make it ahead to wow your dinner guests. Check out my recipe for pear-ginger tatin and let me know what you think.

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Soup Secrets

Carrot-Curry Soup (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been ignoring my blog. The reason: I’m (finally) hard at work on the book, which Brent and I hope to finish by April.

While I’ve not been writing much, I’ve definitely been cooking. My latest story for the Washington Post is about my quest to make restaurant-worthy soups at home. Check out the story — yes, I failed consomme in culinary school — and the recipes for carrot-curry soup and celery root and pear soup at the Washington Post Food section.

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To salt roast or not?

If food is fashion, then there must always be a new “it” dish. This season, salt-roasted root vegetables are the Olivia Wilde of the culinary world.

They grace menus in Copenhagen (salt-baked beet with smoked marrow, pickled onions and elderberry capers), New York (salt-baked celery root with leek, ash and citrus cream) and, of course, Washington, where you can find salt-roasted carrots at Fiola and salt-roasted beet salad with spiced Virginia peanuts and goat cheese at Blue Duck Tavern.

But it is worth it? I found out the hard way.

Read all about my verdict — a definite no — in my latest story in the Washington Post Food section, where you’ll also find this great recipe for plain old roasted beets with ricotta salata, chives and chervil.

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Farming 2.0: Tech and tractors

Quick! Picture a small farm. There might be a big red barn, chickens running in the pasture; maybe even the stereotypical white picket fence. Whatever the particulars, that imaginary small farm is probably pretty low tech. After all, small farms are supposed to be the antidote to “industrial” agriculture, where farmers sow thousands of acres of corn or soybeans from the comfort of air-conditioned tractors.

But if small farms are going to be truly sustainable, experts say, they need technology too. And until recently, there hasn’t been much available.

My latest story on WNYC looks at how tech companies, such as AgSquared, are filling the gap, providing web-based software that helps farmers plan crops, keep records and find new customers for their produce. For many of today’s new farmers, they didn’t return to the land because they love spreadsheets, but the latest web technologies can be as important as their tractors.

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Is Gustu the world’s next best restaurant?

A cauliflower trio at Gustu

If you had asked me last year to guess where the next great destination restaurant would pop up, my answer would not have been La Paz, Bolivia. The second-largest city in one of South America’s poorest countries, La Paz is not on the tourism circuit. Getting there from New York City required a journey of close to 20 hours, and once I arrived, it took a few days to acclimate to the altitude. At 12,000 feet above sea level, the air there is so thin that, for my first 24 hours, I felt as if an invisible vise had been secured to my temples and was being slowly, mercilessly tightened.

And yet, La Paz is the city that Claus Meyer, the visionary co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen, chose as the setting for his next and perhaps most ambitious project: Gustu. Like Noma, Gustu is a cutting-edge restaurant that uses avant-garde technique in the service of extreme locavorism. But in Bolivia, Meyer is facing an added degree of difficulty. Here, he doesn’t just want to engineer a world-class restaurant. He wants to “combat poverty with deliciousness.”

For my story for Food and Wine, I traveled to La Paz to see if Meyer can hit gastro-tourist gold twice. The food certainly was delicious: a salad of amaranth grains, plump dried cherries from the central valleys and watercress stems, all tossed in Bolivian brown butter; a shallow bowl of choclo, the big-kerneled Andean corn, topped with shredded rabbit confit and a dusting of lime zest; and llama meat: thin slices, sautéed in a syrup made with red bananas from the Amazonian jungle and topped with a creamy Brazil nut sauce. Read the rest here and tell me what you think.

Posted in Chefs, Restaurants, Trends | Leave a comment
  • About Me

    Jane BlackI am a Brooklyn-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues. My work appears in the Washington Post, (where I was a staff writer), the New York Times, Slate, New York magazine and other publications. On this site, you will find my blog and links to my written work and my Washington Post columns.

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