Tag Archives: farming

That “fresh squeezed” orange juice is anything but.

I’m more interested in orange juice than is probably healthy for somebody who doesn’t work in the industry and, as such, I’m excited to see Bloomberg Businessweek shining a spotlight on the horseshit that is "fresh squeezed," "not from concentrate," and "all-natural." These are all lies. It was squeezed months ago. It was concentrated to a point a hair’s breadth from the legal definition of "concentrated." It’s not natural, it’s created in a lab in a process more complicated than Coca-Cola. If you drank the stuff as its stored in giant vats, you’d spit it out—it’s flavorless at best, disgusting at worst. It’s only through adding a cocktail of lab-created flavorings that it takes like something that came out of an orange. Because those lab-created flavorings are based on molecules that are found somewhere—anywhere—in nature, they can be labelled "natural flavors," instead of "artificial flavors." 

On the impracticality of a cheeseburger.

If you came here having been told that this is an article about how the cheese­burger was “impossible” until recently, please note that it is not. It is about how the cheese­burger as we know it today was an impractical food until relatively recently. (Ref: the title.) A time-traveler with unlimited resources could probably pull it off. –WJ

A few years ago, I decided that it would be interesting to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Not just regular “from scratch,” but really from scratch. Like, I’d make the buns, I’d make the mustard, I’d grow the tomatoes, I’d grow the lettuce, I’d grow the onion, I’d grind the beef, make the cheese, etc.

It didn’t happen that summer, by the following summer, my wife and I had built a new house, started raising chickens, and established a pretty good-sized garden. I realized that my prior plan hadn’t been ambitious enough—that wasn’t really from scratch. In fact, to make the buns, I’d need to grind my own wheat, collect my own eggs, and make my own butter. And I’d really need to raise the cow myself (or sheep, and make lamb burgers), mine or extract from seawater my own salt, grow my own mustard plant, etc. This past summer, revisiting the idea, I realized yet again that I was insufficiently ambitious. I’d really need to plant and harvest the wheat, raise a cow to produce the milk for the butter, raise another cow to slaughter for its rennet to make the cheese, and personally slaughter and process the cow or sheep. At this point I was thinking that this might all add up to an interesting book, and started to consider seriously the undertaking.

Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.

A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not.

* * *

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my wife and I had some friends and family members over to the house to slaughter turkeys. We’d raised eight of them from poults, letting them free range around our land for most of their lives, and their time had come. It took the bulk of the day to slit their throats, bleed them out, pluck them, gut them, and put them on ice. Everybody got to take home a turkey that, by all accounts, was delicious. (Nearly everybody has already asked us to do this again next year.) Accompanied by cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and apple pie, it was a meal that could have been produced almost entirely at our home (and very nearly was). There was no mining of salt, of course, but it proved to be a meal that made sense for the place and the time. It’s really the only such ritual meal in the U.S. for which that’s true.

The Pilgrims established this standard, although in their case they probably had their meal in early October. The Thanksgiving menu at Plymouth Plantation was described by William Bradford:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.

There’s some fundamental good in eating honestly, I think. Of knowing where your food comes from—raising it yourself, when you can—and trying to eat foods that could theoretically have existed a century ago. But you can’t take that but so far, or else the whole thing breaks down. As Carl Sagan wrote in Cosmos, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Links for October 6th

Links for April 7th

Links for March 29th

  • BBC News: Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics
    Seventy ancient books, made out of lead, have been found in a Jordanian cave. The text is in encoded Hebrew, little of which has been translated. Scholars are debating whether they are of Jewish origin or—far more tantalizingly—very early Christian origin.
  • Village Voice: Women’s Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science
    I'd read about the exploding rates of forced juvenile prostitution, and like most people, was shocked. It turns out that those numbers are a total fiction, ginned up by an advocacy group in an effort to get more funding. Good for the Village Voice for asking the questions that dozens of other reporters failed to ask.
  • New York Times: A Stealth Downsizing, as Shoppers Pay More for Less Food
    The U.S. isn't immune from global food price increases. Manufacturers of packaged foods are shrinking quantities while changing the packaging to disguise the increased per-unit cost.
  • Wikipedia: Cessna 172
    The record for longest manned flight was set in 1959, when two guys flew a Cessna 172 for 64 consecutive days without landing, to raise money for a cancer fund. They'd fly close to the ground to hoist up food and water in a bucket, matching their speed with a car driving below. The same method worked to refuel, only using a hose instead of a bucket. They only stopped because the engine simply couldn't run for that many hours without an overhaul, and it lost power.

Links for March 28th

Links for March 14th

  • CBS News: Michigan bill would impose "financial martial law"
    Republican Gov. Rick Snyder hates big government…unless *he's* in charge of said big government. What card-carrying conservative would ever give a governor the unchecked power to wipe a city off the map?
  • Katamari Hack
    Turn any webpage into Katamari Damacy. Either you think this is brilliant or you have no idea of what I'm talking about. There's probably no in-between.
  • Pasture FAQ
    A really great, detailed guide to pasture-raising livestock that answers all of the questions you're likely to have. Assuming, of course, you're looking to pasture livestock.