Community News: Chief Justice Roberts on Your Fruits and Veggies

The hubbub over Chief Justice John Roberts deciding in favor of the Affordable Care Act—specifically, the way he found it constitutional on the basis of taxation rather than the power of the federal government to regulate commerce—got me thinking about our gardens and dinners.  See, a shocking amount of American law that I think essential to an equitable society rests on the rather narrow Constitutional text “The Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce.”  A significant aspect of the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for instance, depended on the Court’s determination that the Commerce Clause gave the feds the power to regulate businesses that served mostly interstate travelers.  Thus motels and restaurants across America could not discriminate against black Americans. Equality through Commerce.  Crazy, right?

Okay, so what does this have to do with food?  Well, the House is currently considering the next Agricultural Appropriations bill, which happens to contain a rider, known as “the Monsanto rider,” that has received, curiously, little to no coverage in the national press.  This rider requires that the Secretary of Agriculture grant a farmer or industrial agri-giant a  permit to plant genetically engineered crops (GMO), even if a federal court has ordered the planting halted for safety or environmental impact studies.  You can read it here.

Monsanto, DuPont, etc., only have to ask, and every ruling by a federal court or enforcement of current consumer protection laws on the part of the White House or a federal regulatory agency is overridden and they can plant whatever crop they chose.  Even state congresses become powerless: if they try to create local or state laws to protect eaters and farmers, they are in violation of federal law, a federal law that is written to override all other pertinent federal laws. Continue reading

Dead Man Gnawing: Stealth DNA and One Stubborn Old Man (1970 & 2005)

Canola is also known as Rapeseed. Its seeds are crushed to make vegetable oil.

Since we’re only a few days past Independence Day, I thought I’d take a look at the borders between the dominion of the public and the gated garden of the private.  In 1998, multinational industrial agrichemical giant Monsanto discovered that a Canadian farmer named Percy Schmeiser was growing its Roundup Ready Canola in his fields.  The seeds that grow into our food have generally been considered public property.  That is, our foods are held in common by allhumans; no one person or company can own the seeds that sustain civilization.

Monsanto had the U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act of 1970 at their back, though.  That law gives companies the right to exclusively own the DNA of the plant varieties they develop.  That right of ownership includes the sole right to “reproduce” the plant, i.e. to generate the seed from which the plants grow.  That means that a farmer or gardener is forbidden to save the seeds produced from one year’s crop in order to plant the next year.  Schmeiser was growing Monsanto’s genetically-modified (GM) plants without paying for them. Continue reading

Independence Food Contest Victor!

It was PitchKnives’ 4th of July challenge, but that was nothing new to me.

Two summers ago, my wife and I threw a 4th of July party and asked everyone to bring some food to share. Most people brought the usual stuff — pasta salad, guacamole, beer — but one friend arrived with a loaf of homemade “Red, White, and Blue” bread, which looked as though it had just been lifted from the display window of a European bakery. It was delicious, filled with chopped sundried tomatoes and topped with slabs of Zingerman’s blue cheese.
I assumed she’d spent hours in her kitchen, kneading the thing herself, put she told me confidentially that she’d only put a half an hour of work into the process. The secret? Jim Lahey’s “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method,” a cookbook that allows you to bypass the difficult parts of the bread-making process. All you need is time (for the bread to complete its slow rise) and a cast iron pot.
To be specific, you’ll also need the following:

3 cups unbleached bread flour

1 and 3/4th cup water
3/4th cup teaspoon active dry yeast (Fleischmann’s is a good brand)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (you can use olives, too, in which case you’ll probably want to omit the salt)

Continue reading

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Ice Cream

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson: America's first ice cream scribe

Our nation’s love of food runs deep. Thomas Jefferson was a known gourmand who kept notes on French cooking, and is thought to have scribbled down the first American recipe for ice cream. So this Fourth of July, pull out your Sabotiere (that’s the inner canister of an ice cream maker, for those of you not up on your 18th century lingo), and give Tom’s recipe a try. No word on who made the first American ice cream cone, but my money’s on Benjamin Franklin.

6 yolks of eggs
1/2 lb sugar
2 bottles  of good cream

Mix the yolks and sugar together. Put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla. When near boiling, take it off and pour it gently into the mixture of eggs and sugar. Stir it well. Put it on the fire again, stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent its sticking to the casserole. When near boiling, take it off and strain it thro’ a towel. Continue reading

Independence Food: The Contest

Independence Food!The Fourth of July is approaching fast, and we know that our PitchKnives readers can do better than just a ho-hum Frankfurter on the grill. So send us your recipes for your favorite Independence Food and tell us why you think it’s patriotic. Is it red, white and blue? Is it a favorite dish of one of our forefathers? Does it remind you of amber waves of grain? Write to us at and tell us all about it. And don’t forget the photos to document your genius!

We’ll feature some of our favorite submissions here next week, so prepare yourself for the tastiest Fourth of July yet.