Category Archives: Organic Valley

Would You Like a Little Wood Pulp with Your Pizza?

You wouldn’t normally sprinkle sawdust on your pizza. But what if it’s on the packaged grated cheese you use when you top off the sauce?

That doesn’t sound particularly appealing. But it turns out, it’s pretty common. Lots of companieseven some of the organic onessell pre-grated cheese in a plastic bag or tub that’s been dusted with something called “cellulose” to help keep the cheese dry and fluffy so it won’t clump together.

That cellulose, which is basically plant fiber, can be derivedfrom different kinds of plant materials, but the most common is wood pulp. Manufacturers grind up the wood, extract the cellulosic fibersthe saw dust, if you willand add it to the cheese.

This isn’t a particularly new practice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration signed off on using cellulose to keep cheese loose in part because they say that the fiber passes through our stomachs and intestines without being absorbed.

However, now the FDA is investigating manufacturers who claim their product is, for example, “100% Parmesan Cheese” because it probably contains wood-based cellulose.

“Organic Valley does use cellulose in our shredded cheeses,” Elizabeth Horton of Organic Valley, told National Public Radio. “It’s a pretty standard anti-caking agent” that helps prevent the bits of cheese from clumping together. So does Lucerne. I have a package of grated Lucerne Parmesan cheese in my refrigerator, and the words “powdered cellulose” are clearly listed with the other ingredients.

Jon Bodner, who works for a company that provides cellulose to food companies, says that the cellulose isn’t really saw dust. But he acknowledges that the industry is looking for cellulose sources that come from plant foods, like corn stalks, leaves and husks or even sugar beets, rather than wood.

One problem that could arise in the event that non-wood plant crops are used to produce cellulose is that they could come from GMO plants. Consumers don’t seem to want to consume GMO-tainted foods, so adding GMO-derived cellulose to the cheese would probably not be too popular.

At least on my packaged cheese, the powdered cellulose was the second-to-last ingredient on the package, so the amount of dust is not huge.

But all things considered, I’d much prefer to eat just cheese without any cellulose added.

It’s easy enough to grate my own cheese when I need it, either using a metal hand-held grater or the grating attachment on my food processor.

There are threeother benefits of grating my own cheese.

First, it will be fresher. A regular brick of cheese usually expires long before packaged cheese. Why not grate your own for a fresher, more delicious taste?

Second, I can avoid the excess plastic packaging that grated cheese comes in if I grate my own. At my grocery store, grated cheese comes either in a plastic bag or in a plastic tub. Either way, that’s more plastic to have to throw away and add to the growing problem of plastic build up in the environment.

Third, buying non-grated cheese is usually cheaper than buying the grated stuff because you’re not paying for the packaging or the energy and labor costs of grating the cheese at a factory.

Here on out, I plan to buy bricks of cheese at my deli counter. Have them wrap them in butcher paper or even put them in a container I bring from home. That way I still get fresh cheese, but skip the plastic trash.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Would You Like a Little Wood Pulp with Your Pizza?

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What Does "Cage-Free" Even Mean?

Mother Jones

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What kind of farm do you imagine when you think of organic or cage-free eggs? Images of hens frolicking in lush meadows?

That kind of farming exists, but such conditions aren’t mandated by organic code—not explicitly anyway. According to the USDA regulations, animals raised organically have “year-round access … to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight, suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment.” Those rules are open to a wide variety of interpretations.,

Ten times over the course of a year and a half, under cover of night,a group of radical animal-rights activists snuck into the facilities of a large operation called Petaluma Farms, a major west-coast major supplier to Whole Foods and Organic Valley, according to The New York Times. The Petaluma egg complex produces both certified-organic and non-organic “cage free” eggs, the main difference between the two standards being that organic eggs must come from hens fed only organic feed.

The group, Direct Action Everywhere, seems to find all animal farming abhorrent—a point driven home in the video’s first third, wherein several group members denounce the killing of animals. Later, footage taken from within the Petaluma facilities shows lots of birds wallowing tightly together, often amidst what looks like significant buildup of their own waste. The narrators use words like “stench, ” “filth,” and “misery” to describe the scene; and show several birds in obvious bad health—birds with blisters, missing feathers, one clearly caked with shit—along with birds that appear to be in decent shape. The crew dramatically rescues one pathetically injured bird, handing her over the fence, one activist to another, and whisking her to a vet in Berkeley, who declares her in dismal shape.

In a media statement, Petaluma owners Judy and Steve Mahrt wrote that “The video in no way reflects our practices or the overall health of our flocks.” As for outside access, the statement adds the company maintains “sun porches for outdoor access while protecting from predators and disease.” All the filming in the video akes place at night, when most domesticated chickens go inside, anyway. So the video doesn’t tell us anything about the birds’ outdoor access.

Pressed for details, the company referred me to the below video. At about the 2:38 mark, there’s a depiction of one such sun porch—it’s a raised, triangular space jutting off the side of the building, made of chicken wire. By the company’s own admission, then, the birds never touch the ground outside—their “outdoor access” seems to conform to the letter of organic code, if not the spirit of organic farming conjured in the heads of consumers.

This is not Petaluma’s first PR problem. Michael Pollan famously used it as an example of industrial-organic farming in Omnivore’s Dilemma, observing that its meat-poultry buildings “don’t resemble a farm so much as a barracks,” and that the birds were conditioned to never make use of their access to outdoors. As for the company’s egg operation, Judy’s Family Farm, Pollan never got a look: “The company was too concerned about biosecurity to let a visitor get past the office.”

Last year, Petaluma settled a lawsuit brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund over the depiction of the lives of its hens on its packaging. As part of the agreement, in which Petaluma did not admit to wrongdoing, the company agreed to modify its egg cartons “by removing the illustration of hens on a green field and removing the language that Plaintiff alleged could lead consumers to mistakenly believe the eggs come from hens with significant outdoor access.” Previously, the inside of the cartons claimed that “these hens are raised in wide-open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to roam, scratch, and play.”

A “sun porch” at a Petaluma Farms facility—the “access to outdoors” required by organic code. Screenshot from the video, above, provided by Petaluma Farms

So what’s to be taken away from the Direct Action Everywhere video? I see it as an important but problematic look behind the veil of what Pollan has deemed “supermarket pastoral”—the gauze of marketing that cloaks the often-harsh realities of large-scale organic farming.

Yet compared to the vast Iowa facilities that triggered a half-billion-egg salmonella recall in 2010 (the Food and Drug Administration’s stomach-turning post-outbreak inspection report can be found here), the Petaluma houses captured on tape by Direct Action Everywhere actually look pretty good. When you confine thousands of birds into a building and manage several buildings, problems like the ones caught on take by DAE are going to arise. I’d feel better about Petaluma if it represented standard practice for industrial egg production, and not the rarefied status implied by organic certification.

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What Does "Cage-Free" Even Mean?

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Tom’s Kitchen: Farmhouse-Style Roasted Potato and Egg Scramble

Mother Jones

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In the years I spent working on a small organic farm in North Carolina, we’d often spend the wee hours of the morning harvesting a variety of vegetables. One of my favorite crops to pick was potatoes, which required a kind of subterranean treasure hunt. One of us would plunge a pitchfork into the earth and upturn a potato plant, and another, on hands and knees, would quickly snatch the dirt-caked orbs dangling from the roots and place them in a bucket.

Occasionally, a potato would get “speared”—unintentionally stabbed by the fork—making it unmarketable. We’d separate them out, and march them into the kitchen for a post-harvest “second breakfast” of potatoes, just-laid eggs, and any other vegetables on hand. Early-morning harvests generated a fierce hunger, and nothing satisfied it quite like these just-dug treasures roasted in a hot oven—sweet, creamy, and sumptuous, justifying their name in French: pomme de terre, or apple of the earth.

Now when I go the the farmers market, I can never resist “new” potatoes, which are just potatoes that haven’t been stored long. Recently, at the stand of an excellent Austin farm called Green Gate, I spied some purple potatoes—which are not only rich in health-giving phytochemicals, but also deliver an extra dose of earthy flavor. I grabbed a couple handfuls, came home, and tried to recapture that farmhouse magic.

Note: You can omit the eggs and just use the below recipe as a guide for roasting potatoes.

Farmhouse-Style Roasted Potato and Egg Scramble
Serves two

About .75 pounds new potatoes, preferably blue or purple, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil
Sea salt
1-2 shallots, minced
3-4 eggs from pastured chickens
A few slices of decent cheese—I used Organic Valley “Grassmilk” raw cheddar
Some coarsely chopped herbs, for garnish. (I used cilantro, but parsley, chives, and even arugula would all work great.)

Adjust your oven’s top rack to between 6-8 inches below the broiler (you’ll be finishing the potatoes under the broiler). Turn the oven to 400 degrees F and insert a large cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed, over-proof skillet. Your going to want to cover it, so find an oven-proof cover that will work with the pan before proceeding.

Dab the chopped potatoes dry with a towel. When the oven comes to temperature, remove the skillet. Proceed with caution: It will be blisteringly hot. Add enough oil to cover the bottom, and drop in the potatoes along with a good pinch of salt. Using a spatula, toss the potatoes around in the pan until they are well-coated in oil. Cover the skillet and return it to the oven. The cover will help the potatoes cook faster by essentially steaming them in their own moisture.

While the potatoes are cooking, crack the eggs into a bowl, along with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, and whisk them together with a fork until the yolks and whites are just combined.

Check the potatoes every ten minutes or so by plunging a fork into one of the larger pieces. When the fork penetrates easily, it’s time to remove the skillet’s cover, turn off the oven’s bake function, and turn the broiler on to its highest setting. Place the skillet under the broiler and cooking, checking often, until they’re brown and crisp on one side. Flip them with a spatula, and brown/crisp them on the other. Remove the skillet, placing it on the stove top. Turn off the broiler and shut the oven door.

Add the chopped shallots to the pan along with a small glug of oil, tossing it all with a spatula. The pan will still be sizzling hot, and will cook the shallots. When the sizzling has calmed down, turn the heat to low and carefully pour the mixed eggs over the potatoes, covering the skillet bottom with the eggs. When the edges have set, flip the eggs with a spatula. Lay the cheese slices onto the eggs, and return the skillet to the still-hot oven until the cheese has just melted—a couple of minutes.

Serve with a green salad, toast, and white wine for dinner, or tortillas and coffee for breakfast.

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Tom’s Kitchen: Farmhouse-Style Roasted Potato and Egg Scramble

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