Sky Full of Bacon

In this Sky Full of Bacon video produced for the Good Food Festival, I visit an organic farm in Michigan to see how they’ve made connections through the festival— and why farming matters, to them and to us. (13:44)

Chicago’s Good Food Festival, now in its 10th year, connects food producers with investors, advisers, sellers and customers. I visit Big Head Farm, an organic blueberry farm in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and talk to farmers Karen and Jody Warner about how the festival has helped them make connections and grow— and why they chose the life of a farmer in the first place. (13:44)

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The Green City Market opened at its outdoor location Saturday with the relief of somebody busting open the windows for the first time in months. Sometimes I have to drag my sons to it but this time they seemed eager to go— a chance to taste old favorites they haven’t had for months. I also told them that if they wanted to bring their cameras, I’d post their pictures, and so, when their hands weren’t full of food, they snapped away, Myles the 14-year-old with his Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, Liam the 11-year-old with a brand new Canon Elph 330 I picked up as a new pocket camera (I have a DSLR for my better photos, but it’s always useful to have a little one to carry around, too). Anyway, here’s what they chose to look at at the market, which was pretty well picked over by the time we got there around 10:30.

Credit: Liam.

Credit: Liam.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Liam.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Myles.

Liam waits for his zeppole. Credit: Myles.

All out of hand pies at Hoosier Mama. Credit: Liam.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Liam.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Myles.

Credit: Liam.

Credit: Liam.

The standard argument for industrial agriculture is that we have no choice— organic can’t feed everybody. In this Sky Full of Bacon podcast we meet Gary Zimmer, a Wisconsin-based farmer, dairy nutritionist and author who’s spent 25 years building a movement that proves this isn’t so— and that a more natural form of farming can be more profitable for farmers (because they spend less to grow it) and even outperform industrial agriculture in sheer quantity. Not to mention, the end result is some pretty awesome and unique cheese. If you want to know more about what’s going on behind your local farmers’ market, this video reveals one side of that world. (21:45)


Bartlett Durand, who is Gary Zimmer’s son-in-law and owns Black Earth Meats, was also in the last Sky Full of Bacon podcast, The Butcher’s Karma.

Gary Zimmer’s books are here and here. Otter Creek Farms is here. Midwestern Bio-Ag is here.

I met Gary Zimmer and Bartlett Durand on this trip, and Bartlett again here, but even before then, I liked their cheese a lot. As that notes, you can find Otter Creek cheeses at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market and Provenance.

I haven’t been anywhere worthy of a post on its own, but I have little fragments of semi-interesting things piling up, so… EVERYTHING MUST GO! We’re clearing out the inventory!

* * *

Would you like a free box of our organic produce? emailed a company called Door To Door Organics. Sure, said I:

The stuff was very pretty, almost too perfect for farmer’s market stuff. Maybe they just prettied my box up because they hoped I’d take pictures. (UPDATE: they say no, they’re all this gorgeous!) Anyway, nice looking and tasting stuff, and I think the quantity I got was a “Bitty Local Farm Box” which goes for $26.99. That strikes me as on the high side given what was in it (seen below, plus there was some parsley and kale), but I may be deluding myself about what the same quantity would cost at Whole Foods— that’s surely a $4 box of tomatoes, $4 worth of peppers, etc. at yuppieville retail prices. (The two small ears of corn were kind of silly, given that that’s probably the cheapest thing in the box at the moment.) I feel like you could beat this price with an individual farmer’s CSA by a good ways, but I have a feeling they’re doing more active management of what you get, so you’d get more consistently useful boxes than some of the ones I got from Genesis last year when I did their CSA. So for the right person, this seems to be the right service.

I’ve done a few things with several of the things I got, like poking garlic all over the eggplant and tossing it on the grill to make baba ghanoush as an appetizer for my wife’s birthday dinner:

So anyway, seems like a good addition to the organic food delivery scene, and if you’re interested, I have two offers. “Bacon2011” is a promo code that will get you $10 off an order; and I have the awesome power to award a freebie box to the first person to comment that they want it in the comments on this post. UPDATE: THE BOX IS SPOKEN FOR Go for it!

* * *

SKY FULL OF BACON EXCLUSIVE MUST CREDIT: I learned, this weekend, the followup to the infamous Paris Club stinky barn smell story. So far as I know this hasn’t been reported anywhere.

As you may recall, Paris Club, the hot new Sons of Melman place in the old Brasserie Jo space, was reported to smell like manure… sometimes; it was supposedly because the recycled wood in the place came from a barn. Mike Sula sensed a vast conspiracy on the part of people attending a VIP preview to cover up the stench, but others questioned whether it was there all the time, or only under certain circumstances (David Hammond and I walked through at 10pm and didn’t smell it), or existed at all.

Here’s what I was told. First off, the wood didn’t come from a barn at all, but from a factory, I was told. Nevertheless the recycled wood was a suspect at first and various things were tried, such as cranking the heat up as high as it would go to see if they could bake the smell out.

But then suspicion shifted to the venting from the toilets. (Which is no doubt why they didn’t send out a press release announcing the solution of the problem, even though I’m sure this kind of post-opening emergency fixer-upping is more common than we know.) They came to this conclusion for the very logical reason that the smell tended to appear only during a certain window of time— apparently after enough people were there to have used the toilets sufficiently, but not so many that the smell of people, perfume and dinner being served proved stronger. In the end, they expensively ripped open the walls and rebuilt some of the ventilation system, and the “barn” smell went away… leaving only the scent of Axe and desperation, I’m sure.

* * *

Why, when I’m making appetizers for two different parties, do I add to my workload by insisting on canning some beets along the way? Because I had the beets, dammit. And besides, just think of the time I’d save using the hot water from the canning afterwards to loose the skins on some tomatoes for bruschetta. Yeah, right.

Anyway, I was making something for the LTHForum picnic out of David Thompson’s new Thai food cookbook, Thai Street Food. It’s a big gorgeous book but I have to say, as a practical cookbook, I’m having some trouble. Things have always worked out in the end, based on some winging it and the fact that even bastardized, winged Thai food is better than most things. But the things that seem easy for him to find and do, are not easy for the casual reader.

One thing that I’ve learned has tripped up better cooks than me is a common ingredient in the recipes— coriander root. In theory, this should exist, since coriander is cilantro and plenty of cilantro is sold around here, so how far away can the roots be? Ah, but it’s one thing to buy cilantro from a farmer and another to convince him to rip his plant out for you. Only one chef has managed that for authentic Thai recipes, Grant Achatz…

…except he’s not the only one, as Jason Vincent of Nightwood explained bemusedly; he’s been buying it from the same place, City Farm, for a while and is bemusedly irritated to keep reading that only Achatz can manage the trick. Anyway, we talked about this a bit at the Key Ingredient shoot and he offered to give me some but I forgot about it by the time we left. (We = my kids, who were tagging along, and amusing themselves during the shoot by filling up my phone with photos of Jason Vincent’s baby.)

So I just used the lower stems of coriander. Anyway, looking through Thai Street Food for a cool thing to make for the LTHForum picnic (needless to say, a high stakes event where I have a reputation to protect), I found a recipe for cured, deep-fried pork, using the cartilaginous end pieces of the rib…

…or as we call them in Chicago, the rib tips. Which have been on my mind a fair amount lately.

Suddenly I had an idea out of another cookbook entirely. Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Cookbook is full of jokey dishes that look like one thing and taste like another. Here was my chance to make something called “rib tips and sauce”— which wouldn’t be barbecued, and would taste more like Chiang Mai than Chattanooga. You start by mixing sticky rice, salt and garlic in a mortar and pestle:

Well, here was problem number one. The idea is that you pound the salty-garlicky rice into a paste, and cover the pork with it so perfectly that it is sealed up inside it, no air, and you can set it out in the hot sun for a few days (!) to get nice and funky but not spoil. Yeah, okay. But don’t pound the rice so much that you make it glutinously tough! And that was where I ran into trouble— I couldn’t get it to make a paste, but it already seemed like it was toughening up. So I abandoned plan A and went for plan B— coat the pork in the stuff and leave it in the fridge for most of the week. It might not get the full funk, but it would at least cure.

Then I had to make my own version of the dipping sauce common with things like Thai fried chicken. I roasted chilis, garlic and shallots (for which I’d fortunately paid Argyle street prices):

Another snag: my supposed seedless tamarind paste from Argyle street turned out to be, at best, “partly deseeded.” After spending entirely too much time pushing seeds out of it, I went to Patel Bros. on Devon and bought a jar of liquid tamarind goo. Which was probably much more concentrated, because the stuff was puckeringly sour when I first mixed it up. But I added a bunch of honey, and some more chilis and garlic, and in time, I had a pretty good imitation of Spoon’s version of the same sauce. I fried up the rib tips, and then it was time to assemble my dish with the thing that truly made it Chicago rib tips…

a little piece of white bread underneath the rib, soaking up the sauce.

* * *

Something I learned at the LTH picnic, may be a hitherto unknown factoid for all I know: the reason Mario’s on Taylor Street, the legendary Italian lemonade joint, closes a week or two after Labor Day isn’t just that the season is over then. But Mario, the dad who started it, apparently keeled over while making the lemonade one day, a September 16th as a matter of fact. And so his widow decided, from then on, to honor his memory by closing down after the weekend closest to that day.

Mario’s has peach– for a very few days before closing in memoriam Mario for this year. I’ve been skeptical about it in the past— they tend to make peach when peaches get cheap, regardless of whether they’re much good or not— but this year peaches have been great, so I have hope. Go get you some!

And if you haven’t seen:

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Saturday I took my kids to the newly-paved Green City Market (oh, they paved Green City and put up a lot of arugula). There’s a tamale stand this year which I’ve wanted to try, but it’s usually had a long line attached to it.  For once, though, it was almost clear— probably because it wasn’t even 10:00 yet and it didn’t really seem the hour for a spicy pork or brisket tamale. But scanning the menu, there was a strawberry-mint tamale at the bottom. Especially for my youngest son, I knew this would go over well, as he’s been known to eat them at the best traditional tamale spot I know of, Tamales Lo Mejor de Guerrero in Rogers Park.

There was also something else of note on the sign: a six with a dollar sign in front of it. Could these really be six bucks apiece? The woman in front of us was getting a whole bundle of them, and it seemed unlikely she was buying a good $48 or more worth of tamales. Tamales are plebeian food, sold in batches of 50 at Christmastime— and not for $300. I placed my order— and sure enough, got a single pink tamale for $6.

Okay, so it’s a really good tamale. Less so for the basic ingredients of the tamale, corn masa and lard, than the freshness of real strawberry and mint worked into it. Setting price aside, it was an absolute pleasure to eat. But even someone like me, who walks into Green City scattering $20 bills to the wind for his weekly green vegetables, cannot entirely set price aside. Late that night, I tweeted what had been floating around the verge of my consciousness all day:

140 characters is no place to expect subtleties to come through, but I don’t think this was entirely condemnatory. It was, instead, the honest admission that there were two voices in my head, one of which said, “Mmm, what a nice organic artisanal sustainable tamale” and the other of which said “Six dollars for one tamale?!? You foodies are freakin’ nuts!”

I very quickly got back some responses— mainly from other vendors at the market— defending the price of the tamale as justified by what goes into it:

@skyfullofbacon fortunately not everything is mass produced- investigate making fresh masa with great local ingredients. $6 is a bargain.

Hey, I didn’t just fall off the organic turnip truck, I know how the market is and I believe that that $6 is a proportional reflection of ingredient cost like any other food item. (Admittedly, using the term “sucker” would tend to belie that.) But still, $6 for a tamale… I sent this response:

is there any price at which you wouldn’t feel a little silly buying a tamale?

and got this back:

@skyfullofbacon id feel silly thinking I got a bargain on a $1 tamale that was made with crap ingredients and crisco.

A fair answer but not a direct one, and one that points to another problem I have, which is that if you get too doctrinaire about only eating artisanal/organic/whatever, you’re not even going to know what a tamale is, because you’ll never explore our ethnic scene where authentic recipes and industrial products are inextricably entwined.  In other words, nobody’s going to appreciate a $6 tamale without getting there via a $1.50 one, is my belief.

So who’s right here?  I honestly am confused about what I think, and value.  I’m all for upgrading ingredients and patronizing the good stuff, but maybe it’s just that I don’t value tamales as much as I do BBQ or pie or whatever, so the price difference sticks out to me more.  (To judge by the lines, other people do value them, so they don’t really need to worry about me.)  What do you think?  Would you pay $6 for this tamale— and even consider it cheap given the quality?  Or does it seem preposterous to pay that for such peasant food?  I would love to hear your responses in the comments below.

*  *  *

So on my way out I stopped by T.J.’s, who sell poultry and meats.  There was a question I couldn’t resist asking Tim, the farmer, after having eaten at NoMi a couple of weeks ago.  “Do you know about the $75 T.J.’s chicken at NoMi?”

He did not know about it, and at first didn’t even realize that NoMi was buying from him (aha! Scandal!) until he realized that it was the same account as the Park Hyatt, to whom he sells a number of things, whole chickens included.  “Have you had it? Was it good?” he asked.  I explained that it was sous-vide cooked to a velvety tenderness that was, indeed, pretty wonderful, and that given the price of the other entrees in the $30-40 range, the chicken for two was not wildly out of line pricewise.  That said, he told me his favorite way to cook a chicken was to grill it, dusted with Lawry’s seasoned salt and basted with garlic butter.

“Well, I guess I better get myself one of those $75 chickens and try it out,” I said.  He pulled out a massive, almost five-pounder, and told me the price.  I gave him $16.75.

“I’m not charging enough,” he said.

Read the followup to this saga here.

*  *  *

$3 doughnut.

$75 chickens and $6 tamales, it’s time to round up this quarter’s list of the best things I’ve eaten at any price, while you still have time to try them for yourself.  To see previous installments, click on “Best Things I’ve Eaten Lately” under Categories at right.  (And as before, Key Ingredient dishes don’t count.)

• Grilled meats from Assayad, Dearborn MI
• Twig Farm Fuzzy Wheel, and La Quercia Acorn Edition prosciutto, from Zingerman’s
• The soups at Mike’s Famous Ham Place, Detroit
• Pasta with bottarga, and snap peas with mint at Lupa, NYC
• Doughnut from Doughnut Plant
• Dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling
• All kinds of things lost in alcoholic haze at Yakitori Totto
• Grilled short ribs, Bento Box
• Ojinguh bokkum (stir fried squid), Hal Mae Bo Ssam (Morton Grove)
• Ramen at Chizakaya
• Any soup they make at Butcher & Larder
• $75 chicken at NoMi
• Sweet potato pie, Jimmy Jamm’s
• Northeastern strawberries from Nichols Farms
• A nice tortellini or ravioli something or other I can’t remember exactly now from Owen & Engine
• Goat biryani, Ghareeb Nawaz
• Spinach and kale and Chicken balti pies at Pleasant House Bakery
• Riccio di Mare e Granchio at Davanti Enoteca
• Oysters and clam chowder at GT Fish & Oyster Bar
• $6 strawberry tamale at Green City Market

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After Swine Management 101, our next pig-season adventure also began with a long drive into farm country, but this time south to Buckingham, Illinois, and in the bright daylight of Sunday morning. It was a sudden, wrenching shift from the broad expressway to the perfectly straight and narrow country road that took us ten miles on a grid of farmland to, suddenly, J Farm. Our purpose: Meet Your Pig.

Or at least, play with the piglets, one of whom might be our pig. We will buy a pig at auction, sometime in April, but for now it’s just a matter of the kids getting familiar with the kind of animal they’ll be responsible for.

There were two kinds here; the pink or pink and black ones are cross-breeds, while there were also reddish-brown ones that were Durocs. As a foodie, I’d go Duroc, but then we won’t be eating our pig anyway, so my desires for that kind of meat (assuming I’d still want it by the end of the process, and wouldn’t have gotten too sentimental to eat it myself, which I’d say there’s only about a 98% chance of) don’t really matter. Our program leader, Julie, made a couple of strong pitches for the cross-breeds as being a sounder choice for 4-H competition, so I expect that’s what we’ll go for. (At other county fairs, there are separate categories for purebreds and cross-breeds, so it’s worth raising the former and showing and auctioning them; but there’s not enough pig production in Lake County to justify that.)

The kids had an hour or so of sheer kid-piglet delight. The pigs, though skittish about the large humans moving about their pens, were insatiably curious, and took to chewing at shoelaces. What in a pig’s diet resembles a shoelace, I wonder? The farmer’s wife had a new baby in her arms and a toddler girl, who moved among these animals only slightly smaller than herself as if every human naturally grows up among a herd of little pink piggies. Which, not that long ago, they pretty much did. When she was done with pigs, she turned to the first adult she saw, and asked me to be airlifted out of the pen.

Then we drove about a mile to another farm in the Foltz family— to see the adults from whom these piglets issued. It’s not like I haven’t seen pigs before, but it was kind of a shock after our piglet interlude to be reminded just how massive and alien fully grown pigs can be. Weighing six or seven hundred pounds each, huge, brute and powerful, going from the piglets to these pigs was like going from a hamster to a hippo.

And where the only danger the piglets posed was to shoelaces, here we were reminded that fingers were best kept well out of snacking range. There was nothing hostile about these pigs, but just their size sent a signal of menace to the deepest parts of the brain. Now I’m curious, when will the moment come when my sons’ attitude toward their pig shifts from the adorable playfulness of this day with the piglets to the determined control a farmer needs to have to manage an animal of this size? When will the idea of selling this creature for meat seem natural, as it certainly didn’t as we played with the pigs today?

Here’s a video of the kids, including Liam, playing with the piglets. It’s not edited and nothing really happens in it. It’s just kids and piglets. Enjoy.

The Family Farmed Expo is a kind of trade show for better farming and eating. I came mainly for this panel discussion, which was like a Sky Full of Bacon reunion— since it starred Paul Kahan of Blackbird et al. (There Will Be Pork), Herb Eckhouse of La Quercia (Prosciutto di Iowa), Rob Levitt of The Butcher & Larder (A Head’s Tale) and Bartlett Durand of Black Earth Meats in Wisconsin (see this post), moderated by Ellen Malloy (see here). They had a lot of interesting things to say about the meat system and how and why they’re doing things to encourage better meat production and filling in the distribution gap to make things available to the consumer. One point they all seemed to agree on: eat less of chewier, but more flavorful, cuts of meat and you’ll not only have better tasting meat and be healthier, but be more respectful toward the animal and the environment.

“I was hoping I could get through this whole thing without having to speak,” Paul Kahan began his first comment. (He’s no fan of public appearances; when I shot the video three years ago, he talked about how he’d turned Iron Chef down, and later he told me that he also turned down being on Key Ingredient. We’ve arrived!) Anyway, what he did have to say was one of the most interesting bits of new news for me, which is, that the new butcher shop they’re opening next to the Publican is really designed to increase the number of new farmers selling naturally-raised meat in the city to the restaurant trade, by creating a channel of distribution to the public that also will showcase them for the restaurant community and help them grow a customer base among chefs quickly, making it more obviously attractive for them to target this market. Durand said that one problem for farmers is that restaurants will like their stuff so much they’ll overwhelm a single farmer (as was talked about in my video with Mark Mendez and Dave Cleverdon), and this is Kahan’s solution to broaden the pool of farmers selling quality meats beyond the few names like Dietzler or Slagel every restaurant-goer in Chicago has come to know.

Afterwards several of us (if I may use “us” presumptuously) went to the Publican for a party-slash-video shoot. Gastrotommy, a site which seeks out high quality food and wine deals and offers them to its members, and features video interviews about both the products and the world of food and wine more generally, was shooting Herb Eckhouse and Paul Kahan carving a bone-in La Quercia ham in an authentic Spanish-style ham torture device thing:

Kathy Eckhouse with ham.

What the heck do I do with this?

That is Gastrotommy at far right.

This Kahan kid has promise!

They cut little flakes of ham for something like two hours for a couple of dozen people, and only really cut off a chunk the size of a piece of pie. Is there anything on earth that packs so much meaty satisfaction into so little meat as La Quercia prosciutto? It was a great illustration of the earlier session’s point.

After a fine afternoon tasting wine, noshing prosciutto and a pork pie from The Publican, and chatting about ham production with the Eckhouses and video production with the Gastrotommy folks, I tagged along as the Eckhouses got VIP treatment at Big Star. We all felt very, very old there, but at least you can say if the kids of today are eating Paul Kahan’s idea of good meat on Saturday night at hipster taco and beer joints, there’s hope for the future.

Kathy texting their son, who was denied entrance to Big Star the last time he came to Chicago with them because he was underage.

To answer the two obvious questions: the lambs wear the “lamb tube” to keep them clean for judging and to keep flies off; and the two birds with Phyllis Diller hair are some sort of exotic chicken breed.  The other kids were calling them “hippie chickens” but Myles, with his exhaustive knowledge of 40s Warner Bros. cartoons, prefers “Maestro Chickens” (for the way classical music conductors are usually drawn with a big mop of white hair).

Myles and his first lamb, Triskaidekaphobia, in 2008.

I was talking to the restaurant publicist Ellen Malloy the other night at the debut of Chuck Sudo’s Goose Island beer, and of course the Lollapalooza kerfuffle came up (I mention this in part to get out of the way the fact that I will have a guest column at RIA Unplugged about that today). And one thing I said was that part of what I like about food as a journalistic subject is… you don’t have to take it so seriously. It’s just food, not politics or something.

But, of course, food isn’t just food, and sometimes it actually is politics. And sometimes those politics strike close to the heart of a parent with two sons doing 4-H. I wouldn’t have thought that that would be one of the more controversial aspects of my life, the fact that my kids go do farm chores a couple of times a week up at Wagner Farm in Glenview, but that’s exactly what it proved to be twice during the last week.

The first thing was an article I saw a link to, about how colleges allegedly discriminate against lower-income whites, Asians, etc. Frankly the article was kind of rightwing-screedy and not entirely convincing, but the interesting nugget in it was a reference to a study that seemed much more solid, and a few days later Ross Douthat wrote about that in a more credible fashion at the New York Times:

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities…

…cultural biases seem to be at work as well. Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”

It will be grimly ironic indeed if my kids, raised on a street where lesbian moms come close to outnumbering two-heterosexual-parent households and no Prius is complete without its Obama sticker, who go to the hippie school and have a stay-at-home Dad who lives in his own weirdly erudite world of obscure silent movies and ethnic food, can’t get into Snootmore because they mistake us for 1950s Mormons.

I’m not going to touch the more partisan political implications of all this red state-vs.-blue state anger and paranoia, but let’s just say that nothing I’ve learned about food over the last several years makes me the least bit surprised that 2010’s movers and shakers get freaked out by the thought of actually having farmers’ kids walking among them, even as they ooh and goosh over the produce at their farmer’s market every Saturday morning. As Mark Mendez says in my latest video, people are so disconnected from where our food comes from, from the whole culture that produces food. Go back four generations in almost anyone’s family and you’ll hit a farmer, but we who buy denuded squares of meat in yellow styrofoam trays and expect to be able to buy cherries and asparagus for Christmas dinner are pretty much completely alienated from anything resembling natural reality. We can tolerate a lot, but raising animals to feed people— that’s the one alternative lifestyle that’s just too, too strange.

And that alienation has to have some effect on us as a society; politicians who grow up believing that you can just order anything to happen are going to look at the world differently from those who grow up acutely aware that whatever Man plants, Nature will do what She pleases about it. I’m not saying a few years of planting tomatoes only to see the squirrels ravage them would have turned Rod Blagojevich into Thomas Jefferson, but it might have taught him at least a few valuable lessons about the limits of human vanity.

So from an early age I’ve tried to get my kids involved with the natural world. And they themselves chose to do 4-H; Myles, my 11-year-old, is now in his third year of raising a lamb, and my 8-year-old, Liam, has joined him at it. I’ve never done a full video project about that experience, because it’s just too hard to do that and be a parent of a kid in the program at the same time, but you can get something of the flavor of their experience from two videos I made the first year, the one at the top and this one:

I feel they’re learning important things about responsibility, about leadership, about presentation skills, about caring for animals, about the natural world, about working with others collaboratively, about all kinds of things that you’d think would be valuable at Snootmore and in life. And if Old Snootie doesn’t want that, well, I don’t consider that a damning comment on my children’s values, let’s put it that way.

* * *

But then I learned that I wasn’t making the Jeffersons of tomorrow, oh no. I was cruelly breeding heartless psychopaths!

Two articles about the 4-H activities at Wagner Farm in Glenview, and the Lake County Fair next weekend (where they’ll show their animals and then auction them off) appeared in an online citizens-media offshoot of the Tribune, Trib Local. One is my friend Cathy Lambrecht’s real-world account. The other, which appears to have since been deleted (possibly because it related to a specific protest Saturday morning— um, that’s really fostering citizen media there Trib Local, deleting active, popular stories), reported on/advocated for efforts by some animal rights organization to get/force Wagner Farm and the Glenview Clovers 4-H club to free the livestock and turn them over to some supposed “animal sanctuary.” Despite differing starting points, both pieces were quickly overrun by comments of the same vegetarian/stop-the-cruelty bent. The latter piece was simply riddled with misconceptions and sensationalized falsehoods:

“The children and their families think that the Wagner Farm animals live out their entire lives on the farm,” said Garrett. “We doubt that the 4H children, let alone the Glenview community, have any knowledge of [their animals being slaughtered].”

Of course, asking a parent in the program would have immediately exposed the absurdity of this claim. The program is about raising livestock, and with many rural kids in the program, no kid is in doubt about what that means. For my part, before we let Myles enter the program, we had a long talk about what would happen to his animal at the end, and he understood and accepted that. Here he is last year, talking about it:

I think that’s a kid who has thought seriously about the issues, and still is. There’s nothing blind, deluded, or unthinking about his involvement in the program.

In true internet fashion, teh real crazy comes out in the comments. Really, by allowing my kids to learn where their food comes from, I’m doing something that proves I’m an unfit parent:

4-H teaches kids to harden their hearts, to overcome their natural empathy toward animals, to become inured to inflicting violence and death on the innocent. What a terrible thing to do to chilldren, and to animals.

This does not make “enlightened” kids – It makes hardened, numb kids that grow up to be hardened, numb adults, that continue the sad and vicious cycle on their own kids as well

Where does this sort of behavior lead us?

Killing, wars, and violence toward other, that’s where!

It’s only possible to view ordinary farming— actually, rather better than ordinary farming on any measure of humane treatment and ethics toward animals and the planet— as such an alien, violently atavistic practice if you’re already completely alienated from any reality that has to do with where your food comes from and who makes it for you.

So I invite you to do what my kids have done: become less alienated from your food. Meet the 4-H kids for yourself, talk to them about their experiences, have a good old-fashioned time at the Lake County Fair. The fair’s website is here; the auction will be Saturday at 1, but the animals should still be at the fairgrounds till Sunday evening, I believe. There are rides and corndogs and all kinds of old-timey fun.

Oh, and if you want to follow Michelle Hays’ advice:

the poster on the vegetarian article is asking people to write to the Glenview Park District to remove the program from Wagner Farm and to take the animals to a “sanctuary.” I followed the link and did the opposite.

Here’s where you can weigh in.

I was trying to explain to my wife what the Green City Market BBQ was like and after several analogies of varying effectiveness, I finally said “It’s like the food prom.” Which is about as good a way as any to describe what happens when all these chefs come out, their food duded to the nines, for an awesome summer party. This year they raised the prices‚ doubled them in fact, and still not only sold out (though it took to the last day this time) but seemed to pack this section of Lincoln Park more fully than last year. (Disclosure: my wife and I went on press passes.)

It’s a great event, besides supporting the city’s most influential farmer’s market, the one that does the most in establishing connections between chefs and farmers (hey, somebody ought to make a video about that), it’s a fantastic buffet of mostly astoundingly superior food, nearly every dish of which makes some use of things available at the market. Why can’t they set up something like this every Thursday during Happy Hour, and serve food of this caliber each week? Because then, what would we have to look forward to in eternity.

My first stop, mainly because they were near the entrance, was Mado. True to their reputation for aggressively whole animal cooking, their dish was barbecued beef heart, in a chipotle-ish sauce. Rob Levitt admitted he didn’t expect it to be hugely popular, but when we checked back toward the end, he was happy to tell us it was all gone.

One of the great reasons to go, of course, is to try food from chefs you don’t know if you want to go pay for a full dinner from. I ripped into Andrew Zimmerman pretty good when he was at Del Toro (and Rob Levitt was one of his cooks), but he’s at Sepia now, and this pulled duck sandwich with duck skin cracklins was mighty tasty, one of my top three for the night, and enough to make me want to check that place out again under his command.

Phillip Foss of Lockwood was serving up a sample of the kind of thing he might do in a food truck if the ordinance ever passes. It was a sloppy joe served on his Israeli-born wife’s recipe for a kind of puffy bread:

Here’s someone from NoMi making beer can chicken:

I’m not sure who was responsible for this out of the BOKA Group restaurants, since four of them including The Girl & The Goat were credited, but these two came off the grill just as we walked by and so we grabbed them. Pork belly skewers with cherry tomato and grilled melon, another of my top three, simple and wonderful.

Then we saw Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno making these chilled beet soup shooters— just the cold non-pork item we needed at that moment, and delightful:

And right after that we saw this peach and honey panna cotta with sprinkles of La Quercia prosciutto on top, from Bin 36. The fresh peach flavor was really nice.

Pat Sheerin of The Signature Room had the freakiest looking dish of the night:

The description bills the grilled beef shoulder first, but anyone getting it couldn’t help but notice the bright green tongue coated with salsa verde.

By comparison this grilled lamb from Balsan and Ria with a corn sauce and a dab of pesto was rather plain-looking, which is probably why someone was out promoting it in front of their stand. The lamb was beautifully tender, I’m glad I tried it, though my wife ate it, then asked what it was, and when she heard it was lamb, was sorry she’d eaten lamb during the time period that the kids are raising a lamb in 4-H.

Here’s Barry Sorkin of Smoque slicing up a Santa Maria tri-tip:

And Mark Mendez of Carnivale with his meatball:

Another chef whose food I was curious to try without spending a big wad yet was John Des Rosiers, of the suburban avant-garde restaurant Inovasi, in Lake Bluff. I was quite impressed with this unusual dish, which started with some long-brined and smoked pork topped with cherries and other fruit, and then included a kind of very light tortilla made in some fashion with cheese incorporated into it which he calls an “Inorito.” Weird (and a little soggy in this humid heat) but very interesting, I may have been impressed enough to make the trek up there some time.

If I had to pick a favorite of the evening, though, it was probably one that came just as I was about out of stomach for meats, Jared Van Camp of Old Town Social’s sausage with Brunkow cheese mixed into it and homemade sauerkraut on top. Yeah, sure, it’s an easy crowd-pleaser, a cheesy hot dog, but it was really well done.

Another chef I approached with some skepticism was Dale Levitski, hard at work here on his dish:

I know people have been impressed with Sprout but what I hear always sounds like weird combinations that, even if they worked, would leave me wishing for a cheesy hot dog after. But I tried Levitski’s herb salad with beef carpaccio:

And it was really a fine thing, beautifully balanced. Okay, I might still need the cheesy hot dog after a whole meal of such light and delicate things, but I was impressed nonetheless.

The evening wound down, the guy from NoMI was down to his last beer can chicken…

There weren’t as many dessert choices as last year, and many of them ran out by the time we were seriously hunting sweets to finish off the meal. MK showed up with an actual ice cream truck, but what they were serving was actually cherry slushies (alcoholic slushies, I should point out), and my wife staked out the first position:

A most refreshing end to a long evening of eating. Because you didn’t think that was everything we tried, did you? I didn’t even have a chance to mention the Dietzler Beef Italian beef from Vie, or the pork belly slider with peach chutney from Blue 13, or the blueberry lemonade from North Shore Distillery….