Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hyde Park Meat

Ok, so Beth Goullart first broke a little tidbit about Hyde Park Grill and their meat claims. I, like most people I have talked to, get the impression from their menu that they buy all natural meats by my vague definition of it being free from nasty stuff. In fact, it says it on their menu. See Beth's article here, where she learned they get their meat from Winn, which doesn't carry any Texas meat even though the menu claimed they had Texas-raised Wagyu burgers.

Well, they changed their menu to say 'American-raised.' I understand if maybe they originally had Texas meat and just had not updated their menu or something. It's completely understandable, but also made me want to be a little more aware of their menu.

As I've mentioned before, I have made the decision to not eat any meat that I can't verify it's source and feel assured they were treated humanely. So, while there last I noticed they said they carry Sterling Silver beef that was all-natural, hormone & antibiotic free. I went ahead and looked them up at the table. Their website (www.sterlingsilvermeats.com) doesn't say anything about 'natural' or free of anything. It just has some basic content saying it's premium, aged, and graded. Then it talks about how it's owned by Cargill foods, the largest privately-held company in the US ($120Billion revenue), and that just this premium meat subsidiary employs 35000 people. This made me suspicious enough to not order any meat and investigate further later on. I don't think big companies are inherently bad, mind you, but Cargill is a pioneer in confinement lots and has come under a lot of criticism, including for their recall of @ 1 million beef patties for E-coli contamination. So I asked where their chicken comes from and he had to go ask the manager who informed him it comes from Labatt's distribution. Not encouraging. So I got some farm-raised catfish....which I may swear off one day, but for now I'm ignorant enough of their problems to order it.

So, this week I called Sterling Silver. They say that their meat is, in fact, certified 'natural' according to this USDA definition:
A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural. The label must explain the use of the term natural (such as - no added colorings or artificial ingredients; minimally processed.)

For my purposes, that leaves a lot to be desired. First off, none of the actual definition applies to antibiotics or hormones added before the meat is processed. It's just saying they don't paint it red or pump it with preservatives. It also doesn't touch the treatment of the animals. The rep at Sterling said he would email me full information. I haven't received it yet. I hope it has pictures of happy cows in fields. I really do.

I don't mean to pick on Hyde Park, I really have liked them as a restaurant. It's just that I get the impression they care about their food and ingredients. If they weren't making claims about the quality of their ingredients I would be less picky. I wouldn't eat there, but I wouldn't call them out. With so many great choices for quality meat these days, I just don't see any excuses and I hope more restaurants start making the right choice, like even fast-food restaurants do (read P-Terry's and TerraBurger).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Texas Wine Anyone?

Not for Greenling. At least not yet. This has been rather heart-wrenching and has created quite a few inquiries. But here's the bottom line - It's hard to grow wine grapes in Texas. Really hard. So you can pretty much assume if someone is creating wine from Texas grapes they dumped lots of chemicals on those grapes to get them to grow. And I'm not talking a little liquid Nitrogen to give them that growth-spurt in the spring. I'm talking boatloads of all sorts of chemicals to ward off diseases, fungi, bugs, etc. You name it and it probably likes to feast on the oh-so-delicate Vitis vinifera grapevines struggling for survival in Texas climates.

It's not pretty. So, what's a self-respecting, Sustainability-oriented company to do? Well, we carry Sustainable wines not from Texas and will wait for intervention for the poor Texas grapes. I hear that Becker vineyards is working on some wine from imported, organically grown, grapes. At least that would be locally produced. And our good friend, Scott Collier, at Rockroom wines has some incredible wines that are just waiting on Texas Distribution.

It was an incredibly tough choice to leave these off the menu. The best way to achieve the advancements to get to Sustainable Texas wines is to encourage and support Texas wines. But we just can't support anything that damages the environment. We hope you understand. And if you know of any environmentally responsible Texas wine operations, please let us know!

When we introduced the Parducci Sustainable Red and White, sales shot up above any other wine and I wondered if there was a misconception about our wines. Every single one of them can be called 'Sustainable,' though they may have different approaches to the term. Here's the skinny on just a few of our wine choices -

Bonterra - These guys were one of the first to get Organic certification for their wines. They're a great $15 bottle that supports people who are committed to the Organic seal.
Chimango - From Argentina, this is one of the lowest priced certified Organic wines combining the seal with affordability. Pick up the Cab or Malbec Rose for only $8.99
Joseph Drouhin - This winery has been cultivated by the same family for over 130 years. Using biodynamic farming (some call it 'beyond Organic') the Drouhin family uses only natural products with the utmost respect for the soil, the vine, and the environment. Learn more about them here - http://www.drouhin.com/en/index.php

And many more! Great wines you can feel good about buying and drinking. I'll talk about our beer selection next time. Add beer & wine to your order here (As usual, I'm sorry to report that TABC only lets us deliver alcohol in Travis County) - http://www.greenling.com/categories/35/products

And a quick side note on the TABC - It's actually quite incredible that we're able to deliver wine and beer at all! We're very happy to have worked with TABC to ensure we have the right security measures in place and the right kind of permit. It actually took 18 months to work through all of this. One of the rules we just couldn't work around was that we can only deliver within the county where we're located. So, there you have it. We've thought about having satellite locations in surrounding counties so that we can deliver all over....but we'll only go through this long, arduous process again if sales of these items really pick up. So, to all who don't live in Travis county, encourage all of your Travis-county-living friends to order so we can justify expanding this option.

Mason Arnold
Founder & Cookie Monster - www.Greenling.com

Friday, March 20, 2009

Death on a Factory Farm

Did anyone see this documentary on HBO? I had seen the trailer for it on meat.org and it was very disturbing. We started to watch the full documentary the other night and had to stop. We just couldn’t take it. I just can’t wrap my head around how people can treat animals this way. It has completely ruined me for conventional restaurant meat products. I have evangelized for a while to ask where the meat comes from when you go to a restaurant and I have done this often. I have not asked every time and when they don’t know I used to still order the meat. Now I don’t. If they can’t tell me where the meat comes from and I recognize it (or can look it up on Mylie’s iphone) I just won’t eat it. I’ll just have to settle for vegetable dishes. Some well-intentioned restaurants in town striving to support local and natural still get their meat from conventional sources.

We were at Paggi house (they’re not paying me for this) last night and I wanted a filet, but was very worried that even this great place might just say ‘Wynn meat co.’ or ‘Ciscos.’ To my pleasant surprise they said ‘Niman Ranch,’ which is fairly well-known. And they’re a great step in the right direction. They’re not perfect from a Sustainability standpoint…..they still grain finish their cattle - which means they pasture raise them, but a few weeks before they go to slaughter they feed them grain to increase marbling and fatten the cattle up. There are balances in all areas of life - you don't always expect your dessert to have vitamins & minerals in it, right? And in terms of humane treatment, this is not a huge problem. But studies and anecdotal evidence from Betsy Ross Ranch (they test nutrients in their meat) show that most of the good qualities in the meat from grass-feeding cattle are lost within 2 days of grain-finishing the cattle. CLAs and vitamins are up to 90% depleted in that short time. Cattle just aren’t meant to eat grain! Period. It’s not good for them.

But, I appreciate Paggi using a vendor that pastures their cattle, uses no hormones or antibiotics, and humanely slaughters them.

Many people have been asking me where the best places to eat out for local, organic, and natural are. While I think the best choice is to eat at home, I want to highlight my adventures in eating out and share what I learn as I grill waiters in town (just kidding).

Monday, March 02, 2009

Fun new options for eating healthy in Austin

We've added a couple of great new options to the dining scene in the past few weeks:

First, and this one is really, really cool, is Daily Juice cafe. It is phenomenal. We have eaten there about 8 times in the last month and every single dish we've tried was just amazing. It is completely raw, dairy-gluten-soy-wheat-meat free food and is often Organic. They've got a great ambiance with some cool paintings on the wall. They give you cloth napkins and real silverware to use and free water. Here's a sampling of what I have had:

BBQ Sandwich - they take coconut meat and marinade it in a spicy BBQ sauce made from chili, tomatoes, & spices then add some guacamole, almond dijon mustard and some veggies. Throw it on some of their homemade chia seed Daily Bread and you've got a filling sandwich. Amazing!

Land & Sea Salad - Really flavorful combo of organic sesame marinated greens, arame, olives, sprouts, carrot, radish, dulse, and cherry toms served with a blackberry vinagrette.

We've also tried the Avocado Ceasar and the Enchiladas. Both incredibly flavorful.

Really good prices, too, considering you're getting raw food dishes. These things not only have a lot of ingredients, they take a long time to prepare. If you go to a California raw food cafe you'll pay $15-$20 for dishes that cost $6-$10 at DJ.

The DJ cafe is located at 45th and Duval in the Hyde Park area of town. Here's their website and full menu:

Next is Terra Burger. I haven't been there yet, but tried their burger at the Austin Green Living Expo. Will definitely be trying the restaurant soon. Really nice people and they are working hard to make everything Organic that they can. They also happen to get some of their product from Greenling, so that's cool too. They just opened at Dean Keeton & Guadalupe. Check them out!