Friday, July 24, 2009

Wilco (the blogpost)

I have been listening to Wilco's new album so I picked some of my favorite Wilco songs for my first playlist. There are so many great songs I left out but here are the ones I picked in order of posting date (plays in reverse order):

1. Casino Queen from A.M. [1995]
2. Misunderstood from Being There [1996]
3. Outtasite (Outta Mind) from Being There [1996]
4. Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again) from Summerteeth [1999]
5. ELT from Summerteeth [1999]
6. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [2002]
7. Hummingbird from A Ghost is Born [2004]
8. Impossible Germany from Sky Blue Sky [2007]
9. Wilco (the song) - Wilco (the album) [2009]

To recap from a previous post, "Each weekday I am going to try to add one song and then on Friday, I will post the playlist". The songs will play in an embedded playlist.

Also watch the awesome 4 minute Nels Cline guitar solo on Impossible Germany. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Music Feature

I added 1 song a few weeks ago as a test but as of today, I am officialy adding a playlist feature to the blog using Tumblr and streampad. Clicking on the bar at the bottom of the blog will start playing music (set to auto play right now). You can also pull up the playlist to change the song playing. Each weekday I am going to try to add one song and then on Friday, I will post the playlist and maybe make a few comments about the music. The music added each week could be random based on what I am listening to or have a theme (birth of rock, artist, etc.)

Wilco released a quality album a few weeks ago, Wilco (The Album), so to highlight their past work, each day this week I will add songs from a record or two beginning with A.M., their first record after the break up of Uncle Tupelo. A.M. is more straight alt-country than most of Wilco's other work but still a fairly solid record. Enjoy!


Last week I saw Food Inc., a new documentary examining America’s food system (hopefully I’ll have a review up at some point). For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in food which has gradually translated into being interested in food policy. I’ve been thinking about it for a while but after viewing Food Inc., I’ve officially decided to start writing about food. I am planning on including posts examining policy, farm practices, and how I eat (first, open my mouth. sorry) among other topics. I wrote restaurant reviews for my college paper so I’m hoping to include a few of those as well. My first post is a brief overview of several food labels.

The last few years, it seems US consumers have reached the peak of accepting foods just because it is on the grocery store shelf, tastes decent, and is cheap. This includes processed foods that have a laundry list of unrecognizable ingredients and milk from cows treated with rBST. Recognition of the trend is exemplified by Haagen-Dazs (owned by Nestle). They recently released a new line of ice cream called “five” meant to highlight that the ice cream only contains five ingredients. The ingredients in “five” are the same as the equivalent flavor in the original Hageen-Dazs product line.

This is a good trend but as more people start caring about what they put into their body, trips to the grocery store are getting more complicated as a larger number of food manufacturers adopt labeling meant to convince potential customers of the products health benefits (or at least lack of detriment). To make things more complicated it is slowly becoming popular to actually care about the conditions animals were raised in. Imagine that! Now walking through most markets, not just Whole Foods, I see terms such as free range, grass fed, cage free, organic, and biodynamic. What do each of these terms mean? Keep reading.

Free range
Free range is used for all animal products but only claims on free range chicken are regulated by the USDA. Eggs are not regulated, just chickens. According to Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, “USDA considers five minutes of open-air access each day to be adequate for it to approve use of the free range claim on a poultry product.” Free range does not mean chickens are raised on grass. Open air access could very well mean gravel or concrete. Further, free-range has nothing to do with the chickens’ diet or housing conditions. The EU and UK have specific requirements for the number of chickens per hectacre while the US does not. Without knowing more about the producer, I will not pay extra for free range chicken.

Cage free
Caged laying hens are usually kept in spaces so small that it is impossible to stretch their wings. It is a cruel life which is certainly not healthy for the bird nor do caged birds produce great eggs. Cage free birds live in a better environment than caged ones but the difference is not always as large as you might think. Unlike the EU, the United States has no space requirement for cage free birds (surprise, surprise). Cage free birds do not have outdoor access or feed requirements. A good indication of the environment cage free chickens live in is the color of the egg yolk. If you buy cage free eggs and the yolk is the same color as regular eggs, find a different brand. Quality eggs from chickens that are allowed outdoors should be a deep yellow/orange.

Grass fed
Grass fed claims refer to ruminant animals. USDA verified grass fed ruminants must be fed 100% grass fed. This includes cereal grain crops in their vegetative (pre-grain) state. Be sure to look for the “USDA Process Verified” symbol (see below). According to Consumers Union,

Prior to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) 100% grass-fed standard, grass-fed claims were overseen by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), but there were no standards and no independent verification, although FSIS has the ability to verify grass-fed claims through the Office of Field Operations or the Office of Program Evaluation and Review. According to the USDA, grass-fed claims that were approved by the FSIS prior to the AMS standards will be grandfathered in. That means FSIS will retain oversight of those claims and they do not have to meet the 100% grass-fed standards. However, all new submissions to FSIS for a grass-fed claim must meet the AMS standards.

There are three organic definitions recognized by the USDA. They are “100% organic”, “organic”, and “made with organic ingredients. From the USDA website:

Products labeled as “100 percent organic” must contain (excluding water and salt)only organically produced ingredients and processing aids.

Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt).

Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may be labeled either “soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots,” or “soup made with organic vegetables.”

Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are banned in organic production except for a small number approved by the National Organic Standards Board. GMOs are banned in organic production. For livestock to be certified organic, they must be fed 100% organic feed, have access to pasture, and cannot be given antibiotics (vaccinations are ok). There is some controversy over the access to pasture requirements. The rules for organic livestock released in 2002 with respect to access to pasture were very broad which led organic activists to complain that large scale organic livestock operations are able to find ways to provide very little if any true access to pasture. It appears though that the rules are about to become more clearly spelled out if a draft rule introduced in late 2008 is made official. Overall, organic is a highly meaningful certification though there is heavy pressure from food conglomerates to reduce organic standards. The Washington Post had a good article recently addressing some concern entitled “Purity of Federal ‘Organic’ Label is Questioned”.

Biodynamic agriculture is derived from a series of lecturers delivered in Germany by Rudolf Steiner (inspiration for Waldorf schools) in 1924. According to Wikipedia, “biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals as a closed, self-nourishing system.” Biodynamic agriculture is not recognized by the USDA but it is certified by Demeter, a respected certification agent classified by Consumers Union as highly meaningful. Some of the practices of biodynamic agriculture seem way out there but I do like the focus on a closed system.

I hope the above was a helpful, fairly quick review of labeling standards. Go check out Food Inc.